"So, how does all of this work exactly?" Ronnie asked, pulling on a grey Syndicate t-shirt. A set of athletic gear had been waiting inside a locker with his name on it. "Is it like school with a class schedule and a report card?" He wrinkled his nose at Taran. "I thought I was finally done with all that!"
"Ha! No, nothing quite so formal," Taran replied and slammed his locker shut. "The Syndicate trainers coordinate some of the larger groups classes on a schedule. Things like combat exercises where you'll be linked up on a team that you're compatible with. But otherwise, most of it is independent or one-on-one study. Every person's powers are different, meaning everyone learns at a different pace. You'll keep studying on your own and with your team. Then, once you think you're ready, you can choose to be evaluated by a Syndicate member. Pass, and you become a provisional hero that can accompany a full member out on missions. The Syndicate wants everyone coming home safe, so there's no rush or penalty if you don't pass the first time."
Ronnie nodded. He thought he understood. "So... it won't be an issue that I'm starting all of this so late?"
Taran sighed. "I'm not gonna lie to you, Ronnie. You're most likely going to be frustrated the first couple weeks. Progress is often really slow at first, and there's no telling how long it takes to get a handle on your powers. I may have been born into this life, but trust me when I say that it wasn't much of an advantage."
"That's not exactly comforting," Ronnie muttered.
"Just tried not to get too discouraged. You've got the entire Syndicate backing you up." Taran motioned for Ronnie to follow him down the hall. "Come on, let me walk you through some exercises."
The training room was relatively small. It reminded Ronnie of a classroom, only without any desks. There were gym mats across the floor and a mirror that ran along one wall. A row of narrow windows let in a thin strip of sunlight. Taran closed the door behind him and dimmed the lights. A sunshade lowered over the windows, casting a dull grey light into the room. "The first thing we need to figure out is the best way for you to draw on your abilities." He walked towards the center of the room and sat down on the floor, motioning to Ronnie to do the same. "For most of us, that requires immense concentration as we focus our powers. We exercise that ability to concentrate just like we would any muscle group."
"Sure, that makes sense."
"I want you to close your eyes. Think back on that night in the alley, right after we first met. You got scared and threw up a forcefield without meaning to. What did that feel like?"
Ronnie lowered his head and took a deep breath. He sorted through the jumble of memories and tried to recall that night. The ringing in his ears. How everything in the alley seemed to slow down around him. There was also the tingle in his arm that traveled down from his shoulder and focused in his hands. As he concentrated, he could feel his palms start to warm. They soon buzzed with energy.
"You're doing great, Ronnie." Taran murmured. Ronnie could feel him slide closer on the mat. "Now, try to visualize that feeling: what does it look like, and where does it come from? See if you can follow the energy back to its origin."
Ronnie focused on the buzzing in his left palm and tried to see it in his mind. It was like trying to hold water in his cupped hands. The energy flowed around and in between his fingers, warm and pulsing with a soft green glow. It was continually rolling and changing its shape, like some sort of living fluid. Ronnie put more thoughts out, trying to get it to slow, but the energy seemed to fight against his willpower. He pushed to the side to keep it moving one direction, which just made it slide around his hand the opposite way. Ronnie gritted his teeth and imagined surrounding it from all sides. As he pushed harder with his mind, he felt the green light flare brighter, but it slowed down and poured in on itself until it resembled a softly glowing sphere. Ronnie struggled to hold the shape together.
From what somehow felt like miles away, Ronnie sensed his body. He felt the sweat that beaded on his forehead, and how every muscle in his body was tense with focus. The moment Ronnie acknowledged this, his willpower slipped away. The green sphere he had visualized shuddered and then shot away from him, green light fading into the air.
Ronnie's eyes shot open as he gasped for air. He tried to bring the energy forth again, but he was exhausted. No matter how hard he tried, there was nothing. No tingling feeling in his palm, no green light dancing around his fingertips. Taran was still sitting in front of him, and he smiled kindly.
"This is the hard part, I'm afraid. But don't worry, very few people make it the first time. We'll try again tomorrow." He stood up and offered Ronnie his hand.
Ronnie took it and attempted to stand. The world seemed to spin violently to the left. The muscles in his legs didn't engage, and he nearly fell back to the floor.
"Easy now!" Taran wrapped an arm around Ronnie's waist to keep him steady. "Just take a second to get your balance back."
The two arrived back in the locker room, and Ronnie crashed onto the bench in front of his locker. He leaned forward, head in his hands. Anything to stop the place from spinning. "I feel awful!" He cried.
He sensed Taran sit down beside him, and risked a look. Taran held a water bottle out to him and encouraged Ronnie to drink. "This part is rough. It's almost like seasickness. Your mind isn't used to focusing at this level yet, so it's tired. But the more you practice, the easier everything will be."
Ronnie accepted the bottle and took a drink. His heartbeat hammered in his ears, and his stomach churned. Ronnie prayed that he wouldn't throw up in the middle of the locker room. He curled forward into a ball with his head between his knees.
"Slow your breathing down," Taran said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Deep breaths, nice and slow."
Ronnie put all his effort into trying to calm down. After what seemed like an eternity, his insides settled, and his heart rate returned to normal. He slowly sat back up and opened his eyes. Taran was still beside him.
Ronnie and Taran took their time down the hallway and eventually arrived at Ronnie's room in the trainee wing. "It's best that you stay here tonight, you're still a little green." Taran said, "You did great today, honestly. Get some rest, and we'll be at it again tomorrow." He patted Ronnie on the shoulder again and waved goodbye.
Ronnie shuffled to the bed and crashed. Every muscle in his body ached, but the worst part was the shame he felt. Obviously, training was going to be difficult. But he hadn't expected to fail so spectacularly on the first day. It was just a silly breathing exercise, what could be so hard about that? What if he never managed to do it?
Ronnie strained for his phone and sent a quick text to his dad, letting him know he was staying the night. He sighed and stared at the ceiling. "Tomorrow." He thought. "Tomorrow, things will be better. I will prove myself to everyone."