Chapter 170

             A loud banging filled Nick’s apartment, the sort that would have sent him diving for one of the many weapons covertly stashed throughout the home, if not for the fact that he was expecting it. He walked through the living room and glanced at the dining table, moved from a small nook near the kitchen to a central location and cleared off of any and all files pertaining to his extra-curricular activities. Those objects existed in the other world he inhabited, the one filled with intrigue, lies, and blood. Eliza and Jerome had moved them to their apartment earlier that morning.

                Nick pulled open the door, nearly taking a fist to the face from Vince, who’d been responsible for the initial banging. Thankfully, Vince was able to stop his blow and avoid bloodying Nick’s nose, a circumstance that would have put quite a damper on the evening.

                “Good to see you.” Vince wrapped his arms around Nick, pulling his friend in tightly for a hug. Nick was hoping the outpouring of affection would taper off once enough time had passed that everyone was no longer terrified he might up and be gone again.

                “You too, come on in. Drinks are in the fridge and chips are on the counter.”

                Vince slid past him, followed by Hershel, who thankfully stuck to a handshake as he struggled with the duffel bag on his shoulder, and then Mary, who merely greeted him with a wry smile and a slight nod. Alice was last, and she gave him a side-armed hug; far from the ridiculously strong one Vince had offered, yet still close enough to establish physical contact. Nick took the hint, returning the embrace, then shutting and locking the door behind him.

                “Alright Hershel, tell us what you’ve got tonight,” Nick said.

                The others had already settled in at the table, pulling a variety of miss-matched seats together so that everyone has a place to sit. Only Nick knew that the table had come with a very nice matched set of chairs, which he’d had to throw away to keep the disheveled an ill-organized appearance of a college student.

                “I’ve got all the standard stuff: Risk, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit; things like that. I also brought along some more obscure options, though. Riding Hellhounds, Save The Day, and Mad Gods are three of my favorites.” Hershel spoke as he pulled box after box from the cramped duffel bag he’d lugged along. It was no surprise that he was the one to propose game night as a weekly activity; Hershel’s adoration of all things dice-related remained soundly intact.

                “Let’s take Risk off the table, we’ve all got class tomorrow and I have a feeling Hershel and I would end up in the grudge match that takes days to resolve,” Nick said. It wasn’t just bluster, either. Though he was confident he could take down the smaller Daniels brother, Nick respected Hershel’s experience and battle acumen enough to assume he’d put up a hell of a fight.

                “I don’t really know how to play any of these,” Vince admitted. “My father taught me a few card games growing up, but that was basically it.”

                “On that note, maybe we shouldn’t play Trivial Pursuit either,” Mary said. “Given Vince’s deficient knowledge of pop culture and modern history, I doubt he’d enjoy it very much.”

                “We could try Sorry, that’s pretty straightforward,” Alice proposed.

                “So much so that it’s hardly even worth playing,” Nick replied. “Since Hershel was such a sport about lugging those things across campus, I say we play one of the weird ones he brought along.”

                “It wasn’t hard or anything,” Hershel said. A year ago it very well might have been a challenge for him to cart the duffel bag off campus, but all those months of training were showing dividends in more than just his slimming waist. “But I’m not going to pass up the chance to play one of those, so thanks.”

                “I still think it sucks that you can’t come to Melbrook,” Vince said.

                “Why? I actually like our arrangement,” Nick replied. “You lot have to do all the commuting, and I don’t cause undue suspicion by showing up at the place I was kicked out of. Besides, the most important part of that dorm is not the place itself.”

                “I know, it’s us, your friends,” Vince said

                “No, it’s the beer I had hidden in my room.” Nick rolled his eyes in an exaggerated motion. “Beer that I’ve since replaced and is sitting in my fridge. Get over yourself, Silver.”

                His friends weren’t particularly fooled by the act anymore, but no one called him on it. They were trying to settle back into some sense of familiarity, as much as they could with Nick outside the program, and him wise-cracking away his emotions was turf everyone was comfortable on.

                “Okay, so between the three games: Riding Hellhounds is a game where all the players are stuck in the underworld, performing for Hades. We race hellhounds around the track, trying to win and get set free. There’s lots of way to do sabotages and stuff too, not to mention obstacles in the path,” Hershel explained. “Save The Day is about running a Hero team; you draw members, organize them, then roll to see how you do in various encounters picked from the deck. You win different tokens for each success, and we total them up and the end to see the winner. Mad Gods is sort of weird, how familiar is everyone with the Cthulhu mythos?”

                “Let’s do the dog-racing one,” Alice suggested. “It sounds fun, and to be honest I don’t really want to spend my night away from the HCP pretending to be a Hero. I could use some time off.”

                “I’ll second that,” Mary added. “Let’s start easy and work up to the more complex ones.”

                “No objections here, I love that one,” Hershel said. “Vince, Nick, you guys okay with Riding Hellhounds?”

                “It can’t be harder than learning about LARPing,” Vince said. “So I’m fine.”

                “Count me in too. Anyone want a beer or soda while Hershel sets up the board?” Nick asked. Alice and Mary both raised their hands, though only Alice accepted the drink with alcohol, and Nick made his way into the kitchen.

                It was probably still a risk, meeting up like this every week, but it was a necessary one. Unusual as those potential future Heroes were, they were still important to Nick. Professor Pendleton had been right: their lives weren’t going to be getting any easier, not if those people made it to Hero status. He had to enjoy his time with them now, while there was a chance.

                Besides, even Nick had to admit that some of Hershel’s games sounded pretty fun.