Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix (part 51)

Author's Ramblings: Well, I'm not going to babble on very much, because I'm already working on #52, so apologies for the late post and many thanks for the wonderful and encouraging comments. It has really helped to pull me through some of the slumps in wrapping up this piece. I' have a fan picy included, of what Eira's basic summoning circle looks like, but I'm having trouble uploading any images at all in this post, so next time! (tomorrow, most likely, lolz). Cheers! 

RECAP: After two weeks of intense training under the DP's watchful eye, Eira finally completes her first original summon, a circlet that was capable of repelling two attacks using her own powers against her. The attacks are the beginning of an ambush, where Rory, Eira and the DP begin running. They are being chased by the Shadow people of Schol, creatures of darkness with red eyes. 



THIS IS THE 3RD POST IN A SERIES OF EIGHT TO THE FINAL CONCLUSION OF THIS SERIES. (Older posts can be found under the tag "HFTDP" Thank you for reading!)
HUNT FOR THE DARK PHOENIX : TRANSFORMATIONS APLENTY

“Run!” The Dark Phoenix literally propelled them forward with a powerful wave of wind energy. It was a strong push, enough to keep them in motion as he fell into pace beside them. “You mustn’t stop running until you find a good hiding place. When you’ve found one, stay there. Don’t move. Tell me. Don’t show me. Just tell me that you’ve found a place and then whatever you do, don’t move from there. Whatever you see, whatever you feel, just stay there, understand?”

Eira tried to answer, but it was hard to breathe as the speeds they were traveling. She hadn’t known Rory could run this fast.
 
Eira! 
 

Sorry. I was trying to talk-
 

Do you understand?
 

Yes.
 

Promise me you’ll continue on. Don’t stop to fight.
 

No fighting. I got it. Promise, Master.
 

Good girl. Now, if I don’t…ergh…stop here. Tell your Lyrith to stop here.

RORY! Eira flung the command through his link.

Gradually the spinning surroundings slowed and Eira was vaguely aware of a pair of arms holding her close.

“Eira?” The phoenix’s voice was surprisingly soft. “If I don’t return to you in one day, keep moving. You and your…Rory. Keep on moving. Follow the pathway we’ve been on, continue until you get to the mountains. On the way there, you should meet a man, Chief Maribus. He’ll help you. Explain everything that’s happened as best as you can. You mustn’t stop anywhere, except with him and he’ll know who you are. Don’t worry about me and don’t use our link again, except to tell me that you’ve found a space, understood?”

You’re saying goodbye. “Mmmhmm.” Eira mumbled into his shoulder. Don’t go. Those shadows are after you, aren’t they? Not me. That’s why they’ll let you draw them off. Please don’t do that. I’m not worth that much, not without you.

The arms tightened even more. “Don’t come back, keep moving forward. I’ll be fine. Alright?”

“But-!”

“No buts. Go apprentice—and remember, I’ve already given you everything you need. If something happens—which I sincerely doubt—you’ll be fine. I have complete faith in you.”

His arms dropped, but Eira didn’t let go. “No…” She searched his face, the pale features under the moonlight, the wind rustling his hair. Don’t, please, don’t do this. I know this face. I know this look. I've seen it before on people I cared about. You won’t be coming back to me, will you?

The saddest smile stole onto his face, an expression of sorrow so deep, it hurt to look at it. Eira felt her breath catch in her throat as she tried to will away the words she could almost imagine. Sometimes goodbye is a whisper between hearts. It’s an echo of ourselves.

“Hey, there can’t be any of that here.” He pulled free of her arms to tip up her chin with one, long, cold finger. “You’ve shown me your worst and weakest moments, now show me your strength.” He wiped away the single tear that dared to fall. “Show me that you’ve learned something with all that you’ve experienced. Don’t let this go to waste.”

Then, so gently, so briefly, Eira could’ve sworn it was a dream, if she hadn’t felt his hands one last time on her shoulders as he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Safe travels.”

He took two steps backwards and undid the clasp of his cloak around his neck. The fabric fluttered away into the night as his eyes burned red and then gold. “Take care of her, Lyrith.” He hunched forward, waiting, and then the sound of ripping and tearing echoed eerily off the canyon-like walls. Leathery black wings burst from his shoulders, stretching hugely behind him as he backed to the edge of the pathway and tipped off into the darkness.

Rory covered her mouth, as Eira felt another cry die in her throat. Can’t waste it. Can’t waste it. She turned into his arms, not protesting when he slung her easily over one shoulder and began to run.

Faster, Rory. She willed him. Faster.

******************
 
Your grip is slipping. Rory’s words sliced through her mind, a tension created in their bond, his irritation clear in their mindlink. Do you want to fall off?
 

Sorry. Eira pressed herself closer. Rory, who are they? What do they want? Why aren’t we fighting them?
 

Because your idiot master is a coward.
 

Rory! Be nice! Are these the things that attacked before?
 

Maybe. Can’t tell.
 

What do you mean, maybe? They’re the ones that got you all messed up with-
 

They didn’t do that. You did.
 

Ouch. Tactless!
 

Don’t know. Didn’t see them. He had me run with you—just like now.
 

They’re after us?
 

You. Me. Him. No big difference.
 

Rory!
 

Don’t want to fight them.
 

…really?
 

Yes. I don’t like them. But I don’t want to fight them.
 

Why?
 

Isn’t a guaranteed win.
 

Isn’t that kind of cheating? Not fighting unless you know you’re going to win?
 

Would you fight if you knew you were going to die?
 

Point. Eira scowled. Tactless, much?
 

Keep looking for a hiding place.
 

I’m looking! I’m looking!
 

And stop crying.
 

I’m not crying!
 

So there just happens to be-
 

I’m not crying, you idiot!
 

Fine. But you’ll leave a stronger scent in our wake if you do and it’ll also cause a deeper Eps impression if they have tracers.
 

Sorry.
 

You should be. Found a place yet?
 

Maybe.
 

Maybe?!
 

How about there?
 

Rory skidded to a stop, digging in his claws to absorb the forward flow of energy as he examined the crevice of choice. Kind of obvious, isn’t it?
 

That’s why most people won’t look there.
 

I don’t think they’re most people.
 

Rory!

Get in first. He helped her off his back and shifted to his two-legged form, following her into the natural crack in the rock wall. It widened just a tad bit, allowing her to stay close to shadowy, cold walls and away from the faint gleam of moonlight.

Rory made sure she was settled and then returned to the front to see if the crack was disguised enough. The lip of rock and moss was just enough to hide the actual size of the crack, but it didn’t offer much else.
 
We’ll have to find another place.

Not now. Here’s good enough. Get away from the front, Rory. Eira wriggled closer to the stone wall, wedging her feet against the opposite wall for leverage. Something squished behind her back and she bit her lip, willing her thoughts away from it. Gross. I really hate this.

Be quiet. Rory scrambled back to stand in front of her, protectively.

Rory! Eira reached out one hand, grabbing a handful of fabric. Stay here! Don’t go to the front!

Something rustled in the front and Rory’s ear’s popped out of his head, pricking forward. Eira took a deep breath and swallowed it, counting through her favorite summoning symbols in her head.

It was a method that usually helped with calming her down, but at the moment, it wasn’t working. Not with Rory’s half-crouched, tensed-to-spring body quivering beside her.

I’ve never seen him look this way before. This is worse than at the ceremony. This is scary. Something is scaring him. What could scare Rory? 

A shadow hid the light from the crevice and Rory’s shoulders rolled forward, the first sign he was close to shifting forms. A shadowy hand reached forward and Eira pulled on the handful of shirt, to bring him closer to her.

The hand reached further in until it clasped Rory’s arm and began to pull.

Eira bit her lip, struggling to fight the pull and to keep her mouth shut. She couldn’t speak and jeopardize them both and for once, she truly couldn’t call the phoenix to her aid.

RORY!
 

Let go.
 

NO!
 

Stay here. Don’t move. Don’t let them take you.
 

RORY!
 

I’ll be fine.

The fabric slipped through her fingers.

*********

Eira sat there until the darkness turned to blackness and she couldn’t tell whether her eyes were really open or closed. It was a strange sort of sleep that eventually came and her mind was exhausted with trying to puzzle out all that had happened.

Dreams were confusing.
~*~*~*
“Well, they’re bound to have someone keeping an eye from somewhere, it’s not like them to be pretend.”
 

“But there’s been no trace of anyone, anywhere!”
 

“All the more reason for proof.”
 

“You’re boring me, Chessy.”
 

“Shut up, brat. You asked a question and I’m answering it, so listen and I’ll thank you to do your own part and keep an eye out. Since when do you have trouble taking care of intruders? Do I need to remind you where your loy-”
 

“Blah, blah, blah…just tell me in plain basic, okay? Not everyone has to use their entire brain to answer a single question!”
 

“You impertinent-!”
 

“Chessy!”
 

“What now, man?”
 

“Eira, go check the stocks again. Make sure no one’s escaped, Collin, Brin, accompany.”
 

“But, Unk, I wanted to hear about-”
 

“It a shadow.”
 

“What?”
 

“You really are stupid, niece.”
 

“Unk!”
 

“It’s probably one of their better ones, a shadow…it means you might think you feel them or see them, but you really never will. It is proof that someone is watching us, the very fact that things move smoothly and of our very existence. Be careful.”
 

“What if I see something?”
 

“You won’t.”
 

“But-!”
 

“You’re too dense, girl. Now get moving!”

**********

Daylight came quickly.

The puzzling dreams from the past faded away with the darkness, replaced by confusion in the new light of day. 

Eventually, Eira found her strength, stumbling out from the hiding place and into the bright sun. Her knapsack was tangled with her feet and she dragged it out with her. Rory must have brought it, somehow. She was mildly horrified to find herself standing in the middle of a narrow ledge, winding up around a sheer, rock wall, with a rather deep ravine to the left.

Looking around did little to improve her mood or thoughts, so she started, automatically, moving forward. Her mind meshed with the events from the night before and tried to process what had happened in between. The unfortunate knapsack dragged on the ground behind her.

Master Phoenix. Gone. Rory. Gone. Me…still here.

She shook the thoughts from her head.

No. I shouldn’t think of it that way. Master Phoenix will probably be here tonight. He said he’d meet up in a day…possibly. I’ll take that as a yes. He’s practically invincible. There’s no way that he’d just flop over and let things run their course. Rory’s strong too. I’m sure he’s already gotten away from the jerks that stole him.

She rubbed her neck absently, feeling bare skin where the Lyrith necklace and pendant would hang. A slight twinge stung her chest and she kept moving forward, working on sorting out her thoughts.
 
Master Phoenix is…still gone. People took Rory. Lovely. I’m not making any progress at all. I’m walking along a path to nowhere to find some guy to help me.

Eira stopped.

I’m being helpless.
 

The thought stung even as she finished it.

Great. I’m so helpless that I can’t even use my own head and figure things out, I have to go get help. Good grief! I’m not stupid!

The peptalk wasn’t the best she’d ever invented, but it was enough to shake up a few bothersome worries.  Rory’s on his own…and it’s nowhere near close to the one hundred days. In that state, his loyalties could be changed or he could be hurt because I’m not close to him. Idiot. I’m sorry, Rory, wherever you are. I can’t feel you anymore, but if you can feel me, that’s great. I’ll come and get you…soon.

Her hands curled into fists as another set of words echoed in her head.

“Don’t worry about me. Go….show me your strength.”
 

Strength. Right. I really hope I don’t let you down, Master.

“Now let’s see. All I need is to port back to somewhere familiar and take a look around, even if I don’t find anything, I can tell that to the Chief Maribus person, right? Yeah. Brilliant, self, let’s get moving.”

Eira started forward on the path and slowed to a stop several steps later. On second thought, this pathway seems to go on forever. It’s probably best that I don’t get too far from familiar ground.
 

A transport circlet. I’ve done these before. Unk usually took two of them, right? He’d take one with him and leave one behind. But that won’t work for here, right? I don’t have anything to connect with this far away.
 

Well, there’s the summoning grounds, but I know zip about that and I don’t have Rory with me either. Bother that. Guess I can’t complain unless I try first, huh? Two weeks of training should at least leave that much stuck in my head, if nothing else, eh?

Humming to herself, Eira scraped away the tiny pebbles and dust off the edge of the pathway and into the ravine. She was careful to keep at least a foot of distance between the edge and herself, allowing it as a safety measure.
 
There. Nice clean, mostly level ground.

A wry smile surfaced as she wiped her dusty hands on her overtunic and settled down on her knees to decide on the pattern to use.

Need the basics first.

With one finger, she traced a glowing red circle and with her other hand and another finger, came the inner circle, a soft white glow. The red triangle was easy to include and Eira quickly swirled the necessary white tails to complete the original circlet.
 
Weird, huh? I’ve never even thought about why I do this. I always use this as the groundwork for any summoning thing I do, but yet I’ve never even thought about it. Some summoner I am.
~*~*~*~

“What are you doing, apprentice?”
 

“Framework.”
 

“Excuse me?”
 

“Uh…oops?”
 

“Oops?”
 

“My apologies, Master Phoenix, then.”
 

“Try answering the question, what are you doing?”
 

“I don’t know. I always do this.”
 

“Always? And yet you don’t know what it is?”
 

“I call it framework, because that’s what seems like to me.”
 

“Has no one ever told you or explained?”
 

“No. What is it?”
 

“Never mind.”
 

“Hey! You can’t just stick a puzzle like that in my head and then say ‘never mind’!”
 

“Can’t I?”
 

“Master Phoenix!”
 

“Puzzle through it later. Focus now. Are you finished with that?”
 

“Just a moment, it needs tails.”
 

“Tails?”
 

“Yeah. I mean, yes. Hold on.”
 

“It’s kind of pretty.”
 

“Really?”
 

“Don’t let it get to your head.”

The smile faded at the memory. He probably knew. A trickle of sadness filtered through her as Eira stood up, the necessary shapes set in motion. Now all I need is the ones for travel. It shouldn’t be too hard to recall somewhere that…oh yeah. I can use the residue trace thing, right?

It took a moment of careful thought to sift through the information in her head to find the needed set of symbols. “Gotcha.” Eira murmured, tracing the shapes in the ground to the side of the circle, to be sure they were right.

Sometimes this feels more like reflex than anything else. She mused. Oops, that’s a curve, not a loop. Ah, there we go. All done! This better work. A yawn sprouted and she sighed. It had better work, because I’m tired and close to hungry.
 

A moment of silence passed while she waited and then shook her head. Whew. I’m not hungry yet. That’s a relief. All right, Mr. Circlet, you’d best prepare yourself, because for once in your life, I’m not using you for someone else, I’m using you for me!

Standing with one foot on each side of the original red circle, Eira crouched down, tracing the final symbols with her fingers, alternating between red and white energy. The finished circlet was brilliant, glowing brightly, betraying the amount of power used to call it to life. The size of the circlet was of no concern, because the power was easily contained within.

Good boy, Mr. Circlet. Eira cheered. Left foot first…

Her left foot lifted and the boot solidly thumped down on half of the shining circle.

The reaction was quicker than Eira had expected, because it wasn’t what was supposed to happen, that did.

Her body was jerked flat to the ground, with a painful twist of her left foot, the hardness of the stone pathway, causing a sharp pain in her head as the two collided. The breath was sucked from her body, leaving a gasping, hiccupping reality in its wake as Eira struggled to pull away from the miniature vacuum.
NO! No, no, no!

She felt the energy drain off of her in waves and layers, until there was nothing left. Laughter seemed to echo in her head as the circle dimmed and then faded. Life returned, slowly, allowing a safe, shallow breath before the pain fully registered.

Eira couldn’t move for the next few minutes. Her mind was a torrid mess as it understood exactly what had happened, but refused to accept it until there was no other alternative offered.

Bother you…Chessy.

She grimaced, moving slowly, testing her fingers, toes and then her legs. It took some effort to sit up and after a moment, her stomach growled. “Lovely.” She muttered. “Stupid people.” She ducked her head automatically. “Sorry, Master Phoenix…wherever you are. People aren’t stupid…they’re just…idiots.” Her hands fisted as she gingerly eased upwards.

“Ow. Ow. Ow! This hurts.” Well, duh! Eira rolled her eyes, focusing her thoughts on moving her left foot, to scratch the leftover dust patterns. Can’t let it revive in any way.

The bare foot slowly dragged through the circle, distorting the symbols and shapes traced there. Relief registered as she crawled slightly away from the circle. Her stomach growled again and a faint smile registered.

“I’m hungry.” She told the rock wall, using it as a brace, and drawing the aching left foot forward. The circlet had taken her boot. That could be bad. She mused. Or not. I hope they’re happy with my boot.

Another memory flickered to the front.
 
“What was that?”
 

“A counter to you attack.”
 

“I know that! What was it? How did you do that?”
 

“You use the same set of patterns and symbols over and over again, it wasn’t hard. All I had to do was take your original set and isolate it. Then anything else you try to do inside or outside of that won’t work.”
 

“But-!”
 

“But what? It’s impossible? It isn’t. You’re very easy to read. It wasn’t hard at all. See, what you’re doing, even though you’ve got some good symbols and a basic knowledge of building your own circlet thingies, you haven’t progressed at all.”
 

“I don’t get it.”
 

“I don’t expect you, to, apprentice.”
 

“But I want to!”
 

“You’re not ready yet. When you are, things will make sense.”
 

“I really wish you wouldn’t say it that way, Master.”
 

“Would you prefer that I didn’t mention it at all?”
 

“No.”
 

“I thought so. On your feet, let’s go again.”
 

“If I say I don’t wanna, does that count as whining?....OW! I’m going, I’m going…”

Eira winced.

So that’s what he meant. Schol knows all my circles. They know all my patterns. It’s easy to break them or turn them against me. I was just being stupid thinking I could get away with it that easily.
 

They were probably chasing us last night. They knew I couldn’t stop my own circlet because I’ve never had to fight it before and so they sent the two I halfed and waited for it to—but wait, I did fight it. I totally smoked it! I won! Then how come…okay. I feel like an idiot again.

She smirked. Somewhere, you are laughing, Master Phoenix. Rubbing her foot, she twisted it to see the sole, gently feathering her fingers over the tender skin. The pain was slowly fading away, the few scrapes visible were sinking away into new skin.

Looks like the healing graft is still working. Eira grinned. Ha. Take that, Chessy. If you think you can just leech me dry and then trek all the way up here looking for some helpless little princess to haul away back to…the healing graft is working.

A faint flicker of light seemed to ripple over her foot and the tenderness vanished. Eira stared at it for a moment. There was still energy in her body. She’d survived a complete leech from the same darkened clutches as before, yet there was still energy in her body. They hadn’t taken it all…or had they?

“Oh man!” Eira was on her feet, hands grabbing handfuls of hair and yanking them in random directions. “I really feel like an idiot!” She screamed into the ravine. “How could I be so stupid!”

A twinge of dizziness registered and she reluctantly staggered back to the wall, sliding down to sit on the pathway. The light-burst moment was punctuated by a memory, confirming her own deduction.
 
“Wait a minute, that’s not fair, Master.”
 

“How so?”
 

“You gave it to me!”
 

“Of course I did, but you don’t need it anymore and I can use it for more…useful things.”
 

“But it was mine!”
 

“It was on loan.”
 

“I don’t get it.”
 

“I’m leeching back the energy I gave you because I have a right to it and you don’t need it anymore.”
 

“But I don’t want to give it away.”
 

“That’s funny, because you’re giving it back without a fight.”
 

“That’s because it’s you, Master.”
 

“Is it?”
 

“Wait…you’re taking more than you gave me…”
 

“Apprentice?”
 

“Shh! I’m tired.”
 

“Why are you tired?”
 

“Because I’m exhausted?”
 

“Look beyond the cause, tell me the reason.”
 

“Because you leeched all my energy.”
 

“Apprentice, you are slipping.”
 

“I don’t understand.”
 

“Try harder.”
 

“Okay, um, let’s see. I’m a battery and you just drained all of my energy. I’m tired, so I’m going to sleep so some of it can come back.”
 

“Why are you a battery?”
 

“What?”
 

“Why are you a battery?”
 

“Master?”
 

“Is that your limit or one that was given to you?”

The smile was bittersweet.

I’m not a battery. I’m a generator. Being a battery was a limit they gave me. But you’re the one that hinted at the truth. I’m a generator. That’s what you were trying to tell me, wasn’t it? I’m sorry, Master. I really am dense…no, I just have a set-delay-timer stuck in the on position. I get what you were trying to do now. You’re really good at this you know. I wish I could tell you that.

Eira closed her eyes, letting the memory reel continue its play. It was easier to let them scroll through her head instead of forcing them back so she could act on the matter at hand. It wouldn’t take long and if there were more snippets of information mixed inside, it was worth the wait.
 
“Draining?”
 

“Yes, it’s used with leeching sometimes. That’s how you have your elemental of water.”
 

“Really?”
 

“Yes. You have summoning, you have whisper and your body continually works to keep some sort of energy inside, which is why you have such strange eating habits.”
 

“Would you kindly leave my eating habits out of this?”
 

“What for? They are-”
 

“Really, Master!”
 

“I was only saying that your penchant for eating filled the space for a third power until you probably didn’t have a chance to eat one day. In return, your body formed a third power, an elemental, because it’s the easiest to do on demand. Then from there, every time the other two were leeched, it would come to the forefront.”
 

“That’s why I can absorb water?”
 

“Something like that. Your body thinks of it as food. You should probably think of it as an emergency backup.”
 

“Backup?”
 

“Elemental powers are hard to master and control. Easy to form, but difficult for everything else, in a corner, you can use it.”
 

“It’s that strong?”
 

“No, apprentice, it is that dangerous.”
 

“Dangerous like…?”
 

“Tidal wave dangerous.”
 

“Oooh, tidal waves?”
 

“Don’t get any brilliant ideas.”
 

“OW!”

“Water.” Eira murmured. “I can call water to me, can’t I?” She yawned. No, no. Not tired. Can’t do the tired thing. I am not tired! I just need…food. Yeah. I need food. Where’s that…oh. 

Pulling it close, Eira opened her eyes beginning to examine her knapsack. She couldn’t remember stowing any snacks inside and she doubted there was anything useful in it either, but it was a distraction and distractions were welcome as her stomach rumbled loudly once more.

Emptying the contents on her lap, Eira counted through the change of clothes, towel, book, puzzle, old boots, bowl with spoon and then her music player. There wasn’t anything else. “Wonderful.” She told the old boots, holding them at arms’ length to examine their usefulness. “I really am hungry.” She muttered, setting them aside. “And I’m really losing it when those start to remind me of roasts.”

Her music player gleamed and she sighed.

“Right. I need music. It’s a good distraction. Silence is kinda scary, right? Or maybe it’s the fact that there’s no real echo.” The smile on her face was forced as she continued the conversation with herself while sorting through the remaining meager contents. The reality was setting in, more slowly than before.

A kerchief was found with the change of clothes, a few stray nuts inside and a strip of jerky. Those were happily nibbled while Eira fiddled with the music player. Turning the silver oval over in her hand, she popped open the compartment in the back and shook out the three stones in the back. Sticking the two purple pebbles in her ears, she blew on the white crystal and stuck it in the groove on the front. It powered up immediately and she scrolled through the playlists with a half-hearted mind.

She hadn’t heard music for quite some time. It curled through the hollows of her mind and settled in the corners, providing a soothing peace that helped in methodically sorting through the remainder of her headache. She tried clicking on a handful of energy, but though it was there, nothing more than a faint flicker came to life.

I guess it takes awhile to regenerate, huh? Battery, generator…the basics are still the basics. Food…I’d only get stranded in the middle of a rock with nothing to eat for miles around. Lucky me.

The depressing thought coupled with the fact that barrier she’d fought had taken a substantial amount of energy. Two circles of energy, but I was able to fight them off. Circle Amyth and Circle Behemoth. She half-laughed. Those used to be my powerhouses. They’re so useless now. If Rory hadn’t been there, I couldn’t have cast something that strong to repel them both. And I probably couldn’t have run very far afterwards either. Her hands steepled together, making random shapes as she rested her head against the rock, staring up into the sky. Rory, wherever you are, I hope you are safe and well. Please be safe, if nothing else. If I could see a map of this place. 

She sighed. Let’s try energy again. With some effort, she managed a flicker of red on one hand and bit of white on the other. A faint tinge of blue remained as the red and white faded away.

Gah. It’s not enough. The last thing I want to see is blue. I can’t bring out an elemental power that I can’t control. That would be bad….and it’d probably get me in trouble again. Master Phoenix? Where are you?

The question echoed in her head as Eira replaced the clothes and towel inside her pack, turning her attention to the book. There was a strange pattern on the front of the thick, gilded cover and a slight shiver ran up her arm as she ran her fingers lightly over the indentations. She hadn’t had the time to fully appreciate the gift in Pietrasaan. Nimbus had constantly interrupted her with questions and experiments, leaving little time to peruse the pages.

Mama had one like this. Eira smiled, sadly. I never even really got to look at it either. No one would ever let me. I bet they knew I could summon stuff, that’s why they didn’t want me near this. Huh. But I read some of it in Pietrasaan and nothing weird happened except…oh. Last night…I reacted, those circles…the ones I used to repel the two attacks, it was new, wasn’t it?

Turning it over in her hands, she examined every golden groove and the smooth pearly finish in between. It was truly beautiful as a book and when she settled, cross-legged, cradling the book in her lap, it opened easily in the middle.

Colorfully illustrated pictures of shapes and summoning circles were vividly depicted on each page, the ancient writings a bit of a puzzle.

Weird. Eira squinted closer at the book. I read this in Pietrasaan…how come I can’t read it now? Turning the book in different directions didn’t produce any better results before Eira finally closed it, deep in thought.

Her fingers danced over the indentations again and then her eyes flitted to the lone sock, filled with wooden puzzle pieces.

No way.    

She reached for the sock, pouring the wooden shapes out into her lap. It took a handful of minutes to arrange them in a neat pattern on the front of the book. There was a golden spark of light as the book came to life.
“Uh…”

Eira let go as the book hovered into the air. She followed its upward path, slowly shifting to her feet as it hung, suspended at eye-level. The front cover snapped open and writings on the page shimmered to gold, before disappearing altogether in a stream of golden energy that shot straight at her face.

“Ah!” Eira yelped, dodging backwards and slamming into the stone wall, her hands covering her face. It stung. It burned. It faded. Her head snapped upwards. “What was that?” She demanded of the book.

The answer was a brilliant beam of yellow, pinning her to the wall as every page turned and every marking was completely absorbed into her body, mind and soul.

I’m falling? No. Floating. I…wow. So many pictures, so many words! I know some of these symbols…I know so little, but this…this is too much! I-I…don’t know if I can…I can, I must! I feel so small, this is such…

The light faded and the book dropped to the ground with a loud thud.

*****************

Eira stood, speechless as her energies came to life. She was somewhere that didn’t make sense at all.

Suspended in mid-air, hovering before a giant pool of blueness.

The air was cold and hot in the same moment and she was vaguely conscious of the fact that her remaining boot had burnt off.

Burnt off.

The thought barely registered as Eira leaned closer to the blue pool, desperately wanting to see what was inside of it.

The shadow in the middle drew closer until it broke the surface and Eira gasped. She was staring at herself as the transformation began.

Her eyes popped open on the reflected self, one eye red and one eye white. They blazed with the kind of power she’d dreamed of, years ago. Strength dribbled into her body, a quiet process, but still an important one.

Power crackled like lightening, streaming from the ceiling, the floor and the corners of the blue void, striking her body at every point. The pain was brief, the pleasure was thorough.

The leech marks on her body lit up with an unmistakable brilliance, the energy giving life to them, a pale, shimmering blue. The jagged marks smoothed away to neat, clean-cut lines, the shame washed away as awe replaced it.

“Eirithea…”

Someone called.

Answer. I have to answer, right?

“Eirithea!”

The call repeated.

I have to answer! Answer!

“Eirithea, love. You are now one of us. Remember that. Must never forget. You are never alone. You are never helpless. You are bound to the symbols and the powers of your nature, of your life. You are forever, a summoner, music and dance is your medium.”

A fierce pain shot through her legs, traveling further up into her body, until it was unbearable. Liquid fire seemed to wrap around her wrist, burning as if to consume the very limb it had taken. Somewhere in the corners of her head, pain arrived there as well, working as if to meet in the middle, two points of torture, cutting in half. There was no way to express the emotion or the feelings that came from it as the reflective self and the present self, became one.

The shared pain. The shared experience.

It was extraordinarily beautiful.

Eira cried.

*****************

When she came to her senses again, Eira found herself sprawled out on the ground, barefoot and very much alive. Time had passed and the midday had turned to afternoon.

“I didn’t dream that, did I?” She muttered, picking herself up off the ground and marveling at the fact that nothing hurt. Her lips puckered and she leaned against the wall, grabbing one foot to look at it.

She coughed, dropping the foot, having seen the symbol carved in the bottom for the very first time. “O-kay.”

She managed. “Let me guess, there’s one on the other foot too?” She checked. There was.

“Lovely.”

Hand.

Her attention shifted to her left wrist and she held it up for inspection, jaw dropping open. A shadowed, tattoo mark, bore the mismatched shapes from the puzzle, overlapping each other and forming a permanent bracelet.

“No wonder it hurt.” She muttered, rubbing the marks with her other hand. To her surprise, a golden scroll of symbols sprang up, hovering around the marks, like an index. Eira gave it a spin with one finger and the shock took a moment to fade as the golden band swirled, various symbols briefly projected in front of her.

“An index.” She exclaimed, in wonderment. “The book-!” A quick search showed the book was nowhere to be found and when that frantic search was completed, Eira concluded that she really had absorbed it after all.

A faint tune buzzed in the back of her head and Eira closed her eyes. I can’t take much more of this. She thought, wearily. Let me guess. I absorbed my music player too and now I have music stuck in my head, right?

Attempting to remove the stones she was sure she’d inserted, proved exactly that. There was nothing to remove at all.

“I guess…I’d better get moving, then, huh?” Eira hurriedly stuffed her old boots into the knapsack and buckled it afterward, slinging it over her shoulder.

Walking barefoot didn’t hurt at all. She started forward for a moment and then stopped. Reaching into her waistband, she drew out her knife. The blue Kyrstal blade shimmered in the sun as she grabbed hold of the two messy pigtails and awkwardly sliced them off.

The fat plaits of hair hung limply in her hand for a moment, then glowed blue, sinking into her left hand.
No. I’m not even going to think about it. Eira stifled a shudder. It’s not weird. It’s not weird…it’s SO weird. She gave herself a shake and started down the path at a trot. I’m going to need to do this quickly. Time is important.
 
“Master Phoenix?”
 

“What, apprentice?”
 

“This time thing…it’s important to you, right?”
 

“I assume you have a point or a reason for asking?”
 

“Why are you taking a whole two weeks to help me if it’s that important? Can’t you do it later? N-not that I’m questioning you or anything.”
 

“You’re more important right now.”
 

“I am? Ow!”
 

“You really set yourself up for these things.”
 

“Not purpose! Most definitely not on purpose!”

Eira sighed. “He was counting days. Something about ten days…nine, no more, yes? Gah. I’ve got to get moving. I should be able to…yes. Now, I should most certainly be able to cast a circle for-”

*********

When the excitement died down, Eira found herself back at her summoning grounds from the night before on the cliff where she’d concocted her first original summon. The twinge of sadness was pushed to the side as she threw her knapsack in a corner and began to work quickly.

Tracing out the circlet bases, she stored several of them for later use in the method of power dots around her neck and others to be used straight away. The night was creeping close and the circles were taking considerable time to cast, store and repeat.

“One circle for light, one for safety, a tracer circle, one for a protection barrier, two for transportation. Not bad.” Eira stomped her feet and dusted her hands, rolling her shoulders forward. It had taken a good deal of physical energy, her power stores still brimming beneath her with such meager use.

The tracer circle was activated and thrown into the ravine, while Eira worked with setting up one for a map and another for porting back to the ledge where she’d left. When those three were done, she heard her stomach rumble and grimaced.

“Too bad I couldn’t summon food.” She flopped down on the cool grass, staring up into the canopy of trees. At least the summoning grounds were at the point where the jungle met the rock and it was a good blend of everything in between. “I guess it isn’t too bad.” She told the trees, feeling a heaviness settling on her eyes. “Can’t sleep.” She mumbled. “Not going to sleep.”

But her eyes closed anyway, allowing her mind to answer the call of the ‘summoning bracelet’ as she’d nicknamed the wrist tattoo. Like an encyclopedia, information streamed through her head and after a few minutes, she sat up again.

“One more circle for instant replay and another for protection against wild animals.” The last one was said with a sigh as she sat up, pulling the symbols from the impressions in her mind and tracing them quickly.

The instant replay didn’t help too much, because it only showed what had happened on the cliff. The two attacking circlets and her own original summon repelling them. She watched in fascination, seeing how she manipulated one base and then called a second one to her aid.

Now able to see it from a distance, Eira bit her lip as she realized where Rory came into the picture. As she pulled the circlets from the ground, turning them into medallions, the lines and symbols would be imprinted,
briefly, on his body, a physical median point while she completed the call or meshed it with another.
 
Ah, Rory…may I never take you for granted again.

The replay fizzled out, leaving only the faint impression of the black shadows with red eyes. “I feel like I could…” Eira scowled. “Stupid shadow people.” She grumbled. “They were after me…at least I know what I’m dealing with.” She yawned.

Chessy’s probably going to expect me to use all the traditional stuff Unk ordered me to keep up with. They never gave me even the faintest bit of freedom. It would serve them all right if they were just…oh yeah. That’s right, I have that circle…totally forgot about it.

Eira shuffled forward to the center again. Instead of creating a large circle like she had for the others, she stayed in the center, opting to use her range of movement instead. With her feet, the circle base was completed and then she stepped out of it, standing to the side.

“I like to call this one, Drunken Stupor.” She smirked. “If I recall correctly, it’s pretty potent.”

The energy burned within her, one eye red, the other white as she opened her mouth and music happened.
 
“On red wine
It glitters one
Begging on
From a bejeweled cup
Taste me
Touch me
Want me
It speaks
It whispers
It cajoles
Just pass
Keep on walking along
Just pass
Pretend you can’t hear
It screams
It cries
It sings
Need me
Use me
Crave me
From a bejeweled cup
Begging on
It glitters
Oh Red Wine
Calling you”

The song ended, with the beat still pulsing in her ears. Eira smiled at the completed medallion glowing on the ground, ready for her release.

“I’ll be saving you.” She told it, absorbing the completion. “For now, I’d like to see what’s going-”

A slight prickle in the back of her mind drew her attention to the tracer circlet thrown into the ravine earlier. “Found something?” She asked the white bauble of energy whizzing around her. “Slow down and show it to me.”

It did, whirling out to show a flat, oblong screen, a shadowy figure projected.

“Instant replay!” Eira called the circle and it sprang to her fingertips. She hesitated. “I suppose I shouldn’t overlap too many things, I wouldn’t want to call attention to myself with so much energy to burn.” She stomped her foot. “Bother that. I can’t help it. I have to use it.”

Shaking her head, she set her knapsack in the middle of the clearing she’d been using and activated the protection barrier over it. “Be right back.” She mumbled, heading for the edge of the cliff.

I had a circle for wings or something, didn’t I? She mused, mentally scrolling through the completed circles.

Ah, yes. Here we go.
 

Activate!

Eira jumped.

Wind rustled through her crop of short air, it cooled the faint heat of her energy tattoos on the soles of her feet, it soothed the pressure of the mark on her wrist.

As the ground drew near, the sound of ripping fabric filled her ears as the wings burst from her shoulders and brought her to an abrupt halt, a mere foot away from the ravine floor.

Ouch. A little too close. Next time include a timer.

Something rustled over head and Eira dodged to the side, casting a cautious look upwards. There was nothing to see, the darkening sky gave nothing away and as far as she could feel, there were no negative energies present.

Then again, I’ve never been good at avoiding trouble. Eira smothered a laugh, relieved to think that she could find humor in the situation as she started forward. The ground was cold beneath her feet, but it didn’t seem to affect her in any other way apart from that.

I can hardly see down here, but this is where Master Phoenix jumped off. Or somewhere close to here. The light bauble activated at the faintest thought illuminating the shadows and hovering ahead of her as she hurried forward, mentally reaching out to the tracer.

Something fluttered in the air again and Eira mentally reminded herself not to look up. The wind rippled, signaling the presence of another thing. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to think about it…I am thinking about it….Light!
 

The bauble zipped upwards in the air and Eira gave a nervous chuckle when it illuminated a small, black bird.
“A bird. Lovely. I’m really losing it if a bird.” She squinted, drawing on her energies to scan it.

There was nothing negative directly emanating from it, so she reluctantly dismissed it, returning to the mission at hand. The bauble danced back down to eyelevel and darted ahead with Eira chasing after it.

She rounded the corner and froze as the bauble lit up a horrific sight.

A child’s body was splayed on a large rock, facing up at the sky, covered in blood and bits of torn fabric. Perched on the edges of the rock, scaled, bird-like creatures blinked owlishly at the light, with blood-stained beaks lending a fearsome layer to their queer faces.

“…” Eira tried to speak, but her mind interpreted it differently. The circlet for Red Wine exploded outward from her chest and knocked the creatures to the ravine floor, enveloping them in the energy of the activated summon. Eira scrambled to the rock, clambering up beside the small body as she heard the music begin to play.

Please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead. She waved the bauble closer, feeling for a pulse and then daring to look at the damage. She winced, but nothing more registered as she drew on her energies, examining the body from the view of energy.

The faintest threads of life energy were visible, slowly falling apart.

“No!” Eira snapped. “You are absolutely not allowed to die on me…whoever you are!” She hovered upwards, with the use of her wings, trying to find a way to ease the body from the rocks. “You’re too heavy.” She told the child, tearing her gaze away from the mauled face. “and I think you’re a boy. Girls couldn’t possibly weigh this much.”

Pulling out another circlet, Eira activated the ‘port and stood over the mangled body as her powers went to work.

She cast a glance to the side and smirked at the bird-creatures wobbling around. Red wine. Ha. I guess it worked after all. They really don’t know about those circles. One more point for me. You’d best be careful, Unk…

*******

“You are a boy.” Eira commented, shaking water from her hair and smiling in relief down at the cleaned face. The wings had faded away, but her tunic still remained ripped until the water had covered it, fixing the damage.

It had done the same trick for her patient, repairing the scraps of fabric to a long-sleeved black shirt tucked into black pants, tucked into black boots. The face was almost heart-shaped in appearance, with a thick, shaggy head of black hair and slightly pointed chin. There were no identifying marks or items on the boy, yet he appeared to be no more than seven years old.

She’d managed to call out several healing circles, but none of them seemed to match the fragile life-energy within the boy. It was a grayish-white color that slowly formed a shield over its owner, working to heal the injuries sustained. Eira watched, worried as it slowly went to work. She’d managed to summon water, but it had done more good for her it seemed than the patient, now comfortably settled on her bedroll.

“I suppose I should think logically.” She told him. “You probably need normal stuff, right? Since your energy thing is sort of working. Not like me, a girl who survives on magic water.” She rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately, I don’t know how I can help you with that.” She began to pace a circle in the ground, tracing her base pattern out of habit.

“I could ‘port something in, but I don’t know what you like and even if I did, I couldn’t even do that to save myself.” Eira sighed. “Then again, I can follow instructions. I suppose I could…oh yeah.”
Unk’s warehouse in Kouraki. No, that’s too dangerous. They’d definitely expect my signature to pop up there unless…wait! The Hayro-Wing! Of course, I know where the pantry is there, I could bring something…that’s if the pantry is still there and if Leesha hasn’t changed housekeepers just because she can.  It’s worth a try.

The try was somewhat successful.

Eira found herself with an assortment of cooking utensils and boxed soup packets. “Just my luck.” She sighed. “I couldn’t even get the canned stuff.”

It took more effort than she’d imagined to get things up and running, before eventually a rather interesting result was produced. She sniffed it, tasting a mouthful. It tasted better than it looked and she decided that was enough.

Never was good at playing nurse. The thought brought another laugh as Eira approached the little figure again.

“Um, hi there.” She settled down beside the boy. “I don’t know if you can hear me or not, but I’m a little worried about you. See, you’re not the person I was looking for, but I found you and I didn’t think it was right to just leave you there since you were alive. Right. That sounds weird. Do over? Okay. My name is Eira, I don’t know who you are, but I found you in the bottom of that canyon thingy over there, behind me and-what is that?” Eira jerked unsteadily to her feet.

She was aware of the presence following her since she’d ‘ported to the summoning grounds and entered the protective barrier of her makeshift camp. The annoying presence had followed her and now it was somewhere outside the barrier.

The light within the orb dimmed at her request and Eira searched the night sky until she caught sight of the flutter again.

The bird? Oh good grief!

Eira scowled upwards at the fluttering creature, hovering around the barrier’s dome. “Shoo! Go away!” She waved her arms. “I don’t need another pet and this is people food.”

The bird slowly settled on the barrier, blinking at her with shimmering purple eyes.

Purple eyes.

Eira smacked her head. It hurt. I am awake and I really am stupid. She thought, darkly. Walking over to stand directly beneath the bird, she followed the line of sight. It was staring at the boy. “Don’t tell me you’re his?” She gaped, hands on hips. “Of all the…well, are you?” She asked.

The bird cocked its head to the side.

“I am not letting you in here.” She told it, the scowl resurfacing. “Absolutely not happening!”

The bird turned its head to the other side, making a soft chirring noise.

“That’s not going to change my mind eith-”

A quiet moan came from the patient’s bedroll. Eira whirled around at once. “Hey! Are you awake?” She dropped to her knees, staring down at the little face. There was no answer, but the sound of frantic flapping.

Eira sighed, turning back to see the bird beating its wings wildly against the barrier. “How do I know you’re not going to try and kill him?” She grumbled, rolling to her feet and starting back to stand under the creature. “Those things trying to eat him were bird-creatures too. You’re just…a bird. I think.” She wrinkled her nose. “Okay, let’s do this my way, you come inside and don’t cause trouble. Cause any kind of trouble and I will kill you, dice you in little pieces and roast you for dinner, understand?”

The bird seemed to laugh.

“Hey! Just because I can’t cook broth doesn’t mean I can’t cook a bird!” Eira sighed. “And you’re only getting one chance!” She twitched her nose and the section of the dom beneath the bird melted, sending the creature hurtling inside to the ground.

It flapped quickly, and landed on her arm, sending Eira stumbling backwards, causing the bird to take flight once more.

This time, it landed on the shoulder of the injured boy and began playing with the shaggy hair falling into the boy’s face. Eira sat back, watching, as the bird painstakingly took a tuft of hair and pulled it back from the face, repeating the action several times, even as the hair sprang back to its original place.

“I guess you are his friend.” She allowed, returning to the simmering pot to retrieve some of the broth. “I don’t suppose you know if he’s alive and going to make it or alive and not going to make it?”

“I do know that I am most certainly not dead, if that is what you are getting at.”

Eira froze in mid-ladle. A nervous laugh escaped as she mentally blurred through the remaining active circles she had stored. There wasn’t one she could use in such close quarters. “Well, that’s nice to know, now isn’t it?” She turned, with a smile plastered on her face only to find herself staring at a very familiar pair of golden-grey eyes.

They stared at each other for a long moment and then Eira dropped the bowl inside the pot. “No way.” She shook her head, backing away to the edge of the barrier. “Absolutely no way!”
 
Eira?

“NO!” She yelped, slamming into the barrier at an attempt to further retreat.

It is you. The boy sighed, loudly and turned to scowl at the black bird perched on his shoulder. This isn’t very good at all.

“You’re right. This bad. This is very, very bad!” Eira sank down to the ground, her head buried in her hands. This is bad. This is really bad. The thoughts replayed in her head. I can handle weird transformations, birds with purple eyes, but I can’t handle this. He shrunk?

The shaking started.

“Eira?” The voice was younger, but still commanding. Soft footsteps announced his approach before small hands pulled at her arms. “Now is not the time for this.”

“Let go of me!” Eira panicked, a blast of pink energy sent the kid flying backwards.

The golden-gray eyes narrowed into a glare and a bolt of black energy was sheared off and sent hurtling towards her. Eira ducked, calling her protective circlets to the front. They shattered as the attacking energy dissipated.

“It is you.” The boy scowled. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
 
Master Phoenix?
 

Yes, Master Phoenix. A wave of irritation accompanied the confirmation. What are you doing here? I told you to continue on ahead!
 

You said I could wait a day.
 

This isn’t waiting a day!
 

You almost died!
 

I don’t die that easily!
 

You scared me!

You scare too easily. The boy stalked to the edge of the barrier and with a knife produced from his shirt-sleeve, he slashed at the dome and stepped out. Eira watched him go as he headed for the same spot on the cliff where he’d sat the night before.

The troubles in her head multiplied as her brain short-circuited and Eira sneezed. Oh joys.

*********

“You shouldn’t have come all the way back here.” The phoenix glared at her as she approached, a bowl in hand.

“I couldn’t leave you.” She offered a trembly smile, inching closer.

“So you had to come all the way here? So it’s my fault?”

“N-no. I didn’t have a choice. I-I couldn’t leave you.”

“So you were going to waste the only chance I gave you?”

“I didn’t waste it! In fact, I did great. I don’t have any boots I can wear, I’m not a battery anymore, I’m a generator. I’m a real summoner now, I have weird tattoos on my feet and my wrists and they don’t come off. I have so much energy that-”

“That you’re talking yourself in circles because you don’t want to deal with the reality in front of you.” He sighed. “This wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.”

“What way?” She set the bowl on the ground and nudged it closer. “Eat that. You’ll probably feel better.”

He looked from the bowl to her and took a careful whiff. “Did you make it?”

“Yes.”

“Is it edible?”

She glared at him, a hint of her old temper returning. “I followed the package directions!”

“I see.” He picked it up and poured it out over the ledge. “Not that hungry. Where’s your Lyrith?”

Eira turned away abruptly. “So I have to throw it all away? What a waste. It didn’t taste that bad too.”

“Eira.”

“I could ‘port something else in, if you’d rather not eat it.”

“Nice haircut.”

“Not bad yourself. Kind of on the shaggy side.”

“I see. So this how you’re handling it?”

“…no.”

************

“That was a spectacular display of ‘freaking out’.” The Dark Phoenix commented. “I must say it was one of your better ones. Most entertaining.”

“Shut up.” Eira glared at him from where she sat, several feet away, clutching her stomach. Her energies were swarming over with deliberate intent on playing out the true strength of her emotions.

“When you’re finished doing that, we’re going to-”

“I need proof!”

“Excuse me?”

“I need proof! You’re Master Phoenix, right? The Dark Phoenix? I want some proof.”

“Of all the times and instances to now-” He shared a smirk with his bird-friend. “Now you want proof?”

“Yes!” Eira jerked unsteadily to her feet, hands on her hips. “I want proof!”

“What kind of proof?”

“I don’t know! Suppose you were an imposter and I-I…just prove that you’re not!”

“Do you have any idea what you’re asking?”

“Yes! Whether I should port out or not!”

“Eira, it is me. Just because-”

“So you say! You’re a boy!”

“For your information, I have always been-”

“You know what I mean! This is…this is! I can’t handle this!”

“As a signature apprentice, are you aware that only your true master can summon you to his side?”

“What?”

“You can summon you and the marks you bear will match the ones on my arm here.” He rolled up his left shirt sleeve as far as it would go.

“I don’t have any marks-aiep!” Eira exploded in a burst of pink sparkles and reappeared in a flash of golden and black shimmers behind the phoenix-boy. She stared down at her clothes, reworked in a more dressy fabric, with golden trimmings and a formal overtunic. “Um,”

“That’s called formal wear and your marks will match these.” The boy held up his arm and a blue imprint was visible, bearing the traditional marks of Eira’s base circle and a second mark as a symmetrical flower imposed over a tiny grid.

“I don’t have any-”

“Look inside your shirt.”

Eira choked. “What?” She did.

“Well?”

The blush spoke for her.

“Proof enough?”

“N-no! Since when did-”

“I stabbed you, remember? To taint you? That was real. You would have your signature mark, which also what I bear and then you would have the shared mark, the flower. My energy leaves a mark, which is why there is two and not one.”

“Is this some kind of trick?”

*********   

“So this is real?” Eira stowed her dish and spoon in her pack. They’d returned to her little makeshift camp and the phoenix had easily ‘ported in food at the sound of her growling stomach.

“Yes." He gestured to his body. “It’s my own fault, I suppose. I was so busy trying to keep it all together and to keep everything…”

“This is your secret, isn’t it?” She sat across from him, waiting. “We all have our secrets. I had mine.”

“You don’t quite understand this one.”

“Do I need to understand it to accept it?”

He almost smiled. “No, I suppose not.” His voice cracked.

“Master Phoenix?” She turned to him, worry painting itself across her face. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?”

The first tears trickled down his face. “I’m playing the idiot.” He spoke, softly.

“What?”

“Excuse me for a moment.” He moved, quickly to his feet, taking off at an easy trot, until he reached the point where he wanted to be.

Eira watched and waited. There was nothing else she could do.

*******

“Eira.” His voice was low, even and calm as the night wind carried the sound to her ears.

“Here, Master.” She dropped beside him, restless, hands resting on her knees. “What do you need?” She darted a glance at him and then focused on her hands.

“Does this form bother you?”

“What?”

“This form.” He motioned towards his body. “It would take some effort, but if it is stressful for you, I could return to my former illusion.”

“Er—it’s a bit disconcerting, but I wouldn’t say it’s uh, stressful.”

“I see.”

“By former illusion, do you mean that you’ve been, well, I-”

“No. I wasn’t like this until we left Pietrasaan. This is my child form. I feel obligated to explain, since I know you will be the only being for miles in the next few hours to put up with me.”

“That sounds…ominous.”

He smirked, the look truly devious on the youthful face. “You have no idea, my dear apprentice.”

“And now I’m worried.” She winced. “Okay, I’m listening.”

“I did not want this particular result, but the lack of time has become a significant obstacle that I do not want to waste precious thought in resolving it. There is absolutely nothing you can do about this, so please do not interrupt, just listen. You should be aware now of exactly how skilled I am in my illusions.” He snapped his fingers and looked to the side as the darkened energy swirled up and over him.

Eira stared as the figure she’d been familiar with came to rest beside her. She poked his arm. “But you’re…real! Solid!”

The black wisps swarmed up and over, disappearing to reveal the little boy once more. “At this moment in time, this is my true self.” The words were spoken with quiet accuracy. “And yes, my illusions are very real. You are aware, I am sure, that a phoenix is consistently reborn every few years or so. My aging cycle is…different.”

“So you’re really just a boy?”

The eyes rolled upwards. “No, Eira, I am still me…it is merely that my body in this present stage has regressed to that of…” He frowned. “I suppose approximately eleven years of age.”

“This is twisted, you know. It’s completely skewed my image of your-wait, are you going to…die?” A deep red blush registered as she shook her head violently. “No…you can’t die! I just saved you! You’re not allowed to just die because you’re going to shrink down to the size of-”

Something shimmered in the air over his right hand and he took it, turning to calmly stick the bloque in her mouth. “You really do talk too much.” He sighed. “I suppose that can’t be helped. No, I am not going to die. I am merely relaying this particular snippet of information, because it is necessary! My rebirth is near. I have a set time to reach a specific place, if I do not, then I will die.” He wrinkled his nose. “Which is the only reason I am speaking of this. Because of your family matters, we were delayed for nearly days, your training used up another significant chunk of time and last night was an interruption that has now caused another delay.”

“Hey! I had to come back for you, okay? It wasn’t like-”

“If you were still walking and continuing on ahead, I could have transported myself there.”

“You were being eaten by birds!” Eira shuddered. “And I can’t get-!”

“Shh.” He sighed. “You’re…very…here, lie down.” He patted the ground beside him. She did, her head in the space where his had hand pointed. “I’m sorry you had to see that, would you prefer that I took the memory of it away?”

“Why do you offer me things like that? No! Of course not. My memories are mine! Just because they’re bad or good, they’re still mine.”

“You are learning after all.” He patted her head. “Then don’t think of it until you feel you’re ready. This is Eunice, by the way.” He held his hand out and the raven-like bird stepped into his palm. “Eunice, this is Eira. Say hello.” The bird reached out and pecked her nose.

“Ow!” Eira jerked halfway up, only for the phoenix to tap her head.

“Stay, apprentice. Eunice, don’t do that again.” He put the bird on the opposite shoulder. “I’m sorry. She’s still upset that you didn’t realize she was outside the barrier when you brought me up.” The hand lingered on her hair. “And since I haven’t said it yet, thank you for coming back. Thank you for rescuing me. I appreciate it.”

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m furious. You absolutely can’t follow directions at all.”

“It tasted better than it looked!”

“I didn’t realize we were talking about food.”

“Hey!”

He laughed, the sound natural. “Things are going to get busier. I intend to complete my objective before the time draws near and for that reason, I am employing your services.” 

“Services?”

“I should explain more about you, shouldn’t I? At least before I get to my own explanations. For you, I wasn’t cleared to take on any more students or apprentices, specifically because of this time of life and because of my current mission. If you were anywhere else but tramping through the Vanderoone jungles and staying in Pietrasaan, you would’ve been tangled up in the League system by now. I couldn’t legally train you until you were official, which you now are, after having passed the exams and registrations, passing my own personal tests and now bearing the status of a Signature Apprentice.”

“Legal? All of that mess was for legalities of-”

He waved a hand dismissively. “It also rewired your city habits when you were thrust into a new, entirely opposite environment, you reacted quite…interestingly. It was most amusing.”

“Amusing?!”

“Your boots were League-oriented, so I had to get rid of them because I was working off the grid.” He shrugged. “As for your hair, since hair is not dead it holds great potential and is often used as caps for those with excess energies. You were capped when I met you in Vanderoone. I wanted to see your true potential. Caps prevents the being from expanding their sources and limits them to a manageable…existence.”

“Manageable, how?”

“Schol probably saw it as an easy way out. Think of it as a block. Your potential is deliberately worked up to a point and then cut off to keep you at the same level for a prolonged period of time. Those headaches you’ve been experiencing…that’s the after-effects of the cap, which is why I’ve been absorbing them for you. It’s too strong for you to handle on your own.”
The blush slowly came to life as her hands twisted her sleeve’s fabric. “So that’s what all of this was for?”

“Some of it. Though I should warn you.” He allowed. “The closer I am to the date, I regress, both in physical form and patience. I am a dark being to begin with, so my energies turn considerably darker before my transformation. The more I use them…the more I…shrink, because I am struggling to keep from harming those around me and it uses up all of my good humors.” The hesitation between words gave way to a perplexed expression. “The smaller I am…the more powerful I become, because with every transformation, my powers increase exponentially. Because they are dark, I’m afraid it doesn’t  put me in the best of moods.” A cheeky smile was offered. “But do not worry, I’m only eighty-six percent dark.”

“Eighty-six percent what?”

“Well, I suppose that is bad.” He sighed. “It was sixty-three in Pietrasaan, and seventy-four in Kouraki, but with your signature conversion and this recent hit and run attack, it took a snippet of energy I couldn’t really spare.”

“That’s why you were like that when I found you? Almost dead?”

“Eira, every time I use my powers between now and the deadline, I will shrink. I will also lose a bit of my good humors. Can you understand that? I will not repeat this again, but I was perfectly fine.”

Eira blinked. “No. You weren’t.”

His head tilted to the side. “Yes. I was. We will not argue this point. As my apprentice, it is only fair that you are aware of the dangers and the uses. You may have noticed the freer use of my energies lately resulting from the current condition of my body, as it can no longer handle storing the active power that I possess. It is dangerous for those around me, yourself excepted now-”

“Because of my signature status?”

“Congratulations, you are not as dense as you appear.”

“Hey!”

The smile faded away. “It bothers me. You need not worry of my dying, as unless the date passes of eight days from today, I cannot die. Afterward, death is possible. However, I will not regress to a form below that of my physical body at seven years of age. I have one stage left now, since last night’s display required me to use one, please keep this in mind and try not to place yourself in a position that requires rescuing. This is why your return has caused me more headache than help, regardless of whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. In the future, I may be tempted to leave you to your sufferings for the sake of my own peace of mind. In my darkened state, I can’t differentiate as I normally would. I was attempting to spare you this. As for my current objective, in this state, things are trickier. Your memories have been a tremendous help.” The evil look returned, showing shadows on the youthful face that hadn’t been visible before. “They are also very useful outside of the mission.”

*******

“So the Lyrith was taken?”

“Yeah…I mean, yes.”

“There’s nothing else you can tell me?”

“Not really. It was dark and I couldn’t do anything. I was helpless.” Eira shuddered.

“Horrible feeling, isn’t it?” The phoenix sighed. “Oh well, there’s not much that can be done about it, now is there?”

“What? Aren’t we going to save him? We can’t just-!”

“It would be foolish to rush into a trap without a plan. While I am thinking of a plan, let us focus on the matters at hand. Understood?”

“Yes?"

"Yes…Master.”

“Good. Now, I want you to take a tracer circle, but use these symbols instead.”

********

“Master Phoenix?”

“Ask it.”

“Er…sorry.”

“I hate useless apologies.”

Why were you crying?

“It’s fine to ask aloud.”

Eira rolled over on her stomach, propping her head up with her hands as she studied his face, trying to make out the expression.

“I feel like the fool.” He said, at last. “Half of this mess is my own fault.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You wouldn’t. I’d have to start from the beginning and…I don’t have that much time left.”

“Oh.” Eira was quiet for a moment and then she scrambled to her feet. “Then we can walk through the night! Really, I’m fine. I don’t need to rest or eat or anything! I have lots of excess energy to burn, so the night doesn’t really-”

“If you’re up to it.”

“I am!”

“Then shall we go?”

“Er, yes! I’ll grab my things, just a moment.”

“They’re already in you.”

“What?”

“Your body is working faster than your mind can keep up. Have you been doing that all afternoon?”

“Which part of it?” Eira looked down at herself and then over her shoulder. “Do I have to keep wearing this?”

“Formal wear looks good on you.” His mouth twitched. “Don’t you like it?”

“There’s nothing wrong with it, I just think that, well, I don’t want to get it dirty.”

“That’s the least of your worries now.” The phoenix started off down the pathway. “If it does, I’ll replace it, as is my duty as your master by League law.”

“Really?” Eira scurried after him. “So the camp?”

“Is all packed up. You’re subconsciously tracing and using circles. I thought you were aware of it, but it appears that you weren’t.”

“WHAT?”

“You really do have quite a bit of energy to burn, don’t you?”

“I’m not using my powers on purpose, I swear! I didn’t mean to use them without your-”

“It’s fine now.”

“huh?”

“It means I don’t have to worry about you so much anymore. Can you cast a circle to where you were before?”

“Definitely. I can still see it in my head, so it’s no problem.”

“You’ve port traveled before, then?”

“Hmm? Oh yeah. I always used to travel like this.”

“No wonder my warps always gave you so much trouble.”

“What do you mean?” Eira closed the circle with a light hop to the side, dusting her hands in the air. “All done. Step in.”

He winked. “Nothing to worry about.” He caught her hand as they both stepped, right foot forward into the circle.

© Sara Harricharan

2 comments:

Kristina Rohder said...

Guess who finally found the time to finish reading and commenting on this awesome story? :D
Oh my goodness, once again, I loved this installment! You creativity never ceases to amaze me. I don't how you come up with all these ideas!
Eira and DP's goodbye scene was very sweet. Am I starting sense a little chemistry between those two? :)
I had to laugh when Eira discovered that she had absorbed her music player. That would be interesting to have music trapped inside your head all the time - maybe a little annoying, but really cool as well!
Oh my goodness, that was startling when the mauled child turned out to be the Dark Phoenix! :o
But that's one of the things I love about your writing. I never know what to expect! :D
Anyway, I can't wait to see what happens next!
*rushes off to read the next part*

 Fish with Attitude hack said...

Its very interesting I had to laugh when Eira discovered that she had absorbed her music player. That would be interesting to have music trapped inside your head all the time