Chapter 3

                “I would like it noted that you two are only here against my formally registered protests.” Despite his unneighborly words, Nick still held the door open as Jerome and Eliza strode through, the latter immediately settling onto his couch while the former stood in the center of the room.

                “Your protests were heard and overruled,” Eliza replied from her sprawled position on the sofa. No sooner had she landed on it than she spread out in a way that made her seem more like she’d been spilled there than sat down intentionally. “The Evers family is making nice, and it seems like the incident is going to pass without reprisal, but you know as well as we do that it could all be a front.”

                “Somehow, I doubt even the Evers are foolish enough to start a war between Familys in the current climate.” Nick shut the door soundly behind him, engaging each lock it had with a few precise flicks of his hand. “The Heroes are stomping down everything that pops up at the moment, the last thing anyone in Vegas needs is attention being drawn to us.”

                “Which is why Ms. Pips only sent us.” Eliza pulled herself up into a half-seat/half-reclined position that Nick was certain could not possibly be comfortable. “Normally in this situation you’d never be allowed to leave, or if you were it would be with at least a dozen people to watch over you.”

                “Or perhaps she thought you two would benefit from being around my intellectual graces,” Nick countered.

                A wry, dangerous look danced across Eliza’s face. “Don’t make me tell Mary you’re being a pompous dick.”

                “Your threats hold no power here.” Both Jerome and Eliza noticed that, despite his objections, Nick did seem to pull himself up a bit straighter at the mention of the telepathic powerhouse. “Anyway, what are you two going to do with yourselves? There’s no Nathaniel to track, no overt threats against my life, and hopefully no more amateur sleuths. Seems like you’ll have an abundance of free time on your hands.”

                “We do have classes,” Jerome interjected.

                “Ms. Pips is making you get that deep under cover?”

                “Actually, she’s making us get degrees,” Eliza said. “Since she’s already paying room and board for us to be out here, she told us she may as well get something to show for it. I’m sure we’ll have to transfer to a college in Vegas after you graduate, but for now we’re Lander students in actuality. I’m going to get an art degree!”

                “I expressed fear we were too old, however she assured us that plenty of people get a late start on their higher education,” Jerome said.

                “She’s not wrong; you’ll be older than most freshmen but nowhere near the most ancient person in any given class.” Nick looked his two cohorts up and down more carefully. It wasn’t something she advertised, but Ms. Pips had actually required many people in the Family to get various degrees. Having subordinates with appropriate qualifications let her fill positions without arousing too much suspicion from outside parties. Even Gerry had a Bachelors in Statistics. Still, it wasn’t something she did often, and generally the ones she sent to college were the ones she had bigger plans for down the line. Given that last year Jerome and Eliza had been watchers, and this year they were students, it was clear Nick hadn’t been the only one to impress Ms. Pips with how things had gone down.

                “Just remember, you’re not eighteen year-olds, so you don’t get to make the usual freshman mistakes. No passing out drunk in the hallway, get inside your apartment like an adult.”

                “Hey, being an adult means I’ll pass out wherever I damn well please,” Eliza shot back.

                “Aside from class, our jobs are similar to last year. We do security sweeps, keep the perimeter secure, and make sure no unexpected threats are able to catch you off-guard.” Jerome, as he often did, pushed the conversation forward, ignoring the sniping between Nick and Eliza. He’d long ago learned it was the only way to get through a discussion in any reasonable length of time.

                “Yeah, after what went down last year I highly doubt anyone who isn’t suicidal is going to be quite so showy,” Nick said. “This whole town is on high-alert, if anyone tried even half the crap Nathaniel did last year they’d have Heroes on them before they could scream. Angry, worried Heroes that are very concerned with keeping the HCP schools safe.”

                “You say that, but there are more threats out there than just the Evers. The Sons of Progress have lost a lot, but their head is still out there somewhere. Plus, now that the world knows HCP campuses can be attacked, there are mutterings in the criminal world about new possibilities.” Eliza’s smirk vanished as she spoke, the severity of the situation more than even she could chuckle through.

                “Perhaps, but I predict there will be at most two attempts to replicate what the Sons of Progress accomplished. After they are handily, and forcefully, crushed, such idiotic notions will quickly dissipate. The Sons were well-prepared and had likely spent years planning that assault, one which even now would no longer work. I’ve been in the belly of the Hero beast, and I assure you they are not to be taken lightly, especially now that they’re on guard. Anyone who comes after an HCP is going to deeply regret it, if they’re unfortunate enough to live that long.”

                Nick pulled back the curtains on his window and gazed out at the Lander campus, still largely empty in the early morning light. It was unspoiled, strangely serene to look upon. This was how Lander was supposed to be. This, not that nightmare Nathaniel had helped conjure upon it. It was his home, as much, if not more so, than Vegas and the casino.

                 “And on the nearly-infinitesimal chance that the Heroes don’t see things through, then I’ll just have to step in.”