2.3: Green Light

Nuria sits at her desk, motionless and silent, while her classmates engage in Zathony’s usual games. She barely takes any notes, and those she does are locked into her mind between her recollections of a highly disappointing conversation the night before. The note she locks into her mind now is that all environments in the wild have a specific food chain.

     “Allow me to summarize events so that you understand exactly how upsetting and frustrating this sounds,” Headmaster Neth said. “I trusted the two of you,” he pointed to Professors Tameri and Zathony, “to watch over Nuria during the trial. For no amount of time should you have let her out of your sight. And you,” he turned to Roark, “should not have taken Nuria to see Stark in the first place.”

     “Why not?” Nuria asked, her voice raised.

     “This is the time for you to be quiet, Nuria. You’re in enough trouble already,” Neth said disparagingly.

     Food chains follow a simple order from producer to consumer. No matter the food chain, the sun is the main producer of energy transferred throughout the habitat.

     “And on top of that, you made her believe testifying on Stark’s behalf was a good idea! In what way does that benefit this young woman, Roark? She’s here as a student. Her role is to make friends, learn, and have fun. Not to tackle court cases.”

     “You missed one,” Nuria said under her breath.

     “Nuria, I’ve told you–”

     “You missed one,” Nuria said louder. “You told me about this before I dismissed it then. I don’t dismiss it now.”

     The sun transfers energy to plants and grass, the producers of a habitat. From there the energy is passed to the habitat’s primary consumers, the herbivores. Herbivores (animals that feed on vegetation) are then consumed by carnivores (animals that feed on flesh). The carnivores follow a hierarchy that tops out with an apex predator- a consumer with no natural predators.

     “In the acceptance letter from you, you said that “Four Hearts Academy is an institution second, and a family first. Let us be your family, and we will help you in any way that we can.” I read that line over and over the whole way to this place, and every time I did, I scoffed. I had all the family I thought I needed at the time. But that was before I met Tyra, Stark…and Shuri. Since coming here, those three have held my head above water, and none more so than Stark. And she needs my help. She’s your family, too. You should be jumping at the chance to help her!” Nuria argued.

     While apex predators have no natural predators, the energy from their bodies is cycled back into the producers (vegetation) via decomposers (fungi such as mushrooms).

     “Nuria, her mother is a member–”

     “Of The Pure, yeah, I know. And I don’t care about her mother. It’s clear Stark doesn’t either. None of you knew about her mother until this year, right? Ever wonder why?” Nuria only waited a moment to continue her tirade as they pondered that. “And what’s so bad about The Pure? I keep hearing that name but nobody ever explains it. Like it’s just a myth people use on occasion. I don’t see the big deal, and if nobody can tell me why, then it shouldn’t matter for Stark!”

     Headmaster Neth showed her a look of such sheer pain and rage that it quelled the rest of her speech. “I assure you that it’s no myth, Nuria. The Pure are monsters that destroy lives. And unfortunately, it’s not just them that do so. If you testify as you wish, you have no idea the consequences that will follow. So, while it does pain me to do so, I must terminate our agreement. You will not be returning to the court when the trial resumes. That is my final word on the matter.”

     Nuria shouted and argued, even as Professor Zathony forcibly removed her from the headmaster’s office.

     The young phoenix groans as she finally picks up a pencil and doodles into her notebook. The talk and subsequent ruling from Neth last night made her so angry that she wasn’t able to sleep. She pours her anger into her artwork, making a food chain of the people she’s met at FHA. She makes Four Hearts Academy the sun in her diagram. Stark is the producer, the energy from her carrying into Tyra, Shuri, and then Nuria. She uses Professors Tameri and Zathony as the apex predators and draws an angry face by their names. Headmaster Neth is the decomposer of her diagram, but instead of drawing a line of progression from him back to stark, she draws a loop that has the energy returning to himself.

     Nuria tears the page out of her notebook, slams it face-up on Zathony’s desk, then storms out of the classroom.

     Family first, my ass. His own grandson thinks he hates him. What’s he know about family?

     Nuria pauses in the hallway, one step from the door to the courtyard, and pulls out her cellphone. She goes to press the phone symbol beside “Mom” but hesitates.

     But what do I know about family? I have Auriel and Aurum, and I love them dearly, but we can’t be related. Not all of us. I’m obviously the odd one out, not being Ohaida at all. Maybe dysfunction is just the norm. I don’t know who my parents are, Stark hates her mother, and Shuri and his grandfather have so much bad blood.

     What if family is just another myth?

     “Nuria? What’s wrong?”

     As the young phoenix slowly turns, she becomes aware of her tears. She wipes them away and turns back to the door, staring her reflection in the face. “Right now, feels like the answer is everything.”

     Tyra’s reflection appears in the door to Nuria’s left and the angel turns to her friend with a sympathetic expression. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

     “Nobody can help. Nobody wants to. Even if I tell you what’s wrong, not even you will.”

     “Does this have something to do with the attack a couple of weeks ago?” Tyra asks.

     Nuria’s reflection faces Tyra’s, gears turning in her mind despite her bitter demeanor. Neth’s the one who terminated our deal, so that means I can tell whoever I want. And who knows, maybe this mother of Tyra’s can be helpful.

     “Do you remember that bat lady?” Nuria asks. When she sees Tyra’s skin pale, she continues to speak. “Turns out she’s connected to the duo that attacked Rum and his classmates. Right now, everyone is leaving Stark out to dry as she takes the fall for all of that.”

     “Are you serious?”

     “Professor Zathony and Rum’s professor testified against her yesterday, and now that I want to defend her, he says no. He being the headmaster. Can you believe that? Even Stark tried to discourage me. Saying I shouldn’t announce I’m a phoenix on television.”

     “You shouldn’t,” Tyra says.

     Nuria rolls her eyes. “Of course, what else would you say.”

     “Because you have something special inside of you, Nuria,” Tyra says, turning to her companion with a nervous expression. “A phoenix is a rare Vanusi power, even rarer than my own. At best, you’d be instantly drafted into the Vanusi army. At worst, well, I mean…”

     “You can say it. I’d be caged and tested like the phoenixes from Halko’s Notes.” Nuria turns back to her reflection. “I still have nightmares about that. I would absolutely hate to be put into that position. But let me tell you something, Stark was able to ease my fears about that. I was panicked with all I’d learned what may come of my future until Stark said those books exist to revive the phoenix species. That they had a brighter purpose than their subject matter made it seem. I told myself at that moment that I would make my phoenix powers uphold a brighter purpose.

     “And right now, I’m going to use it to save my friend. Are you going to help me or not? The lawyer said I would need someone to corroborate my story. You’re all I have left to count on, Tyra.”

     Nuria once again faces her friend, all pretense gone, her pleading and begging blazing in her snow-white eyes. She sees inside Tyra’s sympathy and wanting, but both are buried beneath fear.

     “But I don’t have you, do I?”

     “Nuria, if I do help, my mother will take me away from here.” Tyra chokes up before she says, “I’ll never see you again.”

     “What?”

     “I’ve never had a friend my age before. Between my mother’s reputation and my general shyness, I’ve had no luck. Not to mention all of the rules I had to follow. The only reason we’re friends is because I felt you understood. But deep down, you’re a braver person than I am. I can’t risk what I’ve gained. I can’t risk losing my friend.”

     “Even at the cost of Stark’s freedom?”

     Tyra remains silent, the fear from her gaze spreading out over her face.

     Nuria turns and narrows her eyes. “Do me just one favor?”

     “What’s that?”

     “Tell my brother I’ll be back.”

     Nuria blasts through the doors and races into the courtyard. She feels her body heating up and kicks off her shoes and socks before blasting off into the air, rockets flaring beneath both her heels. Her wings sprout from her back as she sails over the campus’ exterior onyx gate. She uses her new grid flight technique to soar through the trees with moderate ease.

     The hell with Zathony, Tameri, Neth, and Tyra! I don’t need anyone’s permission or assistance. I’ll save Stark on my own.

-FHA-

     Tyra stands dumbfounded for several seconds, too in awe of Nuria’s attitude. Despite all the preconceptions she knows people have about angels, she only now realizes she doesn’t really embody those values. Not like Nuria.

     How does she do it? Throw all concern for herself aside to help others? Why can’t I do that, too? I…I want to. But without Nuria…without Tegan…I’m spineless. Powerless.

     Tyra digs inside of her cherry-colored kimono with a shaky hand, slipping in underneath a dark sash around her waist, pulling out a cellphone. Her call application has over one thousand missed calls, and thrice as many unread messages. She enters the app and scrolls down to the second most common name present: Aranda. She dials them back.

     “Tyra, I swear this better be you and not some confused individual who found an abandoned phone.” Tyra tries to speak, but is silenced by Aranda’s continuing rant. “If this is some character calling for ransom, let me tell you now that if you touch one hair on her head, I and my colleagues at Valor Stripe will find you and you will regret…” the rest of the sentence is interrupted by a sudden roar. The next words come out in a garbled mash. “This call is already being traced. Once I–”

     “It’s me!” Tyra blurts. “Cancel the trace, Aranda, please.”

     The voice on the line is silent a moment, but comes back sound normal again. “Tyra, dear, thank Drijad you’re okay. Where are you? Your mother’s worried sick! She has Tegan traveling all over looking for you. And there’s no trace, dear. I was bluffing. But, hey, now I have confirmation your little divining trick can’t work over the phone. Where did you say you were again?”

     “Promise not to tell my mother?”

     “Depends on the reason you’re calling after months of silence. I assume it’s big.”

     “Big with a capital B.”

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