Chapter 74

“As I call your name and say your new training program, line up on the appropriate side of the gym,” Coach George bellowed. “Combat training to the right, alternative training to the left. Those of you with ranks that predetermine your class, please take your places now.” There was a soft scuffle as ten boys and ten girls took their appropriate positions at the right and left of the gym.

“Nervous?” Vince asked Alex as they milled together with the remainder of the freshman class. There were only eleven students left after the twenty predetermined ones had taken their spots. 

“Very,” Alex admitted. “I mean, we fought hard, but then again we went down so easily against Selena.”

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Thomas said, joining the conversation. “You put forth a tremendous effort in our battle. It would be pure folly not to place you in combat training.”

“Castillo, Thomas. Combat,” Coach George’s booming voice announced to the gym.

“See you on the right,” Thomas said reassuringly before jogging over to take his side.

“Hunt, Tiffani. Alternative.” A girl with short blonde hair flipped out at the ends walked over to the left side of the gym.

“Riley, Adam. Combat.”

“Wells, Allen. Combat.”

“Belden, Camille. Alternative.” Vince perked up at this name, recognizing it as one of his saviors from Halloween, the one he still hadn’t managed to thank. She was difficult to notice in the crowd, but when she broke out to walk to the left side Vince wondered how he’d missed her before. She was diminutive, even shorter than Mary, with shoulder length hair so blonde it bordered on white. There was something familiar about her as well, though Vince couldn’t put his finger on it. He resolved himself to seek her out after this was over and thank her for the healing help.

“Reid, Gilbert. Combat.”

“Wilkins, Selena. Alternative.”

“Murray, Jill. Combat.”

Vince took a deep breath to settle his stomach. He and Alex were the only two left.

“Griffen, Alex. Combat.” Alex flashed Vince a thumbs up before heading over and joining the line on the right.

“And lastly, Reynolds, Vincent. Combat,” Coach George declared.

Vince let out a sigh and threw a smile on his face, heading over to the right side of the gym. Inside though, he felt a ball of worry knot itself tighter. A part of him had been hoping he would end up in alternative training so he wouldn’t have to keep fighting people. Now he had several years filled with fisticuffs to look forward to.

“We’ll be giving all of you your mid-term grades today in private; however, as promised, we’re now going to announce the top three longest survivors and the top three killers from the exam,” Coach George began. “The number three killer was Chad Taylor. Number two was Britney Fletcher, and number one was Selena Wilkins.”

There was a mumbling of confusion. Everyone knew who Chad was, but the other two weren’t prominent warriors, though Vince and Alex felt a bit better in knowing the girl who’d taken them out was the best on the field.

“As for survivors, number three was Tiffani Hunt. Number two was Shane DeSoto. As for number one, well, she was the only person to make it on both lists: Britney Fletcher.” Nick noticed the girl who’d taken out himself and Alice blushing slightly. Well, at least he knew the invisible girl’s name now.

“I’m sure some of you are looking up and down the combat row, trying to place the names other than Shane and Chad,” Coach George said to the assembled class. “Well, you’d better turn your heads to the left side of the gym, because that’s where you’ll find them. You see, those people who captured the top spots in both categories, they’re in alternative training. And they kicked ninety percent of your asses.”

Coach Persephone took a step forward. “There is a perception among many that Heroes specializing in combat are the best. That’s true, in that they are the best at combat. Keep in mind that few criminals are so thoughtful as to arrange a bare-knuckle brawl in a secluded location where you can prove to them your superiority. More often than not skills like stealth, planning, and improvisation are far more useful. To those of you on the combat side of the room, most of you were likely hoping to end up in this training course. You feel it’s the better option, and in certain cases you’re correct. Don’t forget this lesson, though: just because someone is physically weaker than you doesn’t mean they aren’t a very real threat. You’re dismissed for today. We’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

The lines broke as students began scattering in their own directions. Vince began crossing the gym to thank Camille, but his arm was grabbed halfway there.

“Reynolds,” Coach George said, holding him in place. “You need to come by my office sometime before gym tomorrow.”

“For what?” Vince asked.

“Let’s call it part of your probationary requirements for half-assing it with your power,” Coach George told him. George released Vince’s arm and the silver-haired youth headed off in his original direction. Unfortunately, Camille had vanished during the brief discussion. Vince knew what she looked like now at least, so he was confident he could thank her next time.

Vince headed off to the changing room, wondering what requirement Coach George was going to give him. Since the last time a subject had taken him down this path had resulted in he and his friends being stuck on a mountain, he was understandably concerned. Still, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?

“Hey man, what’s with the long face?” Nick asked as he emerged from the locker area in his above-ground clothes.

“Nothing,” Vince said, shaking off his concern. “So what are we doing with our last day of pre-class freedom?”

“Cocaine and strippers,” Nick replied. Vince simply raised an eyebrow in response. “Fine, fine, we’ll think of something else. Let’s go rally the troops. Buzzkill.”

Vince nodded his agreement and the two set off to actively waste some time.