Chapter 58

 

“I must say, it warms my heart as an educator to see such a robust turnout this morning,” Coach George announced as he paced along the line of skittish students. “How about you, Persephone?”

“Heart thoroughly warmed,” Coach Persephone answered.

“Glad to hear it. I must say, I thought more of you would break by now. I was certain some would take this opportunity to drop out of the program rather than face today’s exam. You’ve proven me wrong so far, but then the day is just beginning,” Coach George said.

It was indeed just beginning. The students had been told to be lined up in the gym on exam day at seven in the morning sharp. Most, if not all, had arrived early rather than risk seeing what happened to those in strolled in minutes after the deadline. Many of them were still blinking the sleep out of their eyes, but they were in attendance and paying attention with the vigor that only fear can provide.

“I’m sure many of you are wondering what today’s test is. Well, as most of you know, this is the last chance any of you will have to show us which training course you’ll be placed in next semester. As such, the only way we felt we could accurately measure your abilities was to pit you against one another,” Coach George continued.

Some of the higher ranked students perked up. If it was just going to be fighting they were confident they would sail through this day easily.

“Now, before anyone gets too excited, this won’t be like your first day. I don’t just want to see who can kick the shit out of each other. I want to see who can think on their feet, adapt to a changing environment, and yes, a little bit of shit kicking will be in there too. You see, my little freshmen, today you enter the labyrinth.”

The student glanced at one another with confused stares.

“As you all know, we’re located underneath the actual Lander campus. What most of you don’t know, though, is that this is the top level of our subterranean stronghold. Farther down are other levels, whole environments designed to simulate real-life situations for training purposes. At the very bottom is a level we call the labyrinth. Constantly moving, always shifting, it’s a maze that would make you go crazy if you were abandoned there. Today, it will also be your battleground,” Coach George said.

Coach Persephone stepped forward holding two boxes. She began at one end of the line, fitting small bracelets on each student and handing out what looked like tasers that had been dipped in paint.

“My colleague is equipping you with the tools for your exam. Each of you will be given a bracelet and a weapon that is color coded. The bracelets will turn yellow on those of you who can be injured by mundane means, while they will be red for those who are only susceptible to more extreme forms of damage. By the same token, if you have a power that allows you to deal out tremendous damage, you get a red weapon, and if you lack that skill, you get a yellow one. How the game works from here is simple. The weapons generate a specifically calibrated electrical pulse that reacts with the bracelets, so if someone strikes you, it will deactivate your bracelet. Once you’re deactivated, you’re out,” Coach George explained.

Coach Persephone was making her way down the line quickly; nearly half the students had already been outfitted. Those that had received their new equipment quickly took the time advantage to familiarize themselves with it. It didn’t take long: there was no interface for the bracelets and only a single button on the tasers. Some of the smarter ones began to idly wonder just how the bracelet knew what color to turn once it was attached to them.

“Now, that should be simple enough to understand, but in the interests of realism, we added the color coding system. Those with red bracelets can only be taken down with shocks from red weapons, while those with yellow bracelets are susceptible to both kinds. Additionally, since some of you folks change form in the course of a fight, the bracelets use a very complex sensor system to determine which category you fall into. That means if you’re only extra durable when you’re composed of steel then your bracelet will only be red when you fit that requirement.”

There was a sound like a sword being pulled across an anvil and suddenly Stella was silver all over. The bracelet on her wrist flashed three times, then turned red.

“So, we know how the game is played. Next comes the question of winning. That is the easy part. You win by surviving and destroying. The three who stay in the game the longest and the three who deactivate the most other students all get the best scores. Everyone else gets evaluated on an individual performance basis. That’s pretty much it. Use your powers as needed, but remember that unless your weapon connects with the other person, no amount of damage counts as a win for you.”

“This sounds fun,” Nick whispered to Vince.

“Really?”

“Are you out of your mind? We’re about to trapped in a maze with over thirty other people who are all much stronger than I am. Most of whom are stronger than you as well. We’re going to get the hell beaten out of us,” Nick whispered furiously.

“At least we can all work together,” Vince pointed out.

“Now, we’ll be using a random drop chamber so that you’ll all be placed at different locations throughout the labyrinth. You’ll be totally on your own and surrounded by potential enemies. Once you’ve been knocked out of the game, a guide function on your bracelets will activate and take you to the nearest exit. I suggest you don’t dawdle, because while you might be out the others will still be looking for blood,” Coach George continued.

“We are so going to die,” Vince amended.

“Yup,” Nick agreed.

“That pretty much sums it up,” Coach George said. “I could take questions, but I’d rather see you find your answers in the field. When we call your name, follow Persephone to the drop chamber. Once you arrive, consider the game started. Remember we’ll be watching all the moves you make, so be smart in your strategies. Oh, and one more thing.”

Coach George faced them, and a broad grin broke across his face. Many of the students involuntarily shuddered. More would have if they’d been perceptive.

“Have fun down there!”