Through the miracle of teleportation, the prospective recruits found themselves whisked away from the Musubi’s parking lot, all the way down Main Street, and into the headquarters of Midgar’s greatest military force in three blinks of an eye. They wound up in a red-tinted lobby
that constituted the Otherlobe’s reception area, a two-dimension facsimile of the building’s iconic brain perched behind the front desk. “And here we are,” Luka announced cheerfully. “I’ve already gotten in touch with Morceau using Brain Talk, and he’s rolling out the welcome mat, so be sure to thank him later. A grader has been called in to oversee your crash course through Psych-OSF 101. A member of his platoon is coming by to watch as well.””Let’s hope that the welcome mat doesn’t involve minefields and missile strikes this time,”
Raz commented as he surveyed the reddened Motherlobe lobby. It was still really weird how almost-normal things were. ”Oh, who am I kidding? Knowing Coach it’ll probably be a… missile field, or a mine strike. Or both.”
Peach didn’t know any Morceau, but she felt indebted all right. Was it really this easy? “If we’re thanking anybody we ought to thank you, Luka! We barely know you, but you’re so willing to help.”
Sakura nodded eagerly. ”Yeah! Thanks a million.”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” The young man rubbed his head, a little bashful. “I just think everyone with a dream ought to be given a fair chance. But remember, I only got you here. What happens next is up to you.” He gestured in the direction of the front desk. “Good luck.”
With that he disappeared in a blue flash, leaving the three to approach the receptionist
. “So, you’re the volunteers. Welcome to the Otherlobe.” Her attention rested on Raz. “You must be the Former that Morceau mentioned. A member of the Psychonauts who wasn’t around for the union with OSF, that is. Makes sense, it’s not every day we get new trainees at such a late hour. As for you two…” she squinted at Peach and Sakura. “I don’t know what makes you so exceptional, but you’re vouched for, too. Just make sure you don’t reflect badly on those who putting their faith in you. Here.” The woman passed out some forms. “Fill these out. Nobody’s an exception to the rules, after all.”
At first glance the forms seemed pretty normal. Name, age, birthdate, place of origin, et cetera. When she came to the box labeled ‘Power’ Peach got stuck for a moment. It sounded like it expected only one, which probably referred to whatever power she’d gotten from the soldier she’d fused with. Unfortunately, the princess didn’t know the name for it, or even the totality of her new abilities. She’d barely even tried it out. “Uh…” she muttered, wracking her brain. After a moment she just wrote equipment
, then pushed on. The rest of the pages seemed to be some sort of in-depth personality test, but the questions involved all sorts of vague, context-devoid hypotheticals with inflexible answers. Though Peach couldn’t call herself an expert, it felt pretty unscientific and arbitrary, but she dutifully filled them out nonetheless.
Sakura caught herself leaning over to see what Raz was writing down. ”What the heck are these questions?”
She muttered as she filled out the many hypotheticals. For her power, she wrote ‘fireballs, strong, karate, and telekinesis’ cramming it all into the little box.”Beats me.”
Raz, for his form, opted to put down ‘Psi-Blast’ for the Power section. It was the one he first learned when he started his journey to become a Psychonaut. It felt right. ”This form wasn’t part of the Psychonauts. I guess… since the OSF is pretty team-based, the personality stuff is to pair up similar recruits?”
After a few minutes, the grader arrived. Crenshaw
appeared from one of the lobby elevators. Though he wore a glum expression, perhaps as a result of being pulled away from evening plans, he carried himself with a professional and serious air. With him came a familiar face to Raz, hardly a surprise if he put two and two together: Lili
. Rather than greet him in her typical manner, though, she stared at him with a mix of fear and uncertainty almost like despair in her Galeem-free eyes, as if desperate for his help. He smiled at her, restrained and concerned, trying to give off vibes of understanding. He was only now realizing how scary of a situation Lili was in, and he was the one to thrust her into it with no help. He can make up for lost time… hopefully.
“Finished with your forms?” Crenshaw asked. The receptionist put them into a machine, and the information within got pulled into Psynet, then into the mind of Crenshaw himself. “Cadet Aquato, Cadet Kasugano, and Cadet…Toadstool. Hm…my sympathies. Follow me.”
Thankfully, the image painted in Raz’ mind by the phrase ‘Fresh Meat Circus’ did not represent the actual training grounds. It did take the form of a big, cylindrical room with a domed top, but it was a rather brutalistic affair of concrete and metal full of pipes, shafts, and cables, all gray and black. Though a big room, considering the scale of Psych-OSF, Peach couldn’t help but wonder if this was it. Arranged in a big circle around the open area in the center were a variety of instruments that the princess assumed would be the trio’s tests.
“...So before any full psychiatric evaluations take place, we’re going to get an idea of what you can do,” Crenshaw was saying. “Normally this would allow us to determine how many weeks, months, or years of training are needed to bring you up to par, but after seeing your referrals I’ve sort of got my hopes up. If your results exceed expectations, you’ll be set. This’ll also let us know if you’re candidates for any additional programs like BIAS. Keep in mind that you can use whatever powers you’ve got for these tests. Ingenuity is almost as important as raw power. Over here.”
The first test appeared to be a standard high striker, the sort one might find at a carnival. A big. well-worn red button sat beneath a tall vertical scale made to look like a spinal cord, and a few dozen feet up a big brain sat at the very top. “A simple test of strength,” Crenshaw stated, levitating a clipboard. “Hit it as hard as you’ve got, with whatever you’ve got.”
Sakura grimaced good-naturedly at the grotesque theming of the carnival button. She couldn’t help but be excited by this first test. She felt like she was gonna do pretty good on it. ”I guess I’ll go first.”
She said confidently, zipping up her jacket and making sure her headband was on nice and tight. Approaching the button, she observed it carefully. The angle wasn’t so good for some of her stronger attacks. With a carefree shrug, she bounced on her feet for a few moments before stepping in. One leg crossed behind the other and then her front leg shot out with honed technique. Sakura straight kicked the button as hard as she could. ”Sore!”
Her foot snapped back to the ground and she eagerly watched the scale.
The spark-shaped marker puck shot up the spinal column like a rocket, lighting up fans of blue and red nerves like Christmas lights as it climbed, though like all such carnival games it was a lot heavier than it looked. It fell short of the brain at the top, but it still left a dazzling display for the brief moment before the puck began to fall. Still, her efforts managed to get a raised eyebrow from Crenshaw, and given his solemn air that must be saying something. “Impressive physical strength,” he murmured, marking the second sheet on his clipboard. “Few Scarlet Guardians fight hand-to-hand. Some see it as old-fashioned, but if it ain’t broke…” Sakura could fill in the rest.
Letting Sakura and Peach show their stuff first, Raz sidestepped over to Lili while Crenshaw was occupied with the tests. ”Hey, Lili?”
He put a hand on her shoulder. ”I wanted to say sorry about earlier. I sorta, kinda, left you to deal with this huge thing on your own. How are you, uh, holding up..?”
His friend had been waiting for him to ask. “Not great,” she admitted, her voice just a little tremulous. “I’ve been thinking about…well, everything. It’s all a lie, everything, but I believed it.” Lili clenched her teeth, staring at the floor. “The power it takes to do something like that…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. But you know what else?” Her brows furrowed as she glanced at Raz. “It makes me mad. I can’t just take it lying down. We
can’t. There’s got to be something, something
we can do…””There is!”
Raz kept his voice down so he didn’t alert Crenshaw, though since he was a psychic he might already be aware. Whatever. ”That’s what I’ve been up to before I got here. Me, and Peach and Sakura, we’re all part of a group that’s trying to free everyone and stop whatever is doing it. You should come with!”
That left Lili blinking in confusion. “If that’s the case, why are you here…?” she whispered.
With Raz distracted by Lili, Peach stepped up next. Sakura’s mighty blow would be a tough act to follow, and the princess knew she didn’t possess that kind of strength. From the beginning, however, she’d kept in mind what the grader said about powers. So when she stepped up to bat, Peach thought for a moment, then reached into her hammerspace arsenal. Unbeknownst to her, this existing power synergized with her new one, and to her slight surprise her Scatterboom manifested in crystalline form. Hefting the heavier-than-usual gun, she glanced at Crenshaw to see if he’d disallow its use, but he just watched in silence, totally impassive. Without further ado Peach sauntered on up, pressed her Scatterboom’s barrel to the button, and pulled the trigger. The ensuing explosion echoed through the chamber, and a great plume of gunfire gave way to enough smoke to hide the base of the high striker completely. From the haze the puck suddenly appeared, shooting up among the bright nerves to roughly the same height that Sakura’s kick propelled it to. Maybe even higher! Not like she’d get to deliver a point-blank shot as often as a strong kick, but still, it assuaged Peach’s doubts somewhat. Sakura forced out a clap for Peach’s benefit, but she found herself a little annoyed.
“Hm.” Crenshaw blinked at her. “Your form said your power was ‘Equipment’, but it looks more like Materialization. Maybe even Genesis, if you’re able to make working weapons. Not bad.”
Finally, Raz was up to bat. He shot Lili a quick, ”I’ll tell you later,”
before taking his spot back with the rest. He took a moment to consider the bell, eyes trailing from the button allllll the way up to the brain bell. ”I think I remember when Mom and Dad got one of these for our performances. Not exactly this but the whole ‘hammer-and-bell’ thing. And if I remember right, it’s less about power and more…”
Raz smirked. ”Sakura! Gimme a big boost!”
Utilizing the superior raw strength of his teammate, Raz rocketed into the air, the peak of his launch reaching just slightly higher than the bell. Once the arc turned into a fall, he materialized his Levball and immediately slammed down, dropping even faster than he rose. Like a miniature meteor Raz and his Levball smashed
into the button at full speed!
And then springboarded sideways, facefirst into a solid concrete pillar, having hit the button at a wonky angle. ”Gyaaa–hrkmphh!!”
Sakura winced, covering her face and peeking from behind her fingers.
Crenshaw kept his eyes on Raz just long enough to make sure that the boy was okay, then glanced at the puck on the high striker as it neared its zenith. Unfortunately, despite borrowing an ally’s strength and hurting himself in the process, Raz didn’t get anywhere near as high a score as the others. Light weight propelled mostly by gravity just didn’t measure up to honed muscle or high-power ballistics. “This isn’t a test where you’re supposed to get perfect marks, so don’t worry too much if you score lowly in one area or another” the grader mentioned. “What’s important is giving an accurate reading of your abilities. Your own
abilities, to be specific.” He shot an weary look not just at Raz but at Sakura for helping him. The street fighter laughed apologetically and shrugged.
With the first test done, Crenshaw rotated the team to the second. Visualizing the room’s floorplan as a giant clock, Peach supposed they’d moved from one o’ clock to two, going clockwise. This time she didn’t see any machinery; instead, striped tape marked out a large, roughly square area on the floor. A random assortment of objects of all shapes and sizes, though mostly large, were stacked there. There were crates, chests, luggage, compressed scrap cubes, barricades, and more, including the chassis of a car. “Okay, listen up, because this one’s more complicated.” Crenshaw pointed directly across the room to the far side. “Over there’s a deposit zone just like this one, but empty. Each of you is going to have two minutes. Move as much stuff from here to there as you can. By yourself.
When the time is up, you’ll get points for everything inside the zone. Understood?” He made sure to get everyone’s approval, then nodded. “Then go.”
Sakura glanced between Peach and Raz as she took a few steps forward. ”Guess I’ll go first again!”
She ran over to the assorted boxes and crates and tried to think of something smart. She picked up a big crate and lifted it over her head, and then stared at another big crate until it followed her in the air. Then she jogged across the way and threw them both, one with her strength and the other with her mind, until they landed in the zone.
Sprinting back to the first square, she picked up the lighter things she could find and just chucked them to the other zone with decent enough accuracy, though a few landed short because she didn’t want to throw them too far.
Eventually though, her eyes landed on the car chassis. ”Hmm…”
She ended up stuffing about four cubes in there. Big enough so that they got in each other’s way and kept each other within the chassis. She even stuffed some luggage between her teeth. Then, with a combination of elbow grease and telekinesis, she pushed the chassis and cargo across the field. It was kind of like her telekinesis put wheels on the chassis, though it still scraped against the ground a few times and Sakura had to put her back into it.
She felt the timer ticking down and ran out to the crates that had fallen short of their throw arcs earlier. She dove for it, twisted her upper body, and slapped it until it rolled into the zone. She stood up and put her hands into the air, panting happily. ”How was that! Was that good?”
As the challenge got underway Crenshaw had made his way over to the opposite side to tally up points, though he soon ended up giving the scoring zone a wide berth to make one hundred percent sure that anything flung there didn't accidentally get flung into his his cranium instead. "Good enough," he replied evenly, awarding her another round of appreciably high marks. "In the field we'd probably want to treat our cargo a little more…hm, carefully." He then climbed onto the stack. "Of course, everyone has their own way…"
Crenshaw began to concentrate. A field of orange psychic energy suddenly began to coalesce around the scoring zone. It grew brighter and noisier, causing the very air to vibrate alarmingly, until after a moment both agent and assortment suddenly warped all the way back to the start. As the light of his Transport power died down, Crenshaw calmly stepped down to usher Raz forward. "...Of doing things."”Wow, that was cool!”
Raz couldn’t contain his awe at Crenshaw’s psychic demonstration. ”Is that a move I could learn here?”
The agent shook his head. “That’s my power. My new power, anyway. Every former Psychonaut has some weak powers left over from those days, but nowadays we all have something special, too.””...Haha, right…”
Raz stepped up to the garbage zone, having already made a game plan. He didn’t have raw strength, that much was already proven, so he’d have to tackle it a different way this time.
As quick as the timer started Raz rushed to get things ready, telekinesis working in tandem with his natural dexterity to pile up three tall stacks of the medium-to-smallest pieces of junk he could, the right level of height and weight for him to be able to balance them. And the young psychic did just that! A four-way balancing act - himself on his Levitation ball, a stack of junk on both of his outstretched palms, and the third held in front of him using TK. All his circus days went into this little trick, matching speed with caution to carry the stacks over.
When he reached the second zone Raz quickly deposited everything down, taking only the briefest of moments to rub his hands, before turning back to the first zone. With not much time left, he decided to try his hand at pulling some other mid-sized pieces to him with Mental Connection until the clock ran out.”How’d I do?!”
Raz asked Crenshaw just a touch frantically once the test was over.
The grader nodded. “Not bad.” Lips pursed, he ran a hand through his hair. “Just so you guys know, I’m going to run out of ways to say ‘you did okay’ eventually. I’m not here for moral support, you know.”
As the others took the load-bearing test, Peach looked on with a consternated expression, trying to come up with a plan. No matter which way she looked at this problem, no good answer presented itself. She doubted she could carry or even lift the heavier objects, with her abilities or otherwise. It just wasn't a task she was well-suited for, but she couldn't put it off forever. When her turn arrived she did the best she could, but at the end of two minutes Peach had struggled a lot more to move a lot less than her peers. She could only wipe the sweat from her brow in silent frustration as Crenshaw graded her lackluster results, then followed him to test number three.
The three o' clock test turned out to be a trapeze-like arrangement of three climbing walls in a half-hexagon centered around a lone flagpole. The center panel appeared to be a standard climbing net of sturdy rope, while the left took the form of a zig-zag of bouncy tightropes, and the right featured two opposing walls about two feet wide that went all the way up. At the very top of the flagpole hung a detachable flag. Now this
was a circus element Raz would be glad to see, but surprisingly he wasn't the only one.
"Oh, sweet!" Peach announced with a relieved smile. "Now here's something I can do!"
Crenshaw pointed his pencil up at the flag. "As you probably guessed, you need to get the flag down and attach it to the hook at the bottom. Speed is of the essence. You up first?" Peach nodded. "Then let's get started."
When given the signal Peach leaped into the air, putting her excellent jumping skill to work. She double jumped at the apex, then materialized her parasol with a skyward thrust to zip higher still. Once it unfurled the princess floated over to the net wall and grabbed on, getting a foothold to reset her jumps before going again. By repeating the process she reached the flag in mere moments, seized it, then dropped to the ground. She used her umbrella one last time to break her fall, then attached the flag to complete the task. "There!"
Sakura applauded loudly this time. ”Woo!”
Crenshaw nodded again. "Pretty mobile. Go ahead and fly the flag for the next person."
Raz pulled his helmet snug on his head and tugged his gloves in preparation for the climb. ”Here I go!”
Raz kicked off with a vault into Levitation, peeling out towards the tightrope section. He pushed the Levball down as he skid under the tightropes, using it to spring straight up into the air! Using the momentum, Raz grabbed hold of the next tightrope and followed up by slingshotting himself further up, and again, and again, until he clung onto one of the top ropes.
A rock back, forth, back, and Raz swung through the air to the flagpole. In the same motion to snatch the flag he grabbed hold of the pole, sliding all the way back down to the bottom. ”Time!”
He shouted as soon as he clipped the flag on the hook. ”Alright!”
Sakura cheered. ”I thought these tests would be more, I dunno, psychic-y. But this is a lot of fun!”
She said. Now she knew she really had to impress Crenshaw, so she once again dedicated herself to trying as hard as she can.
She dropped down into a runner’s starting position, then shot toward the two opposing walls. She was eager to try out a skill she hadn’t had a chance to demonstrate much of yet- the Launcher Jump! Sakura skid to a stop, bent down for a solid second, her body coiling and tense. With an audible burst of wind she shot upward twenty feet in a single bound, then used telekinesis to carry her into one of the opposing walls. Then she kicked off to the other wall. At that point she realized she wasn’t Chun-Li and lost her footing. ”Shimatta!”
She fell back down to the bottom, landing on her feet with a thud and roll. ”Crap! I thought I could pull that off!”
She said with a laugh before sprinting directly to the flagpole. She did another Launcher Jump and then clung onto the flagpole. After that she shimmied up the pole, working her core muscles. Once she was in decent enough range she reached out and used telekinesis to pluck the flag from its place at the top, bringing it back down into her hand. Then she dropped and free fell back to the ground, landing with another burst of air. ”Was that good?”
Then she remembered what Crenshaw said earlier. ”Err, I mean…I don’t care if it was good? Or, I guess, just-”
She stopped talking and hooked the flag back onto the pole and used the pulley to get it back up to the top.
Crenshaw didn’t respond; the girl probably didn’t want to know that she’d been the slowest of the three by a decent margin. Instead he focused on marking down the cadets’ scores on their forms as he led the way to the next test. Peach noticed the curious contraption that awaited the trio at the four o’ clock position as she approached, trying to figure out what it was on her own before the grader went ahead and explained. Like the agility test before it this one also featured a half-hex, albeit smaller, and these walls featured only ordinary chain-link fencing stretched between the spires without any extra variation. Nested inside with its back to the barriers was a strange mannequin. It sported a humanoid torso but the trunk of a serpent, its tail coiled beneath it for support, and a large helmet with eight glowing eyes lay on its shoulders.
“In our line of work, it’s necessary to make the absolute most of any and every opportunity,” Crenshaw told the three recruits. “Our enemy is merciless. So we must be, as well. This is a Combat Adjudicator.” He patted the naga-like mannequin
on the side of its head. “You’ll have thirty seconds. Hit it with the best, longest combo you’ve got. It’ll give you a Style rating based on your combo length, move variety, and damage. Starts at D, goes to C, B, A, S, double S, and finally the elusive triple S. You’re graded based on how long you keep up your highest rating. Break a leg.” He backed away from the fancy training dummy so that the evaluation could begin. With its back to those walls acting as a corner, and the dummy itself able to be launched into the air, the circumstances were as good as they’d get for long, flashy combos.
Sakura laced her fingers together and stretched out her arms while shifting all of her weight onto one foot, bending until her knee was right up against her. At this point, she was looking positively sly. ”A combo trial? This is almost too good to be true.”
She approaches the Combat Adjudicator. This was practically what she was built for. If she couldn’t do this, then why was she even on the team? Then she backed up a few steps, bounced from foot to foot, and opened up with a jump in!
She slammed her foot on top of its chest and dropped into a piercing elbow, before spinning in with her hands interlocked. She continued her spin into a ”Shunpu!”
, swinging her leg out like a hammer while hopping forward. When it seemed like it could hypothetically recover, she jabbed it and went back in with another lightning fast spin kick, and right when it seemed out of range she exploded forward like a saw blade, kicking it thrice and launching it into the air. She leapt to follow it. ”One, two..!”
She brought her fists down upon it twice, popping them higher into the air. But on the second hit she dropped down faster to meet the dummy before it landed. She braced, before doing her signature Chin Buster Kick. Crossing one arm across and lifting the other, she kicked so straight up her foot nearly crossed over her shoulder. This was a Launcher, the dummy going even higher than before, as high as she had jumped previously. Sakura followed after it and met it in the air. For a short while they were suspended as she unleashed a series of quick strikes. With another spin kick she flung it into the wall. ”Hadoken!”
Mid air she unleashed a fireball, exploding it against the wall.
Then she spent another EX-Meter to pursue her target. ”Hooah!”
She shot forward, cherry blossoms trailing behind her as she flashed with power. She sliced into it thrice, before grabbing it. She leaned backwards and kicked it up into the air and launched herself downwards.
She landed with a roll and shook out her wrist. There was a brief pause, as it fell down… ”Shouoken!”
She shot up to met it, stopping all of its momentum with a high caliber punch and crashing it away as her upper body twisted mid air. Then she landed, pumped her fists, and crossed her arms. This time, supremely confident, she silently did a victory cartwheel.
Crenshaw nodded, his lips pursued again and his brows raised in the universal not bad at all
expression. As the Combat Adjudicator recovered, the floor opened up for the next participant, and since Raz seemed to be considering his options Peach tentatively stepped forward. That wasn’t to say she had a great plan in mind, though. Once again she’d have to follow up a very strong performance from Sakura, although reasonably speaking if she went first the better-trained fighter would only show her up afterward, anyway. As she moved in Peach tried to focus; the moment she landed the first blow, the timer would begin, but she didn’t want to stall so long that her inexperience became obvious. The princess took a deep breath, then began.
She delivered two slaps in quick succession, then struck out with a low kick that swept the Adjudicator’s snake tail out from under it. Her backward-leaning can-can kick came out next as launcher, but with her target on the ground she couldn’t connect cleanly, and instead rolled the dummy backward into the fence. The combo was over, and for a brief moment Peach froze. “Damn!” she hissed before cupping a hand over her mouth, surprised at her own vehemence after returning more or less to her sweet self. Twenty-five seconds to go,
she reminded herself. Too hastily she tried again, dashing forward with a sparkling shove to bounce the dummy against the back wall before materializing a golf club to hit it with. On the second wall-splat the Adjudicator crumpled, ending the combo again.
“Double damn!” Peach grit her teeth. Time was short. She needed to pull off something now
. She took a deep breath in through her nose, then exhaled through her mouth. Just fifteen seconds left. Time to go.
Two slaps combo’d into a sweep, same as before. But this time Peach carried her momentum into a clockwise spin on her left leg, whirling around to strike multiple times. The last hit popped the dummy up, allowing her can-can kick to launch it properly. She hopped into the air after it and struck with a high-speed, low-lag, multi-hit spin, carrying it back down with her to follow up with an immediate ribbon twirl, a materialized heart exploding above her upheld arm, and the dummy flew up once again. This time Peach leaped up to bump the dummy higher with an overhead rainbow, canceled into the same parasol-jump she used during the last test. Rather than float slowly down, she closed the umbrella to fall faster, and as the dummy began to descend she dropped a Grenaduck at the base of the wall. By the time the Adjudicator reached her, she’d materialized her Scatterboom to blast it against the fence, causing a heft wallbounce perfect for a seldom-seen special move of hers.
“Ha-CHA!” She threw herself bottom-first into her target, causing an explosion of hearts that smacked it into the fence. Once again it crumpled, but this time the Grenaduck caught it and kept the combo going. Peach whipped out her rocket launcher to launch the dummy once more for a skyward rocket shot, but right after she struck with the weapon Crenshaw’s timer buzzed, ending the trial just before the finale. With a sigh the princess let the Adjudicator fall, then backed away to let Raz strut his stuff.
What ‘stuff’ there was to ‘strut’ would remain to be seen. Raz’s close-quarters options were more on the hit and run
side of things. Extended one-on-one brawls weren’t in his wheelhouse. Still, he didn’t want to just pass on the test. He stepped up to the dummy, scratching his head. ”Here goes nothing, I guess.”
Raz opened with Mental Connection, zipping him to the target and delivering a speedy psychic jab. Following up with a right- and left-hook, then a flurry of palm strikes. Raz prepared to continue, but hesitated just long enough for his “combo” to break. ”Drat, what’s the timing on this thing?”
He stepped back to have at it again, putting his opener out quicker and sure to lead the flurry into a quick yank upwards with TK. In the air, Raz peppered the mannequin with a trio of Psi-Blasts, MC’d up to meet it midair, gave it another point blank burst of blasts, then sent it back to the ground with a solid slam!
It didn’t feel all that flashy for Raz, but all the same he walked away from it with a smile. ”Dunno if that was any good but it was fun!”
Next up was the fifth test. So far the cadets had been flying through these challenges, but this one looked a little different. The strange apparatus looked like a dome covered in doodads and cables, with dozens of camera-sized machines arrayed in a hollow hemisphere that all pointed toward its center, where a red pressure plate laid. “The endurance test,” Crenshaw explained. “Once you step on, random turrets will start firing, increasing in intensity over time. They’re about as strong as psi-blasts. Hold out as long as you can. If it gets to be too much, just step off the plate and the test will be over.” He shrugged. “Or, if you’re really durable, I’ll cut it off after ten minutes. Very few people ever make it that far though, so don’t try and be a hero. And please, don’t do anything that might destroy the turrets. They’re sensitive. Who’s first?”
Sakura blinked, a little disbelieving. ”Endurance test..? Is this just an excuse to watch us get beat up?”
She asked.”I’ll take first go at this one!”
Raz walked up to the plate. While, again, he didn’t have a ton of hope in pure defense
, seeing as he flipped and rolled and ran from the hurt, he felt confident up against a rain of Psi-Blasts. He should be able to just, sorta, diffuse the energy when it hits him. He’s seen Sasha and Milla do it before.
How hard could it be?
Raz stepped on, and the test began. The first few volleys of Psi-blasts weren’t too tough, Raz’s mental fortitude allowing him to essentially ‘absorb’ these weaker bursts, but when the intensity started to ramp up his plan fumbled. They hit harder, and didn’t burst as easily as they had up to now. Before long Raz was out of the energy to keep it up, and so he stumbled off the pad, rubbing the sore spots along his arms and back.”Welp,”
he muttered as he moved back to the group, ”something to improve on at least.”
“That wasn’t bad!” Peach encouraged him. “You did your best!” She passed him and headed into the thunderdome. This time she moved with purpose because she actually did have a plan in mind, at long last. Before stepping on the button she materialized her parasol, which she popped open and daintily places on her shoulder. Then the test began. Tense with anticipation, Peach kept her eyes sharp, and as the first few psi-blasts came in she hurriedly span around to intercept them with the canopy of her umbrella as if it were a lightweight shield. The crystalline surface, courtesy of her new power, helped absorb the damage better than mere cloth would. Quickly Peach noticed that the turrets began to hum and glow a split second before they fired, which gave her more time to defend herself. Again and again she swerved to block the blasts, and slowly they began to ramp up in speed. With the increased rate of fire more slipped through the gaps, the accumulated damage eventually taking out her parasol, but with plenty of psychic energy left she simply made two more to keep herself covered.
A minute passed by in this fashion, then two. As Peach neared three minutes the stream of psi-blasts became a torrent, pouring in from all directions; she couldn’t hope to keep up with them all. Taking a number of hits, she ditched what remained of parasols and skipped straight to the point. A cylindrical tower of bricks manifested around her, with a fresh umbrella on top to protect herself from the turrets directly above her. When the psi-blasts wore down and blew apart the bricks, Peach dutifully replaced them. This strategy lasted her to six minutes, at which point the torrent of shots became a flood, a powerful and very noisy lightshow. It wasn’t long before the psi-blasts were demolishing her bunker faster than she could repair, and finally her well of psychic energy ran dry. A few more moments passed as she hunkered down on the pad, covering her head with her arms as the blasts hammered her limbs and back, but ultimately the princess fell off the pad, beaten up and unable to continue.
Breathing heavily, she stumbled out of the dome with the others’ help, Crenshaw reported her time. “Seven minutes, eight seconds,” he told her. “That’s something to be proud of.” He motioned toward a nearby apparatus that looked like a gumball machine, filled with little bottles of orange jelly. “Make sure you all grab some of those, by the way. Fix you right up.””Welp. Guess it’s my turn to get beat up. Won’t be the first time, won’t be the last!’
She said cheerfully. Her strategy wasn’t much of a strategy. She couldn’t create any forcefields. Really as soon as they started coming in from all directions at the same time, her goose was cooked. And Sakura’s prediction came true. Easily she made it to the three minute mark, simply turning and blocking the psi-blasts whenever she noticed the turrets hum. When they started coming in from all directions, well, Sakura started getting hit. She used V-Shift a few times to buy herself a few more seconds, dodging every single bullet with ease for mere moments before she was dropped back down into the real world.
Eventually she ended up in a ball on the ground like Peach, only she did actually manage to go for a while like that. Her defensive ki did manage to do some work as it was, technically, a form of blocking. ”Ow ow ow!”
She also V-Shifted some more, rolling around before dropping back into a ball. ”This is embarrassing!”
Sakura shouted with a laugh. No wonder Karin didn’t want to sign up for this, she probably would have destroyed the turrets to prove a point.
Soon the torrent became too much for even to find a gap to begin v-shifting, though Sakura didn’t realize it at the time. For a brief moment her body was wracked with psi-bullets and she was blasted from the platform. She pushed herself to her feet, rubbing her arm. ”Ouch. Jelly, please!”
She went to greedily consume the medicine like it was a candied treat.
“Five down, five to go,” Crenshaw remarked. Peach looked at him in disbelief, and after a moment he shrugged. “...Though I ought to say, with only half of them you’ve already got more points than a number of recruits do after going all the way. Keep it up and you might graduate tonight after all.” He beckoned to the trio and started to walk. “This way.”
TO BE CONTINUED