They watch Rum stare at his reflection in the dark half of his blade, holding back mocking grins at his teen angst. He is alone, brooding, seated atop one of the courtyard benches. Even still, he keeps his shoulders up and back straight.
A ‘definite puzzle’ indeed, Professor Tameri thinks, quoting a conversation with Pan.
The professor breaks from the vigil and approaches Rum. “May I join you?”
Rum flinches upon hearing her voice, and by the time he gathers words for his response Professor Tameri has already taken her seat. She crosses her legs, clasps her hands over her lap, and leans forward ever so slightly.
“Pan told me about your talk at the gym,” she says. “She apologizes for overstepping. Given the day you’ve had, I thought it best if I delivered the message for her.”
Rum smirks. “I’m not mad at her. Never was, actually. But I accept the apology.”
“Then why storm off?” Tameri asks.
Rum sucks on his lips until the professor’s probing gaze loosens them. “Because I’m failing.”
“May I ask how?”
“I can’t imagine you haven’t been informed about what really happened to my sister.”
“I told our mother that I would protect Nuria. She says the older brother has that responsibility. Not only was I unable to do so, but I wasn’t even aware of her situation until the day after it all went down. Mom would be disappointed.”
He uses familial terms when he speaks of them, yet he was angered by Pan’s words. Based on his intense idea of responsibility, he must be angry with himself for some reason. The only one I can see is…
“Aurum, are you not allowed to disclose the details of your family?”
Rum visibly trembles as he turns away from the professor.
“I see,” Tameri says with a nod. “Then I shall inquire no further. However, if you’re going to interact with the world, I suggest learning how to protect the truth.”
“You mean lie?” Rum asks as he slowly faces the professor once more.
“Not exactly. You just have to steer the conversation elsewhere. Tell me, did you stay silent the entire time Pan dissected your family tree?”
Rum nods solemnly.
“Ask me a question. Anything you wish.”
“Are you positive?”
“I am.” She leans back into the shadows as clouds sail overhead. Despite her inviting smile, Rum feels a touch of nervousness. He swallows before opening his mouth.
“What kind of armor were you wearing during class?”
Professor Tameri blinks, then replies plainly, “I wasn’t.”
“But you said I hit you. Without armor–”
“You hit me, and I graded you accordingly. Superb job.”
“Then why didn’t you bleed?”
“Did you want me to?”
“Wait, what? No, I–”
Professor Tameri’s expression suddenly hardens. “You did aim for my midsection. Did you intend to cripple me?”
“Of course not! You said to go all out, but there’s no way I’d–”
The professor’s hearty chuckle cuts off Rum’s rambling and perplexes him.
“Why are you laughing?”
“You completely missed what I just did. I flustered you so while you were trying to question me that you never got to make your point.”
“Then I’ll just ask now- what’s your S’nue power?”
Tameri smirks. “Smart boy. I’d like to see how smart, though. Next time you ask me, I want you to provide an answer as well. You only get one chance, however.”
“Uh, yes, ma’am,” Rum replies, aware of his growing smile.
“Excellent. Now, I brought someone to speak with you.”
“But I said I forgive–”
Rum watches with astonishment as Nuria steps around in front of him and the professor. Tameri exits her seat and allows Nuria to take her place.
“Good night, Aurum,” Tameri says.
“Good night, professor,” Rum says as he looks his sister in the eyes.
Professor Tameri looks over her shoulder at the siblings while she departs. She marvels when she notices that throughout their conversation that Aurum never once lowered his blade.
Is that concentration or paranoia?
Nuria and Rum are both seated on the ground while Rum’s buster sword lay across the seat of the bench behind them. They discuss their school life up to this point, including Tyra and Pan, but hit a pause when Shuri comes up.
“He agreed to that? Teaching you to meditate,” Rums asks.
“I pressured him a little, but yeah.”
“Wait, if you were with him, how’d you end up with Professor Tameri?”
“Oh, before we could get started, his grandfather and the professor appeared out of nowhere. When the headmaster saw me, he had Tameri escort me away. I felt bad leaving. It seemed like Shuri was agitated.”
“By his grandfather?”
Nuria gives him a look. “And our family’s without issues?”
“Speaking of our family, you haven’t told anyone, have you?” Rum asks.
“Of course not. I know the rules,” Nuria says with puffed out cheeks.
Rum sighs. “It won’t matter much anyway. It’s a genetic thing, so anyone with a brain will figure it out the same way we did.”
Nuria remains silent a moment. “You think we should ask Mom about our parents, don’t you?”
“I mean, I’ve always wanted to. Haven’t you?”
“Sometimes,” Nuria admits somberly.
“I always think about it. Especially these last few hours. Pan brought up how she’s a legacy child; a child who inherits the power from both their parents. I started thinking if I got my powers from my real parents. For all we know, Auriel could be my real mother, and I inherit my lightning from my father.”
“I don’t think Auriel would keep that from you. From us.”
“Think about it,” Rum says, holding up a finger. “She’s never liked the fact I have lightning powers. If my dead-beat father left her and me, I can understand her not liking it.”
“I don’t think that’s plausible. Wouldn’t explain where I came from.”
Rum presses his raised finger to his chin and hums. “The bastard had a child with another woman. He took you when he left her, then just left you with us. Didn’t want the hassle anymore.”
Nuria instantly feels cold. “Never mind, that’s worse.”
“I say we just be happy with Auriel. She loves us. We love her. I’m good.”
“Oh,” Rum says while blinking, “I don’t want to know to replace her. Auri- Mom’s the best!
Nuria sees and mirrors the pride in Rum’s expression. As long as they can remember, it’s always been just the three of them. They go on morning runs every Didaska, love to bake together, watch professional Star Derby matches. However, they both think of the same thing at once.
“Think our parents sent her that golden nugget?” they ask each other, then freeze their faces on uncertainty.
“Should we ask her?” Nuria says, chomping down on her nails.
Rum shakes his head. “No. She probably hasn’t told us for a good reason. Who knows, she might not want to because it’s painful for her.”
Nuria lifts her head and stares into the sky. “Probably.”
If she knows my true parents, and one or both were phoenixes, she may have witnessed them die too many times. Perhaps I should hold off on dropping that bomb until I’m sure.
Rum again shakes his head, stands and grabs his buster sword. He extends a hand to Nuria. “Come on. We might still make last call at the cafeteria.”
Nuria grins and takes his hand. “Then Carnya’s still there. Let’s join her.”