This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Shelley Ledfors over at her blog, The Veil thins. Click here to share and read more great fiction!
Author’s Ramblings: My apologies for such a late post, school as been an absolute bear this week and I’ve spent most of today working on this week’s chapter. I don’t quite agree with the way it has turned out, but I cannot bear to leave you all in suspense, so I will post a shortened excerpt this week. Please enjoy and let me know what you think! Have a great weekend and happy reading!
SUMMARY: A ragged teenager has shown up in their encampment as the Dark Phoenix and Eira are about to leave. The DP appears to know him, because they instantly are engaged in a verbal shouting match, until the ground begins to shift beneath their feet. Eira feels she knows this person, but is unsure why.
The boy opened his mouth to speak, but the effort of doing so was not completed.
“I don’t want to hear a word you have to say!” The Dark Phoenix raged. “Not a single sound out of your mouth—and no apology could save you at this point. What devil possessed you to-”
The ground rumble repeated itself, the tremors causing the earth to shift beneath their feet, ending with a long, deep groan from within.
“Stop that!” The Dark Phoenix punctuated the command with the black fire sparking into balls in his hands. He curled them into fists, subtly shifting his weight backwards.
“I didn’t do it!” The boy immediately backed down several steps, hands held out in protection. “Honest! I didn’t!”
The ground rumbled once more and sent the boy toppling to the ground as the Dark Phoenix chose that moment to anchor himself by the way of root. The brown boots shifted and morphed into the sturdy trunk of a tree, with roots digging into the ground to hold him upright. The fire flickered briefly as his brow furrowed. “You didn’t.” He allowed, after a pause. “Stay there!”
With a quick bob of his head, the boy did not move. He lay on the ground, without so much as a muscle twitch. The ground rumbled again, but no expression crossed his face, nor any visible means of energy danced across his body.
“Eira?” The Dark Phoenix turned slightly, the fire fading from his fingertips. “Come here.”
Eira gingerly inched forward, casting a cautious look on the ground. “Is there an earthquake?” She closed the gap between them in a matter of steps. “What’s going on? Who’s that guy?”
“I need you to leave us alone for a minute.”
The word started from her mouth, but was silenced by a finger to her lips. “You will walk out from this clearing, turn left along the pathway and take exactly nine steps forward. Once you have counted to nine, you will sit down and plug your ears, understood?”
Eira began to shake her head. “No-”
“Good.” The hand poised as if to shut her mouth again and she offered a squeak of frustration instead. “Take my pack and keep it with yours. Do not look back. Close your eyes after you cover your ears. I will be along, shortly.” He twirled his fingers in the air and the slender, black stick materialized between it.
Her eyes begged the question he would not allow her to phrase and answered it with a definite frown and the usual raised eyebrow. A look she was beginning to know quite well. It was a matter he would not be changing his mind to accommodate her curiosity.
She bent to pick up his pack and her eyes grew wide at the sight of his feet. Her head jerked upwards to him, but he merely held the pack for her to slide it over one shoulder, then turned her towards the clearing entrance and gave a little push. “Now, apprentice.”
Because there wasn’t much else she could do and dying from an earthquake in a cluttered jungle clearing was not particularly appealing, Eira scrambled to obey. Her own feet seemed too large and too clumsy as she stumbled twice before stepping through the gaggle of bushes and onto the clear, dirt path. It took a moment of dancing and hopping alternatively on each foot before she gathered herself together to count nine steps forward. Thankfully, the dirt was dry and worn-smooth, a detail Eira was glad for as she eased the packs to the ground and settled cross-legged onto the corner of the path.
“Cover ears and close eyes.” She muttered to herself. “he didn’t say anything about keeping quiet.” Her mind was still wandering over the boy in the clearing and trying to reason why he’d seemed so familiar when she could have sworn she’d never laid eyes on him.
Careful to loop the straps of each pack through her arms, Eira leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and then bent her head so the hand could reach her ears. With her ears safely covered, she took one last glance around before shutting her eyes.
Silence was bliss for the space of a few seconds until a puff of dust tickled her nose. Eira shook her head slightly, hoping to stall the reaction, but when she turned to sneeze into her elbow, she wobbled and touched something hard and cold instead.
Her eyes flew open and the hands dropped from her ears as she stared down at a stone head with its features twisted into a horrible grimace. The grotesque expression was a mere few feet away as the rest of her body caught up to the realization.
The yelp that left her lips was only a few pitches away from being a full, flat-out scream. “Aieeeeekkk!” Eira stumbled backwards, tripping over the packs and tangling them up in her arms as landed in the dust, still too close to the head.
“A head!” The shriek was repeated as she skittered back another handful of steps. By the time she’d managed to pick herself up again, she scrambled backwards into something mostly solid and entirely warm. She blinked. “I didn’t mean to talk…to uh, scream…but you only said to cover my ears and close my eyes.” She winced. “sorry.”
“And so I did. No harm in speaking…I suppose.” The Dark Phoenix stared down at her for a moment, then reached forward and untangled his pack from her own. “I trust you are in good health?”
The phrase was odd in the way he spoke it, but perfectly understandable when Eira managed to make sense of it. In the basic training at the academy, it was the formal way of inquiring whether her life had realistically been endangered.
“Mostly.” She was on her feet and halfway behind him, chancing a look from around his shoulder. It struck her for a moment, as being odd that she could easily see over his shoulder, whereas, she couldn’t have before.
The thought was recorded and tucked away for later perusal, but already half-dismissed on the grounds that the Dark Phoenix couldn’t possibly be shrinking.
“Eira?” He sounded bored and somewhat annoyed as he moved to the side. Eira automatically moved with him. “Stop that.”
“That’s a head.” Eira swallowed, she danced sideways again, preferring to have something between her and object. “A stone head.”
“I saw that head before.”
“Really?” The brows furrowed together. “Where?”
“You ripped it off.” She licked her lips, the memories meshing with the very real horror in front of her. “You were fighting that…monster…that tried to kill me and you ripped his head off!”
The expression of annoyance gradually shifted over to one of sorrow. “I am sorry…” He turned his face away. “I didn’t realize you were conscious enough to…witness that.”
“Ripping someone’s head off?” Eira choked. “I-it was a-”
“It was a monster by your definition and yet you feel some sort of responsibility?”
“Then why are you-”
A loud rustling in the bushes garnered another muffled shriek from Eira a short, stocky rock figure crashed through the bushes, falling to its knees to flail around on the ground. It was crumbling like a neglected statue
and stained with green as if once covered by moss or crushed by piles of greenery.
The Dark Phoenix looked from the searching figure, to the head and then to the terrified apprentice still hovering behind him. He winced. “Eira?”
“I know that.” She was trying to keep her voice even and doing a fairly lousy job of it. “I-I know that.”
“That’ s the jerk that tried to kill me.” She licked her lips, one hand traveling to her cheek. “That’s the monster that tried to kill me…i-it wasn’t going to stop!”
By now, the headless rock figure had managed to find the head by crawling on its knees, waving its hands in front of the ground before it. The hands slowly moved over the head, before it lifting it up and setting it on top of the neck. The cracks and nicks smoothed away, rendering the figure nearly perfect in appearance. The rock slowly melted away to pale flesh as the figure of the boy in the clearing was now standing before them, his expression still sullen.
“You’re a boy!” The words sputtered out of her mouth as Eira gaped at him from behind her self-appointed Dark Phoenix barrier. “You’re…real!”
“Ha. And you’re a girl.” He shot back. “Of course I’m real! Brilliant deduction, genius, what did you think I was?”
“Genius?” Eira blinked. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” She shook her head abruptly. “No, no, no! This is wrong. You tried to kill me! You’re supposed to be dead!”
“Dead? Hardly. Annoyed, yes. You’re a lousy opponent by the way.”
“I’m not anyone’s opponent! I wasn’t fighting!”
“Ah…well, then that explains a great deal. I wondered what all that wild kicking and punching was. You’re a terrible fighter.”
“You’re a horrible monster!”
“Ah, a monster? I’ve been called worse…though doubtless you have been too. Tell me, is that the best you can come up with?”
“I call them as I see them.” Eira felt the ground offer the faintest tremor beneath her feet and she settled square into a defensive stance, still standing slightly behind her master. There was no way she wanted a repeat of their earlier encounter.
“And apparently you have poor eyesight if you cannot recognize a beautiful titan species when it is standing before you in all its glory.”
“Really?” Eira scoffed. “Beauty and glory? And here I thought you were speaking of someone else. I take it back, you’re not just a monster, you’re a self-conceited talking monster.”
“Conceited? Me? Ohh, now I see. Then again, I really can’t…you’re not even standing out in the open. Are you afraid of me? What are you doing there? Hiding?” He scoffed. “That’s pointless.”
“Pointless! You tried to kill me!” She rolled her neck to the side. “And I’m not hiding…and I’m not afraid. I could take you on any day!”
“Any day? What a joke! You already tried that, remember?”
“Three’s a charm.”
“Ah, so you would have to lose again in order to win? Curious.”
“Why?” The boy scowled. “You’re the one that was stupid enough to take me on in the first place-”
“Stupid? I don’t even know you! You don’t even know me-!”
“Every time you open your mouth, gibberish comes out. You don’t even know what was really going on, do you?”
“Excuse me?” Eira sputtered. “You little-”
“Ha! No name-calling.”
“You’re the one that called me a-”
“You’re his apprentice and he doesn’t put up with your kind of-”
“Eira?” The Dark Phoenix moved forward. “Deene?”
“I hate you!” The words burst out from her lips along with dragging a rather depressing bucketful of memories to the surface. The kind of memories that were too familiar to this sort of conversation.
“That’s fine with me. I hate you too. I think you’re as empty-headed in that department as they come!” The boy flashed a triumphant smirk.
Eira stared at him for all of a mere second. “You stuck-up, egotistical twerp of a-”
“Excuse me?” The Dark Phoenix tried again, a faint flicker of darkened energy sparked from his left elbow.
“Stuck up? Me? You’re the one parading around like you’re the best thing that ever happened to-”
“How would you know!” Eira shot back. “You haven’t even seen what I am capable of-”
“I’ve been watching you since the minute you set foot on this mountain! There’s nothing special about you.”
“You’ve been spying on me?” Her hands clenched into fists. “You are the most iccorigable-”
“Oh, there are fancy words in your brain after all. I’m impressed.”
“Didn’t mean to shock you.” Eira forced the words through her teeth. “What a surprise! Hope it won’t leave a mark.”
“A mark? As if anything you did could ever-”
“ENOUGH!” The word was spoken with the accent of rumbling skies over head. “That is quite enough out of both of you. I do not want a headache and I do not need one.” His hand went to his forehead, rubbing it gently. “Titan, need I remind you to watch your manners and your language in the presence of a lady?”
“A lady, where?”
“You-!” Eira gasped.
The Dark Phoenix shifted to plant himself in front of her, deliberately stepping on her foot. “She may not hear everything you are implying, but I can and I will take offense by it!”
Eira relaxed, allowing a smirk as folding her arms across her chest. “Take that.”
“Which also does not excuse your own behavior, Apprentice.” The eyes focused on her as he shifted his position, turning to face her. “This is not the way any apprentice of mine behaves in the face of-”
“He started it!”
“She started it!”
“And I do not care who started it.” He said, evenly, moving to stand directly between their line of sight. “Deene, you should know better.” He frowned. “And Eira, I will thank you not to bait him.”
“I’m not doing anything to him!”
“She is too!”
“Titan!” The Dark Phoenix whirled around. “That is enough out of you. As long as we are traveling together, which so appears that we are, I do not want you under any circumstances whatsoever, excepting pain of death for your last wishes, to speak to my apprentice, understood?”
“Clear as mud.”
“Yes, sir.” The scowl deepened as the boy stared off to the side. “What about her? Is she just going to-”
“Not another word…or would you rather I occupy you with another task instead. You seem to be taking your time in learning this particular lesson, but I do not mind taking your head off again if it will aid in the remembrance of our conversation just a few minutes ago?”
Deene clamped his mouth shut, the mumbles still coming from his throat, but not quite making it out into the open.
“Apprentice, I do not want you under any circumstances whatsoever, with any exceptions to address this Rock Titan, am I understood?”
Eira drummed her fingers along her arm for a moment. “I guess.”
“That is not the correct answer.”
A frustrated growl came from her throat. “Yes, I understand, Master Phoenix.”
“Good. Now we have quite a ways to travel today. I was hoping to make good time, because of this, we are now behind. I expect you to both to be quick on your feet. Deene, on my left, Eira, on my right. Not a word out of either of you.”
“I thought you said I just couldn’t speak to him!” Eira protested, the arms falling limply to her sides. “That’s totally unfair! He can’t come with us! He tried to kill me!”
“Unfair for you, maybe.” Deene sniped. “I do not see anything wrong with a few precious moments of silence in such a long, long journey.”
“You will both discover the consequences stemming from a lack of silence if you continue. Consider yourselves warned.”
“Yes sir.” Deene flashed a smile, falling into step as the Dark Phoenix started forward.
Eira watched them go for a moment and made no move to join them. She waited until they crested the hill to release the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. The first inklings of righteous anger were settling in and her hands clenched into fists as they disappeared from view. The memories were replying in her head, in all their vivid glory. She could still hear the sound of her bones crunching, remembering the feel of her head being split in two. And now the very one who had caused all of that was traveling with them. With them.
“Totally unfair.” She told the now empty pathway. “Totally, entirely unfair.” A shudder passed through her and a single tear threatened to emerge from the corner of one eye. The ache in the back of her head began to throb faintly. Shoving it to the side, she adjusted the straps of her pack.
A single tear fell to the dust.