“I’ve never really been a tea person,” Stark said. She sat down on the couch in the teacher’s lounge, choosing the end with the broken legs.
“Spoken like someone who’s never tried it,” Tameri rejoined. She poured two cups of green tea, offering the smaller mug to Stark. She kept the mug close to her chest the whole time.
“Guilty as charged. Tea was taboo in my house growing up and coffee became my morning beverage of choice. The extra energy helped with my police work.”
“Are you saying the drink matters for you to do your best work?”
“Not at all. But why deprive myself. The coffee maker at the 9th was exquisite. However, without any, I can tell from the way you’re moving your arm and subtly rotating your shoulder, as well as the condition of this couch, a physical altercation occurred.”
Tameri removed the kettle from the stove and place it atop a trivet. She grabbed her coffee cup and sat on the couch across from Stark.
“The new professor, Zathony, and Professor Marmagar had an intense difference of opinion. I sprained my shoulder separating them.”
“I don’t have any information regarding the new professor but Marmagar is a large man. How’d you move him?”
Tameri smirked and raised her cup. “Extra energy.”
Stark grinned. “Pleasure to meet you, Professor Tameri.” She takes a generous sip.
Stark shuffles forward slowly, struggling to process the sight of Tameri with a hole straight through her chest. The blood that stains her clothes pools on the ground when she falls. The professor doesn’t convulse or gurgle as if she’s already lifeless. Her eyes flutter open and closed, her breathing is shallow and slow.
Stark feels like she’s stuck in quicksand. Her worry about Neth knocked her into the pit, the positive ambiguity of his fate a branch overhead. That branch snapped when Tameri’s chest exploded. The two people she’s looked up to the most since joining the Four Heart family are in danger, both on death’s door because of her mother.
“Professor Tameri!” Rum calls out as he kneels beside her. His hands open and close at his sides, unaware and afraid of how to touch her. “Come on, professor! Keep…keep your eyes open!”
Her eyes lazily roll until they directly gaze upon the young man. “Au…rum. D-Don’t…cry. D-Don’t cry…p…please.”
“Don’t talk professor. Save your strength.”
She shakes her head in clear protest. “N-Need to…tell you.” Her weakened voice is too quiet for Stark to hear but she can read her lips.
Do not fight to avenge me. Fight to protect what I love.
“She may be a fool, but she’s a sturdy one,” Liamria taunts, hefting her liquid arm dripping Tameri’s blood.
Stark slices her arm before Rum to halt his foolhardy charge. “Do as Tameri said, Aurum. This fight can’t be about revenge.”
“I will do what needs to be done.”
The puddles remaining around the entire courtyard rise, each one shrinking down to the size of a bubble. The water in the fountain also rises, Roark’s blood excised and spilled back into the fountain. Stark connects her senses to the levitating liquid, now aware of everyone’s eyes on their section of the battlefield. Most are aghast by Tameri’s condition while a scant few focus on the reach and magnitude of her powers. Her mother is part of the latter group. After scattering the rain clouds, Stark is impressed with her ability to do something such as this now, but she’ll accept the unexpected power boost.
The condensed puddles and fountain water slither through the air and into her body. Cerulean spots light her skin where the bubbles enter. Once all of them have fused into her person, every inch of her exposed flesh reconstitutes as luminescent water. Stark takes two steps then breaks into a sprint. She doesn’t infuse her attacks with any animosity, only to end this war. Her first blow obliterates her mother’s crossed-arm defense. The second sinks into her gut, fracturing the lower ribs. Her final assault is a barrage of punches to her face, punctuated with an uppercut that sends Liamria flying just outside the courtyard’s main gate.
Stark stands at the ready, unwilling to be caught off guard by another of her mother’s feints. Only once Liamria’s arms resolidify as flesh and blood is the officer sure of one thing.
Liamria is defeated.
“Lia!” Victa shouts, shortly after racing to and scooping up her body in his arms. He glares at Stark through blood-stained eyes. “How dare you!”
Stark undoes the liquefaction of her face to meet his gaze coolly. “I wouldn’t concern myself with her condition if I were you. Your ledger is due.”
Victa flinches almost imperceptibly.
“That’s right. I remember who you are. No amount of blood will disguise your identity from me. I look forward to delivering you to Warden Crata.”
“A personal connection?” Reddic asks, joining Stark alongside Nuria.
“It was his impact on my life that drove me into law enforcement. It started when he killed my best friend.”
“Then why is he still awake?” Nuria declares angrily. She cocks back her fiery fists mid-leap. The punch she intended for Victa collides with a thick and swiftly erected wall of ice. Her blow barely cracks the surface. As blood from her knuckles streams down, she grits, “Ow.”
Stark studies the ice momentarily when a shadow washes over the courtyard. She takes a step back and her eyes widen with terror as her whole-body liquefaction comes undone. A new revelation shakes the officer to her core.
The battle is not over…