Chapter 134

“It’s official,” Hershel said as the credits began to roll. “We never let Nick pick another movie. All in favor?”

A reverberating chorus of “Aye!” momentarily deafened everyone in the room.

“You guys just don’t appreciate good cinematography,” Nick defended.

“By all means, please explain to me the cinematographic brilliance of Blood Fountain 3: The Bloodening,” Sasha dared.

“For starters, there was the way the splatter patterns always caught the light in just the right way to maximize the sensation of gore,” Nick said. In response he was struck in the face by a pillow, hurled from across the room by Alice. Nick turned his head and glared in response, only to be met by an innocent smile and a covert point toward Alex. Nick wasn’t buying it, partially because he wasn’t stupid and partially because he had seen her do the tossing in his peripheral vision. Nick snatched the pillow from the ground, reared back, and let fly at his blonde target.

The pillow ceased its trajectory in mid-air, floating slowly into Mary’s lap. She was nestled on the couch with Hershel, and while his arm wasn’t wrapped around her, their proximity was far closer than that of platonic friends.

“No pillow fighting in the living room,” Mary said. “That’s how things get broken.”

Nick stuck out his tongue. “You suck, Mom.”

Vince laughed. “You know, if anyone in this dorm had the authority to play the mother role, it would be Mary.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Mary began, though her speech faltered when she noticed the entire population of the room, which consisted of the Melbrook residents along with Will, Jill, Alex, and Sasha, all nodding in agreement.

“It’s a good thing,” Alice assured her. “It just means you’re the only one who can put everyone in place. Also, I mean, you are kind of the mom.”

“How am I the mom?”

“You stop us from throwing pillows in the house,” Nick pointed out.

“You make us all get salads at dinner,” Vince added.

“You make sure everyone has done their homework each night,” Alice said.

“You’ve said before if you could have a car it would be a mini-van,” Hershel said delicately.

“Oh, don’t you start,” Mary said, thrusting a finger into Hershel’s chest.

“Sorry,” Hershel said, an very unapologetic smile visible on his face.

“Oh!” Jill said, sitting up excitedly. “I’ve got one. You always seem to have Kleenex or tissue on hand.”

“Okay, okay, I get it!” Mary tossed up her hands in mock frustration. “I’m the mom. You got me. Yeesh, part of me is glad I’ve only got three more weeks of you people.”

“Three weeks to cram with as much vintage cinema as possible,” Nick said. This time he ducked the pillow Alice chunked at him. He was not so lucky, however, with the one thrown by Mary.

“I thought you said no pillow throwing,” Nick coughed as he dislodged the pillow from his chest.

“Who’s your mommy now?” Mary retuned with a Cheshire grin.

Nick reared back to return fire, but Vince leaned forward and deftly plucked the projectile from his hand.

“I’ll be the mom. No throwing pillows indoors. Besides, you know she’ll just catch it halfway there and send it back at you,” Vince said.

“True. You combat types and your ranged deflecting capabilities,” Nick said.

“Part of it is that, part of it is that she’s planning on spending her next three weeks training instead of watching movies. Funny how much that can add to one’s skill level,” Vince pointed out.

“Three weeks? You’ve got to be kidding me. I think at this point if we aren’t good to go we might as well just pack our crap,” Nick replied.

“Have any of you guys thought about that?” Alex asked tentatively.

“Thought about the test? Sure, it’s been a worry for me and an excitement for Roy ever since they announced it,” Hershel said.

“No, I mean have you thought about what happens if you fail the test? About what it would be like to not come back next year,” Alex clarified.

“Oh,” Hershel said as the meaning set in. “A little bit. To be honest, I haven’t worried about it a whole lot. Roy has gotten amazingly better throughout the year, especially since he started sparring with Chad. I don’t think he’s going to be top of the class, but I’m pretty sure we won’t get sent home.”

“I might,” Alice said, her voice lightly tremoring with fear. “I mean, I do well at some of the puzzle and strategy exercises, but I haven’t made any progress in finding new ways to use my power. I just fly. That’s all I’ve ever done, and I’m not sure if that’s going to cut it.”

“Flying is a useful ability,” Vince assured her. “The first rule in every battle is ‘Capture the High Ground’. Elevation is important for a lot of different strategies.”

“Useful? Sure, I’ll agree with that. But we’re not talking about just being useful, we’re talking about becoming a Hero.”

“By that logic, several of us are at high risk,” Will chimed in. “My talents are most often assessed to be utilized in support role rather than a primary one. Your power is somewhat limited in its applications. Alex is little more than a weaker form of Mary, and Nick’s power is nebulous and ill-defined at its best.”

“Wow, way to cheer everyone up,” Jill said, noting the downcast faces throughout the room.

“I wasn’t finished yet,” Will said. “My point was that failure is a constant possibility for us. We can’t alter the abilities we were given, so the only thing within our control is to press forward with all we possess. We must train relentlessly, fight unyieldingly, and refuse to surrender in spite of all odds. These are qualities needed not just to make it through another round of the HCP, but ones we must absolutely have if we truly wish to be Heroes.”

“That was surprisingly eloquent,” Sasha said.

“I have my moments,” Will replied.

“Much as I agree with Will, I feel obligated to point out that we have been banned from training for the next week,” Nick said. “So I think it is our duty as both students and as potential fail-outs from the HCP to try and enjoy ourselves a bit. You know, just in case.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Nick,” Mary admitted.

“It only burns the first time,” Vince told her. He glanced at Sasha, who gave a shrug and kissed him on the cheek. “I guess we’re in for whatever.”

The others nodded in a noncommittal fashion, which Nick chose to interpret as an unflinching, complete adherence to any word he spoke.

“Awesome,” Nick said. “Now, to start us off right, the multiplex downtown is doing a blood and gore marathon tomorrow night-”

It was at this point he was forced to vault behind the chair to escape the spontaneous, coordinated barrage of pillows directed at his body.