Ardent had been walking for an hour or so when she decided to take a break. She was in one of the nicer sections of the Broken Lands. The well-trodden path wended through a forest of tall trees in a bizarre mix of varieties: towering redwoods next to bamboo and palm trees. She’d made her ears goat-like again days ago, fashionable or not, but forgotten to restore her callouses when she left the Moon Etherium. Her subconscious probably hoped she wouldn’t want them at the Sun Etherium. She sighed at herself. At least her hooves were still as tough as ever, and with modern traveling boots, the journey would only take a couple of hours.
Ardent sat on a fallen log beside a break in the tree cover, and took a beef-stuffed bun from her pack. She ate part of it, noticed a few sparrows watching her eat, and tore off a few little bites to throw to them. A few more birds arrived to fight for crumbs, so she tore off more pieces for them. Then she noticed a big cream-white bird circling overhead, with purple streaks outlining its pinions, and long slim tail feathers streaming behind it in the wind. Ardent stared. “No.”
She walked into the clearing, still staring up at the sky. The cream-and-purple bird dropped lower, and landed on a branch of one of the conifers, peering back at her. Ardent clucked at it, and held out a bite of bread in one hand.
The animal glided the several yards between them to land on her outstretched arm. Fey-invulnerable skin dented beneath its purple talons, but didn’t mar. The phoenix rose poked its beak at the bite of bread, but sat back on her forearm instead of eating it. It ruffled its feathers as it settled in. “What. All right. Just. What. There is no way I stumbled across a phoenix rose in the middle of the fey shard. One who just happened to decide to perch on me. You’re a fey in phoenix-rose shape?” She cast the verification spell to learn its aether signature. It did have one. The signature had a few of the properties of a Sun fey turned barbarian, but otherwise looked nothing like any aether signature she’d ever seen before. Ardent spent aether to put a cage around the animal.
It evaded the cage to circle over her head, with an irritated coo. “Jino did not.” She tried to pin the bird with aether, and it evaded her spell again, then came down and landed on her head. “You must be a fey. I refuse to believe that Jino affiliated the phoenix rose with the Sun Etherium and then kicked it out.” She shook her head, and it jumped off, then landed on her shoulder. “No. That’s just…no. He worked too hard to get that bird.” Ardent cast spell after spell to enhance her senses, to reveal spellwork, to pierce any glamour or shift. She even checked for a trueshift, although the animal was far too small to be any trueshifted fey older than a toddler. The phoenix rose possessed fey evasion, fey invulnerability, and fey elusiveness, so it could not be touched, harmed, or imprisoned against its will. It did not have fey immortality. It had a spell to increase its flight speed and maneuverability. And that was it. It was exactly the bird it looked like it was.
Ardent threw her head back and laughed. The phoenix rose gave a querulous coo, then buried its head in her thick mass of kinky hair. Still shaking her head, Ardent continued on her way to the Sun Etherium.
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