This weeks’ Friday Fiction is hosted by Christina Banks @ her blog, With Pen in Hand. Click here to read and share more great fiction.
Author’s Ramblings: All done! Just barely! I have to say, if it wasn’t for the help and support of my folks and friends today, this particular piece would not have been finished. It’s taken awhile to get it finished and it’ll take some more time for me to space it, so I’ll come back and ramble when I’m done. ^_^
RECAP: When Eunice is no help, Eira dashes off in hopes of helping the DP. She enters the mountain and finds finds Rory, being controlled by the charming messenger girl, Uleah. Along the way, Schol, begins to show his true darkness, resulting in the death of Eira’s current stepmother and step sister, Leesha and Lyssa.
THIS IS THE LAST POST IN THE SERIES OF 8 TO THE FINAL CONCLUSION OF THIS SERIAL. PLEASE NOTE, The length of this post is well beyond a few thousand words. Enjoy! Older posts can be found under the tag HFTDP.
“Isn’t it funny?” Uleah’s laughter filled the tunnel as Eira stood over the crumpled body again, her tears dripping freely from her face. “I’m having a blast. This is so hilarious that I could die! Rei is such a-”
“His name is Rory, not Rei.” Eira’s head turned, she looked from the unconscious Lyrith at her feet to the laughing girl at her right. Stepping over the body, she started towards the girl. “It’s not funny.”
The laughter died in her throat as Uleah, skittered backwards. “Of course it is. You think you love him so much, but right now he hates you. So you’re trying so hard not to hurt him, that it’s almost killing you. If you just had the guts to blast him, your troubles would be all over! It’s hilarious!”
“No. It’s sick.” Eira rolled her neck to the side. “I don’t need guts to blast you. It’s because I care about him that I’m not going to kill him. You think you have the perfect trap here, don’t you?” She scoffed. “You little…brat.”
“What did you just call me?” Uleah drew herself up to her full height. “Excuse-”
“You’re excused.” Eira took a deep breath and let it out quickly. “You’re excused for lame fashion sense, pathetic powers and a really sick sense of humor.”
“Fashion sense? Who’s talking? You’re the one wearing blood!” Uleah sniped. “You don’t have any humor to speak of and your powers could never hope to be as lasting as my charms and-”
“Charming isn’t a power.” Eira covered her mouth with one hand, speaking through the fingers. “But I can’t say that I’ve been charmed to make your acquaintance.” She flung the hand out and the tiny symbol glowing on her palm leapt from her hand to the floor. “Red wine!”
Eira turned away as she heard the scream. “You’re Chessy’s little sister, aren’t you?” She threw the question over her shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’ll live. I don’t believe in taking lives for revenge, but you’ll probably never drink again—even water might be a stretch.”
“I wish I could, but I don’t really want to.” Eira shrugged. “I like talking. It annoys you. See, I do remember Uleah. I have a very good memory.” She turned to see the girl writhing on the floor, her hands clutched to her head, the shadow folk around her mimicking the same movements. “I remember you, now that I think about it. You should’ve taken the easy way out by not getting involved in this mess to begin with. Your hair wasn’t red then, though was it?” She sighed. “Never mind, I don’t feel like annoying you after all. Excuse me, I have to rescue my Lyrith.”
From the half-form, he flickered to the animal form and then lastly, to his two-legged form. Eira approached on tip-toe, lightly circling him and waiting. His outfit was mostly ruined, thanks to her attacks and the upper tunic had been shredded completely. A faint shadow on his chest caught her eye and she bent to investigate it.
He woke as she traced a finger over the X-shaped scar on his chest. The mark hadn’t faded completely, though the other traces of ownership had been removed. Eira didn’t flinch as he grabbed her hand, already beginning to sit up as her tears spilled over again.
“No, Rory!” She threw herself forward, hugging his neck. “No. Don’t do that. Don’t. Listen to me. Listen to my voice…come back, please.”
His hands, warm and powerful, curved around her arms, beginning to forcefully remove her from his neck, when a slight tremor passed through him.
“Rory?” Eira pulled away. A single tear glistened at the corner of one eye and for a moment, he stared at her in confusion. Eira tried to smile, automatically darting out one hand to wipe the tear away. “I was trying not to make you cry-” A hiccup caught in her throat.
“But it was okay for you to cry your heart out?” Eira stared at him in surprise as the hands holding her, dropped. His two, warm hands cupped her face, as he wiped away the tears with his thumbs. “What took you so long, mistress.”
“Eira.” She laughed and cried, relief trickling over her like a sweet soul balm. “My name is Eira, you blockhead.”
He caught one tear and touched it to his lips. “I’m sorry, E. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“That’s okay.” Eira gave a nervous giggle as he shifted beneath her, standing up, cradling her in his arms. “I can walk. I’m fine.” He squeezed her a little harder than necessary. “Rory, ow!”
“Remind me to scold you later.” He said, sternly. “That was a dangerous thing to do!”
“I didn’t do it!” Eira blushed. “Whatever it is!”
“The fact that you don’t know, worries me all the more.” He sighed. “The mark, Eira. A secondary method of melding is to exchange body flu-”
“Don’t tell me!” Eira twisted her hands free to clap them over his mouth, feeling the blush spreading across her face. “I don’t wanna know!”
Rory easily leaned away from her anxious hands. “Your blood. You had a nosebleed. I had a cut.” Her blush deepened. “Your tears. My tears. You touched them directly to our original marks. I couldn’t resist a call like that.”
And now I’m not sure I can look you in the face right now. Eira turned to the side. “I-I can walk, seriously.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. They’d notice your signature in an instant. This flooring magnifies energy signatures. It’s a prime spot for summoning ground material or whatever it is you use.”
“The one on the cliff, your first one? It’s made of the same rock, but it’s been bleached by the sun.” Rory shifted her. “It’s sensitive. Schol casts circles without even blinking. He’s grown stronger, E. Much stronger than before.”
“Let me worry about that.” Eira smiled. “How ‘bout we find Deene? I thought I saw him wandering around here.”
“He’s under Schol’s influence.”
“And he hates you.”
“Well, we can’t just leave him, can we? Master Phoenix will give me that look again.”
“The one that says ‘we’re going to have a discussion about this’. That look.”
“Ohh…and that is worrisome?”
“Rory? Not helping!”
“I am only attempting to reason out whether you like him or not.”
Eira nearly choked. “What? Where did that come from? What does that have to do with anything!” She squirmed. “Put me down! You empty-headed-I didn’t hit you that hard, what’s wrong with your-!”
“I can’t put you down, E. The floors will give us away.”
Found him, E. Rory padded to a stop, cautiously peering around the corner. He’d shifted to his half form to allow Eira to ride on his back while they explored. She was pretending she couldn’t hear him, her head pointedly facing a different direction.
Eira wrinkled her nose.
“E, you can stop calling me names now. I apologized-”
“If you didn’t say it in the first place there wouldn’t be a need to apologize, now would there?”
Could you keep your voice down?
Rory winced. Right. Sorry I asked.
Stop apologizing! Eira huffed, arms crossed over her chest. You’re a-there’s Deene!
That’s what I was trying to tell you.
“Really? It was kind of hard to hear in between all of that-”
“He saw us.” Rory ducked away.
“Hey, wait!” Eira grabbed his waist. “Rory! We can’t run! We have to help him!”
“I don’t think we can help him.”
“Is that you talking or your ‘fraidy cat self?”
I am not a ‘fraidy cat.
“But you are a cat and you aren’t listening.”
Cats don’t listen.
“This one does.” She squeezed him tight. “Listen to me!”
I don’t think there’s anything that we can-
“Rory! This is an order, turn around and let’s go help Deene. The good kind of help, not the bad kind.”
There was a low growl in his throat and with some difficulty, the Lyrith turned around, reluctantly returning to the head of the tunnel and starting in the direction where they’d seen the rock guardian.
Why do I have a bad feeling about this?
Because you’ve been thinking about nonsense instead of using your head to formulate a good back-up plan! Eira leaned to the side. Where’d he go? Ah!
“Did you find something?” Schol turned towards the gaggle of shadow folk that had risen from the ground. He was standing at the railing on the outcropping once more, surveying the scurrying workers below. “I could use some good news. Ah, how entertaining. A girl fight? I am sorry to think that I’ve missed it.” He smiled. “Why don’t you take me to the loser, though?”
The eager wispy creatures circled him, joining hands to form a crude transportation circle. He brought it to life with a thought and they flickered away in a flash of reddish-gray sparkles, leaving the body behind.
Garrett staggered forward, clutching his chest, heaving a breath as the spirit left him. He cast a frightened look at where the creatures had held him a moment ago. Uncertainty showed plainly on his face as he tried to reason whether it was good for Schol to be on his own.
“Don’t care.” He muttered, drawing himself up as best as he could. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Leesha…Lyssa…I’m sorry. Wiping his face with one hand, he started towards the porting circle and then stopped, a wave of fear rushing over him.
“It’s probably…Chessy?” He hurried to the rail and leaned over, searching the flow of traffic. His stomach heaved at the sight of a pair of shadow folk hurriedly sweeping up the floor in front of the Death Warp.
Bile rose in his throat and he turned away. “Chessia Mureton?”
“She’s right here you idiot.” Chessia scowled. “Stop screaming my name out. Do you want to get us both killed?”
“Maybe it’s safer than being alive.” He licked his lips, pointing to the railing. “What was that?”
She shrugged. “Punishment.”
“For what?” Garrett stared at her, a slow feeling of regret beginning to register in his head. “They didn’t do a thing! If anything, their hands were cleaner than ours-what right did he-”
“That’s probably the reason why.”
“They’ve never borne a single speck of dirt in this whole business.” Chessia shrugged. “You know Schol needs the negativity and dark energy to feed, you do a decent job of providing a few snacks here and there, but it was probably nullified with their happy, perky-”
“That was my baby sister, Chessia.” The iciness returned to him. “That was my baby sister and her little girl.” He started forward. “You’re useless to me now.”
Chessia quickly backed away, aiming towards the transport circle on the floor. “And I’m sorry that it bothers you. I didn’t think it would, after all you’ve killed and schemed away the Omaha family just for your personal gain and-”
“That was different!”
“Because it really was or because you say so?” She smirked. “You think your hands are still clean! You think that you’ve got a right to object after all that you’ve-”
“Shut up, woman!” He lurched forward, grabbing the lab coat collar, one hand closing around her throat. “And don’t even think of waving around that useless gun of yours. Do you really think you’re any better?”
“Let me go! What do you think you’re doing?” Chessia twisted. “You-!” She struggled, moving back and pulling him with her. They stepped onto the transport circle as Chessia decided on the destination, her eyes closed.
There was a flash of pale yellow light and when they arrived, Garrett released her. “Where are we?” He cast a quick glance around, taking in sterile-white walls and a handful of medical equipment positioned beside narrow beds.
“Can’t you tell?” She smirked, reaching for a vial on a silver tray to the left.
“I’m not finished with you!” Garrett whirled around, grabbing her shoulder.
She held up the bright green vial ominously. “Are you sure you want to threaten me?”
He released her at once. “Put that down!”
“Don’t want to.” She drew a needle from her coat pocket and stabbed in the top, drawing it full of the green liquid.
“Don’t come near me with that!” Garrett stumbled backwards, searching for the exit, hands groping along the slippery wall.
“Don’t want to do that either.” She smirked. “What’s the matter? Are you afraid? A big man like you, scared of a little needle?”
“you and your stupid experiments!” He backed into a corner, eyes lighting on a handful of precision tools, with tiny, Krystal blades. A few of them glowed briefly, proof of the energy crystals still powering them. “The times are more advanced than biological warfare! You’re living in the past!”
“That’s funny, because it seems to be perfect to me. Everyone is so caught up in searching for the best new way, they’ve forgotten all the old things. It puts them at a distinct disadvantage, wouldn’t you think? And then they’d all need me to keep” She followed his line of sight. “Ah, don’t even think of using those. They won’t operate without a licensed healer’s touch. Isn’t that considerate of them? To be sure such delicate, yet dangerous tools never fall into the wrong hands.”
Garrett sprang over the cart to his left, dashing to the other side of the room. Chessia tested the needle, using a blob of lavender energy to catch the dribble of green from the pointed tip.
“You can’t run anywhere, Garrett.” She sighed. “You don’t even understand, do you?”
“You can’t touch me. Schol will-”
“Ah, one minute you’re terrified of him, the next, you’re crying for him. How touching.” She circled, forcing him to edge back to the center of the room. “You know, I find this to be extremely amusing, you’re searching for an exit and I shouldn’t mention it, but I can’t help myself.” She moved closer. “There isn’t one.”
She laughed. “Did I get your attention now? It was a little bitty gift from Schol. You didn’t even know he was playing around behind your back? Did you really think that you were the only one who could control him? You, with your misguided-”
“You’re making a mistake, Chessy!”
“Ah, so we’re back to Chessy? I was just congratulating myself that I’d finally gotten to hear my full name from your lips.”
“Get away from me!”
“What do you two want?” Deene growled, hefting the blackened blades from the packing crate and setting on the workbench. He sifted through the tools and found the wrench he was searching for, beginning to tighten the bolts along the edge.
Eira stared at him, sliding from Rory’s back, ignoring his whined protest. “Y-you’re not…charmed?”
Two black eyes drilled into her. “Am I supposed to be?”
“But you-!” Rory started forward, stopped by Eira’s hand on his chest.
“Yeah, Rory. Don’t.” Deene scoffed. “Why can’t you two mind your own business?”
“Because what you’re doing here is…wrong.” Her brow furrowed.
“Tightening bolts is bad?”
Rory looked away.
“N-no.” Eira said, slowly. “But who you’re tightening them for is.”
“It’s a job and I’m getting paid.” He muttered. “So go away.”
“look, if you’re made because Master Phoenix yelled at you-”
“E!” Rory snatched her away from Deene’s rock punch as the guardian whirled around, glaring at her.
“This has nothing to do with that!”
“Then what are they holding over you?” Rory shifted from half-from to two-legged, his Callean spear materializing in his hand. “I know you were charmed. You almost killed me, you-!”
“I thought Lyriths didn’t die that easily.”
“They do.” Eira stepped around Rory, pushing him back again. “Stop being mean, Rory.” She bit her lip. “Lyriths are sensitive. We didn’t have a solid bond and in trying to protect me or contact me, it reduced him.
He was probably operating on a thousandth of his lifeforce, energy, and everything! It isn’t hard to kill something that’s lost the will to live.”
A flicker of discomfort passed over Deene’s shadowed face. “Then, sorry, Lyrith, if it helps.”
“It doesn’t.” Rory growled.
“Rory!” Eira turned on him, hands on her hips. “I’m the one that he’s supposed to hate and the one that hates him, why are you getting all worked up!”
The answer was a whine that turned into a growl.
Eira sighed. “Fine. Here.” She lifted his free hand and placed it on her shoulder, keeping a firm grip on it. “See? I’m fine. He’s …not fine, but we’ll fix that, okay?”
“You can’t fix anything. Just go away before you cause trouble for everyone.”
“I can help if-”
“You’re really good at causing trouble for people, it’s like your secondary power.”
“It’d have to be my fourth, actually.” Eira interjected. “Not that you care, but seriously, just give me a chance and-”
“You’re forgetting that I hate you and you hate me.” Deene shrugged. “So right now, if you don’t get lost by the time I turn around, we’ll actually have to fight each other again or something, so do you mind?”
“Yeah. I do.” Eira’s grip on Rory’s hand tightened. “You don’t have to do this. You don’t understand what’s really going on here.”
“Sure I do. I’ve seen Schol. Talked to him even, a pretty smart guy. I’m sure he’s already figured out that you’re here and-”
“What are they holding over you?” Rory demanded. “At least let us try to help before you decide that you can handle everything on your own!”
“I can handle everything on my own.” Deene turned, wrench in hand. “Why are you still here? Didn’t I just tell you to get lost?”
“Is it money? Friends? Family?” Eira tried. “you have to give me something to work with here!”
“I don’t want your help!” Deene exclaimed. “Can’t you understand that?”
“No.” Her head bowed. “Because when I was you, I desperately wanted someone to just try to get me out here.”
“Well, I’m not you, so just-”
“You flinched when I said family.” The head raised, a faint flicker of red in one eye and white in the other. Her energies pooled at her fingertips, visible baubles of each coming to life in her hands. “So let’s assume it’s family. I can help you, Deene. I can cast a circle to protect them. I can imprint another to be sure that none of Schol’s minions can touch them. I can undo whatever it is that charmer messenger girl did to you.”
“I’m doing this of my own free will! That girl had noth-”
“You liar!” Eira hissed. Now I understand why untruths bother you so much, Master. In this form, it’s practically unbearable to tolerate such a things. “You may not care about what you do, but I do. I care because of Schol. What he did to me. What he’s done to my family. Because of that, I’m helping you. Not for any other reason!”
Red and white energy erupted in a brilliant fountain of energy.
The transparent form shimmered in the air, a tingle of bells as the red energy deposited the spirit in the hallway, a more solid form beginning to ripple to the front. Schol followed the shadow creatures as they bustled towards the tunnel intersections.
Lying in the center of the floor, her body twitching and jerking, was Uleah. She was trying to use her powers to stabilize herself, but each result was even worse than the one before it.
A smile gradually swept over his face as Schol moved to stand in her line of sight. “I would ask if you are drunk, minion.” He looked down at her. “But I’m far too captivated by such a lovely sight to even think of asking such an embarrassing question to so charming a young lady.”
Her hazy eyes tried to focus on the figure hovering above her. Her body reacted with frenzied convulsions.
“Now, now…” Schol stooped beside her, tangling his scythe-hands in her hair, carefully keeping the blade from slicing through. “Don’t tell me I’m scaring you, little one.” He stroked her cheek with the other blade. “That’s quite a powerful medallion on you. I’ve never seen it before.”
“H-help me.” Her teeth chattered.
“Why?” His hands left her hair and now the blades scraped slowly up and down the length of her neck. “I haven’t seen such an amusing sight since-” His head jerked up and the smile melted away from his face.
Uleah glared up at him as he rose to his feet.
He stretched a hand towards her darkened aura, absorbing the negative energy. His image flickered, another portion becoming more solid. “You have something you wish to ask of me?” His attention returned to her.
“Chessy’s doing this to you, isn’t she? Wrapping you around her finger for her stupid little dream of controlling the-”
“Is that what you want to ask?”
“I can help you get away from her, i-if you want.” He stared at her for along moment. “I can help you, if you’ll let me.”
“Her power is unique.”
“Lavender is lavender.” Uleah coughed. “I’m the whole reason you have that Death Warp, I think you owe me.”
“Owe you? What do you think you are?”
“A wall ornament.” She looked away. “But I’m a very useful one, I always brighten a room and change the atmosphere.”
“I don’t have a use for you.” He yawned. “Therefore, you are useless.”
“She just did something that bothered you, didn’t she?”
“You are a very intuitive wall ornament.”
“I have to be.”
“Are you even supposed to be here?” Deene edged around the corner, clinging close to the wall. “Stay back, stupid!”
“He said I could come when I was finished. I’m finished.” Eira gingerly stepped back, standing on tip-toe.
“Stop doing that, it’s annoying.” Deene growled. “It’s clear, there’s another tunnel ahead and to the left, that takes us into the heart of the-”
“If your feet hurt-”
“I’m fine, Rory!” Eira shot him a warning glance, lightly tripping over the floor to the next tunnel, behind Deene.
He paused long enough to look from her to the Lyrith and then at her feet. “You’re barefoot!”
“And only now it registers.” Rory murmured.
“Would you two quit it?” Eira snapped. “I really don’t have the time or the patience for this!”
“You don’t have the time?” The boys exchanged a glance.
Eira glared at him. “Master Phoenix doesn’t have the time!”
Both faces darkened.
“We have to hurry.” Deene sniffed the air. “Something isn’t right here.”
“Smells like death.” Rory inched closer to the edge. “And jungle.”
“Jungle?” Eira perked a brow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think it means prisoners.” Deene scratched his chin. “We must’ve taken a wrong turn.”
“What do you mean a wrong tu-oh.” Eira stopped. The small tunnel opened out into a hallway with a very tall ceiling. A hallway lined on both sides with rectangular cages housing creatures and people.
Deene scrambled backwards as immediately the animals went into a frenzy, screeching, cawing and hissing. “W-what’s-”
“Snack time.” Eira muttered, grimly. “Hold on.”
“Wait!” Both called out to her, but Eira ignored them, settling her weight fully on her feet.
She stepped into the hallway, head held high, leaning away from the hands stretching through the bars. “Did you all miss me?” She crooned, her voice honey-sweet. “I didn’t mean to leave you all alone. Have they been treating you well? Ah, there’s a few newcomers now too. Lucky me.”
“What’s she doing?” Deene stifled a shudder as the girl walked up to one cage and pressed her face to the bars.
Rory scowled. “This was part of her domain.”
“She was Schol’s summoner. She had a quirk, just like the rest of them. She liked little pets and the more miserable they are, the better Schol can feed off of them. It’s settling two problems with one solution. She would have something to play with and he’d have something to eat.”
“He eats them!?”
“The negative energy they give off, not the actual…things.”
“They’re not things, Rory.” Her voice was slightly shrill. “They’re real people and animals. They have feelings too, right?”
The chorus of shrieks, screams and wails grew louder. Eira sighed. “Shhh! If you make all that noise, then I can’t concentrate and get you all out of here, okay?”
Chessia straight her lab coat, strolling out onto the ground level floor, a calm expression carefully fixed on her face. She blended into the flow of workers and took care to keep her eyes from meeting those of the shadow folk.
A triumphant smile was turned inward, as she tried to shift her thoughts from the barely conscious man left in her testing lab. Serves you right, Garrett. You aren’t even human enough to-
“Chessy, there you are.” Uleah caught hold of her sleeve. “We need to talk for a moment, there’s-”
“Let go of me, brat.” Chessia yanked her arm free and then stopped. “She’s here.”
“Be quiet, Ully! I said that she’s-” Chessia turned to face her younger sister, only to find herself staring into the deep red eyes of Schol. “S-schol. There you are, I’d wondered where-”
“Since the sister is no more, that must be the niece.” Schol offered a polite smile. “What do you say that we go and investigate together?”
“What? Wait a moment, what are you doing in Ully? You don’t have a contract with her to-” Her hand went to her mouth as she took in her sister’s short haircut. “Uleah! Did you make a deal with him? Did you give him your…hair? What have you done?”
The spirit tore away from Uleah with a loud slurp, taking on pure, solid form, between them. Both women gave a startled gasp.
“Schol!” Chessia immediately inserted herself between the creature and her sister. “You’ve been cheating on me, haven’t you?” She forced the words through her teeth. “Was I that inferior? Truly no use to you at all?”
“Ah, Chessy, it isn’t that way at all.” He purred. “On the contrary, I find you to be quite delectable and absolutely necessary.”
“Ully, what did you tell him?” Chessia whirled around, grabbing her sister by the shoulders. “I told you to just-”
A bold spark of yellow energy traveled up Uleah’s arms, throwing her sister backwards into Schol. “To be what? In your shadow again? You’re just keeping me around until you can find a way to get rid of me, just like you did with Leesha and Lyssa.”
Chessia paled, her arms turning limp as she leaned against Schol. “What are you talking about? I would never do something as-”
The darkened energy rolled off of her in waves. Schol stood behind her, offering support as the energy was immediately absorbed into his body. One hand rested possessively on her shoulder.
“You liar!” Uleah cried. “I’m not stupid, Chessy! I’m not as stupid as you wish I was.”
“You’re…jealous? I don’t understand.”
“You never understand! You think you have it all figured out that everything will always go your way and nothing will change as long as you have it all under control!”
“Uleah, calm down.” Chessia started forward, but Schol’s hand on her shoulder tightened, holding her back.
“Schol? What’s going on?”
Uleah approached, as the red arms tightened around her sister, effectively restraining her. “You’re smart, sis. Figure it out. It’s not that complicated.” Uleah began rummaging through the lab coat pockets.
“Ully, stop! What are you doing? What are you looking for?”
“I’ll know when I find it. Stop talking so much.”
“I’m not talking at all! I’ve hardly said anything for-don’t touch that! Put it back! That’s a dangerous-”
“I know it’s dangerous! Why do you think I’m looking for it!”
“B-but, I don’t understand!”
“That’s because you’re really stupid. Not smart at all, like you’re always trying to pretend.” Uleah unscrewed the cover and held the vial up. “Just one whiff is deadly, right?”
“D-don’t. Uleah, get that away from me, come on! This isn’t funny!”
“You’re right. It isn’t.”
“Let me go! Let me-go!” Chessia struggled, but the arms held her fast, turning away and dragging her with them. “You can’t leave here there, you can’t! She’s my little sister! Ully! Uleah!” She flailed against the arms. “You can’t do this to me! You can’t do this to her, let me go!” She kicked his feet, but the arms didn’t loosen.
“You should feel lucky.” Schol breathed in her ear. “I saved you.”
“I never wanted you to save me!”
“Your own sister was willing to kill you. She wanted it bad enough to make a contract with me.”
“You didn’t have to accept! You cheater-!”
“Ah, Chessy. But it’s not really cheating, is it? She’s suffering for it now, for tempting me and causing you pain.”
“You’re the one causing me pain-what did you do to her?”
“You have yourself to blame for that. It’s your little pet and my summoner.”
“Eira? Eira’s here?”
“I thought you sensed her earlier and now you feign your surprise? Truly, I am appalled to think you would keep such a thing from me and-”
“She did that? She hurt Ully?”
“It’s a rare medallion. I’ve never seen it before.”
“This is one of her circles? This is one of those brat’s circles?” Chessia stopped struggling. “If I get my hands on her…” She glowered. “So she’s evolved, has she?”
“Yes. I always took care to see that she never learned to cast an original circle. It seems that pesky bird bodyguard of hers is smarter than I thought. He must’ve told her something.”
“You mean the Dark Phoenix?”
“If I catch him, he’s dead.” She growled. “And nothing you say could make me spare him!”
“You feel that strongly for your sister?”
“Because she doesn’t even recognize your sisterly love.”
“Uleah!” The sound of energy humming to life cut off her words. Chessia twisted again his arms to see her younger sister on the ground, writhing from the effects of a medallion now imprinted on her body, visible over her clothes. “Why you filthy-! Did you promise to remove that? Is that how you bribed her? You-”
“Call me as many names as you like, but this for your own good.”
“You don’t know what’s good for me! Let me go! If you kill my sister, I swear I will-”
“You’ll what? You can’t kill me Chessy. Your very existence is what sustains me. You know it. I know it. But you still keep fighting it. What more do you want from me? Haven’t I taken good care of you?”
“No! Ully! You have to move! You have to get away!”
The Death Warp hummed to life.
Chessia’s eyes grew wide. “No…no! You can’t do this! I won’t let you do this!” She began to claw at him, drawing on the signature lavender powers of her nature.
He laughed, holding her, as the beams powered up and shot down on the writhing figure below.
The Dark Phoenix roused from his sleep, the effort taking a little more from him than he cared. His head throbbed faintly and he fluttered his wings about it in an attempt to stop the pressure.
The thoughts tangled as he shifted, unsteadily to his feet within the cold cage. The shadows standing outside, watched him with their glowing red eyes, following his every movement.
His eyes snapped open, a flicker of dark fire accompanying the realization. His wings unfurled with a snap as he walked to the front of the cage. A chirp welled in his throat and he grimaced.
Trump card…Lady Tyrant? Back-up requested.
Phoenix? Is that you? You’ve been out for-
Trump card. Played.
The cage exploded outward, the bars slicing through the shadow guards and rendering them useless. Strolling calmly between the melting wisps of energy, he strolled to the end of the hall and then turned to his left.
A tiny twinge in the back of his head drew a wince.
Ah. Eira. You’re here….alone. No, you’ve found Rory…and Deene. How nice. That saves me another headache.
I suppose there isn’t a way to neatly plot and plan this out, is there? He almost laughed. But that was part of the lesson I was running from, wasn’t it? Things aren’t always neatly packaged and according to routine.
The throb in his head turned into a full-fledged stab of pain straight through his chest.
Bother that…lousy timing.
With a flicker of black energy. The phoenix was gone.
Ah. It seems I’m back where I first was.
The phoenix surveyed the ground level, somewhat relieved to see the Death Warp on one wall and the people still bustling around him, oblivious. Sounds of shouting reached his ears and he followed the hysterical sounds, until he witnessed the scene playing out.
That’s the healer woman from the Durheims…that’s the Chessy that Eira’s…what’s she doing here…wait a minute, so the messenger girl was related to—I hate these kinds of puzzles.
His shoulders hunched forward, his wings giving a shudder.
I suppose it would be rude to interrupt, I ought to just see what’s going on with…oh no. No. Don’t do that. Yes. I’m with the healer lady, don’t do that, you idiot villain.
The Death Warp powered up.
Aren’t you listening? Don’t do that! It means I’ll have to play the hero and…today must be Monday. He thought, darkly. I really hate Mondays.
The beam shimmered and streaked forward as the phoenix took to flight. He watched the girl, as the beam enveloped her completely, but her physical form remained.
Part-Bourak, are you?
He mused, angling towards the beam.
So much for my trump card…at least there’ll be a nice explosion. Besides, it’d be a pity if every one of you villains killed each other off and the prosecution doesn’t have anything to prosecute.
Ah, Eira…I’m sorry. This is going to…freak you out, just a little.
In a solid streak of black, the phoenix threw himself in front of the beam. The pounding on his body drowned out the throbbing in his head and the pains in his chest. It was almost like a giant painkiller, tearing his attention away with something more important than a few petty aches.
The girl beneath him struggled briefly and then went limp. He could still feel her life signature and for that reason, didn’t bother to assist her any further. His attention shifted to the large beam, pinning him down to the floor as he reached inside himself and released the last bit of controlled energy he could spare.
The white energy fizzled, turning a dull gray as a fierce black overtook the pure beam. Standing slowly, keeping his concentration on the beam, the phoenix methodically dismantled the giant warp-gate with deliberate stabs of darkened energy.
Hands….wish I had hands…
The explosion was spectacular.
By the time the shadows had caught up to what was happening, the rest of the workers had flown in terror, stampeding through the minor tunnels, in a blind attempt to exit the mountain. The shadow folk remained, their objective now the interruption.
The phoenix sighed.
This would probably hurt…some.
As the blackness came for him, he sent the final image snapshot of his surroundings.
“Master Phoenix!” Eira shouted, stopping dead in her tracks. Her two companions shifted uneasily, waiting for her to expound.
Empty cages lined the walls before them, all the prisoners freed, swarming around their rescuer as she stood in the midst of the hallway.
“What’s with her?”
“I wouldn’t know…what’s with them?”
“Huh?” Deene turned to see where the Lyrith was pointing. “Oh, them. Don’t worry. They’re locals.”
“Yes. These six are from Pietrasaan, you see the mark they’re required to have under their left ear. It means they belong there and are under the protection of Queen Basanti. They must’ve been patrolling or something and somehow got caught.” He turned to them. “Hey! You know how to get home? Then go!”
“Them?” Rory eyed them. “They don’t look like much.”
Deene glared at him. “Could you try to keep those comments to yourself? All the people outta that city got an immense mountain of pride. I’d prefer not to make it come to the surface.”
“Suit yourself.” Rory continued separating the animals from the people. “This is pretty bad.”
“Of course it’s bad!”
“No, I mean this. When E was in charge…they weren’t caged like this, rather, the ones that were, those were the animals that needed it and there was always room. This is more like…”
“Rory!” Eira barreled down the hallway, grabbing him in a fierce hug. “Rory, we have to go!”
“What’s wrong with her, now?”
“Shut up, rock boy!” Rory scowled at him, gently disengaging the arms from around his waist. “Ow, E. That was a little unexpected what’s the matter with-milady?” The humor melted away at once. “Mistress!”
Eira’s eyes rolled up in her head as her body went limp in his arms.
“Whoa.” Deene stared. “Does she do that a lot?”
“Shut up!” Rory morphed to his half-form, racing down the hall with her cradled in his arms.
“Hey, wait up!” Deene grumped. “Good grief…with all their talk of help and…hey, you all in here! Those of you who want to help fight back, follow me. The rest of you that want to get out, find your own way out…I think it’s down there.” He pointed to the left and bolted after the Lyrith-duo.
The images were streaming through her head too fast for her to absorb them. So many pictures, so many explanations and so many things she didn’t understand. People dead. Lots of people dead. Leesha dead. Lyssa dead. The dark phoenix nearby, calling for him. Wind whistled through her hair and Eira tried to force
her eyes to open. It was too depressing to handle it all.
Need to be awake.
Her stomach rumbled-loudly.
Can’t fall asleep. Have to let…them…know…I’m…okay…
“Eira?” Rory was talking to her.
“Wait a minute, she fainted from hunger? Is that still even possible with her-”
“Stop talking and more helping, rock boy!”
“Deene. My name is Deene.” He grumped. “Here. How did you know this was a kitchen? It’s more like a shack of thrown together-?”
“I know her.” Rory pried her jaw open and poured a sweet, sticky liquid inside. “I usually keep track of these things.”
The taste brought a flood of happy memories and a bitter aftertaste in the back of her throat. She coughed. The syrup was already converting to energy.
Ah. I forgot. Generating energy takes a little more out of me…blech. It makes sweet stuff taste weird. I really liked sweet stuff.
“Eira!” Rory gave her a little shake. “Add this to the rest of the lectures you’re going to get when we’re out of here! Why didn’t you tell me you were-”
“Master Phoenix!” She hiccupped, clutching at his shirt collar. “Sorry…I’m okay, Rory. Really I am…it was just, so sudden…so much and-” She reached out, touching her palm to his cheek.
Rory jerked back as the transfer was shared, crashing into Deene who yelped and then whimpered as he was included in the mindlink.
“What was that?” He demanded, picking himself up from the floor. “And what’s with you two and all of this easy-peasy mind-sharing! I don’t appreciate other people poking into my head with-what are you doing?”
“Casting a circle.” Eira said quietly. “Thanks for bringing me to the kitchen, Rory. Thanks for helping, Deene.”
“Why are you thanking us?” Rory trotted in a circle around her as she traced the shapes on the make-shift kitchen’s floor. “We’re coming with you.”
“No.” Eira said, quickly. “Don’t step there.”
“Excuse me?” Deene dropped the syrup bottle. “You’ve dragged me here for this whole time and now you’re just going to go off on your own like-Sorry, no way. He’s my friend too.”
“Don’t touch her!” Rory barely managed to slap the hand away as he shied from the brilliant flash of light. “Don’t.” He repeated, quieter. “It seems that she’s…evolved.”
The glowing girl before them was enveloped in a cheery pink fire, with one eye red and the other white. The energy pouring out from her body immediately cast a base circle and then the symbols for transportation.
“We can’t let her-!”
“Quiet. Just follow my lead. We can’t follow her direct circle, but the backlash should be enough for two…”
The mismatched trio materialized on the ground floor, a few feet away from the fallen phoenix and Uleah. Eira’s eyes glowed fiercely as she took stock of the chaos happening around her and then traced it to the source.
“Chessy.” Her voice grated. “Schol.” The voice darkened. “I should have known. What did you do to him?”
Rory’s tail twitched as he flanked her left side, a possessive growl rumbling in his throat.
“Ah, Eira, so good of you to come.” Schol mocked. “I see you even brought your pet with you…and is that, your boyfriend? Ah, no. One of my minions, sorry. My mistake.”
“He’s not your minion and he’s not my boyfriend.” Eira felt the ground tremble beneath her feet. “What kind of sick joke is this? How could you?”
“E, no.” Rory looked at her, pleadingly. “I know why you didn’t want me to come, but this isn’t the way to solve it.”
“You can’t stop me, Rory.” Eira touched her hands to the opposite sides of her neck, crossing the energies within and mixing them on the spot. The result was a brilliant pink fire that flared out from her fingertips as she flung her arms outward. “Lyssa was just a kid!” Angry tears streamed down her face. “And I didn’t hate Leesha…not that much. What did you do with Uncle Garrett?”
“He’s not breathing!” Deene’s frantic exclamation drew everyone’s attention. He knelt beside the Dark Phoenix, feeling for a pulse. “and neither is she!”
Eira whirled around. “Master Phoenix!”
“Master Phoenix?” Deene stared at her in confusion and then at the feathered boy on the ground. His eyes grew wide. “No way!”
Rory whined, as the shadow folk began to slip out from the ground and the circled them, moving easily through the debris and clambering over the machine remains as they drew closer.
“Master Phoenix…” Eira lifted his head, settling in her lap. She felt for a pulse, checked his breathing and then scanned his energies. A hiccup caught in throat as she realized the fragile life-thread she’d seen before was no longer there. “Master…?”
“He’s almost dead or he will be”
Eunice! Eira’s curled into fists, but this time, she actually did something about it. Her hands slammed into the black rock, sending a shockwave through the floor. Her eyes flared red and white as she gently eased the body back to the ground.
Master Phoenix? It’s Eira…please, tell me you aren’t dead…please?
“Sorora!” Tyla appeared in a burst of blue flash energy. “Hak tum, girl! What you be doing?”
“Your accent is showing.” Andie drawled. “Is it all over now?”
“No! It’s just starting. Sorora, hurry up. You’re coming with me after all.”
“What? Why?” The white phoenix scrambled after her. “What’s going on?”
“That stupid counterpart of yours just died on me.”
“I can’t feel his signature anymore.”
“But that can’t be-!”
“I’m sending you with the others to his last known location. He said something about a Bourakizian Death Ray or Warp or something, you need to take care of it.”
“What about you?”
“…I’m coming…as soon as I finish some things here.” Tyla pushed her down the hall and straight into a transporting cubicle. “I’ll put in the numbers, you add the cautions. Be careful.”
“Yeah. Sure…Tyla, wait!” Blueness dribbled down and the cubicle flashed blue.
“Schol, let go…where are you taking me?” Chessia struggled, still, against the hands dragging her deeper into the mountain and further into the shadows. “Let me go! I can take care of that!”
“Just like you take care of everything else?”
“She was right you know, that sister of yours.”
“What are you talking about? If you don’t let me go, I’ll-”
“You’ll what?” He smirked. “What will you do?”
“I’ll lose a very important opportunity!” She screeched. “What’s the matter with you? You’re acting like a spoiled-”
He shook her. Hard. “For once in your life, shut up.” The words were tempered. “I’m tired of hearing your brilliance every single waking moment.”
“Not another word, if you want to be able to speak at all.” His scythe hand appeared at her neck. “And trust me, I am quite sorely tempted at the moment.”
A few stray tears bubbled out of the corners of her eyes. “But I don’t know what’s going on!”
“You don’t need to know, but you could try talking yourself out of death.” He continued to drag her along the rocky pathway. “I’d be curious in knowing if there was actually anything that you could say to change my mind.”
“I always wondered where that girl had picked up such a bad habit.” Schol smirked. “You know, you did well training her as my summoner, but that was about all that you really did do.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Just like a woman. Jealous. Scheming. Plotting. Lying…” He gave her arm a sharp twist.
There was a muffled squeak of pain followed by the audible crack of something breaking. Chessia gasped. “You idiot!”
“You’re a healer. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“How can it-”
“What did you do to Garrett?”
“What makes you think I did something to him?”
“You lying-!” He shoved her into the wall, the scythe hand at her throat, pressing until a thin line of red appeared. “Do you want a second chance?
She blinked, once.
“Then beg for it!”
“He’s getting away!” Deene tried to see where the villain and company had gone, but the growing crowd of shadow folk was making it hard to see anything other than a swarming mass of black closing in on them. “Just like the coward to run away from a fair fight.” He muttered.
“Forget about a fair fight and just fight!” Rory snarled, whipping out his staff and taking up a defensive position to Eira’s right.
“Is she okay?” Deene inched closer, crouching, poised to attack.
“I didn’t mean her, I mean Uleah.”
“The charmer girl. The one that I helped. The one that’s on the floor over there.”
“I know who she is!”
“I said I knew who she was, I didn’t say I knew how she was.”
“Ask yourself!” Rory shot back. “Eira? We shouldn’t-” He darted a look over his shoulder and stopped.
A strong wind whipped through the tunnels and from the different openings, the imprisoned creatures and people streamed through.
“Whoa.” Deene took a step backwards. “They really came.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I told them to follow me if they-”
“That’s not why they’re here.”
“My name is Eirithea Omaha-Durhiem.” Her voice echoed in the cavern. “And I call everything to me that bears my mark!”
The creatures swarmed out into the crowd, overthrowing the shadow folk, while the people reacted, by charging fists-flying into the black mass.
“Clear the floor, Rory.” Eira offered a rare smile. “Trust me on this one.”
“The floor?” Deene ducked into the fight, automatically covering the Lyrith’s blind side.
Rory threw him an annoyed glance. “Do you always have to fight in a pair?”
“She means to keep the ground clear.”
“Does she have any idea how-!”
“If the ground is clear, she can trace a bigger circle. The bigger the circle, the more power she can call into it.”
“Since when did she start doing that?”
“Since you left.” Rory smirked. “Surprised?”
“No! Why can’t she use a smaller one?”
“You’re welcome to try telling her that.”
Deene shuddered. “I don’t think so. Look out.” He sucked in a deep breath and blew it out hard. His body trembled and then hulked out in black stone.
Rory whistled. “Nice.” The answer was a loud roar. “Be my guest.” Rory pointed his staff and waved it to the side. A hoarde of shadow folk were pushed to the side. “E?”
Eira stood beside the two bodies, tracing a medallion over the air where they lay. The protection circle finished and a transparent dome sprang to life. Staring at them for a long moment, she bent and reached inside. From Uleah’s body, she drew a scrap of red energy.
Rory watched her out of the corner of his eyes as a troubled expression stole over her face. She dissolved the circle she’d put on the charmer-messenger girl from before. That was unusual. He’d never seen her retract any circle before.
Deene roared angrily from his left.
Rory sighed. “Fine, fine! I’m helping.” He scowled, charging into the fray. “There’s too many of them, they keep coming up as if…” He grunted. “Eira! We can’t hold them-!”
A brilliant red circle flared to life on the black floor.
Deene flinched as Rory hissed, both of them retreating. The shadow folk pressed closer, but Eira threw out the second circle. A pure, true white, it forced all the shadows backwards before it settled into its place on the ground.
“One line for hope, One line for love, the last line…for trust.”
A red triangle blazed across the floor.
Eira moved forward, walking until she stood in the center of the base circle. She curtsied and the rose up on her toes, twirling to the left and then the right. Two white spirals snaked out from the triangle, completing the base.
Her short hair flared out as best as it good, a serene look replacing the expression of worry on her face as she began to dance in the pattern. The symbols flared to life, burning bright as she expertly filled the circle with symbol without straying from the center triangle.
“Eirithea Omaha-Durhiem…as summoner…” Her voice carried a lilt. “I call to my aid…Bieria!”
The giant circle flared to life. The ground shook and the mountain rumbled. Deene hunkered down beside the dome, partially covering it with his rock form. Rory projected his personal shields with the aid of his staff, deflecting the falling debris as the summons were completed.
Standing in the midst of the giant, glowing circle. The smile faded from her face as Eira stood, head bowed, hands limp at her sides. From the very center of the circle, a shadowy figure rose. The wisps of energy twined together, bringing the transparent figure into a more solid existence.
A strong woman, clad in grayscale armor, knelt before her, a handful of her cropped brown hair tied in a topknot away from her face, one hand on the hilt of her violet-hued sword. The look on her face was proud, but the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes betrayed the wisdom that came with it as she looked up. “I am Biriea, for what purpose have I been summoned?”
“Have you any issue with that which has summoned you?”
“I see a young woman before me, not a child. I have no objections.” The head bowed once more. “You may command me as you wish.”
“I am grateful.” Eira whispered. “Please, lend your assistance to this cause. I don’t want more people to be-” She choked. “Hurt.”
“You wish for me to subdue without violence?”
“No…just don’t kill them.” Eira stifled a shudder. “They need to pay for what they’ve done.”
“Ah. Understood.” The warrior woman rose to her feet, a full head taller than the young woman before her. “It shall be done.” She turned, left hand still resting on her sword hilt, it gave the sword a little pull, throwing it in the air, to be caught by her right hand. She held the blade at eyelevel.
From the blackened stone floor, her warriors began to rise. Clad in the same armor, bearing the same spirit, they continued to climb from the walls, the ceiling, the floor and the shadows, until the shadow folk themselves were equal. “In the name of justice, for the sake of all that is pure.” Her voice rang out. “I, Bieria, command you. Cast the light and chase the darkness!”
“E?” Rory dashed to her side, bracing as she leaned heavily into him. “E!”
“I’m fine, Rory.” She managed a smile. “Just fine.” She blinked back the tears. “I should’ve done this before.”
“You couldn’t have known and you couldn’t have before.”
“…it’s falling apart, Rory.”
“Shh. No it isn’t. Since when do you give up so easily?”
She tried to smile. “Since never.”
“Then keep trying.” He patted her shoulder. “Come on. That was pretty impressive—and quite the change of heart for you.”
“Not that big a change.” She whispered. “It’s been changing for awhile, now I finally understand. I have a reason.” The smile was almost angelic. “And I don’t have to go back to the way I was anymore.”
Deene’s muttering and grumbling reached them as he stomped over to join the duo. “Well?” He demanded, sullenly. “What next?”
Eira laughed. Surprised the sound could still come from her. “Now we find Schol.” She cracked her neck. “And we take him down.”
A faint flicker of lavender energy sparked inside a life pod within the private lab. From the tiny window, Garret Durhiem peered out into the empty room. There was little else he could do at the moment, as he’d lost all feeling in his limbs some time ago.
He thought, darkly.
It was easy to wrestle with his thoughts when there was nothing left to do but sit and wait. He’d already sent a mental call to Schol. The despicable creature would no doubt come for him soon.
I’m sorry Leesha, Lyssa.
He sighed, the very sound taking strength from his body as a bead of sweat trickled down his shirt collar. Chessy’s drug had be formulated for late detection, so the symptoms were taking their time in appearing.
Sorry…that you had to miss out on this. Schol will make her pay for this…especially now that I am proof of what she’s done.
The thought flickered through his mind and the blackness came for him.
“I haven’t seen Unk anywhere. Rory?” Eira stuck her head through one of the tunnels. “I think here…it feels the best.”
“Feels the best?” Deene stepped inside and took a deep whiff. “Smells right.” He coughed. “Perfectly disgusting.”
Eira snorted. “Well, a lot of help that-”
Rory leaned forward, wrinkling his nose. “He’s right. You both are.” He amended. “Schol’s down this way and he does smell disgusting.”
Eira rolled her eyes. “Answer my other question.” She settled into an easy jog. “And hurry up, we can’t afford to waste time!”
“Haven’t seen him either.”
“Hmm? Oh, didn’t check for it.”
“Rory! You know I can’t do that.”
“Give me a minute.” Rory trotted along beside her in silence. “It’s faint, but it’s somewhere in here.”
Eira breathed a sigh of relief.
“You’re actually worried about your uncle?” Deene snuck a glance at her. “Excuse me if I can’t believe that. Isn’t he the cause for all of this?”
The Lyrith pair shrugged as one.
“Depends how you look at it.” Eira sighed. “I just want to give him one more chance.”
“Okay, choice. I want to give him the choice that I had.”
“And which one would that be, E?”
“He’s up ahead.” The boys shifted closer. Eira rolled her eyes. “Uh, the ones who should be worried are you. Not me. He won’t do anything to me, the same way he never does anything to Chessy-”
“You might want to rethink that one, E.” Rory caught her shoulder.
She followed his line of sight and gagged at the body suspended from the ceiling. A shudder passed through her as she quickly took in the rest of the cavern the pathway had opened up to.
“Didn’t we just come from here?” Deene growled, sniffing the air. “I don’t like this-!”
“It’s a mirrored copy.” Eira grimaced. “Rory? Please don’t let me punch anything…I’d hate to give ourselves away with-”
A flash of purple blurred beside them.
Rory covered her mouth, stifling the yelp as Eira caught sight of Bireia, standing at the ready beside her.
“All done?” She ventured.
The warrior nodded. “Need you anything else?”
“It has all been taken care of.” The head dipped. “There will be no more of them and those that are there will be punished. They are restrained and left in the circle. You may do with them as you see fit.”
“Workers and tunnels too?”
“Everyone, excepting the two within your dome. All have been accounted and dealt with accordingly.”
Eira swallowed. “Thank you.” Rory nudged her. Biriea smiled. “Uh, right. Sorry. Hold on, I um-” Her eyes flickered white and red. “For your assistance, I thank you. Take your leave and go in peace.”
The smile softened as red and white energy spiraled over her and Bieria was gone.
Rory braced her again as the energy left her. “E?” He asked, out of habit.
She pushed away from him, taking slow breaths. “I’m good. Is’all good.”
“When you’re done doing that, can we go?” Deene bristled. “I feel like we’re being watched.”
“We are.” Eira sighed. “He’s over there.” She pointed.
Heads turned to stare at Garrett Durheim standing upright on the side of the wall on the far end of the room.
“Hello, Eira. So good of you to come…and you even brought your friends.”
“We’ve already been through this.” Eira jumped the last few feet from the pathway into the cavern. She landed easily on her feet, lightly skittering in an odd pattern.
“I’m sorry, is the floor a bit too…dark, for your tastes?”
She planted her feet firmly on the floor. “No…just a bit cold.” Her gaze flickered upwards. “What did she do?”
“Hmm? Chessy?” Schol sighed. “She was being…troublesome. I had to address the issue before it got out of hand.”
“Like you did with Leesha and Lyssa?”
“Ah, now see, that worries me. Who told you about them?”
“We’re family.” Eira tossed her head. “You should have considered that”
“Family? Oh, come now, Eira. They didn’t even care whether you lived or died.”
“As if you weren’t the one to put that notion in their heads.” Eira drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out.
“I don’t feel like talking, but I do have two questions.”
“You’re being too nice, but I don’t care. Is she alive?” Eira nodded towards Chessy. “And where’s Unk?”
“She was trying to kill him, you know.” Schol rubbed his neck. “This was inevitable.”
“No, it wasn’t. You didn’t have to do this, but now because you did, I have to deal with it! It always turns out this way. You make a mess and then you drag me in to clean it up. She shuddered. “Do you have any idea how hard it will be? It’ll be a pain to get her down from there and because she’s a healer, she’ll insist on-”
“You don’t get it, do you?” The first traces of blackened, red energy began to slither down from the walls, drawing to their master. “She’s been behind it the whole time. This whole mess, your precious step-mother and sister-”
“Chessy?” Eira blinked. “Stop! I don’t want to hear your-”
“I haven’t been acting on my own until today.” He sighed. “And to think the day began with such promise.
Everything that’s happened up to now has been according to her wishes.”
“Yeah right.” Deene interrupted. “She doesn’t even look like-”
Rory jabbed his staff in the guardian’s stomach. “Quiet, rock boy.” He muttered, following the elaborate netting of black cord suspending the body in mid-air.
“Yes, please, quiet.” Schol said, pleasantly. “She can hear us, you know.”
“You need to stop.” Eira said, quietly.
“Stop? But I’ve only just started and-”
“You need to stop.” Eira leaned forward, lifting one foot at a time to wipe the soles of her feet with her hand. She slapped her ankles lightly, afterwards and then turned her weary face to the creature before her. “Are you going to come forward, or should I start first?”
“Bold of you, isn’t it?” Schol stepped down from his perch on the side wall, closing the gap between them in a breath. “Why don’t you start first? I’ve been dying to see what other new tricks you’ve got up your sleeve.”
“So you were the one.”
“I wondered who’d touched the circle on Uleah. It was you. You took it off her and put it back on. What kind of monster are you?”
“A very good one.”
“Get out of my uncle.”
“I’m asking nicely.”
“I’m answering nicely.”
“Just because you’re in him, doesn’t mean I won’t fight you.”
“Think I care?”
“What more can you want out of him? He looks horrible!”
“You can thank her for that.” He waved towards Chessia again. “She stabbed him with a bit of that, what do you call it, a virus?”
“Which one?” Eira paled. “Is it contagious?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care. Is that problem, precious?”
“If you call me that again, I’ll knock your head off.” Eira scowled. “What color was it?”
“I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t myself when it happened.”
“This is pointless.” Eira threw a handful of energy forward, hitting him squarely in the stomach, before it stretched out to be a base pattern on the black cavern floor. “You’ve had your fun with him, now let him go!”
“What if he doesn’t want me to let go?”
“Have you asked him?” Eira kept her eyes on his face, as her feet shifted slightly, to allow one toe to trace shapes as she spoke. “Or is your imagination getting the best of you?”
“He’s the only one without a power.” Schol smirked, the red eyes glowing through the face. “Which makes him the perfect host.”
“That’s it?” Eira matched his circling, keeping him in front of her. “Rory, Deen, stay back.”
“Yes, Rory and Deene please stay back.”
“Rory, don’t make me order you. Stay! Deene, that goes for you too. If you want to be useful, get her down from there. This is between me and him.” She swallowed. “Unk? I’m really sorry if this hurts, because I kinda don’t really want you to think it’s payback for everything you’ve done. I had something much better in mind for that.”
“I’m allowed.” Eira cracked her knuckles. “I can’t let you do this.”
“Then try and stop me.”
“Eira!” Rory was beside her, cradling her upper half, trembling in fury. “Please, milady. Don’t make me stay idle.”
“Chessy?” She coughed.
“She’s over there.” Deene rumbled. “She’ll live, maybe. He snapped something somewhere. She’s a mess.”
Eira grimaced. “That’s fine. She’s a healer. Whatever he was…oh.”
“What?” Rory tried not to squeeze her.
“He feeds off of the negative energy, remember? Chessy’s always had the most. I guess having her in a state of perpetual pain and discomfort is like personal generator for him.”
Rory blanched. “Then your uncle…”
“Just a physical body—a container—to hold the energy until his true form is finished.”
“If you knew all of that then why didn’t you-!” Deene exploded. “Girls…I don’t understand them.”
“You understand Uleah.”
“I’m okay.” She coughed again. “Feet hurt a bit.”
He touched the golden staff to her cheek and a wave of warmth passed over her. The wrinkles in his forehead knitted together. “E…”
“I’m good.” She slowly sat up, pulling away from his arms. “I have to do this Rory.”
Wind whipped at her clothes and tugged at her hair, the powers within her regenerating and surging outward in a powerful wave.
Rory braced himself and Deene scowled again. “What are you, some sort of machine?” He muttered. “Would you quit with all the dramatics?”
Eira half-smiled. “I’ll try. Sorry. Can’t help it much. They raised me this way.”
“Is that all you have?”
“Liar.” Schol hissed.
“Not half the liar you are.” Eira shot back. “You didn’t tell the truth about why you couldn’t leave my uncle out of this.”
“You’re playing mind games.” Eira smirked. “But I’m already used to those.”
“Really? You don’t look it.”
“Master Phoenix is better at them than you are. I won’t hold back just because you’re inside of my uncle.”
“You said that already.”
“But you didn’t understand.”
“Stop talking, more fighting.”
“Sure, sure.” Eira dodged away from him, her feet working quickly beneath her. Circles laid over circles, new combinations and old ones, called to life at her mere mention. “You don’t understand. If you’re holding him captive and he wants out? He won’t hold this against me.”
“You’re worried about what he’ll hold against you? Ha, you haven’t changed at all!”
“You can’t keep fighting him like this!” Deene burst out. “Tell her something!” He implored, looking from Rory to Eira’s bruised face. “Make her understand.”
“I can’t.” Rory said, calmly, touching the staff to her cheek once more to offer the healing wave. “Your graft’s slowing.”
“It’s fine.” Eira sneezed. “Just fine. Leave it be.” She glared at Deene. “Don’t interfere.”
He held up his hands taking a step back. “I’m just saying, what if he stops playing fair?”
“He won’t. He wants me. He knows it would be bad if he caused trouble.”
“You’re not making any sense—as usual.” Deene turned away. “You have anything else up your sleeve?”
“I would love to know myself.” Rory murmured. “Because I am beginning to worry, E.”
“Never mind that.” Eira took a deep breath and shifted to stand once more. “This time…catch Unk for me, would you? I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t believe it.” Rory stared at the battered body before him. “She said it and she did it.”
“Shouldn’t those be my lines?” The rock guardian held a hand over the heart, covering the body in a thin layer of rock. “If you would?”
Rory touched the staff lightly to the side. “Nice.”
Deene grunted. “Where’d she go?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Unk?” Eira dropped beside him, panting. “Unk, it’s me! Talk to me!”
“E?” Rory twirled his staff and poured a sludge of water over her.
She gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks. Unk?”
A loud rumble came from the corner of the cavern and the trio turned as tone. Eira grimaced, pinching her nose at the smell.
From the shadowy depths of the cavern, Schol rose in his full, solid form. He belched and roared, a volley of flame roaring towards them as he charged forward.
Deene immediately hulked up, forming a shell-like barrier with his body, between them and the fire as Rory threw his personal shields over them, reinforcing the black rock.
“Eira!” Rory shouted, over the roar.
“Got it.” She stared down at the face before her. “Unk?” The unnatural paleness struck a chord in her chest, drawing on the long forgotten pain she’d buried. Tugging on the temper that she hidden upon setting foot within the mountain.
“Hey!” Deene yelled. “Would you do something already?”
“Give her a minute.” Rory grunted, struggling to hold the shields up without interfering with Deene’s rock gift.
Her head bowed. Her lips moved.
A prayer was breathed.
Eira reached into the back of her mind and pulled out the very last circle she knew. Drawing on her energies, she pushed past the red and the white until she touched on the hidden latch.
The latch she wasn’t supposed to touch. The color she shouldn’t have even considered.
The blue bubbled within, begging to come out as she touched it, toyed with it, teased it to life. The fire fire raged upwards, fidlling the entire cavern as Eira stepped out from behind the shield.
An overwhelming amount of heat blasted her, as her healing energies rushed to graft new skin and to stop her hair from burning away.
She wrinkled her nose.
“I said.” Her voice was lower. “to stop this.”
Blue fire erupted, exploding outward from her chest.
Get out of here. Take Deene with you.
We’re not leaving you!
I know that silly. Just get out of the cavern. Stay in the tunnels, be careful.
The floor began to shift as cracks started in the side walls and traveled further down. Water gushed up, pouring out from every available space, quenching the fire and reviving the girl who’d called it.
She shook the wetness from her hair with the expression of a happy sprite as she flooded the cavern.
“Why do I have to carry him?” Deene grumbled, fusing the cocooned uncle to his back and hurrying after Rory on all fours.
“I would never permit you to carry my mistress.” Rory shot back. “E? Hold on…that was some show back there.”
Eira coughed. “Not enough.”
“He ‘ported out. I felt it.”
She almost smiled. They were getting along better than she’d expected. “The first room.”
“Oh no…but Bieria left the shadow…”
“I know, take me there. She said that she’d take care of it, so I believe it’s taken care of. ”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t make me order you, Rory. This isn’t over. I have to finish this.”
“I thought you didn’t have any circle things left.” Deene panted.
“I don’t. I just have one.”
“What?” Rory sputtered. “One? You can’t be basing all of this on-”
“Last chance shot. You know what I’m doing, Rory. Keep up.”
“Get your filthy hands off of him.” Eira flashed to the protective dome in a minute. Schol dodged backwards and away as she circled the two fallen figures, placing herself between the dome and him. The pang echoed in her chest and she winced, having to lean back on the dome, attempting to catch her breath. “Don’t you dare touch him!”
“Why? There’s nothing more you can do for him. I could at least spare you the trouble of a burial.” Schol smirked, tossing a burning black chunk of rock in his hand. “That was almost impressive back there. I didn’t know you had an elemental in you. Now I want you more than ever.”
“Have you no respect for the dead?” Eira flung the words out, searching through her for the final circle and drawing out.
“Why should I? Ah, never mind, it looks like you’re finally wearing out.”
“In your dreams.” Eira flung the last circle out.
“Another circle?” Schol laughed, the sound echoing in the caverns. “Don’t you understand that none of those work on me? Do like being rip-”
Eira shuffled to the center of the circle and crumpled to her knees. The pang in her chest was growing steadily worse. Tears streamed down her face as she knelt, hands clasped, head bowed.
“This is a special circle, apprentice.”
“It takes two people?”
“No, it takes a single accordance between two.”
“Then why are we dancing?”
“Because I want to.”
“Why do you want to?”
“Because I want to know what it feels like to dance with you.”
“…h-how does it feel?”
“Hey! It’s lighting up!”
“Don’t need to.”
“What? Master Phoenix…you’re smiling.”
“Is that so rare?”
“Why are your eyes closed?”
“Why? Oops. Sorry. I’ll be quiet.”
“That’s how the circle works.”
“The Dark Phoenix summon changes with every holder. For me, my circle can only be activated this way. You will know what to do when the time comes, should you have to use it.”
“I want to use it, it’s so pretty!”
“I hope you never have to.”
You couldn’t tell me, could you, Master? A stray tear dribbled down her cheek. You couldn’t tell me that the only way I’d use your circle is if you were dead.
Her eyes popped open and her hands fell to her sides. She waited, feeling the goosebumps starting at the tips of her fingers and traveling upwards. She shivered.
Please. Please…Dear God, please let this work!
Something crackled beside her and she turned to see the tiny symbol next to her knee lighting up in a pale white sheen. She watched, amazing as the smaller symbols flickered to life.
“What are you doing?” Schol sauntered forward, his energy crackled dangerously, the mountain rumbling beneath them. “Girl! Speak!”
“I have nothing to say to you.” Eira whispered. The circles lit up, one after the other as the triangle blazed to life and the two white spirals swung outward.
Schol swore as the energy knocked him backwards.
The circle completed and the medallion streamed upwards, fully activated.
“Oh snap.” Eunice drawled.
Eira turned around to stare at her. “Eunice?”
“Yes, Eunice.” The girl rolled her bright purple eyes. “Like, who else were you expecting?”
“Who are you?” Schol rumbled, charging forward again. His mouth opened an a volley of flame started. He had morphed, now nearly five time his original size. The ground shook with his pounding steps.
Eunice wrinkled her nose. “Ew! You totally need a breath mint.” She pinched her nose. “Gross! Like everything in here, stinks!”
“Eunice.” Eira repeated, staring at her in disbelief and then back at the charging creature. “Why’d you have to say that!” She shifted to her feet and braced, drawing on her energies as Eunice stepped in front of her. “Hey!”
“Hey what? You didn’t make a mistake you know, you summoned me. I have to like actually, be here and help you. Do you have any idea how troublesome this is?”
“Um, yeah. I can imagine. Sure. No problem.” Eira faked a smile. “Big, giant villain, right behind you? Charging? Fire streaming from his mouth and-”
“Like, do you mind?” Eunice whirled around, her long ponytail lashed out, snatching the Dark Phoenix from the protective dome and dropping the limp body beside them. “Yo! Mr. High and mighty, super-bad guy! I’m trying to fight you here, could you give me a moment to prepare?”
The wall of fire came hurtling towards them.
Eira threw up her safety medallion, struggling to hold it steady and cover all three of them with the single circle.
“Nice.” Eunice commented. “Not too shabby at all.”
“Eunice! Not helping!” Eira barked. “You could at least make yourself useful for whatever reason that you’re here!”
Eunice blinked. “For whatever reason I’m here…?” She scoffed. “Tch, you don’t get it do you, miss perfect apprentice. I’m the Dark Phoenix.”
The medallion dropped.
Eunice tackled her to the floor. “You idiot! What was that for!”
Eira stared up at her, the flood of emotions working up to the forefront. “You can’t be…you can’t.”
There was a snort. Eunice tweaked her nose, clambering off her. “The previous one, duh! Every dark phoenix becomes a part of the collective when a new one takes over. They control the power and they’re allowed some freedom, like this.” She gestured towards herself. “I was the previous one, my consciousness is just retained in the dark energies, that’s all. Sheesh. You are so clueless. He’s the current one, so don’t give me that pathetic crybaby face, alright? Seriously…if you love the guy that much-”
“Shut up!” Eira felt her face burning red. “We’re in the middle of a situation here.”
“Oh right, Mr. Bad guy. Whoops. Sorry about that.” She started forward, kneeling beside the Dark Phoenix. “Hey, um. I came. You didn’t. Now look where you ended up.”
“Hold him off a bit!”
“What?” Eira snapped. “Rory!” He materialized beside her. “I need to use you.”
He automatically shed his shirt. “Go ahead.”
Eira hesitated. “Ready?” His head bowed and he nodded.
“…the mountain’s giving him energy, just like does for us, isn’t it?” Eunice stroked the small face, running her hands through the hair. “I can’t tell exactly what it is, but he wants your girlfriend, for whatever reason. I don’t know what he sees in her.” She frowned. “I don’t know what you see in her, but I guess you suit each other.”
She sighed. “and please, I know you’re gonna yell at me the first moment you get. So please, I didn’t really do this, the way it’s like, going? Um, it wasn’t on purpose, so please don’t hate me. I mean, it’s not like-”
“Fine, fine. She’s so pushy! How do you ever get along with her!” Eunice stood to her full height. She shimmered, shifting from a solid form to a being of pure energy, dark black and bright purple swirling together.
And then she melted into him.
“Schol!” The voice thundered out from behind her. Eira froze. “By the authority of the League, with the powers vested in me, I place you under arrest for the crimes you have committed, the problems you have caused, indecent conduct and careless attitude to a protected environment. It is not my belief to destroy and take lives, but for what you have done, a price must be paid. Will you submit?”
The rabid creature answered with a screeching roar.
Rory tackled her to the ground, as the blackness streaked forward.
In the battle that followed, everything was a blur. There was a short, small black figure darting in and out, between the red monster. At one point, the creature seized it, slamming the little boy into the stone.
There was a deep, groaning rumble from the earth beneath and the little boy exploded in a fury of black feathers. From the black feathers that blew away, a tall, strong man stood fearlessly in its place. He drew a black staff from thin air, with a white-tip on the end, twirling it around his fingers.
The phoenix was reborn.
“By your actions, your refusal is noted, along with your blatant disregard for authority. This will be in my report. The more trouble you cause here, the more your difficulties will multiply when this is all over. I am giving you one last chance and your only warning. You do not want to take me on.”
“You should have stayed dead.”
He sighed. “And that would be your final answer. Do you want a fight?”
“Of course, that would be your response. Very well. I have no desire to fight you, but if a fight is what you want, then that is what I shall not give you. I see no reason to satisfy your demands as you are nothing more than a lowly criminal with no regard for life apart from your own and absolutely no shred of decency within.” His head turned. “Warrior! Shield! Weapon! Assemble!”
Eira found herself standing directly in front of Schol, with Rory to left and Deene to her right. She gulped.
“Shield.” The phoenix touched Rory’s shoulder. “Do your duty. Warrior?” His hand rested gently on her shoulder. “Do your duty. Weapon?” Deene rumbled. “Do your duty.”
The images came, gently, slowly. The plan carefully laid, the points highlighted.
Eira took a deep breath and let it out. She threw herself forward, flinging out another base circle with all that she had.
It was like a dream.
Rory turned into a pillar of golden energy, shaping into an oblong shield that hovered at her side. Deene rolled his head back and stretched, morphing in a long staff with a spiked head. She caught him before he could hit the floor, marveling at the weight and power held in her hands.
Schol roared, thrashing about wildly as the phoenix moved forward. The black staff whirled through the air and struck the ground before him. A surge of black-purple energy emerged, fusing the monster to the ground.
“Apprentice?” His voice was soft and low. “Go fetch.”
She charged forward.
The Rory-shield hovered nearby, blocking bits of fire and offering protection from falling debris. Schol had grown to a creature nearly twenty-times his original size from when the fight had first begun.
Now, half-rooted in the ground, he groaned and moaned, thrashing with his hands on the ground and spewing fire.
It was incredibly annoying.
Eira hefted the Deene-weapon in her hand and leapt forward. She swung wildly, hitting the giant hand and then the wrist. Her temper exploded at the roar overhead and Eira let him have it.
She’d had enough for today.
With her fury unleashed, her powers traveled up the spiked end and staff, adding an extra punch, wherever she struck. Rory kept her well-protected, able to keep up with her quick feet as Eira tore layers of black and red muck away from Schol, ripping him down to size.
“Very impressive, apprentice.” The Dark Phoenix spoke from beside her.
He took the black stick from her proffered hand. “Thank you.
Eira jumped, startled to find herself standing up on the rock outcropping beside him.
“And to think you had this much frustration in you.” He chuckled. “I’m glad to know that you took it out on him, rather than elsewhere. Very nicely done, I take it that was a pattern you’d wanted to try?”
“P-pattern?” She squinted down at the smoky, debris-scattered floor below them. Her hand went to her mouth. “I-I…”
“Didn’t do it on purpose? How curious.” His hand rested on her shoulder. “Feel free to light it up, I’ll allow you the finishing touch if you like. Don’t worry, he’ll only feel a sting before I haul him off and hand him over. Tyla’s got much worse in store for him, I think.”
“Are you sure?” Eira leaned into the arm, so strong and so supportive.
He chuckled again. “Weapon, return. Shield, return. Warrior…return.” Rory sneezed as he reappeared and
Deene coughed, as he appeared a few feet above the ground and fell the rest of the way.
“Go ahead, give it a try. I want to see what you had in mind for that.”
Eira chewed her lower lip. “It…it probably isn’t anything spectacular.”
“That was beautiful.”
Eira turned, hardly daring to look higher than the elbow of the arm that settled comfortably around her shoulders. Her eyes burned, no tears left, as she reached out, curling her fingers in the soft overtunic.
“That was the most painful thing I think he’ll remember.” The hand shifted to rub her shoulder. “I’d say it was brilliant, to gather all your memories of every happy thing that came from his existence and share it. I’m very proud of you, apprentice.”
“I thought you were dead.” The words choked out.
Rory and Deened automatically turned to see. Deene looked away. “Uh, I’m gonna go check on her.” He pointed down to where Uleah lay, untouched in the debris. “Tyla gonna come soon?”
“She’s alive?” The phoenix inquired. “Good, I wasn’t sure if that would work, it was so sudden. I didn’t expect him to try and kill her.”
Deene shrugged. “She’s fine.” He glowered. “But don’t you dare ask me to do anything like that again.”
“Of course.” The phoenix said, smoothly. “Wouldn’t think of it.”
“I’m serious!” Deene protested.
“Naturally.” His mouth twitched. “Tell her thank you, if you would.”
“She was one of yours?” Rory demanded.
“Hmm? No, but Deene took a liking to her so I did make plans to see if she was worth the hassle of saving.”
“Worth the hassle?” Eira stared up at him and was left staring.
The face was higher up, the hair a little longer, enough for a small ponytail to keep the hair from tumbling into his face. There were a few more wrinkles and shadows, but the same golden-gray eyes and the same almost-smile.
“Let me guess.” His eyes laughed merrily. “You were expecting someone younger and shorter, yes?”
“Worth the hassle as in, if she wishes to die, it’s not in my place to force her to change. I interfere when I must, but it is not my place to decide the fate of another.”
“I don’t get it”
“You’re thinking too much now.” He sighed. The mountain rumbled and a wry smile registered. “I heard you
the first time, Eunice.” There was laughter in his voice. “We’re going, we’re going.” He leaned forward. “Deene? Move out!”
“I’ll take your uncle.” Rory muttered, leaping from the ledge and landing easily on the ground. “Meet you outside.”
“That was fast.” Eira stared at the tunnel where they’d left. She winced. “What about me? Was I supposed to go too?”
The phoenix merely smiled, staring at her for a long moment.
Eira shifted nervously after a moment. “What? Do I look weird or something?”
“Ah, got it!” He leaned forward and plucked something from the left shoulder of her collar. “It seems there is one more here.”
“one more?” Eira stared stupidly from the purple bead in his hand to the front of her outfit. “I, oh! Chessy!”
“Where is she?”
“She’s in that other place that looks like this that is-”
His hand slipped around her neck and drew her straight to him. His eyes closed as their foreheads touched. Eira didn’t dare move. She saw a flicker of his memories as he waded through hers and found the room described.
“All done.” He murmured, straightening. “Sorry, that was easier than trying to figure out your description.”
“What about him?” She pointed to Schol.
“That’s the fun part.” He chuckled, unbuckling his cloak and settling it around her shoulders. “Do as I tell you, please.” He turned his back to her, reaching up to a thick, black ribbon from his hair. “Close your eyes and don’t open them until I tell you to. When I return, I want you to do exactly as I say.”
“Eyes, apprentice. Close them tight and don’t open them, no matter what you hear.”
“I-I don’t think that I can-”
He caught her chin with one hand and turned her face, so that her cheek rested on his elbow as he tied the ribbon around her eyes. “So you won’t be tempted.” He whispered. “Close your eyes and plug your ears, maybe.”
The sounds still came. Even with her fingers plugged in her ears, she heard the most horrible screeching, groaning and shrieking, that sent waves of shivers down her back. Her body seemed riveted to the floor, refusing to move, her powers seemingly too far out of reach in the torturous moments that trickled by.
Eventually, the sounds of crying and babbling reached her ears. She took the fingers out of her ears, strainging to hear more, hoping to hear his footsteps instead. The babbling and crying turned to a continual whimper, before a yelp and then silence.
The very breath was sucked from her as a powerful wave of dark energy swept through the cavern. For a brief moment, she was thankful to find that her body did move, even as the wind picked up. When it died down, she was breathing in short gasps and she could no longer hear anything at all.
An ominous air hovered as she felt the footsteps approaching. Light in their step, deliberate in their placing. She reached her hands out towards him.
He tugged the blindfold free and turned around. “Keep your eyes closed and hold onto this.” Her hands were placed in something soft. “It’s my hair, don’t let go, just hold on, okay?”
“What?” Her eyes popped open.
“It’ll be too bright for your eyes and your arms couldn’t possibly fit around my neck.” He shifted impatiently.
“Hurry, if you would. I don’t want to stay here and neither does Eunice.”
“She’s a brat.” Eira tentatively threaded her hands through his hair. It was silky and smooth in her hands.
“I know. But she’s very smart and she has an apology for you.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Close your eyes, Eira. They’re still open.”
The wind gentled and a sudden warmth turned to coolness.
You can open your eyes now.
Eira tried and found herself burying her head deeper in the softness below. The softness rumbled and shifted, turning.
Eira? Don’t fall asleep on me up there.
Up…where? Her eyes flew open and there was nothing left to say. She was riding on the back of a giant, black bird. From her cautious perch, she couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the ground, without moving closer to an edge. The feathers were soft and shiny, a rich, blue-black, that she twined her fingers through. Now his odd comment made sense.
Ah, that’s better. I thought I was losing you.
There was a sound like snort. Forget about him. Look at the sky. You won’t see this again.
So Eira looked and was speechless all over again. The evening sky was beautiful. A soft, baby-blue shade, twined with lavender and sprinkled with stars. She waited for the ache in her chest to come, but it didn’t. A new warmth trickled in.
Twilight. It’s pretty, isn’t it?
I did warn you.
Yeah, well, next time at least give me a minute!
A whole minute?
Why do I think you’re laughing?
You really think so?
Shhh…hold up a moment.
He landed, on a small hill, outside of the mountain where they’d just emerged. From the scattered debris and jagged rocks, Eira had a feeling they’d flown through the top and caused a ruckus.
The sound of chattering voices reached her ears and she strained to see and hear.
Stand up if you like. You’ll see better.
I won’t let you fall.
I’m not worried about falling!
Have you a fear of heights?
Boots are not within the question and it can’t be anything to do with dying.
If you weren’t such a hulking birdbrain, I’d-!
I won’t let you fall, promise.
Eira wearily shifted to her feet. He was right. Standing up, she could see. There were dozens of people scurrying around below in standard black League uniform. A little girl in white was sitting on a rock, the farthest away from the group, accompanied by a young man in glasses and Rory.
The phoenix trilled, a pleasant sound in the back of his throat.
All heads turned.
“Benjamin Oliver!” Tyla raged. “Just you wait until I get my hands on you!” There was the sound of something slurping and gurgling before it fell to the floor. “Is that Schol?” Tyla scowled. “You have been the source of my headache for the past-!”
She’s really mad.
Is she always like this?
More or less.
Is she always mad at you?
What did you do to him?
SCHOL! Don’t give me that! You did something to him!
Of course I did. After everything he did and what he did to you, not to mention to the countless others who have suffered at his hands during the period his spirit’s been awake. I could not let it go that easily. I know the League will have a hand in seeing that a fair price is paid, but I have promises I have made that must be kept.
I can’t tell you.
I specifically went out of my way to be sure that you wouldn’t witness it. Please do excuse me for not explaining any further.
Suffice it to say, I am the Dark Phoenix.
I’m beginning to wonder exactly what part of you isn’t dark!
The part where you come in. You have so much light inside of you, it chases away just a speck of the dark.
Oh, so now I’m helpful?
We’re not going there.
Where? Why not? What if I want to go there.
Be quiet. The Lady Tyrant speaks.
What did you call her?
That’s her call sign. It’s her official League Name. Now be quiet…please?
“Benjamin?” Tyla was standing in front of him again. “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”
“And what do you want me to say?”
“You know I’ll need a full report before I can…write off what you did.”
“And what did I do?”
“You shouldn’t ask a lady to repeat such things.”
I wanna know.
I don’t wanna be quiet!
“Then I won’t ask you to. Simply note it. Should I mention that I was only following orders?”
“You only follow the orders that suit you.” Tyla sighed. “And thanks to that stunt, no one’s been able to get her to stop crying yet!”
“Sorora will get over it.”
“You could have-!”
“Are we done?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I would like to return home now. Please and thank you.”
“Excuse me?” She sputtered. “You, sir, have a report to file and official business to complete in its standard manner!-”
“I’ll do it when I’m home.”
“You’re not going back there-!”
“I said home, not house.” The great head angled downwards, allowing a more direct view of his passenger.
“And I said—what is that…is that your-!” Her mouth hung open. “Of all the nerve! I don’t believe it! Is that your new pet?”
“No. It’s my new toy.” He ruffled his feathers.
“Do you have any idea who she is?”
“Of course. May I keep her, housemother?”
A royal flush of red crept onto her face. “Benjamin Oliver, you had best-”
“She’s my favorite.”
Tyla turned away. “Go. Just go. Have your paperwork in by midnight or so help me I will-hey! Take that with you too!” She pointed to the Lyrith and Deene.
“Rory!” Eira waved. “Come back?” There was a flash of silver and then a cold weight around her neck. She smiled, fingering the necklace. “That was fast. Thanks, Rory.” She squeezed the charm and tucked it inside her shirt.
Deene hovered, waiting. “Stay or go, however you like, Deene.” The phoenix allowed. “Check on your parents before the night falls.” The teen nodded and turned his attention back to Uleah, who was now being treated by medics.
Eira wobbled and quickly sat down. She grabbed handfuls of feathers as he took the flight. Her eyes closed and she let the wind play with her hair.
“Where are we?” Eira found herself standing on a cobblestone floor, with neatly a scalloped stone railing encircling what seemed to be a tower rooftop. “A turret?”
He shrugged. “Home. This is home.”
“This isn’t home.” Eira leaned to the side to see over his shoulder. “This is…lava land.”
“I live the mountain.” His mouth twitched. “The mountain is a castle.”
“Don’t look at it that way, look at it this way.” He projected the image into her head.
Her jaw dropped. “You lived in a castle this whole time and yet we were all the way over there in a little cabin, then tromping through the jungle and-!”
“Slow down, Eira. There’s no need to get yourself fall worked up over-”
She pushed him away. “Over nothing? I thought you were dead! I really thought you were dead and now you’re not and you look like this and, and!”
“Deep breaths.” He placed one hand on each shoulder, holding her at arms length, the golden-gray eyes fixed on her own until her breathing calmed. “What’s wrong with the way I look? Doesn’t it fit my profile picture better? Please don’t cry again. Breathe in and out. Better, ne?”
“No.” She whispered, her head rolling forward. “I-I thought I lost you…and it was just…it hurt. It really hurt. It hurt so bad. I wanted to scream and then I couldn’t cry and then I couldn’t stop everything and I wanted…I ended up…I almost…”
“Shhh…” His hands cupped her face, smoothing away the stray strands of hair. “It all worked out, didn’t it?”
“Did you plan this? Because if you did, I’m really going to hate you for-”
She hiccupped. “Really?”
“Honest. Swear it on my honor.” He held two fingers to his temple. “I did plan to use you as the warrior though. You, Deene and Rory. That was planned.”
She sniffled. “That was fine. I didn’t mind that.”
“That was a lot of frustration.”
“And whose fault do you think that is!”
“Eira? It’s okay.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
She looked at him for a long moment. “I-I want a hug.”
“Just a hug?” He teased.
Her blush returned. “Never mind! I-”
He folded her so tightly into his arms that, she almost forgot to breathe.
She clasped her hands tightly around his waist.
They stood, together, on the castle turret, staring out at the stars, feeling the evening air, until the night came.
A slight shiver passed over her.
“Are you cold?”
“N-no. I’m fine.” Eira mumbled. I don’t want to let go.
Shock registered. Her hands dropped and she found herself staring up at his face in the fading light.
“Are you better now?”
“Yeah. I mean-”
“Yeah, is fine.” His arms didn’t loosen. “I’m glad.”
“Don’t ever scare me like that again.” Her voice wobbled. “Ever!”
“I won’t.” He held her closer.
He kissed her.
© Sara Harricharan