2.7: Role Models

The kiss from the sunset warms Tyra’s back, the pleasant light making even her dark hair shine beautifully. However, her spirit is in shambles. For all the strife she put herself through to get back to FHA, she can’t bring herself to confront Nuria, especially if Nuria wants to fight her physically. The angel wants to know more than anything if she misheard; Nuria being the last person she’d want to hurt. That unfortunate thought haunted her so much that she returns to camp now with a nary a picture of her binder entries taken.

     A bird’s shadow passes over her as she steps into the ring of stones that act as the perimeter of the campsite.

     “Hey, Tyra! About time you made it back! Lemme see your pictures!” Carnya says, waving her over to join her and Syl.

     “Did you decide to clean yourself up out there?” Zathony asks after handing a pocket knife to Nuria, the phoenix covered head to toe in grass and mud stains, burs on her shirt, and her braid looser than usual. Koren, Carnya, and Syl are in the same filthy league, the former upturning one of the half-circle logs so the phoenix can carve a message.

     “Tyra?” Zathony calls.

     “Everything okay?” Carnya asks.

     The angel turns away from them both without answering. She retreats into her tent and zips the entrance closed, wanting absolutely no intrusion. Since she was young(er), she’s had more success solving issues by talking to herself than others. That’s in part because the help she was given either the bare minimum or none. Since she cannot confide in Carnya, and the fact that Zathony is Zathony, she’ll only get more of the same here. Nuria was her first taste of something different, and the handicaps her mother gave her are making it impossible to restore that relationship.

     Not like she wants to, anyway. She has Koren, now. I’m old news.

     The visage of her mother appears across from her, azure eyes searching for weakness. They don’t have to look hard this time. Tyra’s insecurities, rage, and sorrow are on full display with each tear that falls. She bites down on her hand, not wanting evidence of her breakdown to leave the tent, stifling her sobs and whimpers. Only once she’s swallowed her fill of blood and tears does she release her hand, the imprint of her teeth deep into her flesh. If not for the need to keep her pain secret, she’d leave the wound and let it form scar tissue.

     But it would only serve as one more weakness for my mother to take advantage of.

     After Tyra heals her hand back to normal, she lies flat on her back, staring at the dark of the tent’s ceiling, allowing the vacuity to erase her ego. All of her color, from her red pants and jacket, white ruffled blouse, cream skin, raven hair, and eyes blue as sapphires, is consumed inside the vacuum, the campground outside following shortly after.

     She opts for outlines, knowing where everyone is based on what she saw before shutting herself away and the proximity of voices. Vacuum-Marmagar approaches camp from the southwest and is greeted warmly by most.

     “Getting slow, Marmagar. I expected you back five minutes ago,” Zathony chides.

     Without visible cues, she elects to not guess at his gestures, but the buzzing noise he makes is interesting.

     That’s a new one.

     Tyra determines they either ended their conversation or moved exclusively to sign language. Carnya and Syl only engage in comparing photos until the former commits to dragging over the jerky cooler and tears into a dozen packs. Her white orb gives off a bright aura once she’s finished.

     Aside from laughter, the conversation Tyra’s most keen to overhear escapes her ears. Based on the subtle change from white to rose with their orb colors, she has a clear idea of what’s going on in their heads.

     I guess hearts is more appropriate.

     When Koren’s shifts from rose to scarlet in the blink of an eye, Tyra terminates her vacuum, her cheeks now matching his orb.

     That’s enough of that.

     She feels the heat from a fresh campfire outside. The second her mother’s cold stare attempts to pry the chinks in her armor, the heat becomes all too preferable. She takes a short breath before unzipping her tent, ready to forget herself. Her reemergence doesn’t end the revelry, but it diminishes as she sits on the nearest log.

     “I needed a nap,” she lies.

     “Then you can’t have rested too well. That was too short!” Carnya tosses a couple of peanut bags at her. “And that’s just a start! Zathony’s got s’more kits in here, too!” Carnya tosses one to Syl and Tyra, and to the professors when they raise their hands. She hesitates to face Nuria and Koren until Tyra nudges her with an elbow and a nod in the pair’s direction. “You guys want one?”

     “No, thanks. Too sweet,” Koren says.

     “Then I’ll take his,” Nuria says.

     “I thought you didn’t like chocolate?”

     Nuria catches the kits and nods graciously to Carnya. “I don’t, but marshmallows and graham crackers are a different story.”

     Syl asks, “You want my marsh–”

     “Dibs!” Carnya shouts, snatching the bag from him.

     Nuria chuckles. “If you start to choke, we can have Koren Heimlich you. It’ll be his official induction into Vanusi House.”

     “Fair enough, but I assure you, these marshmallows won’t stand a chance!” Carnya waits as everyone gets their first s’more together. “All right, we all place our s’mores by the fire at the same time. On three. One! Two! Thr–”

     The fire is blown out by a sudden breeze rotating around the campsite. The powerful gust fills the air with dust, though Tyra can barely tell. Natural darkness takes over so fast that she realizes how late it is only now. Tyra turns her vacuum back on in a flash, able to tell that most are either scared or ready to throw down at the drop of a hat based on all the crimson she sees and feels. She imagines that both Nuria and Koren have the more confrontational attitude, Carnya and Syl being the fearful ones. What surprises her is the calm white lights she senses from her professors, especially since the light hidden inside the dust cloud is the deepest crimson she’s ever felt.

     “Everyone, remain calm,” Zathony says plainly. He cuts on a powerful LED lantern to illuminate the entire campground. Standing between the professor and the extinguished campfire is headmaster Neth. “You know, I called Marmagar slow earlier, but you’ve exceeded my expectations several times over, old man.”

     “You will address me as Headmaster Neth in the presence of the students. As for the five of you, pack up your things. This exercise is over.”

     “It is not. Stay right where you all are,” Zathony orders, even though Tyra notices no one made a move to obey Neth’s original command.

     “This is not up for debate, Professor Zathony. You’re in hot water enough as is. I told you both that this exercise was not to be carried out this year! I will not tolerate your insubordination on this matter!”

     “You offered zero reasons as to why this exercise should be canceled, so, yes, I ignored your input. Marmagar assented, so we continued as scheduled.”

     “Zero rea- Are you daft? We’ve already had three attacks from The Pure targeting this class, and you saw fit to expose five of them in an environment where it’s impossible to keep tabs on all of them at once! How is that not reason enough?”

     “Because we- only Marmagar and I in this case- do not teach fear. Your arrival was almost met with hostility. Both Nuria and Koren were ready to pounce had you been an unfamiliar face.”

     “We are not here to train soldiers!”

     “Nor am I. I simply want these kids to experience the same transformative feeling of coming here as classes past. The one Vanusi tradition I believe in cannot and will not stop because of The Pure. If you’re the one to feel that way, then maybe you shouldn’t be headmaster.”

     “Watch yourself, professor,” Neth warns. “I took a gamble when I hired you, but don’t think I’m unprepared to reverse that decision and all that comes with it. You will afford me more respect effective immediately.”

     “Fire me. Go ahead. Take away the only good role model the kids have between the two of us. Show them to be afraid of The Pure! Of the government!”

     Tyra flinches the same as Neth, that last point bringing out her feelings from the tent.

     Marmagar lays a firm hand on Zathony’s shoulder, but the furious professor shakes it off. “No, it’s high time he heard this! All year he’s been on the backs of every professor, one in particular at first, but he’s letting fear overwrite his common sense! He’s been on Tameri’s ass for so long over her trips to Vanis Town with Rum! Hell, he’s probably all over whatever business Reddic’s handling!”

     Tyra sneaks a peek at Nuria and the phoenix’s don’t-want-to-be-here look seamlessly transitions to jealous fury. Tyra’s amazed that she keeps her mouth shut.

     “And here’s the kicker! He’s so worried about what example we’re setting that he doesn’t see the only one not on par is himself! His own grandson can barely stand to be in the room with him! Or, maybe I’m wrong. Tell me, headmaster, when was the last time you and Shuri shared a meal?”

     Tyra acknowledges how strange it is that she’s actually comfortable in the current quiet. A heated discussion at the dinner table followed by death stares and posturing was as consistent as it was for her and Aranda to commiserate afterward. Well, after the dinners they were allowed to attend.

     “If any of these students are harmed by the time this exercise ends, your job will be the least of your concerns. And should this escapade run smoothly, we will discuss your numerous infractions.”

     “Noted. Now, are you staying for dinner? I’m afraid we’ve no s’mores left.”

     Neth fires off one more glare before he summons a gust, grabs the air, and vanishes.

     Without skipping a beat, Zathony asks, “Nuria, would you mind?”

     Nuria snaps her fingers and shoots tiny fireballs to reignite the campfire.

     Zathony powers down the lantern. “I apologize for airing that on in front of you, but he needed to hear the truth, and sometimes it has to be heard harshly.”

     Whatever thought process Nuria uses, Tyra is sure they reach the same conclusion when they lock eyes directly with neither party expressing anger or frustration, but wanting.

     I hope she gets this message.

     “Not a problem, sir,” Tyra says. “But Carnya was right. My nap wasn’t enough. Gonna turn in to get up bright and early tomorrow.” She sighs as she enters her tent.

     Nothing to worry about. I just have to fight my best friend. What could go wrong?

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