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A women wakes up in a unfamiliar room surrounded by flames with no memory of how she arrived there. This first chapter introduces our 'Phoenix' as she enters this new world.
This first part may be confusing, Phoenix awakens with no memory and no clue, and unfortunately to give away more than she knows would give away too many clues to the story. I am not wandering blindly however, more to be explained in coming stories as Phoenix begins to piece together her mystery.
Leave a comment if you enjoy this and want to read more. Or even if you don't let me know why? I always welcome criticism.
“From darkness we came, and to darkness we will return,”
The voice was familiar, though how she knew it she could not be sure
“All things that begin must end. Day cedes to night as life cedes to death.”
Why could she not place the voice? She knew it intimately. The tone and rising inflections resonated deeply within her, but she could form no name for the owner.
“And the world turns, the wind blows and the end cedes to the beginning.”
Who are you? She struggled to concentrate but couldn’t, a fog had descended on her brain obscuring her thoughts. A faint wisp of memory coiled in her head. She strained to reach it, grasping blank air as it floated further away. She reached again but then another voice intruded.
“Miss wake up.”
Small at first, then louder, more insistent.
“Miss you gotta wake up!”
She didn’t want to listen. She was still concentrating on the first voice, the coil of memory still floating through the smog in her head.
“Miss please, we gotta go.”
.“And so the journey begins...”
The fog parted momentarily and there was the memory. Sparkling bright before her just within reach, she struggled to grasp it before the smoke closed in again...
“...with you...our hope.”
There! Her hands closed around it, she brought it close...
A rough jolt shook her and the fog flooded back in. Her eyes flew open; the smog was still there all around her. Her hands were empty the memory had fled.
“No!” She cried “No I had it, I almost...” She coughed inhaling too deeply, not smog, smoke! There was smoke everywhere. A small face appeared in front of her, a boy? Young nine, maybe ten, rail thin, ragged and underfed. No name, stranger. She was lying on the floor, hardwood, rough and he was crouched above her. Not threatening just anxious, no not anxious, terrified. Strange room, low rafted sloping roof, rough cot and bench, unfamiliar. Door on far end slightly ajar, red glow showing through the gap. Fire. She could feel the heat now too. The details flew through her thoughts lighting speed.
“Miss we have to get gone ‘fore it’s too late.”
He tugged at her insistently, his small face masked in desperation. His green eyes were flecked with silver and wide with fear. That was important, she didn’t know why. She let him pull her to her knees. Her muscles shivered and protested agonisingly, she held back a groan and her vision swam. No must focus! She pushed the pain towards the back of her mind. Deal with it later, she told herself, the priority is escape to safety. The pain will be waiting after.
“Quick miss, this way.”
He crawled toward the door and she followed him, skirting the upturned bench in the centre of the room. As they neared the door she could tell they were too late. Flames filled the corridor and intense heat gushed out of the small opening. She could dimly see the railings of a staircase descending through the curtain of flames. How high up are we? The boy reached for the door, she grabbed him before he could touch it. She shook her head.
“The window!” She pointed back across the room where a window framed the night sky. “We have to try.”
She started back across the room, dragging the small boy with her. Crawling back around the bench she paused seeing something glinting redly in the firelight. She grabbed it without thinking, her hand closing around something smooth and warmly metallic. She pushed it down inside the front of her tunic and carried on.
They reached the window and she pulled herself up on the lintel. Her muscles screamed with the effort and her legs threatened momentarily not to hold. Steady. Cool wind blew in her face, a momentary relief from the heat of the inferno. The respite was brief as she looked out the window hope froze in her chest.
Smoke billowed upwards from the ground two stories below. The bottom floors of the building were already consumed in flames. The fire threatening to spread to the houses beside. People had gathered below in a huddled mass. Black smudged, tousled hair and varying states of undress marked them as recent escapees of the blaze. A few had started a bucket line trying to control flames to no avail. Too little, too late.
She quickly calculated the options in her head. The outer wall was blank and featureless wood, no hand holds. The closest buildings, nowhere near close enough. The staircase ablaze. She heard a deep rumbling crash and felt the floor shake. The lower levels were giving way. There was only one possible option and the chances of coming out alive were slimmer than she would have liked. She hoped the boy would make it. He appeared weak but appearances could be deceiving. He had most likely saved her life this night. She turned to him and took his small hands in hers.
“We have to jump.” His eyes widened with fear. He started to shake his head pleadingly.
“No miss. I can’t.”
“Yes you can boy. There is no other way. The staircase is alight and the building is failing beneath us. We have to get out of here fast. We have to jump.”
“No miss I’m too ‘fraid. Please it’s too far.”
“Good boy, fear is good!” She didn’t know where the words came from but they flowed from her mouth like a familiar mantra. “Fear is a powerful feeling, it shows passion for life. Use it to your advantage and let it feed your strength.” He stopped shaking his head but she could feel the fear pouring off him as intense as the heat of the flames. “What is your name boy?” She heard another resonating crash from below. Not much time left...
“Trayven.” She could barely hear him.
“Trayven I can tell you are brave. You would not have come to rouse me otherwise. But you fear to fall?” He nodded, “Well you must trust me Trayven,” She pulled his face up to hers, “there is no worse a fate than to burn.” She lifted up her tunic to reveal a mass of knotted scar tissue that covered the entire right side of her stomach. How did that happen? She pushed the thought away, later. “See this Trayven. To burn is to endure agony like no other. It is that which you should truly fear. Use the fear of the flames to give you the strength to jump. We will do it together. Together we will survive this.” She could she a small glimmer of courage return to his face. I am lying to him; he is not strong enough for this. She helped him up onto the lintel and the ground fell away below. Trayven was shaking.
“I can’t miss I’m too scared. I don’t know how to be strong.”
“We must Trayven. You have to trust me.”
“I can’t...” He was crying now
“Do you trust me Trayven?”
“I...yes... I trust you”
“Then I will tell you again. It is jump or burn.”
His sobs grew louder and his chest heaved as he coughed inhaling too much smoke. She slapped him hard across the face with enough force to knock his head back. He stared at her wide eyed. He stopped crying.
“Now you listen to me Trayven, we jump. On the third count.”
“Ok miss.” He nodded dumbly.
“One...” another boom deep below, “...two...” someone had spotted them sitting in the window and they were screaming out. Encouragement or warning? “...three!”
She pushed out from the lintel and felt her body plummet. She was dimly aware of Trayven falling beside her. The ground rushed up to meet her, hard stone, unyielding. For a split second doubt grew in her mind. She had miscalculated the height, the ground was too unforgiving, and her body too weak, Trayven’s weaker still. The moment passed as the ground rose up in front of her. She stilled her mind. And a dense white mist erupted from the street, expanding out to envelop her.
She stopped falling as the mist brought her body to a gentle halt. Somewhere far off she heard a sickening thud as something heavy and wet hit the ground. She ignored it, as she struggled to gain purchase in the spongy warm material. What was happening? Where had the mist come from? It had appeared split seconds before she hit the pavement. Had she done that? Had she known it would happen? The answers eluded her. Muffled voices started to intrude into her senses and the mist began to recede. Did I make it leave?
The mist dispersed slowly to reveal a crowd of people all around her. She was crouched low on the stone street. Alive and unharmed. How was that possible? She turned to look up at the window she had jumped from and saw flames had now engulfed the opening high above. People were shuffling warily around her talking in low whispers. Not unfriendly she decided, just cautious, unsure. She turned to look for Trayven beside her to congratulate him on his bravery. A woman shrieked.
He lay broken and misshaped on the pavement. Blood was beginning to extend in a pool from his body. His legs where crumpled beneath him and his head was twisted at an excruciatingly wrong angle. Even though he was chest down on the pavement, his head was turned to face her. The impact of the fall had popped his eyeballs from their sockets. Two red gaping holes stared accusingly at her where moments ago two green and silver flecked eyes had rested. The white mist had not extended far enough to save him. She was safe, he was dead.
Her stomach heaved and she doubled over retching. She had asked him to trust her, he had pleaded with her not to jump. She had lied straight to his face. Told him he would be safe. Nausea swept over her again. She could hear shouts of ‘Witch’ and ‘Devil’ from the crowd. She had to get away from here; the crowd was turning, no longer benign. When she rose to straighten herself she found her hand slick with blood. Trayven’s? Her head span dangerously as she looked down at her torso.
The small black shard was glinting redly in the firelight and was extruding from her abdomen, blood pouring out around it in a black stream. She stumbled. There was a strange design etched into the shard. A jagged line enclosed by a broken circle. It reminded her of something...
“...the fallen moon.”
A fragment of memory rose up unbidden in her mind
An expansive room with a group of people kneeling at its centre, black cowled and shadow shrouded. In front of them an altar of black obsidian which stood thrust upward like a broken dragons tooth from the temple floor. A priest on the dais, face masked in the darkness. He spoke.
“We do not hide from the night, for we know the dangers that it holds.” That voice! The same that she had heard earlier. “We know the worst of the world and that knowledge gives us power. Our fear feeds our strength and makes us mighty. Those who fear to face the darkness weaken themselves with their ignorance. But not us, children of the fallen moon.”
“From darkness we came, and to darkness we will return.”
The voices of those on the floor of the temple joined in she could feel her own voice add to the chorus. The sound swelled echoing in the vast chamber.
“All things that begin must end.”
She could almost feel the cold stone underneath her as she chanted in unison. The scratchy feel of the rough black wool on her back.
“Day cedes to night as life cedes to death.”
She looked to the man beside her. Blank kind face, lost deep in concentration. Warm and familiar she knew him, but could not find his name.
“And the world turns...”
She could feel something warm and wet flowing down her stomach. No, that wasn’t right. That hadn’t happened here. She touched her stomach and felt her hand close around the broken moon shard impaling her torso. Pain washed over her.
“...the wind blows...”
She cried out and stumbled, her knees hit hard stone, real stone. And the vision of the temple started to fade. She could see people moving through the ghosts of those praying in her memory. Could hear their calls again ‘devil’ they called to her.
“I trust you.” Trayven? Another ghost.
“No” she moaned trying to regain her feet. Her head swam and she collapsed instead coughing, blood in her spittle. The angry voices grew louder. She imagined she heard hooves in the distance, more shouting. Unconsciousness threatened to overtake her but she fought against it. Tried with dull senses to push it back. She tightened her grip on the shard, took a deep breath and wrenched it free. She screamed and impenetrable darkness closed in all around her.
“...and the end cedes to the beginning.”