Bounty of Ash

By Sarah Rockwood

Action & adventure, Fantasy

Paperback, eBook

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316
11 mins

-1-

The phone was ringing. I tried to ignore it, but it kept on going and sunlight burned through my eyelids making a return to sleep impossible. I tumbled from my bed and made my way to the living room. I pawed at the phone until it came loose from its cradle and pressed it to my face, somewhere near my mouth.
"Hello", I croaked.
"Phoenix? Sweetie, are you okay? You sound sick!"
My entire body snapped to attention. It was my mother.
"No mom, I just woke up."
"It’s 11 AM! You just got up?"
"Mother, don’t start." She would anyway.
"Don’t speak to me like that, Phoenix."
"Mom, I’m sorry. I…"
I stopped cold. I could see myself in the mirror above the sofa. I had wings. Big, giant, multicoloured wings. On my sleepy march to the phone, I’d forgotten all about them. 
“Whoa.” I whispered.
I reached back to touch them and there was nothing there. Panicking, I looked over one shoulder and then the other like a slow-witted dog searching for its tail. There was nothing there. Nothing. No wings protruding from my back, no beautiful feathers framing me. They were only visible in my reflection. Crazy. And problematic. Going to the ladies room would definitely raise a few eyebrows.
“Phoenix? Are you listening to me?”
Right, my mother was still talking.
“Yes, mom. Sorry, mom. Could you repeat that?”
She sighed loudly.
“When can we expect you this afternoon?”
“This afternoon?”
I’d Travelled back to the exact moment in time I had left when I went on my wing finding adventure. Today was my brother’s birthday. Crap. And there was a big family dinner. Double crap. I had to get out of this.
“Well, Mom, I’m not really feeling that well.”
“Nonsense. You’re fine.” Her voice was like cold iron. My Mom definitely had some powers of her own. “You want to live a life of big city excess that’s your choice, but I’ll not have you taking that out on your brother.”
She had slipped into her big-city evils routine. Although I highly doubted my brother would miss my appearance at his, quote un-quote, party, Mom was gearing up for an epic rant and there was only one way to defuse this ticking time bomb.
“I’ll be there at 6.”
“You’ll be here at 5.”
“Yes, mother.”
“Love you sweetie.”
She hung up. I dropped the phone back in its cradle and turned to the mirror. I looked at my big winged reflection. They were huge. The multicoloured feathers gleamed in the sunlight that streamed into my apartment.
"Well this complicates things."
This was shaping up to be a situation of craptastic proportions. There was no getting out of this party, if I didn’t show up my Mother would hunt me down, and I still had to pick up a present, showing up empty handed was a big no-no in my Mom’s world. But the first thing I needed to do was figure out what was going on with my wings.
I made sure the wings were just in my reflection with nothing periodically protruding from my back. This involved a five minute game of peekaboo between me and the mirror. Oh, if my Traveller friends could see me now. I won the game, the wings were just in my reflection, but the funny thing was that the Phoenix in the glass had rips in her shirt where the wings had broken through, but the Phoenix standing in my living room, me, her shirt was intact. Another level of weird in my already strange life.
“Maybe it’s just mirrors.” I said to myself and then ran to the patio doors to check my reflection there.
I live, well I lived, in a medium sized loft in an ‘up and coming’ part of town. FYI, up and coming just means artsy people have moved in and that eventually, one day, it will be a nice place to live. One day. My building was okay, except for Tuesday nights when the apartment below hosted a drum circle. The bedroom and the bathroom were closed in but the rest of the place was a wide open space. An island separated the kitchen area from the living room and I’d tried to create more separation by placing a large complicated looking, bookshelf thing in the middle of the room to house my TV and mass quantities of books. The sheer size of it made a hallway between the kitchen and living room. But the real reason I fell for this place was the balcony and amazing patio doors I was currently running towards.
I rushed up to the large stretch of glass and tried to see a ghost of my shape. It was there, or rather, I was there, wings and all, starring back at myself. A pale blue silvery self with gossamer wings.
“Ah, crap.” I was saying that a lot today.
This seriously complicated my life, and seriously didn’t happen last night when I got back. I’d run straight into the bathroom to check and the mirror was wing free. Why was this happening now? How was I supposed to go to my parents’ house when every time I passed a reflective surface my wings were right there in the glass?
“Ah, double crap,” I said with feeling as I threw open the French doors and stepped out into warm midday sun.
This was my sanctuary in this world and it went a long way to explain the massive green house in my Traveller home. The patio ran the length of the apartment and then wrapped around the corner towards my bedroom window and the fire escape. Over the years I had turned this south facing strip of concrete into a verdant jungle. Bright flowers cascaded from boxes along the entire railing, and a trellis running up the walls of the building was covered in vines and climbing roses. Gigantic clay pots played home to large trees that broke up the constant sun that streamed down on the balcony. I’d even set up a mini fountain in the corner, a pillar with a sphere of stone that spun gently on a spray of water. The air was filled with the soft sound of water sliding over stone. It was a little piece of paradise.
My chaise was calling to me and I laid out, the sun touching my face dappled by the trees and shrubbery above me. I closed my eyes and thought happy, calming, no-wings-in-my-reflection thoughts.

-2-


It was around the third... ‘Ohm, no wings in my reflection, ohm’ that I heard the sound of breaking glass coming from my kitchen.
Every inch of my body was immediately filled with a buzzing energy. I felt as if I could spring into flight and yet, incredibly, I remained perfectly still. I was calm, deliciously calm and totally alert. I became aware of a warmth at my back and looked over my shoulder to discover my wings had appeared beneath me. They were as soft and strong as I remembered and folded easily against me as I lay on the chaise.
More sounds of destruction filled my ears and I rolled from the chaise to the floor, my wings tight to my back. Crawling as lithely as a cat, I moved to the French doors and peeked inside.
There was a large creature rummaging through my kitchen drawers. The fridge door was open and I could see a jar of what looked like mustard, smashed and smeared on the ground. Gross. That was going to take forever to clean.
“Was that really necessary?” I whispered to myself as I reached for the doorknob.
I stopped.
Do I really have to reach for the knob, I asked myself. I’m a creature from another dimension, with voyeuristic intentions… I stopped myself from humming the entire Time Warp song… Surely I can get this door to open on its own? I quickly glanced at my intruder, I still couldn’t make out who it was, but the big creature was busying itself in my cupboards and seemed fairly preoccupied.
I had a little time to experiment.
I moved back from the door and, making sure I wasn’t visible to the creature in the kitchen, knelt facing the knob. I stared at it, hard. Then I stared at it some more, harder.
Nothing happened. Zip. Nada.
“Come on, Phoenix,” I sighed and took a deep breath, shaking out my wings like a bird in a bath. The movement sparked a little flame in my heart and their weight was so comforting I wondered how I ever lived without them. This time, as I looked at the knob, I focused on fanning the flame of the little spark of energy deep inside my body. I had felt how immense it could become weeks earlier back in the Void. Not only had I blown apart the circle of the Guard, I had brought Archer back from certain death. Yes, I was the one who had tried to kill him, but we worked it out.
I focused on that little spark of power and I breathed life into it. I used my will to make it grow and very quickly it was swirling inside me. The green flame coursed through my veins and my wings, soon I thrummed with energy. I rode the vibration. I let it swell and flow through my body until it felt solid in my bones, until it felt like a state of being, always present, woven into the fabric of my soul.
From this place of calm and power I asked the door to open.
It did.
I rose to my feet. Feeling no fear, only readiness, I stepped through the doorway. In the shadowy kitchen the creature continued to gorge, stuffing slices of smoked salmon into its mouth. I took a few silent steps forward and called out to it.
“Hello, Yeren.”

-3-

She choked on the salmon. I smiled.
“Phoenix! You’re here!” She was wiping her hands down her hairy chest, trying to get the mustard and salmon bits from her hands. She merely succeeded in mashing them into her fur. I felt calm and cold as I spoke.
“Of course I’m here. This is my apartment.”
The last time I had seen this yeti she was selling me out to my sworn enemies. I wanted to rip her apart with my bare hands. I wanted to launch myself across my apartment and close the fridge door on her head over and over and over and, you get the idea. But she might know where Sid was, and I needed that information before I kicked her ass.
“The real question, Yeren, is how did you get in here?” I opened my wings slightly, she gulped. “I thought Travellers couldn’t enter another’s home without permission.” I cocked my head to the side. “I don’t remember giving you permission.”
She smiled.
“Well I guess that means this isn’t your home.”
I hadn’t thought of that. My wings twitched, her smiled grew broader.
“Why are you here, Yeren?”
“I thought Sid might be here.”
“You don’t know where he is?” Shit.
“No, I’ve been looking for him everywhere.” She was inching her way across the kitchen as she spoke, she didn’t realize that I’d noticed this. I wanted to keep it that way, so I turned easily with her, keeping eye contact. “I thought maybe we could work together and find him quicker.” She smiled again, with teeth this time. It was a gruesome sight, bits of salmon and mustard clinging to her bear-like jaws. “That’s if you can accept my apology.”
“Apology?” I asked quietly. She was up to something, I could feel it. Yeren was trying desperately to shield her energy, but I could sense it welling up inside her.
“Yes, apology. I’m really sorry about how things went down.” She held out her hand, as if to shake mine. “Friends again?”
I know bullshit when I see it. Fortunately for me, Yeren still thought of me as my former self. The me I was before my time in the mortal world, when I just lived in the Void, quietly healing those who came to me, never making a fuss, keeping to myself. But that was before the inhabitants had come together and banished me in a bloody attack. That was before they sent me screaming into the unknown, before I had clawed my way to hell and back to find my wings. That was before. This was now. And Yeren had forgotten all of that.
I slapped an innocent looking smile on my face and began to walk towards her.
“I’d like that.”
“Great.” She took a step towards me; her smile didn’t meet her eyes.
Two things happened at once. Yeren made a grab for me and I threw a ball of energy at her face. It shot from my hand, a blue-green orb the size of a soft ball, and hit her right in the nose, sending her slamming back into the kitchen cabinets. She hit them with a big crack and the doors fell off the upper units. Blood spurted from her nose, mingling with the mustard and salmon on her fur.
“Bitch! You broke my nose!” she yelled at me. “Now I am really pissed!”
I was already moving, I needed to take cover. Although my place was small there were a few spots that provided shelter. I dashed behind the big unit that divided the living room from the kitchen, instinctively tossing another ball of energy over my shoulder as I ran. It hit the island in front of Yeren, bits of Formica rained down on the apartment. I looked down at my hands.
“How the hell am I doing this?” I whispered to myself.
I had no clue, I had sensed the rising danger in the room and before I knew what was going on, I’m tossing softballs of destruction all over my apartment. Yeren yelled something incoherent and a ball of black energy struck two feet above my head.
“Two can play at this game!” she cackled. “In fact, I can do this all day! You’ll tire soon enough and then I’ll have you.”
The black energy oozed like oil, slimy and thick, down my entertainment unit. It hit my television and it began to sizzle. It continued to drip down and I watched as my tv melted. She melted my tv. My beautiful fifty inch HD television. She melted it. The bitch must pay.
I leaned around the unit and quickly retaliated. This time I sent two balls of energy at her in quick succession. One hit the microwave, the other finished off the upper cabinets that Yeren had already smashed up. Yeren laughed.
“You do realize you’re just destroying your own place, right?”
Damn, she was right, I was trying to force her out of here and meanwhile I was just tearing my place apart. There had to be a better way.
“What do you want from me, Yeren?”
She answered without hesitation.
“There’s a Bounty on your head, Phoenix. A big Bounty. Every low-life in the Void will be looking for you, but I’m going to be the one that collects.”
What the hell was she talking about? As I tried to process her words a light whooshing sound filled the air and a large ball of black crud sailed over the entertainment unit and landed near my feet. I scuttled out of the way as it melted my carpet. This was getting bad. My carpet was melting and a Bounty was on my head. I had to get out of here and get back to my home, my one true home as it turns out, and regroup with Archer. An experienced warrior like him was just what I needed right now, but first I wanted to get a bit more information out of Yeren. Even though I could smell my carpet burning, I kept my voice light.
“So is it a ‘dead or alive’ kind of thing?”
“Oh, they definitely want you alive. Very alive.”
“Well that’s comforting. And who is ‘they’ exactly?”
“No idea.”
“That doesn’t sound very legit.”
“That’s how Bounties work in the Void. When I bring you to the meeting place they will reveal themselves and I will get my reward.”
“What if they don’t give you your reward?”
“Then I kill them and you as well for the trouble. How do humans say it... It’s a win-win situation.” She laughed. This bitch was seriously crazy; I had to get out of here.
“What’s the reward?” I tried to sound blasé even though the patch of black ooze next to me was slowly spreading closer.
“Why do you care?”
“Well, if it was really cool, like a dirt bike or something, maybe I turn myself in and we split it.”
She laughed.
“You can’t split power.”
“Power? That’s it?” The disbelief was plain in my voice. “More power?”
“Not just power,” she scoffed. “That would be meaningless. The creature that brings you in gets a share of your power.”
“Seriously? You guys already tried that.” I sighed heavily, dramatically, letting boredom coat my voice. “Remember? You ripped off my wings and sent me flying?”
I could feel my wings reacting to the tale. Power rippled through my feathers. The air around me felt charged like the sky before a lightning storm.
“Nobody got a piece of me then.” I called out. “And nobody’s getting a piece of me now.”
My power was growing. Yeren was forced to shout her retort above the rushing winds of energy that now filled the apartment.
“Not this time, Phoenix! The news has Travelled through the Void like wild fire! There is a creature who has figured out how to strip you of your power! They have mastered how to take all that you are! You cannot stop them! They will take your precious wings for good and I will share in the spoils!”
Seething with rage, I burst from behind the cabinet as Yeren threw a giant ball of pulsating blackness towards me. I threw up my hands to shield me from the evil tar hurtling towards me. As the word shield flitted through my mind a shimmery wall of energy materialized before me. The ball of darkness hit the shield and rebounded towards Yeren. I watched through the shimmering veil as it hit her full on in the chest and began to eat away at her fur.
She screamed.
I Travelled.



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