Chapter 227

               “Feeling nervous?” Shane stepped into view from outside the lockers, his own face barely masking the worry he obviously felt.

            “Nar-Voose? What is this strange word you use little brother? I am about to go enact violence against warriors who are supposedly my equals. I am fucking pumped.” Angela punctuated this statement by thrusting her fist straight up into the air, though since she was in a private room there was no one to witness the silly display. “Has Paw Paw arrived yet?”

            “You know I detest such silly nicknames.” This voice was much older than either of the two students, yet it carried a power that made both of them instinctively stand a bit straighter. From behind Shane came an elderly man, walking with the help of a cane he had finally broken down and begun using after two fractured hips. He was tall, and his body still spoke to some of the strength it had once contained, but time had finally begun winning the battle against what he could maintain.

            As soon as Angela saw him, she clapped her hands together then dart across the room grabbing the older man in a big hug and squeezing carefully. “I thought I wouldn’t see you until after my matches.”

            “Technically you probably shouldn’t, but I wanted to come wish my granddaughter good luck.” Graham DeSoto hugged her back, though he couldn’t match her gusto or force. “It’s a big day, after all. Perhaps all the bigger, depending on how you do.”

            “I’ve heard that there’s a student from Sizemore who has gone undefeated his entire HCP career, just like you. I think people are eager to see whose streak ends today,” Shane said. He didn’t understand how she could manage to be so affectionate to the man that had sternly trained them all their lives, or what’s more how she could pull similar responses out of him. Shane loved his grandfather dearly, but it was not a love that inspired clapping and hugs.

            Angela released her grandfather and let out a small woop of excitement. “That is awesome! He’s got to be some kind of powerful if he’s managed to pull that off. I wonder what ability he has… ah! No one tell me! I want to be surprised.”

            “We wouldn’t tell you anyway, that would be cheating,” Shane pointed out.

            “Unless I was a Subtlety major. Then it would just be me doing my thing.”

            Graham scoffed, a dusty sound filled equally with lung phlem and ridicule. “A Subtlety major making it to Intermurals… that would be the day. Not saying the work they do isn’t necessary, but I still don’t think it belongs under the Hero banner. Did I ever tell you about my war buddy Grayson Lamont? Best damn spy the country has ever seen but he never tried to get cleared as a Hero. Of course, Grayson was human as they come-”

            “Relax, Paw Paw. I’m a Weapons major, through and through. In fact, I’m looking forward the smacking around the morons that think Close Combat is the mark of the strongest warriors.” Much as Angela cared for her grandfather, he’d reached the age where his stories tended to ramble and repeat if not kept on task. His mind was still sharp as ever, he demonstrated that with unnerving frequency, but he’d given up caring what others thought about his choice of conversation topics. Angela was annoyed by it, though she couldn’t wait to reach that age herself.

            “Of that I have no doubt. Go out and do our lineage proud, my granddaughter. Do it proud enough, and the opportunity to continue the legacy will be yours. Come on Shane, help me find my seat.”

            Graham began heading off, but Shane lingered for a few moments behind. “I’m not allowed to watch the match, not even grandfather has that much pull. So since you won’t hear me cheering for you, I just wanted to say good luck. As much as he’s made us compete with each other, you’re still my sister and I hope you do well.”

            “Aw, that might be the sweetest thing you said since we were kids. Come here you big softy.” Angela grabbed Shane and pulled him in; hugging him more tightly than she’d dared risk with their grandfather. “Have no fear, little brother. I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum.”

            “Let me guess, you’re all out of bubblegum.”

            “Nope, got a whole pack in my pocket.” Angela let go and patted the side of her uniform. “I can do both at once, that’s how much of a badass I am.”

            “Nice to see your confidence is as unshakable as always.”

            “I don’t have much, but that I’ve got in spades. And hey, look at the bright side: next year at this time I’ll be a Hero, which means with a little negotiating I can come cheer for you when it’s your turn to come here.”

            Shane let out a long, low sigh. “Given how we’re ranked right now, I’m not sure I’ll make the cut for Intermuals.”

            Angela reached over and grabbed his face, forcefully lifting it so that his eyes couldn’t see the ground. “Chin up, little brother. Unlike you, I know what the fourth year curriculum is. All these years you’ve been at a big disadvantage; your power just isn’t that well suited to non-lethal combat. When you hit fourth year though… well I’ll just say that you’re going to have a chance to shine.”

            “Even if you’re right, it will be too late. As long as you don’t screw up royally you’re going to be the next Captain Starlight.”

            “You never know the outcome of a fight until it’s over,” Angela replied. “Yes, I will probably kick a whole mess o’ ass out there, but nothing is written in stone yet. Even if I do though, it’s just a name. No one knows you better than me, not even Paw Paw, so trust me when I say that you’re going to be a great Hero, no matter what they call you.”

            “Oh lord, are we having a moment? I’m not sure I can handle that,” Shane said. He pulled away from her grip, but he could still feel her words lingering in his head. Easy as it was to forget, every now and then his sister could really be there for him.

            “You’re right, the last thing I need before this brawl is to feel mushy. Get out of here already,” Angela said, making the shooing motion with her hand. “I’ve got a pack of bubblegum to open.”