Watch Me Burn – Chapter Six

Six –

A curiously close encounter with death

SPIRIT.

I was up before the sun I was that excited. There was a bus waiting for us at the hotel entrance. It turns out the two people from the airport were going to SPIRIT as well and there was another young man there too. He sat next to Patrick on the minibus that drove us up the hill. His name was Daniel Martin and he was a friendly fellow, only one year younger than us, he said he was from Gaurin and that it had taken him that whole year to earn the money for the tickets. He was tall and thin, like a bean pole with a shock of dirty blonde hair and blue eyes that kept staring at me sitting across the aisle from him. Patrick and I had the aisle seats while Lara and Daniel sat by the windows. In an attempt to avoid being stared at I engrossed myself in a conversation with Lara.

After about half an hour of the bus slowly trundling up the steep slope it broke down. It was almost ten in the morning and the engine just didn’t want to keep going. So we all got off the bus and had morning tea, Daniel became an honorary fourth wheel because Lara had decided she liked him. We all let our Phantoms out so they could have something to eat as well, not to mention they wanted some fresh air. It turned out that Daniel was in possession of a greymatter, I was a little bit surprised, but only because of the four of us he was the only one with something capable of controlling its atoms properly.

Now, all Phantoms vary slightly in colour, like cats, they aren’t all one colour or have the same pattern. As such he accepted easily that Winter was simply coloured with a variant of his staple colour, albeit a very long way from his staple colour. Although now that I think about it, you do get deep maroons, browns and rust oranges so I guess it’s not really much of a stretch. It was just my luck that Daniel accepted so readily that his black and grey colouring was just disparity in his genes. Lots of disparity…

Still, even though I was a little glad that I didn’t have to deal with the ‘oh-my-god you have a marked Phantom’ thing, I was a little bit creeped out too. He kept giving me sidelong glances that made think he was either a paedophile or some kind of stalker weirdo. It gave me shivers and that strange hair raising feeling you get in a suspenseful movie.

Anyway, we chatted a bit and when the bus was fixed we piled back in and headed up the road again. As we all stood to get back on, I couldn’t help shooting a glance at the guy and girl from the airport. They were facing away from me, so again, I couldn’t see their faces. I got another one of those gut churning feelings that told me something was wrong. I could see their Phantoms though. She had a icebird and he had a darktail, both of which would be really powerful when they were fully grown.

It was a whole other hour before we got to SPIRIT and I was bouncing in my seat for a while near the end I was that impatient. When the bus finally pulled into the SPIRIT car-park I was twitching so bad that Lara kept glaring at me.

“Yeah, you’re real indecisive,” she growled as we got off the bus and grabbed our stuff from the luggage compartment underneath. “I can see you second guessing yourself.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm, but I didn’t care.

A tall man stood at the front of the bus talking to the driver. He was dressed in nice clothes that seemed more for going to a fancy party than standing here on the dusty road talking to a bus driver. He was wearing a crisp white shirt with a tan vest over the top and a pair of trousers (note the difference between trousers and pants) in a deep rich chocolate brown colour. His black shoes were polished to perfection and I thought if I looked hard enough I would see my reflection in them from two metres away. His brown hair was brushed carefully and primed to the point where I entertained thoughts of him being gay, it was just… perfectly swept back, sculpted, and I imagine he’d used gel. And he was wearing a pair of gold aviators with black wire frames. I guess he thought he was cool.

When Daniel closed the luggage door the driver stopped talking, he looked a little bit frustrated, but he didn’t say anything aloud. Instead, silently fuming, he drove through the parking lot around the back of a large building and into what I took to be the bus shed. The tall guy turned to face us.

“I’m Mitchell Tyson,” he said with what I can only describe as a sly grin. I don’t think it was meant to look that way; it just seemed so at the time. But then, I did have perverts on the brain. “I run SPIRIT; I like to personally meet any new recruits we may have at the trials. You’re our second and last bus load of kids this season and now, if my addition is correct, we have a total of twenty fresh faces.

“This afternoon you’ll be allocated rooms and a training sheet. You will be asked a series of questions that will place you in one or another of our divisions. Tomorrow you’ll meet the head of your division and then you’ll be placed into a team of four members. Then each new student will be given a set of request cards, each with an urgency number, the higher the number the sooner I’d advise you to deal with said request. Or, if you prefer, you could do the small quick ones first and deal with the harder ones second.

“On the eleventh of next month, lots will be drawn and we’ll be having our round robin first year tournament. The winner of which will get some prize money and a laptop. The winner will also be given the number ‘one’, with runner up getting ‘two’ and so forth until we run out of numbers.

“Oh, to be eligible to partake in the tournament you must be the proud owner of no less than four Phantoms. So I’d get onto acquiring however many more it is that you need during your requests. Or on one of your days off. Saturday is our rest day and you can do pretty much whatever you want. You can go where you like insofar as you don’t go beyond the boundaries of Bisque.” He clapped his hands together and another slightly off grin crept across his face. “Right, well I think that’s about it. Come with me and we’ll get you all settled in.”

Lara and I exchanged ‘what-the-fuck’ looks as we hoisted our packs onto our shoulders. Patrick had offered to drag our suitcase this last little bit. We followed Mitchell across the open grassy park towards the entrance. The student park had benches placed in the grass, under trees, by the lake. It even had a marquee, not one of those crappy little ones either, it was huge. The main building itself wasn’t too shabby either. It was a great glass and metal construction with blocks of some kind of stone; Mitchell said that the design of the buildings was such that it kept them cool in the summer but not unbearably freezing in winter. The main building housed the foyer and some state of the art computer labs, a set of training rooms for mock battles, each with a different environment to fight in as well as a library. Four dormitory buildings winged away from the short sides of the administration building. The one on the far left was for girls; the second from the left was a mix building for long term students and staff. The one on the far right was for the guys and the second from the right was the same as the one second from the left.  Between the two middle dorm buildings was a stadium. It was huge and was obviously used for the tournament and other such things.

But now, we were going to the auditorium which was built in as a large entrance room to the library. Kinda crazy, but the design was cool. We were instructed to leave our bags in the back and take seats while Mitchell made his way to the front of the theatre. There were already a group of kids in there. Patrick, Lara, Daniel and I sat in the back row, not in that order; I didn’t want to sit next to Daniel.

“Oh,” said Mitchell from the pedestal at the front. “I do believe I neglected to tell the kids who arrived today that you will be issued a standard SPIRIT atombrace computerised wrist system tomorrow when you meet the rest of your team. It’s basically a watch that can have your Phantoms stored in it. Up to twenty-four Phantoms can be housed there at a time, beyond that you’ll have to use single storage atomisers.”

He stopped talking and there was a lull in all sound throughout the room. It took a long moment before someone was brave enough to try and fill the void. Soon after that buzzing hum of many conversations was back. Behind his stand in the front, Mitchell just smiled. There was definitely something just a little sinister about his smiles.

“Could you all be silent for just a moment?” he asked, a thin sickly-sweet note ran through his tone. I must be paranoid. “Will you all please welcome the staff Allocation Council.” He clapped softly and the other students seemed to think it appropriate that they join in. Four older men and one woman of around the same age walked in through a side door. “These lovely people are in charge of your placement here and, starting with the back row, they are going to commence that placing.”

Mitchell waved his hand and the four of us stood. Then he pointed to one other person as we walked down the aisle. It was the young man from the bus. We slowly followed the five older people through the door on the other side to the one they had come through. It led to a series of small rooms obviously set aside specifically for this purpose. They each held a door open and ushered us inside, one to each room. I got a tall older man, with a thick mop of white hair that stuck out everywhere. He had a friendly face and a kindly smile; he looked just like the stereotypical crazy old scientist who stuck his finger in a power socket. He sat in the chair facing the door and motioned for me to sit. Resting his bony elbows on the desk, he laced his long spindly fingers together and peered at me over them and his half moon spectacles perched precariously on the end of his nose.

“Tell me, what is your name?” he asked, his reedy voice was surprisingly strong and commanding. I wondered what he’d done prior to this seemingly boring office job.

“Kirin, sir,” I replied. “KirinPyrol.”

“Pyrol,” he mused as though finding that curious and amusing. “I recall meeting your… what would he be? Great grandfather?” I nodded, but he continued on just the same. “Aidan Pyrol. A great man and a splendid human being, such a tragedy.”

“I am not Aidan,” I said.

His gaze became weightier than before as though he saw me suddenly different to when he had first set eyes on me. I felt as though my soul was being measured in those eyes.

“No, you’re not,” he said, a glimmer forming in his grey eyes. “And there is more meaning in those words than you realise at this moment.”

“I mean whatever his actions I cannot take credit for them, nor can I be blamed for crimes he may have committed. His sins are not mine,” I clarified.

“Wise words.” He paused, that mischievous glint danced merrily in the silence. “So where do you want to go?”

“I’m sorry?”

“What is it you want to do here at SPIRIT? Which section would you like to find yourself in?”

I thought a moment. “Well, I’ve always wanted to be a conservationist, but not one of the ones who wanders around saying ‘don’t touch, it’s endangered’. I always wanted a more active approach.”

“Allow me to bring to light the sections we provide here. Starting with spies and scouts, they are our first class. Second class is soldiers and our rapid response team most such teams also have a first class in there somewhere, field work. Third is technical support, our people behind the communication and tactical stuff, not my forte. Fourth is PR, the people with the gifted words. And fifth is conservationist, the behind the desk type.”

“I like field work, but I prefer to be… sneaky. I guess I like the sound of first class. May I ask why they are ranked?”

He smiled, a friendly grandfather smile, not creepy. “Depending on how hard the requests are. Not many people can be sneaky, but almost anyone can write things on paper. And these days most of you kids can fix almost anything technical. Soldiers are second because it takes a special kind of person to kill. It takes a certain amount of detachment.”

I shook my head. “No one can be so detached that they don’t feel pain when they are forced to kill.”

“No, but I would rather have people who feel at least a little pain than those who feel pleasure,” he said, poking at his glasses. “Wouldn’t you?”

There was a long moment of silence as I thought about what he’d said.

“I’ll put in my words for you. Send in the next person on your way out would you please dear.”

As I stood for the door he spoke again. “Miss Pyrol,” I froze and turned around. “I wouldn’t use that name if I were you. Not here. These days SPIRIT is a very different place than it was when Aidan was here. Consider that for me would you.”

“Don’t you have to give them my name for the roll or something?” I asked.

He placed his arms flat on the desk. “And what would you have me call you then?”

“Quinn,” I said without thinking. “KirinQuinn.”

He just smiled.

I left the room and stood in the hall for a moment, unsure of what I was supposed to do now. A woman wearing a shirt with a SPIRIT patch on the left breast walked up to me and handed me a folder. She raised one eyebrow and then walked off. I looked down at the dark blue folder; it had my name on it, not my real name, ‘Kirin Quinn’.

I was boggled. How had they known to write my new false name on this folder so quickly? I hadn’t even known until a minute ago. Putting aside this mystery, I opened the folder. Inside was a card key with the number ‘7’ on it and a laminated sheet of paper with a grid on it. I left the paper and instead decided to concentrate on getting to my rooms.

Looking around the now empty hall, I realised I didn’t actually know where I was. So I went back through the door I’d come through initially and a girl stood up to take my place in the room with the nice old guy. She gave me a friendly grin as she walked past and I did my best to return the favour. Mine probably looked a little forced though because that gnawing feeling had returned to my gut.

I wandered back through the theatre and out the top door, then I left the main building and headed for the left wing girls’ dormitory. There was doubtless a shorter route from the theatre, but I didn’t know it. There was a floor plan on the wall by the stairs inside the dorm; seven was on the next floor up. From the look of it, the ground floor was entirely made up of recreation rooms. So, up the stairs I went, then I threw a left and peered at each door’s number. When I had finally decided that I’d taken a wrong turn, I went back to the stairs, going right instead of left. Seven was the very first door, how I’d missed it, I had no clue.

I slid my card into the slot and pulled the handle down when the light went green. Inside, the room was nothing like I’d imagined. It looked more like an uptown apartment in Tyrith or something. The living area was massive, with a pair of couches, a small recliner chair and some beanbags, the television was at the very least fifty inches and the surround sound system was out of this world. A little beyond that was an alcove with a kitchenette and the huge windows inset on the far wall let onto a patio looking out over the park and lake. In front of the window was the kitchen table, a full six seater. A short hall let off to the right by the kitchenette and I decided to investigate. Another short hall was to the left, but I’d get to it later. Down the right hall was the bathroom, a separate toilet and a laundry. Then I went down the left which had two bedrooms and a study with two large study desks and two state of the art desktop computers. This was like a house it that big. Why there was a laundry was beyond me, it seemed more practical to have one communal laundry, and the same went for the kitchen. But I was eternally relieved that I wouldn’t have to use an amenities building, they were always gross.

It was about then that I realised, not only were my bags already in one of the bedrooms, but there were more bags in the other room and not ones I recognised. I took that to mean that Lara and I had indeed been separated. We’d have to sort through the suitcase when we got the chance. I only just then noticed the person sitting in a wicker chair by a glass top table on the patio reading.

I stared at her for a long moment before coming back to myself. I didn’t know her, she wasn’t the girl from the airport, of that I was sure. Carefully, I tiptoed to the window. She was a pretty girl, with a huge mess of curly black hair and crystal blue eyes and delicate features; she looked like a porcelain doll. I lifted the latch and slid the door open. She looked up as I came outside.

A grin burst onto her face and she slid a finger between her pages and let the book rest in her lap. I found myself smiling too, but I didn’t really know what to say. She fixed that problem.

“Hey, I’m Pandora,” she said, extending a hand. “Pandora Coff.”

I took her hand. “Kirin Quinn,” I replied, shocked at how easily the lie came to me. It just slipped away from me and sounded almost natural. But then I knew the truth and she didn’t, so I guess I was just overanalysing things again.

“You’re one of the people who got here today?” she asked.

“Sure am. You must be one of the fourteen already here.”

“That’s correct. I’ve been here since summer last year.” Her face had a sour twist to it like she couldn’t believe how long it had taken them to enrol. “They let me live on the campus, but I’d arrived after the trials so I couldn’t be a student. Bastards.”

I laughed. “Stupid bureaucracy.”

She rolled her eyes. “You said it. I wasn’t that late, only two days.”

“Wow, you wouldn’t have thought that would put them out much.”

Pandora waved her arms in an exasperated motion. “That’s what I said. But no… can’t let in just one more student.”

“What did you enrol in?” I asked, wondering if I would now know someone in my classes.

Another smile split her face. “Spies, first class.”

“Hey me too,” I replied, sharing her smile. It looked like I’d have a friend in my classes. As that thought went through my head it occurred to me that Lara had been right; it was easy enough to make new friends.

Then there was a bit of silence and I went back inside. I unpacked my clothes and put them in drawers, then I let Winter out so he could have a look around. I pulled out the folder again and put the card key in my pocket. The laminated paper had the days of the week on it as well as times during the day. Various areas were shaded and in the shaded section was a location. It was my training sheet. The person who was in that particular area at the same time as me would be my battle partner. The different locations were the various environmental battle arenas in the main building.

Once all my stuff had been taken out of the suitcase I got my phone and texted Lara. I told her my room number and asked for hers. I got one back saying eleven. At least she was on my floor. She also told me that Patrick was on the second floor of the guys’ building in room eighteen, there were twelve rooms on each floor it seemed. And that she was bunking with a girl called Fiona Taylor.  I then decided that I might as well give her the clothes in the suitcase.

I zipped it back up and strolled it out the door. When I reached her door, I tapped out the chorus of ‘The Free Flier’ without even thinking about it. The door opened a crack and a pair of big aqua eyes peered back at me. They weren’t just green like Lara’s or I would have recognised them, these were definitely aqua. Not only that, but the girl’s blonde hair was streaked through liberally with a red-orange colour, not brown. I decided this must be Fiona.

“Hi,” I said with a wave. “I’mKirin, Lara’s friend. I just came to give her the rest of her clothes.” I pointed to the suitcase.

She lifted an eyebrow, but opened the door to let me in. Let me tell you something, when I realised that Fiona was just as short as me I was thrilled. I never told her this, but I always thought she was cute, with her tiny little button nose and her bangs and the straight cut fringe. Gosh, I sound like a lesbian, but if you knew her you’d think the same. She’s the kind of person that you just want to hug… like a teddy bear. Haha, she’d sure get a kick out of that.

“I’m Fiona,” she said. “So you’re Lara’s best friend?”

I screwed my eyes shut. “She said that? Nah, well one of them. You probably haven’t met Patrick.”

Her little round cartoon face lit up. Ooh, that’s it; she looked like a cartoon character, not one with an angular face though. More rounded and soft in the face. “Keller?” she asked. “Patrick Keller?”

I scratched my head. “Well I knew he made friends fast, but this is crazy.”

She laughed. “He’s bunking with my brother, David.” Fiona slid onto a chair and motioned for me to sit too. “Lara’s pretty easy to be friends with too.”

“Yeah, most of the time,” I agreed. “Only when she’s right.”

Fiona laughed again. “Oh, that’s okay, I know people like that. But I know what you mean. Sometimes you just have to let them be wrong because it’s not worth the fight.”

“Yeah. So where are you from?” I asked, curious about this talkative little person. She really felt good to talk to. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that sort of had itself? It was like that.

“I’m from Faraer, but we were raised in Rupell from the age of nine, so I consider myself an honorary Kalidon.” She smiled again as though recalling some nostalgic memory. “It was nice to live in such a small community, you know?”

“Actually, I do,” I said. “I’m from up north in Kalidor. Above Carissa.”

“Really? By theSingingValley?”

I chuckled. “Yeah, right next door inEchoValley. There are about fifty odd people in Echo.”

“That’s great,” she said grabbing the edge of her chair. “Did you ever see a firesong? I hear they’re really rare.”

“Sure they are, but they hunt on the edge of the forest all the time so you see them up high.”

“Cool,” she bubbled. Then she frowned. “I bet you get poachers.”

My frown joined hers. “Not many, but we got some guys from K-L Shipping the other day come through and try to nap some Phantoms. They even stole some of our cindersheep.”

“No,” she breathed. “Did you get them back?”

“You bet I did. I sure wasn’t going to just leave them.”

“Wow, what did the Phantoms do when you let them go?”

I paused. “Uh, I’m not sure you’ll believe me if I tell you.”

She lifted one eyebrow again as though asking me if I was serious. “My brother came home one day and told me he had a girlfriend. I didn’t believe him, so he introduced me to her. It was my best friend. I dare you to try me.”

“That’s funny,” I giggled. “Well, alright, but you can’t tell anyone.”

She made a cross over her heart. “Cross my heart and hope to die. Your secret is as safe as if it were mine.”

“Well, the strongclaw I saved tried to give me her baby and when I told her I didn’t want payment for saving them the Phantoms of the Valley named me, my family, Lara and Patrick honorary members of their society. So long as we promised to protect Phantoms the world over, there would always be Phantoms somewhere willing to help us if we’re in trouble.”

She sat there, silent, her knuckles white against the fabric of the chair. Her eyes were as round as saucers and her lower jaw hung slack. She was leaning so far forward I thought she’d fall off the chair.

“No way,” she breathed. “How did they do that?”

I made the circle sign against my chest the same way the strongclaw had done it and explained to her what it meant. “All the Phantoms of the Valley did it. That means they all accepted us as family.”

“Awesome. My dreams are to become a SPIRIT PR for someone and to meet a real life Pyrol and that’s about it. How can you possibly hope to dream something bigger than that?” Rose is gifted with a silver tongue, she can conjure verbal illusions and when she wants to, she can lie so well there’s no one in the world can see through them. I bet she could convince you that the sky is green.

“That’s it,” I asked her. Now it was my turn for my jaw to fall open. “I want to help save Phantoms and protect them from those asses the world over who mistreat them and all you want is to be a PR person and to meet a Pyrol?”

“Yup.”

“Why a Pyrol? Why not someone famous?” I was stunned.

“Well, Aidan founded SPIRIT and I think that’s just the best thing ever. Besides, those Knight jerks really can’t expect somebody as honourable as Aidan Pyrol not to abide by the law. I think they’re horrible people for wanting to kill the Pyrol family. Although I hear they’re just farmers these days.”

I was so shocked I forgot to speak. Fiona obviously took this to mean I agreed with her and continued.

“I mean, the whole world thinks that the Knights are wrong in their hatred of the Pyrols. Well, maybe not the whole world, but a lot of people love them for what they stand for and the rest side with the Knights in hating their guts, okay, so most people hate the Pyrols, but only because the Knights are so famous. I think people are just waiting to see when they’ll come out of hiding.”

“What?” I breathed.

Now Fiona looked stunned. “How can you not know about the Pyrols?”

“Oh I know the Pyrols, but I didn’t know all that other stuff. They’re famous?”

She shrugged. “Or infamous depending on who you talk to. Most people here don’t like them much even though there wouldn’t be a SPIRIT without Aidan. How could you not know this?”

I wasn’t really seeing anything anymore, nor was I really hearing her. This was the first time in my life that I’d ever heard about people hating my family. I didn’t even know our last name was known around the world. I’d thought we were just an obscure family who lived in a back water town and that the only people who knew us were those we lived with. Now I was finding out that the entire Knight family hated us and that many people in the world would turn us over to them or something. It was crazy. No wonder the old man had told me not to use my name. So how did I know if I could trust this girl?

I shook hold of myself and returned to the present. “So, I take it you’re not one of the people who wants them dead?”

She looked aghast. “No, why would I want that? They have every right to live how they want just the same as the rest of us. The current Pyrols are not to blame for something done by their ancestors.”

“What thing?”

She blinked. “Aidan Pyrol found that Maxwell Knight was dealing in stolen Phantoms and weapons with Sonde and had him arrested. He went away for six years but maintained his innocence the whole time despite the fact that the evidence was irrefutable. His family today continue to believe that the descendants of Aidan deserve to be punished for the crimes of Aidan. Crimes that have been exaggerated to this day to the point where the Knights claim that the evidence against Maxwell was faked to excuse Aidan of the crimes, that the whole thing was a set up and that key members of the case were assassinated by Aidan. Even though medical testing of the bodies determined that one of them had overdosed and he was a known drug addict and the other had had a heart attack. You can’t fake a heart attack. Either way, Maxwell had Aidan silently killed, but he managed to get his family away and they haven’t been heard from since. Although I understand that Derek or his father Nathaniel would give their right hands to find a Pyrol to torture and kill.” A shiver ran up my spine. “How can you not know that story?”

“Just living in a bubble of ignorance I guess.”

She gasped. “You’re so white! Are you okay?”

I felt myself go green. “Just going to throw up in your toilet, okay?” I ran into the bathroom and heaved my guts up. I felt sick to my core. And shaken, I think that was the first day I’d ever been truly and utterly terrified. Never before had I felt so… desolate. Why had my parents never told me?

Fiona’s hand rested on my back. “Are you alright? No one I’ve met has ever reacted like that to the story.”

“I guess,” I groaned between my slowing heaves. “Hold on.”

Half an hour later, I was lying on my back on her bed. Lara still wasn’t there; Fiona said she didn’t know where she was. Either way, when she got there she was definitely going to cop an earful.

“How are you feeling?’ Fiona asked. She had a hot cup of chocolate in one hand. “You look like death.”

“Then I look exactly how I feel,” I muttered. “Why on earth would you want to meet someone with a death threat hanging over their head?”

She shook her head. “I guess Aidan is my hero and since he’s not around, one of his descendents will do nicely.”

I took the cup she offered and closed my eyes. “You must think I’m a pansy huh?”

She smiled. “Not really, just compassionate. You reacted so strongly to someone else’s misfortune, you must be really empathetic.”

“Someone else’s misfortune…”

The door opened. “Hey Fiona, I was just – Oh my god,Kirin!” It was Lara. Just my fat luck. She was at my side in an instant. “Shit, darl, what did you do this time? Not another stonehorn?”

“Stonehorn?” Fiona asked.

“Yeah,Kirinhere has some real problems with… well; you just should have seen the blood in the photos. Her dad’s a good photographer. And the scans… Oh.”

“That’s quite enough Lara,” I said sharply. “This has nothing to do with stonehorns.” I tried to push myself up, but my head spun so violently that I collapsed back down with a groan. “This is much worse.”

Lara grinned. “I doubt it, that fence left a scar.”

I looked at Fiona for a moment. “Do you think you could give us a moment?” I asked her, begging for some understanding. She just laughed and left, saying something about a lover’s spat.

Lara turned her smiling eyes at me, but when they encountered stone cold desolation, they mellowed. “What’s up, love?”

“Did you know?” I asked her, staring at the ceiling.

“About what?”

“About the Knight feud thing with the Pyrols.”

Her face fell. “Ah, I guess Fiona told you about her obsession with the Pyrols huh?”

“Yeah, now be honest Lara. Did you know?”

She sighed. “No, but I did know the Knight family hated yours. I didn’t know it was so serious, or so widespread.”

“When did you find out?”

“Just today. Fiona doesn’t try to keep her love of Aidan a secret. She idolises him. Why?”

“The guy who allocated my section told me not to use my real name around here. He didn’t elaborate; he just said it would be a bad idea. She seemed honest enough, but I don’t know whether or not to trust her. I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

“I guess.”

I looked her in the eyes. “You don’t know what it’s like, Lara. I just found out that the whole world knows who I am and most of them hate me, some of them even want me dead. My life isn’t what it used to be. I’m a farmer for gods’ sake!”

“I know,Kirin. I really do. I know you don’t want to be famous and look what’s gone and happened. How do you think I feel? I just found out my best friend has a wanted sign posted over her.”

I sighed. “Sorry.” I sat up, ignoring both the sick feeling in my stomach and the whirling in my head. “I’m sorry.”

She sat beside me. “What for? Being who you are? Let me ask you something; would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Or a stinkweasel by any other name smell less foul? No, and your name is not the important thing, but who you are on the inside,” she said, poking me in the stomach. “You’ll always be my best friend, regardless of what the world thinks of you.” Then she hugged me. God bless Lara Matthews.

The door burst open.

“Hey Lara have you seen– Oh my god,Kirin.” It was Patrick. “David just told me, this is terrible. What do we do?” He started pacing.

“Patty,” I said. “Even I didn’t know, the rest of the world did, but I was clueless. And I think we’re going to have to trust Fiona now.” I pointed. She was standing in the doorway.

“Trust me with what?” she asked. She mustn’t have heard, but there was enough ruckus going on that it wouldn’t hurt.

I took a deep breath. “Well, my name is Kirin and my last name is Pyrol.”

I’m actually pretty sure she almost fainted. “Really? That’s awesome!”

“You can’t tell anyone,” said Lara.

“Yeah, we don’t know who wants her dead and who wants her alive,” Patrick pointed out. “We’re pretty fond of her alive.”

Fiona smiled. “Wouldn’t tell a soul. But I do know of two people who won’t kill you. My brother and his girlfriend. But I’ll let you decide when you meet them. I won’t tell.” She crossed her heart again. “Besides, it’s nice to know I’m not the only person in the world this short.”

We both laughed. It was going to be tough pretending to be somebody else.

“Speaking of keeping you alive,” said Lara. “What’s your new name going to be?” Everybody looked at me.

“Well, I’m enrolled as Kirin Quinn,” I said. “I guess it’s too late to change that.”

“Well, Miss Quinn,” said Lara, rolling her eyes. “Let’s hope you can act.”

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~ by reliquiaen on April 12, 2012.

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