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He heard their words, even if they did not speak.

Pond scum, pond scum, they would chant if they had spotted him; it was in their eyes, seen through his slanted vision. They would mock his plumage as the ice-hued Tarazayi children did month his family had chosen to visit on holiday so many millennia ago. Young still, barely three hundred years old, little Indréhar could hardly believe his ears. Tiny Tarazayi, so named for their resemblance to the glaciers they were carved from, crowded his idyllic beach. Indréhar and his parents were walking along the pristine sands, showing their forest-colored son the wonders Lord Solarius Aran’fay had made for his created offspring. The young Tarazayi had spotted them and ran up, flapping their icy, washed-out wings, taunting Indréhar incessantly until he ducked under his mother’s tail feathers, young black crest flat against his skull. Although his parents had chided the children, Indréhar never forgot their words.

And it haunted him.

Those words, no matter how in jest and smothered in adolescence they were, invaded his dreams, caused him to constantly walk with one grey, diamond-shaped eye trained on the area over his shoulder as he got older. During his mandatory basic training in the Army, he was rebuked many times for not paying attention, which humiliated him further. What would have been simple punishment for any other private was made worse by the infernal steady eye of the drill sergeants who presided over his labors. It pierced him, made him feel totally vulnerable and his mind laid out for inspection.

In any mortal creature, suicide would have soon followed in early adolescence. However, the Vahazayi were a resilient lot, strong and determined, and Indréhar had his own form of a touchstone to keep him going. Secretly, the green-black hero-worshiped the khairachas—traitor—Sular Ventrishika. Charged with deserting the Army when an order was given for all scouts and reconnaissance to return in preparation of war, Sular’s actions had instantly sullied the reputation of his clan. Although he had been cleared millennia later, Sular was reported dead on the world to which he had been assigned to survey. Declaring his apologies to Sular’s clan, Lord Larath Grawn’fay’s words had not eased the hatred most Vahazayi felt towards his relatives. Once a traitor, always a traitor was the mantra—and that included those to whom he was intimate with. To be called a traitor was the vilest insult in the Vahazayi lexicon, for in their duty to guard the Universe against evil, everyone had to be able to trust each other and be in compliance with their immortal laws.

Sular had been a reconn soldier, a total and complete loner, even amongst the relatively solitary Vahazayi. Often, he spent millennia away from the great birds-of-fire’s planet, searching and confirming sentient worlds ferreted out by the scouts. In Indréhar’s most private thoughts he believed Sular to be a kindred-spirit—someone shunned by the general populace. It was his only comfort, his only shield for his increasingly unsteady mind, a disease that did not burn away upon immolation. Thus, Indréhar kept to himself, just like Sular, lest others find the true reason for his self-inflicted isolation. If discovered, he would not be taunted, but shunned.

Pride in their strength and near-invulnerability led to many Vahazayi to procuring a swollen head. Seen as weak, remonstrations against Indréhar would be quick and swift, causing him to try and take his life. Yet, that self-same Vahazayi pride kept him from seeking the eternal embrace of the pyre—an act of immolation that led the Vahazayi to be labeled by a more easily-pronounceable, all-serving name … Phoenix.

Sealed within his memories and musings, Indréhar lost track of time, and his supposed taunters. He stood up from behind the huge boulder which he had hid behind after seeing the two Hawk-Heads flying above. Shaking ruffled plumage back into some semblance of order, Indréhar tapped his taloned feet on the grass to rid the shining silver claws of accumulated blades. A regal raptor’s head, a blending of two types—his Eagle-Headed sire and Falcon-Headed dam—arched proudly upon his lithe neck, an unconscious motion, for Indréhar felt anything but regal at the moment. Twirling his wingclaws nervously, he scanned the sky and plain for any more passersby. When his wary grey eye caught none, Indréhar spread his molted green wings and heaved himself into the air.

Being the protectors that they were, the Vahazayi placed among the myriad worlds of the Universe soldiers who lived along side those sentients. Some were spies, some were ambassadors; the job descriptions were the same, however. The spies were always shapeshifters, moving from location to location, sifting out information pertinent to the Vahazayi understanding of the Universe; ambassadors usually retained their massive forms, writing covert reports back home, giving out few answers but asking many questions. How could one refuse a fifteen-foot-tall avian with their own personal meathook directly in the middle of their face?

In this manner, the immortals kept tabs on their mortal charges, watchful for any sign that would indicate to them that evil had gained too much power. And if the dots connected, and the natural flow of time could not prevent such, then the Vahazayi went to war.

Immortals are not omniscient, however. For events they were not aware of, often they were alerted by a member of the oppressed. This was usually done unwittingly by simply staring into a fire and confiding their innermost thoughts unto the blazes. Through such a chain of magic, the Vahazayi knew and scouts were sent. Often, only a few were necessary if they were feeling generous; rare were the full-scale wars, as bloody and intense as to claim a Phoenix’s life. It was in such a war that the Vahazayi lost their beloved leader, and to many a father, Solarius Aran’fay. The great golden paladin and patriarch of their race perished over three hundred million years ago, but the emotional wounds carried by some never seemed to ease in their ache.

The Vahazayi kept track of their network through a series of (rare) civilians and Tarazayi whose jobs were to report and file away incoming messages from scouts, reconns, spies and ambassadors. Indréhar was a messenger who ran the most important missives to their appropriate buildings, such as the mages’ plateau, the Council mountain or the practice field. It was the perfect job for one with his paranoid frame of mind and illusions—he was in and out within a few moments, rarely staying unless he had to take another missive back. (Most telekinetics felt it beneath them to stoop to such menial, secretarial work.)

Indréhar’s parents had urged him to take the position. They understood that their only son had some unresolved issues lurking within his mind, but to what extent, not even Indréhar would divulge to them. Begrudgingly, the forest-black applied and began skimming all over Phoenixia’s four continents and various islands. He flew alone, always alone, and it satisfied him.

Today, as many days, there were few messages to be flown, so Indréhar sat perched upon a leather divan in an unoccupied conference room. Now and then, a message tube would arrive via a special spell that even the non-mages could operate. His carryall hanging from a table edge, Indréhar listened with half an ear to the conversations in the adjoining relay room. His shift almost over, the half-breed was planning his way out of the mountain, how to remove himself stealthily and without much attention being drawn in his direction. Completing his escape, he stood up, swung his bag over his neck with careless ease and made for the entranceway.


The forest-black jumped, his eyes wide and wild. He went down on the floor as the caller entered in full. “Indréhar, where are you? I have an important message that needs your speed.” Indréhar could hear the clicking of the other’s talons on the stone, his mind racing. “Indréhar, dammit, this is serious. I know that you are here; stand up.”

By sheer force of will, the Vahazayan stood up, edgy. A parchment was thrust into his face, held onto by a wickedly-curved wingclaw. The voice attached to the wingclaw—Indréhar never looked anyone in the face, lest they sear his soul—continued. “I need this taken directly to Lord Grawn’fay, not the guards. Tell him that we have a bloodmage on our hands. The rest is in the message.”

Stuffing the roll into his carryall, a feat he accomplished without looking, Indréhar scampered around the voice and out the door. If he had been listening, he would have heard the burly Hawk-Head sigh with concern.

Once outside, Indréhar consigned himself to the winds that were his only freedom. His broad molted green wings stroked the air with a confidence that he otherwise lacked. The relay station resided on a small isle in the tropics; the lair of Lord Grawn’fay lay across several thousands of miles to the west, on the second largest land mass Phoenixia possessed. By wing, it was a few hours; by living flame, it was but a half an hour.

Indréhar had delivered to the Lord’s lair many times, but always had left the missives with the standing guard. This time, he had been ordered to present the message into Grawn’fay’s wingclaws personally. Trembling with fear, Indréhar consigned himself to living flame, lest he shake himself out of the air and tumble headfirst into the torpid ocean waters. A vivid green-black comet, the air sizzled around him as he rushed with blinding speed towards his destination. Time and space waned, thinned to a mere speck in Indréhar’s mind; gone were the illusions, the paranoia. There was freedom in flight, a disengaging of oneself from reality.

All too soon, the monstrous slate grey bulk of Lord Grawn’fay’s seaside lair came into view. Chagrined, Indréhar called back his flesh and ivory blood, his feathers and talons; back into form he flowed, spinning on his inner pinions in a lazy spiral.

The guards spotted him before he, they. The green-black knew this, for when he landed, they were out on the landing ramp, twin blocky Eagle-Heads. Normally, they resided in an enclave just inside the entrance.

“Is that the message?” the taller of the two huffed, spreading out his iron grey cheek feathers. In truth, the Eagle-Head’s harshness was due to stress, but Indréhar, as always, interpreted it as he had been accustomed.

“By my claw to Lord Grawn’fay’s only,” he managed to say, feeling his prior elation shrivel to dust. A clacking of twin beaks met his announcement. Feathers and feet shifted, tailfeathers twitched.

“Thunder Tiger, Cammon, let him pass. This is urgent.”

Immediately, the two Eagle-Heads stepped aside. There, between them, stood the Lord of the Vahazayi, Larath Grawn’fay—sixteen feet of crimson and gold. Indréhar had only seen Grawn’fay on special occasions, such as universal Army drills and planetwide conferences. Then as now, the Eagle-Head was imposing. Though his guards were taller by a few inches, it was the person, not the title, that gave Larath Grawn’fay his magnificence. Indeed, he seemed larger than life, even among the vertically-blessed Vahazayi.

Grawn’fay stepped forward, one blood red wing held out, the wingclaw cocked in readiness to receive the missive. “Indréhar, correct?”

The merest flick of his onyx crest in assertion was all the half-breed could manage. Automatically, he reached into his bag and pulled out the parchment. Barely had Grawn’fay touched the roll than Indréhar snatched his wingclaw back, tucking his wings close to his lean frame. Larath Grawn’fay raised an eye ridge at this behavior, but said nothing as he dove into the message’s heart.

Indréhar chanted silently as the minutes rolled by, trained to stay in one place as proper, but his paranoia tapping incessantly at the forefront. The guards continued to watch him, their comments passing via telepathy.

At last, Lord Grawn’fay’s beak stopped moving in quiet mouthing of the message. Curtly, he rolled it up and passed it back to Indréhar. “I would like you to take this to Blue Comettail, my Second-in-Command.” It was an order couched in congeniality. “With the same speed that brought you here.” As Indréhar inclined his head, striving not to look Grawn’fay in the eye, the Lord added, “And see to it that you polish your warcollar, Messenger Indréhar. The Vahazayi go to war.”

The warcollar lay shoved under a pile of blankets and miscellaneous laundry in the back of Indréhar’s closet. Huddled on his knees, tail splayed behind him, Indréhar pulled it out. No one quite knew what the jeweler Mech’kechar used to make these ornaments of protection, but whatever it was, it was nearly impenetrable. Indréhar’s warcollar had been tailored specifically to him, to his specifications. The leather was black, supple and settled soft against his agitated plumage. Gold and silver wire banded around the edges, platinum forming the clasp at the back. A half-orb of some gold substance lay in the center, the sole source of the collar’s magical/technological protection. Garnets and citrines ran the length of the collar, a mere decoration. Indréhar’s messenger sigil was embossed upon the rounded half-globe, his name sewn into the back.

He stood up, unsure. It was his worst nightmare: to be forced to live with others, where they were able to easily taunt him. However, he knew that if he failed to report to the field, someone would be sent to find him; if they failed in that, the label of khairachas would not be far behind in coming. The social stigma, the possibility of public trial was too much for him to bear, to even think about.

Indréhar panted, growing dizzy. He put his wingclaws before him, trying to steady himself. Shutting his eyes tight against the swimming room, he flopped onto the floor, turned himself on his side. His stomach was in knots, the rolling giving him something to think about other than impending war.

How he wished Vahazayi could vomit! Perhaps the release would do him good.

Moments passed, one sliding into the other, before he slid his great taloned feet under himself. Time … to go, he thought leadenly. The war collar had fallen off during his fit and he picked it up gingerly in his wingclaws. Softly he caressed the velvet blackness, the hard points of the embedded jewels. Joints stiff with fear, Indréhar fastened the clasp at the back of his neck, adjusted the center so that it lay at the base of his throat, jugular pulsing rhythmically.

Taking a deep breath, resolving to learn to quiet his restless mind, Indréhar turned towards the door and left.


The people of Kazarathán’s world were humanoid in species. The mage himself was tall, his onyx hair tied into a flowing queue. He sat concealed in a massive oak tree overlooking his besieged city. Pulling a long, thin tube from his robes, he let his fingers wander over the metallic surface, dancing around the buttons that protruded from the otherwise sleek exterior. One of his servants had found it in the ruins years ago, along with other strange materials. They had dropped from the sky like a meteorite, but none seemed damaged.

Quietly, in his lab, Kazarathán had labored over the objects, seeking to discover what tales lay within. What he did discover was that they had not been molded by magic—the residual energy would have told him—but by very clever, advanced hands. With a booster to his powers provided by several sacrifices, he had been able to ascertain the identity of the crafter.

And it opened up his world.

Where the Cal’va’nin had failed, he would not do so. Kazarathán would not simply destroy the leader of the Phoenixes in close proximity—why they had done that, with their technology, he could not fathom—but he would attain something they had not sought to gain.

And here they were, these living, breathing demigods. Walkers of the mortal plane. It had taken some mass murder and various “dark” practices, but they were here. The mage pondered thus, stroking the device’s oblong port in his ruminations. One was all he needed, just one. Then, if all went well, he would become their leader, and everything else would fall into place. The rest was up to what he felt like doing at the moment.

A rustle of movement broke his reviere. The one he had been stalking had finally come by. With a purely mental laugh, Kazarathán sighted the Phoenix, a great green and black brute, and fired, aiming for the bright gold orb on his neck.

Indréhar felt the heat of the blast before he saw it. A flash of light brighter than the deepest core of the sun blinded him temporarily. And then it hit him.

The light blasted through the protective shield created by the collar, ripped through his own defenses. And then his world was steeped in pain.

He dropped like a stone, ivory blood pulsing from his neck wound and other places on his upper chest, where shards had pierced his tough skin. Kazarathán lept down from his hiding space and strolled over to the wounded Vahazayan. Up close and on the ground, the giant bird didn’t look all that intimidating. Kazarathán prodded the green-black once in the side, making sure that he was still out and turned away, striding towards his underground access tunnel, where his slaves awaited.


Kazarathán ordered the disabled Vahazayan to be brought to his chambers. There castle staff, using massive hooks, ladders and several stout slaves, hoisted the wounded Indréhar onto the side of the wall. They snapped titanium locks about his open legs, bolted his wings to the granite. Blood oozed from cuts along his chest, wings and thighs, his breast feathers scorched from the backlash of his destroyed warcollar. Kazarathán stepped into the room after the servants and slaves left, primping like a peacock. In his right hand he held Indréhar’s defunct collar (jewels burnt, leather torn to shreds, the orb a mass of molten gold—all beyond recognition), in the other he bore a wickedly-tipped pikestaff. Strapped about his waist was a cat-o’-ninetails.

Indréhar lifted his crusted eyes and snorted; blood mixed with smoke shot out of his bruised nares, splattering Kazarathán’s finery. The magelord jumped back, dropping everything as his clothes began to smoke at the touch of Phoenix blood. With a curse, he shed his outergarments, casting them to the far corner of the chamber, where they slowly burst into flame and ash.

Indréhar laughed wryly despite his condition, and then wondered where the hell that came from.

Kazarathán wasted no time in delivering a resounding blow to the side of Indréhar’s face with the butt-end of his pikestaff. The sound of wood meeting beak echoed throughout the room; waves of vibrations rang through the staff. Though his fingers were rendered numb instantly, Kazarathán managed to keep a hold of the weapon. The bloodmage stood back and surveyed his prisoner with a self-satisfying smirk. He would get this giant pheasant to recount the lay of his immortality one way or the other. If not, there were thousands more laying siege to his citadel, hell-bent on cleansing the world of his taint. However, he was lucky to have caught this fool.

Upon the stone, Indréhar’s body was a well of never-ending pain. Try as he might to use the blocking techniques, the reality of the situation was preventing him from finding an inner peace. Every throb went straight to his brain, like a million tiny lancets. The bolts through his wings ached and with every passing moment, his weight bore him closer to the floor; only the device preventing him from doing so was the locks about his legs. The lower he sunk, the more pressure was to be put on his joints, inevitably breaking them. All creatures who follow the blood path are the only ones to devise such tortures, he thought, remembering his lessons. What a blasphemous sun-in-glory he must present! Stapled to a crucifix of stone, with nails of titanium, pierced through the delicate wing joints.

“Shall we begin?”

Indréhar tossed his head, trying to dislodge the rivulet of blood that ran over one swollen charcoal eye. “Begin what?” he rasped, bravado lost as he came to grips with his predicament.

Kazarathán laughed, but no light came to his red eyes. It was purely to antagonize his prisoner. “Your interrogation, of course.”

“I have nothing to say.” Indréhar moved his head, trying to avoid the other’s gaze.

Quick as a wink, the pike’s head came to rest upon his gullet. “You are an intelligent, wise creature, Phoenix,” Kazarathán said slowly, emphasizing his words with a press of the pikestaff. Indréhar gulped, his head forced back in an effort to avoid the prickling. O! if only the mage knew that the area where the pike head lay was the organ that produced the chemical Vahazayi used to breathe fire. If that ruptured, not only would Indréhar perish, but the force of the expelling liquids would instantly dissolve anything organic—meaning, Kazarathán. Of course, the forest-hued Vahazayi would never deign to divulge that little secret, even if it meant self-preservation.

“And because of that,” the mage continued, unaware, “you and I should have a civil conversation. You have the information and the means to my ends … all you have to do is tell me the secret of immortality and I shall let you go.”

Indréhar shuddered. What was it with mortals! “And what would you do with your eternal life, Bloodmage?” he asked, grasping for time. His tongue lolled of its own accord out the side of his beak, making speech difficult.

Kazarathán poked him again, this time in the breast. Indréhar cried out, a piercing keen as metal touched smoldering burn. He threw himself at his restraints, muscle and sinew tearing in savage strips. Ivory blood, previously slowed to a drip, coursed anew, running down the wall and puddling upon the floor. Kazarathán danced out of the way of the life-force, dealing the Phoenix another blow to the head.

The forest-black slammed backwards in recoil. His head cracked against the flagstone, bright stars burst before his eyes. “Ei tushar’dein!” he howled.

Kazarathán’s words poured like honey from his poisoned lips. “I ask the questions, bird; you give the answers. My personal motives are of no consequence to you.” He made as if to strike Indréhar again, but thought better. “However, I believe you are in need of motivation.”

The bloodmage walked over to a bell pull on the opposite wall and tugged it thrice. The door to the chamber flew open almost instantly. A liveried servant stood at attention. “Bring me the device,” his master instructed. The servant bowed and ran down the hall. Kazarathán laid aside his weapons and pulled up a chair well out of Indréhar’s reach and spitting capability. “Now, we shall start in earnest, Phoenix.”

Indréhar’s head felt heavy, his neck limp. His life was pooled around his feet, a viscous and congealing mass. He had no strength to form a retort, be it mental or verbal. His acid tongue lay torpid, broken and bleeding from the edge of his black beak.

What a waste of a life I’ve led, he considered; the millennia he’d spent chasing phantoms. Oh, if he could take it all back!

Soon, the servant returned, bearing a metallic weapon in his hands. Indréhar heard him come in, heard Kazarathán rise from his lordly throne and cross to receive it. The bloodmage dismissed the boy and closed the door, caressing the object with obscene delight. “There once was a mighty space-faring race who fell into the disfavor of the gods,” he intoned to no one in particular. “These bronze-skinned warriors had many weapons at their disposal, but they all paled in comparison to the fire that fell from the sky one day.”

Something within Indréhar stirred, warning, foreboding.

“The greatest of these flames was a giant golden paladin. He marshaled the other creatures of fire to destroy the bronze-ones’ civilization, to punish them for their transgressions. Terrified, the brightest of their scientists devised a magical weapon; they had to work quickly, for the fire was spreading and killing them off by the thousands.”

Indréhar’s heart lurched, his mouth ran dry.

“Nothing could harm these creatures, it seemed. They were invincible. But, the scientists found a way to circumvent their armor. In a fake parlay, they met with the golden giant and killed him with their awesome weapon. Alas, the device did not survive its only test. All around the hill upon which they had stood in conference was instantly dead. The flames arose once more, buoyed by their new leader; with great passion, they annihilated the remaining bronze-skins, destroyed their knowledge, for they feared if anyone should come across the plans for the device, they would be eliminated.”

Kazarathán looked up then and smiled his first true smile. “You know this, don’t you? What I hold in my hands is the end of your vile race.”

The Cal’va’nin … Larath Grawn’fay had ordered all traces of their experiments to be consigned to Phoenix fire. How? How?

Kazarathán all but purred his amusement. Indréhar checked himself severely; had he spoken aloud? “Such things always have a way of finding a new owner, Phoenix. You see my most powerful bargaining tool before you. Now, will you deign to give me immortality?”

It all came back to him now … the burst of light, the searing pain. It had been that which had disabled his warcollar in the first place! Indréhar bit back a cry of horror. He had to think quickly. Kazarathán had to be destroyed; no one else would know how to use the Cal’va’nin’s technology save him … at least he hoped.

Immortality … immortality … Indréhar’s mind raced at light speed, trying to concoct a plan. He knows about the power of our blood, seen its true effects. What else is there!?

“You waste my time, Phoenix.” The bloodmage flicked a switch and instantly, the device hummed to deathly life!

The forest-black all but keened his fury, howled his hatred. His throat was raw, his esophagus bruised beyond all but the repair of Phoenix fire. He could not consign himself to its healing force—that would give Kazarathán the time to eliminate him and then run rampant through the Army’s ranks. How he wished he had some semblance of mage talent!

Something snapped.

Indréhar looked up, his charcoal eyes like flint in the presence of steel. “I shall show you what it is like to be immortal,” he said at last. The voice that came from his throat—from his mind—bore no resemblance to the battered and beaten creature he had previously been.

Kazarathán cocked his head, continued to stroke the wand. “I do not wish to be shown—I wish to BE!”

“To be immortal, one must understand it first. Otherwise, you will go mad. What price is eternal life if you cannot grasp the concept?”

That did it.

“Show me, Phoenix.”

Indréhar took a deep breath, felt his lungs expand for the final time. Would that he came out alive … Alas, no. Another eternity awaited him. “Open your mind to me.”

Eagerly, Kazarathán did so. He felt the tentative touch of the Vahazayan’s mind, felt the true alieness of it all. Slowly, information began to trickle into his brain … oh, so slowly. Images flashed in his mind’s eye, then concepts, then languages …

Faster and faster they poured in. Kazarathán dropped to his knees, clutching his temples as the never-ending supply ran like a wild river between the two. His head felt as if it were going to explode. His brain pounded harshly against his skull, trying in vain to hold onto the rush.

“No more!” he shrieked, “No more!

But the link had been established. From his position on the wall, Indréhar’s head slowly began to fall. Millennia upon millennia of memories and information flew from his massive brain and stuffed itself into the human’s insignificant one. This was immortality … this was the end of it all.


Am’nelii Berinshah,” he whispered and slid into darkness.

Lord Larath Grawn’fay’s heavy-beaked face was grim while he watched the two Falcon-Headed scouts lift the body of Indréhar from its niche. By his side stood his second-in-command. “Is he salvageable?”

Blue Comettail shook his head in sorrow. “No, my Lord. He was long gone by the time we got to him. He rests eternally now.”

Larath prodded the prone corpse of Kazarathán with one long black talon. The bloodmage’s face was contorted in excruciating pain, his skull in shatters, enlarged brain grossly-pressed up against the remaining skin. “What did he do?”

“There is evidence that Indréhar linked with the mage .. to what means, I do not know,” came the reply. Blue Comettail was as puzzled as his Lord was; he had never seen—in all of his warring days—such a means to defeat a captor.

Larath nodded absently. “And the Cal’va’nin weapon?”

“Already destroyed.”

“Good.” Larath ruffled his crimson plumage and flared his golden tail; his crest refused to stand up straight. He attributed that to stress.

Solemnly, a procession of Vahazayi carried Indréhar’s cloth-covered body out of the gruesome chamber. Larath and Blue Comettail watched them go, then followed behind. A squadron waited in the wings, coming into the chamber to remove whatever was left of the preceding events. One heaved Kazarathán’s body in a massive taloned foot and tossed it into a bag held by a fellow. There was none of the solemnity that followed Indréhar’s removal; once they were outside, the body was dumped into a ravine and covered with several hundred blasts of Phoenix fire …

For Indréhar.

Copyright Melissa A. Hartman
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