“I’d hug you goodbye,” Carnya says with pursed lips, “but I don’t wanna risk a bloody nose.”
Nuria looks to Syl guiltily, a red tissue plugging his right nostril.
“It’s not funny after the fifth joke,” Syl argues.
“The bloody snot rag begs to differ.”
Nuria wants to quell the argument but with her egg back in her arms and phoenix vision active, she can see the vibrations of their shivering in great detail. The dry humor of their back and forth is a paltry but serviceable defense mechanism.
“Sorry, Syl. Still new to…motherhood.”
Syl shrugs shakily. “It’s okay.”
“And don’t think I’m not calling for that story. Only two boys left with you, so you’re either weird or freaky.”
Nuria can’t hide her embarrassment with her arms locked around her Manifestation spawn, so she faces it head-on. “You’re in for a surprise, then.”
“Oh yeah?” Carnya says, her shivering lessening until a blaring alert scares her out of her skin. She looks at her phone screen with palpable depression. “My parents are gonna burn down what’s left of the school if I don’t go to them, so I’m…yeah.”
“Me, too,” Syl says.
Carnya and Syl nod farewell to Nuria before looking upstairs and behind Nuria respectively, then they switch. The only sounds of their departure are the wheels of their suitcases grinding along the floor. When the door shuts behind them, Nuria exhales roughly, the depression hitting her.
This is probably the last time I’ll see them.
Nuria would cry if she had any tears left. She’s chosen to look at the outcome positively. None of her peers died, Tameri survived, and her egg’s heartbeat remains healthy and strong. Her brother’s heart was spared as equally when he learned the same of his class, Pan’s fate especially. She takes a slower, calmer breath, knowing what she’ll face once she whirls.
Kneeling before a pair of broken fangs is Koren. He holds his katana erect so that it towers over his hunched position. All day long, her feline friend has silently stared at the fangs. Nuria steps closer to him, but without proper control of her arms, she can’t put a comforting hand on his shoulder like she wants.
“Koren…” Nuria pleads tenderly.
He doesn’t face the phoenix but replies, “I’m fine, Nuria. Just…trying to make sense of…you know. Everything.”
“I get that. I am, too.”
When he goes back to his silence, Nuria turns to leave. His sudden words strike a chord with Nuria.
“I almost didn’t call my mom last night. It never had a chance to be a conversation and we haven’t not had one since before Avhava. I didn’t cry but I never laughed or smiled, either. After a point, we just sat quietly on the phone. I don’t even remember when the call ended. Everyone that saw me called me a freak; they looked at me like all of my brothers used to. Some of them still do. I’m going back home and feel like I’ll have to watch my back. My whole world…it’s coming undone.”
Nuria hastily slides onto her knees behind him and rests her head against his back. “No, it’s not. You had my back when I felt the same and it’s time to return the favor. Your brothers will never come at you like what you just went through! Speaking from experience, brothers always come through when you need them to. Mark my words!”
My brother bolsters me. I bolster others.
She lifts her head when Koren crouches forward. Just as she thinks he’s breaking down further, he rises with the broken fangs in hand and places them onto their pedestal. “Oh, there you are.”
Nuria lifts a brow. “Talking to the fangs?”
“To this little guy.” Koren shows Nuria the black desert scorpion resting calmly in his palm. “Zathony asked me to find them. Someone wrecked his room and the scorpions went all over.”
“Okay, I’ve seen enough scorpions to know they don’t just let anyone pick them up.”
“While you were gone, Zathony gave me orders to use my ears to keep Carnya and Syl safe. He gave his scorpions express orders to not sting me.”
And no doubt he commanded one of them to be on that pedestal, too. Looks like I’m not the only one bolstering Koren.
“Okay, buddy, let’s get you back home.”
Nuria stays put and watches Koren climb the stairs, the joy in his face as the scorpion climbs to the top of his shoulder void of any lingering doubt.
He should get a scorpion as a pet. Wait…is it weird for Vanusi to have pets?
The phoenix shakes her head, shelving that question for later.
Nuria lifts her gaze to the ruined stairwell, ready to address her other silent friend, this one she’s more than willing to force to open up. She takes advantage of the fact her phoenix powers aren’t currently rebellious and flies up to the sophmen floor. She strolls right into the dorm.
Tyra sits on her bed, staring out of an open window. Her elegant trunk with midnight wood and red brass corner plates leans against the foot of the bed at an angle. Her cellphone is face down on her lap.
“It’s just the two of us now,” Nuria announces. “So, whatever you couldn’t say in front of the others, I’m here now.”
“It wasn’t that.”
Nuria doesn’t say another word, unsure of what to say without more to go on, and just sits on the bed beside the angel. It doesn’t take long for the silence to annoy her, so she decides to open up first. “I’m glad that I saw you as soon as I showed up. I saw you were alive and my greatest concern was eliminated. Also, I was able to trust you with my egg. I’ll explain a little later why that was huge. But it also meant I could fight with my hands free.”
“I almost wasn’t.”
Nuria can see the haunted expression in Tyra’s reflection in the window. The phoenix’s spine goes frigid.
“I allowed myself to believe Liamria killed you. And to make matters worse, I wanted to avenge you and so I fought her on my own. I’d be dead if the professors hadn’t intervened. I realized too late I was out of my depth. Even if I hadn’t relied on my hate to fuel my power, I’d have lost…my life. I-I let that woman…defeat my faith, my power, and my rules! My entire life made to heel beneath her damned boot!”
Nuria panics when she sees Tyra’s reflection gripping her bible tightly, veins in her hands popping, on the verge of ripping the bible in two. She grabs hold of Tyra’s right arm and locks it in place. She can feel Tyra’s erratic heartbeat through her wrist. The look on her face is devoid of hope or cheer, a mosaic of dread, depression, and self-loathing. Nuria can only think of one thing to say.
“Come with me. Now!”
Nuria skewers the angel, employing the same frosty glance that Tyra used on her at the Winding Hills. She grabs Tyra with one hand and her trunk with the other, dragging both away from the Vanusi dorm, even passing by the shuttles ferrying the other students back to their parents or to the train station. Knowing full well how strong Tyra is, the fact she can pull her at all tells Nuria she’s not too far gone. Additionally, her refusal to drop her bible is a testament to her faith.
She may not realize it yet but she’s about to!
“Nuria, where are we going?”
Nuria drops the angel’s hand and trunk and dashes straight ahead at full speed. She splashes into the fountain water and the sound alerts the officers and soldiers in the area. Nuria wipes the water from her face and squirms under their scrutiny.
Oops. Probably looked like I was attacked by Liamria.
“Sorry. Sorry. Just trying to…prove a point.”
“Nuria…can we just go back?”
“Just listen, T. You aren’t the only one that Liamria defeated. For a while, I was afraid of water. Showering, swimming, the rain, it all made me sweat. I grew up in a desert, so water to me represents life on a higher level than other people. I hated that she made me think of water any other way, even if it was brief.”
Nuria steps out of the pond sopping wet. She immediately starts drying her clothes with a full-body heat blast. “But water can’t hurt me. I’m back to how I was before and my belief is stronger than ever! Yes, she defeated me, but she never will again! Tyra, you still have your faith and your rules! Stick to them! Your power, it’ll grow! Mine did! Liamria is no match for our future!”
She can see Tyra fighting her sorrow but the struggle appears indomitable. “Look around you, Nuria.”
Nuria doesn’t want to gaze upon the wreckage but does so to help the argument she’s in the process of delivering.
“There’s nothing to be done! Four Hearts Academy is done for! I was barely able to return this year after interfering with a trial nobody talks about anymore! After all of this,” she waves her arms to the wrecked campus, “do you really think I’ll be allowed back? There’s nothing to be allowed back to! It’s over!”
Tyra releases a wail followed by a waterfall of tears. She squeezes her phone so tight that the screen cracks and pieces fall to the ground. Nuria sees her sister’s heart breaking and that pain strikes Nuria just as hard. She locks her arms around Tyra, unaware she lowered her egg to the ground until after their tears merge on their cheeks.
“Nothing’s over, Tyra. Yes, we’re in a bind. I’m not stupid enough to ignore all this.” Nuria looks at the shuttles coming and going slowly. “But every student survived. You, me, my brother, everyone. Some of them know this place as their only home. For others, this is their best home. Four Hearts Academy is not going to vanish. I don’t know how, or even how to make sure of that, but I believe it’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
“No buts, Tyra. We made a solemn vow, remember. I didn’t mean it for just this year. I meant forever! I’m not letting anyone stop us from being together!”
A horn honks nearby, a soft and short burst, but Nuria feels Tyra jerk in her arms. She relinquishes the angel and follows her gaze to a town car leaving the U-shaped path the shuttles stick to. The driver steps out and stands attentively. Nuria sees his mane of sandy brown hair spilling from his cap and the pair of shades tight on his face.
“Is that for you?”
Tyra sighs after drying her face. “Yes.”
“Does that mean your mother’s in there?”
“Nuria…” the angel warns delicately.
The phoenix marches forward.
“Good. This talk is long overdue!”