“You’re sure you’re ready for this.” Ander’s tone was concerned, his face a mask of worry.
Emanuella bit back a retort. She had been through this already with Rick and Fiorra knew better than to start. She knew they were simply worried about her, but she was more ready than they knew.
Ander read her face and held his hand up in a conciliatory gesture. “All right, all right.” He backed away. “But your wrist – it’s not at full strength, whatever that Adept says. You know that.”
“Yes, Ander. That’s why it’s wrapped tightly.” Emanuella held up her right arm. She had enchanted the wrap so that it would be invisible to any who looked. Apparently, her enchantment was working.
Ander stared and said, “Oh.” He blinked and looked wryly back at her. “Well done, well done.” He paused and then, troubled, said, “Just, remember –”
“Ander, I know to ice it down after practice to keep swelling down.” She smiled. “It’s not my first day at school, and you’re not my daddy.”
He snorted and cuffed her affectionately. “Brat. Go on then, go get your ass kicked. Don’t come crying to me,” he said as they walked out her door.
“And you need to start going to classes yourself, young man,” Emanuella told him in an authoritative tone.
He scoffed and waved this aside with a wave of his hand. “They’re still not up to where I was with Gabriella. I’m chapters ahead. Light reading.”
“Be careful,” Ander told her seriously.
It was her turn to scoff. She had been careful… and look what it had gotten her. Now her gloves were off. She had nothing to lose. If this was how they were going to fight, then Emanuella’s eyes were wide open this time. Aloud, she said lightly, “Of course.”
Ander searched her face for a moment, as if unconvinced. She smiled brightly. It was all he would get, so he accepted it and shrugged his misgivings off. He waved as he headed toward the Kyor Academy.
As she strode purposely toward the Practice Yard, Emanuella breathed in the cool air of winter, enjoying the crunch of the stone beneath her boots. She was careful to keep her chin from raising too high, as if she were better than these other students, but rather than looking through the curious gazes of those around her, as she once had done, she met each gaze coldly, decisively. She let her own split the air like a blade until students looked away from her with uncertainty. Yes.
In the Practice Yard itself, she heard whispers, probably opining upon her absence, her sudden manifestation, her healthy appearance. All sound immediately hushed upon their fall-in on the gravel. It seemed a rearrangement had to be made for her as a quick moment of uncertainty was exchanged amongst her peers near the end of her line. Emanuella wondered what they had been told.
Then silence again ensued. She immediately recognized the slow, deliberate pace of boots upon gravel. Torvan was walking the line. She stood to her fullest attention, as always, but now. Now, today. Today, she was a changed person. There would be no more holding back.
She waited patiently for Torvan. She smelled him before he reached her. In front of her nearest peer, the scent of sweat, suede, and leather assaulted her, but her expression never faltered.
Then the gravel crunched and he stood before her. His leather armor creaked as his arms crossed upon his chest speculatively. He looked her up and down. Finally, he looked into her face.
She had been staring ahead, as proper attention, proper etiquette of a soldier demanded. But – she couldn’t help it – she focused her eyes. She felt her eyes narrow by reflex, felt her lip raise in a slight sneer of disgust. Emanuella stared into Ker Torvan’s steely grey eyes for heartbeats, meeting his remorseless glare with full deliberation, waiting for him to acknowledge this brazenness by a fist to her chin, anything. He stared back into her eyes – then spat between her boots and moved on to the next student.