Most people would live their whole lives never witnessing a phoenix but it seemed this one had chosen not only to show itself here but to burn out its last moments at the edge of their camp site. The fire was already setting to trees and foliage, the moisture long gone. The heat from the creature was intense as the flames rose and fell like a dance. The bird was much larger than Xaine would have expected it to be. Taller than their tents and wingspan as long as the campsite itself if not longer.
After his moment of daze, Xaine knew he had to wake the others before the flames were too intense. He flung open the flap of the nearest tent and shouted as loud as he could for them to get up and run. Kara woke startled and looked angry that he had popped his head in unannounced but quickly realized it was an emergency. Xaine left to get to the next one, skidding on the dirt in his urgency. He tried to wake Isaac but he just rolled over and mumbled until he climbed inside the tent and shook him awake. Isaac finally woke and shouted at Xaine for waking him.
"Get off of me I"m trying to sleep! And why is it so hot!"
"There"s a fire you have to get up and get out of here!"
Xaine didn"t have time to explain the full detail but his words started Isaac awake and to action. He faintly heard a shout of thanks as he ran to get Corey awake. He noticed Kara was trying to do the same thing and they wound up successful. As soon as he was awake Kara ran back to her tent and just grabbed the top dragging everything inside it like a bag. The other three followed suit as and were able to get to a safer distance quickly. As they were running with all of their stuff flopping around in the tents from hitting rocks and fallen trees. Xaine stopped suddenly and turned to run back, a terrible thought crossing his mind.
The heat at the site when he returned was incredible. He could feel the moisture on his skin leaving quickly and felt like his skin was starting to burn. On the far side from the phoenix he saw them. The horses were tied and fighting against their ropes to get away from the flames. Xaine rushed to them and began to untie them from the trees they were tethered to. He was almost kicked multiple times by the frenzied horses and was knocked over more than once. He counted himself lucky to have not been trampled when he fell. He finally got the fourth horse untied and yanked the reins in the direction of the other trainees hoping to at least direct its run.
The horse took off before Xaine could attempt mounting it but the heat was so intense he doubted he had the energy anyway. Just then the phoenix must have been very near its end when a huge burst of flame erupted in all directions from it. The explosion knocked Xaine to his knees and he began to crawl trying to get out. The fire got even hotter and Xaine could feel the burns on his skin get even worse. He saw blisters beginning to form on the backs of his hands and forearms as he tried to crawl out. Another blast almost knocked him to the side and pain seared through him. He screamed in pain and upon opening his mouth his throat was immediately dry.
Each breath was like inhaling flames into his lungs. Xaine sat back on his feet unable to even crawl anymore. The flames surrounding everything went blue and something even more disturbing than pain shot through Xaine. He couldn"t feel anything at all. He looked down at his arms which were blackened and flakes of ash began to drift from them. He couldn"t tell if it was skin or clothes except for the traces of his ancestral mark that were glowing brightly. Something was different about the mark than he had seen before, but he could not focus on it as the sight of his skin was so disturbing. Xaine was mesmerized by seeing his flesh burn and not feeling a thing. Then panic settled in- he had no idea what to do. He had no energy left to move and simply stared at his arms slowly flaking away unable to do anything. So much for the prophecy he thought. I can"t help anyone if I"m dead.
He finally looked forward again, accepting his fate. That"s when he noticed the great bird was right in front of him. It had bent down low making it"s eyes level with Xaines. If xaine had thought the flames were colorful before it was nothing to what he saw now.The birds eyes were black at the center. But just around the center it seemed that every color of flame that was possible swam in it"s eyes. The bird seemed to look inside him rather than at him. The two stared at each other for a long moment then the bird raised it"s head and let out a loud screech that sounded like the songs of thousands of other birds harmonized into one. The flames grew incredibly powerful and Xaine imagined much hotter though he could no longer feel it. The blast knocked him on his back and his vision went black.
Xaine woke lying on his back. His eyes were still closed. He felt very warm and comfortable. He began to register that someone was talking to him. Someone familiar. He opened his eyes to see his father dropping to kneel next to him.
"Xaine are you alright?! What happened!?"
What had happened. Xaine realized that his father was not talking to him, maybe one of the other trainees, but he still tried to think of answer for himself.. Phoenix! It all rushed back to him, it was a phoenix!
"Phoenix" Xaine was barely audible, he still didn"t quite have his voice. So many things were running through his mind. He remembered it all now- watching his skin flake away. He could hear his father talking to the other trainees. He talked so fast there was no real chance of answering him. He seemed to be trying to take control of the situation.
"A phoenix?! is that right? what would a phoenix be doing out here? Xaine can you move?"
Could he? Xaine tried to move his arm remembering the terrible thing he saw, he was terrified to look. Somehow he had survived, but he"d never be able to recover from the scars- if he didn"t end up getting infected and die from that. He raised his right hand up and in front of his face. His whole arm was covered in ash. He was already surprised that there was anything beneath the ash left to lift. He felt the warmth of a tear streak down his face. He wiped the ashes around with his fingers. He didn"t know how, but he was perfectly whole. His skin was just as it had been the day before, probably better. His skin felt tight and new- like skin revealed when dead skin peels off. Xaine sat up and his father helped him. His whole body was covered in the ashes and seemingly healed. Even his clothes had been restored.
Was it all a dream? It couldn"t have been a dream Xaine was covered in ashes. Something at least had burned and he was lying in the remains. It was then that Xaine finally looked around him to take in his surroundings. The area they had chosen to camp was now a wide open clearing. Nothing was left standing in an enormous circle. It was a much larger space than they had even set up their tents in. All that was left was a thick layer of gray ash on the ground. Even the large stone that was by the fire pit was deformed like it had been partially melted.
As Xaine stared at the large bed of ashes something strange caught his eye. A spot in the ashes began to move as if something were hiding underneath. Then to his surprise, a small beaked head poked out from the ashes. It was a tiny wrinkled and featherless bird. It shook itself free of the remaining ashes and Xaine noticed several other spots of ashes beginning to stir. Then one by one three more tiny birds poked through the ashes and began to clean themselves. They all stared at the birds emerging, completely taken aback. The bird that had first emerged ran in a fast waddle over to where Xaine sat. The bird looked up at him and Xaine moved his hand down toward the little creature instinctively. It rubbed its head against his hand as if greeting an old friend then quickly ran back to the other birds.
Once among its fellows it raised and twisted its head as if something uncomfortable were happening then it jerked violently in what looked like a sneeze. Sparks shot from the two little holes in its beak. The bird did it again and again- sparks shot from its beak accompanied by a small plume of smoke. Then on the third time, the bird shot sparks again but this time promptly burst into flame the small wrinkled bird was now covered in the same flaming feathers as the large one that created the clearing. At this the other three birds ran around chirping loudly until the ignited bird chirped back. The chirp that came from it sounded as if thousands of tiny birds all made the sound at once. The other three stopped and looked at it, some tilting their heads as they did so. The flaming bird then walked to each of the chicks and stretched out a flaming wing to one of them. As soon as it touched the bird it seemed to catch fire as if it were covered in pitch.
The flames on the new bird flared and roiled around until finally settling like the first as though they were feathers made of flame. The first bird continued the process until all four were alite. The whole image would have been quite disturbing if they hadn"t known these birds were supposed to be on fire, the birds themselves seemed quite pleased with their new appearance. The first bird began flapping it"s long flaming wings and was soon airborne it wasn"t long before the other three followed suit and took to the sky. The new little flock flew up and out of the forest until, even though covered in flames, they were visible no more. Finally pulling his eyes away from where he last saw the phoenix, Xaine turned to look back at his father who was still kneeling in the ashes. Barrek was still focused on the sky, seemingly accepting that it really had been a phoenix that had destroyed the campsite. Xaine looked around at the other trainees who were staring, dazed- looking as astonished as his father did. They all started when he spoke.
"So did all of my things get destroyed?"
Xaine"s father turned to look at him looking like he suddenly remembered he was there then looked back up at the other trainees waiting for the answer. It was Isaac who finally spoke after looking at Xaine as if trying to focus on something very far away then finally understanding the question he asked.
"Uh- no. You got lucky. Your horse got his hoof stuck in your tent flap as he was running away. Dragged it at least far enough away to not get caught in the fire."
Xaine felt immediately guilty, how could he have asked about his things before his own horse, a living breathing creature that depended on him? Isaac saw his expression fall and hurriedly continued on.
"Don"t worry about Saber, even though he got his hoof stuck, he still outstripped the other horses. He ran a good deal past us until he finally got it out of his system. He came back while you were out. You"re lucky he likes you. We"re still looking for my horse though- at least we know she didn"t die in the fire. Thanks by the way."
"Yeah;" Xaine didn"t quite know how to say you"re welcome. He wasn"t sure if this was a situation to say you"re welcome in, he was sure if any of them had thought about it they would have run back as well. And of course, he nearly died doing it so maybe it wasn"t the greatest idea. Smiling at the fact that he had indeed survived, apparently completely ok, he stood up and addressed the others again.
"Well we have a mission to get to don"t we? We can"t sit around here all day. So what do we do next?"
"Do we really still have a mission considering what just happened?"
Isaac addressed the question to Xaine but then everyone turned to look at Barrek who was the authority there. He looked a little uncomfortable to answer, which was not a normal trait Xaine knew in his father.
"Well I suppose you do, as long as everyone is ok. Are you sure you"re alright Xaine?"
"Yeah, I"m fine, never been better actually."
As Xaine said it he knew he really meant it. It was as if he had rested all night long. Of course, that might be because of the adrenaline from being alive and not horribly disfigured. But though he felt great, his father didn"t seem convinced. As if somehow beneath the ashes that coated almost every inch of Xaine were burns and wounds that might soon threaten his life. Apparently thinking of a course of action, Barrek spoke again.
"I think the first thing you should do is find Isaac"s horse."
"And you might want to get yourself cleaned up Xaine. You look like a ghost." Corey said with a grin.
They all looked at Xaine again and Isaac and Kara chuckled. Xaine thought of what he must look like from their perspective and chuckled himself. The action forced him to inhale not a small amount of ash and set him coughing and spluttering to which the others laughed a great deal.
The day wore on once more, though this time a little more disorienting than usual, as the fire had happened in the early hours of the morning well before the sun was up, so they experienced night then day then night again. They had found Isaac"s horse somewhere around midday as it had made its way to small stream and seemed to linger around the area. It took nearly an hour to convince the horse to relinquish its new found freedom and get it back in full tack. Once done, the journey continued on fairly similar to the last couple of days- except for the fact that Barrek was still with the small party.
They had addressed his presence more than once since they had left to find the cave once more. He had mentioned that since he had come back to them without a fight they could consider him a prisoner for the time being. This lead to them asking questions about where to go next but he refused to answer in any means other than telling them it was their job to figure it out. The usual response to this, at least from Isaac, was that prisoners would probably be more helpful.
Xaine was sure, however, that his father only stuck around to make certain he really was ok. To Xaine"s relief, he did seem to get less worried throughout the day and eventually joined in conversation with Isaac whenever they weren"t talking about where to go. When night fell, they finally set up camp once again and let Barrek set up his own dwelling as well.
The time finally came that Xaine was dreading when the rest of the group asked him what happened exactly when he went back. He was nervous to retell what he had seen as he didn"t expect anyone to believe him. The situation was made worse by his father"s presence. He did not want to worry him any further since he had now seemed to calm down. Though once Xaine started his story, it was easy to continue on to the end. They all sat in silence, listening to every word, and when he finally finished they just shook their heads in disbelief. They seemed to believe he was telling the truth, but, like him, couldn"t imagine how he survived.
They all finally got to bed and Xaine felt exhausted. Nevertheless he still woke up several times and looked out his tent flat to make sure the fire really was out. He knew the phoenix had started it and felt a little foolish every time he checked but felt slightly better when, on one instance, he caught another tent flap open apparently checking the very same thing. After the third or fourth time waking up and checking he was finally able to fully drift off into restful sleep.