1.5: Right Round, Baby Right Round

A vast assortment of bags plague the surface of Nuria’s bed, no two of them from the same clothing business. She greedily rips into the bags, yanking free a number of new shirts. Well, they’re the same shirts as the ones she has in a haphazard pile on the floor, just with the minor addition of her avian dimensions.

     The metallic slits are extensions of her shirts that allow her to use her wings at will. However, Nuria has yet to master that ability without entering into free fall. It irks her to have gained access to them and be unable to use them properly. Tyra has even mentioned flight isn’t likely to work for her until she can control them.

     Her wings are the same size as Tyra’s with slightly different dimensions. The length at the base of her wings is a third of an inch longer than Tyra’s, but the angle of the curve her wings take at the point between her marginal and primary coverts is forty-eight degrees. Tyra’s angle is an even fifty.

     Nuria finds an exact copy of the lavender blouse she ruined at the zoo. She tosses off her shirt- another of her concert t-shirts with a group shot of all the members of The Four Feathermen. She swiftly replaces it with her new lavender shirt. The light chill her bare skin feels against the metal slits fades quickly. She turns around to examine the back of the shirt and freezes.

     Standing at the door to the room is Syl, frozen and hiding the lower half of his face behind a collection of papers. He blinks as Nuria stares him down, a bead of sweat joining his nose and mouth beneath the barrier of papers.

     “I wasn’t intending to stare,” he says, “but I didn’t think that anybody was here.”

     Nuria nods very slowly. “We’ll chalk this up to a mistake on both our parts and move on. Deal?”

     “Deal,” Syl says quickly. He hastily vacates the room.

     Nuria follows him out of the room with her eyes, then huffs. “I suppose I should change in the bathroom from now on.”

     Nuria turns back to her clothes and fills in the drawers of her bedside bureau. After she finishes correcting her wardrobe, she dumps her old clothes into the bags. She’s about to dump the last shirt when her fingers slip through some of the tears on the sides. The shirt in her hands is the one she was wearing the day she first arrived at Four Hearts Academy.

     Nah. Can’t throw this away. This shirt and I saw amazing things on our way here, and we’ll see plenty more.

     Nuria folds the shirt and slips it between the mattress and comforter. She grabs her sack of seeds from her backpack, swallows a couple and then jogs to the door. She stops again when she sees Syl sitting cross-legged on the floor, sketching a perfect imitation of the still-in-repair wall across the hall. She squats down beside the young man.

     “That looks amazing,” she says.

     “Thank you,” Syl says. “It’s taken a few sketches to get the details right, though.”

     “A few? What do you mean?”

     “I can never draw something straight from scratch. I’m not as gifted to see lengths and angles and put them to paper as I’d like,” he explains, and before he knows it, he’s on his feet. He crosses to the damaged side of the hall and traces his fingers along the sections uncovered by burnt wallpaper. “You see this exposed drywall. I don’t even know how much area is left hidden, not like my father could.”

     Syl skips on over to the caution tape barring the door and waves Nuria over. She joins him at the door as he opens it, revealing the former girls’ dorm. There’s a blanket and a couple of pillows on the clearer section of the floor. Hanging from one of the beams are other drawings suspended on unwound hanger wire. “But I know you ladies make fun of me for not sleeping in the same room as you.”

     “What?” Nuria blurts loudly. “No, we don’t.”

     “When was the last time you guys didn’t do it, then?”

     “Maybe earlier at lunch. We might’ve had a decent laugh about it,” Nuria says, delivering an impressive apologetic look.

     Syl smirks. “It’s fine. In all honesty, it wasn’t too fun living in that huge room all alone. It’s just, I’m not sure how to share a room with girls, as you saw earlier. That’s why I sleep in here.”

     “Yeah, it takes a lot not to feel overwhelmed to be this far away from home.”

     “And that’s why I draw as much as I do. I did it all the time on my dad’s work desk. Sketching out blueprints for the clubhouse I always wanted growing up. By the time I got the clubhouse, I was addicted to drawing, mainly architectural designs. Drawings like these,” Syl points to his hanging gallery, “are pretty much the clubhouse’s wallpaper.”

     “If you ever take me there, I promise not to set it on fire,” Nuria says, then hastily slaps her mouth shut with her hands.

     Syl doesn’t register it right away, but after a rapid blink session he opens his mouth in a wide O. “Wait, you–”

     “You have to keep that a secret,” Nuria says, shushing him with both index fingers. “The professors and the headmaster already know and they excused it, but I don’t want the entire building to know what went down. That means you can’t tell Carnya, either. Don’t say anything, just, I don’t know, wave your sketches if you understand.”

     Syl slaps his sketches wildly.

     Nuria slowly eases her fingers away from his lips. “You’re not mad, are you?”

     “Uh, I don’t think so?” He replies skittishly. “I suppose I don’t have to be. Nobody was hurt, after all. And if you’ve been excused by Zathony of all people, there’s nothing I can do…right?”

     “Right,” Nuria says, mimicking his skittishness. She claps her hands suddenly and snaps the both of them out of their timidity. “Back to your art.”

     “Uh, okay.”

     “How come you didn’t just tell us before? We probably wouldn’t have made fun of you so much.”

     Syl gives her a look.

     “If we ever do, which we don’t.”

     “Kinda loops back around to the not sure how to live with girls thing.”

     “You’ll get used to it.”

     “Just another angle to learn, I guess.”

     “And we’ll get used to you, too. Just, at least try to sleep in the same room as us. It’ll make things much smoother in the long run.”

     “As long as we don’t have to change in front of each other anymore.”

     Nuria turns her head away and strokes her braid. “Yeah, I think I’m done exposing myself in front of people for a while.”

     “That at all related to the…incident?”



     The relief the cool fountain water bathes her feet in fills Nuria’s very cells with euphoria. She leans back on her hands, vocalizing her appreciation for the fountain. She may not have Carnya’s intense love and grace within the water, but she’s no stranger to enjoying a leisure swim or to soaking her feet poolside.

     The nearest of Sakela’s oases to her home sports a modestly sized waterfall. It was there Nuria perfected her reverse nosedive. Once she swung from a vine adjacent to the waterfall, ripping it clear from the clay wall and cannonballed into the spring below. She reflects on her many jumps over the years, all the way back to the woman she first witnessed doing them.

     The woman was twice Nuria’s age at least. She was tall, slender, and had long flowing flaxen hair. The laugh she made when she emerged after diving into the spring was life-affirming. It affected Nuria to the point where she wished to be that kind of woman growing up and thought mirroring her dive technique to be the first step.

     Nuria opens her eyes, the euphoria drowned by her growing intensity. I wonder if I should’ve talked to that woman. She never did return to that spot after that day, so I might’ve wasted a golden opportunity. To be that carefree and happy. I want to feel that. Instead, I’m just dreading things. I don’t want to be killed over and over but would a longer than normal life be so bad. I’d have all the time I need to do all the things I want. Enjoy all the foods I love, and those I haven’t had the chance to fall in love with. Carnya could help with that, probably.

     I could even finish my song.

     Nuria reaches around to her backpack slanted against the fountain and pulls out a fresh journal and pencil. She scribbles down “breaking” and “cages” on the top two lines. She pauses and considers the words on a deeper level, connecting them to the images of Verm in his cage. She makes a sideways “V” to connect them and next to that she notes “title?”.

     “Who said you could use our fountain, freshman?” a shrill voice demands.

     Nuria leans back further and gets an upside-down view of a group of young ladies dressed to lounge as she’s doing. She fails to recognize the blonde in the front of the pack, but she isn’t nearly as stunning as the oasis diver.

     “You’re welcome to join me. There’s plenty of room,” Nuria says before leaning forward. She looks confused when the girls swerve around to the other side of the fountain and leer at her. “Is there a problem with sharing?”

     “Listen, freshman. This has been our fountain since our freshman year, and it’s going to stay ours until we graduate. This is your cue to leave,” the blonde says.

     “And who’s going to make me?” Nuria challenges.

     “You know, I let you get away with disrespecting us before, but I’m done messing around.”

     “What do you mean ‘before’?”

     The blonde hops into the fountain and kicks water toward Nuria, splashing her all over repeatedly. With her arms behind her back to keep her journal dry, Nuria is defenseless and drenched in no time. She shrieks as she rises, then trips over the edge and falls onto the ground. She continues to shield her journal as she rises, the blonde girl unrelenting with her liquid assault.

     Nuria grits her teeth as her wet skin starts to smoke. She keeps shielding her journal with one arm while vigorously rubbing her thumb and index finger together with her other. She rises and snaps her fingers. She launches a collection of alto-flames at the water coming her way, and it’s evaporated in the jaws of the flames in an instant.

     The blonde screams as the flames flare and burn out just in front of her. She scrambles backward and ends up tripping onto the ground as well. She and the other girls stare warily at Nuria through the steam looming around her body.

     Nuria inhales long and deep, never breaking eye contact with the girls. “Keep your stupid fountain.” Nuria turns her back to them and they shiver as they witness the excess water turn to vapor from her shirt, though a few drops pelt her journal and backpack.

     Nuria fumes as she rushes away but finds herself pausing to look into the sky. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about anyone bothering me up there.


     The pennant of the academy flaps softly in the mild breeze, which delivers similar treatment to Nuria’s braid. She sits cross-legged near the edge of the roof, staring at the entirety of the campus. However, it is not the beauty of the academy that brings a smile to her face. As she hums, she focuses on the flames flickering along her fingertips.

     Nuria keeps her fingers still, but the flames grow warmer and cooler as the pitch of her humming changes, the flames like piano keys reacting to her touch as if she were a master musician.

     In truth, Nuria initially decided to nickname her flames after different voice types as she learned to access higher and higher temperatures. Her old choir director had to exclusively tutor her as she kept melting instruments when she was overzealous. As she learned the ins and outs of the voice types, as well as discovering her natural soprano range, her control of the flames grew, as did the power they possessed. She remembers that her mother once tried to test how powerful they were five months ago.

     The test started with a mound of hay bales half as tall as their home. Three fireballs later, the straw was left as nothing but ash.

     If only Mom could see me now.

     Nuria’s smile fades. She neglects to inform her mother about the changes she’s undergone recently. She hasn’t done so with Rum, either. She feels guilty about keeping them in the dark, but she’s been spiraling with how to absorb the details herself. She has Stark and Tyra to talk to, but she isn’t entirely comfortable unloading all her thoughts on her situation on them. She rolls her eyes when she briefly considers opening up to Zathony about that night.

     “I probably should just tell Rum. He might know what to do,” she says.

     “Tell Rum what?”

     The sudden question makes Nuria jump and scramble for her footing. She slips off the ledge when a pair of swords are thrust to her. She grabs hold and firmly plants her feet against the side of the roof. She scans the length of the scabbards, noting the hurricane designs. She stands perpendicular to Shuri, who looks down on her inquisitively.

     “You picked one hell of a place to hang out,” Shuri says.

     “Yeah, well, the view’s pretty attractive,” Nuria muses.

     “What?” Shuri asks with a flush, his grip loosening on his swords, forcing the two of them to scramble once again to get Nuria back onto the roof. Once Nuria catches her breath she goes and leans against the flagpole, then sinks down onto her butt. Shuri hesitates to join her. “I didn’t think anyone else hung out here. How’d you get up here anyway?”

     A pair of tired and frustrated eyes flay Shuri. Nuria moans as she rises, grabbing her backpack in the process. “Don’t worry, I won’t hog your silly little spot. See ya around.”

     Shuri stops Nuria before she reaches the ledge, grabbing her arm rather tightly. She leers at him over her shoulder and he quickly releases her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel unwelcome. I was just curious.”

     “I’m sure it’s the same way you got up here,” she replies after a long pause.

     She returns to the flagpole and sits. Shuri fastens his swords to his waist before joining her, though he keeps some space between them. “Unless you’re some genetic anomaly, I highly doubt it.”

     “What? You didn’t climb up the wall on the back?” Nuria points that way with her thumb.

     “No, I- it’s a thing my grandfather calls sky-stepping. We swirl the air into dense plates for us to travel across. I’m no good at making more than one, so what I do is make my plate and use it as an elevator.”

     “Answers one question. Another I have- why are you up here?”

     “This is the best place to go to avoid the eyes on campus.”

     “Older students getting on your nerves, too?”

     “I wouldn’t say that, but I know why you’re here now. Who’s bothering you? I could tell my grandfather to discipline them.”

     Nuria snorts. “No, I’m pretty sure I handled that already.”

     “In the same way you handled the gator?”

     “Not quite as intense, but you’re fairly warm.”

     “Fair enough…I guess?”

     Shuri changes his posture to one where he’s on his knees before the afternoon sun. He locks his hands together and shuts his eyes. He goes so still that the only movement on his person is generated by the breeze. Nuria watches him be as good as any statue she’s seen in museums.

     “Did you just fall asleep like that?”

     Shuri gives no reply, only a slight eyebrow twitch.

     “You can hear me, can’t you? Or can you do that sky-stepping thing to clog your ears?”

     No response still.

     “Fine, be as quiet as you want, but I was singing before you showed up. I think I’ll go back to that now,” Nuria says pointedly as she turns away from him.

     She hums not even a single lyric before Shuri’s eyes snap open and he faces her. “I did not fall asleep. I can hear you. And…I might try that out next time. I can’t meditate if people are constantly distracting me with inane conversation.”

     “And why are you meditating?” When he shoots her a nasty look she quickly adds, “Not trying to disturb you, just, how did you put it, ‘curious’.” Geez, glad he’s not the boy we’re stuck with.

     “It helps me deal with student life. And other stresses. I sit up here without disruption and let the breeze erode my mountain of problems into cliffs of possible solutions.”

     “Nice metaphor notwithstanding, does it work for you?”

     “Most times. Some days are so bad I just have to accept they happened and start fresh for the next one. Ever had a day like that?”

     Nuria grows somber and brushes the hair from her face. “I wish I hadn’t.”

     Shuri looks at Nuria for a long moment, the melancholy in her voice and slumped shoulders a mirror of himself on the days his grandfather’s attitude riled him too much. However, the wavering of her eyes differs from his steady gazes into the mirror. He knows whatever she’s facing is bigger than an overprotective family member.

     “You were talking about Rum when I showed up. Perhaps you should speak with him about what’s got you down.”

Nuria smiles bittersweet and shakes her head. “I don’t want to interrupt whatever fun he’s having.” She sighs and faces Shuri slowly. “But since you don’t seem to be having any either at the moment, maybe you could show me how to meditate, too.”

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