Roy’s first instinct was to leap away. It was the move that would keep him safe, and allow him to see just what the professor could do now that she was taking things seriously. And, in truth, if his fight had been one on one, then it would have been the correct decision to make. But as his calves coiled and he readied himself to jump, his mind flashed to his time training with his father, with Owen, last year. It wasn’t his job to jump away from the danger. It was his job to put himself between it and the other people on his team. Hit, and get hit. That was the role of the strongman.
Letting out a yell so primal it even took him a bit by surprise, Roy surged forward, meeting Professor Cole mid-way in her charge toward them. He barely had time to catch sight of Will and Violet’s shocked faces before he clashed with his teacher, taking a hammer to the head before he’d even gotten close enough to attack her.
“Cute,” Roy side, glancing at the thick metal weapon that was quickly moving around for another swing. “But it’ll take a lot more than that to hurt me.”
“Oh trust me, I’m aware.” Professor Cole replied. A pair of cloth tendrils, each holding a dagger at the end, shot out from behind her back, weaving toward Roy. For an instant, he prepared to take them, trusting his endurance to absorb such a paltry blow, but as his eyes watched their trajectory he realized the attacks were too wide. He wasn’t their target, which meant he couldn’t sit back and see what happened.
Twirled his bat around, Roy used it for in its intended purpose and took a swing at the dagger on his right. The professor tried to move it out of the way, but Roy managed to keep his eye on the target and he smashed the dagger head on, shattering it on impact and sending the pieces flying all over. With no time to rest, he reached around and grabbed the cloth tentacle holding the dagger on the left, intent on keeping it from reaching Violet or Will. To his shock, the cloth immediately went limp in his hand, then began weaving itself around his arm.
“Good instincts,” Professor Cole said. “Even in a situation this hectic, you found your role and committed to it. But you need to work on your situational awareness.”
The whistling filled his ears and Roy looked up, only to find the hammer that he’d dismissed as useless barreling down at him. By his guess, the ceiling was at least forty feet high, and the cloth tendril holding the hammer had extended it all the way to the top. Now it was being slammed down, gaining force with every inch it moved closer to him. Roy tried to jerk away and doge, but the cloth gripping his arm held tight, as did the ones he hadn’t notice snake out from the professor’s legs and grip him by the calves. She baited him into a trap, and he’d bit.
Roy braced for the blow from the hammer, but before it could land a different force struck him from behind. It was Violet, who’d made herself dense enough to send Roy hurtling forward on a crash course with Professor Cole. There was just enough time for Roy to make out the flash of surprise flickering through her green eyes, then he was airborne for the third time as she flung him into the air rather than let him hit her.
Though couldn’t see where it landed, Roy did hear the hammer’s impact as he hurtled into the concrete wall. He’d barely gotten to his feet before Professor Cole’s voice rang out through the chamber.
“Violet Sullivan has been eliminated by knockout.”
“Damnit, you crazy-ass density girl. You were supposed to be ranged.” Roy tightened his grip on the bat, anger beginning to quickly replace guilt he’d felt at the announcement. He was the one who was supposed to be on the front lines, he was the one who was supposed to take the big blows. True, that last attack probably would have broken enough bones to bring him down, but that was his battle to fight. Roy was annoyed, and sad, and more than anything felt like he’d failed as a tank by needing to be saved, but none of those sentiments were any use on the battlefield. So instead, Roy just let himself get pissed.
“Hey Will!” Roy’s voice carried through the air, grabbing the attention of both Professor Cole and his current teammate. “I don’t see us doing any good by wearing her down, so I’m just going to try and beat her one on one. If you’ve got any plans or smart guy inventions, use them while she’s dealing with me.”
“You sort of ruined the surprise by letting me overhear that,” Professor Cole pointed out.
“Nah, I was never counting on surprise in the first place. I just aim to be too much of a handful for you to worry about anything else.” With that, Roy undertook what he knew was his final charge of the fight. If she caught him again, he’d get another one of those sky-hammer attacks and that would be the end of it. There was no more Violet to bail him out. All he could do was fight so hard that he made an opportunity for Will. Roy might not be able to be graceful, or brilliant, or skilled like so many of his other friends, but he could damned sure make a whole mess of trouble.
Roy knocked aside the first attacks without even slowing down, sending Professor Cole’s weapons flying away with single blows from his bat. As he drew closer, a web of cloth tendrils flowed around him, and it was all Roy could do to keep from getting snared again. He ducked, dove, and shimmied across the floor, sometimes only avoiding one of the cloth snakes by a few inches. By luck, talent, or sheer determination, Roy actually drew closer to Professor Cole again and had to parry more of her weapon strikes.
“For the record,” he grunted, sending a sword soaring to the ceiling, “I realize you’re going easy on us. I’ve fought a professor before; I know how powerful you all are.”
“It’s not that I’m going easy on you,” Professor Cole replied. “It’s that the goal of this fight for me isn’t to win, it’s to test how you all do. Coming out full-force wouldn’t make for much of an assessment, now would it?”
“Oh, I get the reason.” Roy leapt into the air, narrowly dodging a pair of cloth tendrils that tried to wind around him. “But it still pisses me off to have someone sandbag in a fight with me.”
“Perhaps one day, if you make it to Hero status, you can come back and we’ll have a duel for real.”
“Nice offer, but I think I’d rather just beat you here.” Roy threw himself to the side, smashing away the hammer and a few tendrils, and opening up a clean shot for Will, who had been scampering about the sidelines. Roy had no idea what the tech-genius was planning, only that he’d seemed to be looking for line of sight on the professor. If Roy was wrong then they screwed since he was now firmly in a place to be grabbed up, but trusting your team was also part of being the strongman. He had to believe Will could accomplish something that he couldn’t.
The beam of light nearly hit Roy before striking Professor Cole directly in the chest. At first, it seemed like nothing happened; then Roy noticed the slight drooping of all the cloth tendrils around him. He didn’t need the cue from Will explaining what had happened; Roy knew an opportunity when he saw it.
Rushing forward, he reared back his bat with both hands and prepared to swing. She’s told them to come with the intent to kill, and Roy wasn’t about to disappoint, though he did aim for the shoulder just to be safe. He moved with all the speed he could muster… but it was a heartbeat too slow. Just as he got within swinging range, Roy heard the thunderous rustling of countless pieces of cloth converging on him at once. Every part of him was engulfed and he was hoisted off the ground, his strength useless against the firm but pliable prison binding him. He couldn’t see, and he could scarcely hear a thing, at least until the wrapping on his face began to fall away.
“Will Murray has been eliminated by injury,” Professor Cole announced. The last of the wrappings fell away; revealed Will slumped on the ground, arms dangling uselessly at the side. “And Roy Daniels is eliminated by capture, though I can smack you on the head if you really need me to prove you’re out of this fight.”
“No, I can admit when I’ve been beat,” Roy said. He felt himself being lowered to the ground, where the bandages slithered off of him and began wrapping themselves back around Professor Cole.
“You know, that might be the closest someone besides Angela has come to getting me in a long time,” she said, shaking her head as her face became less and less visible. “That beam of Will’s interrupted my central nervous system, and you capitalized without a second of hesitation. For a team that was thrown together, you did pretty damn well.”
“But we didn’t win,” Roy said.
“I meant what I said,” Professor Cole replied. “Get your certification and the door is always open. I could use the practice anyway. Now get your team down to the infirmary; I’ve got another group of students to fight.” The excitement in her voice was palpable, a sentiment which Roy understood all too well.