Chapter 117

                Like a screamed swear in church, instantly the mood of the entire room changed. Casual conversations fell silent, finger foods lay forgotten on their miniature plates, and bodies moved in their chairs to try and get the best view possible at the pertinent television screen.

                 Not every HCP had the exact same tests, often the curriculum was left in the hands of the professors and dean. However, there were certain aspects that had to be incorporated at specific milestones, and offering students the chance to fight their teachers at this time each year was one such requirement. They couldn’t force the battles, though. It had to simply be an option. Seeing who went for it, and why, was often as telling as the fights themselves. It wasn’t that the best students took on the professors; it was more a matter of seeing who was self-aware enough to choose the path that suited them best. Knowledge of one’s own strengths and weaknesses was easily more important for a Hero than raw power.

                However, when students did elect to fight their teachers, the battles were exceptional entertainment for those watching. Three seniors with youth and ambition on their side against a combat-hardened Hero who was usually past their physical prime. While student victories were rare, they almost always managed to put on a good show. Even being eliminated, often it was in these battles that some students secured their internships, whether they knew it or not.

                Professor Cole was an interesting choice. She was well-suited to taking on multiple combatants, which made her seem like someone to avoid, but on the other hand her power was least somewhat straightforward. There was no shifting of form or invisible forces to contend with. If they could overpower her, they could claim victory. Of course, overpowering the Hero once called Seamstress was no easy matter, even if she wasn’t quite as fast as she’d been in her earlier years.

                Dean Blaine could hear his own voice as he continued speaking, yet for the life of him he couldn’t tell what he was saying. Those words were coming out on auto-pilot, as every ounce of his true attention turned with the rest of the room to see the spectacle unfolding on screen. He was about to see three children he’d had a hand in shaping as they tested their skills against a veteran warrior.

                Moments like these were why he’d become an educator in the first place.

*             *             *

                The plan, if one could be generous enough to call it that, was simple. Since telekinetically grabbing Professor Cole wouldn’t do much to stop her pseudo limbs from attacking, Mary would instead try to neutralize as many of the tentacle-like bandages as possible from a distance, allowing Vince and Roy to get in close enough to fight Professor Cole in melee. Even then, they knew she’d have the upper-hand, but between Roy’s assault and Vince’s electricity (fire was ruled out before they entered, as lighting a teacher aflame seemed as though it would cross a line) they hoped to overpower her. After all, Roy could withstand quite a high voltage before he passed out, so at the very worst Vince could release a wide blast that would be impossible to dodge. At least, they hoped it would be impossible.

                No sooner had Professor Cole issued her challenge than Roy and Vince were both running forward, the former a few steps in the lead. Professor Cole’s bandages began to rise, their tips curled around a myriad of weaponry, but after getting only a few inches from her body, they struck an unseen wall and were unable to rise any higher.

                “Telekinetically pinning me in. Smart, but why not try and grab my entire body?”

                “Because Mary already knows you’re too damn slippery to keep hold of.” Roy finished closing the gap between he and the professor, bat raised high as he took a measured swing. From so far back, it was plain he wasn’t trying to hit her. Instead, the ultra-heavy weapon came dangerously close to the tip of her sword, only an immediate reaction yanking it out of the way in time.

                “Trying to disarm me? Cute. Kudos for knowing I’m too hard to contain though. After all, who can keep focus on every single angle of one person?”

                Roy felt the grip on his leg as she spoke, a glance down showing him the white-cloth tendril that had woven itself tightly around his calf. His eyes traced it along the ground, and he realized that she’d somehow managed to inch it along outside of Mary’s notice, sneaking it into position.

                His leg was already beginning to move when Roy heard the crackle from over his shoulder, and it took all he had to repress a cocky grin. She might have been able to counter him, but he’d still managed to distract her long enough for Vince to get in close. Roy readied himself to yank his leg free and attack while Professor Cole was stunned, because even if Vince held back she was going to get a little crispy. Those electric attacks were nothing to laugh about; as Vince’s usual sparring partner Roy knew that better than anyone.

                The blast of bright light came from behind, searing past Roy on a course directly for Professor Cole. It struck dead-on, so close that all the hair on Roy’s neck and arm stood straight up. He seized the opportunity, jerking on the captured leg to rip himself free and capitalize on the chance Vince had bought them.

                Except… her grip hadn’t loosened in the slightest. As Roy tried to pull himself free, the tendril responded by tightening its hold and jerking him upwards, dangling him in the air like a rabbit caught in a snare. From his new vantage point, Roy could now see behind some of the layers and bandages Professor Cole had raised, and suddenly he understood what had happened.

                Held in one of her cloth tendrils was a smoking, slightly charred metal dagger. She’d used it as a lightning rod to catch Vince’s attack, and while it probably wouldn’t be enough to stop one of his powerful blasts, it was more than capable of taking a strike meant for stunning. Roy was about to yell to Vince, but before he got the chance he started to move once more.

                “A blatant charge and an electrical assault? You could have done that as sophomores. I told you to show me what you’d learned. If this is the best you can do, if this is the farthest you’ve come, then maybe you don’t belong here after all.” Professor Cole was swinging Roy around by the ankle, likely only his enhanced endurance keeping the leg attached. Then, all at once, he wasn’t spinning anymore. Instead, he was soaring through the air at a rapid pace. It happened so fast that Roy barely registered what was going on. Even as the room zipped by, it took a moment for Roy to put it all together. Professor Cole had thrown him, like he was a sack of potatoes. As he tumbled about in mid-air, Roy caught sight of something that made the indignity of the situation vanish from his mind.

                It wasn’t just that Professor Cole had tossed him away; she’d used him as a weapon. Because Roy was on a crash course directly for Mary, with no way to stop.