Sunrise comes too soon. My body is stiff and the energy in my chest boils. I open my eyes, looking ahead at the wall as I lay on my side. Andrei’s arm is wrapped tightly around my waist, holding my back firmly against his chest. I resent the sun for existing, for waking me up. I want to go back to sleep. I don’t want to move.
Except… I do. I’m itching to move, I’m itching to fight. The flames push against the chains of my flesh. They fight to be let out, and I know I can’t stay here, with him so dangerously close. What is it like for other people, who don’t have to worry about hurting their loved ones? Something in the back of my head reminds me, there is a way. There is someone I can’t seem to hurt. At least, not physically.
I wonder if he’ll even show up for our ‘training’. If that’s what it is at this point. I carefully pry Andrei’s arm away and slip off the bed. I run a hand through my hair, and my eyes fall on the pile of blankets on the chair. I dig through it to find the egg. I place my hands on the shell and find it’s not cold to the touch. It’s not particularly warm either, but it feels… alive. That’s a relief, after yesterday. I cover it back up for now; I’ll come back for it after I deal with this pent-up energy.
I find a pair of black tights, a navy long sleeve shirt, and then I pull my oversized hoodie back on. I grab socks and my favourite boots. On the dresser, is my cell phone. I poke the button on the screen, but nothing happens. Great… It’s probably dead again. I’m starting to wonder if Andrei has the right idea about these things. I’ll have Kaede look at it later.
Andrei groans, rolling onto his back. “Why are you up so early? Come back to bed.”
I smile, crawling half onto the bed to place a kiss on his lips. “I can’t. Training the new guy, remember?”
“Did he come back?” he asks, sliding his hand around the back of my neck. “Should I come again?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I sigh.
“Why not? What about breakfast?” he frowns.
“The whole fire thing, remember? He’s not exactly in control. You could get hurt,” I nudge my nose against his. “I’ll only be a few hours. Go back to sleep. We can have… what do they call it? Brunch?”
“I don’t care if I get hurt, I’m more worried about you,” he whispers.
“Lava is a sub-element of fire. He can’t hurt me,” I assure him. “You can’t burn fire, silly.”
“No, but I could stop it…” he mumbles.
“Not if you suffocate from the heat,” I argue. “I’d feel a lot better if you stay safely away from the fire.”
“Fine…” he winks with eyes half open. “I’ll see you for brunch, m’lady.” I laugh and kiss him again. It’s hard to pull myself away, but I manage. I hesitate at the door before I open it, bracing myself for what this morning might bring.
To my relief, the hall is empty. I carefully close my door to minimize the noise. My gaze drifts to the door on the left, and I freeze. It’s open, the clothes I left on the floor, gone. I hold my breath, wondering if he’s about to step out. After a moment of nothing, I let myself relax. Maybe he just forgot to close the door. I’m relieved to see he seems to have found his way back.
I wonder if I should knock. Maybe he’s still sleeping. The idea of sneaking inside crosses my mind, and I quickly shake my head. That’s a bad idea. I don’t know if I trust myself to be alone with him. It’s so hard to tell what he’s thinking… My mind wanders again to last night, and I have an idea.
Moving as silently as I can, I stop at a door halfway down the hall and knock twice on the dark wood. It takes a painfully long few moments before the door opens, and I’m confronted with the towering figure of Nik. He stands in plaid PJ pants and a t-shirt that’s a little too tight. His hair is loose and frazzled.
“Mornin’ Kat,” he yawns. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
I keep my voice low. “I, um, was hoping you would join me in training… this morning.”
“Training… As in, the new guy?” he frowns.
“Yea,” I rock back on my heels, avoiding his dark eyes. He stares at me in silence for a long awkward moment.
The door down the hall creaks as it opens and I look over on instinct. Heath steps out into the hall, curly black hair covering his eyes until he brushes it back with his blackened fingers. He stands in the hall wearing nothing more than the sweatpants and the shoes Nik brought for him the other day. I feel the blood rush to my face and I quickly turn back to Nik, trying to pretend I didn’t see Heath at all.
Nik doesn’t look at all convinced, as he studies me with those eyes. “Yeah, alright. Give me two minutes,” I nod, and he steps back into his room, leaving his door open.
Heath wanders over to me, rubbing the back of his neck as he stares at the floor. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” I try to stay neutral. My heart flutters. Is he going to bring up what happened? “I’m glad you found your way back. Um, sorry I couldn’t find you.”
“Oh, that’s thanks to Elias. He found me and we like… sparred or something for hours. He’s a… cool guy,” he says awkwardly.
I can’t help but smile. “Yeah, sounds like him.”
“So, training today? Or work?” he asks, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“A bit of both, probably,” I answer passively.
“Alright,” he nods. “Hows the, uh… Egg?”
“It seems okay,” I glance up at him. “I checked on it just now. I figured it’d be safer not to bring it to training anymore, so I’ll come get it later.”
Nik steps back into the doorway, and I move aside as he pulls it shut behind him. “Ready?” he looks between us.
“Good morning,” Heath replies. “Ready.”
I turn on my heel to lead the way. Nik walks beside me, and Heath trails a few steps behind. The walk is plagued by awkward silence until we reach the training hall. I pause outside one of the rooms.
“You guys go ahead and get started. I’ll catch up in a bit,” I wave to an empty room.
Nik raises an eyebrow. “Breaking more rules, are we?”
“Wh- No. There’s no rule,” I stutter. “I just… have to do something.”
“Right,” Nik chuckles. “Since when are you nervous about showing off?”
“I don’t-” I gawk at him. He grins. “Just, do what I tell you for once.”
“You’re not my boss, missy,” Nik teases, and Heath shoots him an odd look. “What if I’d rather watch? Don’t you think it’d be good for him to see what you can do?”
I glare at the earth giant. “Why are you so… insufferable?” I throw up my hands and turn to keep walking. I’m going to start throwing punches too soon at this rate.
“You met my Gran, right?” Nik follows after me with a deep laugh. I roll my eyes.
At the end of the hall, I stop in front of the familiar steel door. I place my hand on the panel, and the voice greets me. I poke at the screen, setting it to twenty minutes. I select Guardian, and in the advanced option I increase the intensity.
Nik leans over my shoulder as the door opens. “Should we come up with a safe word?”
“Fuck off,” I scoff.
“Got it,” he nods, moving to the observation window. I’m relieved at the silence that the Danger Room brings.
The environment shifts to a desert, and one by one, large monstrosities appear. I wait until one attacks first. If this is supposed to be some sort of training for him, I shouldn’t skip to the fun part just yet. I dodge the fists, bigger than my head. More of the creatures begin to close in. I strike the first one in the gut with my fists and stomp on its feet. It stumbles, and in that moment I grab its arm in both hands and swing it around, knocking several of its comrades back.
Next, I figure we’ll go with some weapons. Being that I didn’t bring any, I roll my wrists and flames grow into the shape of a pair of swords. It has the benefit of slashing and cauterizing in one blow, keeping the sand from getting slick with blood. I systematically remove several limbs and a head in quick succession.
Between the body parts and the sheer number of enemies, still growing, I start to feel surrounded. Each one carries a different, very real weapon, and it gets hard to doge when there are fifteen coming at you at once. The room is so crowded, they start cutting each other by mistake. If they weren’t programmed illusions, they’d probably turn to kill each other at this point. Still, I’m curious to see how many I can kill without the fire.
Curious, but not suicidal. As I duck under one blade, rolling away from another, I find a third coming right for my face. Twisted in a precarious position, I grab the sword in both hands. The edges dig into my palms. I hiss as the pain. It’s not that bad, but now I’m annoyed.
“Okay, playtime is over,” I mutter. The fire beats against my ribs, vengeance on its mind. I give in. My body erupts in flame, incinerating three of the closest monsters in an instant. I stand upright, rolling my head to stretch my neck as several weapons pass right through me.
Frustration and anger boils in my blood, and I growl as I grab the arm of the nearest creature. It wails and tries to pull away. I clench my fist and thrust it right through the thing’s chest. It falls to the ground and I move onto the next one. Its body crumbles like dough in my hands.
When the timer finally goes off, I’m left standing alone, surrounded by more bodies than I care to count. The sand is stained red, not that you can really see it anymore. The illusion fades, and the air vents open, bringing cool air into the room. The doors don’t open until it’s a safe temperature again. While I wait, I focus on the fire. It’s still hungry. All of that barely made a dent in my energy pool. Unfortunately, I can’t spend all day in here, like I used to.
I manage to pull the fire back in, and when the door opens, I step out into the comparatively frozen hallway. I hesitate to look at the boys, now surrounded by several other students and mages. “Okay. We can go now,” I mumble, heading for the nearest training room. I’m hoping to escape the crazed fans before they get too rowdy.
Once inside, I turn to see if the boys followed. Heath’s dark eyes follow me, wide enough for me to clearly see the rings of orange in the blue of his irises. He doesn’t speak, hovering beside Nik. I cross my arms, my cheeks warm as I look away.
“Okay, so… Nik, what should we have him practice with today? We sort of covered hand to hand, and bo staff,” I start.
“Ah,” Nik barks. “Hands.”
“Give me your hands,” he insists, holding out his thick palms. I pout, reluctantly placing my tiny hands in his, palms down. He grabs them and twists my arms so that my palms are visible, still bleeding. “As usual,” Nik shakes his head.
“It’s fine, it’s just a scratch,” I argue.
“Does she normally hide her wounds?” Heath asks, raising an eyebrow at Nik.
“Always,” Nik replies. “When I found her, she was black and blue, head to toe, riddled with bullets. She still tried to convince us she was fine,” he muses, leaning down to examine my hands closer.
“I was fine…” I mumble defiantly. I know he’s right.
“Why do you hide them?” Heath turns his gaze to me. I flinch. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me why. They just scold me.
“I… um…” I struggle with the answer. I’ve been hiding wounds for so long, I barely remember how it started. “I just don’t like people worrying, or…judging. It was always just easier to keep it to myself.”
“That’s not healthy, on many levels,” Heath murmurs.
“When people started asking questions, it just made Logan mad,” I muse, and my breath catches. I didn’t mean to say that out loud… My voice shakes as I try to cover the slip. “It doesn’t matter now anyway. These guys don’t let me get away with it.”
“Logan? Who’s that?” Heath asks, undeterred. I chew my lip.
“The abusive ex,” Nik whispers. I kick him in the shin. He flinches. “What? Kaede’s got a big mouth.”
“Kaede?” Heath frowns.
“Caroline’s boyfriend,” I answer. “Soon to be dead boyfriend.”
“Hey now,” Nik warns. “Hold still, would you?” I sneer at him. He focuses on my hands. They start to glow with a soft green light. It only takes a few seconds for the wounds to close over.
“Okay, are you happy now?” I yank my hands away, stuffing them in the pocket of my hoodie. I shift my gaze to Heath, who watches Nik’s hands with curious eyes. “Logan is dead, so… You don’t need to worry about him anyway.”
“Who said I was worrying?” he retorts.
“I mean, he’s not someone you’ll ever run into,” I shrug. “So don’t worry about it.”
“Maybe I should,” Heath replies. “If I’m going to stay. Everyone else seems to know.”
I feel a jolt of ice in my chest. If he’s going to… “H-have you changed your mind?” I ask, eyes widened.
“I’d never really decided before. I was still on the fence,” he says timidly. “That is… if you want me to stay. If not, I guess I can leave at the end of the week, as planned.”
“No,” I snap, almost as a reflex. He looks up, startled. I bite my lips together, clearing my throat. Nik raises a thick eyebrow at me, but I ignore him. “I’d like you to stay if that’s what you want.”
“I want to give it a try. You know… people and stuff, and your lessons. They’re helping. You’re a good teacher,” he mumbles, shuffling awkwardly.
My lips curl involuntarily. “That’s good. I’m glad to hear… Um, I thought maybe since Nik is the Earth element, and Lava is sort of a combination, he might be able to help with finding a way for you to learn to keep the… heat, under control,” I explain, feeling flushed.
“Uh, sure, sounds like a good plan,” Heath nods, though he seems unsure.
“Ah, so there is a point to me being here,” Nik hums.
“Yes,” I smack his chest. “You have other uses other than to annoy me.”
“And here I thought that was my only talent,” Nik sighs dramatically. He grins at Heath, “Alright, let’s get started. I guess, first, you’ll need to get warmed up, huh?”
“I just spent the whole night cooling off… Jeez,” Heath replies, with a hint of a smile.
Nik jogs backward to the middle of the room. “Then it’s a good thing it’s still early morning.”
Heath follows Nik out into the center. “Heh, yeah… Early morning.”
Nik watches as Heath’s face scrunches up. “Don’t worry, if you can’t get a hold of yourself, I’ll just knock you out,” he grins.
“What?” Heath looks up, eyes wide. Nik just keeps smiling, watching him. After a couple moments, Heath doesn’t seem any warmer than before.
Nik rubs his chin in thought. “Hey, Kat… c’mere.”
“Why?” I narrow my eyes. Nik waves for me to come closer, his gaze fixed on Heath. “Okay…” I cross the mats curiously. “What do y-”
I’m cut off as my arms twists around my back, Nik’s large hand holding both of mine in one, with the other over my mouth. I gasp, a twinge of pain in my shoulder. What the hell is he doing??
“What the hell man? What are you doing?!” Heath growls, taking a step toward us.
“Nothing,” Nik sings, taking a step back and dragging me with him. I writhe in his hands, swearing under his palm. Heath glances between Nik’s face and mine, unsure and concerned. Nik leans down right up to my ear, whispering so that Heath can’t hear him. “Come on, Kat. Be dramatic. It won’t work if you’re not a damsel in distress.”
I’m so going to kill him later. What the hell kind of idea is that? I try to stomp on his foot, but I misjudge the placement. It’s hard to see over his hand on my face. Nik snickers.
“Stop hurting her,” Heath hisses. I study his darkened expression. Is it… Working?
“What are you going to do about it?” Nik taunts, his grip on my arms tighten, he pulls me up so I can barely stand on my toes, and his thumb moves to cover my nose. I groan, kicking at Nik’s legs as my lungs start to burn.
“What sort of training is this? You’re insane!” Heath yells. The black of his fingers starts to spread, very slowly, up across the back of his hands. I resist my own urge to lash out. Nik won’t actually hurt me. I know he won’t…
“Training under pressure,” Nik replies. My body tries desperately to suck in air, and the room starts to spin. Nik clicks his tongue in disappointment. “Better heat up quick, I don’t think she can hold on much longer!”
Heath growls, staring at his hands. He inhales a deep breath and his face relaxes. Suddenly the black flies up his arms and across his chest, slowly replacing his fingers with an orange glow. The temperature in the room explodes in seconds. He raises his head and he lunges forward, hands gripping around my arms, just below my shoulders. I’m yanked forward and I stumble as my feet find the floor again. I throw my freed hands out to catch myself, hands resting on his chest as I gasp to catch my breath.
“You alright?” Heath asks, staring at me with wide eyes. His hands still clutch my arms, through the holes in my sleeves and his chest heaves with heavy breathing.
I nod once, squeezing my eyes shut. The dizziness will pass in a second. “Yea, I’m fine. Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. I… I took too long. I’m sorry,” his hands tremble slightly.
“It’s not your fault. That was stupid and crazy and unnecessary,” I turn to glare over my shoulder. Nik holds his hands up in a surrender motion, a stupid grin on his face.
Heath jumps back. “Sorry! I burnt your shirt!”
I glance down at the hand-sized holes in my sweater and the shirt underneath and sigh. “That’s alright. I need to buy a bunch of new clothes anyway. They keep getting holes or bloody…” I scratch my head. “I’ll go and get some spare clothes before this gets any more heated. In the meantime… Go ahead and kill Nik, would you?” I smile darkly.
“Hey!” Nik whines.
“Uh… Okay…” Heath mumbles, watching me head to the door.
I figure going back to the dorms is probably a bad idea. Caroline and the others might be waking up soon. I’d rather avoid questions, so instead, I go to the storage rooms, where we keep a bunch of spare clothes. I realise then, I have no idea what sizes would fit Heath, so I grab several different ones. Then I find a new shirt for myself and head back down to the training room.
The boys are engrossed in a fistfight when I return. They barely acknowledge me. I dump the armful of clothes by the door and dig out the shirt for myself. I drape it over the weapon rack and glance at the boys. They seem distracted enough, so I grab the bottom of my sweater and pull it over my head. I sigh, looking at the damage before I toss it aside. I’m more careful about peeling the shirt off, the burnt cloth of the sleeves having stuck to my skin. I wince as I pull it off, like a band-aid. I drop the burnt clothes at my feet and pick up the fresh shirt. When I find the bottom, I slide my arms in first before I pull it over my head and adjust it over my stomach.
There’s a loud thump, and I spin to see what happened. Nik kneels on the ground, his hand on Heath’s head, pushing his face into the floor. Heath growls. “Oh, bug off, would ya!”
“Nik!” I scold, storming across the mats. “What’s wrong with you today? Can you just,” I pause hooking his face with my right fist, forcing him to fall back on his ass, “behave yourself?”
Nik rubs his chin with a pout, “You’re the one who started stripping.”
I stare down at the olive-skinned man, not sure what to say but I’m sure my face is bright red. I grit my teeth. “Heath, would you move out of the way, please? I think I’m going to kill him now.”
“Whoa, hold up! You don’t need to kill him! I mean… you did ask him to fight me, right?” Heath looks up at me with bulging deep blue eyes. The orange on his hands seems to spread as he speaks.
I glance at him, curious. Does he really think I’m serious about killing Nik? The panic in his eyes tells me he does. I wonder what I did to make him think I would murder my friends so easily. I rub my eyes and run my hand through my hair.
“Yeah. I did,” I mumble, turning on my heel. “Continue, I guess.”
As soon as I’m clear, Heath dives at Nik, and they tumble across the floor. I stand on the sideline, arms crossed, watching their movements. Nik occasionally offers some criticism, but otherwise, it seems his method of teaching is mostly physical. I keep an eye on the clock. After an hour, I call them to stop.
“Okay, now the hard part. Heath, try to cool yourself down,” I instruct, trying to sound confident. Heath’s shoulders sag at the idea. “Don’t worry. It’ll take time, but you’ll get the hang of it,” I smile to encourage him.
“Yeah, sure, easy for you to say,” he moans.
I cross my arms and roll my eyes. With that attitude, we’ll be here for a while.
By Krystyna Yates