Mac didn’t get very far before the sound of paws on stone made him turn to look behind him. He was expecting to see one of the instructors, coming to threaten to kick him out for the behavior he’d been exhibiting lately. He smiled when he saw that it was only Bluster.
“Hey! Thanks for the helping hand back there. I was really stuck in a trance or something.” His easy smile wasn’t returned, and Mac frowned.
“What’s going on with you?
She has just as much right to be here as you do, and if she has to watch her back every day to make sure that you aren’t going to spear her, then I’m going to start playing bodyguard. She deserves better than that, and to be honest, I thought better of you.” Mac wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, but he didn’t get a chance to tell his friend that, because Bluster went straight into his room and slammed the door behind him. Anger surged through Mac. Didn’t Bluster understand that Xela didn’t belong here? She was a girl! Girls were meant to be at home, taking care of the babies and keeping the home in a tidy array. She had no business being here with the men, especially since it looked like she was very well trained. Mac had to grudgingly admit that she’d kept up with him during their sparring match, and even though he didn’t like it, she’d had him pressed pretty hard a few times. Mac stared at Bluster’s door, then went to his room. He didn’t even bother to shower or get himself cleaned up. He just didn’t care.
Meanwhile, Xela limped to her own room. She was grateful that Bluster had found them, because she wasn’t sure how much longer she could have kept up with Mac. He was a very exceptional bunny, and his strength seemed to double the longer he fought. She winced as she went to get cleaned up. She wanted nothing to remind her of the fight that she’d just been. Luckily, she had no bruises or cuts, just sore muscles, and that she could hide. The hot water hit her fur, and she winced as it massaged away her aches and pains. She was glad that no one was around her, because there were tears mixing in with the water that trickled down her body. How could she be taken seriously, when Mac was out to get her at every turn? Maybe she could devise some plan to stay away from him for the remainder of her time at the Academy. Xela limped to her bed and eased herself into it. She couldn’t remember the last time that she’d been forced to use every trick in her book just to get through a fight. It showed her that she needed to write a few more chapters to that book, or she would be down and out before the fight really started. Maybe she could talk to Bluster. He seemed like he was accepting of her presence, and maybe she could learn a few things from him that would help her the next time that Mac decided to go crazy and try to kill her.
The next morning, Mac woke up sore and stiff, but he couldn’t remember why. He’d sparred for longer than that before, and against much stronger opponents. Why, then, was he hurting so badly? He didn’t want to chalk it up to Xela’s pushing him so hard, because he was being stubborn and didn’t want to give her that much credit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have anything else that he could blame it on, so he had to give her some grudging respect. He made his way to the common area, but Bluster was already gone. Frowning, Mac decided he was going to breakfast alone. Other bunnies joined him as he walked down the long hallway, but he didn’t recognize any of them. He followed the throng and was guided into the large room that orientation had been in. Now, it was covered in long trestle tables, with lots of bunnies stuffing their faces. The aroma of the food hit Mac and made his stomach growl. He made his way to an empty seat, keeping his eyes peeled for his friend. When he finally found Bluster, his jaw dropped open. He was sitting with Xela and another bunny that he hadn’t seen before. This bunny was solid white with red eyes, and he gave Mac a little shiver of apprehension. Mac didn’t know what exactly it was about this bunny, but he just felt like something was off. He wanted to sit with his friend, but he refused to go near the female bunny again unless he absolutely had to. Instead, he made his way over to the plates and the buffet, heaped piles of food on his plate, then found an empty seat by himself. Mac wasn’t here to make friends. He was here for his education, and that was all. Sure, he’d taken a liking to Bluster from the very beginning, but if he was going to choose Xela’s company over Mac’s, then he didn’t need a friend.
The one eyed bunny came into the room, and all conversation died. He wasn’t standing on the stage, or even starting a speech. He was just walking around the room, looking over the bunnies who were now silently eating their breakfast, eyes downcast. Mac watched him as much as he could, but any time the bunny’s eyes slid his way, Mac became very interested in his goose eggs. Mac wasn’t watching when the old bunny left, but when conversation slowly started up again, he knew that it was safe. Part of him got really nervous when the old bunny was around, and he wasn’t too proud to admit that he was afraid of getting thrown out if he didn’t behave properly. He’d already gotten on the bunny’s bad side on the first day, and it wasn’t something he wanted to repeat. The rest of breakfast went by without any fanfare, and the bunnies all took their plates to the big bins set up on the side of the room for dirty dishes. They filed out of the hall, and Mac put himself in a spot in the throng that was far away from Xela and Bluster, who was still practically joined at the hip. Mac growled under his breath but put the pair out of his mind.
The classroom they came to was set up with long benches, and Mac sat down at one that was almost completely full, making it impossible for his friend to sit with him, that was, if he could let go of Xela’s apron strings long enough. He ignored them as they went to another bench together. The white bunny that was with them, however, came and sat down in the only available place on Mac’s bench. He leaned forward and gave Mac an almost feral grin. Mac wanted to recoil. The bunny’s teeth had been sharpened into points, giving him a look of an otherworldly monster. It sent a shiver down Mac’s spine.
“Hey there. Name’s Tiger.” Mac reluctantly stuck out his paw to shake, but the bunny didn’t take it. Mac could feel his cheeks turning red with embarrassment. Anyone who was watching would be able to see that he’d been slighted. He wore a breastplate that had a shovel and what looked like a trident crossed over it. Mac stared at the crest, not fully comprehending. This crest meant that Tiger was from the Keller Clan. They lived in the basement and usually kept to themselves, but they had quite a few more problems to deal with, including animals that snuck in from the outside world. It was one of the most dangerous places to live, and that resulted in them being almost wiped out. It was very rare indeed to see a bunny from the Keller Clan. Tiger had a crossbow slung across his back, and it was carved in designs of creatures that they would encounter more regularly than the other clans. Mac found himself staring in awe at Tiger, then shook himself in order to break his trance. Not only had he been slighted when Tiger didn’t shake his paw, now he felt like a star struck teenager, staring at something he never thought he’d see.
A bunny walked in, and everyone’s attention went to the front of the room. It wasn’t the one eyed bunny, but it was easy to see this was an instructor. He wore no crest, just a brown robe with a sword belted over it. He looked like a monk with a weapon, and it was strange for Mac to see a grown male bunny without armor on.
“Good morning. I’m Regis, and I’ll be your instructor for the time you spend in the Academy. You may like me and you may hate me, but the fact is, we’re in this together, and that’s not going to change. You’re going to learn to bond with the other bunnies in here, and they will become like family to you. You will protect them, and you will trust them with your life.” Mac scoffed at that, but he did it quietly enough that no one heard him. “Each and every one of them.” Regis looked meaningfully into the faces of each of the bunnies. Mac found himself thinking that it was a fat chance that he would trust Xela with his life. Then again, if he got lucky, Xela would fail out of the academy long before they started going to the garden to do their practice patrols. He smiled to himself and listened as Regis began a short introduction of each of the clans, asking bunnies from each clan to stand. Mac stood when his clan was called, and he was a little surprised to see that he was the only one. Tiger, likewise was the only one from his clan, but that was to be expected because it was one the smallest clans in the hierarchy.
The rest of the morning was spent learning the values and morals of a warrior, and Mac found himself nodding off a few times, always to kick himself awake. Once, Tiger assisted him in stomping down on his paw, and it was all Mac could do to bite down on his cry of protest. Tiger just smiled at him with those strange, pointed teeth, looking like a monster that parents told their children about to keep them in line. Mac determined to make sure that he was nowhere near Tiger the next day, and did his best to stay awake during the dry history lesson on the world of the dust bunnies. Regis wasn’t that horrible, he thought, he just had a bit of a dry voice and he could get pretty longwinded when he wanted to. There were a few jokes thrown in to alleviate the seriousness of everything, but the most they could manage as a class were a few polite chuckles. Regis took it all in stride, however, and didn’t look put out that his jokes didn’t get the overwhelming response he was hoping for. That made Mac wonder if he used the same jokes on every group that came through the Academy. He made a mental note to ask his father about some of them when he got back home.
By the time they broke for lunch, Mac thought he’d been talked to death. He wasn’t one for a lot of classroom knowledge. He preferred hand to hand combat and learning experiences that were practical. He hoped that they would break out weapons after the midday meal. He wasn’t the only one who looked like they had just woken up, and a few bleary eyed bunnies stumbled along in the throng, bumping into walls and other bunnies while they struggled to wake themselves up.