Roy was talking to a big man in shifter clothes who’d been hanging out with Gale, Titan, and the guy with the pocket-laden costume. Not far away, Titan and the aforementioned pocket-loving Hero were standing in line to talk to Chad, leaving behind a stunned Vince who seemed uncertain of what to do with himself. Alex had been in deep discussion with a woman wearing a dark cloak for almost ten minutes, and Violet was getting ample attention from various brawlers for her daring move at the end of the trial. Camille, Alice, Thomas, Shane, all of his friends were being courted, celebrated for the amazing show they’d put on during the trial.
Yet Will, watching all this happen from the side of his eye, was only making small talk. True, at least a dozen Heroes had been waiting for him to say how great a job he’d done, and even more had come by ever since, but none of them seemed interested in Will as an intern. They just wanted to compliment his performance and chit-chat. It was confusing, and vexing, as it had been through the year. Apparently Subtlety Heroes rarely showed up to these things, and if they had attended then they hadn’t spent a lot of time talking to Will. He couldn’t figure out the issue, he was consistently putting on quality demonstrations of his skills; walking away with lots of praise and minimal offers for his efforts.
“Hey drone-guy, you were awesome out there.”
As soon as Will identified the location of the voice, he straightened his back slightly. Gale was the leader of an established team, and she had already made an intern offer to a Subtlety student; if there was ever a Hero to impress she was near the top of the list.
“Thank you, ma’am, but I just relayed information. I couldn’t have done anything without my team.”
“Couldn’t have done anything?” Gale cocked a slight eyebrow, even as her mouth allowed a smirk to peek through. “Humility is good and all, but this is a meat market. Not the place to undersell yourself. Take some credit, you sure as shoot earned it. Trust me, I’ve run many an unexpected search mission and they’d have been dead in the water without you.”
Will shook his head. “They’re not helpless, and I certainly wouldn’t count them out just because I was gone. I will say that my contribution made things happen faster though. Faster, and hopefully with less casualties.”
“Good man. Know where the line between taking credit and selling out your teammates is. That’s an important skill, especially when it comes to dealing with the media,” Gale said. “So, passed over again, huh?”
Shifting her body so she was standing next to him, looking out at the gym, Gale swept her hand in a motion to the cluster of mingling people. “Everyone wants to tell you how good you did, but nobody is sticking around to talk details on an actual internship. Seems to happen to you at almost every one of these things.”
He hadn’t expected her to catch that. Well-known or not, Gale’s reputation was one of skill and brute force, not keen observation. Will mentally adjusted his appraisal of her, taking the new information into account. “I suppose I don’t seem like a good fit to any of them.”
“I doubt it’s that. Well, okay, yes actually it probably is that,” Gale amended. “But not for the reason you’re thinking. Subtlety Heroes tend to have their own ways to pick interns, and every one of them is different. Not many even show up to these things. Jeremiah only tagged along because he got some wild idea about applying Subtlety teachings to martial Heroes, and you’re not a good fit for that. Don’t worry though; I’m positive you’ve caught the eye of a few people. Just like your drones in the sky: just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t watching.”
“You seem to know a lot about Subtlety Heroes, given your own role in a team,” Will pointed out.
Gale responded with something between a nod and a shrug. “Part of what it means to be a leader; you need to understand as much as you can about every member of your team. You should keep that in mind, when you form your own squad.”
His eyes lingered on her for a moment. Will had never told anyone he had considered leading a team one day, was she fishing, or had Gale actually sussed that out. “What makes you think I’d be in a leadership role? It’s not one we traditionally fill.”
“I saw the way you took charge in there, you’ve got leadership potential, and you don’t seem like the type to let potential go unused,” Gale replied. “It’s your life though, do what you want. My point is that don’t get too discouraged by this part of the process. It’s the way these things tend to go. You’re on people’s radars. After the shit you’ve pulled in these trials, how could you not be?”
It was exactly what he’d been hoping to hear, which made Will immediately suspicious. Still, Gale was a Hero who didn’t disregard Subtlety users, she had one on her team and was even taking one as an intern, plus she seemed to be in good standing with Titan, who had never given any of the students he helped train reason to distrust him. Gale was probably trustworthy, but even that only meant that she believed she was being honest, not that her words were actually true.
“Thanks. I’ll keep my chin up. Can’t say I don’t envy Alice, though. Her power got her an internship locked down with a legacy team in an exciting city.”
“Yeah, well, we all have to walk our own paths.” Gale leaned in slightly, lowering her voice. “I’ll let you in on a secret. I didn’t get a good internship offer until my last month in the HCP. People kept thinking my power was best suited to recon rather than engagement, and since I was in a heavy-hitting class my martial skills didn’t stand out too much. I wasn’t top of the class, selected for Intramurals, or any of that stuff.”
“So what happened?” Will asked.
“I kept showing people what I could do, and eventually someone with a few thoughts in their head saw a trial and recognized my potential. That’s the thing to keep in mind: most classes don’t have your kind of buzz. No cool nicknames, traumatic trials-by-fire, or experimental students. For most of us, getting noticed by the right person is the tough part, but you lot are set in that regard. The Class of Nightmares, dumb name or not, is on people’s minds. I promise you, the people who can appreciate what you do are paying attention. Just keep showing them why you’re worth watching.”
“Thanks.” Will paused, now that the conversation had fallen into a lull he wasn’t sure where to take things. “Any other advice you’d like to offer?”
“Make sure your costume has comfortable shoes,” Gale replied immediately. “People are going to tell you that they can add padding or insoles to the boots to make them feel better, but it’s crap. If they aren’t comfy from the start, reject them until you get a good pair.”
“Comfortable shoes? That’s the rest of your advice?”
This time, there was nothing tucked away or subtle about the smirk creeping across Gale’s face. “You just played a key role in stopping an Armageddon-Super. I think you’ve got the rest of this stuff well in hand.”