Who in their right mind would say no? Me? I wanted to. I just had this sinking, sick feeling that my friend Chloe’s response to my becoming a Phoenix to be far more than jealousy. But I didn’t want to die either.
“What say you, Elora Rae Gannon?” His eyes bored into mine.
If I said no, would he kill me here and now?
“Perhaps, High One Barova, she should be told of how she will die. I believe she is confused. Her mother wasn’t around to tell her of our ways and her father is still tied to the Oath from beyond the grave,” Ms. Batton volunteered. Her voice was shaky and I knew right away by her nervousness that she had spoken out of turn for me.
“It is not our custom to speak of our ways before the Oath. That was her mother’s responsibility, deceased or not. It is against our laws.”
“But not for you, sir. You alone have the power to share this information.”
The man sighed and scratched his chin. The men and women at the table simply nodded.
“Very well.” The High One, known as Barova approached me. He held his hand out to Ezra and Ezra placed a pair of scissors into his palm. The High One cut my bonds and took me by the hand. When he looked into my eyes, I noticed they were the exact shade my mother’s had been in all of her photos. Come to think of it, they were also the exact color as Ms. Batton’s.
“Elora, our race is a remarkable and spiritual kind of people but there are many dark secrets surrounding us and one of those secrets concerns how we live and breathe. I cannot elaborate at this time, but
suffice it to say; if you do not choose to embrace life as a Phoenix, you will instead embrace death, for your body will die. Without the knowledge that you receive after taking the Oath, you will not know how to prolong your existence and you will cease to exist in exactly one year. Please take me at my word when I say that you need this. Trust me.”
I turned and looked into Ms. Batton’s sad eyes, then Ezra’s. His blazoned as he wagged his head to me and whispered, “Yes. Do it Elora.”
I nodded to High One Barova and the others at the table. “I’ll do it.” My voice broke.
“Then kneel at the altar and Lucinda will help you with the rest.”
“That’s me, Elora. You know me by Lucy.” Ms. Batton took my hand in hers and we knelt together in front of the little altar. “You must take the vial in your left hand.”
I plucked the vial off the altar. It was hot to the touch.
“Now, you must unstop it and drink the contents in its entirety. Do this hastily. Do not stop. It will go down like liquid fire and your throat will feel ablaze but it will not hurt you.” She gazed at me over the rim of her black framed glasses. “Before you drink you must say,
A life for a life, I vow.
By embrace of fire and spirit,
I conquer death.
High is the price of immortality,
A life for a life, I vow.
“Don’t be afraid. Everything will be fine. When we finish here, Ezra will take you home and show you the ropes. You are excused from school today, so no worries. Go on. I’m right here with you.” She encouraged.
I uncorked the vial and peered inside. A white-blue flame appeared to swirl within it. The substance had no smell and couldn’t have been more than five milliliters in volume. I took a trembling breath and sat up tall on my knees and began,
“A life for a life, I vow.
By embrace of fire and spirit,”
My voice echoed shakily around me.
“I conquer death.
High is the price of immortality,
A life for a life, I vow.”
I upended the vial and downed the fluid. It was molten on my tongue and I nearly gagged as it slithered down my throat like a fiery snake. I refrained from crying out and swallowed.
High One Barova helped me to my feet and led me to the table where the others stood to shake my hand. The heat in my throat began to diminish, replaced with an icy, airy feeling like when you eat a mint then take a sip of something cold. I seriously didn’t know what to make of it. It defied logic. I half-expected to have lesions on my throat and tongue, and wondered if this new, cool sensation wasn’t some kind of healing process my body had in response to whatever I had just downed.
“Immortal are we formed in the great chain of life, ever rising from the ashes of apparent death so beautifully personified by the Phoenix,” The High One eloquently spoke. “I release you to your advisor, Ezra Denton. Blessed be you, Phoenix Gannon. We will meet again.” He smiled and exited the vast room. The others followed suit.
“Speaking of mom- did the doctors ever give you a good explanation as to why she died? It just seems odd that a Phoenix would die having a kid.” I sighed tiredly. I knew mom was a touchy subject with my father but I figured it was worth a try. For years he hadn’t so much as even mentioned her name. At least he was being a little more open to discussions about her than he used to be but I assumed it was only because he had to, due to my changing.
“She bled to death. Or so I was told.” His voice was shaky and distant. He became silent for a few seconds then, “But when I found her, there wasn’t really enough blood on the scene to justify that prognosis. She was a ghastly shade of white and they did verify later that she had less than half a liter of blood in her whole body upon autopsy.” He sniffed and pushed on. “I remember finding her on the floor; her face was like snow, her body like ice. The contrast of that mahogany hair of hers against her cheek was the most morbidly beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. Snow White was the first image that came to mind except that my Snow White no longer had a heartbeat.” I shivered as my father narrated his memories to me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear what he had to say. I braced myself. “I sank to the floor unsure of what to do and cried like a baby. But I quickly realized I was running out of time. If I hadn’t found her when I did- you’d be dead too…” He trailed off. I mentally reached out to my father and pain ripped through me like a dagger. I could see my mother’s lifeless form through my father’s eyes lying on the same wood-patterned linoleum that still covered our kitchen floor today. There he was, her head still cradled in his lap weeping. But he didn’t take time to mourn her loss long. I watched as realization set in, he was going to lose two lives if he didn’t act fast; he had a mission. A feeling of determination, both mine and his, washed over me as I delved deeper into his thoughts and feelings. He run his hand along my dead mothers distended abdomen. It was still warm. His heart leapt with hope. He ripped her button down maternity top open exposing her naked skin and exhaled with anger and frustration at what he was being forced to do. He then drew a kitchen knife from a drawer above his head.
I backed out of his thoughts. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t watch him mutilate my mother’s body to retrieve me from her womb. I sobbed. The line was silent. “Daddy?” I croaked.
“Princess?” I could tell he was crying too.
“I’m sorry I asked about mom. I won’t bring her up again.” Trembles danced over me. I knew what had happened with my mother was bad enough to make my father file it away but I hadn’t known how bad.