Greetings are exchanged as Nuria and Reddic join their new contemporaries, though not all are verbal. Lauron’s response is a look that boasts a challenge. However, Evic stares blankly at Nuria a moment before turning away. The phoenix frowns momentarily, but she has two goals today, and breaking down his walls is one of them.
Don’t get too comfortable, Evic. I’m going to find out what you did to me.
To press that idea to him, she crosses past the girls, Professor Cwen, as well as a table covered with various props, and stands right next to him. When he turns his head and ups the frost in gaze, Nuria ups the warmth in hers and smiles wide.
“What do you want?” Evic asks, his voice higher than Nuria expected.
“To hear you say “Good morning” back to me,” Nuria states.
“Will you leave me alone if I do?”
“Nope. I’ll continue our conversation like I would for anyone else.”
“Then you’ll be speaking to the air.” Evic crosses his arms and looks forward, going completely still.
“Uh-oh, the newbie’s already activated statue mode,” Lauron announces mockingly.
“Lauron, I’ve called you not to call it that,” Professor Cwen says sternly.
“But that’s what it is,” she whines, then faces Nuria. “Whenever we used to ask him questions, he would always do that to us. The wind itself probably couldn’t even move his hair right now.”
Nuria’s mischievous grin is instant. “Oh, yeah?” She steps in front of him and leans close to his face slowly. Not one inch of his expression changes to the point she’s convinced he’s looking through her.
I probably shouldn’t be trying this considering I had to fall asleep with my wings out. Thank Drijad they were back inside me in the morning, but my back hurts like hell.
The phoenix shakes her head mentally and focuses on his hair instead of his eyes, afraid she’ll press her luck too long. Most of his snowy locks are combed back away from his face, but a few strands around his ears hang free. Nuria skips to his left and blows to see if his hair moves. However, that result is not what gets her attention.
Evic’s shoulders rise and fall when he lets out a high-pitched giggle. The lethal gaze he gives Nuria makes her freeze, sending a jolt down her spine. The tension is short-lived as Lauron breaks the silence with a laugh of her own.
“Oh, wow. That’s what your laugh sounds like? It’s so adorable.” She says the last line in a baby voice as she joins the pair, wrapping an arm around Evic’s shoulder. “I didn’t know you were so cute inside, Evic.”
He shakes her hand off. “Leave me alone.”
“Oh, don’t be so grouchy. You laugh like a girl, so what? I’m not–”
“I said, “Leave me alone”!” he repeats harshly, catching Lauron’s hand by the wrist before she can touch him again.
“Okay, guys, that’s enough. We have a lesson to get to,” Cwen says.
Lauron snatches her hand away and steps away with a scoff. Nuria holds her ground when he turns her way. “Both of you,” he says pointedly.
With an unwavering positivity, Nuria says, “For now.” She chooses to remain at his side, but now gives her undivided attention to Cwen. Her second goal is to start her journey to mastering Active Meditation.
“All right, everyone, since Nuria is new, we’re going to review Active Meditation for her with demonstrations,” Professor Cwen explains as she moves between the students and the sparring stage. “But first, who would like to explain what it is.” She points to the first hand raised. “Yes, Valine?”
“Active Meditation is the morpu for S’nue, and through its execution does a S’nue develop their powers,” Valine says clearly.
“Wait, what’s a morpu?” Nuria blurts.
Cwen clicks her tongue and wiggles a finger. “I understand that you are a previous pupil of Zathony’s and now have a professor to yourself, but in S’nue class I require everyone to raise their hands for the chance to speak.”
Nuria nods and raises her hand swiftly.
“What’s a morpu?”
“Who would like to explain morpu? Yes, go ahead, Sticker.”
As she lowers her hand, Sticker launches into her explanation. “Morpu is the source of Avinians’ powers and it has four distinct avenues for use, one for each of the races. Active Meditation is the S’nue avenue.”
“The more one uses Active Meditation or any of the other avenues, the more their morpu grows and the stronger they can become. Today, we’re going to show you what that looks like in action. Valine, I’ve supplied a microphone for you. Would you please show Nuria what you can do?”
“Yes, professor.” Valine grabs the microphone from the prop table and climbs up on the stage.
“Nuria, eyes on me,” Cwen instructs as moves behind that very same table. She lifts a frisbee from a pile of them and waves it. “Try and keep your eyes on the frisbee.”
“Okay.” Nuria turns her focus to the frisbee, but it is broken the moment she hears Valine begin to sing behind her.
“You gotta run Gyara, straight to the moon
Don’t you stop Gyara, move faster than a typhoon
We’re gonna run all night, race through the stars
And got the whole world round
Gonna light up the sky and dazzle you all
Right after the monsoon”
The phoenix recognizes the song immediately as “Run Gyara” by The Four Feathermen. She’s listened to it hundreds of times before, and based on Valine’s rendition, so has she. The only difference Nuria can find is that while the lead singer of TFF is an alto, Valine’s voice unmistakably registers as a soprano. As Valine continues, Nuria can’t help but sing along inside her head.
Nuria flinches when the professor suddenly throws the frisbee, barely catching the glint of light move on her glasses when she twists her body for a solid toss, caught up in the upward momentum of the song. She whirls in time to see Valine shut her left eye as her right eye glows cerulean. The frisbee vanishes just before colliding with the microphone in her hand. She only stops singing once her eye is back to normal, heaving a sigh of relief.
“Nuria,” Cwen calls, showing the frisbee is back in her clutches.
Nuria’s speechless a moment. When Valine returns the microphone to the prop table, laying between the frisbee pile and an easel, she asks, “How’d you manage to do that? Weren’t you caught up in the song? I was!”
“Oh, I was, too, but that’s why I did it correctly,” Valine says.
“Almost correctly,” Cwen says. “You still miss my hand when returning the frisbee to me. You have to work on that some more.”
“Yes, professor,” Valine comments glumly.
Nuria raises her hand and when called on asks, “But why have her distracted by singing when you threw the frisbee? If I were at the part of the song she was on, I’d have been hit for sure.”
“I want you to keep that thought in your head as we continue. See if you can advance the idea forming in your head as Sticker goes next.”
The artist trudges up the stage steps with the easel and canvass in tow, assisted by Cwen. After helping to set it up, Cwen vacates the stage promptly. Sticker pulls a paintbrush from her back pocket. Iridescent light travels from her arm and surrounds the paintbrush, the hairs turning black from flaxen. She proceeds to draw two circles, a large one with a smaller one inside of it. Between the circles, she draws zigzag lines, making a ring of triangles. The black brush hairs turn peach and Sticker dabs little dots in each of the triangles. The peach dots expand and fill them without crossing lines.
Nuria recognizes the design and finds Cwen waving one of the frisbees in the air after peering over her shoulder. She turns back around, awed to see Sticker mirroring the gesture with her painted duplicate.
“Show her the rest, Sticker,” Cwen instructs.
Sticker twirls the frisbee on her finger, shooting her iridescent energy into it. She throws it at the easel and the canvass absorbs it. The new painting on display shows the frisbee sailing through the air with lines denoting motion.
“You can return paintings to the canvass, too?”
“Not consistently. Sometimes the object I paint is too large to return once I bring it to life.”
“What do you do with those afterward, then?”
“Dump them in my tub. They dissolve into nothing when exposed to water.”
“So, last night, when I told you to put those flowers in a vase…”
“Yeah,” Sticker answers with a laugh.
“Well, we have one more demonstration for you, Nuria,” Cwen says as she and the young artist replace the easel and canvass.
Lauron hops from the ground to the stage with a vertical leap. She hefts her broadsword by the sheath and points to Nuria. “And this one’s gonna be the best, so pay attention.”
Lauron’s expression shifts the second her sheath hits the ground. Gone is her arrogant grin and swagger. She appears more like a hunter with its target in sight. Cwen lets the frisbees fly one at a time, but in quick succession. Lauron still moves faster, intercepting and slicing each frisbee in half, but what amazes Nuria is that she’s able to cut the lime energy surrounding her blade on and off, cutting it on only when slicing the frisbees, keeping it off when she moves to intercept the next one. Her moves are so precise and efficient that Nuria equates her skill to a mechanical paper shredder. She kneels as she sheathes her broadsword, surrounded by a graveyard of twenty-four frisbee halves, all glowing red hot at the edges.
Lauron rises, no longer the hunter machine, and points to Nuria again. “What I just did, that’s the true power of Active Meditation! It doesn’t get any better than that!”
“What do you think, Nuria?” Cwen asks. “Do you have any theories as to how it works?”
Nuria looks at each of the girls to reflect on their varying but precise use of their powers. She feels as though they’ve been at it for years, like her with her flames, but something about Sticker’s performance nags at her. She almost addresses that confusion to Cwen when Evic fidgets.
Ah, I see statue mode is over.
“Actually, I could use one more demonstration,” she says while turning his direction. “Whaddya say, Evic? Wanna show me what you’ve got?”
“Oh, why not? I mean, if you’re too shy to show me your powers, how about you whisper me a hint. I promise not to tell.”
Man, I’m making a lot of those declarations lately.
Evic faces the phoenix slowly. “Figure it out for yourself.” He rises and asks the professor, “May I be excused to the restroom?”
“Of course, dear.”
Nuria’s spirits sink a little to watch him leave, having no illusion he’ll be gone a while. I don’t want to annoy him, but my wings have only sprouted prematurely in response to two people. I know why for Reddic. If Evic is different, and I believe he is, then discovering why is paramount.
“Nuria, dear are you there?” Cwen asks.
“Oh, sorry, what’d you say?”
“Do you have any questions or theories on Active Meditation?”
The phoenix ponders a moment then says, “Based on the three demonstrations, it has to relate to maintaining focus.”
“In a sense, yes. And from what you said in regards to Valine, I believe you and her may have some overlap.”
Nuria feels the cold sweat preemptively.
“You know, I do conduct our choir hear at FHA and Valine is a member. We have rehearsal every Didaska evening from 7 pm to 9 pm. You’re welcome to attend the one we have tomorrow.”
Nuria rubs the back of her head. “Oh, no, I’m no real singer. I just have a, um…niche taste. TFF is my favorite band.”
Reddic chuckles. “No need to be modest, Nuria. I’ve heard you sing in the Ibri dorm. You have excellent projection. I could hear you clear as day from one floor up.”
“Is that right?”
Nuria feels cornered by two sharks scenting blood in the water when the joint professors stare her down.
“No, nonono. No. I just have really good speakers. Trust me. I’m no singer.”
Please drop it.
The sharks exchange nods after Reddic first shakes his head tightly. “My mistake, Nuria.”
The phoenix gasps when Lauron leaps down and wraps an arm around her shoulder. “Don’t you fret, Nuria. I’ll help you as much as I can. Wanna know why? I think we also have overlap. You game?”
Beyond just having an alternative to singing in front of people, she’s felt a certain camaraderie to Lauron since first laying eyes on her, but her focus on Evic took the front seat. This time, she puts her growth first, and looks forward to the results that she and Lauron reach. She infuses all those feelings into her smirk. “As if I’d say no!”