Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hunt For the Dark Phoenix (part 28) [Friday Fiction]

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Christina Banks @ her blog, With Pen in Hand. Click here to read and share more great fiction!


Author's Ramblings: This is a rather long installment, partially to make up for missing last week's own and for some exploration into Eira's powers. I'd like to be moving onto the action sequences, so things will be speeding up in the next few installments. Sorry for posting this late--I've been trying to run some edits through before posting, however, the more I read it, the more I dislike it, so for fear of ruining it entirely, I have left a great deal of it as is. Thank you so much for the feedback and encouragement--I will most certainly continue this serial until the end. Happy reading and have a great weekend! I love all comments/feedback. ^_^

RECAP: After picking up Deene, The Rock Titan who nearly killed her, Eira finds herself deciding that his presence will not deter her from a future as the Dark Phoenix's apprentice as he joins their group. When her stomach growls loud enough to be heard by all, they decide a lunch break is in order, they spend the night in the same lunchtime clearing, preparing to leave the following morning. 

By the time the next day arrived, Eira found herself with chores and a very annoying sparring partner. The Dark Phoenix had wasted no time in seeing to dishes being taken care of, boots being polished before bed, the League’s code of honor set to be memorized, a holographic orb as prep for the actual sparring practice and then a bit of bookwork. He was actually making them work, both physically and mentally.

How he had managed to find a book, wooden practice implements and an entire kitchen inside his sack, Eira didn’t care to know. Pure amazement served her well as she obediently stood near at hand to hold every new item retrieved. When her arms grew full, she was instructed to give the armful to Deene and then collect the remaining objects.

When that was finished, the Dark Phoenix immediately assigned each of them a respective book, with their names inscribed along the spine in golden script. Their practice staffs were made of soft, pliable green-ness, a material Eira couldn’t place. She didn’t remember it from home and not wanting to appear stupid, didn’t ask what it was. Thankfully, the Dark Phoenix explained it several minutes later, as a synthetic material used to absorb energy and impact, with a particular note that they needed only to remember exactly that.

Lunch was a matter of ingredients also retrieved from the sack, and the necessary tasks for completion were quickly broken down into smaller parts. Deene was set to peeling and cutting them, while Eira set the dishes around a low table. One side of her was irked at the seemingly needless effort put into prettying up the clearing—mainly because of Deene.

“Napkins.” The Dark Phoenix threw the handful over his shoulder, the warning barely voiced in time.

Out of habit, Eira ducked, one hand moving upwards to where her head would have been. She caught the handful, to her surprise. Shaking out the cloth squares, she allowed herself to admire the colorful geometric patterns before rolling them into little scrolls to place beside the bowls.

“A lot of fuss for lunch.” Deene grumbled as he gathered up the handful of vegetable peels, having already dumped the neatly cubed vegetables into the lunch pot. “Torch ‘em or toss ‘em?”

“Hmm? Oh…torch them.” The Dark Phoenix murmured absently, as he focused on setting the usual ring of energy to serve as the primary heat source for cooking. Once this was complete, he shifted to his feet, casting a brief glance upwards. Finding the center of the clearing, he toed a mark in the ground with one boot and then set his pack down to the left.

Settling in for his usual mealtime meditations, he paused only deliver a last warning over his shoulder. “When you are finished—both of you—read the assigned chapters from yesterday afternoon and you will find a puzzle inside your pack. Solve it the way shown in the picture accompanying it. By the time you are done with that, I should have finished as well. Absolutely no distractions from either of you. If I am disturbed in anyway before my meditations are finished, there will be consequences on both sides of this spectrum, am I understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Deene was the first to answer.

“Eira?”

“Yeah…I mean, yes.”

There was a pause, but the Dark Phoenix did not call her out on the less than formal acknowledgement, he simply settled comfortably on the ground, hands resting on his knees-cross legged as his eyelids drooped to a half-closed position. To her complete surprise, a darkened bauble of energy sprang up around his head, hiding his upper half from view and remained as his hands began to slowly drum across his knees, one finger at a time. 

Eira watched him out of the corner of her eye, more interested in seeing exactly how Deene was going to ‘torch’ the vegetable scraps rather than deciphering the black energy hovering around the Dark Phoenix. She’d yet to see him in that sort of meditation. One sliver of herself was glad she hadn’t been asked to cut and peel with a knife, while a second sliver was entirely jealous at the fact that Deene would have been allowed to use his powers more than twice that day. Her lower lip puckered, threatening to morph into an actual pout.

Her attention, however, appeared to be a distraction to Deene who—having caught sight of her—pretended to be preoccupied with the handful rather than continuing with his original intention. Of course, the fact that he had noticed her attention only served to annoy her all the more. With a toss of her head, Eira deliberately fixed her gaze on a tall, plain tree at the edge of the clearing as she viciously twisted the napkins into rolled up knots. It took another frustrated moment to unravel them and re-twist the fabric squares into properly fashionable bits of usefulness.

Irritated by having to do the work twice, she plunked down on her neatly balled up cloak beneath the same plain tree. The cloak was a good cushion and the tree made an excellent backrest. Neither helped her temper. For a brief moment, her mind was content to work around thoughts and things, such as why the tree was plain and whether it was friendly, before a slight movement distracted her and she looked up to see Deene studiously bent over his books.

Show-off.

Her jaw slowly cranked into the locked position as one hand curled into a fist. She reached for her own book in the pack beside her feet, but made no move to open it, when it lay in her lap, propped up by her knees. The harder she glared at the cover, the more glossy the volume appeared to be. The source of her frustrations surfaced a few seconds later, when Eira realized her feet were twitching.

It was a sign she knew all too-well and having managed to pick up on it, was able to calm herself by a few minute degrees.

For a handful of seconds.

He was humming. As if there was nothing else he could think of to do that could possibly annoy her.

It was working.

Eira stared at the book, alternating between glares of death and glares of absolute destruction. It was enough of a distraction, but she could still hear the faint traces of sound coming from Deene’s corner. He had moved on from his reading to the assigned puzzle and his long skinny fingers had turned to long, flexible pieces of stone, manipulating a thread through perforated wood.

It took her a half second to retrieve her own puzzle, with a brief glance at the picture, Eira turned again to stare at the bothersome Titan. He was using his powers to complete the puzzle, which appeared to be some sort of pattern knit through a rectangular piece of wood, with tiny dots for the black string to be threaded through.

Just staring at the picture was making her head spin, so Eira tucked it back inside her pack and then tried her hand at poking the thread through the holes in the wood. It did not produce the desired result. Her lips pursed again, the annoyance building. Deene could use his powers and he wouldn’t get into trouble, but if she were to use her own…then there would be a headache…on both sides. She huffed, tossing the puzzle aside to return to the book-glaring.

It was easier.

There wasn’t a way she’d discovered, which allowed for the thread to be neatly pushed through the holes and knit into the pattern depicted. There was also no needle or awl with which to manipulate the thread either. Deene had simply lengthened his fingers until they were of the proper size and then alternated between bending, twisting and retracing the stone digits until the proper result was achieved.

And he was still humming.

Her temper had fizzled earlier and now it was swiftly rebuilding itself. She was on the verge of interrupting her master’s meditations, when he broke the near silence himself.

“Eira, what is the matter?”

“What?” The word came out more harshly than she’d intended for it.
“You’re fidgeting and you have not started on any of your work, I can feel the…” He paused. “I can feel the emotions traveling through our connection, but I can’t put my finger exactly on the source of it.”

The words plainly mentioning their connection went directly over her head. Eira wrinkled her nose, choosing not to address that particular thing. She couldn’t feel a connection and didn’t want to have one. She also wasn’t exactly sure either of which particular emotion she cared to dedicate herself to. Anger wasn’t nearly as useful as rage, while irritation and annoyance vied for her attention.

“Eira?” His voice rose a few notches. “Please calm down and tell me what is the matter?”

“Nothing is the matter.” Eira pushed the book off her lap, shifting her glare to rest on his back rather than the textbook. “Deene used his powers to do the puzzle.”

“So?” Both of them spoke in the same moment. The Dark Phoenix cleared his throat and Deene quickly bent his head over his work again, biting his lip.

“How come I can’t use mine?”

“That is not what’s bothering you.” The black bubble of energy melted away and the Dark Phoenix turned slightly to see over his shoulder. “You may use them if you wish, but there is a way to solve that particular puzzle without using one’s gifts.”

“Thank you.” Eira pushed the words through her teeth, slowly shifting up to her feet, she continued to brace against the tree, but reached for the puzzle, pulling lightly on her energy for it to leap to her hands.

“What else is it?”

Deene smirked.

The last straw of tranquility exploded. “He’s off key!” The phrase shot from her mouth as if it couldn’t be held back another moment.

“I beg your pardon?” The Dark Phoenix deliberately turned all the way around to look at her. Deene stared at her with an equal mixture of puzzlement and disgust.

“He. Is. Off. Key.” Each word was punctuated by a twitch of her toes within her boots and one hand clenching tighter into a fist, the other barely able to keep from bending the flexible wood frame.

“He is off-key in…?” The Dark Phoenix rolled up to his feet.

“Humming!” Eira let go of the wooden puzzle frame and made a mental note not to step on it as she shifted to her full height. “He’s singing that stupid song over and over again, I can’t stand it! It’s off-key and it’s entirely wrong!”

Deene’s eyebrows went up, but he didn’t dare comment as the Dark Phoenix took that moment to shift his attention towards the Titan. “What song is it?”

“I don’t know.” Deene shrugged. “Just a…tune. I heard it when I passed through Morkar last winter.”

“Sing.” The Dark Phoenix tilted his head forward. “I didn’t hear it.”

A faint blush touched the pale, gaunt cheeks as Deene stopped twisting his skinny stone fingers through the wooden frame. “Don’t know the words…sir.” He shrugged and then quickly hummed the tune.

There was a strangled sound from Eira’s corner and she muffled whatever she’d almost said in her elbow, the effort bringing a touch of redness to her ears. She was quivering from head to toe as if energy were about to spark off of her any moment now.

“Sounds fine to me.” The Dark Phoenix frowned. “Eira…apprentice! Get a hold of yourself!” He started towards her, worry appearing in the form of creases in his forehead when she began to sing.

“Shaunte laye neut, jeis pah ne blee.” The foreign words slipped easily through her lips, Eira lifted her head, eyes squeezed shut. She could hear the melody, perfect and beautiful, swirling through her head as she sang the words to the traditional folk song of her people. In her mind’s eye, she could see happy memories and family faces she hadn’t thought of in quite some time.

When her eyes opened, she could only see the wooden frame on the ground beside her feet, reaching for it, Eira waved it up to hover in front of her face. She stopped singing, keeping the tune by humming as she waved her hands over, around and through the wooden frame, guiding the black thread with her own bolt of energy. It took scarcely a minute for the entire knitted puzzle to be completed.

She murmured the song’s last verse and then, because she couldn’t help herself, offered a deep stage bow, before stepping forward to hand the puzzle to her master. She wrinkled her nose as he took it from her waiting hands. “He was off-key.” She tossed her head. “Horribly off-key.” The entire mountain of frustration seemed to have dribbled off and away to nothingness as Eira turned back towards the textbook, still humming.

When she ventured to look over her shoulder again, both of them were staring at her in a new mixture of disbelief and awe. “That was very well…sung.” The Dark Phoenix now wore an expression of wonderment. “Excellently sung. Tone, pitch and…everything.” He moved closer, looking at the puzzle in hand and then back at the girl before him. “Correct me if I am mistaken, but is that not a Nethrian folk song?”

Eira shrugged. “So?”

“You don’t look Nethrian.” He said, bluntly.

“That’s ‘cause I’m not.” She crossed her fingers. “It’s not a crime to know the song.”

“No…” He said, slowly. “But, it takes a great deal of time and skill to be able to sing it with such perfection. The national anthem of Nethrian is beautiful, I’ve heard it sung once, I believe. Your voice reminds me of it…do you know it?”

Another shrug was offered. “Yeah.”

“Yes.” He corrected, absently. “Sing that.”

“Now?”

“Now is fine.”

There was an awkward pause, Eira shuffled to the side and finally bent to put the textbook back on the ground. Folding her hands, she took a careful breath, rolled her neck from side to side and with her eyes fixed firmly on the ground, began to sing again.

Her voice was just as pure and clear as it had been the first time her singing voice had come to life. She swayed from side to side, her fingers twitching from time to time in spite of her tightly clasped hands. When the anthem was finished, she gave a slight bow once more.

The Dark Phoenix applauded, a rare smile gracing his face. “That was also quite excellent, sing it again if you would, but this time—” He turned, beckoning towards Deene with one hand. The wooden puzzle jerked free of the skinny stone fingers, skimming across to land in his hand. The Titan looked at him in surprise and then at the crumbled fingers lying in the grass. A scowl crossed over his face and the shadow that registered was on account of the rock taking over more than just his hands. “Try it with this puzzle.” With another wave of his hand, the threads unraveled and the wooden frame was handed over.

“You want me to sing the Nethrian anthem again and fix the puzzle?” Eira had to clarify, as the very nature of the request was one she’d never heard before. “This puzzle?” She shook it lightly, turning the frame around in her hand.

“Yes, please.”

A tiny prickle of happiness started in her toes, working its way up to her head. “You said please.” It registered with just enough common sense to let the request through. “I-I…just a moment.”

“I’ll hold the frame if you like, just work with the threads.” He took the frame back from her surprised hands. “What were you trying to do with your hands before?”

“My h-hands?”

“Yes, you had them tightly together, but I think it is more a matter of…letting them free?”

She wrung them, classically and then after a moment, let them hang at her sides. “I don’t know if I can…do that again.”

“The puzzle?”

“Yeah.”

“Try anyway. I think you can.”

“You think I can? Really?”

The expression softened. “I know you can. I just saw you do it. Try.” He suspended the frame between his hands and waited.

Eira took another breath, her gaze now fixed on the frame as she rocked forward on her toes and then settled back on her heels. She began to sing again, drawing to her aid, wisps of fiery red energy.

The black thread slowly picked itself up off the ground and slithered upwards to the frame, expertly weaving in and out of the holes, until the picture had been roughly sketched out, then with brief, darting movements, it completed itself.

In another half minute, the anthem was finished to accompany the puzzle. “Wonderfully done.” He congratulated again, unraveling both frames with another wave of his hand.

“I did it!”

“Of course you did!”

“I mean, I actually did it…thinking of it.”

“I know.” He tilted his head. “Try again…use the first song…the folk one, do both at the same time.”

“Both?”

“Don’t think, react, Eira.” He levitated both wooden frames directly in front of her. “Take your breath, find your place and start…now.” The eyebrows went up, expectantly.

Eira rolled her shoulders forward and then, her brow wrinkled as she began to sing the first song again, focusing on the two puzzles in front of her. She started with one and finished with the other, relieved when the ordeal was over.

“Good job…a little slow…try again, this time try both of them at the same time.”

“The same time?” She swallowed. There was a snort from Deene’s direction as the Titan shifted to his feet, the glare becoming more pronounced. Her face flamed the same shade of red as her ears and the eyes shifted to the ground once more.

“Something to say, Deene?” The Dark Phoenix inquired.

“She doesn’t know her own powers?”

“Most people do not. It is with time, patience and a great deal of practice than one achieves any sort of progress in regards to control and reputation. Control being the only goal I strive for and consider worthy of instillation in every student under my instruction.”

“Control is overrated.” Deene settled on his haunches, the rock overtaking him until his figure was rough and blocky. He now took on the appearance of a dog, the head retaining whatever personable features he had about him.

“Apparently you are lacking in it.” The Dark Phoenix said, dryly. “Because your mouth tends to bring more difficulties than your talents.”

He has talents? Eira bit her lip, hard. She didn’t dare say that aloud, at least not at this particular moment.

“My talents are not even close to hers in comparison and I did not suffer through-” Deene bit off the words he was about to say and tilting his head to the side, scratched at his neck. “When is lunch? I hope this isn’t going to take long. I’m hungry, though if I remember correctly,  she was the one who requested lunch. Funny how her appetite seems to have—”

The Dark Phoenix frowned. “Deene, do not finish that, if you would…?” The Titan wearily approached, staying back a few yards. “Closer.” The Dark Phoenix murmured, one hand waving him forward. Deene’s shoulders slumped lower as he approached to the right, keeping the Dark Phoenix between him and Eira.
In movements faster than the darting thread, the Dark Phoenix was a blur of black and white crackling energy as his white-tipped staff materialized in midair and without warning, he whirled on the Titan.

Eira shrank back against the tree as she witnessed, yet again, another horrible scene of dismemberment. Without the slightest hint of emotion, the black stick flashed through the air, touching lightly on the points of shoulder and arm. Within seconds, Deene was minus his entire left arm and ear.
“Make yourself scarce.” The Dark Phoenix retracted the staff, until it was a thin, black bracelet on his arm. “Fetch!” Snapping the arm in half at the elbow, with a powerful throw, he lobbed the limbs far out into the jungle. “I do not want to hear when you return. Go!” 

The grotesque stone creature started off at an unsteady lope, crashing through the underbrush, the sound echoing even after it had disappeared from sight.

Eira was still trying to digest the shock when her master turned his attention back towards her. His gaze swept her from head to toe and then he sighed. “We have an agreement between us.” He said, quietly. “Come to the center of the clearing, we have a great deal of work to do before Deene returns.”

“Two puzzles?” Eira licked her lips, following him forward. “What am I doing with my singing? What did I do wrong?”

“Wrong?” For the first time, surprise seemed to settle over him. “Wrong? Eira, you didn’t do anything wrong, you’re doing it just right.”

“I’m actually doing something right.” There was nearly a hint of a plea in her voice, as the hopeful eyes fastened desperately on his face, willing for the positivity to continue. “I didn’t make a mistake?”

“A little slow in the reaction time.” He reached out to position her with hands on each shoulder. “Too self-conscious, but you are doing just fine, you have done nothing wrong. You have listened without complaint and followed my instructions without question, continue to do so…and lunch will not be long in coming.”


Eira tried to hide her smile. “I’m actually not…that hungry.” She looked down at her stomach. There was no sound.

The eyebrows went up. “Curious.” He murmured, circling her quickly and then returning to stand at the front with both wooden frames levitated before her. “Eira…both of them, at the same time.”

Her head bobbed once to show she understood and then her forehead wrinkled again in concentration. Her voice rang out, filling the clearing with sweet sound as the black threads flashed in and out of the little wooden frames, the picture finishing itself as the song ended in a flourish.

The Dark Phoenix took a step backwards, observing as the red energy circling the girl touched her eyes and her hands lifted as music began to flow out of her. He could hear the sound and see the energy, yet the music didn’t seem to have a source. As if in a trance, her hands lifted and began to move in perfect synchronization, she shifted forward on her feet, but seemed to restrain herself, as they remained still, while her upper body succumbed to the rhythms of the music.

“Try them backwards.” He spoke carefully, deliberately, not wanting to disturb the transformation happening before his eyes. With a wave of the hand, both threads unraveled from the frames and presented themselves to her once more. “Try one the way you were doing it before, do the other one backwards, simply reverse the movements, do both at the same time…use your hands.”

He waited.

She did not disappoint. The trance seemed to deepen, the red energy fire growing brighter in her eyes as she moved fluid and seamlessly, her hands waved over and around the frames, each movement connected, even as the frames were being covered with the thread in two different methods.

Speed wasn’t an issue, as the thread moved faster than the hands guiding them, but without a single mistake.
The frown slowly registered as the Dark Phoenix watched.

Eira…you worry me…

©

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