"The phoenix has died."
"Finally," the second agreed grimly. "Perhaps order will once again be restored."
"Perhaps, but perhaps not."
"Shall we?" the one in silver gestured onward.
Drawing closer, I could see the tattered dark bundle shake almost imperceptively. I knelt, reaching out with a white gloved hand. "Your Highness?"
The bundle moved slightly, revealing a young child's soot covered face .
"Your Highness, do you know who you are?" I asked in the ancient tongue of my people.
The child nodded slowly, the dark soot and ash falling away from her hair, giving me the tiniest glimpse of blood red locks. "I am Japhi the Morning Star, the Princess of the Sun."
"Do you know who I am?"
"My Guardian, the White Dragon," she replied, still in a bit of a daze.
Okay, so far so good. "What is the last thing that you remember from before your burning?"
"Kat told me to hide."
"Your ancestress, Katerina Draka."
so good, she's been dead for thousands of years. "Do you remember how you got here?"
The girl looked around as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. She frowned. "We were in an abandoned barrow in the middle of a young wood when she made me sleep until such a time that she could revive me."
"Your Highness, I am sorry to be the one to say this, but Kat died five thousand years ago. You have apparently missed sixteen burnings."
The girl's reddish brown eyes widened in alarm. "Sixteen burnings? But that's absurd! It's impossible for me to miss a single burning even if I am unconscious!"
"Apparently the spell that my great grandmother used to hide you also sent you into stasis. How much time did you have before your next burning was to take place?"
She looked at me puzzled. "Almost the full three centuries, I had only burned fifteen years before. Why?"
"We need to know what happened and where the barrow was. If you were fifteen at the time you went into stasis, then we need to look for the sudden appearance of a red haired girl anywhere from three to ten years of age."
My sister Mel frowned in confusion. "But she just burned and any fool can see that she is he equivalent of a ten to thirteen year old!"
"At my last burning, I was surrounded by Katerina and the Gaida so I could afford to take an infant's form."
I rubbed my eyes before returning to the parchment-a late fifteenth century treatise on burrows-that was not written in English or any other modern language for that matter. Nearly a full year ago I had promised the newly born Japhi that I would find her past.
"Ro?" asked a familiar voice.
"Is something wrong little bird?"
She shook her head. "No, but I did want to remind you that we need to leave soon for the United Nations hearing thingy in New York."
Groaning, I looked for the closest solid object to bang my head against in frustration, maybe it would get me out of going to such a politically oriented event. "What if I gave you the credit card and fake ID and got Mel to 'port you so that you could go on your own?"
"Nice try but your sister would never go along with it."
"Why can't she go? The two of you are the diplomatic ones, I just hit things."
The corner of Japhi's mouth quirked as she tried not to smile. "You're supposed to guard and protect me, and you can't do a very good job of it if you stay here."
"You're immortal, what can harm you?"
"I was thinking more about limiting publicity. It wouldn't do if I burned or even shifted in the middle of the hearing."
I groaned again. Damn, I really didn't want to put up with all of that bullshit. Was it really possible to die from boredom? And if it was, could a nearly immortal dragon die from it? Not if some of us could possibly live to see seventy burnings or more.
"I still don't understand why humans fear mutants so," the young phoenix interrupted my thoughts.
"Humans fear anything that is different or that they can't understand."
"But mutation is completely natural and necessary. It isn't even as unnatural as mage gifts."
"We know that, but they don't."
"Well they're narrow minded fools!" she burst out with an unnatural show of emotion.
I raised an eyebrow in surprise, the phoenix was supposed to be immortal and emotionless, devoid of feeling, yet Japhi had developed quite a passion for the 'mutant problem.' It was disturbing to say the least. If she could have feelings for mutants, did it mean that she had learned to love?
My hand instinctively went for my belt knife. She couldn't have learned to love, or else she never could have burned a year ago. And there was just the three of us-all female-hiding out in our own personal island fortress so she hadn't learned to love since her burning. So what was going on? Love was the only thing that would truly destroy an I was her Guardian. Crap.