2.12: Jupiter Mall Catastrophe

As Rum twisted, arms outstretched, two different shields twirled alongside him. The shield in line with his left hand had a glass edge. The shield under the command of his right hand had a blue feather decal in the center. With each revolution, he’s ordered to move faster by Professor Tameri.

     Despite how fast he ended up going, he was amazed by the collection of equipment around, from the closet full of patient gowns, scrubs, and blankets to the cabinets stocked with medicine, gloves, syringes, etc. The dazzlingly bright white walls began to impair his balance and the moment his momentum faltered, Tameri commanded him to stop.

     She and Jojen exchanged looks, then she said, “Activate your lightning around your hands.”

     “But what if I damage something?” Rum asks.

     “I trust your control, Aurum. Don’t betray that trust now and do as I’ve asked.”

     Rum started the circuit around his hands between his fingers first. He anchored the cobalt electricity there as it surrounded both hands. The shields clanged against the floor. His buster sword flew into his grasp, the shadow of the blade’s tip resting over the blue feather. The electricity from his hand withdrew into the glass disc in the base of the blade, painting the clear surface cobalt. Rum canceled the lightning around his free hand, breathing easy, having done no damage to the room.

     Professor Tameri stepped closer and examined the glass disc. She touched it gingerly, feeling the sting of several static shocks, though none caused her pain. “Interesting, to say the least.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Your BOTB. Originally, I suspected maybe you hadn’t bonded with your buster sword. You proved that thought wrong with your lightning-call technique.”

     “Lightning-call, huh? I like that name.”

     Tameri chuckled. “I also assumed your ability to call other weapons would recede, but it seems now you can focus that power with greater precision. While you had the shields orbit around you, not once did my spadroon even fidget. Yet and still, your lightning-call seems to be capable of only calling your weapon.”

     “What are you thinking?” Jojen asked.

     Tameri ignored the question, staring at Rum quietly for a long time. “Aurum, why haven’t you asked a single question about this bunker?”

     “Honestly…because I wouldn’t know what to ask,” Rum answered hesitantly.

     “What do you remember about the attack last year? About Jojen and I specifically?”

     “I remember Jojen left me in the forge. Probably came here. You showed up later with bloodied bandages. So…he treated you down here? Jojen’s a doctor?”

     “Every adult in this town is a doctor, myself included. And he did treat me. The original explosion at the dojo’s entrance came too fast for me to activate my phantom power, so I was struck by some of the shrapnel and debris.”

     “Then why didn’t you treat Shuri and Pan down here, too?”

     “Because this bunker is illegal. And, it’s not just beneath this dojo. Others exist beneath every largely public space in Vanis Town. Keeping it secret is of the utmost importance for every citizen here.”

     Rum felt all too abashed suddenly, not sure of what to do with the information. He’d never betray Tameri’s secret, but he’s not sure why he was let in on it to begin with.

     “Why tell me? Why now?” Rum chose to voice his reservation, thinking her reason must be a good one.

     “Because, like me, I believe you–”

     “Tameri,” Jojen warned.

     The professor paused briefly, then continued and said, “Your powers are dangerous, Aurum. Just like mine. I think it best to exercise this power only as a last resort. I need you to promise me that. And, of course, to keep this bunker a secret.”

     Rum pondered why his Bond of the Blade could be dangerous, but ceded to Tameri’s wisdom in this case. However, if his was dangerous…

     Maybe Pan’s is, too?

     “Is it rude of me to ask for something in return?”

     Rum continues his explanation of his and Tameri’s trips to Vanis Town, and his tale grips Pan’s attention so much so that several times throughout he has to assist her avoid crashing into other people, walls, windows, etc. He wraps it up with the reveal of the favor granted to him, careful not to mention the bunker at all. He sees the bulk of Pan’s rage expire as she ruminates on the implications of his news.

     “Have you told your sister?”

     “She’s next, but all things considered, it was important that I tell you first. Not just because I wanted you to not be mad at me, but because I know I can trust you with that knowledge, and by the transient property of trust, so can Tameri. Plus, it’s a nice way for us to…spend more time together.”

     Rum expects to be rejected, the mosaic in his head giving way to the redder hues. The battle goes in their favor until Pan says, “Yeah, that’d be nice.” The balance of color in the mosaic restores itself swiftly.

     The duo walks in awkward silence for a time, then Pan shoots her hand out and clutches Rum’s like a snake striking its prey. Rum smiles as he intertwines their fingers.

     “Well, now that we know what I’ve been doing, we can focus on you. How’s the blog going?”

     Pan sighs. “It’s going well, but I’ve hit a plateau. I’m not losing viewers, but I haven’t gained any new ones in weeks. At least not compared to the growth I had at the start.”

     “Well, I’m back now, so you’ll have one more constant viewer. And, your lovely assistant is back, too.”

     “Lovely as- oh! No need for that anymore. Someone else filled the role. I’m keener for us to run that experiment you mentioned.”

     “Someone else? Who?”

     “My dick.” Her cheeks burn red. “The- the dick. Ah, hell! Aven.”

     Rum rolls his eyes. “You and he come up with the worst nicknames. I bet he actually likes yours for him, too.”

     “Hey, you got a problem with Rummy?”

     “I’m not sure which nickname I dislike more.”

     “Then you come up with a better one, smartass.”

     “Rum. R-U-M. Nuria’s been using it for my entire life. Fits perfectly.”

     “That’s her name for you. I’ll stick with my own.”

     “So, what, you like Eagle Eyes?”

     “I can take it or leave it. And since we’re on the subject, is he still following us?”

     Rum uses the reflection of the storefront windows to confirm Aven stalking them from a not-so discrete distance. “Looking like he’s every bit the stereotypical mall robbing teenager in all-black attire, hands-in-his-pockets walk.”

     “I’ll get rid of him.” Pan grabs Rum’s collar and drags him into the next store they cross- a toy store designed and stocked with products suited for young girls. All things pink and pretty would cast a spotlight on Aven just for entering the store. However, Rum’s dark jacket with blue stripes down the arms is no exception to that. The duo receives sideways looks from the moment they step inside. Pan hides herself and Rum behind a shelf. She heaves a sigh of relief after confirming Aven refuses to enter.

     “And why are hoping to get rid of him again?”

     “Because now I can do this.” Pan releases the front of his collar, only to grab both sides, and pulls herself closer to deliver a kiss.

     Rum opens his eyes wide, caught entirely unawares by the surprise. He’s still new to their romance, and while he’s comfortable enough behind closed doors, he isn’t sure of the public display of affection, nervous someone will see. He looks around and sure enough finds a woman glaring lethally at them from the rear of the store, an officer from the looks of her uniform. He narrows his eyes when she suddenly advances toward them, detaching her baton from her belt. He gasps, his lips still touching Pan’s.

     “Rummy, what kid of–”

     “Get down!” Rum shouts as he tackles Pan to the floor. The tip of the baton wings his shoulder as it sails past him. His gaze lowers when an opened toy box lands next to his feet.

     “I’m placing you both under arrest,” the woman proclaims loudly, pointing her baton at them. “I’ve already called mall security, but have some from the office on patrol,” she informs the front counter attendants.

     “Okay, that’s a load of crap!” Pan argues. “We haven’t–”

     “These two were attempting to steal that toy there. I’ve been tailing them for a while. The people they were with went to other stores. Have them detain all unsupervised teenagers.”

     “Yes, ma’am,” the desk attendants say before they start making calls.

     “We haven’t stolen a thing!” Pan says.

     “Only because I stopped you. Hands in the air. Now!”

     “You can’t be serious? Rum, say something.”

     Rum stands and looks the woman in the eyes, not sure why she looks familiar. “Do as she says, Pan.”

     “Are you for real? We didn’t do anything wrong.”

     “I know that.” Rum smirks. “And so do the cameras,” he says loud enough for the gathered crowd to hear.

     “What?” the officer says in surprise. She, like the crowd, look around for cameras that don’t exist.

     “What’s wrong, officer? You look confused. Shouldn’t you know there weren’t any cameras in this store? I mean, other than the one behind you.”

     The officer slowly turns away from Rum and finds he was again correct. A camera in the rear of the store is aimed right at them, the semicircle lens cleverly positioned next to a shelf of dark brown stuffed monkeys.

     “Wonder what mall security will have to say when they review–”

     The officer drops all pretenses and attacks Rum blatantly. He’s too engrossed in his dressing down that the attack is on point to strike his temple. Pan sweeps his feet and saves his life. The officer grabs Pan’s leg and swings her away from Rum. Rum is forced to block her next swing with his forearms, the force knocking him back against the wall. She closes in on him menacingly when Pan jumps on her back and attempts to choke her. One elbow to the ribs later, and Pan is on the floor.

     “I was promised both of you, but I suppose I’ll have to end you now.”

     When she raises the baton to strike Pan, Rum’s mosaic instantly and voluntarily invites red to conquer the space. He promised Tameri it would be his last resort, and without his weapon against an armed and corrupt officer, he’s sure it counts. He aims his hands at the baton and the woman’s strike is stopped in its tracks.

     The woman peers at her trembling arm, clearly puzzled. “What the hell is this?”

     Pan backflips and double kicks the officer in the chin while she’s distracted. Rum uses that momentum to aid him by pulling her closer to him, her refusal to relinquish her weapon making it easy. He releases his BOTB at the last second and slams his clasped fists into the back of her head. The flash of a tattoo appears beneath her collar.

     “I’m tired of you Bigene mongrels!” she shouts, whirling to get one more strike at Rum, but the baton stops just short of his face, held at bay by his open palm. The officer drops her baton and assaults Rum with her fists, angry to find him capable of defending himself. “Uppity little shit! I can’t wait until Liamria gets hold of that phoenix bitch!”

     The blood-red hue that stains Rum’s mind is followed by an ejection of blood from his nose, distracted by his rage. He recovers from the loss of his calm, but he’s again trapped in the corner, taking the beating from the officer’s fists. Even so, all he can think of is her earlier comment about tailing him and the others.

     Nuria’s a target, so I can’t dawdle here. I have to protect her!

     He lets himself take a punch to the face when he stretches his left hand forward. The baton flies into his grasp, then smacks it across the officer’s face with one powerful strike. Pan again kicks the woman, sending her reeling toward Aven. He grabs her by her arm and the back of her collar and slams her into the shelf that started the entire ordeal.

     “About time you showed up,” Pan says, massaging her side.

     “Thanks for the help,” Rum says.

     Aven nods tightly, then turns away from them.

     “You people are sheep!” Aven accosts the onlookers. He lifts the barely conscious officer and yanks the side of her collar down to reveal an intricate white heart tattoo on her neck. “A member of The Pure- officer or not- was beating two children in front of you and you just stood there! What the hell is wrong with you? And you,” he shouts to the counter attendants, “where in the hell are the real security guards?”

     The floor quakes following a bright orange flash and eruption of smoke. Three more quakes pop off, each one stronger and nearer to the toy store. Mall security finally arrives on the scene. “The mall is being evacuated. Please, follow us in an orde–”

     A fifth explosion goes off right outside the toy store, the eruption of fire engulfing the security team. The officer elbows Aven in his pelvis and tears herself away from his grasp, racing away into the smoke alongside the rest of the fleeing store crowd, disappearing into the sea of fleeing shoppers, her baton left behind.

     Pan shivers. “This…it’s Vanis Town all over again.”

     “Get a grip, Pan! It’s time to go!” Aven shouts.

     It takes her a second, but she shakes her nerves off. “Right…sorry. What’s the plan?”

     “Nuria and the others are likely targets, too. We need to find them and follow the evacuation order!” Rum commands. He races toward the exit when one more blast shatters the storefront windows, this one a high-frequency sonic pulse.


     Now that he’s stuck waiting on his own, no swords, no flagpole, no friends nor fun, he’s aware of just how terrible the school year’s been so far. Inside his class, Shuri’s spent little time with any of them. Pan’s blog keeps her busy and with Rum’s evenings away, she got Aven to assist her. Speaking of Rum’s evenings, he and Tameri have been busy with some top-secret project. His own training has hit a stone wall.

     Over the spring, he used the limited knowledge from his grandfather without committing to his idea of training, choosing to remain primarily self-taught. The technique he’s working to perfect was born when he learned how to vibrate the around his body, eventually molding it into specific shapes. His preferred mold is a sword. The issue is that he cannot separate the mold from his body. The sword mold becomes a literal extension of his body, his wrist acting as the hilt, the white blade extending past his fingers, and the guard two points protruding from the sides of his palm. He wants to learn to detach it from his flesh on his own, same as he did for one of his grandfather’s favorite tricks.

     Shuri employs it now as he raises his gaze to the rear table. He exhales then holds his breath, drawing air into his ears, dragging along sounds from the vicinity. He eliminates conversations as he adjusts the air current’s path.

     “–plants are good to go.”


     “Sweet fire nuggets are nasty.”


     “–and I apologize,” Neth says.

     Shuri overshoots the last conversation so fast, not expecting those words to come from his grandfather, that he has to restart the air current. By the time he finds his grandfather’s voice again, he realizes he missed a portion of the talk.

     “–fear of The Pure, fear of history repe–”

     Shuri detests his lack of mastery, unable to overhear the whole conversation by constantly overshooting. He resets the current ceaselessly to hear as much as possible.

     “–we have to trust them more than fear those who’d wish them harm. That’s–”

     Shuri witnesses Professor Marmagar’s assent to whatever Tameri’s conclusion is with swift and concise sign language.

     “It’s Shuri’s reactions to you that will decide if FHA fails or not, old man,” Zathony says.

     “No time like the present,” Tameri says, nodding Shuri’s direction.

     Shuri doesn’t reset the air current this time, snapping upright. His grandfather comes toward him on swift strides, his cane gripped firmly in both hands.

     “Shuri, may I have a word?”

     He nods, hoping the unbelievable continues, wanting to hear all the things he’s owed from these past few years. He follows Neth outside of Piranha BBQ, but the path then has no destination.

     “How much did you hear?”

     Shuri stays silent.

     “I’m aware of unnatural air currents. I felt the one you commanded pass by several times. And to be clear, I’m not mad. That’s not what this is about.”

     “Is that right?”

     “Why do you think I asked you to wait? I planned to apologize to you even before the professors encouraged me to do so.”

     “And to what do you intend to apologize for first? Taking my swords? Badgering me into leaving Ohaida House every single day? You staring me down to keep me from joining Ibri House? The fact this is our first conversation all semester? Take your pick,” Shuri says frostily.

     “I’ll pick them all.” Neth turns and sits at a bench. He taps the spot beside him. Shuri reluctantly accepts the invitation. “Whether you heard or not, allow me to explain where my fear comes from. Why I have treated you so.”

     “I don’t care,” Shuri snaps.

     “Pardon me?”

     “Those reasons have nothing to do with me. You’ve treated me the same long as I can remember. So, unless you’re blaming me, they don’t factor in our relationship. That’s what I want from you. To treat me as I want to treat you, with love and respect. Whatever has you so terrified, it has nothing to do with me.”


     Flames burst forth from inside a wall on the corner opposite the duo. The inferno is set to engulf them and the adjacent passersby until Neth erects a whirlwind barrier to direct the flames into the air. Shuri feels insignificant, nowhere close to forming his wind sword, the only ability he has to achieve such a feat. He doesn’t have much time to lament his lack of skill. Four more explosions rock the mall, each subsequent one closer to the center.

     Neth stays airborne on a whirling disc of air to speak to the nearby shoppers all at once. “Everyone! Cover your mouth and nose as you leave! Do not inhale the smoke if you can! Move!” Neth orders. The look on his grandfather’s face shows Shuri a glimpse into the depth of his fear. The raging fires across the mall have the opposite effect on Shuri.


     “Shuri! Shuri, get back here!” Neth shouts.

     Shuri has zero qualms about ignoring the order. He knows if the roles were reversed that Nuria would make sure he was safe. A massive stampede of fleeing shoppers passes him, evading him all in the effort to escape swiftly as possible. Expecting the worst when he finds her, he starts vibrating the air around his hands.


     “This one. Try this one, T,” Nuria says, holding up a long white ribbon. “You like white, right?”

     “If you’re asking what my favorite color is, it’s black.” Tyra reaches from behind the changing curtain and exchanges a red ribbon for the white one.


     “I have a lot of fond memories thanks to that color.”

     “Technically, black is the absence of all color.”

     “Okay, expert, what’s your favorite color?”

     “Blue. No, orange. Well,” she looks down at her wardrobe, “I like brown and yellow, too.”

     “So, you like all the colors and I like none of them? Cool.”

     Nuria turns around and stands at the front of the curtain like a bodyguard, and she adopts a rigid posture when that realization hits her. She looks out into the shop, her view made narrow by the hallway the changing rooms reside in, but she can at least see her Vanusi classmates poking around glass containers full of yarn. A woman dressed in dark clothes obscures her sight of them for a moment, and Nuria laughs inwardly at her ridiculously high collar.

     Tyra pulls the curtain back and gestures to her head. The ribbon stretches over the top of her head, a bow knotted at the base. “How’s it look?”

     “Awesome! Now, take it off so I can buy it for you.”

     “Nuria, that’s not necessary. I can pay for it myself.”

     “If it bugs you that much,” Nuria says as she loosens the ribbon herself, “then feel free to buy me one in return.”

     At a loss, Tyra follows the phoenix blindly. “But what color do I pick?”

     The duo concludes their shopping as they gather up the rest of their class. However, their checkout takes quite a bit of time as Lauron cleared an entire rack of clothes to purchase for herself. Nuria discovers that each of the shirts has three-word phrases that descend vertically down the middle. When they head to the fountain Tameri mentioned, every single one of them has bags of merchandise in tow, Lauron’s massive order forcing cooperation.

     Lauron hefts her dozen bags. “And I thought shopping would be a bust.”

     “Why buy so many at once?” Nuria asks.

     “I’m starting to outgrow my old clothes, so Cwen’s been on my case to get new ones. She even got me a credit card. As if I needed…her…money.” Lauron turns and follows a group of security guards race past them with her eyes.

     Nuria watches those same guards. She’s ready to flip her switch if need be, and that’s when the dribbling of the fountain water alarms her.

     “You know, we still have time to walk around, guys. Let’s see what else we can get into.”

     “With this chick’s entire wardrobe weighing us down?” Syl asks.

     “Normally I’d be game, but I wanna save some strength for a late-night swim,” Carnya says.

     “Who goes swimming after eating eight double cheeseburgers?” Lauron asks.

     “Carnya do, that’s who!”

     Nuria wants to laugh at their banter, but the fact their breaths frost the air unnerves her. She expels a shallow breath and finds she’s doing it, too. She hears a soft crackling noise and looks to the fountain. Down from the hose protrusions in the statue of two women, the water freezes solid, each stream solidifying at the same pace. Once the freezing water hits the larger pond, the whole thing flash freezes.

     This is Liamria!

     “Guys, it’s time to go,” Nuria says. She only manages to get them to their feet before they’re boxed in by shoppers curious about the freezing.

     Five explosions go off in quick succession, the final one detonating at the entrance of a third-floor store. Nuria sees the burned bodies of the security guards from earlier crash down on a bridge connecting both sides of the second floor. She’s too mesmerized by the carnage to notice the crowd around her start to flee.

     Switch- on!

     Another flash freeze happens, this time trapping Nuria to the ground by her shoes. Carnya’s shriek alerts her to the entrapments targeting her other classmates, even the other shoppers. The ice now extends to cover the entire fountain plaza. Most of the other shoppers get noisy with fear and anger. Nuria dreads Liamria’s appearance until the woman with the ridiculously high collar walks around on the frozen fountain from the other side.

     “Anyone who doesn’t want to forfeit their lives for these Bigene mongrels, turn and run away when I release you,” she says. She snaps her fingers and the ice traps holding down most crack apart. They run and leave Nuria and her classmates without a second thought.

     Nuria grits her teeth, her body shivering intensely, wisps of chilled breaths escaping between her teeth. She’s thankful the woman before her isn’t Liamria, but worries if she’s anywhere near as strong. She commits her person to memory, from her wavy brunette hair, green eyes, almond skin, the side of a white heart tattoo exposed just beyond her collar.

     “Even though she knew of my ability to freeze the ground, Liamria warned me not to get too close. But all I see is a child shivering with fear.”

     “Some trap! You only locked down our shoes, not our feet!” Lauron boasts as she slips out of her sneakers and dashes forward swiftly, and Nuria can tell Liamria’s associate was surprised. However, the only thing to touch her face are Lauron’s dozen bags. Nuria thinks Lauron confused the weight of the clothes in her hand for her broadsword.

     “How about now?”

     Lauron’s feet are slowly frozen over, the ice creeping up to her ankles. Lauron winces in pain, frozen in her lunged position.

     “Lauron!” Tyra calls out.

     “Don’t, Tyra. You’ll just end up the same,” Koren says.


     Nuria grins when Tyra suddenly quiets herself, though her shivering makes it look not so impressive.

     “Now, I wonder what will give out first,” the woman says when face-to-face with Nuria. “Her ankles, or your cheeks?” The brunette raises her left index finger and coats it with an icy talon. She taps Nuria’s cheek and the instant bite of cold is so intense that Nuria unleashes her scream prematurely, not yet having built it to the same degree she used against Liamria.

     The intense sonic attack still blows the woman away, and not only cracks everyone’s icy shackles, but the storefront windows of adjacent stores. The mist that escapes from the cracked ice mixes with the smoke in the air.

     Nuria falls to her knees, out of breath entirely, only one eye open, blood seeping down from the frozen fissure on her cheek. Still need better control. Putting too much into it every time.

     Nuria accepts Tyra propping her on her shoulder, too exhausted to even stand on her own. She was training hard before dinner, but to feel this drained after just one sonic attack, and one that wasn’t as powerful as the last, she feels something is off. That her understanding of her powers is too low. If they escape this, she makes plans to amend that deficiency.

     “Damn, Nuria! I didn’t know you could do all that,” Lauron says, carefully stepping back into her shoes.

     “Ask later. We need to go,” Tyra urges.

     “Shouldn’t we wait here for the professors?” Carnya asks, her wet pants legs shaking.

     “No, we–”

     “So, that’s why Liamria warned me.”

     The brunette again walks around from behind the statue, her eyes bloodshot and bleeding, as well as her ears. In her hands, she holds knives fashioned from ice. Nuria’s one eye widens with terror. She expected her attack might not finish her off, but she also expected not to be so drained after.

     Damn it! Why am I so powerless when it matters?

     “I suppose she’ll just have to forgive me for the quick kill,” the brunette says.

     Nuria panics when the knives are tossed straight at her and Tyra, and even more so when Tyra rotates to protect Nuria from any harm, using her own body as a shield. Not wanting to be protected that way, Nuria invokes just enough strength to undo the rotation. The knives are again on point to strike fatal blows, but a stray baton cracks through the one on the right. The knife on the left is sliced in half by a long white blade. Nuria blinks her eye twice, now calm that the situation is under control.

     “Was that scream you?” Shuri asks.

     “I dare you to try that again!” Rum shouts to the brunette.

     Nuria smiles to have her brother by her side again. As their mother said, they have to protect each other. She’s interested in the story of his new baton, but she loses the last of her breath when she’s yanked into the air. The last things she sees as her vision comes and goes are Rum chucking the electrified baton, a pair of brown wings, and a spinning blade return to the hands of a girl around her age. She welcomes the darkness, ready to absorb the details when she wakes in a few days.

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