Chapter 116

                Going after Adam had been risky. If he were a little faster or a hair more prepared, he could have copied her power and turned it against her. Quick as the mimic was, however, Camille had been training hard to impart as much damage as she could in a single touch. Giving him a head injury was simple, and while his body had already started to shift the moment Camille grabbed his neck from behind, the change reverted almost immediately as he slumped to the ground.

                There was no bell or voice to mark Adam’s defeat, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. At this point in their training, everyone needed to be able to tell for themselves when an enemy was truly down versus when they were faking it. If they couldn’t determine when an enemy was defeated, then they were just asking to catch a sneak attack from someone playing possum. To be safe, Camille counted out the three minutes, then reached down and re-absorbed the brain damage. Knocked out and held for three minutes, there was no way they wouldn’t count that as a win.

                Nearby, a panel slid open to reveal a lighted doorway. Adam stirred, narrowing his eyes at Camille and the door as it became clear he was out of the game. Still, he left silently, not making a ruckus or trying to sabotage her on the way out. It might have been good sportsmanship, or the fact that he knew Heroes were evaluating them. Camille liked to think it was the former, but she had little mind to spare for Adam’s feelings. While one point was a nice start, she had to hustle or all that would be left were teams.

                While there were still stragglers about, Camille needed to grab as many points as she could.

*             *             *

                Alice had gotten lucky. True, she’d had the forethought to create an area of warped gravity around herself to trip up anyone trying to sneak up on her, but even that could have failed if Rich had managed to approach her from the front. It was only fortune that had him come after her from behind in the darkness, tripping over his legs as unexpected forces suddenly jerked him sideways. Once she knew where Rich was, it was a simple matter to win. She pinned him face-first to the ceiling and waited for three minutes, ignoring his taunts and barbs that she should face him head-on. Only when Alice was completely certain that the necessary time had passed did she drop him back to the ground. As Rich’s feet touched the floor, a lighted doorway appeared nearby.

                With the momentary light source, Alice could just make out the sour look Rich shot her as he took the cue to exit. She couldn’t exactly blame him, being eliminated so early on meant he probably hadn’t scored any points, and that was bound to be a blow to the ego, to say nothing of his graduation potential. But much as she understood the look, Alice didn’t feel guilty over beating him. If the roles were reversed, he’d have happily taken her out just as quickly.

                It was a load off her mind, at least, to know Rich was out. The people with non-physical powers were going to be the biggest trouble-makers for Alice to deal with. Handling Roy or Violet would be relatively simple, but Selena’s songs or Shane’s shadows weren’t going to be stopped by mere gravity. Not to mention there were already two teams she knew about, and at least a few of the others were probably going to try and take on a professor. If she met three students at once, it was going to be a hell of a fight.

                Lifting several feet off the ground, Alice floated along the dark hallway, silently cutting a brisk pace through the labyrinth. The longer she took, the less fellow students there would be to defeat. Alice was aiming for three points within the next fifteen minutes. Assuming at least a few others were going to get knocked out by professors, that would be enough padding to her score to make sure she finished in a reasonably high spot. Of course, if any of the others actually did defeat a professor, those estimates were going right out the window.

                But, as far as Alice was concerned, anyone who could beat a professor, team or not, deserved to come out on top. That was an accomplishment worthy of shitloads of recognition.

*             *             *

                She stood silently as they entered, giving no more acknowledgement than a slight turn of the head. It wasn’t until they’d all stepped through and the door shut that she spoke, fierce and clear as always, despite the cloths wrapped around her face.

                “Take a wrong turn, or have you come here to challenge me?” Professor Cole was watching them, her bright green eyes never wavering as they stepped further into the room. Here, at least, there was plenty of light and space to work in. Mary hadn’t realized it as a freshman, but these rooms were almost identical in dimension to their usual combat cells.

                “Challenge.” Roy shifted his grip on his bat at the word; however, he took no aggressive actions. None of them were going to screw up something this important by starting before they were supposed to.

                All around them, the sound of clanging metal could be heard. The room was locking itself, ensuring that no one would enter or leave while a match was in progress. Professor Cole turned her body, facing them full-on.

                “I assume Dean Blaine ran you through the general rules, so you know you have to knock me out, hold me for three minutes, make me quit, or land a blow that could be a killing shot. Roy lightly tapping my skull with his bat, for example, would qualify, because if he did that full-force I’d be a goner. Hitting my clothes, on the other hand, is not the same thing. You’d need a lot more power to kill me there. It’s going to have some leeway, so trust that if you do manage a hypothetical kill shot, I’ll admit it.”

                She swept her cloak out, unsheathing the blade on her side as the bandages all over her body began to unwind. “And by the way, you’re expected to hold back from dealing any serious damage. The three of you aren’t kids anymore. If you push yourselves, you could absolutely injure, if not kill me. As Heroes, you’re going to be expected to exhibit control over your level of violence as much as your powers. So while hypothetical killing blows are part of the fight, if you genuinely try to snuff me out you’re going to be immediately disqualified. I’m not trying to kill you either though, so at least it’s fair. Any questions before we get started?”

                Mary could feel dozens of uncertainties racing through Vince and Roy’s minds, but both simply shook their heads. The rules were laid out, any questions they asked now would just be to stall, waiting for the nerves or fear to vanish. Both had seen enough combat to know that was never going to happen, the only thing that would diminish if they waited was their courage.

                “I think we know everything we need to,” Mary said.

                “Fine by me. Then, as a professor of the Lander Hero Certification Program, I officially announce that this match has begun.” Professor Cole adjusted her footing as she raised her blade. “Come and show me what you’ve learned.”