To his credit, Ervin was quick on the uptake. The moment he saw the trees all come down at once, he clearly realized that guerilla tactics were no longer viable. More than that, now he knew Shane could control far more than just three shadows at a time, meaning long-range put him at a disadvantage. The leaves that came off of trees mid-fall hadn’t even reached the ground before Ervin was sprinting forward, closing the gap between he and Shane.
“This is why people don’t like Lander, you know. We’re all playing it smart, but when you hold back that much at the start it feels as though you aren’t taking your opponents seriously.”
Ervin came in with a thrust, which Shane nimbly avoided while whipping a pair of shadow blades toward Ervin’s legs. With a surprisingly strong leap, Ervin hopped over the attack, swinging his sword down and slicing through the shadows along the way. The guy was nimble, and clearly used to taking attacks on multiple fronts. Not to mention aggressive, as he launched a fresh volley of strikes for Shane’s torso.
“Bet you’re wishing you could use those shadows of yours to block now. That’s what makes me dangerous, you see. Supers rely so much on their powers, their defenses, that when someone comes along who can cut right through them, they have no idea how to react.”
In principle, Ervin wasn’t entirely wrong. Power-dependence was a real issue for a lot of Supers, it was part of why neutralizers like Dean Blaine were so feared. Of course, that fact was also why Shane’s grandfather had drilled he and Angela on martial combat just as hard as using their abilities. Graham DeSoto was of the firm belief that a Hero should never be helpless, with or without their powers.
Not that Shane had forgotten about his own abilities. He flung another set of blades up, this time with two on track for Ervin’s arms and two aimed at the legs. Ervin leapt back, ducking under the high attacks while cutting apart the low ones, then circling back to chop the higher shadows. Shane fired off two more while he was distracted, but Ervin sliced those too.
“You’ve got a good ability, but it doesn’t matter against an opponent like me. I’ll cut down as many as you can throw.” Ervin pressed the attack again, forcing Shane to dodge and leap out of the way.
For his part, Shane stayed quiet, although not because he didn’t enjoy a bit of smack talk. Shane was simply too busy concentrating to waste his words. Because while Ervin was cutting apart shadow after shadow, Shane was taking a measure of everything. Speed, reaction time, flexibility, favored attack angle, all of it. He was not going to be a Hero who mowed through his opponents. He was a warrior of precision and exactness.
When he went for the final blow, it would be perfectly controlled and utterly definitive.
* * *
“That boy might have done well in any other fight.” There was a wide berth around the speaker, as Heroes and students alike gave him plenty of room. Some, because he was a living legend, others, because he was the head of the DVA, and a few simply because he gave off an aura of authority that naturally made people want to steer clear of his gaze. The only ones standing next to Graham DeSoto, who had only entered the viewing room moments before Shane’s match, were Dean Blaine and Casper, the man once known as Hallow. The latter had actually come with Graham, cashing in some of the goodwill he’d built up for a ticket to see Intramurals.
“He’s quite strong, with a good grasp of tactics and a powerful ability,” Dean Blaine agreed.
“Very much so, I hope he finds a Hero to learn from who can foster those gifts,” Graham said.
Casper was watching the screens as Ervin pressed Shane onto the defensive yet again. “Am I missing something? The sword-kid seems to be holding his own pretty well, why are you both talking about this fight like it’s already over?”
A short, raspy sigh slipped from Graham. “Because Ervin’s primary method of attack is a blade. And while Shane has had ample experience fighting against all manner of different techniques and abilities, he has fought against blades more than anything else. Ervin is good, but Shane has spent his life fighting, countering, and working to overcome these sorts of tactics. His only shot at victory were those throwing daggers. From the moment the trees came down, this fight was finished.”
* * *
The trouble with all the techniques Ervin was using was that they took a lot of energy. Big, flashy movements and strikes coming one after another were going to wear a body down, no matter how much training it had. On the other hand, Shane was keeping every step limited to the bare minimum, conserving his strength and relying on his shadows to attack. Using them did take a toll, he couldn’t conjure them forever, however he was spending far less effort to maintain the stalemate than Ervin was, which was precisely why it wouldn’t be a stalemate for long.
When Ervin went for a thrust, he over-extended slightly and Shane saw the window of opportunity he’d been waiting for. A shadow blade whipped around from the side, catching Ervin just below the calf. As he grimaced in pain, Shane used the momentary distraction to strike again, this time going high and cutting deep into the shoulder of the arm holding the sword. Just as he’d hoped, Ervin’s grip faltered, the sword drooping, and that was all it took. Before he could try to recover, Shane delivered another slice to each limb, sending Ervin tumbling backwards into the grass. A lone shadow curved around his throat as he lay on the ground, staring up at the false sky overhead.
“Deathblow,” Shane announced.
“Shane DeSoto of Lander has won this battle! For those keeping track, that means Lander is the only school to win all of their opening matches. Let’s see if they can keep that streak going through the next round! Now someone get a healer to the field, I don’t think Ervin is walking anywhere with those wounds.”
Ervin was staring up at Shane, struggling to move his arms and legs despite the pain. “You’re pretty good with those things.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice, especially against someone who likes swords and close-range fighting, so don’t feel too bad,” Shane told him.
“Thanks. That makes me feel way better about losing in the first round.” Ervin managed to pull himself into a sitting position after a bit of wiggling, although it was obvious from the wincing that every movement hurt. “You’d better not be holding back some whole other aspect of your power or anything. Losing is bad enough; I’m going to be pissed if you were sand-bagging the whole time.”
“I won’t say I pulled out every trick in the book, but you made me fight seriously. Maybe once we’re both Heroes, we can have some rematches.” Shane hunkered down, lowering his voice slightly. “I’m still trying to beat that person who likes to fight with swords, and the more practice I can get, the better.”
Ervin nodded. “I’m fine with that. Next time, I won’t go down so easy. But maybe we can also skip the part where you cut my tendons. This is… not fun.” He smiled in spite of the pain, and Shane returned the expression.
Maybe there was more to Intramurals than just beating each other up after all.