Spirit Splinters, Part 6

I walked slowly down to the Battle Tactics Classroom, sickles clutched in my trembling hands. The school was up and about now, with people rushing in the hallways, dragging and carrying weapons with them.

"That was awesome!" gushed Elly, a bayonet slung over his shoulder. "Can you believe what I got? A gun and a sword! That's like two in one!"

I wasn't paying attention, being too caught up staring at my sickles in wonder. I only snapped out of it when I smacked into the Battle Tactics door.

Rubbing my head, I pushed it open, then ducked as a boomerang flew over my head and lodged itself in the opposite wall with a loud crunch.

"Miss Remensey!" scolded Mrs. Perrace. "Be careful where you throw your boomerang."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," said the curly-haired girl immediately, hurrying past me to retrieve her weapon. I sighed and stepped up to Mrs. Perrace. "Present. What shall I do?"

"Just go to the back and maybe swing your weapon around for a while, get a feel for it. When everyone has arrived, we'll start the class."

I retreated down the classroom, soon followed by Elly. I held out a sickle and took a tentative swing.
It felt so natural, so right. It was as if I had been doing it for years. I just closed my eyes and felt the weapon, like another limb, almost, cut through the air.

"H-hey! Careful where you swing that thing!"

Embarrassed, I snapped my eyes open, realizing that I had inadvertently backed Elly into the wall. "Sorry..."

"Class!" yelled Mrs Perrace. "Is everyone here? Good. Now, I assume Mr. Owrie has told you about Splace Weapons, them being made from your body to fit you, and all that. I was hoping that we could start practicing with swords first, then move onto basic shooting, but since you've all suddenly got Splace Weapons..." she pursed her lips. "I suppose we'll just have to make do."

She held out a hand, and there was a red flash as a trident materialized in her hand. "One of the neccesities of using a Splace Weapon is putting it it back where it came from, in a few words. Dematerializing your Weapon is fairly easy, once you get the hang of it. All you have to do is imagine it flowing back inside you, becoming part of you once more. Do not laugh, Mister Herald. That is literally all it takes."

I held out my sickles, gritting my teeth and squeezing my eyes shut. Back into you... becoming part of you...
I tried to imagine my sickles just sinking into my body. Returning from whence they came, in poet's words.

I felt as if my body was expanding, like being pumped full of air. Making room. It felt sort of uncomfortable, but I soon got used to it.
I felt my hand close on thin air, my sickles gone, then abruptly close on their handles once more. I'd almost done it...one more try...

"Excellent, Miss Remensey! Almost, Hannele, try one more time... Mister Jaenbert, there's no need to hold your breath when you try dematerializing it; you look as if you're suffocating to death."
She clapped her hands sharply. "Class will continue until every one of your Weapons can emerge and disappear at your will. Keep it up!"

***

I pushed open the door, exhausted. Once or twice was really quite easy, but having to do it constantly, for what seemed like hours, really took the life out of me.

We had been sent to our dormitories for some rest, and I noticed that, indeed, most students were travelling in pairs. That made me wonder where Minoka was, but my worries were soothed when I felt a hand close on mine.

Minoka stood there, looking timidly interested. Behind her back she attempted to hide a monstrous double-bladed axe, which made me stop and stare, aware of how puny my weapons were in comparison to hers.

"It's... your Splace Weapon..." I stuttered. "It's so cool!"

She glanced back. "Oh, this? It's just a hatchet, really. You should see the weapon the Headmistress uses."

"You've seen the Headmistress?" I was curious; I hadn't seen or heard anything about the Headmistress other than Mr. Owrie's quickly-retracted comment. She sounded like quite an interesting person and I was eager to learn more about her.

Minoka was spared from answering when a voice rang out behind me. "Hey guys, was that tough or what? I felt like I was going to pass out."

"Oh, hey," I said, turning to face the panting, perspiring fom of Elly stumbling out the door. "You did pretty well in there. Your bayonet really seems to suit you."

"I'm glad you think so, Hanna, but I'm pretty sure it'll take a long time to get used to," he sighed, mopping his brow with his school tie. But before I could answer, he straightened up. "Is there something going on? The atmosphere seems kind of tense, or is it just me?"

Now that he mentioned it, I did notice that a excited whispering seemed to have struck the hallway. Students were drifting in one direction, making me wonder if there was an assembly or something.

But the assembly room was the other way...

"Come on," I told Minoka and Elly, curious. I grabbed Minoka's hand, elbowing students out of the way as I rushed towards where everyone was heading.

I spotted a large group of students near the large, square doorways to the outside. They were open, and I saw a vague flash of wintry background. There was chilly air blowing inside, and I shivered, wishing that the uniform included a sweater.

As we reached the crowd, I peered over everyone's heads, straining for a glimpse of what everyone was surrounding. The group parted a little for me, and I pushed my way to the front.

There was a woman standing just inside the doors, turning this way and that and smiling at the students. She seemed to be in her late twenties, and was rather plain-looking, dressed in a sensible tight sweater and rough canvas pants. Her skin was deeply tanned, her hair was light brown and cropped just above her ears, and her eyes were a pretty leaf-green color. She carried a large, spiked mace in one hand, and there were an awful lot of guns and knives tucked into her belt, making me wonder if she was...

"Miss Ulnow!" rang a jovial male voice. I jumped, then looked back, seeing Mister Owrie approaching from around the bend of the hallway. The crowd dispersed, and he hurried up to the woman.

"Erica," he panted. "I thought you were coming in a few days."

She smiled. "Well, I came as soon as I got the message." she had a surprisingly deep voice for a woman, and for a moment I wondered if she was even a she. "Griffins do fly fast, you know? Anyway, since my old school was in danger, I wanted to come right away."

"Excuse me," I asked timidly. "Did you say you were Miss Ulnow?"

She turned to me. "Yes, my family originally started the school; they don't own it anymore, though. And you are?"

I flushed. "Ummm, Hanna. I mean, Miss Hannele."

She smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Hannele. Now, Mister Owrie, if I could speak to you about something..."

They moved away down the hall, talking to each other, and I watched them go, feeling a little unsettled, yet happy and relieved. Maybe I could stop worrying all the time, with a professsional vampire hunter around.
Now that I thought about it, didn't Mr. Owrie say something about the Ulnows being a family of vampire hunters in his start-of-the-year speech? They must be the very best in the business if they had enough money to start a school and still hunt vampires in their spare time.

I realized that I wasn't holding Minoka's hand, and looked around, trying to find her. She seemed to have disappeared without me noticing, and I started down the hall before getting tapped on the shoulder and realizing she was right behind me.

"She was pretty cool, wasn't she?" she murmered, clutching my hand as we walked down to the dormitory. I grinned. "She sure was. Did you see her weapon? I mean, yours is cooler, but still..."

She lowered her eyes to the floor. "I think your sickles are neat, Hanna. I wish I had them; my axe is kind of heavy and unwieldly."

"But aren't Splace weapons supposed to be made to fit the wielder? I mean, with everyone telling us that they're part of your body and soul, I'd think that they would take a shape that would be easier for us to use."

She hung her head, if it was possible, even further. "Maybe I'm just not confident enough."

I was conflicted. Part of me, the kind, understanding part, wanted to encourage her to be more confident, to give her a hug and tell her that yes, she could do it. The other part, my cynical, tough side, wanted to slap some sense into her for being unsure and dawdling in her confidence; for not having will to step up and do things. But I would be a hypocrite for accusing her of that.

Uncaring bitch slaps: 3

Hearing a commotion behind me, I flinched as Elly came running down the hallway, bowling over the hall monitor boy en route.
He came to a stop in front of us, gleefully showing us a piece of paper with a signature scribbled on it. "Look! I got the vampire hunter's autograph! Did you see all her weapons? Wasn't she..."

"JAEEENBERT!" snarled the hall monitor, catching up to him. "No running in the halls! We're going to see a teacher about this."

Elly looked as if he was going to mouth off, but then caught sight of the boy's Splace Weapon, a steel-tipped lance pointed right towards him, and thought better of it. "Uh, yes, sir. I'm very sorry, sir. I'll come with you."

Hall Monitor Boy took him firmly by the arm and led him away, leaving us to stare pityingly at his back.
I sheepishly scratched my neck with a sickle. "...Shall we go, then?"

**

I lay down on the bed, sighing with relief as I rested my aching body. Minoka took up residence at my desk, turning back to face me. "So, um, Hanna..."

I gazed at the ceiling. "Mmmm?"

"Do you have any family?"

I sat up. "My mom, my dad, my older brother, and my younger sister. What about you?"

She rocked back on the chair's two legs. "They're gone."

"I'm sorry," I stuttered, not knowing what to say. "I'm really sorry. W-where did you come from?" I asked, immediately changing the subject.

She let out a low sigh. "I'm from the Alespectra region."

"So you're Alespectran? You certainly look it," I commented, looking over her shiny black hair and porcelain-pale skin.

I'd visited Alespectra once and never wished to again, a sentiment shared by my entire family. It had been deathly cold and mountainous, a sharp contrast to the warm weather and sunny savannahs I'd grown up in.

She smiled. "I've been told that quite a lot. Didn't you say you were from Vetayora?"

"Was the dark skin a giveaway?" I asked.

She laughed, coming over to sit by me. "To be honest, you look and act like a walking Vetayoran stereotype. Red haired, tan-skinned, and sarcastic."

I smiled. We seemed to be getting along smoother now, with Minoka's stuttering manner strangely absent. She seemed more at ease now, and for that I was glad.

I leaned back, yawning. Minoka talked contentedly about Alespectra, its squabbles with bordering regions, and what kind of wildlife lived there. Already exhausted by Battle Tactics, my eyes drifted shut. Minoka's voice faded into the background, and then disappeared altogether.

**

When I yanked myself out of slumber, it was already night. The moon shone dimly through my window, casting a faint silvery glow over the room.

Minoka was curled up on the bed beside me, having fallen asleep at some point. I blearily shook her awake. "Minoka, c'mon... Minoka, I need to go to the bathroom. I can't go alone... wake up..."

She started, then stretched. Her glasses were slighty askew and her uniform was wrinkled; she looked so different from the well-groomed, shy Minoka that strode by daylight.
She blinked her almond-shaped eyes open and focused on me. "Coming," she muttered.

The halls were almost deserted-- no wonder, since everyone was probably too scared to go outside their rooms during the night. I saw a few symbols drawn and hammered on doors to keep vampires away, and I made a mental note to make my own when I had the time.

I noted with worry that Erica Ulnow wasn't standing outside the dormitories. What other place would be as important to guard as here?
But Minoka was with me, so I felt marginally more comforted.

Still nervous, I materialized my weapon. "Mino, maybe we should go back," I said, feeling a chill sweep down my spine.

She yawned, still sleepy. "We're almost there, Hanna. It'll just take a minute, don't worry."

Trying to soothe myself, I shook off the feeling and pushed the bathroom door open. It smacked into something just inside the door, and I paused, poking my head in.

And jerked it back half a second later as a gleaming arc of steel cut the air where my head had been.

Hanna's Fright...

...is fully justified after what seemed like a murderous attack, but given the hair-trigger nature of the weaponry and the fearful atmosphere, I wonder whether Hanna would have done the same if she'd been the one seemingly trapped in the lavatory. I suspect all they're running away from is another scared female student. (But not the one with the boomerang.)

A couple of other things: Elly's "two-for-one" excitement may be premature: he wouldn't know so far whether the gun actually works, since unlike the other weapons, there'd have been no way to check whether it would fire during the practice session before everyone arrived.

And of course there's Erica's reference to herself as a griffin, along with her deep voice. Legendary griffins -- lion-eagle hybrids -- can fly, but there's presumably more to it than that.

Eric

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