Amis looked over his shoulder at his adopted little sister and exchanged a glance with his twin. She was trying as hard as she could to mimic the graceful movements of them practicing with their knives. The young human girl was using sticks that weren't quite the right weight, but they were good for her to get used to holding something while she moved. The twin elves were teaching her against all the rules in the book, but they knew she wouldn't misuse the skills that they were giving her. She might injure herself, but she won't go out on a killing spree just because they taught her how to fight.
Becky stopped when she realized that they were watching her, not sure if they were trying to tell her to be careful of something. Amos shook his head at her and signaled that they were going to stop. The thirteen year old jumped down from the branch she was hiding on, landing lightly on her feet just like the two had taught her. Amis handed her a water skin, letting his little sister drink the cool water before he took a swig of the liquid.
"So, how come you've come up here this time kid? Not that we're complaining or anything, but you seem to be spending more time up here than down with your real family." Amos asked, patting the ground beside him for her to sit at.
"Dad's been home a lot more lately and I don't really feel like dealing with him. If I'm not at home he can't yell at me or throw me out of the house." the girl sighed. "Besides, it's more fun up here anyways. I just go home to take care of the goats and then head back up here before I get caught. It's just like a game."
"Any idea why that bastard's staying home so much?" Amis asked, collapsing on the other side of her, surrounding her.
Becky gave him a nasty look. "My mom's pregnant again. He keeps blaming her being sick on me, but when I'm around, she doesn't want me to baby her. I'm damned if I do, I'm damned if I don't! I hate being the scrape goat!"
"Sh, little sister. We don't think you're a scrape goat. You get out of more stuff than we can and take the blame for junk that we do. You're not a piece of crap like your father keeps telling you, we really wish you'd listen when we tell you that." Amos soothed.
"Yeah, and if you ever want him killed, just say the word and we'll get the son of a bitch!" Amis added, hugging her fiercely.
"Hmp." the girl said, crossing her arms. "I don't want to add ammunition to your hatred of my father, but can you guess what he accused me of doing because I wasn't home the last time he was?"
"What did he say?" Amos asked quietly, trying to stay calm and resist the urge to hunt down the man that had hurt this innocent child so many times. It was unbelievable that she was still defending him.
"He asked me if I was doing drugs! I mean, where the hell would I get the money to do something stupid like that! " the girl exclaimed, vexed at even the thought of doing something like that. "I can't tell him that I come up here to get away from him, he doesn't understand that I'm afraid of him or that he really hurts me badly when he hits me. Amos, he's threatening to send me away to military school! I can't go there! I'd die!"
"If he does try that, you're not going to die. You're going to come and live with us, right Amos?!" Amis declared, looking at his brother for support.
"Amis is right. You should come up here the moment you get wind of him packing you up. Don't worry about anything, you already have enough clothes up here to wear and we'll make sure you have anything else you need." Amos said, hugging her to him. "We won't let anything happen to you, not if we can help it."
"Indeed, desert child. You have many friends up here in the forest." a deep voice replied as a young man, looking a little older than the twin elves, stepped out of the woods that surrounded the small meadow.
"Hey Sapphire! I missed you, you old nag!" Becky cried, jumping up to embrace the unicorn stallion in human form. "You've been gone for almost three months! Where'd you go?"
"We went away." he said simply, avoiding eye contact with the keeper.
"Grr! Why can't you just tell me! You made me your keeper, and I'm supposed to protect you! If you leave and won't let me go with you then I can't do my job! Why-" Becky started to rant, cut off by Sapphire pressing his finger to her lips.
"Hush. You have other things that you need to tend to. Where we went we knew that we won't come to harm. It is only here and a few other places we dare not trod that we are really in danger. I can't always take you with us, even though it looks like you may end up leaving your family. You know that Becky, even though you don't want to admit it. You try to protect more than you should have to, but you always try your best." Sapphire said, saying the last sentence so quietly that the girl didn't hear it even though the elves did. The three males exchanged a glance that said they needed to talk.
"Hey kid, can you go back to the village and get some more water? And maybe some food? You're better at conning food out of Fienda than we are. Maybe you could get a pastry or two for us to share when you get back?" Amis asked, patting the girl on the back to send her on her way.
"Sure, what ever!" she answered, sticking her tongue out at him as she ran off at a trot.
The three males watched until Becky's lithe form had disappeared into the forest before they sat down under the large oak.
"So, what happened that has you worried about our little human?" Amos asked, frowning.
"I talked to a seer in Mage. He asked why I had the phoenix's mark on me." Sapphire answered.
"So she really is-" Amis started, then shook his head.
"Yeah, but you know what will happen if anyone finds out besides the ones that already suspect." Amos said quietly nodding his head. "Did the seer say anything else?"
"Yes, he did. He wanted to meet the phoenix before it was reborn. He said that within the next two months it would be turned into ashes, but he couldn't tell if it would be reborn or if they would lie cold forever. We need to keep an eye out for our little one. She might be in danger, but I don't know if we can stop it. It could be destiny has finally taken charge of her life. I just want her to live if she does turn to ash. We have to make sure of that." the unicorn sighed. "Life seemed so much simpler without finding her, but it wouldn't have been worth missing her friendship."
The twins nodded in agreement. Amis opened his mouth to say something but was cut off when the girl reappeared out of the bushes.
She handed them the water skin and a basket of goodies, but the look on her face was saddened. "Hey, I've got to go. Karoo said that my mom was looking for me. I've got to run or else she might figure out that I wasn't home last night or the night before. I'll come back as soon as I can and the griffin is waiting for me. Bye!"
"Hey, wait little sister!" Amis cried, grabbing her arm before she started to bolt.
"What? I've got to get back before she realizes I'm not in the general area." the girl responded, giving the elf an annoyed look.
"Just be careful, alright? I don't want your father to hurt you again." he said, pulling her into another tight hug before letting her go.
"What ever… I'll come back tomorrow if I can. I'll see you then!" she shouted as she ran off, Karoo suddenly swooping down and carrying her up. The boys rolled their eyes.
"Why does she always have to do that?" Sapphire asked, shaking his head.
"Don't know, except that it's a little bit faster than you carrying her down on your back. She does need to get home, you know." Amos answered.
The unicorn cocked his head the elf, remembering that he was almost a century older than himself even though the young fey looked younger. "I almost wish it was like the old days, when we could have kept a child here and no one would notice. We could keep her safe and no one would wonder why she disappeared."
"No, only our people would wonder why we had taken her into our care and her power would have wakened earlier than it has. The follie would have found her and taken her away from us and we don't even know if she can still shift. It is better this way, even if it doesn't seem that way." Amos said, sighing.
"Speak for yourself, bro. Becky wouldn't have almost died so many times if we just took her in and didn't let her go back. She would be safe." Amis said, glaring at his brother.
"No, she wouldn't be. She might already have been killed. And what of her human family? Do you think she would give it up so easily?" Sapphire said, knowing that the other elf was right.
Amis shook his head, knowing that they were both right and he was wrong. "No, she won't. She loves her siblings too much to give them up. Did you know that she's been teaching her little brother how to track, just like we taught her? And he's getting it!"
The other two looked at him sourly as they said in unison. "And this is a good thing?"