Nuria thanks her lucky stars that her milk chocolate skin doesn’t allow the red in cheeks to show. After Valine’s flawless display of her powers and singing, Nuria flounders when trying to imitate her performance, again singing “Run, Gyara”, both in her head and aloud. Her embarrassment hits its zenith when she has to resort to catching a frisbee with her teeth, cutting off her lovely warbling. She spits it out hastily as Lauron and Sticker giggle at her expense.
“Guys, stop it,” Valine protests. “She’s doing her best.”
“Oh, we know,” Sticker replies.
“But doesn’t mean it’s not funny.” Lauron rises and leans against the sparring stage. “So, what, you trying to breathe fire now?”
“No, I’m trying to use a pho- one of my Vanusi powers this time. It came out last night at the rehearsal.” She turns to Valine and Professor Cwen. “Sorry, again, by the way.”
“What happened last night?” Lauron asks, her curiosity heightened.
“Your newest classmate has the ability to emit powerful sonic pulses from her mouth,” Cwen explains. “She managed to tap into that power during rehearsal.”
“I think singing triggers it, but so far that theory hasn’t gone my way,” Nuria says glumly.
“What if singing isn’t the trigger? What if it was just the key to that power’s chest? Executing the power may require a different tactic,” Lauron states excitedly.
Professor Cwen says, “I can hear the idea in your voice, Lauron. What do you have in mind?”
“Oh, come on, professor. You know firsthand how controlled I am in a brawl. I promise my fists will always stop short. And,” she faces Nuria hungrily, “I trust you have similar reflexes.”
“Sure do,” Nuria boasts. She laughs inside, thinking of how many times she’s tried to pin her brother over the years. She hopes not to start a second losing streak with Lauron if the exercise is approved.
“I don’t know,” Cwen says, her strict and domineering attitude from the rehearsal nowhere in sight. “What do you think, Reddic?”
With his trademark jocund smile front and center, he states, “Just like you with Lauron, I too have firsthand knowledge of Nuria’s reflexes. I say we give them one chance to prove it now before allowing them to run away with the idea.”
“Easy!” Lauron chants, hopping onto the stage with a vertical leap. She removes her white short-sleeved, button-down blouse and tosses it over her broadsword, revealing her dark tank top underneath. She swaggers up to Nuria and holds up her fists. Nuria studies Lauron’s muscles, impressed by the size and definition of her arms.
I can’t be too surprised. She carries that sword with one hand all over the place like it’s paper.
“I’ll let you announce when we start. Don’t want to be too unfair,” Lauron says condescendingly.
Nuria raises her fists, ignoring the jab. She calls the round and evades a swift left jab with a sidestep. She stops her fist an inch or two away from Lauron’s cheek, her full-body parry a success. The wide eyes on Lauron’s face express more shock than fear.
“You really thought you were that much better than me?” Nuria accuses sourly.
Lauron rotates and looks Nuria in the eyes with an honest smirk. “I won’t treat you with blinders on next time. Well, if they allow it.”
Nuria follows her pointed finger to the professors. Cwen turns to Reddic with an inquisitive expression, effectively leaving it to him. The phoenix tugs at his heartstrings by mouthing “Please” while placing her palms together.
“Class is just about over. We can give them five minutes to test the theory,” Reddic says.
Cwen starts the timer on her phone immediately. “Have at it, you two.”
The girls launch themselves at one another without uttering any more trash talk. As intense as the grappling gets, they keep their word to not punch one another. However, they play fast and loose with that loophole, using their legs to constantly trip up one another. After the second headlock attempt from Lauron, Nuria agrees to the unspoken rule that the first to tap out loses. Before the phoenix even realizes it, the goal is less to use sonic voice than to pin Lauron. The timer ends without either objective a star in the win column.
“Nice scrap, Nuria,” Lauron says gratefully, hunched over with hands on her knees. “Next time we shouldn’t hold back,” she whispers.
“I’m with you,” Nuria whispers back, sweating more than her rival.
“So, you two got that all out of your system?” the S’nue professor asks.
Nuria almost says yes, but she doesn’t want to end another class session with zero stars. Sonic voice- negative. Pin Lauron- negative. Active Meditation- negative.
“I want one more round.”
“Oh, I’m game,” Lauron replies.
“I appreciate that, but I have someone else in mind.” She eyes Evic feverishly. “Step up, Evic.”
Lauron huffs with disgust. “What’s with you guys and Evic? He’s not going to–”
The clatter of his longsword falling to the ground surprises everyone but Nuria. He steps past Lauron on the sparring stage, his cold, blank stare focused solely on Nuria.
“I’ll give you one shot,” he says.
“You shooting back?”
“I won’t have to. You’ll never come close to touching me.”
Nuria’s smirk is ear to ear. Excellent! Without his sword, the only way he can do that is with his S’nue power.
“Lauron, you mind taking a step back?” Nuria asks while keeping her heated gaze on Evic.
Lauron sniggers as she obliges. “Kick his ass,” she whispers in passing.
The second Lauron safely leaves the stage, Nuria propels herself forward with a small burst of her mezzo flames, right fist cocked back. She surprised Evic doesn’t even blink, though she pulls back at the last second with a beat of her phoenix wings. She reverses the momentum and aims to lock her legs over his shoulders. She looks him in the eyes as she prepares to prove him wrong.
Won’t come close, huh?
Abruptly, her wings shoot back through her metallic slits over her shoulder blades so forcefully that she slams down on both knees against the stage floor. She cries out in pain as she rolls past Evic, safe from impact with a full-body parry right underneath her legs.
“Nuria!” Cwen calls out. She takes a step forward, but feels the wind blow her hair as Reddic races to her side first.
“You okay, kiddo?” Reddic inquires, helping her sit up gingerly.
Nuria groans as she massages her knees tenderly. “Okay is not in my vocabulary right now.”
“As I said, you’ll never come close. So, give it up,” Evic rebukes coldly. He heads for the stage steps, but freezes when Nuria laughs.
“Why would I give up now?” She doesn’t waver when he faces her with indignation. “I don’t know how or why, but your powers affect me somehow. I’m gonna figure it out soon, trust me.”
“There’s nothing to figure out.” He goes and grabs his longsword, marching away from the sparring stage forthwith.
“Damn, Nuria,” Lauron says. “You must have some power over him, too. He’s never spoken to any of us that much. Now, I can’t wait for the next class.”
Professor Cwen clears her throat loudly.
“Oh, right. Enlightenment.” Lauron’s hill of enthusiasm crumbles to dust before consolidating into a mountain. “Wait…Enlightenment!”
“What’s that?” Nuria asks.
“It’s a S’nue holiday. And what does a holiday mean? Party!”
Nuria links with her train of thought in the blink of an eye. “Party at Ibri House?” she asks Reddic.
“Please?” Lauron asks Professor Cwen, backed up by Valine and Sticker.
The young ladies are not refused their request.