Chapter 54

The Close Combat class made their way into the new room in silence, save for the scuffling of feet on concrete. Professor Fletcher hadn’t told them much, only that it was time for the first tests, and then to follow him. Down the lifts, to one of the many floors below Lander, stopping ultimately at a large room that seemed almost bare.

Some of the more astute students noticed the rings etched deep into the concrete floor, forming a series of circles moving out from the center. This advanced perception gave them a few extra seconds to wonder about the fate soon to befall them, then Professor Fletcher began to speak and the point was moot.

“As Dean Blaine informed you at the beginning of the semester, the central focus in this year’s curriculum is learning to handle multiple opponents. We Heroes move in teams more than criminals, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself facing multiple enemies more often than you might expect. Other classes will test your skills in other ways, but here in Close Combat we like to keep things simple. Each of you will square off with three opponents. You’ll be confined to the circle I light up, so even though some of you have abilities that work at a range, you can’t distance yourselves.”

After Chad and Angela’s fight, many of the students had been giving more thought to their own ranged skills, and how they could augment them. It was a bit relieving to know that those elements wouldn’t be coming into play during this test.

“The rules are as usual: make someone quit or knock them out to win. Anyone who steps out of the circle is also disqualified, but only if they leave by their own power. You flinging an opponent across the room doesn’t disqualify them,” Professor Fletcher clarified. “Aside from that, go until all three opponents are down, or the examinee has been beaten. Grade-wise, I don’t think I have to explain to you that the more of the three you beat, the better you did. Any questions?”

Violet raised her hand. “Can we use our abilities?”

“Fair question,” Professor Fletcher said. “Yes, full power usage is authorized. We don’t just want to test your hand to hand skills, but how you apply them in combination with your abilities.”

The next question came from Jill Murray, and caused a few students to move an inch or two away from her. “If we use an attack that impacts things outside of the circle, will that get us disqualified?”

“No, only if your body actually touches ground outside of it,” Professor Fletcher told her. “Everyone but your opponents and me will be behind a shield, so go nuts.”

The grin that sliced its way across Jill’s somewhat round and pleasant face made even more people inch further away, while a few said silent prayers that they wouldn’t be put up against her.

“I don’t see any more hands, so we’ll move on,” Professor Fletcher said. “If you’re going to be tested today, I won’t use you as an opponent for anyone else until after you’ve gone. Those of you good with math will realize that means some people will pull multiple shifts on the ganging up side. Anyone who needs some patching up after a test can see Camille Belden, who has graciously offered to do spot healing. Those totally incapacitated will be taken to the infirmary. Now then, our first trial will be Chad Taylor in the center. The three attacking him will be Sasha Foster, Violet Sullivan, and Thomas Castillo. Everyone else, into the observation room.”

Professor Fletcher pointed at a small door near the rear of the room, one that blended into the corner so seamlessly they hadn’t even realized it was there. The students complied, hustling off behind the thick barrier, finding a viewing screen set up so they could watch and hear the action as it unfolded. A few whispers flew about the strange choice in people to fight Chad, but the trial began before a full conversation could occur.

Within moments, the professor’s thought process became clear. Sasha’s speed allowed her to match Chad’s reaction times, Violet’s density meant she could trade blows effectively, and Thomas’ energy allowed him to strike between assaults of the other two, when Chad was distracted. If not for the recent bout with Angela, it would have been the longest fight anyone had seen Chad engage in. It took nearly ten minutes before the physical exhaustion began to slow the other three’s movements, and it was less than three from that point until Chad claimed victory. Thomas and Violet made their way over to Camille, while Sasha made a stoic face and dealt with the throbbing pain in her ribs.

The next match pitting Shane against Jill, Adam, and Allen took longer, though the one forcing Roy against Violet, Thomas, and Jill might have dragged on all period if not for a lucky punch that weakened Thomas’s bonds holding Roy down. Roy mumbled under his breath, despite the win, as he headed back to the safe room, something about “all that training and I get put in a circle” or some such. Before he’d made it all the way back, Professor Fletcher called to him.

“Daniels, stay out here. You’re one of the attackers next round. Chad, Vince, and Camille, I want you three to come join him.”

Roy grinned in spite of himself. The small circle meant he probably wouldn’t be able to use the technique he’d learned over summer, but this was still a golden opportunity. Since he and Chad had both fought already, the logical victim had to be Vince. Putting Camille in was a bit of a handicap, however he didn’t begrudge his friend that. Going against Chad alone would be tough enough, let alone if Roy was pitching in.

The four gathered around the circle, where Professor Fletcher was waiting for them.

“This is going to be the last fight of the day,” he said, checking his watch.

“Looks to be quite a tough one,” Chad said, eyes sliding over his fellow students.

“You have no idea,” Professor Fletcher told him. “Camille, get in the circle’s center. The rest of you, get ready to attack on my call.”

Camille’s voice, to the shock of everyone, came out even before Vince’s overly defensive tones could escape his mouth.

“I need a minute to change,” she announced, her words firm and authoritative, as far as one could imagine from the gentle tone usually falling out of her lips.

“Granted,” Professor Fletcher replied. “The rest of you, get prepared.”