Rum nervously checks his shoulder. The bandages and sling are gone, but he feels uneasy about returning to class tomorrow. He’s missed a week of work and fears having been left far behind. And his companion is being shy on what’s been happening in his absence.
“If you’re still hurt you don’t have to come with me to the gym,” Pan advises.
“I’m fine. I just need to make sure my arm won’t give out tomorrow,” Rum states.
“You plan on dueling Aven again?”
Rum shakes his head tightly. “No, I can accept my loss. But I need to practice to get better.”
Pan sighs remorsefully. “So, do I. Even though you took Aven mostly out of commission, Shuri and Roy both kicked my butt.”
“That your way of admitting I’m better than you?” Rum asks with a playful smirk on his face.
“I admit to nothing, Rummy,” she declares.
“Are you really going to keep calling me that?” Rum queries as he holds open the door for her.
She waves her phone in the air as she passes him by. “It’s how I have you in my phone, too,” she teases.
“Of course, it is.”
Rum follows Pan inside. He pauses when he hears very loud counting. The uproar of numbers is in the high 70’s. He looks to Pan and her mischievous grin unnerves him.
“Why exactly did you want to come here so badly?”
“Follow me and find out.”
Her roaring crowd keeps Nuria focused. Each rep that they count fuels her already awe-inspiring determination. Right then left, she allows the weighted bricks to slam down, then raises them high as can go.
“87!” her crowd cheers.
“88!” they roar.
Nuria starts to feel the stress in her back slow her down, but she perseveres as she commences her final ten reps. For the past couple of weeks, she’s come to the gym to strengthen herself. Her reps first had a plateau of 60, but now she can go to 100. Her unique use of the equipment swept up the attention of the other gym rats in no time.
“97!” the gym rats shout.
Nuria grits her teeth as she burns, her back muscles stretching thin. Her fingers raw and red from clenching the sides of a metal bench tightly. She groans as she presses on.
“99!” Nuria announces with the crowd.
“100!” she and her audience shout triumphantly.
Nuria falls back onto her butt just as the weighted bricks slam back down. The iron pin is placed beneath the brick labeled 100lbs. Her wings fall flat against the floor. She winces as she raises them both into the air with her arms, a victory pose worthy of the work she’s just done.
“And that’s how it’s done!” Nuria boasts.
She rises as slowly as her wings absorb back into her shoulders. Several students in the crowd approach and give her high-fives and words of encouragement and praise. She waits until her audience scatters to grab her towel. Her aching shoulders make it a struggle to dry her back. One thing she wished she had inherited from her Vanusi Sudita is the ability to no longer sweat like normal birds. Her wings drip just as much as her arms do. She finally manages to touch the towel to her shoulders blades when another hand takes over.
Nuria flinches before she turns and sees Rum dabbing at her back. “You could announce yourself next time, Rum. I almost screamed.”
“I doubt that very much,” he says dryly. “What’s with the wing workout?”
“Oh, I need to buff up my wings. Turns out they’re not just gonna be magically strong enough to carry me. I have to get them to that level.”
“But why here in a gym? Why not do so by, well, flying?”
“I would, but I can’t keep watching Tyra outdo me while trying to teach me. It helps to have a teacher that’s an actual teacher. I get exhausted watching her effortlessly do what takes my all strength to get wrong.” Nuria turns and scratches at her head. “Plus, I haven’t even learned how to take off.”
“I’m no expert, but isn’t a flightless bird dead meat in the wild?”
Something I plan to not have in common with most birds.
“What would you recommend? I’m fresh out of ideas,” Nuria states.
“You should find a way to use both your abilities in tandem to compensate for your weaknesses,” Pan says, plopping down on the bench behind Nuria.
“What happened to waiting by the treadmills?” Rum asks her.
“I got bored,” she tells him. “Anyway, combining your powers is efficient and clean. Like how I combine my Ohaida bow and S’nue energy together. Tell me this- can you use your flames with your feet?”
Nuria opens her mouth to respond, but a plethora of ideas seize control of her mind. “I got it!”
“Go do your stuff,” Rum cheers.
“If you can’t find me later, I’d advise checking the skies!”
Nuria gives Pan a high-five before racing away, leaping over and skipping around the other machines and gym rats.
Nuria runs in place vigorously, keeping her legs close enough to rub against each other, all the while keeping her breathing under control. Her sneakers clap atop the wooden surface of the sparring stage in a quick rhythm. She forces her mind to stay on task and avoids humming along to her running.
I’m pretty sure I only have one shot at getting this right today.
Nuria shifts her eyes to peek at Tyra and Professor Marmagar standing idle outside the stage.
Would hate to waste their time on another failure.
Heat swells in her thighs, friction inside and outside her muscles coming to a boiling point. Nuria ignores her aching muscles and centers her focus on the heat in her pants legs. She searches for and finds a similar heat building inside the heels of her feet. She locks it down and jumps up on one leg. She brings her leg down and strikes it against the heel of her other foot.
Bursts of flames sprout from inside her shoes, burning holes through her sneakers as it propels her into the air with the intended effect. Nuria rockets into the air and instantly her Vanusi form triggers. Her sight is unimpeded by the rush of wind and her wings extend from her shoulders with fiery panache. She turns in the air and watches with glee as she flies even higher than the school’s flagpole.
She spreads her wings fully and catches the wind, slowing her ascent by lowering the power of her flames from baritone to alto. She looks down and sees Tyra and the professor looking back, though Tyra appears to be squinting rather hard. Nuria smiles and sets her path for them. With a powerful stroke of her wings in combination with a boost from her feet flames, she approaches them with the force of a rocket.
Again, Nuria lowers her propulsive drive by weakening her flames all the way to tenor. She uses her feet only to correct any turns she doesn’t perform well. She continues to smile wide at her progress until a sharp pain runs through her back. She cries out and blinks when her wings suddenly sink back into her flesh.
Nuria panics when she realizes she has no way to counterbalance the propulsion of her flames. She cancels them, but her descent is leading toward an inevitable crash. She shuts her eyes tight as the sparring stage comes close. She yelps when she collides head-on with a rock-hard surface. Her eyes remain shut until she stops rolling ends up flat on her back. She takes a deep breath, rises, and sees Tyra slumped over on her knees.
“Had to cut it that close, huh,” Tyra says raggedly, her breath heavy and uneven. She groans as she straightens her posture, absorbing in her blazing white wings. “I didn’t think I would make in time.”
Nuria laughs a little. “Sorry about that.” She softly taps her fist against her shoulder. “I probably should’ve waited to test that until after I let my body rest. But, if it works this well when I’m tired, I think I can master it when I’m top of my game.”
Professor Marmagar approaches and holds up three fingers. He spins them around in a tight circle, then holds out an open palm to both ladies.
“Okay, I can do this one,” Nuria claims.
The professor folds his arms and awaits her interpretation with a grin.
“The three of us are…stopping?”
“Wait, really?” Nuria asks incredulously. “But I’m finally getting the hang of this flying thing. Why stop in the middle of it?”
“She has a point, professor. It’ll impede on the progress she’s already made.” Tyra eyes Nuria sideways. “Miraculous as it’s been.”
Professor Marmagar again holds up three fingers, then adds three more to the mix. He swirls his hands in opposite directions for a moment, and then changes so that both hands spin the same way.
“Mind if I get this one?” Tyra asks Nuria.
“Be my guest.”
“You want the class to come back together. All six of us.”
Professor Marmagar awards Tyra with soft applause and a muffled chuckle. He slides his hand across the air, making occasional curves. He holds up a finger, then repeats the action in a straight line.
Nuria narrows her eyes, feeling rather cross with her interpretation. The class is reuniting to make the school year smoother. Thanks, Zathony. Guess I’ll just have to put in work after class hours.