Tameri is tickled pink as Rum becomes reacquainted with the teacher’s lounge. All he sees is the damage and disrepair, including the broken right front leg on one of the gray couches, the stove and its one missing range burner, the burnt wallpaper between the wall and stove, the broken freezer handle, the busted wood panel on the floor, and one of the couch cushions a deflated lump. The history behind these damages is lost on him, but Tameri can recall each incident clearly. As the most senior faculty member, she was present for each and every bit of destruction.
The burn on the wall was made when Professor Cwen attempted to cook a welcome meal, which was odd because she was the one being welcomed. It turned out that she was not as talented a culinary artist as she thought. Wow, that was back before even Lynald joined us. Time really flies.
However, the kitchen damages were the results of actions she and Marmagar took shortly after Professor Zathony’s induction. At that time, their confusion over his surprise hiring and his abrasive attitude did not make for a smooth transition. He made one too many offensive remarks about Marmagar’s throat scar, and while Tameri snapped off part of the freezer handle Marmagar’s hammer broke the floorboard.
Tameri snorts. “He learned not to make that mistake again,” Tameri mumbles.
“What was that?” Rum says as he makes sure to sit on the opposite end of the busted leg, even with a thick book there as a prop. He places his buster sword across the coffee table before him.
“Just feeling nostalgic,” she answers., sitting on the side with the busted leg. She even leans her spadroon against the arm. “So, to answer your other question, the easy answer is no. There is nothing wrong with you.”
“You brought me here for an easy answer?” Rum asks incredulously.
“Of course not,” she replies plainly. “I’ve learned by now there are no easy answers for you. Or from you.”
Rum’s attitude deflates as quickly as it rose. “Yeah…and I’m guessing you need some for this?”
“No. Well, no new answers. I just need you to answer some review questions so I can prove to you you’re perfectly fine.”
“How did you come by your buster sword? How did you feel the moment you touched it? Do you recall excess heartbeats?”
“Um, okay, I remember now. Six years ago, my mom returned home with it and said it was made with me in mind. I puked right after grabbing it for the first time, most likely from eating my sister’s cooking.”
Sounds like another thing she and Cwen have in common.
“And because of that incident, along with the fact Bond of the Blade was something I wasn’t aware of at the time, I’m not sure if I did or not.”
“Do you remember what you asked me back then?”
“I asked if there was a way to test it.”
“There is, and that’s what we did today. And I must say, I’m very impressed. First tries never go so well.”
“But I didn’t mean to call everyone’s weapons. I–”
Tameri silences him by gingerly placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Aurum. I know you meant no offense, as do your classmates. You heard what Pan said, right?”
“Yeah…but what if it happens again? I don’t want them to think I’m just showing off or deliberately offending them.”
“Then you have to hurry and discover your connection with your buster sword. I cannot give you any leeway in the coming exercises. It wouldn’t be fair to Pan and the others. Also, to avoid creating tension between you and your peers, I’d have to exclude you from participation, until you nail the connection, at least.”
I will not make the same mistakes as last year. If I let him and Aven butt heads again, or worse, him and Pan, I’ll have failed them all over again. Besides, she looks at Rum with a warm gaze, I have faith it won’t take him long. She watches him work through the problem in his head already. When he lifts his head, she expects a confident demeanor, but his countenance features guilt instead.
“Professor…what if this wasn’t my first try?”
Tameri narrows her eyes curiously. “Have you summoned your sword to you before?”
“Our mother wanted to test Nuria and I before we came back to FHA, and during the test, there was a moment when I thought Nuria threw my sword at me. She confirmed after that she didn’t, and since she would’ve bragged about it since it helped us pass, I believed her. But somehow, my buster sword still came to me. That had to be BOTB, right?”
Tameri grows solemn as she nods. “Without a doubt. Are you sure that was your first time calling your weapon to you?”
“What was different between then and today? Any difference could prove key. Were you angry? Confident? Perhaps the stress of the test awakened the ability briefly?”
“It could be any of those. Nuria and I started that day mad at each other. And right before we passed the test, I was trying really hard to get my hands on my mom.” He adds, “It was a teamwork exercise to pin our mother,” when Tameri raises an eyebrow inquisitively.
“I was getting so desperate that my blue lightning flared up.”
“Like back when you sparred against Aven?”
“No, this was a conscious activation. I kept it around just my fists. I was hoping a small shock would slow her down enough to pin down. That was when my sword flew into my grasp out of nowhere.”
“Your blue electricity has never destroyed your buster sword, has it? Not like it did to the sparring sword at Jojen’s Dojo?”
“I have to hand it to your mother, then. She went and commissioned a sword that could withstand your electric powers. And now, thanks to that information, alongside your delayed Sudita from last year, I believe we’ve discovered the connection.”
“Are you saying–”
“I believe your lightning is your connection. I mean, just think about it. After your delayed Sudita, don’t you think it odd that your road sickness became less of an issue? The day we faced that assassin, you didn’t vomit once on the way back to campus.” She sees the wheels start to turn, but she doesn’t want him to dwell on that attack, so she keeps talking. “You said you vomited the second you touched your buster sword. I believe your latent electrical powers responded during that moment and that’s what forced you to vomit, not your sister’s cooking.”
“Can we test it really quick?” Rum asks excitedly.
“I don’t see why not.” Tameri rises with Aurum. She uses her BOTB to have her spadroon levitate into her hand. She grabs the doorknob, eager to see what Aurum can do, when an alarm sounds from her back pocket. Her mood does a complete one-eighty from ebullience to despondency. She looks at her phone screen, directing all the intensity of her new mood there.
“Is everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah, just bummed we’ll have to reschedule the test,” Tameri says.
“No problem,” Rum replies. “Like you said, no preferential treatment. I’ll figure it out on my own. Thanks for the advice, though. See you on Motte!”
Professor Tameri smiles at the retreating back of the young Ohaida, though his high spirits are no longer infectious. She peers down at her phone as the alarm repeats, the mom attached to it reads: “Escort Stark Off-Campus!”
The atmosphere inside the jeep is cold and quiet. The radio is off, but the purring of the engine and the whirring of the a/c to chase off the summer heat only add to the tension rolling off the two women seated side-by-side. Tameri sits behind the wheel, her irate attitude constantly moving between the road and Stark. The professor groans as they pass the road leading to Vanis Town.
“When are you going to let it go?” Stark asks, a definite bite in her tone.
“Excuse you?” Tameri fires back.
“It’s been months, Tameri. You know I had nothing to do with my mother’s attack. Your aggression toward me is senseless.”
“Sensel–” Tameri almost slams on the breaks. No, today will not be a reset. Not for Stark. “You call assassination attempts on my students and the destruction of my hometown senseless?”
“No, both were terrible events. However, neither of which I had a hand in.” Stark clenches her fists. “I only failed to prevent them. You said we shared in that failure, remember?”
“You’ve been investigating your mother for months now and you’ve come up with nothing. Do we share that failure as well?”
Stark finally makes eye contact with Tameri. “You need to drop this protest against me. For the students’ sakes. You cut into Nuria’s time in the archives when you rushed us out of there. You don’t need to waste time escorting me to and from the campus on my allotted days to be there. Focus on teaching.”
“I am focused on teaching. You and your mother will not catch me off guard again. I refuse to put any of my students at risk again!”
“So, what, only your judgment matters? Because I have apologized to everyone involved, prostrated myself before parents, and have cut my time on campus voluntarily.”
“That doesn’t change what happened.”
“I’m well aware of that.”
“Then you know my aggression isn’t senseless.”
Stark shakes her head. “Tell me this, could you be doing something more constructive right now than babysitting me?”
Aurum’s face soars to the front of her mind, smashing right through her daydream of impaling Liamria through the heart.
“I’ll take your silence as a yes,” Stark states.
“My teaching schedule has less than nothing to do with you, so mind your own business.”
“That’s all I’m asking you to do.”
The remainder of the drive is silent. Tameri parks outside of Stark’s white picket fence. Juvenile and hate messages stain the fence on all sides. Tameri looks at one that says “Drown yourself!” and is appalled that it is far from the worst.
“Perhaps you’d like to add something,” Stark says.
Tameri leers crossly at the officer. “Why haven’t you removed them?”
“Because until I capture my mother, I need all the motivation I can get. And since I don’t want the students to remember her, I keep these to remind myself of all the damage she’s done and will continue to cause while she’s free.” Stark traces her fingers along a message that says “Daughter of the DEVIL!”
“I pretended for years I had nothing to do with her. I’m done pretending now!” Stark slams the fence gate behind her and storms into her home without looking back. Tameri glares at her backside the entire way.
Tameri combs her raven curls straight in the mirror, her frosty gaze clashing with itself. She strips out of her dark blouse and jeans after removing her shin-high boots. Her spadroon fits nice and snug on a pair of hooks suspending it above a pair of locked coolers. Layers of ice trap the legs of the coolers to the top of the bureau.
The frigid professor lifts a set of keys from her bra. She uses the one with an “H” painted on it to open the cooler on the right. The cooler on the left unlocks by command of the key with a “P” on it. She stares inside the coolers and her mood plummets deeper into the ocean of rage inside of her.
“Senseless aggression, my ass!”