I’m in the arena-sized gym at the guild, bored to tears. I’ve spent all afternoon working with various equipment, trying to kill time and burn energy, but neither seems to be happening. I hate when I don’t have an active assignment because I’m stuck at the guild, but there’s nothing to do. My mind is so restless, I had to leave the archives a while ago. I couldn’t focus on anything I read. Now, I’m sitting on this damn bench press, contemplating hanging myself from the ceiling by my toes, just to scare the piss out of the next poor sap unfortunate enough to come in here.
It would be funny for all of ten seconds… hardly worth the effort.
I heave a sigh, getting up and grabbing my towel, dabbing at my sweat-slick forehead on my way to the door. I smell like a gym bag and need a shower. After that, I think I might be able to focus if I try the archives again. There’s a dark-magic spellbook calling my name… not that I would ever use any of those spells or rituals… I just like knowing how to counteract things since, in my line of work, it could mean the difference between life or death.
Rogue mages don’t fight fair—but that’s okay; neither do I.
Before I can make it out the door, Evander nearly collides into me on his way in. He stops to apologize before he realizes he’s talking to me. Then his apology dies on his lips, his whole face falling. I press my lips together to hide my smile; it pleases my dark, little heart that I bother him so much.
I should be ashamed.
He turns on his heel to walk away, but I grab the back of his shirt before he can speed away—and I mean that literally. Evander is crazy-fast…
“Where are you running off to?” I ask, his shirt straining against my grip. If he doesn’t stop, it’s going to rip. I’m almost curious to see if he’s really that desperate to not talk to me.
He stops, taking a deep breath before letting it out and turning to me. “Errands,” he mumbles, looking everywhere but at me.
Instead of calling him on the lie, I grin. “Well, while you’re here…” I glance at the vacant sparring mat in the far corner of the room. “It’s been a while since we’ve worked on your form.”
“No, thanks,” he says, looking ready to bolt.
“You mean… you don’t want a chance to slug me in the face?”
He purses his lips, looking from me to the mat, from the mat to the door, and then back at me again. Caught your attention, did I? I muse to myself. We both know he wants to hit me.
“I’ve got a few minutes,” he says casually, shrugging.
Truth be told, Evander’s a skilled fighter. I taught him everything he knows, after all. He’s never actually taken me in a fight, but he’s gotten close. It’s been a while since we’ve sparred… I wonder if he’ll win.
“That’s a good little Hunter,” I say, patting him on the back hard enough that he stumbles. He catches his footing as I wrap an arm around his shoulders, giving him a noogie and messing up his perfect, sandy-brown hair. He grits his teeth so loudly, I can hear them grinding together.
Before we step on the mat, we take off our shoes. Sparring is all fun and games… until someone takes the hard sole of a combat boot to the face. In a battle, that’s an asset; at the guild, it’s just cruelty. While I may enjoy terrorizing the poor kid, I don’t actually enjoy hurting him.
Once we reach the center of the mat, Evander asks, “What rules are we using today?”
“Three-second pin, no tap-outs.”
“Obviously.” He rolls his eyes. “Three seconds, though? You’re making this too easy.”
I like his attitude, but three seconds is a lot more time than he’s pretending it is. When magery allows us the ability to move two to three times our normal speed, three seconds is a lifetime to keep someone on the mat. Especially when they’re as fast as Evander. Especially when they’re as strong and as cunning as I am.
I lock eyes with his hazel ones. “Cocky today, are we?”
For the first time in a while, he grins at me. It’s feral, but it’s something. “Even if I don’t win, I still win. You did invite me to punch you in the face.”
I return his smile. “I’m so nice, I’ll even let you have the first hit.”
“You? Nice?” He snorts. “Hardly. But I won’t turn down the offer.”
“No crotch-shots.” I shrug. “I figure I might as well set limits.”
He nods and, without any warning, comes at me so fast, he’s practically a blur, his fist cracking against my jaw. I fly backward, barely catching myself with my magic before my head smacks the mat. Damn, that boy’s right hook has only gotten better. Impressed, I get to my feet, rubbing my throbbing jaw, the taste of blood filling my mouth.
“Good one,” I say, cracking my knuckles. “Let the games begin.”