This is the song that never ends… Yes it goes on and on my FRIEND! Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was… Susan Owens grunted softly in distaste as she realized that her ‘anti-psychic’ tactic was now quite thoroughly stuck in her own head. The Shifter clung precariously to the ceiling as she observed the multi-team battle below, and waited for the sign that it was time for her to engage. …continue singing it forever just because…
Finally, she spotted what she was looking for. The giant plumes of greenish foam shot up around the unnatural foliage below her and off to the left. The angle Susan had from the ceiling didn’t quite give her the view of Team 4 that she wanted, but she was fairly certain she spotted a flicker in the glowing fields over in that direction.
The rictus grin that was Susan’s only real expression in her Shifted form widened slightly, and she pushed off the ceiling with spindly, but incredibly powerful legs. Her targets were moving almost exactly along the line she had expected, and the plummeting girl couldn’t help herself as she let out a shout of triumph. A split second before she crashed heavily into the second ranked student in the sophomore class.
Collin’s heavy crystalline form was bowled over by the massive impact, and the blonde accompanying him was stunned for the instant it took Susan to reorient herself and launch another attack. Ames staggered back, a startled cry escaping from the most powerful sophomore’s lips as Susan’s surprise punch crushed the skinny girl’s nose.
“Surprise!” Susan dipped under Amelia’s first counter attack, dropping briefly to all fours to maneuver her awkward, spindly frame forward to attack Collin again before the male Shifter could recover from the surprise attack.
Susan grunted as a crystal fist slammed into her stomach, but her opponent hadn’t yet properly braced himself and the blow pushed him back to the ground almost as much as it impacted Susan. Slender, taloned hands gripped the crystal Super before he could make another attempt to recover his footing, and Susan swung her opponent off the ground and threw him halfway down the block and through the last standing wall of a hollowed out building.
A second evasion proved less successful than the first, as the Shifter attempted to drop under another attack from Amelia but was sent spinning off her feet by a glancing blow. God dammit that hurts. Susan hissed in suppressed pain, but instead of hauling herself to her feet as her opponent was expecting, she skittered sideways along the ground on inhuman limbs and wrapped up the blonde girl’s ankles before Amelia could dodge.
Susan’s grin widened again as the class’ top ranked combatant sailed through the air and sent the class’ second ranked combatant tumbling back into the rubble he’d just pulled himself out of. Before either of the pair could properly find their feet, Susan landed between them. The Shifter’s assault was relentless; taloned strikes interspersed with more grabs to throw and shove the other sophomores off balance, and frequent drops to the ground to use all four of her freakishly long, emaciated limbs to reposition with a grace and speed she’d never shown either of her opponents in earlier training.
Susan managed to keep both powerhouses reeling and unable to mount an effective offense for almost a minute before things went wrong. Amelia kicked through the loose debris around her feet with enough force to send the entire pile rolling away from her, and briefly pinning the Shifter in place. Collin immediately leapt forward to take advantage of the slip, demonstrating a speed of his own that he’d obviously been holding back during earlier trainings. Susan managed to bring her arms up in a defensive block, and had a split-second to pray that the spindly limbs would hold up to a direct hit from the crystalline monster flying towards her.
All three fighters were taken completely off guard when a grey-suited, blonde haired blur met Collin’s leap in mid-air and sent the massive Shifter spinning away from his target.
“Biting off a little more than you can chew, Susan?” Alexandra paused long enough to throw a smirk at her fallen classmate before darting forward to engage Collin again.
“Had it under control.” Susan’s raspy, sepulchral whisper carried a heavy note of exasperation as she pulled herself upright to face off with only the top ranked sophomore.
Amelia didn’t attempt to join in the banter, though she did wear a wide smile as she charged forward to try and take Susan off her feet again. The Shifter opted to take the unexpected route, and lunged forward to meet the charge. A half second later, it was Amelia that went tumbling through the rubble again.
“You’ve been getting better, and you’re still a lot stronger, but you still move like an amateur.” Susan’s taunt was delivered without any malice evident in her Shifted voice. Her tone was simple, matter-of-fact.
Amelia came back to her feet, still smiling, and proceeded to rush her opponent once more. This time Susan went high, leaping over the charging blonde and lashing out with raking talons as she flew past. And that’s the problem with fighting Ames. Even if she moves like an amateur, I can barely hurt her, and she only needs me to make ONE mistake.
The thunderous crashes as the two incredibly strong students clashed again and again were echoed by the titanic battle going on right beside them, and sometimes right PAST them, as Alexandra and Collin attacked each other with wild abandon.
A flicker of light over Amelia’s shoulder caught Susan’s attention, and the Shifter dropped back into a nearly relaxed stance and giggled softly. Note to self: do not giggle while Shifted. I sound like I’m about to murder and eat someone.
“Care to let me in on the joke?” Amelia had paused as well at the unexpected action from her opponent, and even Collin and Alexandra had switched to warily circling each other as they had heard the extremely disturbing sounds of humor from Susan.
“No jokes. Mission accomplished, time for us to go!” Susan forced herself NOT to giggle again at the dumbfounded stares her statement drew, but had no further time to explain as the area around the four powerful fighters exploded in a maelstrom of brilliant color and sound.
Susan was the only one expecting the sudden, illusionary, onslaught; and she smiled as she heard the startled cries behind her as she sprinted away. She looked down briefly as she ran through the shifting corridor of illusions that led her to meet back up with her team, and then to one of the room’s exits. Clutched carefully in her oversized fingers was a small, metallic ball. The one that had been carefully tucked away in one of Amelia’s uniform pockets just a couple of minutes ago.
The rictus grin on her face grew a little bit wider once again, as she heard the mental shout of frustration from Catalina as the powerful telepath caught on to the Team 9 and 6 alliance just a little too late to warn her teammates about it.
“I can’t believe that worked!” Kaori laughed to punctuate her exclamation as her team finally stopped running, three rooms away from the massive battle. She laughed again as she heard an irritated mumble in the back of her head. “Who’s ball did we steal?”
“Alex’s.” Team 6’s captain produced the metallic orb in question for a moment before tucking it into an ‘invisible’ pouch on his belt. “She was so busy planning her grand entrance against Collin that she never noticed me.”
Both girls, and the currently female-formed Shifter shared a laugh at that.
“So that’s five for us, and maybe we can sell me services again to make it an even six!” Kaori reached into her own, visible, belt pouch to make sure that both the balls she carried were still present. Questing fingers quickly located both the one she’d started with, and the one that they had traded a minute of her healing abilities for.
“I don’t think we should get greedy, we just need to hold on to our five.” Lisa adopted a more serious expression as she looked back and forth between her teammates. “Seriously, five should be more than enough.”
“I suppose.” Kyle sighed theatrically as he agreed with the short girl’s assessment. “Still, it wou-…”
The rest of his speech was interrupted as something tore through the wall a few feet to the side of the group and ripped a furrow through the planters in the small greenhouse.
“Shit, three!” The words weren’t fully past Kaori’s lips when the air around them shimmered with dozens of illusionary images, a dense fog with Team 6 shaped silhouettes darting in every direction imaginable.
Another metal slug tore through the wall, this one coming close enough that Lisa went down with a yelp as fragments of the wall ripped into her leg. Kaori had her teammate back on her feet in a matter of seconds, and threw a questioning glance at her captain. “How the hell can Scott see us?”
Kyle hesitated for a second, then cursed under his breath. “If Erin’s with him, she can play spotter. That’s why he can’t just bullseye us, and why he’s using the slower shots. She’s trying to aim for him.”
“Those were SLOWER?” Kaori’s incredulous stare was met with a pair of grim nods from the other two.
The silhouetted fog illusion vanished, replaced with a shifting sphere of iridescent light. The two girls blinked a few times to clear their vision, but the loud profanity they heard from the direction of their attackers told them that Kyle’s latest defense was MUCH brighter from the outside.
“Come on, it won’t take Erin long to figure out how to see through that too, and Zach is probably flanking us.” The Shifter’s unnaturally beautiful, feminine face scrunched up for a moment in extreme concentration, and half the large room around the greenhouse was suddenly filled with various oblong shapes that shimmered through a blinding array of colors.
Kaori lunged forward to catch Kyle as he staggered from the effort, but a trickle of healing energy was all it took to keep him on his feet. “That’s an impressive light show, boss.”
Behind her, Kaori heard as Lisa made an appreciative noise that sounded like agreement, and the three of them ran from the building and made a beeline for the closest exit. Kyle’s earlier prediction was proven almost immediately true, as a whip of kinetic force lashed into their escape path. Unfortunately for Zach, he was far too dazzled by the incredibly bright illusions to have his proper depth perception. The flailing attack missed all three targets, and Lisa barely broke stride to send a blast of compressed air that blew her target off his feet to roll out of sight.
Kaori ran in the middle, focusing her energy on keeping Kyle at full capacity while he maintained the incredible set of illusions that was covering their escape, when suddenly a feeling in the pit of her stomach caused her to reach forward and grab one of the Shifter’s wings. And pull back hard.
Team 6 sprawled to the ground in an awkward pile of arms and legs at the sudden action from the healer in the middle, but before complaints or curses could be leveled another metal slug blasted by in front of them and took out a section of the metal exit door at about knee-height.
Kyle pulled himself off the pile first, and the momentarily dimmed illusions flared back to life even brighter than before. The immediate string of cursing in the distance told them that Team 3’s best sniper was at least momentarily out of commission.
Kyle and Kaori were through the door in seconds, with Lisa diving through and slamming it shut. The first two were almost halfway down the first flight of stairs when they realized that their teammate wasn’t following.
“What’s up, Lisa? We have to go!” Kaori called out to her friend, and started to move back up when the shorter girl raised a forestalling hand.
Instead of an explanation, Lisa pursed her lips and blew an incredibly intense stream of blue-white flame at the door. A muffled, female cry from the other side revealed that they had been right to expect pursuit, but Lisa ignored the cry and carefully traced the doorframe.
“There!” The rainbow-haired girl sounded badly out of breath when she finally finished, and the wave of heat from her impromptu welding work had driven both her teammates down another flight of stairs, but she sounded fully cheerful as she descended after them. “That should be hard enough to get through that they go after someone else.”
“Lisa, that was awesome.” Kaori offered her friend a brief hug as the lagging girl caught up, and accompanied it with a quick burst of healing energy to replenish stamina and ward off a large amount of rapidly blistering skin.
Kyle simply nodded a fervent agreement, and Team 6 continued down the staircase, and back into the maze.
“Guys, this way!” Gerard Finne turned and sprinted towards the excited voice of his teammate.
This place makes absolutely no sense sometimes. Team 4’s captain shook his head as he met up with Antoin and both continued on in the direction of Jon’s voice. A series of interconnecting hotel hallways, but with no hotel rooms behind the doors, just more hallways that lead to different parts of the labyrinth.
At the beginning, Gerard had tried to create a logical map of the environment as his team progressed through the chambers. He’d given up on that approach almost immediately. It’s like a random collection of everywhere that a Hero might POSSIBLY get into a fight, and they keep MOVING EVERYTHING. So far, the blond youth was not a fan of Overton’s most famous training feature.
Rounding another corner, the two men finally found their third teammate. Jon was standing half in a doorway near the end of the hallway, waving excitedly.
“Come on guys, eight minutes!”
Gerard exchanged a puzzled glance with Antoin as the two jogged down the short hallway, but the unasked question was answered as soon as he got a peak through the door Jon was standing in. A massive projected display on the ground showed a countdown from 471 seconds as it came into his line of sight. Scoring room, less than eight minutes…
“That is going to be a LONG wait.” Antoin’s tone was full of caution as the three reunited and took a good look at the next room.
Gerard was forced to shake his head again at the jarring change in scenery, as he stepped from an upscale hotel hallway directly into a wide open parking lot.
“No one else is here yet, you can tell because there’s NO cover in here. And we specialize in MAKING cover. This is perfect!”
Antoin shrugged and turned to Gerard, the captain having not weighed in yet. “I think Jon is voting ‘yea.’ I’m going with ‘nay’ personally. You’re the deciding vote for team blond!”
Gerard didn’t bother to scowl as the healer brought up the failed team nickname again. “Unfortunately, Antoin, I have to vote with Jon on this one. We’re the best team for holding a completely open scoring point, and we’ll have one of the hardest runs at the final goal. We NEED to score when we get the chance, because we might not get another one.”
Antoin shrugged amicably at being outvoted, and the three youths jogged out into the wide open chamber to stand surrounding the goal post. Rather than waiting for another team to make an appearance – especially since we have SEVERAL teams that don’t even need to ‘appear’ to get to us – Gerard immediately formed a dense barrier around his team and their objective. A moment later, teeth gritted with effort and pointedly ignoring the surprised looks his teammates threw his way, the transparent barrier began to rotate. Quickly.
“I… did not know you could do that, Ger.” Antoin’s healing field filled Gerard with refreshing energy even before the healer spoke, and the captain simply grunted again instead of correcting the shortening of his name.
Jon examined the rapidly spinning barrier with a look of approval on his face, then his expression also shifted to one of deep concentration as flat planes of solid light began to flicker in and out all around the outside AND inside of Gerard’s barrier.
“That should keep the teleporters out. You keep us going, Antoin, and drop the damned ball in that post the second it opens.” Antoin rolled his eyes at the obvious instructions, but moved closer to the post in any event.
Minutes passed, and Gerard and Jon both found themselves struggling to maintain their impressive defenses even with Antoin constantly refreshing their physical energy. This… takes… more… focus than… I thought…
“We have guests.” The quiet words from the healer jerked both Gerard and Jon’s attention outward, to where Team 5 stood across the parking lot from them.
The two teams held their respective ground for quite some time, Team 4 tensed to defend their goal while Team 5 held a brief whispered discussion. Then, with a little less than sixty seconds left on the clock, Rorie offered a cheerful wave to the three blond men and his team blinked across the parking lot to exit the room through the same door that Team 4 had entered through.
Under a minute later, Team 4 took off in the direction that Team 5 had originally come from, all three wearing satisfied smiles after their first successful score.
“We TOTALLY could have taken them!” Louise grumbled to her teammates as they made their way through what looked to be a very old steam tunnel after exiting the parking lot.
“We MIGHT have been able to take them.” In spite of the correction, Rorie’s tone sounded full of agreement. “On the other hand, I’ve never seen Gerard do that spinning barrier thing before. We might not have been able to get through it before the timer ran down anyways.”
“Be could have just blinked me in there and I could have taken all three of them!”
“‘Be’ is NOT going to teleport into a randomly shifting environment of Jon’s light constructs. Those things are fucking SHARP.” The teleporter sounded mostly exhausted at this point, having had to argue with Louise for most of the final so far. “If we’d had a couple of minutes to go, I think we would have gone for it. But that wasn’t a match in our favor.”
“This way!” Louise abandoned the conversation as it seemed to have fully turned against her, and selected the teams’ new direction when the tunnel they were in came to a fork. Not having a better option, her teammates exchanged a shrug and followed after the tiny girl. “We have to find SOMEONE and kick their asses to make up for Be trading away one of our objectives already!”
“Hey, YOU were unconscious at the time. So stop complaining that I got you back into the game!”
“Both of you, PLEASE, stop arguing. If we’re going to make any progress, we need to be quiet so that we at least have a CHANCE to surprise someone.” The heavily built Samoan youth managed to convey a great deal of authority as he spoke barely above a whisper.
Louise grumbled once, but then lapsed into silence as the three continued along. The tunnel took a sharp turn, then dead-ended at a concrete wall. A quick search revealed recessed ladders in both walls, one leading up and the other down. A silent look was exchanged between the three, and Rorie shrugged and pointed up. Beulah immediately shook her head and pointed down, and after a second of consideration Louise nodded and backed up the teleporter’s vote. Rorie simply shrugged again and moved to start making his way down the ladder.
After nearly a minute of climbing, very nervous climbing as all three members of Team 5 found themselves contemplating EXACTLY how easily their whole team could be wiped out if they were ambushed in the narrow shaft, Rorie reached a small hatch and pulled it open. The three climbers quietly made their way out onto some kind of scaffolding, and looked around to examine their new surroundings.
Louise moved to peer over the edge, and immediately turned an excited expression back to her teammates and made a wild beckoning gesture. Rorie and Beulah crept carefully to the edge, and looked down to see what had the tiny girl so excited. About a sixty feet down from where Team 5 was perched, Team 6 had taken shelter in the assorted construction equipment that seemed to litter the massive room.
A few glances, some angry hand gestures, more glances, and finally a resigned shrug from Beulah and a fierce smile from Louise later, the two girls moved back from the edge while Rorie knelt down to get a good line at his targets. Kyle, Kaori, and Lisa had almost no time to react before barrage of low-powered concussive blasts began detonating around them. The three scrambled quickly to try and find better cover, and an illusionary cover blocked Rorie’s line of sight, but he didn’t really need to aim precisely to be effective with his assault. Four blasts later, he paused and heard the two rapid *cracks* from behind him as Beulah vanished with Louise and reappeared without her. A split second later, a pained cry and loud crackling noise came from the other side of the illusionary barrier and Beulah vanished again. When she reappeared the second time, she was holding a hugely grinning Louise.
“Up, now!” Beulah reached forward for Rorie’s hand as she shouted the order, and he immediately complied.
Or tried to, at least, as he suddenly dropped back to his knees with a look of intense pain on his face. The teleporter lunged forward to grab a hold of her captain and the three of them were back in the steam tunnels the next instant.
“Kaori got line of sight?” There was genuine sympathy in Louise’s voice, though the wide grin on her face didn’t waver.
“God DAMN that hurts. How’d it go?”
In response, Louise managed to widen her grin just a little bit more, and produced a metallic ball from her belt pouch. “Lisa’s down, but probably not for long with Kaori on their team.”
“They’re probably going to be pissed that you just stole back your payment for getting healed, you know.” Beulah moved to begin climbing up the ladder that was their team’s other way out as she spoke.
Louise simply responded with a dismissive snort. “This isn’t the one you paid them with. You paid Kaori, I stole this from Lisa. And all’s fair in the finals!”
Rorie simply rolled his eyes, and forced himself to ignore the lingering pain in his back as he climbed up after his cheerfully bickering teammates.
“You sure about this?” Tara Warren looked at her team’s captain with an uncertain expression. “It seems… dangerous?”
“Sure I’m sure!” Amelia followed behind the short redhead, relying on the tech-genius Super’s ability to have actually deciphered the insane map that Dani had shown them at the start of the final. “We got surprised, and suckered, and we have to make sure that DOESN’T happen again. If we just wander the rooms, odds are that SOMEONE will get the drop on us, right?”
Tara couldn’t really find a fault in the simple logic, and a glance showed her that her other teammate looked largely indifferent to the whole affair. “But setting up in the last room, already?”
“It’ll be fine, Tara. Collin’s team is meeting us there, and we’ve got a better plan in place this time.” The blonde girl stretched her left shoulder out as she walked, seeming completely oblivious to the obvious injuries she sported from her melee with Susan.
Maybe she really DOESN’T feel little wounds like those. “Okay, you’re the captain.”
“Oh, don’t give me that line.” Amelia’s cheerful tone finally shifted to sound almost reproachful. “If you can give me a real argument for why we shouldn’t head to the center early and set up for ambush, then tell me and we can discuss it! This way El has time to scout everything, I get to take a break while camping out the goal, and you can get your surprise set up!”
“My w-what?” Tara flushed and stammered at the last declaration, but her captain simply made a dismissive wave that cut off the rest of her denial.
“You brought a case with you that you don’t normally, it’s got a vial of something that GLOWS, and I know because you checked it like thirty times while we were in the ready room, and whatever it is is loaded into one of the injectors you usually use on yourself.” Amelia ticked off each point on a finger without slowing her stride. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what you cooked up. I bet it’s going to be EPIC!”
Eloise finally broke her stoic expression to giggle at the level of enthusiasm and sincerity displayed by the class’s top ranked combatant, and Tara finally stopped blushing long enough to nod.
“Y-yeah. I don’t know if it will actually work or not yet, but one way or another, it’ll definitely be epic.”