Room 577. Nostalgia is the premier feeling Nuria has upon seeing that numbered plaque poking out from above the classroom door. As much time as they spent at odds, she did enjoy Zathony’s daily challenges. And now, with the experience of learning under two other professors, she can better understand and appreciate his no-nonsense style of teaching, even irk her at times it does. She wonders what challenges he has in store this time around.
The other feeling is dread. She refuses to inform her interim professors of her current disdain, or perhaps just mild annoyance of Tyra, partly from embarrassment and partly because she doubts they’d prove helpful and tell her to resolve it herself.
Okay, that’s a Zathony-specific move, but I don’t want to put him and Marmagar on different teams again. I’ll just have to do my best to avoid her.
“Apologies for our tardiness,” Professor Zathony greets the class. “I have an extra guest today. Come in, please.”
So much for a subtle entrance.
Nuria slides inside on Marmagar’s heels and tries to sit at the nearest desk without making eye contact with Tyra. She fails. The lack of guilt in the angel’s gaze almost annoys her, but she forces her eyes forward, intent on avoiding another incident so soon after Evic.
“Nuria will be with us only briefly. Her current professor is away on other business, but as soon as he returns, our class will again just be the four of you.”
Nuria sneaks a peek around the room, and aside from Tyra, only two pairs of eyes regard her warily.
“Now, for some good news. Nuria has proven to myself and Professor Marmagar that she has improved her aviary talents over the spring break, so we can launch straight into our next set of lessons,” Zathony explains.
“Improved how?” Tyra asks with an almost perfect imitation of curiosity.
Yeah, like you actually care.
“Ask her on your own time,” he barks. The next thing he addresses is the board and writes down “PRIMAL SENSE” in all capital letters, underlining it twice.
“Wait, I don’t have a notebook,” Nuria blurts out. “Can I go snag one really quick?”
Tyra says, “I can spare–”
“Koren, give Nuria one of your notebooks, please,” Zathony says swiftly.
A notebook slams down on Nuria’s desk from above, giving her a start. She looks up and her jaw locks in a silent “O”. Crouched on top of one of the hanging rectangular lights is a young man whose body is covered in a short, white fur coat. His tail dangles over the edge of the light beside his right boot, which matches the rest of his contrasting black outfit, from his t-shirt to his cargo pants. The ears on top of his head wiggle as he laughs, his whiskers bouncing at the same time.
“Yeah, that’s everyone’s first reaction,” Koren says with normal lips, the only non-feline feature on his face.
Nuria shakes her head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.” Nuria summons her wings and soars up to his eye level, now able to see the sheathed katana by his left boot. “It’s just, I’ve never seen a transformation so…complete before. How are you doing…that? What?” she asks when he makes the same slack-jawed look.
“I’ve never seen wings on anyone before,” he says slowly. “Scales, fangs, and hooves, but never wings. I’ve wanted to for a while now.”
Nuria smirks and whirls in midair. “If I can rub your ears after, I’ll let you feel my wings.”
“Deal!” Koren shouts instantly.
“Sit. Down.” Zathony orders. “You may do what you wish once I have dismissed you. Until then, eyes up front only.”
Nuria inhales deeply and absorbs her wings into her back while still airborne. She slams down on her desk, then slides back into her chair. She opens the notebook, the cover now sporting a couple of shoeprint decals, then she scrambles to find a pencil on her person. One drops from above. She flips through pages of copious notes and occasional tiger sketches until finding a clear page, writing “THANK YOU” in large letters in the hopes Koren’s feline eyes can see it.
“Who can tell me what Primal Sense is?” Zathony asks.
“It’s the Vanusi morpu,” Koren answers pronto.
“Who wants to define morpu?”
Nuria jumps on this one, having looked it up the same day that Cwen brought it to her attention. She recites the definition verbatim. “Morpu- it is the process of activating the energy in one’s cells to utilize their powers; every race has their own process and they are as follows: Active Meditation, Bond of the Blade, Mother’s Source, and Primal Sense.”
Zathony records those responses as bullet points beneath his original script, splitting Nuria’s definition into two bullet points. The more Nuria stares at the original script, the closer she comes to a realization.
“There are three steps in all. Step one: Active Meditation. Step two: Primal Sense.” That’s exactly what Reddic said. He asked for Sulublei first because he knew Neth would say no. This was his plan all along. Nice move, Reddic!
“Do any of you- besides Koren- know how to access Primal Sense?”
“Why “besides Koren”?” Nuria inquires.
“Because I’m aware he already knows. Do you?”
The phoenix has a solid idea. Last year, Marmagar informed her of Primal Sense during her flight training, though he kept the explanation brief out of respect for the current lesson plans taking shape. The surge of strength she felt back then started with her vision.
“It relates to the five senses,” Nuria states confidently. The scowl on Zathony’s face tells her she was correct to feel that way.
Oh, yeah! One to zero, my favor!
“And in which sense does your lie?”
“Phoenixes are aerial creatures, hunting from the skies. To be able to spot prey, they must have exceptional eyesight,” she says while reveling in the multiple victories.
“What’s a phoenix?” Koren calls from above.
And just like that her pride falls. Oh, crap. I forgot he’s new.
“It’s a fi–”
“She’s a unique and rare kind of Vanusi with extraordinary talents,” Carnya interjects, leering at Nuria scathingly.
“I believe he was asking me,” Nuria retorts.
“So, what? You don’t think of yourself as unique anymore?”
Nuria tries to extinguish her fury, but Carnya threw too much gas too fast. “I–”
“Enough!” Zathony shouts. “The next one of you to interrupt the lesson will be cleaning both third-floor restrooms for a month.”
Nuria clamps her mouth shut, but she’s worried how heated Carnya has her speaks volumes about what may happen if she and Tyra get into it.
Focus on the lesson. Dealing with them comes after I get Primal Sense under my belt.
“Now, seeing as you’re so talkative all of a sudden, Carnya, would you like to enlighten us as to what sense your Primal Sense triggers from?”
She shrugs her shoulders.
Professor Zathony turns to his next target sharply. “Syl?”
“I’m a coyote; a canine. Canines have excellent olfactory acuity.”
Nuria looks up at him, eager for his answer.
“Hearing. I mean, just look at these bad boys.” He points to and wiggles his ears.
“Why is that?”
“Balance is maintained in the ears.” Koren pushes against the light and lifts his legs into the air, performing a handstand in slow motion. “And you know the saying. Cats always land on their feet.” He shifts to a one-handed handstand as he grabs his katana. He pushes off the light and lands on the desk behind Nuria, retaking his crouched position fluidly. “But I guess phoenixes do, too.”
Nuria can’t help but giggle. A friendly welcome today isn’t what she anticipated. She doesn’t know where Koren came from, but she’s sure happy to have him.
The angel blinks, her focus on Nuria broken. The phoenix scowls and looks forward, doing her best to ignore Tyra’s staring.
“Your Primal Sense. Name it,” the ornery professor commands.
“It’s not exactly a physical sense like sight or taste,” she answers uneasily.
“I asked what it is, not what it isn’t.”
“Can I decline to answer?”
“Your grade, your decision. Moving on.”
The rest of the hour goes smoothly, thanks to the threat of janitorial duties looming over them all. Nuria keeps her questions to a minimum so she can jot down notes to study later. Reddic and Cwen were both slow enough to follow, but Zathony keeps his pace going no matter what. She underlines the three things that Zathony covers most:
Difference between normal and Primal Senses
What makes them Primal?
Advantages of Primal Sense
“The points I covered will be subject to further review, so fret not if you haven’t grasped the concept yet. Our next session will start with practice exercises. They would’ve begun this afternoon, but I have to construct an additional one for Nuria now. For those of you without house arrest, enjoy the rest of your day. Those that do have it, make yourself comfortable at Vanusi House.”
Point one for Zathony, Nuria thinks as the professors vacate the class promptly. Carnya leads the parade of students at odds with Nuria, sticking out her tongue in passing. Syl is either annoyed with Koren, or his scowl’s aim is way off. Tyra passes without making eye contact, especially since Nuria hides her face behind the notebook shoeprints.
She rises when the door closes and takes a long, deep breath. “This is going to be a long two weeks.”
“I feel the same way.”
Nuria nearly jumps out of her skin, thinking everyone had left. Koren’s still crouched on the desk, looking so much like an actual cat.
“I think they’re still unnerved by how I look. Syl doesn’t even stay in the boys’ dorm with me. And honestly, I’m amazed the girls are okay with it.”
“Oh, he stayed with us for a bit last year, too.”
“My mom would be appalled if I stayed in the girls’ dorm.”
“What if a girl stayed with you in the boys’ dorm?”
“Not the best loophole, but I’m game.”
“Good, because you may have noticed I’m not exactly their favorite person either.”
“If what Carnya said under her breath is any indication, then you’d be right.”