Xaine swallowed, his throat was so sore. He rolled over uncomfortable on the side he’d been laying on for who knows how long. How long was it? He wondered vaguely. When did I even fall asleep? Xaine didn’t remember going to bed. He swallowed again, and his throat really was very sore. Was he sick? Where was he?
Xaine rolled onto his back and began to open his eyes. The eyes hurt as the light poured in. Xaine groaned. He heard wood scraping across the floor. Someone said his name quietly. Was he not alone? Xaine turned to look, his eyes now fully open. Torin, looking forlorn, on a wooden chair at the right side of his bed.
“Waking me up early again?” Xaine croaked weakly. He barely had a voice and the voice he did have didn’t much sound like his own. Torin looked at him seriously and somewhat concerned.
“Xaine, do you know where you are?” Torin asked.
“What?” Xaine replied, confused. He looked around it was hard to focus too well on his surroundings but the room seemed somewhat familiar.
“Oh Hi, Ailee, what are you doing in my room?” Xaine asked.
“We’re not in your room Xaine,” she replied seriously, the same look of concern on her face. She handed him some water. Xaine sat up and drank. He looked around again and finally realized where he was. He was in the medical building in Kreila. But what was he doing in there?
“Why am I here? Where’s my…” Xaine stopped. It all came back to him. The attacked town and his guard duty. The long travel and the forest. And everything that happened within came back to him. He handed Ailee the container and sat, staring at the wall.
“Xaine you-” Torin began, but Xaine cut him off.
“I remember.” After a pause he added “So he’s really…” but Xaine couldn’t finish the question.
“I’m so sorry Xaine. If there is anything we can do?”
“Did you get Geranium?” Xaine asked evenly.
“Yes. She’s back at your place. She’s been taken care of while you’ve been out.”
“I’d like to be alone,” Xaine said, and Torin stared at him for a moment. He closed his eyes and put his head in his hands. He looked at Ailee and Xaine could hear her stand up. “Well Xaine, if you decide you don’t want to be alone, we’ll be outside,” Torin said, and he stood, and the two of them left.
Xaine didn’t know how to feel anymore. But alone was probably the right word. Numb might have been another. He didn’t cry or scream he didn’t really do anything at all. He just sat. He didn’t know how long he sat, but he didn’t want to do anything else. Finally, he laid himself back down in bed and to slept again, hoping to escape the pain for a little longer. However, sleep did not help. He could only dream of what happened over and over until finally he realized why his throat was hurting.
The screaming woke him up sometime in the middle of the night. Xaine sat up breathing heavily. Xaine heard a soft knock on the door but didn’t respond. He heard it creak open just a little. “I’m fine,” he said hollowly. The door closed and he closed his eyes. Xaine barely slept but wanted to do nothing more. He would occasionally eat when the caretakers were particularly insistent that he wouldn’t survive if he didn't.
But Xaine didn’t really know if he wanted to survive. He had lost everything shy of Saber. Then again, he didn’t ask about him, so maybe he lost him too. Left him like he left everyone else to fight for his own selfish reasons. To fight? He thought. Or to die? Either way, he was apparently unsuccessful in either. And there he lay in the place for healing. If only his father were there with him. If only his brother were there, or his mother. Instead, they were all in the same place, somewhere without him.
Xaine looked around at his room once more. It was about sunset and he had been forced into eating something again. He dipped his spoon into the clear, spiced liquid again and slowly, lazily, brought it back up to his mouth. He didn’t even really know what it tasted like. He couldn’t focus on anything.
He could feel the frustration welling up inside him. He hated being taken care of. He hated being here taking up someone else's time forcing them to waste their life on him. No more, he thought. No more. He put the soup on his bedside table and slowly swung his legs down. He began to put weight on his legs and they shook violently.
He felt so weak. He pushed himself off the bed with his hands and stood attempting to balance. He fell back on the bed. He couldn’t even stand. He wasn’t just frustrated, and now he was angry. He kicked at the nearby chair and it tumbled to the floor. He realized just after it was out of his reach that it would have made standing all the easier. He tried again, using his frustration to push off the bed again.
He was up and then he was down. This time, he fell face forward onto the floor. Xaine slammed a clenched fist on the floor and stifled and angry yell. He tried again pushing himself up until he was on his hands and knees. Then from there to hands and feet. He then used the side table to pull himself up.
Xaine looked at his arms as they supported him gripping the table. He was skinnier than he remembered. How long had he been out? Xaine stood in his somewhat bent position for a few moments to feel for his balance. After didn’t seem like he would fall he let go and stood up straight. He slowly walked over to the wardrobe and pulled out some more clothes. He slowly dressed and moved to the door.
He gripped the handle and stood once again for a few moments. Trying to steady himself and make himself ready to try and walk normally. He opened the door and stepped out. Just as he had thought, there were people just outside in another room. Ailee among them.
“Goodness, did you need something?” A kind looking woman asked.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll just be heading home now. Thank you,” he said to her.
“You’re in no condition to leave yet. You need to build up your strength. You haven’t eaten anything.”
“I ate enough. I won’t get stronger if I don’t exercise my muscles anyway.” Xaine said though he knew he had no plans working them any more than just to get home.
“But look at you, you can barely walk,” The lady replied again.
“I’ll go with him. I’ll make sure he gets home alright. And I’ll make sure actually eats something,” said Ailee looking at Xaine.
“I’ll be fine alone,” Xaine started but Ailee spoke over him. “I wasn’t asking yer permission. And I’m not going to. You can barely walk so don’t think you’ll fight me off anytime soon either.”
Xaine opened his mouth but said nothing. She was right of course. He wanted to be alone but he knew she was stubborn and in his current state he had no way to stop her. He was angry with her for insisting and angry with himself for needing help. He settled by glaring at her but did not resist help. Neither of them talked along the way.
Though it was all within the town, the walk was slow as Xaine tried to move his sore and stiff muscles. Everything in the town was frustrating him more. He could hear the whispers of townspeople as they saw him pass. They had finally come within several yards of his house and he could see the two horses out behind. Two, he thought both bitterly and thankfully.
His eyes rested on the front door and he felt his chest tighten as we remembered the day he had come back home to tell his father that he had been chosen to be a warrior. He cleared his throat and they stopped walking.
“I got here safely I’d like to continue alone please,” Xaine said. Ailee gave him a calculated sort of look and said, “Fine but I’ll be back later to make sure you’ve eaten something.”
“Why are you so concerned with me? Just let me be!” He said unkindly. She gave him another calculated look her eyes slightly narrowed. He had upset her, and he could tell, but it seemed to take all her willpower not to lash out back at him. She turned and left.
Xaine walked the rest of the way to his front door. He reached for the door handle and stopped. He stood for a moment and took a deep breath then opened the door. Nobody was there to greet him. He had expected it, knew there would be nobody, but it hurt all the same. Xaine was angry at himself for knowing it was coming and still letting it get to him. He walked straight back through the house not looking anywhere but to his door. He entered his room and slammed the door behind him. Climbed into his bed and closed his eyes.
Xaine slept and woke several times. He rested uneasily like he did at the medical building. Every time he seemed to drift off and a dream started he was startled awake. He was afraid to dream, afraid he would wake again screaming.
Each time he woke up it got darker until the longest sleep came to him yet and when we woke it was light out. Xaine sat up on his bed and leaned against the wall. He stared at his door and just sat. He didn’t know what to do anymore. He could hardly sleep, and he wasn’t hungry, he just wanted to escape. But this was something he couldn’t escape from.
He got up from his bed and moved to the mirror. At first, he couldn’t look into it. He knew what would happen if he did. He took another deep, uneven, breath gripped the table firmly that the mirror stood on and looked up. His throat and chest tightened and he could see the tears welling up in his eyes.
“Hi brother,” he said shakily. “I don’t know what to do. Dad’s gone now. I’m alone. Sitting here talking to you now, I feel so selfish. I guess I always thought of it like you had mom and I had dad. So we were both taken care of… I guess I don’t even know if you need to be taken care of where you are. But I just felt like we both had someone. But now I’ve lost all of you.
“I wish you were still here with me!” Xaine’s face was now wet with tears as he sobbed. “Would you still look just like me? Would we still be the same height? I miss you brother. You were there for me so much when mom died.” He paused, chuckled a bit despite himself. “It looks so strange to see your face with all these tears and all the pain. You were always so happy. I’ve tried to live for both of us, and I’ve tried to be happier for you. But what am I supposed to do now?”
“Happy for you,” he chuckled. “I guess I should be happy for you. You get them both now. I’m sorry brother, but I just can’t be happy right now! What have I done? What did I do to deserve this?! Most people go through life with both parents some tragically lose one but I had to lose my whole family! It’s not fair!” He shouted. Xaine looked away unable to continue looking into the face that was crying and screaming. He rarely ever saw his brother cry and it made it all the more that they were all gone.
Xaine slumped to the floor and leaned against the wall between the chair legs and sobbed. His body shook has he drew a breath, and he felt so hopeless. He barely heard it over his sobbing. A pounding at the front of the house. He didn’t care he didn’t want to see anyone. He didn’t want to talk to anyone.
“Xaine, I’ve brought you something to eat. You need to open up,” he heard Ailee’s voice faintly.
“Please, Xaine, I know how you feel…” She shouted. He was furious. How could she? She didn’t know how he felt! How dare she say something like that. What did she know of the loss he suffered. He almost ran to the front door and swung it open and it slammed against the inside wall. All his anger about to burst out of him, but then he saw her.
All his pent up anger and all his frustration slipped away. He could see it in her eyes. The loneliness. She did know.
“Who?” He asked quietly.
“My mum,” she said just as timidly. He could see her fighting back the tears welling up in her eyes. He was surprised she even could cry. But now it all made sense. That’s why she hated them so much.
“The darkgons killed her?” He asked softly and she nodded.
“She at home and off-duty for the time. She assigned to help at the farm in town for her morning work. But when she arrived something was wrong. He was being attacked by darkgons. She fought to protect him but one snuck up on her and,” Xaine didn’t think she was going to finish didn’t expect her to. “And she died.”
Then even more shockingly she put down the plate of bread she was carrying and hugged him. He could tell she was crying now when she spoke again. “Xaine, I’m sorry. I know how you feel I know how bad it hurts, and I would never wish that on anyone. That’s why I couldn’t leave you alone. I’m sorry for bothering you, but I know this is what I needed when I lost her. And there were people who were willing to be there for me, so I had to make sure there was someone willing to be there for you.”
She let go of him and quickly bent down to pick up the bread again, wiping her eyes on her sleeve as she did so. Xaine pretended not to notice though he thought it ridiculous that she still had to hide it. He let her in. She put the bread on the table and they sat.
“Well, thanks,” he said. “And not just for the bread.” She nodded and looked away. “I guess you and my Dad were right. I did need a friend like you. I do, I guess. At first, I guess I just didn’t want to believe that he…” Xaine couldn’t finish.
“You need to say it Xaine. I know it doesn’t seem right but it helps. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can move on.” Ailee pressed gently.
“I didn’t want to believe that my father. That my father died,” he said as tears ran down his face. It did help. It helped a lot just like it did when he lost his mother and his brother. But Xaine knew he was still a ways off from fully accepting it.
“I just, I’m going to miss him,” he said.
“You do miss him Xaine,” she replied.
“So your mother was a warrior?” He asked somewhat changing the subject. He could tell she knew what he was doing but she didn’t argue.
“Yes, she was an archer,” she replied.
“Like you,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied and summoned her weapon. “She is actually the ancestor that accepted me.” She looked down at her bow holding it and moving her fingers gently across the wood and runes of her bow. “She’s a stubborn woman and she never liked it when I got too angry. Still doesn’t.”
Xaine got a brief flash of memory of when they first met and she had protected him from a darkgon, but then immediately couldn’t fire again. “Is that why you sometimes can’t fire your bow?”
She nodded again. “Like I said, she’s a stubborn woman. Even when I’m attacking the very thing that killed her and protected someone she doesn’t like it, if I’m too angry about it. And she won’t cooperate.”
Xaine genuinely laughed for the first time since before the battle. Then he felt bad for being too happy and thought for a moment. “Well, maybe she doesn’t like that you hate them.”
“Why wouldn’t I? They took her from me,” she said. “Well, my father never wanted me to truly hate anything. He always said ‘hate only tears down, especially if you are the one doing it.’”
“Yeah well, I may have inherited a thing or two from her,” Ailee said somewhat bitterly and Xaine wondered if she was talking about her stubbornness. “Ya know I actually really am very hungry,” Xaine said as he picked up a piece of bread. And surprisingly, he really was.
“So how long was I out?” He asked as he chewed and swallowed his bread. It felt rough on his sore throat and was hard to get down.
“A couple weeks, we weren’t sure what was wrong with you. We weren’t sure if you were going to make it.”
“How did I heal all of those wounds in just a couple weeks?” He asked bewildered, remembering the details of his battle “Why am I alive?”
“Well, there really weren’t any wounds to heal. We saw them bite into you, at least, it looked like they did. But you were fine when we got to you. You were out cold but you were fine,” she replied looking somewhat nervous.
“How did you even make it to me? There were so many of them I thought I was dead for sure.”
She looked at him seemingly unwilling to proceed. “Are you sure you want to continue this conversation right now?” She asked. “You’ve been through a lot.”
“I know, and you’ve really helped me otherwise. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this. I want to know what happened,” he said.
“Ok, well, we aren’t completely sure what happened. We were trying to fight our way over to you. You had several darkgons grouped around you, biting,” she paused, then continued. ”Biting into you. We could only catch glimpses when I shot the explosive shots at them. It would knock one or two away, but Xaine it didn’t look good. After a few moments of fighting, I think we all felt that we were only fighting now to make sure if you were alive or not. And to recover your body.”
“But then suddenly the battlefield lit up. It seemed like a hole had been made through the trees and sun was shining right through. But then it landed. It landed right over you.”
“What did?” He asked. “What do you mean?” She couldn’t possibly mean the sun he thought.
“A phoenix, it landed right on top of you and shot flames everywhere. A couple of the darkgons that didn’t scatter quickly enough even got burned up. All we could do was watch. The flames were so intense. When it finally left you were lying on the ground under it covered in ash. We thought you were gone for sure but the wind from its wings blew some of the ash away and we could see your skin underneath.”
“You didn’t have a scratch on you. You were completely healed. Other than the fact that you didn’t wake up, you looked like you hadn’t been in the battle at all. But you were breathing so we brought you back.”
Xaine was speechless, and this was the second time a Phoenix had touched his life. Had it saved him? “Do you think it saved me? I mean I know I was bitten and I was poisoned. And now that I think of it, I actually went blind before I passed out.”
“Well, that’s the only conclusion we can really come to isn’t it?” She said. “They do say a Phoenix is supposed to be able to share its flames of rebirth.”
“They do?” He asked and she nodded. “Who are they?” He asked.
And she shrugged. “I don’t know, just they.” They both laughed even though the situation didn’t seem to be one to laugh at. Ailee sat with him and they talked for a while. Xaine was really happy he did have a friend that could be there for him. And he was really happy that she was stubborn enough to see it through.
She eventually left for the day and Xaine felt like he made a great deal of progress. And though he didn’t feel completely better, for the first time in days he was able to sleep.