2.3: Vanis Town

What would my title be?

     Titles, as Rum reflects on them, are given in a handful of ways. The title can relate to the attitude or virtues of the soldier, to their powers, or something of their own choosing. As Rum considers the fourth option, he sniggers, thinking of Aven.

     We definitely wouldn’t choose his title unless to poke fun at him.

     Rum sits up and wrinkles his teal bed sheets. The watch he has taped to the side of his dresser reads 6:16 am, though Rum is already fully dressed in a navy t-shirt, black jeans, and matching sneakers. He sits on the edge of the bed and grabs his buster sword and leather band, easily pulling them on in one fluid motion.

     Haven’t practiced alone in a while. Don’t wanna get rusty.

     Just as Rum reaches for the door, another hand grabs hold of the knob first. He turns and finds Aven leering down at him, his scythe slung over his shoulder.

     “Where are you off to so early?” Aven questions menacingly.

     “What business is that of yours?” Rum counters. He shoves his unease beneath a rug as he glares defiantly at Aven.

     “If we go somewhere private, we could spar,” Aven suggests as his features grow more serious.

     “What happened to not getting expelled?”

     Aven scoffs mockingly. “You should talk to the older students more. I don’t just vanish when I leave the sight of you chaff. They’ve told me of a spot off campus that’s perfect for Ohaida to spar uninterrupted. Even Tameri isn’t aware of where it is. You in?”

     “After you,” Rum replies to the challenge with a cocky grin. Rum opens the door and he follows Aven into the hallway.

     “Oh good, you’re already up,” Professor Tameri’s delicate voice calls from above.

     The young men look up and see not just their instructor, but around seven other Ohaida, most of whom carry blunt weapons and cases for them.

     “We’re going on a field trip today,” Tameri announces. “Wake your peers and meet us in the courtyard in twenty.”

     The professor leads her procession further down the steps, but stops before vanishing beneath the freshman floor. “Oh, and none of you will need your weapons today. Leave them here, please.”

     Rum and Aven turn to each other as the professor’s party leaves. Their serious countenances each gain a degree of buried rage. They huff and flare their nostrils simultaneously before angrily turning back into their dorm.


     Rum leads his peers, who express a mix of annoyance and drowsiness, to the gathering with Professor Tameri and Stark at the forefront. They join the already present Shuri in the rear. A camera hangs around his neck. He snaps photos of the class while they’re all gathered. One of the older students poses when they notice the lens pointed their direction.

     “Any idea what this field trip is?” Rum whispers to the photographer.

     Shuri inspects his current photos before turning to answer Rum. “No idea, but I do know that Professor Tameri does this type of thing annually.” He replaces the lens cap as he cuts his gaze to the front gate. “The other students never tell what they do, but they’re always gone for the entire day.”

     Rum lifts a single brow. “Are we walking there?” he asks hopefully. He cuts Pan a sharp gaze when she snorts. “Really?”

     He feels his stomach twist in knots just by hearing the squeal of a bus coming to a stop. His dread is realized in full when he notices it’s parked before his party. The hydraulics hiss as it lowers to the ground. Out from the bus steps a blonde man with a close-shaved head in a black security outfit. Like Stark’s, his has FHA written over his breast pocket and a badge on his belt. He salutes Stark with a wink before dropping the bus keys in her hands. Stark then trades the keys with Tameri for a clipboard. Rum watches the officers walk off, his discomfort rising the further away they go.

     “All right! Everyone, listen up! We are departing the Four Hearts campus. There are different rules for Ohaida in the general public. Your behavior from this point on shapes the reputation of Four Hearts Academy, as well as myself. I want you all on your best behavior. So, until we’ve reached our destination, those with weapons, case them now and place them in the luggage compartments. Those of you without weapons, you may board now.”

     Rum stands in place as his male peers leave him behind. He can feel the uneasy vibrations in his stomach before he even places his hand there.

     “It’s a serious problem for you, huh?” Pan asks, sliding closer. “You better tell Tameri before you blow chunks,” she advises.

     Though each step makes him more and more nauseous, Rum marches straight to Tameri. His urgent pace captures her attention.

     “May I help you, Aurum?”


     Rum suffers through a parade of indignity as his peers pass him by. He squeezes the top of his bag shut to hide the putrid odor as best he can, but the plugged noses of his classmates shatter that idea to pieces. Aven laughs boisterously at Rum’s expense as he exits the bus. The echo of Aven’s laughter from outside chases away the calm blue of Rum’s mind.

     The red rises as Rum lifts his head. Just as the young Ohaida starts to stand, a ginger pat on his back helps the calm blue reclaim the territory of his mind.

     “Sorry I made fun of this before,” Pan states sincerely. She gives him a pity rub before walking off. “Shut up, Aven!” she shouts as she joins him outside.

     Rum smiles when the laughter stops. He grimaces when he feels some leftover vomit inside the crease of his grin. One swipe of his palm later and that final vestige of Rum’s road trip humiliation joins the rest in the trash bag.

     “You sure you’re up to participate today, Aurum? Or any of the coming days? I can arrange private lessons for you,” Tameri says, turned sideways to face him from the driver’s seat. “I’d rather not overexert you and have a repeat of Nuria’s situation.”

     Rum shakes his head vehemently in protest. “That won’t be necessary. Nuria’s incident was brought upon by factors she had no prior knowledge of. I’ve been dealing with this for years, and I know once I’m off the bus I’ll be good as new.”

     Professor Tameri sits forward. “Aurum, you–”

     “Just tell me where the nearest dumpster is. I’ll join after I toss this aside, if that’s okay?” Rum barely waits to see her nod before leading her out. He goes to the western end of the building they’ve parked at as Tameri goes to address the rest of the class. He exhales gustily as he lowers his stomach contents into the dumpster.

     Before regrouping with his peers, he turns and inspects the town from the alley. While they traveled, Professor Tameri described Vanis Town as a small province inside the Ohadia nation. Not big enough to be classified as a city. She says most of the residents come from a long line of nomads that settled on a plot of unclaimed land and built it up as large as they could afford. He sees the same buildings as they had when the town was first established, though they’ve been maintained and renovated over a hundred times. The building they’re gracing is the local elementary school.

     Professor Tameri explained that it specializes in Ohaida training and culture. When Rum attempted to ask for more details, she simply told him to wait and see. He’s waited, and now he’s seeing. He hopes there is more than the modicum of property the town has to present.

     Rum returns to the group and finds a spot in the front as Tameri continues her speech.

     “–so please, treat this place with respect. I’ve been coming to Jojen for this exercise since I became a professor for Four Hearts. Now, Jarrod, lead your class to the courtyard in the back. After I get the freshman set up, I’ll come join you.”

     Jarrod, the young man standing beside Rum, hoists his steel hammer over his head, white-knuckling the long dark handle. “Sure thing, professor.” He turns to the other armed students. “Cyn, get the weapon rack from Jojen’s rear storage unit and meet us there. Let’s go!” he cheers.

     Rum observes the other sophomores fall in line with Jarrod’s words. Cyn, the strawberry blonde with a sheathed dirk on her left hip, races through the automatic doors ahead of the others, making a left inside the first hall. The smile on her face shows no frustration with the task she’s been given.

     I can see them choosing Jarrod’s title, Rum thinks.

     “Now, if you’ll all follow me inside,” Professor Tameri instructs, “I’ll introduce you to Jojen.”

     Rum moves to take the lead, but finds his pace matched by Aven and Shuri. All at once, they leer at each other, and it becomes clear to Rum that they’ve all been seeing the same things. And all at once, they try to beat each other in barking orders.

     “Everyone, form a single file line!” Rum shouts.

     “Rum, shut up and get in the back!” Aven counters.

     “Fall in class! Let’s present an orderly group when we meet Mr. Jojen,” Shuri commands.

     “Aven, I said–”

     “Rum, shut the–”

     “–to get in line!”

     “–hell up!”

     A sharp whistle quiets the two of them down immediately. Rum vacates his glaring match before Aven. Shame creeps its way into the young man when he notices that behind Tameri in the open doorway is a crowd of children holding wooden swords.

     “I brought you five here to be an example to these children,” Professor Tameri states harshly. “The next one of you to act like one will be excluded from the day’s activities. Do I make myself clear?”

     Rum starts off the chorus of “Yes, ma’am.”

     Aven sort of nods and shoves his hands in his pockets.

     “Sorry, professor,” Rum says.

     She nods to him before ushering the children back through the automatic doors. As the rest of the class follows, Rum stops Aven by grabbing his arm.

     “There a reason you touching me?” Aven says as he wrests his arm loose.

     “You and I are settling this today. Whatever the assignment turns out to be, if I do better than you, or beat you, then you fall in line. You hear me?”

     “And if I win, this alpha male thing you’re trying ends.”

     “Alpha male? You’re the one–”

     “I am the alpha male here. I’ve proved it twice if you haven’t noticed. But if you need a third, let’s do it!” Aven extends his hand.

Rum takes his hand with a determined grin.

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