Chapter 252

                There was something in the air, for those who knew how to feel it. A sense of weight to the day, of possibility crackling through the clouds. So much raw power was being gathered on Lander that it seemed to almost radiate out from the underground facility, leading many normal students to think they were just really feeling the nerves about final exams. Down in the HCP, it was even stronger, as every senior felt like their hair was standing on end.

                Since younger classes weren’t permitted to officially know about Intramurals, there was no grand parade of the other schools’ recruits making their way down the halls. They were being brought in through teleporters specifically coordinated by the DVA, taken directly to where the matches would occur. It was scheduled down to the minute, with Supers on hand to sense for spacial anomalies outside the appointed times. This part hadn’t always been quite so rigorously monitored, but after last year no one wanted to leave a single thing to chance. Only the four students representing Lander would take a more mundane route, gathering in Dean Blaine’s office before they were scheduled to ride the lifts down.

                “Good morning, everyone.” Dean Blaine was in bright, energetic spirits this morning, and even Professor Baker seemed chipper as she etched notes at a rapid pace. “We’ve covered most of this before, but for the sake of keeping things running smoothly we’re going to do a brief recap of how this day will go. Once we leave here, we’re going directly to the central viewing room where the various Heroes and guests will be viewing the fights from. As soon as we arrive, the drawing for slots will occur. I’ll be on hand with power in full-effect to ensure no one can use their ability to get an advantage, perceived or otherwise. After the slots have been decided, you’ll either be able to settle in to watch the bouts or head down to the prep rooms, depending on if you’re about to fight. These are where you will spend the bouts before your own, giving you time to stretch, meditate, or engage in any other pre-fight ritual you might need. You’ll also go to one immediately after a match so that medical staff can check you over and administer healing. These competitions are violent by their nature, but your safety is of the utmost concern.”

                “Wait, so we don’t carry wounds from one fight to the next? That’s rather generous,” Shane said.

                “Better we tend to injuries as they pop up than risk several working together to cause serious harm. Besides, everyone gets the healing, so no one will be at a disadvantage. We want to see the best you have every time, and this is just one more aspect of that.”

                Dean Blaine paused, waiting to see if there would be more questions about the issue, before pressing on. “When you’re not in a prep room or a match, I would advise you to watch the other fights carefully. I hope your time at Lander has taught you all the value of information, and these will be the only chances you have to uncover what the rest of the students are capable of. Obviously being in the prep rooms means you’ll miss some bouts, and while it’s not technically against the rules to compare notes with one another, although asking non-competitors for input is barred, do keep in mind that you’re not on a team in this event. Each of you is gunning for the same victory at the end of the fights, so you help one another to your own potential detriment. As much as you represent Lander, you are also showing everyone here what you can do.”

                The glances between the four were brief and uncertain. They’d had to switch from allies to opponents so many times throughout their training that making the shift barely even registered with them anymore. It wasn’t Dean Blaine’s favorite part of the training, however it was unavoidable. Sometimes, Heroes went bad, and even the smallest hesitation could lead to their escape, or worse, the death of one of their former allies.

                “While the hosting school is not permitted to allow all of its students to attend, since then we would have to accommodate every student from every school which would be and untenable security and logistical nightmare, Professor Pendleton has graciously agreed to sit with the rest of the seniors in a classroom and feed them the match results as they are reported to him. So, even though you won’t see most of your friends down there, know that they are cheering you on overhead.” Although Dean Blaine didn’t say it, most of the students knew enough by now to realize that Professor Pendleton had almost certainly taken this duty because it kept him from having to be around other Heroes and DVA agents. As a former Hero who was also a criminal, that sort of interaction would no doubt be very awkward for him.

                Vince raised his hand, and a moment later Dean Blaine nodded to him. “You said we wouldn’t see most of our friends, right? But I thought senior students weren’t allowed to come watch at all.”

                It was brief, only noticeable to those with well-trained perception, but Dean Blaine’s eyebrow twitched in annoyance for a shadow of a second. “While that is the rule in general, some of the students are brought in either by necessity or as a guest of someone with importance. For example: Camille’s level of healing is rare and powerful enough that we will keep her on hand in the event of serious injury, and as Dr. Moran’s apprentice Mary will be shadowing the good doctor throughout the day. There will be… others, as well, but don’t worry about it for the moment. All you need to focus on is the task at hand: winning your bouts as safely as possible.”

                “What happens after we lose?” Alice looked around at the surprise on her friend’s faces. “What? There are only two spots in the final match, so even if we all win every bout until we face each other, two of us are going to lose before last fight.”

                “A very practical question,” Dean Blaine said. “When you lose, you will simply remain in the viewing room until the event has concluded. There is something to be said for having your friends cheering you on, after all. And besides, you’ve all fought hard to earn your places here, the very least we can do is let you enjoy the show.”

                Again, Dean Blaine paused for more questions. After ten seconds of silence, he decided that they’d asked all they were going to and it was time to wrap this up. “I will add one thing before we go: once we are down there, I will be standing as a dean of the HCP, and in that role I shall be an impartial entity who is there to preserve the fairness and safety of Intramurals. However, as Blaine the person, the trainer, and the teacher, I want to take this moment to tell you that I’m pulling for each and every one of you. The four of you have put in effort that is remarkable even in a program like this one, and know that no matter how the matches turn out I am immensely proud of each of you for making it this far.”

                He rose from behind his desk and motioned for them to do the same. “Now then, let’s find out what poor souls will have the misfortune to go against Lander in the first round.”