Chapter 132

The class looked like life had come after them in a dark alley wielding a sock full of quarters. They were haggard, tired, and worn. Since the return from break, George and Persephone had kept their promise, treating each gym session as though it were their final chance to enact some sort of long-festering revenge on the students in their charge.

The battles were brutal, the mental exercises exhausting, and there was constant drilling of strategies historically used by different Heroes. The end result was that as the class gathered on Friday afternoon, they didn’t fall into line so much as gradually limp there. Some of them were suffering from literal physical pains: the class had just ended and they hadn’t had a chance to meet with the healer yet. Others were simply laboring under a weary spirit, demonstrating physical distress as outlet for what they were coping with internally.

“You all look like utter shit,” Coach George said as they finished lining up. “And with only three weeks left until finals. I don’t think most of you could take on a sack full of terminal kittens right now, let alone a trained warrior wielding superhuman abilities.”

The class stood stoically, most of them in healthy agreement of his assessment.

“A mind is like a knife,” Coach Persephone said, taking her turn to walk down the line. “It must be kept sharp, bright, and always at the ready. Look at you all. Half of you haven’t even been able to hear this whole speech, that’s how much your brains are glossing over.”

Again the coaches were met with a weathered, beaten silence.

“It is for these reasons that things will be changing a bit,” Coach George said. “Persephone and I feel that we have taken you as far as you are capable of going in the time allotted to us. That isn’t to say we couldn’t whip your squishy asses into beasts if we had a decade to play with, but all we were given was a single school year. So, rather than drive you into the ground one by one over the remaining time before your exam, we’re taking a different approach.”

“As of Monday,” Coach Persephone announced, “you are all ordered to be on rest for one week.”

There was a ripple through the students, certain their feeble minds had snapped and full-blown delusion had set in.

“The gym, the training rooms, and all the facilities will be completely off limits to you during those seven days,” Coach Persephone continued. “Once that time had passed, you will spend the remaining two weeks undergoing a personalized training regimen. By that we mean you will work out in the ways that you find most effective. This can occur during your formerly scheduled gym time, or whenever you have free time. We are legally obligated to remind you that staying in the HCP requires the maintaining of a C average or better, so budget your time between training and study wisely.”

Looks were now being exchanged, each seeking clarification from the others that this was really happening.

“During these two weeks, Coach Persephone and I will be on hand, should any of you wish to schedule time with us for personal tutorials. That will be the limit of our involvement from now until your exam, though,” Coach George said.

“And one last piece of business,” Coach Persephone said. “Many of you have noticed that there is a day between the last finals at Lander University and the commencement of your test here in the HCP. This day is used as a dead day for final preparations and recovery. It is something of a tradition, however, for the staff to put on a small festival for the students on the night testing is over. It will occur in the gym, and there will be food, some dancing, and games. This is done as a stress-relieving outlet, and to buffer between the sets of finals. We hope to see you all here.”

With that, she and Coach George turned and made a swift exit. They never turned back once, yet the students still didn’t begin to mill about until several moments after the doors had swung shut.

*          *          *

 “Can anyone else not believe that just freaking happened?” Nick said as the group walked briskly toward Melbrook.

“It makes a lot of sense, if you really think about it,” Mary pointed out. “We’re supposed to be at our peak for the exam. That’s hard to pull off when we’re getting pummeled every week.”

“No kidding,” Roy agreed. “Even I’m starting to feel it after these past few months. Three more weeks and I think Chad would be the only man able to still stay standing on test day.”

“Roy Daniels, did you just admit you think someone is stronger than you?” Mary gasped.

“Only for now,” Roy replied with a smarmy grin.

“Yeah, well, this is a boon none of us expected, and I say we celebrate,” Nick tossed out. “I’ll go to the video store-”

The group groaned collectively.

“Not another bad movie night,” Alice protested. “Literally, anything but that.”

“Literally? Okay then, how about a rousing game of strip twister?” Nick asked.

“One day some lucky girl is going to castrate you, and I sincerely hope I’m around to see it,” Alice replied.

“All dong mangling aside, I’m with the chicks on this one,” Roy agreed. “Even Hershel is tired of those things.”

“You guys are nuts, my choice in horrific cinema is the stuff of legend. Back me up here, Vince,” Nice said.

“Yeah, whatever you guys want,” Vince said, his eyes shifting about. “I’ve got something to take care of real quick. I’ll see you back at the dorm.”

With that, Vince was jogging off hastily, backpack bouncing against him as he dashed.

“That was odd,” Nick observed.

“Let him be,” Mary said. “He’ll be back soon.”

Nick glanced at her momentarily, then shrugged it off.

“Whatever, I say we start with the Death Couch II and Death Couch IV just to set the mood-”

This time the group groan was louder and held for a full thirty seconds.