This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by the lovely Karlene “KJ” Jacobsen over at her blog, Homespun Expressions. Click here to read and share more great stories!
Author’s Ramblings: This week’s installment is a little lazy and rambling, as I’ve decided to explore Eira’s options for growing up. Her immaturity could lead to some serious problems, so I’ve attempted to work out a few of them, along with a few red herrings for next week. Do enjoy–and let me know what you think, I love all the wonderful feedback on this story and would like to mention it has finally passed the 50k word count. Thanks to all my readers for encouraging me to keep this story and finish it. Hopefully the end is somewhere in sight…someday. Happy reading and have a great weekend!
RECAP: When Deene, the smart-mouthed Rock Titan who nearly killed Eira has now joined their little traveling group, leaving Eira standing in the pathway as her master and the titan continue on, leaving her alone in the middle of a jungle pathway.
Eventually, the fact that she was standing in the middle of a dirt path in a jungle she knew nothing about, registered along with the realization that she was hungry—and her meal ticket had already left. Her feet discovered they could work again, starting off at a sloppy pace and picking up speed, making little poufs of dust as she hurried along the path.
She didn’t realize exactly how far behind she’d been, until finally two small specks were visible at the very tip-top of a hill quite a ways off. “You are kidding me.” She muttered, hooking her fingers through the pack straps and slowing her pace. Now that she had seen them, she could afford to slow down enough to catch her breath.
That was a welcome break apart from the fact that she wasn’t quite in a hurry to be walking with along with a talking rock monster-boy. And her newly insane Master.
The pressure in her head seemed to peak, staying at a point just barely worth tolerating while remaining fully functioning in terms of motor skills. Her thoughts tangled together as she trudged up the hills and then down them. She was moving fast enough that the faint figures eventually took on a more rounded shape, proof that she was catching up.
“I refuse-!” She puffed, pausing at the top of a hill, leaning forward to rest her hands on her knees. Her head was hurting much worse now and breathing wasn’t quite as easy as she remembered it. “To let him win.” She gasped the rest of the words out.
The Deene kid may have had some history with the Dark Phoenix, but she had been the one accepted as an apprentice. She had also been the one to give up home, family…and an ex-boyfriend. Her lip curled upwards at the thought of the square face and soul-patch beard that had made Steven so approachable. He’d been cute and that had been it.
Her head shook and she immediately winced. The shaking only served to remind her how tender her head was feeling, as the very motion of movement caused the pressure to inch up a little further. It was building up like a storm inside. Another wince came as she realized how true the parallel probably was.
Willing her feet to move a little quicker, Eira focused on the mental side of things. Distraction was what she needed the most at this particular moment, so she allowed the train of thought to continue on. She hadn’t thought of her family for awhile, and now that she was thinking of them, another realization registered. She hadn’t called them since her arrival on Vanderoone.
A wave of shame passed over her, settling on her cheeks as a rosy blush. Her mother would worry for awhile, eventually choosing to settle her mind on more pleasant things by her father’s insistence. Dara would fret and fume, before eventually embarking on another one of her usual adventures, where her travels would be the excuse for leaving home longer than a year or so.
Taking a deep breath, Eira let it out, slowly. With two fingers, she gingerly traced shapes on the smoothness of her forehead. Shapes and signs she remembered her mother’s soft hands drawing when she’d complain of headaches.
The urge to stop and rest was beginning to grow to overwhelming proportions. As hard as she tried to push them aside, Eira found the fight turning into a pointless battle. She would have to stop. Her head would explode and there was truly very little she could do about it.
Cresting the hill, she paused again for another breather, relieved to find the path sloped downward a few paces and then around to the corner. That was good. She wouldn’t have to use so much energy for the climbing up and down everywhere. Her mouth grew dry and her thoughts turned to water and then food.
Wrestling her pack off, Eira rummaged through it, with a half-glance at the trail and another inside the bag as she found a water-sack. Examining the nearest tree beside her, to be sure it was free from any kind of gunk, Eira braced for a moment, guzzling the liquid down.
On impulse, she poured a good dose over her head, before belatedly wondering where she would find a refill. Shaking it to get an idea of how much was left, only served to puzzle her. The sack was just as heavy as when she’d started, or so it seemed. Pushing that thought out of her head, Eira continued on, allowing her mind to aimlessly wander.
She didn’t know how long she was walking for and she did not care. Eventually, the rumbling in her stomach grew to match the annoyance of her horrible headache. “I hate this.” She croaked, pausing for another rest. “Not only is this walking going on forever, but I really hate this. I’m hungry!” She told the nearest bush. Of course, it did not answer and a careful glance around, showed no fruit or nuts visible on any of the greenery.
Her progress slowed significantly as she moved at a reduced pace to examine the plant life around her, in hopes of spotting some sort of edible anything. Eventually, the path was no longer straight, but slight upwards, with twists and turns every other few lengths.
By the time she reached the top, she was nearly out of breath again. In frustration, she kicked at the nearest tree and promptly regretted it. “OW!” The words about to spring from her mouth were tempered as she bit her tongue and plopped down on the ground, drawing her feet to her lap.
With some difficulty, she wrestled the first boot off and then the second. Peeling the socks off and stuffing them all the way to the front, she wiggled her bare feet in a moment of pure bliss. They were tired and achy, but not quite as bad, now that the boots were off.
Rummaging through her pack again, Eira found a hair ribbon to string the boots together by the bootstraps and twined it between the pack straps so it would hang over her shoulder. A faint smile surfaced, because the simple act of rebellion was rather uplifting in terms of distractions.
It was also a reminder for her hair. She fiddled with it as she walked, finger-combing it and then finger-twisting it in addition to all manner of other experiments, emboldened by the fact that she couldn’t see a thing she was doing to it, and therefore it did not matter. She did not want to admit that it was easier to care for, in terms of fussing over it, because long hair was a trademark for every woman in her family clan. A slight shudder passed over her at the thought of her mother or Dara witnessing the short, choppy crop of hair. They would both have a mouthful to say about it.
With a decisive shake of her head, Eira picked up the pace again. It was easier to move barefoot, this she discovered within a few minutes. Unable to discern why, was not a matter for concern, because the faster she covered ground, the closer she was to getting rid of the horrible headache.
Which was why she was in such a hurry, when she rounded the next corner, she tripped over the outstretched feet in the pathway. The usual yelp of surprise leapt from her lips as she awkwardly tucked and rolled to the side, sitting up, shaking her head seconds later.
By the time the confusion had settled, her vision had blurred and cleared in the following moments.
The Dark Phoenix and Deene were both studying her, silent, from their places on the ground. The Dark Phoenix sat, bracing against a tall tree with striped bark, whittling a stick that appeared to have come from a fallen branch to his left, while Deene lay sprawled out on the ground, playing with smooth stones as if they were toy blocks.
For a long moment, they all stared at each other and then Eira turned her attention to dusting her clothes and while readjusting her pack. Her boots had managed to go flying in the almost-disaster and she fished them out from the nearby bushes, brushing them off as well.
As she did this, the Dark Phoenix shifted to his feet and beckoned for Deene to do the same. The boy readily scrambled upwards, stuffing the handful of smooth rocks into a pocket, smudging a streak of dirt across his forehead as he wiped his face with one sleeve.
Eira took that moment to make a quick mental profile of the bothersome talking rock monster. He was pale, as that seemed to be his trademark, yet she couldn’t see any veins sticking out anywhere that were usually visible on pale people like her Aunt Vivian. He was much skinnier up close, which did not fit his talent of a humungous rock titan and his hair was more shaved than cut. He had a scar through one crooked eyebrow and his lips were thin and tightly pressed together. An entirely depressing portrait.
The Dark Phoenix cleared his throat from somewhere behind her and Eira quickly straightened, whirling around. Searching his face for some sign was pointless, for his expression was neutral, giving nothing away, while his silence caused her shift uncomfortably from one bare foot to the other.
She realized when Deene picked his pack off the ground, that they’d probably stopped for her to catch up. Neither of them seemed to be the least bit tired and as far as she could tell, there had been no food involved.
Her master seemed to be waiting for her to say something, so Eira drew on the floundering reserves of courage and spoke the only word that came to mind. “Sorry. Won’t happen again.”
Deene rolled his eyes, a gesture clearly visible over the Dark Phoenix’s shoulder, while he turned to the side. The Dark Phoenix merely tilted his head to the side, his gaze registering on her feet. The eyebrows rose, ever so slightly, a question.
She half shrugged. “I…I move faster when they’re off.”
This time, the nod was completed and stepping to the side, he passed her, one hand reaching out to gently touch her shoulder, before continuing on.
Eira felt the pressure in her head fade at once. In the time it took her to turn around to stare after him, Deene had pushed past her and fallen into step at his left side. She found herself speechless and dumbstruck, yet again, realizing when the head turned back, to hurry up after them.
Stifling the groan, she hooked her fingers through the pack straps and trotted after them. Her stomach rumbled and she hurried to fall in step beside the Dark Phoenix.
They traveled in silence for all of a half-minute. “Are we going to eat soon? I’m hungry.” There was a strangled noise from Deene’s side and after a moment, the Dark Phoenix shrugged.
“I suppose. Are you hungry, Deene?”
The head bobbed quickly.
“Very well, the next stop will be lunch.”
“The next?” Eira couldn’t help herself, she turned around, walking backwards. “We can’t wait until the next stop. We’re starving!”
“We?” The eyebrows went up again.
“Yes…wasting away…” Eira bit her lip, knowing the exaggeration was bound to bring her good humors back into play with her best face. “It’s truly a tragedy…and so very easy to fix.” Her stomach rumbled again, this time loud enough to be heard by all. His mouth twitched and they stopped walking.
“Now?” He inquired. “As in right now?”
“Please?” Eira crossed her fingers, tucking them behind her back.
The first edges of a smile registered. “I suppose now is fine…the next clearing is a ways up ahead though, we need to be there before I can make a fire.” He turned to the boy beside him. “Deene, firewood—go!”
Deene ducked his head and broke off in a light sprint. Eira watched him go and then turned quizzically to the Dark Phoenix. “Where’s he going?”
“Firewood.” The walk resumed, the pace a tad quicker. “He’s better at finding it than I am and he knows all the clearings on this mountain, he should have a nice stack by the time we reach there.”
Eira wrinkled her nose. “Seriously? Is he really that fast?”
“He knows when and how to use his energy, so I let him use it for useful things.”
“Were your feet hurting?”
“Oh…no, not really…it…I just, well-”
“Did you kick something?”
A fierce blush came to the front at once. Eira turned her face away, searching for a safe and perfectly suitable substitute answer. “Sort of.” She hedged, pretending to be fiddling with her pack straps.
“A tree or a rock?”
She winced. “Tree.”
“How did you know?”
“I felt your yell.”
“I also felt your energies shift from white to red…what happened?”
“If I ask where…are we going to start this roundabout question thing again?”
“I…um-” Her thoughts flitted away from the too personal memories of her Mother, Dana and the bothersome Steven, to register on Deene. The last thing she could stand to deal with, was him knowing even more about her than she did of him. She slowed to a halt, toes curling in the dust.
“Deene can’t hear you…he’s too far away.”
The blush resurfaced. “Thanks. I…I was just thinking, that…he tried to kill me…really tried to kill me! I thought I was gonna die. I really thought I was gonna die. I thought if I didn’t, I’d get hold of him again and make him feel the same thing.”
“He already did. Twice.”
“It hurts to be ripped apart limb by limb.” The Dark Phoenix said, quietly. “What else?”
“I came a long way for this.” She gestured with one hand. “A long way to be able to be here…walking with you and being able to learn stuff…even mediation, I was here first. I’m not going to be scared of him and I won’t let him scare me away from something that means as much to me as this does.” The sentence was twisted up and the words weren’t making much sense, but Eira felt another wave of release, the moment they were out in the open.
“I’m glad.” He spoke, at last. “I was wondering. I do believe it was an accident…I will ask him later. But I am glad you have come to terms with knowing exactly what you want. Now we can actually move on to some more important things…beyond meditation.”
“You aren’t mad at me?” Amazement was quickly rushing to the forefront of all other emotions. Eira couldn’t believe it.
“Praise and criticism is a poor way to condition one’s students or apprentices. They must learn more about themselves…in their own timing and in their own way. Exactly what kind of a teacher would I be, if I could not recognize the moments such as these and allow you to discover the truth of yourself—for your own good. You were not in an immediate danger, though I will mention that it is not particularly safe to be wandering around these jungle paths on your own, I was keeping track of you and it seemed you could use the time to think, so I allowed it.”
“Uh. Right. Going over my head with the whole philosophical thing, but I’ll just pretend I’m mostly following it.”
His mouth twitched, an almost smile. “Good girl. Are you sure your feet are fine?”
Eira wiggled her toes, taking a slight skip forward. “Yep. They’re good.”
“Wonderful. Because I would like to start you on sparring in addition to some book work. We’ll work on your knife…issues, later.”
“Exactly how later?”
“Later.” He shrugged. “Do not focus on that now.”
“Not focusing. Got it.” Eira took a breath and slowly let it out. “Um…can I get a mirror sometime?”
“Yeah…you know, the thing you look in and see your reflection making faces back at you and—sorry.”
“Add that to the list, I will purchase it in addition to your other necessities when we reach Pietrassaan.”
“List? How long will it take till we’re there?”
“A bloque, remember? And you will be doing bookwork which requires books and writing instruments.” His pace quickened. “And we will be there, the sooner we are not here. Do hurry up, I believe Deene is finished and I would like to cover a great deal more ground than we have today, lunch will be brief.”
“As long as it’s lunch, I don’t care.” Eira perked up, trotting happily beside him, her mind flitting to higher things. The smile flickered for a moment and after they’d traveled in silence for a few minutes, she ventured to speak once more. “Thanks.”
“Taking my headache…you didn’t have to.”
He almost smiled.
© Sara Harricharan