#00.02 – The Blue Phoenix

For days, months and years, the Founders heard nothing from him,
until one day, his blue flames burst into view against the crimson of the rising dawn.
The Blue Phoenix has returned, bearing excellent news.
He has found the land where the Kingdom of Tomorrow can be built…

~ History of Cras, Book 1, Chapter 1, Lines 29-32

The first day of the cruise passed by without much incident. By afternoon we arrived in France, was treated to a grand tour of the brilliant Paris, and given free time to shop around. Of course, given how little interest we had in buying things, we spent most of our time sightseeing and visiting the touristy areas. We were then carried across the border to Germany where we had dinner. Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the uneventful ocean journey seemed to have calmed my father somewhat, as he soon indulged himself in the vacation. We spent more time on this day fascinated at the lack of border control and the colder weather than lounging on the expensive cruise.

The second morning, the day of my birthday, Uncle woke up with a great headache. He managed to grab breakfast with us, but quickly found himself puking out the contents and crawling back to bed within the next few hours.

Since no one else on the ship was getting as sick as he was, the doctor on the cruise determined that it was likely a stomach bug.

“You should take him to a hospital,” he told my father.

But Uncle said no. He asked for some medication and ‘alone’ time, telling my father to enjoy my birthday with me. He lay pale and green-faced under the covers, as my father and I stood beside his bed with our hands together. There was reluctance, of course. How could we leave our friend alone in despair when we came out here to have fun together?

“It’s Emily’s birthday,” Uncle persisted. His tanned face looked whiter than ever, and he seemed to be holding back vomit as he spoke. At the end of his words he broke into a hair-raising cough, clasped a hand over his mouth, and swallowed.

“Look at you right now,” my father said. “Maybe the new air isn’t doing well for you. Let’s go home.”

Those words cut through me, like icy daggers on a hot summer day. Uncle must have seen my expression. As though he has forgotten his condition, he grabbed my father’s hand with so much force that I felt shaken as well.

A silent conversation seemed to pass between them. My father turned to me, his expression a lot calmer than I expected. “Emily, can you wait outside for a while?”

The corridor was empty, since most of the occupants were either out on the streets or having fun in other parts of the ship. There wasn’t much I could hear from the metal door where Uncle and my father were at. Once in a while, I could hear audible mumbles in my father’s voice, which would have sounded thunderous if the door didn’t muffle it. I couldn’t hear Uncle’s replies, though I didn’t know if it was because he was calm or because of his illness.

My father was not one to raise his voice. In those ten years of my life, he had only ever gotten angry with me when I almost drowned while attempting to get to Cras. He even threatened to take the History of Cras from me. But that was about as angry as I have ever seen him.

Something was different about my father that day, and I do believe it started ever since Uncle brought the tickets to us. It had something to do with Cras, as I found out later, but ignorant little me simply stood alone in the cold corridor, alone and uncertain, staring at the metal door beyond which the father I loved might have become an unfamiliar man.

Minutes later he emerged, his face pale and tired. He shut the door behind him with enough force to rock the boat.

“Are you okay, Daddy?” I asked.

There must have been something in my voice or on my face; my father’s frustration blew away, and with an apologetic smile he rubbed his large hand on my head.

“Aw, my little Emi. Sorry about that. Were you lonely?” He scooped me up into his arms, and held me at face-level. I clutched his collar, staring deep into the same blue eyes I had inherited from him.

I shook my head. “You just looked angry.”

“Mm-hm, I was. But it’s not your fault. Daddy isn’t scary when he’s angry, right?”

“You are,” I said.

“Oh.” He looked surprised. “Time to fix that then!”

With a cry, he tossed me upwards, missing the ceiling by a few millimetres. I cried out on reflex, grabbing onto his shirt for dear life. He probably mistook my cries as laughter, as my father tossed me up again, higher than before, and the brain-rattling impact I had with the ceiling made his scream sound all the much worse.

The rest of the day was spend on my father treating me to all the sweets and desserts I liked, while he attempted to rub ice on the back of my head to swell the bump that had formed. The cruise was going to travel to Denmark during the night, and my father had already planned to celebrate my birthday during the journey. He let me pick out anything I wanted for my birthday present, and I decided on this adorable white watch with tiny angel wings printed on its face, and a blue crystal on its hour hand. For my birthday cake, we went with an enormous vertical log cake that was decorated like a tree.

I was tactful enough to refrain from mentioning Uncle, but as we headed back to the ship at dusk, I knew we had to face the subject again.

“Can we share the cake with Uncle?” I asked, my voice quiet.

To my surprise, my father nodded without a drop in his smile. It was as though the argument they had before didn’t even happen, and as though everything was going to be alright.

But it wasn’t. Uncle was gone from our room, with just a note saying “Happy Birthday Emily” and letter addressed to my father. We ran around the ship looking for anyone who might have known where he had gone, and was informed that he received a call for work, and had to leave urgently. The cruise ship had called a private boat over to carry him back to America.

For a while, neither my father nor I said anything. My birthday cake, coated with white chocolate and decorated like a snowy tree in winter, sat on the table in the corner of our room. Loss had engulfed us. Loss and anxiety and anger.

My father was seething, as far as I could tell. I snuggled close by his side, gripping his arm.

“Do you want to give him a call?” I asked. Back in those days, mobile phones had only tiny screens and buttons on its body, but a call crossing international borders was already possible, albeit a little expensive and inefficient. However, my father shook his head, forced a smile, and led me to my birthday cake.

“My little Emily is turning ten today,” he said, smiling. “Ten candles for ten years.”

We stood across each other on the table, filling the tree with colourful candles. My father lit them up with a lighter he had borrowed from a staff, and turned off the lights. All that was there, in the middle of the room, was the white tree-cake glowing in the darkness, the candle’s flames bouncing off our faces, as father and daughter stared at each other across the cake.

I looked at him, and he looked at me. Perhaps my gaze held for too long; he broke into an awkward laugh and reached over to rub my head.

“Dear little Emi,” he said. “You look just like your mother.”

My father rarely spoke about my mother, and I have long learned not to broach the subject — it always seemed to hurt him somehow. But always, on my birthday, he would exclaim how beautiful I was becoming, and how much I was reminding him of my mother. That day, over the birthday cake, my father looked at me with the same hurt-filled, loving expression he had every year, and he came close to give me a strong kiss on my cheek. He carried me in his arms, I filled my hands with his face, and together we bent down to blow out the candles.

Though it was a bad idea, we had our fill of cake before dinner time, and kept half of it for later (there was no limit to how much pastry we could consume in a day). We took a shower together, but I was insistent on drying and dressing myself (my father had little talent with my tiny buttons and zips, and had broken so many of them that I had more ruined clothes than days in a year). I went to our luggage to seek out a nice blue pinafore dress with a flower print I adore, but a piece of folded paper fell out when I picked up the dress. It was a letter, addressed to me, signed in Uncle’s name, and folded several times over so that it could hide itself between the folds. Nothing on the letter made sense — it was written with symbols and alphabets which I couldn’t decipher; but my eyes lingered on their squiggly shapes and lines.

It dawned on me… that I have seen them before.

It didn’t take me long to figure it out; after all, I’ve read that book so many times that I could practically memorise every single particle it was made of. I pulled it out of my backpack, and with trembling fingers, traced the golden threads that framed the leather cover of the book.

The History of Cras had the exact same language written all over its cover.

Why would Uncle write a letter with that language? And to me? Was it a secret code? Is there a clue in the letter, or in the book? It didn’t seem likely that Uncle would make a joke at a time like this. Is he trying to tell me something? Something that my father shouldn’t know?

“Emily?” My father stood at the door of the bathroom, his eyes going between me, the book, and the letter in my hands. “What is that?”

“I… I found it…,” I said, but held the letter close to my chest. He pried it from my hands, gave it a quick glance, and for a moment his face went pale.

“Do you know what it says?” I asked.

He stared at me, to the book lying by my side, then back again.

“It’s a secret code I made with him,” he said. “We based it off the runes on the History of Cras.”

“Runes?” I asked.

“Those symbols.”

“…Why did he write me a letter in runes?”

My father folded the letter and pushed it into his pocket. “Probably as a joke.”

“You didn’t laugh though.”

“Because it wasn’t funny.”

Something was wrong. I packed my backpack, keeping a careful eye on my father, and the pocket where he kept the letter. “What did he say in the letter?”

He looked at me, his face unreadable. My father, whom I’d spent my whole life with, seemed alien even to me. For a moment, I thought someone had taken my father and replaced him with a total stranger whom I could barely understand.

And that was all it took. A bit of fear and uncertainty erupted inside of me, and spilled in a fountain of tears that shook my father. As I bawled in the middle of our room, he crouched down in front of me, concern and love on his face, and held me close to his chest.

“He said to tell you ‘Happy 10th Birthday’,” my father explained, kissing me on my cheek. “Sorry, Emily. Daddy was just jealous. I didn’t mean to get angry at you.”

“You were scary,” I said through my tears. “It’s like you weren’t my daddy anymore.”

“I’m always your daddy, Emily. From the beginning till forever and ever.” He choked, and for a moment it seemed like he had forgotten to breathe. “And remember… I’ll always be with you, right here. Even when I’m not with you, or when I’m long gone, I’ll always be… right here.”

The finger he placed against my chest, on top of my heart, was like fire against my body. And I never forgot the heat of that finger, or his strength as he embraced me, not even right now as I speak to all of you. Charles Winters was a strong man who loved his family, and it was his love that pushed me to become what I am now.

That night, as we were brushing our teeth, I noticed a shine of blue against the night sky from our tiny window. I rushed towards it, my toothbrush still in my mouth, just to see the last of its blue flames disappear against the night.

“Did you see that Daddy?” I asked, practically jumping against the window. “Maybe it was the Blue Phoenix!”

When I looked back, my father stared at me, toothpaste all over his mouth. His brows furrowed, and his eyes seemed to shimmer against the light. When he turned away, I thought I saw a tear fall, but I was never able to confirm it.

“Yes, that was probably the Blue Phoenix,” he said through his toothbrush, and quickly rinsed his mouth and face. Then, as I stood at the door, wondering if he really did cry, he looked up with the widest smile I have ever seen, and scooped me up into his arms with a bounce.

“Tonight is the first night where Emily is ten!” he shouted. “It’s going to be a great night!”

“It’s just like every other night, Daddy,” I laughed.

“No no, I think we both learned some important lessons today. And tomorrow is our last day of cruise too, so we should rest well and enjoy it to the fullest!”

The cruise will be heading back to America the following night. And we would be back home. We’ll find Uncle, make sure he is okay, and everything will be as they used to.

 


 

My father couldn’t wake up the next morning. Instead, growling in his sleep, he grasped onto the bedsheets for dear life as he begged for the pain to stop. The doctor on the cruise came and had a look at him, and determined that it was of a similar condition to what Uncle had the previous day.

With Uncle, it might have just been an issue with his health. But with two people now down, the cruise began to fear that it might be something else; an illness, or perhaps even something in the food or facilities on the cruise.

I sat by my father’s bedside, holding back tears. While I was indeed upset that the last day of our cruise would be spent uneventfully, it was also hard to see my father look so deathly pale. It was a different experience than with Uncle; this time, I felt as though something was shaving away a part of my soul.

My father finally regained consciousness around noon, and he looked towards me with bloodshot eyes full of tears and apologies, though his mouth was too dry to speak. I gave him water, fed him some light porridge (which he vomited shortly after), and kissed his face and hugged him.

“You’ll be okay,” I said, but it was more of a comfort for myself than for him.

The doctor suggested that my father head to a nearby hospital, but knowing that the stay might be long, my father figured it might be best to endure it all the way till we return to America. I, of course, felt like he was being hypocritical, especially after the fight he had with Uncle, but I couldn’t bear to argue with him. I stayed by his side that whole day, holding the rest of my birthday cake in my lap, hoping and praying that the sight of it might make my father instantly better (he really loved sweets). But it didn’t. When my father saw me sitting there with the cake, he laughed, knowing my intentions.

When the doctor came in to check on him around dinner time, my father called me over, and rubbed my head.

“I heard them say that this is our last hour in Europe,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “Why don’t you go out to the streets and buy me some juice?”

I shook my head. “It’s not safe for a 10-year-old to be out alone.”

He cracked a smile. “You’re not just any normal 10-year-old, are you? You’re an adventurous kid that tried to swim across the pacific. And all I need is some juice. You can get it for me, can’t you?”

When I didn’t budge, he gave the doctor a glance, then pulled me close to him. He whispered, “Actually, the doctor wants me to get an injection. But he says he won’t give me one if you’re not around. You know how scary needles are. Help Daddy out, please?”

It was obviously a lie, but when I looked to the doctor, he nodded profusely as well. My father smiled, pleading, and it was then that I finally decided to help him get his juice.

The sun was setting on Copenhagen as I exited the cruise, and the purple, red and orange evening seemed to meld nicely with the orange lamps on the streets. I asked around for the nearest place I could get juice, and was directed to a quaint European-styled café just a road across. It was probably dinner time, because the café was full of people, and I ordered a pack of orange juice and apple juice, realising that I had forgotten to ask my father what juice he wanted. Whichever he chose, I could take the other.

With the juices in hand, I hurried back onto the cruise with a returning crowd. Some cruise staff had started to raise a signal, asking its passengers to return. Apparently there was going to be some horrid weather incoming, and they wanted to leave early to avoid the worst of it.

There were laughter and cries from the couples and families around me, and a few kids around my age screaming about how they didn’t want their vacation to end. To be honest, I felt like joining their screams as well, but I wished for the boat to hurry back as quickly as possible so that my father could finally go to a hospital. We’d meet Uncle, who would hopefully have seen a doctor as well, and we’ll all be well and together again.

But my father wasn’t in his room. His bed was untidy and crumpled, and seemed only recently vacated. The doctor’s bag and instruments were gone as well.

It was just like what happened with Uncle. I must have dropped the juices then, because their packs broke and leaked all over my shoes. Where did my father go? Did he leave me? He couldn’t have.

I dashed out.

“Have you seen my father? Have you seen my father?” I screamed in the face of every cruise staff and adult that I came across. “Charles Winters! His name is Charles Winters!”

I checked every room on every level, endured shouts from concerned or annoyed adults, ran up and down the cruise, and even checked the doctor’s room. Nothing. A staff caught me, and told me to relax. I asked again, “Have you seen my father? His name is Charles Winters!” Another staff told me that he thought he had seen him on the deck, and tried to grasp my hand before I ran out, towards the large deck where the last crowds were returning.

The sunset was reaching its end. Storm clouds were approaching. My father was still nowhere in sight.

I ran to a staff member who stood at the cruise’s exit, and asked if they had seen my father. Nothing. She suggested I return to my room, as it wouldn’t make sense for the doctor to take an ill person far. Perhaps they have returned?

But they hadn’t. I returned to our room, juice spreading all over the floor, and no sign of my father anywhere.

It was night. A few flashes went outside the window. The cruise had begun to move, and I feared that my father might have left the ship and left me behind. An announcement rang overhead, but I couldn’t hear it. There was some kind of an emergency, but my father… my father!

I ran onto the deck, and only then did I realise that it was raining. A staff member from the upper deck noticed me, and shouted at me. There were lights blaring at the side of the ship, red white, red white, and another staff opened the door to the deck, gesturing for me to come over. I screamed at them that I was looking for my father.

Then the world spun.

It was perhaps only a momentary turn, but I found myself on my back, sliding across the wet deck as though it was ice. The edge of the rails came rushing towards the back of my head, and a giant wave of salt water towered above me, engulfing my lungs right as I collided with them. Its temperature was like ice cold daggers digging into my skin.

The next moment, I was thrown back in the opposite direction.

I could hear some screams and shouts telling me to stay still. A rope was thrown towards me, but before I could grasp it, another wave tossed the ship and I was sliding to the other side. No, the railings were gone now. I was sliding off the ship.

Salt water entered my nose and mouth. My insides burned. My eyes hurt as I tried to see where I was, and I had to shut them.

I could hear my father’s words, his pale face, his sick form, looking at me from his bed with his hand on my head. “You’re not just any normal 10-year-old, are you? You’re an adventurous kid that tried to swim across the pacific.”

Yes, I tried that. And I almost drowned. I almost drowned, my father saved me, and he threatened to take the History of Cras away from me in fear that I might lose my life one day.

I kicked my legs. I tried to get up onto the surface. There was a storm, but I just had to keep my head above the water, to breathe, to survive. The water was cold. I kicked and kicked, but I could barely feel how far I was going. My body was numb. I was blind in the dark and in the water. And all I could feel were the waves threatening to kill me.

I found out much later that my father had merely gone for a medical test and had gone to look for me when he heard how desperately I had been screaming his name. I found out that, when he heard I had fallen off the ship, he screamed for the entire cruise to stop and for a search party to be sent out, but the storm had made it too dangerous for his demands to be heard.

When they tried to look for me the next day, they had little hopes for my survival. And my father, succumbing to his illness and loss, fell into a coma.

And me, alone and lost and possibly half-dead, woke up three days later in a cave. Surrounding me, with giant eyes and child-like features, was a family of five dwarfs.

Book 0: Cras Kingdom – TO BE CONTINUED