1.7: Enlightenment

The rubber caps on the couch legs squeak as they slide across the hardwood floor, one inch at a time. As they hit each step toward the lounge, they clap like horse hooves. The young phoenix takes a deep breath once the final step is trotted over, wiping the excessive sweat from her forehead. Her break ends swiftly, her next move struggling to drag two chairs from the lounge table to the fireplace cozy. Reddic comes to her aid after her third failed heave to lift them over the steps.

     “Now, now, no need for the stink eye,” he says when she leers at him crossly. “I know you could do so on your own, but it’s a holiday. Or, are you the kind of person who’d exercise on vacation?”

     “Just don’t blame me if your waffles burn,” Nuria says.

     “Nonsense. Cwen’s watching them. Isn’t that right, professor?”

     “Um…yeah.” They watch Cwen scramble from her chair at the dining table to sheepishly lift the spatula and dab at the batter leaking on the sides of the waffle maker.

     “Now, where do these belong?” Reddic gestures to the chairs.

     Nuria drags her sole chair to reside between the loveseats. She points to the opening right next to it. “Right there, please.” After her order is executed, Nuria thumbs her chin as she takes a look at the arrangement. She slams her fist onto an open palm, then removes one peach pillow from the loveseats and posits them onto the chairs. “There! Seats fit for royalty!”

     “Is that right?” Reddic asks as he retakes his place in the kitchen. “I assume you to be the queen, then.”

     “Of course.” Nuria brushes the damp hair from her forehead, looking into the air smugly.

     “And pray tell, who is your king?” Cwen asks. “If it’s Evic, your royal court will be unbalanced.”

     “Is he not coming?”

     “Most likely not. He never attended any Star Derby games at all last year. Not even the Freshman Derby. In fact, the only event he attended was the Founder’s Day party.”

     “Oh,” Nuria says with a start. “Well, I do think he’ll show tonight. But he won’t do so as my king. That spot belongs to my brother. You did send Professor Tameri the approval, didn’t you?”

     “I did,” Reddic says, though Nuria can sense the lack of energy in his smile.


     “But she informed me that he turned down the offer to come tonight. She told me to tell you that he said ‘I’m working on something cool to show you later. Don’t be mad at me, please.’”

     The phoenix raises a single eyebrow. “That’s promising.” She turns her attention back to her arrangement as the professors dig into their whole wheat waffles. This doesn’t work without a king, though. She looks to the loveseat on her right and imagines Lauron and Valine sitting there, and Sticker and Evic when she looks to the one on her left.

     “I got it!” Nuria shouts, snapping back to reality when someone raps at the front doors. She races across the room and yanks them open. “Welcome, ladies, welcome!”

     Lauron leads the caravan inside, each of the ladies carrying bags of snacks and drinks. “I love the “Ibri” doors you guys have.”

     “Thank you,” Nuria and Reddic respond.

     Valine asks, “Where should we put the snacks and stuff?”

     “Bring them to the kitchen,” Reddic suggests. “There’s plenty of room in the fridge for the drinks.”

     When they move to do just that, Nuria notices that both of Lauron’s hands are holding onto bags. “Wait, where’s your sword at?”

     “Told you she’d notice in under a minute,” Valine declares.

     “I can’t use it today,” Lauron says.

     “Why not?”

     “Because it’s Enlightenment,” Cwen says, lowering her fork to an empty plate. She covers her mouth as she belches. “Pardon me. Enlightenment, Nuria, is the biggest S’nue holiday there is. That is because worldwide, no S’nue uses their powers for the whole 24 hours. In some states, they’ve deemed it illegal to do so. Others have officers deliver temporary recistene patches to registered S’nue individuals. However, here at Four Hearts, we simply ask our students to honor it on their own discipline.” She hands her plate to Reddic’s extended hand. “Oh, thank you, dear.”

     Reddic rinses the plates and posits them into the dishwasher. “Now, we’ll give you young ladies some space. If you need anything, just holler. We’ll be in the basement.”

     Nuria watches them whisper to one another, but she feels a strange heat in her chest as they disappear below the floor’s horizon.

     “What’s with the wing action?” Lauron asks, plopping down on one of the royal seats.

     “Huh?” Nuria looks over her shoulder, then glares irritably at her unfurled plumage. She takes a deep sigh of relief when they decide to obey her and sink back through the slits. She sinks onto her throne with a gusty moan.

     As she and Sticker take the left loveseat as their own, Valine asks, “You feeling okay?”

     “I was until a second ago,” Nuria answers. “This wing thing is getting on my nerves.”

     “Ah, so it is a control thing,” Lauron says.

     “Yep, and it’s only getting worse. Which sucks, because I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt before.”

     “Maybe the strength is the issue,” Valine points out. “I–”

     “Nonsense!” Lauron interrupts. “How can strength be an issue?”

     “Maybe her body isn’t yet ready for the power she feels. Not everyone is as naturally gifted as you. But why would I ever expect you to understand how sometimes control is tricky and scary for some people!”

     Lauron blinks a couple of times. “Wait…are you still mad about the frisbee thing?”

     “You haven’t made any effort to apologize to me since, so yes, but this isn’t about me and you right now. I’m trying to–”

     “No, if you have an issue with me, then tell me. I don’t do the passive-aggressive thing. Speak your piece.”

     Valine eyes Lauron for a few moments, then finally decides to oblige her. “Fine! You know I hate using my powers, especially in the presence of people. Yet and still, you made me use them because you knew I wanted to help Nuria! I’m not like you! I can’t use my powers as willy-nilly! I won’t! The first time my power manifested, I accidentally teleported my parents outside of our house. They were getting on my case and I was stressed and wanted them away from me! Thankfully, they only landed in our front yard, but it could’ve been way worse! They could’ve landed in the busy street or fallen from too high up in the air! You and I both ran away from home, but I did so to protect my parents from me! You did it because your parents were afraid of you! I wonder why?”

     Nuria is tunned silent. She was curious about the secrets they knew about each other, but did not expect them to come out like this. She looks between Valine and Lauron, but somehow the latter seems unperturbed by that last outburst. Her smirk a second later throws Nuria for an even bigger loop.

     “First and foremost, I apologize for pushing you that day. It sounds like I don’t mean it, but I do. I’m proud of you, too. Because unlike my parents and siblings, you were honest with me. I’m no natural talent, Valine. I just worked from the moment both my Suditas triggered. I was the only one in my family so blessed after generations, and because they had no powers to compare, they saw my growth as monstrous. They feared me, envied me, then disowned me. Not legally, but they all just stopped acting like I was real. One day, they didn’t pick me up after detention, but my sword and some food were left in the principal’s office. I said to hell with them and went in search of someone powerful, thinking they’d be able to care for me.” Her cocky smirk becomes more tender.

     “And that’s when I met Professor Cwen. I saw her jellyfish and it was the same color as my energy blade, so I figured she’d fit the bill. But I had to test her first.”

     “Oh, no…” Nuria says, recalling Lauron’s “firsthand” comments from the last class session.

     “Yeah, I tried to fight her. She proved her strength in less than five minutes. Not only was I too slow to hit her- with a sheathed sword; I’m not a monster- I was in her jellyfish’s clutches in no time. I’d still be in a juvie cell if she didn’t come back the next day to drop the charges. That was right before the school year began last year.”

     “Wow,” Nuria mumbles.

     “So, Valine, do you accept my apology?”

     “Did you really mean it?”

     “Absolutely. Now, I’ll piss you off again in the future- I’m sure of that- but just talk to me about it next time off the jump. I’ve had enough of a lack of communication for one lifetime.”

     Valine huffs. “Apology accepted.”

     “Oh, good,” Nuria says, relieved to stop holding her breath. “This party was already hitting enough hiccups without you two at each other’s throats.”

     “This an Evic-related hiccup?” Lauron queries.

     “Nah, he’ll show. I did want my brother to come, though. You and he would hit it off, I think.”

     “Oh, I’ve met Rum,” Lauron announces.

     “Wait…when? How?”

     “Last year. He and I are part of the student government here. Tyra and Barry are the other two sophmen reps.”

     Nuria freezes at the mention of Tyra, still wrestling with her feelings in that regard. Maybe I’m being passive-aggressive, too.

     “Why not invite Shuri?” Lauron asks.

     It’s time I went and–

     “What about Shuri?” the phoenix asks back.

     “Invite him over. It’ll give me and him a chance to talk at long last.”

     “I told you where he usually hangs out at. Didn’t you ever go?”

     “To the flagpole? Are you crazy? It’s so high- I mean, I can’t see that far. I never know if he’s there or not.”

     Nuria hesitates to press the topic when Valine and Sticker giggle the same way they did when she guarded her room door. “What am I missing here?”

     “Nothing,” Lauron states, cutting the two of them hard looks, which only serves to make them laugh harder. “And if Evic comes, then Shuri can maybe keep him engaged with the rest of us.”

     “Because they’re both boys?”

     “Because the only person I ever saw Evic show interest in was Shuri. It didn’t last too long- unsure why- but they seemed like friends to me. I know because I was once as obsessed with him as you and followed him half a dozen times. He must’ve caught on at some point, because he treats me a degree colder than everyone else.”

     The idea that comes to Nuria is so exciting that she doesn’t even care that her wings sprout on the way to the doors. “I’ll be back soon!” She lifts into the air with a burst of mezzo flames, then her wings take it from there.


     Nuria can feel the air currents whipping even before reaching the top of the flagpole. She decides not to go in so hot, so after one last beat of her wings, she calls them back inside to land softly. The moment her feet touch solid ground, she sees a flash of white light slice between her and Shuri. She’s slammed with a rush of wind that knocks her off her feet. She flails to keep her balance, which she only keeps with the aid of Shuri reaching out to grasp both her arms. He looks as sweaty as she is.

     “Hell of a time to drop by unannounced,” he says with a ragged voice.

     “Hell of a save, too,” Nuria says, allowing him to pull her upright.

     “Please, I know you’d have recovered in plenty of time to save yourself.”

     Nuria dries her brow, and as she steps past Shuri, notices that he also doesn’t have his swords on him. “Are you observing Enlightenment, too?”

     “No, it’s a S’nue holiday. It has nothing to do with me.”

     “Then where are your swords? I’ve never seen you without them.” She gasps. “Your grandfather hasn’t confiscated them again, has he?”

     Shuri’s demeanor plummets several degrees in the blink of an eye. “No, he hasn’t. We haven’t talked in quite some time.”

     “Oh, no. Did I open a can of worms?”

     “No, it’s nothing new. We haven’t been talking much since the spring break started. And that’s the reason I don’t have my swords. I’m still working on perfecting something I discovered during that time.”

     “Is that what that light was?”

     “Yep, but that’s all I can say until it’s perfected.”

     “Sounds like you, me, and Rum all have some secret techniques in the works.”

     “He told you what he and Tameri have been doing off-campus?”

     “Off-campus?” Nuria asks incredulously.

     “Yeah, they leave twice a week to go somewhere. I want to say Vanis Town, but I doubt my grandfather would allow that to happen again.”

     Nuria clicks her tongue, now upset that her brother didn’t tell her everything. “Well, no, I don’t know what exactly he’s doing, but he told me he wouldn’t be able to attend my party tonight because of something he’s been working on. So, since his spot opened up, I came to invite you.”

     “So, I’m a consolation prize?” Shuri asks glumly.

     “No, there really is just a limited number of spots. I’m trying to turn the party into a slumber party, too. Only six beds. That’s you, me, and the four from the S’nue class.”

     “Is Evic going to be there?”

     “Honest answer, I don’t know, but I hope so.”

     “Well, give me some time to go and clean up and I’ll be there.” He steps right off the ledge fearlessly, his feet planted inside a swirling bowl of air. “But I’m game for a race to the ground beforehand.”

     Nuria responds to the challenge by mirroring his brazen walk forward, holding her place in the air beside him with her mezzo flames. “On three?”

     “Three!” Shuri shouts as he takes off first.

     “Hey! That’s my reference!” she shouts, quickly nipping at his heels.


     Nuria returns to see her hard work undone, both loveseats flipped around and used as barriers as Valine and Sticker wage war against Lauron with balled up candy wrappers.

     “Oh, good, you’re back,” Lauron cheers. “Get over here and help. I’m outmanned!”

     Nuria grabs her flexed arm. “Inco–”

     The rapping at the double doors gets everyone’s attention.

     “No way,” Lauron says dubiously. “He did not just show up.”

     Nuria’s smile is instant when she swings both doors open and sees Evic, and he looks to be fashionably late. His white tunic and slacks are crisply ironed, as is his dark undershirt exposed by the openings in the tunic’s shoulders. On his left hand is a ring with a black pearl in the center. The most striking feature, however, is that he seems to be the only Ohaida with his sword today.

     “You were say–”

     Nuria’s blindsided by a punch straight to her face. She stays on her feet and wipes her bloody nose, smearing it along the bridge.

     Evic holds up his fists. “Think you can come close now, cunt?”

     The last vestiges of reason and self-control vanish from Nuria’s mind and she attacks.

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