A shield with the decal of a badger facing off against an eagle rests on the screen. Oddly enough, however, the badger looks to pounce on the eagle from above. The eagle skips being startled and rears up, aiming its talons at the badger.
Nature at it’s strangest…depicted on metal art.
Another shield has one spike in the center of it. The spike is dull, and on both sides of it are hollow cavities with circular lines inside.
Are screws missing, or is that intentional?
A third shield, one of the scutums, is painted with a starry night sky. The center of the scutum shows a shooting star aimed down toward Avinia.
The violet star shouldn’t be a meteor, but whatever, it’s a child’s art.
Shuri enters his thoughts into the description fields for each of those photos. He saves them to his digital album where hundreds of photos, similar or otherwise, are on full display. He has photos of Rum’s lightning going haywire, though the exposure is ruined by the dazzling blue sparks. Some other favorites he revisits include the freshman and sophomore classes on the bus, a photo of himself standing on the edge of the flagpole roof, and a selfie of him and Nuria sitting together at that same spot.
The description field for that last one reads: She made me do it. Shuri pauses there and thinks deeply for a moment. He changes the description to say: I’m glad she made me do it. He smiles, saves the changes, disconnects his camera from his laptop, and leans back on his arms with a huff.
Hope she’s having a better time. If today goes as planned, I won’t be able to ask for a while.
Shuri turns as he hears his bunkmates stir and rise. He closes his laptop, drapes his camera around his neck, and races out the door already dressed for the day in a dark green sleeveless shirt, black sweatpants, and white sneakers. He prepares to run down the stairs when a creak from above gets his attention.
Professor Tameri smiles down at him warmly. “I’d tell you to save your energy, but I suspect something’s lit a fire in your soul.”
“I was looking to catch you before we left, actually,” Shuri states.
“Oh, and pray tell, what may I do for you?”
“That’s the thing, we’ll both have to petition my gran- the headmaster.”
Headmaster Neth fumes as he leans forward, the target of his frustration kept bastion by Shuri’s presence. He looks to Tameri and his mouth hangs agape.
“You know it’s a good idea, sir,” Tameri says. “Not only should he see more of the world, but even he knows it. He came to me with this proposal.”
“It’s bad enough you already orchestrated this deal with another student without my consent, but now you wish –”
“I wish it!” Shuri shouts. “I’m asking you to let me do this. I have my professor’s approval, but she’ll deny me without your permission. Don’t let her deny me this!”
Don’t make me do it on my own, please…
Neth sighs, knowing he’s defeated. He tries not to refuse Shuri when he can, but in his heart is fear. With his next words, he gives fear the keys to his heart. “I shall approve this on a trial basis, along with several conditions. One, both Aurum and Shuri are only allowed to participate once a week. Two, there will be two vehicles for the transport of the Ohaida class, one driven by you,” he points to Tameri, “and the other by Stark. Stark will drive back the remainder of your freshman class, and your sophomore class also. I am entrusting Aurum and Shuri’s safety to you, Tameri. You will inform Stark of this before you depart, understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Tameri replies. “Does that mean we have a deal?”
“Are you amenable to my terms, Shuri?” the headmaster asks dauntingly.
I’ll just have to make the most of my time during those sessions.
“I’ll go and make sure the extra vehicle is prepped, sir.” Tameri bows her head respectfully and takes her leave.
Shuri nods to his grandfather similarly and rises to leave.
“Perhaps when your assignment is concluded, you could show me your pictures.” Neth gestures to Shuri’s camera. “I’m positive you’ll have dozens of masterpieces.”
“Only the best.” Shuri leaves with a grin.
The sharp clang of metal clashing reverberates throughout the sparring room. The faces in the audience follow the source of the clangs, their heads all on swivels. However, none of the younger viewers are particularly interested. Stark presses a thumb to her chin in thought while both Professor Tameri and Jojen gaze upon the match with more experienced eyes, and both appear perplexed and disappointed.
Shuri chases Rum to all corners of the black mat. No matter how hard and fast he strikes, Rum only defends. Each time Rum changes corners, Shuri pauses to correct his stance before pursuing. Shuri tries to goad Rum to attack by standing still, but his patience always runs out first.
“If you’re not going to fight, then stand down!” Shuri argues.
“Make me,” Rum fires back meekly.
“I will!” Jojen barks.
Shuri and Rum pause with their swords pressed together. They lower them, separate, and face Jojen.
“No points have been scored in nearly five minutes, so I’m officially calling this a draw,” Jojen declares.
“That’s enough, Shuri,” Tameri instructs. “Now that everyone’s had a chance to spar, we’re moving onto the next part of the assignment. You all have access to the other rooms for practice. There’ll be a half-hour for lunch. After, you’re to resume practice until we leave.”
“If you say so,” Aven says with a smirk. He leaves straight away, Pan and Roy on his heels.
“Shuri, you and Rum will practice together in here. I’m going to check in on the sophomores, then return to check on you and your class.” She nods when they acknowledge her plans and vacates the sparring chamber. Jojen huffs and follows after her.
“So, I think we should try and –”
“You need to stop holding back!” Shuri hisses.
“No can do. I’m not breaking another sword,” Rum says, shaking his head tightly.
“So, what? You can’t face me seriously without using your lightning? You did so before.”
“Yeah, but that –”
“Hold on,” Stark cuts in. “What’s this about lightning?”
Rum groans, but fills her in on the situation, reliving his shame and guilt all over again.
“It just sounds like you lost your temper. Is Shuri angering you?” Stark asks.
“His badgering is a little annoying, but I’m not mad.”
“Then you should be fine in that respect. However, both of you are lacking something critical to fighting, and not just with swords.”
“What do you mean?” Shuri asks. He feels he has a lot wrong with his swordsmanship, being mostly self-taught up to this point. His grandfather never really encourages his sword training, even now. But he hopes to be great with his twin weapons, the best dual wielding swordsman in Avinia. He knows he needs Stark’s advice to even consider attaining such a reputation.
“Watching you two run all around this mat, I could see what you’re still struggling with is balance. I can tell you’re acting the same you would with your normal weapons. Am I right?”
The boys deliver confirmation with their heads hanging low.
“I’d talk to Tameri and Jojen more if I were you, but I can offer you this much advice. Don’t treat these sparring swords like replacements. Treat them as they are, then apply what you learn to your bonded blades. One of my old friends bonded with a dagger, but by that time she was well trained with the same weapons as in your hands right now.”
Shuri watches Rum juggle his training sword in the air with a thoughtful countenance. Guess his sword is heavier than that one. Much heavier. He turns his analytical eye toward himself. One sword, two hands. Weird.
Shuri stands right inside the dojo’s foyer, taking pictures of the other side of the street. He uses the solar highlighted portions of glass to frame his subjects: a diner called Tully’s, a combined dentist and ophthalmologist office, and a sports store with a row of bikes suspended over the entrance. He lowers his camera to snap ground-level photos of Tameri and Stark exchanging keys, the outside dining area of Tully’s in the background.
Shuri turns as Tameri steps back inside. Jojen surfaces from the floor below.
“What’s the paparazzo doing here?” Jojen asks coldly.
“I remember you were upset over the targets I destroyed. I’m here to fulfill my steel debt.”
Jojen turns to Tameri with an incredulous stare.
Tameri shrugs. “He insisted.”
“You do realize the steel debt is literally only about steel? Wood doesn’t count.”
“He’s here to learn,” Tameri says with a giggle. “Far be it for his professor to deny him that right.”
“So, what do I do first?” Shuri asks. “Sort weapons, polish them, or do we skip straight to sharpening?”
Jojen huffs mockingly. “I need you to assist Sparks in sweeping and mopping the classrooms. Organize the students’ desks prior to that, though. Sparks will take rooms 101, 103, and 105.”
Rum slowly bangs his away out of the janitor’s closet, pushing a cart of cleaning supplies around from behind the stairs. He stops at Shuri’s left, his payload smelling of bleach.
“You, Boy Scout –”
“— can handle 102, 104, and 108. If you finish that quickly, then we may have time to visit the smithy today.”
“Are you serious?” Rum beams at the opportunity.
“Get to work if you want to find out. Tameri, a word in my office.”
Shuri watches the two of them step into room 106. The corner office has a pair of doors that meet at a right angle, the split between them parallel to the crease of the wall’s corner. He turns back and nearly flinches when Rum nearly crashes into him with a second cleaning cart.
“It’ll probably go faster if we work together. We can start at 102.”
Shuri takes the reins of his cart. “Sorry, Sparks, but I’ll handle my own.”
“But we might not get to the smithy that way,” Sparks argues.
“That’s not part of my debt. So, stop pretending this is about teamwork and handle your own mess.” Shuri turns his back as he finishes his speech. This is a waste of my time.
“What if I help you with whatever you’re here for?” Rum asks, grinning when Shuri pauses.
Shuri rests the mop and broom on his shoulders as he whirls. “I’m listening.”