A Change of Pace – Chapter 9

The morning moved by in excruciatingly slow motion, and it had nothing to do with Becca’s super speed. It was an unnatural phenomenon of reality. The more you were looking forward to something, the more time seemed to drag, and the less you didn’t want to do something the quicker it arrived. Becca had been on the receiving end of both ends of the spectrum and this was definitely one of the former. She was eager to prove herself too her peers, and she wanted to impress her Hero instructors. On the flip side she was nervous. She was nervous of getting beaten and broken again. Her experience with fighting was nearly nonexistent, and it showed. Like the rest of her class she’d learned a clear-cut lesson from Coach McMillian and Ma’am yesterday. That lesson had been learned through the pain and anguish of broken bones, which were pretty effective teachers.

After getting over the mental shock of having her leg snapped in half and then healed as if nothing ever happened, she’d enjoyed the Luau-themed get together the school threw for the newly arrived freshmen. She’d needed to unwind, and dancing unhindered was one of her outlets. Her increased perception and fine-tuned fast twitch muscle fibers made her well-suited for the activity, and a little liquid courage had her strutting her stuff in no time. She wasn’t big into the twerking and rhythmic gyration that so many women relied on, instead opting for something with a little more style. Her moves belonged in a movie like Footloose or Dirty Dancing.

She’d been propositioned several times during her revelries, and been forced to let a few of them down not so easy. She needed to have her head in the game tomorrow, and going off and having sex wasn’t going to help. She wasn’t a virgin, but it took more than a few drinks, a cute smile, and a good line to get her into the sack. Instead she’d enjoyed Angela’s company, which she found very enjoyable after getting past the blonde’s steel reinforced exterior. Together they’d beaten back the men and turned in with enough time to get a good night’s sleep.

Her super metabolism burned off the alcohol quickly, so Becca didn’t have a hangover the next morning. She overslept a little, so she was forced to eat a quick bite before heading off to her 8 a.m. class. No one else new she was a Super and in the HCP, but she was committed to not reinforcing the stereotype that speedsters were always late.

Becca dearly wished she’d be able to avoid the early morning classes, but Fine Arts 101 was necessary for her Art Major, and a prerequisite for many other classes. For Becca’s early morning effort, she got introduced to art by an old flower child that experienced one too many acid trips. Or at least it was the older hippie’s personal view of art. Becca’s conservative upbringing wasn’t conducive to the woman’s world viewpoint, and that included her interpretation of art. The slide show of paintings and sculpture the professor deemed “unique expression” made the blue-haired Super want to walk out. Defiling religious figures or the American flag in the name of “expression” wasn’t the beauty of art in Becca’s eyes.

<Can’t wait to be finished with that class,> she thought to herself an hour later.

Next up was Math 101. She wasn’t the biggest fan of math, and only practically used it when calculating tips and judging her own speed. Unlike the large desks used for sketching and art projects in her last class, her math classroom was filled with the same old-fashioned desk’s she had in high school. The hard plastic seats and reverse L shaped foe wood writing surface brought back the usual level of discomfort.

<Some things never change,> she sighed while pulling out her notebook, pencil, and calculator.

She was surprised to find Kyoshi had the same class. They hadn’t had time to compare class schedules in the during yesterday’s whirlwind. Despite the urge to sit next to a familiar face, they carefully positioned themselves on opposite ends of the room. They whole dorm discussed this possibility, and determined if any of them had classes together they would steer clear of one another. No need to draw unwanted attention, especially when Kyoshi’s physical characteristics pegged her as a Super. The tall telepath might be able to play off the hair and eyes as Super themed fashion, but Becca doubted many would buy it. Becca’s own hair was a little easier to throw people off with. She could go with the Super fashion excuse, or just convince people she was a rebelling teenager. Either was likely to work.

<So you and Mason…> All Becca had to do was think in Kyoshi’s direction and they could talk through the review of pre-algebra without anyone being the wiser.

Becca left the mental inquiry hanging, happy to see her dorm mate blush scarlet. <I didn’t hear any hanky-panky last night from either of your rooms, so I guess you’re making him work for it?> the telepath looked like her face was going to explode from the line of questioning, so Becca switched it up. <I bet he’s going to do great in the combat rankings today; he was the only one to nearly get a hit on Ma’am yesterday. Did he share any strategy or anything helpful with you?>

As was common with Becca, she overwhelmed the other Super with questions and statements. To make matters worse Kyoshi was asked to answer a question when she clearly wasn’t paying attention.

<Later,> Kyoshi shot back, after muddling through the problem on the board.

Becca was surprised someone could mentally communicate embarrassment and frustration so clearly in her mind. It gave her something to think about during the rest of the boring class. An hour later Becca had completed her first day of college; well, the first traditional day.

<So that’s college, hmm,> the emotion was slightly underwhelming.

Becca thought it would feel different from high school. So far it felt like she’d just done two classes and was done for the day. The one difference was the assignment of homework on the first day. That was something she definitely wasn’t fond of.

It was still a refreshing relief from an 8-3 school schedule followed by after school practice, homework, chores, and anything else her parents or the town needed done by the only Super around. With her daily academics completed she was feeling a little restless, like she should be doing something instead of making her way to an early lunch a few steps behind Kyoshi.

<Don’t worry,> the telepath had been listening to her internal dilemma. <I’m sure we’ll get busier.>

The two Super’s exited the academic building a few seconds apart, and were immediately suffocated by the late summer Florida humidity. Becca was used to four seasons, and back home the temperature was already beginning to temper into Fall. She fanned herself with her hand and pulled at her shirt to let some air circulate before embarrassing sweat stains began to form. Kyoshi was doing the same, and the two women quickly noticed their mistake. All around them young women were removing their shirts to reveal bikini tops underneath. It didn’t take long for Becca to figure out that while a shirt might be required while in class, it most certainly wasn’t outside. Apparently lack of clothing was the norm, as long as certain tidbits were covered up.

Becca made note of the transformation of the female population and telepathically relayed a message to Kyoshi. <This calls for some SHOPPING!> Kyoshi rolled her eyes as the exclamation crossed her mind, but she couldn’t hide the anticipatory smile.

They suffered the remaining five minute walk to the student union dining hall in silence; wishing they’d at least brought a bottle of water with them. By the time they’d reached the eatery a substantial layer of sweat and aroma of body odor covered them both in a very unattractive way. They both needed to adapt to this ungodly weather, and quickly for the sake of their own sanity.

They trudged through the various food stations to collect whatever they wanted. It was early enough during the lunch timeframe that there was plenty of everything. Becca piled a piece of pizza, two tacos, a salad, a big glass of water, and a chocolate chip cookie on her plate. Kyoshi settled for a salad, some fruit, and a jealous glare at the thin speedsters’ metabolism. They found a table in the relatively unpopulated rear of the room, and pointedly ignored the sticky seats and gum under the table as they dug in. While it might be running the risk of exposure to be seen together in a class of fifty people, they felt relatively comfortable in the obscurity of the growing population of the dining hall.

“I need it for this afternoon,” Becca smiled defensively to the telepath’s smirk as she stuffed the pizza down her throat. “How am I supposed to fight without any energy?”

“I just hope you digest it before things start, or whoever you’re facing is going to get a face full of half-digested pizza,” Kyoshi warned, speaking from experience.

Becca just smiled back, bouncing slightly with excitement, as she devoured her lunch. They talked a little about the Math class, Kyoshi wasn’t a fan either, and the topic quickly turned towards boys. Apparently their friendship could pass the Bechdel test yet.

“Whas up?” asked the hulking mass of Kyoshi’s desires as he joined them for lunch.

Becca couldn’t help but grin impishly as Mason took his seat next to the telepath. They’d just been talking about him, and even making some headway on how to approach the situation.

<Speak of the devil and he will appear,> Becca thought, deciding to change the topic and spare her friend the embarrassment of revealing her plans too early.

“So, Mason, you think you’re going to do ok in combat rankings today?” the big man jumped and looked around like she’d let fly a racist curse word.

“Shhhhhh,” he tried to make himself small, an impossible task. “Damn girl, you want us to get booted on the second day.”

His caution was well founded as a girl two tables away got to her feet and approached them. She was about 5’9” with olive skin, short cut dark brown hair, and gorgeous emerald eyes. Becca was surprised that the big man’s eyes didn’t wander because even she thought the girl was hot. What made the women even more mysterious was the intricate network of silver tattoos that snaked their way down her arms. It wasn’t a full sleeve or even half a sleeve, but a feminine lacework of intertwining tendrils. Becca stared at them intently and jumped slightly when they seemed to morph under her inspection.

“So, I guess you three are in the special Super program here,” it was a statement more than a question, and Becca felt a pit forming in her stomach.

<I’m so stupid,> she felt like she could cry. <And I even managed to screw up Mason and Kyoshi’s chances as well.>

The tears would have come, and quickly, if the woman’s smile didn’t silence her panicked thoughts. The perfectly straight and white teeth would have made every dentist in the country envious, and it sent a surprising wave of calm through Becca. This was obviously one of their classmates.

“Don’t piss yourself big guy,” the mystery woman chuckled, patting Mason’s massive shoulder. “I too partake in the insanity of ethics and physical training.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t recognize you,” Kyoshi had regained her composure. “We haven’t been able to meet any of our class outside our dorm mates. I’m Kyoshi,” she extended her hand in greeting. “This is Mason and Becca,” she pointed to the rest of them at the table.

“Hiya, myname’s Rebecca butyoucancallme Becca. It’s swelltomeetyou.” Becca sped through her own introduction even after Kyoshi introduced her.

<What is wrong with me?> Becca blushed, feeling like an idiot.

“Nice to meet you all,” the olive skinned Super smiled in return, even giggling at Becca’s stuttered greeting. “I’m Anika, Anika Kemps.”

 

***

 

Mason stood calmly in the lift trying very hard not to fidget. There was enough of that going around at the moment. Kyoshi was trying very hard to hide it, but there was a slight twitch in her right eyelid and she constantly needed to stop herself from playing with the ends of her hair. Still, that was a lot better than the group’s speedster. Becca was practically bouncing off the walls. Mason could have drunk a gallon of coffee and not had half as much energy as his blue-haired friend.

“Chill, Bec,” he tried to exude composure, while using his nickname for the already shortened name most used when referring to Becca.

The blue-haired beauty just gave him a toothy grin and kept on bouncing against the wall. The soft repetitive thud…thud…thud was going to drive him insane, but they were almost there so he put it out of his mind. This only left his anxiety to worry about.

Mason had knowingly stepped into the strong, silent, stereotypical strongman role for not only his dorm, but the entire freshmen class. Even the mysterious Anika Kemps, who’d he’d exchanged less than a dozen words with, viewed him in this light. That was all well and good, but it didn’t stop the fact he was scared out of his mind.

Mason could still feel the twisting sensation when Reaper had attacked the entire class at once. It was the most painful and uncomfortable feeling he’d ever experienced. One moment he was strong, poised, and ready to fight and the next he was a barely conscious wreck on the floor. It felt like she’d wrapped up his insides like a garden hose so no water could get out, and no matter how hard he tried puncturing the hose, the pressure of fatigue, disorientation, and nausea continued to build. Mason never wanted to experience that feeling again. His knockout was a welcome end to the fight. It only made it worse that he was one of the only two in class to know their alternative instructor was Reaper, and that her methods in the group battle paled in comparison to her full power.

Mason pushed the thoughts aside; reassured in the fact he wasn’t going to fight Reaper today. Or at least he thought he wasn’t. He returned his attention to the lift and its remaining two occupants. Seth was lounging against the back wall, and had taken a particular interest in Anika’s backside. His eyes kept going back and forth between her and Becca, with his internal conversation of “who has the best ass” written plainly on his face.

Both women were giving him the cold shoulder. While Becca was bouncing against the wall with excitement, Anika was studying the other woman intently. The strange Super had been vague about her ability, and Mason wondered if she saw Becca as a threat. After all Becca had survived the longest against Coach McMillian, and her speed was very impressive.

<We’ll know soon enough,> he thought as the lift opened to reveal the futuristic metal alloyed halls of the West HCP.

The group made its way silently to the auditorium where Mason took his assigned seat next to Oliver. “Sup, Brah,” the laid back surfer greeted.

“Ready for today, Big O?” Mason made pleasant conversation before the Dean arrived.

“Yeeaahh,” the nonchalant Super flashed his pearly whites in a predatory smile Mason didn’t think was possible on the man.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,” the diminutive Dean strode onto the stage with a much less threatening smile of his own. Behind him were the two freshmen instructors in a matching set of cargo pants and athletic shirts emblazoned with the West HCP crest. If it was even possible they looked more intimidating than ever. “Usually the next hour would be devoted to our ethics class, but since today is your combat rankings we will be moving straight into that.” Coach McMillan grinned behind the Dean.

“However, before Coach McMillan and the alternative instructor take you away, I want to again reiterate the secret identity clause of your HCP contract.” Mason winced, as the memory from last night came flooding back. It had been his first of two close calls in the last twelve hours.

“One of your classmates, who you have undoubtedly noticed is no longer with us, decided it was a good idea to engage in underage drinking and reveal himself to a number of college students.” Mason distinctly remembered the stumbling Super putting on an impressive lightshow for some more drunk freshmen. It was about then that he and Kyoshi decided anywhere was better than the Luau. “I must reiterate that the secret identity portion of your training is not only a significant percentage of your grade, but a safeguard for those of you who will be Heroes.” The Dean’s voice was very stern now. “Our secret identities are there to protect us and those that we care about. Your classmate will never realize his dream of becoming a Hero because of a stupid mistake. In the real world all it takes is a stupid mistake to cost lives. Please remember that as you move forward.”

The Dean stepped back and surrendered the stage to the freshmen class’ tormentors. The two instructors met the fearful, angry, and determined stares with casual expressions. Coach McMillan and Reaper had clearly demonstrated that the young Supers were more a threat to themselves than the older Heroes.

“Listen up,” Coach McMillan’s voice boomed through the room. “You will line up single file at the door and follow my lovely associate to the main viewing room. If you get lost and can’t complete such a simple task you fail and go home. You’d think people wouldn’t need to get threatened with expulsion in something so straight forward, but I’m not spending my whole afternoon playing find the freshman.”

The instant he stopped speaking the whole class surged towards the door. Mason needed to be careful not to trample someone as he rushed to join them. Luckily, his powerful legs got him near the front of the line despite being seated at the back of the class. They all had a moment to wait nervously as Reaper made her way gracefully to the front of the line.

“Follow me,” and they were off.

Some of the shorter students had to jog to keep pace with their instructor’s longer strides as she took a left, right, another right, two lefts, and then pushed into any computer aficionado’s dream room.

Flat screen monitors covered nearly every inch of the wall, showing the reinforced combat cells in ultra-high definition. A large screen dominated the center of the room, suspended from the ceiling by steel cables. It looked like it belonged in the center of a train station, or a plane concourse at JFK, instead of in the comparatively smaller viewing room. Names and locations flashed across the screen until all 49 students’ knew where their first matches would be held. That only took up half the screen. The other half was filled with a traditional looking bracket like you’d see for the NCAA tournament. It was blank at the moment, but Mason doubted it would stay that way for long. The strongman barely had time to take in the plethora of plush couches and refreshment bar before Reaper was calling out instructions.

“Glad you all made it,” her expression in no way conveyed glee. “The next part is still pretty simple, but has the same implications. You will find your name and what combat cell you will be fighting in on the board. You then have five minutes to get there before the doors lock. Once you complete your bout you will be evaluated on the spot by one of Dr. Sanderson’s healers. From there you will either return to the viewing room to identify your next match, or be taken to the infirmary for treatment before returning here. Any questions?” No one wanted to ask the obvious question, so Mason threw himself on that hand grenade.

“What are the rules for the tournament?” to Mason’s surprise Reaper gave him a not so murdery smile.

“Good question, Jackson. I’m glad someone’s sphincter isn’t so puckered they can still think straight.” She ignored the confused expression among some of the students.

Growing up in the ghetto Mason was intimately familiar with the tightening of one’s sphincter, not to mention whole body, when they were nervous or surprised by something unexpected. A lot of people called it the pucker factor, and its biological purpose was to prevent people from shitting their pants.

“This is a single elimination tournament. You will be evaluated on a multitude of factors that I’m not going to tell you because it’ll ruin the surprise. All you need to know is that it isn’t all about winning and losing, although winning doesn’t hurt your chances. You will all compete until there is only one left standing, and that person will be the number one ranked freshmen. Any more questions?” another student was a little more emboldened by Mason’s example.

“How is the bracketing going to work since we only have 49 students?” despite his height Mason couldn’t make out the questioner.

“Let us worry about that. You all just try to stay conscious,” Reaper looked right at Mason when she said this, and he experienced the previously described pucker factor. “Anything else? No. Then find your assignments and MOVE!”

The last word sent everyone scrambling like chickens with their heads cut off. Mason was no exception as he frantically scanned for his information. He found it and was halfway out the door before a voice stopped him in his tracks. “Get your ass over here, Jackson.”

Mason was infinitely glad that he’d eaten an early lunch and voided his bowels before heading down to the HCP. He might be a strongman, but his stomach was tied in knots, and Reaper’s come hither expression wasn’t helping.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Mason ran to her.

She made a come closer movement with her finger, and Mason bent down a few inches so she was whispering in his ear. “While I know it is difficult to keep things from Miss Schultz, if I discover you are sharing my identity with those who haven’t earned the right to know it…let’s just say you’ll regret it.”

Mason couldn’t stop the involuntary gulp. She didn’t need to explain how unpleasant she could make his life. “Yes, Ma’am,” his voice trembled in reply.

“Good,” a maniacal grin spread across her face. “Better hurry up, Jackson, wouldn’t want you to fail out because you didn’t make it to your room in time.”

Mason tried to summon a response, but instead just turned and ran for it. He now only had three minutes to get to his appointed duel, and a quick look at the signs said his room was at the far end.

<Of course it is,> he took off at a sprint. <Please God let no one walk out of any of these rooms,> Mason prayed, because then not getting to his room on time would be the least of his problems.

 

***

 

“…MOVE!” Seth ran along with the stampede of freshman as they scrambled to get to their assigned rooms.

<I wish I could get just one more cup of coffee,> the Super had seen an espresso machine behind the refreshment counter, but didn’t have time to make one.

Seth’s night had been legendary. He’d gotten it on with a couple hotties in a bathroom of all places. One was a bit kinkier than he was used to, but this was college and a time to experiment. He’d emerged from the restroom, with a partner under each arm, to see some idiot lit up like a human disco ball on the dance floor. Seth might have been a little drunk, but he wasn’t drunk enough to think that was a good idea. He admired the view like everyone else before convincing the girls to go back to their place for a little after party fun. A little ménage action always left him more exhausted than usual. The amount of work didn’t conform to the sexually lazy.

Seth stifled a yawn as he reached his numbered door and put on his game face. <You got this…you can do it…you’re king of the fucking world!> he pumped himself up before striding into the room.

He was the first to arrive, so he took a moment to limber up. No need to pull a muscle during the first round, he needed to be in top shape for the finals. Ninety seconds later the door at the opposite end opened to reveal a familiar face.

“Seth,” Angela gave a curt nod to her dorm mate.

“Angela, honey, are we really going to do this?” Seth put on his best smile. “I don’t want to create any tension in the dorm, Angel,” he abbreviated her name, hoping to disarm her a bit. “How about you just let me have this one and I’ll put in a good word to make sure you get a decent ranking. It can’t hurt to have number one in your corner.”

Angela simply shook her head through his entire monologue, and even grinned at his impromptu nickname. “Seth, honey,” the mockery in her tone was thicker than honey. “I’m going to wipe the floor with your ass, and finally convince everyone what a worthless piece of shit you are.”

Of all the things Seth expected to hear out of the intense introvert’s mouth, that wasn’t it. “Oh, Angel face, I’m going to make you eat those words.” Seth didn’t like hitting women, unless they asked for a spanking, but today he’d make an exception.

“This first round match is between Angela Martin and Seth Abney,” their alternative instructor’s voice announced over the intercom. “The match will begin in thirty seconds and will end with one of you being unconscious or surrendering. The use of lethal force is not authorized. Any use of such force will result in an immediate ass kicking by me, your expulsion from the HCP, and more than likely criminal charges. Don’t be stupid, kids. Now show me what you’ve got.”

“Last chance, Angel,” Seth got into a fighting stance as the count down clock in the corner went below ten.

“No thanks,” Angela’s reply was calm. “You need to be shown what a real woman is capable of.”

<I gave her the chance,> Seth reasoned with himself, turning into a humanoid pillar of fire with two seconds left on the clock.

Angela didn’t even flinch at his most lethal form, something he was unaccustomed too. It didn’t matter though, she wouldn’t last more than a few seconds once he really turned up the heat. He wouldn’t kill her, just give her heat stroke.

It all sounded like a rock solid plan in theory. The clock hit zero, and Seth began to dial up the temperature when his world vanished in a flash of brilliant white light.

 

***

 

Daisy watched Mason scamper away and restrained herself from laughing. She liked screwing with the big guy, and having a little leverage always helped. He’d eventually wise up, but that day was awhile away. Craig deftly dodged the sprinting strongman as the room emptied of freshmen, leaving just the two of them.

“I see they are all properly motivated,” Craig examined, reaching behind the refreshment bar to grab a basket of assorted snacks. “Courtesy of Chrissy.”

Daisy’s mental defenses failed as the aroma of fresh cookies and scones hit her like a freight train. She accepted the offered basket and only took one of each, maintaining a modicum of dignity.

“Yeah I told them if they didn’t make it to the combat cells in five minutes the doors would lock them out and they’d fail,” Craig nearly choked on a cookie.

“That’s brilliant,” he exclaimed, as Daisy shrugged innocently. There was obviously no such rule. “So who are you off to watch?”

“Angela Martin is going to pound that prick, Seth Abney, into the ground, so I’m looking forward to watching a little girl power. Plus I need to monitor her anyway, so it’s a win-win for me,” Craig nodded in appreciation; he’d catch the bout during the staff analysis this evening.

“I gotta keep an eye on the Kemps girl,” he didn’t look quite as enthused as Daisy. That was because the adapter/new category Super wasn’t going to pull anything out of her sleeves that he hadn’t seen before. “Well I’ll see ya when I see ya.” The two parted ways for doors on either side of the viewing room.

The door opened to her biometric scan, and led her into a two hundred foot hallway. It was void of anything except a matching set of doors on the other side. Those doors opened at her touch and revealed a smaller viewing room. This one only had a handful of screens, but made up for it since it looked directly down into ten individual combat cells. The artillery shell proof glass was more than capable of taking anything the freshmen could dish out, and was the preferred method of observation for Daisy.

The small room was crowded with upperclassmen students and another instructor. As she entered the room the three healers dispersed to their predesignated perches over the three rooms most statistically likely to need their services. Another three seniors sat on the couches as a quick reaction force if the instructors were busy in another combat cell. These three all stood and greeted her respectfully as she approached. The last person in the room was the last person she wanted to see.

“Marshall,” she nodded politely in his direction.

“Daisy,” he growled in response.

The seniors sensed the obvious tension in the room, and quickly decided the upcoming fight on the opposite side were more interesting. Daisy was forced to step up next to the temperamental Super because he was right in front of the room she needed to observe. They sat in uncomfortable silence for a minute before she had a great idea.

“You seem to be fond of making wagers here,” Marshall raised an eyebrow for her to continue. “How about we make a wager on this match,” She pointed down at the room where Angela had just entered. “I know you think a broad spectrum elemental is a force to be reckoned with, so I’ll wager he loses.”

Marshall’s face purpled with anger at the comment, and he answered through gritted teeth. “What’s the wager?”

“I’ll let you decide,” Daisy replied. She knew how men like Marshall thought, so his answer wasn’t a surprise to her. It could have come without the preamble though.

“Daisy,” he didn’t use her Hero name in front of the students. “I’ve followed your career for a while, and I think you’re all hype. I’ve never thought you were as good as some of the Heroes I fought beside, but everyone says your this big shot,” that would narrow things down for the seniors who were taking mental notes. “I don’t think you can take a hit like a real Hero, so that’s my wager. I get to punch you in the face is Abney wins.”

A senior actually fell off the edge of their seat when Marshall made his declaration. Neither of the Heroes paid him any attention, or any of the other seniors who suddenly wanted to be anywhere else but in this room. They’d been in the HCP long enough, and a few with Marshall as an instructor, to know better than to be around feuding Heroes.

Daisy just grinned and extended her hand, “Deal. One hit it is.”

Marshall shook it, and they both turned their attention to the combat cell. The two freshmen were exchanging a little of their own trash talk, and then Seth lit up like a bonfire.

“Kid can keep his humanoid form while transfiguring into a pure element. You don’t see that often in a freshman,” the fight was already won in Marshall’s eyes.

When the clock hit zero the room lit up like someone had thrown a super-sized flash-bang grenade. The windows into the room immediately darkened to protect the viewer’s eyes. After a second the light died down, and then all hell broke loose.

 

***

 

<Never be where your opponent expects you to be!> Seth’s first MMA coach’s rule echoed through his mind as he threw his body to the side, desperately trying to blink the blinding spots out of his vision.

He felt a rush of air, like an angry deity was trying to blow out his feeble candle body, gust by him as he rolled. In desperation he blasted a torrent of fire in a 360 degree arc around himself, hoping it would buy enough time to get his vision back. A punch caught him in the side of the head and tossed him across the combat cell to make violent contact with the wall. His world was now blind and spinning uncontrollably.

<What the fuck!> Seth cursed as he staggered back to his feet, his flame covered body gone thanks to his lost concentration.

“Surrender, Seth, and I’ll let you walk out of here,” the voice was Angela’s, but it wasn’t. The voice was richer, fuller, and exuded power. “Last chance.”

Seth’s vision was beginning to clear and reveal his opponent. The elemental manipulator was no longer staring at his uptight, slightly chubby roommate. The creature before him was beauty made flesh. Everything about the form was perfection; the long cascading blond hair, a flawless face, vibrant blue eyes, and the perfectly proportional body. You couldn’t tell the body was perfect, you just knew it was, because it was armored in gold. She resembled a Greek hoplite complete with cuirass and molded knee-high greaves to protect the bottom half of her legs. She carried no shield, probably because she didn’t need it, and in her right hand was a sword of pure energy. Her pale skin faintly glowed from some internal power source, making her look warm and inviting. That warmth didn’t carry to her eyes as she examined Seth.

Seth was about to respond when he caught sight of her wings. Twin extensions of her body the color of burnished bronze, and each twice as long as her now six and a half foot femininely muscled frame. He immediately placed the source of the air burst, and knew without a doubt she could fly.

“I can see Angel was a fitting nickname,” Seth tried to appear calm as he slowly got to his feet, fighting the nausea that threatened to put him back on the ground.

“Surrender, Seth,” she repeated, her energy sword morphing into a hammer in front of his eyes.

“Well, about that…” he tried to be casual until the moment he launched a rapid fire series of fireballs in her direction.

She moved swiftly, not speedster fast, but not too much slower, to intercept them and incapacitate him. The first two balls she simply swatted away with her wings as they closed protectively around her. Seth knew those fireballs burned at about a thousand degrees, and they didn’t even ruffle a feather. The remaining fireballs got blasted in every direction by an explosion of air as the powerful appendages opened back up.

<I need the high ground or I’ll never get past her defenses,> Seth transformed back into his fiery form and blasted off like a rocket.

It was awesome to fly, and he only recently learned he was capable of it. Unfortunately, not only did he have much less practice then Angela at it, he was also much slower. He made contact with her outstretched arm no more than five feet off the ground, and felt several bones crack. Turns out she was super strong too.

He tried not to howl as agony ripped apart his concentration, and he became normal again. With no leverage to work with he was helpless as Angela gave a casual flap, pivoted around him, and secured him in a headlock. Seth could feel his eyes bulging as he struggled for air.

“Shhhh,” Angela’s angelic voice purred to him. “Go to sleep.”

Seth lasted about ten more seconds until the blackness took him.

 

***

 

Daisy watched with savage satisfaction as Seth Abney got choked into submission. It probably wasn’t the most psychologically sound mindset to have about a student, but she didn’t care. This was a lesson that kid needed to learn, and his own trash talk made the experience priceless.

<Maybe he’ll actually listen to me this time,> she doubted it; he’d need a few more beatings for it to sink in.

The second little gem from this whole experience was the supremely pissed off expression on Marshall’s face. He seemed to be teetering on the edge of bursting into flame himself.

“Well shit,” he never even saw the hit coming.

Daisy’s roundhouse kick took the smaller man right in the side of the head, sending him crashing into and over one of the sofas. The seniors scrambled out of the way expecting a full scale Super brawl to erupt. The sputtering from the downed man certainly indicated it was possible, but Daisy knew better. Marshall Kirk might be a dick, but he’d honor his wager.

“You said you wanted to punch me in the face, but I just agreed to one hit,” she said getting ahead of any whining he might do. “Keep your guard up next time, Kirk.”

With the students’ fight over she had to get back to work. She turned her back on the downed Super, causing the seniors to collectively inhale in fear, and made her way to the door. She didn’t expect him to retaliate, at least not now, and she was prepared if he did. Daisy couldn’t see Marshall’s face, but if she could, her jaw would have dropped at his grin. Sometimes you just needed to kick someone in the head to earn their respect.

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