Chapter Twenty Eight: Jasmine

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I had expected security in the castle to be tight, but when I walked out of the front door the next morning no one seemed to give me so much as a second glance. I was surprised as well as relieved to find the door unlocked. The Helians were not keeping us prisoners... yet.

Brae was in meetings all day. They were still no closer to an agreement on, well, anything. I asked him this morning if he thought they might just be a distraction; a way to keep them in the Realm long enough for the Helians to carry out their plan, whatever it might be. But Brae had only shook his head sadly, looked me directly in the eye and said, "I really hope not." It was heart-breaking to see him this way. He was so desperate to get something out of the meetings and not go home with it all having been a waste of time. I sympathised with him, but was more concerned about us getting home at all.

At the front of the castle was a large courtyard, leading up to a tall iron fence, intricately wrought - unsurprisingly - in the shape of flames. It was paved with pale marble slabs which felt warm beneath my feet, even though I was wearing the Helian sandals Imogen had leant me. Most of the courtyard was taken up with large, leafy green plants covered in brightly coloured flowers. I had never seen such vibrancy, such warmth, in the Arcan Realm. It was beautiful - the whole place would have been idyllic were it not for the people. But there didn't seem to be anyone out here. I was free to explore on my own.

Over to the left, I could see a tall jet of water shooting up over the top of a plant with flat, green leaves easily the size of my torso. This was surprising, since the Helians had a strong aversion to water and I couldn't imagine them using it for decoration. Intrigued, I headed over to investigate, but as I approached the plant I realised that I wasn't as alone as I had hoped.

A low, angry voice was speaking on the other side: "Flames, it's so boring over here. They're not letting us have any fun." It was the boy I had seen Roxy with a few times - his name was something like Sin. I paused for a second, unwilling to interrupt, but reluctant to leave either; I might be able to overhear something important. As silently as I could, I edged towards a gap in the bush so I could see who he was talking to.

But he was alone, a small silver box held up to his ear; whatever they used as phones in the Helian Realm, I assumed. Their technology was very different to ours.

"No, I haven't been able to torch anyone. It's ridiculous! They're having us treat them like guests." He paused for a second, then laughed, low and sinister. "I should have brought you across with me. Things would be a lot more entertaining over here if I had."

There was another pause. I watched him pace in front of what I could now see was a fountain enclosed in a wild wall of flames. The Helian trailed his hand through them absent mindedly while he listened to whoever was on the other end of the call. "No, we haven't had much success yet. It won't be long though. I only wish they'd let us have some fun with them in the meantime. It's not like we're going to-" He stopped, listening to the voice again. Oh God, what were they saying? This was infuriating! This guy could be my proof, if I could hear what he was talking about...

He lowered his voice, only a little, but enough that I couldn't hear what he said next. I was going to have to move closer.... I edged further round the edge of the bush, but ended up leaning on a weak branch, making it snap in two.

He was on me in a flash. "What are you doing back there?" His eyes sparked dangerously. The phone was gone from his hands.

He didn't even wait for me to respond. "You were spying on me, Air-Head! How much did you hear?"

"Nothing. I was walking past. I brushed against the branches... I didn't even know you were there-"

"Don't lie to me!" It came out half way between a whisper and a spit and he grabbed me roughly by the wrist, pulling me closer to the fountain. "No one lies to me and gets away with it!"

"Hey! get off me! What are you doing?"

"Teaching you a lesson, little Air-Head. You can't go around listening to personal conversations."

This guy was seriously unhinged. But I knew I was going to have to pretend to be a lot more confident than I felt. "Please, as if you would have anything worth overhearing anyway. You're just a kid. They wouldn't tell you anything important."

He looked ready to erupt and I wondered for a second if I'd overdone it, but he dropped my wrist and backed away towards the flames.

"Watch it, Arcan."

"Or what?"

Flames sprung menacingly at his fingertips. His eyes glowed.

I forced myself to laugh "Come on, we both know you're not going to send those at me. I heard about what happened with Brae. You can't afford to get into any more trouble." To be honest, I didn't have a clue what had happened to him after his fight with Brae, but it seemed that I must have been on the right lines since the flames dimmed slightly.

"You see that," he said, pointing at the fountain behind him. I shrugged. I wasn't blind, of course I could see it. "You see the way the flames surround the water - they're keeping it back. The water is no match for them." I wasn't quite sure how he wanted me to respond to that. I wasn't a Brizan - the water meant nothing to me. Sensing that pointing this out was likely to make him even madder, I stayed quiet.

"There are less obvious ways to hurt you," he added, perhaps deciding that he didn't sounds menacing enough. But the wild look in his eye was what was concerning me more.

"Your friends too. Imogen - now she's an easy target. Wandering around like a frightened little mouse. You can tell she's intrigued though, that she wants to see what it's like to have the heat turned up. Maybe I'll show her. I could do with a bit of fun and playing with Arcans is the best kind."

It was the smile that did it, the slow, cocky, one sided smile that curled on his face. Rage seethed up inside me. He couldn't threaten to hurt my friends so casually and expect me to stand there and take it.

I wasn't sure what I planned to do. He was a good head taller than me and could burn me to a crisp if I gave him enough of an excuse to.

But I didn't have to do anything, because the fountain behind the Helian suddenly burst and water exploded everywhere. The flames surrounding it were doused in seconds and he was soaked through.

His black shirt clung to his chest and his red hair dripped as though it were bleeding. "What the flames!" he exclaimed, looking round, startled. It was obvious that he would like to blame me for his soaking. The pure rage in his eyes told me that much. But we both knew that there was simply no way he could. I wasn't sure whether he was more mad or mortified and I don't think he knew either. Instead, he settled for shouting at me some more.

"Just stay away from me, Air-Head, if you know what's good for you. You'll get what's coming to you soon enough." Dripping from his hair to his toes, he whirled and stormed away, back to the castle. Well at least I knew that he wouldn't tell anyone about me listening in on his conversation. He was going to hope that this confrontation stayed purely between the two of us.

I couldn't help but smile. I may not have found my proof, but at least I'd had an entertaining morning. The fountain's waters had resumed their gentle spray. No longer hemmed in by the flames, it looked free and delicate. I wasn't sure what had happened to it, but I owed it a lot. I smiled again before returning inside.

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