Chapter 120

                The concept was a simple one. Chad had found throughout his years of combat and training that the less-complex an idea was, the better a chance it had of succeeding, and this was as bare-bones as he could keep the strategy. He began to bark orders as soon as Shane appeared, bloody and with a slight limp yet obviously undeterred.

                “Shane, surround Alex with shadow-blades. Don’t touch him, but keep them sweeping around at all angles as fast as you can manage.” Already, holes in Chad’s arms were opening as his blood saw began to take shape. “While you cover Alex, I’ll cover you. Professor Pendleton might be skilled, but I’m much harder to damage for someone without augmented strength.”

                Shane’s hands were up before Chad even finished the explanation, blades of darkness sweeping all around the tense, focusing form of Alex. “Much as I trust you, mind telling me what good this does? It’s not like I can attack fast enough to create a draft and spread the fog.”

                “We aren’t trying to hit the fog.” Chad’s mind was abuzz, his speed of perception increasing with every passing second. Shane could do full-coverage with his ability, but Chad would have to see and react to any of Professor Pendleton’s attacks to be effective. “The professor has to turn physical to strike us. Reforming a hand or a foot or what have you. That’s what we’re covering against, the moment when he becomes momentarily solid. Because if he can hit us, then we can hit him right back.”

                “Clever.” The voice was drifting around them once more, impossible to track. “It took some of my own peers far more than a single match to figure out that strategy. Of course, it’s only as good a plan as you can execute.”

                Chad didn’t bother looking around for the voice; his gaze never wavered from Shane. Alex would be protected within the maelstrom of shadow; however, this tactic left Shane completely open to attack. The only defense he had was Chad, who would be damned if he saw his friend take any more hits for the team.

                For a few moments, nothing happened. That was expected, Professor Pendleton was probably waiting for them to let their guard down. He wanted, needed really, to catch them by surprise. It was a good tactic, just one that was wasted on someone with Chad’s ability.

                The hand formed less than five inches from Shane’s throat, outstretched fingers betraying their intention to curl around his neck. While Professor Pendleton wouldn’t go so far as to kill any of them, losing oxygen would be more than enough to break Shane’s focus, which would open up Alex as a target. And being so close to Shane’s face made hitting the hand a dangerous prospect. If Chad’s aim wasn’t perfect, if he missed by even an inch or so, he might very well be the one to break Shane’s concentration, or worse, injure him.

                The blood saw whipped through the air, arcing between Shane’s arms and coming down directly on Professor Pendleton’s hand. Though Chad’s aim was true, it seemed as though he struck only mist, as the hand unformed an instant before impact would have been made. Then his eyes caught the sight of something solid falling through the fog, and when it hit the ground with a soft thud he recognized the object for what it was. Chad had sliced off the tip of one of Professor Pendleton’s fingers.

                “Shit!” The fog seemed to ripple with pain, swirling angrily around them. Except, it wasn’t completely around them anymore. While Chad had been pre-occupied with watching over Shane, Alex had been getting the job done. Slowly but surely, he was pushing the fog away, beads of sweat rolling down his face from the effort. In spite of the toll it was taking, he seemed to be getting better at it with every passing second, shoving more and more of the mist over to the other end of the room.

                “Playing a little rough for a practice match, don’t you think?” Professor Pendleton didn’t seem quite so taunting anymore.

                “Pretty hard to die from losing a finger. Or a whole hand.” Chad extended his blood saws by a few inches, just to drive the point home. Anything Professor Pendleton manifested should be something he was prepared to have lopped off.

                From behind him, some piece of their teacher formed from the fog, on a crash course with the back of Chad’s knee. Even if he couldn’t see the attack, it was impossible to miss the sound of muscles and bones contracting. Without so much as a glance behind him, Chad sent a slicing stream of blood around toward the object. He didn’t make contact; however, it did vanish well before his attack came close. It seemed their teacher wasn’t taking any more chances.

                Then again, there wouldn’t be that many more chances to take. As Alex gained momentum, the mist from around he, Shane, and Chad was clearing. Professor Pendleton was being slowly driven back, he’d been contained to almost a single quarter of the room. Which meant it was time to switch up strategies.

                “Alex, keep at it, you’re doing incredible work. Shane, Professor Pendleton is probably about to reform so he can ruin Alex’s grip and spread himself out again. We have to stop that.”

                “Any ideas on how?” Shane’s teeth were grinding against one another, he was clearly putting everything he had into Alex’s defense. Not that Chad had expected anything less.

                “Yes, actually. Do the same thing you’re doing with Alex, only through the cloud. Stick Professor Pendleton in the middle of a shadow blender, so that it isn’t safe for him to turn so much as an ear solid. I’ll back you up.”

                Without pausing for confirmation, Chad shifted his attention to the slowly shrinking bank of fog. His blood saws began arcing through it, taking wide, long sweeps to cover as much ground as possible. Seconds later, blades of shadow began to whirl within the fog, churning at incredible speeds. The side of a shadow caught the tip of Chad’s saw, knocking drops of blood onto the concrete below.

                “Pull back, Chad. I can handle this alone, and you’ll probably want to keep most of your blood,” Shane said. “Just keep watch on the edges, in case he tries to slip out or anything.”

                Chad did as requested, bringing the blood saws out of the fog. It was a short journey, as Alex was compressing Professor Pendleton down rather tightly by this point. Their teacher had become a cloud ball roughly seven feet around.

                “I think this is as small as I can go,” Alex said. His eyes were open now, and the amount of perspiration running off him had diminished considerably. “Keeping him bunched up like this is a lot easier than dealing with a room full of mist though, so I should be able to hold him together.”

                Although Chad nodded, he kept his eyes trained on the bundle of fog across the room. “Then all we need to do is keep him pinned for three minutes.” Even as he said it, though, something in Chad’s gut told him it wouldn’t be quite as easy as it sounded.