This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Karlene Jacobsen @ her blog, Homespun Expressions. Click here to read and share more great fiction!
Author’s Ramblings: I feel another apology coming on. LOL. In spite of the lateness and ridiculous-ness of this installment, I’m posting it as is, seeing as my folks are now asking me “The Question” (as in whether I’ll stop writing and spend some time with them this holiday). It’s covering a little more of the sudden twist between Eira and the DP and while some of his manipulative nature comes to light (thanks to that lovely dark side of his…*sigh*) we also see another side of Eira. I flipped over to a first person POV, so the thoughts are all in italics. I wish everyone a safe and happy Independence Day weekend! Enjoy and happy reading!
RECAP: The White Phoenix, Sorora has made an appearance. Eira’s confession of her true identity and intentions spurred on a similar slew of words from the DP himself. After forcefully taking an imprint of her memories, he now sorts through the thoughts. Both are still within the void where the Omaha-Durheim guestroom should have been…
Something beeped in the corner of the guest-room void and the phoenix immediately shifted his attention, crossing over to stand by the nightstand. A rectangular square of white energy popped open and within seconds, an image fizzled to life.
“Confirmed. Other orders?”
“No. League reports completed?”
“…your signature is needed.”
“Pass it through.” A passel of paper partially emerged from the glowing screen and the phoenix traced something on the bottom with his index finger. “The final list too, if you would?”
“You won’t like it.”
“I’ll decide if I like it, Nimbus.”
“You’re beyond sixty-three percent.”
“Seventy-four, thanks for asking. Here.” The papers were shoved back through the square. “Anything else I should know about?”
“Sorora should be there soon.”
“She arrived last night.”
“Andie spotted you?”
“I suppose. It couldn’t be helped.”
“Have you spoken to Tyla?”
“You need to.”
“If you like your little toy, treat it nicely or the housemother will take it away.”
“She wouldn’t dare!”
“Is that your ego speaking or your dark side? It’s kind of hard to tell from this distance-”
“Have a good day, Nimbus.”
“You’re running the deadline too close, idiot!”
“That’s my worry, not yours.”
“It’s my worry when you ignore the most obvious of necessities for your own personal amusement in things that-”
“Ben! At least t-!”
The rectangle flickered off and the phoenix turned away, a scroll materializing in one hand. He flicked open the lock on the golden band and quickly scanned the contents. A moment later, he sighed. “If I cared to, I suppose I could find a more delicate way to do this, but I’d prefer not to waste my energy at this point.” He tossed the scroll, keeping the lock and twirling it around one finger. “Catch. Read.”
“What is it?” Eira turned it over in her hand.
“Read it. Then question it.”
Nervous fingers fumbled with the paper and it took a moment before it fell to the floor. Horror painted itself across her face as she stared upwards into the darkened face. Her mouth opened and no sound emerged as her lips trembled, unable to voice the reality she’d been ignoring.
“Glad you’re aware now.” The Dark Phoenix retrieved the scroll, locking the band around the middle. “Do you understand anything at all now?”
Yes. I understand so much I don’t know how to tell you anymore. Between everything, all that’s happened, I don’t know what to say. I always say something, because I think you want an answer. I never think beyond the surface. I don’t ask myself the questions you ask me, because…the answers…hurt.
I didn’t want to understand you, I thought I’d be fine if I just stayed by you. I thought I’d learn what made your eyes look like that. I thought I could change, to be a little more like you. To be someone that can help people. To be different. To be useful.
I don’t understand.
This person…doesn’t hate me. Everything he does, everything he says, no matter how he does it, I don’t think he hates me. I can’t stand the way he talks, I hate his lack of expression, I hate his cryptic words, but I can’t hate him.
I trust him, for whatever reason. I can stand and cry in front of him, as my world falls apart…because he’s tearing it apart with his hands. All the walls are crumbling down and I’m choking in the dust.
I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do, but I still trust him.
I don’t think he would hurt me. I don’t want to hurt him. But maybe…I’ve already hurt him. Maybe this is it after all. I’ve finally done it. I’ve managed to drive even him away. All the lies, all the secrecy.
I should feel empty, but somehow there are things tangled up inside of me. It’s as if I’m overflowing, but I don’t have anything left to give. Even my memories, he took my memories. Now he knows.
Even if he guessed before, now it’s confirmed. I’m such a brat. So selfish. Always waiting for someone to come rescue me, pretending I don’t care about this kind of world. I don’t care…I don’t care…I can’t care…please…don’t hurt me…
His shadow is inches away from my feet. He is waiting for an answer, I think. I don’t know what to say yet. I’ve been a burden to him after all. I’ve caused trouble. This wasn’t what I wanted to do.
He’s seeing through everything I put together. All my little lies, all my perfect ploys and every tell-tale tear. Isn’t this what I wanted? Isn’t this why I searched for him? Isn’t this what I wanted him to do?
I saw his face in a picture he hates. I couldn’t tear myself away from the eyes that held me captive. A spirit that seemed to speak from somewhere other than his darkened shadow, something compelling me to seek him out.
Now he’s doing it. He’s really putting me to the test, after everything he’s put me through, now it’s only up to me to decide. I knew he would see through me. I knew he wouldn’t leave me be. Now when he’s tearing me apart…I don’t know…if I can take it anymore.
“I really am useless.” I hiccupped, the sound strange inside of the void. It was almost eerie, though I doubted anything could be creepier than the scrap of formality I’d just read.
“Excuse me?” There was absolutely no warmth in his voice.
This is bad. This is serious. Why does his voice sound like this? What did I do? Should I have said anything? Should I have stayed silent? Why now, Master Phoenix? Why now? I’m falling to pieces already, what more do you want of me?
“All this time…this whole time…you were…playing a…game?”
Hiccups. Oh no. Why hiccups? Why now? What’s wrong with me? I need to think…why can’t I make myself think! I need to work this out. I need to sort out all the little clues, every single detail, I need to make sense of this. I need to make it work. This aura scares me. I shouldn’t be scared…this person…he…won’t hurt me, would he? He’s so dark…so…strong, I’d be nothing to him if he followed these words. I am nothing. I’m just a kid he picked up on the street. A kid with a past she couldn’t tell him outright, a kid with secrets he had to pry out of her head. Just a kid.
He was being nice. Everything up to now. So nice. Just for me? No. I can’t think that. That’s stupid. Why would he even do something like this…to make my last days different? Teaching me pointless things and hiding that stupid almost-smile on his face every time I make an idiot of myself. He’s so much more than I am. He’s a legend. A legend owned by the League, he has to follow their orders. He probably knew from the start that I wouldn’t be around much longer.
Was this part of his game? Was this what he was doing? Giving me a glimpse of all the things I could’ve had if I’d just had the guts to stand up for myself? If I’d just tried to push past the nightmares, if I’d just tried to ask for help. If I’d asked sooner, if I’d tried harder, would this be where I am now?
Would things have been different? Would I be somewhere else, instead of sitting here, reading my master’s orders to kill me? Would I care about dying? If he was the one to kill me…would it matter? Am I afraid to die because…no one would remember me? I was never scared of dying until…but…
No. This stupid. Maybe. But…if I have to die…if I must…then I think…it would be best…if he did it.
I’m so scared.
This person…why do I trust him so much? When did it even turn to this? My whole world is twisted. It’s his fault and yet, I can’t bring myself to hate him.
I can’t even runaway. I don’t know how to get out of here. There’s the door…but I don’t know how it works. I never even thought to ask him when I had the chance. I’m so stupid. I never think further than right in front of me.
I’ve caused him so much trouble, especially in Pietrasaan…I did everything he told me not to do. I didn’t think what kind of problems it’d create. I didn’t even think about what he would feel, what he would do. I just followed my own selfishness…and then…I cowered in the face of his truth.
Everything he’s done…I deserved it. For hurting him, for causing him trouble, for insulting him. For being stupid…and I’m still playing the idiot. Asking questions I know answers to. He wouldn’t have played my game…if he didn’t already know he would win.
I hugged myself tight, feeling the burn inside my chest throbbing hotter than I could remember.
What is he doing to me? Why do I feel this way? Why is everything so weird? I should have told him the truth. I should have told him what a mess I was. I should have told him about Uncle Garrett. I should have asked for his help.
Everything is still falling apart. The walls are crumbling beneath the surface and I don’t think I can breathe anymore. This hurts. It hurts so bad. I can’t take it!
It’s not supposed to be this way. I’m not supposed to hurt. I’m not supposed to have a heart. I’m not supposed to suffer for being…am I?
“Your mission…includes a hit list…with me?” I spoke between hiccups.
Stupid hiccups! Go away! I can’t deal with this now! Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why now? I’ve always been able to control myself…my body…why now? Why? I can’t stop the tears, I can’t keep from shaking, I can’t…take another betrayal! What is wrong with me?
“An invisible one at that.”
His smile is scary. I’ve never seen him like this before. It’s as if…he’s darker, somehow. What’s going on? What’s happening? Why is he like this?
“You’re just another name on there, the one I’m supposed to take care of is Schol, which is now noted as your dear Uncle Garrett.” He spoke in my ear, having drawn closer some time when my thoughts had overwhelmed me. “It’s only a list, the notes at the bottom mean that I am free to use my own discretion in regards as to what to do with them.”
“You’re…” No. “Going…” No. Please. “To…” Please! “Kill me?” But I shouldn’t mind. I shouldn’t care. I knew this would come soon. I knew someone else would be the reason I’d die. Why does this bother me? I can’t really mind…not if it’s him. I should feel honored…
“Mmm…no. You’re far too amusing. I would be incredibly bored otherwise.”
His whisper tickled my ear. I hiccupped. No. This is worse, isn’t it? You’re going to let me live? Knowing that I should be…what are you doing? What kind of game are you playing? This isn’t a joke!
But wait…when he spoke to Nimbus…am I…a toy? Is this what he meant? Have I been nothing more all this time than a mere diversion? Ask him. Ask him. I need to ask him. I can’t ask him…but I have to know. I thought I knew. I thought I understood what was going on. Why are you twisting my world around?
“You’re a very good toy.” His hands settled on my shoulders, one on each side. “And your potential is tempting…there is so much I could do with you and yet…” he sighed. “Orders are orders.”
“You always do whatever the League tells you? Like a…puppet?”
“Ah, now, I’m not in the mood to tangle with your temper, so please keep your barbs to yourself. If it weren’t for the League, I couldn’t exist in my current capacity, which, would present a problem for you now. I follow orders, yes, but I am selfish enough to carry them out in a way that benefits me alone.”
“Changing the name doesn’t change the reality.” I can’t keep my temper to myself. I can barely control these…feelings. You’re not helping. You’re making it worse. What are you doing to me?
“True, but for the sake of my own selfishness, I would save you. I’ve wasted too much energy keeping you alive and useful to simply change that status now because of a few official signatures. As far as that decree, consider yourself excused. I don’t care to see it through.”
“What? Why spare me?” I coughed. Give me a reason! Give me something to hold on to. I don’t want to die…even if it is by your hands. Tell me! Tell me why you’d care about someone as wretched as me.
“Because doing anything else would be a waste. It’s a pity to let such a power as yours simply fade away because you were influenced by those who hold little regard towards life. Consider yourself lucky and pretend you’ve never seen this.” He twirled the scroll in the air and it crumbled away. “The fact that you have seen it is enough for your elimination by another name, however, seeing as I know and you know, there is no need for anything else to be done.” The smirk smoothed out into a smile. “Don’t over think that, for now…you’ll live for another day, that is enough, isn’t it?”
“No! What about everyone else? All those people on there…I know some of them…people like Bryan and Lyssa. Bryan’s innocent—whatever he did, he’s changed now, you can’t hold it against him! He’s different!” As horrid as I am…somehow…I can’t justify that. They probably didn’t even know what was going on. They didn’t have a choice…I did. I could have chosen a different path, a different future, but I didn’t. I pretended that I was special, that I was right in doing what I did…even when I was wrong.
“But not entirely innocent. The past loves to haunt.”
I know that. I know how haunting it can be. I know that you can’t run far away enough from it. But, Master Phoenix…some of them…Bryan…Grena. You can’t make me believe that you’d just… “He has a kid! You can’t just leave some kid fatherless like that? How do you justify-”
“So with the exception of Bryan-”
Not just Bryan! Some of the others…they’re…brothers, sisters…by law, if not blood. I should have protected them. I should have been able to stop them from turning into monsters…like me. “Lyssa’s not that bad either, I mean, sure she has issues and stuff, but really, she’s a good kid. She’s one of the better step-sisters I have!”
“And the twins? And Meron? And any other names I’ve forgotten? The imprint I took of your memory, Eira, not only does it provide useful information, it also confirms what I already know. The names that have appeared on that list are for a reason, something is unbalanced and must be equaled.”
“Some of them are younger than me! They didn’t even have a chance to-”
“What about those older than you? What about Brin? Collin’s out of the picture now and that leaves-”
“Guilty. They deserve what they have coming to them.”
“Just as guilty as I am! What makes me any better than them? I’ve probably done worse than even Brin!”
“Okay, unknowingly definitely then.”
“That makes absolutely no sense.”
I can’t help it. I can’t stop from pushing him just to see if he cares. To see if everything he’s said has been something more… “You really are a-”
He covered my mouth. “I warned you not to speak those words again…are you trying to convince me to kill you?”
I didn’t say them!
But you thought them loud enough for me to hear.
If you don’t want to hear them then get…out of my head!
It’s a little deeper than your head now.
“What do you want with me?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ve been keeping you around hoping you’d be useful for something, but an opportunity has yet to present itself.”
I wish you’d just kill me and get it over with.
“Don’t want to do that.” He patted my shoulder and his hands dropped. “Absolutely not going to do that.”
“Whenever something bearing this degree of importance and seriousness arrives, it means I cannot ignore it. In my League capacity, I’m acting on the justice intended for the mastermind criminal, Schol and those associated with him, contributing to the disasters of the past three years.”
“Three years?” I snorted. As if. Worse has happened if you dabble even a month further back than a simple three years…
“Only the crimes for the past three years are punishable to this degree by the League.”
“And let me guess, only those who’ve come to light in the past three years are-”
“Schol has been monitored since his activities began. Sometimes the consequences for our past actions do not approach until a suitable penalty has been found. His turn simply arrived and there is no need to dig further than the past three years to end this.” His hand settled on her head, ruffling the short hair. “There is no need to dwell on something that depressing, I have other things I want you to work on.”
“How can you?” I jerked away from the hand. “That’s not normal! To just talk about—these are people I know! My family!”
“You still call them family? After all they’ve done to you?”
“That’s not something I expect you to understand!”
“Tch. Temper, apprentice…I’m warning you, I don’t feel up to dealing with your hotheaded outbursts today. I was merely stating an observation…and your memories confirm this statement. You owe them nothing, they have given you little happiness in exchange for all that you’ve-”
“They adopted me into a pretty decent social status, they took my clumsy, idiotic self and taught me a few grams of coordination. They gave me a home, lots of interesting food and-”
“Trained you how to summon illegal beings, used your natural talents for their own devious purposes, used you as a power source for-”
“Them using me isn’t any different from you using me!” No. Don’t agree with me. Please, say something. Say that I’m wrong. Tell me that I’m not just a toy…a game piece, something to amuse you when…
“No, it’s not! You’re just-”
“I am not using you for my own personal gain, amusement, yes, but that is because there are very few things that amuse me. In everything I have done concerning you, it is with a far more useful end result. Do not confuse what I am doing with what I have done.” The faintest spark seemed to flicker to life in the corner of his eye. “There is a balance, there is always a balance.”
“What are you talking about?”
“In exchange for your freedom, everyone else on the list evens out your absence. Don’t think about it. You’ll give yourself a headache.”
“Maybe I like them! Just-”
“You’re still doing it.”
“Clinging so desperately to what you think is your last strand of hope…your sanity, or whatever is left of it.”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You have to let go.”
I can’t. I don’t want to. I don’t want to let go of the only thing I have left…not the only thing you’ve left for me. I can’t even think straight now. What kind of game are you playing? The hiccups had somehow disappeared. He’d probably taken them when I wasn’t paying attention. It was hard to ignore him. Everything was so serious and so dark, yet his words were enough to scare anyone. Stop it. Stop being nice. Stop being mean. Stop playing games with my head!
The shaking started. “Do you even care that innocent children are included in that stupid list-?”
“Innocence is lost the moment we open our eyes at birth…and, there is nothing you can do to change my mind. You can’t fight that, just give in.”
“I can’t! I’m sorry. Take it for whatever it’s worth to you. I don’t want a fresh start or a second chance at the expense of purer blood than mine. Up until three years ago, some of those names wouldn’t have even come close to being near that list, much less on them. Things change, yes, but…my hands are dirty too. If I’m worth so much that all of them have to die just to excuse my living, then…I want to ask a favor.” I can’t think anymore. I don’t want to think…but there must be something that I can do to…yes…I can do that. I can do that.
“Promise me you’ll do it.”
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”
“You can keep this one. Just take me instead. Spare them. Some of them…they don’t deserve to die! They have so much more ahead of them, just for one mistake…or someone else’s mistake, doesn’t mean that they’re-”
“Only some of them?”
“They don’t deserve to die!”
“And you do?”
“I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can!”
“Then what about your precious Uncle Garrett? Does your gracious pardon extend to him as well?”
“W-what?” Why include him? No. I don’t want it to cover him. I want him to pay for everything he’s done to me. For everything he’s done to them. For hurting so many people. What kind of question is that? It isn’t right. But…am I wrong? Isn’t it good, if I can help them…if I can save them…somehow. Wouldn’t that make it all right?
“There’s a value system that manages the circumstances in which the balances are weighed. On his own, he isn’t enough to balance things out, at least, not for the rest of them.”
“You aren’t even trying! How can you say that?”
“I only follow orders. Some of the things I do can be excused, others cannot. There is a limit to my influence.”
“Liar! You don’t have to do this! There’s another way, isn’t there?”
“True.” With a sudden movement, he was standing on the opposite side of the bed and yanked me into the pillows. I sprawled awkwardly on the tangled covers, staring up at his shadowed face. “True…I don’t have to, but since you’re asking nicely, consider your wish granted.” A familiar square appeared in his hand. “Any last words?”
“N-now?” The bloque was set in my hand and the hand guided to my mouth. You’re still doing it. You’re still being nice. I won’t try to scream…so as long as I know this wasn’t just a dream. I’ll hold onto my little fantasy, just for now. It won’t matter in the next few minutes…but please, don’t forget me. If I must die…please remember me.
“I have a deadline, you know.” He said, smoothly. “The sooner this is over with, the sooner I can continue with the rest of my business, otherwise-”
I squeezed my eyes squeezed shut, body rigid. “You’ll keep your end…you won’t…hurt anyone? Any of them?”
“Are those your conditions?”
“It’s an uneven trade, I can’t accept the terms unless-”
No. You have to. I can’t let you refuse. There must be something I can do. I can’t let this play out to be…
“Make it even.”
“May I see your knife?”
The heat in my face was fading, finally, a strange coolness had befallen. But he was still talking.
“A girl terrified of death is so eager to die for those she cannot stand. Would you really accept the consequences for crimes you didn’t commit and transgressions against your own morals? You would sacrifice yourself for a family that isn’t even yours by blood? Idiot.”
“Idiot.” I whispered back. “It’s because they’re family.”
Something cool and smooth brushed against my cheek. “Don’t open your eyes.”
A tremor passed through me and I wished I could cry again.
She couldn’t move.
Eira lay, helpless against the despair that had thoroughly taken hold of her. Her mind was empty and full at the same time. There was so much happening and yet the silence in the room remained the same.
The phoenix sat on the edge of the bed beside her and twirled her knife in his hands, over and over again. He didn’t say a word and she didn’t know what to ask him—yet.
Everything he did was a contradiction. The kindness woven through the devious was making a complete fool of her carefully laid plans.
This isn’t the first time.
The thought registered.
And it won’t be the second time…
She licked her lips, preparing the question.
It definitely won’t be the last…why…why do I keep doing this? Why do I let him…mean so much to me?
“How many times are you going to do this?” Her voice was hoarse. “Rip me apart, shred me to pieces and put me back together again? I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know what you are. I don’t know what I am. Everything’s a mess! Why do you have to believe that I’m worth more than I really am?” Tears were coming again from somewhere deeper than before. “I don’t deserve any of this…you, second chances…time…existing…and still, you. I don’t deserve you. Everything up to now has been you, I can’t-”
“It’s because you don’t deserve it that I’ll see to it.” The blade curved around to the side of her face, caressing her cheek. “After all you’ve done, you don’t deserve any of this and it’s because you don’t that I’m giving it to you. It’s called grace. You should just give in and accept it.”
“I don’t want to!”
“No sudden movements now…we’re still working on those last words of yours, aren’t we?”
“I can’t take this game anymore.”
“I won’t let you refuse.”
“Because mercy knows no prejudice.”
“But it discriminates?”
“No, I do.”
“Because when you went to Vanderoone…you weren’t running away anymore. You were trying to change your life. I forced you through nightmares and tested your limits but you didn’t break. The change you trying to make Eira, alone, it will kill you, this chance…it won’t come again. Take it.”
“At the cost of my stupid family? No.”
“Ah, so they are stupid.”
“But they’re still family. No.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“Then why are you trying to scare me with…” Eira swallowed. “That” The knife tickled her earlobe.
“I’ll remove the memory of them if you like.”
“No…” This protest was more feeble than before. “If I can’t even chose…then I deserve to carry those memories in return.”
So in the end, I’m just your toy. Something amusing for a time until something better catches your eye.
You should be grateful, apprentice, toy trumps pet, both pieces play.
Pet? Who’s the pet?
Isn’t it obvious?
Nothing’s obvious anymore.
He’s a very obedient pet, but suffers from the same sort of aliments as you.
I…what?! What are you talking about?
It’s not that bad.
Yes it is! I trusted you!
I did not betray that trust. Would you have rather I called you a playing piece over a toy?
No! I’d rather you stopped treating me like a thing!
Ah, Eira…what if I told you that you were my favorite game piece?
The last of my tears trickled out as he stabbed the knife into the bed, right to the left of my neck. I couldn’t give him an answer for that, but the tears seemed to be enough. He ruffled my hair and rose from the bed, starting towards the door at the far corner of the room.
“Eira…you are my favorite game piece. I wouldn’t have put this much effort inot you if you weren’t. I’ll be back in bit, I need to check on something.”
The strange door from his house was now the one where the guest bedroom door had once been. I twisted just enough to watch as he turned the locks one after the other. One open, one shut, two open, one shut, as if it were some sort of combination lock.
It clicked open a moment later and a brilliant yellow light seemed to pour into the dark void. I closed my eyes, the brightness too much.
“Behave…” The voice was teasing, almost warm. “And don’t get any brilliant ideas, I won’t forgive any foolish stunts this time.”
I let him go. I let the questions stay in my head. I bury the confusion in my heart and I wait for the light to fade as the door clicks shut.
I’m hopeless, helpless and useless. I don’t understand anything at all.
But I want his hope, I want his help and I don’t care…if he uses me, because that, I understand.
© Sara Harricharan