Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ch2: Chilli-Dog

The next day, I go to the store and buy a tape recorder.  Then I pass the time watching T.V., listening to music and writing in my journal.  I’m trying to keep my schedule open…
    I decide to go for a walk and wind up strolling to a park near my house.  I sit in a swing and hum along to with my Ipod for a while.  Then I feel his presence approach me from behind.
    I take out my earphones as he slides his hands on my shoulders.  His touch is warm and comforting.  I’ve never liked being touched.  It’s always felt weird and awkward with other guys.  Forced.  I always know what they want.  But with Azzen, it isn’t like that.  It’s just… different.  It’s innocent.
    “Miss me?” I ask.
    “More than you know,” he replies and gives me a push on the swing.
    That’s all we do for a while.  I sit.  He pushes.  And I know we are both perfectly happy.  And just at the right moment, when I want to talk, he moves over and sits in the swing beside me.
    “How did you find me?” I ask.
    Azzen pulls a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and hands it to me.  I unfold it and see a dark red arrow drawn on it, it looks like it’s painted in blood.  Ew.  But the amazing thing is that is points to me.  Regardless of where I move it, the arrow always points to me.
    “This could be dangerous,” I say offhandedly as I pass it back to him.
    “Keep it,” Azzen says.  “Burn it.  Doesn’t matter.  I can make more.  Your name is conveniently short.”
    I awkwardly say, “thanks,” and put the paper in my pocket.
    “You brought a recorder,” Azzen notices.
    “Yeah.  I kind of want to remember this.  I think I want to write it down in my journal later, if that‘s okay.  Just the story.”
    “Go ahead,” he says.  “It’s actually a pretty good story.”
    “Oh yeah?  Does it have a happy ending?
    Azzen kicks the dirt and twists his swing into a spiral.  “Hasn’t ended yet.  But I’m happy.  Are you?”
    “I think I’m dreaming,” I say.
    “Then let’s not wake up.”
    “Tell me more of the story.”

    I slept with the “Rats” that night at the Master’s.  They all slept in a single large room with mats laid out on the ground for beds.  There were other girls there, but I looked around briefly and didn’t see you.  They gave me an empty one and I tucked my regular clothes into my pillow case.  It wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but I fell asleep without much trouble.
    The next morning, I got up with them and followed the crowd to breakfast.  I saw you there.  You were eating alone.  I wanted to go eat with you, but I remembered the look that you gave me last night.
    So instead, I just ate the oatmeal mush that was served and then asked one of the boys where I could find the Master.  The kid pointed to you and said to, “ask the Merca.”  He seemed to think it was funny for some reason.  Personally, I was just glad to have an excuse to talk to you. 
    I’m not usually nervous around girls, but I’d never seen anyone like you.  With or without the ears, you were stunning.  A mix of classic beauty and exotic wildness.  There was rowdiness in your eyes, but grace in your walk.  A walk that I noticed, because when I approached you, you got up and left.
    “Hey!” I called out to you, but you ignored me and kept walking, so I followed you.
    “Hey, excuse me,” I said, when I got close.
    “What do you want?” you asked, narrowing your eyes.
    “Uh, Hi.  I’m Azzen.  Nice to meet you,” I said loudly for the others to hear and held out my hand.
    You seemed to relax.  “Fel,” you said, accepting my handshake.
    “Fel,” I repeated.  “Do you know where I can find the Master?”
    “Yes,” you said flatly.  “Why?”
    “Well I guess I’m supposed to chop some wood…”
    “That’s nice,” you said.  “Today was supposed to be my day.”
    You said you would take me to talk to the Master and led me down a hallway.
    “It’s so weird hearing you tell me what I did,” I say.
    “Yah, this whole thing must be pretty weird for you,” Azzen replies.
    “Could you do me a favor?”
    “Could you just say ‘Fel’?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Like, Fel did this.  Or Fel said that.  I don’t know, it’s just  easier to hear it that way.”
    “Uh sure.”
    “That way it’s more like a story…”
    “Yah, that’s fine.”
    So Fel took me to the Master.  And the Master told her that I would be chopping wood with you- Er, Fel.  Fel said that was fine and seemed pleased.  She smiled at me, and that seemed to piss the Master off, cuz the next thing he did was scold her and say, “Don’t think you’re getting off easy.  You’ll be chopping twice as much wood today, since there’s two of you.”
    And that seemed to kill your… Ugh, sorry.  Fel’s mood.  I didn’t want to make things harder on you, so I said sorry.

    “Yeah, sorry,” I say.
    “Huh?  For what?” Azzen asks.
    “If it’s harder to tell the story this way.”
    “Oh no, it’s fine.  It’ll just take me a minute to get used to it.”
    “Well then can you do me another favor?” I ask.
    “Could you also just say your name, instead of ‘I’ and ‘Me’ all the time?”
    “I guess.  Why?  Is that weird for you too?”
    “No, it’s not that, but it will be better for when I go back and write the story.  If it’s recorded that way, I won’t have to change anything.”
    Azzen laughs.  “Yah, sure sure.  Whatever you want.”

    So Fel and Azzen had to chop wood.  But before they went to do that, Fel had to get some words in to the Master.
    “Twice as much?!” she cried.  “That’ll take forever.  Look at him!  He’s scrawny.”
    Azzen didn’t think he was exactly scrawny, but didn’t feel the need to comment.
    “Then it’ll be better for you,” the Master said.  “Build up your stamina, so that you don’t get caught so easily when you try to run away.  Unless you like your ass whoopings.”
    Fel turned red and stalked away.  She turned back and shouted at Azzen, “Come on then!  Hurry up.” 
    Azzen hopped into step behind her.
    Fel yelled again at the Master.  “He’s mine then.  If you’re going to stick me with his chores, I get to use him to train.”
    The Master laughed.
    “I’m serious!” Fel shouted.  “I need someone to practice on.”
    The Master asked Azzen, “that okay with you, Boy?”
    Azzen really had no idea what they were talking about, but spending time with the alluring catgirl seemed to be a mesmerizing prospect to him, so he quickly agreed that it would be fine.
    “Fine,” the Master said to Fel.  “From now on, he’s your little puppy dog.”
    The Master laughed some more and Fel smiled wickedly.
    “Hope you got thick skin, Son,” the Master called as Fel marched off and Azzen followed.
    The catgirl took Azzen outside to the backyard of the manor.  The  yard extended into the forest.  There was a large chopping block and a pile of massive logs.  The logs weren’t regular sized logs, like the ones Azzen had cut for the Elf’s husband, they were gigantic.  Longer than a semi truck and too thick to fit through a door.  Fel walked right up to the closest one and told Azzen to go grab the other side.
    “Yeah sure,” Azzen joked.  “No problem.”  He knew there was no way the two kids could move the log onto the chopping block.  They would have to cut it into pieces and then chop up each piece at a time.  He stood expectantly and waited for Fel to get serious.
    “What are you waiting for?” she asked.
    “Are you serious?”
    “Are you stupid?”
    Azzen wasn’t sure how to answer.  Fel, on the other hand, lifted one end of the log and told him to hurry up.
    Azzen was astounded when he saw her lift the log and hurried over to the other side, thinking that maybe it was some type of super light wood.  He had some trouble getting a grip around the wide girth, and when he lifted, it didn’t budge.
    “Hurry up!” Fel shouted.
    “Uhhh, is there some trick to this?” Azzen called back, peaking around the side of the wood.
    “Oimah, you’re useless,” Fel snapped.
    Azzen stumbled as the log lurched forward.  The catgirl was dragging it to the chopping block by herself.
    “And don’t tell them Master I said that either,” she said.  “Go grab an axe off the side of the house,” she told him.
    Azzen silently obeyed and approached the side of the house that was glistening with various metal tools.  As he got closer, he saw that they weren’t really tools, they were actually an assortment of deadly weapons of different shapes and sizes.  After quickly admiring some swords, spears, mauls, flails, pikes, knives, nun-chucks and bow-staffs, he found a section of axes.  There were about twenty of them, ranging from small hatchets to huge double sided battle axes.  Azzen picked out one that looked like a standard woodcutting axe.
    When he brought it back to Fel, she scolded him.
    “You really are stupid!  It’ll take forever with that piece of junk.  Go get the biggest ones.  Get two.”
    Azzen apologized and quickly went back, retrieving the two largest axes.  They were so large that he could barely carry them both at the same time.
    When he returned.  Fel asked him if he actually wanted to finish this today or just dawdle and drool.
    “I’ve got real training to do, and thanks to you, I’ve got twice the chores from now on.”
    Azzen mumbled and apology and said he would do what he could to help.
    “Well since you’ve already proven yourself useless,” Fel said, “I’ll chop the log up into sections and you can break the pieces down on the chopping block.”
    Without further ado, the catgirl snatched an ax from Azzen and swung it high and hard, down onto the massive log.  The blade dug a good foot through and after wiggling it out, she swung again.  Azzen watched in awe as the girl quickly hacked off a two foot section and then began again, a little further down.
    “Well what are you waiting for?  Get to choppin’!”
    Azzen started and grappled with the huge chunk of wood.  After wrestling it over to the chopping block, he dug his fingers under it and lifted with enormous effort, hefting it up onto the block.  In the time it took him to get the piece in place, Fel had already sectioned off another chunk of wood.
    “You are seriously a pain in the ass,” the girl muttered, more to herself than to Azzen.
    The boy ignored her and went to work, chopping up the wood.  The big ax he swung did most of the work, but lifting it above his head over and over was no easy task.  Still, he didn’t complain, and when the first chunk was chopped up, he moved right on to the next one.
    By the time the boy was done with his second section, Fel had left to grab another log.  When she returned with it, she seemed to be in better spirits.
    “The Master makes us chop wood,” she explained between huffing swings, “to build stamina.  And to sell in the market when he goes to the city.  That’s his scam.  He says he’s gonna teach all us kids how to fight and become great warriors, but he really just makes us chop wood.”
     “He teaches you how to fight?” Azzen asked, interested.
    “Says he does.  But really, we teach each other.  When we don’t have chores or Chop Duty, we practice on our own.  Master divides us into three groups, so we all practice with other kids at our own level, but that’s about all he does.  That and beats us up if we try to run away.”
    “He beats you up?”
    “Yes, and he doesn’t teach us a thing.  That’s his scam.”
    “So he doesn’t let you leave?” Azzen asked.
    “Yes, and he won’t let you, either.”
    “He told me he was going to have one of the boys-”
    “He tells everybody anything to get them in here.  But once you’re here good luck getting out.  He’ll just keep telling you that he’ll do it tomorrow, and then tomorrow.  And if you try to run away, that’s when you’ll know.”
    “Know what?”
    “That he don’t care.  He’ll chase you and catch you and beat you.  And then you stop asking him to take you to city anymore.”
    “Are you serious?” Azzen asked.  “Why doesn’t anyone come get you?  Don’t you have parents?”
    “Me?  No.  Other kids do, but that’s part of the scam.  The Master claims this is a fighting school.  He says that he trains us to be great warriors and that the parents aren’t allowed to watch us train, because of all his ‘secret techniques,’” Fel paused for a rest after she finished sectioning off the second log.  “But he don’t teach us nothing.  Just beats us up and makes us do chores.  In the spare time, we train ourselves.  Oiyah bruntaros E Master,” she spat and left to go grab another log.  “Don’t tell him I said that.”
    Azzen couldn’t believe it.  There must be forty or fifty kids at this school.  How could nobody realize what was going on?  Wouldn’t somebody catch on and step in?  He finished chopping up a fourth section as Fel returned, huffing with the log in tow.
    “How come nobody notices that this isn’t really a school for fighting?” Azzen asked.
    “It has a really good reputation,” Fel said.
    “Yah, most kids here were actually dropped off by their parents,” she said.  “No tell Master I said, ‘Yah.’”
    “Okay.  How come it has a good reputation?”
    “Because the Master is really strong and really fast.  And those are the only two ways to get out of here.  Beat him up or outrun him.  Either way, once you’re able to, you’ve become a powerful warrior.  So people that see it from the outside think it works.  But it don’t.  Some kids grow old and die here.  Once you’re too old, the Master kills you, cuz you’re making the school look bad.”
    “That is absurd,” Azzen said.
    “Meh, that’s just a legend.  I don’t know anyone that’s been killed.”
    “How long have you been here?” Azzen asked.
    “Eight moons,” Fel replied.
    Azzen was dumbstruck.  Fel was swinging a massive ax and hauling tremendous logs.  If she couldn’t escape, how long would it take him?
    “Eight moons…” the catgirl muttered again.  “Stupid me.  I came here on purpose.”
    Azzen snorted an involuntary laugh.
    “Don’t laugh, Stupid!” the catgirl shouted.  “At least I don’t think I’m from fake land!”
    “What?” Azzen replied.
    “I heard you.  You make up fake home.  You probably from sewer city!”
    “Even if I was, I wouldn’t be crazy enough to volunteer for this,” Azzen shot back.
    “OH I SHOW YOU CRAZY!” Fel shouted, suddenly enraged. 
    The girl swung the axe high over her head and brought it down to bear on Azzen.  The boy had to dive out of the way to keep from getting chopped in half.  The axe dug deep into the dirt where he had once stood.
    “What’s wrong with you?!” he shouted.  “You could have killed me.”
    “Yah!  And Donchu Forget It!” she shouted back.  “Yousa my puppy dog.  Master say so.  Noh get upset if you get head chopped.”
    The catgirl seemed serious.  Azzen decided to appease her.  “Alright.  Fine.  Whatever you say.  You gonna let me chop some wood or what?”
    “Yah,” Fel said.  “And don go squeal to Master how I talk,” she added.
    “Why do you keep saying that?” Azzen asked.
    “Master pretend Noble.  E’ate Common,” Fel replied.
    Azzen wasn’t sure if that was an explanation or not, but decided to chop some wood.
    After several more hours, the two finished up twenty logs and Fel said they were done with their “Chop Duty.”
    “And by the way,” she said.  “We can use those weapons to practice, but always put them back.  If you take one out of the backyard, an alarm will ring and the Master will kill you.”
    Azzen didn’t know is she meant it literally or not, but didn’t plan on finding out.
    “So what now?” he asked.
    “Now we can eat lunch,” she said.
    Azzen was beat.  His body ached and was already sore.  His hands were rubbed raw and his back felt like it had been beat on with one of those huge mauls that was hanging on the side of the manor.
    Lunch turned out to be the same oatmeal mush as the morning.  Azzen looked at it in disdain.  Was this what he had to look forward to for the rest of his life?
    Fel served him up a heavy bowl.
    “Eat up,” she said.  “It’s good for you.”
    Though the mush was bland, it was surprisingly good.  Not in the sense of taste, but in the effect it had on Azzen’s body.  Warmth flooded through him from the first bite and the tension in his muscles was immediately eased.
    “Master puts special magic in the food,” Fel said.  “Makes you strong.  Makes you heal.”
    Azzen wasn’t sure what she meant by “special magic,” but even if it was Crack, he couldn’t get enough of it.  He gobbled his bowl and asked Fel if he was allowed to get some more.  She said it was fine and Azzen consumed a second helping.  When he was done, he felt completely renewed and was ready for whatever came next.
    “Now chores, then we train,” Fel said.
    “More chores?” Azzen asked.
    Fel rolled her eyes.
    Chores turned out to be cleaning the manor.  Fel cautioned Azzen that this was the only time they were allowed to wander through the manor freely.  Other than to clean, they were only allowed to visit the sleeping area and the dining area.
    When they had finished cleaning the rooms they were assigned to, Fel led Azzen outside to the front of the manor, where most of the kids were already fighting each other with sticks.
    “In the morning, we practice together, but we missed that today,” Fel told Azzen. 
    The girl grabbed a couple sticks from some younger Rats who muttered obscenities at her under their breath; Fel ignored them.  She lead Azzen off to the side of the manor where they were alone.  When they left, one of the boys called out, “figures she‘d want to try out the new kid!”  Fel ignored that as well.
    She spoke to Azzen when they were one-on-one.  “As a group, we strength train and practice form.  After lunch, we do what we want.  Most always, we spar.”
    With her last word, Fel tossed Azzen one of the sticks.  When he caught it, she immediately swung at him and he instinctively blocked it.  She pulled back and thrust at his chest, hitting him hard.
    Azzen “oofed” and stumbled back.  Fel pushed forward and whacked him hard over the head. 
    “Ow!  Hey!” he shouted.
    Fel ignored him and went for his knees, bringing Azzen to the ground.
    “Hold on.  Stop!” Azzen cried, rolling to the side and scrambling to his feet.
    Fel chased him down as he got up and continued to attack him.
    “Master won’t stop!” she shouted.  “Get used to it.”
    She knocked Azzen hard over the head and he went down, falling on his face.
    “Get up!” she shouted.  “Stay on your feet!”
    Azzen didn’t respond, so Fel kicked him hard in the ribs, rolling his body over.  His eyes were closed and his head was leaking.
    “Playing dead won’t help you,” Fel said, kicking him again.
    Azzen still didn’t respond.  He was unconscious.
    “Oimah…” Fel muttered.  “Useless.”

    “I knocked you out?!” I laugh.
    “Yeh, well, it was my first time really fighting.  And you were definitely stronger than me back then,” Azzen says.
    “What a pussy,” I say.
    “Oh come on!  Maybe I just wasn’t fighting back because you were a pretty girl.”
    I scoff.  “Yeah sure.  That’s not how you just told it.”
    Azzen grins at me.  “Well I take it back.  What really happened was I didn’t want to hurt you, so I played dead and let you kick me.”
    “Uh uh,” I say and wave the tape recorder in his face.  “Too late.  I got evidence.  I totally kicked your ass.”
    Azzen laughs.  “Whatever.  You always kick my ass.”
    He hops off the swing and asks me if I want to get some lunch.
    I say, “sure,” and he asks what I’m in the mood for.
    “Hmmm,” I contemplate.  “Do you like Chinese?”
    Azzen smiles and holds out his hand.  I don’t know why he wants to hold hands, but I accept it and he says, “don’t freak out.”
    There’s a pop and black mist swirls around us.  It blocks out the whole world for just one moment and then clears immediately. 
    Azzen pulls me into his arms as a rickshaw bustles by.  It nearly ran me over.
    I just almost got flattened by a bike-carriage, but what really makes my pulse race is realizing how close Azzen is.  His strong arms are wrapped around me protectively, holding me safe.  “Where are we?” I ask, keeping my voice calm, my lips are just a few inches from his. 
    The scene after black mist has completely changed.  We’re on a cobblestone street in the middle of a flashy city that is both extravagant and grungy at the same time.  Hundreds of brown skinned Asians are passing by on foot or on mopeds, with absolutely no regard for traffic procedure.
    Okay.  I’m not going to freak out.  And I’m not stupid.  I’ve seen enough movies to know that we’ve just teleported or something. 
    “Hue,” Azzen says.  “I know it’s not exactly Chinese, but this place has the best Pho.”
    I look up at the building we’re in front of and see a large neon sign that says “PHO:2000.”
    “Where’s Way?” I ask.
    “’Hoo-ay.’  Hue,” Azzen corrects me.  “We’re in Vietnam.”
    “Oh.  Well there’s my geography lesson for the day.”
    “And your cultural experience too,” Azzen says.  “Come on, it’s good.  They’ve got a picture of Bill Clinton eating here.”
    “Oh and I’m sure he’s hard to please,” I joke.
    Azzen laughs and pulls me into the restaurant.  We sit at a small table and he orders for me when the waiter comes.  He just points at the menu and says, “that” a lot.
    “You don’t speak Vietnamese?” I ask.
    He grins at me.  “Sorry.  I’m not that good.”
    I grin back.  So mister wonderful has limitations after all.
    “I could speak into the waiter’s mind if you want.”
    I laugh.  “Uh huh?  So what am I thinking right now?” I ask with my sweetest smile.
    His voice came in my head.  <You’re thinking that even if I can speak into someone’s mind, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can read their thoughts.  And you’re wondering if I’ll point out the difference.>
    “Whoa!  How can you do that?!”
    “I can do pretty much anything, Fel.  And so can you, once you remember.”
    “Once I remember?  So when you’re done with the story, I’ll be able to do that?” I ask eagerly.
    “Noh.  Not exactly,” he says to my disappointment.  “But I’m sure remembering will help.  We’ll work on you believing it later.”
    “I believe it,” I say defensively.
    <Noh.>  “You believe in me.”  <Not in yourself…>
    “Stop that.  It’s freaking me out,” I say.
    “Oh you heard that?” Azzen asks.  “Interesting…”
    “What is?  What do you mean?”
    “Oh, nothing,” Azzen says slyly.  “Forget about it.”  <She’s better than she thinks.>
    “Better at what?” I ask.
    Azzen just gazes at me with light interest and gives me a whimsical smile.  He’s so handsome that I almost fall into his eyes and lose focus, but after a moment of dreaminess, I snap back to attention. 
    “Tell me!“ I insist.
    But he won’t.  He keeps ignoring me and changes the subject, talking about Vietnam and other places he’s been.  Then our food comes.  And it’s amazing.
    “Try the Fish Sauce,” he says.
    “That sounds terrible,” I reply, but I sniff it.  “Ugh!  It smells terrible too!”
    “I know!” Azzen exclaims.  “But it tastes great!  Look, just trust me.”
    He  dunks a lumpia in the sauce and holds it out for me to bite.  I purse my lips.
    “No way.”
    “Do it.”
    I shake my head.
    “Come on…  You’re a cat girl.  You’ll love it.”
    “I’ll do it if you tell me more story,” I bargain.
    “Fine,” he agrees.
    I open my mouth and he quickly shoves the whole thing in, almost gagging me and chuckles to himself.  What a jerk.  But he’s right, I love it.

    Azzen woke up in the middle of the night.  He had no idea how long he’d been out, but what he did know was that Fel had left him bleeding on the ground, off to the side of the manor, not even bothering to bandage him or bring him in.  The boy rubbed his hair and felt sticky blood, but it was all residual.  The wound had stopped leaking.
    The boy achilly pulled himself off the ground and set about getting back inside the manor.  But on his way, he noticed a fire flickering in the woods.  Curious, and not in a hurry to go back to sleep, in case he had a concussion, he headed towards the light.
    The fire was farther into the forest than he had anticipated, and it took him several minutes of tripping his way through the underbrush to reach the source.  When he got there, he saw that Fel, the catgirl, was sitting in a small clearing, alone.
    “What are you doing?” he called out to her as he approached.
    “Nothing,” she muttered.  The catgirl’s ear twitched.
    “Fun,” said Azzen.  “Mind if I do nothing with you?”
    The catgirl said nothing and Azzen took that as an, “okay.”  He sat down in silence and joined her in watching the flames.
    Minutes passed and the two sat, each lost in their own thoughts.  For Azzen, it was thoughts of getting home and ponderings of where he really was.  How had he gotten here?  And who was this girl beside him with kitty ears and a tail?
    As for what was on Fel’s mind, Azzen couldn’t even guess.  He looked up at the stars and didn’t recognize any constellations.
    As though sensing what was on his mind, Fel asked, “where are you from?”
    “Not here,” Azzen replied airily.  “That’s for sure…”
    “What do you mean?” Fel prodded.
    “Where I’m from, nobody fights with swords,” Azzen said.
    “No.  We have them, but they’re mostly for show…  We figured out easier ways to kill each other, I guess,” Azzen said.  “Hey!” he piped up.  “Have you ever heard of a telephone?”
    Fel looked over at him and studied his eyes to see if he was trying to pull some trick on her.  “Noh…” she said slowly.  “What is this?”
    “It’s nothing…” Azzen sighed.  “Just… Well it lets people far away talk to each other.”
    “Like from one city to another?” Fel asked mildly.
    “Yah, we have that,” she said.
    “You do?!” Azzen asked in surprise.
    “Yah, they call it ‘scrying.’  Priest can do it in the temple.  Touches white water and can see through to anyplace.”
    “Oh,” Azzen said uncertainly.  “I’m not sure that’s quite the same.”
    “Meh,” Fel responded.  “So where are you from then?  You can scry it.  Find a road there.”
    “I’m not sure a road will take me there,” Azzen said.
    “You from island?” Fel asked.
    “No.  I’m from another world, I think.”
    Fel looked at him curiously.  “Why do you say that?” she asked.
    Azzen looked up, trying to figure out how to explain himself.  “Everything is different where I’m from,” he said.  “Similar, I guess.  But different.  There are not girls with cat ears where I‘m from.”
    “That’s just crazy,” the girl said.
    Azzen smiled.
    Fel watched him quietly as the boy closed his eyes and sighed up into the night sky.  “The stars,” he said.  “The stars are different.  Even on the other side of the world, I could find Polaris, the North Star.  But now it’s gone.  What does that mean?” the boy asked to himself.
    There was silence for a moment until Fel broke it.  “It means you’re lost,” she said.
    Azzen looked over at her and smiled weakly.  Fel pointed up into the sky.  “Here, the North Star is Trixi.  If it is same as the North Star for you, it always stays North.  There, you see?” 
    Azzen followed her finger.  “Which one?” he asked.
    “You see those two that are really bright?” Fel replied.  “The one higher up.  That’s Trixi.”
    “Oh,” said Azzen.  “I see it.”
    “Good,” said Fel.  “So now you’re not lost anymore.”  She looked over at Azzen and gave him a smirk.  Azzen smiled back.
    “How did you get here?” Fel asked.
    Azzen hesitated for a moment, but then decided he might as well tell the truth.  He told Fel about the portal and falling through.  She scoffed at his story and said he must have hit his head pretty hard.
    Azzen muttered that she might be right.  “For all I know,” he said philosophically, “my whole life before now could have been a dream…”
    Fel nodded  and said nothing more.  Azzen began to contemplate his own existence and also fell silent.  The two sat for awhile, watching the fire burn down to flickering embers.  Fel got up to restock it before it completely died out.
    After she coaxed out some more cozy flames, the catgirl broke the silence.  “I usually like being out here alone,” she said.
    “Then you should make the fire farther away, so people can’t see it from the manor,” Azzen suggested.
    “I do…” Fel said.  “But I had to keep an eye on you.”
    Azzen wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but settled on a quiet, “thanks.”
    Fel said nothing for a while.
    “I can go if you want,” Azzen said.
    “I said ‘usually…’” Fel responded.
    “You’re okay,” she said.
    “Thanks,” Azzen replied.  “You are too.”
    Fel cracked a smile.  “Thanks.  Most people don’t think so,” she said.
    The catgirl held her hand out into the flames of the fire.
    “How could anyone…” Azzen began, “Uh… your arm…”
    Fel kept her hand in the fire for longer than anyone Azzen had ever seen.
    “Stop that!” he shouted.
    “It’s okay,” Fel said.
    “No!  Don’t hurt yourself!”
    “It’s fine,” she assured the boy.  “I don’t burn.”
    Azzen watched in worry as the girl continued to hold her hand steady.
    “You don’t know anything about me,” she said.
    “Yeah.  I guess not,” Azzen agreed.
    “I like that,” Fel said.
    She pulled her hand back out of the fire and held it out to Azzen.  It flickered for a while, lit with flame, but then it died out and her hand was plain.
    “See?” she said.  “Fine.”
    Azzen took her hand and Fel tensed a little, but allowed it.  The boy felt her palm and ran his hand over hers.  She pink was very warm to the touch, but she wasn’t burnt.
    “How do you do that?” he asked.
    “Practice,” she said, pulling her hand away.
    “How do you practice something like that?”
    The catgirl stood up.  “You get burned a lot,” she said and kicked out the fire, scattering embers across the forest floor.  “Come on Azzo.  Let’s go sleep.”
    In the darkness, Azzen stumbled and had trouble finding his footing until Fel caught his hand and pulled him close to her, leading the way expertly in the dark.   

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bleed by E.A. Skanchy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.