1.3: Long Fuse

The cafeteria is abuzz with the chatter of gossip, embarrassing stories, and academic complaining. The blessing of gourmet pizza day eases the burden of all three as the students rally around the recipe that tickles their fancy most. The only station without a passionate audience is pepperoni, and Rum alone stands there.

     Three slices are stacked on the plate on the edge of the counter, but the remaining five are connected by the corners of their crust in the shape of a star. He stands with a hand on his chin as he studies the pattern, envisioning the Star-Sparring from earlier play out. He frowns each time he recalls his performances, internally marking how he could’ve done something else better, faster, with more precision.

     Rum’s focus is so singular that he doesn’t register the people who pass by and point and laugh at his mouthing and rapid eye movements. He reconstructs the duel he and Professor Tameri were having right up until Aven pulled his dirty stunt.

     Rum had to move quickly to discourage a barrage of unchecked blows by deflecting her initial thrust. After, he swung his sword in tight angles to keep her spadroon from making contact. When she moved from that to a mix of swings, up and down in direction, he employed a windmill defense, spinning his sword before his torso swiftly. Tameri swung down in one powerful swing and forced Rum into a stationary defensive position. Just as she was poised to strike him, that was when he and the sand became acquainted.

     At that moment, Rum flinches with a revelation. He starts to think of the star-shaped pizza arena as a windmill. She’s the fulcrum. Hitting her isn’t the goal. I have to disarm her in order to stop the rotation. Rum smirks. Now I just have to do that. Let’s see…

     One of the pizza corners vanishes, forcing Rum to snap back into reality. Carnya places the pilfered slice onto her plate, stacked with over a dozen different slices of pizza, but freezes when she sees Rum’s intense expression.

     “I’m sorry, did you want the whole pizza?” she asks.

     Rum blinks and shakes his head. “Umm, no, I’m fine. I have spares.”

     “Not anymore.” Nuria swoops in behind Rum and snags the last four slices for herself.

     “Hey, what are you- I was using,” Rum calls after Nuria as she and Carnya retreat to a table in one of the alcoved outdoor dining areas, “those.”

     “Is everyone gonna get the better of you today?”

     Rum turns a sour eye Pan’s direction. He grabs his plate and moves to the nearest table to the pepperoni station. He groans when she takes a seat across from him. She rebounds by biting on her lip and puffing out her cheeks.

     “You’re a real hothead, huh?”

     Rum looks up and sees she doesn’t intend to leave, folded arms her anchor to the table. He huffs and sits up straight. “To be honest, I’m not all that easily aggravated. Kind of have a longer fuse on my temper than most.”

     “So, what? You normally look like a murderer when someone shows you up?” Pan asks.

     “He did–” Rum clamps his mouth shut, takes a deep breath, then exhales calmly. “He did not show me up. He cheated. And it wasn’t just him that got to me.”

     “I’m all ears if you haven’t learned by now.”

     “It’s not like you care,” Rum snaps.

     “Nope, but I’m curious.”

     Rum looks his company square in her eyes with a muted intensity, though it softens in the gaze of her piercing blue pearls.

     “Then how about a deal?”


     “I’ll tell you why I’m a little upset if you tell me what happened to the woman from the train station who kicked a security guard off of me.”

     Pan tries to disguise the flush in her face, but when Rum smirks, she knows she failed.

     “Sounds like a fair trade to me. I’ll even go first,” he says, his voice seemingly calm.


     Rum leans forward on his elbows and rests his chin on his hands, his expression a somber one. “I guess you could say the fuse started when my sister ditched me to come here on her own. It burned pretty fast when I had to deal with our mother’s anger while also worried she would get hurt somewhere.”

     “How exactly did she get here?” Pan inquires. “She wasn’t on the train, but she sure made mighty fine kindling out of those targets.”

     “Our original plan was for both of us to travel here together. We were supposed to leave a week before school started and get here in time for orientation.”

     “Which she did…how?” Pan repeats.

     “I haven’t even had time to ask her, which is another reason I’m in this mood. She’s not telling me anything of what she’s been up to since the at- since the–”

     “Strange coma?”

     “Exactly. She’s acting like I can’t help her out now that we’re away from home. I know we were homeschooled, but our–”

     “Homeschooled?” Pan purrs, on the cusp of breaking into laughter.

     Rum crosses his arms. “You know, I’ve explained enough. Your turn. Why did you suck this morning?”

     Pan rolls her eyes. “Be blunter about it, geez.”

     “A deal’s a deal, Pan,” he says pointedly.

     Pan clicks her tongue before she says, “My other ability, my S’nue one, it…well, I’m not as efficient with it as I would like.”

     “What’s the ability?” Rum asks, sounding instantly curious.

     “What do you know of S’nue individuals? Their powers?”

     “They’re telekinetic in origin. I knew a few growing up. One of them had the power to make things he touched invisible. Although he could only do it to small things, nothing bigger than sallow chips.”

     Rum pulls a sallow chip from his pocket, and the round silver object fits neatly between his index finger and thumb. He flips it into the air and catches it with the back of his palm. The image on the face-up side shows the fraction ¼. He then moves to juggle it between his knuckles. The other side says “Product of Sallow Inc.”. Pan enjoys the show with her barbeque chicken pizza.

     “He would do tricks like this and make the coin invisible every other knuckle,” Rum explains.

     “Yeah, well, I’m a little flashier than all that.”

     “As flashy as I am I’d guess, based off your boasting.”

     “Flashier still.”


     “Prove it?”

     “What’s in it for me?”

     “You’ll be able to show me up if I’m wrong.”

     “Already did that today,” Rum teases. “What else you got?”

     “I’ll answer the first question you ever asked me,” she announces.

     Rum finds himself at a loss for a moment. “What was that again?”

     Pan chuckles and says, “‘Criminal?’”

     “Was that really my first question?” Rum asks, feeling a little embarrassed. “Sounds a little rude.”

     Pan laughs a little harder this time. “You’re a weird one. At my throat one moment, apologetic the next.”

     “Okay, then you tell me if it was rude or not. I’ll respond accordingly.”

     Her laughter reaches higher and higher volumes, drawing the attention of the other students. Rum hides his dour look from them by cupping his hands to the sides of his forehead.

     “You going to stop laughing at me anytime soon?”

     Pan fights down the hysteria slowly, nearly choking on a couple of snorts at the end. She wipes the tears from her eyes swiftly. “I’m sorry, but I can definitely tell you’re homeschooled now. How long’s it been since you hung out with someone besides your sister?”

     Rum turns and peers at her through the windows. He sees her laughing and talking with Carnya as Tyra joins them, but he doesn’t appear too pleased by that. Pan sees the longing in his expression and comprehends his feelings.

     “You miss your sister?”

     “She’s my best friend, and yet…I don’t know. Feels like she’s pulling away.”

     “She’s not pulling away, silly. She’s just making new friends. I guarantee she’ll want to hang out with you soon.”

     “And in the meantime?” he asks, still focused on Nuria’s table.

     “You follow her example and make some new friends of your own. And I’ll even let you start with me.” Pan takes one final bite of her pizza and rises.

     “Fine,” he absently replies. “Wait. What? Where are we–”

     Pan drags Rum along behind her in a haste, her recurve bow in her other hand. “I’m going to show you my S’nue power.”


     “Oh, good, the next class hasn’t started yet,” Pan cheers. She kicks up little pockets of sand as she raises up the steps of the sparring field. She skirts right past the remnants of the Star-Sparring arena, hundreds of shoeprints leaving a diagram akin to bee dancing. Pan points to the other end of the sparring field. “Go and stand over there.”


     “Because I’m going to shoot at you.”

     “Come again?”

     “You said you wanted to see whose second ability was flashier, right? Might as well see whose is stronger, too. Draw your weapon, Rummy. We’re gonna settle the challenge from the train ride.”

     Rum groans. “Let’s not make ‘Rummy’ a thing.”

     “Fair enough.”

     Rum disconnects his magnetized leather band from his buster sword and catches it before it hits the ground. With one graceful swing, he brings it before his body and grips the hilt with both hands.

     “I’m ready when you are,” he calls out.

     “Don’t you need time to charge up or something?”

     “I’m not as inefficient as you.”

     “We’ll see about that,” Pan replies beneath her breath as she hoists her bow. She draws the string back as far as her arm can take it. She peers through the sight and down the nose of her bow, straight at Rum’s face.

     Pink light shines from the contours of Pan’s fingers, pooling together between her trigger fingers. From there the pink light stretches out into the shape of an arrow. The shaft of the laser arrow is half an inch thick, but the total length is two feet. Once the entire arrow forms, it glows brightly against the morning light, casting Pan’s body in a sunset aura.

     “Last chance to charge up your stuff,” she says.

     “Just fire already!” Rum barks.

     “You asked for it,” she says beneath her breath.

     Pan doesn’t release the bowstring but parts her trigger fingers ever so slightly. He laser arrow fires directly for Rum like a heat-seeking missile, but he only smiles as it closes in. Pan breaks into a nervous sweat as he lets it get closer and closer.

     The moment the arrow gets within Rum’s swing zone he springs into action. As he upswings his blade, tiny blue sparks travel down his flesh and into the clear gem in the base. The gem gathers up the electricity and amplifies it, filling the entire gem with radiant blue light. The force of his swing sends currents of that same blue electricity along the blade.

     Rum slices through the laser arrow in one fluid motion. The radiant blue light and split pink arrow cast the same sunset light around him as it did for Pan. The arrow halves fizzle out in the middle of the air behind Rum. His buster sword loses the charge and returns to normal as he lay it against his shoulder.

“Not bad for homeschooled, huh?”

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