Part VI: The Rook
A half hour of playing against Caroline went by in a flash. She was so amazingly different when playing; gone was the friendly demeanor and instead it was replaced by intense concentration and resolve to win.
I’d never played much badminton outside of when my old school had made me, but I could handle myself. Caroline on the other hand was pretty darn amazing.
Eventually the class ended and we hit the showers. The coach had come back from escorting Allison to the infirmary and distributed protein bars which were a welcome pick me up after all that exercise.
After a fifteen minute break to rehydrate, eat and take care of natural functions, we made our way across the gym complex and into one of the dojo. The room was fairly big and it had padded floors in the center, slightly lower than the rest of the room. Mannequins lined up in the sides of the room while the back was longer and had a shooting range.
A tall man in a dark gray and black armored costume with a full mask with a birdlike shape and red goggles over his eyes came into the dojo from another door. A cape hung from his shoulders and he had a utility belt wrapped around his waist and carried a collapsible metal staff.
“I’m the Rook and I welcome you to introduction to parahuman combat.”
“Didn’t the Rook use to hangout with your dad ages ago?” Caroline asked, whispering in my ear.
“Yeah… He’s my uncle…”
Michael Coleman or the Rook, had been the first Raven’s second apprentice, three years before Ian had been taken in and five years after Gray Jay had been killed by the first Machinist. The two had never really gotten along and when the Raven had passed what little relationship they had had had fallen apart and Michael had gone his own way.
“If you’d please quiet down over there, we’ll be able to get started.” Rook said, pointing his staff at us. Being put on the spot like that made me freeze. “In this class you’ll learn how to handle your abilities or gadgets as well as how to defend against other abilities and find how weaknesses and exploit them. We’ll also go over mundane weapons and tactics so you know how to handle facing them.
These are the skills that will save your life in the field so if there is one class you need to pay attention to, it’s this one. Who here require gears for combat that they are not carrying?”
Sanjay and Amber raised their hands. Although I relied on gadgets, I kept a utility belt with me at all time; it paid to be prepared. When you were a superhero’s kid there was always the possibility that you got kidnapped or killed by some disgruntled villain so it paid to be prepared.
“Go get them quickly. Don’t forget them next time.” They ran to the dorm and came back a few minutes later. Sanjay had put on a large suit of red and gold power armor that covered every part his body.
“All of you, line up.” We did, with Caroline and I on one end. “Alright, let’s see what you can do.”
The Rook went through the ranks and examined us.
“You’ll start first.” He said, pointing at Rowan. “But let me warn you; I am not a gentle instructor. No quarter will be given from me; I will not maim or kill, but in this class you will bleed and most likely break bones. If that is too harsh for you, then you have no business fighting supervillains, I’ve prepared drop out forms by the door. Is that understood by everyone? ”
“Advance by five yards and get ready.”
Rowan did and a thick plexiglass wall rose before us to protect us from stray projectile. That done, Rowan took a more aggressive stance, on all four with their front side lowered as if ready to pounce while their tail lashed about furiously.
“You get the first move.” Rook said, taking position.
Rowan charged forward, while they weren’t super fast, their size and massive build gave them the advantage of crushing momentum, making them into a living tank much like a buffalo. The Rook however was faster, much faster and rolled out of the way at the last second, preventing Rowan from adjusting their course; while it was a massive help for charges, it was hard to stop that much momentum and turn around, resulting in Rowan being awkwardly off guard and having to stop and turn around. The Rook on the other hand had masterfully dodged and recovered, taking out a bola out of his utility kit.
Ian, and me by extension, didn’t like bolas; they had risks associated with them; strangulation or the weights breaking bones on impact, hence why Ian had long ago switched to foam bombs for capture.
Rook strung the bola over his head, getting momentum out of it quickly before launching it at Rowan, entangling their forelimbs and causing them to trip as they tried to reach the Rook again. Strong as they were, Rowan’s struggle to break the bola’s cord was futile, they were made of extremely resistant material and their position wasn’t conducive to escaping either.
The Rook calmly walked toward them, grabbed them by their mane and raised their head abruptly, making Rowan snarl. He then put one of his throwing knives against their throat.
“You’re now dead.” He declared neutrally.
He let them go and removed the bola. Rowan came back and took back their place in the line.
A few others had their turn, most of them not doing well. The Rook might not have had any powers but he’d been fighting for nearly thirty years and he was damn good at it.
Despite the buzz he’d made about it, Sanjay’s armor was quickly disabled, it’s sensor not armored enough. Of everyone Ahti seemed to have done the worst; although he seemed powerful; being capable of flight and creating force fields, he seemed almost terrified of doing something wrong, he lacked the drive and confidence to perform.
Yougen’s fighting style was the polar opposite of Ahti. While her other form was fast and strong, she fought savagely, as if relying on sheer fury, which was her downfall; she was predictable and wasn’t thinking, giving the Rook the advantage.
Even Tyler who had the power of an Orion couldn’t land a punch. Annabelle whom of all of us showed the most versatility got her ass kicked. For some reason, she couldn’t use her powers while in a chokehold.
Yikaru had given us her first power demonstration; black viscous liquid had poured out of her arms, forming long wicked blades. I couldn’t help but feel like it was oddly reminiscent of Yougen when she transformed back into her normal form.
Out of Everyone, Amber and Jaime had done the best; Amber had retrieved a massive Scottish claymore from her room which her strength allowed her to wield with the agility of a rapier, but most importantly of all; she knew how to use it.
Jaime had also showed us her power for the first time; She was a telekinetic, but not one of those fine and dexterous type; instead she relied on massive force; bombarding the Raven with everything she could; mattress, mannequins, his own thrown weapons in a relentless assault. Unlike the other fights, the Rook had ended it on a stalemate.
There was something up with her. She wasn’t a normal student, it was obvious she’d seen real action and a lot of it. Training alone couldn’t make you perform like that.
My turn came second to last, the Rook had chosen to start with the opposite side of the row, with Caroline being the last. Somewhere along the way, she’s taken my hand and I could feel the tension in her hand.
“I guess it’s your turn, little magpie. Show me what Ian taught you.” He said, calling me by the name Ian had bore during his stint as the first Raven’s sidekick.
“Good luck.” Caroline whispered, letting go of my hand.
I took out my utility belts from my bag and buckled it tightly around me before performing a last check.
“No quarters given. No quarters asked.” I said, taking out my first pair of birdarang.
“That’s the spirit.”
I began my offensive; I threw the first birdarang, quickly followed by the second, which he easily deflected with his staff. However that didn’t work on the second, a quick press of the trigger on my palm and the charge I’d affixed to it exploded into foam, sticking to his staff and making it useless.
He dropped it and I took the opportunity to charge, taking my own staff which quickly extended from it’s pocket fitting size into it’s full size.
However he stopped my advance by throwing knives at me, forcing me to stop and deflect them lest I get hurt. As I did, he threw a bomb and I closed my eyes just in time to avoid the blinding flash.
The sonic bang however hit me with full force; my ears rung and I stumbled down like a drunken idiot as a result of the spike in pressure destabilizing the inner ear. If I had had my costume, it wouldn’t have been a danger; select sound filters and flash compensation in the mask would have protected me, but I didn’t.
The Rook rushed over me and kicked me in the ribs. I grit my teeth not to howl in pain but I couldn’t stop my body from folding over.
“I expected better of you.” Was all the Rook said.
I painfully stumbled back up and Annabelle and Caroline stabilized me, bringing me back to the crowd. Some of them shot a few worried looks my way but I didn’t say anything, just staring at the ground in shame.
I’d been crushed.
“I guess that only leave you.” Rook said, stopping in front of Caroline. “Are you going to end up being a disappointment too?”
Caroline didn’t answer, instead taking her place in the arena morosely.
“Alright. Do your worst.”
There was a moment of silence before Caroline said anything.
“I can’t… I don’t have what I need…”
“So, Is that it? You’re going to give up and not even try anything?”
Caroline didn’t answer…
“Fine, you know where the dropout forms for failures are.”
The wall lowered itself and Caroline walked toward us, tears flowing down her face.
“I can’t drop out…” She said before turning toward me… “But what can I do? There’s no water here.”
“Yes there is, you just need to look for it like I taught you.”
“But it’s all in pipes, I can’t access it without breaking the school.”
“Doesn’t matter. Improvise, go all out and kick his ass, show him that you’re not a fracking failure. You can do it; I believe in you.” With the end of my sleeve I wiped her tears away, making her smile.
“I’ll try…” She said solemnly.
She took place again and the wall rose back to place. She closed her eyes and clenched her fists and for a moment nothing happened.
But then a torrent of water flowed through the hallway and into the dojo, bursting the door open and assembling as a whirling vortex around Caroline. She pushed her arms forward and the flow rushed at the Rook who dodged. Or at least he tried to, but the water followed him.
She raised him into the air, her power making the water in a somewhat solid state capable of offering resistance while still remaining a liquid. Bonds of telekinetically solidified water held the Rook in the air for a minute.
And then Caroline swung her arm down. The Rook followed. Hard.
“I. Am. Not. A. Failure!” Caroline screamed as he got up.
“I guess not…” He answered, between two breaths.
Everyone just stared at the scene for a moment. Sweet, kind Caroline who doubted her worth had crushed the Rook, something none of us had been able to do.
She calmly walked over to me and hugged me.
“Thank you for believing in me.”