Chapter 118

                “Well now, I assumed the only people who would come my way would be by accident. Given that you’ve got a telepath, in function if nothing else, that means you picked me. Interesting choice, boys. Dumb, but interesting.” Professor Pendleton’s usual affected air of stoic disinterest had slipped, it was plain to all of them that he was excited to see students walking into his lighted room. Chad understood the sentiment, no matter how strong a Super became the urge to test one’s limits against other opponents never truly went away.

                “I’m sure Blaine walked you all through the basics, knock me out, keep me held for three minutes, make me give up, or score a hypothetical death blow. I really shouldn’t have to say this, but take care to keep those death blows purely hypothetical. Nobody wants the headache of trying to replace a professor mid-year if one of you gets a lucky shot. Everyone good with that?”

                “Works for us,” Alex said, while Chad and Shane merely nodded their heads in reply. The sound of locking doors was an unsettling accompaniment to the widening smile on Professor Pendleton’s face, although it had nothing on what came once the room was secured.

                “Bring it on.” No sooner had the words left his mouth than Professor Pendleton seemed to explode. His body vanished, in its place a massive cloud of white fog flooded the room in all directions. It had taken mere seconds for everything to be engulfed, including the three students. Visibility was drastically diminished, not that there was really anything to see in the first place. After all, they knew exactly where their opponent was, he was everywhere around them.

                With no other immediate recourse, Chad swung a quick punch through the air, attempting to disperse the mist. There was definitely a swirl through the fog, but whether or not he’d managed to cause any damage was impossible to discern. Nearby, he heard Shane moving his arm, no doubt trying to slice through the cloud with his shadows. While big enough strikes might be enough to disperse it, without Shane knowing the exact location of the other two he would have to confine his attacks to the area near his body.

                “A near perfect defense,” Chad said, taking another few swings. If he could figure out something with the air density, perhaps there was a way to at least annoy the professor.

                “Nothing is perfect.” The voice was everywhere, it felt like being trapped in an echo. “And I’m not stupid, either. You think I don’t know what you’re hoping for? I watched all the tapes of this year’s trials multiple times, and I can feel Alex concentrating.”

                On cue, Alex let out a yelp followed by a quick thud as he fell to the ground. The air around them chuckled. “I do have an offense as well. I’m not going to let you just stand around and get your focus.”

                It was expected, Professor Pendleton obviously wasn’t going to just permit himself to be defeated, but they had hoped he wouldn’t catch on to their strategy quite so soon. They needed to do something, to think of a counter; otherwise the situation would spiral out of control. And that was assuming it hadn’t already, which even Chad would admit was optimistic.

                The first thing they needed was information. Chad knew that Professor Pendleton, the Hero formerly called Wisp and graduate of the Class of Legends, could attack people within the fog he transformed his body into. That much was easily discernable with a cursory knowledge of the Hero’s history. But what he wasn’t sure of was how the attacks were managed. Concentrated blasts of air, altered densities, there were no end to the ways he might be striking at Alex. Until they understood how they were being attacked, there was no hope of fighting back.

                Chad dashed over to Alex, moving more swiftly than he rightly should have when physically surrounded by the enemy. At least Professor Pendleton seemed set on neutralizing Alex more than he or Shane, which permitted them some freedom to move about. Alex was still on the ground when Chad drew near enough to actually see him, rubbing the back of his head.

                “What happened?”

                “No idea.” Alex rose to his feet tentatively, waiting for an unseen force to knock him back down. “I was trying to focus, and something hit me in the back of the knees and the top of my chest at the same time. By the time I knew I was falling, it was too late to stop myself.”

                 Striking from two directions at once, and with enough physical force to be felt. Chad had an inkling of an idea of how Professor Pendleton’s offense worked, but he needed confirmation before they could proceed. Plus, if he was wrong, better to find out quickly and start working with correct information.

                “Alex, start focusing again,” Chad instructed. “Push back the fog around you first, then work on consolidating it.”

                “You know he can hear us, right?” Alex swept his hands through the mist, which swirled at his side.

                “Of course he can, but he’ll still have to attack if you present a threat. Let me handle it from there.” Chad stepped a hair closer to Alex, making certain he wouldn’t miss a single part of what was going on.

                Alex’s eyes closed and he lifted his hands up. Dealing with something this insubstantial and huge must have demanded tons of concentration, Chad wasn’t sure he’d ever seen a telepath interact with something as intangible as mist before. It was a tactic only Alex might be able to use, and even at that it was no simple task for him.

                “Decent plan.” The voice whispered in Chad’s ear this time, so soft he knew no one else could hear it. “But Alex isn’t the only target. I have to eliminate you all, so maybe I’ll start with the shadow-wielder instead.”

                From across the room, Shane let out a harsh grunt. His heart-rate was increasing, and though Chad couldn’t make out the exact details, something was clearly assaulting him. Seconds later, the sound of fracturing bone reached Chad’s enhanced hearing, and while Shane didn’t cry out he did make a disturbing noise in the back of his throat.

                All the while, Alex was still there, eyes closed and untouched, as the fog near him slowly began to recede. It was a diversion, plain and simple. Professor Pendleton messed with people professionally, that was what Subtlety Heroes did. They dominated not through physical superiority, but wiles and tactics.

                “A little heartless, aren’t you Chad?” The voice was still there, still whispering, much as Chad would have liked to ignore it. “Are you really going to let me eliminate your best friend from the trial? Even if you and Alex manage to defeat me, Shane is out. Or maybe you want that to happen. Three points per person instead of two. That is the more pragmatic approach, and pragmatic is your specialty.”

                “You’re wrong.” Chad kept his eyes trained on Alex, even as more sounds from Shane flooded his ears. “The reason I’m not running over to Shane isn’t because I don’t care. It’s because I know just how capable he is. You think you’re going to beat him before Alex forces your hand? I think you’re underestimating my friend by quite a healthy margin.”

                There was no doubt about it, the fog was moving away from Alex. It was slow-going, but an inch at a time he was getting control over the cloudy form of their teacher. Then, just as a real separation began to occur, Chad saw it. Barreling through the mist, almost invisible if one didn’t have their senses turned up past human limitations: a fist. A physical, actual fist.

                It struck Alex in the nose, vanishing the moment it made impact even as Alex reeled back in pain. The focus was gone, and Alex was bleeding, but Chad smiled all the same. His guess had been right after all.

                “You can reform parts of your body at will. That’s how you attack in the fog. Hitting from blind spots, targeting tender areas, I bet you can even kill someone with enhanced endurance if you reached down into their lungs. Too bad that’s off the table, because you’re going to dearly wish you had an easy way to dispatch us.” Chad didn’t bother turning toward Shane. In a room this small, there was no way he wouldn’t hear the command.

                “Shane! Follow my voice and get over here. It’s time we started fighting back.”