“So, who’s going to go where?” Will asked. “I have to go talk to Coach Boomer to get our time scheduled.”
“What, you don’t want to go talk to Elise?” Magenta asked with a smirk. Elise Preston was the president of Psychic Club, another telepath like Ms. Olsen.
“Uh… I’d do it, but um…” Will temporized.
“You’d rather stick a needle in your eye than talk to a pissed-off mind-reader?” I supplied.
“…Yeah,” Will said a little uneasily.
“Fine. I’ll talk to her,” I offered.
“Me too,” Layla said. “It’ll look better if we both do.”
“I’ll take Deceivers then,” Magenta said with a sigh.
“I have Real-Shifters,” Ethan volunteered.
“Uh… Then I guess I’m on Acid Club,” Zack said with a shrug.
I rather thought you’d like to get this straightened out right away. Miss Preston is standing outside the auditorium, Miss Evans, Mr. Peace, Ms. Olsen’s voice echoed in my head, and by everyone else’s reactions, they were hearing something similar.
Don’t do that again, I thought carefully. I really, really didn’t like the idea of her being able to drop in mentally whenever she felt like it.
But it’s so much more efficient than to have you come back to class then send you all out again, she returned reasonably.
Not used to this, I replied.
Of course you aren’t. Don’t let Elise try to mind-read you, I’m her faculty advisor and if I hear of it I’m going to have to do something official about it, she warned.
What, we get leverage now? I asked, surprised.
Oh no, Elise knows that already. It’s just you should too before you confront her. She’s rather… proud. With that, the uncanny sensation of Ms. Olsen’s presence vanished. I exchanged a look with Layla.
“I heard it too. Brrr… that’s creepy,” she said with a quick shiver. “I really don’t like it when she does that.”
“You and everyone else too,” Will said quickly, giving her a little hug.
“Let’s get this over with,” I said, and the rest of the group scattered. Layla and I found Elise where Ms. Olsen said she would be, just outside the auditorium, sitting on a desk the hall monitors had used to check attendance from.
“So, I’m glad you finally decided to come see me,” Elise said coolly from her perch on the desk.
“I didn’t know we were being timed,” I said a little sarcastically. Layla shot me a look that clearly said Play nice, and I yielded the floor to her.
“We wanted to ask you if any of the groups from Psychic Club would spare us some Gauntlet time. We really need the experience in going up against people with mental powers,” she said politely. Elise looked at us both for a very long minute. I didn’t feel anything like when Ms. Olsen had been trying to poke in my head, but I was keeping my mental walls up anyway. From the look of fierce concentration on Layla’s face, she was doing the same.
“Just like that. Never even looked at us or spoke to us the entire year and now you want our help?” she asked with a superior little smirk.
“I don’t recall insulting you. So why be so hostile?” I asked her evenly. She was being ridiculously self-righteous for someone that we hadn’t interacted with at all.
“Hostile? Oh, that barely begins to cover it,” she said sweetly. Layla was just looking at her oddly.
“Um… Elise? You and everyone else in your group is a senior. We’re sophomores. We don’t run in the same circles at all. We don’t take any classes together. We don’t have any gym time together. We just… never really had any chance to meet you or anyone else in Psychic Club. We weren’t ignoring you or anything,” Layla pointed out carefully. Elise rolled her eyes.
“We didn’t want to be seen sucking up to sophomores, if you don’t mind,” she admitted testily. “I think you would understand if I didn’t want to be labeled another one of your ‘groupies.’”
“Try again. You didn’t need to insult us. We’re all on the same side,” I countered. Elise looked at me bitterly.
“People tend to discount those of us with power they can’t see. We’re second-class Heroes at best and Sidekicks at worst. Your group, with all your flash and glamour, managed to worm your way into Coach Boomer’s good graces. My group would have the best runs in the school if he would let us play to our strengths instead of scoring us like your team!” she snapped.
“You’re sore at us because Boomer is a blockhead?” Layla asked, incredulous.
“How else would you have gotten chosen for a real mission unless he recommended you? Blockhead or not, Principal Powers still listens to him!” she yelled.
“It was because Will figured out what was going on and Boomer overheard us talking about it,” I said quickly before she could get any more wound up. Elise stopped, looking as shocked as if I had just slapped her in the face. Her face went red, then white, then red again, as her mouth worked silently.
“That’s the truth,” Layla said firmly. Elise’s color finally stabilized, which was good, because any redder or paler and I was sure she was either going to have a stroke or faint.
“Will Stronghold figured out Royal Pain’s plot,” she repeated very carefully, almost to herself. “This is humiliating.”
“Look, Boomer didn’t think Zack, Ethan, or Magenta were going to be able to keep up with Will, Layla, and me, but they did, and even Boomer had to admit that eventually. If you think you have some killer strategies, then let’s schedule some time together and you can whip us up and down the Gauntlet until even Boomer can’t deny your inherent coolness,” I offered, trying to keep the sarcasm down to an acceptable level.
Elise gave me a death glare to match one of my own, and finally nodded.
“Fine. Friday, eleven o’clock,” she said shortly, and left. Layla and I exchanged troubled glances before heading back to Ms. Olsen’s classroom.
Zack and Will were already there, and we gave them a quick run-down of our little run-in with Elise.
“I’ll make sure the time’s free,” Will said quickly, scratching a note down on a calendar Boomer had apparently given him. “So… she was pretty mad?”
“Give her nails and she would have spit out tacks. If she had had my powers, we would have both been crisped,” I opined. Layla nodded in complete agreement.
“Well, at least Acid Club wasn’t so bad. Quinton Nguyen’s their president, he just said he was gonna catch us later. ‘Cause he just forgot. No biggie there,” Zack said with a shrug.
“That’s a small blessing,” Layla said with a bit more cheer. Just at that moment Magenta and Ethan returned, her looking amused, him looking perturbed.
“Did you know Deceivers’ Club and Real-Shifters’ Club work together?” Magenta opened without preamble. Everyone looked at each other in confusion and shook their heads.
“We go hunting them down, and we run into Coach Boomer. He asks us to come with him, so we say fine, thinking maybe needed to double-check our schedules or something. Then he goes into an empty classroom-.”
“Which wasn’t exactly empty,” Ethan cut in.
“It was Rob?” Zack asked.
“Yeah, it was Rob. Apparently it’s some kind of stupid initiation hazing to actually find the presidents. Half the objects in the room were actually people, and then there were another half-dozen or so that were invisible, mind-blanking themselves from us, or camouflaged. It really annoyed the snot out of them when I shifted and sniffed them out,” Magenta said in mingled annoyance and triumph.
“So… they didn’t show up because they thought that would be funny to do that?” Will asked, incredulously. Ethan nodded.
“They’re willing to set up some time later. Much later. Like after we’ve gone up against everyone else, so they have time to study us,” Ethan explained.
“This is going to be really ugly isn’t it?” Zack asked. No one could disagree with him there.
“You’re thinking very hard,” Mom said from my doorway. I had my head in my hands, trying to figure out how finish up Ms. Olsen’s essay, and was getting a headache for my troubles.
“Was it that obvious?” I asked a little sarcastically. My temper was not the greatest, not after today, and not considering what was on the horizon.
“Very. It’s about class isn’t it? Your teacher?” she asked. If I hadn’t been so used to her pulling that kind of information out of me I might have snapped at her, what with all the mind-readers I had been around today.
“Ms. Olsen,” I allowed. “She tries to mind-read us during class, and talks to us telepathically. And after the assembly today, I had to go talk to the president of Psychic Club.”
“And you really haven’t had to use those mental walls they taught you since freshman year,” Mom finished.
“Yeah,” I agreed, rubbing my temples slightly, wondering if there was any way I could figure out how to use my healing power on myself for things like this. My indestructibility didn’t seem to work on stress headaches.
“If you haven’t used them, it takes concentration to keep them up. And the harder you concentrate, the worse your headache is going to get until you get experience. Would you like to try doing this from a different angle?” she offered. I turned around, a grateful look on my face.
“Some of the meditation techniques I used when I was first learning how to control my powers might work with what you’re trying to do,” she offered. I tried to suppress a snort at the thought of me meditating.
“What do I have to do?” I asked instead. We were going up against Psychic Club in another two days, and instead of bitching and moaning and giving myself more headaches in my paranoia to keep them out of my mind, I might at well try to do something about it.
“Take a seat on the floor here…” she said, and I sat cross-legged. What followed after that was an oddly soothing hour of very weird instructions. Most people used mental images of still ponds, raindrops, or babbling brooks to help clear their minds, but Mom had me use embers, candlelight, or the fire in a fireplace as calming visions.
“Not tame, or contained, because I think you’d eventually rebel inside at that. But ordered, fire at your command, something that works with you,” she explained at one point. A lot of what she said didn’t exactly make sense to my head, at least consciously, but I felt a lot more relaxed when I finally opened my eyes.
“I should have done this a long time ago,” I said after a second.
“The last thing you want to do is force someone to meditate. ‘Relax, or else,’ doesn’t exactly work. I’d rather it have worked out this way,” she said. “Is your head feeling better?” I considered that a minute before realizing that it was.
“Why didn’t everyone else have headaches?” I asked as I got up off the floor. Mom looked at me thoughtfully a moment before saying anything.
“You have more you want to hide,” she explained simply. “I don’t doubt that they do have headaches, but they aren’t trying to hide as much as you.” I raised an eyebrow at that.
“So if I wore my heart on my sleeve I’d be fine?”
“I should start stockpiling ibuprofen, shouldn’t I?” Mom asked with resignation.
“Oh, there was something else I wanted to let you know. The Bureau assigned me to be at the school board meeting when Veronica has to answer questions from the parents and board members,” she commented.
“I hope they’re paying you double time for that. It’s going to be… interesting,” I said with a somewhat tired laugh.
“Well, I have all your friends’ parents on my side. With Steve and Josie up there, I think we’ll be able to quell any attempts at panicking.”
Principal Powers luckily didn’t ask us to be at the board meeting, for which we were all profoundly grateful. It didn’t stop us from getting the complete low-down on it from our parents though. They all had to attend, both as sort of our proxies, as well as the voices of reason.
“It went better than I had hoped,” Mom told me late after the meeting. “We had a nice big therapeutic screaming session at the beginning so people could get their feelings out in the open, and then spent the rest of it wrangling peoples’ reactions back down to a normal level.
“I have to say, Veronica is a pretty astute politician. She actually kept the crowd in some semblance of order, so at least we didn’t have to take over from her at any point. She had boiled down everyone’s reactions to a few choice objections and just kept knocking them down over and over until they understood.”
“Lemme guess: ‘They’re too young to fight.’ ‘They can’t fight these sickos!’ And ‘Why didn’t you let us know sooner?’” I asked. Mom laughed.
“Dead in the black. Of course, the fact that most of them have told their kids how much they’re looking forward to fighting alongside them kind of helped silence the first. The fact that we don’t get to pick what kind of ‘sickos’ we fight silenced the second. And Veronica explained the third,” she said. “Of course, I still think there’s going to be a lot of interference from them when Royal Pain’s students finally hit the scene. And if Cutter’s Crew shows their faces again I think they’re going to get a Parental Superhero Smackdown, assuming your parents manage to find them first.”
“So… kind of what you expected?” I asked.
“A little. There was a lot less panic than I thought there would be, but I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot of backlash. The school board was going to fire Veronica on the spot to appease the parents. But Director Adams objected, and they had to table it.” I choked at that.
“The director was at the meeting?” I asked, surprised.
“He had to be. This is too big for even the principal of Sky High to deal with. Firing Veronica would be nothing more than a political gesture and wouldn’t do anything to help the school. So Director Adams was there to… remind people of the realities of the situation,” she explained. “This is going to get rather ugly, I’m afraid. I’ve been reassigned to Maxville until this either blows over or gets back to manageable proportions.”
I winced at that. My mom being as powerful as she was had to mean that this was far more than ugly. But at least it was in good hands.
Friday, eleven o’clock, our third Power Club Gauntlet session this week, and the one I was least looking forward to. Wednesday had been groups from both Strength Club and Flight Club, sessions that left us all in sweat-soaked exhaustion, but weren’t terribly difficult. We were still allowed to use some of our gear in the Gauntlet now, and Zack’s light-bombs still gave us a pretty big edge. With the armor we were all wearing, I didn’t have to be quite so careful about how I hit people with my fire either. We couldn’t play the defensive game all the time, and that meant I was back to flinging fireballs instead of using the fire ring.
Once blinded by Zack, the super-strong, indestructible, or otherwise impervious guys from Strength Club were easy targets for Ethan and Magenta’s stun caps, Layla’s vine-bindings, or my own fireballs. Of course, because of their very strength they didn’t stay down for long and we ended up doing a lot of repeated tagging. That, of course, was between dodging and taking punches of prodigious strength. None of them were as strong as Will, but I still got the dubious pleasure of going through more than one wall that day, while trying to protect the others from hard hits.
Flight Club was a little harder, but only a few of them were anywhere near Will’s speed or maneuverability. Will could fly at super-sonic speeds and stop and turn on a dime. Most of them were a lot slower or clumsier in the air. Some could only levitate a short distance off the ground, or needed to grow wings or shapeshift entirely to fly, which meant they had to pay attention to wind currents and the space they took up a lot more than Will did. I actually ended up taking a bigger role in that fight, teaming up with Will to drive them towards the earth so Layla could bind them, and Zack, Ethan, and Magenta could stun them. Flinging fireballs from the top of the Gauntlet room with Will flying me was definitely cool.
Amorphous Club gave us our first big run for our money though on Thursday. That club had people in it that took no real fixed form when they shifted. One girl could turn into mist, one guy into smoke, another into a swarm of bees… One girl could even turn herself into bubbles. Soap bubbles. Like the kind you blew out of a plastic wand in your backyard in summertime. None of them could be blinded while shifted, Layla really couldn’t bind mist or smoke or bees or bubbles with her vines, and there wasn’t anything really for Ethan or Magenta to stun. Will literally couldn’t get a hand on them, and any damage I could do to them was really minor, as they could just roll with my fireballs.
On the other hand, it was a lot harder for them to do stuff to us. Bee-girl was really the one that worried us the most, but Will and I were too tough for her to affect, Ethan couldn’t be hurt while melted, and Layla wove a very thick vine-mat to protect everyone else. Smoke-guy or mist-girl could have suffocated any of us, but they were apparently somewhat reluctant to force themselves down our throats, for which we were all profoundly grateful. That session degenerated into all of us running around trying to avoid each other while simultaneously capture each other, all very ineffectually. I’m sure Boomer found it very hilarious, as he didn’t stop the run for a good fifteen minutes.
Friday though was our big day. Elise Preston and her group of seniors from Psychic Club was ready and lined up on the starting line of the Gauntlet almost ten minutes early to introduce themselves. The formal introductions Boomer was allowing because most of the gang didn’t know the seniors.
“Elise Preston, major telepath,” she said formally, with an odd little bow. “This is Zoë, she’s a major telekinetic. Robin, she’s a minor telekinetic. Chris, he’s a remote viewer. Tracy, she’s an astral projector. Justin, he’s a psysicker.” With that she took a few steps back, and the rest of her group gave us small, simultaneous nods. Then they all turned and retreated back to the fortress; they were the defenders today.
Creepy… I thought. I had had my mental walls up and up hard since I geared up. Ethan just had a thoughtful look on his face as they walked away.
“What do you got?” Will asked hopefully.
“Robin, Chris, and Justin were all Sidekicks, I’m pretty sure. I believe Elise calling her a minor telekinetic means Robin can’t move too much weight, so she might just be backing up Zoë or acting as a distraction. Chris’ power means he can see what’s going on at a distance-.”
“So we can’t sneak up on these guys at all?” Magenta asked, looking irritated. Her powers worked best when she could get the drop on someone. Ethan shook his head reluctantly and Magenta scowled.
“Justin… is kind of an anti-healer,” he explained, and I raised an eyebrow. “He can make people think they’re sick, and then their bodies lower their resistance and then they actually do get sick. It takes some time to work though, days, which is why he was a Sidekick.
“Tracy’s power is kind of rare… she can basically separate her psychic self from her body. She’ll be incorporeal, like a ghost almost, so she’ll be able to pass through walls and even fly. But if anyone messes with her physical body while she’s projecting, it’ll snap her back to reality right away,” Ethan explained.
“So what can she do when she’s all ghostified?” Zack asked.
“She can see and hear what’s going on in other places. And… if she’s strong-willed enough… she could possess someone,” Ethan said quickly. Everyone made annoyed and exasperated noises and I cursed mentally. “I don’t know if she’ll want to, that’s really, really hard to do, but I think she’s capable.”
“Well… what’s our strategy?” Magenta asked, resignation on her voice.
“Speed,” Will said, looking over at Ethan. “Since they know exactly where we’re going to be, let’s go fast and hard. I fly everyone to the top of vault, punch the ceiling in, and we go in from above. Zoë can protect everyone from the debris, so I think we’ll be ok there.”
Since Boomer had stated we had to incapacitate our defenders, not kill them, that was a legitimate concern. Despite the safety measures in the Gauntlet, it was possible to “kill” your defenders, which would give Psychic Club the win by default. Boomer had done a number on the safety measures since Zack’s fall, including installing null-grav nets to catch debris and people that were hurling where they shouldn’t. But despite that, he wouldn’t activate them unless there was a real, genuine need. Zoë would have to at least try to deflect the ceiling pieces with her powers, or Boomer would call a disqualification on her whole team for passively accepting “death” in order to win.
“So, you take out the ceiling, Layla brings vines in for us to climb down and bind people?” Ethan asked, and Layla nodded. “Zack throws the light bomb right before we go down, and then we start stunning. Warren stays up as back up in case things so south, ok?”
We all nodded. I was the only one with a long-range power, barring Layla, but since Layla would be otherwise occupied, and Will was, as usual, barred from touching the defenders, I was the logical choice.
“Mental walls stay up,” I added forcefully, and everyone nodded enthusiastically.
“What do we do if someone goes crazy?” Zack asked. We all looked at each other for a second.
“Physical pain tends to override mental compulsion. So if someone goes crazy, slap them,” Ethan said.
“Seriously?” Will asked.
“I can cite you at least a dozen battles in which-,” Ethan started.
“No, no, no, that’s fine,” Will said quickly, before Ethan could get into Champion Debate mode.
“Are you kids about done yapping? I haven’t got all day!” Boomer yelled as us from up in the tower. Will sighed and gave him the start sign. Layla’s face was already a mask of concentration as she waited, because she had to be quick…
The buzzer rang and Layla quickly grew her ivy bracelet into a harness around Will, something we could all grab onto for the quick trip. Will couldn’t get all of us into his arms, not even if we were willing to put up with the indignity of being carried like a baby. The vine-harness gave us all something to hold onto while he flew, minus Magenta, who was securely tucked into Zack’s jacket pocket.
“Go,” Ethan said, once we were all secure. Will lifted off and soared for the fortress, the ground flashing by at a dizzying pace. Boomer had stopped being irked at Will for bypassing all the obstacles on the Gauntlet once we started going up against other students and teachers, otherwise I might have feared for our free time.
We were going to be hitting the roof in under thirty seconds, but I was already feeling a faint pressure on my mind.
“Walls,” I reminded everyone again, and tried to bring a little of the calm centeredness Mom had taught me into my firewall. Expressions of fierce concentration crossed everyone’s faces again as Will dropped down to the roof. We stood off a respectful distance while he drew his fist back and pulverized the fortress roof. Dust and debris flew everywhere, and a few cries of outrage from below told us that our first trick had worked.
Will’s vine-harness dropped off his body and began to anchor itself in the roof as Layla directed it, giving people a place to climb down, even as chunks of debris began to fling themselves back out of the hole in the roof.
Oops, I thought faintly, powering up and flinging fireballs at the ones small enough to be deflected, and dodging out of the way of larger ones. Will took to the sky again, smashing the biggest pieces even as Layla redirected her vines to shield her, Zack, and Magenta from the worst of it. Ethan simply melted, got thunked by rocks a few times, and then flowed around them to clearer ground.
“Zack, now!” Will called. Nothing happened, and I took my arm down from my face to see what the hold-up was. Zack was standing still, slack-jawed, his eyes half-open, swaying slightly on his feet.
“Magenta, snap him out of it!” I roared, getting closer to the hole in the roof. Either Zack had just gotten concussed by a rock, or someone had him under mental compulsion of some type. If it was the latter, then whoever it was was going to get a fireball right to the chest.
“Ow! What the hell did you do that for?” I heard Zack yell behind me. Yup, nothing like a sharp set of guinea pig teeth to shake your mind out of a trance.
“Zack, now!” Will repeated, and this time I saw the little light-bomb go sailing over the edge of the hole. We shielded ourselves as the white light exploded, and I felt Layla’s vines crawl past me to return to being ropes again.
Zack (with Magenta) and Ethan scrambled for the hole and the vine ropes before the glare was entirely gone, wanting to get their feet on firm ground before Elise’s group could recover. Will, Layla, and I were on our knees at the hole’s edge, each waiting to do our part. As the glare faded and Zack’s own brilliant glowing took over, we could finally see our “enemies.”
Elise and Zoë were standing in front of Tracy’s limb body and Chris’ kneeling one, which bore out that it was probably Tracy, in astral form, who had managed to distract Zack. Chris must have been helping feed Zoë our locations on the roof, even though she couldn’t see us from below. Elise must be in communication with them all, I realized, which would account for the fact we hadn’t heard much out of them. Robin and Justin were in the front line, Robin’s hands stretched out to the sides, Justin’s clasped in front of him.
All of their eyes were watering something fierce, and the unfocused quality of their gaze told me they were as blind as most of our opponents were. But why did they look so ready… Oh crap, I realized suddenly.
“They can see us!” I cried.
“Chris can see us!” Ethan said almost simultaneously, jumping off his vine rope and melting at the same time.
To prove that we were right, more bits of ceiling debris began to fling themselves around the room, missing Ethan, but several thudding into Zack’s tall frame. A few pained squeaks from Zack’s pocket told us Magenta had taken some hits too, and she escaped from his pocket and dashed under some cover. Zack dashed to the side, limping, pulling out his stun ray as he did. Boomer had invoked the unwritten rules on us again, barring Will, Layla, and I from carrying weapons into the Gauntlet, but let the other three use them if they wanted too. Chris either didn’t see it or the others couldn’t react to it right away, because Zack managed to get off a few shots, most missing wildly, but one almost hitting Chris. I’m sure that was mostly by accident.
Chris stiffened in surprised, and I’m sure would have had Zoë hurl more rocks at us, but soon had other things to worry about. Almost simultaneous with Zack’s shooting came fireballs from me and writhing vines from Layla. Her vines seem to hit an invisible wall when they came within a few feet of the defenders, and I heard Layla muttering something uncomplimentary under her breath. My fire managed to get through, crashing at Zoë’s feet and causing her to yelp in surprise. Layla’s vines whipped in closer as Zoë lost control momentarily, but stopped again a few inches from her face. Layla’s brow creased in concentration, and a silent battle of wills broke out.
The pressure on my mind suddenly increased as Elise suddenly focused her attention on me. A headache began to build behind my eyes even as I tried to throw my fire in her direction, the pain making my eyes swim and throwing off my aim. Ethan resolidified below, in cover behind some of the denser rubble, his stun ray out and pointed at Elise. To my amazement, I saw his stun-ray begin to shake, the lift from his hand, zipping across to Robin’s.
“Frell!” Ethan exclaimed, and melted as Robin returned fire with her new toy, missing him. Zack fired a few more times, dropping down behind cover this time, still missing but getting closer. I fiercely tried to force Elise out of my head, concentrating so hard I almost missed Will’s move. With an astonishment that broke through my pain, I saw Will casually fly down through the hole and come to stand in front of Justin. He reached out and grabbed Will’s unresisting hand, doing something to him.
Pain was a solid bar across my eyes from trying to keep Elise out, and I had practically lost my fire in my attempt to focus on my mental struggle.
“Tracy again!” I yelled finally, trying to focus enough to get a fireball thrown at Will to snap him out of her spell.
With a squeak of pure outrage from below, I realized I had almost forgotten Magenta. Hidden and unnoticed, overlooked by Chris, she had worked her away around behind them. A sharp nip to Tracy suddenly dropped her out of her trance, and a startled Will took to the sky again as she unshifted. A sharp whump from Magenta’s stun-ray felled Chris, and a second blast felled Tracy within a second of each other. Then again she couldn’t really miss at point-blank range.
“Surrender or I will stun your rock-throwing ass halfway into next week!” she snarled at Zoë, pointing the stun-ray threateningly. Magenta was going to have a spectacular black eye at the very least from whatever hits she took while in Zack’s pocket.
The other four members of Elise’s group, totally blind now without Chris to see for them, still seemed pretty reluctant to give up. Zoë was still holding off Layla’s vines, and Robin, blinded or not, still had a stun-ray. Justin apparently couldn’t do anything unless he was touching someone, so that put him out of the picture for now. Elise’s pressure on my mind wasn’t letting up, and I was beginning to realize how she meant to turn the tide. All she needed was my help. If she could get into my head, she might be able to see through my eyes… or force me to turn on my teammates.
“Ew, ew, ew!!” Robin exclaimed suddenly, startling all of us. Ethan, still in his puddle form, had come out of hiding and wrapped himself around both of her ankles, binding her and throwing her off. Apparently Robin didn’t like that so much, and wildly pointed her stun-ray in Ethan’s direction. Before anyone could stop her, she got off a shot- stunning herself and missing Ethan entirely. Will actually laughed at that, and Elise turned an interesting shade of scarlet. The pressure in my head finally lifted a hair.
“Zack!” I called, and he took a few more wild shots with his stun-ray, adding to the general air of chaos and confusion. He was getting marginally better with every shot, and it was clear eventually he was going to hit someone, and the odds were much better of him hitting one of Elise’s group than Ethan or Magenta.
“I’d surrender if I were you. The Super Guinea Pig o’ Doom doesn’t take prisoners!” he called out. Elise’s color deepened as she heard the faint crackle of my flames above her when I powered up again. I was precisely two seconds away from forcing her surrender when the pressure on my mind vanished completely and the rest of her group raised their hands in surrender.
“Good run,” Will said cheerfully to them after the rest of the group had come out of stun-reaction. We all had to walk off the Gauntlet course together to report to Boomer. Elise just glared at him.
“Once bitten, twice shy. We’re going to beat you next time,” she said with a touch of arrogance.
“I’m sure you will,” Layla said agreeably. “It was a near thing. You and Chris working together really made a good team.”
“Thanks,” Chris said softly, offering Layla a shy smile. “We’d practiced that a little, considering what we saw in Wednesday’s assembly.”
“Definitely good tactics,” Ethan was saying, simultaneously writing things down in a notebook while he walked.
“What did you even do to me anyway?” Will was asking Justin and Tracy both.
“Ah, something we worked out with some guys from Deceivers’ Club. Um, basically I got you within Justin’s reach, and he tried to psysick you,” she explained. “He’s trying to get faster with his powers, but people don’t exactly let him practice a lot, you know?”
I felt an odd moment of empathy with Justin. He can’t practice because his powers make people sick. I can’t practice because my powers make people well. How’s that for irony?
“So, I’m supposed to get sick?” Will asked, sounding a little alarmed.
“I’m not too sure how it works on people like you. I’ve done it on a few guys from Strength Club, but sometimes it doesn’t take on them,” he said with a shrug. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t seem to be able to do much worse than a cold.”
“Uh… sure, I guess,” Will said a little uncertainly. “I mean, that’s your power, you have to practice sometime. I can handle a cold I guess.” Justin gave him a lopsided sympathetic smile.
“And your walls weren’t that bad for a non-pyschic,” Tracy piped up. “Seriously, astral projection possession is mostly a temporary body takeover. I don’t have to get through your walls so much as get around them.”
“Huh… Ok, I don’t feel quite so stupid now,” Will said, nodding.
“The other psychics laughed a bit, but Elise was still scowling.
“Should I even ask what you were trying to do there near the end?” I inquired. She shot a sharp glance at me.
“Trying to get my omnipotent eye back, if you hadn’t minded. But obviously you did, and were being a stubborn jerk about it,” she snapped.
“And I was just supposed to open my mind for you to do as you liked? No thanks,” I said calmly. She was just sore she had lost, and was already plotting our future humiliating defeats. I had a sneaking suspicion there were going to be a lot more headaches all the way around the next time we ran against her group.