The night was a quiet one, save for the crackles of the dying fire and the low tones of Klavier’s somber humming. The last four nights had been devastatingly quiet since Phoenix gave himself up. Trucy still sobbed herself to sleep, not that Ema could blame her. The younger Skye sister went through much of the same after that fateful night in Kurain Village two years ago.
It was too much, she supposed. Even if Klavier’s voice spurred them onwards on the battlefield, it didn’t seem to do a lot for them now.
Phoenix Wright wasn’t a particularly bold presence nowadays. Everywhere he went, it was his reputation that did the talking for him, though Ema could make an argument for the man’s spiky hair. Whatever the case, he still left a big impact on their group. She knew Phoenix wasn't Trucy's biological father, but they loved each other just the same. Even more than that, he gave Trucy and others a ragtag family. He did have a penchant for picking up orphans.
Trucy had it worse. Trucy didn’t know if Phoenix was still alive either. As much as they were on the run, Ema was fully aware of the target on the man’s back, and who knew what the Ortans would do to him now that they had their hands on him. The Dark Flier could relate. It had been two years since she last saw her sister, and she had no idea if Lana were alive or dead. All she had was Lana’s black pegasus and an unwavering faith that kept pushing her forward.
The amount of dead or missing family members among the group was depressing.
As the majority of the group fell asleep, or at least stopped stirring, Ema tossed another spark into the woodpile. She volunteered for first watch more times than what was probably her fair share, and after ignoring Kay’s suggestions (okay, Kay’s insistence ), the ninja stayed up with her. Normally, Phoenix would volunteer himself (he had a knack for that sort of thing, whether it was for first watch or surrendering himself), and it was his age that kept everyone else from immediately disagreeing. Young enough to be able to sacrifice sleep, and old enough to give the “dad look.”
Plus, if Ema stayed up, she could get some more practice in. Better to be prepared than to be trying out the scientific method on the battlefield.
Ema wasn’t concerned about her lancework. As tricky as handling a Bolt Lance was, she had it long enough to figure out the real power was in the magic, not the metal. Her wind magic was coming along too. She might not be that talented of a mage, but she doubted not even the highest Ortan arcanists could claim they could whip up a fierce gale while locked in a steep nosedive on a pegasus. Wind magic was widely regarded as the weakest of elemental spells, but damn was it useful.
No, she wasn’t worried about that either.
Her pegasus, Blue— Lana’s pegasus —was a heavy sleeper. Waking him up after the sun already set was a hard task. Slipping a thick tome out of the satchel hanging off his haunches wasn’t going to be a challenge either.
Ema was never a fan of fire magic. It was hard to control like wind magic, but with more raw, devastating potential. It lacked the precision thunder magic had, blistering and broiling, leaving a wide swath of destruction.
She met the wrong side of a blade on more than one occasion, but those encounters left thin marks that healed cleanly. Fire was a different beast altogether, snarling and snapping, hissing and searing. Those kind of scars could be hidden, but those blistering marks never truly faded no matter how much time had passed. Even then, Lana had a gift for fire magic, but there was a particular spell she favored.
Bolganone was a peculiar spell. Many a scholar classified it as fire magic, but it never behaved like a beast to be restrained, where a single instant of distraction cause a catastrophe. To Ema, Bolganone felt like a power in her gut, a pressure yearning—but not fighting—to be released. Although the more she thought about it, maybe that was just because she couldn’t actually cast the spell properly yet.
According to the books she read when she was younger, Bolganone summoned a geyser of lava, which sounded terrifying enough on its own. The sheer power behind such a spell was nearly unfathomable to Ema, and Kay was skeptical herself despite their close encounters with flame. Even most well-versed scholar strayed away from Bolganone like it was dark magic, something arcane and almost forbidden.
That didn’t stop it from being Lana’s favorite spell, one can she could call upon with a curl of her fingertips. It wasn’t technically dark magic; unlike light magic or elemental magic, it was almost always summoned from something like a tome, otherwise the cost of casting it was simply too . . . high. It wasn’t something Ema liked to think about.
Ema dashed several yards away from the campsite. She was close enough to see the flickering fire, but far enough not to wake the others on the off-chance she managed to do more than just make the ground bubble. At this point, the others were used to finding weird patches of earth dotting a circle around the campsite. She flicked open the red leather-bound tome, and on cue Kay landed silently next to her.
“It’s kinda more fun when people flinch when I do that.” Kay wrinkled her nose, tugging at the length of scarf wrapped around her neck.
“Old tricks don’t tend to impress.” Ema stepped a few paces away, raising her hand. She didn’t expect much for this attempt either, but science taught her to be wary of outliers. “Of course, I don’t think you’d want me to wake up the others. We just got Trucy to sleep.”
“Hm. You’re right.”
“What else is new?”
Kay snorted, rubbing her nose. She settled against a tree, sliding down to plant herself on the ground. While she usually didn’t have much to add in the ways of improving Ema’s technique, Ema was still grateful for the moral support. The company was never awful either.
Breathe . Ema told herself. I just need to breathe.
She cradled the spine of the tome in the palm of her hand, extending her other hand like she was reaching out for something. Something like the power behind the spell was something she could hold, something she could mold and shape.
The feeling of a fire spell was unique. Wind felt like pins and needles, cold pins and needles that tingled and spread from the base of her neck to her fingertips, like a thawing stream in the springtime.
She could never quite understand how Lana could make a smattering of sparks with a wave of her fingers. From experience, she knew fire magic was a different beast altogether. In Ortan schools of magic, apprentices would learn how to conjure a single spark. Once they could control fire, thunder and wind came easily. Magic was alive, like any other creature, but Fire was by far the most unruly.
The magic started from her stomach, bubbling and simmering like a pot coming to a boil. The feeling spread in ebbs and flows, just barely willing to be contained. Not for the first time, Ema wondered how pure fire would feel. Anyone could learn how to start a campfire, and someone could learn to cast an ember just as easily. Easily enough to say, burn down an entire village —
The smoke was everywhere. It was hot, blistering hot. She could barely feel the comforting pressure of Lana’s hand around her own. Her sister’s other hand was wrapped tight around the reins of her pegasus—
Everyone was screaming. The children were crying. Did they find Lana and her sister? Did he find them?
I can’t breathe.
Lana’s hand slipped out of hers, pushing Ema onto the saddle, urging her not to look back.
I can’t breathe .
Ema was clinging on to the reins, trying to turn around far enough without throwing herself off the saddle. Lana had disappeared into the thick, hazy smoke, and Blue started galloping.
I can’t breathe.
The stupid pegasus wouldn't stop, no matter how much Ema tugged at the reins and screamed. Blue’s wings unfurled, and with a single flap, they were launched into the dark sky.
I can’t breathe .
Kay had pushed herself off the ground, launching herself at Ema. The tome had fallen out of her hand, and Ema had sunk to her knees. Kay rubbed soothing circles on Ema’s back, for once keeping her comments to herself. This wasn't the first time this happened, with Ema flashing back to that night in Kurain Village wasn't exactly an uncommon occurrence. But Ema being Ema would be too stubborn to stop until it was time for the second watch. She'd master the damn spell if it was the last thing she'd do.
“I'm okay,” Ema breathed, allowing Kay to help her to her feet. “I'm okay.”
No, Kay wanted to say. You're not.
But the only thing stronger than Ema Skye's pride was her persistence, her resolve.
So Kay picked up the tome, brushing imaginary dirt off the crisp leather, and handed it to Ema.
“I'll get this spell,” Ema swore. “I'll master it.”
Kay didn't doubt it.
She kept a watchful eye on Ema, as well as the shifting stars in the sky. Once again, Ema managed to get a patch on the ground boiling like water in a kettle, but no lava. The others in the group stirred occasionally. It was getting close to switching to the second watch, meaning they had to wake up Klavier and Apollo soon.
Apollo had been insistent on taking first watch. Everyone knew that, after Phoenix, Apollo was the de facto leader of their ragtag group. Apollo was well aware of that too, insisting on taking first watch. Ema and Klavier had shot down his idea almost immediately. Even if Apollo’s insistence came from something like pride or a need to prove himself, they were already running themselves ragged.
The last thing they needed was their leader to pass out on the battlefield.
So he conceded with taking second watch before Kay knocked him out with whatever ninja moves she had up her sleeve, unless Clay somehow intercepted her. Ema threatened the poor guy with zapping him with her magic (not that she figured out any kind of sleeping spell). In the end, Klavier beat her to the punch, practically swooping the poor archer off his feet.
Normally, Apollo put up a fight. The fact he closed his eyes immediately meant he was pushing himself harder than normal, which was still saying a lot.
Unfortunately, they were all pushing themselves hard. Too hard. Between Ema, Clay, and Klavier, they had enough mounts so the little ones didn't have to brave the hike (wherever they were going), but even their natural energy was beginning to wane.
It didn't help that they weren't sure what their goal was anymore. Sure, they were wandering from place to place, trying to survive, but Phoenix constantly hinted at something else, with cryptic words and what felt like half-truths. Like he felt like it was something they should know about, but he wasn't quite sure it was the right time to bring it up. And he constantly hinted that it (whatever it was) was so much bigger than them. Like it had to do with that night in Kurain Village two years ago, and that one way or another, they were all connected to that incident.
It was too much to think about, especially this late.
Ema sighed, shutting the tome with a heavy clunk . It was time to wake up Apollo and Klavier for second watch.