Spedro laid a hand on his shoulder as he passed, and he turned, unpleased with the interruption. He was pinned to a tree, with a large, jagged branch protruding from his chest, slick with red blood.
“Why?” Spedro croaked, his eyes dangerously close to rolling back into his head.
Phoenix said nothing, but shrugged Spedro’s soon to be dead hand from his shoulder and kept walking.
Phoenix woke with a start, the feeling of Spedro’s hand on his shoulder still. He turned, panicked. Lindani lay beside him, breathing evenly, still sleeping. He realized he had been dreaming and lay back down, trying to calm his racing heart. The stone was dangerous, he knew that, but he would never be able to do the things he had just dreamed. Chalking it up to nerves, he laid a hand on Lindani’s hip and pulled her close, molding his body to hers and falling back asleep.
The morning brought new light and new smells when Phoenix woke well past the hour in which he usually rose. The smell of cured ham teased his nose, and his stomach rumbled in response. He reached over to wake Lindani to find she was not there, her spot on the blankets cold. With a raised eyebrow he pulled himself from the blankets and dressed, sniffing the ham all the while. Phoenix pulled the tent flap to the side to see the three around a fire, while Lindani knelt by a pan, cooking breakfast. He looked to the sky to see the sun close to its zenith, and shook his head in confusion.
“Why did you three let me sleep so late?” he queried, sitting heavily next to Ember.
Lindani giggled. “We tried to wake you, but you would not even acknowledge us. You kept mumbling the word ‘blue’ in your sleep, and we decided you would wake on your own sooner or later.”
Phoenix turned to Ember for confirmation, and she nodded while popping a piece of the ham into her mouth. He raised an eyebrow and grabbed the remainder between her fingers, popping it into his own mouth, and chewing with a smile. She slapped his arm playfully, and began to protest to Spedro who had just entered the clearing, when she tilted her head to the side then turned quickly to the east.
Phoenix knew that look and rose, lighting his hands and making ready for a fight. “Voices on the wind,” she said a moment later. “The neighing of horses, rattle of carts, and shouts of drivers. There is a massive group of people a few minutes east.”
Spedro and Lindani had rallied on his back, each of them calling their respective element. Ember rose as well, causing the air around her to swell and gust, buffeting them with wind.
Phoenix relaxed, extinguished his hands and turned to the others. “I will learn who they are, alone. No reason to scare them if they are peaceful, and too many of us may draw their attention if they are not.”
Lindani began to protest but was silenced by Spedro’s hand on her shoulder. “He is right. I will follow at a distance and send for you two if we need you.”
Ember and Lindani nodded, though Phoenix noted the apprehension in Lindani’s eyes, and the lack thereof in Ember’s. Lindani’s eyes swept over him, and she came forward, pulling him into a hug. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and she whispered in his ear. “I have a dark feeling. Let us turn from these people, whoever they may be. Let us run together.”
She raised her eyes to his, and continued. “Forget Demetrius and the people. We can find a way to be safe and happy away from his influence.”
He glanced at Ember, seriously considering her offer. He had undertaken this quest for her, at her request. He had sworn to protect her against any enemy, including himself. He had sworn of the only thing that brought him any happiness, his element, for ten years in an effort to protect her. She stared back, her eyes hard, and Phoenix’s eyes widened. He could swear he had seen a flicker of dark blue in the normally light blue of her iris. He looked again, but saw nothing.
Turning back to Lindani, he lowered his head to hers, kissing her forehead. “I am sorry, but I cannot. We have a duty to protect those weaker than us that cannot defend themselves.”
Crestfallen, she broke his gaze and looked to the ground, digging the toe of her boot into the packed earth. “Be safe, and do not hesitate to call upon us.”