Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hunt For The Dark Phoneix (part 29) [Friday Fiction]

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Rick/Hoomi over at his blog, Pod Tales and Ponderings. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: Well, I thought I started early, but I am still scrambling to finish this installment and still more behind than I'd care to be, so it is a little shorter (as in below 4k). I could make up a brilliant excuse, but it would be exactly that--an excuse. I have taken some time to add a few short hints towards Eira's past and her talents. There is plenty of action coming up in Pietrasaan, so hopefully, the city isn't too far away and will appear sometime in the following weeks. A technical note: being "Whisper" is slang for a certain class of people who live between dimensions, manipulating them with sound and dance. I've had such fun with this installment, mostly because I have a chance to lay some groundwork for some of Eira's moves to be-i.e. the Water Box. I hope you will enjoy the reading as much I did the writing of it. Happy weekend and don't forget to leave a comment-I love all feedback! ^_^

 RECAP: Last week, the DP discovered Eira's manipulation of sound waves as an added bonus to her still-to-be-determined powers. Deene is feeling a little left out of the loop, so the DP sends him off to retrieve and arm and an ear for interrupting at an inopportune moment, which in turn allows a significant amount of time for some master-apprentice one-on-one training.



He didn’t let her stop.

While the passage of time wasn’t something Eira was particularly good at following, she did understand that night came and went as the Dark Phoenix purposefully worked with her through various exercises for her voice and the black-string puzzles.

She learned to do them forward and backward, then he changed the pattern, running her through the routine until she’d mastered them. “Are we done yet?” She asked, finally, leaning forward to brace on her knees, hanging her head over to catch her breath. It was exhausting work. He’d barely given her a moment’s notice worth of a breather in between.

There was a deliberate pause and then the wooden frames thumped on the ground beside her feet. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired. Duh.” She bit her lip. “Mostly tired.”

His hand, always cold, methodically feathered across her forehead and then her neck as she straightened. “Your energies are fine.”

“Sure. Of course. My energies are fine, so the rest of me must be okay.” A dangerous spark of redness passed through her eyes, fading as she shrugged. “I’m tired. I don’t know what time it is. I feel as if I’m working in a fog and I don’t even know what I’m doing.”

“Behaving quite nicely.” He took a few steps back, giving her some space to roll her shoulders forward. “I appreciate the cooperation. The last apprentice questioned everything.” He wrinkled his nose. “Considerably disrupting and occasionally annoying, you—however, are quite the delightful change.”

“Does that mean I can’t ask?” Eira rolled her neck to the side. “I feel like a line-dried rock suit…everything creaks. It would help if I knew what I was doing all of this for…”

“I’m trying to determine the exact nature of your talents.” He turned his attention towards his pack near the tree, fishing inside for something else. “All of your talents.”

“What?” Eira paused in mid-stretch, head jerking around to stare at him. “Why? Something wrong with me?”

He shrugged, his back to her. “Nothing is wrong with you, Eira. But the nature of your powers will help in determining the methods of training and whether I need to outfit you accordingly. Pietrasaan is known for their craftsmanship and I would think it a waste to pass through and not purchase your training implements from their famed Golbard Amory.”

“The Golbard armory?” Eira thought about it for a moment. “Wow.”

“If you could tell me the determination of your energies yourself, that would save a great deal of trouble, but the fact that you can self-heal, considerably reduces the accuracy of your root power.”

“That made absolutely no sense.”

“No worries.” He said, cheerfully. “Makes perfect sense to me, but the explanation would take awhile and I’d rather we continued.”

“Continued?” Eira stifled a yawn. “Is it nighttime or morning?”

“Does it matter?”

It didn’t, so she didn’t answer. “What’s wrong with my powers?”

“Nothing.” His voice was even, the answer quick.

“What do you mean nothing?”

“Is there supposed to be something wrong with them?” He countered.

She frowned. “That’s confusing. I don’t…think so. I don’t know…never had to think about it.”

“Think now. Try. What are they?”

“Huh?”

“What are your powers? What is the official name for them? Has anyone ever filed you in a specific category? You’re obviously not guardian, Scyther, Saber, Zorcanese, Twilight, or-”

“I’m not Whisper.” Eira volunteered, helpfully.

“Really?”

“Yeah. My folks had me tested thirty-nine times for it. I think I’d be able to tell you if I was.”

“Interesting.” His gaze swept her from head to toe. “Did they have you tested for anything else?”

“Uh.” Eira swallowed. There wasn’t a quick answer for that one, because the tests had never been her favorite memories, what she could remember of them was failing miserably at every trial and as a result, having the memories of the actual tests removed before returning home. A slight shudder passed through her. There was absolutely nothing she could pull from her frazzled brain to substitute. “I…um…”

“Spit it out, apprentice.”

Her face flared several shades of pink, before giving into the actual blush. “I don’t know?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Both?”

“Still a question.”

“What?”

He paused for a moment, casting another quick look over his shoulder as if studying her would reveal some magical answer to his question. “Mmmm.” There was a few mumbled words and then he returned to his fiddling. “Do you have any idea what your gifts could be? Has no one ever ventured to guess?”

The note of hope in his voice was so obvious, Eira couldn’t look at him as she tried to wrestle a suitable answer together. There wasn’t one to begin with. She felt her shoulders rise in a shrug and held it before they could slump down. “I have healing…and um…fire, sometimes, I think. I don’t know. I’m told I’m good at fire.”

“Fire?” He repeated. “Very well then…” His gaze traveled towards the pile of wood Deene had neatly stacked by the dinner pot. “Torch those.”

“W-what?”

“If you’re fire, that shouldn’t be a problem.” He nodded towards the kindling. “Torch them…use any method you like.” He settled back on his haunches, waiting, expectant, the pack lying at his feet, forgotten.

“Um…now?”

The eyebrows went up.

Her blush deepened. “Right. Of course you mean right now.” She licked her lips, hands clasped tightly behind her, head tilted forward, grateful for the short hair falling forward to hide her flaming face. She thought about it for several long moments and then tried throwing her energy at it.

It didn’t work. But it did bounce happily back to her, causing a step backwards as the crackling red ball zipped between her feet and then to her open hand. She winced. The energy wasn’t supposed to have been visible.

She chewed her lip, using the mild pain as an anchor to try again. She’d thrown and created fire before, yet something seemed to be thwarting her feeble efforts. After another handful of moments, she stopped for a yawn. “I think I-”

“Never mind.” The Dark Phoenix interrupted. “I think we can safely rule out fire as your talent.”

“I don’t understand…” Eira hesitated, looking down at the scuffs on her boots. “I mean…I’ve called fire before. I don’t know why it’s not working here.”

“Where?”

“You know…places.” Eira shrugged, shifting to the side so he couldn’t see her face. She didn’t want to see the question that would probably come next. “It was…easy.”

“Except for here.” He clarified. “In the woods, in a natural setting…with natural materials…wood…nothing?”

“Yeah…except for that.”

“I see.”

“What about healings?”

“I do not think it is of consequence.”

“What?” Her embarrassment fizzled away as her annoyance picked up instead. “I thought self-healing was a pretty rare little-”

“Someone taught you that trick, didn’t they?”

The blush returned. “Y-yeah.” Her hands unclasped, clenching into fists. “It wasn’t a trick…it was…” She scowled. These questions were beginning to be a bigger headache than she cared to deal with. “So…I’m not a healer or a pyromaniac. What am I?”

“That is an excellent question.” He offered a faint smile. “Which is why your energies are so fascinating. I haven’t been able to box you into a standard strain of energy and that has limited things somewhat.”

“Limited? How?”

“You’re stalling.” He shifted to his feet, turning the pack upside down. A pile of clothes, shiny things and a book tumbled out. “Why don’t you go to the river and wash your face, take a moment to breathe? I will be there in a moment, it is…” There was another pause and a few more mumbles as he sorted through the pile. “Eleven steps. I sent Deene and didn’t hear him splash, so I suppose eleven is fairly accurate. Do be careful.”

Eira stared at him for a moment and because she was beginning to feel a tad sore and sweaty, decided to head for the river. Apparently, the time of day wasn’t as important as she thought it was and the nature of her powers was a necessary piece of information. She paused long enough to snatch a towel from her pack before sauntering towards the hedge that served as a gate between the clearing and outside.

Counting between lazy thoughts and the occasional yawn, Eira found herself in the usual predicament when given such directions. She backtracked twice, shuddering at the thought of plunging into the icy water. Her shoulder itched and there was a few beads of sweat on her nose and lip as she wiped her face on her sleeve. “Blech.” She sniffed the shoulder, wrinkling her nose. Perhaps a dip would be useful. She was beginning to feel rather hot and bothered, not the usual physical response to a entire day’s travel.

With one last scowl, she counted her steps from the edge of the barrier and stopped directly on the eleventh. Moving to her hands and knees, she felt out in front of her, surprised when her fingers continued to travel over the grass she could see before her, looking for the trademark shimmer that the river was near. Nothing happened. Nothing visible. Eira inched forward, the ground still stable beneath her. “Weird-!” The exclamation came as she pitched forward and into the freezing water. Her garbled cry wasn’t heard as she thrashed about until she surfaced, spluttering and chattering.

It was a matter of seconds before the Dark Phoenix emerged through the bushes, a frown on his face that shifted over to something quite near a smile, a round circlet of gold in his hand. He settled down on the now visible riverbank, feet dangling in the water before he eased into the river to stand beside her.

She stopped spluttering when she realized the water had receded around them to the point where she could stand it remained at chest-level. Her teeth chattered and she instinctively hugged her arms to herself. “M-make it warm.”

“Absolutely not.” But there was only warmth in his voice as he denied the request, hinting at his misplaced amusement. “We’re going to work on that. Didn’t you count?”

“Three times.” She scowled. “Three whole stinkin-” She bit off the word at the edge of her tongue and turned away with a sniff. It didn’t quite carry the dignity she’d been aiming for as one particular shudder passed. It was entirely beyond her knowledge how ridiculously cold the river could be, while the weather was so warm. But her mind wasn’t inclined to think logically about geographical things, so instead, she poked miserably at her temper. The cold seeped in as numbness in her toes, the wet clothes clinging to her in a most depressing fashion. “-Times.”

“It is not that cold.” He held out the golden ring. “Hold it with both hands and concentrate. Do not think of the water or anything else.”

“H-how?” Eira found the whine returning to her voice as she reluctantly dropped one arm to reach out and touch the golden circlet. It was smooth, with four oval bumps, as if it could have been a box, had the sides been straight instead of curved, each bump was an ornate knot, the detail of fibers and threads giving way to the smoothness. It was also ice-cold. She tried to let go, but her hand seemed stuck to the golden knot.

“Both hands, please.” The Dark Phoenix was surprisingly patient as he held the two sides closest to him.

“W-why?” She chattered. The shivering hadn’t stopped and Eira made a face as she grabbed the other golden knot, closing her fingers around them. That only made the cold worse.

“Stop that.” His head tilted to the side and there was a deliberate jerk as the golden circlet hummed to life, a pale white-yellow energy crackling around it. “Focus…the discomfort is temporary. Repeat to yourself that the water is not cold. Once you have established that, you can think clearly.”

“The clearest thought is that this water is freezing.” Eira hiccupped. “and it’s giving me hiccups.” A tiny spark of golden energy leapt from the ring, traveling up both arms, growing in brightness and sound, until they crackled beneath her ears and faded away. “What was that?”

“No more hiccups.” His mouth twitched. “Do you recognize this?”

The item was vaguely familiar, but Eira couldn’t call it to mind. She was wondering about her toes and how long it would take the feeling to return to them. She sneezed into her shoulder, unable to retract a hand in time. A trickle of annoyance passed through her and for a moment, her feet sang happily at the unexpected warmth, the surge of adrenaline provided.

“Bless you.” He murmured, oblivious to her discomfort. “This what they call a Four Pillar Circle, if I remember correctly, some of your homework assignments covered this, it is most commonly known as the Water Box.”

“The thing that turns the water….into…a box?” Eira tried to think back, but her mind stubbornly refused to move beyond the point that everything was freezing.

“Close enough.” He chuckled. “I want just your reaction to it this, so try it without thinking.”

“Try what without thinking?”

“Stop thinking.” He advised. “You will see.”

“I’m still waiting to see and I’m freezing.” She chattered back, trying in vain to pull away from the golden circlet, yet again. By now the numbness was working its tricks quite well, there was nearly no feeling in her legs, though her toes still seemed to be attached, as the coolness continued upwards, causing the goosebumps along her arms and neck.

“Focus on the image in your mind.” He prompted. “See the box and bend it, until it becomes a circle.”

“You can’t bend a box.” Eira bit her lip, trying to call to mind the image she’d seen in the thick book. The only thing she could see in her head was the vast expanse of blueness around her turning to fat chunks of ice.

His fingers snapped directly in front of her face, startling her out of the watery bliss but only allowing the simple movement of leaning away, as her hands and feet were still otherwise occupied. 

“Ahh!”

“Focus.” He repeated. “There is a box…follow me…”

“There is a box.” Eira mumbled.

“It’s just big enough to cut a chunk out of this river.” He nodded towards the riverbanks. “A nice square box, it touches both sides and is equal behind and in front of us. A box…can you see the box?”

“No.”

“Good. Now bend the box.”

“I’m bending a box I can’t see?”

“Yes. Now bend the box until it is a circle around you. Think of what you can do in that circle.”

“I want to get out of it?” Eira wrinkled her nose, wishing she could rub it and possibly stop the sneeze she felt coming on.

“No, choose something easier. That is quite…difficult to do at first.”

“Oh.”

“You are freezing are you not?” He asked, bluntly, as if the situation was too obvious and he could not bear her slowness.

“No. I am frozen.” Eira tried to take a tiny breath. She could feel the tickle in the back of her throat and the very last thing she wanted to do was sneeze on the man opposite of her.

“Would not the logical choice identify itself as altering the temperature of the water?”

“You make it sound weird.” Eira sniffed, thinking it over in her head, wishing the thoughts could move about faster. Thinking was taking a lot of effort and a great deal more time than she usually cared to devote to it.

There was a sorrowful sigh and then, with great care he rephrased. “If you cannot move out of the water and it is cold, would you not warm it first?”

“Still weird.” Eira squeezed her eyes shut, trying to think about boxes, circles, and not freezing. However, that only lasted for all of five seconds, for the sneeze she had been trying to avoid took that moment to present itself. “Ah-a-choo!” It was slightly turned in the direction of her shoulder, but her limbs were strike, refusing to move much further than a few centimeters.

Warmth flooded through her from the tips of her ears down to her toenails, with a rather embarrassing set of thoughts to accompany them. Eira sniffled, miserably, attempting to convince her brain to devise a suitable apology, when the golden circlet in her hands began to burn. “Ow!”

“Do not fight it.” He gave it a slight tug, causing her to shift forward. “And very nicely done, is that not exponentially better than before?”

“Exceptionally.” Eira found herself saying as her toes wiggled freely inside her boots, the coldness having long faded away. “Not exponentially…I don’t think…I don’t know. What did I do?” She swallowed. “Sorry I uh…sneezed on you.”

“You did not.” He seemed mildly amused, but one hand released the ring and he gestured around them. “You did that. The sneeze was more an outburst of your energy…not a bodily function in this context.”

“Huh?”

His mouth twitched. “I was expecting ‘what’, but I suppose ‘huh’ is an improvement.”

“What?”

“ah, there we go.”

“No, I mean, what, what did I do?” Eira twisted, trying to see around her, but not able to see anything beyond the swirling blueness around her. Of course, the blue did appear to be unnaturally blue, but as her head was already spinning, Eira didn’t bother to puzzle much beyond that. “And can I let go now…please?”

“Box. Circle. Water. Warm. Repeat.” He answered. “And no you may not.”

Eira made a face. “Box, circle, water, warm, repeat.” She parroted, more to herself than to him. “oh.” The realization settled in. “Oh my.”

A rare smile finally crept onto his face and he allowed it for a brief moment. “Indeed, but no less than I expected of you. Excellently done.”

“How did I do that?”

“The same method you were using to manipulate the thread pictures.” He frowned. “We will be working on this for awhile.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.” Eira yawned. “No breaks?”

“In a little while.” He hesitated. “A little while…do not think of time, only react. There are more ways to form a Water Box than sneezing. Expect to cover them all, sneezing was a reaction, because you were chasing the solution around in your head, distracted on the outside, when you should have been focusing on the inside.”

“It was cold!”

“And it was temporary.” He retorted. “Focus. I will retract it and we will begin again.”

© Sara Harricharan

0 comments: