Nuria’s first steps into S’nue House bring about an acutely opposite reaction then when she waltzed into Vanusi House. Where the latter’s dark atmosphere once pressed her nerves, the former is more urban and homier. The carpeting is decorated with alternating red and white diamonds. Chiseled stone on the walls and ceiling are masterfully sculpted and freshly polished, reflecting the light from the low hanging cylindrical lanterns. Nuria weaves through the lanterns and traces the edge of one of the stones. As sharp as the edges look, her fingers glide along a smooth edge.
“Yeah, Vanusi House has nothing on this place,” Nuria says.
“I’m sure we’d say the opposite if we ever got to see Vanusi House,” Valine says softly.
“I say we just take the compliment,” Sticker says.
Lauron scoffs. “I say she takes it back until she sees the best part.”
Nuria whirls instantly, her curiosity for the “best part” overtaking her original incoming inquiry. She decides to goad Lauron to reveal it now. “Prove it.”
Lauron replies with a smug grin. She beckons Nuria to follow with a finger. The phoenix races up the steps on Lauron’s heels, or as close to her heels without jabbing her knees against the broadsword she carries, held by the sheath. When they reach the third-floor landing, Nuria notices another difference between the two houses is that there are more than two doors, counting up to ten. “Do you guys all have your own rooms?” she asks.
“Sure do!” Lauron boasts. She slams her fist on the door nearest to the staircase. “And this one here is mine.”
Valine points to the door on the right of Lauron’s. “That’s mine there.”
“I’m the one to the left,” Sticker comments.
Nuria whirls around in a full three-sixty. “Which room is Evic’s?”
All three ladies point to the left. Nuria doesn’t even have to ask for clarification when she sees the one door in that direction with a retractable belt barrier across the door frame.
“Guess she wasn’t lying about the not very social thing,” Nuria gingerly states.
Lauron eyes Nuria curiously, focused more on what’s behind her. “In the interest of not talking about the sour puss, how come your wings are still out?”
Nuria groans. “I’ve been trying to…” Nuria slowly lets the thought die, not willing to expose her lack of control to anyone else. “It’s not important. Let’s get back to the tour. I assume the “best part” is your room,” Nuria says to Lauron.
The phoenix is taken aback when Lauron’s exuberant demeanor breaks down. “Yeah, no, yeah…my room’s far from the best part. Plus, it’s a mess. No good house tour guide would expose that to anyone. Sticker, let’s start with yours!”
Sticker’s and Valine’s giggling makes Nuria aware that something in Lauron’s room is most likely tied to some insecurity, and that they know what it is.
Maybe they’ll let me in on the secret by the time our joint training is over.
“Here comes the best part,” Sticker announces as she unlocks her door. Nuria ignores the walls, ceiling, and carpet matching that of the foyer, even bypassing the easel with an incomplete painting on it and the half a dozen stacks of canvasses, and stares with her mouth agape at the bed floating off the ground. It bobs up and down gently, the legs chained to the floor.
“Ho- Wha- Where di- What?”
Lauron steps beside Nuria with renewed confidence. “This is a gift from the 3rd ever S’nue headmaster, Headmaster Taara. She blessed all the beds in this dorm with her levitation.”
“Blessed? Like a god?”
Lauron shakes a finger. “Not quite. Sticker, show her what I mean.”
“Remember when I said my nickname relates to my powers?”
“Here’s how.” Sticker goes lifts one of the completed paintings from atop the stack of canvasses. The illustration shows a field of sunflowers, roses, lilacs, and petunias around each other in layered rings from an aerial perspective. Sticker’s arms generate iridescent light that travels down her arms and then encapsulates the painting. Out from the painting falls one of each flower. Their places in the canvass are now little blank spaces.
“My power is to bring art to life. The caveat is that it has to be hand-drawn. I can’t do photos, nor anything digital.”
“Doesn’t stop you from fawning over that tech boy genius, though,” Valine teases.
“For the last time, I do not fawn over him,” Sticker protests with rosy cheeks.
“Boy tech genius?” Nuria asks.
“Goes by Leander,” Lauron clarifies. “Every big-time digital art program has been his invention.”
“Which I respect only,” Sticker argues.
“Uh-huh. Anyway, what Sticker just did is called a blessing. It’s when a S’nue uses their powers to influence inanimate objects. The effects vary depending on the powers used for the blessing. Headmaster Taara had the power to levitate, so objects blessed by her gained that ability also. The stronger one’s powers, the longer the blessing lasts. Based on the fact our beds still float all these years later, Headmaster Taara had to have been absurdly powerful, even more than Professor Cwen. I would’ve loved to have fought her at least once,” Lauron explains.
Nuria bends down and lifts the sunflower. It feels cold and wet in her hands. She sniffs it and the scent of paint inflames her nasal cavities. “Is this made of paint?”
“Of course. I can’t create actual life from my paintings, or else I might actually be a god. Although, Cwen thinks that with more practice that I may be able to make my paintings move around freely after lifting them from the canvass.”
Nuria looks from Sticker to the sunflower. She imagines what would happen if Sticker had the ability to do that now and had drawn an evil sunflower with razor-sharp teeth and thorny arms and stem. She sniggers and says, “It’s a good thing that power isn’t mine.” She lowers the sunflower to the floor. “What about you, Valine? Can you bless things, too?”
Valine flinches when the spotlight is thrust on her. “Well, while Sticker and my powers do fall into the same category, I’m not capable of blessing objects.”
“Why’s that? And what category?”
Valine sighs gustily, but says, “My power is called apportation. I’m able to transport an object from one point in space to another instantly. Like so.” She shuts her right eye as her left glows cerulean. The sunflower vanishes from before Nuria and ends up in Valine’s hands. “I’m only good enough to use it with one eye at a time,” she says glumly. “Professor Cwen says it’s one of the powers in the attack category.”
“Attack category?” Nuria looks at the broadsword Lauron still grips by the sheath. “Then shouldn’t you be in that category, too?”
Lauron delivers a mocking grin as she hefts her broadsword. “You’re thinking the wrong way. S’nue powers are powered by the mind, not the body. However, the mind is also at risk. Powers like Sticker’s and Valine’s and Headmaster Taara’s can all reach greater heights than my own, but their powers also attack the mind. Taara’s powers eventually left her with no sense of balance.”
Sticker says, “Professor Cwen and I have talked, and we believe one day it’s possible I could end up color blind.”
“I refuse to use my powers as much as possible, not willing to risk any more than I already have,” Valine states, shivering.
“The trade-off to my ability having a lower power ceiling is that it has no drawbacks. It defends my mind, in a sense. So, when I do this–” She unsheathes her broadsword and holds it above her head with one hand. The massive blade is intimidating enough alone, but from the guard to the tip, a layer of lime light coats the steel. The glow fills the entire room, turning the red and white diamonds black and green, the chiseled stones now akin to emeralds, and Nuria’s eyes lose their wintry hue for a vernal one.
Starting to wish I was S’nue now. Their powers are awesome.
Lauron cancels the energy coating and sheaths her broadsword swiftly. She cuts an arrogant look Nuria’s way. “Pretty awesome, right?”
Nuria thinks a moment before she says, “Evic has a sword. Does that mean he has a defend the mind power, too?”
Lauron’s eyes twitch. “Did you not just see what I could do?”
“I did, and that was super incredible, but I can’t help but ask. I’ve never known any of this till now. So, tell me, what’s his S’nue power?”
The S’nue girls all look to one another. The group silence unnerves Nuria. Lauron finally says, “We don’t know. Other than the fact he’s Ibri, we practically know nothing about him.”
Nuria thumbs her chin as she dives into an inner monologue. When our eyes met, I know I felt something. A jolt. My body reacted instantly. Whatever I saw in his eyes, it forced my wings to come out. I know it. I have to find out if he felt it, too.
Lauron knocks against Nuria’s forehead. “Hey, you still with us? Anyone in there?”
Nuria blinks, then flinches from the forehead knocking. “Yeah, sorry…just had to meditate on something really quick.”
Lauron lifts an eyebrow. “Already trying to jump into S’nue training, huh. Well, again, you’ve got the idea wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Attack or defense, all S’nue powers grow the same way, and that growth requires a conscious, or rather, Active Meditation.”
“Active…Meditation,” Nuria parrots quietly. Her mood blasts past confusion and slips into excitement.
So, that’s Reddic’s game here. Okay, I’m on board. If their powers can grow this way, then surely mine can, too. This is gonna be fun!