Scene 9 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
When a bell rang to start the match, I immediately leapt into Simone’s arms. “Take us to the tallest building, up there,” I ordered, pointing to it. Canaveral had taught me that the second-tallest building was a better viewpoint for overwatch, as the tallest building was the first place anyone would look. With him as the opposing chessmaster, though, I knew that he would skip the tallest, thinking that I knew better. “The rest of you, scatter for now.”
The world shattered and rebuilt itself around us as Simone bent space itself to her whim, and I slipped out of her arms a moment later. A few quick gestures set up a command station for myself – a spell that captured a 3d map of the surrounding area and rendered a model of it for me to view, one which I could expand into a more detailed view from any location. Developing it had been the most difficult spell I had created, up until I finished the earpiece spell.
Speaking of, I activated the final piece of that spell, which Simone had stopped me before I had had time to explain. The earpieces also relayed to me a view of what their wearer would be able to see, and I tossed up a set of four illusory screens so I could see it as well. I skipped summoning my own view, of course, and a moment later I dismissed Simone’s as well – she had glanced curiously at the screens, and her own viewport had immediately become recursive and headache-inducing.
Finally, I threw up an quick invisibility bubble around all of us. Invisibility was remarkably simple – just duplicate all light entering the bubble to the opposite side and at the same angle, and remove all light that would leave the bubble. I should have done it first, I knew, not a full minute into our arrival, but no one should be able to see me or Simone from ground level anyway, so…
I took a moment to scan the map. I selected one particular spot and expanded it. “This is a good spot for the real flag,” I told her.
She patted her belt theatrically – the real flag still invisible – then gave me a thumbs up and vanished, the space where she had been shattering like glass and reforming without her. Only a few seconds passed before she returned.
I kept an eye on my teammates’ viewports as they moved, but devoted most of my attention to the model map. I didn’t know exactly where the New Champions had started, not until I actually found them, but I knew it was roughly opposite to us within the arena. And, of course, they could move the flag just as much as we could…
Or, I thought with a sigh, they could take a page from my book, and bunker down as we had last year. I had found the flag, covered in a thick layer of ice that must have been generated by Vulcan. The man himself was leaning casually against it, eyes on the sole entrance to the room it was in, and it was clear that he had no plans to move.
“Well, no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” I said to myself. “Broadcast: change of plans, everyone. Vulcan iced over the flag so we can’t get at it. I think…” I zoomed in a little farther, then nodded. “Sequoia, I think you can break through the ice, but it would take you a bit. We’ll need to either draw Vulcan away or gang up on him.”
“I can draw him away,” Hypnos offered.
“Hypnos: that might be the way to go, but as a last resort, remember,” I reminded him. “Stay out of sight for now.” I stroked my chin thoughtfully. “Hmm…”
Canaveral was roaming freely, but was quite a ways away from Anima and Starling, who were closer to each other – although not too close, as they were moving in different directions. Starling, in fact, was too close to Sequoia for comfort – we would need him to free the flag. Who could I send against them to reduce the New Champions’ numbers… “Newton: Anima is two blocks ahead of you and one block to your left,” I told Quinn. “Take her out, if you would.
“Sequoia: Starling is hot on your tail,” I said to him. “I’m going to have Journey carry you away from him – we can’t risk you being taken out before we get the flag.”
“I can handle him for a bit,” he offered. “Keep him tied up so he can’t find anyone else. I’m tanky and he only has daggers.”
I considered it. “Do it, but if you start having trouble, call for help immediately,” I decided. I didn’t think it was a great idea, but I wasn’t going to micromanage their battles unless they really needed it. If this was a real situation, I wouldn’t wait for my teammates to call for help before sending assistance, but they had to learn to call for help when they needed it as well.
“Journey: bring Sequoia the rest of the way to Starling, then come back here and keep an eye on the battles with me. Be ready to drop in and assist one of them if they need it, or to harry Canaveral if he comes to help himself.”
Scene 10 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
I bounded across the simulated rooftops, keeping my ears open for reports from my team while I scanned both the horizon and the streets blow me for any sign of the opposing team. As I landed from one long, power-assisted leap, my earpiece crackled to life.
“I’ve found Newton,” Anima reported. “They have the flag clipped to their belt. Moving to engage.” That… didn’t make sense. Giving the flag to Quinn, okay, I supposed – Simone had the highest mobility, but Quinn was highly mobile as well and had ESP to prevent a stealth approach. But the person with the flag engaging instead of running…
“Journey just dropped off Sequoia, who’s coming at me with intent,” Starling reported. “The flag is clipped to his belt, so I’m engaging.”
I sighed. That explained it – two flags? Holly must have created illusions to hide them. No doubt their entire team carried a ‘flag’ – of course, it was almost certain that the real flag was elsewhere. “Broadcast: don’t prioritize flags carried by the Journeymen,” I said to the whole team. “Loki has created illusions to hide its true location.” I paused for a moment, considering, then added, “Our best path to victory here is to take out their team, rather than to find their flag.
“Starling:” I said, switching to a direct line, “switch to hunting players, not the flag.”
The real flag was somewhere, but almost certainly not with any of the Journeymen. Classic shell game – the ball wasn’t actually in any of the shells, it was in the magician’s hand… or in this case, probably invisible and somewhere hard for someone who couldn’t teleport to get to. No real point in searching for it, not when we outclassed the Journeymen in combat skill.
Scene 11 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
I hadn’t expected fighting Anima to be easy, but I had expected to have a decent chance at least – Loki wouldn’t have sent me to fight her if I hadn’t had a chance, would he?
Apparently he might have. I had rushed in with my bat outstretched, hoping to catch the heroine by surprise, but she dodged as easily as if she did it every day. A brilliant white energy, burning like fire and crackling like lightning and drifting like smoke all at once, had sprung up around her like an aura around the edges of her body, and she was incredibly fast with it active. It was, I knew, the zoetic energy of life that she controlled, being used to enhance her physical abilities – it didn’t show up on camera, but I had read descriptions of it.
I had to rely on my presence to help me stay out of her way as she swung her bat, bouncing around by pulling and pushing on the world around me. I was trying to put some distance between us so I could think, as at that moment all I could focus on was dodging. It wasn’t harder than dodging Legion had been, but it was taking longer – Canaveral had made me leave pretty quickly.
“You’re doing quite well!” Anima said, giving me a smile. “Especially without any training, yet. The surprise attack was a good idea.”
“Thanks,” I gasped, “but getting some training first… might have been… a better one!” As I leaped over her bat again, I pushed her, finally separating from her and backing up.
She paused for a moment as well, glancing over herself. I had gotten struck her with a single strike during the melee, a streak of light blue running down one arm, but she wiped it away with her sponge.
“Shouldn’t you be spending energy on that healing?” I pointed out as I tried to get my breath back. Anima could run out of energy, I remembered from her explanation of her power – perhaps I could outlast her? It seemed more likely than beating her right now, I had to admit to myself.
“I suppose so,” she agreed, and her aura flared up even more powerfully for a few moments. “Better?”
I theatrically shaded my eyes. “Sort of,” I said, blinking. Through my presence, I saw her slide her foot back and felt some of that blazing energy sink into the ground – she was taking advantage of my apparent distraction to create a golem.
Actually, many golems, I realized as a horde of sparrow-sized birds burst forth from the concrete, each only the size of a fist. Life energy sparked between them, marking it all as only one intelligence as they flew in formation. A single, larger bird would have been too heavy to fly, I supposed.
The birds came after me and I had to bounce back into the air and continue moving in order to dodge them.
I reached out with my presence to try and grab them and shove them back, but it was difficult to focus on all of them at once – instead, I shifted to trying to grab one of them and break it.
That didn’t work either, though – I was wearing a paintball outfit rather than the PA4 (which didn’t seem fair to either me or Starling, whose powers were also boosted by his suit), and as a result I couldn’t safely put out enough force to break the concrete. I could push beyond my limit, I supposed, but that would lead to massive bruises. Not, I supposed, that I was likely to escape them anyway – not with the way I had been jumping around already. While I was roof-running I could use more gradual acceleration, but dodging in tight quarters needed –
I leaped into the air over a swing instinctively, reminded at the last moment that Anima was also a threat. Her aura had dimmed until it was nearly imperceptible when she animated the swarm of birds, and the swipe of her bat that I had only noticed when it disturbed my presence wasn’t quite as fast as they had been – that was all that had saved me.
“Loki:” I spat, caught between a golem and its master, “I’m having trouble on my own.”
“Understood. Sequoia also requires assistance, against Starling – Journey will take you closer to them.”
The amazonian woman materialized below me as I fell and caught me in a bridal carry. She gave Anima a jaunty salute, and then we were gone.
Scene 12 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
“Newton just said something that I couldn’t catch, then Journey appeared to evacuate them,” Anima reported. They were definitely coordinating even without earpieces, then – as I suspected, Loki was connecting the group. I wondered if they had chosen a specific leader – probably Hypnos, who hadn’t been seen yet. “I couldn’t quite tag them – they’re quite good at dodging,” she commented approvingly.
“Did they get you at all?” I asked.
“Once, but not enough to take me out. I’m making sure it’s all scrubbed away now.”
“I was wearing Sequoia down, but Journey dropped Newton off a moment ago, and she’s holding me off to allow Sequoia to escape,” Starling said crossly.
“I’ll swing by to assist,” I said in answer to him. “Also, it’s they, not she.” Anima was closer, but I was faster – well, she was nearly as fast when she was wearing an aura, but to get that fast ate through her stores of energy pretty quickly. I, on the other hand, was able to get to him in less than 30 seconds.
When I arrived, Starling was sparring with Quinn on what looked like pretty even ground. Both had enhanced senses of some sort, and I could only guess that Quinn’s TK was making up for their comparative lack of experience as a fighter. Both had a similar amount of paint decorating them, although not enough to have disqualified either, yet.
Jack, meanwhile, was leaving. It took me a moment to realize why he wasn’t being evacuated by Simone – unlike Vulcan, his wooden composition left him not much weightier than he was normally, and certainly within Simone’s capacity. But Starling was an expert at throwing weapons, and could easily tag out Simone if she appeared simply by throwing one of his daggers – even if it might come at the cost of another hit from Quinn. Simone’s transportation abilities were one of the few advantages that the Journeymen had over us in this match, so Holly was probably unwilling to risk her.
On the other hand, I thought as I leapt towards Jack, the dryad’s enhanced strength would be necessary if they wanted to free the flag from the icy prison Vulcan had placed it in. What use protecting their queen if they left the king vulnerable?
Jack spun to face me as I came in to land, heavy bat out first, and managed to grow a wooden shield just in time to block me. The shield, covered in my dark red paint, was discarded a moment later, breaking apart as easily as if it had been made of dry leaves. He swung his bat through the cloud of particles, probably hoping that it would surprise me.
It had been a good idea, but I had dealt with such things before and wasn’t surprised even a little. I used my shorter bat to block his – twisting with my kinetic power to stop the force of his blow – and swept his legs out from under him. Sweeping a man made from hardwood stung a bit, but he was on the ground and defenseless against my heavy bat as I brought it down, and…
An amazonian figure materialized beside me, grabbing my arm and causing the world to twist around us.
I twisted the bat’s kinetic energy, turning its downward swing into a sideswipe before Journey could vanish again, and was rewarded with a wet-sounded thump as it struck Journey, who sagged, knowing that she was out.
It took a moment, as her teleportation had no doubt thrown the watching agents off momentarily, but John’s deep voice spoke around us only a few seconds later. “Journey has been taken out by Canaveral and is disqualified.”
One down – four to go.