Part 1: Chapter 12
My dreams haunted me. They were mostly made up of my thoughts from the previous day. Strangely enough, I remembered them. In one, Caiden watched me as I swam in the river. I didn’t care that he was watching; it made me happy. But in the other, Caiden and I were holding each other in a lover’s embrace when Mirabella popped into view. She glared at us, mostly me, and Caiden left my arms to follow her out of my dream. I woke up with tears in my eyes.
So, it was true. They were together; my mind made it up for me. At least this way was easier; I could drop the idea from my head, and focus on the other worries I was casting aside. It was still cloudy out, but darker than it was when I fell asleep. The rain had ceased momentarily. I stretched and got up. I closed the window before heading to my dressing room. I walked in and chose another uniform. My hair had dried while I slept, leaving soft waves. I brushed through them and picked out a barrette to place in my hair. I clipped the right side up part way, leaving the rest of my hair to fall around my shoulders and face. My eyes looked tired for once, so I took the time to dab on a bit of make-up to hide the circles under my eyes.
As I was passing through my bedroom to the sitting room, I noticed that my alarm needed to be reset as it hadn’t gone off yet. When I picked it up, I saw what time it was. I was late. It was past eight and class had already begun. Dropping the alarm, I ran to grab my bag. I left the journal, where it was on the table as I headed out the door. I flew down the five flights of stairs.
I was running down the main hall towards the dining room when I realized that breakfast had already been served. Turning around, I glanced at the walls debating about where I should go, for I did not know where my class was. Plus, I had left my journal upstairs with the schematic of the academy in it. I searched the halls and the empty rooms, hoping to catch a professor or another wandering student to show me the way. I wasn’t much surprised when I passed no one.
I practically panicked in the hallway, mostly in my head, realizing that if I were able to use advanced magic in this moment it would help me tremendously. Calming down, I focused myself and my thoughts, knowing that I could conjure up the element Air. I concentrated on it, and evoked the element near me. Then I thought about Trayen and Isla, because their voices were sounding familiar to my ears. If I could hear them, through the air currents, then I would be able to follow their voices.
It worked after several minutes. I distinctly heard them discussing me, about how I wasn’t going to know where the fencing grounds were, because they failed to show me around the academy yesterday. I focused on where their voices were coming from, and headed off in that direction.
I crossed the courtyards by the Arena, and ended up walking towards the Day side of the building. I thought it was weird that we would be over on their territory, but then I remembered that earlier this morning I witnessed the Day class practicing on the west side of the building where the Night class was positioned. Nevertheless, I shook my head and continued on towards the northeast.
I passed some of the Day students in the Aurora Grove as I ran on. They glanced up at me as I rushed past, but never said anything. Soon the stables came into view, and I knew on the other side of them I would find Isla and Trayen, as well as the rest of my classmates.
I wasn’t watching where I was going, nor did I really understand my surroundings. All I knew was that Trayen and Isla were ahead of me, several yards away. I ran towards them, not paying attention to anything else. Several whooshing noises sounded from my right. I halted in the middle of my run, sensing danger near me.
Isla turned around, and saw me standing still in the field. Her mouth opened in shock as she formed words. “Mallie! Watch out!” she screamed at me.
I saw her speak the words before I heard them, as a closer noise, of something swift and light, was heading towards my body at an alarming speed. Just in the nick of time I ducked, allowing the object to soar over me, and impound itself in a target to my left.
Several of the students turned around mid-combat to stare at me. Acrobatics were soon to follow, as I heard more approaching objects to my right. I jumped up as a huge flat arrow soared near the ground to where I was squatting. As I leapt up into the air, I realized there was another arrow coming near my head. I knew I wouldn’t make it down to the ground in time, before it found me as a target. Instead of dodging the weapon, I grabbed the shaft of the arrow, before the point made it near my flesh, and snapped it in two. I landed on the ground lightly, staring at the shattered remains in my hands. My bag lay on the ground, as it had fallen off my shoulder when I jumped up.
Trayen and Isla broke out in a run, hurrying over to my position. Some of the students gawked open-mouthed at what I had done. The professor’s arms were crossed, as he stared straight at me. I couldn’t decipher his gaze; it was a mix between angry and amused.
Isla reached me first, for Trayen turned around to tell the shooters to back off for a bit. “Mallie, did you watch where you were going? You could have been killed. That was dangerous. And why weren’t you at breakfast? What happened?”
She was panicking, and I couldn’t get a word in to calm her down.
Trayen reached us. “We need to get off the field.” He looked worried that the archers would fire at me to see how many arrows I could ward off before I got hit. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. I admitted to myself that even I was curious.
I reached down and picked up my bag. Grabbing Isla’s arm, we hurried off the field. On the way, Isla stressed some more of her worries.
“We didn’t know what happened to you, Mallie. We were so afraid you wouldn’t know where to go. I’m such a bad friend. I should’ve remembered to tell you last night before you headed up to your dorm.”
I turned to face her, once we were clear of the danger. “It took me a while to find you guys. I left my journal, along with the notes on where my classes are, upstairs in my room.”
“How did you find us?” Trayen asked.
“I summoned Air to find your voices for me. It carried me right to you guys.”
“You did a summoning spell?” Isla exclaimed.
“I guess.” Then I understood the reason behind her shock. “Yeah, last night I mulled over what you guys taught me. I concentrated and I was able to summon the Air currents.” I stared at Trayen. “You were right, it is all about concentration. I knew I could find you guys if I evoked Air to carry your voices to me. It worked.”
Trayen half smiled at me. “See, I knew you would be better at magic.”
I smiled back.
“Glad you could make it, Mallie,” the professor I hadn’t met yet spoke from behind us. I turned, realizing up close he towered over me. He was huge. He looked more like a colossal statue than a Guardian. The muscles in his arms were enormous; I could see them through the sweater he wore. His jet black hair was pulled into a ponytail behind his head.
I quickly stared up into his green eyes to apologize. “I’m sorry I’m late,” I faltered, not knowing which professor this was.
“I’m Professor Swiftwind. I teach archery. Jayelle Nighthaven is away at the moment. She teaches fencing.”
He did not look like someone who did archery. I imagined him sword fighting or wrestling, but not archery. “Oh. Nice to meet you,” I greeted.
“Your friends were worried about you.”
“I gathered that,” I answered back. He didn’t say anything more about my tardiness. I couldn’t tell if I was in trouble or not.
“I hear that you’re struggling with fencing.”
“Um…I guess. I haven’t had the opportunity to practice since…” I left the sentence hanging. It occurred to me that even I didn’t know the end to that sentence. I didn’t know if he knew about my memory mishap.
“No matter. If you find that you’re still struggling after today, you can try your hand at archery.”
I was shocked. I didn’t know I could switch Guardian training for one over the other. The problem was would it be the lesser of two evils? Or three, for that matter. “Thank you,” I stumbled out. I didn’t know how to respond to his offer. I wouldn’t mind trying archery just to see if I was good at it, but I needed to practice fencing first, for I had chosen that mastery before yesterday. Concentration was the key for most of the abilities around here. I just needed to empty my mind beforehand and focus.
He nodded to me and disappeared among the students.
Isla and Trayen turned me around to face them. “I’m shocked he didn’t get angry with you. He yelled at a kid two months ago for showing up late,” Isla rushed out. “Well, later than you did,” she added.
Trayen snickered. “It was because of the way that Mallie handled the arrows coming at her. He didn’t expect you to dodge them or break the last one. He was surprised, that’s all.” He winked at me. “Where’d you learn how to do that?”
His question caught me off guard. Where had I learned that? I couldn’t remember. It was a reflex action that caused me to react the way I did, but that was because I sensed danger near me. How do you explain instinct? “I don’t know why I did it, I just…did,” I responded, still unsure of my words.
Trayen narrowed his eyes at me.
Isla didn’t care obviously, but it was clear to me that Trayen suspected me of hiding something from him; although I had no idea to what that might be. It was either that or he knew something about my past that I didn’t know. I’d get it out of him later. Isla was trying to get me to teach her how to dodge arrows like I did.
“We haven’t learned defensive dodging abilities yet. I wish you could show me how you maneuvered around them.” She rambled on as we crossed the training grounds to the shed, where the swords were kept.
Trayen was silent all throughout practice. He watched me and Isla spar with each other, before the professor called him over to help some of the other students out. Midnight was approaching quickly now, and Isla grew tired. She paused to rest a moment on the ground.
“You’re doing better, Mallie. You have me working a bit harder than usual,” she stated in-between breaths.
I shrugged. “Guess I’m better at swordsmanship than I used to be.”
“Mallie, will you duel me?” Trayen asked from behind my back.
Isla’s eyes widened with surprise. She stood up and backed away.
I faced Trayen. He stood about ten feet away from me with a sword in his hand. “Um, sure. But I’m still not that good,” I agreed. I picked up my sword from the ground and paced away from him. While Isla was resting, I watched him spar with another student. He was extremely good with the way he maneuvered the blade. I was nowhere near his skill level, and I found it odd that he would want to duel me because of that factor.
We bowed to each other, and poised ourselves for whoever was to take the first plunge. He attacked first, swiftly and efficiently. I barely had time to maneuver away from him. He was quick and thorough. If I hadn’t dodged his thrust, I would’ve been skewered. I didn’t use my sword to block him, I danced away rapidly.
He turned around to swipe at me, as I was now behind him. Again, I moved out of the way quickly enough to avoid the blade. I was barely breathing, and using up less energy than I thought. I felt extremely light, as if made of a feather.
He thrust again at me, but this time I blocked his sword with mine, pushing back against him. He was strong, and my strength against his was failing. I pushed a little bit more, just to see if I could get him off balance, before dancing away again. It didn’t work.
The duel continued for several minutes. I heard Isla exclaim at one point to Trayen for him to go easy on me, but I didn’t pause to stare at her. Trayen’s actions were encompassing all of my senses. It was all I could think about; trying to stay alive and unharmed, not that Trayen would kill me anyway.
The bell rang for lunch during our duel. The professor and the students that remained after the class was dismissed watched the two of us spar. The rest went back to the school.
But while I was dancing away from Trayen’s blade, I heard subtle laughter echoing from the forest behind me. It was his laugh. I froze, trying to decipher exactly where it was originating from. Was I imagining things? My vision blurred, as I focused my ears to pinpoint his exact location. He wasn’t that far away. Within my head, I felt his eyes staring at my back. I even imagined him breathing in and out as he watched me spar with Trayen, amused by what he saw. I didn’t want him to keep laughing at me, especially when I couldn’t see him. In fact, this new distraction made me angry.
Here I was trying to perform well in class today, and this new turn of events wasn’t clearing my head, helping my concentration, or even allowing me to stop thinking about him for one second of the day so I could work out with my friends and try to excel in something.
In the meantime, Trayen didn’t notice me freeze up, but he decided to go all out and try to skewer me again. But because of the unannounced presence of a certain someone watching me from beyond the trees, I was thoroughly annoyed. I wanted to end this now. I stepped away from Trayen’s thrust in a rush with speed that was alarmingly familiar to me. I whirled around and threw my sword like a dagger into the trees north of me hoping that it would reach its mark. Trayen went past me, as my body had moved. But when I faced Trayen again without a weapon, I didn’t need one anymore. I was standing in front of his face, away from his sword, our noses barely touching each other.
His eyes widened with shock, for I was in close proximity to his body. He backed away from me, bewildered by my actions. It was clear to the rest of the onlookers that I had won the duel, for I could strike him with my hands if I needed to. His blade was no longer effective.
The professor walked over to us. “Mallie,” he began, “why did you throw your sword into the forest? You could’ve hurt an animal.”
I hadn’t thought about that. But the laughter was gone, so I guessed that I hit my mark or got near enough to it. I wasn’t so much aiming for Caiden as I aimed for his feet. I was trying to get his attention that I knew he was watching me, and that I wanted him to stop. I frowned. “I guess I didn’t think about that. I must’ve miscalculated on where I was throwing it.”
He nodded. “You are released for lunch. We’ll continue this later.” He walked off, shaking with silent laughter.
Trayen turned away, without saying anything to me, and headed towards the shed to return his sword there.
Isla slowly made her way to me. “Why did you throw your sword into the trees?” She clearly wasn’t fooled by the excuse I gave the teacher.
“I don’t know. I was trying to end the fight quickly. I figured that if I gave up my sword that the duel might end. I was getting tired of fighting,” I lied. I didn’t want her knowing that I was hearing voices from the forest; well, a particular Day class student’s voice.
She sighed. “Trayen’s upset that you beat him. No one’s ever been able to dodge his attacks. He’s very quick with a sword.” She wavered a bit. “I’m going to go see if he’s alright. Meet you in the dining hall?” she asked.
I glanced at her. She looked a little shaken. “Sure,” I answered. I knew that she would be worried about him, and that he could use a friend, if not me.
She scampered off in the direction Trayen left. I stretched my aching muscles and grabbed my bag from the ground where I’d left it. I was walking back to the academy along the route I took to get to class. But this time, I decided to take a detour though the Aurora Grove, to think about what happened during the duel. The Day class would be asleep by now, so it would be empty.
The Aurora Grove was beautiful in the night. I imagined it even more glorious during the day. The trees here sported green leaves, even in the winter. Several tall oaks had thick roots that wound their way through the ground, providing natural benches as I walked down the dirt path. I paused under a great oak’s branches, marveling at the tree’s beauty.
I heard, more than I felt, someone jump from the upper branches to land behind me. I didn’t sense any danger, as I recognized who the person was. I sighed heavily knowing what was coming, before he spoke the words.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve thrown something at me,” he whispered into my ear.
I smiled, knowing that I made a scary impression on him. Hopefully it taught him to not laugh at me while I was in class. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” I retorted. I didn’t bother to turn around. Did he ever get any sleep?
“You nearly took my toes off.” He walked around to face me.
His body was close enough to mine to where I couldn’t see anything else but him. I shifted my eyes away to the ground, daring myself to not look into his eyes, knowing that would make me unable to speak my mind. I already knew what my body wanted, but my brain understood that he belonged to Mirabella, not me. I wouldn’t be the reason to make her mad at me even more than she already was.
“I hope it’ll teach you not to laugh at me.” I could do this. I can stand against him. Inwardly, I sighed as I shifted my eyes to stare into his pools of brown that reflected humor back at me.
He suppressed laughter, smiling as he bent near my head. Our faces were so close to each other. In that instant, I forgot about Mirabella, I forgot what I was. All I wanted him to do was to lean in a bit more and kiss me, close the gap between our bodies, and allow myself to give in to my desire that pulsed in my veins.
He disappeared from my view, and I stumbled a bit as I realized I was leaning towards his body that somehow held me captivated. That move annoyed me even more than I already was. He was paying me back for what I did to him earlier. Even if he wasn’t limping, I must’ve nailed him in the foot.
“I wasn’t laughing at you,” his voice called out from above me, in the treetops.
I turned swiftly around, spotting him perched on a branch quite near me. He sat there, unmoving. I was surprised that he stayed and hadn’t run away, like the last time. “Then what were you doing?” I retorted back at him. His charade was aggravating me more than I thought possible.
“I was watching to see how you were progressing. It was clear earlier this week you did not know how to duel. I see you have improved in one area.”
I scowled at his words. How dare he make judgments on my abilities that he knew nothing of. Besides, he had a different object of affection. “Why are you so concerned with me improving? Shouldn’t you be worrying about Mirabella?”
He smiled. “She’s perfect. There’s not much she can improve on.”
What was he playing at? Was I his pet, his toy? Was that why he was studying me, because I was faulty? “Then why follow me?”
“Because I like you.” He jumped down again to face me. He landed softly on the ground and stood up in one swift movement. “I’ve always liked you.”
His words stunned me. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to feel. The way he praised me with such adoration and compassion left me breathless. “And Mirabella?” I stammered the words out, trying to make sense of why he liked me instead of his perfect partner.
“She’ll deal with it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. He practically dumped her right there for me, a Night class student. Trayen’s words rang like an alarming bell in my head, but I drowned them out with my own thoughts. This was not possible. How would I even be able to get away with it at all? Our classes clashed. We were different creatures! “It’s forbidden,” I squeaked out the words, already knowing that my last defense was crumbling away.
He came closer to me and stopped. He leaned down towards my face and halted his progress when his mouth was inches from my ear. “Not for us,” he whispered.
I closed my eyes. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it pounding in my chest. Every nerve ending in my body was struggling to maintain a sense of normality as I wanted to give myself over to the desire pouring through my veins. I stood still, breathing in and out, concentrating on my breathing, forcing myself to calm down.
When I felt some sense of normality approach my mind and heart, I opened my eyes to discover he was gone. I scoured the grove for him, but knew he wasn’t nearby, despite my searching. Scowling at the fact I’d been trapped by his ploys again, I hurried on into the dining hall. Isla and Trayen had beaten me there, and were waiting near a table with another empty seat, that I assumed was for me.