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Rainy Days, by Chris Siebers

An unrelenting greyness cloaked the afternoon sky in the drab colors of a thunderstorm as dark rain clouds wept down upon the solitary traveler trudging over the lonely expanse of road that lead to the small town protectively nestled in the valley of the great fire mountain. The diminutive wanderer wore a dark black mantle belted at the waist that blended in well with her surroundings and matched the sour expression on her long face.

What little of the straggly red hair that could be seen from beneath the cowl she wore pulled tight over her head was tinted a muddy brown in the darkness. Blinking wide golden eyes that filled up most of her pale face to keep the water out of them, Ren did her best to ignore the rain that ran down her cheeks like tears. There was no point in trying to dry herself off until she was in a place where she could stay dry.

After hours of walking through the track of muck and mud that served as the only road into the valley the traveler could see faint lights winking in the distance. It took a few moments before the sight penetrated Ren's travel dulled mind. When she realized that the town and more importantly the Inn was within range Ren sped up her pace. There were three things in the world that Ren absolutely detested and they were, water, darkness, and being cold. Right now she had all three and she wasn't happy about it.

"If only there had been a better way to get to fire mountain. But I can't fly there. Someone might see me flying and there are enough rumors about that place as it is. Why add to that stories of a woman with wings of fire sticking out of her back? Not that too many people would be stupid enough to go hunting in a mountain where a phoenix was sighted. Even so, it's best not to take chances," The petite fire mage thought to herself as she approached the vacant courtyard of the town's inn. She was definitely not ordinary and those who were different were feared. Frightened people could do terrible things that ordinarily they wouldn't consider doing.

Wanting to live as normal a life as she could despite her heritage, Ren was glad she looked so much like a cross between a normal human and the bird-like Aerials. Half Aerials weren't feared as much as Ren feared she would be once the truth of her parentage were known. Besides, she was half Aerial. Her amber bird-like eyes and the graceful lines of her delicate face clearly attested to that fact.

The savory sent of cooking meat and tangy smells of liquor poured out of the door as Ren entered the well-populated inn. It seemed that the reason no one had been on the road was because they were all packed into the inn. Pushing the hood of her cloak back, Ren shook the excess water from her chin.

If it hadn't been for the fact that Ren needed to be dry in the worst way, she would have turned around right then and continued up the mountain. The warmth of the Inn enfolded her like the embrace of an old friend. A jovial atmosphere pervaded the overly stuffed room as patrons of varying sizes and shapes sat at cramped tables carrying on animated conversations punctuated by boughts of rancous laughter.

With a quick snap of her wrist Ren caught a small hand that had aimed itself at her belt pouch. Glancing down at the little thief, she shook her head. The boy whose hand she held could have been no more than 7 or 8 years old. He was thin as a rake with wide grey eyes that shimmered with fear at being caught and a mop of unruly hair the color of tree bark.

"Stealing is a dangerous way to live, especially if you aren't very good at it," Ren advised the young thief as her motherly instincts kicked in. The boy had obviously not eaten in many days.

Swallowing loudly the boy dropped his eyes to the floor. "I-I'm sorry. Wh-what are you going to do to me?"

"I am going to get something to eat, and so are you." Ren said decisively, pulling the boy through the throng of people up to the bar. The boy was so startled he was unable to object. He simply followed her meekly through the tavern plunking himself down on the stool next to the one she chose.

As Ren waited for her food to arrive she turned to glance appraisingly at her unwilling companion. "So do you have a name?"

"Uh-yeah, it's Megel," he admitted, nodding absently without really knowing why he was still talking to this strange woman with fire bright hair and gleaming golden eyes. Maybe it was the air of authority that seemed to surround her.

"That's a start. My name is Ren." Ren announced before turning to thank the server who had just brought two plates of food. "Well, go ahead and eat it before it gets cold," the redheaded mage admonished Megel as she started to dig into her own food. "After a day out in the cold this is just what I needed to warm myself up again."

Timidly at first and then with greater enthusiasm when he was certain the feast before him was truly his, Megel dug into his food. He was still somewhat suspicious of the odd lady who had given him this feast, but after several weeks of trying to live off of what he could beg borrow or steal he was in no condition to ignore such a gift.

"Whoa! Slow down and chew, you'll get sick if you eat it that fast!" Ren cautioned when it seemed as though Megel was going to try to swallow his potato whole.

Blushing a deep red, Megel forced himself to chew the potato, knowing that Ren was right. Having food wouldn't help if he made himself sick and lost it all. He was half-way through a thick slice of bread when a the sharp prick of a blade pressing against his neck made him freeze in place.

"What do you want?" Ren asked grabbing the dagger by the flat of the blade and stepping in between Megel and the obviously drunken patron.

"Hesh in my sheat," the burly drunk responded.

"Then we'll leave." Ren replied throwing a small pile of coppers down on the counter to pay for their meal. "Megel, gather your food. " Megel quickly grabbed all the food he could, and stuffed it into various pockets of his tattered brown cloak.

"Mind y-yer own business," The drunk turned with a weaving step and attempted to thrust his dagger at Ren. She ducked easily avoiding his clumsy attack and melted into the crowd following Megel out of the inn.

"We have to get out of here!" Megel cried casting terror-filled glances back at the inn. "That man was a part of a band of thieves that run this town. If his friends come after us we're done for!"

Just as he finished speaking inn door slammed open and two angry-looking men pushed and shoved their way out. Megel cringed and hid behind Ren who had shifted into a fighting stance. Ren let all the tension flow out of her body. Relaxed and calm, she waited for an opening. She knew her powers were reduced because of the inclement weather. But she knew that she could startle the fools well enough to get herself and the boy away safely.

The thieves, sporting evil-looking grins, descended upon Ren, shortswords reflecting the light of the inn at their small opponent. Holding herself still, Ren grasped the flat of each blade in her hands moving with the force of the blades' motion. Her eyes glowed eerily as she sent a concentrated burst of heat into the metal in her hands. The heat traveled down the blades into the hilt causing both men to lose their grip on their weapons.

With cries of agony the men dropped their weapons and took a step back, eyeing Ren warily.

Before they could regain their courage Ren took a step backwards and wrapped her arms firmly around Megel's chest. There were several more men coming out into the courtyard so there was no way they would be able to escape by foot. "So much for going unnoticed," Ren sighed in pain as wings made of fire unfolded from her back, burning through her cloak to pierce the darkness of the night. A deep breath helped to clear pain that always came with the release of her wings.

"Fu, and I really liked this cloak too," Ren pouted under her breath.

Muttering oaths to various deities the thieves stepped away from Megel and Ren, uncertain now about what they were dealing with. Many had seen a half-aerial before. The beings that looked human save for their bird like eyes and their ability to sprout wings from their backs at will. Very few people had seen a half-phoenix, half-aerial before. Like the half-aerials, Ren looked almost human save for her telltale eyes and the ability to sprout wings. However, unlike the ordinary bird like wings of the half-aerials, her wings were made of the burning feathers of a phoenix.

"Hold tightly onto me," Ren told the terrified boy in her arms as she jumped into the air. Light in a rainbow of colors and heat blazed from the feathers of her wings licking at the inky blackness as Ren rose into the air. The glow from her wings cast long shadows on the frightened thugs below.

Clutching onto Ren for dear life, Megel watched the inn recede from view. "Those are the worst thieves in the valley, they'll come after us."

"That's why we're going somewhere that they can't follow us."

Megel forced himself to ask the question though he already knew the answer. "Where could we possibly go that they wouldn't follow us?"

"Fire Mountain," was Ren's immediate answer.

"Are you crazy? We can't go to Fire Mountain! A Phoenix lives there!"

"And that is precisely why we are going there."

"No," Megel protested weakly, "we'll be eaten -- or worse! We can't!" It was at this precise moment that Megel seemed to realize they were flying in the air. He took one look at the wings of flame stretching out of Ren's back and promptly fainted.

As the boy shifted in Ren's arms he threw her wing-beats off balance for a moment and Ren wondered if this was such a good idea. She had no idea what her family would think of Megel. But she couldn't just leave the boy to the thieves, so what other choice was there? Finally managing to stabilize herself Ren sped towards her cliff side home and the dry fire waiting for her there. "Why did it have to be rain?" she grumped. "Bad things always happen when it rains."

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