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Etoile shuddered in the cold breeze, teeth chattering even though his jaw was clenched tight. He wasn’t confident in his success, even in front of Etienne, who was clapping rhythmically to set the pace of the summoning. Etoile peered over the edge of the
shingle-work of the tower roof: the ground was faded and obscured by cloud cover and sheer distance: distance too great to afford a misstep. The peridot-eyed magus squinted and darted his vision back to his friend, calling to him with shaky voice. “Let’s begin,
before I change my mind,” said he, and though it would have been soon enough hours ago… However, he thought, it must be done.
Etienne’s encouraging smile deflated and flattened, with his furrowed brows in a worried
fit. Heaving a silent sigh, the young bard tapped his foot, yielding a jingle from his
anklets. “Frére,” he called, “are you sure you want to do this? You don’t have anything to
prove to the Magus Majora, and…” The magus’s young friend was cut off by a steely green glower from the edge of the rooftop. Etoile, its owner, knew he had never
summoned previously, and, dangerous as it was, all of his comrades were almost brutally slaughtered because he wasn’t skilled enough to protect them himself. Clenching his fists
as well, Etoile spoke again at last.
“We’re doing this now, Etienne. Start chanting.”
The golden-eyed bard frantically obeyed, with shakily accurate articulation and impeccable rhythm: the true talent of his occupation. Etoile mixed the summoning components together one after another: ashes from a phoenix in gelatinous adhesive, ground phoenix beak and talon in the new mortar, and sacred oil into the frigid steel chalice in perfect rhythmic accuracy.
Certainly this couldn’t have been the most unpleasant combination of ingredients Etoile could use, or so he thought: a gray, inconsistent material with faint glimmers and the feel of thick cement, with a gravelly burnt scent to match. Etoile soon regretted the mixture’s creation as he brought the vile concoction to his lips and held his nose. It must be done.
The beast would soon take him once he stood in the ashen circle. It must be done.
The magus cleared his mind and took a step, reluctantly holding back his gag reflex as he swallowed the awful experiment.
It must be done.
The ceremony began as Etoile took another step into the circle of ashes. All around him began to glow as Etienne and his surroundings faded away, until all that the young magus could see was a dark tunnel, lit by passing red flames. The heats of the pyres were absent, as if they didn’t actually exist at all. As the lights flew by, Etoile tried to keep his mind empty, tried to keep from filling his mind with quiet reflection: being stuck in spiritual limbo for eternity because of a bit of self-narration was a stupid way to die, or at least become a comatose vegetable for a few months and then die. Not that he’d remember it anyway- but just then, the young magus realized he was already thinking and redirected his attention to the lights, which were now rotating slowly around him.
Falling, falling, falling and more falling: young Etoile Vert was growing bored. But just as he thought that single, short thought, the pitch darkness around him exploded in a crimson flare of bright heat, slapping at his cheeks and his bare, cold fingers. He closed his eyes. It is done.
It took Etoile a few moments to realize that it wasn’t done, and that he wasn’t dead: not
yet, at least. Raising his eyelids to a squint, he could faintly make out that which he had
come for. Glowing feathers stroked at his cold, rosy nose and coaxed his curiosity into opening his leafy-green eyes.
What is your bidding, O Master of…?
The voice that had wormed its way into Etoile’s ears slowly trailed off. Clearly, the magnificent beast was expecting someone else.
Before him floated a flickering crimson crest atop an elegant scarlet phoenix, whose surprise showed not in its face but in its hesitance. Questions arose in its mind that slowly wafted into the magus’s consciousness:
What has become of my master? Time could not keep so many lives of the phoenix without him losing track of those past. Is my master expired? Etoile couldn’t say. No one in Sylvenya knew exactly how long a phoenix’s life lasted: it had been a mystery to every scholar born and passed on.
Are you my new master?
Etoile swallowed as he began to speak, but the phoenix knew his question and its answer.
I will grant your request and accept your sacrifice. Etoile winced. That may have been the better of the two answers, but only marginally. He swallowed with great effort, prepared for the worst, and spread his arms wide, tossing aside protection of himself.
Etoile felt strangely warm and comfortable before he lost spiritual consciousness and blacked out completely.
It is done.
Etoile’s body had fallen: it lay still in the center of the windswept circle, his hair and garments tinged with the ashes under him. His body was cold, so cold that one would insist he were a very soft statue. Etienne, noticing his childhood friend’s loss of function, ceased chanting and hurried to his side, waiting for a sign that his dear Etoile was still alive. Days and nights passed at the cloud-covered tower without heralding their passing as Etoile lay cold and silent, motionless and still as stone. Etienne glared bitterly at the Magus Majora as he left, shattering the bard’s hopes that the old codger would lend a hand or advice and leaving Etienne alone with the thought of not being able to steer Etoile in a safer direction as his friend had always done for him. In the increasingly more heartrending hours spent alongside the ash-dusted vessel of life that was known as Etoile Vert, Etienne thought back to their childhoods; to times of happiness and times without strife. Long afternoons fishing by the pond as they discussed their dreams cheerily and joyous evenings watching the stars without a care in the wide world they lived in.
Etienne remembered the very day he had chosen to become a bard. Images flashed through his mind of Etoile’s depressed face after his mother had departed. Etienne could never have stood by. He had taken up the twelve-stringed lute and spent sleepless nights writing a song to lift his friend’s heavy spirits. A year later, Etienne finally managed to play the song to the brink of sheer infectious annoyance, but it was a fine distraction and a lighthearted tune that ha indeed fulfilled his purpose: Etoile began to feel better about his mother’s departure. When Etienne had finished, the other children ridiculed his poor musical skill and frivolous career choice. Etienne was on the brink of tears when it became Etoile’s turn to cheer him up, telling him that the world they lived in was a place where everything was needed somehow, and that bards were no different from the highly respected magicians he studied under in this purpose.
A tear ran down the bard’s cheek as he remembered how understanding Etoile had been of his work, how seriously he took it for the sake of his friend. He sobbed, leaning over onto his frozen companion’s chest and remaining there for a very long time.
Weeks later, after Etienne had discovered Etoile’s finger twitching, crying out that he was still alive, Etoile awoke in a bed, unable to open his eyes. He couldn’t pry them open, not even with his fingers (who had since gained back a bit of their strength). Etoile had panicked for three hours about his eyes before he realized something very important: he was still alive!
What an astonishing turn of events, thought he in silent celebration! He raised his fragile arms in the air, mustering a quiet cheer of satisfied excitement, thereafter falling straight out of his small bed, onto the cold floor, which seemed even colder than it had before for some reason. With a groan, he managed to crawl back into bed and convalesce for another few hours before anyone came in to check on him. His heartbeat and breathing were measured: thankfully still at a normal rate, if a little excitable. Once his caretakers had left, he ran a finger across each eye, finding something terribly disgusting and uncomfortable sealing them shut.
Etoile remembered the vile concoction he had ingested with great reluctance, but he hadn’t expected to see it again for a very long time- This very mixture had formed a crust over his eyes! Etoile tried not to remember how volatile the solution had tasted, but it soon came back to him, causing him to vomit violently into the water bucket he had found next to him and rub his eyes as much as he could to remove the crumbly, goopy mess of things that should never have been consumed. Eventually, a few days later, it had all come off and all that was left to do was to figure out how to open his eyes at last.
Though the fact that he hadn’t heard a single voice in each of his daily check-ups, Etoile was more perplexed about where he could possibly be, and who was here, and whether Etienne had followed him, and whether the Magus had predicted it all. Doors opened and closed, footsteps pattered along the halls and heralded visitors who never dared to say a word to the seemingly outwardly comatose young magus. One day, Etienne’s lute could be heard, its off-key plucks rousing Etoile from his afternoon nap with a quiet groan of familiarity. Etienne gasped as his friend, long-thought comatose, sat up in front of him and opened his eyes: Though the condition of Etoile’s eyes was more incredible than his consciousness.
Troubling thoughts passed through the bard’s mind as he stared into his friend’s eyes. The eyes that he had known before has always been a friendly leaf-green, the color of the trees in early summer. An eye, instead, burned with the flames of the eternal phoenix, orange and as bright as the green eye it was set beside. Etoile blinked, more grateful for blinking than he had been ever before. “What, do I have something on my face?”
Etienne poked at the corners of his own eyes, rubbing and blinking to shrug off what could only have been an illusion. But the crazed, fiery eye remained. It darted around, its beady pupil dilating and retracting, to Etienne’s shock and disgust. The maddening eye then fell upon the bard, causing him to shudder with unfamiliarity. He finally spoke: “Frere, your eye…” Etoile blinked curiously, an ominous feeling washing over him like a tide over sand. “Find me a mirror,” he murmured softly, and softer still, “so that I may see the sacrifice that I have made.”
The bard soon returned with a shiny, polished silver mirror, thrusting it into Etoile’s shaking hands. The magus almost didn’t dare to look, but the phoenix eye caught its own dastardly color, sealing his gaze upon it. Etoile blinked: the eye remained. He glanced left, then right, to which the eye followed, but remained. Etoile Vert, now sufficiently convinced, brought his hand up to his eye, shivering and choking back his tears.
Etienne knew this was no time to shrink away from his dearest friend in fear. He reached a hand towards Etoile’s shoulder, but was brushed off. “Leave me,” said the magus, “I need to be alone for a while.”
“No,” said Etoile. “To cheer you on your path is my duty, obligation and pleasure. I will not leave you alone.” And as Etoile wept softly between his two different eyes, Etienne stroked his back softly in comfort, whispering of the good things that were sure to come.