I then challenged Salem. His psychic punch wasn’t all that dissimilar from David’s blast, however Salem didn’t wait for an opening as David had; he didn’t have David’s patience. Instead, violence-lover Salem repeatedly tried penetrating my shield. Ballsy, but stupid. The psychic punch ricocheted both times and he narrowly avoided it each time, cursing ‘Fucker’ at the punch each time. His fumbling around gave me the opening I needed and pretty soon a gush of water sent him sliding backwards toward the wall. He didn’t care – the adrenalin was pumping so he was happy. Learning from his mistake however he took a leaf out of David’s book and waited for his chance, and got his opening. My shield protected me, of course, or I’d have been unconscious on the floor.
Damien did a lot better at the task than I’d been expecting. He peeped out one side, then the other and then above, but it turned out that he was only misleading me into thinking that was where he was. In fact, it was his astral self that had peeped out – meaning that his physical body was safe and sound. If he did that during an attack, he could keep his body safe while still baiting the enemy.
Next was Chico. As his aim still needed to be improved on, he couldn’t emit the thorns from his hands without actually having a visual of where I was. It took a few tries but he eventually got his opening – again my shield came in handy. He wasn’t too pleased when I used a teensy bolt of fire to singe his moustache, but it got a few laughs from the others of course and it served to make him concentrate better on me rather than on the fact that everyone was watching him – his fear was exhibiting weakness because he was kind of like the alpha of the squad. I could empathise slightly.
Denny farted some musk at me, the sod. But not before I zapped his butt with an energy blast. After that he decided that taking his eyes off me was a bad idea and took to becoming mush every time I attacked. This aggravated me because he wasn’t using his full potential; he needed to realise that attacking was just as important as defending himself, so I sent his mushy form swirling around using a nice gush of water. He got the point that being mush wouldn’t necessarily protect him and then began spraying ooze at me.
As Reuben’s gift depended on physical contact, I allowed him to leave his bolder and try to reach me. Even with my taking it easy on him he didn’t get the hang of it because he was too busy concentrating on dodging my gifts to concentrate on my movements and pre-empt where I was going. As he believed that it wasn’t possible for him to pre-empt me and reach me, I absorbed some of his energy to temporarily give me his gift and asked Denny to repeatedly spray ooze at me so that I could show Reuben how focusing on an enemy’s movements would both help him pre-empt their movements and notice when an enemy was about to attack with their gift. It took under thirty seconds for me to physically touch Denny, which made Reuben more optimistic. I also suggested that maybe he could tie back his lovely brown shoulder-length hair so it did not disturb his vision.
Butch did well with negating anything I flung at him, however when he got a little cocky and kept flashing that crooked grin of his and challenging me with those unbelievably dark eyes I put more force behind one of my fire blasts to illustrate to him that he couldn’t negate everything and would need to learn to bring up his shield better. We had practiced this last session, but Butch had only managed to do this the once. Not because he wasn’t a capable person or in very good control of his power, but because Butch was only just getting used to the idea that he can use his defensive negating power in different ways.
Max was absolutely delighted when I called him up. He was extremely chuffed with his gift and kept promising me that one day he’d rob me of my senses and then kiss me hard to which he received a small punch in the gut. Each time I felt him reaching out I popped my shield up, however I was impressed by how well he was able to dodge my gift – his agility really had improved, which he owed to Jared’s training.
God, Jared. I hadn’t once forgotten that he was up there. I couldn’t. Not when those eyes were drilling into me. I daren’t look up at him in case my brain shut off for a second; that’s what it felt like would happen if we made proper eye contact for the first time in days.
Out of all of the recruits, Stuart was the least enthusiastic. Mainly because he was still sore about not being able to do much else other than shred. He was able to explode into molecules almost each time before my gift hit him. But the almost part pissed him off. As did the fact that he was finding it extremely difficult to move from place to place as molecules. But he did move a step. Progress.
“You all did good,” I told them as they recreated the line. “Good enough to move onto the second exercise. I’m going to ask you all to line up; five of you against the eastern wall, the other five at the western wall. I want at least three-car spaces between each of you.”
“Yes, Coach,” was said in unison.
Without delay they found themselves a spot. Chico, Butch, David, Denny and Stuart lined up against the eastern wall while the others stood against the western wall; Damien was facing Chico, Salem was facing Butch, Reuben was facing David, Harvey was facing Denny, and Max was facing Stuart.
“Space yourselves out a bit more.” Pacing between the lines of blokes, I spoke, “Take a good look at who’s opposite you. Remember everything you can about their gifts, because in a moment those gifts will be heading right at you.” There was some discomfort in the lines; I’d never set them against each other before. “I’ll shout your names individually. As soon as you hear it, I want you to do your thing. And I want you to do it fast. Because that’s what it will be like out there: me barking your name or an order, and you acting without hesitation. If you panic now, if you buckle under this pressure, then you know you’ve got some learning left to do. Do not turn this into a spar. Only when I shout your name do you act. Those who have a gift coming at you, block it if you can, or dodge it. But do not retaliate. That all understood?”
Turning and pacing back the way I came, I added, “You’ll remember that your second goal was to memorise as much as you can about the gifts of the rest of your squad; this exercise should therefore also give you an idea of just how near or far you are to that goal. Right, first I need you, Reuben, to weaken Max, Chico and Salem’s powers.”
“Coach,” obeyed Reuben. He touched each of them for only three seconds. Then his face twisted in confusion. “Coach, what about David?”