Nuria’s mother rabbit charge was different from the jump, and it was then Nuria knew she’d made the correct move. The first time she accessed Primal Sense during flight training was nothing compared to now. Back then, her body felt stronger briefly. As she raced toward Liamria, fists cocked back, that feeling was only the start. The heat that filled her muscles also felt like it fueled more, some invisible part of her she failed to identify, but was glad to have.
When her golden flames ignited, her fists felt lighter and stronger, like explosive steel. Crystal clear seemed too much an understatement for her vision. She could see the vibrations in the air, how they affected light. The bodies of solids and liquids in the air were static, but superimpositions of their sides existed as if to project which way they could move. She knew Liamria’s arms could only move swift enough to block her attack even before she performed it.
Nuria hated that the feeling slipped through her fingers the moment the steam cloud erupted. She also hated how the steam killed her braid.
But even more than that, Nuria hates that she’s again failed to summon her golden flames, even lacking the strength and focus for her mezzo flames, instead beckoning the same fire as she’s done since day one. She groans and runs a hand through her unbraided hair, the reminder annoying her even more.
“You just wait until the next time I see you,” Liamria told Nuria specifically.
Nuria grits her teeth and rises.
I don’t have time to take a break! She’ll be back too soon and I have to begin to channel this power on command!
The phoenix does some squats, building up the heat in her legs. Rage didn’t prove to be part of the catalyst, so instead, she imagines people she loves and respects instead. Auriel and Aurum are first, both dressed in black clothing. She giggles as she shrinks Rum’s height to be even shorter than herself. She almost loses herself in the grief of losing her braid again, seeing as the two of them have been the only ones to ever do her hair. The next few people to cross her mind are Tyra, Shuri, and Reddic. The last visitor to her mind’s eye lingers, his jocund grin helping to calm her spirit completely.
What the hell am I doing preparing for war? Zathony himself said he’s not training soldiers, and here I am proving him wrong. And Reddic…he’d be disappointed if I told him I was looking forward to war. Then there’s Stark…
An array of Stark images stare at Nuria, expressions ranging from shock, authoritative, concerned, etc. The second they returned from the Winding Hills, the phoenix knew she had to tell Stark about Liamria, but she wrestled over how to do so without sacrificing Zathony’s position. It’s been days since then, and Nuria’s partially thankful Stark’s still MIA. She hasn’t come up with a strategy still.
Then again, she may already know. She’s too busy chasing her down to drop by like usual. She’d want me to forget it anyway and just be a student. Guess I should, huh…
Nuria almost chokes while taking a relaxing, deep breath when someone knocks on the glass partition behind her.
“So, this is where you’ve been ducking Neth’s interrogations?”
“Among other things. Is he still on the case?” Nuria asks, letting gravity pin her to the glass partition after stumbling.
The bottom of a dark kimono stops at her side. “I think he’s given up. Though I hate lying, I believe he’s aware I’m not caving. Koren was shaky, but he’s kept quiet as well.”
“Good, but how’d you know I was here? I could’ve easily been up at the flagpole.”
“Aside from knowing you, I have a keen lock on how your soul behaves. You could hide in a crowd of a hundred other people and I’d find you easily.”
“Is that one of your angel powers?” Nuria asks, equally impressed and creeped out.
Nuria’s surprise at the ease and speed of Tyra’s answer until she gazes upward. The same look she had at the river is back, but it’s aimed at open air. It shifts to being warm the moment Tyra faces the phoenix.
I guess we’re really friends again. Nuria sighs gustily with relief. Thank Drijad. But still, while she’s in an answering mood.
“How do you do that? Drop your inner cynicism at the drop of a hat?”
Tyra starts with a jump. “Inner cyni–”
“I’m no angel, but I have a lock on you, too. You just glared at something I couldn’t see, then the second you turned to me, it was like it never happened. How’d you turn your emotions so…seamlessly, I suppose is the best word? Sorry, that was two questions in one.”
Tyra groans aggressively. “I had to. Surviving my mother meant emulating her, but I couldn’t do it nonstop, lest I actually start to become like her, so I developed a switch method. I trained it day and night until it became second nature to execute. Lo and behold, while learning to do that, I got a better handle on my emotional scrying, the ability that let me find you just now.”
“Any chance you can teach me that?”
Tyra shakes her head. “It’s not a teachable thing. You just have to identify triggers in your mind that bring forth the swiftest change. For my so-called inner cynicism, it’s…my mother. My joy, you.”
Nuria’s jaw hangs open, too embarrassed by the flattery.
Tyra’s cheeks blaze red suddenly, but she doesn’t break eye contact with the phoenix. “I mean…I don’t have to be yours or anything. Just thought I’d…you know.”
Nuria snickers. “No, it’s not that. I’m just surprised. You’re more open now than you’ve ever been. Plus, the praise caught me off guard. But yes, you’re one of mine, too.”
The blaze of red stays, but Tyra’s bashful demeanor subsides. “Thanks.”
Nuria stands, now painfully aware of her gross, sweaty condition compared to the pristine condition Tyra is in. Her dark kimono comes with a white sash, red suns dotting the sleeves. Her porcelain skin and raven hair are freshly washed, shining in the basement’s low light. “I gotta take a shower real quick, but we can grab dinner after.”
“Din- Oh, right! I forgot why I came to get you in the first place. It’s Piranha BBQ night. Make your shower quick. We have to be at the front of campus in fifteen minutes.”
“You ain’t said nothing but a word,” Nuria cheers, already salivating over the anticipation.
The phoenix races up to her room, Tyra hot on her heels. Her “shower” is just her tossing sprinkles of water on her body and a once-over with shower gel pooled in the palm of her hand, though she neglects her hair. She tosses her musty clothes atop her bed and changes into a plain yellow t-shirt, black jeans, and black sneakers with brown soles.
“You could at least comb your hair.”
“I’ll worry about my hair after. Rum’s gotta braid it anyway.”
Nuria opens the double doors and catches a fist to her forehead. She hears a sudden thud after falling. “Ow.”
“Lauron?” Nuria parrots, rising languidly. Tyra has Lauron pinned to the wall beside the door and Lauron has her broadsword half-drawn. The ladies swiftly end their standoff.
Looks like Tyra wasn’t lying about that switch after all. Seems like Lauron has it down, too.
“What are you doing here?” Nuria asks.
“Looking for you…again. Cwen said you were under house arrest, and since you and Evic kind of hate each other, my only chance to see you was here. I don’t know if I bang too quietly, but I came today intending to break down at least one door.”
“Okay, first, wow. Second, I don’t hate Evic. Third, Reddic’s away on business, so I served my house arrest at Vanusi House. It didn’t end until a couple days ago. It’s been difficult to leave there since.”
“Oh, well, I…” Lauron goes on to brag about how she could prove she can break down the door in great detail, missing the shared look of appreciation Nuria and Tyra show one another, followed by a fist bump.
“I’m sure the door wouldn’t have stood a chance, but I assume you came for a reason. What’s up?”
Lauron’s stomach growls as if on cue. “Yeah…”
Nuria smirks. “Your timing couldn’t be better.”
“Sorry, we’re late,” Nuria says as she and Tyra touch ground, though the smile on her face says otherwise. But she can’t help but smile. She and Tyra are back in each other’s good graces, and in turn she and Carnya. Vanusi class is once again a cohesive unit. And then there are the Ohaida sophmen in attendance. Her focus on people she loves and respects feels to her like a premonition.
“The point is that you’re here,” Zathony says. “Okay, everyone, start boarding the bus.”
“Actually, we have one more on the way,” Tyra says.
“We offered to fly her here, but she preferred to hoof it instead,” Nuria explains, moving closer to the Ohaida class. “Feels like it’s been ages since I’ve seen you guys. And- wait…” She narrows her eyes at Rum and Shuri. “Is that facial hair I see?”
“Just patches,” Rum says.
“Speak for yourself,” Shuri says smugly. With the uniform shadow around his chin, he has the right to be proud.
“So, Feathers, you and Tyra finally fixed things?” Aven asks.
“Sure did,” Nuria boasts, wrapping an arm around her when the angel steps closer. “Guess it’s your turn now.”
Aven scoffs. “Been there, done that. She and I are square now.”
“What? Since when?”
“Since school started. After you stormed out of the cafeteria, I apologized and she accepted.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything during our detention room chats?”
“Hold up,” Tyra says. “You two have hung out this year?”
“A few times.”
Tyra turns to Aven with fury. “Why didn’t you tell her I wanted to talk?”
“Wait, easy there. That was your squabble to fix. Don’t take it out on me.”
The ladies stare him into retreating with profound indignation.
“Back in the doghouse he goes,” Rum comments.
“Like you’re one to talk,” Pan says.
“Uh-oh, what’d my brother do now?”
“The problem is I don’t know. He won’t say what he’s been working on all semester, and he won’t stop working on it outside of class,” she explains crossly.
“I told you I’m done with it for now,” Rum says.
“And what happens when you want to pick it back up?”
Rum chokes up.
Pan rolls her eyes and walks away. Rum grumbles as he follows after her.
Shuri says, “And now he’s back in the dog house.”
“That’s why it pays to be a cat,” Koren says, sliding up on Nuria’s other side.
Nuria laughs. “That right?”
“Absolutely. The ears are just one advantage.” He wiggles his ears. “Come to think of it, we never did go through on our deal.”
“Deal?” Shuri asks.
“She gets to feel my ears if I can touch her wings,” Koren says.
“Why do you think my wings are still out?” Using the hand technique Tyra taught her, she bounces her wings by imagining rolling and unrolling her fingers.
“I can tell you how they feel if you want. I touched them last year,” Shuri states.
“All right, everyone on the bus,” Professor Tameri orders.
“But Lauron’s not–”
“You were saying,” Lauron grunts as she slides amidst the sophmen. “Would’ve been here sooner, but my door buster weighed me down.” She hefts her broadsword, but it’s snatched away by Tameri.
“You don’t have an open carry permit, so the door buster stays.” She hands the blade to Roark alongside a clipboard. “You can pick it up from the security office once we return.”
Lauron’s growling stomach preemptively ends her protest. “Too hungry to lug that thing anyway. Let’s eat.”
Crowded as she is by her friends, Nuria smiles without a word. Her time as a solo pupil and subsequent lessons have made her value her friendships much more. Shuri was the first person she had fun with on campus, even if at the expense of school property. Lauron and Koren made her time in S’nue and Vanusi Houses so enjoyable, and she gladly welcomes them into her heart. However, even more than them, she can feel her soul sing louder every second she and Tyra are together. Though the other three vie for the seat beside her, she ultimately chooses the angel.
Their massive party strolls into the Piranha BBQ foyer, Nuria leading the sophmen portion. The white tiled floor has a diamond pattern, black diamonds interspersed within. The yellow walls are accented by brown pillars separating the bar from an open dining hall on the right and aisles of booths on the left. Nuria looks to the right, one large table being cleaned in the rear of the dining hall. She appreciates that it’s close to the bathroom.
“Ah, it is that time again,” the host says as he lays eyes on the phoenix’s party. “Welcome back, Four Heart crew.” He turns to the same table Nuria keeps tabs on. “Looks like your usual table will be ready shortly.”
“Thank you,” Zathony says. “But we will require an additional seat from our previous visit.”
Nuria blinks. “We do?” Nuria does the math as she looks around. Aside from Lauron, there’s nobody extra since Roy isn’t present. “Wait, where’s Roy?”
“He declined in favor of other plans,” Tameri says.
“Okay, so if Lauron’s taking his place, who’s the extra?”
“That would be you. Or do you think this tradition goes away when you’re not around?”
Nuria almost pouts, but she likes that she started something everyone enjoys enough to partake in even without her around. “The way I see it. The more the merrier.”
“I agree. If I’d known Lauron was coming, I’d have extended an invitation to the S’nue and Sulublei classes, too.”
“You’d only get three from S’nue at best. Evic is a stick in the mud,” Lauron says.
“Then again, getting Sulublei to come will give us Roy back,” Aven says.
“Is Evic that bad?” Shuri asks.
Lauron scoffs. “If he were here, he’d be lucky my sword was confiscated.”
“Happier topics, please?” Tameri says.
Nuria tries to broach one to the group, but the sudden icy look in Tameri’s eyes gives her pause. The professor sweeps her gaze swiftly around the area, but since her hands stay off her chalk-colored guard, she doesn’t look for danger. Nuria mirrors the path of her gaze slower, noticing almost half a dozen looks of disgust aimed at their party. She catches the tail end of her Vanusi professors performing their own sweeps. Nuria keeps tabs on some of those nasty looks while being led to the large table in the rear, and now understands why it’s there they’re always seated.
It was never because our party was large…
“So, what’s everyone ordering?” Tameri asks, her gaze lingering on Nuria, Koren, and Aven. Nuria observes the tense postures on those gentlemen and realizes they took heed of the looks, too. “I’m going with my usual cobb salad.”
“We’re not even at the drink order yet,” Aven says, taking the seat beside her.
Nuria doesn’t have to look at the menu to know her order. “Eelectric noodles,” she announces as she and Tyra sit side-by-side. Koren slides into the chair on her other side, beating Shuri to the punch.
“I was gonna sit there,” Shuri says.
Koren grins broadly. “You gotta be faster next time. Sorry.”
“Come on. You can sit next to me,” Rum states. He ushers Shuri along, steering him by his shoulders. “I might even share my sweet fire nuggets.”
“Hey, who said you could stop holding my hand?” Pan says.
Rum groans, headbutting Shuri from behind when he leans forward.
“It’s your tradition, Nuria, so what do you recommend?” Lauron asks, taking the final seat between Koren and Pan.
“You like noodles?”
“More of a fan of seafood.”
“Asher’s salmon,” Nuria and Rum say together.
“Done and done. You guys must come here a lot if you know the menu by heart.”
“We go once a month back home,” Rum explains.
“That’s why I started the tradition here. Four Hearts is my home away from home. I’ve got a few more ideas to improve on that, too.”
“Don’t think the school has an endless budget,” Zathony warns. “We can’t do everything your heart desires.”
“No, but the rest is personal. Won’t cost anyone a penny except for me.”
“Is that what you’re checking on now?”
Nuria didn’t even realize she had her head in her lap the entire time, her phone in her clutches, Reddic’s contact on the screen. While his absence has allowed her time to repair other relationships and form some new ones, she misses the one they were starting. In so short a time, he made his way into her heart, and now she confirms for herself her home away from home is incomplete without him.
She looks at her phone. Should I call him?
The phoenix’s inner debate comes to a halt once their waiter takes the party’s orders. She stays out of her head with the aid of her company, and the bright blue noodles that remind her of her brother’s lightning also help. She and Tyra and Koren talk mostly amongst themselves. Lauron finally broaches a chat with Shuri. Rum and Pan seem to put their squabble on hold, the latter cheering on the former when he and Aven race to finish their sweet fire nugget bowl first. The professors moderate where needed, mainly in Rum and Aven’s post-contest arguing, Pan instigating slightly.
All in all, the spirit of the evening is one Nuria needed. She leans back after slurping her final noodle and heaves a satisfied “Ah”. She gets ready to say farewell to the fun once she spies the man following their waiter to the table. Her next move is to gauge Shuri’s reaction.
“Headmaster, what a surprise,” Tameri says.
Almost immediately, all the talking at the table ceases. Nuria’s mood grows sullen when Shuri just turns his head away, so she figures nothing has changed between them.
No, it’s gotten worse. He used to glare at him. Now, he’s ignoring him altogether.
“We need to talk,” Neth says sternly.
“Yes, we do,” Tameri counters in a similar tone. “Students, you have my permission to go and explore the mall proper. Meet at the fountain in an hour, the one down this hall here. And be on your best behavior, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” most of them say, though all are eager to leave.
“Not you, Shuri,” Neth says. “Wait for me at the front. This won’t take long.”
Nuria hears that order at the last second and wants to wait with Shuri, but the others excitedly drag her along with them, the open mall before them promising unbridled fun.