Clouds sail overhead in a massive heard, letting only sparse amounts of sunlight illuminate the woods below. A moderate breeze ruffles the branches and leaves sway to the ground in waves. The leaves dance around Nuria as she taps her foot impatiently against the dense bark. A leaf lands on her shoulder and she swiftly bats it away.
“Hey! We all set down there?” Nuria shouts, cupping her hands around her mouth. She’s dressed to fly, wearing a beige tank top with her own set of wing slits. Her dark sweatpants have a couple of sewn up tears. Her black and blue sneakers appear equally as worn. She stares down at her target, a huge white tarp. Tyra and Professor Marmagar stand together as they secure the final corner of the tarp to a thick tree.
“All set!” Tyra shouts.
Professor Marmagar thrusts both hands into the sky, thumbs fully extended.
Nuria’s face lights up. “Okay, here I–”
Nuria stumbles but retains her posture. “Oh, hey! You made it!” she shouts. She watches as Stark approaches the others outside the tarp. They appear to enter a brief argument. Nuria rolls her eyes and takes one step back on the branch. She takes a deep breath and then jumps off. She smiles when she feels her feathers pass through the metallic slits. They open fully and she uses them to slow her descent. It works initially, but when she tries to flap them, they fail to carry her weight. She plummets into the tarp and lets the elastic sheet take control of her momentum. Her wings stay out, her bouncing keeping the free fall sensation active.
“Good, now we can–” Stark pauses and searches the branches up above. She lowers her gaze when Nuria’s bouncing finally registers in her periphery. “When did you jump?”
“You guys were talking and I saw the professor point at me, so I- wait! Did none of you guys see my awesome jump?” Nuria fumes and crosses her arms as her momentum comes to a stop. “How can I get better if you don’t pay attention?”
“I apologize,” Stark says. “I distracted them when I arrived. We’ll all watch this time.”
“Absolutely,” Tyra adds.
Professor Marmagar pumps his fist and nods.
“Good,” Nuria replies. Because I couldn’t even flap my stupid wings once, she thinks as she commences her climb. She goes to a higher spot than before. She obtains a verdant plumage as her wings brush against the branches. Maybe diving from a higher spot will give me more time to do so. Plus, it helps that they’re already out.
Nuria finds her perch before catching her breath. She notices a branch of superior density to hers above her head. The last part of her inspection is for her wings. Despite the addition of foliage, they’re in peak condition.
Just do what Tyra said, Nuria thinks as she replays the conversation.
“Fingers?” Nuria asked, flummoxed.
“In aviary anatomy, the bones in their wings act and function the same as fingers,” Tyra explained, wiggling her fingers fancifully. “Get in the practice of thinking of your wings as two extra hands. Eventually, you’ll have it down to second nature, like waving hello or snapping.”
Nuria imagines her wings as fists opening and closing, and smiles to find her wings spreading and folding respectively. She feels the breeze free the leaves between her feathers, though a couple lock in place over her single bronze feather.
I’ve got this!
Nuria tilts her head up to the branch directly above her. She simultaneously tucks her wings inward as she leaps and somersaults vertically. She plants her feet against the bark and pushes off with all her might, tunnel vision settling in on the center of the tarp.
The intense breeze against her dive has two hampering effects, first of which is the rush of wind forcing her eyes to squint. The second is that her wings are being forced open by the same rush of wind and she finds it too powerful to flap them against it.
Damn it! Not again! NO!
All of a sudden, as Nuria’s blurry gaze locks on Tyra, it clears up and her eyes open wide. The entirety of the space below her is as crystal clear as the vision she had when she mirrored Carnya’s technique. She can still feel the wind against her body, but a surge of strength swells throughout her muscles, wings included.
Nuria attempts to angle upward as her wings manage to beat against the air. Even with her enhanced strength, she only accomplishes to slow her descent onto the tarp. She lets her body bounce idly as she catches her breath. She sighs as she sits up, aware her wings are retreating into her back.
Professor Marmagar’s large hand gently finds itself on Nuria’s shoulder. Once Nuria faces him he gestures with both hands, one with a thumbs up, the other with a thumbs down.
“I’m good, professor,” she says with a smile. “Just need a few minutes before I try again.”
Nuria takes the professor’s hand as he offers it and allows him to escort her off the tarp. She collapses onto her butt the instant her feet touch solid ground.
Professor Marmagar instantly whirls around, alarmed by Nuria’s increased fatigue. He kneels down before Nuria as Stark and Tyra each take a side by his shoulders. He takes one of Nuria’s hands in his and checks her heart rate. The pressure he feels forces him to scowl. He points to Nuria’s chest and looks her in the eyes. She nods yes and allows the professor to touch her just beneath her collarbone with his fingers. He focuses on her clammy skin but finds it no hotter than it should be.
Marmagar’s smile vanishes as he rises.
“I’m not dying, am I?” Nuria asks half-jokingly.
The professor chuckles then shakes his head. He makes a number of rapid gestures that involve him pointing to his eyes, summoning and spreading his brown wings, flexing, etc. He stops when Stark taps his shoulder and delivers a stern expression. He exhales in an apologetic manner, holds up a single finger to Nuria, then unveils a folded piece of paper from an inside pocket on his blazer. He hands it to Nuria.
She unfolds the parchment and reads it with her guess as to how Marmagar would sound. She imagines a gruff voice with a gentle undertone, like a gate attendant for an amusement park ride.
Sorry Nuria, but I suspect that today will be the day you experience Primal Sense for the first time. I didn’t want to tell you ahead of time due to the fact that it may have affected your performance. Also, I can’t disclose too much as that would dampen Professor Zathony’s future lessons, and Stark won’t be able to protect me from him.
Nuria laughs before she continues reading.
To put it into the safest terms, you’ve just tapped into your animal instincts and your body reacted. Look up now to see if I saw a positive or negative reaction.
Nuria again breaks from the paper. Professor Marmagar claps softly. Tyra and Stark join in, but Nuria can tell from their expressions that they’re out of the loop. Nuria does as instructed when she looks back to the professor and he points to the paper.
I want you to ruminate on what it was you experienced when you flapped your wings. That will help you greatly when Professor Zathony brings up the Primal Sense lesson plans. You may have enough time. Good luck.
Nuria pockets the sheet of paper. “Thank you, professor.”
Marmagar replies with a modest bow of his head.
“Does this mean we’re done for today?” Nuria asks.
The professor holds up his wrist to show off his watch, two fingers erect. With his other hand, he points to the seven- and ten-minute hand positions.
“Two more with fifteen minutes between tries?” Nuria asks.
Professor Marmagar nods enthusiastically. He turns to Stark, points to his head and makes an astonished expression.
“Yes,” Stark states. “She’s quite smart.”
“Really think so?” Nuria asks the officer. “Even though I didn’t fly?”
“From my perspective, this was my first time witnessing you try. I think it was as good as it could’ve been,” Stark compliments. The professor hums in assent.
“Thank you.” Nuria shifts on her butt and faces Tyra. “Okay, you’ve seen me try the most. What do you think?”
“Oh, umm,” Tyra mumbles, flushed. “I’d rather watch and see what you do these next two tries before I give any advice.”
Nuria eyes Tyra curiously for a moment, but then mentally smacks herself. Duh, she can’t expose herself too much. Nuria swivels all around and inspects the purlieu. Never know who might be listening.
With the flash of her nerves behind her, Nuria goes for her next two flight tests. She smiles proudly when they both more closely mirror her second attempt than her first. She eats one of her seeds right after, which only achieves to restoring her energy slightly. Stark follows after her to the pair of jeeps parked nearby.
“I’d forgotten this feeling,” Nuria grumbles.
“Pardon?” Stark asks as she steps into stride with the young woman.
“This exhaustion. I hated it back when I started to use my fire powers.” Nuria vigorously rubs her left thumb and index finger together before pushing her thumb up and igniting it like a lighter. The small ember flickers wildly to stay alive against the breeze. “Simply doing this would make me yawn.”
“But now you can evaporate splashes of water in midair,” Stark comments, showing Nuria a coy smile.
It takes Nuria a moment to catch on. “How do you know about that?”
“I’m the head of security. I check the cameras around the campus routinely. I know about your first run-in with Alcott and her friends, too.”
“Nice name. Terrible person.”
“Yes, she has an awful temper. I’d advise steering clear of her. It’ll keep both of you out of trouble.”
“Yes, sir,” Nuria says. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what’s–”
“You guys ready to go?” Tyra calls from the side of one of the jeeps. Behind her Marmagar places the folded tarp underneath the backseat.
“Absolutely. Let’s go,” Stark snaps. She swiftly herds Nuria to the jeeps, getting in the one opposite to them. “Make sure you keep up, Professor Marmagar.” With Stark’s lead foot leading the way, Nuria scarcely has enough time to sing along to even one song on the radio. She makes a mental note to herself to listen to “Bad Mama” later on.
Once they return to campus, Stark bids them a quick farewell and races away. The professor points from his watch to Nuria and Tyra, then to the sun and rotates his arm in one huge circle until it lands on the sun again. He completes his gesture by pointing to his eyes. However, his enthusiastic sign language leaves the ladies perplexed. He sighs, waves, then stalks off.
“Did you understand that one?” Tyra asks.
Nuria holds a thumb to her chin and repeats his signing in her head. “The sun, the circle, and his eyes were most prevalent. It’s Noon now. If I think of the circle he made as a clock, I assume he meant to denote twelve hours. I hope he didn’t mean tomorrow. He should’ve done two circles for that…maybe.” Nuria slumps her shoulders and turns toward their dorm.
“Are we overthinking this?” Tyra asks as she follows.
“I’m positive we are.”
Nuria stands before the bathroom mirror toweling her hair dry. She moves down to her braid and strokes it from top to bottom thoroughly. Some of the excess water drips onto her beige shirt. She pauses and turns when Tyra turns on a blow dryer. She watches the raven mane bend to the whims of the dryer. She turns from that to her tiring hand efforts. She opens her mouth to speak when:
“Of course, you can use it when I’m done,” Tyra shouts over the roar of the dryer.
“How’d you know I was gonna ask?”
Tyra nods to the mirror before both of them. “I could see your reflection looking at me.”
“Oh.” Nuria turns forward and takes a look at the mirror, too. She watches as Tyra moves down the length of her hair. A few strands of her dark mane fall beyond the horizon of her shoulders. Nuria moves to inspect her shirt and plucks a dozen or so sienna strands from her neck and chest. “I take it hair loss is part of the aviary lifestyle.”
“Nothing too major. The older and weaker the hair, the greater the likelihood the rush of wind will remove it painlessly. The upside, it keeps your hair looking fabulous with only the healthy ones remaining.”
“I think yours looks better. Then again, I don’t use the tools that you do. I can smell your shampoo from here, and my coconut scent pales in comparison. What is it that you use, anyway?”
Nuria keeps her eyes forward and sees Tyra’s nervous fidgeting through the blow dryer shaking in her hand. She knows that tremble all too well. She’s done the same thing whenever Carnya or Syl would ask a personal question. And she understands now why Tyra hasn’t asked her any. Too nervous that she’ll be asked those same ones in return.
“I think I can trust you,” Nuria says to Tyra’s reflection.
The trembling stops as the blow dryer powers down. Tyra runs her fingers through her hair before facing Nuria’s reflection in the eyes. “What makes you say that?”
“For one, you saved my life and haven’t once even brought it up to me since I first woke up. So, you didn’t do it for the shower of gratitude, which I’m sorry that I haven’t shown you. Then there’s the fact you’ve kept it a secret that I burned down the dorm. I can’t even do that myself. Syl knows.
Plus, I think you and I both have similar upbringings. Not in the sense of money or anything like that, but the fact that we’re both not easily able to discuss our home life.” Nuria turns to Tyra’s real body now. “Am I right?”
Tyra stares at the real Nuria for a long moment, then she nods tightly.
“Then I propose that for a trial period, we try being honest with each other. It’ll help ease both our burdens. Plus, we can cover for each other, too. Like how I did back at the training site this morning.”
“How would we do that?”
“By shielding the truth.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never liked lying,” Tyra says meekly.
“I hear it helps not to think of it as lying.”
“And who told you that?”
“My brother heard it from his professor,” Nuria states.
“Very interesting assortment of faculty here,” Tyra comments. She unplugs the blow dryer, crosses to Nuria and hands it to her. “I accept your terms.”
“Thank you.” Nuria grabs the blow dryer from her.
The students are interesting, too. Never would’ve expected to meet people like Tyra and Shuri. Then again, I might be as much of an enigma to them. Especially Shuri. Wonder how he and Rum are getting along?