Chapter 182

               The spring sun warmed the tepid air, forcing those on campus who had donned sweaters to strip down to their short sleeves and tie the extra garments around their waist. Winter had held firm for some a long while during this year, but at last the icy grip was fracturing beneath the indomitable passage of time. Soon, there would be no more jackets or pants to be seen on the Lander campus, save only for those worn by professors and staff who didn’t have the option of showing up to class in shorts.

                Hershel, for one, missed the chilly weather as he plodded along the smooth sidewalk that wound through the entire Lander campus. It was easier to run in the cold, easier to ignore his aching joints and the damp feeling of sweat coating his face. For the past several weeks he’d actually been enjoying his morning runs, it was an invigorating way to start off the day, not to mention it was an easy way to wear himself out. Hershel wasn’t even sure how much interval sprinting until he was nearly sick helped Roy; he just knew that he wanted to contribute. Roy was doing his best every day, and he’d been grappling with what Professor Cole told him for weeks now. Hershel couldn’t really help make the decision; it should fall on the one who would actually be wielding the weapon. All he could do was put forth every bit of effort he had to make Roy just a little bit stronger.

                The brisk sound of methodically moving feet reached Hershel’s ears, and he quickly moved to the edge of the sidewalk. Chad zipped by, giving Hershel a quick nod of greeting, and kept right on running. He kept his speed contained while on campus, but every morning jogger knew him on sight. Hershel wasn’t even sure when Chad got up to start training, or when he stopped and went to bed. All he knew was that in the entire time since Chad had moved in, Hershel had never gotten up early enough to beat Chad.

                It was frustrating at times. Chad was already so strong, had started out so far ahead of them. Why couldn’t he ever just slow down a little bit and let the others catch up? Why did he have to be the one training the hardest, on top of being the best? Of course Hershel knew that Chad’s relentless training was likely a huge part of why their blond dorm mate was at the top of the class, but it didn’t change the fact that he wanted to close the gap between them. Roy could do it. Hershel genuinely believed in his brother, and, to an extent, in himself. They had a year and some change left, best case scenario. It wasn’t very long, but it might just be enough.

                Hershel swallowed a large gulp of air and pumped his legs, determined to set a new personal best time on this morning’s run. He didn’t know how much each individual session helped; he just knew that it did. And that was all he needed to push as hard as he could go.

*             *             *

                Roy jogged into the gym to find most of the other students gathered around Dean Blaine, who was patiently waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. Roy scanned the room, but didn’t see any unknown person that might be delivering a guest speech, so that probably meant this had something to do with their upcoming midterms. Close Combat had already told the students to expect more of the same, as Professor Fletcher wanted to chart each student’s growth in the particular exercise. Roy wondered if perhaps the dean was throwing in some sort of twist to liven things up. He certainly hoped for that, anyway. Fighting the Sims in the semester final had been a real rush, but it left Roy wanting more genuine battles than what the controlled sparring sessions offered up.

                “Starting this week, we’re going to be doing a new bit of training,” Dean Blaine announced as the final student fell into place nearby. “As a rule, the HCP focuses on training your reactions, defenses, and skillsets from a purely physical standpoint. However, with this year’s class, we have the very rare opportunity to offer you a chance at training your mental capabilities as well. Rich Weaver and Selena Wilkins, please step forward.”

                Both of the students complied immediately, though they seemed just as clueless about what was going on as the rest of the class.

                “Tell me, both of you, what is the maximum number of people you’ve successfully used your abilities to enthrall at once?”

                “Five,” Rich said without hesitation.

                Selena seemed to consider the question carefully, turning over different memories in her head. “Can you define what you mean by enthrall? My power has different levels of influence. I can push a lot of people at once, but if you’re talking about a complete mental takeover then I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do it on more than three people simultaneously.”

                “For the purposes of this discussion, let us stick with the complete mental takeover aspect,” Dean Blaine replied. “So then, five and three, respectively. Very impressive in a one-on-one encounter, but quite limited in a large-scale brawl situation. It has been brought to my attention that, since this year’s focus is on dealing with multiple opponents, you would both benefit from training that focused on mentally binding as many people as possible and seeing how long you can hold them. This will give you the chance to truly test, and then stretch, the large-scale limits of your abilities.”

                Dean Blaine looked away from those two, turning his gaze to the other eighteen students who were wondering why this discussion had any impact on them. “As for the rest of you, this training will also offer you the incredible chance to have first-hand experience in dealing with those who attack your mind, rather than your body. As anyone who has faced Mr. Weaver or Ms. Wilkins is surely aware, they’re abilities are quite formidable. Breaking out of such powers is no small feat, and is in fact impossible for the vast majority of people. Some of you, however, may possess the strength of will and self-awareness to free yourselves, and if so then this exercise will offer you the chance to learn how.”

                It was all about the framing, as Dean Blaine had learned so long ago. Tell the students you needed to use them for an experiment and people would shy away. But tell them it was for training, training they couldn’t easily get elsewhere, and one could have them breaking down to door to beg for such an opportunity.

                “We’ll be scheduling sessions for Mr. Weaver and Ms. Wilkins to undergo their training starting today. Each session will be watched over by myself, two other professors, and a healer, so you need have no fear about what will happen to your bodies when you are under. While everyone will be given the chance to test their mental escape skills, any extra spots we have will be first come, first serve, so make sure you sign up early if you want more bites at the apple.”

                He could already see several of them getting riled up, spoiling for the opportunity to prove they were one of the few who could break such restraints. While the real goal of this had little to do with actual training, Dean Blaine wondered if perhaps he might get some unexpected results from a few of the students anyway.

                If so, he’d have to look into adding such similar training to the planned curriculum.