Watch Me Burn – Chapter Two

Two –

Change is inevitable, like death

I sat on the bench, one leg swinging beneath me, the other held out stiffly, just watching the small grey Phantom on the bench beside me. He seemed so happy, his wide blue eyes gazing at me with more love than I’d ever seen in one place before. His little paws held on tightly to a sausage that I’d found in the fridge, he was sucking on the end, not chewing, just sucking. Occasionally, his tiny teeth would sink into it, but he never bit anything off it. I didn’t know what to do really. His long tail draped across the bench, hanging down the side.

Sighing, I slid from the bench, using my crutch to support my weight as my leg still hurt to stand on. It was getting better though, I could now walk the length of the hall before collapsing and the wound was healing nicely now that the stitches were holding it together. Hobbling slightly, I trudged down the hall to the greenroom; there was something I wanted to do. Behind me, Winter’s small feet pattered softly on the wooden floor. He followed me down the hall and into the glass-room where I stopped. For a few long moments we both stood there looking down at what was left of his shell. Then he turned his big blue eyes up at me and smiled, sitting back so one small hand could grip the leg of my jeans to get my attention.

Looking down at the tiny creature I felt so powerful and so… soft? I’m not sure that’s the right word, but all of a sudden I had this urge to give him a big hug. Motherly instincts I suppose.

“I’m looking for a big piece of shell,” I said to him softly. “Can you pick one up for me? I can’t bend down.”

His charcoal brows drew together for the barest of instants, then he seemed to understand. Leaving the sausage in his mouth, he waddled over to a larger piece of the eggshell and picked it up. He held it out in one hand to me, smiling triumphantly and leaning heavily on his other front leg, the sausage dangling forgotten from his teeth. It was about the size of my palm and was probably the largest bit there. I leaned down as far as I could and took it from him gently with a soft squeeze of his hand.

“Thank you, that’s just what I was looking for,” I said, smiling at him, not sure that he could understand what I was saying. He beamed and did a little hop and then hugged my leg. Not the sore one.

“Come on,” I said, the tips of my fingers just stroking the top of his feathered head. “Let’s go show dad.”

He squeaked enthusiastically and bounced to the door. Clutching the frame, he peered back at me, resting on his haunches, his big eyes questioning. His tail was curled around his feet resting against the wood of the wall.

As I hobbled past him into the hall way, he followed, the sausage bobbing from his mouth as he walked. Making my way slowly down the hallway with the shell pressed against my thigh so that no one could see it, I headed for the living room. Mum was watching telly as I carefully skirted the couch. It took all my balance and skill to navigate the room with its chairs and other seemingly innocuous landmines lovingly strewn about as remnants of my brother’s ‘play time’ while keeping Winter safely concealed behind my legs.

Once I reached what I deemed to be a safe place to stop I looked down. Winter clutched at my jeans again, his eyes cautiously peering out at the room. As I considered his size, I realised that such a large space might be a bit daunting for him. I decided to make my move.

“Mum, have you seen dad?” I asked, interrupting her show. She didn’t even look around at me, but a frown marred her face. Clearly she wasn’t happy about being disturbed.

“He’s in his study I think, love,” she said. “Shh.”

Looking down again, I smiled reassuringly at the small creature behind me. A somewhat nervous smile split his face, but his eyes were unsure. I bobbed my head to indicate the door behind me and smiled a bit wider. He seemed to perk up at that and we crossed what was left of the living room and into my dad’s study.

The room was quite large with a huge sprawling wooden desk placed smack bang in the middle. Despite having two big windows in the walls, the thick curtains were drawn making the room murky and stuffy. A pair of lights were on overhead and the desk lamp was also switched on. Big bookshelves lined the walls and a computer that was so new it looked out of place was beeping unhappily in one corner. One of the lights flickered momentarily before settling down again. My dad, a tall, thin, Ungifted man in his fifties was hunched over the desk with his round reading glasses perched on the edge of his beaked nose, perilously close to slipping off. His once thick black hair was now streaked liberally with silver and was starting to thin out. Large callused hands firmly moved bits and pieces around as he tinkered and his sharp blue-grey eyes, however much they might be failing him, still had a fierce glow to them and very much conveyed his every mood. Dressed in a dark grey top and a pair of baggy old trousers he blended in quite nicely with the rest of the room.

I knocked softly on the doorframe as I stepped quietly into his lair. A fan in one corner blew in a steady rhythm fighting the growing heat. Dad looked about quickly as he straightened, wiping his hands on a piece of rag. I’m still not entirely sure what it was he was doing that day, but the stuff on the table looked pretty impressive. Dad liked to make metal constructions that served no other purpose except to baffle the eye and mind.

He beamed when he saw me there, even though I was leaning heavily on a crutch, my leg was still bandaged and I had a worried look on my face, he was happy to see me. That alone was enough to make my heart swell.

“Hey,Kirin,” he said enthusiastically. “What’s up?”

Carefully, so as to keep Winter hidden, I walked over to him and handed him the piece of shell.

“I’d just like to know if you can tell me what that is,” I said to him. Even though I knew full well what it was, I wanted to see if he came to the same conclusion.

“It looks like egg shell,” he mused softly to himself. “Where did you find this?”

“Near the tree-line to the rest of the Valley,” I said. He looked up at that, and then decided to let it go as his eyes drifted back to the shell.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he muttered. He walked gently over to a bookshelf and pulled a volume from a shelf. “I feel like I’ve seen this pattern before, but I can’t place it.” With one hand holding the shell and the book in the other he flicked through the pages. I’ve never worked out how to do that, it must be a skill picked up from preoccupation. He called it multitasking.

One eye on the shell, the other on the images in the book he kept paging through. After a few long minutes during which I frequently looked down to make sure Winter was still hiding, dad stopped turning pages and placed both the book and the shell on the table. Both hands were gripping the edge of the desk tightly, as though they were the only things holding him up. I realised he was stunned, almost as stunned as I had first been. Maybe he gripped faster than I had what it meant.

“I knew the pattern was familiar,” he breathed. “On the edge of the Valley you said?” I nodded even though he couldn’t see me. “Well, I’ll be.” He spun, holding the shell out to me. “Do you know what this is?”

I shrugged, not really trusting myself to speak. But feeling as though some kind of verbal response was required I whispered, “Not really.”

“ThisKirin, is an egg shell,” he paused as he stared at it a moment in wonder. “The patterns on the surface are those of a firesong egg, that’s what I meant when I said I recognised them.”

“But the shell is black and blue,” I pointed out, being the keen observer that I am. “firesongs are orange and red and the like.”

He nodded, smiling like a little kid. “Precisely! But,” he picked up his book and showed me a page on which a series of clean sketches and rough drawings had been lined up. The clean drawings were of an orange and red firesong egg beside an infant firesong and then an adult. On the second page was a sketch of a black and blue egg next to drawings of a black firesong chick and one of an adult. I noticed that in the images the firesongs had fewer feathers than Winter did. I was confused.

“Uh, dad, what is this?” I asked pointing to the pictures.

“Well,” he said, “a firesong, orange and red in colour hatches out of this egg,” he pointed to the orange and red egg. “But, a marked firesong,” he pointed to the rough black sketch, “hatches from a black and blue egg.” He paused for effect. “A black egg like this one,” he pointed to the shell on the desk.

“Dad, that’s only part of an egg,” I said flatly.

He deflated. “I know.” He snapped the book closed. “But that does mean there is a marked firesong wandering about in the Valley.”

I shook my head. “You know what Phantoms do to their marked offspring.”

Again, his shoulders slumped. “Yes.”

“Dad,” I asked tentatively. “Why were the marked egg and firesong sketches such bad quality?”

“Because ordinary firesongs are rare, marked ones are impossibly rare. And like you said, they don’t live long. I dare say no one has ever seen a marked firesong before.”

“Then how did they know it was black?”

“Because the egg is black.”

“How did they know the egg is black?”

“They’ve seen one before.”

“Then why didn’t they take the egg and look after it?”

He sighed. “I don’t knowKirin. Would you take an egg and raise the Phantom inside?”

“Yes.” He seemed startled by that, though I couldn’t fathom why. “I’d take in any Phantom egg abandoned by its mother and a marked one is no exception.”

Somehow, I don’t think he knew quite how to respond to that. We were silent for a long time. I was thinking about how to broach the real topic I’d come to speak about. And I’m pretty sure he was thinking about how he could catch a marked firesong. His eyes were glazed over and his head was bobbing gently to a beat I couldn’t hear.

A soft touch on my jeans leg reminded me of Winter standing there with me and I decided that now was as good a time as any. I looked up at dad and readied myself for something I didn’t really know how to do.

“Dad,” I began tentatively. He didn’t respond. “Dad.” His eyes focused on me and he nodded. I took a deep breath. “You know how you’re always telling me I should find a Phantom partner?” Another nod. “Well, I think I’ve found one.”

He straightened. “Really?! Oh that’s wonderful. Your mother will be thrilled. What did you find? A migrating Phantom? An ashoof? Ooh, I know, you found a baby rollerock didn’t you?”

“Dad, calm yourself.” He settled, but he was still grinning like a school kid. “No, it was none of the above, but speaking of ashooves, how would you feel about me having a fire class?”

He scratched his chin as he thought. “A fire class, eh? You know, I really don’t have a problem with that. Just so long as he doesn’t burn the house down.” He smiled again. “Oh, I’m so proud of you!” He did a little jig then, and he looked a right fool doing it, I was half afraid he might put his hip out. When he stopped, I hurriedly wiped the mocking look off my face. “Well, what was it?”

I took a deep breath. “A firesong.”

He frowned, looked away from me a moment, blinked a few times, then looked back. “I’m sorry… you said you found a what?”

“A firesong, dad. You know, small, big eyes, fluffy face, covered in fur and feathers? A firesong,” I repeated.

“Wherever did you get one of those?” He stopped speaking suddenly, paused a moment, then changed his mind. “Where is it?”

I stepped aside. Winter, who hadn’t been ready for my sudden movement, squeaked and hurriedly scampered back behind my legs. He had one arm around my leg and his face pressed right up against it.

“It’s okay,” I whispered to him. “This is my dad, he won’t hurt you.” I smiled widely. “I promise.”

Cautiously, Winter peeked out from behind my leg and, slowly, took a step away from me. His tail coiled itself around my leg though and he was crouched right down low. His sausage was still dangling from his mouth as he looked, wide eyed and probably frightened half to death, at the tall man in front of him.

“It looks more like a nightwraith to me,” he noted. Winter took a step away from dad to stand behind my leg; resting back on his haunches his claws grasped my pant leg.

“I’m pretty sure he’s a firesong,” I said, my hand finding Winter’s as I spoke. The little Phantom, using my hand as leverage and my crutch as purchase, scrambled upwards and into my arms where he curled up tight against me.

“No.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”

“He can’t be a firesong, he just doesn’t look quite right.”

Winter buried his face into my chest. I frowned. “You see that egg shell there on your table?” He nodded. “Winter came out of it.”

Now dad frowned. “Sorry? That little fluffy creature came out of an egg for a scaled Phantom? How can that be?”

“No idea.”

He collapsed onto a stool. “I think you’d better tell me how you met this little fellow.”

So I told him about going into the forest and encountering the young female firesong who dumped the egg in the Tree of Exile. I told him that I stole the egg after the firesong’s face had seemed to plead with me not to leave it. I left out the bit about stealing the grass bales and told him instead that I’d just used the debris in the greenroom to incubate the egg. If he knew that I’d been stupid the day I cut my leg open and not just unfortunate, he would revoke all my good fortune and I’d end up on dish duty for the rest of my life. A few little lies never hurt anyone. Then I told him that he’d just hatched today and that I’d decided to call him Winter.

He peered at the firesong, and after getting a good look at his ice blue eyes agreed that the name suited him, even if he was a fire class. Then he sighed, running a hand through his hair.

“Have you told your mother?”

“No,” I admitted. “I figured I should probably talk to you first.”

“All well and good,” he said. “But now go and tell her. And don’t hide him from her like you did from me. She won’t appreciate it.”

I nodded and left as fast as my leg would allow.

In the living room, my mum was just flicking through channels in order to evade ads when I hobbled in. She looked up briefly, then returned to her flicking. She wasn’t normally a lounge lizard, before you all start thinking that, it’s just she’d been really ill the last few days with a vomiting bug that had kept her up at nights. TV was a blessed relief for her because it made her eyes hurt enough that she’d sort of just slip off to sleep while lying on the chair before she even realised what was going on. That happened to me sometimes when we were watching a particularly boring show. Her recent illness was also the reason I deemed this to be one of the worst possible times to tell her that I’d bonded a Phantom. But dad had told me, so I would tell her, and I’d blame him if she got angry at me.

“Hey mum,” I began cheerfully, trying not to sound forced. “What’re you watching?”

“Just flicking, love,” she said softly. “Keep your voice down for me would you?”

“Sure.” I was quiet a while, not knowing how to say it. In the end I decided to just tell it to her straight. “Mum, I’ve got a Phantom.”

“Really, dear? That’s lovely. What did you find?”

“A firesong.”

“Oh? How nice, a fires¾ What?”

I cringed at the sudden change of tone in her voice. She’d gone from airy and vague to sharp and severe. I held Winter tighter as he gnawed contentedly on his sausage. It seemed he’d finally decided to eat it.

“I have a firesong,” I repeated. “He’s really quite nice. He doesn’t burn things or anything.” I tilted my arms so she could see the grey Phantom.

“Is he sick?” she asked.

I frowned. “No, why?”

“He looks a little… like a nightwraith.”

“He’s marked.”

“Oh, that explains… marked? You have a marked firesong?”

“Yes,” I said nervously. “Why?”

“Do you know how much people would pay for him?”

“I’m not selling him mum. You of all people should be able to appreciate that.” My mum was a conservationist who worked for the government. When this land had become available for sale because it didn’t fit with the requirements to be named part of the national reserve that was theSingingValley, they gave it to her. Everything here was free because she was deemed to be doing a national service in protecting the wildlife here. They concluded that as she would take care of the Phantoms around here and the land they lived on, she was the best possible person for the job. And dad being a research scientist only made the deal better. As such, my parents didn’t have to pay tax, or anything like that, the government did it all because they were working. Noting that, you should probably also know that we live on a block of land that was roughly one hundred and fifty acres. Mum’s a sturdy one though, she basically manages the entire property, petite and delicate with wavy blonde hair and crystal blue eyes though, you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know her.

She sighed. “I know and I’d never let you if you even thought about it. But you need to know that if you’re serious about keeping him you’ll need to be careful. Until he’s strong enough to take care of himself you’ll have to make sure other people, less respectable people, don’t try to steal him from you. Because they will, and they won’t look after him, they will sell him.”

“I’d already thought of that,” I said. “I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess I’ll just have to stay here until he’s a bit older.”

She nodded. “Wise. But you know once he gets older you’ll be hard pressed to keep him still. They like action.”

I nodded. I’d thought of that too. And while I wasn’t going to tell my parents just yet, I did have a theory as to how I was going to get around that little problem.

“You’d better go tell Jeremy,” she said, settling back into her chair. “He’ll be thrilled.”

I rolled my eyes, but hobbled through the house to Jeremy’s bedroom just the same. He would be excited, no doubt about it. Jeremy’s my younger brother, three and a half years my junior, he only had one more year before he’s eighteen and old enough to get his own licence. Despite that, he’d already decided that he wanted an ironbound for his first Phantom. Because it’s from Gaurin and a earth steel-subclass, the two things my brother wanted most in life.

When I reached his door I balanced myself carefully and banged a few times on his door with my crutch.

“Who is it and what do you want?” he called from inside. He sounded preoccupied which was a good thing. Jeremy was far more dedicated to his studies than I ever had been. The next school semester didn’t start for another month and he was already forsaking his friends and into the books. Crazy boy.

“It’sKirin, Jer. Can I come in?”

“Sure.”

I twisted the knob and opened the door. His windows were both open, letting a cool breeze in. He was sitting on his laptop writing what I thought was a plan for this semester. His books were strewn all over the floor and he had a pair of reading books, both half read, laying open, spine up on his bed. His ruffled blonde hair looked messier than usual, like he’d been running his hands through it. Tall like our father, but not quite as thin, he’d filled out in the last year and he’d also put an extra foot on top so that he was actually half a head taller than dad. With his calm grey eyes and mischievous face, he looked much like what I imagined our father must have looked like when he was the same age, but with blonde hair of course.

He smiled when he looked up from his work, a small quirk appearing briefly at the corner of his mouth when he looked at my bandaged leg. The smile all but disappeared when he saw Winter though. We’d often joked that my cautious nature meant that he would have his first Phantom before I got mine. From the look on his face, he’d been taking it as some kind of race.

“You have a Phantom?” he asked, his shoulders slumped.

“Yeah, he hatched today,” I said, feeling kind of sorry for him.

“You had an egg?” he seemed incredulous.

I shrugged. “Yeah.”

He nodded, turned away from me. I felt really bad, like I’d done something wrong. Winter was looking up at me with those big eyes of his, one paw protectively on his sausage, now half eaten, and the other resting comfortingly on my chin.

“What is it?” he asked, still staring at his laptop.

“A firesong.”

He nodded again.

“Jeremy, what’s wrong?” I asked, taking another step towards him.

Now he shook his head. “Nothing.”

I smiled slightly. “Don’t you dare lie to me, Jeremy. I know something’s up. Spill.”

A smile of his own tugged at his lips. “I’d just really thought I was going to beat you.”

I laughed. “Seriously? You wanted to get a Phantom first? Sorry Jer.” I mussed his hair, letting Winter slip to the floor. He immediately hid behind my leg again.

“I made two years, easy.”

“Two and a half,” I corrected him.

“Right,” his voice dripped sarcasm.

“Anyway, Jeremy, this is my first Phantom, Winter.” Winter peeked carefully past my leg, his big eyes round and the half sausage hanging from his mouth. “He’s marked.”

Jeremy’s mouth fell open. “Marked? Where did you get him?”

“His egg was in the Tree of Exile if you really must know. I’ve had his egg for two weeks now.”

“Awesome. So are you going on an adventure now?” he asked sullenly.

“And leave you all by your lonesome? Never. I’m going to stick around for a bit until Winter’s stronger and I don’t have to worry about people stealing him.”

“Ah.” He said, going back to his work.

“Not to mention I have to tell Lara. And I can’t do that until she gets back from her holiday.”

“What are you going to do with him in the mean time?” Jeremy asked, not looking at me.

 

I’m actually going to explain that right now. For a month and a half I did my very best to teach Winter how to write. While he was little, writing shouldn’t prove much of a challenge, but once he got older it would become basically impossible.He learned really fast, and while writing itself proved to be a difficulty for him at the start, he really loved to read.

He powered through half our collection in just that month and half. He soon learned to understand things I said, wrote and otherwise communicated to him. At one point, I gave him a set of cards with the names of certain household objects written on them and I pointed to the object and he had to hold up the card that had the name written on it. He got very good.

Teaching him to talk was even harder. Some things he grasped really quickly, his name, my name, and a few obscure other things he could say easily. He was pleased the most when he got to learn words with guttural intonations. In the end I managed to teach him enough that we could understand each other. He even started teaching me how to interpret things he was saying. It turns out that not everything Phantoms say is vocal.

By the end of the time we had, we both had enough understanding of the other’s natural means of communication that we could talk quite happily with each other. Winter would sometimes substitute human words into his speech because there was no way of translating that particular word and I would do the same. It was buckets of fun. And people say Phantoms can’t be taught human languages. Although, I will admit that my Phantom speaking skills were better than his human speaking ones and as his voice box developed I doubted he’d be able to say half the things he’d learned.

Even my parents could understand with ease most things he was saying and they were stunned when he understood something they were saying. Once, they were talking about a pair of manual shears that had gone missing. They weren’t going to use them, it was too early for that, but they needed to know where they were for when the shearing time came. Winter overheard the conversation and knew exactly where the missing shears were, so he went and got them.

Needless to say my parents were shocked. If he could understand that, they said, what else could he understand? The answer to that, is everything. As we found out the day Lara and her parents returned from their holiday.

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: