I noticed Sebastian’s eyes widen as he was unable to hide the shock striking his face. But once he noticed me staring, his expression hardened - turning into an unemotional mask.
The Count of Air floated over to us, and it was the first time I noticed she was wearing a skin tight dress - black of course - made out of the finest silk. It clung to her body like liquid night, pooling and rippling around her feet.
It was a little much for a normal day at school if you asked me, but I could tell by the way she walked, the tightness in her shoulders, that she wore it for a purpose. The gown was meant to impress, and considering every man in the cafeteria practically groveled at her feet, I guess she achieved her goal.
She was standing at the end of our table in a matter of seconds, but it felt like an eternity.
Sebastian gave a curt nod in acknowledgement, averting his gaze. “Danna.”
She gave a sweet smile. “I miss you, Bashy. You never sit with us anymore.”
I risked a glance at the Count’s table in the back of the room. Five pair of eyes glared back, but the one that stood out to me the most was a pair of golden iris, ones that matched Sebastian’s. Zafira glared at me across the space between us, her top lips curled up in a sneer. She was looking at me like I was the disgusting bug she couldn’t get off of her shoe, no matter how many times she scraped it on the sidewalk. Her little brother squeezed her arm, nodding to me, as if asking a question. I averted my eyes when the little boys lips quirked up into a sly smile.
Danna placed her open palm on the table, too close to Sebastian’s fingers for my liking, and I tensed. Something stirred inside of me. I cleared my throat, and her sharp gaze cut to me, her lips stretching into an irked, forced smile. “Who is your little friend, Bash honey?”
I swallowed hard at the sound of her nicknames.
He gave me a sideways glance, moving his fingers away from Danna’s touch - much to my liking. “Eve,” he said, his voice surprisingly low and emotionless. Almost annoyed, until he looked at me for a second time. His tone took on a lighter, more airy pitch as he stared at me, a smile brushing his lips. “Her name’s Eve, and she’s my girlfriend.”
Pride and something sweet swelled in my chest, becoming so large I felt I might burst. Girlfriend. He said I was his girlfriend.
Danna tensed, obviously not expecting that as an answer. She blanched, her already pale skin turning ghost white - almost my shade, whoa. “Oh,” she said tersely. “I had no idea.”
I didn’t either.
Nicola elbowed me in the ribs, and I bit my tongue to hold in a hiss of pain. A wicked gleam shimmered in her hazel eyes and she wiggled her perfectly groomed eyebrows at me as if saying, “Now is your chance.”
I shook myself, trying not to show that I was practically glowing, floating at least three inches above the ground. Being typically mean wasn’t what I was good at. If anything I wanted to head back to my tent, dance around the kitchen while hitting pots and pans just to get my excitement out.
I held out my hand, trying to keep it from shaking and forcefully placed a fake but pleasant smile on my face. “Nice to meet you,” I said, my voice as sweet as candy syrup.
She glared at my hand, her perfect little button nose scrunching as her lips turned up in a sneer. “The pleasure is all yours,” she snapped. I could see the anger leaking into her body, slowly but powerful nonetheless given her body began to shake. Her hands balled into fists at her side, and soon her bottom lip began to quiver.
Her eyes, now glazed over with angry tears, shot to Sebastian. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she said, her voice shaking. I could see the torment in her eyes, the aqua almost completely glazed over in a stormy grey-navy blue. If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew I would probably suffer social homicide after this, I could’ve felt sorry for her. I almost did.
Sebastian sighed, finally letting a little emotion show on his face. Was that regret? My heart stopped. “Danna,” he said. The whole cafeteria held their breath, including me. Would he go back on the “Eve is my girlfriend” thing so easily? Was my head-over-heels, my floating-on-clouds moment gone just like that?
“It didn’t even happen,” she whispered, her anger soon bleeding into desperation. “I promise it didn’t even happen.” It took me a second to realize she was talking about Nicola’s rumor, where she’d done things with another air student for answers.
I peered at Nicola from under my hair. She was attempting to suppress a grin.
Bash stared hard at his half-empty bowl of vegetable soup, as if contemplating whether or not to answer. He seemed to choose his words carefully, as if trying not to set her off. “At this point it doesn’t matter if it happened or not, Danna. I’m with Eve now.”
Something snapped inside of her. She turned on me and Nicola, practically growling as fat angry tears raced down her face, smearing her perfect makeup. My heart stopped in my throat, and I was terrified to breathe, terrified to move. She could do some serious damage, given her birthright and title.
“This is all your fault,” she sneered at Nicola, whose face was slackened in a mocking grin. She knew it was her fault, and she felt no remorse. “You and your pathetic, disgusting rumors. And you,” she turned her rage on me. Sebastian straightened, putting a wall of muscle between Danna and I. “Don’t think for a split second you’re anything special.”
“Danna,” Sebastian growled, his voice rumbling. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew it had to be hard, fierce, a terrifying mask.
“Bash has a thing for the weak and the wounded,” she continued, ignoring his warning. She practically leaned on his shoulder to get in my face. “He thinks that he can “help” them, to guide them to get over their problem and move on. And you want to know what’ll happen when you finally feel happy again?”
“Danna enough,” Sebastian warned again, his body trembling under my fingertips. Lights flickered above us.
I was ashamed to say I wanted to know, that some part of me actually believed what she had to say. “He drops you,” she said with a bitter laugh. “Once you’ve healed, he’ll leave you for some other pathetic, wounded little girl. It’s sick.”
“Enough!” Sebastian roared, standing abruptly and forcing Danna back. My ears rung. A few light bulbs blew above us, bathing us in a shower of sparkling glass. And to my surprise, thunder rumbled, low and steady outside.
I saw her eyes widen with surprise, maybe fear, before they narrowed into fine slits. She puffed up her chest, and though I loathed her for the time and affection she’d shared with Bash before me, I couldn’t help but stare at her in awe. She was making a fool of herself, but she still wasn’t going down without a fight. I hated that I almost felt bad for her. I wanted to hate her, to be her. “You’re such a whore,” she spat at him. “You can’t just play with my heart, leave me to burn and expect me to wish the best for you.” She motioned between Sebastian and I. “This -,” she said, “this isn’t going to last. Mark my words. I’ll ruin you.”
She glared at Sebastian a moment longer before she turned sharply on her heels, her midnight gown flowing around her like thick oil. Her golden curls shifted with a bounce I could only dream of as she stormed away, leaving me behind to fight back tears in her wake.
He was going to leave me.
The cafeteria was almost eerily quiet after Danna stormed out, no one daring to even breathe. Cautious. Frightened. Hundreds, if not thousands of pairs of eyes stayed glued on me, on my every move, accusing, pitiful, annoyed... I couldn’t help the ugly bloom of scarlet in my cheeks, or the burning sensation in my chest, practically screaming at me to run, hide, get somewhere far, far away from this place. And to my horror, I felt the fiery fingers of embarrassment and panic lace around my heart, causing my chest to ache so badly I wanted to scream in frustration.
He was going to leave me.
I sat there for a few long moment, fighting the tears that were beginning to slip past my eyelids, and it felt like an eternity.
I wasn’t going to make it. I couldn’t take it. All the eyes, all the glares. All the attention.
He was going to leave me.
I ran from the room, hot tears racing down my face, blotting my vision as I flung the double doors open and tore down the small path towards the training grounds. I heard someone call my name.
I couldn’t do it, be tough like Nicola. I couldn’t wear an evil grin and be so... nasty. I felt so empowered when Bash had called me his girlfriend only moments before, but now everything felt wrong, alien. Was she right? What if I was nothing but a project to him, something to fix up and put on his shelf to say, “Yeah, I did that.”
It made sense now- him wanting to be with me. I wasn’t anything special. I wasn’t beautiful, I wasn’t agile, good with weapons, or even really proficient in water magic. I knew how to wield ice, and that was it. I was a scrawny village girl with long white hair and even whiter skin. Hollow cheeks and eyes that seemed too large for my skull wasn’t something I was proud of, but it was me. I wasn’t compatible with him. So why did he want to be with me?
With my vision blurring, I ran through the woods, thankful for the high canopy and thick vegetation to shield me. Thunder still crackled above, causing the land to shake and trees to tremble in its wake. I didn’t want anyone else to see me like this, so weak and pathetic. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of thinking they were right, that I wasn’t fit to be a witch, that I was nothing but a weak, ungrateful, cowardly human.
I must not’ve been paying attention to where I was going because when I glanced at my surroundings, willing my legs to slow, I realized I wasn’t on the path. Thistles and thorns scraped across my cheeks, their harsh kisses caused blood to well and drip down my face. Twigs snapped under my pounding feet, and I had to fight the second wave of panic settling into my bones. Wind howled around me, tossing my hair and tugging at my clothes. A storm was coming.
I collapsed in front of a gnarled elm with a sob, the tree’s deformed branches reaching towards the sky like haunting fingers. My legs felt like jello, and my knees quivered. I cried until my eyes felt as if they were going to burst from my skull and it was as if I had cotton stuffed down my throat. I couldn’t even imagine the angry red circles around my eyes, the dark bags and bruises I would wield tomorrow if I dared show my face.
Lightning split open the heavens.
He was going to leave me.
I don’t know why I cared. It’s not like I even had a right too. I’d known him for a week and already I had these hot, demanding feelings that were almost pathetic. It was as if I had a snake made of fire around my heart, the searing flames licking and burning. I couldn’t get away from it. The only relief I found was with Bash. But relying on someone else wasn’t me. I was so used to fending for myself that when someone finally offered a little comfort, I latched on. Stupid, stupid mistake.
Suddenly something changed, the temperature around me seemed to plummet ten degrees. A gust of wind howled past, blowing my hair in my face and rustling the leaves on the forest floor. It felt as if somebody was there, watching me.
“Who’s there?” I called, my blood frozen in my veins.
Something shimmered in front of me, like a sparkly cloud of smoke before a small creature appeared in front of me in a ball of white light, and I jumped back with a yelp.
I blinked rapidly, bringing up my arms to shield my face, and when the light finally dimmed, I gasped.
It stared at me with small, pupil less black eyes, a dark and eerie contrast against its white flesh. It was tiny, maybe the size of my finger or smaller and had long dark hair that flowed and shifted slightly in the breeze. It wore no clothes, its body covered in small scales that gleamed like opal in the stray strands of sunlight the glimmered through the canopy above, and large, dove like wings sprouted from between its shoulder blades.
“I bring a message from Foster Quinn,” it said, startling me. Its voice was as high as a single bell, yet flowed like a river of honey, and I gaped at it in awe. “You are not to run away, princess. You must stay with the witches. You are not ready.”
Princess? “Not ready?” I whispered, squinting my eyes. “What does that mean?”
“The arrangement still stands. Meet Foster Quinn at the bend in the trail at midnight tonight. Do not be late.” The small creature, faerie, nodded it’s head, and before I could ask one more question, it flew away in a whoosh of cold air.
I was going to run after it, but a wave of fatigue crashed over me.
Something snapped in the distance, and at first I assumed it was the small faerie flying back to me, or even more lightning in the sky, but I was mistaken. “Eve?” Sebastian’s voice range out into the browning canopy.
“I’m over here,” I called back, my voice hoarse.
It wasn’t long before Sebastian stepped around the elm, coming into view. Lines creased his forehead, and his golden eyes were as bright as the lightning cracking open the sky. “Where were you? Why did you run?”
“What would you have done?” I snapped back, hugging my knees to my chest. “Stayed there?” I set my forehead on my kneecaps with a groan.
“I wouldn’t have ran,” he said back, his voice as sharp as a double edged sword. “Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone?”
I looked up at him. “No.”
“Two and a half hours, Eve. You’ve missed the first half of your training lesson.”
My training lesson. That was all he cared about. My stupid, Goddamn training lessons. My lips quivered, more tears I hadn’t even known I’d possessed threatening to spill over.
Sebastian’s face softened upon the arrival of my tears. “Eve...” he said, squatting next to me, his hand on my arms.
“Is it true?” I choked, fat tears streaming like waterfalls down my cheeks, dampening my clothes and hair.
“Is what true?”
“What Danna said.” My voice was so tight, it felt as if a fist had closed around neck and was slowly choking me. “Is it true?”
He’s going to leave me.
Guilt flashed in his eyes. “Not all of it,” he admitted. He glanced down at his hand on my arm. “I didn’t mean to hurt her...” he went on, and I could see the regret written plainly on his face. “I knew the rumors weren’t true, but I jumped at the first opportunity I had to get away from her.”
“Why?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper, strained.
He sighed, plopping next to me. His shoulders hunched, caved in as if there was an invisible weight pressing down on him. “Danna and I were best friends before we dated. She wasn’t always like this, you know. She actually used to care about the feelings she hurt, about the people she stomped on. It changed when she got a boyfriend. She was fifteen.” Sebastian let his head loll back and he stared at the sky peeking through the leaves above.
“Danna was gentle, nice, caring... I actually enjoyed being around her then. We used to run through these woods,” he pointed to his right, “and there’s a stream that way we used to play and swim in for hours. But then she met this boy, Caden. He was in her air classes, and you know how it goes. Boy meets girl, girl falls for boy, boy uses girl...”
Sebastian turned to me, and my heart fluttered in my chest when I saw the intensity in his eyes, the pain and remorse. “He didn’t just use her, Eve. He tried to take her family’s power. I tried to warn her. I told her he was nothing but bad news, that he would do nothing but hurt her, but she wouldn’t listen. So one night, after he’d taken... something... from her -”
“What’d he take?” I cut in, more enthralled with Danna’s past than I’d liked to be. He looked at me, and I just knew. “Oh, that.”
Bash practically growled. “Yes, after he’d taken that from her, he got out of bed when she was fast asleep. He snuck into her parents bed chambers, though how he got past their guards is still a mystery, and stabbed her father to death. He also tried to kill her mother, though she was lucky enough to wake and blast him to bits. He slaughtered her father, attempted to murder her mother, all in hope that her love for him was strong enough that she’d stay with him, marry him and he’d take the throne by her side.”
I gaped at him, horrified. I remembered a few years ago hearing about a murder that had taken place in the Core, but I didn’t care enough to listen or ask much about it. I hated the Order, the Sages, and if someone had murdered one, good riddance. I didn’t have a face to attach to the victim, or even think about their family... My cheeks burned with shame. “Sebastian... That’s awful.”
“I never loved her that way, Eve,” he whispered. “I was just there for her when she needed me the most, like a best friend should be. I didn’t want anything to come out of it, I really didn’t. I just didn’t realize she had feeling for me until it was too late. And I couldn’t hurt her, to turn her down. Not after everything she’d been through. So I stuck with her until I knew she didn’t need me anymore and when I finally got my first opportunity to get out, I took it.” He looked so weak, so weighed down, as if the guilt he felt was compressing down on him, crushing him from the inside out. I felt humbled by the fact he shared this with me, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap him in my arms and draw him near.
A breath shuddered past his lips, and he dug the heel of his palms into his eyes. “I had to cut it off with her because I knew something was changing. I could feel it. Something big was going to happen in my life and I couldn’t be with her for it to happen.”
I stared at him, my brows pinching together. “What do you mean? What was the big thing then?”
He looked up with a sigh, his black hair hanging in his eyes. The tattoo under his eye twitched as a small grin took shape on his face. “You, Eve. It was you.”
Much to my displeasure, we made it back in time for the last hour of my training lessons. Although I complained, Sebastian practically dragged me towards the training grounds where I was to meet my teacher.
He called it the Range, a place where witches practiced their aim with either throwing knives, guns, or their own powers. It was on the western side of camp, and it was nothing but a huge rectangle of empty space, at least three hundred feet long. Targets of every variety sat in the dirt, their beat up exteriors splattered with holes and paint.
I was slightly disappointed when I realized Nicola had left. It looks like I would be training alone...
“Where’s my teacher?” I asked, swiveling my gaze around. I didn’t see anyone but Sebastian and I. My heart thudded in anticipation.
He strode over to a small shack that looked more out of place than I did. It looked like something I would have lived in only a week ago. He grabbed the rusted handle and gave it a quick twist, and I was shocked it didn’t snap off under his grasp. Inside, on a small copper hook, hung a black cloak that I recognized.
Sliding his large arms through the sleeves, he gave me a wicked grin. I could see the tips of his daggers glinting under his sleeves, deadly and inviting.
“You know,” he said, the mischievous grin never leaving his face, “I could make you run for miles for being late. I don’t take lightly to tardiness in my class.”
My mouth hit the hard ground. ”You’re my teacher?”
He chuckled and reached inside the flap of his of cloak, bringing out another dagger with a handle made of bone. He handed it to me, his eyes sparkling like a river of gold.
“Let’s see what you can do.”
Sebastian had no mercy when it came to training someone. Especially me. With the sun setting and the moon rising, I could see he was becoming more and more at ease, more at home.
“Try to cut me,” he instructed, pointing to the knife I gripped in my palm. Sweat trickled down my temples, down my neck and back. I’d given up fighting my hair, so it was tied in a tight knot on the top of my head. I’d been trying to “cut” him for the past hour, lunging and dancing - or in my chase falling and struggling - in and out of his countering blows.
He refused to use a blade against me, promising me that it wouldn’t be fair, and at first I was slightly offended. But now? I would’ve been sliced to ribbons if he used a knife against me. My cheeks already throbbed from where he’d struck a open first against my cheek. He apologized right after, but if anything that only fueled my want to cut him.
“I’ve been trying!” I puffed, using the back of my hand to wipe my forehead. My muscles screamed for a break, but I refused to give in. I was going to split open his skin, even if it was as small as a paper cut.
Sebastian glanced into the sky, his teeth flashing in the darkness. “You’re trying too hard. Don’t watch me, feel me. Feel my power, and pinpoint my weaknesses.”
“Fine,” I growled growled through gritted teeth. “I get it.”
“Okay then. Cut me.”
With a frustrated cry, I flung myself at him, trying my best to sidestep a punch coming for my ribs. I wasn’t fast enough, of course, and the blow knocked me backward, the knife flung from my grasp. I landed in the dirt with a huff, the air whooshing from my lungs and into the cold air in a cloud of mist.
“You were watching my hand.”
“You were going to punch me!” I countered, ignoring his hand when he offered to help me up.
He stared at me, his features slightly amused. His hair blew in the cool October breeze. “I’m going to try something. I know I said no magic, but trust me, okay?”
My heart skipped a beat. “Magic?”
He nodded. “You’re watching me too much. Just try to feel me.” He then pointed to my blade. “You can’t just thrust and jab. You’re not going to hit anything.” I don’t know. Thrusting and jabbing sounded pretty good to me. “Imagine the blade as an extension of your arm. Flow with it - use your body and your momentum to your advantage. Don’t let it become your greatest weakness.”
I groaned. “Do you treat all of your students like this?”
He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Only the one’s that have disabilities when it comes to learning. They sometimes need a little push.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
He tilted his head back and laughed, and the rich notes made my blood sing. “Are you ready?”
I sighed, crouching into the defensive stance he’d taught me earlier. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
And then he vanished. One moment he was there, the next, poof. I blinked and he disappeared.
“Feel me,” Bash’s voice said somewhere behind me. He was nowhere. “Do you feel me?” Suddenly something touched my waist, and I jumped and spun. Nothing was behind me. “You’re still searching. Don’t look for me. Feel me.”
Something pricked my hand, and I cringed back with a hiss. A small drop of blood started to well at my knuckle. “Hey, you said you weren’t going to use a blade!” I shouted at nothing.
“Feel me,” he said again.
My longing to leave slowly started to shift, to morph into a burning annoyance. My knuckle still bled.
I closed my eyes, imagining him circling me, stalking me. I imagined him getting close, his breath quickening as he came in for the kill. I imagined him reached out with his dagger and...
Something swished in the air beside me, and I reacted. I gripped the bone handle of my dagger as hard as I could, my knuckles turning white with force, and spun. For once I listened, imagining the blade as an extension of my arm. There was a tearing sound followed by a terse curse, and then nothing.
Sebastian appeared in front of me, his eyes wide and a large gash in his robe. My heart thudded with pride.
“I felt you,” I mocked with a smug grin.
He nodded. “Yes, you did... But I’m not going to lie, I really didn’t expect you to for at least a few more lessons.”
I shrugged, unable to subdue the smile tugging at my mouth. “I’m just a fast learner I guess,” and he snorted.
“I think that’s enough for today.” He pulled out a golden pocket watch from his cloak’s pocket. “It’s eight. We won’t have time for supper at the cafeteria -”
“No,” I said, frantically shaking my head, thinking of the Danna and all the eyes. “Not there.”
He gave me a sympathetic look. “Fine. We’ll just eat at our tent then.”
“That’s fine by me.”
We walked back to our tent on the other side of camp, his tall and muscular shoulders rubbing against my own. The camp was alive with laughter and burning campfires. I was starting to realize the army seemed to come alive more at night than during the day.
We were close to reaching our tent when Sebastian said, “I’ll sleep on the couch.” He kept his eyes down. “I don’t want you to feel as if I’m pressuring you or making you do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I apologize for falling asleep next to you last night.”
My cheeks heated at the thought of his arm draped around my waist, pulling me closer. I loved it, but I didn’t want to sound too attached, too desperate. So I replied, “Whatever makes you comfortable.”
I tried not to notice the hurt in his eyes, as if he was expecting another answer. He held the tent’s flap open for me and slid in after.
Sebastian slept on the couch that night, his throaty snores filling the tent, but I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even lay still. I tossed and turned, trying to get a few hours of sleep in before midnight, but it was useless.
When the clock’s hands read eleven forty-five, I slipped from my covers and snagged my boots, stuffing my feet inside. Taking one last glance at Bash, I slithered through the opening in the tent and out into the moonlit camp.