Chapter 183

                The first trial of the new semester went surprisingly smoothly. Dean Blaine was braced for some manner of upset, they weren’t uncommon when students came back from a month without training, but he realized he should have known better than to expect this class to slack off. Whether it was their unusually high amount of power or the fact that they’d seen real combat, this was indeed the Class of Nightmares. For better or worse, the name was being bandied about inside the observation room freely, no longer a mere whisper on the tongues of the watching Heroes. Given half a chance, Dean Blaine would still have squashed the term; he knew too well the perils that accompanied graduating from a class with a nickname. Unfortunately, it was far too wide-spread for him to impact in any way. All he could do now was train them to bear the weight of such expectations.

                It wasn’t an especially unique battle, generally this trial was used as a chance to ease people back into the rhythm of combat, which meant another pseudo-city with Sims spread out. They were still using the human-like Sims, however, and would be for the remainder of the year. The students needed to grow accustomed to attacking human targets, wounding people who would yelp in pain, and even taking life when needed. Cruel as it seemed, they had to form emotional calluses on those fronts lest they hesitate in the field. Dean Blaine had always been of the opinion that life should never be taken lightly, however when the moment demanded such action there was zero nobility in freezing up. In those moments, someone was usually about to die. The only question was whether it would be the criminal, a Hero, or an innocent bystander.

                As Dean Blaine watched the fight unfold on the monitors, he paid special attention to the screens showing Vince Reynolds. To his relief, Vince hadn’t entered the fray blasting like a cannon. It had been a small fear, admittedly, but sometimes students who increased their damage potential couldn’t quite help showing off their new skills, even when it wasn’t appropriate. Vince, thankfully, was showing better judgement than that, using only as much power as any opponent demanded, dropping them one after another. If anything, he was doing better at injuring without killing than he had been before Lander East. Anyone with experience training these kids could tell he’d grown more comfortable with his ability, and from the whispers around the room the other Heroes were certainly taking notice.

                A smattering of applause filled the air; Dean Blaine jerked his eyes to another monitor to see what had caused it. The source wasn’t hard to find. Across the battlefield, Roy Daniels was taking attacks from three different Sims while the rest of his temporary team moved civilians out of harm’s way. Glancing toward the ground, Dean Blaine saw the scraps of a fourth attacker that had apparently gotten a little too close to Roy and his bat. Taking that kind of abuse was impressive enough, but the real cherry was Roy using himself as both a blockade and a distraction so seamlessly. Despite his power, Roy had always seemed to function alongside a team rather than as part of one. Apparently Hershel’s influence was helping in more than just straightforward combat.

                Even so, Roy wasn’t the biggest surprise on the field. It was impossible to say whether the change had come from learning the truth about her family or gaining confidence from their end of semester trial, but Alice was showing a whole new side to herself. Minutes after landing she’d taken charge of a small unit consisting of herself, Alex, Thomas, and Violet, leading them across the battlefield to start ambushing groups of unprepared Sims. The sneakiness was hardly new, she did excel at Subtlety after all, however Alice was rarely one to take charge to such a degree. Between this showing and the way she’d run the Intramurals selection process, Dean Blaine had to admit Alice was beginning to display a true talent for leadership. Although she would have hated to hear it, the gift was one her father held as well.

                On another screen, Shane cut the muscles of two Sims while Chad sliced the spine of another. They were working as a two-man team this time, and were leaving a trail of crippled Sims in their wake. It might have been Dean Blaine’s imagination, but there seemed to be a bit more edge to Shane’s attacks this time around. Perhaps he felt compelled to prove himself as a worthy Intramurals candidate, or demonstrate that it wasn’t a fluke he’d overtaken Chad for the top spot. Whatever it was, Shane was striking faster and harder without losing his accuracy, so Dean Blaine hoped the trend continued.

                It was a good fight, everyone was showing growth and there were relatively few mistakes despite their time away. Dean Blaine was just starting to feel at ease when the entire room erupted into whispers. His eyes darted between the screens, looking to and fro as he searched for what had happened to cause such a commotion. It didn’t take long for him to realize he was looking in the wrong direction, though. Following the eyes of the other Heroes, he turned to the rear of the room where an elderly man had stepped through the door. The gentleman looked good, much better than he had the last time Dean Blaine saw him. Not just better, younger. He’d ditched his cane and moved with the confident gait of a man fully aware of exactly where each next step would land.

                “Mr. DeSoto, always a pleasure,” Dean Blaine said. He shook Graham DeSoto’s hand, noting the renewed strength in his grip with a barely suppressed grin. No matter how jaded Dean Blaine got to the life and the job, there was still something awing about talking with the world’s first Hero.

                “You as well,” Graham replied. “Sorry about the commotion. I guess a few of them recognized me and spread the word.”

                “It’s perfectly alright, I’m sure these trained, experienced Heroes have enough self-control to keep watching the students and wait until the mixer to greet you.” Dean Blaine raised his voice during the last bit, making sure everyone looking at Graham instead of the screen heard him.

                “About that: when the trial is done I’d like a few minutes with you before the mixer. Just some things we need to talk over in private.” Nothing in Graham’s expression betrayed that it would be a bad talk, but that was of little comfort to Dean Blaine. Of course Captain Starlight would know how to keep a stoic face in front of a crowd. There was nothing to do for it, though. If Graham had come to talk, then he had good reason for it. Dean Blaine would just have to hope it was about something positive, he felt the universe owed him some good news after everything the past year had brought him.

                “No problem at all. We’ll adjourn to my office after the match.” Dean Blaine turned to the monitors once more, not quite able to resist adding one last thing. “You look great, by the way. Casper does exceptional work.”

                “He does indeed,” Graham said. “Pity the man is such an ass.”

                “Casper… well yes, he is an ass. But he wasn’t always. You know the toll this life can take.”

                “Better than nearly anyone else.” Graham was looking up at the screen with Shane on it, watching every move his grandson made. “That’s part of why I’ve come to see you today, Blaine. I think it’s time we shook things up.”