The wagons were loaded and ready to go. Soldiers and workers had been busy packing up the camp all morning. Tents came down, weapons locked away, food preserved on slabs of ice, and horses fed and readied for the long journey home.
A bonfire had been held last night, immediately following the battle. The bodies of over a hundred soldiers had been cremated on the battlefield. A priest had recited the final good-byes and each of the survivors watched silently, praying that the souls of their companions would find rest. Smoke still drifted into the air from the smoldering ashes.
While everyone was busy packing, Callie sat on top of a low barren hill, watching the smoke float upwards towards the clouds. Her solitary bag full of all her Earthly posessions rested at her side. She had finished packing before the others woke, and had been sitting in the same spot since dawn.
Michael longed to approach his sister, but he knew better than to do so at that time. A few of the newbie soldiers had already tried to confront her for not helping pack up, but the veterans held them back. They knew not to disturb her when she was deep in thought.
Callie couldn't fight the over-whelming sense of guilt she felt while staring at the dying fire, just like she felt every time. Callie understood that the soldiers had willingly sacrificed themselves for the good of mankind, but it was the fire that somehow made their deaths final. When they were burned, there was no going back. Callie might as well have burned them herself for all the difference there was.
But she felt even more guilty of the fact that her primary sorrow was not the dead, but a certain shadow. If only she'd been able to kill him last time, none of this would've have happened. The brave warriors wouldn't have lost their lives. They would've been at home with their families, families that would now be distraught with the passing of a loving father or son.
She knew this wasn't true though. Even if she had killed Fioundt, another would have just taken his place and lead the battle instead. The shadows were not the type to grieve over the loss of life, even those of power. The death of a general wouldn't faze them in the slightest.
And she also knew she couldn't have killed him. It wasn't because she was too weak physically. Oh, no. She could easily take him out with one swipe of her sword. No, it was the weakness in her heart that held her back, a weakness that she knew would never go away.
"Callie," Michael called softly. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "I'm sorry to disturb you, but we have to head out. We have to leave immediately if we want to make it to Sombre before nightfall."
Callie merely nodded. She wasn't ready to head out just yet. She needed more time to think. She wouldn't get the chance to with soldiers constantly speaking to her and horses whinnying.
"You go on ahead," she said, standing up. She removed her brothers hand from her shoulder, not turning to look at him."I'll catch up."
"Where are you going?" he asked.
Callie paused a moment before speaking. "Somewhere they can't follow me."
And with that, she took off at a run. Heads turned to see her dashing off towards the battlefield. Except she never made it that far.
Their was a small boulder in her path, arched like a ramp. She took advantage of it and with all her speed behind her, she jumped off it.
If anyone expected her to land, they got the surprise of their lives. Instead of falling back down to Earth, Callie took off higher into the air. Her arms and legs began to stretch outward, and feathers appeared all over her skin. Her mouth grew long and pointed, turning into a sharp beak. Curled red and orange feathers formed on her backside, creating a tail. Another curled red feather appeared on top of her bird head. The tips of the feathers ignited in a bright hot blaze, their powerful colours swirling and dancing.
The soldiers looked on in awe as the phoenix flew farther and farther away from the camp, soaring towards the sun.