1.3: Legacies

“I fail to see how this will help you win the Freshman Derby,” Professor Zathony says as he leads Nuria down to the basement of the admin building. The walls and stairs are covered in maroon carpeting with the frames and banister painted bronze. Motion detector lights cut on as they descend further.

     “I wouldn’t expect you to. That’s why I went to the headmaster to ask for permission.”

     The professor snorts derisively. “Fair enough. I only brought it up as it was a passing curiosity. It’s passed.”

     Nuria accepts his philosophy and waits in silence as he unlocks the carpeted double doors with a large key that looks like it came out of a videogame. Nuria obliges when he gestures for her to enter first.

     The double doors are the gateway into a large library of books, artifacts, trophies, etc. The books are kept on shelves taller than Zathony. The artifacts and trophies rest in cases with glass so clear that one could think them unguarded and easy to pilfer. All of the trophies near the entrance have plaques dedicated to various Star Derby players in past years. The sculpture atop the trophies are of a man and woman spiking a ball; the man with his right hand and the woman with her left.

     Nuria circles the trophy case, giving the edge of the wooden base a wide berth to avoid slamming into the invisible glass. She finds the Freshman Derby section and scowls. Her nemesis won the FD back in 1985, and after recalling the speech Professor Zathony guilted her with, she learns that Alcott ignited the S’nue team’s win streak.

     “I’m hoping you put a trophy there at long last,” Zathony says, stepping beside her. “But I have my doubts since you insist on this nonsense instead of practicing.”

     “I get it. You want the Vanusi team to stop losing. I got the picture from Trixee. I’ll do my best. I just…I need the motivation to do so beyond just glory. I’m not really into recognition for the sake of it,” Nuria explains. “And since your badgering only irks me about this, I’m hoping to find inspiration the way that Trixee did. Otherwise, you can kiss that trophy goodbye.”

     Nuria is aware that’s he’s staring her down with a serious gaze, and she regrets snapping at him immediately, but she doesn’t perform well for someone’s reasons. She never has. It’s why she does so well when it comes to her phoenix training, but not so much for his standard lesson plans. She doesn’t want to give him attitude, but she can’t help but flare her nostrils since holding her breath perpetually won’t work.

     “I don’t want you to win so we can stop losing. Yes, the Vanusi team is in last place this year, but we’re not without a victory.”

     “Then why do you give Trixee detention for every loss?” Nuria asks.

     “To motivate her to do better. I know she’s capable of turning this team around. As for why I want her to do so, that’s simple. Because I know what people think when they look down on Vanusi. They will stop seeing you as people and more like animals. That stigma has made it hard for newer generations to access their gifts to transform. Others outside our race will always judge you as monstrosities in those states. But it’s not a deformity, mutation, nor disability. Being Vanusi is as much a blessing as being born Ohaida, S’nue, or Sulublei. Always remember that, Nuria.”

     The young phoenix is stunned silent by his speech, but a deep admiration takes the place of annoyance.

     “I know you want to be the best phoenix you can be. I respect your drive and intelligence in your pursuit of that. Now, I want you to show the whole school what you’re capable of, Nuria.” He turns and faces her head-on. “Can you do that for our class?”

     Nuria smirks from ear to ear. He’s laid it all out on the table for her now. He didn’t say for him, or her, but for their entire class. To win for them. “If what I find is as good as what you just said, I may be motivated to win without ever losing any points.”

     Zathony reaches into his pocket and hands her a slip of paper. “That has the call number for the journals you’re looking for.” When Nuria gives him a frosty look he adds, “Those are legitimate call numbers. And fret not. I’ll be down here until you’re ready to leave. The call numbers on the back are where I’ll be. In fact,” Zathony hands her the videogame key, “this way you’ll be at peace and know I can’t leave without you. I locked us in, yes,” he answers before she can even voice the thought. “If you lock me down here, you’ll regret it,” he warns, his voice fading as he rounds the nearest bookshelf.

     Nuria tiptoes to the door and tests it. It’s locked. She looks down at the key contemplatively. Nah, he’s been cool today. She scans the call numbers and goes hunting.


     Rum’s been in a haze since the attack. He’s been to talk with a Dr. Sonya after every class session with Professor Tameri and Stark in attendance inside the teacher’s lounge. However, once Stark was convinced she learned all she needed from Rum’s perspective, she stopped sitting in.  Still, he thought he could’ve been more precise and descriptive. He tried hard as he could to explain how his electricity diffused the bombs, especially since he wasn’t sure it would when his power went wild.

     He went over the initial surge of lightning with Dr. Sonya as many times as she asked, even when she wanted to dig into his emotions and motivations that day.

     “I was pissed off,” Rum said calmly. “My friends and teachers were hurt and in danger. Even before learning my lightning diffused those bombs, or just the powder- I don’t know- I just knew I had to act before they died. And I…I shouldn’t have killed that man, but…” Rum paused and turned sharply away, guilt plain as day on his face.

     “But what?” Dr. Sonya pressed.

     Tameri held up a hand to the doctor and watched Rum silently. Stark and Dr. Sonya had been putting him through the wringer with their repeated interrogations, but she made sure they never pushed too hard too fast. So, they waited for several moments and were rewarded for their patience.

     “I took a look at Pan’s face. It was cut bad…bleeding just as badly…” Rum paused again and had to work up more nerve to continue. He did. “That monster was killing my friend. The first friend I’d made in…a while.

     “Pan’s been on my case since I met her on the train, but without her…she makes life on this campus, life away from home, fun. And Aven and Shuri are my classmates, for better or worse. And Jojen’s dojo, the place that housed the dreams of potential future Slayers…I couldn’t let that man take them…away…”

     By that point, Rum had broken down into hysterical tears. He felt Tameri’s warm embrace and let out even more into her shoulders. He couldn’t stop his anguish and guilt from pouring out. He knew taking the axe-wielder’s life was necessary, but he never imagined he could go so far. And if he knew he could do that for people he’s only known a few months, he pondered how grave an action his “Always have, always will” promise to Auriel might make him do.

     Right now, as he sits inside the teacher’s lounge, Rum feels bad for putting Nuria and Pan through his extended silence. He has a recurring nightmare of Nuria in Pan’s place on the pile of shields and witnesses from a third-person point of view as his body commits all kinds of horrors to the axe-wielder.

     Until I can get those nightmares to leave, I can’t face them. I can’t let them see how haunted I feel by myself. I don’t want them to be haunted by me, too.

     “They won’t,” Professor Tameri says, her voice soft as it is, makes him jump. She starts preparing to make a fresh pot of tea. “Would you like some, Aurum?”

     “They won’t what?”

     “Be scared of you,” Tameri says. “Yes or no on the tea?”

     “Um…yes, I suppose. Thank you.”

     “Good. Tea soothes the soul, and yours needs it.” She fishes out two tea packets from the cabinet above the stove. “You have nothing left to be ashamed of, Aurum. I’d have done the same in your shoes. In fact, I was going to if he hadn’t agreed to diffuse those strange devices. And it was clear he would not be obliging me.”


     “Yes, I felt guilty, but not for wanting to kill him, but for doing so in front of you. I’ve told you what I wanted of you and my other students. However, it’s a struggle for any Ohaida to stay in perfect control at all times. For all Avinians, actually. So, I need you to accept that you slipped up, and that you’ll work harder to keep it under wraps next time. Pan and Nuria will follow your lead, so make it more positive, for their sakes.” Tameri starts the pot boiling while shaking the tea loose inside the bags before positing them inside the pot. “Do you understand?”

     Guess I shouldn’t ask how she knows. She goes through it, too.

     “Yes, ma’am.”

     “Then make today your last time hiding out here, Aurum. Go out and have fun with your friend and sister. They both miss you.”

     “Yes, ma’am.”

     “Thank you.” She turns away from the stove as it simmers and sits beside Rum. “Now, your sessions with Dr. Sony are over, but she sent me a letter addressed to you. Do you want to read it?” Tameri reveals a beige envelope from her inside coat pocket. “She told me over the phone that it’s her official diagnosis of you.”


     “Yes. She was compiling notes about your electrical surge. Her specialty is adolescent Sudita development.”

     “Do you want me to read it aloud?” Rum asks as he takes the letter. He hesitates to open it.

     “It’s up to you.”

     Rum ponders it all of zero seconds and rips the envelope open. He’s always been curious about his lightning powers and never had the chance to exercise that passion. If the diagnosis has any notes or theories, he wants them, and he believes Tameri will be an excellent sounding board.

     “Okay, it says:

     “Hello Aurum,

     I am sorry again about what you went through, but if you’ll excuse the phrasing, I believe it was a blessing in disguise for you. I’ve been studying how Sudita manifests in young adults for over fifteen years now, and after hearing your story, as well as considering the other tidbits that you and Tameri offered, I’ve come to a rather interesting conclusion.

     “You belong to a rarified group of individuals who experience delayed Sudita. What that is is when an individual has access to a modicum of their abilities from a young age. I’d estimate you first conjured your lightning between the ages of eight and ten.”

     She’s right about that. Nuria and I both gained our Sulublei powers in the same year.

     “For one reason or another, of which the underlying cause hasn’t been discovered, people like you have their powers inhibited by chemicals produced in their brains. The inhibition is lifted only during a time of great duress, such as being threatened by a bomber. I believe that you’ve now fully awoken your Sulublei powers.

     “If you’d be so kind as to write me back with any progress you make, I’d like to record and document it for publication. And I can do so while omitting your name, if you wish. I hope to hear from you soon. Take care, Dr. Sonya.”

     Rum pauses to absorb the information, keeping the letter raised.

     Delayed Sudita? Is that how Nuria got access to her phoenix powers?

     “What do you think, Aurum?” Tameri asks.

     “I think…I’m happy. I’ve never had this much concrete information on my powers before.”

     “Can I tell you what I noticed the day of the attack?”

     Rum turns to her with a gamine grin. “Shoot.”

     “You didn’t vomit once on the trip back. I think your delayed Sudita corrected the imbalance in your body. Until today, I hadn’t any idea how it was possible.”

     “You really think so?”

     “I think the facts speak for themselves in this case.”

     Rum puts a thumb on his chin. Does that mean I’m not as powerful before? Or more powerful? Nuria says Sudita is the starting point. I think I know how I can find out, though.

     “Thanks, Professor!” Rum turns and hugs Tameri tightly. “I think I have an idea! Save me that cup of tea! I’ll drink it later!” he shouts as he races out the door.


     His enthusiasm slams into a brick wall constructed by his guilt. He called her his friend, but since the attack, he’s been self-absorbed, and he’s mortified by the chance they may no longer be on such good terms because of it. Tameri told him to make his example a positive one, but he’s not sure how to start.

     Guess I’ll just have to wing it for now. I’ve stalled long enough.

     Rum steels his posture and attitude and knocks on the door a few times. “Hey, Pan. It’s Rum…my,” he says, nearly choking on embarrassment from using that nickname. A minute passes with no response.

     She could be gone… Rum shakes his head. No, just try again.

     He knocks louder this time and flinches when he hears a couple of heavy thuds followed by a high-pitched yelp.

     “Pan, you okay?” he calls out, but only hears whimpering noises. His mind instantly transports him back to the sparring chamber, her bloody face haunting him. “Pan!” Rum grabs the knob and charges to break the door down.

     “Why are you–”

     Pan screams when Rum’s shoulder slams into her chest. They fall to the floor together, Rum forcing the wind from her lungs when he lands on top of her. Her pained groans come out as a whistle.

     “Please…get…off…me…Rummy,” she says.

     “Sorry!” he says as he hastily dismounts, careful where he puts his hands. “I heard you scream, so I–”

     “Yeah, I fell because your knocking distracted me.” She sits up, massaging her lower back with one hand, gesturing to her gymnastics set up with the other. Two 15lb dumbbells are scattered on the floor beside an mp3 player with headphones splayed apart. “I was working on my balance.”

     “Oh,” Rum says, finally aware of her sweaty green tank top and tight black sweatpants. His fixation on the sweat around her breasts and shoulders is broken when she rises and winces, now massaging her back with both hands. “You okay?”

     “I just had a whole 160lb – how much do you even weigh? – boy run me over, so my back’s a little sore,” she says sarcastically.

     “Sorry. I just heard the scream and…”

     “It’s okay,” Pan says with a sigh. “I know what you thought, and I appreciate you running to my rescue…again.”

     “I–” Rum pauses. Be a positive lead. “You’re welcome. How’ve you been doing since?”

     “Now that you’re around long enough to ask, I guess I can tell you.” Pan turns and sits on her bed. She looks ready to collapse at any moment, her arms wobbly and legs shaky. “I’m running on fumes right now.”

     Rum takes the pause and her inclining her head as an invitation. She swiftly shoves some clothes aside before he sits on them. He waits for her to speak in the same way Tameri made Stark and Dr. Sonya do for him. Finally, she sighs and lets a rip.

     “It’s been wild trying to wrap my mind around the fact I was almost…assassinated. And nobody else has–” she pauses again and forces herself not to cry. “Nobody else seems to feel that way. Like life just goes on. Tameri teaches us about geography and science, Shuri’s practicing for the FD, Aven’s got his silly crush, Roy’s got new friends, and you–” She stops to wipe away her sole tear so fast that she slaps her cheek in the process. “You ignored all of us! You ignored…”

     Me. Rum finishes what she doesn’t say. Tameri was right on the money. And that means Nuria must be just as furious, if not more so. I’ll talk to her later.

     “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ignored you. I was caught up in my own turmoil while helping Stark with her investigation. Because of all the interrogations, all I could think of was that day, and I wanted so badly not to when around you; risking having you remember that whenever you saw me would’ve ruined our friendship, and I…that wouldn’t be ideal.”

     “Here’s a helpful hint,” Pan says after reflecting on his explanation, “keeping friends works really well when you stick close to them. Distance and time can erode friendships faster than people think.”

     Rum turns and frowns when Pan looks defeated, no longer trying to wipe the tears away as they fall. She doesn’t sob or whine, just looks forward with an empty expression as the tears drip onto her shirt, like a faucet left just barely on. Rum hates that he can’t read people as well as Tameri, to know what to say, so he decides to trust his instincts and comfort her physically.

     Rum laces his fingers between hers and grips firmly, turning her faucet off completely. Some life returns to her eyes and a sullen expression forms on her face. She scrubs her face clean with her free hand, making no noise until she clears her throat. Rum takes that as a sign to relinquish his grasp, but she yanks his hand back down and laces their fingers together once more. Rum would speak, but since he doesn’t know what to say he just stays put and reaffirms his grasp.

     I came here to correct what I’ve been doing wrong, and I’ll stay with her long as it takes to do just that. My other goal will have to wait.

     Rum imagines those feelings into his fingers and hopes Pan will be able to feel them through that way. Neither notices the minuscule cobalt sparks popping above their joined hands.


     Star Derby was created in juvie.

     Bet you reading this didn’t see that coming. That’s right, the founders of Four Hearts Academy were young criminals. And what a fortuitous coincidence that all four of us were big-time enough young crime lords that they sent us to one of the only two multiracial prisons in the nation.

     Okay, I’m joking. We weren’t any kind of criminal kingpins. I myself was a petty thief. I’ll get to the others. But our parents had all moved us from our individual hometowns to this multiracial utopia, and we all acted out after having lost our old friends and were sentenced two years in juvie. Three of us got out in one for good behavior. Keria’s just too much of a hothead for her own good.

     Anyway, I’m partially off-topic right now. The journals on my cofounders will come later.

     So, as you may or may not be able to imagine, juvie was quite dull. Most people stuck to their own races, and I would’ve done the same if Keria hadn’t fought with me on my very first day. We were both incarcerated on the same day and she wanted to be seen as the juvie yard boss by securing an easy beatdown.

     She did win, but I did not make it easy for her.

     She snuck into my infirmary room later once she realized that beating me near unconscious had inspired more fear than respect in juvie and claimed she liked how hard I fought back and wouldn’t mind having someone like me watch her back. I consented to the logic that having a powerful ally was worth it, and especially if more Keria-minded inmates showed up in the future.

     Now, I do not want you reading this to think we were bullies, or that it’s okay to be one, but we practically ran the juvie center the entire year I was there.

     There was only one ball provided for the entire prison yard and we scared everyone into giving it up. We stacked a trio of milk crates as goals and would always try to score on the other by tossing the ball into one of the three crates. Once or twice Keria attacked me when I won and landed us both of us in the infirmary.

     It’s been so long that I don’t remember which trip to the infirmary was when we met Talas.

     Nuria pauses her reading and smiles when she recognizes the name from Headmaster Neth’s office. His picture was quite intimidating with the glasses low on the bridge of his nose. She shivers just thinking about his dauntingly flat gaze.

     Now, Talas, he was as much a character as Keria and I. He went straight to the warden with the idea that inmate counseling was necessary and that he was capable of running it, and despite him only being a year older than Keria who was a year older than me, he was.

     Keria and I were forced into the program and there I realized how bad her anger issues were- not going into that here or she’ll read this and try to fight me again- and how I couldn’t help her when I really wanted to. She became the sister I never wanted in our year together, and I’ll always love her dearly. Hell, not even Talas could tame her with his mind games (actual therapy, he’s not a jerk). Roman barely tried.

     Oh, right, Roman is our fourth. He was also forced into Talas’ counseling.

     Eventually, Keria was excused from counseling as talking did no good, but playing the milk crate game seemed therapeutic enough, so long as she won, that is. Roman and Talas joined our games and crew, though Talas was more interested in coming up with the rules than the playing.

     Once Keria was released, we all reunited and started a club for the first version of Star Derby at our school. We forced our parents to enroll us all together, and it took all winter to do so since they were worried we’d become a crime group while in juvie instead of thinking we became friends. But they finally agreed after putting us through as much community service as they legally could.

     By the power of word of mouth, all the schools in the city decided to fund a whole park for the game for all kids to visit and mingle and interact with one another. It was then the four of us, while reveling in the atmosphere of that city, understood why our parents so badly wanted to live there.

     That was our first step into coming up with Four Hearts Academy.

     The first journal entry ends there and that is where Nuria chooses to stop. The motion detector light above her head cuts on as she shuts the journal and rises to put it back on the shelf. She feels humbled after reading the entry, knowing how the game was what inspired Four Hearts Academy’s existence.

     This isn’t just some stupid game. It’s the heart and soul of FHA.

     Nuria turns away and balls her fists, clenching them tighter as she marches forward.

     I’m not going to win so Zathony can gloat, or to show up Alcott and the S’nue team.

     She stops at the trophy case and reads the names of the Freshman Derby winners and the house they belong to. Even when she ignores Alcott and her team, the rest of the trophies are for Sulublei or Ohaida.

     When I win, I’m going to have them put a trophy in here so future generations will see all races as equal. Vanusi doesn’t have a trophy inside the case, but based on the years, it only goes back six or seven years. Next year, when the next Vanusi freshman is chosen, they’ll have something concrete to boost their confidence in themselves.

It’s gonna say Nuria, 1988 Vanusi Freshman Derby Champion!

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