Oakwood Academy was alive the next day. Unbeknownst to Sally, only the foolish first-years were so cheerful.
At the opening ceremony, a single lecturer spoke. She didn’t reveal her name and spoke monotonously.
“Our Oakwood is one of the very few schools of its kind in the entire world. We must live up to its name and become the best students, the best fighters we can be. In this cruel world, tranquility doesn’t come from peace alone, but rather from the heroic individuals that dare the impossible. You are the future knights who’ll protect the peace. We will not stop ‘till our safety is guaranteed. If there are always darklings lingering in the shadow, then there will always be those who work to quell it.”
It doesn’t matter what happens to the outside world, even to our own nation. We will not stop ‘till you are capable. If you do not agree, leave the premises immediately.”
Sally tugged at Tom’s shoulder; he looked over and exchanged glances. As the lecturer continued they both listened in restlessness.
“If the school itself crumbles, our great Lodestone falls I will persist until all those who remain are ready to fight for their nation, for the sake of its kind people.” She stopped once again and looked down on a piece of paper.
“Please do not travel alone after dark, although it’s unlikely, we do have past reports of a darkling attack. That is all; dismissed.”
After the opening ceremony, there was half an hour of free time before classes. “So what do you think of it, Tom?” Sally asked.
“I have a few theories. I'm not sure about the darkling threat, although you know anywhere is vulnerable. The rest of the speech was to scare off weaklings, I'm sure they have a plan in case of an emergency. Looking at the academy’s academic record, our entire school life is a test for our capability on the battlefield, be careful.”
“I won’t see you very much, so try not to get bullied without me there.” As always Sally was mocking even at the last moment.
Besides the classes, the school is pretty normal, Tom supposed. The boys’ dormitory was mostly unused so Tom got a room to himself. His first class was pain tolerance. It seemed that boys’ and girls’ were separated exclusively for this class.
Simply put, the students were put alternatively icy and then hot water. It was uncomfortable, but it didn’t quite hurt. Tom saw that the other students writhed in extreme pain. Then he realized that it was painful and he just had an inert tolerance. He almost laughed, to be spared from so much torture.
Sally was in dire straits when it was her time for pain tolerance. As a member of nobility, she never experienced so much pain before. Being hit while fencing was one thing, the pain was sharp and quick, but the class seemed to last forever.
The only thing that let her persevere was her promise to become a knight and save lives.
Tom’s second class was ancient history. He frowned. This year’s curriculum was everything Tom already knew. He took this opportunity to relax and study after pain tolerance class.
At the same time, Sally knew that the two academic classes would be easy for her. She still needed to pay attention though, these classes were a little unlike the normal ones at her old college.
After this, there was a surprisingly long lunch break. Sally and Tom quickly met and sat alone at their own table. A tall, muscular student asked to sit with them; they agreed.
“Eh, my name is Theodore Stein. You can call me Stein.”
Tom and Sally introduced themselves. Tom looked at Stein and then at the rest of the student body. He took note of everyone’s demeanor and manner of speaking, and absolutely no one else was nobility. He noticed that such a good looking fellow would rather sit with him. He must either have personality flaws or no friends at the academy, he thought.
Stein broke the ice by asking a few questions. They were mostly deep and personal, so he got brief answers. Tom figured he was probably planted by the faculty to get information. Once again he realized that he was wrong when he noticed Stein’s awkward timidity. It was unbelievable that a person could be both outgoing and shy.
Stein stuttered his words, always was polite, and was never insulted by Sally’s crude humor. It was clear that he was a loner. Sally and Tom both realized that there was nothing wrong with having him an ally.
Self-defense was probably the least useful class, yet it was the most frustrating to both Tom and Sally. It was a class of mostly self-defense techniques and martial arts. Martial arts had been in decline after the Great Reverse.
It was effective in terms of damage to Darklings, but it wasn’t very wise. Recently, most people would rather carry swords and daggers than fight unarmed. Neither Tom nor Sally were very good at it, and they both suffered humiliation whenever they fought their classmates.
Tom was surprised that such a class would be at Oakwood, most martial arts were lost and whatever remained were assimilations and corruptions of the ones the people of the past practiced.
Darkling anatomy was the most interesting. Really the only class that was important was this one. It was during this class they would learn how to counter the darklings’ fear effect. The teacher explained cryptically.
“There are three ways to achieve this. One, summon the courage with sheer willpower. Two, accept the fear and fight for your own survival. Both of these are easier said than down.”
Someone asked about the third way. The teacher responded, “I'm not liable to teach you, the knights don’t like it.”
This got Tom interested. Of course, rest of the course focused on the many kinds and many abilities of darklings.
The academy’s schedule was meant to initiate socializing. Oddly enough, even after the warning about strolling after dark, the classes started late and ended during dusk. Lunch was too long, and so were the passing periods. Even Sally knew that your social status was an indicator of your confidence and ability to work in a group.
The school had all the wanted facilities: a library, a gymnasium, many sports’ courts, extensive locker rooms, even a teahouse. It was obvious that the school wanted you out after dark; it was probably a test of courage. Tom dismissed his thought and instead decided to enjoy his school life.
He was curious about the third method to withstand fear, so he checked out such books in the library. Sally visited him that day and went on and on about her roommate. She seemed pretty stable, but she left in middle of the school year, Sally explained.
“Year is the wrong word for it. We only spent two terms of four months here.” At this point Tom was frustrated, not at his sister but that he wasn’t finding the answers that he needed.
It had been two weeks since he checked out the books that he found his solution. A suspicious looking book read; Mute all the emotions in your heart. Along with them, so goes your fear. Your heart becomes a blank, nothingness. Be careful, you won’t feel pride or joy, or have a sense of self-preservation. In fact you won’t feel anything at all. The hardest part is returning to normal. One cannot live heartless forever. In order to return to normal, you must-
Rest of the book was in tatters and the text was unreadable. Tom was content; he could learn how to return to normal on his own. Rest of the first “year” went swimmingly.