Rashiad staggered into the pawnshop like a drunk. He tripped over his own feet and into a display, nearly knocking them both to the floor. The pimply kid behind the counter scowled and reached for a spray bottle.
"We don't serve demons."
Rashiad looked up blearily through red rimmed eyes. "Not," he croaked. "Djinn."
"Right," said the kid. "Sure you are." He held up the bottle and took aim. Even from that far, Rash could smell the holy water through the plastic. "Are you going to leave, or do I need to make you?"
"Calm down, Kenny," called a voice from the back room. "He's tellin the truth." Macmillan, owner and proprietor of the shop filled the doorway.
"Kenny. I think there's some inventory you should be taking. In back. Now."
The kid shut up and he put the spray bottle back down. Giving Rashiad one last dirty look, he squeezed by Macmillan's rather ample frame and went in back, leaving the two men alone to glare at each other.
Hoss Macmillan was a large man. Not fat, just big. Big in the same way a grizzly bear is big. Hoss Macmillan also wasn't his real name. One of the first things an otherwise normal human learned when entering the fringe side of life was to never, ever let anyone know your name. Macmillan had taken it to heart, and created several dozen false names and histories to go along with them. He rested well at night knowing that only three people in the world knew his real identity, and of those three, two were related to him.
The third was standing in his pawn shop and looking like Death his own self had spat him out.
"Hey, Rash. He said. How ya doing?"
The djinn smiled weakly. His gray eyes looked tired. "Not too good, Hoss. You know what I need."
Hoss sighed. "Yeah, I got you. Come on."
He led the old man through the maze of shelves and displays to the back wall. On the wall was a tapestry Rash knew to be several hundred years old and would have been of great interest to any museum curator fortunate enough to see it. Hoss lifted it up, revealing a small, knob-less door that hummed with magic.
Rash frowned. "Where we going, Hoss?"
"I've got some new stock," said Hoss. He tapped the panels on the door in a certain pattern, and a handle appeared. "Fresh."
"Fresh?" Rash looked at the open door suspiciously.
"The freshest. Come on," said Hoss stepping through. "You want this or not?"
Rash followed. The door closed behind them of its own accord.
The hallway Rash found himself in was cramped, to say the least. The air smelled of old, slightly damp wood, and the walls were close enough that there was barely enough for for the two of them to stand single file. Standing together was out of the question.
At least the ceiling is high enough, he thought, looking up. Hoss led the way.
The wood creaked underfoot as they went. Every so often, the dim lights flickered off, leaving them to walk in the dark for as long as minutes at a time. Each time it happened, Hoss continued on, unfazed. Rash wondered if it was because Hoss came down this way so often -meaning Rash wasn't the only one he did this for- or if it was because he'd learned to see in the dark. Neither answer would surprise him.
It was during one of the dark spells when Hoss said,
"Here we go."
There was the noise of wood sliding against wood and a sudden gust of warm air.
"Come on," said Hoss, leading Rash inside. "Watch your feet."
The lights in the hall came on a second later, just as Hoss was replacing the wooden sheet of wall-paneling he'd taken down. The room they were in was dim, and lit only by something glowing beneath a pile of cloth in the corner. The air was warm- warm enough to have Hoss sweating after just a minute. Rashiad breathed deep. The heat made him feel alive for the first time in ages.
"Hoss," said Rash hoarsely. "Is that-?"
"Yep." Hoss came forward and started untying the ropes holding the cloth in place. "Had to move it down here for a while, just until I get the real place set up."
He lifted off the cloth and the room filled with red-orange light. Hoss had to close his eyes so as not to hurt them, but Rash kept his open, unfazed by the light.
The source was a firebird, sitting in a cage. It wasn't a very big firebird, as firebirds went. This one was only the size of maybe a hawk. A small-ish hawk. Most of the ones Rash had seen before had been huge, hulking things- things that would make a condors look like pigeons in comparison. What this one lacked in size, though, it made up for in light. She burned brighter than birds Rash had seen that were twice her size.
Rash bent down to get a better look. Vibrant orange eyes watched his suspiciously.
"Found her by the bus station, if you can believe it," said Hoss. He blinked a few times, adjusting to the light.
Rash slowly reached his hand through the bars and stroked the bird's side. Flames licked his skin, but he didn't burn. The bird ruffled its feathers, apparently pleased.
Hoss grunted. "Yeah, I guess." He went to a cabinet across the room and opened it. He fiddled around with some jars and boxes before pulling out a small silver box.
"Here," he said, tapping Rash on the shoulder. He opened the box. Inside were several downy feathers, all glowing brightly in shades of orange and yellow.
"We've only just got her, so we haven't had a good molt, but these were a few from the nest she'd made. Thought they might come in handy. . ."
Rash stood up and delicately took the feathers from the box. Unfazed by the heat, he laid them flat on his palms. He brought up close to his mouth, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.
Slowly, the fire from the feathers lifted up and drifted into his mouth. After a few seconds, all that as left of the feathers were some grey, skeletal remains that turned to ash when they were touched. Rashiad opened his eyes.
Gone was the dull gray. Now his eyes flickered with an internal fire, shifting through shades of red and orange and occasionally yellow. Any and all traces of the old man was gone. Here was the same Rashiad Hoss had met so many years ago, back when they were both stupid, but Hoss had the excuse of youth. Rash smiled for the first time in a long time, making him look even younger.
"Thank you, Hoss," he said, dusting off his hands. "I never realize how bad it is until I'm better."
Hoss suddenly felt old "You can't keep doing this, Rash," he said. "You can't keep it up. It's not yours."
Rash still smiled, but it twisted on his lips. For a split second, the old man was back, and he looked very tired. "What else can I do, Hoss? What would you have me do?" He cast his eyes down. "The fire I knew is gone, Hoss."
"Don't say that-"
"It's gone, and it has been for a while. I know that." He went to the panel and slid it out. The hall was still dark, but he had no problem seeing now that his eyes were lit.
Hoss hurriedly tossed the cloth over the cage and went after him.
"It's okay, Hoss. Really."
They made it to the door to the shop. Hoss caught up and placed his hand on Rash's shoulder.
"No, it's not okay. You're dying. Every time I see you you're a little more gone. But if you stick around, we might be able to find something. I've got a lot of pull, now. People owe me favors. Maybe they can help."
Rashiad shook his head. "No, Hoss. It's okay. Everything's okay. I'm okay."
He opened the door and stepped into the shop proper. The kid was back behind the counter. he looked surprised when he saw Rash, but quickly turned the surprised look into a scowl. He grinned and raised his hands in mock surrender. "Easy kid. I come in peace."
"Rash," said Hoss. "Are you sure-?"
Rashaid made it to the shop's entrance. "I am. I'm sorry to have bothered you, Hoss. Thank you. For everything."
He left the shop and didn't look back.