This story is by Eleanorah Starr and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The clean, mild tang of the open sea fills my nostrils, assuaging my mind, but it cannot quell the heat of a rebirth burn surging through my blood. A hot kernel of dread lodges fast in my throat. I grope in my trouser pocket for the siphoning crystals, their cool solidity providing relief.
For a moment.
Waves of heat sear my skin and I clamp my eyes shut. Not now. Please. We’re too far from land.
“Phoenix, everything all right? You seem a bit janked.”
At least he didn’t ask me if I’m ill. He knows better. Seannix is a fair sailor, like Jaxon and me. And both an air weaver and a water kindred. His presence should be enough to keep my fire from harming Jaxon’s ship, if it comes to that.
“Hmm? Yes, I’m grand. Just remembered something is all. Have you seen Vox?” I ask.
A lower voice answers from over my shoulder, jaunty but terse. “What, your giant dog? Last I saw it, it was curled up against the rigging rolls.” Jaxon can’t resist needling me for bringing my canine companion on board his Farseer.
“Relax, Jaxon, Vox isn’t a bother. And we don’t want to be without her in case he burns, remember?” Seannix is ever the diplomat, thank the elements.
“My thanks, I should check on her. I’ll return.” I stride aft, my sea legs returning with each step. The excitement of leaving Emberyard must have triggered the burn. I should have known. It’s been too long since my last rebirth.
Vox slumbers against the silvery rolls. I kneel beside her, reaching out to stroke her smoke-gray fur. With the contact, the mind-link of a Sentient animal engages. Vox lifts her massive, wrinkled head and her eyes meet mine.
You are not well. The burn comes? She asks in my mind, her tail thumping the deck slowly in concerned greeting.
Apparently. And these crystals are almost full. We packed others, right?
I yank the crystals from my pocket, holding them up to catch the light. Twin clouds of red ether rotate within the smoky quartz and peridot halves. The copper wire binding them together glimmers dull bronze green.
Yes, Phoenix. Though your friend said it will be several moons at sea before our first destination. How long can you keep it at bay?
I don’t know. But I must try. Seannix and Jaxon are my mates, but I doubt they would appreciate me being reborn now. And we don’t have provisions on board for an infant.
They may have no choice. You cannot deny it indefinitely, and it has been a long time since the last. Did you think of that before you agreed to accompany them?
Yes! Of course I did! Lines of searing heat race up from my gut, setting my veins on fire. I hang my head and fix my eyes on the deck. Drawing in a slow breath, deep down to my roiling core, I exhale with measured force, trying to expel the heat like a gas. If only it was that easy.
I’ve had no indication it was building. Until just now. I say to her. My fingernails have not colored yet, though.
That is encouraging. However, we’re on a wooden ship, surrounded by water, which can snuff out your life during the burn.
I hold up the crystals again. Their contents have stopped moving. I’d better get another set of crystals. This one can stay on deck for the moonlight to cleanse overnight. I pat Vox once again before rising.
You’ll have to tell them. They won’t thank you if you burn the ship from under them.
I shoot her a narrowed look and head below to my quarters.
Once inside the tiny berth, I let out a resigned breath and suppress the urge to punch the wall. That will only make my condition worse. A quick rummage in my trunk uncovers the orange canvas sack containing six more siphoning crystal pairs. I pocket an empty one, feeling some tension leave me at its touch. If I use them wisely, I should be able to hold off the burn for several days. Long enough to inform my friends and convince them to sail for a port.
The favorable sailing weather has helped keep my energy calm. I’ve woken early each morning and lost myself in the soothing rhythms of tai-chi forms until the sun crested the horizon. Vox, ever-present, has watched me, concern mirrored in her dark eyes. Through diligent crystal rotation and breathwork, I’ve kept the burn from progressing.
But my luck has run out.
The overnight storm made it apparent that I can’t win. Unease replaced my calm, and I filled three more crystals before regaining this fragile composure. I haven’t enough cleansed crystals now to get me through the day. Jaxon and Seannix need to know I won’t be an adult much longer.
I yawn, dragging my fingers through my spiky copper hair. Red threads clutter my vision and the bottoms of my feet prickle with heat.
Heavy boots pound the ladder from below, prompting me to rise from resting pose. I should tell them both to not use water when I’m burning. Jaxon especially. He is water kindred and will want to protect his ship. I lace my fingers together, stretching my hands. The nails have already turned ashen at the quicks. I nod at Vox and we move to meet Seannix as he appears on deck.
“G’morn, Phoenix. Perhaps I should follow your example and seek my bunk before Jaxon breaks out the summer wine. Between that and the storm, I hardly slept. I say, though, you don’t look as if you did either.”
“I figured you would’ve beat that storm down some, air weaver you are.”
“I did. That was the best I could do with a sodden head.” Seannix shrugs.
I nod. “I have a delicate matter to discuss with you, if you don’t mind.”
His ocean-blue eyes fix on me then, a faint silver glow pulsing around the pupils. “I’ve thought you haven’t been yourself of late. What ails you?”
“I can’t hold off the burn much longer.” Seannix’s eyes widen. “We should return to the coast. We’ll need infant supplies, and I’ll find a suitable place to let it happen.” My fists clench at my sides.
“Sard it! We’re miles off the coast, Phoenix. Have you spoken to Jaxon about this?”
“Spoken to Jaxon about what?” The captain drawls as he strides out of the navigation room, adjusting his navy coat that matches the Farseer’s sails. We both turn to face him, while my fingers throb with heat. The stress is inciting the burn despite the crystals stacked in my pockets.
“I need you to make for port, now. The rebirth burn is upon me. I apologize. I didn’t know—”
“What? We’d be lucky to see land before nightfall, never mind a port! Why didn’t you say something earlier? I won’t have fire on Farseer!”
I close my eyes, pushing down the rising heat in my chest with an indrawn breath. Jaxon always reacts before thinking. Vox whines in warning at my side.
“Jaxon, turn for shore. I don’t think he’s bluffing. Phoenix? Take it easy, man. Phoenix—?”
Seannix extends his hand toward my shoulder, but Vox pushes him away. Smoke curls from my fingers now, the nails charred black. Jaxon swears and calls out directions to his startled crew.
“Phoenix, what happens now? Can’t you control it? What the—Sarding elements! Seannix! Put the flames out!” Jaxon steps back in horror.
Vox presses me away from them, using our connection to transmit her calming energy in blue-gray waves, but it’s too late. The burgeoning heat licks at my mind. I release my resistance and let the flames consume me.
“He’ll burn and be reborn, Jaxon. I’ll do my best to contain it with air—”
“Air? Just swamp him!”
“Water is his opposite. It may do him harm. Just stay back!” Seannix retorts.
I open my mouth to agree, but the crackling heat and flames pouring out of me swallow the words. A cool, breezy sensation encircles my feet and I’m lifted off the smoldering deck. And then all turns black.
I open my eyes, blinking in the bright sun. The air chills my bare skin. Hands cradle me, brushing away the ash.
“My thanks, Vox. Consarn it, Phoenix. That is quite a show. But now what do we do with you? It’ll be hard to tavern crawl with you like this.” Seannix wraps me in the blanket he takes from Vox.
I let out an aggrieved cry. Self-combusting and being reborn at home is one thing. Having to put my trust in these two adventurers to care for me as an infant, at sea, with my adult mind intact? This could be far worse than death.