Mac was in the sheep pen, doing his best to try to rake the muck and the dung around enough to separate the two. Unfortunately, the sheep weren’t very happy with the fact that he was there. They kept trampling over the area he was trying to rake, and when he angrily shooed them away, they panicked and ran around in tight circles, knocking over the feeding trough and the water. Mac growled low in his throat with frustration, and that sent the sheep bleating and running around again. He threw his rake with all his might, making it bounce off the wooden rails of the fence. It almost came back with enough force to hit him in the face, but he wasn’t even paying attention. A furry arm shot out in front of him, catching the rake before it would have broken his nose. He was frozen in shock for a split second, then looked over at who his rescuer was. Xela was staring at him, an eyebrow raised, holding his rake out to him like a peace offering.
“That looked like it would have hurt.” There was a light sense of laughter to her voice, and it made Mac blush. He didn’t like being made to look like an idiot, especially when it was in front of a female. He swallowed hard, trying to think of something to say.
“I’m sure it would have. Thanks for catching it for me.” His tone was gruff, and she frowned slightly, nudging the rake a little closer to him. He snatched it from her paw, and a hurt expression crossed her face, but she made sure that it was gone in an instant. She spun on her heel, as best she could in the mud, and made to walk away. “Did you already finish with the chickens?” Why he’d asked her that, he had no idea. He just wanted to talk to her more, but he had nothing in his mind to start a conversation with. He mentally slapped himself on the forehead for coming up with the question.
“Yeah, actually. I was just going to refill their food.” Mac was privately astounded that she’d finished so quickly, because he was having problems, and judging from the amount of grumbling and curses coming from the other pen, Bluster was having just as hard a time as Mac was. How had Xela gotten her job done so quickly without any problems? He wanted to know so he could apply the same method to his own work and finish the task, but he had a little too much pride at times, and this happened to be one of them. Xela hung around, kicking little rocks at her feet absentmindedly. It was almost like she was waiting for him to say something else, but when there was nothing forthcoming, she turned to go. While all this was happening, Bluster had turned to ask Mac a question, but had kept quiet when he heard their exchange. When Xela turned to go, he cleared his throat and called out to her.
“Hey! Xela! No way you’re done already!” She tossed him a self-satisfied grin and a wink over her shoulder.
“I sure am. I’m heading back to get a quick wash in and some food.” Bluster cursed the ducks he was working with and aimed a half-hearted kick at one of them.
“How did you get done so fast? Didn’t the dumb animals get in the way?” Xela laughed as she headed for Bluster’s pen. Now it was Mac’s turn to grumble. He’d hoped that Xela would yell out her trick so he could use it without having to ask her, and now he’d missed out on that, too. Mac went back to work, thinking that he could just lose himself in his job. It didn’t help, when twenty minutes later, Bluster and Xela emerged from the duck pen, laughing. Bluster caught Mac’s gaze and the smile vanished from his face. He muttered something to Xela, who shrugged and kept walking, while Bluster came back to talk to Mac.
“Done?” Mac spat out. Bluster flinched at the venom in his voice, and it made Mac feel horrible.
“Yeah, actually. Xela helped me out.” That ground Mac’s gears, but he tried to keep the steam from rising from his ears.
“Must be nice.” Bluster frowned at Mac’s words.
“Why didn’t you just ask her to help? I did. She didn’t turn me down. She even told me how she got done so fast. It was pretty genius if you think about it. She put some food in one corner, then cleaned everywhere she could reach. When she needed to get to that corner, she just put a little more food down where she’d cleaned. It really is pretty smart.” Mac’s glare sent Bluster hurriedly away, and Mac was left wondering if his best friend here at the Academy was going to be hanging from Xela’s apron strings. He threw his rake like a spear, letting the end bounce harmlessly off the sheep pen. He had to do something manly in order to get his pride back. He watched till Bluster was out of sight, then looked at the hopeless mess that lay around him in the sheep pen. Checking over both shoulders, and cocking his head to listen for anyone coming by, he went over to the feed bag and rustled it. The sheep turned to him as one, eyes on the food.
Backing up slowly, Mac put a scoop of food in the far corner of the pen, edging his way along the boards so he wouldn’t startle the sheep as he made his escape. He went back to the rake and looked at it like it had gotten him in trouble. It occurred to him then that his throwing the rake against everything around him had probably startled the poor sheep, making it more difficult to control them. Realizing that he had essentially stood in his own way, he grumbled to himself as he got to work with new vigor. With the new method of working, he was finished in mere minutes and quickly headed back to the room he shared with Bluster to get cleaned up. Not that a dust bunny was every really clean, but it was the best that they could do. Dust and dirt seemed to stick to them like magnets, and it was a losing battle. By the time he gained their room, Bluster was less dirty and shabby than he had been, and he was in the main living area, curled up in a chair with a book. He raised an eyebrow at Mac, giving an exaggerated look at the clock. Mac just rolled his eyes and slammed the door behind him.
When he finally calmed down, he lay on his bed, half dressed, with his arms behind his head, thinking back over the course of the day. He knew that he could be stubborn. That was what gave him part of his charm, but today it had backfired on him. He’d almost had to swallow his pride and ask her for help. That was unacceptable. He was at the Academy! A full two years early! That meant that he was one of the best, and one of the toughest males in the dust bunny world. How would it look if he turned to a lowly female and asked her for not only help, but advice? He shook his head, his eyebrows knitting together in anger. No. It didn’t matter that this particular female had gotten into the Academy, too. It just couldn’t be done. He grabbed his trident, not even bothering with a shirt, and marched out of the room. He found a servant who was making their rounds of the classrooms and cleaning.
“Which way to the sparring yard?” The servant didn’t even bother to look up while she pointed down a corridor to his left. Mac strode away without another word. An unexplainable anger had brewed in him suddenly, and he just couldn’t help himself. The best way for him to get rid of that feeling was to lose it on someone sparring. As he passed through the last door to the outdoor yard, he stopped. There was one other person in the sparring yard, which limited his choice of partner. Well, as long as one person was there, it meant he’d have someone with a mind to let his frustration out on instead of just a wooden dummy. He let his feral grin spread slowly across his face, thinking he would take the bunny by surprise, gently at first, then give it all he had. Mac was in a haze, and he didn’t recognize the twin scimitars that were spinning around with such grace until he’d poked his trident towards the back of the bunny.
Xela whirled around, hearing the almost imperceptible steps of another bunny behind her. The trident gave Mac away, even before she looked up to the bunny’s face. She grinned. This was perfect. She’d come here to let her own frustrations out, because she wasn’t sure if she liked Mac or hated him. It was something that she’d been talking to Bluster about while they were cleaning, and her new friend didn’t have much light to shed on the issue. She saw his blatant jab and crossed her blades in an X, spinning the tip of the trident down towards the ground before she leaped between the hilts, catching Mac square in the face with her foot. He reeled backwards, refusing to let go of his weapon. That was the only thing that saved him from falling flat on his behind.
It wasn’t the welcome that Mac had expected, especially once he recognized who his proposed partner was. Mac lost his control. He came after her with everything he had. Sparks flew when the scimitars and trident met, and both bunnies were covered in sweat and panting, but neither one of them would concede to the other. How many hours went by, Mac didn’t know, but he had to admit to himself that he was impressed with how Xela was keeping up with him. He refused to even entertain the idea that she was as good as or even better than he was, but he had to give her some grudging respect for the corded muscles that mixed with grace to dance her blades around him. She’d gotten first blood when she’d slapped his cheek with the flat of the scimitar, drawing a little trickle of blood. She’d looked horrified that she’d actually cut him and apologized profusely. Mac, in his embarrassment, had seen nothing but red and had let out a guttural cry when he spun around and drove his trident in for a low feint, coming up higher to catch her off guard. Mac’s anger grew tenfold, however, when one blade blocked each place, making it so he couldn’t retaliate for the scratch she’d given him. He lost himself in bloodlust.
“Alright, that’s enough!” Bluster’s voice broke in, and his broadsword caught the prongs of the trident before the scimitars could parry. Mac had to force himself to focus on this new face in front of him, and when he did, he lowered his weapon. “You’ve been out here for hours! Give yourself and Xela a break!” The authority that resonated in his voice shocked even Mac. Bluster was a happy go lucky bunny, but right now he was full of steel and fire. Mac’s gaze caught Xela over Bluster’s shoulder. Her fur was matted in places because of the sweat of her exertion, and her chest was heaving from all the power and effort she’d put into their sparring session. When she caught him looking at her, she defiantly raised her chin, letting him know that she wasn’t done with him. That she would never concede. Mac dragged his gaze away to meet his friend’s. He didn’t need any more lectures. He reluctantly took his trident and went back to his room.