Rum taps his arm, his anxiety rising now that he has to wait until after Shuri tests his connection with his twin swords. Shuri was the only one faster than him to volunteer to go first. He’s had ample time to test Tameri’s blue lightning theory, and while he’s eager to show it off, he’s not so sure if it’ll call the others’ weapons to him or not. He doesn’t want to anger his classmates again, Pan especially.
Shuri removes his sheaths from a waist harness similar to Tameri’s, a holster on each side, and he traces his thumbs along the hurricane decals. He takes a moment to regulate his breathing with closed eyes. Rum blinks when Shuri starts to twirl in the middle of an inhalation.
That’s gonna leave him winded. He won’t be able to spin at that speed for long.
As Shuri continues his intense rotation on the balls of his feet, his twin swords detach from the weapon rack and soar straight toward him. Without breaking his momentum, the young man catches both swords effortlessly in their sheaths. He slides them into the holsters on his harness as he comes to a stop.
Pan and Roy applaud him right away, Rum joining in near the end, too busy being in awe of the show. Aven rolls his eyes with a groan.
“Thanks,” he says to them. He faces Tameri after wiping his brow dry. “How was that?”
Professor Tameri looks down at Shuri with a daunting expression, made all the colder framed by her combed straight raven hair. She doesn’t seem impressed or fazed by Shuri’s success or dismayed reaction when she says, “It was decent. Now that you have the connection down, your next objective is to do so without all that extra movement. It has to be second nature, not a performance. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Shuri replies meekly.
Rum narrows his eyes toward Tameri. She didn’t treat him with that attitude the last time they talked. She was the opposite, more understanding, and encouraging than dismissive and intimidating. She almost seems angry. On edge. Like I was with Nuria not long ago.
“Aurum, you also volunteered. Get up here and show me if you truly learned anything from our talk,” Tameri barks.
Oh, yeah, she’s pissed about something.
As Rum steps closer, he asks, “Professor, is everything okay?”
“You have one concern only right now, Aurum. Focus on that,” she says flatly, turning to the weapon rack, hand on the hilt of her spadroon.
She doesn’t think I’ll do any better. Rum shakes his head and extends his hand forward. Joke’s on her.
Rum envisions his arm as one long cable, his fingers the outlet at the end. He briefly overcharges the outlet so that it sparks up. Once the blue sparks dance along his fingertips, he holds the charge consistently.
Come to me, buster sword. Only you!
Just like with the twin blades, two weapons come soaring for Rum. His buster sword…and Aven’s scythe. Rum’s blade arrives first and he hastily tries to form a defense against the scythe. Tameri snatches it out of the air before it can even scratch Rum.
Rum quickly turns and says, “I swear, Aven–”
“Aven,” Tameri utters the name with such a cold inflection that Rum freezes in place, afraid of what may come if he speaks out of turn. The professor carries the scythe over to him. “Move your hand from behind your back.” Aven scowls but does as ordered. His middle and index fingers are pointed upward.
Rum fumes instantly. Here I was ready to prostrate himself before him, and the jerk did that on purpose!
“It was just a joke to get back at him,” Aven says. “I was going to stop it short. Why do you think his much heavier weapon got to him first?”
“You’ll just have to forgive my lack of faith in your skills. The next time you attempt a joke like this, you’re out of here. As a warning, I’m giving you detention for the entire first semester. Do not test me again, Aven.” Tameri throws down his scythe with such force that the clatter makes the unruly teen flinch.
Wow…she even has Aven spooked.
“Step down, Aurum. You’ve passed.”
Rum blinks, and even though he’s still nervous to speak, he says, “Yes, ma’am.” He avoids eye contact as he passes her.
As Tameri calls Roy forward, Pan leans in close to Rum and jostles his side. “Congrats, Rummy. You pulled it off.”
Feeling bashful all of a sudden, he strokes his arm nervously. “I’m just glad I really didn’t call anyone else’s weapons this time.”
“You’re still hung up on that?”
“I mean, I don’t want you guys to think I’m showing off or disrespecting you.”
“Look, showing off is one thing, but we know you’re not the type to disrespect anyone blatantly.” She leans back and leers at Aven. “That’s that dick’s job!”
“Pan,” Tameri calls harshly.
“Sorry, professor.” She turns back to Rum. “So, got any advice for me?”
“Pan,” Tameri calls again.
“What? I didn’t curse that time.”
“No, it’s your turn. Roy managed to call his broad claws. Get up here and show them you won’t be outdone.”
“Yeah,” Aven states. “You were the second-best last time. It would suck to fall all the way to the bottom.”
Rum takes his turn to leer at Aven. The other day he and the dick followed Pan around as she recorded a vlog of her walking around campus. When she went to edit it, the two of them split up to practice their BOTB. He knows she didn’t have enough time to practice. Rum looks back to Pan who pleads for help with her eyes. Even though Tameri’s attitude makes it feel like he’s marching over a frozen lake, he doesn’t hesitate to cross to Pan.
“Aurum, return to your seat,” the professor orders.
“One second, professor,” Rum says to her. To Pan, he says, “The trick I used is my Sulublei power. It’s something my sword and I share exclusively. Try your energy arrows and see if that works.”
Pan nods and turns to her bow, the last remaining weapon on the rack. She mirrors Rum’s pose, her right hand outstretched. A pink glimmer surrounds her hand, little pink arrowheads extending from her fingertips. When her bow doesn’t come as swiftly as the boys’ weapons did for their attempts, her confidence takes a heavy blow. Tameri’s silent and cold stare, alongside Aven’s infuriating badgering, keep the young lady distracted. Near the tail end of her five-minute session, her arm starts to wobble. She repeatedly thrusts her hand toward her recurve bow, hoping the desperation may trigger something.
“Sit down, Pan,” Tameri orders, failing to address the tears on her face.
“What’d I tell you,” Aven says. “It was beginner’s luck.”
“Shut up!” Pan shouts as she faces him, tears flying off her cheeks. She sees all the looks of pity aimed at her, but it’s not until she sees it on Rum that she sucks in a breath and runs away from the sparring stage.
“Pan, come back here,” Tameri calls after her.
Rum stands with his back to Tameri, not wanting to direct his fury at her out of respect. “Class is over, professor. It’s clear nobody is in the mood anymore.”
“What do you–”
Rum cuts her off by slicing his arm to the side, pointing to Shuri and Roy, both looking conflicted, floating between sympathy and antipathy, the latter aimed at Aven and Tameri. “As the Ohaida sophman class representative, I hereby exercise my right to dismiss class early. Let’s go.” Rum waits until the other boys leave to follow after them. He stops at the base of the stage steps, then turns to give Tameri full view of his frustration.
“I don’t know what set you off, but it doesn’t matter. Get your act together, or I’ll take my concerns to Headmaster Neth.” With his mind spoken, Rum turns and leaves Tameri on the stage with nothing but ice to stand on.
Defeat was something she was born to prevent, to avoid, to be immune to. Her doctors taught her that motto in the worst ways imaginable. When she led the escape from that accursed compound, leaving behind a burning building, she’d hoped to forge a new life. At that time, she’d hoped to do it alone. Others would only see her for their own gain. Even her doctors. Her parents.
Tameri couldn’t bear the thought of leaving their bodies to burn, so she lugged them with her as long as she could. One young girl traveling a ravine, even with her skills, was no defense. When animals scented their bodies and came with empty stomachs, Tameri could barely protect herself, much less their bodies. It took one determined pack of wolves to abscond with most of her parents’ bodies, and almost a piece of Tameri herself. If Jojen hadn’t stubbornly tracked her despite her objections, her right leg would be gone.
The only solid piece she salvaged from her parents’ corpses was a patella each. She dumped the rest into a nearby river. In time, Jojen wore down her pride and brought her back to join the other OAS refugees. The people looked up to Tameri, young or not, being the only one of them brave enough to instigate an escape. When they founded Vanis Town, they declared her the original mayor.
That town became her saving grace. She now had a reason to live by her parents’ motto. As long as she lived, she would prevent, avoid, and make Vanis Town immune to defeat. For most of her life thus far, she’d succeeded effortlessly. When asked to become a professor at Four Hearts Academy, she’d made a deal that throughout her tenure that Vanis Town would always have a spot in her curriculum. She’d joined her two homes, adding Four Hearts Academy to her “no defeat” promise.
Tameri sits alone in the teacher’s lounge, staring at her reflection in her hot cup of tea, embracing the burning of her palms. Her cold eyes stare back at her and she feels mortified that that’s what she showed her students today.
Aurum was right to end the class. I’ve been a complete fool!
Tameri shuts her eyes and grips her boiling cup tighter, hoping to punish herself for bringing her issues to the classroom.
I can protect my students from the likes of Stark and Liamria all I want, but if I can’t protect them from myself, then perhaps I don’t belong–
Tameri wants to scream when her cup of tea is knocked from her hands, but her throat seizes and locks the sound in tight, forcing her into a coughing spell. The spilled tea steams as it pools around the shattered porcelain. As the steam rises, it thaws Tameri’s frosty disposition and she melts into one of shame. It hits her so hard that she can’t even look Professor Marmagar in his face.
He barks gruffly before kneeling down and lifting her face by her chin. In his eyes, she sees the same wisdom, courage, and support Jojen provided all those years ago.
When the wolves had attacked her after scavenging her parents’ corpses clean, she’d wanted nothing more than to prove them wrong. She wanted to be defeated that day. When the alpha wolf went for her leg, it would’ve been simple to use her intangibility and let it pass through her body, but she saw no reason not to die alongside her parents, ending their absurd dream then and there. The sound Jojen’s shield made when it cracked the wolf’s skull was her wake-up call.
Marmagar barks gruffly when Tameri tries to look away. He makes three signs; one with both his hands lowering as if placing an object down, the next his left hand signaling a halt, and the third with that same hand sliding his middle and index fingers in a horizontal line. He then points to his own fiery gaze repeatedly, only stopping when Tameri nods. He makes the halt signal again, followed by a raised finger next to his head.
Tameri grins wanly. “Loud and clear, dear.”
Marmagar goes to a nearby closet and withdraws a broom, mop, dustpan, and first aid kit. He holds out the first three to her only.
“Yes, yes, I have a mess to clean up.” She takes the cleaning tools from him.
I just hope that they let me. If I were them, I know I wouldn’t.