Chapter 18: Go Down Swinging

Chapter 18: Go Down Swinging

A Chapter by Faith Dunn

Chapter 18: Go Down Swinging


            Noise came back first, in snatches. Letters forming syllables forming words.

            “Why do you care?” Said one voice.

            “I just do.” Another.

            “You’re not telling me stuff, Phoenix. More bleeding secrets!”

            “You want to talk about secrets, Shark?”

            A growl.

            Azoah pushed away the fog, felt her eyelids flicker against the dark. “Azoah!” Came Phoenix’s voice, loose with relief.

            Azoah’s eyes finally peeled open, her hands fisting roughly into the bedcovers. Wait"bedcovers? “Where are…” She trailed off, the words giving way to coughs. Each heave left her gagging, pain licking the entire way up the column her throat. “Where are we?”

            “Inn.” Said Zaire. He was sat at a pathetic looking desk, tucked against the opposite wall, looking out the dinky window and into daylight.

            “S**t!” Azoah sat up, staring dumbly at a patch of illuminated carpet. “It’s day?”

            Phoenix was sat at the end of the bed, eyes affording a great deal of worry. This alarmed Azoah; she already knew Phoenix well enough to know that she and worry did not coexist. “You were unconscious the entire night.”

            “Unconscious?” Then she remembered. “The prisoners! What happened to them?” Azoah looked around the room, one hand sifting through her tangle of hair. “How did we get here?”

            “We carried you,” Said Zaire, jaw thrumming furiously. “You weigh a tonne, by the way.”

            Charming.

            Azoah, in a great act of restraint, chose to ignore him. “The prisoners?”
            Phoenix fiddled idly with a corner of the bedcover. “Two managed to get away in the chaos, they haven’t been recaptured as far as we know. Two others were caught and dragged back to their cells.”

“And the last one? There were five?”
            Phoenix looked away. “He was shot in the melee.”

            Azoah closed her eyes against the day dawning, wishing to be back in her oblivious sleep. “What are we going to do?”

            “We,” said Zaire, finally deigning to look at her, “are going to haul a*s to the border, and get to the Northern Glades.”

            “No.” The word was not Azoah’s alone. She and Phoenix smiled at one another in a shared moment of agreement.

            “This is about more than just those two prisoners.” Said Azoah. “This is about him, Lolan. He’s always been comfortable, never had his world shaken.”

            “So, princess,” Said Zaire. He was oddly calm, gaze fixed back out the window. “What do you suppose we do?”

            “I say we shake things up a little bit.” A plan was already forming. A ridiculous, dangerous, far-fetched plan.

            “How do you suppose to do anything like that?” He motioned in her general direction.

Azoah wasn’t sure how offended to be. “Surely I don’t look that b--"

His speed was serpentine as he darted forwards, grabbing her hands, turning them over. And there, on the palms of her hands, wending down her wrists, were the beginnings of blistering burn marks. “I did this?” She whispered, horrified. She’d done this to herself?

Zaire was back in his seat before she’d even blinked, withdrawn and morose.

Phoenix reached out to pat her leg--soft, sisterly. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to help you.”

Zaire snorted, attention still diverted, as though just to look at her disgusted him, affronted him. And why wouldn’t it? He was strong, disciplined, controlled. He knew who he was, what he was capable of. She couldn’t even use her own fire, for when it did, it turned on her. As it usually did in the presence of embarrassment, anger flared. “What’s so funny, Shark?”

Zaire’s nostrils flared like he was scenting blood. “All of it. Never thought I’d see the day Phoenix Basilias would offer hope. Let me tell you something, Azoah: there is no hope, not where this is concerned. The second you start hating it, it swallows you whole. Lights out.”

Azoah shook her head, mystified. “What are you talking about.”

Zaire ran a frustrated hand across the light scruff of his jaw. “Tell her, Zaire.” Pleaded Phoenix. “Maybe it’ll help.”

“Tell me what?”

“I can’t, Phoenix.”

“You can.” Phoenix moved from the bed. She dropped to a crouch beside him. “You can.”

Zaire didn’t look away from the window, from the light. “It was a long time ago.” He said softly. “I was a boy.” Azoah didn’t move. “I Manifested when I was nine. It was raining. I remember the rain because I remember the steam. I was freezing one second, scorching the next. I remember heat and fire and the hiss of rain as it boiled.”

Most witches Manifest at about thirteen, though there can be quite a bit of variance around this age. Phoenix was fifteen, I also know a boy who was nine.

Zaire. Zaire was the boy. “It was you. You were the witch.” She breathed.

“I didn’t hurt anyone,” He said. “I was lucky because I was outside. Our garden was huge; no one around to hurt. But my father found me, found me bleeding fire. He was horrified, disgusted. Made me feel like a godsdamn monster. He ended up sending me to some mythical miracle worker on the other side of the continent, who he believed could take my powers away from me.”

Azoah watched him, enraptured. “What happened?”

“Halfway across the country my carriage was ambushed by bounty hunters who killed my driver and sold me to Tavela as a slave.”

“And then what?”

His voice turned sharp. “And then nothing.”

Azoah could tell there was more to the story, far more, but she knew better than to push. “Nothing.” She murmured. She knew exactly the kinds of things nothing could hide. Gods, she knew how nothing felt.

Zaire clasped his hands between his knees, head hanging. “I tried my best, but I never forgot the way I felt, the way he made me feel. And slowly, surely, I learned to hate it.”

“The magic?”

He looked up. “The magic.” For once his eyes were earnest, bled free from malice and hate. “It turned against me.”

“It…it turned against you?”

“Magic’s not inanimate, not really. It’s cognizant, sort of. In the blood it manifests, and in the blood it rots. If the person denies their own magic, if they fear it and hate it, then it dominates. It takes control, piece by piece.” Zaire frowned. “It’s like…it’s like a consuming. You’re entire being becomes it. It makes the person dangerous and intemperate. And eventually--"

“--It kills them.” Finished Azoah. She’d known, somehow she’d known. She looked down at her hands, at the blisters and the soon-to-be scars. This is what her own fear and hatred had done.

Zaire still couldn’t look at her. “Yes.”

“Then why aren’t you dead?”

He flinched. A hand came up to clasp the pendant round his neck. “A Suppression. A different one to yours. Until it was done to me, I didn’t even know it existed, didn’t know it was possible. The blood in my necklace, it binds the magic to my blood irrevocably so that I can’t pull from it. It stays dormant there, suppressed.”

“And if you took it off? If the spell broke?”

“I’d probably die.”  

Azoah moved from the bed until she was standing before him. Phoenix had fallen into a crossed-leg position on the floor beside them, silent and watching. Azoah’s hand reached out, she took the pendant from his hand.

Blue stone, red blood.

“Your blood?”

He was watching her now, watching her face. “No.” He said. “Not mine.”

Azoah was close enough that her breath stirred the hair at the top of his head. “Whose?”

She expected him to pull away, avert his gaze. That seemed to be his reaction whenever she asked a question. “I can’t talk about it, not now. Not yet.” There were more words there, more words he didn’t say: Maybe not ever.  

“How can I get one?”

Zaire’s hand reached to wrap round her wrist where it still held the chain. His eyes were wide, urgent. “You can’t.” He said harshly. “You won’t.”

Azoah dropped the necklace. Her breath was shaky as it escaped. “So you’re the only one that gets a special f*****g necklace? Is that it? What about when it kills me, what then?”

“No, Azoah, you don’t understand.” Zaire’s hand wrapped round her forearm.

She tugged free furiously. “No, you don’t understand. You don’t know what that was like, I was fine one second, then gone the next. It took me, controlled me. If you two hadn’t been there, I’d be dead right now.”

“Then I’ll teach you.” Said Phoenix quietly. She remained on the floor, legs folded beneath her. “He’s right, Azoah, that necklace isn’t worth the price you’ll pay.”

Azoah shivered. There were blank spaces, questions left unsaid. But she wouldn’t ask, not yet. “You’ll teach me?”

“You’re not too far gone yet, I can help. I’ve helped lots of people like you.” Her mouth tightened as she looked away.

“Thank you.” Azoah replied, touched. She could face this; she’d have to face this for what was to come.

“Now,” Said Azoah. “Are you ready to hear my plan?”

 

***


            “No. No way.” Zaire was pacing the (practically non-existent) length of the inn’s room.

            Azoah had finally finished explaining the gist of her plan, and Zaire, sufficed to say, was not impressed. Mostly, Azoah felt this was due to his part, or rather, his lack of part. This would be down to her and Phoenix.

            “I love it.” Said Phoenix, ignoring Zaire. “It’s brilliant.”

            “It’s suicidal, is what it is.”

            “For normal people, perhaps. For witches? Not so much.” Phoenix smiled maniacally.

            “Gods, Phoenix. Her magic doesn’t make her stronger, it makes her a liability!”

            “Well then we’ll just have to change that, won’t we?” Phoenix said obstinately, hands on hips.

            Azoah was sat on the floor between them, eyes following Zaire’s obsessive pacing. “You think you can fix her? In the space of a few hours?” Demanded Zaire incredulously.

            Fix her? “You’re an insensitive a*****e, you know that?” Azoah interrupted.

            He paused his pacing to fix her with an acerbic smile. “I’m a criminal, dear.”

            “’I’m a criminal, dear’,” Azoah mimicked, maturely.

            “We can make a damn good start.” Said Phoenix. She was sizing Azoah up, head inclined, eyes narrowed. Azoah was starting to learn that that look was synonymous with trouble. “I’m going to beat the s**t out of her until she’s so scared of me, there’s no room for fearing her magic.”

Azoah made a horrified noise. Zaire choked.

Phoenix looked between them hopelessly. “That was a joke.” She scratched the back of her neck. “That went down well.”

“And if this plan gets you killed?” Spat Zaire.

Azoah responded before Phoenix could. “Then we’ll go down swinging.”

“Now it’s time for you to go do your part,” Said Phoenix, taking Zaire’s silence as acquiescence.

“You want me to go and buy dresses.” He said the word in such a way that made it interchangeable with human toes, or eyeballs, which Azoah found unbelievably ironic, considering his occupation.

“Maid servant dresses.” Reiterated Azoah.

“The s****y ones.” Added Phoenix. “Lolan likes his maid servants a little more…promiscuous than your average lord.”

“You’re joking?” Said Azoah, disgusted. “How do you know this?”

“Rumours.” She replied, too quickly.

Before anything else could be said, Zaire was out the door, muttering very uncomplimentary things under his breath. “Don’t forget my ingredients!” Yelled Phoenix after him.

The door slammed shut.

“You think he’ll actually get the stuff?” Asked Azoah.

Phoenix watched her strangely. “I do, actually.” And that was that.

“And me, what are we going to do with me?”

Phoenix clasped her hands together, falling to a cross-legged position opposite Azoah. “We’re going to teach you magic.”

            She tried to push back the thing that reared at the word, the fire, and the fear that came with it. And the memories. Oh, the memories. “No.” Said Phoenix. “Don’t.”

            “What?” Azoah was sweating.

            “Don’t push it back, invite it in. The moment you fear it is the moment it controls you.”

            “So I’m equal to it?”

            “No, Azoah, you’re dominant. Either you control it, or it controls you. It’s your decision which.” Said Phoenix. “Close your eyes and look inwards.”

            Azoah’s eyes closed. One breath in, one out. She searched the black, searched for the spark, the power. She felt the heat in her feet first, pulling up through her soles and moving up her legs. In her stomach it tumbled, turned itself over and over. But the heat. That heat. Her closed eyes made the perfect backdrop for the image of her brother, her father’s body. Scum. You’ll swing for this.

            “I can’t.” Azoah gasped. It was still churning in her stomach, reaching up and up, searching for an outlet so it could escape and ravage. “I can’t.”

            She felt Phoenix’s hands fold round her own. They sat opposite each other, cross-legged on the floor. “You can.” She said. “And you will.”

            “It’s burning.” Sweat traced her brow, her cheek, her lip.

            “Whatever that memory is, the one that makes you hate it. I want you to replace it.”

            “With what?” She gasped.

            “Any memory you have, where you enjoyed magic. Where you didn’t hate it.”

            “Ok.” Azoah took another breath. A cooling wind, courtesy of Phoenix, caressed her sweat-laden face.   

            Then, in the blackness of her mind, she pulled up the image of two girls flying. How do you feel about flying, princess? Laughter in the air, that feeling of freedom. All it takes is a certain amount of air pushing upwards, resisting the downwards tug. With enough support, one need not fear the fall.

            “One need not fear the fall.” Azoah repeated. The words steadied her, tethered her. Then she was falling, dipping into that magic pulling from her stomach to her heart, to her arms. Her hands. You are mine. She told it. I control you, and I will survive you.

            And for the first time, for the very first time, the magic listened.

            “Azoah,” Said Phoenix softly. “Azoah, open your eyes.”

            She opened her eyes. And there, licking at the tips of her fingers, were flames. Controlled, painless flames. Phoenix was smiling at her, and her eyes were a little watery. This was an important moment. Azoah knew this, though she wasn’t sure how she knew this, or just how this moment was so very pivotal. But it was, and it would be forever. Those flames at her fingertips, two girls staring at one another across a stretch of smoke.

            “Now put it out.”

            Azoah’s hands clenched into fists, and the smoke winked out. The heat left as it had come, from the fingers to the toes and back out. “You did it!” Screamed Phoenix, and her arms were around Azoah’s neck, choking the life out of her. It had been so long, that for a moment Azoah didn’t even recognise it as a hug.

            Slowly, haltingly, she hugged Phoenix back.  

            “Phoenix, how do I know you?” Because she did. It was the way it was with Zaire; a knowledge of knowing someone with no idea where from, with no basis.

            In her arms Phoenix went stiff. She pulled back. “Nowhere.” She said, her eyes gaping wide with fear.

            It was so odd--these mood swings. From hate to love to hate. As though she constantly fought some awful internal battle. “Where did you come from?”

            “Nowhere.”

            “Everyone comes from somewhere.” Azoah argued.

            “Not me.” Phoenix grinned, forcing levity. “I was hatched from an egg.”

            “What kind of egg?”

            “A dragon egg. My sister and I shared one. She was a dragon, though. I wasn’t.”

            “Fire-breathing?”

            “All dragons are fire-breathing, you uncultured swine.” Phoenix said loftily.

            Azoah smiled and retreated and let Phoenix keep her secrets. But the feeling was there, and the feeling stuck: Phoenix knew far more than she was telling.  




© 2017 Faith Dunn



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Added on November 11, 2017
Last Updated on November 11, 2017
Tags: kingdom, king, princess, prince, queen, monarchy, dragon, witch, magic


Author

Faith Dunn
Faith Dunn

West Midlands , United Kingdom



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Lover of books and conspiracies. Quick-tempered. Reluctant dreamer. Troublemaker. more..

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