3.4: Ignition

The warmth of Nuria’s vermillion egg and the biting disappointment on Reddic’s face battle for control of Nuria’s mood. Shall the egg prevail, she’ll feel ecstasy over pulling off Manifestation. If Reddic’s disappointment infects the phoenix, she’ll pretend she’s inside her egg and shut down. She thought that of all people that Reddic would be as happy as her, happier even.

     I must’ve done something wrong…

     Nuria peers down at her egg, now unsure of how to feel. The heat radiating off the shell indicates life but Reddic would know better, she believes. The gold dots at the top now represent an empty promise.

     I’m back to being the only–

     Applause drills through Nuria’s self-deprecation. She looks up and the warmth returns as Reddic approaches her with a smile so bright she knows it has to be genuine. He doesn’t stop clapping until he’s right in front of her.

     “I knew you could do it, Nuria,” he says. “You are now the second person to master Manifestation. But more importantly–”

     “That was awesome!” Rum cheers, running up to Nuria. “I was worried but you pulled it off! How did it feel when you were in that fire sphere thing?”

     “It had to feel incredible, right?” Shuri asks.

     “I’m curious, too. How’d you figure it out?” Stark queries.

     “I- uh…well–”

     Reddic laughs heartily. “You must be beyond exhausted after that. We can save our questions for tomorrow.”

     “Yeah, that,” she yawns, “s-sounds good.”

     “Here. I’ll carry the egg for you.” Rum reaches for the egg one moment, only to end up on the ground the next. He massages his stomach as he rises. “What the hell, Nuria?”

     Nuria’s expanded irises normalize after she blinks, realizing her left leg is fully extended. “Oh, no. Sorry, Rum. I don’t know what just happened.”

     Reddic snickers softly. “You just suffered the wrath of the new phoenix mother.”

     Nuria blushes. “M-mother? I can’t be a mom. I haven’t even…yah know…kissed a boy.”

     “You’re not a mother in the biological sense. For example, I’m Fanger’s mother. What’s inside of me made Fanger. What’s inside of you made that.” Reddic gestures to the egg. “And in nature, phoenixes are the most fiercely protective of their children of any animal. Until that new part of you learns to trust someone, you’ll never let them touch that egg. I doubt you could even put it on the ground if you tried.”

     Nuria’s arms lock in place as she even thinks about lowering the egg. “Oh, wow.”

     “I suggest we all give Nuria a wide berth on the way back to the cabin. A phoenix’s wrath is something to fear.”

     Nuria dislikes the distance between her and everyone else. She wanted her success to be something they could all celebrate but now she’s forced to keep her distance. She yawns again.

     Not like I have the energy, anyway. We’ll celebrate tomorrow.

     Nuria isn’t even aware of when or how she makes it to her bed but she curls up against her egg under the covers. The comforting heat and the gravity of her exhaustion pull her under in no time. She dreams of nothing but hears a voice say, You’re welcome, just as her eyes open, gilded and brilliant until she blinks.

     The confirmation of her fire world phantom being able to listen only inspires Nuria to confront Reddic. She looks down and sees her arms still gripping the gg firmly. She still can’t bring herself to let it go, so she leaves her room in the same yellow t-shirt with black and brown musical notes on the right and left sleeves respectively and black jean capris she wore yesterday.

     The phoenix tepidly walks downstairs to find only Stark present. The officer hefts the mug of orange juice in her hand and Nuria nods. Stark pours a second glass and sits at the kitchen counter.

     “Good afternoon,” Stark greets as Nuria gives up trying to sit at the counter and plops down on the floor. “Guess you can’t drink the juice, either.”

     Nuria revisits her questions for Reddic and decides to test something. “Check the drawers behind the counter. There might be some straws there.”

     Stark eyes Nuria curiously but obliges. She returns with a long pink straw and positions the glass for Nuria. “I want to say good call but I feel you know something I don’t.”

     Nuria takes a long sip and exhales with satisfaction; the first taste of moisture she won’t immediately lose. “Where are Rum and Shuri?”

     “Off on a last day hike. Fanger’s with them, too.”

     “I bet Rum’s loving that.” Nuria takes another long sip. “So, is it really afternoon?”

     “Are you shocked or disappointed?”

     “I thought I’d be out all day, at least.”

     Stark shrugs. “You know, I’ve finally accepted your physiology isn’t normal. And given your Vanusi status, I should have a long time ago.”

     “Yeah…I’ve learned a thing or two myself. Speaking of, where’s Reddic?”

     Stark nods past Nuria to the basement door. “He’s been down there all morning.”

     Nuria swallows hard. One of the places he said was off-limits.

     “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, Nuria,” Stark says. “Go.”

     Nuria flinches. “Come with me.”

     Stark marvels at the phoenix. “I can’t believe it. You’re scared.”

     Nuria flushes deeply. “No, not scared. Just he said it was–”

     Stark rises with her glass of orange juice, grabs Nuria’s, then walks through the basement door, leaving it wide open. The phoenix stares anxiously at the doorway until soft laughter echoes upstairs.

     I guess they really did make up.

     Nuria stands and shuffles to the door. From the top step, she can see the edges of tall green stalks. As she descends, the full view of a garden becomes clear. The roots of the flowers are partially exposed above ground. She’s amazed that each of the narrow stalks remain perfectly erect as she marches down the only walkway in the room.

     Reddic and Stark await her with coy smiles. A window in the slanted roof allows sunlight to wash over the flowers. Only the ones nearest the window are in full bloom, the aureolin petals surrounding beds of sparkling pollen.

     “I never had you pegged as a gardener,” Nuria mentions.

     “I’m not. Terrible green thumb but this garden belongs to someone special. I do my best for–”

     “Your love?” Nuria blurts.

     Reddic stares speechlessly then turns to Stark.

     “Don’t look at me. I didn’t tell her but she’s been putting the pieces together on her own.” She hefts Nuria’s glass. “The straw was her call.”

     “I…see.” Reddic returns his attention to his pupil. “Nuria, after that outburst, I imagine you have a few questions. This is a safe space. Ask away.”

     Guess I should build a better case first.

     “When I summoned this egg, you know, I couldn’t wait to see the look on your face. I just knew you’d be happy. I was. But then…you were a wreck. I thought I’d failed…”


     Reddic rakes a hand through his thick brown hair and kneels. “That wasn’t your fault, Nuria. Manifestation, as great an achievement as I made it seem, was merely a tool. The woman I said helped me- and yes, I loved her- had a dream I wanted to see through to the end. Her singular goal was to revive the phoenix species. We endeavored to do so night and day until Manifestation came to us. My hope was that your Manifestation would do that but I held too tightly to the expectation set by a once-performed experiment. What you and Shuri have taught me is that Manifestation is not unique to the race, but to the individual. I’m sorry I made you think, even for a second, that you failed. You did marvelously. Nobody can claim otherwise.”

     Nuria bends down, gently lowers her egg, then wraps her arms around Reddic. She releases her held breath when he embraces her back.

     I must be crazy. How could my inner phoenix be the woman he loves? She must’ve heard Reddic’s “trust the hills” advice and intuited the meaning better. Come to think of it, my inner phoenix encouraged me to join Ibri class in the first place. Stark’s right. I’m not a normal Vanusi. I still have lots to learn!

     Nuria ends the embrace and lifts her egg. “I only have one more question.”

     “Let me have it.”

     Nuria takes a deep breath. ““Halko’s Notes” belong to you, don’t they?”

     Reddic looks over his shoulder as Stark throws her hands up.

     “She didn’t tell me they were yours,” Nuria says. “She told me before that she’d discreetly returned them to their owner. I’d always had the feeling you knew more than you let on. When you returned from your last trip, you weren’t curious about the colors of my flames at all, as if they were normal to you. None of my phoenix powers stumped you. And even reading Kirin’s journals wouldn’t have given you all that knowledge. Some of the things you said, like the mother phoenix fact, were part of “Halko’s Notes”. Plus, you can turn invisible and no one ever learned how they got in the library.” Nuria frowns. “Man, I should’ve figured that out sooner. Wait! You’re the one who gave me the note at the courthouse…” Nuria shakes her head. “I’m off-topic. Anyway, so, yeah, um…”

     ““Halko’s Notes”,” Reddic reminds her.

     “Right! So, Stark also told me they were kept as a way to learn how to resurrect the phoenix species. You gave me the last puzzle piece when you mentioned your dream…” Nuria goes quiet.

     Reddic cocks an eyebrow. “You still with us?”

     “Dreams! That’s what makes Manifestation unique!”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Think about it! Your dream was to help your love’s dream, so you succeeded in creating Manifestation. Shuri’s dream is to become the world’s best dual-wielding swordsman, so he created blades made out of wind! And mine…” Nuria tilts her head toward the diagonal window, her eyes shining like the sun. “My dream was to prove I’m Ibri through and through. Not just a phoenix. Not just a pyromancer. I’ve thought of both separately too long. It’s probably why I summoned an egg instead of a live phoenix.”

     Reddic grins wide. “That’s a theory I hope we get to prove true.” He pivots his head. “What do you say, Aurum? Do you have a dream you care to share?”

     Nuria whirls to see their entire party gathered. Fanger and Shuri advance to her, but Rum inspects the flowers’ roots closely. After a lengthy pause, he rises and replies, “Not quite, but thanks for the offer.”

     Stark claps her hands loudly. “All right, everyone. We’ve had enough fun but Four Hearts is waiting! Let’s go back and show off Ma over here.”

Nuria blushes as the others laugh. She stays in the basement the longest, looking back through the window. She massages the top of her egg, then turns away, her eyes regaining their wintry hue.

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