Unfortunately, Killian was too fast and made it in before the lightning snapped into place. He hooked a foot behind my knees and pulled my legs out from underneath me, making me topple.
On my way down I released an inferno of blue fire, which heated the air and made me sweaty, but didn’t harm me at all given it was my own magic.
Killian scooped me up and pushed me in front of him, shoving me into my own shield—which gave way, giving him the opening he needed to get out of the magic-flooded space.
Before I could mentally select a new strategy, he had me on the ground, a knee pinning my shoulder down.
I cringed, immediately making Killian back up even as his eyes glowed red. “Surrender?” he asked.
“Yes.” I sighed and stayed spread eagled on the ground as my magic faded away.
Killian’s shirt smoldered, and for once his skin had a little more color to it than usual—probably because I’d nearly barbequed him. Otherwise he appeared untouched.
It wasn’t fair! I’d even made a lightning roof on my cage because he could have easily jumped in!
“Hazel?” Concern lined Killian’s forehead as he crouched next to me.
“I’m fine.” I forced myself to stand and tried to shake the frustration off.
I wasn’t a bratty kid. I didn’t need to win. But I wanted improvement—or some sign I wasn’t going to be such a greenhorn in battle when I had my entire House following me.
But every fight with Killian followed a predictable pattern.
Fight, subdue, flinch, back-pedal, done. Again, and again, and again.
I needed to do something different, but what?
Leila’s words about the fae floated through my mind.
You need to take something that they believe with every ounce of their being, and twist it on them.
Couldn’t I use the same strategy against Killian? But what did he believe and take for granted? He had been the one that was insistent I had more magic, and that it could be used in unusual ways modern wizards never thought of.
“Do you need another break?” Killian asked.
“No.” I sighed and rubbed my right wrist. “That last match was so fast I didn’t expel much magic. I’m good.”
Killian looked me over from head to toe—and not in a checking-me-out way, more like he thought I was enough of an idiot that I wouldn’t notice if I was hurt. Or, more probable, he was worried he had overdone it. He seemed convinced I was terrified of him whenever we fought—wait.
That’s it. That’s something he absolutely believes. And while he does freak me out a bit, he seems to think I see him as a monster, which isn’t true at all. But how do I use that…
“Okay then.” Killian retreated back across the mats. “Let’s go.”
I powered up my shield, grabbed my chisa katana from where I’d left it on the side after a previous fight, and prepared for the usual—fight, subdue, flinch, back-pedal. And that’s when I realized how I could get him.
Killian came at me again, his eyes glowing red and his predator smile on his face.
My heart sped up, but not from fear.
I shot off bolts of lightning and spread flames out around me.
Killian dodged my lightning, but I already had my katana up, guarding my left side—which was his favorite side to attack me on.
I stabbed my sword at his gut. He leaned back, but it passed so close to him I heard the tell-tale sizzle of the electricity that wrapped around the blade as it zapped him.
He darted out—the fire was too intense for him to risk skulking around me for long—and laughed.
I threw an ice chunk the size of a bowling ball at him, but he casually leaned out of the way, disappearing with his speed, again.
I pivoted so my shield was at my back, shut my eyes, and flashed a blazing, white hot light.
The light usually managed to affect a vampire’s sight for a few seconds, buying me precious time.
When I opened my eyes Killian was shaking his head, his lips peeled back in a snarl of displeasure.
I pointed my sword at him, using the blade to more precisely fire off a lightning strike.
He ducked—dodging it entirely—then jumped, tucking his legs underneath him as he soared over my head.
I tried to lunge forward and escape, but he managed to flip midair and grab my shoulder and push, making me stagger.
I dropped my sword as I struggled to regain my balance, but he was behind me by then.
One hand to the neck of my black t-shirt, the other grabbing the top of my pants, and he literally hoisted me out of the fire zone I’d created, dropping me on a new section of mats.
This was it…
My back smacked the mats, and Killian knelt down next to me, his hand again gently resting on my throat, his smirk back on his lips.
And, of course, I flinched.
Killian’s smile died, and he tilted his head back slightly, his muscles tensing as he was preparing to stand.
I struck out with my hand, blasting him in the chest with lightning that used every drop of magic I had in my blood.
My fingers tingled with the force of the strike, and Killian fell backwards as if a truck had run him over.
My fists still glowed with magic as I scrambled to his side. I ended up having to rest my foot on his throat because I couldn’t touch him with my sizzling hands. “Surrender?” I asked.
He gave me a tiny and pained nod.
I dropped my magic and panted for a few seconds before I realized what had just happened. “I won.” I fell back on my rear and stared at my white shoelaces for a few shocked moments, then laughed. “I finally won!”
I hopped to my feet and did a victory lap around the mats. “I did it, I did it, I did it!” I chanted.
A quick glance at Killian showed he was fine. His t-shirt had a giant hole in it, but he was already slowly getting to his feet, and his skin looked unmarred.
That meant he was probably going to ask for another match, so I needed to capitalize on my victory time. I did the worst imitation of a disco dance ever and went back to hopping in glee. “I am a dirty cheater, and this would never count in real life, but I don’t care! I wo—ahh!” I screamed when Killian intercepted me.
I thought he’d be upset—I had toed the line of honorable fighting and attacked even though he’d clearly gotten me. So I was pretty surprised when he swept me up in a hug with a deep laugh I could feel through his chest.
“That was brilliant.” His British accent was on full blast, addling me like a vampire falling on my head. “Have you been planning that this whole time?”
Killian spun in a circle, so I grabbed his shoulders for stability. “No way,” I said. “I just realized I could use it.”
A bit of his smile faded. “Then you really are that scared of me?”
“No, not really.”
His expression was unreadable as he held me high enough so we were eye to eye. “But you cringe.”
“Killian.” I rolled my eyes in irritation. “To end the match you routinely put your hand on my throat when I’m running high on adrenaline. Of course I’m going to flinch! No matter who I fight, I’d flinch! That is basic human instinct!” I released my grasp on his shoulders so I could poke the furrowed spot between his eyebrows. “And might I remind you, I’ve only been training with you Drakes for about half a year! It’s going to take a lot more experience to override base instincts. But when I tried to tell you that, did you believe me? Nooo!”
Killian slightly shifted his grasp on my thighs so he could boost me up higher and I didn’t slide down now that I wasn’t clinging to him. “I’m well aware vampires are terrifying.”
“You are,” I agreed. “But I know you. And I know even when you go all out and your eyes are glowing, you’d never hurt me.”
His exhale was deep but ragged. He slipped his arm under my thighs, freeing up a hand that he gently pressed between my shoulder blades, scooping me into a hug.
He leaned the side of his head against mine, his lips brushing the spot just below my cheek, and I felt the last of my reservations fade.
In this moment, I felt more from him than I had when we’d kissed.
He wasn’t hiding behind a smirk or a cold expression, and his relief was so sharp I could almost taste it. He was that happy that I trusted him.
I slung my arms over his tensed shoulder and hugged him. We’d come so far. He still manipulated things, but he was trying. And despite our differences, I knew I trusted him with my life. And yeah, I loved the jerk. Ugh. That was going to be so much fun to sort through once the war was over.
And in that moment, it hit me.
“Killian.” I pushed away from him and scrambled, trying to get him to set me down.
“Is something wrong?” He loosened his hold, and I slid down his front, my hands shaking.
“No, everything’s fine. But I know how we can surprise the fae and rip them a new one.”
He tugged at the massive hole in the center of his shirt. “Really?”
“Yep. And you’re going to hate it.”
My heart pounded in my throat, and I thought I might throw up.
I attempted to stare impassively at the barren field Celestina had selected for our war with the Night Court, trying to appear nonchalant even though the sight of the Night Court forces scared the magic out of me.
Spread out before us was a massive army, so thick with troops that it looked like a black shadow had fallen over the field.
A silver line near the back of the shadow marked out the Night Court fae nobles in their enchanted armor. Just before them—in black and muted purple tabards—were the bulk of the fae fighting forces, guards and soldiers standing in organized formations.
But spread in front of and wrapping around the sides was a thick band of fae citizens. These fighters made up about half of the Night Court’s forces, and they weren’t all humanoids like the nobles and soldiers. There were trolls, hobgoblins, a few sparks of light that were probably pixies, a hydra, and more.
Given only about twenty wizards from House Medeis were fighting and Killian had decided on roughly sixty Drake vampires for his forces, the fae outnumbered us at a ratio I didn’t want to think of.