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Phoenix in Exile (Part 2 of 3)
Aniel woke up early the next morning because of excruciating pain
in his back and chest. It was like a fire had been lit in his torso. He curled up into a ball on his side, biting his cheek to keep from crying out. The pain in his chest seemed to go on forever, burning him. Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, it subsided into a warm ball that would have been pleasant, if it weren’t for the pain still growing in his back. It felt like something trying to break free.
That is what it was. A few minutes after waking, Aniel felt something warm and wet burst out of his back, bringing relief as fierce as the pain. He stayed curled up, not understanding what had happened. Was this what it felt like to be a phoenix? If so, he didn't really want join them. He unbent slowly, feeling sleep begin to cover him.
Something soft brushed his cheek.
Aniel jumped up, all senses on high alert. The soft thing was now behind him. He whirled around. What was going on? Suddenly, he realized that he could feel something protruding out of his back. He brought it around so the tip was in his hand. It was a bunch of feathers. He tugged at them and gasped at the sting. The outer feathers were hard and water-proof, a scarlet coating. The inside was bronze down, soft and spongy. His wings were beautiful. The feathers were still wet, but they were aching for a good long stretch. They had been sixteen years growing, but they were finally ready for use, as soon as they dried out properly.
He sat in his room until dawn, admiring the wings and playing with the warmth in his chest. Fire danced along his fingertips, completely under control and not hurting him at all. Fire never had hurt him, but that was another secret no one knew.
He was so tempted to venture out into the night. No one would know that he was gone. But he didn’t know when Jefan would come, and he couldn’t risk missing the phoenix.
At dawn, someone knocked on the front door. Aniel was up at once, heading to the door. He could tell who was there without even thinking about it: it was another phoenix; he could sense the warmth within him.
Brandon got there before Aniel. He swung open the door, furious at being woken up early. On the other side stood a tall, forbidding blond-haired man. “Jefan,” Brandon whispered. Lacey came up behind him. “What do you want?”
“I want Aniel,” Jefan said. “Where is he?”
“Right here,” he said from behind Brandon. “You must be Jefan.”
“Yes. You look like your mother.”
“Is it the wings?” Aniel joked.
Jefan laughed. “The wings and eyes are phoenix traits.” Aniel noted Jefan’s yellow-slitted eyes with pride. He couldn’t wait to show those other boys his wings. “Your hair comes from your mother. Are you packed?”
“Packed,” asked Aniel warily.
“Yes, of course. Didn’t your aunt and uncle tell you?”
“Tell me what?” He turned to Brandon and Lacey accusingly. “What is he talking about?”
They both looked down. “We didn’t want to tell you because we didn’t want you be constantly looking forward to your birthday, but here it is: Jefan is here to take you away for training. You will come back for visits, but you will live with phoenixes.”
“Ha!” Aniel cried. “Wait until those boys hear about this!”
“No one will know,” Jefan said. “You will just simply disappear. We don’t want a lot of people trying to take advantage of you and your aunt and uncle just because you are a phoenix.”
“Oh.” Aniel had no intention of doing that. He would show them. “I’ll probably need a day to pack, at least. Will you stay here while I am working?”
“Yes, of course,” Jefan replied. “I will stay until you are ready to leave.”
That night, while the others were sleeping, Aniel sneaked out of his house. He knew that Jefan was right: he couldn’t show the boys that he was a phoenix. They would want to tell the whole village, and there were people that he knew would take advantage of Lacey and Brandon because of that. He didn’t want them to get hurt because of him. But there was one person he had to show.
He had to see Anabell, had to let her see his wings, that he was a phoenix now. He knew exactly where she would be: at home, sitting on her porch, just staring into the sky. He had watched her from time to time, trying to gather up the courage to talk to her, but he never could. Tonight, he would. It was his last night.
He snuck up quietly through the brush, trying to make as little noise as possible. His mind was going around in circles. What would he say? How would he approach her? What would she think? A branch shook above him and he froze. Then he felt like laughing. Of course his wings would brush things too! He shook his head and continued on, this time being sure of where his wings were.
She was right where he thought she would be, sitting quietly in her backyard. He knew that this time, he would do more than just look. But what to say? He stepped back a pace to think and his foot came down on a twig just as his wings rattled the branches. He winced.
Anabell sat bolt upright, staring into the trees. “Who’s there?”
Aniel sighed. No point in postponing the inevitable. He stepped through the brush. “I am. Will you talk to me?” He made sure to keep his wings in the shadow so she would see him.
“Aniel? What are you doing here?”
“I am leaving in the morning and I had to see you, to explain. Jefan didn’t want me to, but, well, here I am.”
“Here you are,” she agreed. “Why are you leaving? And who is Jefan?”
“Jefan was a friend of my mother’s. He brought me here and now he is taking me away. He is to train me.”
Anabell came slowly towards him, half a smile on her face. “What is he training you for?”
Aniel took a deep breath. This would change everything, for better of worse. “To follow in my mother’s footsteps.” She still was confused, but pleasantly so. He slowly brought his wings forward. Her grin was wiped off and her eyes grew big. “I am a phoenix.” She was backing away. “No, Anabell, please, I just wanted to tell you that this is why I have the strange eyes and weird skin.”
She shook her head, backing away more quickly. “Get away from me.” He walked quickly toward her, intending to soothe her. “Get away from me!” she shrieked, almost falling over as she ran backwards toward the house.
The door open and Anabell’s father came rushing out with a knife. “What’s wrong?” He caught sight of Aniel and his wings and turned the knife on him. Anabell ran into her father’s arms. “Get out of here,” her father said menacingly.
“But I don’t understand!” Aniel said. “I just told her I am a phoenix!”
“Phoenixes killed my grandfather and they have hated our family ever since, all because my father, Narcissus, repudiated Nabeth. Now leave!” He punctuated his words with the throw of the knife.
Aniel launched himself into the air, just missing the knife. He flew up into the sky, away from the sobbing Anabell, away from the people who had hated him from the moment he had come, away from Jefan, who had thrown him to their mercies. He only stopped long enough to gather his things from the house and leave a note for his aunt and uncle and Jefan, telling them not to try to find him. Then it was up into the sky again.
He flew long and far, away from everything he had ever known. Eventually he got to the southern ocean, but he didn't stop. The sun was just beginning to brighten when he saw islands. “Perfect,” he mumbled.
He landed in the jungle, scaring away all the birds roosting. This would be his home for hundreds of years.
“If she doesn’t want me to be a phoenix, I won’t be.”