The tip of a sheathed spadroon trails lines in a sand bed, crafting a large star in the middle of a raised wooden platform. Five lines meet in the center of the star and connect to a circle, making each section an island unto itself. After her masterful art is finished, Professor Tameri steps inside the circle and replaces her spadroon to the holster on her hip. She rests her hand on the chalk-colored guard. The morning sunlight brightens her blue eyes, which hold the images of her five pupils.
Each of them is dressed in athletic attire, their weapons held in the open. Rum’s buster sword is safely attached to his back via a leather strap and powerful magnets. He stands confidently on the end of the pack, eyes brimming with excitement. Today is his first time getting to use his weapon in class.
The first few classes made Rum feel like his mother was the teacher, going over all the social rules that Ohaida citizens are to abide by in public. Weapons are allowed to be carried in public if sheathed, or if placed in cases. Even if awarded an open carry permit, they must relinquish them in public places like parks and hospitals and malls. They can be reacquired when the owner is vacating the premises of the public institution. Professor Tameri stresses that while Four Hearts Academy suspends that rule, that she expects her students to handle their weaponry responsibly.
“This is an exercise I call Star-Sparring,” Professor Tameri says. “It is an exercise that helps me gauge all of your abilities simultaneously. Reaction speed, strength, agility, focus.” She counts off with her fingers. “I will be able to determine how best to guide each of you from the results of this one assignment. I only ask that you participate to the best of your ability. It will not help if I have inaccurate observations of your capabilities.”
Pan lifts one of her hands from her recurve bow. When Tameri calls on her she asks, “Are you sure? What happens if we end up hurting you?”
“You may relax. I don’t foresee that happening,” Tameri replies plainly. “The goal here is to be the last one in the star with me. If I manage to touch you with my sheathed spadroon in any way or force you outside your section of the star, you are eliminated until this five-minute timer resets.” Tameri turns the timer to the five-minute mark and holds it there. “Any questions?”
“Yeah,” says a young man dressed in all black, a scythe slung across both his shoulders. “What happens if you have more than five students?”
“Then when one student is eliminated, another student on the sidelines takes their place.”
“How do we attack you at our fullest ability? It does us no good if we injure you during our first lesson.” Shuri asks. His twin swords are already drawn, the sunlight glistening across the hurricane decals on his scabbards.
“Either you do not listen, or you believe yourself just that good already. I will not be harmed during this exercise. However, should any of you actually manage to strike me, your grade will be much higher than that of your peers. Shall that suffice, Shuri?”
Shuri hardens his gaze and tightens his grip on his twin blades.
Professor Tameri turns from him and finds looks with similar degrees of focus, her grin widening as she does so. She kneels down and lets the timer go. She rises slowly, ignoring the lost twenty seconds that expend in the process. Inversely, the moment she raises her sheathed spadroon, she whirls and targets Pan straight away.
The young woman yelps as she raises her bow to fire. A small bead of pink light forms just before the sight, but it dissipates when the spadroon knocks the bow into the air. Professor Tameri advances on Pan, thrusting the spadroon at her chest. Pan reflexively backs away until she exits the star. She jumps when her bow lands right beside her.
Tameri skips backward, spins on the balls of her feet, then rushes for Aurum. The two of them engage in a heated exchange of swordplay. Tameri strikes at him three times; at his knees, shoulders, and gut. Rum matches her speed with the width of his blade as a rampart. When she fails to penetrate his defenses, she backs away and turns her attack toward the young man between Shuri and the scythe carrier.
The boy uses a pair of hand claws strapped to his wrist with dark leather bands. Metal handles fitted to his hand size allow him to maneuver the three six-inch blades that extend from a metal base on the back of his hands. He deflects her first two strikes, but the third narrowly misses his flesh by pinging off the metal base.
Tameri backs away from him, and just as he thinks himself safe, she returns immediately. She locks her spadroon behind his right knee, then slams her palm against his forearm to force him out of bounds. The young man tucks and rolls back to his feet, careful not to cut himself.
The professor finally gives the scythe-wielder some attention. She narrows her eyes as the young warrior manages to fend her off with only the use of his scythe’s wooden shaft. She returns to him twice more in succession to test his endurance. He starts to smile when they spar by the third attempt.
Tameri herself grins before disengaging with the young man. She changes tactics to act as the ping pong ball between Rum and Shuri, going after them with the same vigor as she did the scythe-wielder. Shuri makes the mistake of deciding to go on the attack instead of defending when she steps inside the length of his reach. She presses the tip of her sheath against his chin. She turns away from the enraged teen in favor of Rum.
Rum starts to make more precise defensive moves when Tameri strikes, always parrying two hundred and seventy degrees before pulling back to block her incoming thrust. By their third exchange, he reads the timing and sidesteps her thrust to make one of his own. He flinches when he realizes her flesh is wide open and tries to pull back at the last second. He does so but blinks when he notices the tip of his buster sword exit her side without leaving any evidence of a wound.
She must be wearing armor underneath her clothes.
Rum shakes the distractions away and holds up his sword in preparation of her next attack, even as she spars with the scythe carrier.
If Aven can hit her, I can determine what type and make sure to strike where it will cover.
Tameri and Aven enjoy their duel as they each try to make the other take things more seriously. Tameri increases the speed with which she attacks and forces Aven to utilize the blade end of his scythe in addition to the wooden shaft. He manages to force her to go on the defensive by using his scythe expertly as a third arm. He twirls around, dips up and down, and even shifts his weight with precision. No matter how he moves, he keeps his scythe close to his body for counteroffensives. He moves to slice down vertically, but Tameri leaps away and moves back to Rum.
Aven growls when he notices Rum’s breathing is no more ragged than his own. He moves from his section of the star to the one beside Rum. Just as Tameri bears down on Rum, Aven sticks his wooden shaft behind Rum’s leg and lifts it up high, throwing him out of bounds.
Rum gets back on his feet and glares at his duel’s intruder. “What the hell was that?”
“Just eliminating the competition,” Aven replies coolly.
“That is not your role in this exercise, Aven,” Professor Tameri says sternly. “You have your assigned section of the star, and there you stay unless I force you out of bounds or strike you.”
“Looked like you needed help in that department,” Aven boasts.
The professor gazes back at the timer, and one minute remains. “Get back into place, Aven.”
Aven shoots Rum a smug grin before doing as instructed. He holds his scythe before him, ready for any attack Tameri can mount. He doesn’t blink when she blitzes him and blocks her overhead strike by raising his scythe as a barrier. Aven loses his arrogant grin when Tameri unsheathes her spadroon while keeping on the pressure with her scabbard. She thrusts the blade at Aven and forces him to relinquish his scythe to duck beneath the attack. She capitalizes on his lack of balance and nudges him out of bounds with her sand-stained sneaker.
The timer buzzes.
“Doesn’t appear I need your assistance after all,” Tameri says pointedly. “The next time you disrupt my exercise, you will spend your evening in the detention hall. I hope I won’t need to repeat that to you.”
Professor Tameri crosses to and silences the alarm. She rises as she sheathes her spadroon. “We will repeat this exercise five more times today. All of you may retake your original positions in the star.” The professor follows her own instructions and stands in the center of the star.
Rum dusts himself off before joining his peers in the star. He and Aven lock warning gazes before they begin the exercise again.
Professor Tameri changes up her tactics during each round, either primarily employing disarming maneuvers, swift parries, powerful upswings, or a combination of all three. During every round, it comes down to Aven and Rum, but Aven refuses to adhere to Tameri’s warning and earns himself a string of detentions. Pan finds it hard to combat against Tameri with her bow, with no time to fire, so she ends up being eliminated first each time. Shuri and the hand claws-wielder, exchange places a number of times. Aven only manages to come out on top of Rum once.
The final buzzer goes off. Tameri shuts it off and takes a peek at her class. All of them have earned the sweat stains on their clothes in her eyes. She smiles as she steps closer to them.
“I am pleased to see that you all- for the most part- listened and came at me with your absolute best. I do have a solid understanding of each of your skills, as well as how you can improve upon them. For the next few weeks, it will be my goal to see you reach new heights with your respective weapons.”
Rum’s hand shoots up and Tameri calls on him. “You said you were grading us on our performances, right? What grades did we get?”
“If you’d like to know your grade for today, raise your hand,” Tameri says after a quiet hum. All hands join Rum’s in the air. “Pan, you have a C. Roy and Shuri, you both will walk away with a B. Aven, your poor sportsmanship leaves you at the very bottom with an F. Aurum, I present you with an A+, being the only one to land an attack.”
So, I did hit her. But she moves too fast to be wearing armor strong enough to stop my blade from piercing her flesh.
“Anyway, that’s all for today’s class session.” She fastens her spadroon to her waist. “Now, how many of you are going to tonight’s Star Derby game? We’ll be playing against the Sulublei House team,” the professor says.
Aven grumbles before rising and vacating the area. Rum watches him leave with a sour countenance but then decides to follow after him. Tameri watches them go with a wary expression while the other three students gather around her to ask about the game.
Rum grabs Aven by his shoulder and forces him to whirl and face him. Aven raises a single eyebrow inquisitively.
“What the hell is your problem with me?” Rum asks boldly.
“I don’t have any issue with you. Simply need you and the others to understand I’m superior to you all,” Aven says coolly. He flips his scythe upside down and leans his elbows on the end of the handle.
“And what makes you think you’re superior?” Rum questions with a cocky attitude. “I’m the only one who hit the professor, and she never managed to get me out of bounds. Not like she did with you, remember?”
“Right, that was me,” Aven teases. “Did you get all the sand off? Here’s a hint, it’s always someplace else. Next time you think you’re better than me, I guarantee you’ll find some sand on you. Hopefully, that sets you straight on the score between us.”
Aven straightens and twirls his scythe as he turns to leave. Rum cuts right back in front of him. “If you really believe that, then let’s settle things here. Unless you’re chicken.”
Aven smirks and stifles a snort of derision. “I may not be afraid of a few detentions, but I’m not about to get expelled because your pride’s in jeopardy. We’ll have another go around next class. Later.”
Aven absently flicks his hand in farewell as he leaves Rum to fume.