Watch Me Burn – Chapter Nine

Nine –

I know you’re not that stupid

Most of the students were still away somewhere completing their requests, but a few had only had simple ones near to town. Mostly these were the kids doing tech or conservation; they didn’t really need to go far to find problems. As such, Faith was there when I got back, but she was the only one.

“HeyKirin,” she said, looking up from her computer as I walked in. “How’d it go?”

I shrugged. “Not bad. I got my extra Phantoms.”

She beamed. “Yeah? Me too. What did you find?”

“A swiftwing, a platesnake and a swiftblade. What about you?” The Phantoms I’d found were pretty common place if tough when fully grown. The ones Faith had found blew me away.

She shrugged. “I don’t plan on facing much competition and fighting isn’t a priority of mine, but I got an ironrodent and a pair of deepcrow twins.” Ironrodents are mice of the earth mineral-subclass that can manipulate the metal components in things. Deepcrows are dark light-subclass birds that are used mainly as messengers because they travel faster than most birds through shadows. In fact, I think they’re the only teleport capable birds. Oh no, there’s sunsparrows as well but they can’t exactly carry large loads.

I gasped. “Where did you find them?” Faith’s first Phantom had been a stronghorn, and I’d always wondered how such an indoorsie person like Faith could end up with a physical outdoors Phantom. The ironrodent was far more her style. Faith has a gift that allows her to… well, her gift makes her a computer whiz. She can do anything on a computer, there’s nothing she can’t in fact. She explained it once by saying her mind links with the computer by a touch connection. This connection can be as simple as typing on the keyboard. But once that connection is made (and while it remains thusly) she can do whatever she likes. It’s like she asks it to do something and it does. Simple.

“About,” she said with a shrug. “The ironrodent was a gift from a programming company in Malva and the others I found. There’s a deepcrow breeder in Tyrith, did you know that?”

“No. How about that.”

We were quiet a long time; I was sitting slouched on her sofa while she played with something on the computer. I wondered how long it would take the others to get back. Mitchell had said that the tournament would start on the eleventh of the next month which was only around eighteen or so days away. I figured it was set up like that to give everyone a chance to get back and practice with their new found Phantoms.

“Faith, who else is back?” I asked, staring at the ceiling.

“No one I don’t think. Just you and me. Oh, Daniel’s back though, he got back yesterday afternoon.”

I groaned and slumped further into my chair. Faith swivelled her chair around to look at me, one eyebrow raised, questioningly.

“From your tone I take it you don’t like him,” she said. She leaned right forward, elbows on her knees and her hands hanging between them.

I sighed. “You want an explanation?”

Grinning, she pushed her chair closer. “Only of course.”

Taking a deep breath I wondered where to start. “He looks at me funny.”

Faith just laughed.

“What?” I asked, thinking I’d said something I hadn’t meant to.

“He likes you,Kirin,” she said, fighting down the laughter. “You’ve never had a boyfriend have you?”

I went red. “Not really. How is that relevant?”

She cleared her throat. “Sorry, I’ll clarify. He likes you,Kirin.”

“Daniel? Are we talking about the same guy?”

“Sure.”

“But he looks at me like a paedophile looks at small kids,” I protested. She had to be wrong.

“Yeah, that’s because he wants to ask you out but… well, you’re scary.” She was still giggling.

“I’m not scary.”

“Please,Kirin,” she said. “You practically ooze guy hate. I kinda feel sorry for him.” She was still grinning.

“I don’t think it’s funny,” I huffed, folding my arms.

She leaned further forward. “If he asks you out what will you say?”

“Uh, no. Why would I go out with him?”

Faith smacked her forehead. “You don’t understand the concept of a boyfriend do you?”

“Yeah I do.”

Her broad grin became a sly smile. “You need a practical experience. Let’s go.”

“Um, where are we going?” I asked as she hauled me to my feet.

“You’ll see.”

She held onto my wrist with an iron grip as though she was afraid I would bolt. And with good reason. We went straight out the girls’ dorm across the courtyard and into the guys’ dorm.

“Oh no,” I pleaded, straining at her hold on me. “Let me go, I don’t like this.”

“You knowKirin,” she said over her shoulder. “I don’t care.”

We stopped in front of a door on the second floor. I was kind of curious as to how she knew which room was his, but not enough to ask.

“Now, just stand here for a moment,” she said with a warning look in my direction. “Can you do that?”

As she let go of me I folded my arms and growled.

She smiled. “Good girl.” Then she knocked on the door. Watching me, she turned away from the door to wait, presumably so she could catch me if I decided to bolt.

Not long after she’d knocked it opened. A girl with long thick chestnut dual plaits peeked outside. I knew her vaguely, but her name escaped me for a moment.

“Hey Jess,” said Faith. “Is Dan in there?”

She pulled the door open further, looking curiously at me. “He’s just in on one of the computers at the moment, printing something off. I dare say he’ll be out in a second.” She had a very thick south country accent, an archipelago native then. That also explained her chocolate skin and black eyes.

“This isKirin,” said Faith pushing me in ahead of her. I resisted to the best of my ability but she was a lot stronger than she looked. Not to mention she had a few inches on me. “I hope we’re not interrupting anything.”

“No, we’re just talking.” Jessica sat on a chair and motioned for us to sit as well. “What are you here about?”

“Kirinand I were thinking about going into town this evening and I knew Dan was back so we thought we’d invite him. I didn’t know you were back too, you’re more than welcome to come along.” From the way Jess was studying me, the expression on my face told her that I was not under any stretch of the imagination a willing party in this nonsense.

“I see,” she said slowly. “I got a message from Daisy not long ago; she said she’ll be home soon. You guys can go ahead and I’ll catch up with you when Daisy gets back.”

Faith nodded. “Okay. We’ll probably be at the pub.”

“Sure.” She stood. “I’m going back to my rooms in case she gets back early.”

I watched her walk out thinking something wasn’t right. I was actually on the verge of saying something when I caught myself. I remembered that I was supposed to be in a bad mood and fixed my surly expression back in place and glowered at Faith. I wasn’t really angry at her, but she deserved the guilt that I hoped was settling into the pit of her stomach.

“Sorry that took so long, Jess,” said Daniel studying a piece of paper as he came in. “I couldn’t find― Oh,” he cut himself off as he looked up and saw us. “Hi, where did Jess go?”

“Back to her rooms to wait for Daisy,” said Faith, an anticipated expression plastered right across her face. You couldn’t have mistaken it if she had been bouncing on her chair.

“I see,” he said in exactly the same tone Jess had used earlier. “Why are you here?” he asked, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

“We want to know if you’ll come out with us this evening,” Faith said. “Jess will catch up with Daisy when she gets here.”

He scratched his head. “Won’t that be weird?” he asked, clearly confused.

Faith gave him her best innocent look. “Weird how?”

“Well, I’ll be the only guy there,” he said as though that should explain his confusion.

“Nah, why would that be weird?” asked Faith, trying with only marginal success to alleviate his obviously growing anxiety.

His gaze left Faith briefly and settled on me. I turned my glower from Faith to him and he quickly went back to looking at Faith. “Kirindoesn’t seem keen to be here.” He said it like a question, but not specifically in the form of a question. Still, there was definitely a query in there.

“Doesn’t she?” Faith looked at me with big eyes pleading me to be nice.

“I don’t want to be here,” I said flatly.

“Come on, Rin,” pleaded Faith. “One night out won’t hurt.” Her eyes were as round as saucers.

I sighed. “Fine. But just this one time and don’t expect me to jump through any hoops,” I warned.

She just smiled. It would have been in a nice way except I could see her plotting in her eyes. This night would not go well. Not for me.

“Great,” said Daniel, his eyes too were clearly plotting something at my expense. “I’ll see you girls in town.”

Faith stood and I followed her lead, only too happy to be out of his apartment. She waved over her shoulder as we left, her grin never once failing her. In that short instant, I hated her.

“See,” she bubbled, “this is going to be great.” Then she bounced off down the hall towards the stairs. “You’ll see, Rin, you’ll have a ball.”

“I highly doubt that,” I muttered, thrusting my hands into my pockets. “This is my nightmare.”

“HeyKirin,” came a soft voice over my shoulder. I cringed slightly and turned, hating myself, hating life, hating him. Still I found the self-control to soften my glare.

“Yeah?” I asked, my voice was dead and there was nothing I could do to sound at all enthusiastic about anything. Talking to him reminded me of Terence. And not in a good way.

“Do you want to train together tomorrow?” he asked, surprising me. I thought he’d been going to ask me out. “After lunch, maybe?”

I thought about that. The implication was there for this to be taken as a date and I didn’t want that. But perhaps he really just wanted to train, nothing else.

I frowned. “What’s the catch?”

He raised his hands in suppliance. “No catch. I just want to train with you.”

My eyes narrowed. “What’s in it for you?”

His smile answered my question. My fists balled and for a moment there I thought I actually would hit him. But I didn’t. Lucky.

“It will depend on my mood,” I replied. “And the people I can get to come with me,” I added under my breath.

Daniel just kept smiling. I spun on my heel and stalked down the corridor trying very hard to ignore his eyes on me as I left. I caught up to Faith at the bottom of the stairs, she was frowning worriedly. Until that moment, I hadn’t known you could do that. It was a skill I picked up quickly.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“I was visually raped,” I replied sourly, stalking past her.

Her grin came back. “As opposed to…?”

“Being physically raped,” I snapped.

She flinched. “Why are you so opposed to going out with a guy? There has to be a story in there.”

“I’m here to work,” I replied. “Not date.”

“Not good enough,” she pressed.

I rounded on her. “Do you really want to know?” She nodded, although hesitantly now, I think I’d scared her a little. I slumped to the bench in the park. “There was a guy once,” I said softly as I stared out at the lake. “His name is Terence, I ran into him just the other day.”

“Well that―” she began but I cut her off.

“If you want to hear shut up.” Her mouth clicked shut and I instantly regretted being so harsh. It wasn’t like me, but Terence was a terrible storm of emotions. “He lives in Carissa and his parents are close with mine. We used to stay with him once a year for a holiday. Every year since I was about six we’ve been staying with his parents, they’re fully loaded too which was nice. We were always close friends but as soon as we hit about twelve things started to get real awkward between the two of us. Totally beyond mood swings and that, I’m talking super awkward turtle.

“After a few years it wasn’t so bad and it was a lot easier to cope with because we only saw each other a few weeks out of the year. Still, things went from playtime at the park to seeing movies and walking the streets around his neighbourhood. Very personal stuff. When I was about fifteen, I got that heart pounding feeling every time I was with him. I was absolutely dying for him to ask me out, to kiss me, whatever. He never did.

“We were there after my seventeenth birthday and my parents were resigned to the fact that it would be the last year I went with them. They knew that after I turned eighteen I wouldn’t want to keep going. The thing was though, Terence knew that too. The whole time I was there that year, two and a half weeks, mind, I was silently praying that he’d give me a reason to come back the next year. The very last day we were there he had an opening. A moment where he could have made a move. I saw it and I know he saw it, but he just sat there. Mentally I was screaming at him.

“That was it, after that I went home and the next year I didn’t go back. I didn’t have a reason to. I think he believed that I would return, you know, give him a second chance. What he didn’t realise was that he was on his third and he blew it. Again. I was done; he’d ripped me up a little and combined with my irrational fear of things going wrong I decided getting involved with a guy probably wasn’t worth it anyway.”

I was quiet a long time, just staring. Faith looked stunned that something like that had happened to me. I wanted to leave, but I knew she had to have questions.

“How weird must it have been to see him again,” she breathed.

I nodded. “Neither of us wanted to see the other, but neither of us wanted to be the first to leave. It was terrible.”

“I didn’t know,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

I plastered a fake smile on my face. “Hey, it’s not like he broke my heart or anything.”

She looked sympathetic. “Sounds like he shredded it actually.”

She was right, but I didn’t want to admit that.

“Come on,” she said, pulling me to my feet. “I’ll tell them you weren’t feeling so good. Stay in.”

I looked up, stunned. “Why the sudden change of heart?”

She grimaced. “I know how hard it is to dredge up painful things like that. I know if it were me I’d be in no shape to go anywhere, let alone confront a new prospect.”

“Daniel is not a prospect,” I growled through gritted teeth.

Faith just smiled. “The longer you deny that, the harder you’re making it on yourself.”

I looked away from her, refusing to rise to her bait. She wrapped one arm around my shoulders and urged me towards our building. I realised I hadn’t had lunch yet as my stomach began to grumble.

“Let’s go into town and get something to eat,” I said. “I’m starved.”

A blissful change in topic. Just what I needed right then. Together we walked down the road to the bike stand in wonderful silence. I wished she would just stop talking about that forever. But as I soon came to appreciate, setting people up was something of a hobby for Faith. Like trying to live without air, she just couldn’t stop herself.

We borrowed a pair of bikes to ride into town as it was just way too far to walk and we powered down the hill. I’ve got to tell you, I hate riding bikes on hills. Around the campus or town it was fine because both were pretty much flat, but to and from was a nightmare.

Once we were down the hill, it was great to just coast for a bit on the speed we’d built up on the way down. Not as much could be said for the ride back up the hill. But with any luck we wouldn’t have to worry about that for a while. Aside from the pub, there were a few nice outdoor cafes one could eat at and a fish and chip shop. For the life of me I don’t know where the fish come from; there weren’t many good fishing spots for miles around.

We settled at one of the cafes and ordered a pair of grilled sandwiches. It wasn’t cold enough to warrant them being grilled, we both just preferred them that way. Happily, David walked in.

“Hey guys,” he said. “I just got back. How long have you been here?” He asked, settling into a chair beside me and ordering a sandwich, not grilled.

“I’ve been back almost two days,” said Faith, her eyes intent on his face. “Kirinjust got back today.”

“What did you have to do?” he asked me, clearly already knowing what Faith had done.

“Stop some swiftwings from eating a farmer’s crop, rated two. Stop a Phantom that was attacking humans. It had already killed one and put two others in hospital, rated six. And find and disarm a bloke using a Phantom to possess and control the minds of others to attack townsfolk, rated eight to nine with a questionable danger,” I said, ticking them off as I said them. “How about you?”

He whistled. “Nothing like that. You must tell me how you did it.” I don’t remember what he said he had though. The Phantoms David keeps in his company changes on a regular basis. In fact, that’s the case for most people. He’s bonded to a tenstep though. A spider earth class Phantom named because that’s how far you get once it’s poisoned you before you die. They grow to about the size of a small or medium sized dog and they move incredibly fast. He had to deal with tasks rated one, seven and eight but I forget most of the details.

I shrugged. “Sounds easy enough. Did you get your extra three Phantoms?”

“Sure, how about you?”

I winced. I’d been hoping not to have to tell them. “Well, I can sort of… talk to Phantoms,” I said slowly. I then told them the story you got in detail in a much more abridged fashion with a shrug.

They were both staring at me, mouths agape. Our sandwiches had arrived. They were both ignoring theirs, but I was hungry and started eating.

“You look like a pair of dead fish,” I said.

They shut their mouths.

“You… can talk to… Phantoms?” asked Dave.

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied nonchalantly.

“That’s huge, Rin,” said Faith. “You should totally tell someone.”

I waved her away. “I don’t want to be famous. That’s why I don’t tell people.”

They exchanged wondering glances but, being the intelligent people they are, decided to drop it. It took Faith a while, but clearly she did pick up on some things. Just wouldn’t drop the guy thing.

“I don’t want you guys making a big deal out of this,” I said. “I don’t want people knowing.”

Faith took a deep breath. “Rose said something about you being an honorary Phantom and I didn’t believe her,” she whispered. “You really are something.”

Dave’s eyes went even wider. “You’re an honorary Phantom?”

“Keep your voice down,” I urged. “Maybe. That’s the only reason the ones I spoke to did as I asked, they all know me. It’s really weird.”

Faith let out her ironrodent. The little steel grey Phantom sat there staring up at us. Faith and Dave were staring at me.

“Do something,” said Dave.

“What?”

“Talk to her,” said Faith.

“You guys can do it too,” I said.

“Yeah, but we can’t understand what they’re saying,” Dave pointed out.

“Hi,” I said to the little Phantom. “What do you think of this conversation?”

I think it’s pointless, she said. But your friends have a point, red one. This skill of yours is unique. I’ve never heard of someone else like you and I would have if they existed.

I sighed. “That’s what I thought.”

They both leaned forward. “What did she say?” asked Faith.

“She said the conversation we’re having is pointless.” They deflated. “But that you have a point, my talent is unique. She says she’s never heard of someone like me before.”

“Hah,” said Dave, slapping his knee. “Told you.”

“Nothing I didn’t already know,” I retorted.

“True,” Faith agreed. “But you have to know which battles to fight.”

“I’m fighting you on this one,” I said. “Just like that last one. But this time, I know I don’t want fame, this time, we play by my rules. You will not tell anyone about this,” I said resolutely. When they nodded I let my gaze soften. “Good, I’m glad we agree on this.”

“So what Phantoms did you catch, Rin?” asked Dave.

“The ones I was hired to take care of,” I replied, glad he wasn’t still pressing the communication thing.

“Are any mature yet?” he asked.

“Both the swiftwing and Winter are mature enough to use atomisation and I think the platesnake might be too. I know the swiftblade is,” I said. “Didn’t I already say that?”

They both shook their heads.

“Oh, sorry.”

“I didn’t realise… uh… Phantoms like Winter matured so quickly,” mused Faith.

I sighed. “Yeah, how come you won’t say that but you can announce to the world that I can understand Phantoms?”

She went red. “I guess I just thought this was a more immediate danger to your health.”

Thinking about dangers to my health brought me back to what Rose had said a few days ago about my family. I really did need to trust more people, but were these the right ones? Faith liked to talk, but she had sworn not to tell anyone about my Phantom communication skills. This was a lot more of an immediate danger though and if someone found out I was screwed. If the wrong person found out I was dead. I decided to wait just a bit longer.

After lunch was over we went back up to SPIRIT, the bike ride was tolerable but only just. I stayed at Faith’s that night because I wanted the company as Pandora wasn’t back yet. She, Lara and Patrick all got back the next day, their last assignments had been in the same place which was lucky. Rose got back at around lunch, so we were all together for that. Pandora ate with us too because despite what Jess had said the day before, Daisy still wasn’t back so Jess had gone to lunch with Grace instead. It surprised me just how easily I was picking up the names of people.

Then I silently and quickly excused myself, not wanting to draw attention to where I was going. I went the long way to the court Dan had mentioned the day before. I didn’t really want to admit it at the time, but Faith had been right. I did like him, I was just fighting that because I was used to fighting everything inside me. I was denying that too because it was the only way I knew how to deal with it. It irked me that she had been right.

He was waiting for me when I walked in. Just the sight of him made me want to leave again. I was half ready to go back out the door, but he saw me.

“HeyKirin,” he said, smiling. Not a sleazy smile, not a conspiratorial smile, just happy to see me. Which, strangely, confused me.

“Hi,” I replied, trying to give life to my voice and failing.

His smile faded. “Are you never happy to see me?”

“Honestly? I’m neutral,” I said with a shrug.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

“Well I don’t hate you I suppose, but I don’t exactly count you among my closest friends,” I said, feeling brutally honest for no real reason.

“Do you hate all guys?”

“No, I’m friends with Patrick and Dave.”

“That’s two, the rest of your friends are all girls.”

“What,” I snapped. “Would you prefer me to be a whore?”

He retreated a step. “That’s not what I meant.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Why can’t you be civil to me?” he asked, a pained expression smeared across his face. I think I’d hurt him somewhere in there. It shocked me just how mean I was being. In just the last few days I’d said nasty things to Rose, Faith and now him. I mean, it didn’t really cut me up that I’d been nasty to him, but the fact that the words had come out of my mouth made me collapse.

Not figuratively either, I actually fell to my knees in the middle of the court. He was stunned I think. Concerned that something bad had happened to me, but scared to get too close. Faith had been right about that too, he was scared of me. I was repulsed by myself. I felt like a monster.

I think I actually started crying. Then he came closer. There was a mushy bit I’ll leave out because I don’t really want to detail it for you, just know it happened. There was a short conversation there too which I’m also going to omit simply because I can’t believe I said those things. I’m shuddering at the thought.

Somehow that day though, amid the yelling and the hate filled words and the crying, he got over his fear for me. No, his fear of me, which is worse. Anyway, somehow we started going out.

There were plenty of conditions laid down though. He was not, by any stretch of the imagination, absolutely positively not to count himself as my boyfriend. That I wasn’t going to allow. We could go places together, but only if there were other people there too. Meaning one of my friends, Pandora included. Alone time was only for study and stuff like that, preparation for the tournament. He was not allowed to touch me. Ever. Basically we agreed to be friends, or a stalemate or something. He really wasn’t my boyfriend even if in his head he liked to think of himself as such.

Lara was gob smacked, Patrick thought it was a hilarious joke, Rose thought I’d lost my marbles, but was secretly a little happy, Dave thought I should see a doctor, Pandora was mostly just jealous and Faith, duh, was as happy as a pig in shit. For about three days after Daniel had blurted out what happened she walked around with a stupid grin on her face. Slapping her was out of the question. But only because she’d been right, about everything. I forgave her eventually.

Then, one day, we were all in one of the courts watching Faith and Rose have a friendly match with each other when one of Mitchell’s little lackeys came in.

“You’re all to go straight to the theatre,” he said in an official tone. Then he spun and went in search of the next lot of students.

Slowly and very resignedly, we filed out of the court, down the halls and into the theatre. We snagged our back row seats and prepared to mock whoever was speaking. Unfortunately, it was Mitchell who was speaking. This was unfortunate because we never knew which bit to mock. The way he dressed, the way he spoke or the way he held himself. I think he thought he was some kind of superstar.

“Students,” he began, sounding pompous and nasal. “We have for you here, the draw of the tournament.”

We went quiet, putting off the mockery for a moment. We all wanted to see who we’d be fighting. We wanted to know which field we’d be on.

Planning for this was essential, and this was all the information we would need to make a great strategy.

A round robin table popped up on the screen. I won’t tell you who everyone was against. Just a few key people. Faith was against Jess which I thought was a little ironic because Jess had a thing for Dave. Rose was against Pandora, Lara was fighting Patrick and I was placed against… that’s right Daniel. Great.

I slumped further into my seat. Just what I didn’t want. This was the feeling you get before you go into battle and you know there’s really no chance you’ll win. It’s the feeling of knowing you’ve lost before it happens.

And that feeling was followed swiftly by the knowledge that if you’ve got to go down, you’re going down swinging. I wasn’t going down easy and we never had fought, but I’d seen him against a lot of other people. I personally, hated to train in front of people, even Lara. It weirded me out, thus I had an advantage.

But Daniel wasn’t going to play fair. He knew how to make me mad, get me riled right up before the match in the hopes that I’d screw up and make a mistake. Oh, I think he’d been planning this for a long time. It was his entire game plan.

I was going to crush him just for thinking it would throw me off.

So for two days we all sat on our own working on plans, showing our Phantoms diagrams in the hopes that they would remember it all. Well, that’s what the others were doing anyway. I gave Fallow a camera and showed her how to record with it and got plenty of good material on Daniel. Then we all sat and watched it, picking out the holes in the way he fought. We didn’t scramble, or fight lots; we just sat and watched telly.

Everyone thought we were crazy, but I’d show them. Even Dan thought I’d lost my marbles. Then on the eve of battle, he showed how bad a sportsman he really is.

Okay, so it wasn’t the eve of battle, it was just after breakfast. We’d drawn first lot and so were the first to fight that morning. Which sucked even more for what he did.

You’ll never guess. No, he didn’t sabotage my atombrace and he didn’t spike our food. He didn’t do anything that was really foul play by normal standards. But since that day on the court, he’d learned exactly what to do to rub me just the wrong way.

Think really hard on what he might have done that made me yabber on like this for so long. Think really, really hard. I guarantee it’ll come to you.

Still haven’t got it?

What have you been doing? Sleeping while you were reading this? I swear, do I need to spell everything out for you?

I mean, I basically told you what he could do just before.

Oh my god, you people are thick.

Still nothing? Fine I’ll just tell you.

He kissed me.

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~ by reliquiaen on April 12, 2012.

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