3.1: Let It Burn

An acrid smell erupts from the pages, which themselves look rather weary. Though the guides were poorly edited, they were well maintained. The dense volumes by Halko give Nuria’s nose a fight for supremacy over a sneezing fit. Nuria wipes her nose as she inspects the bindings. The pages in the middle of the volumes are but one sharp tug from being ripped out.

     Geez, Zathony, got anything from this century worth reading?

     She skims select portions of the introduction of Halko at the beginning of volume one. He was a diligent and well-respected zoologist. His experiments held significant weight for Avinia as a whole, being one of the few brave enough and talented enough to get close to his species of interest. He led a full life, dying in his old age, leaving a wealth of knowledge for future generations.

     And now that includes me.

     Nuria flips past the next few pages, uninterested in reading of his many accolades and accomplishments. The final paragraph grants the detail she’s seeking. Halko was renowned for his study of the rare and beautiful phoenix species.

     Phoenix? That can’t be right. Zathony would have to know instantly what I was, and if phoenixi- phoenici- phoenixes are rare, how could that be his first guess?

     Nuria turns the volume on its side and reviews the ISBN number. It is the same as she remembers him saying, as are all the others.

     I mean, maybe he’s been a professor for a while. Guess he developed a sixth sense for these things. I’ll definitely have to ask about that later on.

     She casts the distraction aside and continues into the heart of the book, scanning the pages for a colored image. For the most part, she only succeeds in spotting black and white sketches of what phoenixes appear as. Their wingspans are often longer than their body is from beak to tail feather. The sketches of the larger ones- if the pictures aren’t to scale- have ribbon-like feathers flowing down from a crest on their heads.


     A colored photograph rests on a page near the end of the first volume. The phoenix is one of the smaller ones, lacking the ribbon feathers, but it possesses the same color scheme Nuria saw in her vision. The plumage consists primarily of crimson feathers, but one of the underlying layers has a few bronze feathers scattered throughout, like badly placed highlights. Before Nuria can smile from the revelation, she feels a twist in her gut.

     The photograph shows the young phoenix in a cage.

     She reads aloud the text just above the photo. “Phoenixes are as close to immortal as any creature can be or hope to be. Phoenixes have life cycles that begin and end with ashes. When they die, they turn to ash, but if well preserved, the ash fosters new life. It has been recorded many times over that phoenix ashes that remain in sunlight will eventually birth new phoenix chicks.”

     Nuria turns back to the photo. The bird within does appear weak and sleight of stature. The cage could be to keep it safe, barring other creatures from eating it.

     Nuria turns the page and discovers that to be the end of volume one. The rest of it consists of an index and footnote credits. She wishes to move to the next volume but decides going in order will be more beneficial.

     The first volume reads like a diary, with little memoirs from Halko scattered throughout. Most of them concern his time trying to find phoenix nests. When he did find one, the mother was absent. He went through the moral battle of whether to steal the eggs or not, quickly siding on the former. He thanked Drijad that he didn’t because he learned the mother was never absent, just perched higher than he could climb.

     The mother phoenix and Halko fostered a shaky trust. Had he made one step closer to her eggs than she deemed acceptable, he had no doubt she would attack, sensing sentience to the creature. He felt like she knew why he was there, and as long as he stuck to mere observations, he was no threat to her. He made certain to never cross that line.

     One day, after he had returned to his home, he came to realize the hills behind his home became the new nesting grounds for the phoenix family, the eggs now hatched. The mother phoenix allowed him to approach the children, but only one seemed to appreciate his presence. Halko dubbed that phoenix baby Verm, as his feathers were both darker and brighter than his siblings’. When the mother eventually died the three phoenixes–

     So, that’s the plural form.

     –Stayed close to Halko, occasionally venturing off to hunt. Verm had always come back first, never too shy to express his love for the zoologist. The good doctor was in love, as well. So much so that the first time he witnessed Verm pass, it nearly drove him mad. It wasn’t until he saw the resurrection with his own eyes that he knew why the creatures were so rare. When Verm came back to life, he looked entirely different, though he seemed to possess an immediate familiarity with Halko, like his memories were unaffected by the event. The most notable difference he could see between this new Verm and the old was he no longer had as many bronze feathers as before, down to six. It was exactly one less than before.

     Do the bronze feathers have something to do with their lifespans?

     Nuria pours over the entirety of the first volume, and while she discovers details of wingspans and theories for how phoenixes came to exist, she learns little about how to trigger her transformation. The one consolation is that the love between Halko and Verm is undeniable. The two of them were nearly inseparable. And the only times they were apart were when Verm was wherever dead phoenixes go between lives.

     Do I have that ability? I didn’t see any bronze feathers. Nuria shrugs. Oh well.

     She shuts volume one and as the heavy pages slam together, the spray of dust causes her to sneeze all over again. A few other patrons shush her absentmindedly. She hides her nose underneath her shirt collar and holds up volume two at eye level.

     The pages come with more memoirs, to which Nuria agrees to visit after learning something more concrete. It takes her a hundred or so pages to find the data from Halko’s experiments, noting a two-year time skip in the notes. The date on the page right before the data emerges is Keal 16th 1723, while the one on the same page is Praxi 5th 1725. The date isn’t the only change. The tone of the notes jotted down are wildly different, more aggressive with the terminology, unlike the positive and warm words of before.

     The data lists the triggers for the resurrection: long exposure to sunlight, untainted ashes, and atmospheric conditions akin to the stratosphere. He tracked the resurrections of the three phoenixes with morbid interest. Before he couldn’t stand watching them die, but now he almost seemed like he waited on it. Verm had the most bronze feathers, so he naturally outlasted his siblings. However, Halko needed to know exactly what extremes would end Verm for good. He sentenced his old friend to a life behind bars while he conducted a series of experiments to determine a phoenix’s breaking point. He never killed Verm, but he–

     Nuria drops the book and it bangs off the table and onto the floor with a loud thump. She looks down at the upside-down book with red eyes. She has a sudden desire to not want to be a phoenix. The man she just read about was celebrated for basically torturing the creatures into extinction. A hand falls onto her shoulder that sends so powerful a surge through her muscles that she leaps from her seat with a shriek.

     Nuria comes face to face with Stark, her eyes on the verge of tears. Stark flinches when she sees them but takes no step closer.

     “I didn’t mean to startle you, dear,” she says softly. “It’s just that the library is closed now, and the temps didn’t want to disturb you. They said you were really focused. Are you okay?”

     “Professor Zathony said–” Nuria stops herself, lowering her gaze in thought.

     “I should’ve known. He always tells his students the library is twenty-four hours. I’ll have a word with him about that. For now, I need you to–”

     “Don’t worry. I’ll tell him for you,” Nuria barks.

     “Wait, let me escort you,” she calls after the already vanishing Nuria, “back.”


     Nuria has full tears streaming down from her eyes when she reaches her dorm room. She blasts through the doors and rushes to her bed, hastily grabbing her suitcase from beneath her bed. She scoops handfuls of clothes from her bedside bureau, tossing them haphazardly into the suitcase. In her haste, she doesn’t notice the shadow of Zathony’s body approaching.

     “Stark tells me I may have upset you,” his cultured voice says ahead of his presence.

     Nuria whirls around with violence blazing in her eyes. She grabs the middle of his shirt and yanks him close. “Do you think I’m stupid? That I’ll let you cage me like that? What are you? His protégé?”

     “What are you talking about?” he replies with a harsh tone.

     “Nobody is caging me!” she roars.

     Her white irises fade in and out of existence for a moment as golden flames erupt around her left fist. She throws a punch at Zathony that he narrowly avoids, ducking under and around her arm before forcefully yanking her hand from his shirt.

     Nuria stumbles backward and catches herself on her bed with her left hand. The bed sheets combust into flames immediately. She shrieks and removes her hand, the golden flames dying out, but they continue to eat away at her bed without her consent. Her tears reflect the brilliance of the fire.

     “Everyone up!” Zathony shouts up into the spiraling staircase. “There is a fire! This is not a drill! Move your asses, now! And you!” Zathony turns to Nuria’s bed, but she’s no longer in sight. He growls as the thunder of rampaging students spring into action.


     The rush of labored breaths mashes unharmoniously with the rustling of bushes and branches. The heavy dark of night does nothing to inhibit Nuria’s haste to get away. She’s past the school’s exterior fence, dashing away as fast as her feet will carry her.

     Drijad knows I’ll never use my wings. Not in front of him. Anyone. Ever.

     Nuria suddenly screeches to a halt. She knows what happened last time she left him without warning. She doesn’t want to do that again. She climbs the nearest tree for a visual of the campus, in no rush to go back there without the lay of the land.

     I’m not falling into any traps.

     She sees that the fire she started is still going, now consuming three whole floors. She can’t tell who, but a group of people in black are approaching the dorm en masse.

     “You know what? Let it burn. I don’t need them trying to trap me. As far as the world is concerned, I’m only Sulublei. Vanusi be damned.”

     “You know what that tells me?” asks a silky, feminine voice resonating from the shadows above.

     Nuria slowly peers up, an acute sense of dread locking her muscles up. A woman hangs in the air with great leathery sails holding her afloat. Her crimson eyes stare hungrily down.

“You’re the Bigene scum I’ve been tasked with eliminating.”

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