Nuria focuses on the short redhead’s wintry irises with such intense regard that when they suddenly move, the phoenix blinks. A second later, Su’s eyes are right before Nuria, staring intensely at her own. Now that Su’s closer, Nuria sees that her eyes aren’t just the same snow-white color. Streaks of magenta line the interior contour of her irises, giving them a strong resemblance to royal Windsor carnations.
“Wow, it is true,” Su says.
“I’ll say,” Nuria agrees. Tyra just told her about how those in the Vanusi echelon Hero’s Class all have the same white eyes.
But how come she’s in Sulublei? Nuria mentally smacks herself. Duh. She’s Ibri. I should know better. It’s why I’m here.
Su grabs Nuria’s hand. “I need you to come with me.” Su drags Nuria along without waiting on an answer, but the phoenix happily complies.
Once they leave the dorm, Su releases Nuria’s hand, but keeps up her brisk pace. Nuria matches Su’s speed easily. She smirks and looks over, only to recognize the consternation plaguing her new acquaintance. The root of the expression comes from her eyes. Nuria battled that same expression several dozen nights spent in front of the mirror.
One thing that Nuria has learned this semester is how less unique her struggle is. To truly control, or even know what one’s power is appears to be more common than she thought. The control issue applies not to just her, but Valine also. If the look in Su’s eyes is any indication, then the two of them share the identity struggle.
But if she has control, then maybe we can help each other.
Su leads her to a building with the outside walls forming a dome without a roof. The frames of the wall are hexagonal, giving it a honeycomb appearance. Inside the dome is a greenhouse, flowerbeds separated by white laminate pathways. Both sides of the greenhouse are lined with shelves of potted plants, but the southern end is occupied by a thin tree, the roots partially exposed above ground.
At the rear of the greenhouse are two white tables. The one on the left has empty pots on top. The right table is covered in a modicum of medical equipment and kits.
“Sorry if I’ve been quiet. Running through a marathon of thoughts all at once.” Su empties her bag on the left table, sliding out a stack of books. Most are the same textbooks Nuria and Reddic use, but the top two are a thin plant catalog and an even thinner tome on hematology. “I’m Sutar, by the way. Su’s okay, but I prefer the whole thing.”
“Sutar it is. I’m Nuria.”
“Oh, I’m well aware.”
Sutar moves to the other table, pulls out a chair, and pats the seat. Nuria sits as Sutar opens one of the kits and places on the gloves inside.
“Are you afraid of needles? Blood?”
“No and no,” Nuria replies nervously. “Wait, is fear of blood a thing?”
“You weren’t the only one who requested a blood test last year. When the officer lady–”
“Stark,” Nuria interjects.
“–Stark delivered mine, I saw your name on the second one in her hand. That, plus your eyes, and I knew your prior blood tests must have been inconclusive, too,” Sutar says as she readies a syringe.
Nuria wants to ask, but figures whatever Sutar is planning will provide the explanation. “You do know what you’re doing, right?” Nuria asks when Su applies alcohol to her forearm.
“Yes, ma’am. I am a certified candy-striper of the VaChai Hospital in Bluetail.”
“One of the hospitals in Sakela is named VaChai.”
“Makes sense,” Su says. “VaChai is the third-largest hospital franchise in Vanu.” She pokes the syringe into Nuria’s vein with perfectly still hands, withdrawing her blood in seconds. She swaps the tube connected to the syringe twice over, finishing the operation by pressing gauze to the injection site. “Hold that down for me, please.”
Nuria listens and watches as Sutar dislodges the final tube of her blood from the syringe, dumping the needle inside a small disposable container. She labels the tubes “Nuria_1”, “Nuria_2”, and “Nuria_3”.
“Sure you don’t need anymore?”
“Oh, no. Three is honestly more than necessary, but I’m still perfecting how to execute blood tests, so having a couple of spares is just a precaution. Blood tests don’t generally leave behind leftovers, so in case I do misstep somewhere, I can still provide us with useful information.”
Nuria breaks her no-questions vow, hoping to understand her impromptu doctor more. “How do you know how to perform a blood test anyway? How do you have all this equipment?”
“As I said, I’m a candy-striper- a doctor in training- certified by the VaChai Hospital. One of the conditions of my enrollment here is that I’m allowed to use and practice with the medical equipment here.”
“Conditions of your enrollment?”
Sutar presses a second syringe against her skin, looking up and taking a breath before drawing three tubes of her blood, labeling them in the same fashion as Nuria’s, though the numbers on her tubes are “133”, “134”, and “135”. After tossing her used syringe into the disposable container, she places both sets of blood tubes into side-by-side containers of a centrifuge. She lowers the glass shield and activates it.
“I was raised by the doctors at VaChai in Bluetail. Dr. Avery, the chief of medicine there, became the closest thing to a mother I had. She and the other doctors were my legal guardians.”
“What about your actual parents?”
“Never knew them. Neither did Dr. Avery. I was left in front of the hospital as a newborn with a note that asked the hospital to take me in. So, they did.”
Nuria can’t help but ponder if Auriel was offered a similar deal.
“Oh…oh, no. I’m sorry,” Sutar says. “I didn’t mean to make you sad. You’ve been unbelievably helpful, so I figured answering any questions was the least I could do.”
“Helpful how? This about that inconclusive blood type thing?”
“Yeah. For fifteen years, not one doctor has been able to determine what my blood type or race is. Three years ago, my Sudita came about and my powers emerged shortly after. When they did, we all assumed I was Sulublei.”
Sutar lifts her hand. Misty green light spills from her palm and a thorny rose rises from within the light. She grips the rose with her fingers and turns it this way and that.
“Every potted plant on the shelves was created by my powers.”
Nuria looks around and sees much more variety than a rose. There are a few succulents she recognizes from Sakela, daffodils, peonies, dahlias, hydrangeas, etc.
“Dr. Avery hoped to have me master my powers and medical basics here, as well as that the nurses here could decipher my blood type. When that failed, I was ready to give up. Then Roy told me you were a phoenix.”
Sutar bandages herself and Nuria.
“I didn’t know the significance right away. Dr. Avery called a couple of weeks ago when she heard of some legendary hematologist in Ohai named Dr. Aryan. She asked if I wanted to have him test my blood as it appears he’s now interested in rare Vanusi species.”
“So, you are Ibri?”
Sutar shrugs. “Unknown, but it’s clear I’m a rare something.”
Nuria hums. Who says Sulublei don’t have echelons, too? Still, those white eyes…
“Honestly, I don’t know why I care so much about the label. I’m still able to use my power, so that’s good. My real hope is to use my powers to aid in my future as a physician.”
“What do you mean?”
“So far, I’m only capable of creating garden flowers and grass. Things as complex as herbs and crops are beyond my ability currently. If I can learn to master herb creation, it’d be a big help in me picking a medical field. At the very least, I could go into pharma–”
“It’s a waste of time,” someone shouts nearby.
“What? Who’s there?” Nuria asks.
Su rolls her eyes. “Here we go again.”
A young man with olive hair steps around from behind the tree in the southern corner, yawning, hands behind his head. At first, Nuria curses inwardly for not noticing him until now. Then she whispers a curse once she perceives the dull countenance.
“You shouldn’t use your powers for something as silly as a job,” Wallace states boldly. “It’s stupid.”
“How is that stupid?”
“Why would you master your powers just to waste them on a job?”
“Because it’d be fun. Duh.”
“It’s not fun to use your powers just to be someone else’s workhorse,” Wallace says, turning to leave. “Nor is it fun to waste my nap time arguing with you.”
“Whatever,” Nuria replies. The phoenix is happy to watch him go. Twice now he’s put a damper on her fun. She’s so heated that sweat starts falling down her face in earnest and her breathing grows shallow.
“Never mind him. He’s always like that,” Su explains. “We used to argue a lot just like that, but once we realized neither wanted to stop coming here, we cooled off. I think you being here upset our uneasy truce.”
“But I’m not too familiar on- is the plural just phoenixes?”
“I’m not too familiar with what phoenixes can do, but do you have a job in mind, too? You seemed pretty hot under the collar just now.”
“Actually, no. Haven’t ever really given it any thought. Wallace just…he rubs me the wrong way.”
Su chuckles. “I hear you. Anyway, the blood tests won’t be ready until late tonight. If you wanna go do something else, it’s cool.”
Nuria can’t pin down the tone, so she asks, “Do you need me to leave?”
Su winces slightly. “Yeah…only because I’m behind on homework and medical studies. Doing both is difficult, even with Lynald’s loose schedule. But I should have some answers before class tomorrow. Just meet us outside the Sulublei dorm at 9A.M.”
Nuria smirks, finding another similarity between the two of them. “I’ll see yah then.” Nuria places a hand against the door and turns back, feeling confident she’s working on another friend. She licks her lips as she discovers one more similarity.
Sutar removes a small pouch from her pocket and dumps a couple of almond-colored seeds into her mouth.