A plume of dust erupts from the cracked earth, nearby trees lose countless leaves, and the river water retreats in waves. The singular compounded shrill sonic pulse disturbs the wildlife as much as the environment, birds, rabbits, et al scurrying away hastily. However, the single intended target seems the most adversely affected, pleasing Nuria.
Liamria staggers back and forth, holding her bleeding ears, teeth clenched. Her eyes fight shutting fiercely, even as she succumbs to gravity and falls to her knees. She tries to stand again too quickly, and her body rejects the initiative with a forced regurgitation.
Sonic voice did all this? Maybe it can make dragons cower.
“Nuria, let’s go,” Tyra urges loudly, helping a sluggish Koren to his feet as he also suffers from the screech.
The phoenix adheres to the warning this time. She’s proven to herself she can handle Liamria, and the further they get from the river, the easier it’ll become to do again. Nuria remains airborne as they flee, believing her flight to be a catalyst for the sonic voice power.
It’s probably why Zathony insisted I use my Primal Sense while using my wings. Oh, crap! Zathony! I’ve got to think of something to cover this up! No, think after! We still have to get out of here, and now that Koren’s dizzy, it’ll be that much harder!
“I’m sorry, Koren. Didn’t mean to hurt you with that, too,” Nuria says, flying at his eye level.
“I’ll live. Just a little shaken. You’ve got some lungs on you, that’s for sure!”
“Honestly, I didn’t expect it to work so well. It wasn’t even the power I hoped to bring out.”
“Then why did it work?” Tyra asks. “She seemed invincible with that liquid body.”
“It’s because she was liquid,” Koren says.
“What do you mean?” Nuria queries.
Koren explains, “She probably expected another physical attack and prepared to absorb it as water, like with my kick before. However, sound carries more energy in the water, so she only made the attack that much more effective against her.”
“How do you know that?”
“I once tried to test my hearing underwater. I used an alarm clock with bells to test it, and to see how long I could hold my breath.”
Nuria ponders on the implication of that news.
Neth and Tameri confirmed that when I beat Liamria last year, it was using my golden fire. And now, sonic voice makes her turn-to-water trick worthless. That means I actually can kick her ass!
“Watch out!” Tyra shouts.
Three flat circles of water appear before the trio and from each jettisons a liquid fist. Tyra sidesteps the one aimed at her. Nuria moves to help Koren evade his, aware his reaction isn’t at its best. She witnesses golden embers flying off of her knuckles when she yanks him to the ground. Even as she’s caught by the fist targeting her, she smiles. After smearing blood across her face from a cut above her eyes, she stands and leers at Liamria approach with unshakable confidence.
“Took you long enough, slowpoke,” Nuria teases. She can sense the confused and frightful looks on her peers’ faces, but keeps her eyes on Liamria.
“One good attack does not make you my equal,” Liamria says with a lack of emotion, her gaze eerily still.
She’s trying to keep her cool. The second I get her to snap, I’ll lead Tyra and Koren into the tall grass behind us. I’m getting us home safe!
“Then what are you waiting for?” Nuria beckons her with a wave. “Lacking the H20 you need around?”
Without breaking her controlled demeanor, Liamria says, “You think me some paltry hydromancer who needs a body of water? You’re mistaken.”
Liamria crosses her arms, her fists side-by-side at her waist. Droplets of water form in the air around Nuria and her classmates. The droplets rotate around them in three streams, two clockwise and one counterclockwise, each revolution faster than the last and drawing in more liquid from the air. Before long, three high-speed streams have the trio trapped.
“Forget ripping you all limb from limb. I’ll just slice you to pieces.”
“The hell you will!” Koren argues, then goes to ram the stream closest to him. Once more, Nuria yanks him away from danger.
“Nuria, what are–”
“Stay calm, Koren,” she says, still staring Liamria down.
“I will–” Nuria pauses when Tyra’s body glows like it did when she made the ground look like paper.
Four liquid darts fire from the rapidly moving streams, two targeting Tyra’s shoulders and two targeting her inner thighs. Each dart leaves a razor-sharp laceration, forcing the angel to her knees as she cries out in pain. Her brilliant alabaster glow fades swiftly as it appeared.
“The next time I see you glow, I’m taking your eyes!” Liamria threatens, animation and emotion returning to her.
Crazy bitch! Of course, torture would make her smile!
“Just sit there and let me enjoy the end of your lives!”
The three streams of water start to constrict as they continue to revolve around the trio. Koren climbs on top of Tyra, his body stretched over hers. “Tyra, do it again. I’ll cover you while you get ready. Don’t worry, I can take it.”
“Shut up, both of you!” Nuria commands, stepping as far away from them and as close to the streams as she can get. “Do as she says and sit there. I’ll cover both of you.” The phoenix breaks eye contact with Liamria and shows them the unwavering confidence she feels. She whispers to them one final command.
“Speak up! What was that last part?” Liamria shouts.
The other day, once Nuria and Koren split up, she went straight back to the hilly plains. From the air, she observed most of her binder entries going about their lives; eating, sleeping, hunting, etc. It wasn’t until she spotted the yellow-bellied winder snake Koren mentioned that something amazing happened.
The rabbit Nuria was tasked to photograph had babies, and the snake was set on devouring one of them. The mother rabbit fought the snake, each of its rampant kicks knocking the predator further and further away. Nuria snapped photos of the fight from start to finish, and it didn’t end until the snake was far enough away and retreating. Only then did the mother calm down.
Nuria adopts that rabbit’s attitude now.
Forget my inner phoenix, I got this!
She crouches and spreads her wings at the same time as she activates her mezzo flames beneath her feet. She dispels the rotating stream cage with one large screech before rocketing toward Liamria, cocking both fists back. The sun reflects in Nuria’s snow-white eyes until they shine golden themselves. The dazzling flames that envelop Nuria’s fists are brilliantly gilded.
Nuria slams both blazing fists into Liamria’s liquefied forearms. The phreatic explosion that results engulfs them both. The ground quakes as steam permeates the area. Tyra and Koren stare with awe and horror into the steam cloud, their horror hitting its zenith when only one silhouette appears. Tyra and Koren lower their hands from their ears to their mouths to cover a gasp and cheer respectively when Nuria reemerges. Her shoes are burnt away entirely, her pants eaten up to her knees, and her brown t-shirt singed around the metallic slits in the back. However, the most unique difference is that her hair is no longer in her signature braid, the damp locks stuck to the sides of her neck and shoulders.
Nuria crosses to her classmates. “Told yah I’d cover you both,” she says, eyes no longer golden. “I–”
“Nuria!” they both shout just as Nuria whirls.
She stands ready to engage Liamria again. Despite the burns on her arms, the Pure operative charges forth with a crazed battle cry. Nuria refuses to let the panic hamper her, even when she realizes she can’t summon more golden flames, and runs at Liamria anyway. “Forget all my plans! I’m just taking your head!”
Don’t know how, but I have to finish this here and now!
Behind Liamria, another woman, a blonde dressed in all white, leaps out from the steam cloud. Nuria hesitates, thinking Liamria didn’t come alone. However, the woman wraps her legs around Liamria’s shoulders and leans back, flipping her onto the ground. The blonde in white stands between Liamria and the kids, a thin black protrusion sinking into the small of her back.
Liamria groans as she massages her neck. “What did you inject me with?”
“A fast-acting and agonizing paralytic, and the moment it takes effect, I’m dragging you to prison by the welt that’ll form at the sting site,” the blonde says.
“Oh, please, let me be the one to drag her,” Nuria says as she steps beside the blonde in white, the mention of prison erasing the phoenix’s concerns of her affiliation.
“You just wait until the next time I see you. What you went through today won’t compare,” Liamria says to Nuria.
The steam around the area is pulled in around Liamria and swirls until not even her silhouette is visible. Once the steam again disperses to cover the land, Liamria is gone.
The cut above Nuria’s eye starts to bleed again when a vein in her forehead pulses. “Damn it! I should’ve had her!” The phoenix ignores the bleeding, clenching her fists and looking at the ground in shame.
I could’ve had Stark back…
“Oh, boy. This is a mess,” the blonde says.
“Excuse me. And, of course, not to sound ungrateful, but who are you?” Tyra asks.
“You’ll find out soon enough. Right now, we have to go and inform Zathony of the situation,” the woman replies. She directs Tyra and Koren toward the tall grass. “You, too, Nuria. It’s over.”
“No,” the phoenix says, fists still clenched.
“Now is not the time for your nonsense, Nuria. My venom doesn’t work super well outside of my full transformation, and that woman will discover that soon. We are not waiting here for a rematch. She will win. We need to leave before that.”
“I wasn’t referring to her. We’re not telling Zathony a thing. If we do, he’ll tell Neth, and then…he’ll be fired. I’m not giving The Pure the satisfaction of weakening FHA by losing Zathony. We only survived this long because of him! I refuse!”
“So, do I!” Tyra assents.
“Me, too!” Koren cheers.
The blonde in white sighs. “Then how are you going to explain your wounds, your appearances?”
“That’s easy. Tyra, Koren, give me your cameras.”
“And that’s the story you’re sticking to?” Professor Zathony directs to Nuria.
“Yep. We all got into one hell of an argument over grades, got too competitive. Punches were thrown, all of our cameras and binders lost or destroyed.”
Zathony points down. “Which are your shoes- lost or destroyed?”
“Oh, umm, destroyed.”
Zathony looks at the three of them, one after the other slowly, and the lies are obvious. He recalls Nuria always removing her shoes when her fire powers were to be used, especially with what she dubs her mezzo flames, telling him that she incinerated them and needed to use said flames without hesitation. Additionally, the bloodstains on their clothes where there aren’t wounds present are positioned in places inconsistent with a simple fistfight. Still, even under his silent scrutiny, Nuria remains resolute behind the deception, the other two avoiding eye contact as much as they can, both with him and with the headmaster.
What the hell did they go through out there? There was no smoke in the air, so they didn’t set a forest fire- thankfully. But how’d they survive on their own? Marmagar couldn’t find them anywhere.
“Well, thank you for your honesty. I’ll assign your punishments once we’re back on campus. Follow Marmagar to the bus below.”
“Wait,” Carnya calls while being corralled alongside the others by Marmagar, “what about our grades?”
“Carnya gets the A, Syl gets the B, and the F is shared by Nuria, Tyra, and Koren. Now, go.”
“Yes,” Carnya cheers as she follows the housemaster, leaving Neth and Zathony alone.
“Do you think their flimsy lies will save you?” Neth asks.
“Admittedly, it’s a gray area. You did specify if they were harmed in any way, but we both know you meant by The Pure specifically. And as far as that goes, our only evidence is what they told us. If you believe they lied on that front and still wish to terminate me, then that is your right.”
Neth eyes him crossly, a touch of fear buried deep within his gaze.
Ah, yes, the blackmail.
“Rest assured, I will not retaliate in any way if you end my tenure. You have my solemn vow on that, old man.”
The silence stretches between them, then Neth finally says, “We’ll discuss your infractions tomorrow.” One swift breeze later, the headmaster is gone.
“That was a close one,” says the blonde in white, stepping from behind an adjacent tree. She saunters up to Zathony and leans on his shoulder. “I almost had you back to myself.”
“Marissa, do you have anything to do with this?”
“The fact that those three are alive or that they lied to save your ass?”
Zathony looks at her with unbridled suspicion.
Marissa shrugs. “It’s true. That Nuria, she’s a toughie. She was responsible for both. Out of respect for her, I chose not to take my husband–”
“Ex-husband,” he says plainly
“–back. She gets to keep you now. Do not let her talent go to waste.” Marissa abandons his shoulder. “Same time next year?”
Zathony smirks as he turns away.
Not if Nuria’s still around.