Part 1 of 7
He should have seen it before. No, he did see it, he just didn’t want to believe it.
He still didn’t want to believe it. He didn’t want to live in a world where the one he thought was his best friend had lied to him for years. A world in which he didn’t know his best friend at all.
Cody met him when he was seven.
He shuffled after his parents as they entered the flower shop. The bell above the door rang as it closed behind him. Cody never liked this shop. Flowers were supposed to smell fresh, but this shop managed to be musty even while filled with the most fragrant flowers. Cody wanted to go back outside, but the look his father gave him was enough warning.
He stood in front of a big yellow rose. The flower looked bulbous on the thin thorny stem. Unnatural. He glanced to where his parents were talking with the shopkeep in the back of the store. Their voices were strangely muffled in the oppressing atmosphere of the room. He turned the other way, staying close to the small windows of the door.
He passed a tall woody plant, intending to look at the fluffy green flowers with pink stems that he liked. That’s when he saw him. Cody froze in his tracks and stared at the creature sitting right in front of the only flower in this store he actually liked. Long red feathers shone in the flickering light of the oil lamps. Bright amber eyes locked with his, glowing from the inside. A fire burned within them. A fire that called to him. He couldn’t look away. The fire grew bigger and bigger, consumed everything in his view. He saw nothing except for the fire, the eyes.
A warmth spread deep within him; an answering fire that sprouted in his soul. It spread from his chest to his arms and legs, until he could feel his own eyes glow with it. The fire in the amber eyes flared. It shot over into his own, much brighter and hotter than his. It seared through his veins, entered his mind, his soul. The flames settled there like a warm hearth in his chest, right under his lungs. The fire in his vision faded. He looked into the eyes of his familiar and smiled.
The phoenix didn’t smile back, but his eyes glimmered. A warm happiness spread from the hearth into Cody’s mind. It wasn’t his emotion, it was that of his familiar. Distantly, he could feel his own emotions transferring to the phoenix as well. Through their bond of fire and magic. It felt amazing.
The muffled voices of his parents drifted from the back of the shop. It sounded like they were wrapping up. Cody grinned at the thought of his familiar coming home with him. He held out his arm in invitation. The phoenix leaped onto it eagerly. He was as big as a crow, causing Cody’s arm to sag under the weight, but with effort he managed to hold him up. Cody was glad he wasn’t any bigger, like he’d always imagined phoenixes to be. He stroked his hand over the feathers on the phoenix’ back, feeling the smooth texture. The phoenix closed his eyes in pleasure and squeezed his claws to keep his balance. The sharp claws pinched Cody’s arm, just soft enough not the rip his sleeve. He pressed his head back against Cody’s hand, showing off the delicate thin curve of his neck, accentuated by the feathers laying flat against it. The colours seemed to flicker and dance just like actual fire.
It hit him then, that he’d bonded to this beautiful creature. A phoenix had chosen him as its companion. A legendary creature…
His parents appeared from around the tall plant in the direction of the door, they froze just like he’d done just a while ago. Their eyes moved from the phoenix on his arm to him. They looked at him like they’d never seen him before.
“Cody… What is this?”
He watched their dumbfounded expressions. This, this was proof that he really belonged at the Young Presenters Academy. His grades didn’t matter. He couldn’t help the grin that spread on his face as he told his mother, “This is my familiar.”
That day, that moment, was burned into his mind just like the magic was. Even now the hearth still burned, even now the emotions of his familiar flowed out of it; worry. Of course he was worried. He could feel Cody’s mixed emotions, his suspicion, his pain. He might even suspect that Cody figured it out.
How proud he’d been to be chosen by a phoenix. How his parents had fawned over him. A memory now tinged with resentment. The worry grew stronger in the hearth. Was the fire even real?
Born of fire. That’s what his name meant. The irony wasn’t lost on him.
His grandmother helped him choose the name. “Names should have meaning,” she said. They went through dozens of books before they found the perfect name. Kenny; a shortened version of a name meaning ‘born of fire’. Kenny loved it. He positively preened when Cody explained it to him, but something was off in his emotions. He was proud of the name and its meaning, but it was a superficial pride. It didn’t resonate. Cody wasn’t sure what to make of it. He thought he’d probably misunderstood it, it was a subtle difference after all.
He knew better now.
There were many more moments like this which on their own wouldn’t have been notable, but all together they should have clued him in. But he forgave himself for not noticing it. He was a child, and he’d been far too excited about bonding with a phoenix to ever suspect anything was wrong. He’d trusted Kenny, as he should, because that’s how familiar bonds work. If you don’t trust each other… they fall apart.
He wasn’t sure what he would do if their bond broke. If the hearth that had warmed him all those years suddenly disappeared. He was painfully aware of how dependent he’d grown on the comforting presence.
But he couldn’t keep living a lie like this. Kenny’s last burning had finally shattered the illusion he’d been holding onto for years. An illusion that should have broken long ago. Because while he could excuse himself the little hints he’d missed as a child, this oversight was too much; Phoenixes don’t burn yearly.