Friday, June 11, 2010

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix (part 39) [Friday Fiction]

Hello dear readers, writers and bloggers! I have the wonderful privilege of hosting Friday Fiction this week! Yay! All you have to do is enter your name and link to your blog post in the McLinky widget below. Don't forget to read and comment--every writer treasures the feedback!



Author's Ramblings: I'm cutting it pretty close here in terms of wrapping up this serial. This week has been another hectic passage of time, with all the "krazy-ness" going on at my end. I've decided that to wrap up this particular serial, I'll probably have some "half-installments" posted on Wednesdays, to keep from cutting the story short--and to keep it on schedule, so if you turn up next week and find yourself confused--you've probably missed the Wednesday post. ^_^ Clear as mud? I hope not--lolz. I have decided on an idea for the next serial, so hopefully, it won't take too long to get the DP and Eira's episodes all wrapped up. I've continued a bit in the first person POV for Eira--picking up directly from where I left off last week and scene jumping again through to Day 4 as they leave Pietrasaan. Thank you to everyone who has kept up--and even those who haven't--ROFL--but have taken the time to comment and let me know what you think. 39 weeks of Dark Phoenix will be drawing to a close soon--and I'm happy to have shared it with you! Have a great weekend and happy reading!


RECAP: Last week, Eira managed to get into a street brawl spanning two city blocks in Pietrasaan with Nimbus's unruly blacksmith apprentice. On top of that, She rescued the Lyrith Rory, from the Rangana Queen's prison tower and engaged in a battle of power and wills with a rogue storm child-Aois, resulting in the death of the storm child. Due to her actions and attitude, the DP is reluctantly summoned from his watery bliss beneath the city to reprimand her. The punishment prescribed is an interrogation where she absolutely cannot lie. 

It did hurt. Far worse than I’d ever imagined it.

It felt like he’d turned me inside out and tortured what was left—slowly enough to cause the most painful result. He made me tell him everything. Everything that he wanted to know. I couldn’t lie. I couldn’t even skip questions.

He asked everything. Things about my family. Things about my past. Things about memories I thought I’d forgotten. The answers I gave were so mechanical after awhile, it all blurred together, I couldn’t even tell whether I was speaking coherently or not.


I didn’t care.

He didn’t stop and everything inside of me built up to a point where I couldn’t wait to see his face when he finally got the best of my temper. But it didn’t happen. He stopped before I could explode and then he’d simply ended it.

I was left there, my head spinning, the rest of me no better off and nothing made sense at all.
I felt betrayed.

But I couldn’t protest.

I deserved it—in more ways than one.

I wanted to hate him. Oh, how I wanted to hate him.

But I couldn’t.

This was all my fault.

“Eira…”

“I hate you.” I couldn’t keep from saying the words. Words joined to memories that I thought I'd buried deep. Not deep enough. “I hate you.” 

I don’t hate you…please…you hurt me…I hate what you did to me. How could you betray me? You hurt me…after all…please…why did you hurt me? I’ll do better…I promise…I’ll learn…I’ll do whatever it is you want me to…please don’t hurt me…again.

“Eira.” More persistently this time, his hand in front of my face, waving. He is standing over me, waiting. “Come. You’ll spend the night with Nimbus.”

“No.” I turned away from him. I couldn’t be near more people. That would be bad. That would be very bad.

“Eira, there will not be a discussion about-”

Tell him the truth.

“If I see Jordan again, I will knock his head off.”

There is a moment of silence. It is a lie, but a safe lie. It is half the truth. Perhaps he won’t wince at such a pitiful excuse.

“Will you be safe here?”

“What?”

“Mmm.” There is a hint of something lighter in his voice. “If you are careful, you may stay here for the night. I am certain I need not emphasize the importance of being cautious?”

“Don’t talk to strangers and don’t follow any ghostly lights?” My temper is desperately trying to get the best of me.

How can I be so carefree? How can I keep on hiding this from him? You hurt me, Benjamin Oliver…legendary dark phoenix. You betrayed my trust. Why couldn’t you-!

“That would be a good place to start.” His hand ruffles my hair—soothing and comforting at the same time. “Sleep well.”

“I hate you.” The traitor words are coming out again.

No! I don’t hate you…stay…please stay! I don’t want to stay out here by myself. I can’t make it through this kind of black night alone. You hurt me…why did you hurt me? My head is a mess. I won’t sleep tonight. Don’t you see that? Can’t you see that?

The hand lingers on my head. “If there is something you need to say, apprentice, I would very much appreciate it if you’d simply speak your mind instead of-”

“Why did you do that? Why couldn’t you have waited for me to tell you on my own? Why? I hate you! You’re such a hypocrite! Going on and on about trust and how I need to be-”

His finger presses against my lips, requiring my silence. I know better than to speak, but I want to hear my own voice. I want to hate him. He can’t control me. He can’t control my voice. A finger can’t stop the flood of words simmering in my head.

I should bite him and watch him bleed...

The thought scares me.

His fingers thwapped my forehead.

“Ow!”

“That was for whatever went through your head that caused you to make such a funny face. You shouldn’t think things like that, whatever they are. It isn’t nice.”

“What?”

Nice? How can you talk of being nice? You hypocrite…I didn’t keep secrets because I wanted them…You keep secrets. You wear that smug little smile as if you know everything, but you say strange things, you do strange things and you think I’m too stupid to realize that I can see…

“I didn’t betray you, Eira…I can see what you’re thinking, it’s all over your face. Try taking a moment to see things from my side. Think, what would you do if you had to deal with someone you barely knew after they nearly ruined a few decades’ worth of serious public relations with a street fight, a prison break and an unauthorized extermination. If you had that choice again…to smash things or to stop…think twice. I’d prefer if you left all of it alone.” His smile is hidden in the dark, but I am sure it is there. “and Eira…I didn’t ask you any names….”

The dark wisps of energy swirl up and over him, in an instant, he is gone.

And I am alone.

Again.

Names…No names? Then why bother? Why ask those questions? What did I tell him? What did he hear? What did he want from me? What use could nameless tales have for him? Why…what have I done? He’s shattered me again…with his trust. Why?

****

DAY THREE—NIGHT—UNDERWATER CAVERNS BENEATH PIETRASAAN


The water rippled in the in the darkened tank. A shallow breath was taken, attempting to calm inner conflict by smothering it in welcome darkness.
 
Hypocrite…you are the worst of them…
 

I know…I know… 

Hypocrite…
 

I will tell her…
 

When? The same time she would have-
 

Stop your lies.
 

You are weak, dark phoenix. You are just a man.

Something moved beneath the surface, a distinct coolness merging with the swirling current underneath.

True. But I am also an instrument…to be used…by my creator, as He sees fit. It is to Him alone that I answer, not your ever present darkness. I am selfish in my own ways…this is a lesson I have refused to learn. A lesson I have always avoided. Now I have no choice. You will be witness.
 

Hypocrite…
 

I can’t hear you anymore, Eunice…
 

Hypocrite…
 

Good night.

The water rippled and silence reigned.

****

The muffled explosion was accompanied by a dripping wet individual.

Queen Basanti squinted through the gauze curtains ‘round her bed and then sighed. “You’re making a mess of my carpet.” She yanked the curtains aside, reaching down to grab a towel from the shelves near the nightstand. “Here…at least try to be sorry about it! Did you have to visit the tank right before you came here?”

“Go find Nimbus.” The Dark Phoenix scowled at the towel and threw it back. “Hurry.”

“With a cryptic message like that, you expect me to do what, exactly? You’d better have a good reason for dropping in like this and already ordering me about. Should I remind you of my royal status?” She smirked. “Or is something wonderfully dark and mysterious afoot and now you’re going to let us all in on the secret?”

“Something came up.”

She snorted. “Seriously? Is that the best you can do?”

“Why are you wearing orange?”

“Because it annoys you, idiot.” She threw the towel back. “Use that! I’ll send for Nimbus…change out of that mess before you catch cold.”

There was a grunt in reply.

By the time she returned with a bleary-eyed Nimbus in tow, a soggy bundle of clothes were resting on the towel, a pre-teen figure sitting cross-legged before it. Both of them stopped at once, all conversation forgotten.

“I don’t-” Basanti began.

“Believe my eyes.” Nimbus finished. “Benjamin? I didn't think it was this far gone...”

Familiar golden-gray eyes fixed on the pair with a very deliberate glare. “What?” He rose to his feet, more so out of respect to greet his friend, yet the top of his darkened head barely topped Nimbus’s elbow. He was definitely shorter and his hair had gotten longer, accenting a rather round face.

“N-nothing.” Basanti whirled around, hurriedly bolting the bedroom door behind her with a hasty explanation to the night guards keeping watch. “Since when did you shrink?”

“You mean since when did he shrink again.” Nimbus countered. “Ben? Something on your mind?”

“No. I just like watching your reactions when-”

“What happened?” Basanti continued to bustle about the room, tracing shapes on the walls to soundproof them. Flickers of white energy sparked off of her fingertips as she made the standard circle and triangle shape, with little swirls on the sides. “There. All done. I missed something, somewhere…have you been like this the entire time?”

“NO!”

“No.” Nimbus repeated, more calmly than the scowling kid phoenix on the floor. “He was actually in his teen years when he arrived…quite a temper tagged onto it.”

“Goodness…and I missed it.” She chuckled. “Such a rare sight in all naturally occurring phenomenon and I missed it! Right under my very nose and-”

“When you’re both over how adorable I look and how long it’s been since I last-”

“You can at least allow a laugh on your behalf.” Nimbus smirked. “It has been quite a few years and I must say that I’ve never seen you this-”

“Are you finished, Nimbus?”

“Hmm?”

“You of all people should know that the younger in physical appearance, the sharper in wit and power.” He rolled his eyes in childish fashion. “This is incredibly annoying.”

“I don’t doubt you.” Basanti stifled a smile. “But you do look adorable…not that you want to hear that, oh great and mighty dark phoenix.” She uncorked a flask of Flengli wine, hesitating. “Wine or juice?”

“Wine.”

“Juice.”

She stifled a giggle.

“Laugh and I’ll kill you.” The phoenix griped miserably. “I fail to see the humor in this particular situation.”

“I take it you honestly are here on official business in full acting capacity?”

“I am always on official capacity and why would I be here if I didn’t have official business?”

“and here you go.” Basanti handed over the respective glasses, taking a seat on the floor in the empty corner of the room. “You could be taking a vacation for all I know, Ben. Normal people don’t lock themselves in underwater tanks beneath cursed cities! Then again, I can’t say you’ve ever been good at proving your claim to sanity. All right, down to business then...and since when have your illusions been this good? They weren’t like that last time.”

“You said you wanted to practice.” The glare redirected towards her. “So I let you practice.”

“So that Ian of yours is really an Eira?”

“You can’t see past his illusions anymore?” Nimbus perked up. “Interesting.”

“It’s not that I can’t see past them…I can’t see past these…last ones. I’ve always been able to-” She fiddled with her glass. “Have you been holding out on me?”

Nimbus smirked. “Serves you right, with all your scheming and-”

“I said, sorry, Nimbus, really!”

“I only accepted the apology because he told me that I had to-”

“Would you both please be quiet?” A spark of black energy crackled along his left arm, fizzling out before it touched the carpet. “Please? I have a great deal of work to do and because you are significant points in my network, I feel obligated to inform you of certain developments which may lead to-”

“We’re listening, aren’t we Nimbus?”

“I’m listening, you’re pretending…as usual.”

“I don’t care who’s pretending!” The phoenix scowled into the empty juice glass. “Got more?”

Basanti winked at the pitcher.

It appeared on the floor before the phoenix. He happily poured himself another glass, the momentary gloom temporarily forgotten. A few gray-white sparks leapt from his fingertips, enveloping his body as the physical necessity was converted immediately into useable energy for his body to function.

“Where’s E…Ian?” Nimbus leaned against the bedpost. “What was going on with all that excitement?”

“Excitement from whose point of view?” The phoenix poked the soggy clothes. “Analyze these. I want the results before you even understand them.”

“These?” Nimbus moved closer to inspect them. “What happened? What’s wrong with them?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Care to let us in on the conspiracy?” Basanti scooted closer to see. “How was it…the tank?”

“It was fine. The guardian is fine.” He poured another glass of juice. “Everything else isn’t fine.”

“I could have told you that without half the drama.” She scowled. “That darkness…it really isn’t yours, is it?”

“It will be.”

Both heads snapped up at once, Nimbus being first to speak. “That’s your upgrade?”

“I am fairly certain of it.”

“But that’s far too dark for-!”

“It’s dark enough and it’s…big enough.”

“Well, I meant more that  it’s a great deal of excess energy…not that you can’t find something useful to do with it, but…Benjamin…” Her voice trailed off as she stared at him in awe. “I didn’t realize it was like this for you…every time. Has it always been like this, every single time?”

“It’s worse this time around.” He coughed, wincing. “Too many complications….too little time. I should be alone, and free, not burdened like this.”

“Because of the apprentice?”

“And Deene, and Eunice and everything else in this entire realm! It’s been wearing on me for the past ten years. I think I’m allowed a little peace and quiet! Not this, this is torture!”

“You are whining…but you have my sympathies.” Nimbus drew a scanner from the pocket of his blacksmith apron and scanned the wet clothes. “Not that it would help, but chase away Deene, block Eunice and professionally finish your apprentice so she can study something with an apprentice level behind her and you won’t have to babysit. Then call in every single one of your vacation and sick days. I’d think you’ve got quite a bit of them stockpiled. Here.” He handed it over, before the results had registered. “Anything you care to share?”

“Some. Yes. Some. No.” His fingers flew over the keypad and he handed the scanner back, the information deleted. “Last night…there was a spy, yes?”

“So you did notice. I wondered.” Basanti set her glass on the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest. “Yes…a live messenger. A young woman, her name is Uleah. It's not of these parts, so she's probably hired out from a different sector. She was found on the opposite end of the city, sneaking around the gates just as your brilliant apprentice had the wonderful idea of stealing my Lyrith! I can’t get anything out of her really, but…I don’t think…you know.”

“Origin?”

“I’m thinking…Kouraki.” She frowned. “More specifically, in the capital city, rather than out of it. The controlling backsignal…it’s similar to that of the Lyrith. It’s like, a tainted signal, as if someone is passing instructions through it, but I can’t get a read beyond the fact that it’s powerful and there’s a lot more where it came from.”

“I figured.”

“The storm child?”

“The body will be released into your care.”

“Rogue?”

“Yes. Not completely wasted though…in a very delicate window of…suspended animation. I suspect it was deliberate.”

“So it can function on its own merits, apart from a direct order?” The phoenix set the glass down and reached for the juice pitcher with both hands.

“So it would seem.”

“I don’t like that.”

“I don’t think we have to like it at all.” Nimbus perked a brow. “Are you sure you can handle all that sugar?”

“Shut-up, Nimbus.”

“Ben…?”

The empty pitcher was set on the floor, his mouth blotted with a kerchief from his shirt sleeve. “Was the signature traced anywhere else?”

“Well, you were right…quite a significant increase in that particular energy strain is coming from Karouki.” She rubbed her chin. “Though it doesn’t make any sense at all and it’s not like I can leave here to go poke about, but you’ll probably want to pay it a visit…you know, check things out.”

“I could leave.” Nimbus volunteered.

“With that long hair and your big mouth?” Basanti snorted. “You’d ruin everything…as if I’d let you set foot out of here.”

“Ben?”

“I’ve kept to the mountains for the past two years for this very reason.”

“I figured…was getting a bit worried when it hit the six-month mark and I hadn’t seen your friendly scowl again. Tell me, you’re the only one that controls the dark energy in this quadrant, yes? It has to do with Mount Skiel and the guardianship and all of that, yes?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Then pray tell, what is the problem?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Then try and explain!” Basanti fisted one hand in her orange dressing robe. “You can’t just keep running in here and causing me a headache whenever you feel like it! There are far more-”

“The guardianship entails personal investigation into all matters of excess energy, particularly that of a dark nature. I’ve been assigned to investigate the dark surges and monitor the activity of the Shadow People…the rebels.”

“S-shadow? Like the strange ones that came with that storm brat?” Basanti fidgeted. “This is bad.”

“Yes. I know. I can’t believe I missed it…the actual encounter, I mean. It’s hard to fudge a report when there isn’t a lot to report on and I hate writing them. They do absolutely nothing in terms of results.”

“You’ve been investigating the surges?” Nimbus straightened. “So they are not rumors?”

“They are very real. They’ve been forming a rebel alliance, looking for those who think they’ve been cheated by the League, or those who are simply greedy for power or money. They’ve done quite well, considering. I’ve been working out of Vanderoone for some time…until…I inherited an apprentice.”

“Inherited?” Basanti frowned. “Wait a minute…please tell me your lovely League counterpart won’t be paying a visit in the very near future? If I have to see her face-”

“I will do my best to deter her.” The golden-gray eyes pleaded for silence and with a huff, the young queen buried her face in her arms. “She appeared shortly after I’d gathered some information through the network. The informant said that Schol had probably had a…summoner working for him-”

“A summoner?” Nimbus paled. “Ben…if Schol has a summoner on his side, this is the makings for war. The League could never allow such a rebellion to be-”

“-with a signature very similar to the stray I picked up in an alley. I know the implications, Nimbus. Which is why I’ve been working on this on my own for the past few years. Less hassle. I am well aware of what could happen and what will not happen.”

A muttered exclamation came from her corner. “You just pick them right up from anywhere, don’t you?” Basanti shook her head. “I hope I never understand you, does the League even know what you’re up to?”

“You weren’t cleared to take on more apprentices…but special circumstances would make an exception.” Nimbus shook his head. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. This is playing too close to the fire…but you like it, don’t you?”

“You don’t have to like it…I’m the one living with it.” The phoenix frowned. “…and the official formalities have been completed.”

“WHAT?” Basanti was on her feet, fists at the side. “You came all the way to this city to use me as a buffer? You-!”

“By the time it is processed, because of the location from where it was submitted-” The phoenix calmly shifted to his feet. “-there will be nothing they can do about it. However, it seems that things are a little more…different than I expected.”

“How so?”

“Well, I did plan for ambushes and whatnot…but I didn’t expect it all to be over…that.” He shrugged. “And your tests confirmed a few things, the Lyrith did the rest. Generally speaking, who sends a Lyrith to retrieve a League apprentice?”

“Which one is it?”

“It’s real?” Basanti stared at him. “Wait a minute, that wasn’t an illusion?” Her jaw dropped. “That was a real live, celestial being? And you let me-!”

“Roderick Kevins, the eighth.”

The elemental casper skittered back. “That one?”

“Yes…the only Lyrith from the twelve in existence to be summoned…and the only one out of them to have absolute loyalty and commanding presence over dark matter. Someone wanted to have a very strong bodyguard and a little pet on a chain that couldn’t disobey.”

“But that’s not entirely accurate, is it? I mean, if Ian ordered it to kill the storm child…and it didn’t…then doesn’t that mean…?”

“It means the one who was giving the orders, was not the original summoner.”

“I’m confused.” The queen yawned. “Talk to Nimbus…and you-” She punched his shoulder as she shuffled towards the bed. “Explain it to me after he leaves.” She threw herself backwards onto the bed, reaching for a pillow. “It’s late. It’s night and I’m exhausted. That was too much energy to throw around. Good night.”

The two men exchanged a glance and Nimbus shrugged. “Then someone’s playing a game?”

“Yes, using all the puppets and pawns they can get their greedy paws on.”

“You seem to be trapped in the middle of it.”

“Only because it is my duty to protect Skiel and that which is associated with it.”

“You mean, only because your existence as the Dark Phoenix…or any phoenix is threatened by it.”

“…your opinion, not mine.” The phoenix frowned. “Run some more tests on the clothes…I think I already know the answer, but I want to be sure. Look for all the energy traces you can find on them, trace back everything where I’ve been…look for whatever doesn’t belong.”

“Such as…?”

“Anything, Nimbus…and keep me informed. I know you can do that.” He frowned. “Which reminds me…I need privacy tonight, some cloud cover, would you? I don’t want anything coming in this city or anything going out of it.”

“What about your suspects? Do you even know who you’re-”

“Of course I do.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to share, are you?”

“No. I don’t want you any more involved than you already are.”

“How considerate.”

“Always…take care of her royal highness for me…see that she stays out of trouble.”

“Where are you going? I thought you were leaving tomorrow.”

“I am…we are…I have a few things that need to be taken care of.”

“How are you handling the dark?” Basanti’s voice came from the bed as she sat up, pillow hugged to her chest. “I've been dying to know, but you aren't saying a single thing. Please...did the tank help at all?”

The phoenix looked away. “It was…decent.”

“Wait a minute…you spent the entire day locked up in that underground-”

“It was of my own accord.”

“For what purpose!”

“Meditation.”

“Meditation? Don’t give me that meditation j-”

“It worked…sort of.”

“Sort of?” Nimbus sputtered. “No wonder the city is in ruins and I have a disgruntled student moping in the forge because of-”

“I would consider it a small price to pay in exchange for life, Nimbus.” The phoenix traced a circle in the air near his head. “You know what I am capable of and what happens when I lose even the faintest inkling of control. I can't risk that. It's too high a price this time. You’ll excuse me both, if I keep the illusion on for the sake of appearances.” A faint shimmer of black began at the tips of his boots.

“You aren’t going to tell her, are you?”

“That is entirely my choice.”

“Wait…” Basanti slid off the bed, moving forward to grab Nimbus’s hand, pausing with one hand resting on the shoulder of the phoenix. “You know…you were an answer to prayer…not the kind of answer I wanted, but an answer nonetheless for a lesson I’ve been dodging.” She half-smiled. “I’d wager you’re fighting your own demons, Ben…as we all must, but sometimes it’s more than that…at least let us pray with you before you leave.”

“Mmm. Yes.” Nimbus completed the circle, one hand on the queen’s shoulder, the other around the phoenix.

The phoenix smiled.

*****

DAY FOUR

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” The young woman gushed, her cuffed hands clasped together in an earnest expression of gratitude.

“…and so we take our leave, your highness.” The Dark Phoenix deliberately moved to stand between the queen and his apprentice. “Goodbye.”

Queen Basanti glared at him. “You with all your secrecy and-”

“If I can return your scouts at all…in any way or fashion…I will do so.” He caught the fist aimed for his face, her traditional parting gift. Today, he did not feel like hiking with a headache. “My protection is still with you.” He kissed her hand and turned in a swirl of darkened fabric, depressing energy and a very bored expression.

******

They walked for some time until Eira couldn’t take it anymore. “Would you please shut up?” She snapped, stopping dead in the middle of the trail. “You’re driving me nuts!”

The messenger girl, Uleah turned to stare at her in surprise. “You sound weird.” She squinted. “You sound like a girl.”

“That’s because I am a girl!” Eira stomped her foot. “Whatever you’re seeing right now is an illusion and I can’t get rid of it, so I’m going to-”

“Oh…you are a girl.” The tone changed as Uleah hid a snicker in her captive hands. “Then again, from the back, you could probably pass as a-”

“Shut up!” Eira directed her scowl towards the quickly fading black cloak. “Hey!” She hurried after him, dodging around the tag-along. “Hey…I mean…” She swallowed at the expression directed towards her. “Sorry…I mean…Master Phoenix…is my illusion gone?”

“Yes.”

“Why are we taking that along?”

“I could not leave her to the queen’s tender mercies.”

“I don’t see a problem with them.” Eira muttered. “You would’ve left Rory there.”

“Is that your guess or your assumption?”

“What?”

“Ah, Deene…there you are, I did wonder.” The Dark Phoenix seemed to cheer up as they rounded the bend in the valley path to see the teen lounging on a slab of rock to the right. He was chewing on a chunk of black rock, biting off small pieces to spit towards a dent in the stone walls of the Pietrasaan valley.

“Yo.” Deene rolled over and slid off, dusting his hands on his pants as he chewed the last chunks of rock. “I was startin’ to wonder.” He turned to the side, sucking in a breath to spit each ground out with surprising accuracy at the tiny stone cleft.

“Wow! That’s so amazing!” Uleah danced forward excitedly, to be caught by a hand on her sleeve by the Dark Phoenix who twirled her in a circle and back to her original position beside him.

Deene blinked. “And what would that be?”

“That would be something I need to get rid of as soon as possible.” A hand went to his forehead. “It’s complicated…did you do what I asked you?”

“As if I had a choice.” Deene snorted. “Of course…here.” He held a hand out, allowing a gray spark leaping from his fingertips to be caught by the phoenix. “Where are we headed?”

“A safe warp point.” The Dark Phoenix muttered, starting down the path again. “And I’m putting you in charge of…that…” He pointed towards the messenger girl, suppressing a shudder. “Hurry up. I honestly do not have the patience for this.”

“Really? Boy, do I feel lucky.” Deene drawled. “At least you’re pretty though.” He flashed a smile, offering a bow. “Deene Haldon, Rock guardian extraordinaire at your service, milady.”

Uleah blushed to the roots of her cherry-blond hair. “and I would be Uleah of Allensworth. Pleasure to-”

Eira pushed between the two of them to hurry down the path. “Wonderful.” Her hands clenched into fists. “Now there’s two of them…Master Phoenix?” She froze, scanning the path up ahead and seeing no scrap of black in sight. “Oh this is bad…”

You’re walking too slow, apprentice.

The projected comment took a moment to register and then Eira shook her head to clear it.

I’m right behind you!

She broke into a light sprint, hurrying to catch up. The pathway opened up into a small clearing with smooth, grey, circular stone. She hesitated, before gingerly stepping onto the stone to cross to where the Dark Phoenix stood, his white-tipped black staff in hand.

“W-what’s going on?”

“Business to take care of.” He sighed. “I trust you did study?”

“What?”

“I have some…business to take care of Kouraki. We’ll port in, deal with it and port back.” The golden-gray eyes settled deliberately on her. “and I’ll schedule your exams to be taken immediately upon arrival.”

Eira gulped. “L-lovely.”

“It’s best to get it out of the way.”

“Why do I have to take it?”

“To confirm you possess the basic knowledge of a League apprentice-in-training or a basic training graduate.” He frowned. “Of which you are neither, currently. The status of your apprenticeship will be confirmed after your test is scored.”

“So I’m not…official?” Eira hesitated. “Isn’t that bad?”

“It won’t be an issue, if that is what you are getting at.” The Dark Phoenix frowned. “and the sooner those two hurry up, the better it will be.”

“Why?”

“You ask too many questions.”

“What?”

© Sara Harricharan

1 comments:

Yvonne said...

That picture fits the story well...just like I imangined it!