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Darren leaned against the back wall of the dojo and watched as Wayne entered. He tapped Maxwell with a hand, whispering, "I thought Volodar preferred not forcing his students into remedial activities?"

"He doesn't," Maxwell elbowed Darren's stomach and smirked. "Remember, you are not in Volodar's advanced class. Roland and I are here for a singular reason." Maxwell craned his neck as he studied Wayne's motions. "I'm not sure he'll ever tap you for those lessons."

"You're probably right." Darren folded his arms over his chest and groaned. "Not that I care about that man's approval, but should I assume we're gathered to establish Wayne's baseline."

Roland draped one arm around Darren's shoulder and his other across Maxwell's. With a covert look at the other students, he pulled them in closer. "Without a doubt, otherwise, Maxwell and I wouldn't have been dragged into this class."

Maxwell peeled Roland's limb off and smirked. "Even if Volodar presented me with the opportunity to put Wayne into his place, I'm not sure I'd take it."

"Relax, we won't be the first to fight our newest student. Remember, this is Wayne's assessment process. There's a chance he's a better fighter than either of you believe."

Volodar strode into the room and headed for Wayne.

Darren grabbed Roland's wrist, forcing his hand into a fist and extracted a single finger to point at Volodar and Wayne. "Is that a good or bad omen?"

"Did he ever spend any quality time with you?"

"No, Volodar tries to forget that I exist." With a sigh, Darren released Roland and repositioned his friend. "What's Wayne like as a roommate?"

"Don't overlook Wayne's arrogance during that first meal."

Darren's nose scrunched up as Wayne and Volodar started laughing. He inhaled as his head fell backward, and he studied the ceiling. "Yes, I recall how arrogant he is."

"Fortunately, we won't have to deal with him all that often." Roland clapped Darren's shoulder, as he walked to his spot.

Maxwell slumped against the wall, grumbling at Roland's example. "We should line up."

"Yeah, I know," Darren muttered. He took his place behind Maxwell as Wayne trailed their teacher to the front of the dojo and faced the class.

Volodar sauntered to Roland and then paced before Maxwell, Semil, and Elayne. He spun about and examined each of his students. "I'd like to officially welcome the Academy's newest pupil, but before we continue, we need to know where Wayne stands as a fighter. Darren come here for a quick sparring match."

Darren glanced to his right, but Norry lifted his shoulder and continued to stare into Roland's skull. He clenched his fists and hustled to stand on the opposite side of the room and inclined his head to Wayne.

With a friendly grin, Wayne returned the gesture.

Volodar leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "Start whenever you're ready."

Without waiting, Wayne leapt forward and threw a punch at Darren's face. As the fist approached, Darren ducked under the attack and retaliated with a series of jabs to Wayne's stomach. As Wayne retreated, Darren pressed his advantage with a right hook catching Wayne's jaw and snapping the arrogant boy's head. Wayne turned his motion into a diving roll, and he rubbed his mouth. His eyes narrowed as he launched into another assault.

Darren blocked the first barrage of punches and slipped under the last one, punching Wayne's side. As his back arched, Darren prepared to throw a second strike, but Volodar grabbed his arm and stepped between the two students. "You need a lot of the fundamentals, Wayne."

"I told you I've never been in a fight." Wayne rubbed where Darren struck him and glared at Volodar.

The teacher shoved Darren towards his spot. "This was not a license for you to beat the newest member of the Academy."

"Darren did exactly what you ordered him to do," Wayne said, striding into position in front of the other students. "You told him to gauge my fighting level, but that was after I explained that I've never thrown a punch in my life."

"Watch your tone!" Volodar straightened and lifted a finger as his lips curled into a snarl. "I don't care who your parents are. You will show me the respect that I'm due."

"As soon as you display some for your students," Wayne quipped.

"You insolent..."

Wayne's eyes narrowed, silencing Volodar. "It's obvious you despise Darren, despite his competence in this dojo." Wayne crossed the classroom, shoving a finger into Volodar's chest. "And while my parent's influence doesn't frighten you, I promise you that Leodor deeply cares about my lineage. So, if you'd prefer to keep your position here, I expect you to show your students the recognition they are due."

Volodar's lips constricted as veins bulged, nostrils flared, and his face took on a reddish hue. "Class dismissed." Without another word, he spun on his heels and stormed out of the dojo, slamming the door.

Maxwell turned his head and nudged Darren's stomach with his elbow. "Hopefully, the snob's taken your place on Volodar's list."

"I'll believe that when it happens." Darren crossed the room and offered Wayne his hand. "Thanks for helping me with Volodar."

Wayne looked down his nose at Darren but reluctantly shook his hand. "I did not do that for you. It's blatantly obvious Volodar doesn't enjoy your presence." Wayne spun around and picked up his bag. "I am in no mood to assume that position."

"Volodar will check with Leodor about that claim of yours," Roland declared, tossing his pack over his shoulder.

"I'm counting on it." Wayne turned and stalked towards the exit. "I suppose I'll see you all at the next lesson."

Maxwell shoved Darren's back. "Don't give him another thought. He's not interested in being your friend. All he wants is someone to manipulate."

"I know," Darren answered as he grabbed his bag. "Let's hit up the cafeteria before we head to our class with Imryll."

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