2.5: The Winding Hills

“It’s finally ready?” Nuria asks with an overabundance of excitement, bouncing from foot to foot on Professor Zathony’s heels.

     Tyra’s taken back to their days of flight training when she did the same to and from their training spot in the woods. She smiles wanly, missing those days of camaraderie.

     “Was one day of waiting too long?” he asks back plainly.

     “I still have two days of house arrest, so I’m feeling a little cramped,” she says sourly, hanging her head low as she follows after Zathony, though Tyra glimpses the swift leer aimed her way.

     I have to find a way to talk to her.

     Tyra tries to move closer, hoping to broach a chat by mentioning the rolling cabinet Marmagar’s towing, theorizing on the machinations the co-professors have planned. Her advance is blocked by Carnya who moves directly into her path, and the angel is dismayed by the stalwart teen’s head shake. She knows she could move Carnya, but she won’t piss off one friend to make amends with another. Still, once she hears Koren strike up the conversation she intended, she wishes she had the spine now she showed against her mother.

     “You’re going back, Tyra,” her mother said, the warning in her tone unquestionable. She sat before the younger angel with crossed legs, hands clasped on her lap, and her azure gaze imposing spotlights set to expose the first sign of weakness they gleam. Tyra wanted to run, but this was the success she dreamed of all spring, and she was going to hide her fear as best she could. “But you will not inform Nuria that I was the one who terminated your cellular communication at the start of the school hiatus.”

     Tyra hated that she spoke the next words, but the jolt was too hard and fast, as she knew her mother intended. “How is that f–”

     “I am not here to be fair. You inserted yourself into my business without permission by attending Four Hearts Academy. Even now, you persist on repeating that offense, using underhanded political leverage to get your way. All for this Nuria character. Well, since you clearly treasure this friendship so, it should survive months without any communication. Go, and you will see why I never trusted you to make friends in the real world. She will cast you aside as sure as you yearn for your tattoo.”

     Tyra peeks at the neckline of her kimono, equally appalled by the fact the skin beneath her collar bone is unblemished as she is to realize she’s wearing the same outfit she did on the day of that talk. The body is white with black stars on the sleeve cuffs and belt. The ribbons tied to the sides of the belt are crimson, as are the straps on her sandals.

     “Tyra,” Zathony calls out sternly.

     “Sir?” She snaps to her senses and finds herself on the sparring stage, past the rest of the class. “Sorry,” she says, shuffling back to the group as Carnya and Syl snigger. She’s surprised Nuria isn’t also, and when she looks to confirm she notices the phoenix sharply turn her look of concern away.

     The angel takes quick stock of everyone’s positions and shuts her eyes, welcoming the vacuity into her mind, removing her ego from the equation. She views herself as a single white orb floating in the vacuum. To her left are three other white orbs, another two moving restlessly before her. The furthest left is another white light, but it behaves like fire, shooting off little embers that burn crimson before fizzling out. Tyra watches as the light conforms to the spherical shape the others have, but just before it settles it flickers to reveal a second, smaller orb inside. The vacuum ruptures as Tyra’s eyes snap open. She cuts a grave sideways look at Nuria.

     There’s no way I saw that right! It’s impossible! Isn’t it…?

     “Tyra,” Zathony repeats in the same stern tone as before.

     “Sir?” She peers forward and sees a large tent set up on the stage, three side curtains making the front the only entrance and exit. Between both professors is a table covered by a thick black cloth, though the indents of various items promise a series of challenges.

     “You may not be able to physically participate, but you should pay attention all the same.”

     “Yes, sir.”

     “Now, last class, I briefly touched on three subjects.” He raises a finger. “The difference between normal sense and Primal Sense. The most precise clarification is that Primal Sense requires your body’s cells to access and utilize morpu through conscious effort. It requires energy, so that means it’s not indefinite. Primal Sense has limits. Normal senses do not require conscious effort to use. In most scenarios, anyway.”

     He raises a second finger. “What makes them Primal? For four of you, that answer is standard. Vanusi who trigger their Primal Senses typically engage in slight physical transformation, usually around where your Primal Sense is focused. It is your body realizing a shift to a more animalistic nature; a primal nature. The general theory is that the more you train your Primal Sense, the greater the scope of your transformation.”

     Tyra starts a wave of looks in Koren’s direction.

     Koren’s tail swishes as he leans back and laughs. “I’d love to brag, but I was born this way. What I have to work on is something else entirely.” He looks down at the katana on the ground. He lifts it and sits up before wrapping the strap attached to the katana over his body.

     Tyra understands what he’s saying one moment, but the next one, she doesn’t. Then why not just join Ohaida House?

     Zathony raises a third finger. “Outside of transformation, Primal Sense affords one more major life advantage. It’s commonplace that the more you use your Primal Sense for long periods of time, the greater the sense it is tied to becomes normally. For example, someone may come to no longer require glasses through that method. And today,” he turns and yanks the black cover off the table, “we begin your journeys to better your senses.”

     Across the table from right to left are a stack of five binders, five cameras, three blindfolds, three covered dome plates, four bells, four corked vials, and a flashlight.

     “Nuria, Carnya, Koren, and Syl, I’ll be using these tools to test your respective Primal Senses. I’ll award grades based on how your performances compare to one another’s. Tyra is not performing, so she is taking F off the table. A, B, C, and D are still up for grabs, so let’s begin. Any volunteers?”


     “Me first!” Carnya shouts, cutting Nuria off.

     Tyra doesn’t have to use her Primal Sense to know both ladies have crimson orbs presently.

     “Being an only student seems to have dulled your reaction time, Nuria,” Zathony comments.

     Carnya pulls down on an eyelid and sticks her tongue out at Nuria.

     “Place the blindfold on,” the professor orders. He continues his explanation as she obeys. “I have prepared three platters for you. One at a time, I will have you eat the contents of each as fast as you can. I will tap your right shoulder once the plate is empty, and then you will announce what you ate.”

     “Oh, too easy, Professor Z,” Carnya boasts, licking her lips in anticipation.

     “Let me know when you’re ready.”

     She cracks her knuckles. “It’s go time!” She reaches in the second the lid is lifted and shoves the assorted meats down her throat so fast that Tyra’s amazed she had time to taste them long enough to guess each one correctly.

     “Grilled chicken, turkey burger, hamburger, and sausage links!”

     The ability to distinguish between turkey burger and hamburger is only the start. Following the next two shoulder taps, she names all four fruits and vegetables without hesitation once the last one is swallowed.

     “I’ve never known someone to memorize how raw radish tastes,” Zathony comments.

     “Girls gotta eat, Zathony. With my metabolism issue, I’m not a particularly picky eater, so I’ve had just about anything you can imagine. Raw radishes in the fridge at home and I’m hungry means there will soon be no radishes in the fridge at home.” She wipes her lips with the blindfold after lowering it around her neck. When she belches, the skin on her cheeks glows with bright blue rings fleetingly. “So, how’d I do?”

     “For yourself, very well,” Zathony says. “However, your classmates have the chance to influence your performance with their own.”

     Carnya turns to Nuria directly and says, “I doubt I have much to worry about.”

     “Wanna bet?” Nuria and Koren blurt, though the latter does so playfully while the former is more perturbed.

     “Don’t need to. The results will speak for themselves,” she retorts, taking her seat beside Tyra. She whispers to the angel, “Now she’ll be too heated to focus.”

     “I heard that,” Koren says.

     “And? What of it?” Carnya challenges.

     Koren places a hand on Nuria’s shoulder. “I’ll go next, okay? You get your mind right in the meantime. Otherwise, you’ll lose your best chance to best me.”

     “That right? Then be my guest. Show me what I’m up against,” Nuria teases warmly.

     Tyra beckons the vacuum in time to see Nuria’s crimson fireball turn white before becoming spherical once again. At the same time, her own sphere gains wavy edges, crimson embers flickering.

     I should be the one calming her down! Not him!

     “Place on a blindfold.”

     Koren laces it tight over his eyes, looking every bit the blind ninja with his katana strapped to his back, black cargo pants and boots, and orange shirt with black streaks on the front and sleeves. He wiggles his ears individually.

     “Your task will be to use your hearing to locate the four bells I’m about to place around the interior of the tent. Cover your ears until I tap your right shoulder.”

     Koren lowers his ears flat against his head, then presses down on them with his hands.

     There’s a slight glistening when the professor lifts the bells from the table.

     I see. He’ll use the strings to tug on the bells to try and signal Koren.

     Tyra beckons the vacuum at the same time as Koren’s exercise begins. She employs a new mental technique and recreates three-dimensional outlines of everyone’s figures around their white orbs. Due to her lack of time around Koren, his outline is fuzzy. The stage itself is only half-complete, but the tent in its entirety is fine. As the bells ring once tugged at, radar blips go off as Koren races to collect the bells as fast as he can. His white orb radiates a wider glow as the exercise amps up. It gets so bright that Tyra has less time to focus on the bells, losing the ability to create radar blips. She can’t see him physically, but his enjoyment must show because Nuria’s orb(s) start(s) to radiate(-ing) more light.

     “Tyra,” Zathony calls, this time in a gentler tone.

     “Si–” Tyra gapes when she sees that her body is radiating light just like Koren’s orb was, just on the outside. “Whoa.” She’s seen her mother and her colleagues perform this glow effortlessly in the past, but she never has gotten herself to do so until now. She blinks with a realization.

     Wait! Can I craft signs now?

     Disregarding all eyes on her, she focuses instead on gathering the light around her left index finger. She refuses to think, knowing her powers are based on feelings, and thinking will disrupt her mood. She touches her finger to her opposite wrist and scribes four runic symbols around it. Her fist glows with humming, pulsating light.

     “Professor Zathony, I apologize in advance. And I’ll pay for the damage.”

     “What damage?”

     Tyra’s battle cry rings out as she whirls and slams her fist into the ground. A shockwave grinds through the campus grounds up to fifteen feet away, leaving a streak of cracked earth and upturned rubble in its wake. Tyra straightens, short of breath and sweating. “That…damage.”

     Zathony slow caps. “So much for not having a physical way to express your Primal Sense.”


     “I’ll take that into account. Syl, you’re up.”

     Tyra accepts the thumbs-up from Marmagar as she takes her seat, as well as the playful jostling from Carnya.  However, the looks of concern that Koren and Nuria exchange leaves her wondering. She’s not willing to push her powers any further, not even for her emotional scrying.

     And now they have a secret I don’t know about!

     The runic symbols on her wrist start to turn crimson as they vanish. She peers down at her collarbone once more. It remains unblemished.

     “Ugh!” Syl cries out, backing away from the now uncorked vials, pinching his nose shut. “Did you have to find the worst smells ever?” His blindfold dries the tears smearing his cheek as he pulls it down.

     “Can you identify the scents or not? You should. All are detectable around the campus, and you’ve explored enough to recreate an entire map of it.”

     He sniffles. “I can tell is from the flowers in the outdoor seating area of the cafeteria. The third is Tyra’s coconut shampoo.”

     Tyra flails to shush Syl immediately, but Nuria’s anger at the news is apparent. Tyra missed her best friend so much that she decided to use the same kind of shampoo as her.

     “And the first and fourth scents?”

     Syl shrugs. “All I can tell is that they’re earthy.”

     “I see. You may be seated. Nuria, front and center, please.”

     Gone is her anger as the phoenix leaps vertically onto the stage, high-fiving Professor Marmagar as she crosses to Zathony, her fervor rising behind a broad grin. “Got a blindfold for me, too?”

     “Not unless you wish to make your challenge that much harder.”

     “Then we’ll save it for the sequel.”

     “Your task will be a simple one. Head to the middle of the tent and float midair.” Zathony powers on the flashlight. “I will aim this flashlight four times. You will have ten seconds to spot the light and point at it.”

     “Easy-peasy.” Nuria hops into the air and stays suspended above mezzo flames, the purr of them covering up her humming.

     “Not so fast, Nuria. This is Vanusi class. You wish to participate, then wings only.”

     Nuria smirks. “Just as easy.”

     Without dropping an inch, she cuts her flames off and spreads her phoenix wings, small embers flying from her primary coverts. Tyra’s been dying to see Nuria’s flight in action for a while, and she’s already impressed the phoenix has stationary flight mastered.

     It took me the better part of a year to get that down. How long did it take her?

     The phoenix is on her A-game, finding the first three lights in under five seconds. Tyra leers when Zathony pulls a cheeky move and aims the light in the shadow beneath Nuria’s feet. Nuria fails to find it, but Tyra’s eyes widen when Nuria’s change. Her irises expand and her pupils enlarge inside of them, looking like the eyes of an eagle.

     “A valiant effort, Nuria.”

     Marmagar gives her a thumbs-up as she touches down.


     “Looks like it’s easier for some than others,” Carnya taunts.


     “That’s enough, Carnya!” Tyra barks, cutting Nuria off. She looks the phoenix in the eyes, now returned to normal. “It was a good try.”

     “Thanks, I guess,” Nuria replies uneasily, eyeing Tyra back questioningly.

     Professor Zathony moves to the middle of the table once Nuria vacates the stage as Marmagar takes his place on the right. “Now, for the grades. Due to an unforeseen situation, they have shifted greatly. From the bottom up, we have Syl, Nuria, Tyra, Koren, and last and greatest, Carnya.”

     Carnya cheers while Syl hangs his head low.

     “But I didn’t participate,” Tyra says. “Shouldn’t Nuria edge me out?”

     “Had she found all four lights, yes. And you did participate. I’m not so unknowledgeable on your species as you think.”

     “What species is that?” Koren asks.

     “He’s just gonna say ask on your own time,” Nuria says.

     “What she said. Marmagar.” He utters his name as a signal. The co-professor and housemaster hands each of the sophmen both a binder and a camera. “We’re going on an extended field trip for a couple of days, starting tomorrow at 6 am. While away–”

     “But I’m still under house arrest.”

     “It doesn’t apply to class exercises. And the purpose of this one is to practice and research Primal Sense through surveillance. Your binders contain 13 pages, each with a photo of a different animal or plant and details on its suspected location, its diet, place in the food chain, etc. The exercise will be to try and locate them using your Primal Sense in tandem with the information in those binders. You earn points by managing to snag a picture of your binder’s entries. The grading will work the same as today. The more points you have versus your classmates, no matter how few or how many, the higher the grade you’ll receive. However, some of you may have one or two overlaps, so you have the option to work together.”

     Tyra reads the cover that says “WINDING HILLS” before perusing her entries, finding a red fox, an orb-weaver spider, a jewel cichlid, and other predatory creatures. She raises an eyebrow at the thirteenth entry.

     “The last entry is one you all share, but you’ll find no details there. Just a picture. Whoever finds the executioner wasp and snaps a clear picture of it will automatically be awarded an A.”

     While the others get excited over the prospect of winning, Tyra looks at the words written next to number thirteen’s suspected location.

     Wandering, huh?

     The angel smirks.

     This is my chance to get Nuria alone. Carnya and Koren aren’t stopping me anymore! I want my best friend back!

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