This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Christina Banks @ her blog, With Pen In Hand. Click here to read and share more great fiction!
Author’s Ramblings: My apologies for a short installment this week. All the dashing about, last minute-stress finally caught up and I’ve been spending most of my time away from my beloved computer to reduce headaches while recuperating. LOL. It’s a long story, but I am doing better–so, onto the ramblings! I’m doing my best to wrap this serial up and start the new one sometime next month, if possible. Because of that, I’ve had to cut a lot out of the Pietrasaan experience and have crammed two days into this short piece. Hopefully all the scene jumping isn’t too confusing, I did give it a read through, with some unnecessary italics–to make the read easier. ~_^ If it doesn’t make sense, bug me–I’ll make a note of it and I’ll do my best to explain. I had some fun with the dialogue between the DP and Nimbus as they are old friends, very comfortable with each other’s dark sides. There’s some fun coming up in the next few installments. Eira is starting to crack along the seams of her carefully crafted self and of course, mayhem, madness and maybe…a touch of something else, will happen. ^_^ Thanks for taking the time to read these random notes, I hope you have a great weekend, happy reading! Don’t forget to leave a comment, I love the feedback!
RECAP: Last week, our heroes entered the mysterious city of Pietrasaan, under the rule of a calculating Rangana Queen, Basanti. The DP hands over Rory as their captive, in exchange for staying three days within the city walls. The heroes business is with former storm elemental casper, Nimbus. A man with the talent of cataloging and rating any and every power that he encounters. He also is a blacksmith of the Golbard Armory and a very old friend of the DP. They have just begun the battery of tests to determine the various natures of Eira’s talents.
“No…not now.” Nimbus brushed him aside, easing backwards into a chair that materialized out of nowhere.
“The programmed scans and tests will begin in a moment…monitor them…I need to…search the archives.”
The Dark Phoenix stepped back as the former elemental casper slumped forward. The giant ponytail of miniature braids snapped free from the elastic binding them to float in the air above the console. For a moment, they hovered, poised to strike as a horde of serpents and then they struck.
Miniature holes in the energy console appeared to accommodate each braid, pulling the head further down. The chair lowered, to ease the awkward position of the glowing body, now interacting with the system in waves of white-blue, crackling energy.
Streams of data began scrolling across the screen, various files opening and closing on a breath’s moment. Occasionally, a scribble of black would appear on the clear panel to the left, notes from Nimbus’s digging.
“Show off.” The phoenix muttered, turning towards the examination table. He stared, unseeing as pale blue light scans traveled over the limp body. At one point, he scowled as a blood sample was taken before Whyte Powder was poured liberally over the patient. “Nimbus…”
“Found it.” Came the curt answer. “And that was necessary.”
“Necessary how? Which one?”
“Both.” The head slowly rose, a few of the miniature white braids returning to their usual place, only a handful remaining plugged into the mainframe. “I found her files…I need your access codes.”
The phoenix turned, surprise painting across his features in the form of an open mouth and raised eyebrows. “My code?”
“They’re restricted files…with a personal request over them from the handler who had them…recorded. I’m guessing it’s personal…I don’t recognize the signature, but I am assuming that your clearance should be more than enough to-”
One hand reached over the white-coated shoulder to tap a few keys. “There…what tests are you talking about?”
“Hmm? Oh…well, I don’t believe…well…this is more difficult than I thought. I’ll have the final readout on her talents done tomorrow, but for now…I don’t think this is right. I really don’t.”
“Nimbus, speak plainly. I do not need another headache.”
“You have a headache?”
“and now you notice?” There was a yawn. “What is it?”
“How did you…acquire this particular apprentice?”
“I didn’t. She found me.”
“Hmmm…I did wonder. You were on probation from the last dozen.” The answering growl was somewhat menacing. “You’re lucky she was a girl.” The growl turned into a snarl. “Calm down! I’m not suggesting anything! I’m merely stating the facts. You weren’t cleared to take on any more apprentices or students, were you?”
“Then again, you’ve always found ways around that…what is she, the fifth?”
“Were you going to tell her?”
“There’s nothing to tell.”
“Sure. Of course. There’s nothing to tell. Have you even registered her?”
“Why do you think we’re crossing through Pietrasaan?”
“Because it’s murder to go around?”
“They do not bother me.” The phoenix scoffed. “They know better. I do not have to pass through if I do not want to.”
“So you’re passing through just to get her registered before Sorara can call you out on it?”
“So she is tracking me…”
“Not that I told you.”
“Of course…I did suspect.”
“But you didn’t know for sure.” Nimbus snorted. “You’d better make sure no one can touch her, or you’ll lose your-”
“It has already been taken care of.”
“I would ask how, but then I’d be prying.” There was a movement by the console. “And of course, I would be safer without knowing. Make yourself useful and check the powder.”
“What for-!” There was a gasp, earning the attention of the casper as he turned to see.
“…Bieria, help us.”
“Bieria has nothing to do with-“
“Shut-up, Ben.” There was a flurry of movement, accompanied by hisses in the moment Nimbus sprang from his seat, effectively disconnecting himself from the mainframe. He caught hold of the phoenix’s sleeve before the hand could touch the apprentice. “Don’t!…I need to count them first…I’ve never…this…”
The body before them, completely covered in a silvery white powder was now covered with angry glowing red x’s all over, even glowing through the short tunic.
“Thirty-two major…” Nimbus swallowed. “And one-hundred ninety-two minor.”
“She’s living proof.”
“How could she survive so many leech points?”
“I’m guessing…she didn’t count them.”
“She’s terrified of leeching.”
“I mentioned it…early on, a long while back…she was scared stiff.”
“Well, it couldn’t have happened without her knowledge-”
“I know…both partners must be awake when leeching…I suppose that explains a great deal.”
“Somewhat.” Nimbus frowned. “Get rid of the powder…I have to check something.”
“I’d ask what, but I don’t think I want to know…and I’m not touching that stuff. You can do the honors.”
Contractions. Nimbus clamped his mouth shut. I wish he wouldn’t push himself to these limits…
“Well?” The phoenix moved to joined him several moments later. “Did you figure it out?”
Nimbus frowned, turning back towards the examination table. “We should probably.” He paused, then unbuttoned his coat and handed it over. “Cover her…it might get cold in here and I know better than to let you wander around without a cloak.”
A flicker of dark energy crackled through the phoenix who took the proffered material and whisked it over Eira’s still form. Tucking the ends under her chin, he smoothed the hair away from her face.
“Found it!” Nimbus muttered. “…Ben, I think you’d better come look at this.”
Nimbus had discovered a cache of restricted videos tagged to an experimental project. They were mostly documenting scientific data in regards to numbers, statistics in advanced students in relation to their energies. However, the videos in question, were of a different nature altogether.
There were thirty-nine of them in all, with commentary from the testers and scientists assigned to the project. The notes loaded alongside the replays and those were copied onto a separate screen for later perusal.
“What did she tell you she was? Ben?”
“She said she was a temporary league graduate…basic training.”
“I don’t see any basic anything here.”
“Why would she lie?”
“Maybe that’s the excuse they gave her.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t think…watch…if I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t think that…”
And so they watched.
The videos began.
At first, the subject was a small, short, goth-girl with very long hair and a very dirty mouth. She had nothing good to say about the testing and the only ‘test’ allowed, was a complicated dance routine to the beat of pulsing music.
The second video was an alternate version, a younger-looking Eira, in a more modest costume.
The third became an older-version of the girl in tight leggings and a crop top, mouthing off to the test proctor.
“You’re such a bore, Annamarie!” Familiar brown eyes gave a characteristic role. “What? Am I really that boring? Okay, I’ll spice it up for you then, what would you like to see?” The answering reply was a mumble, to which the girl laughed. “What? You don’t get it, do you? I’m nothing special, really—I’m not pretty, I haven’t got the kind of body you need to succeed in this kind of career…but honey, I can dance…and I’d wager that my voice is pretty decent too.” There was a toss of the head, a silky crop of hair falling well past her waist. “Nevermind, I realize that’s a little much for your poor brain to comprehend…” The video fizzled out and another one started.
The same cocky attitude, the same smart mouth and outfits growing increasingly shorter as the routines morphed into more complex and difficult sequences. Black clothes and dyed hair often accompanied, the only constants as every other factor seemed to change.
Eventually, the following videos switched from body shots of the rebellious dancer to foot-shots, panning back and forth.
A faint smile registered on the Dark Phoenix’s face as he watched the next dozen videos on fast-forward. The new focus on Eira’s feet, showed the method behind the madness, every step left on the ground flared a pure-white before fading away.
“Got you.” He murmured, clicking play. Abstract phrases of conversation began to trickle in.
“…so? Like what’s your problem, Annamarie? It’s not like you actually understand okay? Just press your stupid little record button and lemme outta here! I have places to go, people to meet and things to do…yeah…more important things than bouncing around here. Look if-” There was a huff. “Fine, I get it, no official names in the videos, but if you-know-who didn’t drag me every other week…then I wouldn’t come…as a matter of fact, I don’t feel like coming here every other week, I actually have school you know. They’re saying I’m going to need a tutor if I want to pass high school…I don’t see myself dropping out, so if you don’t want me to start skewing your results, you’d better see about changing the frequency of these stupid things, you hear?”
The next videos were weeks to months apart, until the arrogance in her face melted away to sheer determination, tempered with a hint of bitterness. The line of her jaw, the blunt cut of her hair and the fearlessness in the fluidity of her movements.
“You’re wasting your time, Annamarie…you can’t break me…even if you’re not trying.”
The rest of the videos blurred by as the Dark Phoenix watched their hateful exchanges gain respect until it was simply trading insults between compliments. A strange friendship grew to where the last video ended on a rather surprising note.
“…what happened to your face?”
“Nothing’s wrong with my face, Annamarie.” The words were said in a forced drawl. “Nothing wrong at all, there might be something wrong with yours…”
“You never dance with your hair in your face.”
“Or sing either.”
“Hurry up and get to the point.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Can I go now?”
“No. I need a few extras…some improv.”
“You know, you really need to work on that.”
“Nevermind, it’s cute on you. I need some improve to work with, things to measure your energy when you’re just being…you, being random, being original. Pick something you can have a lot of fun with and anytime you’d care to start is fine.”
“Don’t tell me, you’re invincible, but you can’t do anything? Or is it too many choices? Tell you what, I’ll pick…how ‘bout the Mystic Maiden?”
“What? I can’t do that! I’m not old enough!”
“Old enough? Since when is age an excuse for you? I’m sure you’ve-”
“I can’t! It’s not an excuse! Unless I have permission…” Two crossed fingers touched the side of Eira’s head.
“Yeah…I’d have to ask them and then they’d have to ask you-know-who.”
“Then check, call and see. Or you don’t know the sequence, do you?”
“I know the sequence!”
“Then what’s stopping you?”
“Fine! I’ll call…”
Several moments of silence passed.
“I can do it.”
“But you might blush.”
“I’ll tell the pretty camera boys to close their eyes.”
“You crack me up, Annamarie.”
“No more than you.”
“Now that’s more like it.”
“Insults won’t get you very far.”
“and here I thought it was a compliment.”
“Sing girl, and don’t forget to dance!”
“Ha…eat your heart out.”
The video captured a sequence that the Dark Phoenix hurriedly fast-forwarded.
“Nice.” Nimbus commented, moving to stand behind the chair. “I didn’t think she’d have that in her…good voice too.”
“Exceptionally excellent voice.” The phoenix corrected. “and she has…that. She just doesn’t show it, but there’s tremendous energy behind it…I don’t understand why she hides it..and her energy is red when she uses it…yet here, it seems…white?”
“Freeze frame!” Nimbus barked, lurching forward.
“What is it?”
The frozen image showed Eira’s face with a blackened eye and split lip, the half of her face effectively hidden behind the thick curtain of hair.
A collective gasp came from the two men.
“Make it keep playing.”
The video resumed as the dance ended and Annamarie finally stepped into view for the first time, she caught hold of Eira in a headlock, wrestling her to the floor.
“Who did that to you?”
“Did what? Ow! You’re hurting me! Lemme go!”
“You’re not in a position to make demands.”
“I’m not in a position to give answers either!”
“Eiritha…who did this to you?”
“Can’t say. You shouldn’t ask…besides, we’re on tape, right? We’re not allowed to use names besides our own.”
“Don’t toy with me girl, I’ll edit it, if I have to! You’re smarter than this, work around it! Was it you-know-who?”
“No…not my cousins either.”
“Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Shut up and lemme go!”
Annamarie freed one hand to thwack the girl’s forehead. “You should learn some manners, girl.”
“I know enough!”
“You should take basic training, it’s good for-”
“…for protecting yourself.”
“From what? Ow!”
“You are not that dense.”
“Stop calling me names.”
“Even if they’re true? Girl, your face and your body is what your career is…you’ve told me that before, yet you walk in here with a black eye and a split-lip. I know you don’t walk into stairs, good grief, you have the grace of a white hydra—deadly and deliberate, so someone did this to you! You need to be taking better care of yourself! Little things like this are carless rookie mistakes.”
“They’d never let me take basic training.”
“I’ll talk to them.”
“They won’t. Trust me. I know them. They’ll make up some huge aristocratic excuse and say it’ll cut out of my career, profit margins and all kinds of—”
“Eirithea Omaha-Durheim! Don’t you dare quit on me! I’ve put too much into you!”
“So has you-know-who.”
“I put in more than him. You’re stuck with me looking after you as long as I possibly can. Do you have anyone you can trust, your mother maybe?”
“Mine’s dead…dad had…three. The first wasn’t mine, the second…gave me Tomeeka for five seconds…and then everyone died. The third one…she just hates me because I’m a better…one…than her daughters.”
“I should’ve stopped at, if you have someone you can trust.”
“Can you please let me up now? I’m going to be late for my afternoon performance and then everyone’s really gonna chew me out.”
“Huh? Oh…um, no…I have a healer that follows me around like a puppy…I owe her five minutes of my time…she’ll fix it.”
“Good. I’ll request you again in two weeks, be ready, bring someone you trust and be careful.”
“Because you’re special. You deserve better than this lot you’ve landed with. You have great potential and I will do everything I can to be sure that you reach the highest that you possibly can. I want you to take care of yourself–be nice to you. You are very, very special.”
“No, I’m not. I’m as worthless as they come and I’m a pretty average girl whose entire family hates her. There’s nothing special about that…I’ll bring Dana. Bye.”
“Eira, wait! God doesn’t make junk.”
“Then he sure didn’t make me ‘cause I’m a lot lower than that.”
“Two weeks…I’ll see you then.”
The video ended.
The two men stood in silence for awhile and then the Dark Phoenix took the chair at the console. “If you need me, Nimbus, I’ll be here.”
Nimbus sighed. “I won’t even try to talk you out of it…happy viewing. Goodnight Marvis.”
“Oh, Nimbus…one more thing.”
A handful of swarming, golden-green energy was tossed across the room.
“Benjamin!” Nimbus darted forward to catch it before it could be absorbed into anything. “Be more careful! There’s sensitive equipment and-”
“Kindly knit Eira’s healing orb to her life energies. I’m afraid I might accidentally taint her.”
There was a pause. “Fine.”
“Thank you. Good night.”
“Do you expect to find anything else?”
“Plenty. I didn’t know she was a Durheim. That explains quite a bit. You object?”
“To staying up? No…and I’m sure that should mean something to me, but somehow I’m not entirely following your train of thought, strange as that is.”
“I’m sorry, Nimbus…I promised that I would take care of your…I will do it, tomorrow, if that is all right with you.”
“That’s fine with me, but aren’t you going to wake her? I’m sure you both could use some refreshments and-”
“No. She needs the sleep…or rather, she will need it.”
Nimbus scowled. “You are a very dark man.”
The phoenix hummed to himself, sipping the twenty-sixth cup of tea as he scrolled through the observation notes concerning Eira’s testing videos. He was enjoying himself immensely, feet propped up on the console, various pieces of crumpled paper scattered across the floor.
He’d taken notes. There were many things Eira hadn’t mentioned and a great deal of his questions had now found answers.
Quiet shuffling caught his ear and he turned to see a barely-awake Nimbus moving methodically towards the kitchen.
“Good morning to you too.” He smirked, unable to resist the jab.
The casper leveled him with an icy white glare, a pure spike of energy crackling up around his feet in a vain attempt to further awaken him. “Cheater.”
“It’s not cheating when you have excess energy to burn.”
An anguished moan came from the examining table and both men turned as one to observe the patient, hands clutched to her head, twisting from side to side. Something was most definitely wrong.
It was enough to fully shock Nimbus to his senses. “You didn’t wake her yet? Good heavens, man!”
The phoenix shrugged. “She’s fine.”
“Benjamin Oliver! You know there is no being on this realm that can wake from your darkened sleep, what did the girl do to you?”
“Then wake her and go mope somewhere else!”
“She’ll want breakfast.”
“Then take her out to eat in the markets!”
“As you wish.”
There was a strangled sound from the casper’s direction. “No! On second thought, that’s probably too dangerous for the both of you…I have cereal. Does she like cereal?”
“The breakable kind?”
“No, the heavy ones. She didn’t eat yesterday and it’s fairly late into the morning, you aren’t really going to-”
“You have a point somewhere?”
“Have you no mercy?”
“Bowls, Nimbus…the breakable kind.”
“Wonderful. Now I wish I had let her be…let you both be…”
The dark head turned to witness the latest change in his sleeping apprentice as Nimbus trooped off towards the kitchen.
Frantic mumbling was now accompanied by flailing hands and kicking legs.
“Hmm.” The Dark Phoenix rose from his perch on the console chair and trotted over to the table, he watched for a moment, then reached out and untangled the white lab coat. “Eira? Are you up yet?”
The struggles increased, the hands now flailing at him.
He sighed, then reached in again, this time wrestling gently until she was pinned to the table. “Eira? You’re going to wake up…now.” He tapped her cheek with one index finger, pulling away. “Good morning.”
Eira jerked upright, her eyes hazy with confusion, panting as if she’d been running. Tears began to stream down her face. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry! Please don’t hurt me!” The tears dribbled down her face and into her mouth, a few managing to slip down her chin.
The Dark Phoenix took a cautious step backwards, attempting to puzzle the reason for tears and such an elaborate routine of begging.
“I won’t do it again. I won’t! I promise.” Her eyes were glazed over as if staring into a different reality altogether. “Please, just don’t hurt him! Don’t hurt him! It’s not his fault! He didn’t meant to do it…I-I-I made him do it…it wasn’t his fault! I didn’t mean it. I won’t do it again. Ever! I swear…on my mother’s name, I won’t!”
“Eira?” The puzzlement finally settled, he touched her shoulder, only to bring the frantic girl to life.
“No! NO!” The shrieks turned into screams as she flailed away from the arms trying to calm her and succeeded in giving a strong push in the right direction. Hopping down from the table, she bolted towards the nearest doorway—the kitchen.
“No, you don’t.” The Dark Phoenix muttered. “Not again, anyway…” He tackled her as gently as he could and they wrestled for several moments until he pinned her to the ground, two fingers on a favored pressure point. “Eira! Wake up!”
“I’m s-s-orry!” She hiccupped. “I didn’t mean to! I was just trying to be nice and he was being nice and nothing happened! Honest! I…please, don’t hurt me! Lemme go!”
“Not until I am sure you are awake, what’s going on?”
“I’m sorry.” She sobbed. “So very sorry…I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt…I’m sorry. Please, let me go! Please!”
“The correct formal response is, ‘Master Phoenix, I yield’ and it is usually given when asked for…I do hope you are awake. I hate repeating myself.”
“M-master Phoenix?” There was another hiccup. “Master Phoenix?” She squirmed for a moment and then stopped. “Hello?”
“Wonderful…now you’re up.” He sighed. “Good morning, Eira.”
“M-morning.” She squeaked. There was a moment of silence. “Why am I on the ground?”
“I would offer an answer, but I do not think you would care to hear it.”
“Can I get up?”
“Did you hear a word I said?”
He winced. “Liar.”
“Okay, fine…but it’s cheating to attack an unsuspecting person.”
Both eyebrows went up, but her master did not bother to counter that statement. “Whenever you feel like it.”
“Can we start from scratch?”
“Sure, as soon as the cereal bowls arrive.”
“Cereal?” She twisted and mirrored his earlier wince. “Ow. Okay, that does hurt…hmphfff…Master Phoenix…can I please get up?”
He chuckled, shifting to the side and allowing her the freedom of movement again. “You were half-awake.”
She yawned in answer as a spark of energy leapt from his fingers to spiral over her. “Hey! I…oh…thanks.” She held out her hands, giving a little twirl as a clean outfit materialized on her. “Thanks…this is comfier than the last one.” She hopped from one foot to the other and reached one hand up to her face, to brush away her short hair.
He watched her from the corner of his eyes as she felt the tears and froze. Her almost-cheery expression melted away until a very pale, white face remained. Her lips parted, mouth moving, but no sound came out. For the briefest of moments, a tortured expression painted across her face as she turned to face the wall.
He gave her a minute.
Exactly a minute.
Nimbus stuck his head through the doorway. “I only have three…” He began. “Good morning, Eira, glad to see you’re up. Is three enough?”
“Three whats?” She smacked the tears from her face, scrubbing her sleeve across her eyes quickly before turning ‘round with a happy smile.
“Bowls.” There was something decidedly dark in the way the Dark Phoenix smiled as he caught the first specimen flying through the air. “Since you seem in the mood for wrestling this morning…I thought it would do you good to work for your breakfast.”
“WHAT?” Eira’s head snapped up, looking from the bowl to her stomach. It growled. “No! That’s not fair…I’m hungry!”
“Which means you shouldn’t take very long then, now should you?”
“Awww…c’mon!” The moan turned into a whine. “Let me guess…you have the bowl I need to put my food in…whatever…food is…and I have to try and take it from you?”
He spun the dish in question on the tip of one finger. “Smart girl…start anytime you like.”
Eira rolled her eyes and then her neck. “Fine…I’m hungry.” She wrinkled her nose. “Really hungry…you promised we’d eat when we got here.”
“I did…when we got here…I didn’t say when.”
“It was in the context of dinner!”
“Then we’ll have dinner here tonight.”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“You’ll have to be a little quicker than that.” He doged lightly away from her. “And your illusion will resume when you step outside this establishment, for Nimbus’s sake, you’ll keep your true form here.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Which reminds me…I told you both that would hurt and neither of you listened!” She lunged and ducked, grabbing for the bowl as she slid to the left. “Mine!”
“And it’s mine right back.” He plucked it from her victorious fingers. “When you have it, don’t stop moving.”
© Sara Harricharan