The Muse's Touch

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Training With the Incubi

A nondescript store in a mixed-use building was the last thing Paige expected as they pulled up and parked by the curb.

“Here?”

Davin grinned and nodded, circling around to open the door for her. As she emerged, she studied the building just off the main street. Well lit, she could make out the thick mats on one side while hardwood floors lined the other. They were still early enough that few were in yet but the large window left little privacy.

“Come on.” He motioned for her to follow and shifting the messenger bag on her shoulder, she fell into step behind him until they were both inside. They found Dante half-hidden in the equipment cost, hauling out a large bin of shinais. Paige did a double-take. Dante’s clothes, the dogi, the crisp white clean uniform of many martial arts school, combined with the deep blue hakama, a pair of wide-legged skirt-like trousers that reached the ankle, appeared at odds with his colouring.

“Davin?” Dante’s brow lifted in mild surprise until his brother stepped away and Paige came face to face with him. Confusion and shock made his almond-shaped eyes grow round. “Paige?”

She nodded with a shy smile, unsure why she felt self-conscious around Dante in a way she didn’t with Davin. Maybe it was in knowing what he was but without the fact that he had done her wrong. Still, if he was anything like Davin, he was someone to be wary of

Davin touched his arm. “Can we speak in private with you?”

“My office in the back.” He set down the bin and yelled. “Kaito, finish setting up for the kendo class here.”

A younger boy who could be no older than sixteen popped up. “Hai sensei.”

“Dante spent a century in Japan. Picked up a lot of their mannerisms.”

A century. Paige remembered from the reading that fae were long lives or even immortal but just how old were these brothers? Yeesh.

“Come along.” Dante’s curt commands cut through her musings.

They followed and crammed into a small but tidy office. As Paige closed the door behind her, she had to breathe as claustrophobia threatened to overwhelm her. Between the two incubi and her, the room felt like it was closing in.

“Paige?” In a blink of the eye, Davin was at her side, hand on her elbow with a light touch.

She closed her eyes, focusing on that warmth before opening them again. “I’m okay.”

Dante watched the exchange in silence but when they both turned to him, his hands were at his hips, one brow raised once more.

“An inugami has been attacking Paige.”

“What?”

Great, how many times could she shock this incubus in a day? Paige cleared her throat. “We were hoping to use me as bait to lure it out and find its master. But Davin insisted that I learned to protect myself first.” With that, she shifted her messenger bag and withdrew from it, the long dagger. “We were hoping you have some time to teach me some stuff?”

Dante had flinched at the sight of the iron sword but it was so subtle it would have been easy to miss had Paige not spent most of her time observing people. His gaze travelled from Paige to Davin, to Paige then back to his brother.

“So she knows.”

Davin heaved the heaviest of sighs. “Yeah, she knows.”

“Ava will not be happy about that.”

Who the hell was Ava and why did she care? Her eyes darted between the two, struggling to comprehend both the conversation and the subtle undercurrents at play.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” Davin replied. “Now, can you train her?”

Paige stood still as Dante studied her, but she recognized the assessment for potential rather than as a meal. This was no crass checking out but rather the cool appraisal of a potential student and it was one she could appreciate.

“I can give her some basics but no one gets good at fighting overnight and it’ll take time for those skills to become muscle memory.”

“Damn.” Davin’s face soured but Paige shrugged.

“Better than nothing. When do we start?”

“Now. I don’t have a class to teach until two pm so we have a few hours. I have a class starting here in a few minutes though, so we’ll have to use the smaller sparring room in the back.”

Paige nodded. “All right, got a place I can go change?”

“Out and to your left.”

Five minutes later, Paige found both Dante and Davin barefooted in a much smaller room, laying out thinner foam mats while sounds of students chattering and filtering in, letting her know that the other classes were starting soon. Knowing there were other humans close by reassured her. This was what Davin had meant and his consideration touched her.

“Your best chance is that blade but before we move on to weaponry, you need to learn some basic moves. I’ll demonstrate with Dav first.”

Dav. His brothers called him Dav. Paige made a mental note.

“First, all movements stem from the hip. Punch Dav.”

On cue, Davin threw a punch at Dante in slow motion. Dante swung his hips back, his foot following while his big toe dragged along the ground for balance.

“This is the foundation of all movements in martial arts. Keep going Dav.”

They mesmerized her with the rhythm they established, one side then the other. Each of Davin’s strikes was smooth and graceful, his muscles straining in precision while Dante glided back and forth. Their pace increased, gradual at first, then more until it was obvious Davin was trying to catch Dante with a punch. Faster and faster until her human eyes could no longer follow.

Without warning, Dante changed and dove in while grabbing Davin’s arm, throwing Davin off-balanced. For a brief second, Davin was suspended in the air, upside down then his body slammed into the mat with a loud smack that shook the walls. Paige winced and suppressed the urge to rush to his side and check if he was okay.

Dante straightened and turned to look down at Davin, who had rolled to lay flat on his back.

“Since you are so eager, we can demonstrate break falls next.”

“Ruthless,” Davin muttered and Paige had to stifle a giggle.

They continued for another two hours taking occasional breaks. Dante and Davin would demonstrate, then Paige would perform the technique on Davin with corrections from Dante. But with his brother in the room, the tension that had formed between them in her dream last night did not reappear. In the last half hour, they moved on to weapons and it surprised Paige that she found it easier than she expected as if whatever blade she held were simply extensions of her arm.

She stood bent over, hands braced against her thighs as she caught her breath. Feeling eyes on her, she looked up to find Dante studying her.

“Are you sure you have had no training before?”

She shook her head, still too winded to speak.

“I don’t often meet anyone who’s such a natural. If you keep at it, you can go far.”

Davin turned to Dante, shock on his face. “A compliment from you? About someone’s fighting?”

“Compliments go where they’re due. You and Finn are lazy and she has more talent and instincts in her pinkie than the two of you combined.” Dante levelled a stare at Davin as he spoke.

“Ouch,” Davin pressed a hand on his heart, affecting the most wounded expression.

Dante rubbed his forehead as if in pain. “Go get us some lunch.”

It looked for a moment like Davin was about to protest but he snapped his mouth shut. Instead, he looked to Paige.

“I’ll be fine here. I can use some food.”

“Okay, okay.”

Silence settled once more. Paige wracked her brain to break the awkward moment and brightened at an idea. “So… my friend, Ainsley said hi.”

Was that a faint tinge of pink under the tanned skin? Paige held back a smirk. For a pack of incubi, they sure got embarrassed easily enough. Sneaking a peek, she caught Dante studying a spot on the floor as if it was the most interesting sight.

“Dante?”

He cleared his throat, coughing into his hand. “Ah, when you have a chance, please say hi back.”

Despite all that was happening, Paige couldn’t help but grin. “Sure.”

“So,” Dante straightened and tugged at his hakama. “What happened to Dav’s hand?”

Now it was her turn to be flustered. Her eyes fell on the messenger bag leaning against one wall. “The idiot wanted to prove iron would hurt him. I don’t know why the wound hasn’t healed yet.” Frustration crept into her voice.

“It’s because he hasn’t fed.”

Paige blinked at him in surprise.

Dante shrugged. “Iron is hard to heal from. It could take months for even a small wound but feeding helps speed up the body’s healing process.”

Feeding. As in...sex? Paige stood awkwardly and snuck a peek at Dante, wondering if he held her responsible for his brother’s injury but there was nothing on his impassive face. It was Davin’s fault for being so reckless but still, logic didn’t stop guilt from stabbing her heart.

“Paige, if you want to continue to train, I can take you on as a student. We teach a variety of styles here and you can choose classes that fit your interest and schedule.”

“Oh.”

“Oh?”

Hesitation made her stutter her next words. “I thought you would ask about me and Davin.”

Again, Dante shrugged. “A human woman hurt Davin a few decades ago but he insisted you’re different. I trust my brother to have learned his lesson and make his decisions more wisely.”

“Is that why he only feeds in dreams?”

Dante nodded once.

Kaito poked his head through the door. “Sensei? There’s someone outside looking to register.”

At Dante’s nod of acknowledgement, Kaito disappeared once more.

“Go change Paige. We should call it a day for today. Think about my offer.” With that he walked out, leaving Paige alone in the room.

She was emerging from the change room when Davin returned, holding paper bags up. “I gave Dante his lunch already but looks like he’s going to be too busy for a while. Let’s eat.”

They ate the backroom, chatting in quiet voices. It was an opportunity for Paige to ask questions, some about the readings from last night, other more personal ones. As they chatted, Paige began to grow more at ease.

“Let’s head home and drop off your stuff.”

It was waiting for them in the parking lot, slinking out from the shadows with a low growl as they got out of the car. Paige’s eyes widened as Davin imposed himself between them even as her hand dropped towards her messenger bag. It wasn’t only thrice the size of what it was last time. Something about the timbre of the growl was off and as the inugami stalked closer, a shudder passed through her. There was a new madness to its eyes and drool fell in large globs from its open mouth. Something glinted from inside its mouth

“Paige, get back in the car.”

“No, I’m not…”

“Paige, NOW.”

The inugami launched itself towards them. Ready this time, Davin caught it by the throat but the weight of it caused him to fall backwards. Paige jumped back, but it was close enough to make out its fangs. Shit, some metal coated them. Iron? The thing must have gone rabid, driven by the pain it must feel.

The thing was strong, much stronger than last time. Davin brought up his other hand to hold it at bay but now it used its entire weight to press down on him. With Davin’s injured hand, he wasn’t at full strength like last time. Paige froze unable to move

“What... the fuck…”

And then it sank its fangs into his neck and Davin let out a blood-curdling scream of pain.

It was enough to spur Paige into action. With one swift movement, she drew the iron dagger out of the bag and its scabbard. With the inugami occupied with its current prey, she rushed at it and plunged the blade straight into its throat.

The thing whimpered and collapsed on to Davin before the body began to disintegrate. Soon nothing but a thin coat of ashes covered him.

“Davin? DAVIN!” Paige fell to her knees next to him. Blood was everywhere but what was worse were the blisters forming on his neck. But unlike the wound on his hand, black lines spidered outwards. She recognized it from one book she read last night. Iron poisoning.

“Oh good, you’re okay. I... didn’t want to scare you...with my full form.” His hand reached up to brush his knuckles by her cheek then fell on the floor beside him.

Shit, he was becoming delusional. Paige ripped off the t-shirt she was wearing and used it to stop the bleeding.

“Stay with me Davin, stay with me.” His eyes closed.

He was dying.

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