Crash and Burn

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Chapter 16: Callum

Callum was shocked. Utterly and totally shocked. So many things had gone down in that short training session that he had absolutely no idea what to think of it all.

As he left the gym and began to make his way back to his room, Callum's mind was running overtime to try and piece together all of the little clues he had gained this morning.

First off, how the hell was she able to touch those daggers? Callum had never really paid much attention to their history, but everyone knew to stay away from them. Just over the past year, they had put several in the hospital, many of which didn't make it.

Second, Callum could tell she was a very experienced fighter. Her technique was nearly perfect. The tiny corrections that Roman made were practically inconsequential to her fighting prowess.

Where had she learned to fight like that? It definitely wasn't on the streets. Although, her adaptability to Roman's style showed some serious street experience, too.

Callum could tell she had been holding back and guessed that if she hadn't been so worried about her audience she would have shown skill that may have even surpassed Roman.

Her distraction had cost her, but her reaction to Roman pulling back at the last second intrigued Callum. It showed some true grit and determination to learn to fight through the pain of hits. Her dedication to being able to push through pain was both admirable and slightly worrying. It gave Callum a peek into what her life was like.

The condition they originally found her in was extremely dire, yet she still stood and fought through it. It showed not only how tough she had been forced to become, but also alluded to the fact that she was used to pain much worse than what she had been in.

Thinking of Addie having to suffer through any type of pain caused rage to boil deep in Callum's chest. Why the hell was he having such a strong reaction to her?

All she would bring was trouble. Callum knew that, but fuck if he could get himself to care any less about her because of it. He still didn't trust her, but he found himself wanting her to be innocent.

Finding her so wounded had embedded a deep protective instinct in Callum towards her. It was really beginning to worry him. He knew better than to get attached. She was nothing more than a weakness and an inconvenience.

So why couldn't he convince himself of that?

Lost in his thoughts, it wasn't long until he made it back to his room and began getting ready for breakfast. Every morning, Callum and the other heirs had breakfast with their parents. It gave their parents a chance to talk politics with them and tell them what they needed to get done that day.

Callum missed the times when his mother used to be there. When she was alive, the breakfasts always felt more like family get-togethers. There was always laughter and fun conversation and everyone seemed to be much closer to one another.

Now, they just felt like cold council meetings.

Just as Callum finished changing, a knock came on his door. "It's open!" He called out from the bathroom.

Lachlan and Declan sauntered in, both with solemn expressions on their faces.

"How did it go this morning when you met her at her room, Lach?" Callum asked before they could throw any questions at him. His mind was way too jumbled to answer anything right now. He needed more time to figure everything out.

"Let's just say I'm getting a better feel for why she is so closed off. It's not going to be easy to earn her trust, Cal. She's been through some really bad shit and some of the stuff she said this morning made it pretty clear she wants nothing to do with any of us. And that was before Roman was an ass at training. Hell, she might not even say a word to any of us now."

Callum cringed. Damn it. If Lachlan couldn't get through to her the rest of them didn't have a chance. "Keep trying. She has to crack eventually."

"Alright, but I wouldn't hold your breath," Lachlan sighed and kicked off the wall he had been leaning against to head out of the room and make his way to the dining hall.

As Callum followed behind him, he asked Declan a question that had been bothering him since this morning. "Hey D, do you have any idea why she would be able to grab those daggers?"

"Not yet, but I'm planning on heading to the library to look into it today. My question is how the hell she was fighting like that. She looked trained. And did y'all notice she didn't even look tired by the end? That's not normal. Even Roman gets tired after a training session, at least for a bit. She was taking his blows like they were nothing and after it was over she still looked like she could have run a marathon. It was freaky."

"I'm beginning to think our little mage might be hiding something," Lachlan mused.

"Oh, I know she's hiding something. The only question is what," Roman growled, meeting the rest of them at the entrance to the dining room.

"You ok, big guy? You looked pretty worked up this morning after she ran out on you. We can cover for you if you don't feel up to breakfast this morning," Lachlan laid his hand on Roman's shoulder to get him to meet his eyes.

"I'm fine," Roman practically growled. Callum looked over to see his eyes flashing with the gold of his bear.

"Then put the bear away, Roman. Because I have a feeling this is not going to be an easy meal," Callum stated, stepping forward to shove the doors open to the dining room.

"Son. Have a seat." The harsh voice of his father had Callum instantly tensing his shoulders and raising his chin. As he made his way over to the seat next to his father, Callum noticed that all of the other council members had already arrived. Had they been talking before they got there?

Callum's dad was at the head of the table, and Callum took the sat to his right. The seat to his father's left was taken by Councilman Greenwood. Roman was next to him, followed by Lachlan and his parents.

On the other side of the table next to Callum sat Councilman Hoffman and his wife, with Declan next to them.

The tension in the room could be cut with a knife, so Callum decided to try and start off with an easy subject. "So, how are things going in the outer cities?"

"Not great. Three more were plundered last night by the blackshirts. With every city they destroy, they get closer and closer to us. It's unacceptable. We have to do something."

Well, so much for that. Callum sighed at his dad's words but was saved from having to come up with a response for them.

"Do we know what their goals are yet?" Declan asked, taking a bite of the omelet that had just been delivered by the servers.

"Not yet. Why do you ask?" His father, Councilman Hoffman prompted. Callum figured he already knew the correct answer, but was testing his son to see if he could figure it out for himself.

That's how it always worked with their parents. They were always having to play the political game. Always having to prove themselves.

"Because if you know what they are wanting, then you have a better chance of figuring out their next move," Declan replied, not even batting an eye at his father's obvious testing.

The conversation died as they continued eating their breakfast, but the silence didn't last long.

"Do you boys know anything we don't?" The question was directed at all of them, but Callum knew what his father was really asking.

Callum had no clue how his father had figured it out, but he somehow knew they had snuck out to see the destruction being caused by the blackshirts in person.

"If you're asking if we found anything out, then no. They moved in an out too fast, and they didn't allow themselves to be captured. Any that were left standing when we finished fighting for our lives took a pill that must have had some kind of poison in it. They all died on the spot," Callum stated with no emotion. He kept his eyes on his plate, not daring to look into his father's gaze.

"Now, now. I'm sure you found something. Why else would you have brought something back?" The obvious delight in his father's voice sent a shiver down Callum's spine. He knew his father would find out about Addie eventually, but he had hoped he would have a little more time to find out who she was first.

"I don't know what you are talking about, father."

"Oh, I know you do. Who's the girl, Callum? And why was she brought here?" His father was apparently done playing games, and Callum took a deep breath to gather his thoughts before continuing.

He didn't know how much to reveal to his father. He knew lies would be punished, but he couldn't find it in himself to throw Addie to the wolves completely without knowing her full story first.

"We found her injured by the blackshirts. She was barely standing and unable to get herself help, so we decided to bring her here," he recounted, deciding not to give up the whole story, while also not outright lying to his father.

"So then why is she still here? Surely there must be a good reason since I looked in the hospital and the nurses said she is no longer injured."

Callum tensed at the obvious threat in his tone, but Declan jumped in before he was able to come up with a reply that wouldn't let his father in on the fact that Addie was clearly very important to the blackshirts.

"We decided to keep her around to see if she knew anything else about the blackshirts. We thought that since she's from the outer cities she might have a different perspective," Declan shared a quick look with Callum, nodding his head to show he understood what Callum was trying to do.

"Very good idea, son," Councilman Reeves declared, but there was no real conviction in his statement.

"Yes. Very good idea, indeed. Nevertheless, we should meet this girl. If you think she may have insight, then I will question her tomorrow during breakfast." Callum's eyes snapped to his father at that, desperately searching for something to say to change his mind.

Lachlan, always the quick thinker of the group, was the first to come up with something to say. "While we really appreciate the offer, Councilman Reeves, we understand how terribly busy you all must be with the recent attacks on the cities. We can handle the girl, and we will be sure to report straight to you as soon as we get anything out of her."

"Nonsense! If you four think this girl may have valuable insight into the blackshirts, then we have plenty of time to meet her ourselves. Callum, bring her to breakfast tomorrow to meet us all. And make sure she wears something decent. I'm sure being from the outer cities she must be rather unsightly. Come to my office later today and we can talk more about it," Councilman Reeves replied simply.

Callum felt rage simmering under him and clenched his fists in an effort to rein in his magic as it rose to the surface. Knowing there was no changing his father's mind, he let out a terse nod, finishing the rest of his breakfast in silence.

If his father found out that the blackshirts had tried to capture Addie, then she would be in serious trouble. Callum had no idea what his father would do to her then.

Would he try to use her as leverage to get the blackshirts to go away? Would he lock her up and force her to tell him everything? Or would he simply kill her, assuming she was a threat to the capital?

Whatever he did, Callum knew it was not going to be good, and he found himself wanting to save her from his father's increasingly violent and destructive tendencies.

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