Chapter 6

                Only after the sound of softly scuffling feet had finally faded did Dean Blaine speak again, his audience now tremendously reduced. His demeanor seemed to relax slightly, the stern authority figure shifting into the overseer they’d all come to know and respect. They were not freshmen; they knew their dean was only human, and likely a very tired one at that.

                “First and foremost, today you will all be helping the rest of the staff and I oversee the freshmen’s initial ranking matches. We carefully pair them off so that accidental deaths are unlikely, but it’s still important to have an experienced watcher just in case things get out of hand. You’ll be given a rundown of each student’s powers, along with some of the immediate stopping systems built into the cells, before each match. I’m sure you all have questions about that, but there will be time to go through it with the other professors, so please hold your questions until then. We have much to cover today.”

                No one made so much as a peep, nor were they surprised by the announcement. After three years in the program, they’d all learned that whatever they saw the older students doing were tasks that would eventually fall to them. Everyone had expected to watch the freshman matches, though the off-handed comment about “stopping systems” did pique a few students’ curiosity. If not for Dean Blaine’s edict, they would have investigated further, but instead they merely stayed silent as he continued.

                “Secondly, today after the matches we’ll be having individual meetings to determine what major you’ll be going forward with. Since only Subtlety was able to have it’s final before the attack, your professors will be using grades and performance throughout the semester to determine whether you qualify for their major or not. If one of you wishes to proceed in a major that you are deemed unfit for, we will hold a private testing session to determine if you are indeed capable. Normally your final would have filled this role, but given the circumstances we have a bit of leeway. Come prepared to choose your Hero path, and to defend that choice if challenged.”

                Again, none of the students were especially surprised. They’d been told since sophomore year that eventually a discipline would need to be selected. Every student still in the auditorium knew the path they planned to follow, even if some were less sure of their choices than others.

                “This next one is more a precaution than an actual announcement, since if I don’t tell you about it then inevitably I’ll have students coming up to me saying there was a mistake on their schedule.” Dean Blaine allowed himself a slight grin at the memory of all the confused seniors who’d tracked him down, certain they were accidently put in a first year course. “You will all be taking the second Ethics of Heroism course this year, and once again I will be your teacher. As important as the first one was to you as you familiarized yourself with the HCP, this one will deal with the world beyond it. Most of our students have no frame of reference for what comes after this, and while that’s not as true for your class, there is still much to discuss and questions to answer.”

                Dean Blaine paused to run through his mental check-list. The final piece of the agenda would steal their focus so thoroughly that nothing said afterward would stay with them. Thus, it was imperative that he get all the lesser announcements handled before he told them about the enormous event looming in their future. There were small things they’d still need to know, minutia that could be handled in a less formal setting. Save for the big announcement, there was nothing else on Dean Blaine’s docket, so he pressed forward, a touch of excitement in his stomach. No matter how many years he presided over the program, this part never stopped being fun.

                “Today’s final topic is one that I’m sure some of you have found out about through friends or family that came before, in spite of our efforts to keep it secret from the younger students. Every year, each of the five Hero Certification Program schools come together, bringing students for a friendly competition we call Intermurals. Each school may choose three of its seniors to represent them, save for the hosting school, which is given a fourth slot to even out the numbers. Those students will fight in a tournament based system, earning glory for their school and perhaps intern opportunities for themselves. This will take place before graduation, and winning is not a guarantee of making the final cut, though there has never been an instance of Intermural champions who weren’t also considered fit to wear the title of Hero.”

                All of the restraint and quiet the seniors had been exercising up to this point vanished in a sea of frantic whispers. Dean Blaine allowed it to continue for several seconds, enjoying the wave of enthusiasm that washed over him from his eager students, then cleared his throat in the microphone once more. Silence quickly retook its stronghold, though the bright eyes and fidgeting showed that it wouldn’t last for very long.

                “Intermurals are still a long way off, and we have work to do today,” Dean Blaine said. “Still, I know how exciting it is to first get that news, so if you would like to confer amidst yourselves, I will answer three questions before sending you to go prep for watching the matches. You have two minutes to choose your questions, starting now.”

                In no time at all, the remaining eighteen seniors circled together and began chatting amidst themselves. After only a single minute, they all dispersed back to their seats, except Chad Taylor, who remained standing. Speaking calmly, but loudly, his voice carried through the auditorium with their first question.

                “What determines the students who are chosen?”

                “That’s usually what every class asks out of the gate,” Dean Blaine remarked. “And the answer is you do. Your class, anyway. This is a contest to bring glory to your school and to your class as a whole. We feel it’s best to let the students decide who should represent them, as they have the most invested in victory. Whether you are chosen for strength, wit, or skill is irrelevant. The class determines its own champions.”

                Chad nodded, either unsurprised by the answer or taking the reply with his usual stoicism. “Do we get any information about the opponents?”

                Now that was one that few classes thought to ask. Dean Blaine was a bit impressed, though he should have expected it with so many solid tactical minds amidst the seniors.

                “You are allowed to watch the other matches. It’s up to you to collect information from that, just as they will be doing from seeing your fights. The exact line-ups are chosen randomly, so who you battle next will always be unknown until the last moment.”

                What Dean Blaine didn’t tell them, what they would have to see on their own, was that hiding their own abilities was almost as important as figuring out what their opponents could do. Depending on who the class chose to send, it might be a lesson this year’s crop learned through failure.

                “Our final question is simple,” Chad said, speaking over the small din of conversation trying to crop up around him. “Will these be simple fights, or could other elements be at play?”

                Dean Blaine repressed a grin. Normally, this was something he had to brief them on when Intermurals were actually drawing closer. Few classes actually considered the possibility that they might be facing more than a straight-out brawl, at least when they first heard about the event.

                “Match conditions, as well as participants, are randomly determined. Some will be straightforward fights. Others… less so.” Dean Blaine turned off the microphone and stepped away from the podium, signaling that the meeting was officially over.

                “That’s three,” he said, easily filling the room with his well-trained voice. “Which means now it’s time to get you ready for the freshmen matches. Everyone, follow me. We have violence to watch over.”