3.4: Hero

An entire week of strict dance practice that Nuria enforces to the letter- 4 pm to 8 pm daily- leaves the young phoenix and her future date exhausted. She reveals her “DANCE MIX” she has saved on her phone to Shuri, and it’s a collection of hustle songs by the music and dance band, Entro. While she has another beloved band (Juggar) that specializes in dance music, theirs are more freestyle, and Nuria is no good at improvising dance moves. Entro not only create unique and entertaining hustle dances, but also have online videos and DVDs that teach fans the steps to the hustles, and Nuria possesses all of the signed copies back home.

     Nuria first gets Shuri used to the basic steps and the types of rhythms they go along with, and tells him that counting steps is the best way to keep up. The young man maintains an understanding until they get to the direction changes. He struggles to keep and reset counts during and after the two hundred and seventy-degree turns. Nuria assures him he’ll have time to get it down before Founder’s Day, then moves on to couple’s hustles.

     “These four songs are all my favorites from Entro, but they require a partner to learn, and Rum was uncooperative when I asked for his help,” Nuria says as she scrolls down her playlist and shows Shuri the titles, which are: “Fireman Fever”, “Diamond Feeling”, “Day Stars”, and “Secret Party”. All of their thumbnails on the left side of the screen show men and women moving in tight quarters. “I’d completely forgot about them since coming here. Didn’t think I’d have the time or chance to dance while here. Well, not to these songs, anyway.”

     “I see,” Shuri says slowly, his eyes still on the thumbnails.

     “See what?”

     He shakes his head, but Nuria can still clearly see the consternation on his face. She chooses to ignore and looks back down at her phone. Nuria turns on “Fireman Fever” and she and Shuri resume their exhaustive dance practice. They step on each other, argue over whose fault it is every time, and ultimately find a shaky rhythm once they get over the close proximity of the other, though it still leaves them both with sweaty palms.

     Nuria shows up early for the start of their second week of practice and blinks when she sees Shuri already by the flagpole, dancing with an imaginary partner, earphones plugged into his cellphone. He freezes in place with rosy cheeks, then slowly tugs his earphones out. “You’re late,” he barks, his voice rough from haggard breathing, his clothes already sweat-stained.

     “Late? My class just got out. Didn’t yours?”

     “Professor Tameri canceled out after lunch courses at the last minute, so I’ve been here for a few hours. Trying not to hold you back from learning your precious dances.”

     “Hold me back? What are you talking about?”

     “You’ve been a total drill sergeant about learning these couple’s hustles. Come on, four hours every day. That’s a bit much, don’t you think? Yet and still, you’re all about this. But I feel if I tell you we should stop, then you’ll go off and just find someone else to dance with and learn. That’ll pretty much be it for our…date.” He looks down a moment and takes a calming breath. “What I’m saying is, you don’t have to pretend to be my date just to learn these dances. I’ll help you regardless. I–”

     “Shuri, shut up,” she cuts him off coldly.


     “I didn’t ask you to the dance just so I could learn these hustles. I could’ve poached anyone from Professor Tameri and Marmagar’s dance class if that were the case. I ran to ask you right away because…well…”


     “Because for some reason, I’m less…nervous around you. I sang in front of you when we first met and never really sing in front of others. I’ve only been good at dancing because in big concerts, nobody looks at the little girl over the band playing.”

     Shuri points to her red t-shirt with TFF across her stomach in bold black letters, musical notes bordering the acronym. “Bands like that one?”

     “Yeah…,” she says. “I figure if I had you be my dance partner, I might not be too nervous. Besides, I asked you to the dance before I even knew you couldn’t. So, why not kill two birds with one stone; learn these dances while teaching you to dance period. But that’s just an added perk. I always have a lot of fun with you, from Star Derby to just chilling up here to your constant dietary suggestions. There’s no better choice than you.”

     She smiles when Shuri smiles and says, “You may be hyper, hard to argue against, and stubborn as me and my grandfather, but I think the same about you.”

     Nuria feels the flush in her cheeks and tries to retain eye contact. She feels pressure in her stomach come to a boil the more she resists the urge to look away, but the feeling swiftly becomes too intense. She whips her head back and looks at the ledge. The boiling sensation in her gut subsides at the same time as she has an epiphany.

     “You know, we made a big impression the last time we attended a school event. Want to make another?”

     “What do you have in mind?”

     There’s that curiosity again, she thinks with a mischievous grin. “I think we should–”

     Both of their phones chime from a litany of alerts all at once. Nuria sees that most of hers come from Rum, and a few emails from Headmaster Neth.

     “Are you getting–”

     “Summoned by my grandfather? Yeah. And Tameri’s urging me to come, also. Must be serious.”

     “Race you there?” Nuria shows him a cocky grin while bouncing her eyebrows.

     “On the count of three.”



     Nuria bangs through the door to Neth’s office and slides inside on her knees, raising her arms up high. “Whoo! I win!” She looks over her shoulder, wheezing heavily, but smiles boastingly at Shuri. “Better luck…” she quiets herself when she recognizes his consternation returning, then turns forward, “…next time.”

     Gathered all together in the office, making it feel more cramped than usual, are the headmaster, Professor Tameri, Tyra and Rum, the other Ohaida freshmen, Trixee and the other SD coaches, as well as Valine and Wallace, the latter of whom surprisingly looks lively to be here. However, no other presence is Nuria more elated to see than Stark, especially back in her security uniform, though the one she wears is black, not silver.

     “Thank you for coming,” the headmaster says. “Please, join us.”

     Nuria ignores the headmaster as she swiftly gets off her knees and jogs closer to the officer. “Does this mean you’re back?” Nuria asks hopefully, her smile extending from ear to ear.

     “That’s why I’ve called you and the others here, Nuria,” Neth elucidates. “Would you and Shuri mind taking a seat, please?”

     Nuria nods and sees the only seats are in the back of the group. She hesitates only briefly, but the moment she moves toward them she hears, “Take my seat.” She turns as Alcott rises, leaving a space between Trixee and Valine. “Don’t thank me, just take it.” Nuria whispers “Thanks” as they pass by one another anyway. She sits and looks directly at Neth with a dour countenance, though remains aware of Stark and Tameri on opposite ends of the headmaster’s desk.

     “Before any official decision is made, I want the lot of you, the students directly put in harm’s way this year, to give your honest opinions once you know the basics of the situation at hand. Stark is here to explain those details now.” He turns to Stark. “The floor is yours.”

     “Listen up, everyone,” Stark addresses the students as she steps closer. “Three times this year, incidents have occurred by the order of my mother. Her name is Liamria, and she’s an extremely dangerous criminal. The night of the Vanusi dorm fire was the first incident. Nuria and–”

     “Wait!” Trixee says. “She caused that fire?” Her horn sprouts as swiftly as her anger flares.

     “No,” Nuria says, cutting off Stark’s reply. “Since Stark is putting her mistakes out there, then it’s only fair I do the same.” Nuria looks Trixee in the eyes, her face mere inches from her exposed horn. “The fire was my fault. I’d rather not go into why I started it, but if you must know, I’ll tell you.”

     Trixee’s hardened expression doesn’t entirely soften, though her horn retreats back into her forehead. After a moment, she tells Nuria, “It’s fine, I guess. I didn’t lose anything that can’t be replaced. Plus, I saw what your fire can do now, and some of us might not have survived that day without it.”

     Nuria is caught unawares by the mumbled assents of the other coaches. “Thanks. I’m sorry, Stark. Please, continue.”

     “Nuria and Tyra were both targeted that night by a young woman named Kari. Her anger at the world and justice system were manipulated, most likely by my mother, and fueled her fiendish lifestyle. It is one I do not share. For the past eleven years of my life, I’ve been raised by the law, taken in by the greatest man I know. It was because of his recommendation that I came here. No matter the words you heard my mother say, I’m here for the sole reason to keep students like you safe.

     “Three times this year, I’ve failed to do so when it counted. Twice this year, one some of you witnessed and one you did not, Nuria was instrumental in our victory. For the third that took place off-campus, it was Aurum who saved the day. And while I applaud the courage, it is not their job, it is mine. I have failed three times, but if you all can forgive me, I will not fail a fourth time. If you cannot, then from this day forward, I will no longer grace this campus with my presence and hand over my position to another.”

     Nuria chokes down a gasp, but her chair scratches the floor when she jerks. She looks at Stark with fear all over her face and feels stymied by the officer’s fiercely serious demeanor. After all the fighting the two have done, she hates how things are still not in their favor.

     But I’ve done so much already and don’t want to influence others with my hyper, hard to argue against attitude. Right now, even Alcott is being nicer than usual. I have to stay silent. I want Stark back, but they should too. If they don’t, I can’t blame them.

     “If you wish to voice your opinion, just raise your hand. Take as much time as you need to think it over. There is no rush,” Stark instructs.

     Nuria shuts her eyes as she believes looking at anyone’s dismal expression will trigger her into speaking out of turn. She clasps her hands together over her lap and the veins pop as she presses her palms together forcefully, causing her arms to tremble uncontrollably.

     “I have a question,” Rum says.

     Even though she hears her brother’s voice come from behind her on the left, she still refuses to open her eyes, determined to let things play out fairly.

     “Yes, Aurum?”

     “My question isn’t for you, Stark,” he says. “Nuria?”

     Nuria’s trembling stops as the instant spotlight makes her sweaty fingers untangle with a wet snap. She hastily tries to regain her composure before facing him. “What is it?”

     “The attack during the Freshman Derby- did you mean to defend Stark? To save everyone?”

     She knows what he means. He’s the only one she’s shared her phoenix theory with of her phoenix powers acting when she isn’t physically capable. She figures that he believes her powers are not sentient as she thinks they are. She doesn’t want to answer and put his doubts away, but after noticing all eyes on her, she concludes that ignoring the question is just as bad an option.

     “Everything I’ve done this year, from learning to fly, the Freshman Derby, and at Stark’s trial…I meant to do those things. Either for myself, for Stark, or for anyone else in this room,” She looks from Rum to Shuri and smiles when she sees his own, “I meant it.” She stands and addresses her peers calmly. “No matter what, if it’s what you truly mean, then that’s what you say to Stark.”

     Nuria whirls on Stark and the officer shows her a swift grin. The phoenix nods back minutely and retakes her seat. She sits upright with a stoic expression and awaits the coming answers as patiently as the adults in the room.

     “I say she stays,” Rum says boldly. “My sister clearly wants you here, so I want you here.”

     “I agree,” Tyra says. “Your mother’s crimes are not yours.”

     The votes pause after that for a few minutes, prompting Headmaster Neth to say, “Shuri, how do you feel about the situation?”

     “I’m with Nuria. I wasn’t aware of the trial, but I’d have testified on Stark’s behalf. I mean, I popped her mother’s head like a balloon when she was choking Stark, and if need be, I’d do it again.”

     Nuria almost snorts. Popped her head? I would miss that, wouldn’t I?

     “Anyone else?”

     Trixee sighs so boisterously that it becomes a groan. “I don’t wanna disappoint my precious protégés, so I say she stays.” And like that, the other coaches fall in line, even Alcott.

     “She stays,” Valine states.

     Wallace leans back in his chair and Nuria turns when she feels him watching her. “Why do you vouch for her?” he asks simply.

     “Because she vouched for me,” Nuria says, using his own tone against him.

     Wallace shrugs his shoulders and looks up at the ceiling lights. Again, his lackadaisical attitude annoys Nuria. That is, however, until he says, “Then I’ll vouch for her, too. She can stay.”

     I still have no clue what this guy’s deal is…

     “Pan? Aven? Roy? What are you thinking?” Professor Tameri asks. Her arms are folded, lips turned down in a scowl, and her brow is wrinkled with poorly masked fury.

     She still doesn’t trust Stark. Good thing Rum doesn’t share her attitude.

     Pan and Roy exchange some talk about irrefutable hazards before adding to the support of Stark. Nuria doesn’t follow their logic entirely, but she believes they mean it and that’s what she wants from everyone, and there’s only one left.

     “What kind of criminal is your mother?” Aven asks.

     “My mother is an officially recognized member of The Pure,” she replies without blinking.

     “That’s why you’re allowed to be an officer despite having powers, isn’t it?” he asks. “You were trained to capture your own mother.” Aven leans forward and whistles. “You said you’ve been an officer for eleven years, right? You’ll have to excuse me if you find this rude, but you’re not that much older than us, so you’d have become a cop when you were our age, or close to it.”

     “That’s correct.”

     “I can imagine how weren’t equipped back then, but are you capable of stopping your mother now?”

     Stark stares directly at him while standing tall with shoulders raised, fists clenched, and eyes made of steel. “I have no doubt that the next time she attacks this school that I will have her arrested. And it will be my power that does it. Not Nuria’s or anyone else’s.”

     “Then I see no reason to fight the flow. I agree that Stark can stay,” Aven says, his final vote lifting Nuria’s spirits greatly. She glances at Tameri with her periphery and sees the professor is no less angry.

     Get over it!

     “Very well,” Headmaster Neth says. “The students have spoken and unanimously placed their confidence in you. And from today, so shall I.” He stands and walks around in front of Stark. “I hereby officially reinstate you, Officer Stark, as a member of the Four Hearts Academy security team on a probationary period, during such time your stays on campus may only be limited to two days a week, your quarters here will remain accessible to you, and you will report directly to head of security, Officer Roark. The probation will end only when your mother has been detained and incarcerated. Do you accept my terms?” He extends his hand.

     She shakes his hand firmly. “Yes, sir.”

     Nuria again does an excellent job of controlling herself, all too eager to leap up and hug Stark, but keeps herself locked down by clutching the sides of her chair tightly.

     “Then welcome back, Officer Stark.”

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