“How did you get tangled up in that mess?” asked Mac. His gaze slid back to the giant spider. A cold shiver went down his spine. If he’d taken the time to think about the red hourglass, he might not have joined in the fight. Mac wasn’t a coward by any means. Taking on a spider of that deadliness, alone, and untrained, however, would have given him pause. Had he thought about it. He was glad that he didn’t. All he’d known, was that another bunny had needed help, and he’d been the closest bunny to respond.
“I don’t know. I was coming around the fridge, and I heard a clicking sound. I spun around and it was just on me. I barely had time to raise my weapon in time. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t stopped by. My family would have never known what happened to me, they would have just known that I never showed up at the Academy.” Mac’s ears perked up. The Academy? Was this bunny going there, too? Smiling, he waited for a break in the conversation to ask his own questions. “Thank you.”
“Are you going to the Academy, too?” Mac didn’t want to seem too eager, but he was pretty sure that he’d found a travelling companion. Bluster nodded. “I’m on my way right now. Do you want to travel together? It might make it a little easier to get past things like that spider.” Mac didn’t want it to seem like he was afraid of travelling alone, because he wasn’t. But it wouldn’t be as lonely for him if he had someone to go with him. A nagging voice in his head argued that he wouldn’t even be alone now, if he’d just believed the female bunny who said that she was going, too. Mac shrugged it off. There was no way that a girl could get to the Academy on her own, much less actually get through it. Part of him wanted to tell Bluster about the girl, but he didn’t want to look gullible. Of course the girl had been lying to him. No females were allowed at the Academy! Sighing heavily, he told the nagging voice to shut up.
“Yeah, that sounds great. We shouldn’t have too much longer to the Academy, anyway. Maybe another hour or two.” With that being settled, the boys set out again, putting as much distance between them and the dead spider as possible. Mac was warring with himself about whether he should tell Bluster about the girl. It would make a good conversation starter, but he didn’t want to show his new friend that he was gullible enough to believe what she said. If she was there on the first day, then maybe he’d mention that he met her.
The two bunnies kept their weapons easily accessible as they left the kitchen and started to make their way over the threshold of the living room. They were headed for the couch, because the Stone Giants never moved it, and that was where the Academy had been set up, decades ago. It was early morning now, and the sun was shining through the windows, giving them a little more light to see by. The bunnies stayed quiet for the most part, and if asked, neither of them could say why. Maybe it was that they were shaken up by the fight with the spider, and they thought being as close to silent as possible would prevent further attacks by other pests that lived in this house. Maybe it was because they were exhausted from travelling through the night, and they couldn’t wait for their rooms to be assigned to them so they could sleep. Maybe it was just that they were still little less than strangers to each other, and they were being wary. Whatever the case, the silence was a companionable silence as they finally made it into the shadow of the coffee table, letting the village that had sprung up around the Academy come into view.
“Well, it looks like we made it!” Bluster was excited, and it spread to Mac as the bunnies shared a grin and a high five.
“Man! I can’t wait to get to my room! My paws are killing me!” Mac winced as he took the next step, emphasizing his point. Bluster laughed at him good naturedly, and Mac gave him a playful punch on the arm. The two bunnies headed towards the welcoming village, slower than they had been, but still moving forward.
One of the wonderful things about the village, he’d been told, was that they had little groups of volunteers that stood at the entrance roads and cheered the new recruits to the Academy. It was something that Mac had been secretly hoping for, thinking that it would give him a little extra self-confidence. As he drew even with the welcome banner that spanned the road, loud cheers erupted all around him. A somewhat feral grin spanned his face, and he stood up a little straighter. His chin came up and his chest barreled out. He adopted a swagger that he’d seen one of his older brothers use, thinking that it would make him look tougher, or a little more intimidating. He strolled along the main road, following it towards the massive building that loomed ominously in the back.
The spires and towers glittered in the morning light, and it almost looked like a very delicately spun sugar confection rather than the best institute of fighting that any dust bunny could go to. Looking at the building, a chill of apprehension went through Mac, but he had no idea why. Shrugging it off, he and Bluster went to the front doors. A large brass knocker was hanging on the door, and Mac seized it, thumping it three times. The bunnies stood there, waiting with baited breath. Heavy footsteps sounded on the other side of the door, and Mac tightened his grip on his trident. The door creaked open, and an old, scarred bunny with an eyepatch came into view. He looked down at the youngsters condescendingly.
“I think you’ll find the women’s school is on the other side.” The gruff voice cut Mac, and he hadn’t realized that he’d been so proud to come here. Being so easily dismissed made a fire blaze in his eyes, and he tightened his grip on his weapon until the metal groaned. The scarred bunny went to shut the door. They weren’t even going to be let in! He hadn’t worked this hard and gotten in two years early to be dismissed at the door! Thinking fast, Mac shoved the points of his trident into the gap, preventing the door from closing all the way. Bluster was still standing there, his mouth hanging open in disbelief.
“We didn’t come here for the women’s school. I’m MacIntosh from the Ess clan, and I’m here to start my training.” The power in his voice surprised even him, but the scarred bunny just huffed at him, like he was catering to a child and opened the door, rolling his eyes. Now, Mac was pretty impressed with himself, but he knew that the scarred bunny wasn’t. Well, he could fix that in time. He’d show that bunny that he didn’t belong in the women’s school!
“Come in if you must, and I’ll show you to the main hall.” Bluster still hadn’t been able to say a word, but Mac grabbed him by the front of his armor and pulled him through the doorway before the scarred bunny shut it. They followed him, looking around eagerly, with Mac feeling a cold sweat popping up on his brow. Where that bravery had come from, he didn’t know. Was it even bravery? Or had he just been so angry that the trip was wasted? Either way, he was here now, and he’d been let in. That was all he’d been concerned about. They went through some twists and turns, with different corridors branching off from the main one they were on. Mac did his best to remember their path, but it was a waste. After the fifth turn, he was lost already. The scarred bunny opened a heavy door, standing aside to let them in. Mac was suspicious, being as he hadn’t wanted to let him in at first, but when he peeked around the corner, he saw scores of other dust bunnies milling about, all of them looking new and tired.
“I guess this is where we start making friends,” Bluster said, clapping a paw on Mac’s shoulder. Mac nodded, but he really wasn’t too thrilled about making friends right now. He wanted to get started with his training. Bluster had a big grin on his face as he moved towards the closest bunch of bunnies. Mac hung back a little, watching his new acquaintance start networking. Mac instead, made his way to the wall, finding an empty spot to lean against. He wanted to watch the groups, trying to pick out what he could about them, for when he needed to face them in the arena. Weaknesses often manifested themselves when they thought they could stay hidden. A loud laugh drew Mac’s attention, against his better judgement, and his eyes searched a group of bunnies to the right of him, trying to find who was laughing. His eyes landed on someone familiar, and he froze, his jaw dropping open. It was female bunny he’d seen on the road. Mac shook his head, trying to clear his vision. No. It couldn’t be her. He was just tired, and he needed to rest his eyes, that was all. He put his trident up against the wall and scrubbed at his eyes with his paws, trying to clear any grime and tiredness away from them. When he looked again, he was sure that he wasn’t going to see her. He was wrong. She was still there, a long, brown braid down her back, and a smile on her face.
How could she have gotten in? She wasn’t wearing a serving uniform, she was wearing armor. Did the scarred bunny maybe not recognize that she was a girl? After all, he was working with only one eye. Mac could feel his anger getting the better of him, and before he knew what was happening, he’d snatched his trident back, and started to stride towards her with determined steps. Before he could grab her shoulder and spin her around to face him, her scimitars were out of their sheaths, and up to swing at him. His trident came up, effectively knocking the twin blades away. He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that he’d been hard pressed to make the parry look so easy. She was a female, but she’d had some strength in her swings. That was something that he’d never admit to anyone, other than himself.
“I see that they let you in after all.” Her voice was cold and sharp, making him flinch. The other bunnies who had been in her group quickly backed away, in case this erupted into a little skirmish. Mac didn’t care if it did or not. He was outraged that a mere female had been allowed into the Academy, and he was going to get her kicked out one way or the other.
“They’ll let anyone in it seems. Even girls who put on their daddy’s armor and try to look tough.” Anger flashed in her eyes, and she growled low in her throat. That was the only warning he had before she came in with a low swipe at his knees. Mac parried one blade with the handle of his trident, using the space between the three prongs to trap the other and wrench it out of her paw. She hissed at him, but quickly spun away to pick up her fallen blade. By the time that Mac knew what was going on, the scarred bunny was standing between them, daggers pointed at both their hearts.