I shook my head. “My trust in you isn’t the issue, Killian. You’re the one with the trust problem.”
He stared at me for several long moments. An emotion simmered in his black-red eyes, but his eyebrows weren’t at all slanted, so I didn’t know how to read it.
Well, if he wasn’t going to start us off, I’d take the advantage of being prepared. I unsheathed my chisa katana, wrapped it with electricity, and raised my shield. “Ready?”
Killian nodded sharply, and backed up a bit. Then he disappeared.
I shifted my shield to my back and created a ring of fire around me, spanning from my feet to the outer edge of the circle, which I had precisely calculated to be longer than Killian’s arm so he couldn’t yank me right over the top.
Killian darkly chuckled, and I caught sight of him to my left. “Not bad.” He threw something at me.
I ducked, but caught sight of it flying over my head, confirming it was indeed a dagger. (Where had he kept that?!)
Killian effortlessly leaped over me. I crouched even lower, avoiding his hand when he tried to snag my arm, and managed to stab my katana upwards.
It missed him by a mile—of course, he was too fast for that—but he had to take two steps when he landed instead of one to maneuver himself for the blur of his next charge.
I tried to rock out of the awkward crouch I’d been backed into, when I heard my shield crunch behind me, then felt something smack me across the back.
His legs, I thought as I fell into my own flames. I forgot to calculate for kicks with his freakishly long legs.
I scrambled to my feet. My own magic couldn’t hurt me, but since I was knocked out of the center, I was now within distance of—
Killian snagged me by the collar of my shirt and twitched me out of my fire. Flower petals ground in my clothes, but I wasn’t done yet!
I stabbed at him with my katana.
He dodged, but it was a feint and an ill done one as I only used one hand.
I reached behind me with my free hand and grabbed Killian’s wrist, then let the electric buzz of magic flood me. Lightning danced across my skin, crawled up my arm, and lashed out at Killian.
He yanked his arm free, but before I could move he used the toe of his shoe to flip me over and plant a foot over my throat.
I was about to struggle despite the pressure, but I looked up…and my entire body grew paralyzed.
Killian was smiling—not a smirk, or the bright grin he flashed whenever he wanted to irritate me, or even the fond/affectionate smile he occasionally trotted out. This was a slightly unhinged, or maybe battle-crazed smile. His eyes were as red as blood and glowed with excitement, and his lips pulled back in the unsettling grin with both of his fangs bared.
Something deep within me wailed that this was the face of death. Even though I knew Killian wouldn’t physically hurt me, years of conditioning kicked in, and my fight-or-flight response screamed to life. I wanted to run, but he had me pinned down like a bug. My heart pounded louder and louder as I stared at the face of a predator.
Killian’s grin grew and he started to hunker down by me, but I flinched, and he must have seen something in my face. He froze for a second, then backed off so fast there was a breeze with his exit. He retreated to the far side of the mats, giving me plenty of room.
I sat flat on the mats for a few moments, trying to get my heart back to normal. It took a few lungfuls of air, but eventually my shakes subsided and I could peel myself off the ground.
Killian waited until I was sitting up. “You did well. Your speed has increased a lot since you first started your training.”
I shakily stood and bought myself a few moments by brushing mashed petals off my clothes. “I lasted longer than I thought I would. But how on earth did you get through my shield to kick me?” I shook my head, shaking off the last bits of fear stamped in me.
“I went in at an angle at the side.” Killian gave me the side eye, keeping his body pointed away from me, but carefully watching me.
I offered him a smile and rubbed the back of my neck. “I’ll have to work on curving the shield more to stop that.”
He hesitantly nodded, then straightened his shoulders. “When you dodge you give up too much space. You were half flattened on the ground when I jumped over you—that puts you at a severe disadvantage. Don’t retreat so much—it will give you an advantage so you can attack them easier.”
“Let’s practice a few dodges, and at the end of the session we can give the practice match another try.”
I retrieved my katana and shook out my arms. “Sounds good to me!”
“Very well. Let’s begin.”
Although I was the Adept of House Medeis, and we got along really well—it was a miracle the House happened to agree with all the changes I was making, they’re infamous for hating that sort of thing—it still loved playing tricks on me.
Like now. I tried to pull the chain on a ceiling fan to toggle the fan off, but the House kept lowering the chain and then raising it whenever I made a jump for it.
My fingers just brushed the fancy pendent that ended the switch, and the House yanked it out of my grasp.
I set my hands on my hips. “I will burn scented candles in every room and stink this whole place up if you don’t turn off the ceiling fan.”
The flooring squeaked, and around me the House groaned.
“I don’t care if it’s fun!” I narrowed my eyes and did my best to channel the look my parents used whenever I’d been particularly disobedient. “It’s late fall! There’s frost on the ground, the sun is barely up, the heater just turned on, and I’m freezing! Turn. It. Off!”
Something in the ceiling fan clicked, and the blades of the fan slowed down, cutting back the breeze that whipped the icy cold morning air through my room.
I glanced at the alarm clock by my bed—5:30. I still had a bit of time before I needed to get ready for the morning practice. But after all that jumping around, it’d be useless trying to sleep again.
I stuffed my feet in my slippers and shrugged on a warm sweater. I was about to head to the kitchen for a very early breakfast, when something rang in my room.
It took me several long moments to recognize it was a ringtone, but not of my regular cellphone. It was the one Killian had given me in summer.
Even though I had my regular cellphone back and used it as my primary number, when I’d gone to Drake Hall for the alliance negotiations, Killian had insisted I take the phone with me.
The vampires were the only ones with the number, so I usually left it behind, which is why I had to scramble around my room to search for it, eventually unearthing it from under a pile of workout clothes.
I gaped at the name displayed on the screen, but hurried to answer it. “Killian?” My voice broke, making me sound squeaky.
“Good morning, Hazel.”
I suspiciously peered around the room, feeling weirdly awkward. (I couldn’t tell you why—Killian had barged into my room a number of times when I was in Drake Hall, and when I first swore loyalty to him as a servant I was wearing fleece pajama pants with sheep on them. It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that.) But I skirted across the wooden floor of my bedroom and hopped on my bed. “You’re up late. Isn’t this when most everyone is usually going to bed at Drake Hall?”
“Except for the vampires on patrol, yes,” Killian said, sounding extra British-y, which meant something was bothering him. “I usually stay up until the sun has risen. No use giving it more allowances than it already takes.”
I leaned against the headboard, kicked my slippers off, and shoved my feet under the covers. “How very like you. Is something up?”
“What do you mean?”
“You called for a reason, right?” I yanked the covers of my bed up higher. “It’s not like we haven’t seen each other in a while. You just beat the snot out of me yesterday in our second training session.”
Killian was silent.
“Is…is everything okay?” I hesitantly asked.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said.”
I wrinkled my forehead as I tried to recall what conversations we’d recently had that might bear a phone call. The most likely culprit was the conversation Celestina and I snickered over in front of Killian while I stuffed my face with cookies right before I left after training.
“You confirmed Josh had a human fling years ago? How’d you pull that off? Was it a Twilight thing and werewolves were involved?”
“I was referring to when you said you needed proof that I trust you,” Killian dryly said.
“Oh. Um, what about it?”
“I believe I have found sufficient proof for you.”
I stared at the framed picture on the wall—the last family photo I’d taken with my parents. “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s your proof?”
I tried to process his point, but it felt like my brain was filled with syrup. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Surely you know that wizard blood reeks to vampires.”
“Unless the vampire trusts the wizard.”
“Double yeah.” I furrowed my eyebrows—was he seriously calling me at 5:30 am to school me on the particulars of my blood?
“To me…you no longer smell.”
I had to replay the sentence three times in my mind. “Like, I don’t have a scent?”
That would be less surprising—Celestina and a number of Drake vampires had already told me I no longer stunk, and I had a neutral scent.
“I never said that, only that you don’t smell.”
A long pause stretched between us, and Killian continued. “You now smell…amazing.”
It was shocking, pleasant, and a little eerie to hear. I was used to reactions like Rupert’s—disgust and gagging. Most of the vampires in Drake Hall had stopped scrunching their noses at me a while ago, and they said I smelled neutral to them—neither good nor bad.