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"Little Phoenix Lost"

Some old story notes - somewhat disjointed, as ever. It's mostly for my own record, in case I lose them, as I don't think I ever posted these on a public journal; these date back from the days of "Mystery Valley" or whatever that private forum was called? Anyway.

These were part of the inspiration I had for a short story I'm working on (while I try and get over my endless writer's block). I have a couple of pictures associated with this to upload later, but they're not scanned at the moment. One needs "stitching together" as well, as the character went off the page, drat.

"She"/Lii's partner doesn't have a name, at the moment - she was a character belonging to someone I used to collaborate on writing with, with whom I haven't spoken for a few years, so I've just "unnamed" her for now.

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(Original notes. Lii is afraid of failing his partner, so asks for help to be braver and stronger. He doesn’t get what he expected, though.)

     He had to do something. He felt crippled by his irrational fears, and crippled by his inability to get over them; like the pyrophobe so terrified of the idea of the flame that even the sound of sirens made the heart thud a little faster, like the agoraphobe so deathly scared of the open spaces that they’d willingly live in a box for their whole lives, the very idea of the open sky and falling off the world making them tremble uncontrollably. Counselling seemed to do no good, and experience only seemed to cement it.
     …And he knew he’d lose her, he knew she’d get tired and look elsewhere, and the idea left him shaky and ill inside. He knew she made platonic friendships with other males, when they stopped at a Starbase, or made planetfall for a few days – small wonder, space was incredibly lonely when you had only a few to keep company with, and she was rather pretty; other males spoke to her in spite of her species being a disadvantage to her. And he knew that if it continued, with her psychological-biological clock still ticking she’d soon start to make more than just platonic friendships. And the idea of losing her, after losing Aiya too… He didn’t think he’d survive it. Loss of a mate struck all Kiravai hard; widows scarcely outlived their departed partners more than a year, and divorce was remarkably uncommon because of the emotional trauma. ‘Supreme beings’ or not, the Kiravai were still plagued by the emotional foibles their prehistoric ancestors suffered.
     So there was only one option left open to him. Nothing they’d tried had helped, so he had to go and find Her, the Old Lady of the Mountains.

     He trudged onward through the driving snow, wondering absently if anyone would have missed him yet. According to his personal chrono, he’d been gone a good few {hours}, but he’d left in the middle of the night when the ship was nearly dead with sleep with only a high-beam torch and some swift-obliterated footprints for company. Actually, no, that was wrong – Magpie would have at the very least noticed his departure, but he doubted she’d voluntarily wake anyone up about it; the ship’s brain was peculiar like that, she noticed anything and everything but seldom acted on it, never got worried. What a blessing that would be, never to be worried about things that may never happen.

     He didn’t know where he was going – just trusted the map that led him first deeper into the ice-forest, then gradually up the snow-blasted foothills of the mountains and ever deeper into the ravines and ranges. Dawn had begun to break by the time his map said he was getting close to his destination, and he was frozen. In spite of his heated storm-gear, and the force-field that kept the snowflakes (if unfortunately not the bitter cold) out, his ears felt like they’d gone altogether, his feet felt like leaden icicles and his teeth were chattering.
     He slipped and slithered his way up the slope, cautiously, slowly, uncertain and afraid of what he may find. The cave high on the snow-blanketed mountainside looked like a wound, an ulcer in the rocks; he bit his lip, debating with himself – now he’d got here, exerting unnatural effort (for a Kiravai) and labouring over unfamiliar terrain until his muscles felt like they should be bleeding, he found himself loath to go in. Even though the alternative was to go back, exactly the same way, over exactly the same unfriendly terrain, and already existing at a point beyond simple exhaustion… going in struck him as… as… He cringed in spite of himself and tucked his head down into his collar, feeling horribly exposed against the pale snow.

     Come in, dear, a voice said, from nowhere, and he jumped violently, frightened.
     “Wh-… who are you?” he stumbled backwards in the snow, looking around for the source of the voice that spoke direct into his brain.
     I shall not hurt you, dear. You sought me out, and here I am. Come in out of the cold and we can talk, ne?
     “But you-”
     Just a little simple telepathy. You knew I was capable of it before you made your way here, and now you seem surprised? Come, child, you look half frozen. We can still talk the day away, just come out of the cold.
     Stiffly, unsure why he did it – maybe it was just the cold getting to him – Lii complied.

     She was ethereal, old, white-haired with a gentle, wrinkled face set with bright green eyes, with four upper limbs and two lower, reminding him of a face he’d seen in somewhere before – a dream, maybe? She reminded him of no creature he’d seen in his life before, vaguely Yurrae but more delicate.
     “So,” she enquired, gently, handing over a steaming cup of some sort of plant infusion that smelt suspiciously like ordinary tea – where she’d found it, up a mountain on a snow-bound planet, he wasn’t sure he wanted to ask. “You came all this way through snow and ice on an alien world that is utterly inhospitable to your species, just to visit little me?”
     Lii took refuge in his cup for several long, long moments, and when he finally spoke, warmed by the hot tea, his breath steamed in the chill air. “Yes,” he agreed, quietly, unsure if he wanted to say much more.
     She chuckled. “Don’t be afraid to speak to me, m’chi,” she offered, gently, in his native tongue. “If I were that dangerous I would have read your thoughts long ago.”
     He lowered his gaze and stared into his teacup for a long time. “I’m not sure why I came,” he said, at last. “I thought I did, before I got here. But I’ve been alone with only my thoughts for comfort for so long, today, I find myself talking me out of it.”
     She smiled, genially.

     He sighed, tightly, anxiously, and rolled the cup between his palms for a long time. “I’m tired,” he ventured, at last. “Tired of being who I am, that is. Emotionally tired. I seem incapable of the smallest tasks without running from them in one way or another, and you were my last resort.”
     “I don’t know what I can do for you,” she said, cautiously. “If you came here specifically to see me, then you know my talents.”

     “I am tired of me,” he reiterated, softly, meeting her gaze across the top of the flames. “Tired of who I am, what I represent… Tired of my genes, my poor blood and poorer health, my genetic predisposition to weakness and emotional ineptitude. Tired of being one of the most reviled peoples in the entire galaxy and unable to even go home to them. Tired of being unable to protect the few friends I have, tired of being unable to strike up new friendships because of old fears and old wounds. Just… tired.” He let his arms drop, shoulders slumped, head sagging on a neck so sloped it may as well have been broken.
     For a long time she remained silent. “You know the price I charge for the service I offer. Do you really believe I am your only way out?” She shook her head. “You believe yourself to be scarred now? If I aid you, the scarring will deepen to include the astral level. This is not a quick fix I offer.”

     She gazed down at him and placed a hand at his brow. “If I do this for you,” she spoke, softly. “I take five years of your life. Your lifestream nourishes mine. And there is no guarantee I can return you to this current body should you decide you do not like what I do for you.”
     He swallowed, but nodded his understanding, faintly.
     “Stronger. Braver,” she sighed. “Your request seems like that from every other male that comes to my door, and yet there’s something unusual about you, Ave.”
     He kept respectfully silent – although part of that was the sensation of non-corporeal frightened hands closing on his windpipe.
     She brushed her fingers over his feathers and gave him a curious look. “There’s a fire in you, little phoenix, though you seem not to see it for yourself. Still,” she smiled, sadly. “I cannot deny a ‘customer’. Sit still and let me see what I can do for you.”

     He felt his head loll backwards and his muscles all slacken, shoulders slumping and limbs dangling helplessly as she lifted him effortless in that twisting column of white light. There was a brief flaring of pain in his spine, and a bizarre sensation of distinct aging, and then weight, weight pressing down on him from all and any angle, and when he opened his mouth to whine, all the air rushed out of his lungs and left him strangling, choking for breath that wouldn’t come… So he took the classically Kiravai way out, and fainted.

     When he woke, the floor was beneath his back, and all he stared at was the ceiling. No fancy cave paintings as there had been earlier, not even the flicker of dying firelight. At least the snow had stopped falling, and the sun slanted down and touched the rocky cavern roof with spots of gold.
     He ached all over, though, which he took as a good sign – must have meant she actually did something. Although just what… He sat, slowly, stiffly, and checked his chrono again to see how long he’d been out, but it had stopped. Odd. So what had she done…? He was afraid to look, and yet when he did bring himself to examine first his hands, then the other parts that weren’t irreachably covered in thick fabric, he found nothing had changed – at least, nothing he could see. His hands were still as long and slim as they had always been, he was still as inordinately tall, and touching his face he was still Vei’la. He sighed. A fruitless journey, again.
     He turned out of the cave and trudged sorrowfully away down the snow-covered mountainside.

     He’d kept his clothing loose, flowing, made a big show of trying to exercise, if only to hide his bulkier physique, so that if and when someone finally noticed it wouldn’t be such a surprise, wouldn’t be such a case of where-did-all-that-come-from? He wasn’t sure he liked it – the marginally broader shoulders, the heavier limbs, the sharper teeth he kept hidden with force of will alone. But then he preferred that aspect to the other aspect – the grinding horror that made him ill at simply the thought of it, made him want to run and hide lest it steal away his {humanity}. The idea she might find out left him shrunken inside, and the idea she might leave him because of it…
     No, she couldn’t be permitted to find out. Couldn’t be allowed to know he’d bartered five years of his life in exchange for this abomination, well-intentioned as it may have been.

     It was a giant brute of a creature, maybe seven foot at the shoulder, with a low-slung head and a plant-footed quadruped gait, looking bizarrely persuasive of a crow-gorilla. It walked on its knuckles, its flightless wing-arms armed with long, vicious claws, and the growl that issued from its throat was a clap of distant thunder, unforgivingly harsh and remarkably deep from those giant lungs and heavy maw. Its skin was rough and black, and its back and shoulders were sprinkled with short, downy feathers; the crest on its head was longer, more expansive and stiffer, and the black quills painted an oily iridescence.
     It gave another rumble of warning and advanced on the furry creature, feathers bristling; she decided she’d seen enough, turned, and fled, hoping Lii would have had enough sense not to get anywhere near the two giant predators that came together in a flurry of snow.

     She’d given up looking for him when she bumped into Lii completely by accident in the Infirmary. He was examining his face in the mirror, looking concerned.
     “Lii?”
     He jumped. “Lena!” he stammered, then added, accusingly; “You startled me.”
     “That much was obvious to me too,” she agreed, gently, going to his side. “What’s wrong?”
     He shook his head and returned his attention to the mirror. “Caught my skin on a sharp twig. I tried patching it up with the skin-fuser but it’s still obvious,” he paused for breath, then added, as an afterthought; “Do you think you could help? Since I don’t want her worrying about it.”

     Obediently, Lena looked him over, briefly. There was a long trailing line of rough, raw skin streaking down from the rear corner of his eye, and his dark face was still smeared with blood.
     “Must have been a fairly large twig,” she observed.
     “It was,” he agreed, wincing as she examined the badly-patched wound. “And sharp.”
     “How did you do it, anyway? Not looking where you were going?”

     She patched it up most of the way, but there was still a marginally paler line left once she’d finished. “You’ll have to hide it the rest of the way with make-up,” she apologised, softly. “Until the skin heals over naturally.”

     “It’s called the Esu’sau,” Lii spoke up, softly. “A gargantuan creature from the Vei’la mythos. Two were believed to accompany Ii as eternal guardians, to keep away the serpents of darkness that strove to swallow the guiding light of the Governing Principle and plunge the universe into chaotic darkness. One was golden, a fiery beast with a voice like shattering glass, like the lava that incubated our civilisation, and one was dark, a brute from the darkest oceans, coloured as the oil that kept our people alive through their primitive winters.”
     “It’s mythical?” Ivy asked, confusedly. “Well, in that case how could it have been that we saw?”
     “We thought it was mythical,” he corrected, softly. “There have been unconfirmed sightings all across the homeworld for many hundreds of solar cycles. Some believe the myths were originally rooted in reality, in a primitive ancestor to our people. Others believe that these creatures – or similar – do exist as guardians to the Royal family, as the great beasts of the mythology guarded Ii. Still others believe other things. No-one knows. Probably no-one ever will know what is fact.”

     “Lii…”
     He glanced up. “What?”
     “If they’re from your mythos… and you know they’re a force for good… why did you run away…?”
     He forced a sad smile. “Because it had big teeth and big claws and frightened Ii’s Fire out of me. It shouldn’t be real.”

     No matter what the mysteries about it were, one thing about this brute of a monster was a certainty – it was biologically incapable of sneaking. Its every footstep was a thump that seemed like it should make the very ground she sat upon shake, and the fact it didn’t slice itself with those wicked, enormous claws with every step it made was a shock in itself.

     It rumbled, softly, deep in its chest, more of a purr than anything, pinned her down with a giant, clawed forepaw on one shoulder, and touched its elongate, massive jaws to her feathers in what was almost a nibbling caress – and for a second she was gripped by the irrational fear that it was going to do something unspeakably horrible to her in a very intimately male-female way, the goodness spoken of it in the old myths be damned. The way it stood over her, holding her down with its sheer weight alone, and the way it touched her feathers, with something like a deep, yearning affection in its brutish manner that made her wonder briefly just what she would do if it were to do anything like that, left so long untouched by Lii she was beginning to forget what it felt like-
     But then it straightened, proving her fears to be just that – irrational, baseless – and with one parting rumble it turned about and departed. She sat and watched it lumber away, and wondered how – and if – she should try explain this one, absently fingering the great rips it had left in her clothing. She knew none of them believed her, when she spoke of the great brute that seemed to be shadowing her, guarding her footsteps, driving off the others that seemed intent on destroying her. Lii seemed especially reticent to talk about it, and she wondered if it was a sort of insane jealousy – that the brute was capable of doing what he couldn’t-
     Then she heard her name called, and pushed herself hurriedly to her feet and tried to make herself look presentable.

     Only when he was in the safety and security of the locked bathroom did Lii peel off his gloves to examine his wounded, mutated fingers; the delicate little fingernails were long gone, replaced instead by short, jet black claws that could tear through hide and sinew like a hot knife through butter, and that threatened to slice just as easily through the soft leather of his gloves had he not reinforced the fingertips with a carbonic metal support.
     He flexed his hands, closed the fingers over his lacerated palms, and shut his eyes, miserably. What exactly had he got himself into…?

     “Who have you been seeing?” she demanded, bitterly, and he stumbled back into the wall, away from her fury, in spite of himself.
     “No-one-!” he protested, but she cut in with a knifelike acerbity before he could explain.
     “You’re almost never here, Lii, and when you are here you’re either running away from me or goddamned sleeping!”

     “I went to see someone,” he explained, softly, and sensing she was about to explode with righteous indignation he held up his hands for calm. “But not a potential partner!”
     “Who then?”

     “I went to her to ask for her help – her guidance,” he explained, quietly. “To help with my… problems.” He glanced up at her disbelieving eyes, and shrugged, as if to say whether or not she believed him was academic. “If you want to know, I went to ask for her services – five years of my life in exchange for strength, bravery… I was tired of me and went to do something about it.”
     “It doesn’t appear to have worked very well, does it?” she spat, darkly. “You still goddess-damned run away from the slightest thing.”
     He almost flinched at that – turned his face away and winced as if in pain.

     “Why are you avoiding me…?” she demanded, chasing him down the corridor. “If you’re telling the truth, you’re not doing very well at convincing me of it…!”
     “Just give me some space,” he pleaded, faintly, lurching into a trot, sensing her follow him. “I need some space…!”
     “Lii, you always need space because you’re always running away from me! Goddess damnit, I won’t freaking well bite you! Some days I feel like giving up on the whole thing!”
     Her voice was fading, and he realised she’d stopped following – and the words ‘giving up’ struck a chord of intrinsic fear into his heart. All those fears that had kept him sleepless so many nights… all those fears that had prompted this most idiotic of ventures… No, after all I’ve done – all we’ve done, if I dare count the near-nothing – I can’t let that happen. I can’t let her go, not after this. And I know I’ll go insane without her.
     
“For a species that prides itself on its skill with words,” she went on, “you seem to have a irritating capacity for not talking.”
     “You don’t understand-”
     “I want to understand…! But you won’t tell me anything!”
     “I can’t tell you…!” he pleaded, casting a wild-eyed glance over his shoulder, and the simple distress in his look convinced her – if only a tiny bit, but it was a start – of the sincerity in his baffling words. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t lose you and if I said you’d never look at me again…!”

     “Please don’t leave me,” he asked, brokenly.

     …She realised he was being serious when instead of fighting free of her grip he twisted round and crushed his face against her, trembling.
     “Make Him leave me alone…!” he said, in a voice so broken she barely understood him.
     “Lii…? Make who leave you alone?”
     “He won’t go away… He won’t go away…” Lii felt his knees buckle out from under him but it didn’t matter. “I never asked Him back into my life but now He won’t go away…!”
     “Please, Lii, I don’t understand…! You have to say it slower, you have to explain it to me…!”
     But he didn’t explain; simply crushed himself into her and cried, hot, helpless tears, his jaws clenched so hard they hurt, a dull fire through the roots of his teeth and up into his brain, silently cursing the fates that had brought {hell} onto him. And somewhere deep in his psyche, something unearthly screamed with him.

     Waking in momentarily unfamiliar surroundings, he realised, to his shame, that he’d probably passed out – curse that damned Imperial gene-code, so weak against physical – or metaphysical – stress.
     He sat up in bed, feeling the blankets fall away and relishing the darkness he found himself in.
     “…are you feeling any better…?”
     He automatically looked to the voice, and saw her in the shadows. “A little.”
     “I thought you’d finally cracked.”
     “So did I,” he rubbed his hands, absently, reassured to find his gloves still sheathing his fingers. “Just a little emotionally overwhelmed. Always feel better after a sleep.”
     He saw her smile, faintly. “That wasn’t sleep.”
     “As good as,” he replied, with a shrug.

     “So are you going to tell me who He is?”
     “It was nothing. It doesn’t matter. I can fix it.”
     “Given the way you acted a few minutes ago, I’d say it was more than nothing.”
     He cast his eyes away, and studied his fingers. “It was nothing,” he replied, softly.

     He stripped off his glove and all but thrust his claws in her eyes. “Take a good long look at those,” he spoke, shakingly, “and tell me why you think I might be running away? I’m not afraid of the creature, the monster that you seem to see – I’m afraid of you, of you seeing the change that mutilates me. I thought She could help me, but it seems I’ve been cursed instead, far worse than before…”
     For a second, all she could do was stare. The claws were blunt, short, looked barely different to the delicate fingernails his slim hands had borne before, but then there were the other physical differences, the ones that were so barely-perceptible even she had almost missed them.

     It gave her a hard, pitying look and pushed her to the ground without barely lifting a hand. //Out of my way, little one. I have work to do.//

     Lii took up position directly in the glowing creature’s path, and although he was clearly trembling he stood his ground in front of it. “You shall not pass by me.”
     //You dare speak up against the Governing Principle?// it sounded amused. //Come, child. I have much work to do. Teachings to spread.//
     
“I’m not going to let you past,” Lii repeated, softly, and folded his arms for emphasis. “False deities should not be allowed to spread lies and rumours to the innocents.” He forced a smile. “The Primes would be out of work, if you did.”
     There was a barely perceptible darkening of the creature’s aura, and its eyes narrowed. //False deities?//
     “You are not the Guiding Light. You are but a demon, dressed in the Light’s manifestation only.”
     //You try my patience, Lii of the House of Rai. Would not do for you to bring dishonour and ill fortune to those you have contact with by vexing me.//
     Lii refused to back down. “Ii is the personification of universal truth and justice. Where is the justice in punishing those that did not vex you? You are false, and you will not pass by me.”

     The creature bared a mouthful of fangs and hissed, nastily. “You know too much little one,” it snarled, viciously.

     “No, the Incorruptible One would not besmirch her purity by communing with mortals,” it snarled, softly, and closed its sickle claws around his throat, tenderly.

     “It would seem,” she spoke, softly, wicked jaws right by his ear, “that there is much you have not told your lady. Where now is your truth, and precious justice?”
     “I am mortal,” Lii forced the words out, deathly afraid of the massive claws that held him captive, the wicked clawtips that stroked his abdomen, traced across his throat, threatened to punch holes in both should he move a muscle. “And I am fallible.”
     “Mortal indeed,” she agreed, amusedly, and closed her hand a fraction, smiled nastily as he shrank away from her claws and only ended up pushing himself closer to her. “Perhaps you feel a need to test this mortality.”

     She – was she even a she, any more? – smiled, and spoke very close to his ear. “You, that claim to be so hopelessly devoted, haven’t even properly introduced your lady to Him, yet, have you…?”
     Lii stiffened, sharply, sudden fright rooted in his stomach. “Please don’t…!”
     “And why not, pet…?” She moved to his other ear, and he felt a forked tongue flicker down it; he shuddered at the touch and looked away, and she chuckled. “Are you afraid she may abandon you, leave you because of that foul monster that lurks deep down in your soul…?”
     “No… no…! No, I just…” Just what, Lii? “I just-”
     “You’re a very bad liar,” she hissed, amusedly, and tickled her claws over him once again, drawing a long stripe up the underside of his jaw and a second down his chest and stomach; he grimaced, miserably, and felt a droplet of warmth run the other way back down his throat, where her claws had nicked his thin skin. “Because you know that’s what’d happen, don’t you, little one? She’d find out, and she’d run away in utter disgust.”
     “Please, you’ve had your fun,” Lii wondered frantically if changing the subject would get her to go away. “Can’t you just let us be, now…?”
     She lowered her voice and spoke very softly; “the mortal enemy of the brute does not simply give in, Little One of the House of Rai,” she flickered her forked tongue over his throat and nibbled incredibly long canines across his shoulder. “Your ancestors would have been greatly honoured to be blessed by the great beast, the fiery guardian, but it would seem times have changed for the better, and in my favour.” She chuckled, darkly, and jabbed her claws in his stomach – not hard enough to pierce the skin but certainly enough to make him groan. “You are nothing but an illiterate brute in fancy clothing. Small wonder you don’t tell her, she’d be gone in disgust before you could even try and explain, and you know it.”
     “Please,” Lii forced a smile, but it was clearly terrified. “What more can I say but sorry!?”
     “Sorry is not enough,” she spat, and jabbed her claws deeper. “I want to see you squirm, brute,” he was already complying with that, trying to twist away from the forest of claws that stuck into him from every angle, “and I want her to see you for what you really are. A nasty, vicious, spikey brute of a creature with no manners.

     The demonic creature smiled, wickedly, and petted his ears, daringly. “I’ll leave you two lovebirds to get better reacquainted, shall I?”
     Lii swiped at her, infuriated and miserable, but she’d already begun to fade out, and his claws cut through nothing but air. He bellowed impotently at where she’d once stood, but she was already gone, leaving nothing but a nasty chuckle and a “temper, temper!” behind her.

     “It was you all along…?” she said, softly, and he turned his face away, afraid of the accusation he was certain he heard in her voice. “Why didn’t you just tell me…?”
     But of course, the shift left him wordless, capable only of sounds, of grunts and bellows – but he doubted he could have explained if he had been left with a voice. He closed his eyes and turned his face away from her, shielding his face from her with one massive forelimb, feeling worse than just helpless. One last look and she’d be gone, he knew – away from the lies, away from the deception, and above all away from the hideous monster he’d become.

     He sat in the cargo hold, gnawing at something, and at first she wondered how he’d managed to get into the cupboards after already proving he couldn’t open them, then she noticed the worrying smears of bluish-black on the floor and realised he wasn’t actually gnawing on food, he was gnawing at his claws. One already lay abandoned on the deck, for that matter, she noticed, observing that the thing she’d seen from the corner of her eye wasn’t a feather as she’d first thought but a long, keratinous spur, gnawed away right back almost to the digit itself, and certainly well past the quick… She felt instantly nauseated at the idea – and the fact that he loathed them enough he was willing to mutilate his own body to get rid of them. The stump of finger left by the dismembered claw was still oozing, matting the long, soft feathers of his wrists and throat, where he lay in it to get at the next offending body-part.
     It must have hurt beyond belief, but he persevered, and before she could gather her wits enough to stop him the second claw fell away from his jaws and he kicked it away across the floor – only to start on the next one.

     He sat patiently while Ivy settled the device carefully over his head, then went cross-eyed trying to look at it. “//Is it working?//” he asked, his voice coming from the speakers Ivy had set up on the computer desk. “//I’m guessing that this means it is.//
     “So,” Ivy settled on the floor, legs crossed and hands in her lap. “From the top.

     He sighed, softly, settled to his elbows, and inspected his mutilated hands for a few moments before speaking.
     “//He has been with me for more years than I care to recall,//” he said, softly. “//A presence forever at my shoulder. His mark has been on me, an intrinsic part, like bestowed upon the Imperial guard that relish the dark fire that burns to protect the light, and yet… it’s not right he should be here.//” He drew in a sigh and cast his gaze to the ceiling, barely aware of them. “//His mark was the part of me I chose to bury, the part that left me wilder, uncivilised, marked me as abnormal as a child. The part I strove my hardest to hide and that I thought I’d excised long ago, but it seems I simply ignored him, forgot he existed, all these years. Now for some reason he’s been called to my side, and… he and I are as one. He accepted his task of protection, and now I don’t know how to get rid of him.//

     “//When I was a child – barely into the fledge – I was taken from my parents by Lei’ra revolutionaries, and held hostage to their whims. They wanted to use me as a bartering tool, and since my parents were important they felt they had a good chance of reaching quorum. Of course,//” a sigh. “//My parents were important, yes, but I was rather a disappointment to them since I didn’t want to conform to their wishes – I’d rather play with my poorer schoolfriends than spend hours in extra schooling. So naturally it was rather a blessing to them that I was gone, they could concentrate their efforts on my sister who was a more perfect child than I could hope to be – I heard later they sent out armed search parties, instead, ignoring the demand for ransom money, in spite of the threat I would be killed if anyone tried to find me.//
     “So your captors abandoned you?”
     He shook his head. “//They were going to sell me outside our territory, probably as cheap labour or simply as meat,//” he explained, softly. “//I took fright and ran. I got lost in the catacombs, where they were hiding, and I simply wandered for days – hurt, hungry… I thought no-one was looking for me. I had to get out alone. I lost track of how many days I was down there, lost, hopeless… Eventually I stumbled into an old shrine to the Guiding Light, and since I had nothing else left to do, I asked her aid. My parents told me the old religions were just stories, to frighten the children, but I was despairing of anything other than dying down there. I set off again, but I tripped and hit my head, and when I woke up I was in hospital, with my parents at my bedside trying their hardest to look concerned.//” A flicker of disgust crossed his face. “//I later found out that the search-teams found me close to the surface, by an old statue of the Esu’sau, which was not where I last remember being. Since then, the esu has been with me – in my dreams, guiding my decisions… If he wasn’t there I’m sure I’d have gone into politics.//” He gave a soft, miserable laugh. “//His influence marked me as different. And he’s remained with me since.//

     It was a terrible voice; high, sonorous, and somewhere between a departing jet engine and shattering glass in timbre. All three automatically looked towards the perceived source of the sound, and yet there was nothing there.

     There was a flash of golden orange, and a glitter as of glancing light upon a set of kitchen knives, and the serpent fell back with a hiss of anger, covering its face – upon which were now printed three straight, gaping cuts – and swearing softly. There was another of those terrible cries from the unseen creature, and another gleam of light, and the serpent was forced back, swearing and hissing darkly.

     I think I should keep my pets with me, Little One, Lii thought, and instantly wondered why he’d thought it.
     He had little time to ponder, though – the ghostly Esu’vei had driven the serpent off and now stood watching him, calmly, flames licking casually over its limber frame.

     There was a sensation of lightness, and a diminishing of mass, and he could feel something changing, almost imperceptibly, something deep within him.
     Touched by the Esu’sau, indeed, but he should not have been called to you, he thought, and realised that it was not his own thought but someone talking to him. The mischief shall be corrected.

     He slumped to the floor, too tired to sit, too exhausted even to worry about his nudity; all he could feel was relieved that he was him again – the great beast had returned to the realm it was supposed to be on, and now stood in front, a dark spectre composed of shifting black mist and shadows.
     His protective mark will remain on you, Little One, as it has since your darkest hour. Take care you do not again call his assistance when in the company of powerful friends.
     And then all were gone – the disembodied thought-voice, the two giant spectres.

-------------------------

This goes alongside the "Mandala" idea I posted a couple of weeks ago:
http://keaalu.livejournal.com/435344.html

Crossposted. This entry was originally posted at http://keaalu.dreamwidth.org/18435.html.

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