You’re two minutes early, which means you’re three minutes late.
He rubs it in, of course, but you expect nothing less. It’s what he does: complain, complain, complain, all the time.
You’ll give him something to complain about, just as soon as he tells you what you want to hear.
“What is a Phoenix?”
“What am I? Your dictionary?”
“I don’t care about mythology.”
You don’t care about some mythical bird. You don’t care how many times they can rebirth from their ashes. You don’t care about the myth.
You care about the reality.
“Phoenixes,” he says, “are phoenixes.”
You glare at him.
“If you practice, maybe your look could manage a nosebleed.”
You don’t let up your glare. In fact, you glare harder. You can just see the blood flowing from his nose…
It’s not just your imagination.
Now he’s scuttling around trying to staunch the fountain of blood already forming a pool on the floor.
“Fine, fine! Fine, I said! I can’t tell you anything if I’m bled out!”
“Speak quickly, then!”
But you drop your glare anyway, and settle for merely looking at him threateningly.
He looks at you seriously.
“The Thirteen Phoenixes are The Guardians. All look up to them, of course.”
“Thirteen?” They like the number thirteen, whoever they are.
“They’ve been the guardians of our world since, well, as far back as anyone can remember.” He continues, “Not that that says very much.”
“I don’t remember.” Your dealings with such people – those who use magic–are limited, but you’d think you would have heard of something so important.
“You wouldn’t,” grumbles the man. He takes a sip of a drink.
Some goes down the wrong pipe, and he begins to choke.
A vanilla milkshake. Not quite what you’d expect a wise old man to drink.
Then again, he’s not old.
Actually, you’re only just now really noticing his age. You’re somewhat surprised it took you so long, as you were indeed expecting someone much older, and much more wrinkly.
He can’t be older than twenty – if that!
“Oops,” he mutters, and coughs one more time.
You press on: “But what are they?”
“People. Thirteen people. Weird names – not always the same names, though. Once three of them went by ‘Who,’ ‘What,’ and ‘I don’t know;’ don’t know, they still might – ”
“If they’re so important, shouldn’t you know?”
“Not if they don’t want me to.”
“What do they do?
“Stuff. Not sure. Something important.”
Again, you wonder how he could not know what they do, if they’re as important as he says.
Then you wonder if perhaps he’s just having you on.
“If you don’t know very much about them… who does?”
“Oh, about anyone, I’d expect.”
“Not very wise for a wise man, are you?”
“I’m wise enough when it suits me, and dense as concrete at all other times. But knowledge has little to do with wisdom.
“Besides, you’re under the impression that I’m both wise and a man.
“I would claim to be neither.”
You look at him wearily. “What are you, then?”
“I am a Phoenix.”
“Do you have a name?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been called Ignorance. Some have called me Apathy. I don’t really care which you use.”
“Logic is an enemy. Logic is a phoenix. Are you an enemy?”
“And you think I would know the answer? Even I know better than to ask myself questions.”
You wonder if this will end up in some sort of fight. Not because he’s an enemy – just because he irritates you so.
For a moment, you ponder the merits of giving him another nosebleed.
He looks at an invisible watch.
“I’d love to stick around and chat some more, but this conversation doesn’t really interest me, and there’s a brilliant book burning in Florida right about now, so if you do not mind…”
He morphs into a giant dark grey bird, and, in a brilliant flash of white sparks and grey flame, disappears.
You should have given him another nosebleed when you had the chance.