A scuffle of leaves and snap of several twigs made Kìlashà turn toward the stream. Phoenix stood staring at him, one hand dripping water and mouth slightly open. Kìlashà frowned at him, cocking his head and looking Phoenix over. He had a narrow frame, but his alert, confident stance said he trained daily with the weapons he wore.
More attractive than the average Serr-Nyen, for certain, Kìlashà thought. And no obvious sign of illness. I think he even bathes. If he weren’t so incompetent I might like him.
“Are you Dragon?” Phoenix asked.
I am a son of the Drae’gon, masters of both time and flight, Kìlashà fumed, snarling at the name. I am not some mythical beast to be tamed by human heroes.
It was the name Griffin had given him many years ago, however, and he couldn’t deny it without giving his true name. He had no desire to give the Serr-Nyen any information about him that they did not already know. Phoenix glanced to the side, looking uncomfortable.
“Pardon,” he said. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I am looking for someone, but I think you are not him.”
“I am,” Kìlashà corrected.
It didn’t feel as ignoble as agreeing to the name Griffin had given him. He knew he would have to answer to it, but he didn’t have to tell anyone to call him that.
“I see,” Phoenix said after a long pause.
Phoenix hesitated again, looking around as if hoping to find someone else to speak to instead. Kìlashà crossed his arms and leaned back against a tree. He did not like this dancing around the topic, but he couldn’t admit he knew why Phoenix was here. It would raise too many questions.
“I was sent by Griffin of the Sernien Resistance against Emperor Caildenn’s oppression,” Phoenix said in a more confident tone.
“You may call me Phoenix. Griffin asked me to request your aid, as you have been an ally in the past. We have reason to believe Imperial fighters are planning an attack on our stronghold and our forces are stretched thin at the moment. We won’t be able to hold them off.”
Caildenn Laisia is hardly an emperor, Kìlashà thought, pondering the information Phoenix had given him. He was amused to find they had usurped a bastardized version of the Drae’gon term for their homeland, but he didn’t intend to correct them. More important was the information that the Serr-Nyen knew of an impending attack and were seeking allies in combat. Their war would begin in earnest soon. Kìlashà felt better about his decision to travel to Sharan Anore with Phoenix. I would much rather sharpen my claws on Caildenn’s soldiers than hunt for a human worth my time. Griffin doesn’t offer anything without a cost, though.
“Griffin desires my presence?” Kìlashà asked.
He doubted that was the exact truth, but it was probably what she had said. Phoenix nodded, but did not elaborate.
“And she sent the message you delivered?” Kìlashà probed.
“She did,” Phoenix replied. “It would be rude to ask you to walk into our stronghold unaware of our peril.”
Naive as well as incompetent, Kìlashà thought in disdain. Griffin wants me to handle this attack as her price for my return.
Phoenix obviously believed what he said, however. Naive was better than duplicitous. Kìlashà pushed off the tree he was leaning against and strode toward the west, pulling on his power again to show him the way. As soon as he had the proper moment flickering before him he realized Phoenix had not moved. He turned back to the stream, holding the vision in his mind as a guide while he focused the rest of his attention on Phoenix.
“Are you coming?”
“Yes, of course,” Phoenix agreed, stepping toward him. “It’s this way.”
Phoenix turned north-west. Kìlashà cocked his head, confused by the direction Phoenix had selected. Did he know where the attack was coming from? Kìlashà checked his visions again. No, Phoenix was just lost and unable to determine direction properly under the forest canopy. Kìlashà was pleased to see he would have discovered his mistake as soon as they left the trees. He wasn’t entirely unskilled, just unfamiliar with the terrain.
“No, it is not,” Kìlashà told him, turning back the way he had been going.
After a moment, Phoenix followed him without argument.
Kìlashà traveled slowly and watched Phoenix for any sign of fatigue. Despite his best efforts to remain on level ground, he saw Phoenix stumble on underbrush several times as evening fell. He was not going to be able to travel through the night without risk of injury. Kìlashà had expected that, though. He could see the safe path in his visions, but Phoenix had no such tools at his disposal. Kìlashà paused, turned his gaze inward, and looked past the vision he had been using as a guide to the countless possibilities he had already relegated to the back of his mind. A quick search through the flickering images found a safe place to rest overnight. As Kìlashà shifted his focus to bring that vision to the fore, he caught another flare of possibility from one of his discarded visions.
Again? Kìlashà wondered. I don’t get multiple warnings in the same day, much less within a few hours. He hesitated, but he couldn’t afford to lose the information because he was in a hurry. He pulled the vision forward. It was weak with distance, several months into the future at least, but the colors, scents, and emotions were strong. This was a fixed moment that could not be avoided easily. Kìlashà let the moment flame into life.
The room was tiny, dingy, and smelled of rancid wound dressing. The only things clean were Phoenix, several layers of cloth laid over a thin straw mattress, and Kìlashà himself. In the vision, Kìlashà bore the filth without a moment’s thought, leaning forward toward Phoenix with obvious concern.
“Get some rest and heal,” the vision of Kìlashà told Phoenix. “I will return to the clan.”
“Come back,” Phoenix said.
“Always,” Kìlashà assured him. He leaned forward and caught Phoenix’ ear with his teeth for a moment before whispering a final promise. “I will always return for you, kai’shien.”
Kìlashà thrust the vision away with a force that shattered his control over his power. Searing pain exploded behind his eyes for an instant before he regained control and snarled at his own stupidity. He knew better than to try to force a vision out, especially one so fixed.
But that can’t be true, Kìlashà thought in horror. This naive boor is the Chosen’s Right Hand, a renowned warrior?
“Dragon, is something wrong?” Phoenix asked from behind him.
Kìlashà almost answered. He bit his tongue and backed away from the concerned look. There was no way he could sleep near Phoenix tonight. He probably wouldn’t sleep at all.
“There’s a safe clearing that way,” Kìlashà told him, pointing in the direction his earlier vision had shown. “Rest for the night. I’ll return in the morning.”
Kìlashà turned away from the clearing he had sent Phoenix to and slipped between the trees until he was certain he was no longer visible, then grabbed a low branch above him and scaled to a reasonable height. Once there he settled against the trunk to think.
I sounded just like that vision, he realized as he considered his parting comments to Phoenix. The rough bark of the oak he sat in would normally be a comfort, but tonight it made him think of the rough-hewn stone walls of the sick-room in his vision. Kìlashà shuddered at the thought. It couldn’t possibly be a true vision. He could never stand in that much filth and be that calm. He didn’t even want to consider the implications of the supposed relationship between himself and Phoenix.
Calm down, Lasha, he told himself, sitting up and forcing the panic aside with an iron will. You know what this means. You were expected to find your kai’shien and you have. That he seems ordinary can only mean there is something you do not know about him.
Ordinary was a kind way to put it, but Kìlashà had to admit that Phoenix would not have been considered ordinary among the Serr-Nyen. He was humble, which was a trait few humans possessed in Kìlashà’s experience, and he certainly seemed to believe in a greater good than what would benefit himself. What could have bred such a combination in a human who would willingly serve Griffin? Kìlashà reached for his power again but stopped himself.
It is rude to look into another’s past without permission. He might have done it again anyway, but something about the vision of their future made it seem more than rude on this occasion. Kìlashà rekindled the disturbing vision and pondered it for a moment. It seemed as unbelievable on second viewing as the first, but it was clear that the Kìlashà of his vision did truly care about Phoenix. If he is actually my kai’shien then breaking his trust before he even knows me is not the way to start things.
Kìlashà sighed, leaning back against the trunk again and wrapping himself in his cloak for warmth. He had hoped to have some time to deal with this nonsense Griffin was spouting about Caildenn before dealing with the prophecies again. Fate had always had its plans for him, though. As Chosen of the Four Clans, Kìlashà accepted the weight of a Fate-destined life as a natural course. He could not have been Chosen and free to while his time away on frivolous pursuits, and he could never have wished to not be the Chosen. Were he not, he would not be Drae’gon.
If I must pursue a pairing with this human for the sake of my clan then I will do it, Kìlashà thought, his eyes drifting closed. I will have to teach him a great deal about cleanliness first.