Wisps of steam rise from Tameri’s tea on the table to her eyes before entirely evaporating. She lets the tea go unattended as she fills in sections of the violet binder on her lap. Her spadroon and harness are not present to obstruct her outfit; a short-sleeved white button-down blouse, black jeans, and thigh-high dark boots laced tightly all the way up. She wiggles her pen as she reviews her latest entry. In the slot for the grade, she writes A+.
That should do it for Roy, she thinks.
She turns the page and Pan’s name is scribbled at the top in beautiful cursive penmanship. Tameri parrots what she records in her mind.
Although Aven is still in the midst of his punishment, he’s certainly lit a fire in Pan. She’s steadily overcoming her flaws as an archer. I’m looking forward to her performance. Hope she is, too.
Tameri continues to detail the exercises and strategies Pan employs.
She holds her arms in the draw position for her bow while holding 15-pound dumbbells. Perhaps I should have her increase the weight to 17.5 pounds. 20? Tough to gauge exactly. I’ll have her stick with 15 until after the performance.
Before turning to yet another page, Tameri adds in the grade at the top right corner: B-. She flips to Aven’s section of the binder and scowls.
Such a talented young man. Just wish his attitude was less abrasive with all the other freshman. Aurum seems to have cooled off, but Pan is now hot under the collar, and Shuri and Roy do all they can to avoid dealing with him.
Tameri sighs and assigns him an A-.
Aven may come to regret alienating his peers.
Tameri twirls her pen between three fingers, sits back, and huffs. She directs her assessment back onto herself. She remembers telling Jojen how difficult her freshman class is. At the time, she was excited to get the five of them to work together, as she’s done for all her previous students.
The professor suffers doubts that she may not be the right one to teach them. Deep down, she knows she’s more than capable, but her insecurities lie with how the students interpret her instruction. She laments as she recalls the fear Pan, Roy and Shuri once felt from her actions. That same day, Aven even called her out. Tameri now comes to identify with Rum’s sense of responsibility and guilt.
We both punish ourselves for our failures beyond what is necessary.
She smiles then, turning to his page in the binder. His review is mostly complete. The first line reads:
“So earnest, so excited, so enthused…and so conflicted.”
A brilliant young Ohaida; a Slayer in the making for sure. Too caught up in his own head to realize his potential. Although, I’m starting to see progression. Never would’ve expected him and Shuri working together would ignite it. Such an odd pairing, but a catalyst can be anything or anyone. Then again, Shuri’s main catalyst is his biggest obstacle. It’s high time that I –
The steam from her tea stings her eyes. She blinks before looking up, Professor Marmagar holding the cup to her face. Tameri nods and accepts immediately. “Thank you, dear.”
“I haven’t seen that binder in seven years, I believe,” Professor Zathony says. He and his mute colleague take seats opposite their fairer contemporary. “I’m willing to bet we’re all being put through our paces by the same class.”
Marmagar holds up a pair of twisted fingers.
Tameri laughs as she shuts her violet binder. A sticker of a red exclamation mark punctuates the cover. “Oddly enough, Aurum is not my biggest struggle.”
“I wish his sister could be the same,” Zathony groans.
“That young lady was always going to be a handful. You surely saw that on orientation day. Better you got her than Lynald.”
“Oh, don’t you give me the old man’s philosophy, too.”
“I will spare you only because you know he was correct about her,” Tameri says, delivering a scathing stare. “But I was referring to the fact that she’s well advanced in her Sulublei power. Her time would be wasted this first year to be in Lynald’s class. Plus, you can’t deny the obvious connection she has.”
“What connection? To Tyra?” Zathony asks.
“Not you,” Tameri states. “Marmagar knows, however.”
Marmagar smiles wide and puts a finger to his lips.
“Why not tell him?” Tameri asks, confused.
Marmagar points to the now lukewarm tea in Tameri’s hands. After locking her attention, he points to the simmering pot on the stove. He makes an imitation explosion by spreading his fingers and blowing with puffed cheeks.
“You’re silly,” Tameri replies, fighting off a laugh. “But have it your way. Sorry, Zathony.”
“Whatever. Keep your secrets.” Zathony rises as the tea kettle whistles, steam firing from the spout.
“Well, in the interest of some cooperation,” she turns toward the kitchen area, “perhaps you can tell me how you’ve been handling Nuria.” Tameri sips at her tea as Zathony prepares two fresh cups of his own.
“To be begrudgingly fair, it’s not entirely her doing. Stark has become a brick wall between Nuria and me. She forced me to allow Nuria to follow an abridged lesson plan for half the semester. If that weren’t bad enough, Nuria has been pursuing that train of activity on her own time. She shows up late to class with plenty of new bruises, then falls asleep before I dismiss her.”
Marmagar wags his index finger in a disapproving manner, then accepts his tea from his opinionated colleague.
“She’s trying to do it all? Your plans? Her plans?” She continues when they both nod. “If she continues to bifurcate her time it could lead to another fire, or worse.”
“I try to urge her to slow her pace, but I don’t think she truly values my input. She hangs on the words and support of Tyra and Stark like they were worth gold,” Zathony practically hisses.
“Then you should get one of them to tend to her health instead,” Tameri suggests.
“Fat chance. Tyra loves to encourage her flight training, and Stark doesn’t mind long as they bring her along.”
“Bring her where?”
Zathony waves his free hand dismissively. “Some spot right outside the campus.”
Tameri shakes her head with a grin. Wonder if that’s where her brother and Shuri disappear to, as well.
“Then you have to be clever about it, Zathony. Make it so that the two of them redirect her to a less taxing activity.”
Marmagar gives Tameri a knowing stare and taps his nose.
Zathony looks between them, half intrigued and half annoyed. “Are you going to fill me in this time? Or do I have to investigate this secret, also?”
“The freshman derby is upon us. Lynald and Cwen tell me they have their nominations ready. In fact, I think I know whom to nominate to help you keep Nuria from another burnout.”
“Nothing from the armory owner either?” Starks asks into her Bluetooth earpiece. She keeps a vigil on the western wall of her office as she stands and skirts around her desk. All of the Underworld crime scene dossiers are open, the reports and crime scene photos overlapping. The topmost image shows a wrecked room with a puddle of blood in the center; no body present. All of the bookshelves in the background are ransacked.
“Why not question him?”
Stark walks alongside a set of windows overlooking a floor of busy security guards. There is a row of desks for each of the five windows, plus one to match the glass door behind the head of security. An officer steps to the glass door and raps against it, his head twisting from side to side.
Stark absently holds a finger toward them as she continues her call. “I don’t care. Drag him in in cuffs if necessary. He’s our only lead to both Underworld and our invisible stalker. It’s been almost two – Yes, sir. I’ve since ordered and incorporated the infrared imaging tech into Four Heart’s security. Unfortunately, it appears our guest has decided to give Nuria a wide berth.”
Stark pauses and listens as she stands directly before the western wall. “‘Where’s Nuria now?’”
The large screen before her shows a clear video feed of Nuria and Tyra doing their flight training. Nuria’s covered in a myriad of bandages, some of which have fresh pools of blood underneath. She gains some new injuries as she slams into trees, branches, and the exposed roots above ground. Tyra manages to intervene and soften her collisions from time to time.
“I’ve got her in my sights, sir.” She turns when there’s another rap at her office door. “Excuse me a moment, sir. I have a visitor.”
Stark opens her office door and slips outside. She keeps her back to the dark glass, the interior of her office kept secret. She crosses her arms when she comes face to face with her nearly bald subordinate, his close shaved blonde hair barely visible underneath the LED ceiling lights.
“State your business quickly, Officer Roark. I’m in the middle of a business call.”
“Sorry to bother you, sir, but I was just contacted by Professors Tameri, Marmagar, and Zathony. They all want to speak with you immediately.”
“Did they tell you what the meeting will pertain to by chance?”
“No, sir. They were all rather vague. Especially Zathony, though I feel he was enjoying it.”
“Inform them that I’ll take their meeting request tomorrow. For Zathony, you may be as vague with that as you wish.” Stark winks to her officer before slipping back through her one-way glass door. “Sorry, sir. Had other school business to attend to.”
Stark listens to him rant in her ears. She sits in her chair and swivels once more toward the screen video feed of Nuria and Tyra. She smiles when the young ladies appear to be wrapping up for the day. “I am sure it’s operational. I triple-tested the hardware the moment it arrived. I –”
Stark tenses up and sits forward when she sees the young ladies turn sharply to their right. Stark pulls out her keyboard tray and presses down on the I, F, and D keys in the reverse of that order. The video feed changes to infrared by way of a fading video effect. She uses the mouse to turn the camera ever so slightly, to avoid it being detected. She watches a pair of heat signatures approach the girls. The shapes become clear after they pass by a cluster of the exposed tree roots, which also give off their own infrared readings. The four individuals greet each other with a mixture of waves, and two of them hug. Stark cancels the infrared to reveal in standard visual detail that Nuria and Tyra have been joined by none other than Rum and Shuri.
What are those boys doing out there? Shuri knows his grandfather will be furious to learn he’s off-campus. Is this what Tameri and the Vanusi professors wanted to discuss? Makes sense they want higher security for reckless students, but Zathoyn and Marmagar should already know I’m watching over the girls.
The ramble in her ear snaps her out of her inner monologue.
“Sorry again, sir. There was a false alarm I had to check. Everything is fine.” Stark quiets herself, listens, then, “You know I’m on top of things. If Underworld shows their face, or even the invisible criminal, I’ll be ready.” She pauses once more. “I doubt The Pure is a concern at this point. And if they are, it doesn’t change anything. I’ve fought all kinds of monsters in this world. No matter the threat, I’ll put an end to it.”