1.6: Open Hearts

Hopefully, I get out of this desert soon.

     “Learn what her training regimen consists of”, “She always hits her mark”, “and “First try and first-time Arrowhead Junior Model” are phrases Tameri’s never had attributed to any of her students, especially on a magazine cover. The Tie It In A Bow magazine, the “O” design replaced with a  red reticle amid the black script, shows Pan’s likeness. The blurry background enhances and ensures the focus on the young lady wearing a neon pink jersey with black sleeves. The stencil Arrowhead logo on the front of the jersey is lit by one of Pan’s energy arrows, matching the neon pink logos on the sleeves. The close-up[ photo is an action shot of Pan drawing her bowstring back and preparing to fire her energy arrow. The angle of the picture has the energy arrow covering her mouth, her eyes alert, sharp, and fixed on targets unseen.

     Tameri wants to dive into the article as soon as Pan bequeaths her a copy but they’re already behind schedule. “This is impressive, Pan.” She chooses to say now. “Congratulations.”

     “Thank you.” Pan follows her out of Reddic Union Hall, hot on the professor’s heels, followed by the boys. Pan spins and says, “Sorry, Fain. I would have a copy for you but I wasn’t aware you’d be here beforehand.”

     “It’s okay…” Fain replies.

     “You too, Evic. My bad.”

     “Don’t worry about it. I’m just a guest here, anyway.”

     Tameri frowns upon hearing that, more so when her original students proceed to converse about the magazine. When Neth came to her and the other professors to propose the class exchange, her goal was to continue building on the magic Reddic returned to four Hearts Academy. Overcoming barriers on all sides. The beauty of the friendships she witnessed blossom last year was profound. Even though Shuri and Lauron lived on campus between their freshmen and sophmen years, it wasn’t until this past break that they interacted one-on-one, a connection catalyzed by Nuria inviting Lauron to Piranha BBQ with them.

     The nostalgic trip brings a question to Tameri’s lips as she enters the Ohaida dome in the sparring fields. “By the way, has anyone seen Lauron?”

     Following a loud bang, Tameri pivots, hand immediately grasping her spadroon’s hilt. She lifts her gaze and relaxes. Standing atop one of the black pillars is the blonde swordswoman. She hefts her broadsword from the side of the pillar to her shoulder one-handed. A grin fueled by immense eagerness consumes her demeanor. The three words going down her ruby shirt are “Victory Is MINE”.

     “I know I was early but I didn’t expect everyone else to be tardy. And Cwen told me that you were all about punctuality,” Lauron states. It takes her a second to register the magazines in their hands, able to recognize Pan’s likeness on the covers. She hops down from her one-foot pillar perch. “Or maybe I’m underestimating Pan’s ability to distract people.”

     “Okay, it was on- two times at best,” Pan counters.

     Lauron swaggers over to Pan with a wicked grin. “Got a copy for me? I’d love to read it.”

     “Sorry. They only gave me the six I asked for.”

     Lauron shrugs. “Oh, well.”

     “No worries, you can read mine when I’m done,” Shri says.

     Tameri smiles, happy to see the existing connections among them flourish. At one point in time, her class was on the verge of collapse. Aven alienated his peers, Shuri’s intensity was tough to break down, and Roy sought comrades through Sulublei House, but then, somehow Aurum was able to piece it back together. He and Pan grew close quickly, he broke down Aven’s and Shuri’s defenses with assistance from his sister, and together they lured Roy back into the fold. Ever since, he and Aven have taken on the unofficial lead of their class. And after hearing Aven’s new request and her and Auriel’s disquisition about Aurum, it assures Tameri it will stay that way.

     However, I’d be remised if I didn’t test that theory. Just to be one-hundred percent positive.

     “And we’re moving,” Tameri commands. Her entourage of pupils travel in her wake, weaving through the litany of midnight marble pillars and halting around the perimeter of a sandy ring seven feet in diameter. Tameri marches directly into the sandy arena. She places her copy of Pan’s magazine on a pillar as tall as she is.

     “For the entire school year, I’m only giving you all one real objective to achieve. It’s rather simple but very important. A golden rule for every Ohaida worth the name to abide by. But you have to work your way there. I’ll elaborate on the rule for you to espouse at the end of today’s exercise. And I know you’re gonna love this. Pan, join me in the ring, please.”

     Pan huffs as she carries her recurve bow into the ring with her. “Just so you know, those blurbs on the front weren’t exaggerating.” She crouches and holds her bow across her at an angle, Tameri in the epicenter of her sight. “When I committed to Arrowhead full time, they had their in-house archers drill some skill into me. I. Do. Not. Miss.”

     Tameri removes her spadroon from her sheath quietly. She believes Pan’s boast and will not take the challenge lightly.

     “You know the rules of my power, Pan. There is no risk of harm here. But to give you the right perspective of how to face me, I will tell you that my objective is to relieve you of your bow within one minute. You may use anything at your disposal, excluding your energy arrows.”

     “Wait, but then how’s she gonna fight back?” Lauron asks.

     Pan scoffs. “Yeah, you definitely need to read my article. I’m ready!”

     Tameri tests Pan’s reaction speed with three moves: a lunging thrust, a lateral slash angled upward, and five separate thrusts in a rapid, tight formation. Pan deflects the initial lunge without blinking but the lateral slash knocks her crouched stance off-balance. The five thrusts combat a weaker defense because of it. Allowing Tameri to brush her fingers along the recurve bow’s riser.

     In that instant, she takes a portion of her power and transfers it into Pan’s bow, a tiny cobalt swirl appearing where her fingers made contact.

     The professor presses her advantage with relentless thrusts. When Pan slips in the sand, Tameri seizes the chance to take her bow. That’s when Pan rolls over and kicks Tameri’s hand away, but leaves her bow vulnerable on the right. Tameri pivots off the kick’s momentum and aims her spadroon down between the bow and drawstring. Instead of retreating, Pan swings the bow at Tameri’s face to halt her attack. It passes right through her and into her grasp. The cobalt swirl glows and the bow slips through Pan’s fingers while remaining in Tameri’s possession.

     “Wait., wh- how? I had a tight grip! There’s no way I should’ve lost!” Pan whines.

     “In all fairness, you didn’t lose, Pan. You made it past sixty seconds but IU had a point to make.” She hands the bow back. “You did well to fend me off just now.”

     “Thanks.” She smacks the camouflaged sand out of her hair. “But what was the point?”

     “Look at the front of your bow.”

     Pan finds the cobalt swirl on the riser just as it vanishes. “What was that?”

     “That, Pan, is the mark of my Blessing.”


     “Ooh! Ooh! I know this! May I?” Lauron exclaims brightly.

     “By all means.”

     “Sweet! Okay, pay attention, everyone! You too, Evic, since you might’ve forgotten! Blessing is a rare S’nue talent that less than half of those capable ever achieve!”

     “Let me guess,” Pan says, “you’re one of them?”

     “Nope!” Lauron replies surprisingly calmly. “And neither are you. Okay, I’ll backpedal a bit. S’nue powers come in two camps. Powers that attack the mind and powers that defend the mind.” Lauron unsheathes her broadsword and lifts it straight above her head. She applies a jasmine coating to her incomplete blade to make it whole, bathing everyone in the vernal glow. “Powers like ours that manipulate energy into shapes defend the mind, and by their nature are less powerful than the ones that attack the mind. By applying a Blessing, those who fit into the attack category can apply their powers to inanimate objects. Powers such as levitation, for example.”

     As Lauron’s jasmine light show ends, the energy blade vanishes by way of melting and evaporating.

     “Huh, so that’s your energy’s special animation- melting?” Pan asks.

     “Among other things. What’s yours?”

     Pan faces Tameri. “Are we allowed to damage the pillars at all?”

     “They were tailored to withstand attacks but we can order replacements if necessary,” Tameri says.

     Pan crafts an energy arrow quickly, the pink aura brighter than ever. Curiously, rose sparks dance along the length of the arrow. She crouches and spins conjunctively, stopping on a dime and firing. Her energy arrow blasts apart the one-foot pillar Lauron was perched on previously, then pops apart like a balloon. The archer rises triumphantly.

     “The sparks are my special animation.”

     “Oh, yeah?” Aurum asks.

     “Don’t think too hard about it. The special energy animations don’t follow any rules. They’re random,” Pan retorts.

     Tameri would enlighten them on the inaccuracy of that but Pan’s energy animation has her stymied.

     Those are closely related to one’s greatest fears. The buzzing that comes with mine is because of my fear of surgery. Pan’s being related to electricity…that’s distressing.

     “So, what do Blessings have to do with today’s exercise?” Lauron asks.

     “As you just witnessed, Pan’s bow was able to pass through her and me, and that’s thanks to my Blessing. By applying it to solid objects, I can apply my phantom power to them at my discretion. And because of that, today’s exercise will be a single round of one-on-one duels. Once I’ve applied my Blessing to your weapons, you’ll have five minutes in this ring to land as many phantom hits on your opponent as possible. Each of you may only participate in a single duel per exercise. But if any of you are daring, you may challenge me. However, in that case, one of you will be left out unless everyone here attends again and we can get Koren to participate.”

     “Then I’ll opt out for today,” Pan announces. “Going against you for one minute was enough. But I’ll be ready next week.”

     “Fair enough. So, who would like to go first?”

     Aven sniggers, climbing to his feet swiftly. “As the oldest one here and the only one of legal adult age, I’ll go first. Might as well prove once more I’m the best here.”

     “Oh, yeah? Challenge me and I’ll show you how a sixteen-year-old can whoop you!” Lauron says.

     “No, thanks. I have someone else in mind.” Aven angles his scythe onto his shoulder. “What say you., Rum? Think we can go at it without you having a hissy fit?”

     “Is there a story there?” Lauron asks.

     Aurum stands and powers off his magnetic sash, calling his buster sword into his grasp via lightning-call. “And I won’t have to fight underhanded either.”

     “Definitely a story there.”

     Tameri watches them biker with a sense of disenchantment.

     And I thought their egos might actually need to be manipulated to get here. Well, maybe this means they’ve grown as expected.

     Tameri applies her Blessing to Aven’s scythe as easily as Pan’s bow, the cobalt swirl appearing just underneath the blade. The young man tests it by poking at his palm, the tip penetrating it harmlessly.

     “Huh. Look at that,” he says, his amusement nearly contagious.

     The professor places a hand on Aurum’s buster sword next. She applies the Blessing but suffers from a jarring vision at the same time. She feels the heat applied to the glass disc hanging above the furnace as a hollow black circle and eight stark lines around it are etched into the disc. She withdraws a sweaty palm from the metal. Once her cobalt swirl appears on the left end of Aurum’s guard, she turns her attention to the glass disc embedded in his sword. Unlike the one from the vision, his only has five lines around the hollow circle.

     Does his sword already hold a Blessing? Can one item hold two at a time?

     Aurum does the same palm test as Aven and succeeds at avoiding self-mutilation.

     Asked and answered. Thankfully, the outcome was positive.

     “Are the two of you ready?”

     “Of course.”


     “Then your five minutes start…now!” Tameri announces.

     She looks forward to the match, eager to witness the new moves they’ve mastered, the strategies they’ll employ, and how they’ve developed as mature young men. She frowns when none of that happens to the degree she knows them capable of. While they move like they’ve trained under her, their swordplay is amateurish. They dismiss blocks and parries as all they care for is phantom-striking the other. Tameri stops counting their blows when it becomes apparent they aren’t taking the exercise seriously. She doesn’t stop them only because they’re enjoying themselves.

     Far be it for me to ruin their fun. They’ve not had enough of it on campus as is.

     She allows them ten extra seconds over the five-minute limit before stopping the round.

     “Did you get it all out of your system?” Tameri asks brusquely.

     “Sorry professor, but it looked too funny to not abuse,” Aven says.

     “We’ll take it seriously next time,” Aurum says. “Do you need to do anything special to remove the Blessing?”

     “No, I do not. I only put enough energy in them to last seven minutes. The marks will fade on their own and your swords will be back to normal.”

     “Oh, that’s co- oh, hey, there it is,” Aurum marvels.

     “Who’s the next volunteer?”

     “That’ll be me!” Lauron says. “And since I can’t clown on Aven, I’ll choose…” She scans the remaining students, her eyes sparkling when she locks on the last one in line. “You ducked me all the time last year, so don’t you dare do it again. Let’s go, Evic!”

     Evic sighs deeply but rises anyway. “I should’ve known this was coming when you made your request after mine.”

     “Lauron, Blessing won’t apply to your energy, so you mustn’t use it. Understand? The same goes for you, Evic. I’d like to send you both back to Cwen in one piece.”

     “My S’nue power is of the attack the mind variety, so I’m good,” Evic explains.

     “And I promise not to bisect the boy. Beating him on my first try is enough for me.” She hefts her broadsword to be Blessed with ease.

     Evic slowly unsheathes his longsword from a scabbard to match his snowy hair. He steps into the sandy ring after receiving the Blessing.

     “You may be–”

     Lauron wastes no time kicking up sand in her wake. She goes after Evic with a flurry of wild strikes from all kinds of angles, scoring untold amounts of hits against Evic’s defensive maneuvers. However, Tameri pays close attention to those maneuvers and his demeanor. He calmly and precisely always has his longsword in place t block Lauron’s strikes, and without Tameri’s Blessing in play, he would. Even as wild as Lauron attacks, the frustration she expresses tells Tameri that she’s also aware of that fact. The professor peaks at her seated students and it appears that fact isn’t lost on them either.

     At the end of the duel, Evic sheathes his longsword, not even sweating. “Are you satisfied?”

     Lauron huffs heatedly, no longer holding her broadsword like a piece of paper. “Enjoy this win while you can. I’ll really win next time.”

     Wild as she moves, she’s talented. I don’t feel like she wastes any unnecessary energy and has tons to spare. However, her defeating Evic is another thing entirely. Even from just this singular exchange, I can tell his swordsmanship is superior. The way he moves goes beyond skill. He moves with unparalleled instinct. I don’t even think Aurum or Aven could defeat him in a straight sword fight.

     “Just for the record- Evic, how old are you?” Aven asks.


     “Then maybe I should watch out for Lauron. The younger the better.”

     “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up,” Lauron says.

     “You’re just lucky you already went, Aven or I’d embarrass you in her place,” Shuri says. “Evic isn’t the only fifteen-year-old.”

     “Wait, I thought we were the same age?” Aurum asks.

     “Only for a couple of months. I turned sixteen two weeks ago; I just wanted my speech to sound cooler.”

     Aven rolls his eyes. “Spectacular job.”

     “I thought it was sweet,” Pan says.

     “Of course, you would.”

     “And me,” Aurum adds.

     Aven groans in disgust. “Please, Boyscout, pick somebody already.”

     “And to reiterate, I am still an option,” Tameri says, hoping to goad Shuri to take the chance.

     “Not yet. I want to learn how to fight using your Blessing before I face the master of it.”

     “Very well. Then who will you face?”

     “Roy, you game?”

     “Let’s do it.”

     Tameri Blesses their weapons, all four in total. She doesn’t sweat over the detail that Fain’s been neglected by his new peers, having expected that may happen to begin with, but hopes the tide changes in due time. When she glances at him, he’s just sitting hunched over, quite unenthused.

     The Hugh boy did say they weren’t friends. Perhaps he doesn’t have any among the other new students. Surely, my students can change that.

     Tameri shelves those thoughts for the end of class, recommitting to the exercise at hand. “You have five minutes to land as many hits on the other as you can. That time limit starts now,” Tameri clarifies.

     Shuri kicks things off, holding his swords parallel to the opposite shoulder as he charges Roy. The length of his blades and rotating slashes forces Roy to play evasively at the start. It’s not until Shuri’s blades pierce his body, they both pause and wait for Roy to shift sideways until they’re out of him, that Roy feels more comfortable fighting back. His engagement reminds Tameri of the first year post-Sudita before she learned the true horror of her situation.

     At least none of them have to explore my powers in such a grim environment.

     After taking a phantom slice across his forearms, Shuri retreats for a moment, crosses his words, then leaps at Roy. Instead of angling for a better position to counterattack from, Roy prepares to trade blows. Shuri makes it moot by relinquishing his twin swords, suspending them in midair with Bond of the Blade, and dropping to the ground. He sweeps Roy’s legs, snatches his swords from the air, and stabs them through Roy again, though his arms wobble as he removes them promptly.

     Pan groans as she chokes back vomit.

     Doing this before lunch was a good call after all.

     Tameri witnesses Roy and Shuri adapt quicker and quicker as they continue, and she’s pleased to see them explore Bond of the Blade combat simultaneously. Shuri uses one twin sword for offense and the other for defense. Roy uses his hand claws as close-range projectiles. By the end of their skirmish, Shuri edges out Roy with sixty-one hits to fifty-two.

     “Excellent job, gentlemen. That was a spirited round.”

     “Even though we hesitated half the time?” Shri asks.

     Tameri shakes her head just once. “So far, all of you have adapted to my powers quicker than I did. It took me approximately a year to wrap my mind around what I was capable of. It took another before I was on my way to any semblance of proficiency.”

     “So, what, you’re hoping to turn us into mini–Phantom Slayers?” Aven queries.

     “Phantom Slayers?” Lauron asks.

     “I’ll explain in a moment. Fain, it appears I will be your opponent. And because I am, there will be no need to Bless your katar. Are you comfortable facing me?”

     The young man stands slowly, his apathetic demeanor doing his militant outfit no favors. “I’ll be fine,” he says near a whisper.

     Tameri takes her position in the sand ring’s center, hoisting her spadroon erect. The sides of her face are reflected in the metal, both halves calmly assessing Fain’s opening stance. If not for his demure expression, Tameri would believe him to be a soldier. He bends low, holding the wrist of his hand holding the katar, a vehicle to aid in his precision.

     Ah, that explains the outfit. He’s been influenced by a dojo in west Vanu somewhere. This should be entertaining.

     She takes his measure the same way she did to Pan. Just like the archer, he parries the thrust but her lateral slash slices air just as his katar sinks into her incorporeal flesh twice; at her left shin and biceps. Tameri finds herself temporarily on the backfoot when he closes in. When she parries his next attack, she predicts the next ninety-degree pivot on the balls of his feet and intercepts his counterattack. She keeps him from landing another attack but his unique fighting style intrigues her.

     He’s swift enough to parry me consistently while being able to pivot simultaneously. And while his demeanor may not show it, based on how he moves, he’s strong enough to parry me. His style is peak. However…

     Fain falls onto his back, at a loss for breath.

     His endurance isn’t on that level. Or perhaps he overextended himself to match me. Hard to tell since he never looked stressed until now.

     “It will do you good to pace yourself, young man. These are duels, not battles. The ultimate goal is to learn.”

     Fain sits up once his breathing isn’t a chore. “Sorry. I was taught to always give it one hundred and ten percent at all times. Any less is disrespectful to my opponent.”

     “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad philosophy to follow, but there must come the wisdom to know when to apply it.”

     “Yes, ma’am,” Fain replies softly.

     “You may join your peers, now.”

     Fain takes the spot next to Evic on the end to complete the lineup, creating an every-other pattern for the ones covered in sand, going from him to Lauron to Roy to Pan. Tameri marches up to the lineup and sheathes her spadroon, the guard clicking against the scabbard.

     “Thank you all for participating today. I know that this isn’t an orthodox training method but there is a reason I’ve chosen this format. And while it was to make fun, Aven was close to guessing the golden rule a moment ago.”

   “Of course, he was,” Pan laments.

     “Hey, you can’t all–”

     “Not now, Aven. Anyway, the point of this exercise was to impress upon you to learn how and why your talents impact others beyond showing off or spilling blood. Shuri and Roy, how did it feel using my powers against each other?”

     “Weird. It was like I was crossing a line somehow,” Roy states.

     “Even though I knew I couldn’t hurt him, I was still holding back, afraid that I still might,” Shuri explains.

     “Both responses are reasonable. Those dilemmas, among others, are why I’ve chosen to be a teacher. Learning how dangerous my abilities were and not wanting to live my life that same way, I elected to promote a different lifestyle antithesis to those dark prospects. I use my talents to instruct and guide newer generations of Ohaida to make those same choices. By the end of this school year, I want you all to know what your skills stand for beyond fighting. Or, at the very least, to get you started on that journey.”

     “How do we do that?” Aurum asks.

     “You think of how you want to be viewed by others.” She lifts her copy of Pan’s magazine. “Take Pan’s cover for example. She- hopefully- took great care when answering the questions posed to her since untold youth read this magazine.”

     “I did, I promise. You’ll see,” Pan says.

     Tameri nods. “The golden rule is this- be the Ohaida that others should strive to emulate. Embolden others to improve the strength of their character. Be the voice that rallies their spirits. Accept and respect those in your fold as equals.”

     Tameri is curious to see who interprets her message the closest, especially since she improvises the last line.

     “That’s it. You’re all dismissed.”

     Aven, Roy, and Shuri are the first to leave, taking their weapons and magazines with them. Evic appears to give her speech more thought before he, too, departs. Lauron smirks, something clicking in her mind.

     “I got it, professor. Easy as pie.”

     And just like that, Lauron takes her leave, bruised ego nowhere in sight.

     I think Cwen underestimates her too much. Am I in the same boat?

     Tameri turns around and pretends to be busy smoothing the sand ring’s surface, using the reflections on the pillars to spy on the three remaining. While waiting for Pan to smack more sand out of her hair, Aurum stares quizzically at the magazine. When Pan gives up trying to clear her mane, he nudges her and nods in the direction of Fain’s reflection, the young man looking down at his katar.

     Pan rolls her eyes. “Yeah, sure.”

     Aurum’s reflection moves to the other pillar and extends the magazine to Fain. “Here you go.”

     Fain looks up, his expression finally stricken by something other than timidity. “Oh, no, I can’t take that. It was a gift for you.”

     “And I’m gifting it to you. No worries. Besides, I can get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.”

     “Who you calling a horse?”

     “And if you ever want to give it back, just leave it next to my marker case. Take it.”

     Fain’s surprised mien stays even after he accepts the magazine.

     “Plus, I’m sure you’re hungry after that insane performance. Join us for lunch so I can pick your brain over those moves of yours.”

     Even as Fain smiles, his surprised expression remains. “Uh, sure. Okay.”

     The boys collect Pan on their way out.

     Tameri looks down at the magazine, Pan’s sharp eyes sticking out to her even more now.

     She doesn’t miss, indeed. And neither does, Aurum.

She smooths out the last corner of the ring.

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