The sound of the bus rolling over the dirt road doesn’t even make it to Rum’s ears. His teeth suffer greater and greater aches as he continues to empty his stomach. With his right arm bandaged and, in a sling, he can only keep the left side of his trash bag open. Luckily for him, a volunteer holds the right side.
“Did your sister ever have to do this?” Pan asks. “Poor girl.”
“I’ve never broken a sword before,” Rum groans.
“It was a training sword, genius. They’re not made to be used so…electrically.”
“Just–” Rum’s cut off by powerful retching. He wipes his lips and coughs before saying, “Just drop it.” He laments his uneasy stomach as he reflects on the incident.
Rum sat in the infirmary across the street from Jojen’s Dojo, his arm being carefully placed into the sling by a nurse. Aven watched him from the corner, a couple of square bandages on his forearms. He stood and waited to vacate the area until he saw Rum’s wounds were taken care of. Rum grunted when he was allowed to rise to his feet, his shoulder wound itching against the bandage. He managed to put his jacket back on as Tameri and Jojen entered, neither looking very pleased.
“You listen well, brat,” Jojen barked. “I have promised Tameri not to react as I normally would toward a foolhardy idiot ruining my good work, but I am beyond furious.”
“I’m sorry. I never had a problem using my lightning with my sword. I didn’t know it would break yours apart,” Rum said somberly. “But that’s not an excuse. I got angry and ruined your property. Tell me how I can make it up to you.”
Jojen clicked his tongue and gave Tameri a perplexed look.
“I told you he was quite responsible,” she told Jojen. “Which is why I’m not going to recommend a punishment…exactly.”
“You’re enforcing the steel debt, aren’t you?” Jojen asked.
“I am indeed.”
“What’s the steel debt?” Rum inquired.
Professor Tameri brought out the broken sword from behind her back, carefully holding both halves. She placed the halves on the counter beside Rum, then beckoned him to gaze upon the metal. “The steel debt is an unspoken law among Ohaida. Bond of the Blade is sacred. Your heart beats twice with your fated weapon. Breaking another’s weapon is akin to stabbing them in the heart, and is looked upon with shame.
“Now, the weapons here are not the type that Ohaida can bond with. They aren’t made from the right materials. However, Jojen poured his heart into making them for generations of students to have at their disposal. You’ve impacted that connection here today, Aurum. By the order of the steel debt, you are to make amends by providing a service tasked to you by the offended party, being Jojen. However, it is not just him you’ve offended.”
“You as well, right?” Rum asked.
“No. You’ve offended this school by breaking a tool it’s prized for so long. So, here is my proposal for how to settle your new debt. After class sessions, you will be here assisting Jojen in his day to day duties. That means you will act as his apprentice in his smithy in the basement, help maintain the positive attitude of the students here, and whatever else Jojen has need of you to do.
“The steel debt, once enacted, is as binding as actual law. I implore you not to break this, Aurum. Do you understand?”
Rum felt the weight of their stares crushing his shoulders. Still, he dared not look away, facing his challenge head-on. He had argued to Tameri that he was in control of his actions, but he knew the moment his electricity pierced the steel he’d made a terrible decision. He nodded, accepting his debt in full.
“When do we start?” Rum asked.
“You’re excused from class until your shoulder heals. It’ll begin after that.”
Rum lightly scratches at his shoulder, finally free of his motion sickness. Pan gingerly pats his shoulder before leaving the bus with the other students. He sighs and ties his trash bag, thankful he decided not to eat very much in Vanis Town. A new city. Well, a small town with its own values. Sakela’s made up of districts roughly the same size as Vanis Town. I seriously doubt anything from Sakela will reflect in Vanis Town. Aside from the origami, anyway. Then again, I haven’t been part of Sakela education for a long while. I wonder if I did miss things.
Rum sits forward. Of course, I have. I didn’t even know what Bond of the Blade was before I came to Four Hearts Academy. Those kids are likely much more informed than I am.
“Are you ready to move, Aurum?”
“I’m not so sure, professor,” Rum says as he stands.
“Sure looks like you are,” Tameri replies as she follows him out of the bus.
“I mean, I’m not sure what to do with this steel debt thing. I don’t have any knowledge I can offer those kids. I was homeschooled, and Ohaida culture was not a part of that agenda outside of occasional sparring matches with my mother. And I’m definitely not as good in that area as I thought. Aven wiped the floor with me.”
“He did, but who says that this was to benefit solely Jojen and his students,” Tameri counters.
“What do you mean?”
“I know exactly where you stand, Aurum.”
“With all due respect, professor, that’s not true.”
“Oh,” she replies with a single eyebrow raised, “then why do you think I only tasked you with the steel debt, and not you and Aven?”
“Because he wasn’t responsible for me losing my cool.”
“Then why did he stay and make sure you were all good before leaving the infirmary? Why did you apologize for angering him prior to the two of you going against each other? Because like you, he knows he was at fault. And I know it, too.”
“Okay, but then why leave him out? I can learn my lesson with him there, too.”
“I’ve let your rivalry simmer too long, so, for the time being, I’m going to keep you two as separate as possible. At least when you have weapons in your hands. Also, I have a different kind of punishment in line for him.”
Rum’s nerves settle down. “What do I do in the meantime?”
“What you do is relax. I promise there will be work to do when you return. Perhaps you might want to see your sister as much as you can. I don’t plan on taking it easy once that sling isn’t necessary.”
Rum sits on the edge of his bed, holding his buster sword erect in his left hand. He commands a small current of his azure lightning to surge into his blade. It gathers and coalesces in the glass disc in the center. A few stray sparks escape and dance along the length of the blade, but none appear to pierce or crack the surface of it.
Professor Tameri did say the training sword was made from a different material. Maybe whatever kind of metal my sword is made of is somehow resistant to my electricity. Then again, maybe not. Mom never did let me wield her sword. Perhaps it’s because I could destroy her weapon if I acted recklessly. And I know now that’s entirely possible.
Rum sighs and dispels the electricity. He lowers his sword and pulls out his cellphone. He looks at his contacts, Mom and Nuria the only entries. The gravity of nostalgia brings his thumb right above the call button. One press and he knows his day will get better. His mother would reassure him about his Ohaida insecurities, or Nuria would encourage him to find the answer on his own.
But neither will help for tomorrow. Or the day after that. I’m going to need help. A new kind of help.
Rum rises and crosses his dorm. He goes to the door on the opposite end of the hallway and knocks. It takes a few seconds for his target to appear. He raises his phone. “Can I have your number?”
Pan smirks. “Say please.”