My Exploding Cat

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Phoenix: Chapter 57 (Phoebe)

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March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:43 pm

A week later, Mark’s fully recuperated. The magic that had made him so silly-acting had healed him quickly, and now he can correctly identify me.

Xavier is absolutely thrilled about being a pegasus Epselan, although he mostly likes to ride Silvester if he can. The two are inseparable. And they won’t leave me alone at all. Oh, and Xavier’s managed to score himself some of the potion I was given to help his magic. Personally, I think the problem now is having him learn to use it better.

Mark, Key and I are travelling to Baffin Bay to find a polar bear for Mark to meet, although that I’ve made it clear that he isn’t allowed to take his home like Xavier and me. I’m guessing both that Silvester and Xavier are planning on coming, and that neither of them is planning to take the plane, which Mark has finally consented to board. I think he figures he’s lived through enough danger that a little more perceived danger can’t hurt too much.

Daniel seems to think that there’s some bigger magical thingy going on, but has assured me that I have nothing to do with it for now. I for one hope it’s not just “for now.” At least, not until I get bored, which isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Key and Mark have now proclaimed that they’re going steady. As if it weren’t obvious that they had been for over a year. Silly people. I fear for the world if they marry.

Felix is still tagging along with me. It seems he, like Leslie, thinks that we’re the most interesting group on the face of the Earth. And he’s made it pretty clear that he’s looked in several different dimensions as well.

Mark and I are planning to move far, far away from Iowa. There would be touchy questions if any of my old classmates saw me in the street, even though I’m now wearing a hoodie  and long sleeves all the time and claiming that the feathers on my face are “just my style.” We’re moving back to Colorado, actually, in a permanent house. Daniel’s made it clear that he wants to keep me in a place where I can be free to fly around and where it would be easy to hide, should the cult figure out I’m not dead, and he insisted on buying our house for us—which is no problem for the Agency. The exchange rate on interdimensional currency is ludicrous—and the Agency has a lot of money stockpiled in other places. We were staying a few days in the Agency to give our thanks and help clean up after the mess Ian and his idiots made.

There was just one more matter of business to attend to.

“Hey,” I said, navigating my way through the Agency stables, around several piles of pegasus dung. Xavier’s cleaning spells still could use some work.

“Hey,” Xavier said, setting down Currey’s brush. “What’s up?”

“I still owe you something,” I said. “You saved my life again.”

And on this one, I didn’t let go for a long time.

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Phoenix: Chapter 56 (Phoebe)

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March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:41 pm

Mark was furious that I hadn’t come to him immediately.

“I was worried!” he insisted.

“You were asleep half the time!” Xavier retorted. “When you weren’t, all you did was make applesauce castles! And I don’t care what Key says, you do snore!”

Xavier was back in his leg brace again, but this time it seemed Hannah had welded it shut by magic. She must not have been terribly happy about his discarding it yesterday.

“You’re not going to hear a thing until you shut up,” I said in a sing-song voice. Felix copied my tune, amused.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Xavier muttered as Mark slumped back onto his pillow.

Mark wasn’t too happy to hear that I’d been partially killed. In fact, that’s probably kind of a euphemism, since I can’t print what he actually said.

Once the curses died away, though, he was pale and seemed panicked. A pretty, black mage girl came hurrying in and stuck a baby bottle into his mouth, squeezing the bag and forcing its contents down his throat. Mark’s eyes suddenly looked distant and blurred, and he stopped arguing or even saying anything. She left quickly, but not before I saw her name tag, which said “Netta, M. M. D..” So what were they called here? Magical Medical Doctors?

“Won’t your magic be less powerful with less human?” Xavier asked. I was so grateful for the matter-of-fact question that I almost missed the feeling of realization.

“Xavier!” I said.

“What?” he asked, looking confused. “What’s wrong with asking…”

“Wouldn’t your magic be less powerful with less human?” I pressed. “Especially if you were… missing something else?”

“What?”

“Xavier, are you sure you’ve never been an Epselan? Like, when you were really little?” Once I’d said it, I realized how far-fetched it sounded. But part of me still had to know.

Xavier looked blank. “I don’t know. I was drugged up pretty badly when I was seven. I’d broken both my legs or something and they didn’t want me to feel it. Can’t remember anything before then.”

“It’s possible,” Daniel said, walking in from somewhere else in the hospital. “If Ian was able to confuse my inspectors by magic into thinking nothing out of the ordinary was going on in his labs, he could have been doing anything. And I’m sure he killed off the animal sides of a few different Epselans before Phoebe told on him.”

Down the length of the room were mostly empty beds, except for the second-to-last one, where Key was being given another calming potion. A gigantic vase full of orange lilies sat on her nightstand and more were strewn across her bed—probably also Felix’s gifts. I wished I was being given the same treatment, because I found myself shuddering almost uncontrollably at Daniel’s words. Felix looked utterly distressed.

Mark leaned over to the side of the bed opposite us. For a minute, I was about to leap up and try to prevent him from falling off. But he stopped. His eyes flicked oddly back and forth for a second, but then he blinked and seemed to regain his vision. The healing magic done on him had really messed him up.

Mark was picking something up off the ground. I stared when I saw that it was his leather jacket, not exactly sure how a jacket could help our current situation, and Daniel looked just as befuddled as I was. But then he opened a zipper pouch sewn inexpertly into the lining, six inches under the sleeve. He dumped the contents onto his bed, and Daniel groaned in understanding.

“You’ve kept them with you all this time,” he said, almost laughing.

“Yes,” Mark said blurrily.

“What?” Xavier said, looking blank.

I didn’t recognize any of the ingredients sitting on Mark’s bed, threatening to fall off. I didn’t understand why this was significant to Daniel at all.

“When we were kids,” Daniel said, and I knew that this was the start of a story, “Mark and I were friends. We went to the same school, and we were the best pranksters that middle school had ever seen. I was, what, twelve… so was Mark. I used the magic I had to do dumb stuff to teachers we didn’t like, that kind of thing.”

“Remember when you rearranged Mrs. Heinen’s classroom to make room for that giant tree you put in?” Mark grunted. “That one was awesome. We hated her.”

Daniel started laughing. “Yep. She had no idea how it happened. Never was very bright. That was a good bit of teleportation magic, too. I remember you helped me set up the ropes and stuff.

“Anyway,” Daniel said, “I was kind of sort of working for the Agency. Right? For the Agency girl. Molly Fletcher.”

“She was hot,” Mark said.

“And also three or four years older than you,” Daniel retorted. “Molly was a really strong mage—”

“—which made her hotter—”

“—and she was very persuasive,” Daniel said, ignoring Mark. “So I worked for her for a while. Anyway, I was in touch with most of the stuff that went on in the area. Most of the magical stuff, you know? So when one of the assassin cult started tramping all over the area, I knew. So I told Mark. I knew he would be attacking schools, because he was after me, mostly. They don’t like kids with strong magic. Think we’re gonna goof up the worlds or something.

“Anyway, none of them knew what I looked like. They didn’t care, really—figured I’d fight back and show myself to protect the people around me. Try to kill the assassin myself, right? Well, they got the wrong class. They knew two people were involved in most the magic I did, and one of them was Mark.

“So before Mark went back to school the day after I found out, I gave him three sets of ingredients that would make anyone an Epselan, and the spell didn’t require any real magic and could be done unobtrusively. Both of those were stuff I needed, because Mark never really had much of a talent for doing magic. He could set it up better than I could—good with the mechanics and stuff—but never had the knack for being the catalyst. I told Mark that the spell would give a normal human special animal powers that would enable them to protect themselves from the assassin better than a normal human. I gave him the ingredients to save three people, as long as one of them was himself. I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”

“But he ended up saving two,” I said.

“Yep,” Daniel said. “Himself, as promised. I think he chose the polar bear because of Coca-Cola, but that’s another story.”

“You know, if you feed it to rats, they explode,” Mark mumbled.

“And me,” I said, getting us back on track.

“And you,” Daniel finished.

“But wouldn’t another piece of human die if I’d been shot then, too?” I asked.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “Very observant, Phoebe. But that was very magically special, like most other things you’ve done. Epselans are usually told to transform into the mostly-animal side and then are given a special poison that only works on humans. Normally, it’s very painful. You can only have as much human as you do animal for a certain amount of time before the human will decide to kill the adopted animal, since the animals are usually submissive to humans, us being on top of the food chain and all.

“That was why your hiding spells didn’t work, by the way,” Daniel added. “In case that phoenix hasn’t told you yet. Phoenixes aren’t afraid of humans.”

“Yes, he told me,” I said. “And his name is Felix.”

Daniel gave a short bow to Felix, who bowed back.

“Etiquette,” he said.

“So Mark didn’t get to save a third person?” Xavier asked.

“Oh, no,” Daniel said. “Right then, he disappeared from school and started caring for you, Phoebe. I helped him hide. He didn’t have time to transform anyone else. He could hardly slip them any poisoned apple juice when he was planning to illegally drop out of school and care for someone who was officially dead, could he?”

“So he kept the ingredients with him all this time?”

“Yes,” Daniel said. “He was able to save you from something he felt he’d brought on by being present. Key told you he liked you?”

“Er, yes,” I said, trying not to turn red as, out of the corner of my eye, Xavier’s face turned toward me.

“Think he liked you even better than he liked Molly,” Daniel said, sounding kind of impressed. “Anyway, if Mark remembers right, and I’m sure he does, you transformed into a mostly-phoenix once it was obvious you were in danger. You went from human to half to phoenix in about a minute. When the assassin came in…”

“The whole room was dark but she looked like she was being lit with a computer screen,” Mark slurred. “You could see her face and everything. Where is she? Is she hurt?”

“Potion overdose, buddy,” Daniel said, slapping Mark’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t have cursed so much. They didn’t want you hurting yourself.”

“I’m not hurt,” Mark mumbled. “Is Tallie hurt?”

I still hated that name.

“She’s fine,” Daniel said.

“No, she’s not!” Mark said, more strongly, then laid back again. “She’s hurt.”

“My name is Phoebe, Mark,” I said. My voice seemed to satisfy him.

“She has a new nickname.” Mark laid down, fell half-asleep, and rolled over, knocking half of the ingredients to the floor. Daniel caught the vial of water before it could shatter on the ground and started collecting pine needles from the folds in the white sheets.

“What do you think he wanted us to do with these?” Daniel asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I said. “He wants Xavier to be an Epselan again. I mean, Xavier just saved all our lives, right?”

“Huh!” Daniel said. “Well, that would solve his magical troubles, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess so,” Xavier said. There was a shadow of suppressed excitement in the way he looked at the numerous ingredients in Daniel’s hands.

“Do we even have to ask what species?” I asked.

“Probably not,” Xavier said.

“I’m having a potion brewed for you, Phoebe,” Daniel said. “It won’t bring back your ability to look human, but it should mitigate any difficulties you might have had with mage magic. In fact, considering who’s brewing it, I’m guessing it’ll make your magic stronger than before. It’s a very tightly kept secret recipe, though, so I can’t tell you more.”

“Why wasn’t I given this before now?”

“Needs special magical circumstances to avoid backfiring,” Daniel said. “But since you’re mostly phoenix now…”

“Why does that matter?”

“Why do you think you changed when you were in danger?” Daniel asked. “Phoenixes are natural protectors. I think the reason you found your phoenix side so anxious to take over was because you were in constant danger. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t have been pretty difficult to sort out,” he added, “but it was always trying to protect you. I doubt you would want to be in phoenix form for the rest of your life, but you would be safe, and it is still your mind in the phoenix. You saw how eager Felix here was to defend you. It’s just the way they are. Kind of noble, really.”

“And what does this have to do with the potion?”

“Well,” Daniel said cautiously, “first, you’re no longer being stalked so easily by that madman… and second, we don’t want humans taking the potion. People who are proud, greedy, whatever… they don’t need any more power than other people. It would be bad. That’s why the recipe is secret. Not that we think you would have used it badly,” he amended, “but it’s protocol. I do occasionally follow protocol.

“Especially when it fits with my main reason, which was that if you were caught—and you very nearly were—then that cult would be able to figure out the recipe from a bunch of different spells on your body. Magic like that is traceable. The reason it took the cult so long to find you is because they were searching for the effects of the poison usually given to new Epselans. Eventually, they realized they had to search manually.”

I had one more question. “Where’s Leslie?”

“Gone,” Daniel said.

“Gone?” Xavier said.

“She’s Leslie,” Daniel said, shrugging. “From what I gather, she heard about you becoming a phoenix Epselan and decided to try something similar herself. She’s a shapeshifter. She can’t do magical forms, although shapeshifters are magical creatures. And she can’t do the magic of any of the creatures she imitates. She can only use the physical benefits. She’s actually about twenty years old, but apparently she’s been tracking you because you were interesting. She didn’t have anything else to do and didn’t trust us, so when the cult found you, protecting you became her new hobby. She impersonated a twelve-year-old for you, Phoebe.”

“She’s a mind-reader and a mage and a magical-creature Epselan,” I groaned. “How the heck did she do that?”

“I have no clue,” Daniel said. “My biggest guess is that she knows where to look.”

“Wish I did,” said Xavier.

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Phoenix: Chapter 55 (Phoebe)

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March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:38 pm

When I woke up, it was dawn—the next morning. Had I slept through one day or two? Either was believable.

I was lying on my bed in the tower room. I rolled over, facing the wall now. Something gave a pliff sound.

I sat up and saw that the coconut cannonball had landed on the floor. Under me laid the remains of a dozen magical flowers—all the ones Dr. Wynne had given me. I stared at the crumpled orange lily that had comforted me enough to get the numbers out of my head when I needed it.

Then I realized that the floor of the room—every inch—was covered in thousands of orange lilies. They were piled on top of each other, a foot or more deep. The same magical calming flower. On the back of my wooden desk chair perched the phoenix, looking rather pleased with itself.

I took a deep breath and felt a shiver down my spine. Sighing, I turned over and buried my face in the pillow again. I was starving. I knew that one of the fruits lying next to me would probably remedy that, but I didn’t remember which and didn’t exactly want to chance it.

My muddy, sandy tennis shoes were just outside the sliding door, which was still cracked from the tussle with the lab people and dragons.

I stepped out of bed, crunching a few stems under my slippers, when I noticed what I was wearing. Somehow, I was clothed in a clean, white, cotton long-sleeve shirt and some gray sweat pants now—not to mention the blue cotton slippers. None of my clothes were bloody or dirty or sandy, which they had been when I’d arrived, although I myself still needed a bath desperately.

A giant plate of sandwiches was sitting on the desk, one of the few places in the room that wasn’t covered in lilies. I flew over, not wanting to crush too many lilies, and returned to the bed with the plate piled high with sandwiches.

I swept the other flowers off the bed and started to eat. I couldn’t remember tasting anything better than that messy peanut-butter-and-jelly ensemble, and when I’d gotten through the stack to the cold turkey and Danish havarti cheese sandwiches at the bottom, I was feeling positively gleeful.

Looking back, it seemed pretty crazy how a decent night’s sleep and a plateful of sandwiches turned me almost optimistic and content. Well, the level of calming-flower pollen in the room probably helped, too, but still.

The phoenix looked content, too. It hopped to the floor, burying itself neck-deep in orange lilies.

“I have to give you a name,” I said. “I can’t keep calling you ‘the phoenix’ in my head. Are you… a girl?”

The phoenix looked at me blankly. I had to assume this meant no.

“You’re a boy, then?”

He cooed.

“So… what name do you like? Steve?” The silliness of the situation caught up with me, and I started laughing. The phoenix hopped onto my bed.

“Not Steve, then,” I said. “Not a very good name for a phoenix. How about Felix? I read somewhere it means ‘fortunate’ or something. After what’s happened, I think we’re both fortunate.”

He cooed. Felix it was, then.

“Well, come on,” I said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who would very much like to yell at me. How about you?”

Felix dipped his beak sadly.

“Don’t worry,” I said, flying out the door with Felix on my tail. “You’re the hero.”

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Phoenix: Chapter 54 (Phoebe)

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March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:30 pm

I managed to dodge the questions just then. I didn’t particularly feel like talking about my own near-death.

Xavier said that Leslie had somehow turned up while he, Mark and Key were looking for me. I requested a full backstory.

So he told me how he’d woken up with my wand on his face, how he’d used the wand and my feather to successfully do magic, how he and the others had come after me on the pegasi and met Leslie, who was apparently a shapeshifter Epselan instead of a sheep. I decided to inquire about this later. Then he gave a really detailed description of the fight: how he’d been injured trying to shin kick the assassin’s gun out of his hand, how Mark had gotten shot, how Key had punched one of the assassin’s teeth out.

I found myself feeling increasingly guilty with each passing sentence. But I knew that if I said this to Xavier, then he’d stop and try to make me feel better. And I wanted to know what happened.

Then I gave my description of the phoenix’s acts after Xavier’s crowd left. I still wasn’t totally sure if I’d dreamed half of it, but it was a better explanation than anything else I could give.

When I got to the part where the phoenix told me that a part of my human self had been killed in the struggle, Xavier threw down his crutches and started cursing and pacing in anger. I could tell that it was painful, but I don’t think he cared.

“Don’t hurt yourself!”

“Don’t hurt myself!” he stormed. “I…”

I could tell what was going on inside his head. He was angry, but there was nothing alive to blame or to swear revenge against. There was nothing he could do, and nothing to take his anger out on.

“Xavier!” shouted an auburn-haired girl who looked about Daniel’s age. “I thought you were just going to eat lunch!”

“Hannah,” Xavier muttered. She doesn’t get it! She’s just going to chivy me away!

“Leslie’s with Currey,” Hannah said to me as she shepherded Xavier away, collecting his crutches. “And this one…”

For a minute, I thought Xavier’s last words were spoken oddly. I decided I must have imagined it.

I left for the stables. I wanted to know how Leslie had gotten herself into this mess just as much as I didn’t. There was a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was about ready to hurl.

The Agency felt alien. Xavier had somehow changed. Mark was, like Xavier had said, probably throwing some cherry Kool-Aid at the ceiling or something and giggling as it splashed onto his bed sheets in the infirmary. Key, he’d said, was going bonkers with nerves. And Leslie was here. I just couldn’t trust Leslie. She appeared in all the wrong places, but you couldn’t blame her for it because then they turned out to be the right places… but then you had no idea how she got there and you were suspicious about her motives for being in that place at that time so conveniently.

You couldn’t trust her.

But I was guessing that she, at least, hadn’t changed.

And I needed that.

You see, in a way, I had just died, and something else seemed to have died with me.

Mark had watched me not-die once already. Had I lost a piece of human then, too? If so, how could I be in a half-and-half form now?

Why had Daniel’s spell gone wrong, and why had I woken up first? You’d have thought I would be the most damaged by a bad spell.

 

There were some logical inconsistencies in this.

I realized that as I was thinking this, I was almost heading the wrong way. I adjusted my direction and continued my thought-rant.

This was so confusing. Part of me was angry and wanted to race to Daniel, to Leslie, to the nearest person who could possibly explain what was going on and shake the answers out of them. Part of me was upset and guilty and ready to cry, preferably not in front of anyone else. Part of me was exhausted and hungry and would rather lay down somewhere, anywhere, and sleep for several days.

Shakily, I pulled the dragon whistle out. But I couldn’t even raise it to my mouth before the phoenix grabbed my shoulders and carried me off. Meanwhile, I fell asleep as I stood.

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Phoenix: Chapter 53 (Phoebe)

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March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:24 pm

I landed in the Agency, the phoenix still hanging onto my hoodie. I found myself alone and the grounds oddly quiet. I’d usually known the Agency base to be crazy with activity, mages running around asking for the nymphs to come help put out a fire or for the dragons to light one. Fires were very important here.

I wasn’t sure where to go, so I went to the lunch room in hopes of finding someone who would know where Mark was. I knew he was here. He had to be. I didn’t know how he’d have gotten here, but I knew he was. If not, someone could help me find him.

The lunchroom exploded the second I walked in. People everywhere stopped their conversations to stare at me, then turned back around and started talking much more excitedly. Nobody got up, though, or told me where Mark was, so I was going to walk back to talk to the mage assistants serving the food.

But the phoenix beat me to it. It took flight, leaving my hoodie to soar through the high ceilings of the glass room. Most people stopped to watch it glide smoothly around the room.

I was surprised when the phoenix landed at a lunch table instead of flying to the people serving food. Then I heard somebody calling me.

“Phoebe!”

It was Xavier’s voice, but I couldn’t see his head. Instead, the phoenix managed to hover a little over the table so I could see where it was. I followed it in a hurry.

“Xavier! Whoa. What’s wrong?”

“Fractured shin bone,” Xavier said, smiling. “I did something pretty stupid.”

“Trying to save my feathery butt wasn’t something stupid,” I said.

He laughed. “I guess you’re right.”

“Where’s Mark?”

Xavier hesitated. “He’s kind of crazy right now.”

“That’s nothing new.”

Xavier laughed again, and this time the grin stayed. “Nah, I mean Hannah used magic to patch him up. He was shot in the shoulder. Nothing serious, though. He’s in the infirmary, probably making intricate modern art on the floor with some applesauce again. That’s nothing unusual. So what’s up with the phoenix? I didn’t think they liked cold climates.”

“Doesn’t seem to want to leave me.”

“Well, they are rare,” Xavier said. “Must be lonely.”

“Not too lonely,” I said.

“I said phoenixes, not charming phoenix Epselans,” Xavier said, still grinning. “You should see Key. She’s in a frenzy. I think she’s been given a calming potion or something once or twice already.”

“Did they give her that flower that calms people down?” I asked.

Xavier looked surprised. “No! That’s a great idea!” He looked like he was about to get up, but once again the phoenix was faster. It was out the open door before we realized what it was doing.

“Well, then,” I said. “I haven’t eaten in ages!”

“Here,” Xavier said, shoving a small tub of pink goop labeled “strawberry applesauce” and a spoon at me.

“Thanks.” It was exactly the same pink goop that I had been forced to eat in middle school, but I didn’t care. Ripping off the foil cover, I ignored the spoon and chugged it straight. Xavier laughed until Pepsi came out his nose. He, who had better manners than I did, mopped himself up with a napkin and kept laughing unnaturally long. I had the feeling that he’d been more worried about me than he was letting on.

“So everybody’s all right?” I asked, once the applesauce carton was empty.

“Yeah,” Xavier said, still laughing. “Are you?”

“…Mostly.”

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Phoenix: Chapter 52 (Phoebe)

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March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:11 pm

I was alone. There was kind of a vague promise of light in the sky soon, but no real sun showing yet. The air was cool, or at least it felt that way to me.

The strangest thing—I could have sworn I heard cars or something in the distance, revving their engines. But not in the sand, surely.

There wasn’t a phoenix around. I thought this was pretty weird, since that phoenix I was talking to before I fell asleep seemed like it would stand over me until its dying day… or, much more likely, mine.

I wondered if there actually had been a phoenix there, or if it had only been there in spirit (a.k.a., I was totally delusional and ended up doing the magic myself and realizing stuff on my own). Because I saw the phoenix again, and it didn’t act like it had just saved my life, healed me, and then set my form right. It didn’t really act like it had ever seen me before.

But once it was within sight, it cooed at me and invited me into the air with it. I went.

It definitely wasn’t afraid of me. Its eyes actually were amber-colored, I could see, and not just because Mark insisted they were (like with me).

It wasn’t afraid of me. Huh.

Was that why the phoenix tried to take me over? All the other animals were somewhat afraid of the humans with whom they shared head-rent, but not this phoenix? Not any phoenix?

Huh.

It cooed softly, trying to catch my attention. I watched the magnificent bird go into a steep dive, and I followed it. It swept right back up in the last few feet. I landed on the sand and stretched out my arm for it to perch.

The most wonderful feeling…

It was like being able to breathe better, to see more clearly. It was like all my senses were on hyperdrive, and I had more energy than ever. More control. Just… better.

The phoenix cooed, a soothing noise. I felt like doing it myself. I was more relaxed than I could ever remember being.

“Wow… thanks!”

The phoenix cooed again. It was about to take off, but I noticed a wound under its arm. Not enough to actually damage it into bursting into flames and regenerating, but definitely enough to be painful.

“You’re hurt!”

I stroked the phoenix’s head, calming it and telling it not to fly off. I knew Daniel would know someone who could mend the phoenix’s wound, even if he himself couldn’t.

The phoenix trilled sadly. Then it did something weird. It shuffled its wings really fast. It obviously wasn’t trying to leave, since it was still holding on tightly to my hoodie sleeve, but it kept fluttering its wings until an orangey-gold feather fluttered to the ground. I picked it up.

I knew what it meant: real immortality, for a human, anyway. I wasn’t sure I wanted that.

I stared at the phoenix.

Thanks, I said, in the magical-creature way. I’ll think about it.

It blinked at me peacefully. I slipped the feather into my pocket.

Stay with me. I know someone who can heal you.

            Trrrrrrrr.

            I don’t know how to get back to the Agency, though. I don’t have my wand, and anyway, I don’t know how to do a teleportation spell

            But by the time I’d gotten this thought out, I was feeling like a statue again. The phoenix had done it.

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Phoenix: Chapter 51 (Phoebe)

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December 31st, 2011 Posted 7:37 pm

The next thing I knew, I could think well again. It was weird. I had a feeling that this was some result of a spell done by the phoenix carrying me.

Vaguely, I could sense it trying to think at me, the same way Currey did. But it wasn’t like Currey. The phoenix’s thoughts came out in a ribbon of motion and color and meaning, things that were hard to put into words.

It saw me as I was waking up, cooed softly, and landed on the sand. The sun had gone down and the air was a lot cooler, but the phoenix and the sand still carried a lot of warmth.

The phoenix showed—told—me how I’d been hurt and then resurrected, except not really. I had died… or something. But now I was alive, and still in phoenix form.

But, it showed me, I was no use to either of us in total phoenix form. As a human, I’d be at toddler-maturity point, because phoenixes don’t stay babies for long. But my wings weren’t skyworthy yet on their own.

The phoenix told me that it could help me find my human side—the undamaged portion of it. The 25% that had still been active when the assassin had shot me was dead. But I had other human-portion available. Enough to restore me to my half-human form.

But, it assured me, I did not have to stay a toddler until I grew up naturally. In fact, I could choose to go back to the age I had been.

The phoenix explained: Phoenixes do not actually die. But when they reach the point at which they would, they do burst into a magical kind of flame, which isn’t actually physically hot, and go into a state of invincibility while they regenerate.

But the mark of having died is there. It can be healed, but it’s usually completely unnecessary. In any case, you have to find another real phoenix to do it. Epselans couldn’t.

I accepted. There wasn’t much I could do as a toddler.

Then, as the phoenix did its magic, the world faded from my view. I couldn’t see what it was doing, what I looked like, or how long it took. But in the end, I was larger, stronger. I was still a phoenix, but at least I was the right age.

One more thing. The phoenix showed me that a part of me had been killed: the piece that had then been human. The phoenix said that it could help me go back to my half-and-half state, but since a part of the human I’d had was now dead—had been shot and not regenerated—my hiding spells would never work again. But Daniel knew a spell that would strengthen my mage magic to make up for the human mage power that I’d lost.

I allowed the phoenix to do what it could. In several hours, I woke up in the sand.

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Phoenix: Chapter 50 (Xavier)

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December 31st, 2011 Posted 5:21 pm

“Well, you’re cleaned up, at least,” Hannah said. “Where’s Daniel?”

“Finding us some non-bloody clothes,” I said. “He’ll have a job waking Mark up to have him put them on.”

“Well, he’s going to,” Hannah said. “I don’t want his wound totally sealed up.”

Mark was slung over a mattress covered with a bunch of blankets Nevin had brought. He, Hannah and I were in her herbal workroom, where she made potions when needed and where she kept all of her herbs and remedies. The shelves were full of bottles, brightly color-coded with food dye, some with plant things floating and/or growing in them. A giant terrarium full of thyme dominated most of the space on the first west windowsill; Hannah’s other plants sat crowded onto a table on the second one.

“Hold this,” Hannah said, and gave me a tea towel.

She crossed to the other side of the room, which was occupied by a giant desk with lots of cabinets. There was no paperwork to be seen. In the cabinets was where Hannah dried the herbs that she couldn’t grow in her terrarium year-round.

“A broken rib, a cracked rib, a fractured shin bone, and a broken, bloody nose?” Hannah said, setting up a mortar and pestle with a plastic liner, which she muttered a spell over so that it wouldn’t break or mix in when she ground herbs in it. “I hope you gave more than you took, at least. You must have given a lot.”

“I killed him.”

Hannah stopped her herb-mashing in surprise. “Are you okay?”

“No!” I said. “I’ve got four different bones either broken or almost so! That’s why I’m here.”

“I meant the other kind of okay,” Hannah said quietly. I’d always known her to be down-to-earth and a hard worker, but now she was showing the kind of weird sort of emotion that can only be described as female.

I didn’t respond. Of course, I knew what she was talking about, and it was a legitimate concern, but I guess I had some sort of psychological defense mechanism that prevented me from thinking about it too quickly. So I just kept quiet. Hannah didn’t talk any more. She just finished grinding the herbs, said another spell, popped the liner out of the thingy and slathered the paste onto the side of my nose. The herbs, which were cold, felt good but stung at the same time.

Hannah took the tea towel back from me and pulled up my shirt. Her hands were still cold from the herbs as she felt along my ribs gently, finding the damaged ones. Not that I was complaining. Any shred of cold dissociated the situation from the desert. I was still sweating.

She brought my hand to the damaged spot to mark it as she crossed the room again for the ice pack, wrapping it in a tea towel and then rummaging around for another one.

Hannah said a spell over the tea towel, which extended. She folded the ice-pack bundle into it and wrapped it snugly around my ribs. It felt extremely good, but extremely sore.

“I won’t do magic for this,” Hannah said. “It needs to heal on its own. In the circumstances, the drawbacks from using magic to heal you outweigh the quick recovery. It would make you too silly to do anything, and it’s too risky to have you out of action. You’re more prepared to fight with a few damaged ribs and a fractured shin than you would be if all you could do was sit around and stare at the ceiling, making squeaky noises and smiling vaguely. That’s what most of the magical patients do.”

Chirrrrrup, I thought. Then I wished I hadn’t. I still didn’t know where Phoebe was, or if she was actually all right. And whether or not she was condemned to baby-hood for a third time.

“Where’s Leslie?” I asked, as Hannah attended to my shin.

“Being healed up by Dr. Wynne, I think,” Hannah said. “She was very reluctant to stick around. I don’t think she trusts us a whole lot. She does have a point, though, after what happened to Phoebe.”

“But… oh, that time,” I said. My brain had still been fixed on how she was doing now, a situation for which the Agency couldn’t be blamed. Well, you probably could find something to blame them for if you really tried, but when it came down to it, this was a combination of bad circumstances.

“Yeah, that time,” Hannah said. “I think you need to sleep off the excess crazy before you try to do anything else. Rest, ice, compression, elevation… you know?”

“Maybe that would be a good idea,” I said, grinning.

Then Key came in. She had taken the least amount of damage out of all of us, but was still blood-stained and shell-shocked.

“Mark’s all right, then,” she said breathily. Seemed like she’d been running or something.

“And out cold,” Hannah answered. “I used a little magic. He’ll be all right when he wakes up. Maybe a little silly, but he should still be fully functional. I stopped the bleeding and got the bullet out. Mostly muscle damage. It was a bit of an adventure working on a polar bear!”

“So he’s all right,” Key said. “All right.”

And then she left.

“Sorry about that,” I said to Hannah. “Her main method of dealing with stress is generally to freak out, then punch somebody on the jaw or nose. It can be pretty useful in the right situation.”

“Almost everything is useful in the right situation,” Hannah said. “Now… go to bed!”

Usually, I’d argue. This time, I was exhausted anyway. So I went to bed.

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Phoenix: Chapter 49 (Daniel)

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December 31st, 2011 Posted 5:16 pm

I don’t remember ever seeing somebody kill that way. I had seen a few killings, but never one like that. Man, that kid was scary.

Leslie, Xavier, Key and Mark all watched as I opened the bubble. A young phoenix, which if Xavier’s intuition was correct was Phoebe, spilled onto the hot sand. The other phoenix refused to let me pick her up, instead holding her gently in its own talons, shielding her with its wings, and cooing apologetically.

I nodded.

“Let’s leave them,” I said.

“What?” Mark said, looking at me like I was nuts.

“She’s bleeding to death!” Xavier said.

“No, she’s not,” I said. “Look.”

Actually, she wasn’t. She looked like she’d never been shot, except that she was younger. And a phoenix.

“Mark, Xavier, you need to be healed. Hannah will take care of you, she’s as good with humans as with animals. Leslie, Xavier, you both need sleep. And you all need food. Let’s go! We won’t take the rope pyramid down, so it’ll still go here and we can come back later, when those two have finished.”

“Finished doing what?” Xavier asked.

“Healing each other. Let’s go.”

And we went.

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Phoenix: Chapter 48 (Xavier)

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December 31st, 2011 Posted 5:14 pm

“Leslie, do you know how to deal with this?”

We had come to the problem of trying to free Phoebe and the other phoenix.

“First, we have to save them. We have to stop Phoebe bleeding.”

“How do you know it’s Phoebe?”

“Same way you do. She looks different.”

Actually, they looked the same to me.

“She looks at you differently,” Leslie said.

“We have to bring them back out,” Mark said.

“How?” I asked.

“We pop the bubble,” Leslie said. “On our side. We open the rip. And then we sew it back up before it causes trouble.”

“Do you know the right spell?” I asked.

“No.”

Suddenly, a giant rope pyramid appeared in the sand nearby.

“I saw you were in trouble,” Daniel said. “I had Winnie check for me. Did I miss anything?”

“We’ll tell you later,” I said. “The assassin’s done a rip spell. Phoebe and some other phoenix are stuck between dimensions.”

“Dimensions–my specialty,” Daniel said, smiling. “Easy fix.”

“Everything is his specialty,” I said to Leslie, who laughed shrilly, exuberantly, nonstop, along with Key and Mark, who had changed back. I knew why. Stress did that.

Daniel seemed to notice this more than our solemn expressions. “I’ve heard that laugh before. What happened? Who’s hurt?”

“Phoebe was shot multiple times,” Leslie said, going a blotchy pale/red combination. “Mark was shot in the shoulder. And I think Xavier might have hurt his leg, he tried to shin-kick a very solid gun out of that dude’s hand.” She pointed at the assassin lying supine on the sand behind us. “Also, our noses are bleeding. I’m not sure if that’s all.”

“Oh,” said Daniel, turning pale himself and staring at the body. “I hope Phoebe’s all right.”

“Are we sure he’s dead?” Leslie said.

“No,” I said. “I don’t trust my spell.”

I pulled my mangled, sweaty, bloody shirt off and grabbed the gun with it. Cocked it. Shot.

“He’s dead now.”

I dropped the gun at his side.

“You…” Daniel said, his voice trailing off. “Xavier.”

“Get Phoebe safe,” I said. “And everybody stop looking so depressing!”

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