I hate dragons.
"Mornin'!" Sonatsi grinned at me as I walked downstairs.
"You're awfully chipper this morning." I said, raising an eyebrow at my twin as we sat down at the kitchen table. Of course, he hardly looked like me at all. His blonde hair always fell just a little over his bright blue eyes, causing his head to twitch every few minutes. And even though we lived in the sunny Side Lands, his skin was so pale it looked almost like he'd never been outdoors.
"Of course I am! Today's the day!" He beams at me as I stick two bagels into the toaster.
"Tuesday?" He rolls his eyes at me.
"No! The day they start Tagging people!" I froze with my hand on the silverware drawer handle.
"Yeah! Then testing starts next week!" He hopped out of his seat to save the bagels as the toaster beeped.
"Crap." I cursed under my breath as I took out a butter knife. This was the year I'd been dreading. The year I was old enough to be Tagged by the Watchers.
In our world, dragons and humans coexist. Every year several candidates are selected to take the Test. We call this Tagging.
If you pass the Test, then you have a Spark that's strong enough to bond with a Dragon's Spak.
But unlike every other teen in Side Lands, I did not want to be a Tamer. I wanted to be a metalsmith. I'd planned to specialize as a swordsmith or a bladesmith.
My name is Nihatsu Flame, and if that's not a smith's name, I don't know what is.
"Nihatsu!" I jumped, almost fumbling the cream cheese. "Are you even listening?" Sonatsi asked, furrowing his brow.
"Sorry." I sighed, sitting down next to him. "I was thinking about something."
"Look, I know you're not looking forward to the next few weeks." he said, scraping some cream cheese on his bagel. "Or the next few Novembers for that matter. But can you at least try to be psyched for me?"
"I'm sorry, Sonatsi." I smiled apologetically at him. "Good luck." I patted his shoulder.
We quickly finished our breakfast then headed to school.
Okay, maybe what I said earlier was a bit of an overstatement. It’s not that I hate dragons, it's just… Back then, when I had just turned fourteen and was facing four more years of Watchers and Tagging, I just didn't see what all the fuss was about.
Sure, even the smallest ones can be as big as a house, their fire can burn straight through steel in just a few seconds, and they can fly so high that you have to hold your breath if you want to go with them. But besides fighting, what are they good for?
"Nihatsu!" I felt someone elbow me.
"Hm?" I blinked rapidly, trying to wake myself from the daydream.
"The teacher's been calling your name for like, five minutes now!" Talie hissed, glaring at me through her auburn hair. Mavrick stomped on my foot from the desk on my right.
"Flame!" the teacher called again.
"Here!" I said quickly, my ears turning beet red as the class snickered around me. Good thing my black hair hid them nicely, the gold tips brushing my shoulders. All my life my hair's been this way; black with gold tips and red roots. No one knows why, though.
"So!" Mavrick said when the teacher turned to the chalkboard to write something. "Excited about the Watching?"
"Idiot!" Talie snapped. "Nihatsu hates Sparking week!" Twin sets of grey eyes glared at each other. They were twins like me and Sonatsi, but looked more alike and bickered twice as much.
"Shut up! I forgot for a moment!" he snapped back.
"Marx!" the teacher barks. "The both of you; detention. Now."
"Sorry, Ms. Apalah." they chorus, standing.
"Now look what you did." Mavrick snarled.
"Me?! I'm not the one who forgot that Nihatsu hates Sparking week!"
"Twins! Do you want that detention doubled?"
"Just be quiet, Mavrick."
"You be quiet!"
"Hey, say hi to Latari for me, will you?" I called after them.
"No, I will!"
"Those two need help." a dark-haired boy sighed, stepping aside to let them pass as he entered the classroom.
"Ah! Mr. Ri- I mean, Mr. Pun. Welcome back!" Ms. Apalah cleared her throat as she turned back to the class. "Class, please welcome back Zalah Pun, who has just returned from the exchange student program." We all lazily chorused a 'welcome back'.
"It's good to be back." He gave a winning smile, then took the seat that Mavrick had abandoned.
"They're not all bad." I told him, boredly flipping the page of my Dre'an textbook. It was my favourite normal class, but it was the last class of the day. "Mavrick and Talie I mean. This is just one of their… Oh, who am I kidding? This was one of their good, days!" I laughed. He chuckled.
"I don't think we've ever met." he said, holding out his hand to me. "I'm Zalah."
"Nihatsu." I shook his hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Same here." There was that winning smile again.
"All right, class, let's talk about claws."~*~ "Hey, Nihatsu!" Latari grabbed my arm, pulling me over to sit next to her on the swings.
"Don't you have lunch?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at my blonde friend. It was eerie how she looked more like Sonatsi than I did, but years of being best friends had all but blinded me to that.
"I'm not hungry." she said simply, shrugging. Latari was a full year older than me. The year before she'd taken the test, but they told her that there wasn't even a trace of a Spark. Since then she'd been joining me in my hatred for Watchers.
"Well, don't blame me if you're dying of hunger by fifth period." I told her, starting to swing faster as I prepared a jump.
"I heard that some kid named Zalah just came back from the Outskirts or something."
"Yeah. I think it was Center Tooth, actually."
"Where'd you hear that?"
"He's in my homeroom and Science class."
"I shit you not."
"Is he hot?" Of course she asked in the middle of my jump.
I messed up my landing and got a mouthful of woodchips.
"What?!" I stammered, spitting wood and dirt out of my mouth.
"Oh my gosh, Nihatsu. Are you like, okay and stuff?" she asked flatly. God, she was a bitch! How did I not see that?! I must've been a complete idiot! Ugh.
"Yeah. But what do you mean, 'is he hot?'?!" I asked, trying to regain some composure as I sat back on my swing.
"I mean 'is he attractive?'!" She laughed at the blush that crept onto my cheeks.
"Well, I wouldn't say he was unattractive…" I cough, then something catches my attention. "If you really want to know, then see for yourself." I nodded towards where Zalah was playing some basketball with a few other boys. I couldn't help but notice what he was wearing; a dark blue sweater with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows, khaki cargos, and a long grey scarf whose ends were tucked into his sweater tied around his neck. It was one of those cold, almost-winter-even-though-it's-fall days, and the breath of him and the other boys rose off the asphalt as a heavy fog.
"The one with the scarf?" Latari asked. I nodded. "He's hot. Totally smoking." I rolled my eyes at her. "I mean just look at those eyes!" Just at that moment, Zalah glanced over, and his dark blue eyes caught sight of us. He smiled and waved at me. But before I could wave back, Latari did.
She waggled her fingers flirtatiously, giving him a wink. I rolled my eyes at her, then couldn't help but laugh at Zalah's expression.
I choked on my laugh when the basketball from the on-going game knocked Zalah off his feet.
"Oh, jeez!" I jumped from the swing and hurried over to him as he landed ass-first on the asphalt. "You okay, Zalah?" I asked, holding out a hand to help him up.
"I'm fine. That's not the first time something like that's happened." he laughed, putting a hand to his head. "Thanks for your concern, though!" He grinned at me.
"Oh… Uh, don't mention it!" I said, feeling my ears turn red.
"Hey, Zalah, you gonna stand around chatting up your girlfriend or are you gonna pass the ball back?" one of the boys yelled from over by the hoop.
"I'm coming!" he yelled back, picking up the ball. "See you around, Nihatsu." He gave me a crooked grin and went back to his game.
"Smooth, Nihatsu." Latari snorted as I sat back down on the swing.
"What do you mean?" I looked at her out of the corner of my eye as I started swinging.
"I mean you totally messed up that move!" she laughed. "I never would've thought of going to see if he was okay, but that's just me. Though I must admit, that whole 'bashful girl' routine? It could work if you play your cards right."
"It's not a routine." I said, frowning. "I really was concerned."
"Really? I know he's hot, but no one's that hot."
"It's not because he's hot!" I argued, glaring at her a little. "He's a nice guy, and I think if I got to know him a little better, we could be friends."
"Right. And I'm a Kuklu Spark." She shook her head at me.
"You're terrible." I sighed, smiling a little. Why did I love that about her?! Honestly I don't know what I was thinking back then. But, then again, I was only fourteen. I didn’t know enough about the world to know whether she was a true friend or not.
But I'm much older now. And I know all too much of the world.
That's a long ways away though.
This story is about my years as a teenager. How I found my true love, my true friends, and the truth about who I am.
The day I met Zalah was Tuesday, October 26th, 2010.
But the day my life really changed wouldn't come for more than a week…
"Come on, Nihatsu, I'll walk you to lunch." Latari pulled me out of the swing and dragged me towards the cafeteria. I glanced back at Zalah, who was standing mid-way between the asphalt basketball court and the swings, looking like he had something he wanted to say to me.
I shrugged and followed Latari, figuring it couldn't have been very important.
But it was.
Because he was going to ask to have lunch with me.
Had I known, I would have raced back and apologized for my friend. He would have smiled and told me it was all right. And we would have had lunch. Our friendship would have started much earlier than it did.
But that would only have made what was to happen that much more painful.
My name is Nihatsu Flame, and my life is about to be turned upside down.
And it's all because of Zalah Pun.