My dreams fade as I open my eyes. The room is still dark, but I’m not tired anymore. I have this strange feeling I can’t place. I think I almost forgot how magic feels, but at the same time, it’s different. I slip out of bed, the cold stone sending goosebumps up my legs. They disappear just as quickly. In the wardrobe I find a long, sheer robe and pull it on, tying the string around my waist.
I creep over to the window and peek through the curtain. The sky at the horizon shimmers with colour, like a mirage. As I watch, the colours shift from dark blue, through shades of orange and yellow. I can’t remember a more beautiful sunrise. Though, when I turn my gaze to the figure in the bed, still sound asleep, the colours outside seem dull in comparison.
I run back to the bed and crawl across the covers. He lays on his back, the sheets tangled around his waist, leaving his chest exposed. His long chestnut hair spills across the pillows. I watch his peaceful expression for a moment, committing the image to memory. I gently place my palm on his chest, feeling the steady beat of his heart. I wonder why he seems so shy about his body; his muscles are well defined and lean. Though he has a number of pale marks on his skin. Old wounds, I assume. He mentions many of them in his journals. I think he should wear them with pride because unlike the scars I wore, his each tell a fantastic story.
He doesn’t react when I touch him. I lean down and press my lips to his. It takes a moment, but he stirs. I feel the beat of his heart stutter and quicken. He inhales deeply, stretching his arms out. They wrap around my back and he pulls me in close. He breaks away, buries his face in my hair and relaxes again.
“Good morning, Mr. Hero,” I giggle, turning my head up to touch my nose against his. “It’s time to wake up.”
He groans. “You’re lying. No waking up,” he squeezes tighter.
I laugh. “Yes waking up if you want to be a knight.”
He frowns, eyes still closed, thinking a moment. “What if I was a knight of the bed?”
I raise an eyebrow. “I don’t think they would approve of that in the tournament.”
“I guess you’re right,” he pouts, rubbing his face in my hair again. I leave a trail of kisses down his neck as I sit back up. I don’t really want him to leave, but we both have training to do.
“I’m looking forward to seeing you in full armor. That’ll be a first for you, won’t it?” I tease, tracing circles on his stomach. I notice goosebumps rising down his neck and smile.
“Maybe in steel armor, but not in full body,” he answers. “I had to wear padded armor in the Mongolian exploits, even as a horse boy. It was heavy and uncomfortable,” he complains, “but if I wear armor, you won’t be able to see my winning smile when I take down my opponent…” he flashes me a grin and I swear I almost see it sparkle.
I can’t help laughing. “The helmets have a visor you can lift. Even if they didn’t, I think I could picture it.”
“What about my flowing locks?” he protests jokingly, reaching a hand up to fling a lock out of his face in a dramatic wave.
I roll my eyes. “They might get cut off if you don’t wear the helmet. Though, I suppose if your opponent has good aim, they might be able to take your head clean off without cutting a single hair,” I wink and watch his expression shift to outrage.
“That’s awful! You think I’d let them remove my head?!”
I shrug, trying to keep a straight face. “If you’re stubborn enough to forgo a helmet, it would be hard not to. Assuming your opponent has any sense,” I scrunch my nose. “Of course, you’re not that reckless, right? Cause, I don’t want to have to burn down the whole kingdom to avenge you…”
His eyes light up, “Can you… Is it back?” I hold out my hand, palm up. A little flame springs up. I was a little unsure, but the relief that washes over his face is worth the sacrifice of drinking that vile potion. “You’d do that for me?” he jokes, eyes narrowing.
“Of course,” I feign offense. “If one of those knights so much as scratches your pretty face, I’ll boil them in their tin can suit,” I vow dramatically as I caress his cheek. I don’t really mean it… Probably.
He laughs unexpectedly hard. “You know, I would like to see that if that ever happened,” He sighs and smiles. “I guess I should get going,” he squeezes me again before untangling himself from the sheets. I admire him shamelessly as he collects his clothes off the floor. If I wasn’t sure he’d pass out from exhaustion, I’d pull him back into bed for one more time before he leaves…
He stops at the door, glancing back at me with his brown eyes. They seem to linger, longingly. Then he dashes back, leaning over the bed, pulling me toward the edge as he kisses me hard. Satisfied, he heads out, pausing as he steps through the doorway to wave with a cute little smile. I’m left dazed with a flutter in my chest. How does he do that?
Alice brings me breakfast and helps me get dressed. I eat quickly, and as soon as she’s gone with the empty dishes, I head down the hall. In the little laboratory. I find Merlin examining some liquid in a vial. His back is to me as I walk in.
“You seem to be feeling better,” he muses without turning.
I narrow my eyes. “How do you know? I haven’t even said anything.”
He chuckles. “Aside from the obvious fact that you’re up and walking around, I could sense your power before you even reached my door.”
“What?” I gasp.
He turns, his sharp hazel eyes tracing over my figure. He hums and nods. “You are stronger than I predicted.”
I pout, looking away. I wish that was a surprise. I notice a cat on the cot, watching me. “Rhoan? What are you doing in here?”
“I came here last night, for a little peace and quiet,” he responds bluntly.
I blush. “Fair enough…”
Merlin snickers, “So, what brings you to me today, if you’re back to full health?”
I stand a little straighter. “We have an agreement, remember?”
He crosses his arms. “Yes… Shall we go now?” I nod. “Very well. Give me a moment.”
I wait by the door as he puts a few things in a pouch. Rhoan climbs up onto my shoulder, and Merlin leads the way through the castle to the hidden entrance I’m told we came through when we first arrived. The fields around the town bustle with life. The tournament grounds are nearly complete, though we’re too far to see much. The elder mage steers away from the activity, into the forest.
“Not a fan of horses?” I ask, uncomfortable with the silence.
“They’re not a fan of me,” he responds simply. “We aren’t going too far. Besides, weren’t you the one who broke her ankle yesterday on a horse, and vowed not to ride another?” my mouth pops open to protest, but he’s not wrong. I clench my jaw and resign myself to the awkward silence.
The brush starts to thin out as we get closer to a mountain. The trees grow further apart until they too stop. The base of the mountain opens like a gaping mouth, waiting to swallow unsuspecting trespassers. I wonder what lays beyond, as I risk a glance at the old man. His expression is neutral and doesn’t give away any clues.
He walks right into the maw of the mountain. I jog to keep up as the darkness nearly swallows us. I’m about to ask if it’s safe to create fire to light the way when I bump into his back.
“We’re here,” Merlin states, though I have no idea where here is.
The darkness moves. I freeze. One by one, torches spring to life around the cave. I flinch, and my jaw drops. The cavern is nearly a perfect circle, just big enough to comfortably fit the massive dragon that sits in front of us. Its scales shimmer like pearls in the light. It’s not quite as big as the matriarchs on the Guild island, but I still feel like an ant.
“Welcome,” the dragon grunts. “This must be the young Guardian you spoke of. Your name is Kaitlyn, correct?”
“Ye- wait…” I study Merlin with suspicion. “Did Ceph tell you I have dragon blood?”
Merlin smirks, “he didn’t need to, though he did. I knew as soon as you opened your eyes.” I frown. He chuckles, “No human has amber eyes like yours. It was quite obvious.”
I blink, “if you knew… Why didn’t you say anything?”
He scratches his beard, “would you have answered honestly?”
I think about it and shrug. “Probably not… So, wait, does that mean you also…?”
“Yes,” he nods. “I have dragon in my bloodline. This dragon, to be specific.” He gestures toward the white dragon.
“Oh…” I stare up at the creature. I never thought I’d get to meet a dragon outside the colony on our island.
“You may call me Aevraig,” The huge head bows slightly. “I understand you’ve only recently awoken as a Guardian.”
“I… Yes,” I stutter.
“You will need instruction,” The dragon muses, “The other Guardian can teach you some techniques, but you have also come into your blood. He cannot help you there.”
I gawk at its unchanging face, “What does that mean? Help me with what?”
“To tame the dragon blood,” Merlin answers, “You have an interesting combination of dragon traits mixed with Guardian ability. I have not seen anything like it before.”
“Nor have I,” the dragon concurs.
“So… What then?” I ask, hesitantly.
Merlin shrugs and waves his arm. “You asked for a safe place to practice your magic. Aevraig can watch over and guide you.”
I gulp. “R-really? You’re not too busy with… dragon stuff?”
The dragon huffs. “Not at all. It has been some time since I had a pupil.”
“Alright, it’s settled then,” Merlin claps. “I’m needed back at the castle, but I’ll come collect you in a few hours, Kaitlyn.”
“Okay…” I mumble.
When we’re alone, the dragon hums. “To start, I suggest you remove your clothes.”
I flinch. “Wha… Oh… Yea I guess that’s a good point,” I start to peel off the top layer of my dress, “but, where can I put it?”
“Outside would be safest,” Aevraig answers.
“I’ll take it out for you,” Rhoan offers. I fold up the dress and undergarments, and Rhoan shifts into a monkey so he can carry it.
Standing in front of a dragon, stark naked, I feel both self-conscious and strangely comfortable. I wonder how Andrei would feel if he knew. Does it count if Aevraig isn’t human? I mean, it’s not like it’s sexual. It’s just easier to practice with fire if you don’t have to worry about burning up your clothes…
“Now, I want you to unleash your power. Do not hold back.”
I raise my brows. “Seriously?”
“Yes,” Aevraig grunts. “As I understand it, you have been weakened for many days. You must be itching to find out what you can do now. Am I wrong?”
“No…” I admit reluctantly. From the moment I woke up this morning, the fire has been begging to be unleashed. “Alright. Here goes.”
I glance around the cave. It’s just me and the dragon. There’s nothing to damage, no one who could get hurt. I let my eyes close and take a deep breath. Okay, let’s see what you’ve got, Guardian dragon girl.
The tingling starts in my palms, and spreads down my fingers, up the back of my hands, up along my wrists. I open my eyes, raising my arms. The fire crawls along my skin, consuming my flesh and leaving a fiery shape of my hands. I should be afraid, right? I pass my right hand right through my left, the flames merge and intensify for a moment. I feel them, separate but together at the same time. It continues to rise, spreading up to my shoulders and across my chest. I lean my head back as the sensation climbs up my neck, and along my cheeks.
I feel almost as though time moves in slow motion. As my toes disappear, I feel complete. I look around the cave with new eyes. For the first time in my life, I’m not afraid. Nothing can touch me. Nothing can hurt me. Not Arthur. Not this dragon. Not Logan. The fire is me. I am the fire.
I run my fingers through my hair – only it’s not really hair anymore. It’s the same length, but it flows around my shoulders with a life all its own. I thrust my arm out. A pillar of flame shoots across the open space, splattering against the solid rock. When I close my fist, the molten rock drips onto the cave floor, and my lips curl up into a fiery grin.
“Quite impressive.” The voice of the dragon breaks my trance. “I have not met a mage nor Guardian able to take such a form at will. You are truly one of a kind, young Kaitlyn.”
“So everyone keeps telling me,” my voice sounds hollo, and otherworldly. I kinda like it.
“Indeed,” the huge head tilts. “Be wary of staying in this form for too long. It is no doubt quite taxing.”
I hate that he’s right. I feel it draining my energy already, though I realize I have quite a bit more than I used to. Okay, maybe full body is a little much. Can I control it? I scrunch my face as I command the flame to recede. It does, albeit reluctantly. It crawls back up my legs first, and down my head. When it reaches my elbows, I tell it to stop. It obeys. I hold my fire hands, palms up, and create an arch between them. I shape the energy into a ball. I grab the fire like puddy, stretching and squishing it. I know I couldn’t do that before.
“You’re a natural,” the dragon chuckles. “Perhaps you won’t need much instruction after all.”
“I’ve spent my entire life trying to control my power – to keep it hidden. I am always terrified that I will lose control, and hurt the people around me,” I muse. playing with the fire. “Maybe I was wrong all along.”
“Ah, yes,” it nods. “Fear is a powerful thing. Even more dangerous than fire itself.”
I stare into my palm, a new sense of peace falling over me. “I’m done letting fear control me.”
I found my way back before Merlin returned. There isn’t much the old dragon can teach me, so I decided to find Eli. As I pass the training, I can’t resist checking in on Andrei first. Even though he’s covered head to toe in steel, my gaze is drawn to his aura. He fights against a man about the same height, and seems to be holding up pretty well. I smile as I watch.
The men in the courtyard stand around the training grounds, all dressed in their plate armor, helmets held under one arm. Squires hover behind them waiting for their next order. Four pairs spar in the middle, and the spectators shout from the sidelines. I slide in between two men, startling them.
The man standing at the head of the training field shouts, and the men stop fighting. They start to move toward the sides as eight others move in to take their place. Andrei drives his blade into the sand, pulls his helmet off, and shakes his hair out like he’s on some sort of TV commercial. I roll my eyes, his gaze lands on me and a grin spreads across his handsome, stubbly face. The captain yells at him to get moving, so he grabs the sword and half jogs toward me.
“Hey! You made it for training?” he smirks. “What’d you do all morning without me?”
I narrow my eyes at the implication. “I went for a walk in the woods with Merlin, and met a dragon.”
“What?” his eyes bulge. “Don’t knights still hunt those down in this era?” he glances around at all the knights, leaning down to whisper as he leads me away from the group. “You shouldn’t say that so loud.”
I raise an eyebrow and tilt my head. “I’m not worried about that. Ordinary men can’t kill dragons. That would be silly.”
“Well, how do you think they almost go extinct, other than those dragons we saw at the Guild?” he asks cockily.
“Extinct?” I laugh. “They’re not extinct.”
He scoffs. “How can they coexist with humans? I don’t see dragons flying around Toronto.”
“Of course not,” I cross my arms. “They take human form in population centers.”
He stops, stunned. “They can take human form?” he shakes his head with a smirk. “Like I’d believe that. Can’t be true.”
I gawk at him. “Uh… If it can’t be true, how exactly do you think they breed with humans sometimes?” I’m a little worried about his answer. “How else would humans with dragon blood be born?”
“I don’t know, magic eggs? I’m not a biologist.”
“Oh my god, Andrei,” I cover my face in my hands.
“Maybe they’re like salmon and leave their eggs in a river. How would I know?!”
I can’t help laughing. “Okay, let me get this straight; You think human men go to a river to masturbate onto a magical egg, and wait for a baby to hatch? That’s more believable than a dragon shapeshifting into a human form and having sex?”
“It could be! That’s how they got this bird in New Zealand to breed. Caroline wouldn’t shut up about it,” he reasons defiantly. I bite my lip, pressing my fist against my mouth as I stare up at him in disbelief. I can’t even tell if he’s serious anymore. “Besides that point, if humans can’t,” he makes air quotes, “kill a dragon, then why do they hide? Hmm?”
“A walking tin can with a stick won’t kill a dragon, but heavy artillery will do the job,” I retort bluntly. “The same reason that we hide on the island. In our time, technology is just as dangerous as magic.”
“Well, then, are you saying there are dragons walking among us and we don’t even know it?” he frowns. “How do we know Rhoans not a dragon?”
“I think I would know if I were,” Rhoan grumbles.
I sigh. “Andrei, with everything you’ve seen, is this really such a surprise?”
Andrei glares at the little mouse on my shoulder. “Yes, yes it is.”
“Well… maybe when we get home. I can ask one of the ones on the island to show you,” I pause. “Though, I’m pretty sure I didn’t hatch from an egg in a river…”
“How would you know? You were a baby!” he grins.
I roll my eyes. Now we’re just going in circles. “Anyway… Have you seen Eli today in the training?”
“Eli? No, I don’t think so,” he glances back at the knights.
“Okay,” I purse my lips. “I wonder where else he hangs out. Maybe I’ll check with the old man.”
“I haven’t seen Ceph or Eli all day, though the captain said he was planning on dropping by later.”
“Which one?” I ask wearily.
“Eli. Ceph doesn’t do the sword thing,” he shrugs.
Thank the gods for that. “Alright, maybe I’ll just wait around here then,” I smile.
“I mean, I wouldn’t mind,” he smirks. “Maybe you can see what a real knight is made of.”
Arrogance? I retort mentally. I hold my smile and choke back my sarcasm. “I can hardly wait.”
He glances over his shoulder again. “All these guys do is gloat all day about how they can take down dragons and stuff… I doubt they could knock a person off their horse.”
A devilish grin finds its way onto my lips. “I wonder how they would fare if we put that to the test… Do you think they would be that brave then?”
He roars with laughter. “That would be fun to see. I think we should.”
“If only I could turn into a dragon…” I muse wistfully. Well, I guess turning into pure fire would also be pretty scary. That’d work too…
“No,” Rhoan snaps suddenly. “Don’t even think about doing whatever you’re thinking about doing.”
“I wasn’t gonna… probably…” I mutter. “You’re no fun.”
The lake stretches out in front of me, the water lapping at the sand as though reaching for my feet. The afternoon sun makes the crystal waters glisten like a thousand diamonds. Birds sing in the trees around me, the wind whispering to the leaves. These elements are beautiful. They sustain life, existing in peace with each other. I always thought ‘I would give anything to have any one of those instead’. But, back then, I never thought to look up.
The sun; giant ball of fire that hangs in the vastness above. Without it, plants couldn’t grow, couldn’t produce the oxygen we breathe. It’s as essential as the other three core elements. I understand that now. I close my eyes as I revel in the feel of its rays on my skin. I’m wearing fitted leather pants, lace up leather boots, and a loose cotton shirt. Alice was even kind enough to put my hair up in a tight braid to keep it out of the way.
“You know, Sis, you shouldn’t look directly at the sun,” a voice teases. Their feet crunch on the sand.
I turn to the redhead with a smile. “You’re late.”
Eli chuckles. “Sorry. I had to convince the guards to let me borrow some training swords,” he holds up two swords, tucked into their scabbards. I glance behind him. Andrei and Ceph stand under the canopy at the edge of the forest. “The masculine look suits you,” he adds with a wink.
“You have no idea how relieved I am to wear pants again,” I laugh as I take one of the swords. It’s pretty heavy, but no more than I expected. “Rhoan, go watch with Andrei.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather use me as your weapon?” Rhoan hesitates.
“That would be an unfair advantage,” I scold. The mouse hops off my shoulder, landing as a cat, and moves to stand at the feet of Ceph. As I slowly pull it out of the scabbard, the metal glints in the sunlight.
“Hey, wait a second, I thought you were going to use training swords!” Andrei protests, “Those aren’t made of wood!”
I raise my brows and chuckle. “In my experience, wood doesn’t last long in a fire.”
Andrei pouts. “But…”
“Relax,” I toss the empty scabbard at his feet. “No one’s forcing you to watch,” I see Andrei’s lips move as he repeats what I just said with a mocking expression. I roll my eyes and laugh.
I move to stand across from Eli as I twirl the blade in my hand. I toss it between both hands, trying to get used to the weight. It feels like forever since we left the Guild. Nearly a week without much activity hasn’t done me much good. Eli takes a light-footed stance. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that we both like to move fast. His blade spins in his hand, his deep brown eyes fixed on me.
I tilt my head and grin. “There’s no need for training wheels,” I hold my sword out at the ready. With a thought, the blade erupts in flame. Eli nods, and his sword lights too.
He waits. As the seconds tick by, I grow bored. Alright, I guess I’ll just have to take the fight to him. I charge head on, but as I get close I drop. The sword swipes at his legs as I slide across the sand. He front flips with ease, spinning on his heel as he lands. I crouch with one hand buried in the sand. Eli smirks and swings the sword down at my head.
I bring my blade up to block his stroke, bracing the flat of the blade on my palm. Eli pushes hard, and my arms tremble with the strain of holding him off. I’m considering my options when I hear a faint snap. In the center of my sword, where the edge of his presses against it, a small crack appears in the steel. Well, shit. I guess the fire weakened it faster than I anticipated.
My heart starts to race. The breeze caresses my cheek, loose hair tickling my nose. This isn’t the end of the fight. I won’t lose to a man. I dive to the right, rolling into the tide as I narrowly avoid the momentum of his sword. It digs deep into the ground, melting sand into glass. As Eli pulls his blade free, I have time to get to my feet. My clothes are damp but I try to ignore it. I swing at him as soon as he’s got the sword free, and he barely manages to block in time. He stumbles back as I swing again and again.
His eyes narrow and he takes the offence. Instead of aiming for me, however, he aims for my blade where the crack has grown. Crap. It only takes two solid hits before the top half flies off and embeds in the sand. The flames die out, and I’m left with a useless hilt. I toss it away and my arms hover at my sides. I have another trick up my sleeve. Eli raises an eyebrow. I nod. He swings half-heartedly.
The blade stops in mid-swing. I grip onto it with both hands, the dull steel slices into my palms but only for a moment. The flesh of my hands fades into the orange-yellow marble of fire. The steel turns red, melting slowly until I snap it in three. I let the pieces fall into blobs on the ground between us and grin at my dumbfounded opponent.
“I thought using your magic in a duel was cheating?” Andrei calls from the side teasingly.
I roll my eyes. “Fighting fire with fire was kind of the idea here.”
“How did you…” Eli mutters, pointing at my hands.
“It seems she has more control over the fire than even you do, Eli,” Ceph muses thoughtfully, approaching us.
I stick my nose in the air. “Not really. I couldn’t do that before. I only figured that out this morning,” Ceph’s eyes widen and Andrei’s jaw drops. “What?” I frown.
“You also seem to learn quickly,” Ceph nods. “Eli, you need more practice,” he states, curt and cold.
“That’s not fair,” I glare at the bespectacled man. “It’s not his fault. It has nothing to do with practice.”
“It has everything to do with practice. Eli is a guardian. He’s been slacking. We need to keep up our training, even as a Guardian, in order to expand our capabilities and protect those around us,” he states in a scholarly manner.
I swing my arm out, my vision turns red for a moment. A bead of flame splashes against the tree beside Ceph. It’s so hard not to hate this guy. “Take that stick out of your ass, Ceph. What gives you the right to talk to him like that?”
Ceph moves in an all too familiar blur, looming over me with a shadow over his face. “I am not insulting him. I would never do that. You should learn to respect your elders. You’re acting like a child again, who can’t control her temper. You could hurt someone if you don’t learn how to reign that temper of yours,” he glances over at his companion, his expression softening. “Eli understands. It was not meant to belittle him in anyway. It was merely an observation.”
I clench my fists and grind my teeth. He has no idea what he’s talking about. For a moment, I’m overwhelmed with the instinct to incinerate him as he towers over me. I resist, tempting though it might be. I hate how my hands tremble. I hate that I’m afraid. Instead, I hold my ground, and glare up at the arrogant man.
“You can learn from each other. Perhaps you can teach him how you were able to achieve that form more quickly,” Ceph suggests.
“I didn’t achieve anything,” I growl, my voice nearly inaudible. “This is what the fire wants,” I hold out my hand as it becomes fire once again, “This is what it does, if I let it. I didn’t learn to make it happen, I learned to make it stop. You arrogant asshat. Just because you’re old, doesn’t mean you know everything.”
“I am not that old!” he mumbles. “I understand that it comes naturally to you, but how would you teach that to another? Every skill has a method, whether you are conscious of it or not. If you were to break it down, how would you explain it?” he tries to stay calm.
I tear my eyes away, glaring into the forest to my right. He’s not getting it. “How could you possibly understand, when you won’t even listen?” I heave a sigh, heading off toward the treeline. “Forget it.”
“What did I say? This is a learning session. Why is her temper so unruly? This is not for my benefit, it is for yours!” Ceph huffs, throwing his hands in the air.
“I think maybe you should have let me handle it then,” Eli claps Ceph’s shoulder.
Andrei jogs to catch up, Rhoan quick on his heels. “Hey, Kat, hold up,” he catches my arm. I stop and turn to face him. The heat behind my gaze dissipates when I see his face. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t do anything wrong.
Instead, I turn to look at the ground. “What?” I ask meekly.
“What’s got you in knots? You know Ceph has a weird way of wording things, but… I wouldn’t let him get to you. This is your training, after all,” he reasons.
“Is it?” I glance back at the men by the water. “He looks at me like some sort of experiment, rather than a person.”
“I think you’re seeing things. He likes to watch people train. If anything, I think he admires your strength and wants you to teach Eli. You should take that as a compliment. This isn’t like you, Kat,” he puts one finger under my chin, lifting my face until I’m looking into his eyes. “Don’t let his agenda worry you. Just focus on training your fire. It’s great that you have it back, and you seem to have all these new abilities! It’s a little overwhelming for me to watch! I’m jealous, so don’t let him get to you,” he smiles warmly with a modest shrug.
My resolve melts too quickly to catch it. How does he do that? I whisper. “I don’t know how to teach him that. It just happens, and he’s acting like it’s a science or something!”
“Time has a way of doing that, you know. Feeling the stages of change and growth. I think if you focused on the process of making it, and tried to see how you make it, you could figure out how you do it without thinking in order to teach it. Look how you got me to make a fire? Even if it was as small as a match?” he hums, tilting his head.
My eyes sting with frustration. I step closer, leaning against his chest, and burying my face in the crook of his neck. “How can I teach what I don’t understand?” His arms wrap around my shoulders, embracing me. When he speaks, I feel his neck vibrate, it’s soothing.
“I find that meditation often helps me find those kinds of answers. What if you meditate on it?” He tries to compromise. “You don’t have to think about it this moment. That’s not what Ceph was saying, but that’s something you should try thinking about when you’re alone, maybe?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been very good at that,” I sigh. As I inhale, the scent of him makes me feel at home. The anger from just moments ago seems like a distant memory. A voice in the back of my mind screams at me; how could I let a man affect me this way? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. When did I start to care? “I guess I’m just frustrated. Ceph acts like he’s got it all figured out, but really he has no idea.”
“He’s a good teacher Kat. If you give him a chance, he’s really good at helping me figure things out,” Andrei assures me, leaning his cheek against my hair.
“Well,” I mumble, kissing his neck lightly. “I guess, if you think so, I can give him another chance.”
“I’m glad. Come on, let’s get back to training. We should probably apologize to him before we start though,” he chuckles.
“We?” I lean back, raising an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure I’m the asshole here. What did you do?”
“Well, you could do the talking,” he winks. I narrow my gaze as he turns to head back. I follow, taking a deep breath as we approach the pair by the water.
I gulp, and Andrei nods encouragingly. I step up to the two wary men. “Okay. I’ll… try it your way,” I reluctantly meet Ceph’s narrowed green eyes. “I’ll try to teach Eli.”
Ceph looks at Eli, who nods once. “I merely want you to try to focus on breaking down the actions you use to make yourself turn to fire. Try to… separate the thoughts and commands and see if you can describe the spell to Eli,” he explains.
I bite back the sarcasm that instinctively jumps to my lips. “Okay… Before I do that though,” I hesitate, dropping my gaze. I struggle to swallow my pride. “Would you mind…?” I hold out my bloody hands toward the elder time mage. I really would rather not have burn scars across my palms, but it stings horribly and I don’t want to wait until we get back to the castle.
Ceph sighs and takes my hands, holding them from the back with my palms turned upward. He’s surprisingly gently, and his palms are soft. Our hands are surrounded by a faint bluish light, the lines of the wound glowing until they close. As the light fades, I’m left with just dried blood.
“Thanks,” I mumble shyly. I quickly step back and kneel at the edge of the water to wash off the blood.
“I have to admit, that was a pretty reckless move, Sis, grabbing the sword like that. What if it was properly sharpened? You’d have lost your fingers!” Eli pouts, with childlike concern.
I laugh. “I wouldn’t have caught it with my bare hands if it was a real sword.”
The blood in the water spreads out like tendrils, floating toward the deeper waters. I watch, with mild interest, the way it mingles with the water. The tendrils shift and swirl, and for just a moment, a picture emerges. For just a split second, I swear the blood forms the figure of the woman, wearing the long red cape and hood from my dreams. I blink and it’s gone. I stare into the water in disbelief, long after the red has disappeared.
“Shall we get started?” Eli smiles. I look up to find we’re alone. Andrei and Ceph have moved back to the forest’s edge, with Rhoan following at Ceph’s feet.
I stand up, wiping my palms on my thighs. “Why do you put up with that guy?” I ask quietly, eyeing Ceph. “You guys are basically opposites,” I turn to the redhead, curious.
Eli smiles, resting his hands on his hips. His gaze falls on the brunette as he walks away. “He’s not so bad, once you get to know him.”
I study his expression. I’ve grown quite familiar with that look. “You love him.” I state, a little surprised at myself.
Eli blushes, and grins, “Is it that obvious?” I nod and snicker. He shrugs. “What can I say? He’s perfect, in my eyes.”
Seeing the way Eli looks at Ceph, I wonder if maybe I’m the one who’s crazy.