The reaction to Alice’s victory was markedly different than Chad’s. People were more impressed, yet also more subdued. There was something inherently off-putting about watching a student injure themselves for the sake of victory. It wasn’t that none of the other Heroes had ever pulled similar stunts. Far from it, in fact. But these were still supposed to be students. They weren’t yet expected to have the kind of desperate, victory or death mentality that led to those kinds of decisions. This was the first time in Intramurals that many of the attendees understood the meaning behind Lander’s nickname. It wasn’t the students’ power that made them nightmares, although that certainly didn’t hurt. No, it was their ruthless determination that made them stand out. There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Alice would have beaten Nelson into bloody unconsciousness without batting an eye, and even at that it would be hard to argue that she’d hurt him worse than she hurt herself.
Dean Blaine did his best to look unbothered by the display as possible. Truth be told, he was more impressed at Alice’s self-control than anything. Even in that tough situation, she hadn’t compromised on her efforts to keep the watching crowd in the dark about her true power. And, whether the onlookers knew it or not, she had actually been quite merciful with her attacks. If she’d used the same techniques on Nelson as she had on Thomas, the fight would have been over much faster. Not that he could tell anyone that, even if he wanted to. Already he could hear “Class of Nightmares” being whispered amongst the crowd. It was tempting to hope that the next few Lander matches would present cleaner, less monstrous matches… until Dean Blaine remembered that Vince and Shane were the next Lander fighters on the card.
Mercifully, he had two fights until another Lander student was up, so Dean Blaine decided to treat himself to a little bit of in-between match mingling and a cup of coffee. Perhaps he could ease people’s minds here and there. Being scary was well and good, but he couldn’t have onlookers thinking his students lacked control. Especially not once Vince, the well-known son of Globe, was on the field.
* * *
Adam felt his bones shrink as his body condensed, turning from a young man into a child once more. He didn’t love the fact that mimicking powers required him to take on the same form as the person he copied; it came with a lot of inconveniences and limitations. Always one to look on the upside, it did mean he could practically vanish from the world if he needed to, though. And once this was all said and done, there was a very good chance that he’d have to do exactly that.
Quentin was watching him as the change finished. So was everyone else in the room, actually, but for Quentin it had to be the strangest. Watching someone else turn into him always seemed to unnerve Quentin, even if the kid did still stick to task after it happened. Adam moved slowly, being sure not to spook the boy as he held up both of his hands. Hesitating only for a moment, Quentin reached out and took both, clasping Adam on the forearms just as Adam’s hands did the exact same. They were connected now, a single circuit of amplifying energy.
“I’ll keep the pain controlled, so go whenever you’re ready.” Globe was watching this all unfold with steady eyes, his focus unwavering.
Once, and only once, they’d tried to use the Mobius technique (a name Adam had still not signed off on) without Globe there to block the pain. It had been terrible. Amplifying someone like Quentin did always hurt at least a little, as the body was forced to accommodate power it hadn’t been designed for, but what they together did made it so much worse. The whole effort had fallen apart in seconds, as both people with Quentin’s shape fell to the ground, writhing in pain. From that point on, they’d learned their lesson: this was a three person technique, no exceptions.
With Globe’s assurance in place, Adam set his, or rather Quentin’s, power into motion. Sparks of purple energy crackled along his fingers as he began to amplify Quentin’s ability, and at the same time sparks were flying off Quentin’s hands as well. This was how they broke the bounds of possibility, how they elevated their small group to such levels that they could take on an army. Two amplifiers, with the exact same type of power, raising the abilities of one another in concert. For every bit that Adam was able to improve the potential of Quentin’s power, he could do the same to Adam, the two of them slowly raising the ceiling of how much they could amplify a target’s abilities. It was a precarious balancing act that had taken years to perfect, but they’d had to learn it. This was how they leveled the playing field. This was how a handful of Supers and former Heroes had a chance at beating the forces of a mad billionaire and a corrupt Hero system.
It took almost two full minutes until Adam could tell they’d reached their peak. Even this technique had limits, as their bodies could only handle so much power coursing through them at once. In the beginning, this had been learned through passing out and rushed healing. Now, both knew when the time had come to discharge. They broke apart their grip, both so suffused with purple energy that it was literally crackling off of them, turning to the rest of the group.
“Who gets it first?” Adam asked. “Remember, once we juice you, you’ll be looking at about an hour, tops, before it runs out.”
Globe immediately stepped forward, to the surprise of no one. “I should be in the first round. If it wears off during our assault, I’ll still be capable of handling myself.”
Clarissa grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and jerked him backward. Strange, that was more familiar than she usually was with Globe, and for a moment Adam thought he saw a brief look pass between them before Clarissa explained herself. “That’s idiotic for so many reasons. You’re the biggest gun we have, which means we need you in play for the maximum amount of time. Not to mention, your mobility is limited compared to someone like me or Joan. We can slip away in seconds if we feel the boost fading and need to recharge, you’ll be stuck there unless you can float off on a rock. It makes more sense to put us first, you last, and everyone else in the middle.”
“The lady is right,” George agreed. He looked better than he had in years, no longer having to devote himself constantly to decoding a single file. A shower and shave had done wonders for the man. “Clarissa and Joan go first. Persephone and I will take the next round, then you and Gerard for the final burst. It gives us the best chance at victory.”
Although Globe didn’t look especially happy about the decision, he also didn’t try to pull Clarissa or Joan back as they approached Adam and Quentin. The man trusted his team and listened when they spoke, it was part of why he’d been able to gather them in the first place. Moving slowly, bogged down by the raw power crackling through his bones, Adam laid his hands on Joan’s forearms just as he had with Quentin. “You ready?”
“For this? Almost never. But we’ve got shit to do, so don’t let me hold things up.” Joan tensed her nerves for a few seconds, then relaxed. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this party, so we should get the damn thing kicked off already.”