Chapter 266

                In a way, Shane was glad that he was going after Vince. While he was impressed with the amount of their actual power Chad and Alice had hidden from their fellow competitors, Shane had also known it was a feat he wouldn’t be able to match. Sure, the first strike would be a surprise, but after that he’d be controlling living shadows for all the world to see, so the cat would be out of the bag. It was a relief not to be the first Lander student to show their real potential, even if Vince had managed to keep some of his tricks hidden for later rounds.

                Shane stepped out from the prep room into a thickly wooded area, similar in style to Alice’s open field setting but with vastly more trees to use as cover.  Across a narrow, clear strip of grass he could see another student stepping into view. This was their opening position, meant to let them see and greet each other before diving to get cover. Victor’s voice called for introductions, and Shane was happy to oblige.

                “Shane DeSoto, Control major. Hero name: Styx.”

                “Ervin Mooney, Weapons major, obviously. The name will be Whetstone, once I’ve earned it.” Ervin patted the sheathed sword at his side as he spoke; making it clear why his major was obvious.

                “Students, this match has begun!”

                There was no sense in wasting time, surprise was one of Shane’s most valuable tactics. After the slow-burn of Vince’s fight, he hoped Ervin wouldn’t be expecting an immediate assault, at least from so far away. Shane’s sclera turned black as his power activated, and around him various shadows became tangible as they morphed into dark blades with razor-sharp edges under his control. Tempting as it was to use Ervin’s own shadow to strike him from behind, Shane had to be careful. He was already giving away a lot about his power in this first match. Once he let the other competitors realize that their own shadows were fair game, and that he could attack from such a long range, it was a trick they’d be on guard for. He still might have to use it in this fight, depending on how strong Ervin turned out to be, but it was too vital of a tactic to blow so early on.

                Instead, he opted for a simple, frontal assault of three shadow blades. While it was unlikely such an attack would win the match, right now his real goal was information gathering. Not knowing another Super’s power put him at a severe disadvantage, the sooner he could make Ervin reveal his ability the better Shane would be able to counter it. As the trio of blades whipped forth, each swinging for a different area of Ervin’s body, Shane was surprised to notice his enemy didn’t seem to be dodging. Instead, Ervin had merely drawn his sword and shifted his stance. He’d probably be able to block one of the shadows, if it had enough mass to cut then it had enough mass to be stopped, but the other two would be able to carve slices out of him while he was pre-occupied. Shane aimed carefully, making sure not to target anything vital, and then his blades closed in on Ervin, all striking at once.

                As expected, Ervin swung his sword, however it wasn’t to block. Ervin was attacking the blades, and to Shane’s utter shock not only did Ervin hit each one, he cut through them, sundering every shadow before it could draw close to his body. A lifetime of training kept Shane’s surprise from showing, though it didn’t help diminish how much shock he was feeling. This wasn’t the first time someone had cut through his shadows, but the only one who’d ever done it with that kind of casual ease was Angela, and that was because her weapons were made of solidified light. How in the hell had Ervin managed the same trick with a standard sword?

                “Shadow manipulation. Not bad. Credit to Lander, at least you didn’t only send brutes. But that’s a paltry number, and it takes you too long to get them near me. I’m afraid this is not a good match for you.”

                With that, Ervin darted out of sight, racing into the trees. Shane quickly did the same; it was the height of idiocy to stand in the open when an enemy had cover. Damn, maybe he should have used the instant strike on Ervin, Shane hadn’t counted on the guy being able to neutralize frontal attacks. Then again, with enough shadows no amount of swordsmanship would protect him. Shane would have to show off more of his potential though, and he was already the first of Lander to give away the root of his power.

                There was a sound from nearby and Shane scanned the area for movement. It was the rustling of the leaves that gave it away, as a pair of daggers came sailing forth from out of the branches. Shane was about to dive behind a tree for cover, but something in his gut told him to dodge entirely. Although Shane wasn’t one to rely too much on intuition, he also didn’t ignore it when it came on strongly. Leaping to the side, Shane rolled away as the daggers sailed into, and through, a nearby tree. They came out high, with no chance they would have hit him, but the message they sent landed perfectly.

                Ervin’s attacks could cut through cover, so if Shane tried to block them then they would either get through and wound him, or potentially even count as a deathblow, depending on if Ervin had enough control to throw a non-slicing blade that targeted a vital organ.

                “Whetstone. I get it. You enhance the sharpness of things, right? That’s why you cut through my shadows and sent daggers through a tree.”

                “That somewhat undercuts, forgive the expression, the degree to which my power works. My blades can cut through nearly anything, though you needn’t fear for your safety. I’m capable of turning off the effect whenever I choose. I assure you, when you feel my cold steel pressed against your flesh it will be dull and harmless, even as it secures me the deathblow.”

                The voice was coming from within the trees somewhere, though it was hard to track the exact location. Ervin had clearly worked stealth into his skillset to great effect. This was bad. Shane could unleash a torrent of shadows, but without seeing his target it was too risky, he could easily cut the guy in half by accident. On the other hand, Ervin could keep up guerilla tactics using the trees as cover, flinging daggers and leaping out to make quick strikes. The field had put him at a disadvantage, one that he needed to neutralize quickly.

                When the idea popped into his head, Shane tried to dismiss it. The mere notion was preposterous, he’d have to reveal far too much of what he could do to make it work. It was the sort of inane madness that Angela would employ. At that realization, Shane pulled himself up short. Dismissing a thought because it’s what his sister would do wasn’t sound tactical thinking. After all, she’d already won this whole thing, while he was struggling with his first match. And, as much as he might like to hide his potential, there was no sense in holding back for future fights if he couldn’t even win this one. Better exposure and victory than secrets and defeat.

                Turning, Shane took off in a dash, sprinting back toward the clearing. “Hey Ervin, you’re pretty nimble, right? And good reflexes too, so you wouldn’t be in any real danger from something like a falling tree.”

                “I would slice it in twain before it ever drew near me. I respect the desire not to risk your opponent’s safety on a strategy, I truly do, but perhaps you shouldn’t tell me the method of your next attack.” The voice was close, closer than Shane was comfortable with. Hopefully he’d be able to pull this off before another set of daggers came flying.

                “Attack? Oh no, I’m not attacking you.” Shane came to a halt in the clearing, spinning around to face the direction of the voice. Even as he did though, Ervin was not his real focus. Instead, Shane was turning the shadows of the trees into blades. Each one rose up, quiet and deadly, before making a single strike at their tree’s trunk. The sound of splintering wood and cracking branches filled the air as all around them trees began crashing down. Muffled cursing could be heard from Ervin, and Shane saw two falling trees get easily cut to pieces as they came down, soon revealing Ervin standing there amidst a small sea of lumber.

                The collapsed remains of half the forest surrounded them, leaving the two students in locked gazes with nothing to hide behind. Shane grinned, all-too-aware that he probably resembled his sister for a brief moment.

                “I told you it wasn’t an attack. I was just doing a touch of landscaping. Now I’m going to show you an attack.”