The candle light in the cafeteria was supposed to look festive, but Olive wasn’t sure under the circumstances it had been a good choice. Cases of unexplained fires had kept the school on edge for more than a month now. She couldn’t look away from the dancing flames though, even now. Fire always had its own life. It scared her and drew her in and was just altogether hard for her to ignore. When she stared long enough it was like the flames were whispering her name.
She tried not to listen.
More than ever she did not want to listen.
“Of course, we have to look into it! It’s a case! It’s what we do!” Maps nearly squealed with delight. Her eyes were glowing with the kind of passionate excitement that was typical for her - especially when she was talking about detective club cases and the stories of roleplaying adventures she’d ushered her party through.
Olive would have smiled at the display, but hearing about another fire on school grounds was not something to smile about. Her nerves were on edge. Had been for a while.
And there right in front of her were the dancing flames again. Real this time and close-by. Just the small unthreatening dancing flames of candles, but fire nonetheless.
She hadn’t told anyone. But her dreams were all fire these days.
“Come on, Olive, you agree with me, don’t you?” Maps urged.
Her eyes landed on Maps and she realized she hadn’t really been paying attention to the conversation. Kyle looked worried. She couldn’t blame him. His sister had the fearlessness of the very young sometimes and none of them really wanted to see her hurt. Olive cracked a smile.
But Mia and Kyle did not notice, instead it was Pom who was watching her. Olive always felt like Pomeline was looking at her too closely, could see through her just by the power of knowing her much better now.
“We might as well look into it,” Olive said hesitantly. “It’s just another week before all of you leave for the winter vacation.” And I’ll be alone with my dreams of fire and and Calamity.
Maps cheered, bouncing up and down. “Detective Club to the rescue.” Impulsively she threw herself at Olive who caught her in her arms as the girl hugged her. “You’re my best friend, Olive. I knew you’d be totally into this!”
This Detective Club had started with the two of them about a year or so ago. Olive smiled to herself at the memory. Her friendships were important. Grounding. She had no idea what she would do without them.
As Maps and Kyle bounced off towards their own classes, she walked with Pomeline and Colton towards her own. “Stop your moping, Silverlock,” Pom said. “Maps already invited you to spend the winter vacation with her, didn’t she? Why stay here?”
For the moment the question managed to rip her out of her dark contemplations. Pom wasn’t looking at her as they were walking and that was a bit of a relief. At the moment the scrutiny made her nervous. Just like Olive, Pomeline was very good at playing uninvolved and above everything, but Olive had known her a little better for a while now and she could tell that she was really interested.
“I haven’t accepted.” With her and Kyle it would be a little awkward to have Mrs. Mizoguchi fawn over her during the holidays. And there was Calamity and the flames whispering at her. With all the fires at school, Olive did not feel she should force her companionship on anyone right now.
To her credit, Pomeline did not show her surprise, although from her comment Olive had gathered she had expected Olive to be spending her winter holidays with the the Mizoguchi family.
Colton, who had paid very close attention to their conversation while trying hard not to, said gruffly: “Make up your mind then. No use spending Christmas here all alone with a few teachers.”
She tried hard not to let her own face fall. Colton scratched the back of his nose as if he wished he could take back his words.
Sometimes the start of a period was a blessing. She couldn’t help thinking that today was one of these days, when she sank into the chair beside Pomeline, thankful for that little piece of normalcy.
* * *
“We’ll crack it,” Colton said and closed his book.
Olive looked up from where she had been working on her own essay. “Now? I have to do this.”
Pomeline shrugged. “I need to finish too.”
“Then we’ll go on ahead and you two join as as soon as you can!” Maps jumped up. “We can keep each other updated.”
It finally brought a real smile to Olive’s face. Little Mia had grown a lot over the last year, but it was still her ability to get excited about any kind of adventure that just drew her in.
“We’ll catch up,” she promised.
After Maps and Colton had gone, she tried to get her thoughts back on the essay about the Arkham family, but she drifted. The thought of another fire in the school yard still scared her.
Did I make it happen?
“Why aren’t you going to spend your holidays with them?” Pomeline asked. She hadn’t looked up from her work, yet, which seemed to take up the whole of her concentration. “Maps would be over the moon to have you around.”
“I… just don’t think it’s a good idea right now.”
“Hmm,” Pom commented and continued scribbling. When she got a better glance at the paper she realized that Pomeline wasn’t working on her essay at all. She was scribbling arcane signs around the drawing of a bat. Olive shuddered.
“I thought you were done with the secret society thing?”
Pomeline shrugged. “At least you’ve learned it’s not a cult.”
“Heh.” Olive wasn’t so sure about the difference. The sign of the bat made her uncomfortable though. She flopped her books closed. “Let’s go do some detective work.”
It seemed Pomeline didn’t need the prompting. She closed her own books, packed her things and looked at Olive. “You could come spend the vacation time with me, you know?”
Olive froze in her tracks, as Pom finished packing up and left the room before her. She had not expected the invitation.
It was still not a good idea.
She couldn’t help a sudden heat rising to her cheeks, though.
Bad idea, Olive. Very bad idea.
* * *
Set me free, it whispered. Calamity is who we are.
But she knew she had not unleashed this. This fire wasn’t hers. But it could be if she stretched out her senses and took control.
But what then?
Would Calamity raise her head? Living on through her?
“Olive!! Olive, we need to find a way out of here.” Maps was tugging at her sleeve frantically. Olive was rooted to the spot. The fire danced in her eyes and she couldn’t look away. “Olive! Really! We have to go.”
It was Mia’s voice that reached her, even when the fire whispered Calamity at her like an invitation.
“Maps!” she shouted. She hadn’t realized the girl was still here with her. Details of the last few minutes had become hazy. Finally her brain was catching up with the danger.
She grabbed her friend by the hand and pulled her along.
“I can’t believe the new substitute teacher was the one to set the fires,” Maps said. She sounded scared and at least a bit shocked.
The fire was still whispering at her. They were trapped. The fire new it. She knew it. It was reaching for them with licking, hot, dancing fingers. She pulled Maps close. The fire wasn’t whispering anymore. It had started to sing.
And that was when she realized.
The fire wasn’t controlling her. It hadn’t been her setting the fires after all. She hadn’t lost control.
She could control it.
A little at least.
* * *
Just for a second, the Batman could see Olive shielding her friend against a wall, the fire unnaturally held back like the girls were safely held inside a bubble.
But oxygen was running out.
He grabbed them right out of the fire.
* * *
She woke up with her head resting on Pom’s lap. All of them had soot on their faces.
“Hey,” her friend said.
“Did you call him?” Olive asked and she wasn’t sure it was an accusation. She still resented the Bat. Bats. But she couldn’T help remembering Pomeline drawing that sign on her notebook.
“I may have set off a spell,” Pom said without missing a beat. It wasn’t an admission. Olive did not believe in spells like that. Olive wasn’t sure that even after all she had seen and learned she wanted to believe in magic. Pomeline did though and sometimes she did things that nobody could explain. Relieved, Olive smiled up at her. “Everyone okay?”
“Yes,” Pom said and Olive could hear Maps excitedly chatting in the background, Kyle trying to keep her calm, while Colton was asking questions. “This was BAAAAATMAN!!! Now I met Robin and Batman!”
It didn’t fill Olive with the same kind of excitement. But she was so glad for Mia’s excited energy that she wasn’t bothered by it right now.
Even bats couldn’t bother her right now.
There were still flames that hadn’t been extinguished dancing from small leftover fires all around them. But none of them were whispering her name. She reached out with what she thought was the part of her that Calamity spoke to sometimes and grasped the fire in her invisible hands, quenching it. A small flame went out in front of her eyes and she felt a calm settle over her that she hadn’t felt since her mother had been sent to Arkham.
* * *
“Ready?” Pom asked.
She looked like she’d just walked out of a Goth club and not like she was going to meet her family.
Olive chuckled. “I guess.”
Pom grabbed her hand and pulled her along. The heat in Olive’s cheeks wasn’t from the fire constantly whispering inside of her. Not sure what the future would bring, she held on to the hand - and suddenly none of this was scary.
She had control.
She wasn’t alone.
She would never be alone again.