At the sound of Bob's whistle, the students began running into the lake as fast as they could. Faine knew better. The test was about endurance, not speed. To his surprise, the only other person who didn't sprint towards the water as fast as she could was Joana.
"It seems like we have the same idea." Faine said, instinctively stretching.
Joana didn't respond. She took her time getting ready to swim then waded into the water. Faine did the same, but made sure to keep his distance from Joana.
She was kind of scary.
Almost immediately, Faine encountered a problem. It was difficult to swim with his prosthetic arm. he was exerting more energy than he had to with each stroke, which was making him fall behind and lose stamina.
Part of Faine knew that his fake arm was a burden with no practical use, but another part of him knew it made him appear more normal. Most of his classmates probably hadn't noticed he had one arm--how would they react when he reached the other side of the lake and revealed the truth about himself? Would they treat him as an equal, or with pity?
'I can't think about that now.' Faine thought, propelling himself through the water. 'My goal is to make it across this lake, so I'll do it no matter what.'
Faine used his remaining hand to rip off the plastic arm. He watched as it sunk into the lake. Faine doubted he would ever see it again. His unease was quickly replaced with newfound courage. Swimming had suddenly become so much easier.
The instincts he'd learned from years of being a gymnast kicked in. He made sure to keep a steady pace, something most of his competitors hadn't thought of. By the time he reached the end of the lake, he realized he'd come in fifth place overall in the swimming portion of the obstacle course. Not too shabby.
Joana had come in first place.
A few minutes later, an exhausted Maya emerged from the lake. Lucas came shortly after. When they spotted Faine, they couldn't hide their surprise.
"What happened to your arm?" Lucas asked bluntly.
Maya slapped him. "You can't ask people uncomfortable questions like that!"
"A shark ate it while I was swimming across the lake just now." Faine replied sarcastically. He grabbed the empty sleeve of his drenched sweatshirt and tied it in a knot. "Those damned sharks, always biting people's arms off, am I right?"
"Haha very funny." Lucas muttered.
"It's what you get for asking him in the first place." Maya replied. "Now shut up and get ready for the next test."
Faine wandered over to the lake and stared at his reflection. With his long hair slicked back by the water, he almost looked like his old self again. Almost.
Bob gathered the students together in a circle and explained the next test. "They say teamwork makes the dream work. This is truer than ever when it comes to the art of exorcisms. Throughout your careers, you will be assigned to work with groups of people you may have nothing in common with." Bob pulled a mason jar out of his backpack. It was filled with tiny strips of paper "Each of you is going to be randomly assigned a teammate. You are going to have to complete a series of tasks with your teammate. This will test your overall cooperativeness."
Lucas grinned. "I hope my teammate is a cute girl." he whispered to Faine.
Bob pulled out a single strip of paper. "Since there is an odd number of you, one of you will be partnered with me." He read the piece of paper. "Lucas, looks like you're with me."
Faine couldn't help but laugh. "Ooh. Kinky."
Blood rushed to Lucas's cheeks. "Shut up." he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Faine waited expectantly as Bob called team after team. In the end, there were only two names left: Faine and Joana.
Begrudgingly, Joana stood beside Faine. "You'd better not make me lose this round, you freak."
"Nothing would make me happier." Faine said. "Unfortunately, I also need to do well. Let's call a truce."
Joana shook her head. "Truces are for wimps."
Bob handed each group a blindfold. "Your first task is to guide your blindfolded partner through the forest in front of us. The catch? Physical contact is strictly prohibited. The guide must use only their words to complete this task."
Joana shoved the blindfold into Faine's hand. "Put it on."
"I don't want to wear the blindfold."
"Neither do I."
Bob took a sip of water. "Also, this portion of the test is timed. Less time spent bickering means a higher score in the end!"
Joana didn't waste a moment. She pulled a dime out of her backpack. "I'm heads, you're tails. Loser wears the blindfold."
"Works for me."
It landed on tails.
To Faine's surprise, Joana didn't put up a fight. "What? I play fair." She said. "Now you'd better do a good job guiding me or else."
After a couple dozen: 'step to the lefts' 'step forwards' 'ducks' and 'oops, sorries', Faine and Joana were nearing the end of the tiny forest. Suddenly, Joana began to cough violently. She tore off the blindfold and fell to her knees. Faine watched as she coughed up a tiny pile of black ooze. Faine was too shocked to say anything.
"What? You got a problem?" Joana asked.
Faine shook his head. "You should see a doctor about that. It looks like the stuff that comes out of demons when they're dying."
Joana laughed bitterly. "That's because it is that stuff." She put the blindfold back on. "Now can we hurry up and finish this?"
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