After the excitement of Sam lighting her shirt on fire, she hops back up on the counter, sitting, yet again, in front of the candles. “Okay. Don’t think you’re done telling me what happens.”
I purse my lips, taking my spot across from her. “Not until you put out the candles.”
“I’ll be careful this time.”
“Why do they have to be lit at all?”
“Cuz, Phoenix, they’re magical,” she says whimsically.
“What are you, twelve?”
She glares. “You’re such a jerk.”
“Then I’m not finishing the story.”
“Phoenix!” she shrieks, miming strangulation.
I raise a brow, looking at her curled fingers. “What are you gonna do? Kill me again?”
“Now who’s twelve?”
I roll my eyes. We could be here all day if she doesn’t get her way. While I could just disappear into the ether and leave her here by herself, her uncanny ability to find trouble keeps me from going. If I did, she’d likely take off in a huff, and with her luck, that means finding Hunters on her way to her destination.
“Sit there, shut your yap, and listen this time,” I tell her. “First peep you make, storytime is over.”
Sam presses her lips together, but I know she won’t be able to resist. The first thing that excites her will have her asking me questions. I try to scowl to show I’m serious, but it’s difficult with her looking like the perfect picture of youth and innocence.
“Let’s see,” I mumble. “Where was I?”
“Snake just left the oasis!” Sam answers, and I put my hand over my eyes, slowly dragging it down my face. “Sorry…”
Shaking my head, I pick up the story where I left off. “Days passed where Falcon would train at his oasis, always quick to startle at the slightest breeze or rustle of the palm trees. Each time, there was no one there. His heart would sink, his desire to see Snake’s grinning face again more distracting than he cared to admit. His sisters had even begun to notice his aloofness, having confronted him several times. Even his father had summoned him to his chambers a time or two to ask if Falcon was ill.
“‘No, Father. I am worried about the possibility of war,’ he lied, although it was also true.
“‘It is wise to fear, son, but do not let it cloud your mind so.’
“‘Yes, Father,’ Falcon replied, doing his best to appear more alert when he walked the palace.”
“What about Snake?” Sam asked, finally unable to keep her bubbling questions to herself. “Was she thinking about Falcon, too?”
I glare, but I can’t help but smile. “She was.”
“Shh. Don’t rush me.”
She chews her lip, nodding. She’s rolling the amber stone between her fingers again, and I’m not sure when she picked it back up. Every time she turns it, the rose quartz on the counter in front of me seems to pulse. If I could get goosebumps, I’d be shivering. I wonder if Sam is aware of the effect she’s having on the gems.
“Weeks passed, and Falcon finally stopped jumping at every small disturbance while at the oasis,” I continue. “For all his troublesome worries, Falcon’s father had even gifted him with a terrifying and deadly blade, a spear with a blade like a scorpion’s claw. He cherished it, and his sisters helped train him to wield it. The gift was enough to distract him from his wandering mind, and he sank back into his normal routine.
“On a day hotter than any other, Falcon visited his oasis for a swim. It was while he was swimming that Snake had finally caved to her own traitorous whims and had sought him again. She’d imagined watching him spar, seeing his beautiful grace and skill. She was curious about him, too, not that she would admit to herself why.
“Neither of them did.”
“But… but if Falcon is swimming…” Sam’s cheeks burn red. “Did he have swim trunks?”
I can’t help but grin at her. “Swim clothing is a modern invention, Sam.”
Her cheeks turn a brighter shade of red.
“No,” I tell her, chuckling now. “He did not.”
“Ohmigoddess.” She puts her face in her hands. “So?”
“So, when Snake arrived at the oasis, she was disappointed to find Falcon’s training spot abandoned. Heart sinking, she was about to return home, lecturing her own foolishness, when the shine of something golden caught her eye. Mischievous that she was, Snake weaved through the palm trees, not leaving the protection of their shade until she was next to the flat boulder that Falcon often meditated on.
“When she reached the boulder, her lips parted in wonder, appreciating the beauty of Falcon’s incredible weapon. Unable to help herself, she slowly reached a hand toward it, wanting to see if it soared through the air like she believed it would, but she was startled, fingers just shy of grazing its surface.
“‘Stop!’ Falcon shouted, his head surfacing from the oasis, his eyes wide in alarm, his hand outstretched toward her as if he could ward her off. ‘Do not touch that, fair princess. It will harm you.’
“Believing him a liar, Snake snatched it in her hand, grinning at him… until a pain unlike anything she’d ever felt attacked her, a fire searing her flesh. She tried to drop the spear, but the weapon held fast to her, and she wailed as the heat of it threatened to consume her.”
“Oh no!” Sam gasps.
“Falcon reached the shore, leaping from the water and tearing the enchanted weapon from Snake’s hand. The burning finally ended its assault. But she’d collapsed to the ground, the agony shredding her nerves from her fingertips to her shoulder, and Falcon kneeled over her, trying to catch her attention. Her eyes wouldn’t focus, you see, because the pain was more than she could endure.
“Understanding the shock might stop her heart, Falcon carried her into the healing waters, blessed by his sister’s healing touch, just as the trees were a gift from his nephew. He pulled her deep into the pond, submerging them both beneath its surface and holding them there, his mouth pressed against hers to breathe air into her.”
“But they’re enemies!” Sam shouts although she looks pleased.
“That they are,” I say, my gaze a million miles away. “But he owed her his life, for she could’ve taken his on their last meeting, but she’d chosen to spare him.”
“But she invaded his land!”
“Boundaries were more… flexible back in those days.”
“So,” I continued, “because she spared his life, he saved hers. But if Falcon was being honest with himself, just as Snake hadn’t been honest with herself, his desire to save her was selfish. The truth was, the two had fallen into a reckless kind of love in those brief moments they had stared each other down, playing with their words, even as they played with each other’s hearts.”
“But they barely knew each other!” Sam protests, interrupting me yet again.
I meet her gaze, unsure how to explain the magnetism that comes with meeting someone your heart deems you can’t be without. The skepticism in her wide, jade eyes tells me she’s never met someone who draws her in that way.
“Someday…” I hesitate, not sure this is a conversation I want to be having. “Someday, you’ll… understand.”
“I’m not just gonna, bam, fall in love with a complete stranger.” Then she purses her lips. “Wait. You said I would understand. Does that mean you’ve been in love?”
I grimace. How did the conversation steer to this death trap? My ancient love life is the last thing I want to talk about.
“We’re not talking about me right now,” I say sternly. “And if you don’t stop interrupting, I’ll never tell you what happens to Snake and Falcon.”
“Okay, okay!” she concedes. “What happens?”
“It took a minute for the water to have an effect on Snake, but when it did, she awakened, sputtering, flailing, and choking on the water she’d now inhaled. Falcon took the abuse of her rampaging arms, dragging her up to the surface where she spat water in his face, gasping for air and clinging to him.”
“So romantic,” Sam mutters.
“Anyway,” I say really loudly, overtop her commentary, “when Snake calmed down enough to realize what happened, she locked gazes with Falcon and…” I grimace.
“Okay, gotta go!” I shout, disappearing into the ether, hearing Sam’s shriek of horror when she finally realizes what I said.
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