Chapter 61

Vince had to admit, he didn’t think Alex was going to be able to anything to Thomas’s energy... right up until Alex yelled and the circle binding him was forced apart. Without pause, Alex dropped to the ground, made a quick motion with his hand and flung Thomas across the room. Now, in the time it took Alex to land and attack, Thomas could have easily struck again or made some move to defend himself. The trouble was that while Vince was slightly surprised by Alex’s ability to push away energy, Thomas was absolutely flabbergasted. He stood in dumb shock as Alex’s force gripped him and sent him crashing into the wall. When he struck, his concentration faltered, and the energy binding Vince dissipated.

“That was pretty cool,” Vince said as he landed carefully on the hard stone below.

“Thanks,” Alex said. “Sorry about the yelling. It just gets frustrating sometimes.”

Vince made a very precise mental note to never question the origins of Alex’s power to his face. “I hope you didn’t hurt him too badly.”

“I am fine,” Thomas answered, rising to his feet. “I’d like to know what trick you used, though. You should not be able to stop energy. How did you do it?”

Alex shrugged. “Nothing is beyond the Force.”

“Very well, then,” Thomas replied. “It seems I will have to fight you both head-to-head. I had hoped to avoid that, but if it must be, then it must be.” He lit up again, this time both hands glowing bright orange. Without warning, five beams from each hand lanced out directly at Vince and Alex. They were ready this time, though; Vince rolled to the side and Alex held up a hand, knocking the beams away. As Vince pulled himself back up, he pinned his attention on Thomas, readying himself for the next volley. He noticed that Thomas’s hands still showed ten beams extended. Vince put it all together just in time, leaping forward and narrowly missing the five that slammed down in the spot where he had been.

“What the hell?” Vince cried out, ducking to the side as the five orange strands snaked out, each one trying to snare him.

“I told you: my energy moves like an appendage, taking whatever shape I require,” Thomas explained from his spot near the wall. “All of them move independently, and if one of them touches you then you are as good as restrained.”

Vince snuck a glance at Alex, only to see his friend working double time to try and deflect the beams from all angles. While Vince’s five were staying fairly closely-knit, the ones battling Alex were spread out, forcing him to block them at random intervals from every direction. At the rate things were going, Vince and Alex would lose, and soon. All it took was one beam getting through to snare them once more, and even if Alex could get himself free, one had to wonder how many times that trick would work. As for Vince, if he was caught that was probably the end of things.

In a moment of desperation a plan formed in Vince’s head. It was stupid and more than likely wouldn’t work at all. Still, it was a way to lose proactively, and Vince preferred that to just jumping around waiting to be picked off.

“Alex!” Vince called. “I need you to buy me thirty seconds. Can you do that?”

“No idea,” Alex replied. “Guess we’ll find out.” With that, Alex stepped forward and brought to bear all that he had. Thomas’s orange beams were slammed backward against the sheer might of Alex’s will. Try as he might to move them forward, Thomas kept striking an invisible wall, one that didn’t seem to be yielding one bit.

As soon as the beams were restrained, Vince stopped running and bent over. His breathing intensified, indicating he was trying to get his breath back before he tried whatever was to come next. He placed his hands on top of pockets and stared at the ground. He was about to do something crazy. He should be scared, he should be wary, he should be worried. Instead he was exhilarated.

*          *          *

Before either Sasha could say another word, Alice bounded through the door and flew up to the ceiling. It was higher in this room, at least fifteen feet down to the floor, and Alice hugged it as closely as she could, desperate for every inch she could put between herself and the two women beneath her.

“Someone want to explain what the hell?” Alice called down.

“He’s a mimic!” Sasha yelled.

“No, he is,” the other Sasha countered. “He snuck up on me and grabbed my hand.”

“Okay, so we’re all agreeing that one of you is a mimic at least, right?” Alice asked.

“Yes!” This was yelled in unison by both Sashas. “He can copy your appearance and powers if he touches you,” one of the Sashas elaborated.

“But it isn’t as strong as the original,” the other one chimed in.

“Well, sounds like a good show for me then,” Alice said, crossing her arms.

“Huh?” Technically this wasn’t done in unison, nor was the wording exactly the same, but there are certain gut-generated noises that have a universal meaning, regardless of the particular syllables used to create them.

“The real Sasha is faster, so she’ll win,” Alice said simply. “Seems like this will sort itself out.”

“It isn’t that simple,” Sasha informed her. “I’m not used to fighting someone who can keep up with me.”

“Yeah,” Sasha agreed. “He’s used to dealing with all kinds of powers, so even if I’m a little faster, he’s still got enough combat experience to give me hell.”

“Then what do you want me to do? In case you didn’t notice, I’m not exactly king of the combat hill myself,” Alice retorted.

“Just come lend a hand,” Sasha said.

“With two of us it’ll be that much harder for him,” Sasha pointed out.

Alice paused and gave it some thought, then pulled out her own yellow weapon. “Okay, Sashas, one question before I decide who to help. Your boyfriend is Vince, so you’ve spent a lot of time with us in Melbrook through the semester. So then, who is Mary’s best friend?”

“You,” said one of the Sashas.

“Hershel,” said the other.

“Bingo,” Alice said, dropping down next to the girl who had answered ‘Hershel’ and putting her weapon at the ready. “Let’s get this faker,” she said, smiling at the Sasha next to her and glaring at the one across from them.

“You got it-OW!” The Sasha responding was the one next to her. Coincidently, it was also the one Alice had slammed her weapon into the neck of as soon as she had looked across at her identical counterpart. The bracelet on her wrist flashed yellow, then turned clear as a small green arrow appeared in one spot.

“Damn it,” Sasha swore, and as Alice watched in fascination her features seemed to melt together, shifting and squirming until Alice found herself staring at a boy shorter than she with light hair buzzed close to the head. “I’m impressed. I didn’t think you were planning the double cross. See you girls back up top.” With that he made his way to the exit indicated by the arrow and stepped out of the room.

“That was amazing!” Sasha squealed. She walked over to Alice and gave her a hug. “How did you know he was the fake one just by that?”

“I didn’t,” Alice replied.

“You... wait what?” Before the words were fully formed, Sasha felt Alice’s weapon dig into her side, sending its charge into her and eliminating her from the test.

“I said I didn’t know. I just asked a generic question you’d both answer. The one I picked to surprise was random,” Alice explained.

“But... you just eliminated the real me, too,” Sasha said in a hurt voice, still holding onto Alice in their now very-awkward hug.

“Yes, I did. I’d feel a lot worse about it if I hadn’t noticed you adjust your grip on your weapon before coming in for this hug,” Alice replied.

“Touché, my fellow crafty lady,” Sasha said, releasing the hug and checking her bracelet. “You’re more dangerous than you look. What would you have done if you’d taken out the real me at first, though?”

“Been eliminated, but done so with at least one win under my belt,” Alice answered.

“Not a bad plan. Good luck with the rest of the test. The longer you’re in here the tougher the remaining opponents will be,” Sasha informed her.

Alice nodded her understanding, then made a dash to get back into the relative safety offered by darkness. Also she made a note to go into any more of these damn lit rooms.

*          *          *

“Fudge,” Mary said as she and Nick rounded a corner.

“What?” he asked.

“Someone heard us. Someone tough. Hurry and follow me quickly. There’s a lit room nearby, and we have to get there,” Mary said, quickening her speed to a run.

“Why is it so important we get there?”

“Because I have no idea how to fight this guy in the dark,” Mary replied.

“Do you know how to do it in the light?”

“Not really,” she answered.

“Peachy,” Nick sighed, turning up the speed and following his diminutive guide as fast as he could.