Friday, May 14, 2010

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix [part 35] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Catrina Bradley, over at her blog, A Work In Progress. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: I had a picture for this week, an old concept art clip of the Rangana Queen, but blogger doesn't seem to want me to upload it, so my apologies!  This week's installment is slightly dark, playing on the nature of the Dark Phoenix, his strange friends and of course, Rory and the lovely Rangana Queen. I've had some fun with it--as you may tell from the blocks of dialogue, it was a hoot to write at two in the morning. ^_^ My graduation went well--thanks to all who prayed and wished me well, thank you also for the many congratulations and words of encouragement. It was a wonderful day! I've been working on this installment on and off this week, hoping to actually finish it before midnight, however, the story is pretty much writing itself and I don't want to drown you with all the randomness, so I've attempted to keep it to a respectable length. Oh--and thank you to all who voted in the poll, as I attempt to wrap up the Dark Phoenix saga in the coming weeks, a new serial--and new short pieces can be expected to make their appearance fairly soon! Don't forget to leave a comment and let me know what you think--I love feedback! Happy reading and have a great weekend! 

RECAP: Last week, Eira fought off Rory, a Lyrith--creature with a lion's body and a human torso. The Dark Phoenix was attacked by a strange, golden weapon, which has left him in a rather foul mood as they are met at the gates of Pietrasaan by a young woman, richly dressed, who refuses to allow them to enter. 


“And a lovely evening to yourself, your highness.” The Dark Phoenix shifted to the left of her, pausing when she immediately repositioned herself directly in his path.

“You will not enter.”

“Is this a bad time of year?”



“You think you can waltz back inside here after six months of-”

“I was fairly certain there were no festivals going on at present.”

“Festivals!” The exclamation became a shriek as her crossed arms then shifted so she stood with her hands on her hips. “How dare you!”

“I will not be in the way, your highness.” He dodged to the right, a patient smile when she blocked him again.

“My business is with Nimbus, not with you.”

“Ha! I should be insulted…you travel all this way into the heart of my...” She scoffed. “And not even to see me? But to visit some little-”

“I have need of his services, we will not stay long.”

“We!” The arms crossed over her chest again. “That is precisely where you are wrong. There is no, we…there is no one…and no one is entering today.”

“Good. Because there is only myself, my apprentice and-”

“I don’t care who she is-!”

“His name is Ian.” The Dark Phoenix interrupted, smoothly. “And calm yourself, highness. I am-”

“I don’t care what you say! I’ve had headaches, visions and dreams that are more nightmares than anything since you’ve been-”

“My apologies for the nightmares, I am afraid I have not taken the extra time to calm my auras in meditation…I have been otherwise occupied.”

“So I see.” She snorted. “If you think that you are bringing her…him…it…in here, you have-”

“Even if I brought a bribe?” One hand reached behind him, keeping Eira to his left side and drawing the captive Rory forward.

“There is no bribe under the energy of this realm that could-”

“Not even this?”

“Not even…oh my…’ Her arms dropped to her sides an expression of pure amazement registering on her pretty features. She started forward and stopped, staring upwards in wonder as the Dark Phoenix urged him forward to stand before her. “What a perfect specimen! I’ve never seen one so…” She circled around it at once and paused, darting a warning glance back towards the gate. Her glossed lips pursed in a pout as she realized he was still standing outside of the city walls. “I hate you.”

“I am pleased to know your sentiments have not changed one whit.” He flashed a smile. “Now may we enter?”

“I really do hate you.” She sighed, turning her back to him. “Enter…I cannot see you…or your…trouble.” She circled Rory again. “I like your bribe…can I keep it?”

“No.” The Dark Phoenix stepped through, keeping Eira behind him, maintaining a set distance between queen and apprentice. “I have need of information from him…until I acquire all necessary-”

“Murder? Rape or Traitor?” She rattled off the three main offenses punishable under Rangana law. Her head tilted to the side, one pointed finger reaching towards the face straining away from her. “I could see murder…”

“Ambush.” The Dark Phoenix cleared his throat. “Nothing worthy of the severe penalties under your law. As I said, I only have need for a particular passel of information which may be obtained through your…delicate…processes. I require nothing else apart from that before we take our leave.”

“Delicate?” There was another unladylike snort. “I can touch him but I can’t break him…what kind of toy is that? You insult me.”

“I would hardly call restrictions insults, however, if you believe that-”

“How do you expect me to get anything out of him if I can’t-”

“There are exceptions.” The Dark Phoenix flashed another smile, a slight menace to it as a flicker of dark energy sparked from the corner of one ear. “You know all of my…exceptions.”

“True.” She yawned. “How soon are you leaving?”

“Leaving? When I’ve only just arrived?”

“Very well, let me rephrase, when are the two of you leaving?”

“We will leave after our business is complete.”

“Which will be?”

“I am not up for your number games.”

“But I like numbers…I can figure them out so well.”

“Basanti…please. I am here to see Nimbus and the speed with which he produces the desired result will be the precise amount of time we will linger within your precious city. We will not stay any longer than necessary.”

The golden-cat eyes flashed a brilliant hue of pink. “See that you do not.” A soft hiss left her lips. “Can I have it now?”

“Eager little thing aren’t you—do I have your word that you will not-”

“You want answers?” The golden bangles jingled. “Then do not question my methods, have you any other use for him once your information has been…extracted?”

“No.”

“Good. Then it seems we have nothing to worry about. Please, do come in and make yourselves at home.”

“How generous. If you will excuse us.”

“I should be insulted…royally so…you’ve come all this way, the mighty Dark Phoenix…to see a mere civilian within my city walls.”

The Dark Phoenix nudged Eira forward. “I hope Nimbus has not caused any trouble.”

“Oh, no trouble at all…he knows what could happen to him…so he behaves…unlike you.”

“Basanti…not in front of the apprentice, hmm? You are more than welcome to insult me at your leisure, however, I would greatly appreciate it if you would work on the timing a bit more. You have a new plaything…go play.”

There was an edge to his voice that Eira had never heard before. She understood the context when the flicker of dark energy binding the Lyrith—Rory—evaporated as a handful of grey dust.

Rory lunged forward only to have a golden circlet appear around his neck, with chains all around, one of them appearing in the Rangana Queen’s hands. She smirked, skipping lightly to the side, the chains holding her new captive down, while the one in her possession kept his head facing her.

“My, aren’t you a feisty one.” A bauble of golden-yellow energy bubbled at her fingertips, thrown to create a band across his mouth. “No talking! Now if you be a good little kitty…then I won’t have to hurt you so much…okay? We’re going to go for a little walk…and if you’re really good…maybe…this won’t be your last day in open air.”

You can’t let her kill him! Eira’s panicked thought was thrown at her master with all the emotional force repressed within.
He winced, shifting again to block her view of the queen. He will be fine.

She doesn’t even think he’s a person!
 

He is not a person—
 

He is too!
 

In that sense…Eira…Ian…I have told you before, do not interrupt me.
 

This is important!
 

And we will discuss it later—there are more pressing matters at present.
 

You can’t-!

The mental link was frozen, as if he’d taken a knife and slashed the connecting ribbon between them.

“March!”

“I don’t want to march!” Eira twisted away from his hand. “You can’t let her kill him! It’s not right!” A ripple of anger surged through her as she pushed him backwards with both hands, her thoughts were jumbled and she didn’t even think to modulate her voice. “She’ll kill him! How can you let her-!”

“I beg your pardon?” Queen Basanti spoke from a few feet away. “I am not going to kill him, my dear…”
The golden-eyes flashed pink again. “You are…a strange apprentice. Usually most of them do not pass through these gates…and those that do, know enough of the Rangana…and our ways.” She offered a saucy smile. “Please, do not worry on his account, I will not…kill him…right away…or at all.” A stiff shrug was offered. “Is he a friend of yours?”

“No!”

“Then why are you worried?”

“Ian—we are-!”

“Oh shush, Benjamin!” Queen Basanti waved one bejeweled hand, the orange veil slipping away from her head to reveal bare shoulders. The silken scrap of fabric was neatly tied around her waist. “Let the girl speak!”

“Ian!” Another flicker of dark energy rippled over the Dark Phoenix. “His name is Ian.”

“Oh, of course…how careless…I’m sorry, he just sounds like…a girl.” She smothered a laugh behind one hand. “My apologies….Ian. You need not worry of anything…enjoy your stay.”

“Please…don’t hurt him…Lyriths don’t really die with-”

“You know of Lyriths?” The Queen’s attention immediately zeroed in on her. “Most curious.” Her head twisted back to the struggling captive. “It appears he has something to say.”

“Eira!” He roared, straining at the chains. “You will-!”

The rest of the sentence was cut off as the golden band resumed its position over his mouth. The Queen winced. “That is quite a…mouth…he has on him. I can still hear every word.” She grinned. “And he doesn’t like you very much…Eira.”

A wave of coolness washed over her and Eira found her lips moving, even as she felt the tremors begging to be released within her. “My name is Ian…I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

The golden band shattered. “You lying little-!” The remainder of that sentence finished in a string of Lyrithean curses.

Eira cringed, her head hunching down to her shoulders. “On second thought.” She choked the words out. “Your highness…don’t forget to chain his tail…that’s the most deadly…part.”

Rory screeched in fury as Eira whirled around and dashed towards the dirt streets ahead of her. The Queen watched her go with some amusement and then directed the emotion at the simmering, dark figure still standing a few feet away. “You never do anything…normally, do you?” She smirked. “Aren’t you going to go after your precious little apprentice?”

“No.”

“No? Just no? Why not?”

“Because if I catch him…I could not be responsible for what I might do to him at this point.” A final crackle of dark energy registered and a permanent glow of grayness seemed to settle over him.

“Now, now…Benjamin Oliver…shame on you!” Her skinny arms crossed her chest. “There will be none of that in my city during your stay!” She wrinkled her pointed nose. “If you absolutely must discipline your apprentice, please take him outside the protective barrier, hmm? We have other threats to worry about and I won’t have my shield weakened on account of-”

“Three days.”

“What?”

“I estimate…our visit, should total three days…and possibly three nights. Good day, your highness.”

The woman watched him go, gliding silently towards the maze of concrete houses and dirt streets. The shop tents were open, a few worn awnings offered some shade from the burning sun and the streets were deathly silent. She sighed. “And we’re back to the formal stage…” With a snort, she stalked off, towards the north end of the wall where a tall, pointed spire loomed. Pausing at the entrance, she crooked a finger over one shoulder. “Here kitty, kitty…”

The chains dragged Rory forward.

****

Eira ran until she realized she didn’t know where she was or where she was headed. Her next thought was to hide and as all other rational thought had left, she chose a corner beside a street booth adjacent to a shop.

Dropping to her knees, she crawled under the cloth covered table, hugging her knees to her chest. The shaking started the moment she dared to take the first deep breath. Pressing her lips tightly together, she leaned back, head brushing the stone wall behind her as the trembling grew worse.

Her eyes closed as images from years before slithered through her mind. Pictures of her and Rory. Playing with Rory. Having lunch with Rory. Crying in Rory's arms. Running from Rory. Being captured by Rory and returned home. Hating Rory. Missing Rory. Seeing Rory on holiday. Running away…and not being captured by Rory.

A hiccup escaped as her hands clenched into fists. There were more happy moments to her memories with Rory than disagreeable ones. A tear squeezed out the corner of her eye, dribbling down her cheek. Lyriths were rare celestial creatures, loyal to the one who had awakened them or preformed an equally admirable feat.

“Rory…”

****

The Dark Phoenix continued into the empty district, until he reached a soot-covered building somewhere in the middle of it. It was more of a tower, compared to the smaller structures and homes staggered around it, but with various chimneys, windows and miniature signs hanging from the awning.

The sign over the door read, “Nimbus Crowber, blacksmith, Golbard Armory.” The Dark Phoenix smiled, apparently Nimbus was feeling up to handling outside business again. That was good.

Two light knocks were given on the door, then the Dark Phoenix stepped through. The foyer was darker than the outside had hinted. There were no lights within, only the few streaks of sunlight which bored through the tiny windows.

Moving forward, the two knocks were repeated on the inner door.

“I can’t help you, go away!” The voice within griped. “Don’t forget to close the door on your way out.”

“Hello Nimbus.” The Dark Phoenix drew a knife from his belt and lightly pulled on the tip until the blade stretched and lengthened into a slender point. “Are you going to let me in, or must I do it myself?”

“You shouldn’t have brought…it…here! You’re endangering us all and the queen will have my head when she finds out! Go away!”

“She will not find out and I will have your head if you cannot-”

The door slid upwards, an angry figure looming in the doorway. He was definitely a few feet taller than the phoenix, with a long white ponytail that fell past his knees, an odd counterpart to his scruffy beard. Both hands were clenched into fists, barely hidden behind a large, black, work-apron. A hammer and a wrench stuck out from his over-sized utility belt. “Your empty threats have nothing to-”

“Nice to see you too.” The Dark Phoenix waved one hand, waiting while the figure was brushed to the side before stepping into the workshop. It was a smaller room, circular, with the middle still missing--another inner chamber to be ahead.

“Benjamin!” Nimbus whirled around, hurrying after him. “Now is really a bad time! I value our friendship to some degree and this is not one of them that I care to be testing-!”

“I need a full battery of tests, a secondary physical and a set of armor, training weapons and…some new knives.” The stretched blade was tossed on a cluttered countertop of twisted metals. “You have three days.”

“Three days?” The white hair seemed to grow even more frazzled. “Three days isn’t enough and it’s too long, you can’t both of you stay here for three-”

“The sooner you start, the sooner it will be over.”

“You don’t understand! Things changed since you were last here.”

“Which was precisely six months ago, what exactly changed?”

“You can’t tell?”

“Your lovely…queen, cannot tell me in plain basic either.”

“I am no longer freelancing for-”

“What do you owe her?”

An angry redness registered in his face. “Something which I cannot pay…look, Ben…I-”

“I will take care of it.”

Tiny white sparks leapt off from the ponytail to cause a minor explosion at the workbench. “It is not that easily taken care of!”

“Nimbus…” The name was repeated slowly and deliberately. “I. Will. Take care of it. Tonight, if you like.”

“It isn’t what you think-”

“I do not have all day for this.” The sentence was punctuated with a signature glare. “I said I will take care of it, now, can I count on you to-”

“Fine.”

“Good. Shall we?”

“Where is the little brat?”

“Hiding.”

Two bushy eyebrows went up as the blacksmith’s apron was roughly yanked off. “Hiding? You let the girl run away and hide in the midst of this-!”

“She is my apprentice…I can summon her whenever I please.”

“Ah, of course…and now, is not a good time?”

“Nimbus…”

“Through here.” His friend moved further in to a second inner room, more darkened than those before. A light flickered on, aided by a pale-blue jolt of electricity before the room lit up, revealing a shadowy, circular structure, with smooth silver walls all around and white reflective surfaces.There were no windows here and no natural light. The energies in the room powered up to a soft glow, they were feeding off of Nimbus and his energy signature.

It was also extremely quiet. A perfectly sterile room.

“You have made a few upgrades.” The Dark Phoenix commented, looking about approvingly. “I trust your archives are even more reliable than before?”

“They were never unreliable, if that is what you are implying.” Nimbus grunted, moving to stand in a clear tube to the left of the room. “Just a moment.” There was a bright flash of pale blue energy and a moment later, he stepped out, dressed in a gray overcoat and newly shaven. “A full battery of tests? What’s wrong with this one?” The long white mass of hair began to divide itself into sections, each section braiding itself until a fat ponytail of miniature white braids was formed.

“She doesn’t know and I don’t feel like guessing.”

“Ah. I see. Any guesses you’d care to share?”

“No.”

“Her file?”

“Don’t have it.”

“Ben!”

“That is why I brought her here—to you! Do you think I would have come all this way just to annoy you if I had other options?”

“I love being your last resort." He snorted. "Then let’s have a look, shall we? You know, this really was a beautiful afternoon until you showed up.”

“And it was perfectly wonderful for me as well, until I set foot in this city.” There was an angry sigh. “Time, Nimbus. I cannot afford to spend more than three days here. Where do you want her?”

“Hmm…best to do the physical first…and then elemental scans…it will take awhile to run all of them.”

“She has nothing better to do, but I have places to be.”

“I doubt she will see them that way.”

“Where?”

“Here.” Nimbus pulled on a pair of sterile gloves, waving towards the center of the room where a flat, silver table rose up from the ground. Soft amber lights clicked on overhead and a folded sheet materialized on the other end. “Anytime now is fine.” Nimbus murmured, turning towards the far end of the room."And Ben?"

"What?"

"You aren't...flipping to the dark side again, are you?"

"Well isn't that a delicate way of putting things."

"You're using contractions...that always worries me."

"You want her here?"

"What is her name? Her cover, I mean."

"Eira. She is going by Ian...and I'll leave the illusion for a few seconds over, if that helps. She...can modulate her own voice, I sense great energy in her sound waves, but I've yet to know what to make of it. I need more data."

"That helps. Thank you."

There was a grunt in reply.

The supercomputer against the wall whirred to life as familiar fingers flew over the keyboards. Three holographic screens popped up, as the floor rose up a few inches to form a rectangular platform to distinguish the technology from the rest of the strange room. “Good afternoon…Legend Nimbuscrin Tovoka.”

“Just Nimbus, Marvis.” The man smiled. “And good afternoon…we’re doing a collective examination of a Dark Phoenix apprentice.”

“New or old?”

“New…completely new…and no priors, I will feed you all the information you need.”

“She’s more polite this time around.” The Dark Phoenix glided forward to stand beside him. “Hello Marvis.”

The screen darkened and flickered. “The Dark Phoenix. Hello. Pleasure to…see…you…again.”

“The pleasure is all yours, Marvis.” He smirked. “Nimbus?”

“I would need her on the table, thank you.” Nimbus murmured, distracted. “Be there in a moment.”

“How would you like her?” The question was barely whispered, as if something about the nature of it seemed to slip beneath the darkened mask since he'd entered the city. "Within reason." 

Nimbus hesitated. “Under-tunic…would be fine.”

There was no answer before a faint dark flash announced the arrival of the missing apprentice. A soft squeak broke the silence, followed by skittering feet.

“Eira, I presume?” Nimbus turned from the control center to see the young woman bracing against the examination table, hugging her arms to herself. He shifted to the side, so Marvis could tape the examination and begin noting her physical traits to begin creating her profile. The holographic illusion over her flickered and faded away, retracted by the phoenix.

A short-haired, stocky young woman remained, clad in a short undertunic, with sleeveless arms, the hemline stopping at mid-thigh. There were no obvious power markings or light tattoos and she seemed uncomfortable standing on her bare feet, a fierce blush painted across her cheeks.

“Um, w-where am I? Can I have my clot-”

“No.” The Dark Phoenix spoke from the opposite side of the table. Another squeak was smothered in her throat as he glared at her. “Sit. Here.” He tapped the table. “This will be over in a minute.”

“What will be over?” Her voice quavered as she awkwardly hoisted herself up on the edge of the table, her bare feet rubbing together, hands twisting in her lap. “It’s cold in here.”

“Ah. My apologies.” Nimbus stepped down to join the duo. “If it isn’t dark and cold…I’m afraid I am not a very…pleasant person to be around.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

There was a grunt from the corner of the room. Nimbus scowled. “Ben, I think you could use a cup of tea…I wouldn’t mind one myself either…the kitchen is through there.” He gave a jerk of his head. “I’m sure you remember how-”


“Three cream and five sugar. Yes. I remember.” The words were flung out as the Dark Phoenix left the room in a billow of dark energy and a whirling cloak.

Nimbus moved closer to the table, pulling along a rolling tray with several instruments prepared on top. “My name is Nimbus…I was a storm elemental casper, so please excuse my unconventional appearance and manner…besides that, I was also a natural healer, I am qualified for this, please, do relax, there is nothing to be worried about.”

“Worried? Now I'm worried. I’m in really big trouble, right? Oh no.”

He winced. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it trouble, though, if you would…a word of advice? Running from the Dark Phoenix is pointless. He hates it and usually those he…catches, dislike it as well.” He offered a smile. “I test for…powers, gift…talents, whatever you like to call it. I am helping to determine the true nature of your primary, secondary and hidden...gifts. This will be quick and painless.”

Eira was quite still as he moved around her, checking a pulse, heart beat and measuring her head. She did not say a word until he reached for two rubbery nodes and a bottle of gel. “Please don’t do that.” Her voice was trembly. “Those hurt…they really hurt…I’ve had them before…I don’t need them. I’ve been tested…thirty-nine times.”

“Your wonderful master does not have your league access files—I need to collect my own data.” Nimbus squeezed a generous amount of sea green gel onto the rubber circle. “This will not hurt.”

“They always tell me that.” Eira awkwardly huddled in the corner of the table, trying to stay out of reach, tugging at the short hemline. “And they’re always wrong…please…I’ll do anything. Anything you want!”

Nimbus rolled his eyes. “How about taking my word for it that this will not hurt? It is similar to the League devices in use for testing, but I assure you that it is powered by a different device and does not produce the same side effects-”

“Is there a problem, Nimbus?” The Dark Phoenix glided into the room, two teacups on white saucers hovering over one hand.

He levitated the rubber circles in question and accepted the floating cup of tea. “thank you.”

“Eira?” The familiar intensity of his gold-gray eyes drilled directly into her with an added hint of darkness she couldn’t recall. “He knows what he is doing. I expect your full cooperation.”

“You don’t understand. I’ve taken these tests before and they don’t do anything and they really, really hurt!”

“Head here, feet here.” The Dark Phoenix took the circles, leaving his teacup suspended in mid-air as he tapped the end of the table. “Now, Eira.”

She shook her head as spirals of dark energy snaked out from his outstretched hand, catching hold of her ankles and wrists to yank her down to the table. Her mouth opened and was silenced by his hand over it as one cool, rubber circle was pressed to her neck and the other to her left shoulder. A whimper escaped.

Two fingers tapped her cheek. “Eira…trust me.” She glared up at him. “Blind trust is not your strong point, however, have I done anything up to this point to cause you to doubt my judgment? Never mind. This is standard procedure, I would never subject you to-”

Innocent eyes blinked up at him and then two tears trickled out as she tried to twist away from his hand. The first rubber circle flashed a soft light blue and immediately, data began to stream across the three screens at the far end of the room.

“You have an excellent signature.” Nimbus interrupted. “Most intriguing…I’ve never seen this kind of…impression before, how curious.” He turned to look at her. “And you said you were tested thirty-nine times? Whatever were they testing you for?”

Her body twitched and jerked, the scream muffled by his hand as the second circle activated. The Dark Phoenix frowned and with one more tap of his finger, her body went limp. His hand removed, he glided over to stare at the screens.

"I thought you said it was painless."

"It should have been...never seen that reaction before."

"And...?"

"And what? What do you want me to tell you, Ben? I can't say what I think without proof!"

“Say it anyway! I don't care...I find proof if it warrants official interference.What is the matter?”

“I don’t believe it…”

© Sara Harricharan

3 comments:

Shelley Ledfors said...

You always create such wonderfully complex worlds, and great dialog.
Congratulations on your graduation!

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

One of my favorite lines in this chapter was this one, "The mental link was frozen, as if he’d taken a knife and slashed the connecting ribbon between them." I thought the ending was very good, too. Now that you're finished with school, you can write to your heart's content, right?

Kristina Rohder said...

Oh my goodness! This installment was incredibly intriguing. Eira's mysterious past is coming back to haunt her again. That girl has been keeping plenty of secrets, I wager. I love the cliffhanger ending and I can't wait to see what happens next!