Watch Me Burn – Chapter Seven

Seven –

The closest friends I’ve ever known

The woman in front of us looked furious. She paced back and forth behind the lectern glaring at the three of us. I didn’t know if she was angry with us, at us, about us or if she was just taking her anger out on us. Either way, she was kind of scary.

“Every year,” she muttered. “Every year they tell me recruiting will be up and every year I have the smallest class.”

I looked at Pandora in confusion. She just smiled vaguely. The other boy in the class didn’t seem to know what she talking about either.

“Sorry,” said the woman. “It’s just I was hoping for a better turn out this year.”

“Do you normally have more students?” asked the boy.

She shook her head. “Three or four is a good result. I’m Stephanie Stevens, the scout coordinator. I would tell you to get to know your classmates in your spare time, but seeing as how this season we commenced a full week early, I’ll give you today to get to know one another.” She sat in her chair behind the big desk looking miserable. It must be hard when your class isn’t as popular as the others.

“I’m Mack,” said the guy. “Mack Nettles.”

“Pandora Coff,” she said. “And this is my room mate Kirin Quinn.”

“It’s nice to have such a small class,” he said. “We’ll get more one on one time with the coach.”

“It’s not so great for her,” I muttered, standing.

They watched me go, but seemed unconcerned in what I was doing.

“Hey,” I said to Stephanie Stevens, she would only be early thirties if that but she seemed older.

She looked up. “What’s up? Are youKirinor Pandora?”

“Kirin,” I said. “Just wondering why you’re so glum.”

She took a deep breath. “Just one year I’d like to beat that smug bastard who teaches the soldiers.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, in the first round tournament each year I’d like to be the one to coach the winner.” She sighed. “For the last seventeen years the winner has come from Gregory Stanley’s class of soldiers. I don’t really care who beats him, just so long as one of his students doesn’t win this year.”

“Does he cheat or something?” I asked, perplexed.

Steph just laughed. “Cheat? Greg? Goodness no. He’s just ridiculously good at what he does. It would just be nice one year to have a gifted student who could take him out in the tournament. That’s all. I might like a better turn out to my class every other year too, but I can understand why kids don’t pick it.”

“Really? Why?” I asked. It seemed clear to me that all she needed was someone to listen to her problems. Maybe then she’d cool down a little.

“Because this is pretty much the same class as the one Greg teaches only his is easier. There’s more pressure on my students to be silent and swift than his noisy louts. Most people don’t have the patience to deal with being so thorough and quiet. They’d rather bang around with guns.” She paused. “Sorry about that. Here, give these to the other two.” She handed me three sets of cards wrapped in rubber bands. “The middle one is yours. They’re your request cards. I’d get onto them straight away if I were you. And don’t forget to find some more Phantoms while you’re out or you won’t be allowed in the tournament.”

Mack and Pandora were so keen to get their cards I almost couldn’t believe it. In almost total silence we checked our cards. We’d each been given three cards because each student would need at least three more Phantoms before they could participate in the tournament and if they found one on each mission they’d have enough. That was the theory anyway.

The thing with the Phantoms is quite simple really. You see, SPIRIT employees are supposed to be pro-Phantom in a world where they are rather misunderstood. Most Phantoms don’t much like humans because most humans treat them like dumb brutes; Phantom mistreatment is rife these days. As such, it is seen as a good thing for SPIRIT employees to have more than one, this shows other people and Phantoms that they are trustworthy people. Although, this isn’t always the case it does work… most of the time. The tournament is run so that the Phantoms can learn to fight. For SPIRIT folks, the Phantoms they own are as much their weapons as the handguns in their holsters.

My top one was rated with a two so it was an easy one. It told me to see one of the farmers in Bisque; he was having trouble with some swiftwings eating all his crops. A nice simple task. The second one was rated with a six, a middle task. A man inHarlowwas having a problem with a raging Phantom in the Nature Reserve. Apparently there was one reacting violently to the presence of tourists and bond-seekers. It sounded simple, but the reason it was harder than the first one was because of the fact that the Phantom was dangerous. It said at least one person had been killed and another two were in hospital with serious injuries. The third and last card was rated eight to nine with a question mark. That apparently meant that this could be dangerous or it could be deadly they weren’t sure. I was actually surprised they would give it to a newbie. Apparently someone up in Carissa was using a light class Phantom to control the earth classes fromGairMountainby using a mental illusion and terrorising the local farmer folk.

But before I got a chance to decide what I’d be doing, Mitchell came into our classroom. “Can I borrow your students, Steph?” he asked with his greasy smile.

“Of course,” she replied with a forced smile and a wave of her hand.

We all stood, holding our cards tightly as we followed him out of the room. The three of us exchanged curious glances as we walked out the door. Mitchell was a few steps in front of us, walking briskly to a destination not readily apparent.

“Uh, sir,” said Mack hesitantly. “If you don’t mind me asking, where are we going?”

He looked over his shoulder. “To the theatre.”

“Um, why?” asked Pandora, finishing Mack’s question.

He grinned his slimy grin. “To put you lovely people into your teams, of course.”

“Of course,” Pandora muttered under her breath. I think Pandora was the only other person here I’d met who thought that Mitchell was a sleazy stalker perv. It would be nice if just a few other people saw it too. It would make me feel a lot better about myself, about not being crazy. But then, I find most guys to be sleazy stalker pervs.

When we reached the theatre we all sat together. Lara, Patrick, Fiona, another guy who I supposed was David and a girl who I thought might be his girlfriend were all sitting down the front. But like yesterday, I was sitting closer to the back as most of the seats were filled. The theatre could probably seat about fifty, but every seat at the front was filled.

“Well my fantastic students,” said Mitchell, beaming. “Today we are going to assign you all a group. Four people, each from a different section who we believe will compliment each other nicely. Your skill sets have been examined and compared and you have been placed so that you will be compatible.

“Patrick Keller, you are with Lara Matthews, Pandora Coff and Grace Marcy. Mack Nettles, you’ll be with Arnold Smyth, Daisy Harris and Ivan McDonald. Frank O’Neill, you’ll be paired with Jean Marsh, Oakley Vane and Devon Alder. Jessica Parnell, you’re with Daniel Martin, Sean Stevens and Albert Eves. Kirin Quinn you’re with David Taylor, Fiona Taylor and Fiona Richards. I hope you all remember the names of the ones you’re paired with. Good luck.” He clapped his hands together and left through a side door.

I looked at Pandora. “I guess, I’ll see you later,” I said as we stood. Mack had already jumped the seats to hug someone he was partnered with.

She smiled. “Yeah, see you later.”

I trotted down the aisle to where I recognised Fiona, the girl Lara was bunking with.TaylorI think her last name was, so at least I knew one person on my team. I grinned as I approached and she gave me a sympathetic look. I recalled throwing up in her bathroom the day before and was a little uncertain about meeting her brother and best friend. She gave me a quick hug as I got there. Now I don’t normally hug people who aren’t Lara so this was just a little awkward for me. Also, she was a complete stranger who knew an apparently deadly secret. I decided careful footing was necessary.

“HeyKirin,” she said. “How are you feeling today?”

I shrugged. “Not bad, I guess.”

“You know each other?” asked the guy.

Fiona nodded. “Yup, she’s the best friend of the girl I’m bunking with,” she explained. “The girl who also is a friend of the guy you’re bunking with.”

“I’m so confused,” said the other girl, holding her head.

“Right,” said Fiona snapping her fingers. “This is my brother David and my best friend Faith.”

“I thought Mitchell said your name was Fiona too,” I said.

“It is,” Faith said with a small smile. “We’re both Fiona’s, but my middle name is Faith so that’s what people call me.”

“And they call me Rose,” said the Fiona I already knew. “That’s my middle name.”

“Because we’re so close people find it easier to distinguish us by using our middle names,” clarified Faith. “It’s a good system.”

Faith was only a little bit taller than Rose so I didn’t have to look up so much to see her. She had shoulder length layered and almost dead straight dark brown hair and deep grey-blue eyes, like a misty night. She also had olive skin… no it was more of a caramel colour… In fact, Faith is more an indoors person so I was surprised she was any colour other than pasty. She is a stunning specimen of humanity. Not the cartoon pretty of Rose or the porcelain doll pretty of Pandora or even the sporty farmer girl pretty of Lara, she was more an exotic pretty. A very Gaurine trait, so I guessed that was where she was from. She had a more angular face, but very soft angular. Maybe only half Gaurine I decided.

David was tall, very tall, probably almost as tall as my brother. His hair was blonde, shaggy and didn’t look as though it had ever seen a brush. He had a serious looking face, but there was irrefutable evidence that he spent a lot of time smiling and joking. He was handsome in a boyish way, but he has the firm muscle structure that a lot of girls find appealing (myself included) so that sort of detracted from the school boy charm he oozed. He looked like a sporty fellow, with the body one gets from doing a lot of outdoor activities. His skin was the same not quite pallid white colour that Rose’s was. It was probably your stereotypical skin cream colour and very Faraer. A lot of people from Faraer looked like they’d had the colour bleached from them, pale hair, pale skin; it’s what happens to people who stay inside too much. But I gather they weren’t entirely Farae because their colouring wasn’t quite right. I’m going to stop analysing skin colour now. It’s a waste of my time.

“So, Kirin Quinn, was it?” asked David, giving me a flash of a smile.

“Sure is,” I replied. “But my friends mostly call me Rin.”

“Well, so long as we’re calling people by names that aren’t their’s,” said David making me cringe at the truth of it. Even Rose shrunk a little. “You can call me just Dave.”

I smiled, overanalysing again. “It’s nice that you people are so easy to get along with.”

“Yeah,” said Faith with a sour twist to her mouth. “Just like your friend Lara.”

I gave her an understanding look. “She’s your new best friend I take it?”

She looked like she thought she’d offended. “Oh don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely person. But does she ever shut up?”

“Only when she’s eating,” I replied, laughing.

“Not even when she’s asleep?” asked Dave, stunned.

“Nope, not even then. She talks in her sleep. It’s amusing to record her,” I said conspiratorially.

They all laughed and Dave wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “I think we’re going to get along famously,” he said, still chuckling.

Then everyone poured out of the theatre and sat in the grass. We all favoured getting to know our new team mates over catching up with friends or roommates. We discussed our request cards and the difficulty of each and keeping in contact with one another while we were gone. As a result by the end of the afternoon, I had all their numbers in my phone as well as their email addresses on a note.

“Where’re you going first then Rin?” asked Rose on our way back to the rooms. Faith and Dave had gone into Bisque to get some takeaway.

“Probably just into Bisque, I’ll do the easy one first I guess,” I said with a shrug.

“Mitchell said to do the hard ones first,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, but if I leave the swiftwing now I may not get a chance to find one when I get back. We’ve got to have four Phantoms remember,” I countered.

“Touché.”

We walked in silence for a moment.

“So, what do you think of Dave and Faith,” she asked, the hidden question quite obvious.

“No offence, Rose, but I think I’ll get to know them just a bit better first,” I sighed. “Not that I regret telling you so soon, I just normally wouldn’t be so hasty.”

She nodded but remained quiet.

I sighed again. “You know my deepest darkest secret; you might as well know the others too.”

“You don’t have to,” she protested.

I waved it away. “It’s not really a secret. You know that gnawing feeling you get in your stomach that tells you something’s not right? That doubt, a feeling of unease, uncertainty and general discomfort?” She nodded. “I feel like that about everything. Not just the big decisions and changes like leaving home or marriage or stuff like that, I mean everything. From the small stuff like cleaning my teeth to… well… marriage. Everything. I doubt myself constantly, I second guess everything and I generally change my mind constantly. It makes me hard to live with.”

She nodded. “I’ve felt like that a lot recently. I don’t think about marriage and leaving home, although I guess I’ve already done the latter. But whether or not I should go out with that guy, whether or not to eat that extra biscuit, stuff like that.”

“Oh, I don’t think about marriage either, it just seems to be some great monster looming in a future that might be. You know, like something that might happen? I just see everything as scary and life changing.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “No the bloody wonder you reacted so strongly to what I said yesterday.”

I nodded with a grunt.

“How do you live?”

“I don’t,” I said flatly. “I don’t go out with people, I don’t party or date, I’m too, uncomfortable with the idea of what might go wrong.”

She nodded. “Sometimes I get that. How did you ever manage to leave home?”

I paused. “I don’t know. I just decided I had to. It’s not so bad when I’ve got my friends with me, but sometimes it just hits me in the gut. Regret. Like I’ve done something stupid and I wish I could take it back. Or like what I’m going to do I might regret and want to take it back. Hesitation.”

Rose nodded. “My dad once told me that it’s better to regret doing something than to regret not doing it.”

“Why?”

“Because every mistake teaches you something. It’s better to make mistakes and learn from them than to live in a permanent state of ignorance.”

I stopped walking. Rose looked back at me. “I’ve never thought of it like that. I guess that makes a lot of sense really, doesn’t it?”

She shrugged as I caught up with her. “Sure, I guess. I would just rather not die wondering what might have been. They say you only get one shot and once the opportunity is gone, it’s gone.”

“I’m not so good at that.”

“What are you talking about?” she ribbed me. “You made it here, didn’t you? You left home.”

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t have done it without my friends.”

She scowled. “At least you didn’t bring your brother.”

That made me grin. Somehow, Rose had just become a friend. Not just any friend either; a friend who knew just what to say and when. Even better, she knew when not to say anything. Rose made four, because I refused to count Daniel and Pandora hadn’t made it yet either. She might, but I was expecting David and Faith to be next. And they sure were.

A team meeting, meaning Lara, Patty and myself that evening saw us agree that all three of them (Rose, Faith and David that is) were officially the newest members of our little circle. Not the least because of Rose’s amazing selflessness the day before. So as this is from my perspective, I’m number one, Lara makes two and Patty is three. Rose, the first to know of my secret is four and Faith and Dave, five and six. Just remember where we’re up to because the numbers get rather more significant after that.

So now that you’ve met the rest of the gang, I can tell you what happened next. Note: the rest of the gang so far.

The next morning I went down into Bisque all by my lonesome. Winter was with me of course. And the desk girl in the front building had given me my atombrace before I’d left and Winter and I had been testing it out in a paddock while we waited for the farmer with the swiftwing problem to arrive. He turned up not long after we’d decided we had mastered the queer little device.

“Hey,” he growled not in an unfriendly way, more in an ‘I’m bugged’ kind of a way. “Are you the one from SPIRIT?”

“Yup, I’m here to take care of your swiftwing,” I replied.

He grumbled something. “It’s nothing I couldn’t take care of myself,” he muttered. “There’s this one swiftwing what the others don’t like much. They attack it, they’re brutal to the darn thing and because they don’t let it near their stores of grain, it eats mine. I was going t’ shoot it but SPIRIT wouldn’t hear o’ that.” He growled some more and then led me to the back paddock. “It lives just over there.”

I pulled my flute from my bag and wandered over to the brush the man had pointed to. I waited until we were far enough away to release Winter, I didn’t want him being spotted. In the brush we were instantly attacked by some of the birds. Swiftwings are born rather small considering the size they grow to, only about the size of a cat, but once they reach adult hood, these small areas of brush can no longer sustain them and they move to live in flocks in the mountains where they will breed, returning to places like this to lay eggs. That’s probably why there was no food here, what with birthing season only just past.

“Now listen,” I said loudly. “All of you.” Surprising even me, they settled down. “Where is this swiftwing you don’t like?”

One of them puffed up. I’m going to make this a little easier for all of us. My communication skills with Phantoms only get better as we progress so for the sake of us all I’m going to write what the Phantoms say in italics. That way I don’t have to detail the whole translation process every time and you know what they’re saying. You all cool with that?

If you follow me, red one, I shall show you, said the puffed up one. I took him to be their leader of sorts. The dominant swiftwing.

He fluttered off deeper into the brush. Clutching my flute in one hand and the other resting on Winter’s shoulder, I followed. We came to a lone bush looking almost dead. There was a whole lot of space around the bush too, a sign of disrespect among the wind classes.

“Why is it you dislike this bird?” I asked.

She likes the demons on the hill, he said. They are evil people and should not be pitied. We do not regret eating their food. They cut down our trees, they deserve what they get. Red one, do something. He fluttered up higher.

“Do you think me evil?” I asked him. I spun to face the other beaked faces sitting in trees nearby. “Do you think I’m a demon?”

A chorus of chirps echoed that they did not.

You are no demon red one, said the leader. We have been told of your selfless kindness to our people. We owe you our freedom.

I gasped. “You heard about that?”

You did not think that your courage would go untold did you? He chirped a laugh. We hold to our agreement, will you stop the old man from killing our trees?

I bowed my head. “It would be an honour. Does this one have a name?”

We do not name traitors, he said darkly.

I looked to the forsaken swiftwing. “If you like my kind as much as this one says, would you be at all bothered to accompany me?” I asked her.

Why would you want an outcast such as myself? asked the little female swiftwing.

I am an outcast, said Winter. My kind are fearful of my colour. They fear it being in more of our kind, they left me to die. Kirin saved my life, outcasts are no different to her than are any others.

Then it would be my honour, red one, if you would accept my company. The swiftwing, probably about eight or nine months old, just on the verge of her fist atomising I would guess, fluttered up to sit on my shoulder. If you would be so kind as to grant me the privilege of the name my kind denied me?

“Among your kind, what names are common?” I asked anyone who would listen.

We use colours, said the leader. A colour predominant in the design of our feathers, or a word that describes patterns in our wings.

“Very well then,” I said. “I shall hold to your tradition and name you Fallow.” The little girl puffed up.

I now have as much respect as you, Raven, she said to the leader who had dark streaks around his eyes, making him look dangerous. And I have a home.

Then leave us, and be happy to have found acceptance. Even should the acceptance be from a human. Red one is honourable and cares for our kind thus cannot be truly human, he bowed his head. The other swiftwings followed suit.

Red one, they chorused.

“Thank you,” I said, bowing and leaving. I trotted back to the farmer, Fallow sitting comfortably on my shoulder.

Thank you, she whispered.

“It was not a problem.”

The farmer raised his eyebrows in cynicism as I approached. “What did you do?” he asked, clearly sceptical.

“The swiftwings have said they will stop eating your crops if you stop cutting down their home,” I said. “They said that if they have no home and no food they would do everything in their power to make sure you had the same.”

His eyes boggled. “That’s it? They want me to stop cutting down the forest? They’ve got themselves a deal.” He nodded at Fallow. “Is this one a representative or something?”

“No, Fallow here was outcast from her society and agreed to come with me instead of having to put up with the humiliation of being with those who don’t respect her,” I explained.

His mouth formed an ‘O’ but he said nothing. Instead, he opened his wallet and handed me a twenty dollar note. “For your work. No one else seemed to know what was wrong with them.”

Fallow squawked indignantly. “She said there is nothing wrong with them. But I’m not going to debate right and wrong with you, just please stop cutting down their home.”

“Deal. Is there somewhere you have to be love?” he asked. “Another job you’re to do?”

“Yes, I’m going to Carissa now, but I haven’t a clue as to how I’m going to get there,” I mused.

He grinned, his yellow teeth showing through. “I do.” He pulled an atomiser from his belt and let out a dustslider. “Fain here will take you to Carissa, won’t you Fain?” he asked. The dustslider nodded.

“Well thanks, I thought I was going to be stuck here until a plane came in,” I said smiling.

“Not a problem.”

Fain touched my leg and waved a long fingered hand. I felt like I’d been sucked through a hole as big as the eye of a needle. There was a great whooshing, the colours of the world went all streaky and my head spun something fierce. Then with a pop we were standing in the teleportation square outside the Phantom nursery in Carissa. All nurseries have small rooms in the front designated for people teleporting into the town.

“Thank you very much, Fain,” I said. “I’d give you something for your troubles, but I’m afraid I have nothing.”

He was stunned. You speak to us?

I chuckled. “Why would I not? You can understand me, right?”

Fain just nodded his head in a preoccupied manner. They were right about you red one. You really are something different. With that he popped back home.

“Let’s go Fallow, time to find a brain washer.”

I don’t really like the sound of that, said Fallow.

“Me neither.”

We went into the nursery and I got a few bits of meat from the attendant. Both Winter and Fallow enjoyed the treat. I sighed and slumped into a cushion. Where was I going to find someone hijacking the brains of Phantoms?

“Let’s think about this a moment,” I muttered to them. “We know he has a light Phantom and is controlling some wilds from Gair with illusions. If I was someone trying to take over the minds of Phantoms where would I hide?”

Why would you have to hide? asked Winter. You’re going to terrorise the locals, I’d make one give me a room for the night.

“Good point,” I mused. “Looks like we’re going bush for a few days, guys.”

“Kirin?”

I jumped and looked round. It was someone who I really didn’t want to see. Someone I really didn’t need the chore of talking to.

“Hey Terry,” I said, putting both Winter and Fallow into the brace.

“What are you doing in Carissa?” he asked, clearly smart enough not to ask about the Phantoms.

“Working,” I said, again employing my ‘use as few words as possible and maybe they’ll go away’ technique. Although I didn’t have high hopes for it this time. The tension between us was palpable.

Terence Dalton was a good looking guy from uptown Carissa. His parents were friends with mine and we used to holiday together. Until I’d turned eighteen and decided I didn’t want to anymore. He was a good guy and might have been a boyfriend of mine at one point except he hadn’t had the guts to ask me out. Now I think he was just holding onto a hopeless crush. Secretly, I think I might have still had a thing for him to, but he was never going to know that. I knew that the longer we were around each other, the worse the awkwardness was going to get, I had to get rid of him. But a part of me wanted him to stay a while. I’m such a sick masochistic bastard.

Suddenly a thought hit me. “Terence, do you know anything about a guy with a light Phantom using illusions and wilds to terrorise locals?”

He snorted. “Who doesn’t? He’s been here a few weeks now, hiding out in the barns of places he’s subdued. No one knows where he is and those who do won’t turn him in for fear he’ll have them crushed. Why?”

I frowned, a vague plan coming to mind. “Just wondering. Where was he last seen?”

He shrugged. “Down in Green Pocket I think. What’s this all aboutKirin?”

I stood, ignoring him. I knew putting off his questions wouldn’t solve anything, he was a persistent bastard. But at the very least I could… well… ignore him. I started pacing. This was a very bad idea.

“Kirin,” he began but I cut him off.

“Terry, how averse are you to dangerous sports?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Only as much as the next person.”

“Good. I need some help.”

Advertisements

~ by reliquiaen on April 12, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: