“Might as well give up,” Nuria says hotly. “I’m not telling you where they are!”
“Now is not the time, Nuria!” Rum shouts. “You couldn’t move for days the last time you didn’t take your medicine!”
“Oh, but look at me now.” Nuria shimmies from her shoulders to her hips, ending the routine by wiggling her toes. “I can move just fine.”
“You passed out after seizing!” Rum argues.
“Not the first time!” Nuria counters.
“That doesn’t make it better!”
“I just went a little mad. I’ll admit that, but I’m good. I promise,” Nuria says softly, hoping to deescalate the situation.
“You’re not good! It took the nurses half an hour to stabilize you! I watched from that doorway while you kept seizing! I thought you were gonna die!”
Nuria almost caves to the guilt of putting him through that, but the last line evokes a sardonic grin. “Good thing that would only activate my reset button.”
Once Rum flinches, so does Nuria. She can’t believe she let those words out into the universe. Of course, Rum hates the idea of her dying. Nuria does, too, but another thought creeps up on her.
What if my morpu needs to be at a specific level to trigger resurrection? Better not tell Sutar, or I might create another Halko.
Nuria tries to grab Rum’s hand, but he snatches it away. The phoenix takes a breath. “Rum, listen to me–”
“No, you listen to me,” he says, his tone cold and controlled. “If you don’t tell me where your medicine is, I will tell mom that we weren’t just at the mall during the bombing, but that we were targets, too.”
Nuria narrows her eyes frostily.
“You know we’d be on the first train back home; if she doesn’t come get us herself, that is.”
Nuria scoffs incredulously. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh, what a lovely surprise. Hi, Rum,” Auriel says through the phone speaker.
Nuria jumps her brother immediately, failing to wrestle the phone from him as he goes over the mall events in such great detail that Nuria realizes it’s been weighing on him just as much if not more. Still, she refuses to let up and traps him by feinting for the phone and then putting him in a headlock. With a stranglehold on his throat to keep him quiet, she peeks at the phone screen. It appears the call ended the second after she jumped him if her internal clock is accurate. She releases Rum and shoves him away.
Rum coughs as he rubs his throat. “Well, damn, I guess you really are good.”
Nuria stares at him blankly for a moment, then her embarrassment feeds into frustration. “You were testing me?”
Rum leans back against the infirmary bed, wiping a finger between his nose and upper lip. “Sure was. I knew how’d you react from the jump.”
“If it was a test, then why were you fighting me so hard?”
“Because if I overpowered you, you would’ve been force-fed the seeds.”
“But you don’t know where they are.”
“She does.” Rum nods to the doorway as Tyra steps into view.
“Really? You helped my brother against me?” Nuria asks, annoyed at the tag team.
“I wasn’t bluffing about telling Mom. Tyra knows my bluffing expression by now, so when I told her, she agreed to help.”
Must be a student government thing.
“Sorry, Nuria, but if it keeps you here, then take your medicine.” Tyra drops the pouch in Nuria’s hand. “I didn’t see the seizing, but you looked like you were in pain while you slept. Whatever you feel you need to do isn’t worth the cost of your health.”
“They’re right,” Sutar’s voice rings into the room ahead of her. Wallace comes in on her heels. After waking and expelling her anger wrestling with Rum, Nuria doesn’t have the energy to even glare at the olive-haired gentleman. Instead, she carefully watches Tyra’s reaction to Sutar’s eyes. Just like she was, the angel is taken aback.
“Sun seeds are critical for us to take as they supply the energy we need to maintain our strength. That’s your medicine, right?” She points to Nuria’s pouch while hefting her own.
Nuria and Rum look to one another gravely. One of their rules was to never reveal the name on Nuria’s medicine aloud.
At this point, it can’t hurt more than what’s already out there.
“The longer you go without ingesting them, the harder it’ll get to regulate your powers. Soon, you’ll be running on fumes. After that, well…”
“Look, I wanna get back to class, so I’m just gonna say my piece and leave,” Wallace announces. “I’m sorry if what I said upset you before. I don’t want you to think you have anything to prove, certainly not to me. So, if you did that to get back at me, I apologize. Feel free to ignore me moving forward.”
“What are you talking about?” Rum asks, his big brother mood turning dark.
“It wasn’t your fault, Wallace. It was mine. But apology accepted, anyway.”
I’ve been working so hard on control, and then I spiral at the worst moment. I can’t lose myself like that again. But I am not relying on those seeds alone. If that’s all it took, then I wouldn’t have been able to summon my golden flames against Liamria, weeks after I’d stopped taking them!
Nuria peers out the infirmary window, the sun still shining high in the sky.
Trust yourself, Nuria!
“Fine,” she blurts so loud that the others all flinch.
“You’re gonna take the medicine?” Rum asks hopefully.
“In a sense.”
Nuria snaps her fingers next to the pouch and an ember latches onto and burns the seeds to ash. Her brash decision is met by uproars from Rum and Sutar. Wallace raises a brow curiously. Tyra, on the contrary, watches with a slight smile as Nuria wipes her hands clean over a nearby trashcan.
“Nuria, what the hell?” Rum says.
“How could you waste all that medicine?” Sutar asks.
Tyra raises her hands. “Okay, guys, calm down. I’m sure she has a reasonable explanation. Right, Nuria?”
“Sure do, but you’d better keep up if you wanna see it,” Nuria announces as she marches out of the infirmary.
Nuria and her entourage return to the greenhouse beneath the noon sunshine. Inside, Professor Lynald and the remaining students cease the lesson when they see her coming. Donovan looks panicked and hides his face beneath his cowboy hat. The clump of earth levitating over his palm falls back to the ruined flower bed it originated from.
“Really, professor? Is that why you sent me to check on Nuria?” Sutar asks calmly, though her expression is anything but calm.
“I promise this is the last time,” Lynald apologizes. “But on another note, Nuria, are you sure you should be up and about so soon? I’m okay if you miss the lesson. In fact, I encourage it.”
Nuria shakes her head. “This is my only chance to see if I can use Mother’s Source. Reddic returns tomorrow, so our deal ends after class is over. Besides, I know what I did wrong last time.”
“Nuria, I must insi–”
The phoenix ignores the professor and marches to the center of the greenhouse, directly beneath the sun.
Active Meditation. Primal Sense. A feeling of home. Let my instincts guide me.
Nuria shuts her eyes, casting aside all doubts and insecurities, then starts singing.
“All the times I cried
All the times I lied”
Nuria’s skin warms and the air around her warps from the raised temperature.
“Trapped in the whirlpool of my mind
Gotta make a move
Whatcha gonna do?”
She doesn’t concern herself as her standard flames erupt and roar around her forearms, shoulders, and thighs, even as they burn holes into her clothes. However, some of the boys in the audience avert their eyes.
“I’m gonna bend these bars and fly!”
Her vermillion wings unfurl with fiery panache, throwing off embers from the wingtips.
“All the times I cried!”
The flames around her body turn golden, a color that her eyes share when they open. The purity, heart, and energy blazing within makes the brilliant glow that much more awe-inspiring. From Tyra to her brother to even the professor, not a soul has a word or phrase strong enough to caption the moment. Nuria feels exorbitantly proud and invigorated as the last vestiges of her muscle aches and exhaustion vanish. She turns and looks back up at the sun.