Chapter 27 - Isolde
I hear footsteps not too far behind me, and frustration courses through me. Hunters on my tail, now? I know it’s cruel, but I hope they get Tristan.
I dart up the nearest tree at once, hiding myself behind the dense packs of leaves. When I see that it’s Tristan, I press my back against the trunk, letting out shallow breaths. As much as I don’t like the sight of him, it’s a relief. I wait for him to go, but he stays there. He knows of my presence, and is waiting for me.
A sour taste works up in my mouth and I find myself descending the tree and facing him.
“Katarina said to apologise,” he says. Not in a whiney way, but rather apathetic. Does he have no emotions whatsoever? Apart from hate, that is.
“Katarina isn’t the one that needs to apologise,” I say.
“I don’t like apologies.”
“Geez, I didn’t know,” I say, laying thick on the sarcasm.
“You remind me of someone,” Tristan says suddenly. I would expect to see or hear some emotion, or something, but I met with more indifference. What exactly is wrong with him?
“Not a good someone, I take.”
“There’s no such thing as good or bad.”
“Of course there is. Tip: you’re the latter.”
My insult doesn’t seem to bother him. All he says is, “There are worse than me.”
“I don’t put people on scales. Harsh criteria. You are either good or bad in my head. No shades in between.”
He shakes his head in disagreement, slowly. Even this gesture shows no iota of feeling. “There are. Many of them.”
I wave a hand in the air, dismissing his words. “Enough of the philosophical talk.”
“Fine. Here: sorry.” The word is edged with a hostile tone.
I roll my eyes in disgust and turn my back to him, muttering, “Get on with murdering some rabbits.” The dreadfulness of the words makes my voice crack.
“Isolde.” Is that the first time he’s said my name?
“You’re not coming back?”
“No, I’m not. And if you ever happen to die of thirst –”
“Think of you,” he finishes.
I walk off, but Tristan suddenly appears in front of me. “We owe you more.”
“You owe me more,” I correct.
“I owe you more,” he agrees to my surprise. “You helped us. I should not leave you alone.”
He talks like showing gratitude is a chore, a necessity – not something he actually wants to do out of the goodness of his non-existent heart.
I purse my lips. My stubbornness tells me not to cave in, but I need these people. I can’t spend my life completely alone – the large possibility of that, something that can be changed with just an obstinate word, scares me. “I doubt that you’ll suddenly become friendly,” I say, scrutinising him.
His face gives nothing away. “Your suspicions are right.” He lifts a shoulder, and doesn’t say anything else.
I think of Katarina’s reluctance to tell me anything about Tristan’s animosity towards me. “For a truth-teller, you’re not very frank at all.”
“I’m not lying about anything,” he says somewhat defensively.
“Lies of omission.”
“I haven’t omitted anything.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“I just haven’t told you anything at all,” Tristan says. His eyes are practically burning my own. How does he do that? Make me almost want to just give up?
“I don’t have to bare my soul to you.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
“But that is what the explanation entails.”
I open my mouth, wanting to probe, but his expression forbids me. “I don’t trust you,” I say bluntly.
“Neither do I.”
We stare at each other, but neither backs down. Tristan’s look, though, hurts. In no physical way is he intimidating, but . . . I don’t know how to describe the way I feel like I’ve been exposed in the worst light possible.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to earn each other’s trust,” Tristan finally says.
“I’d rather not be in a life and death situation again.”
He smiles humourlessly. “Why did you come to the NS, then?”
I’ve been wilting under his gaze, but now I am ground to dust. “Let’s start anew.” I stick out my hand. “I am Isolde.”
His hand meets mine. It is surprisingly soft. “I am Tristan,” he says.
I have yet to discover what that means.
I come back to the cave, trying to push away my negative views towards eating animals, but I can’t escape the horror that arises with the simple thought. I nibble at my cheese and peaches. Night has fallen, and I am taking watch. I thought he was asleep, but Tristan soon sits next to me. I am huddled in a vest, shirt, jumper, coat, blanket and quilt, but he doesn’t even shiver in his simple sweatshirt.
He pushes back some of his dishevelled brown hair, pulls up his knees and wraps his arms round them.
“Yes?” I say quietly.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I hate the sight of you.”
“Present tense,” I sigh.
“It will always be present tense – unless you change your face,” he adds, unsmiling.
I look at him quizzically. “What’s so horrible about my face?”
Tristan closes his eyes. “It’s too similar,” he says quietly.
“Too similar to what?”
A long silence follows my question. Not seconds, but minutes. I look at Tristan, thinking he’s not going to answer, but his reply is a long one.
“Eighteen years ago, I was born in the Edgwaria sector. I was happy. My parents – who adopted me – didn’t suspect a thing. Being able to know whether someone could tell the truth . . . it is just about the easiest ability to have, in terms of keeping the secret. No-one labelled me as an Antithetical, because it is a lot less conspicuous than, say, Hadyn’s powers of duplication.”
Another long pause. I keep silent.
“The person you remind me of is Nina. Same long black hair, same vivid green eyes.” He briefly hesitates. “Nina was – is – my sister. We have the same rare blood type; O negative.
“Nina got ill often. Her blood was bad, her kidneys were bad, her lungs were bad – everything.
“I wanted to help. The hospital’s supply of O negative blood wasn’t plentiful, and my parents didn’t like the idea of a stranger’s blood going into Nina. So I offered my own.
“Pints and pints I gave Nina. Her body demanded more. I got ill sometimes as well – not as badly, but dizzy and lightheaded. My parents still pressed on. ‘Give her blood,’ they said. ‘Give her a kidney’, they said. ‘Give her your whole dammed self.’
“They began to restrict what I did. Nothing that could potentially damage my body, and a strict diet and careful exercise. Why? I was Nina’s spare parts.” His voice is bitter. “I hate that. I hate her, though I know my anger is misdirected, but I still can’t get rid of it.” Tristan falls quiet.
I sneak a glance at him. He is looking straight forward, his face now not quite emotionless, but rigid with supressed sadness.
I bite my lip. My heart goes out to him, but for the life of me, I don’t know what to say. I fumble for the right words, but they evade me. I only manage a quiet “oh.”
Tristan snorts. “Yeah. ’Oh.’”
I steal another look in his direction, but this time I find that his eyes are also on me. I am about to look away, but I don’t. I stare at him, and he stares back, his face unreadable.
“Why did you come here?” I ask after a while, my voice small.
“To get away from being just a bag of extras. I wanted to be my own person, to be free.” He doesn’t sound very free. Like a robot – churning out facts that can’t come to life without emotion.
I nod slowly, not saying anything. He doesn’t seem the type of person who wants sympathy, but the type of person who hides themselves as much as possible. His concealed feelings . . . there must be a reason. Maybe he wants the bad parts of life to just go away, so he tries to stop them showing on his face so that no-one comments, or asks. But this backfires – how would an ever-blank face and voice not attract notice?
“Look at me,” he says suddenly.
I frown, but grant his odd request.
His hazel eyes assess mine. I fight the urge to look away; his steady gaze makes me flustered.
“Funny,” he murmurs. He doesn’t look amused.
“Funny?” I repeat, perplexed.
“The way you look at me.”
I start to feel a little defensive, but I don’t know why. “In what way?”
The left corner of his mouth moves up slightly, but he doesn’t reply.
Instead, he asks, “So, what about you?”
“Your tale of woe,” Tristan says, his tone mocking and dry.
I run through my sixteen years. The last couple months are what stick out most prominently, but will be the hardest to say. I drop my eyes, and edit as I speak. “Normal, till my sixteenth birthday. My powers only kicked in then.” I scratch at the back of my head. “Been trying to keep it secret. Didn’t work. So I left.” My voice catches. I dig my nails into my hands, reining in the despair, though the memories stab relentlessly at my heart. Talking isn’t as harmless as I thought it was. I understand Isaac, now.
Thinking about my best friend slash enemy doesn’t help my keep my eyes dry.
“That’s about it,” I choke out.
“Isolde,” Tristan says, slowly, deliberately. “You are lying.”
I bite my lip. “Only lies of omission.”
“Yeah, I’m not going to let that slide.”
“Fine.” I press my lips together and nail him with a furious look as the words spill out of my mouth. “My best friend’s brother was killed by an Antithetical, so my best friend decided to become an Antithetical Hunter. I was planning to tell him about me, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what would happen, how he would treat me. He was so depressed, and then he decided. It made me sick how happy he was at the prospect of killing people like me. He wanted to kill me; my best friend wanted to kill me. How was I supposed to deal with that?” I squeeze my eyes shut, cursing my outburst. This is ones of the things that irks me most about myself – I can’t just push down any emotion I feel. It always has to be let out, and immediately.
“That sounds hard,” Tristan comments. His tone is still indifferent. I don’t know why this bothers me, since I don’t like people addressing my weaknesses. I guess I just want to be around someone who cares. I’ve taken this chance with Tristan, but I don’t think he will change.
“It was,” I choke out. “It is.”
“You pulled through.”
“What else could I do?”
Tristan looks at me for a long moment, then pulls off his jumper, top, and undershirt and turns to me. For one second, I’m wondering what mad thing has possessed him – it must be zero degrees right now – and then I see it.
My eyes widen as I take in the long, dark scar running from his shoulder bone to his hip.
“That’s what I did,” Tristan says quietly, sighing. “Put up a sign saying ‘Get the blood first’, and waited to die.”
“That bad?” I whisper, shocked.
He shrugs on his clothes. “To me, but I’m just a selfish person. Give yourself some credit for not being me.” Tristan’s self-directed insults are doled out without mercy, without reaction.
I look at the ground. The image of his gashed torso has been imprinted into my mind, and sends shivers through me and the impulse to hug him or something.
Instead, I keep quiet, and he does too.