Chapter 126

                Dean Blaine really needed a drink. He’d thought Vince was as bad as it would get, putting on a primal display of raw power that drew the attention of nearly every Hero present. But no, he was not so fortunate as to merely have dozens of Heroes whispering about such an astounding yet limited feat. Now, he had the joy of dealing with the fallout from one of his students grabbing a teacher by the spinal cord, inducing temporary paralysis and threatening to rip out a section of Professor Pendleton’s back. At this point, if people didn’t leave calling his seniors the Class of Bloodbaths Dean Blaine would claim it as a victory.

                The one component off-setting such brutal tactics was how controlled everyone had been in using them. Yes, Vince had smashed through a wall he shouldn’t have been able to dent, but he’d made certain no one was in danger from debris first. And while Alex’s stunt was definitely going to have people talking after the match, no one could deny that he was using such a technique delicately. He could have grabbed a place higher up on the spine to drop Professor Pendleton’s entire body, or simply snapped the nerve from the outset to try and cripple his opponent. Instead, Alex had gone for the capture, and that wasn’t something which escaped anyone’s notice.

                How the fight turned out would all come down to endurance and precision. As one of Sean Pendleton’s oldest friends, Blaine was well aware of how adept the man could be in close combat. And while Chad, even still sleeping, was not to be taken lightly, Sean had already dealt with such an opponent many times in his own HCP days.

                After all, he’d been forced to face off with the original Intra: Joshua Taylor.

*             *             *

                Alice heard the scuff of a foot in the darkness and readied her gravity field, drifting back carefully. She’d already managed to bring down Will thanks to a poorly timed misstep from around a corner, but Alice wasn’t counting on luck to see her the rest of the way through this competition. Floating silently, she listened, waiting for a sound that would reveal her opponent’s exact location. It came sooner than she was expecting, and was far more familiar than she would have preferred.

                “Alice?” Camille’s voice was whispered, but unmistakable. “Is that you?”

                “Um… yes.” While she wasn’t entirely sure if she should confirm her identity or not, the words slipped out automatically. A greeting from a friend came with certain ingrained responses, and Alice made a mental note to get better control over them.

                “Oh. I thought I saw something up there. So… having much luck?”

                “Got Rich and Will,” Alice said.

                “Adam and Selena,” Camille replied.

                “Selena? How’d you manage that?”

                “As soon as I caught the first notes of her song, I broke one of my own fingers so I’d have something else to focus on. After that, it was just a matter of getting close enough to touch her before she noticed I wasn’t compelled. Not the most fun strategy, but it worked.” Camille paused, hesitant to continue the conversation. It wasn’t especially hard to figure out why; there was a large elephant in the room that neither was sure how to deal with. “Only four down then, that we know of. Still plenty of points left to be had.”

                “Yeah,” Alice agreed. “Lots of other students to defeat.”

                “I’m… going to keep on moving then. See if I can track some more down.”

                “Ditto.” Alice held her breath as she listened to the steps continue moving in the darkness, slowly fading away bit by bit. While she was almost certain she could have taken Camille in a fight, after all the girl was pure melee, Alice didn’t feel particularly compelled to test the theory just yet. When she was sure the pickings were lean, it would be another matter, but for now there was no reason not to let her friend pad her score a bit before the inevitable end.

                Besides which, Alice paid close attention to people. And she’d taken note long ago that every time someone under-estimated Camille Belden, they usually ended up unconscious with a few broken bones. True, she couldn’t imagine what sort of tactic the diminutive damage absorber would employ against a field of gravity, but she was in no hurry to find out.

                Peace and alliances were also a strategy of battle. Temporary ones, yes, but useful all the same. For now, anyway.

*             *             *

                “Hey Professor Cole, since you’re eliminated and we sort of wrecked the place, is it okay if we use this room?” Roy’s words came only seconds after the sound of the doors unlocking had finished ringing through the chamber. It was a far less impressive noise now that there was a hole punched through a nearby wall, but it still sounded like victory all the same.

                “If you mean as a spot to hunker down and rest, feel free, but between the window Vince opened and the unlocked doors, I can’t promise you anything in the way of privacy,” Professor Cole told him. She’d re-wrapped herself up in the bandages, dozens of weapons once more hidden under her layers of cloth.

                Roy shook his head. “No, I don’t want to take a break. Far from it. I want to fight Vince, right here and now, and I’d prefer a place with nice lighting and room to move. Just wanted to make sure it wasn’t breaking the rules to do this here instead of in the dark halls.”

                “With me eliminated, this is nothing but an empty room. Do with it as you will.” Professor Cole walked to the metal door, which opened at her approach, and stepped through, vanishing into the shadows of the labyrinth.

                In the room she’d left behind, the air grew thick with tension as Vince looked at Roy and Mary with apprehension, turning his body slightly so as not to be left unguarded. “What was that about wanting to fight me?”

                “Exactly what it sounded like. You think after a display like that I’m going to risk anyone else getting the chance to take you on? Hell no. I want to see what you’ve got in a real fight, Vince. No sparring, no holding back. Really testing which of us is stronger.” Roy glanced over to Mary, who was standing by patiently as the two declared their intention to battle. “Mary, you can jump in too if you’d like. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to do this one-on-one, but it’s well within your right to strike if one of us is weak.”

                “Thanks, but I don’t think I’d get as much out of this as either of you. How about I make certain no one interrupts?” Mary offered.

                “Are you sure?” Vince asked. “We’re all enemies at the end of the day. We all need the points.”

                “While that’s technically true, neither of you are really thinking about your scores right now. If you were, then we’d be hunting down another professor, rather than turning on one another. This is about testing yourselves with stakes on the line, and that’s something you’ll both get more out of if it’s just the two of you.” Mary allowed herself a brief, controlled smirk. “Besides, I can always take on the winner. And after this battle, that should make for a much easier fight.”

                “She’s got us there,” Roy admitted. “Vince, you need a second after that punch or are you good to go?”

                Vince turned to his side, letting Mary slip from his attention and facing Roy full-on. “I’m ready whenever you are. Truthfully, I’m glad you threw down the gauntlet. I’ve wanted to see how much stronger you’ve gotten too.”

                “Then get ready to recharge your kinetic stash, because while I won’t kill you, I’m coming in strong enough to at least crack a few bones.”