Professor Pendleton had been telling the truth, the shocks undoubtedly looked worse than they felt. However, that didn’t mean the experience had been pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. Alex finally shook off the last of the pain, trying to take in stride the fact that not only had Chad sacrificed himself, but he’d done it in a way that still let him help out. Touching as the gesture was, it would be for nothing if Alex and Shane couldn’t capitalize on it to pull out a win.
Across the room, Professor Pendleton was still solid, though for how long was anyone’s guess. Alex could theoretically contain him if he went into fog-mode again, but between the effort of last time and the stress to his system from the shocks, he was starting to feel mentally drained. If Alex really pushed himself, he could probably pull the same trick off once more, but that would be it. He’d be wiped out; an easy target if the professor escaped, or if Shane decided to fully liquidate the team once the fight was over. He wouldn’t even be able to blame Shane for the decision; at that point Alex would be nothing but deadweight.
Besides, only an idiot would assume those electrodes were the sole trick Professor Pendleton had up his sleeve. Fighting him so straightforwardly put them at a disadvantage; they were dealing with the Subtlety teacher, after all. It was time to start thinking non-conventionally.
The one thing they did know was that Professor Pendleton’s physical body could still be injured, the bloody end of a missing fingertip on his left hand proved that point well. Chad had chopped it off when the hand formed from the fog, so as long as Professor Pendleton was solid, they should be able to do some damage. Deep down, Alex had known it might come to this from the moment he accepted Shane and Chad’s offer to join. Part of him had feared the possibility, while another piece had hoped for it. He’d been refining his control for months, ever since the night he lost Sasha, ready to make sure he didn’t fall short again. Scary as it was to finally put one of his new techniques into action, this was also the best shot he was going to get. There were some things that Sims just didn’t cut it for.
Alex narrowed his focus, all-too-aware that Professor Pendleton was expecting to be bound once more, making sure he couldn’t engulf the whole room. But instead of a field, Alex was conjuring a much smaller area of force. Like a tiny, powerful fist it squeezed on the cluster of nerves Alex was targeting. Professor Pendleton was still staring at them all, cocky grin on his face, when his legs suddenly gave way and collapsed underneath him.
“Shane, surround him with shadows!” Alex yelled. They weren’t going to have long to work with. A few precious seconds where for once, Professor Pendleton was the one confused.
“What in the hell… I can’t feel my fucking legs.” It was the first time any of them had ever seen genuine worry on Professor Pendleton’s face, and bad as Alex felt for inflicting the wound, it was an expression that filled him with a small measure of accomplishment.
“That’s because I’m pressing down between the vertebrae of your spinal column,” Alex replied. “I could sever them outright, if I had to, but I think this works better. See, your hand didn’t regrow that finger Chad lopped off. So I don’t think you can reshape your body how you see fit when you reform. If I hold onto a specific body part’s worth of smoke when you shift, then if you turn back without it you’ll be missing that piece. And something tells me you don’t want to be separated from a section of your own spine.”
“I’m impressed, and a little surprised,” Professor Pendleton admitted. “This is a far more ruthless tactic than I expected out of you, Alex.”
“I’ve learned the importance of stopping my enemies, even if they’re stronger than me.” Alex’s brain flashed back against his will, to the night when he’d been trying to hold a Super with enhanced speed up in the air. If only he’d been more prepared, if only he’d been able to end the fight before it started, there would still be one more student in the class this year. Alex wasn’t dwelling on his failure anymore; he’d accepted the loss and was slowly moving on from it. But that sure as shit didn’t mean he planned to make the mistake again further down the line.
“Clearly,” Professor Pendleton replied. “So what now then, are you going to break my spine?”
“No. If I actually snap it and lose my grip, you can turn into smoke without fear of me ripping the part out. Besides, this takes a lot of concentration. I don’t think I could do anything else even if I wanted to. They, on the other hand, are a different story.” Alex nodded to Shane and the still unsteady Chad. “While I make sure you don’t turn to smoke, they’re going to take you down.”
“Fascinating.” Professor Pendleton was smiling again, although this was nothing like the cocky smirk he’d donned when delivering an ultimatum to Chad. It was a surprising reaction, but it had nothing on what came next. In one swift motion, Professor Pendleton hopped to his feet, seemingly unbothered by the pressure Alex was still exerting on his spinal column. “I must admit, Alex, you’ve impressed me. I never thought I’d actually have to show off this aspect of my abilities.”
“The hell? Your spine should still be pinched.”
“And pinched it is,” Professor Pendleton agreed. “But just as I can turn the fog back into flesh selectively, I can also shift parts of my body to mist. They still function in that form, albeit not as well as normal, and it’s not something I can keep up indefinitely. So congratulations, you’ve functionally neutralized my ability to shift entirely. But if you want victory, these two are still going to have to best me to take it.”
“No argument here.” Shane made a quick motion with his hand, and three shadows struck the professor simultaneously. All three hit him in the legs, specifically targeting groups of muscles that would ideally leave him hamstrung and helpless, or at least hurt if nothing else. The dark blades hit their marks without error, yet even as they passed through Alex could feel the disturbance in Shane’s mind.
None of the strikes had drawn so much as a drop of blood. From Alex’s vantage point, he could just make out a few wisps of fog trailing the final shadow as it pulled away from Professor Pendleton’s unmarred flesh.
“Come on, did you really think it was that easy? I just told you I can turn my body to fog as needed. Did you forget I graduated with the Class of Legends? I had to learn to react to attacks much faster and stronger than that.”
Alex looked at Shane, who was staring back at him. They’d managed to limit the professor’s movements, and with the situation laid out as it was there was only one viable options: overwhelm him with attacks so they could hit before he could react. For Shane alone, it would have been a tough battle. But, luckily for them, they weren’t in this fight alone. Even through the haze of slumber, Alex could still feel Chad deep within his dream, just waiting for the call to lend aid. The time had come to make one last push with everything they had. If this didn’t work, then they were probably out of options.
“Chad, I know you’re in there, and I hope you can hear me okay,” Alex called. “We need you to fight Professor Pendleton as best as-”
Alex was cut off by Chad’s instantaneous charge across the room, unfocused eyes locked in Professor Pendleton’s direction. Well, at least they didn’t need to worry about whether or not he could take orders.