Chapter Four – Pain
Ash and Derek lay on their beds, each trying not to move. Despite being just as filthy after their second PE class, neither boy made any move to get up and shower off the filth. They both hurt far too much to move.
“I think even my hair hurts” Derek moaned. “Is that even possible?”
“Dude I don’t know. I’m too sore to think right now.” Ash rolled over onto his side groaning as his every muscle protested at the movement.
A low whistle came from the doorway and both boys craned their necks to look at its source. There in the doorway was the boy from earlier who’d been the one to alert them of the fact they were running late. He was grinning at the two of them and didn’t appear to be in any discernible discomfort despite the ordeals they’d faced earlier.
“You two look like shit.”
“Gee thanks.” Derek glared at the grinning youth. “How come you’re so chipper?”
“I’m Tom by the way and I’m ‘so chipper’ as you put it thanks to my roomie. Rob’s a healer so he helped me get through the worst of the aches and tiredness. I came over to say hi and see if you wanted healing.”
Derek let out a short bark of laughter and slowly pushed himself to a seated position. He shook his head before looking at Tom.
“Trust me when I say you’re going to regret that later.”
“Oh and why’s that mate?”
“Whilst healing gets rid of the aches and pain, it stops you from working through it.”
“What he means,” Ash piped up, “Is that healing is notorious for limiting the amount of gain you get for a workout. Healing away the pain means you won’t build up your speed and stamina nearly as quickly.”
“I’m kind of a healer too,” Derek added. “But I’m working through it.”
Tom’s face fell as he looked between the two boys. He ran a hand through his brown hair before closing his eyes and groaning.
“Damn, no wonder no one else wanted to get healed.”
“Don’t worry dude, you’ve got five more years of physical abuse to work through before graduation. Won’t make a massive difference yet.”
Tom nodded his hand still rubbing the back of his neck.
“Yeah guess so.”
Ash got to his feet and stretched his arms above his head, wincing at the twinges his muscles made at the movement. He looked down at his clothes and bedcovers, now regretting that he hadn’t at least changed out of his mud splattered kit before collapsing.
“I’m going to get changed for dinner. Remember we still have to help with clean up tonight”
Tom and Derek groaned simultaneously at the reminder.
“I swear,” Derek said, “They’re deliberately dropping as much food on the floor as they can. Thank god we don’t have to do the girls side as well.”
Ash shook his head as he grabbed his towel and made his way to the door, nodding to Tom as he passed before heading to the bathroom.
Anya was in the common room slumped in front of the television. On screen a bubbly reporter was discussing the latest celebrity gossip about how so and so had been seen out with someone that wasn’t their wife. She knew she really should be stretching after the day’s workout but she just couldn’t find the motivation to do anything other than sit there slowly becoming permanently attached to the worn furniture.
On screen the bubbly reporter was replaced by a more familiar face. Felix O’Reilly, main commentator on all things super, from the SAAS to Hero news, Felix was always there on screen with some insight or new piece of news.
“Well ladies and gentlemen it’s here once again! The start of a new HCP year!”
On screen the cameras panned round to show off the faces of a cheering audience. Anya looked around the room trying to see if she could spot a remote to turn off the TV, but when she couldn’t see it anywhere she gave up, deciding it wasn’t worth the effort of getting up just to turn off the TV.
“Will we have a batch of Heroes in the making again this year? Will our favourites from the current years have made the cut over the summer? Tomorrow we find out the answers to the first of these questions as the Newb rankings commence!!!”
More screams and cheering, chants of ‘Newb’ blasted from the speakers.
“We’ll be bringing you the fights first here on the Hero network tomorrow night, and from Tuesday the betting stations will be open for you to start placing bets on who you think will be the UK’s next Hero!”
“But Ladies and Gents, do I have scoop for you about the incoming year of newbs! For the first time in three years, we’ve got some Hero hopefuls that have invoked their right for privacy!”
Anya sat up a bit straighter in her chair. Whilst she already knew there were two students in her year group that were going anonymous in the rankings, she didn’t know if any of the other HCPs might have their own groups of anons.
“At St Mary’s and Brashmoore, we have not one but two anonymous entries into the rankings this year, one for the girls and one for the boys!”
On screen the audience could been seen murmuring and talking amongst themselves. As Felix had said, in the past three years, no student had asked to be anonymous in the rankings, and normally only one student would ask for privacy.
“And that’s not all! Over at Fairford Academy, they have their own group of three anonymous students whilst Edinburgh College has another student asking to remain anonymous!”
Anya’s expression mirrored the shocked faces of the audience members. Six students who’d invoked the right to privacy. It was unheard of. The fees alone were extraordinary, but the idea that so many students would want to be anonymous was shocking. Whilst the schools might take most of the profits from the publication of student fights and from the betting, the more popular students could easily begin making money once fee costs were covered. In the senior year of university, when Hero identities were being created a student could start earning money from merchandising too.
“Now we can all guess as to reason these students might want to protect their anonymity, though it is a bit strange. For safety purposes, students are assigned numbers for fights and names and faces aren’t revealed to protect a future Hero’s friends and family, however the only reason to hide your identity and fights completely would be to hide your powers!”
The audience began to ooh and ahh, many nodding their heads as if they had known this all along. Anya just rolled her eyes. As if humans would truly understand why a Super might hide everything about themselves.
“So with any luck this could be the most exciting bunch of Newbs the UK has seen since we first began broadcasting! That’s all I have for you tonight, but tune in tomorrow for our first glimpse at the newest entrants into the HCP community!”
Again, the audience began to cheer as Felix bowed and left the stage. Anya sighed and began to mull over the implications of so many anonymous students. How would this affect her fights, audience opinions, and, more importantly, how fearsome were these students that they didn’t want to be known?
Ash stood in a large room filled with monitors. Each one showed an empty white room except for the largest screen in the middle. This screen showed tournament type grid, showing number pairs at the bottom and lines leading to empty paired boxes, the number of pairs shrinking by half each time ’til only two boxes remained. Clearly this screen would show who would be matched against who, but at this moment none of the students knew which number belonged to them.
The room was currently only occupied by boys, Ash knew the girls would be down here soon after for their own ranking matches. In the Southern England and Wales HCP, boys and girls were ranked by gender for the first year, though an overall ranking would be published that showed where the teachers believed each student to be in comparison to all the other students.
“Boys, if I might have your attention.” The voice of the Dean rose above the general hum of the students standing in groups throughout the room. Ash looked over to where the Dean stood by a list freshly tacked to the wall.
“Next to me is the list of everyone’s numbers. From there you can work out which room your first match will be held in. Let me remind you, you will be recorded for these matches, as with all others. Your conduct and behaviour must remain exemplary. To protect your full idnetities, faces and voices will be altered by our software before broadcasting this evening, but do remember that you are not to say your opponents or your own names whilst inside the combat cells. This will help us minimise the amount of editing needed.
“You would also be wise to remember that there is to be no lethal force used in these matches. Anyone who does use lethal force, attacks before the bell goes, or attempts to continue to harm their opponent once they tap out or fall unconscious will be immediately expelled. These rules will always remain in effect during your time here at the HCP. Do not forget them.
“Now, you may begin to make your way to your designated rooms. Good luck.”
With that the Dean quickly moved out of the way as the boys all surged towards where the list had been posted. Ash hung back, waiting until the crowd had thinned out a little but before he could make his way to where the list was pinned Neil rushed over to him.
“I’m number four and you’re sixteen. Good luck Ash!”
“Thanks, Neil. Good luck man.”
Turning away from the where the mob of boys still stood, Ash headed over to the screens to confirm where his first match would be held. Room G 5 vs 16. With once last glance at the mass of boys, Ash headed towards the door labelled A-H, ready to get going.
Derek Zammit rocked gently back and forth on the balls of his feet, looking around the blank white room. He’d easily located the cameras dotted in the corners of the rooms, far enough out of the way that they wouldn’t impede the fight in any way.
He turned as the other door to the room opened and a tall and bulky looking boy entered the room. He wore glasses on the end of his nose which he nervously pushed up the bridge of his nose.
“G’day Mate, you number 21?” He stuck out his hand and the other boy took it and shook.
“Hi, yeah I’m 21 so you must be 19.” Derek nodded and smiled. The Bruce smiled back.
There was a crackle from the celling before a voice sounded over the speakers.
“Alright boys, remember no lethal violence and once your opponents down, the fight is over. For those that are a bit dense, that’s when the bell sounds again.
“Now on your marks, get set, Fight!”
A bell rang from somewhere and Derek summoned the powers of his knight. Within moments he was covered in plate mail and holding a steel broadsword.
“Behold, for I am the- Oof!”
Derek’s planned speech was abruptly cut off as his opponent ran straight towards him and hit him right in balls with a collapsible pole.
Doubled over with the unexpected pain, Derek hastily backed up wheezing.
“What the hell mate?!” Derek spluttered.
“Look, sorry about the low blow but there was a 90% chance I’d lose within the first two minutes and I had to try and get at least one blow in before then.” Bruce shrugged apologetically before reading his baton for another blow.
Derek straightened up and gripped his broadsword with two hands. Though annoyed he’d have to wait ’til his second match to deliver his speech, at least he knew his opponents ability obviously wasn’t suited to combat. Why else the baton?
“Alright, let’s dance!”
Derek launched himself towards Bruce swinging his sword round in an arc. Bruce’s eyes widened and he stepped backwards quickly whilst bringing his baton up in front of him.
“Lethal force dude, there was a 72% chance that would have been fatal if it’d hit!”
“Oh right.” Derek reassessed his options. He clearly couldn’t go all out against an opponent that had no armour or physical enhancements. He’d have to try a different route. With a quick breath he banished the armour and sword.
“Evening Shadow, I summon thee!” Derek cried, pointing in front of him. With a loud poof and cloud of dark smoke, Shadow appeared before him. The rogue was dressed head to toe in black leather, his face was covered in a sculpted mask and at each of his hips were an assortment of daggers. However it was the batons at his back that were of more interest to Derek.
“Hold on, you’re a summoner?! I thought you were some kind of shifter. What happened to the armour?” Bruce was standing there with his guard down looking utterly confused.
“Pah, I am no shifter! I have the powers of many beings at my fingers! Behold the nefarious rogue, Evening Shadow! Just as I can take up the aspect and abilities of the classes, so too can I summon them to battle!”
The rogue made a gesture with his head and sighed.
“Mate, we talked about this. It’s Jim, not Midnight Shadow, or whatever.” Bruce looked at the rogue who had turned to face his summoner and realised that the movement he’d made was an exaggerated eye roll.
“Wait wait wait. Classes? Rogues? Like D & D or something?”
“Exactly! And it’s Evening Shadow!” Cried Derek.
From the celling came another crackle over the speakers and the same voice that had instructed them earlier, most likely Coach Barkley, sounded again.
“Whilst I normally don’t interrupt matches, I think it’s only prudent to remind you boys that you are supposed to be fighting at this moment, not engaging in a discussion over the particulars of your powers. No one’s going to want to see that and you’re losing points.”
“Ah,” said Bruce, “I forgot we’re fighting.”
“Me too. Shadow, non-lethal.”
The leather clad figure nodded and drew his dual batons. “Got it boss.”
And with that the fight commenced. Bruce was good with his baton, but against the, rogue he supposed, against the rogue he was no match. It also didn’t help that half of his options would suddenly be cut off when Derek tried to step in and punch him.
Using his powers he assessed his options. Bruce’s ability wasn’t particularly helpful in combat. He could calculate probabilities very quickly in his head and was able to choose the best course of action based on the numbers he could calculate. This took very little time overall and in situations where he could plan ahead, was a sure-fire way to win. However in an out and out brawl like this against two opponents, Bruce was having a hard time keeping up.
Eventually, having taken numerous whacks, he realised his odds of winning had finally reached zero. At this point he raised his arms and signalled his surrender. He saw no reason to keep going when all it would achieve were a few bruises.
“The winner is number 19.” Came the voice over the speakers again. “Number 21, please exit the room and head to the infirmary.”
Tom Reese walked into the combat cell to see his opponent was already there waiting.
“Number 2?” The other guy asked. He was a well-built young man with light blonde hair and solid features. Tom noted all this appraisingly. In a group of roughly 25 guys, there had to be at least one other gay guy. Hopefully it was someone already out of the closet like himself.
“Yeah and you must be number 1.”
“Not yet, but it’s only a matter of time.”
Tom groaned internally and prayed to whatever god might be watching that this douche was not the other gay guy in the group else he’d likely remain celibate for the next five years.
From above the speakers crackled and the voice of Coach M came over the speakers.
“Remember, no lethal force and once the bell goes again you stop fighting immediately as it signals your opponents unconscious or surrendered. On my mark… Begin!”
The bell rang somewhere and Tom watched as the blonde boy in front of him began to shift. First he began to grow taller his blonde hair lengthening until it reached his waist. His once solid features became finer and more delicate and his ears tapered to points. In his hands a golden bow and quiver appeared and Tom realised he was now looking at what could only be described as an elf.
The elf drew his bow and aimed an arrow right at Tom. He jumped to his left to dodge it, cursing himself for getting distracted by the pretty face.
Focus dude, you can check him out in the replays!
Closing his eyes Tom quickly summoned forth one of his more powerful summons.
The elf, who’d been preparing to fire another shot stopped and stared at Tom’s summoned creature.
“Dude… is that a…”
Tom sighed. Of course he’d recognise it.
“Yeah it is.”
“Does it, like, do the moves and stuff?”
On the floor, the creature’s nose twitched and its zig zag shaped tail moved side to side.
“Yes it does the moves, no I don’t have to verbally command it, and no I don’t use potions during the fight.”
The elf just continued staring at the creature a big grin on his face.
“But dude, you’re like an actual real-“
“Don’t say it!” Tom said closing his eyes.
“But why not! It’s totally true!”
“One word,” Tom replied. “Lawsuit.”
“Ooohh.” Said the elf nodding. “I totally get that. My shifts a little too Tolkien you know.”
Above them the speakers crackled.
“Jeez Coach Barkley wasn’t kidding. Will you guys cut the yapping and get on with the fighting already!”
Tom cringed slightly before facing his opponent once more. In his mind he reached out through his bond to the small yellow summons on the ground. Attack! He commanded.
There was a flash of light as a thunderbolt headed in the direction of the elf. If there’d been any in the corridor outside the room, they would have just heard a faint cry.