Chapter 119

                It was barely enough, but Mary managed to throw a telekinetic shield in front of Roy a few seconds before impact. Although he smashed through it, the obstacle managed to alter his trajectory, sending Roy crashing into a nearby wall rather than directly into his teammate. He stood as quickly as he could, shaking off the small flecks of debris and taking stock of their situation.

                Things looked bad. Professor Cole was still standing there, sword in hand, untouched by their first round of effort. Meanwhile, Vince was limping from a cut on his leg and Mary had a dagger in her shoulder, wounds they’d no doubt taken while Roy was getting tossed about. She was so damn good at fighting multiple opponents; it’s what her whole strategy was built around. Roy could see no flaws to exploit, no weaknesses they could turn to their advantage. With lethality off the table, they couldn’t go for broke with Mary or Vince unleashing tremendous blasts. Not that they’d have lived this long if the match were about killing in the first place. Even now, Professor Cole was waiting for their next attack, giving them a chance to regroup. She was going easy on them, because this was the most they could manage, and Roy hated himself for that. Was he really going to be beaten the same way as a year before? Was this as much as he’d grown?

                They needed to think. They needed to fight smart. Vince might be fearless, but he was about as wily as Roy, which wasn’t saying a lot. And while Mary was bright, she’d usually leaned on Nick for tactical choices when she was the leader. Lacking though they were, it was still obvious they had to try something different. As things stood, they wouldn’t last more than a minute once Professor Cole decided they’d had enough attempts.

                “Vince, give me a cold snap! Mary, try and get me close!” Roy began to run without waiting for confirmation from either of the others. There was no time to hesitate, to let Professor Cole figure out what he’d meant. If they were going to have a shot at even making her sweat, they needed to catch her off-guard.

                Roy only made it five steps before he felt the chill in the air. Another two and his breath became visible as he panted mid-run. Several cloth tendrils with weapons in hand tried to interrupt the charge, but these were knocked away by an unseen force as Mary defended him from afar. By the time he was close to Professor Cole, it was so cold the metal of Roy’s bat was sticking to his flesh. Not many people knew that Vince had been working on absorption, but it was clear the training was paying off. He’d managed to drop the room to near-freezing in the span of seconds, now all Roy could do was hope it proved to be enough.

                This time, Roy didn’t swing for the blade. Instead, he aimed his attack directly for Professor Cole’s shoulder, hoping that at the very least he’d be able to cripple her. Taking away an arm from someone with so many pseudo-limbs wouldn’t accomplish much, however the pain might lessen her concentration. At this point, any advantage they could get would have to do.

                As Roy had expected, the cloak on Professor Cole’s shoulders floated upward to intercept the strike, aided by three separate tendrils. To Roy’s delight, the bandages seemed to give way as his ultra-heavy weapon slammed into them. Professor Cole’s outfit was far from normal; Roy had seen how tough the material was first hand. But everything got slower and more brittle when it was cold.

                Unfortunately, what Roy had hoped for required a cold that Vince apparently couldn’t reach. While he made it through the first two bandages, sweeping them along with his powerful blow, the third manage to knock his bat upward, and the wide sweep of the cloak sent the strike into the air. Roy had missed her body entirely. Even worse than that, however, was the fact that with both arms extended upward, his entire body was completely open for a counter-attack, something that Professor Cole didn’t miss.

                The bandages wove themselves around Roy’s torso in less than a second, jerking him upward as they steadily tightened. Once again, he was airborne, and Roy braced for the next throw. It was only seconds later that he realized what was actually happening, and by that point Professor Cole had thoroughly bound both of his arms over his head. Much as he struggled, she’d locked him into a position with virtually no leverage, and those damn cloth tendrils refused to budge.

                “How strong are these things?” Roy grunted, trying desperately to free himself as he watched Vince narrowly avoid a flurry of daggers and Mary shield herself from a pair of bandages wielding blades. Even twenty feet away, Professor Cole could force their ranged fighters into melee.

                “Pretty damn strong,” Professor Cole replied. “We might not have had tech-genius Heroes back in the day, but we still kept a few on the payroll. Plus my power lets me strengthen them to an exceptional degree. That second attack was better, I’ll admit, but you over-extended. Though it pains me to say it: I’m afraid you’ve done all you can for this test.”

                The grip on Roy’s chest tightened, squeezing the air from his lungs. He wasn’t sure if she was going to take his air until he passed out or just hold him like this until three minutes went by, and he didn’t especially care. Either one would eliminate him from the trial. Worse, it would leave his friends a man down. This fight was hard enough, without a strongman to take her blows the whole thing was probably a lost cause. Then again, maybe Roy was over-estimating himself. What had he actually done besides get thrown at Mary and then immediately become captured? Maybe it would be better when he was out. Mary and Vince wouldn’t have to worry about hitting him with any attacks they used. He’d probably been holding them back all along anyway.

                Oh come the fuck on!

                The words didn’t come from anyone in the room, and Roy’s eyes widened as he realized who had spoken. It had been months since the last time he heard that voice in anything outside of a memory.

                “Her… shel?” His words were hard to form; the pressure on his chest seemed to be growing tighter by the second.

                Of course it’s Hershel! The question is who the hell are you? Having a pity-party just because a fight’s not going your way, that sure doesn’t sound like the Roy Daniels I know. So what if you’re losing? You’re almost Always losing. To Chad, to Coach George, to Dad. But you keep fighting. Because we’re Daniels men, we don’t give up until we’re physically incapable of going on, and sometimes even that’s not enough.

                “Gett… ing chok… ed,” Roy managed to grunt out. The edges of his vision were filling with blurry static, it wasn’t going to be much longer now and he’d completely lose his grip on consciousness.

                Drop the bat.

                “Huh?” Roy wasn’t entirely sure he’d heard that right. Even if he let go, his hands were still bound overhead.

                Drop the fucking bat!

                This time, Roy didn’t protest, he just did as he was told. As soon as the weapon fell from Roy’s grip, he felt himself moving. Dimly, he became aware of impact on his back as he slammed into the ceiling. What mattered far more to him than some meaningless blow, however, was the fact that the pressure on his torso lessened. Not by a whole lot, but it was enough for Roy to puff out his chest and good a good breath of air. With that, his mind pulled itself from the oxygenless sludge it had become mired in and he realized what had happened.

                Professor Cole might be able to use those bandages to hold Roy up, but it still took effort, especially since he was holding a weapon that weighed hundreds of pounds. When he’d dropped it, he’d drastically changed his weight, and suddenly the force she was using was far too much. With Vince and Mary demanding her attention, it had caused her to accidently slam Roy into the ceiling as she was caught off-guard. Staring down, Roy could even see the surprise in her eyes, fleeting though it was. It was the first time they’d done anything she wasn’t expecting, and Roy found himself filled with a fresh round of determination.

                Mary is gearing up to attack. When she does, try and break free at the exact moment Professor Cole defends. If her focus is split, she might not be able to actively fight you with the restraints.

                Surprised as Roy was to still hear Hershel’s voice even as the mental fog lifted, he didn’t question the advice. As soon as Mary let loose a blast of telekinetic energy that Professor Cole dodged, Roy pulled against the cloths on his arm with every ounce of power he could muster. The bandages’ material was still incredibly tough, but without their wielder focusing on reinforcing them, Roy was able to pull them apart. Once his arms were out, it was a simple matter to reach down, grab one of the cloth tendrils that were stretched up from Professor Cole’s body, and rip it in half. She might be as skilled as they came, but damn if Roy didn’t at least have brute strength on his side.

                Professor Cole noticed him as he fell; sending another few bandages to resnare him, but Vince drew her attention with a controlled torrent of fire. She easily fended it off with more of her cloth tendrils, which were proving to be exceptionally flame retardant, however by the time she glanced back Roy had already landed and reclaimed his weapon.

                “Okay,” Roy said, savoring the ability to breathe easily. “Now what?”

                If you’re game, I’ve got a plan.

                Roy glanced over to Mary, who, despite the wide, uncertain eyes at the strange voices she was hearing in Roy’s mind, nodded her agreement. Vince couldn’t hear the proposal, but since he was usually on board for anything, Roy assumed that wouldn’t be an issue.

                “Lay it on me, bro. How do we bring her down?”