Chapter 278

                Shane had his mind made up; he was going to end this fight quickly. Keeping his ability to strike someone with their own shadow secret had been the right call during the first match, but after seeing Alice fight and hearing about Chad’s loss, it was clear that the stakes had been raised. He couldn’t afford to keep that tactic off the table for another round, especially not if Vince had made it through his fight. One blow, at the start of the match, to get Shane into the next bout.

                This was an odd field, what looked like a deserted farm with a small patch of corn and a dilapidated barn. What had Lander used this field to train for? Probably better not to wonder, all things considered. Across the stretch of open, yellowed grass, stood Shane’s opponent. She was watching his every movement closely, keeping careful tabs on how he held himself. From what Shane had gathered, she’d won her fight using a set of guns and rubber-bullets, meaning it was all the more important that he take her out quickly. As a Super without any kind of endurance abilities, getting shot by one of those in a vital spot would count as a deathblow. It spared the students from actual lethal injury by dealing with live-ammo, but it was still a humiliating way to go all the same. Shane couldn’t say it wasn’t a fair metric, though. The people they fought in the real world would absolutely have guns, and they wouldn’t be using rubber in their bullets.

                “Introductions, please,” Victor commanded them.

                “Lesley Huber, Weapons major. I’m going with the code name Dodge.”

                “Shane DeSoto, Control major. My Hero name is going to be Styx.”

                There was a brief pause before the crackle of static, and Shane couldn’t help but wonder if Victor was trying to build tension in the audience. “Very well then, time to begin!”

                Shane didn’t delay for even a second. As soon as Victor gave the word, his sclera turned black as he willed Lesley’s shadow into movement. It arched up, ready to take out every muscle in the back of her calves with a single swipe. The blade jerked suddenly, slicing through the air… and connecting with nothing.

                Somehow, Lesley had seen the attack coming. She’d flipped backward from a standing position, spinning in the air and keeping her legs out of range. It was an amazing move, so stunning Shane almost paused to admire it. Then he saw the glint of a muzzle in her hand as it raised to take aim. The idea was crazy, there was no way she could land a shot like that while flipping backward. And yet, Shane still dove out of the way, barely avoiding the bullet that came racing through the air, right where his heart had been. He refused to take any opponent on this stage lightly, and it was an attitude that had just spared him a quick defeat.

                Now on the defensive, Shane formed a barrier of whipping shadows around himself, similar to the technique he’d used against Professor Pendleton’s fog. Lesley had already landed, still standing out in the open, gun raised, as she studied the frenzied barrier he’d surrounded himself with. One shot rang out, slamming against the edge of a shadow that cut it in half. A miss, but a closer miss than it should have been. How was she this good of a shot? Shane needed to figure out her power, and fast, if he wanted to have a chance of winning. But first, he needed to retake control of the fight.

                A barrage of shadows swarmed around Lesley, striking from half a dozen different angles. Credit where it was due: the woman had chosen an apt Hero name. With seemingly no effort, she dove and ducked between the blades, still managing to fire off shots that came a little closer to breaking through his defense each time. Nothing took her by surprise, no matter the angle of the attack.

                This wasn’t working. She was getting nearer to victory, while he was staying as ineffectual as before. Deciding it was time to use some strategy, Shane waited until her back was turned in a roll and then bolted for the withered patch of corn. Getting out of her line of sight should at least buy him some breathing room. Hopefully he’d be able to think of a new attack pattern with a few seconds of peace. Shane made it into the corn without issue, rustling the stalks as he ran deeper into the paltry cover. He heard the crack of a gunshot seconds before the rubber bullet came tearing through the corn. The  bullet slammed into his left forearm, smarting like hell but not leaving anything more than a bruise.

                “Damn rubber bullets. A real one wouldn’t have been knocked off track by the corn.” Lesley sounded more annoyed than anything. And really, why wouldn’t she be? It was clear to Shane which of them had been running this fight since it started, so it was damn sure obvious to all the people watching. Shane had the power to animate shadows into living weapons, Lesley had a gun with fake bullets, and she’d driven him into hiding within the span of minutes.

                Hunkering down, Shane reformed his barrier of shadows, hoping that the addition of cover by the corn would keep him safe. He needed to think of something. She was learning the timing of his shadows with every shot, and while he could make them go faster or slower with concentration, they’d default to a natural rhythm when he split his focus to attack. The bigger question was what the hell Lesley’s power was. She was able to avoid every attack he sent her way, often by less than an inch, and her aim was beyond good. So, a power that allowed surgically-precise dodging and near-perfect aim. Shane had grown up around Heroes; he’d seen a bevy of abilities in person and heard about more through his grandfather’s lessons.

                The trouble was, there were too many options. Maybe she was using illusions to make him think he was attacking her while she carefully lined up shots. Or she was seeing through his eyes, knowing every move he was making and what his weak spots were. Hell, maybe she could look a few heartbeats into the future for all he knew. There just wasn’t enough information.

                So what did he know? She favored ranged attacks, but she wasn’t a Ranged Combat major. Her training was in using normal bullets, since she hadn’t accounted for how the corn would affect the rubber ammo. The attack style she used focused on precision over quantity, every shot had been intended as a hit, Lesley didn’t waste her bullets. But why? If she fired more, she could have put extra pressure on him, maybe even scoring a few more hits. Was she starting off slow, taking a gauge of him at the start of the fight?

                No, that might be true but it was only part of the explanation. Lesley chose her shots carefully because guns could only fire so many times before they needed to be reloaded, and that would be her most vulnerable moment. She was trying to delay it by making every bullet count. Shane hadn’t been keeping track of her ammo, however he had to assume she was using this chance to reload. In fact, that explained why he hadn’t seen any bullets fly by for several seconds.

                His best chance was to make her drain the magazine again. Even if she had more guns and merely swapped them out, it would still be a moment where she was unarmed. That was the window Shane was aiming for, the short time where she’d be unable to counter-attack.

                Rising to his feet, Shane got ready to run. It was time to start drawing some fire.