Author’s Ramblings: Yay! I’ve finished! At nearly 3AM…lolz. My apologies! It’s been another crazy week and I didn’t get to start working on this until the afternoon…i.e. 8 in the afternoon between a half-million other things. I’ve tried to keep the installment short (and the timeline moving along) so you’ll find this week’s bit to be scene jumping and choc-full of dialogue. Thank you for the wonderful comments last week–I’m glad everyone is enjoying the story. Because of that, I’ve decided to give Eira a shot at a first person POV, so let me know what you think. I haven’t had a chance to change the poll yet, so no hints towards the new series yet. Let’s wrap this one up first, k? I’ve given Eira a few chances to grow up and also thrown in a bit of darkness, which leans towards the redemption theme I’ve been hoping for since the start of this story. Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with my ramblings, so please read and comment. I love hearing feedback. Happy reading and have a great weekend!
RECAP: Eira and the DP are spending their 3rd day in Pietrasaan, where the Rangana Queen Basanti is occupied with her Lyrith prisoner, Rory. and the elemental Casper Nimbus is crafting a new weapons arsenal for the DP. Eira’s powers have been determined, she is categorized as a summoner.
“A package? Mine?” Eira pounced on the black cloth bundle in the middle of the eating table. “When did it come? Is Master Phoenix back? Did he bring everything? Is this the only one?”
Nimbus chuckled from his corner over the workbench. “Which one of those do you want me to answer?”
“Hmmm? All of them.” Eira murmured, absently, folding the cloth duffel and beginning to arrange her shopping bounty along the edge of the table. “He got everything!”
“…indeed.” Nimbus came to stand beside her, wiping his hands on the heavy blacksmith’s apron. “and even a few you didn’t request I see.”
“Huh? Oh…” Eira stared at the length of black material and then found herself holding up a card of hair clips. A blush painted itself across her face, fading as she pounced on a giant, gilt-edged book. “What’s this one? Oh wow…summoning circles…that sounds cool… My mom used to have one like this, you know? I hope I can keep this one. I wasn’t really allowed to read the other one…”
Hiking herself up to sit on the table, Eira settled comfortably, the book in her lap, already flipping through the pages, everything else forgotten.
The elemental casper watched her silently for a long moment and then returned to his work in the inner rooms. If he needed her for something, he’d call. The pages turned and occasionally a happy exclamation came from the kitchen corner.
“Er…” The mumbled answer drew a look of annoyance.
Nimbus returned to the kitchen to watch her still absorbed in the book’s mysteries, her head cocked to the side as if she’d been listening. He shook his head, reaching past her through the assortment of objects on the table. “This would be mine.” Nimbus took the black length of fabric. “It’s for making the holsters for your knives.”
“K-knives?” Eira stammered, properly distracted by the one topic that seemed the most terrifying. “I uh…only have one. I don’t need more…actually, I don’t even need…pointy things.”
“That is not your decision.” The casper chuckled. “But if you like, I only need your measurements and then I’ll be working on finishing the rest of the…arsenal.”
“Measurements? Okay…I guess.” Eira shuffled after him, the book still in hand. “Why do you live in a tower?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know…I just…I mean…everything’s kinda round…and then it’s pointy and it looks like there really isn’t even a roof up there! Not to mention…it’s always cold and windy…and there’s never any real lights on!”
“I like it that way.” He said, simply. “If it wasn’t that way, I’d have to live somewhere else.”
“But don’t you hate living…alone, in a place like this?”
“Hmm?” The expression softened, to something almost like a smile. “I’m not alone, Eira…I just…sent everyone away for now. I have a wife and four children, actually, not to mention an equally annoying…understudy in the practice of a blacksmith. His name is Jordan…he reminds me a great deal of you.”
“I think that was supposed to be a compliment.” Eira scowled. “I think. I’m not entirely sure.”
Nimbus chuckled. “Tell you what, if you’re feeling caged, then why don’t you run an errand for me? Just take a message to Jordan and come straight back…and if he decides to come with you, that is fine. Alright?”
Eira shrugged. “I guess, I mean, it’s not like I have a bunch of stuff I want to do…well, besides read.”
“You’ve read enough for one day…at least of that kind of book.” Nimbus frowned. “Here’s the message…off with you! And don’t get into any trouble or your wonderfully esteemed master will have your head and my heart served on a platter and I could do without heartburn today.”
Eira flashed a grin. “No problem!”
“I hate heartburn.” Nimbus griped, handing over another wet compress. “Why did the two of you have to-!”
“It wasn’t my fault, Master.” Jordan said, in all seriousness. The way in which he spoke, gave a different light to the pale blond shell visibly sulking in the chair opposite of Eira, the object of his best scowl. “And she’s a girl! She doesn’t belong here!”
“So starting a street brawl was…?”
“I didn’t plan it.” Jordan sniffed. “She just…got in the way…and she’s so…infuriating!”
“Am not!” Eira winced, moving the ice pack to her mouth from her cheek. “and you attacked first you blockhead!”
“No name calling!” Nimbus snapped. “And Eira, that’s for your eye, not your mouth, your lip will be fine.”
“It hurts!” Eira jerked away from his fretting hands. “Why can’t you just heal them? Why can’t I heal them? Why aren’t they healing themselves?”
“Your healing orb takes time to knit itself with your life force…typically, you can’t use it for a few days or weeks after it’s been…installed. And I can’t possibly interfere with that, to begin with, I’m not your master and I have no knowledge of your energies the way he would. The long-term effects would be devastating. Just keep the ice on it.”
“I can’t feel my face!” Eira growled. “And it’s already freezing in here!”
“I wish you couldn’t feel your tongue…then maybe you’d stop whining.” Jordan smirked.
“I could rip yours out if you like.” Eira threw the ice pack on the table. “You cheated! Calling your friends to help and turning the whole thing into a wretched mess! I hate you!”
“Is that how you usually solve your problems? With yelling useless threats and hating everything in existence?” Jordan yawned. “Such a troublesome girl…you don’t even have the slightest-”
“Shut up! You don’t know anything about me!”
“And the same goes for myself, yet you are quite comfortable judging me based on your own biased opinion of-”
The ice pack was hurled across the table to be caught by Nimbus’s quick fingers. “Jordan.” He said, severely. “I told you not to tease her.” He frowned. “Eira…you…over there. Jordan, you here. If either of you-”
“Yes of course, Master.” Jordan flashed a brilliant smile. “I will do absolutely anything at all that you desire.” His voice syrupy-sweet. “I am so sorry…I teased you…Eira.”
You’ll be sorry you apologized you idiot!
Eira waited in her corner for all of five minutes before she snuck out to the outer room and then into the street, her arms full of the various creams and ointments she’d requested that morning.
It was a relief to be away from Nimbus and Jordan. She hoped none of them would realize that she’d slipped off. Then again, they’d been in the midst of an argument that seemed like it could last a few hours.
She smirked and then winced. The evidence of her street fight was making itself known in a most unpleasant way. “It’s just pain.” She forced the words through her teeth. “Just pain…and I’ve known worse…come on, Eira…”
Shaking her head slightly to clear it, Eira started towards the far end of the entrance gate, to the tower where she’d seen the queen take Rory. The nightmares had gotten worse last night and she couldn’t bear to suffer through anoter torturous sleep with him held captive.
Tucking the cosmetics inside her inner tunic, she drew her knife from the waistband, focusing to keep a tight grip on the hilt and not to think about what else she could do with it. There was a low stone fence separating the courtyard of the tower from the town itself.
Circling in the shadows, Eira dodged a through a few side streets and alleys, attempting to avoid the sentries posted by the obvious doors. “I guess I’ll have to go over on my own.” She scowled. “That’s gonna hurt too…guess it can’t be helped.”
Another wince registered as a handful of fleeting images from the night’s nightmares streamed through her head. “Rory…” Taking a deep breath, Eira inched forward from the alley’s shadow and cast a look down where she’d last seen the guard.
He was facing the other direction.
Shouldn’t take long…
“What are you doing here? Get out!” The bitterness in his voice was laced with a poison that Eira had never heard from his lips before.
“Rory!” She stopped short at the room’s entry way, hesitating. He was beautifully restrained, each paw shackled, his arms overhead, his tail anchored. Yet his face was proud and not a mark was visible on his youthful body. “Rory…?” She inched forward. There were no guards on the inside, but it wouldn’t do to let her guard down. “Are you okay?”
“You’ve already done enough…come to finish what you started?”
“I didn’t start anything! You’re the one hunting me!”
“Under orders. You know that. Now get out.”
“A-are you hurt?”
“Now there’s a stupid question…just when I was absolutely entirely sure that you couldn’t be any more dense.” He scoffed. “Go. Away. Now. What is so hard to understand?”
“All of it.” Eira said, stubbornly. “I’m not leaving without.”
“Now there’s a noble death wish.” Rory scowled. “You can’t help, so go away.”
“Why? Why should I? Why won’t you let me help you?”
“You’re too weak. You’re a girl. You have no relation to me. You’ll only make it worse. You are a liability and you are still my mission. If by help you mean to free me, it is meaningless. I will still fulfill my objective.”
“I’m not a liability…and I’m not weak.” Her brow furrowed. “and what it is with this city and men thinking that girls are weak! We’re not!”
An eyebrow perked. “Wonderful. You’re going to kill me by talking…a far worse torture was never invented.”
“Shut up!” Eira rubbed her hands together, creating a faintly glowing bauble of pink energy. She lobbed it lightly into the room, checking the security defenses. Rory yawned. “Are there any security sensors in here?”
He glared at her.
“Fine. Don’t answer then. I’ll find out on my own.”
“No there aren’t?”
“No, don’t!” He snapped. “I don’t remember you being this troublesome!”
“Ha. Look who’s talking.” Eira trotted into the room, the tiny energy bubble swirling cheerfully around her.
“And the room’s clear…unless I missed something.” The gasp caught in her throat as she stared at him. “Rory…what did they do to you?”
The defiant stare turned away.
“Your skin…” She moved forward, hands outstretched.
He flinched, shrinking away from her touch. “Get away from me you-!”
The hands redirected to his mouth. “Don’t you dare say that!” She hissed. “I came here to help you!”
“Why?” He taunted, twisting away from her hands to speak. “Haven’t you helped enough already? I couldn’t even react…no time at all.”
Eira withdrew, a flicker of temper returning. “I could have said worse than your tail.” She turned to the side. “I could’ve told her how to make a puppet out of you! Seems like I’m the idiot after all. You really don’t want my help, do you?”
“Go. Away.” The venomous words were repeated. “Before you cause more trouble.”
“For me or you?” Eira shot back. “You’ve been in my head every night…nightmares. One after the other. Don’t you give me that! I can hear you scream!” She pushed him, even though he barely moved, thanks to the restraints.
But the expression on his face, wavered for just the faintest moment before he twisted his head so she couldn’t see.
A moment of awkward silence stretched out between them.
Eira reached into her inner tunic, drawing out the bottles and tubes of cosmetics she’d smuggled out of Nimbus’s tower. “you’re a Lyrith.” She spoke with as cold and calculating voice as she could manage. “And I understand…you have…loyalties.” She swallowed. “You are in a…situation. According to rule, if I help you…you owe me…one pledge, correct?”
His head snapped around to stare at her. “Whatever it is you’re trying, it won’t work.”
“A pledge of anything, whatever I ask, yes?” Eira licked her lips. “Yes? Answer me!”
“Are you in a situation?” Eira began unscrewing the covers and lining them neatly up on the floor. “Do you require outside assistance?”
“Will you let me help you?”
“You owe me…that pledge.” Eira dipped out the first fingerfuls and began to mix them in her palm, until she’d created a thick, cream-colored substance. “I’m not helping you for nothing. You owe me.” She glared at him. “Swear it.” She held the handful up to eyelevel. “You know I can help you.”
“I don’t want your-”
She smeared the handful across his chest, watching his reaction, expressionless.
A quiet moan left his lips, followed by a crackle of light-blue energy as his body absorbed the necessary nutrients from the home remedy. “You…remembered…” He gasped. “After…”
“I never forgot.” Eira whispered. “Please…let me help you.”
His head hung forward in defeat. “It seems I am at your mercy.”
“and not the queen’s?”
“She did not ask it of me.”
“Does she even know?”
Eira scowled. “How do I get you out of those?”
“What happened to your face?”
Another moment of silence passed.
“You should be able to remove them yourself.” Rory stifled a shudder. “Don’t press so hard…it burns.”
“Sorry…sorry…sorry.” Eira winced. “How did she do this to you?” Her fingers smoothed the concoction onto dozens of ultra-thin criss-crossed lines cut into his flesh. “What’s the lock combination?”
“Square circle.” He shifted restlessly. “Hurry up. You know it.”
She managed a smile, turning to the now empty containers. “Vanquish.” She hissed, with a bolt of red energy. There was a muffled explosion and the trash vanished as she turned back to the captive Lyrith.
Moving to the first shackle, the right front paw, Eira stooped to trace a square and then smoothed the edges away to a circle, with a satisfied smile when the shackle clicked open. “One down…six more to go.”
She paused at the last set, the two holding his hands. He danced impatiently, his paws scuffing the floor. Tail twitching in agitation as she strained on tip-toe to reach. “Why do you have to be so tall?” She muttered, taking a step back. “I can’t reach.”
“Try harder!” He snapped.
She stuck her tongue out in reply, trying again. One shackle clicked open and one hand dropped down to his side. He winced, gingerly moving the fingers before attempting to shake it out.
“…Rory…you owe me your honest pledge for this, right?” She stretched upwards again, teetering dangerously.
He pranced impatiently, pausing long enough for a flicker of darkness to show across his handsome face. For a moment, it was as if he was the poster child of pure hatred and then the moment passed. “Yeah…yeah…whatever.”
“No.” Eira stumbled, backing away. “Whatever? That’s not good enough.”
“What?” He twisted around to look at her, straining against the last restraint.
“I don’t trust people anymore, Rory…you least of all. But I’m not dense. Swear on your honor that I will your ultimate pledge in full honest for rescuing you.”
“I don’t have to swear anything to you!” His tail lashed angrily.
“True.” Eira skittered back a few more steps.
“And a pledge won’t cancel my mission. There is nothing you could do to change that. I will hunt you the moment-”
“I don’t want to cancel your mission.”
“I don’t need to.”
“Whatever game you’re playing…it isn’t going to work. I don’t need you!”
“Yeah, you do.” She ducked from his swing and moved until her back touched the wall. She was just barely out of reach. “You need me. I could just leave you here.”
“Not after all you’ve done.”
“Especially after all I’ve done…I have no incentive to continue.” She shrugged. “Though I would be…sad…to leave you like this, I’m sure the queen won’t be very happy to see that you’ve quite nearly escaped. I think she might take it pretty hard…might take it out on you.”
“Last chance, Rory.”
“Last chance? Like I have a choice?”
“Swear on your honor.”
“Fine.” His hand clenched into a fist. “I swear upon my honor. Are you happy now?”
“I swear upon my honor that Eirithea Omaha-Durheim is the sole receiver of my ultimate pledge, made in all truth and honesty for this favor of which I owe her my life.”
“Since when are you so official? Have you actually been reading books? I’m very impressed.”
“Repeat it, Rory.”
“I swear upon my honor that Eirithea Omaha-Durheim is the sole receiver of my ultimate pledge, made in all truth and honesty for this favor of which I owe her my life. Now are you happy?”
“Good boy.” Eira drew her knife from her waistband and boldly stepped forward. “Now prove it.”
He skittered back, staring at her in disbelief. “Be you mad?”
“I’m not dense, Rory. You’ve sworn it…and I could take your word, but a Lyrith, I’m told must have a physical reminder if the favor to be asked of them is one promised in a moment of peril.” She extended her hand with the knife. “I’m not dense.”
“Do it, Rory!”
“Or what?” He glared at the knife.
“Do it or I’ll do it myself.”
“At this moment, I could do anything.” She moved another step forward. “Take it!”
The glare continued for a moment and then he reached out and snatched the knife from her open hands. In a movement quick and fluid, he cut a miniature x over his heart and dropped the knife at her feet. “There, happy?”
Keeping her eyes on him, she stooped and picked it up, wiping the tip on her pant leg and tucking it back into her waist band. “Yeah. Now I’m happy. Move to that side, pull the chain so I can reach.” Stretching up on tip-toe she began to trace. “There’s an alarm on the last one, isn’t there?”
He didn’t answer.
The shackle clicked open and Rory moved.
In the same instant he tackled her to the ground, reaching for her knife when the cut he’d made on his chest flared a bright, brilliant red. His anger was expressed through a violent hiss as his hands tightened around her neck.
Eira smiled, finishing the sentence aloud. “…as you, Lyrith, have promised. You owe me, Rory…and you can’t kill me until you’ve repaid that favor.”
His scream was a frightening shriek that shook the walls of the prisoner tower. “You scheming, lying-!”
“In exchange for saving your life, the favor I demand of you is your complete loyalty to me.”
He stopped in mid-screech, still fuming. “What?”
“You heard me.” Eira slowly picked herself up off the ground. “I’m asking for your loyalty.” She lifted her chin. “Will you grant me this favor as is required of you?”
“You…I…I can’t just…do you even know what you’re asking?”
“I know that if there was an alarm on that last shackle, if we don’t get out of here in the next few minutes, we’re both probably going to die.”
“You’ll die. I won’t.” He said, bluntly. “Are you aware of what you’re asking?”
“Aware enough.” She took a shaky breath. “Will you?”
“Give me your hand and your knife.” He turned his head to the side. “Hurry.”
She extended one hand, the knife offered again.
“The blade’s dirty.” He licked the tip. “So’s your hand.”
“One minute or two?”
“This will hurt.”
“I’m closing my eyes.”
It did hurt. But Eira didn’t have time to agonize over it.
“Congratulations. I am now yours to command as you see fit…mistress.” He jammed the knife in the holster at her waist. “I would suggest not staying here a moment longer, are you in agreement?”
“Shall we go?”
“Where shall we go?”
“I’m yours, Eira.” He was dangerously patient. “Command me.”
“Before we both die?” He smirked. “Correction, before you die. Don’t tell me you didn’t think this far.”
“I order you to protect me.” Eira swallowed. “And to get us out of here before someone catches us!”
“To where?” He caught her up in her arms, turning to set her on his back. “Hold on tight.”
“Outside the city…anywhere outside the city…away.” She locked her arms around his waist. “Now!”
“Don’t breathe.” He whispered.
She couldn’t breathe, Eira later discovered. The blackness came for her somewhere between leaving the tower prison and arriving atop a cliff overlooking Pietrasaan. There were no dreams and no sounds.
Everything seemed to be frozen in the blackness.
For awhile, the suspension was bearable and then something began poking her face and pain entered into her dreamless dreamland.
“Eirithea?” Rory’s voice was bored and his expression annoyed as she squinted up at him. “For a moment, I was almost tempted to worry, my lovely mistress.”
“Eira.” She croaked. “Just call me, Eira…you blockhead.” It was afternoon, the suns beginning to set, nighttime creeping closer.
He wrinkled his nose, dropping the flower he’d been using to poke her. “What else do you require of me?”
“If there is nothing else you need, then I rest.” He rolled his neck to the side. “If you require something, I shall see to it.”
“Stop being so formal.”
“The formality comes with the-”
“Shut up, Rory!”
“Is that an order?”
“Don’t make me say it as one.” She coughed and winced immediately afterwards.
His scowl deepened. “Fine. What happened to your face?” He reached towards her, freezing when she scooted backwards, out of reach.
“Nothing, mistress? Nothing seems to have done quite a bit-”
“I fell down.”
“Must’ve been a pretty bad fall.” He smirked. “How many?”
She turned away, hugging her knees to her chest. “I’m fine…you can go…rest…or whatever it is you have to do…I don’t really need you.”
“Huh. I’m hurt.” He scoffed. “I’m dying, I’ve just been mortally wounded…tricked by such promising words to-” His sarcasm was interrupted.
“I told you I wouldn’t use something as important as a pledge to cancel a stupid mission.” She hiccupped. “I’m tired of being hunted and…” She sniffled. “Would you just go away already?”
“I seem to see an echo in this.” There was a sigh, followed by another flash of light blue. When the flicker faded, a two-legged figure remained, the human-like form of a tall, very thin, young man in a dark blue robe. Rory settled in front of her, a look of amusement creeping up the corners of his face. “Demanding I change my loyalties. That was very…ingenious of you. My former master will be…furious.”
Rory chuckled. “That must have been a very hard fall.”
“Not until you tell me what happened…those have to hurt.”
“So now you’re being nice?”
“Would you prefer I was more polite?”
“…no…” Another hiccup came out. “I just want…go away…”
“That¸I cannot do…unless of course, you’re ordering me away.” He flashed a smile, good humors restored.
“At least allow me to tend to them, you’ll surely have a scar from a cut like that on your shoulder.”
“Don’t touch me!” She scrunched further into a ball, her back to a tree. “and you can’t help. You’ll just make it worse.”
“Definitely an echo.” He scooted back a few feet. “There, happy? I won’t touch you…and I’m not going away.”
“You have to.” Eira stifled a yawn. “He’s coming.”
“He?” Rory perked up. “He who?”
“Master Phoenix.” She winced. “I’m in big trouble now.” The shaking started until her teeth began to chatter. She could feel a sense of darkness pressing closer, coming for her. It had to be Master Phoenix. It was certainly dark and powerful in presence. She was going to be in big trouble.
“Eira? Eira! Calm down!” He started forward and hesitated. “I can’t leave you like this!”
“Yes. You can.” She choked out. “Just…go…hide…something…you can’t…be here. I just need to be alone.”
“I’m not leaving you.” He murmured, moving forward. “I refuse.”
“I order you to-”
“No. You may not order me to leave you suffering.” An expression of pain registered in the haunting eyes and stiff jaw. “However, I will not remain if it will cause more difficulties for you. I’ll be right here. You will know how to reach me if you need me.” He covered her mouth with one hand and caught hold of her neck with the other. In a shimmering of pale blue energy, he became a silvery-white necklace ‘round her neck.
The gasp caught in her throat as she willed the shaking to stop, one hand lifting up the new piece of jewelry. A shimmery cord with a single lion charm. Eira tried to smile, picking it up to drop inside her tunic collar.
Something rumbled in the distance and the fading sunlight was completely snatched away. Eira lay, exhausted on the ground, atop the cliff, staring up into the stormy sky.
There was something wrong with the sky. It was never that way.
The ache in her chest began to throb along with a familiar pain in the back of her head.
This was not an ordinary storm. “No…” She felt the tears squeezing out from her burning eyes. “Please…no…”
It happened so quickly, there was no time to react from where she was to where she needed to be. A powerful bolt of white-blue energy streaked downwards, effectively destroying a sizeable chunk of city.
From the midst of the swirling storm clouds, a tiny figure descended in the newly cleared area. The throbbing in her head grew worse as Eira forced herself to sit up. This was turning out to be a very bothersome, troublesome…irritating sort of day.
Her fingers closed around the lion charm and she yanked it free from the chain, throwing it to the ground beside her.
A faint explosion was heard and then Rory cleared his throat from beside her. “You called?”
“We have a problem.”
“You have a problem.” He corrected. “I will fix it…if you wish.”
“I don’t think you can fix this one.” Eira wearily shifted to her feet. “I’m too tired for this.” She winced. “But we need to go back down there.”
“Okay, I need to go back down there, will you take me?”
He frowned. “If you wish it…I do not think it is safe.”
“I’m not asking your opinion, idiot.” She rolled her eyes. “If I needed your opinion, I’d ask for it. Take me down there…I need to know what’s going on.” A faint shimmering of green began to glow around the city. “and get us in there before the defenses go up!”
“As you wish.” Rory sighed. With a colorful shimmer, he morphed into his half-form of half-human and half-lion. Eira was quickly settled on his back as he sprang off from the ledge and into the rocky path below.
He was swift, sure and maddeningly precise.
They cleared the city’s defenses with a few moments to spare. Eira found herself smiling into his shoulder as he paced the length of street where they’d entered. His shoulder was soft and warm. A blush registered. She’d have to see about getting him a shirt. “We need to see the explosion.” She closed her eyes, searching for the reserves of energy.
The thought was tempting, but a twinge of regret made her freeze the call halfway. He’d most certainly have an earful to say about the fight, Rory…and now a rogue Storm child. And he probably wasn’t going to let her off with a good scolding this time either. She grimaced inwardly. This time would probably hurt.
“To the edges, not in the center.” He growled. “You’re in no condition to do anything!”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She licked her split-lip, trying to concentrate on the energy taps she could see in her head. She had energy. She always had energy. “Tell me what’s happening. I can’t see.”
“What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“They’re tired. Got a problem with that?”
“It’s a storm child.” Rory said, helpfully, keeping in the shadows of the stone houses as he watched the reaction to such devastation. He’d never seen controlled chaos before. This was what the Rangana were famous for. No panic or terror, even in the face of death. This would be interesting.
“I know that.” Eira snapped. “Is it one I know?”
“One we know.” He muttered. “Aois.”
“Don’t bother it, leave it alone. It looks like they can handle it.”
“This is a Rangana city.” Rory snorted. “The women and children live in houses on the cliffs. Only the men stay in the city…all the men are warriors, save for the Queen, who is the ultimate warrior and wields a power of…considerable legend. This shouldn’t take long.”
The warriors of the city had immediately assembled in a matter of minutes, with the Queen herself coming out to battle. From the cracks in the ground and the shadows of the evening sky, wispy white figures began to rise up.
“Ah, the Whisperfolk are coming.” Rory commented. “And quite a lot of them too…I suppose it is true that the whisper prince is tied to her royal highness.”
“W-whisper folk?” Eira murmured. “Rory…!”
“Eira?” He twisted around to see her. “What’s happening? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine…my head…” An agonized cry was muffled by his hand.
“Shhh! I-I’m sorry…we can’t…I can’t let anyone hear you.”
Her head bobbed to show she understood, but coherence was quickly fading. Eira struggled to keep her mind clear, desperately attempting to overcome the pain. It was a useless battle and in a matter of seconds, she lay limply in his arms.
He sighed. “We should have stayed.” Gently easing her to the ground, he settled carefully around her, tail twitching. “Now I can’t move you from here.”
“Rory? Why aren’t they fighting? What’s happening?”
“Eira? You’re awake!”
“I can’t see! What’s happening?”
“Your eyes are open, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t see anything you-!”
“Shh! Stand up.” He helped her stand, bracing against him, one hand over her eyes. “Try looking through my hand.”
“I can’t look through your-”
“Try. Just try!”
“Y-yes…thank you. What’s wrong with me?”
“Aois.” He said, simply. “He’s here on orders from the master.”
“He knows then.” Eira moaned. “He can tell?”
“From the very moment my allegiance shifted to you, yes. He could tell. He probably sent Aois as insurance…that’s why he was so close.”
“Why aren’t they winning?”
“What makes you think they’re losing?”
“Why aren’t they winning?”
“…Aois did something to the queen.”
“What?” Eira twisted away from his hand, a faint sparking of red returning from the ground and traveling quickly up to her head. “What did he do? Is she all right? What’s going on?”
“You were out for some of it.” Rory kept an arm protectively around her. “He attacked the queen in mid-sequence…she’s good at dance patterns. It’s strong protective circle, but only she can finish it. It controls the whisper folk and…in the state they are now…they can only protect her.”
“Because she has to give them the order to fight.” He swallowed. “And she can’t.”
“What about the men? The warriors?”
“They can’t move…he’s a storm child…remember?”
“A rogue storm child.” Eira spat. “He can’t be that powerful!”
“He isn’t just using his own power, or haven’t you figured that out yet? Someone else is feeding him energy. Dark energy.”
“Don’t ask questions you know answers to.”
“I’ve been sleeping!” She snapped. “I haven’t had time to figure things out.” The headache was now beginning to fade as anger took over. “He shouldn’t do this.”
“This isn’t his fight…these people.” Her hands clenched into fists. “It’s me he’s after, isn’t it?”
His grip on her shoulder tightened. “You are not going out there.”
“You can’t stop me.” Eira jerked away. “And I can’t let those people…I can’t-”
“You can’t help them!” Rory darted in front of her. “There can’t be two powers with feminine energies of this magnitude in such close quarters. The queen of the Rangana is the only woman with the capacity and ability to-”
“And I am not half as dense as you think I am.” Eira glared at him. “You can stay out of my way…or.” She swallowed. “I can order you to. This is my fight, Rory. This is my…fault. It’s my problem. I’ll fix it. I can’t let him hurt more people.”
“They can take care of themselves!”
“For how long!” She dodged around him, feeling the weight of her body beginning to settle in. This would not be a fair fight.
“You can barely-!”
“I will order you.” She heaved a breath. “Please….Rory…please…” A stab of pain sliced through her head. “I have to go.”
She took her own sweet time in appearing.
Aois noted that with a tinge of annoyance as the prize herself finally stumbled into the newly smoldering ruins. It was almost boring throwing his energy bolts at the clustered troops and protective royal shields. His shadow people were doing quite well.
For Rangana warriors, it was actually boring. He yawned. He’d been expecting more of a resistance, something to at least keep him occupied for more than a minute.
But then Eira had come.
He’d mistaken her for a boy, with her short hair and shapeless outfit. There was some sort of illusion over her, but there was no doubt to her identity as she walked straight to the faintly glowing white circle and stood in the center.
This, he watched with interest. He’d never seen the runaway girl in action and the thought of being witness to her supposed gift was quite entertaining. The Ragana Queen had begun the pattern dance for her whisper folk warriors to attack, but of course, she’d been much too slow.
His shadow warriors were clearly the superior ones to her musical puppets—whisper folk—he scoffed.
“What a joke.” Aois yawned. “Eira…how good of you to come.”
Her head jerked up and after a moment, she gave a stiff nod.
He smirked. “So you do remember me. I’m touched.”
“You didn’t have to do this!” She hurled the words up at him, surrounded by his favored shadow warriors, as she bent down to wrestle her boots off of her feet.
“Ah, but I do.” He lazily sheared off another bolt of white energy. “Oops…I’m sorry…I didn’t realize you were…right there. Please…leave her to me.” He waved aside the shadow sentries moving forward to restrain her.
She rolled awkwardly to the side, shying away from the splinters of stone that showered around from the street. “I’m not going back.”
“Pity. That’s the message Brin and Collin brought back…except for…the master…he didn’t like that too much.” Aois laughed. “Fortunately, he had me to rely on…since even the precious rare Lyrith can change his loyalties at whim. Are you sure about this, Eira, dear?”
The boots were cast aside. “My name is Ian.” She drew herself up to her full height. “Eira…went on…vacation.” A surprised squeak escaped as she crumpled to her knees, her hands going to her head.
Aois couldn’t resist another laugh. “I’m sorry…Ian…Eira. To interrupt your precious vacation…it hurts, doesn’t it?” He cocked his head. “What? It doesn’t hurt enough? I think I can fix that.”
“Rory, no!” A scream left her lips as she clawed at the ground, head pressed into the ground. “Don’t…”
The Lyrith was standing just outside the giant glowing white circle, his expressive black eyes fixed on Aois.
“Yes, Rory, please don’t interfere.” The storm child yawned again. “Your turn will come after I’ve taken care of her.” He smirked. “And I’ll definitely be looking forward to it…you shouldn’t bite the hand that takes the utmost care of you.”
An angry snarl was the answering reply.
“Then again, the pretty princess seems to have a headache…how ‘bout I play with you first and then when she’s had a chance to-”
“Don’t you dare touch him!” Her voice rang out fierce and clear, red energy now visibly burning through her eyes and working to envelope her body. “You had no right to do this.” Her hands clenched into fists, the red energy blurring to white. “You had no right to do this!”
She skipped forward two steps then dodged to the left, three. White lines began to form, connecting as the glowing footsteps began to provide a simple pattern. “My mother taught me this.” She twirled slowly in place. “It’s child’s play.”
The battle blurred into a swirling mass of multicolored energy.
Eira completed the dance pattern, calling to her aid the vast army of whisperfolk, bearing enough energy to completely immobilize the rouge storm child and even more. The queen revived at once, with the storm child’s hold over her melting away.
A golden staff shimmered in her hand and she moved to stand in the center of the circle, taking over from Eira. “You don’t have to-!”
“In the sky, Aois.” Eira glared at him. “You won’t wreck any more of this city.” Shooting into the air, with the aid of her burning white energy, the battle continued, this time between the two figures. A battle of wills, a single pillar of energy, two different worlds colliding with one another.
A power struggle that would cost each of them in a different way. A cost that would be more than they were willing to give.
As her energy began to fade, the Queen slowly rose into the air, a few feet behind the tiring girl. “Ian?” Her voice was toneless. “I appreciate your effort.” White energy began to spiral over her. “But this is my city…these are my people. You have helped enough.” The golden staff burned dangerously hot as she held it out at arm’s length. “I will take over from here.”
“I hate him!” Eira sobbed, scrubbing her face with her shirt sleeve. “I hate him! I hate everything he’s done and everything he did.”
“It’s okay.” Rory soothed, rubbing her back. “You did it. Everyone’s safe…the queen’s fine. She took over. It’s all okay.”
“No!” Red energy burned in her eyes as she flailed wildly at the arms attempting to comfort her. “Kill him. Kill him…I wish he was dead!” She shoved Rory away. “I wish he was dead.” The red energy began flicker away as she clutched her head, the pain now returning, her attention consumed by it. “I wish…” A tear trickled down her face, contorted in agony. “I wish…you’d kill him.”
“Killing won’t solve anything, Eira…here, let me-”
“Leave me alone! You can’t help me! You’ve never been able to help me.”
“If you want to help me then kill him. Kill Aois. Don’t ever let him hurt any more people…” Her teeth began to chatter as the shaking started again. “That’s how you can help me. Hurt him. Hurt him back…make him bleed for everything he’s done.” Her tear-stained face was bruised and red. “I remember him now…I remember…I wish you’d kill him. Kill him, Rory…make him hurt.”
“That’s an order.”
He stared at her for a long moment and then his head bowed. “If that is what you wish, mistress.” The cold formality had returned. “I hear…and obey…under protest.” He turned to the side, holding out a hand. “Callean staff!” A thick, golden spear materialized in his hand, bejeweled at the tips.
Eira crawled away from the edge of the battlefield, to the safety to the shadow from a nearby home. She watched as he moved easily through the warriors and Aois’s shadow people.
He watched as the storm child’s body was laid on the ground, courtesy of the queen herself, who immediately retreated, leaving the rest to her warriors. She passed him and froze, a silent exchange between them.
He dropped his gaze first, turning towards the mob-like crowd.
A hiss came through her teeth and she snapped her fingers.
The crowd parted.
Rory silently moved between them and to the place where the unconscious teenager lay. The golden spear gleamed as he raised it over his head.
Eira turned away, feeling the ache in her head moving somewhere deeper where she couldn’t reach. The tears didn’t stop falling.
She didn’t even notice when the tiny wisps of black energy crept up her feet and took her away.
The earth beneath her trembled, a faint rumble. A spray of wetness washed over her, as if a wave had crashed at the edge of the cliff. From the darkening skyline, an equally dark figure rose from the cliff’s edge.
Dripping wet, his cloak clung to him, his face hidden beneath the giant hood. He stepped onto the dry ground, leaving very wet footprints behind. Black energy of the darkest kind freely rolled off of him in controlled waves.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this mad. Then again…probably…I’ve seen him close to this mad. I think he hates me right now…well, duh, I’d probably hate me right now if I was the stupid clueless apprentice…which, I’m not, of course…I just…
I really wish he’d say something. I shouldn’t have woken up today. I should have stayed sleeping…starving…and dreaming nightmares. I’m dead. Yeah. I’m really dead. I hate my life. Then again, if I was dead and I actually had worries I’d…aughhh! I hate this! If he’s going to kill me, why can’t he just get it over with! I’m pretty much half-dead already…
“You moved.” His voice was crisp, cold and very precise. He didn’t even turn to look, remaining as a wispy pillar of darkness standing before me.
He’d transported us directly to a cliff overseeing the city, in a patchy clearing lined with trees leading back to the jungle. The same cliff where I’d had Rory take me. Somehow, I think he knows. He knows everything.The ground was covered with a thin carpet of grass and the stone beneath it was very cold. It wasn’t as cold as he was.
My legs were aching, but I didn’t dare move, focusing instead on the mild pain gained from digging my fingernails into my palms. It was always a good counterattack, to combat the things in my heart so my head could function freely. It helped to keep my head clear, but it didn’t stop the goosebumps hidden beneath my tunic sleeves.
I haven’t been this scared for awhile.
I thought I’d gotten over it.
I thought it couldn’t happen again.
My lip hurts. I guess I split it without realizing. Well, without realizing just how badly split it is, I guess. It was annoying before. Now it just hurts. It really hurts. It’s not as bad as my eye though…could be worse. I’ve been in worse. This is just…another…chapter of…life. I can endure it. I can survive. I have no other choice. I’ve made it through quite a day already. It can’t possibly get any worse.
“So…let me get this straight…” The head turned slightly, annoyance painted over the hard features. “You were doing a favor for Nimbus because you did something or the other to irritate him and-”
“I didn’t irritate him!”
“-and I didn’t say you could speak.” One hand extended and pantomimed a closing mouth. “and the favor required retrieving his understudy…with which somehow led to street brawl? On top of that, you forcibly removed the Lyrith guaranteeing our safe stay within this city for your own purposes. You fought a rogue storm child, leaving considerable damage to the city…all while I was…otherwise occupied?”
“You were praying, ‘cause we were all gonna die.” I tried, helpfully.
I really am dead. Stupid me. Stupid mouth. Stupid words. Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? It wouldn’t be so bad if the idiot looked worse than I did, but he was just so…so…such a self-deserving…ugh! And I needed Rory…I…I didn’t plan for things to turn out this way! I didn’t think I’d feel like this either. I didn’t think about the pain. So much pain. Everything hurts. Everywhere hurts. I wish it would go away.
“There was really no need to engage him. Not physically, not mentally and most certainly not with your powers! What were you thinking? Did I not clearly articulate the importance of not using your powers in this city?” The black shroud turned, moving forward to kneel before me. The anger was still deeply etched into his face, but his hands held something different within them as he cradled my face. “…if you had just let it go…you wouldn’t have this…” One finger caressed a painful bruise. “and this…” My lip. “and this…” My eye. “You really are slow on your right, aren’t you? That was quite a bit of energy you used up there, young lady. Don’t ever do that again. Why didn’t you call me? I thought, one time…that I heard you, but then…it was gone, as if it was nothing. I know you’d never give a false alarm, so I didn’t pursue it.”
Please don’t hurt me…
“You really are noisy…didn’t you get the package I left with Nimbus? There was a bloque in there for you. Mint-flavored.”
“What packa-ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Owie! That hurts!” I tried to pull away from his hands, but I couldn’t. They were and nice cold, but the change in temperature was like a burning fire everywhere they touched. “Yeah…I got the package.”
“Of course it hurts…all of my healings do.” The hands dropped and he shifted to his feet, the black cloak wisping about him as he moved. “Let’s deal with the street fight first. If you absolutely must fight in the future—keep your face out of it…illusions are maintained through perfect appearance…they went for your neck, didn’t they?”
I swallowed. Speaking hurts.
How did you know?
“Why do you think I had you cut your hair?”
“…you knew they would attack me?”
“I…suspected. You are not the kind to run from a fight and my illusions vary from setting and atmosphere.”
He hesitated. “That…and Jordan…he can see through it.”
“What?” My body responded to the news with more energy than I felt. My feet struggled to move and I stood, wavering, for a few moments. “When were you going to tell me that? How could-!”
“That’s his gift and I saw no reason to inform you of it, if you two were not to meet, besides, it would have only complicated things.”
“Nimbus has accepted him as an unofficial apprentice under League guidelines because their gifts are fairly similar in nature. Jordan can see through illusions, he doubtless saw through yours and didn’t see any harm in creating a fuss.”
“Next time I’ll knock his head off.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, because there will not be a next time, apprentice. Do not, and I am giving this as a last warning, since we have but barely a day left within this city—do not use your powers again and absolutely, do not engage in any kind of physical combat!” He rubbed his eyes and then his nose and then he punched the tree beside him.
There was a loud crack as the sound echoed eerily through the jungle, bouncing off the stone ridges and valley where a sleeping Pietrasaan glowed faintly in the evening light. They were recovering from the battle within.
For a moment, silence returned and then the Dark Phoenix moved to stand in front of me again, speaking from beside me, his voice soft and low. “I cannot overlook disobeying a direct order.” His head bowed. “The most direct and important one of them all. I trusted you, Eira. To listen to me. To do as I said. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
Please don’t hurt me…!
“I cannot excuse the fact that you…caused a street brawl…in a city full of men…spanning two blocks…I do not want to know how it came about, but I do want you to be aware of the fact that it is because of your actions, that you will be punished. Not only for a street fight, but for breaking and entering royal quarters-”
“It was for a friend!”
“A Lyrith is your friend? The same one you can tell me nothing about?”
“He’s not a monster!”
“He’s a liability! Do you even know where he is now?”
Please…please…don’t hurt me…I can’t tell you that. I can’t give up Rory on top of everything else. Don’t make me give up Rory.
“Breaking and entering royal quarters, using your powers to assist in that matter, engaging in an actual fight also requiring use of your powers.” He frowned. “I also have a troubling bit of news from the queen, who says the Lyrith acted on your orders…and killed that storm child. Also, according to her, the storm child called you ‘Eira’ and his only reason for attacking such a fortified city…was to retrieve, said person. I sincerely hope it was her imagination getting the better half of her, but I would much more prefer to hear an answer from you.”
Please…don’t hurt me. I can’t answer that. I can’t.
“Did you?” He almost laughed. “You needn’t answer straightaway, I also seem to remember another instance of defiance this morning…and yesterday…in regards to your physical exam and…needles. You seem to have a serious problem with following orders regardless of whether they are for your own good or that of others. Are you not aware that there are consequences for every action in this universe? All this that’s happened, it cannot go unpunished.”
I-I didn’t mean it. I didn’t. Please don’t hurt me.
“If you were a boy…for all that you have done up to now…I would…” He sighed. “But you are not and that cannot be helped. However, I do have a suitable punishment in mind, in light of these new circumstances I apply it towards all accumulated grievances. For the sake of appearances and whatever is left of your alternate identity, I will postpone the majority of this…unpleasantness for when we leave Pietrasaan.” The darkened face turned away.
You aren’t going to hurt me? You can’t-! It’s a lie!
“However, in light of the current situation, I feel a need to ensure we are on the same wavelength and it is for this reason that I chose a disciplinary path far more…painful, for you, at the moment.”
I know…I knew it. If you don’t hurt me…I can’t learn. I must learn. I’m a monster…in a child’s body. I see nothing. I feel nothing. I learn nothing. I must learn. Only monsters are ignorant.
He moved towards the tree and settled comfortably at the base, the cloak thrown back over his shoulders, one hand beginning to undo the buttons on the shirt’s wrist-cuff. “Come. Sit.” He patted the ground beside him. “I have other matters to tend to before the day is over.” The golden-grey eyes glittered black. “Now, apprentice.”
I am not moving of my own accord. There is something deeper and darker inside of me that compels my feet to move forward and my body to obey the orders issued before me. I do not want to obey. I do not want to disobey. I do not want to do anything.
But still, I am sitting…beside him. A prince of darkness, it would seem, in all his terrifying glory.
I’m so afraid. I feel like I can’t breathe.
The left shirt-sleeve has been rolled up, the truth-mark visible, glowing a faint, pale blue in the coming darkness of night. He sat, cross-legged, leaning forward with his elbows braced on his knees. “Give me your hands.” He extended his own, palms facing upwards.
I don’t want to…!
My hands lift of their own accord and slide into his. They are warm. His are cold.
“We’re going to play a game.”
I am falling forward it seems, until our foreheads touch. I cannot bear to look at him. My eyes are so tired. I am so tired. I want to sleep. I need to sleep.
A game…? I don’t want to play games! I hate playing games! I want to go home…I want to be…normal. Please…don’t hurt me.
“You have two powers, correct?”
A gasp is caught in my throat.
No! How can you know? I hid it…I hid it well…I can’t…you can’t…know. Mustn’t let you know that—
“A yes or no is fine, apprentice.”
A flare of fire rushes through me. I feel my body twitch, shudder and jerk. But the hands holding mine refuse to release me. My eyes are open, searching for a distraction. I can still feel the fire.
The truth mark is painted an angry, brilliant red.
“One red, one white…yes?”
The redness flares blue. A faint coolness trickles down from my fingertips to my elbow. This is the soothing property of…truth?
“You are avoiding the question.”
“N-n…” I want to say no, but…I can’t.
Please don’t hurt me.
“Were you a League graduate of basic training?”
No! Please…ask me different questions. Ask me about anything…but me.
The mark flares red. It is answering when I cannot even begin to think of a suitable answer.
“Did you search for me of your own accord?”
“Yes.” I can answer this one.
The coolness washes over me like a refreshing ocean breeze. Bliss is beautiful for a moment, it feels like if I smile, it will break.
The smile on his face is a smirk. It speaks of something I do not understand. I did not know he could be like this. I am afraid. “You will answer me now.” His voice is almost mocking. “Everything I ask you…you will answer.”
Somehow I am staring at those black eyes…and I understand. I will not be able to refuse him. I will have to…obey.
“Why did you hide your gifts from me?”
“I…I thought you wouldn’t take me as an apprentice.”
“If you knew how dangerous I was…”
“Do other people know…how dangerous you are?”
“Do you know these people?”
“Have these people…hurt you…before?”
“How many times?”
“I-I stopped counting.”
This is going to hurt. Much worse than I thought. Please…I must learn…somehow…help me…
© Sara Harricharan