"Well," the old Scorchio began, frowning, "here we are again, young lady."
Brynn hung her head in shame. "Yeah," she mumbled, purposefully avoiding his gaze.
It was, as he'd mentioned, not the first time the orange cub was summoned to his office for disciplinary reasons... and something told him she'd be back again before long. He knew why she'd been sent there; it was the same reason in every instance, and so, without having to ask, he understood she'd been fighting.
... And winning, probably, but that was beside the point. Disorderly conduct was unbecoming of a young guard-to-be, and physical violence towards her peers was entirely unacceptable. Whatever they'd done to incite her anger, those boys would one day be her brothers-in-arms. A unit of guards was only effective if, when confronted with a threat, they presented a united front. One weak link in the chain might result in a lot of trouble, and as Brightvale's guards were the kingdom's primary defense, weakness was something they couldn't afford.
"Have you anything to say for yourself?" he asked, brushing a loose red scale from his arm.
The Kougress grimaced; there were tears bubbling up at the corners of her eyes. "They were picking on me again! They told me I couldn't be in the guard because I'm a girl, and kept saying girls should go play with dolls and stuff," she clenched both fists, "I told them to shut their mouths, and when they didn't, I hit them."
"And scratched them," the old guard added. "We are not wild animals; we use swords and shields, not claws, and never without just cause."
"I know," Brynn replied. "I tried to ignore them like you told me, but they wouldn't stop!"
He sighed. "Then you should've come to me. You're a promising recruit, Brynneth, but you've got a temper. One mark of a good guard is control; if you cannot remain level-headed when confronted with a problem, I worry you will not be able to rein yourself in when it counts. Perhaps it's time to have a talk with your parents... "
She jumped up, eyes wide. "No! Please don't! If you tell them I've been fighting, they'll make me come home and my mother won't ever let me come back! She doesn't think girls should be guards either. Being a guard is my dream! You can't tell them, you just can't!"
Before he could respond, she collapsed into a fuzzy heap on the floor, muffled sobs shaking her entire body. He shook his head. There were few recruits who wanted this occupation as bad as she did, even among the boys. For a girl her age to long for a life of serving and protecting was almost unheard of; there hadn't been a female guard in years, not as long as he'd been playing the role of instructor. Brynn hadn't been accepted into their ranks for that reason alone, of course. She possessed all the natural strength and grace of her species, and a strong sense of justice to boot. More importantly, she was kind. She genuinely loved helping others. But her unorthodox ambitions left her open to detractors of all ages, and being young and hot-blooded, she responded to them with force.
He couldn't blame her, not really. The relentless way the boys teased her bothered him, too, and he'd disciplined them for it many times. Occasionally the message seemed to sink in, other times he wondered if they'd heard him at all. Discouraging as their lack of progress was at times, he felt as though he could at least control them. If they spoke in ignorance, he had the power as their teacher to enforce consequences. Her family, however, was beyond his authority. The only one with any real power to change their minds was her.
"Easy, child," he said, picking her up off of the ground. "There's no need for all this fuss. Perhaps I spoke too hastily. We shall delay talking with your parents for now, but only if you agree to listen to me. Can you promise me that much?"
"I can." She nodded fervently and rubbed the tears from her eyes. "I swear I can!"
"Good." He smiled. "You're a keen pupil and you're stronger than most of those boys in more ways than one. I feel you could, if given the chance, become an exemplary guard, a credit to our kingdom. But you must understand that you're attempting something no other young woman has in recent memory. There will be those who, for reasons of their own, will be offended by this. Society has preconceived notions of what girls ought to do and ought not to do. You and I both know that's rubbish, and so do most decent folks, but it's so ingrained in the minds of many that they don't even realize they're the ones who are wrong."
Brynn raised an eyebrow. "So what can I do?"
"You pursue your goals in spite of them. You complete your training and you excel... and, when confronted with hate and ignorance, you prove them wrong. Their words will hurt, but they are only words. Make them eat those words. Be great." He shrugged. "Success is the best way to put them in their place. Now, you've a passionate heart. That's not a bad thing. Learn to harness that passion in the right way and there's nothing that can stop you."
She frowned. "It's easy for you to say, sir. You're a guy. They already take you seriously."
The Scorchio nodded. "You are right. I will never know what it is to be a young woman struggling in a world when men make the rules. I am limited to my own experiences in some respects. But you have taught me much and will continue to do so, and I, in return, can offer you advice. This is my advice now; be the bigger person. I know it's not fair, and I will, for my part, try to discipline the boys more harshly. What do you say? Think you can stay out of trouble for a while?"
Her brow furrowed, she sat in silence for a few moments. Then her expression changed into the same determined one he'd seen the day she showed up and demanded a chance to be trained. The fire in her eyes he so admired, the one that could well make her the greatest guard of her generation, was back. "I think so," she said, "at least, I'll try."
"That's all I can ask," he said, grinning. "Now, I think you've homework to do, no? A Brightvale guard's mind should be as sharp as her blade. You're dismissed."
For a second, she appeared confused. "But... what's my punishment?"
The aging Scorchio grunted. "Oh, I'll think of something eventually. For now, though, send those young men my way. I've got a few things to tell them about gender roles."
Brynn nodded and hurried off.
She did not get into any fights for some time. Years on, her old teacher would see her go above and beyond what she'd been asked to do. The Kougress didn't simply prove them wrong... she made those who doubted her look like fools.
He couldn't have been more proud.