Chapter Twenty Nine

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'Nothing much. Just Kassie pulling an all-nighter.' Sian slipped into the seat beside him. Daron gave her a shocked look.

'Indeed. Didn't you notice the extra company in your quarters?'

'No. Rumal didn't sleep in our quarters last night.'

'Oooooohh,' Loi and Cat chorused teasingly.

AFTER BREAKFAST EVERYONE split up. Daron and Sian headed to the library. Loi and Sabyn went to take their horses out for a ride and Rumal and Kassie remained unseen. Leaving Alek and me wandering down the corridor.

'Did you want to do anything in particular?'

I pondered ideas as we walked past the ballroom. 'Can we visit Loushka?'

An hour or so later we walked in the forest of the ScrodianMountains. Alek took great delight in showing me different things. I'd marveled over tiny, jewel colored dragonflies with wings like leaves and now clutched the stems of a delicate green flower, its scent very much like jasmine, my favorite flower on Earth. I twisted it into the plait in my hair, so to enjoy the fragrance while we explored. Loushka had flown off to the high peaks, leaving us alone.

ALEK WATCHED AS she examined things, interested in seeing what caught her attention. It felt almost reckless to be so close to her with no-one in the immediate proximity. When she turned back to ask him something about the beetle she'd found, he reached out to pull her close, pleased when she started to glow. It was an easy way to tell how she felt, until she learned to conceal it. Every day the girls developed more skill with handling their energy, but until then he'd enjoy watching her visible barometer. She made some pathetic attempts at protesting when he wrapped an arm around her, tipping her chin up.

ALEK CHUCKLED AT me when I objected; curse my silly energy reaction. He seemed to recognize the different shades now and while I wasn't about to admit it to him, at least not verbally, I was quite ready to throw my go-slow oath away. Heck, might as well try before you buy, thought my rational voice in a teasing tone. Mmmm, now that's a good thought. My energy flared out brighter when he kissed me.

ELENA HAD A surprise for them when they arrived at the training circle the next day. 'Today we are going to practice attacking and defending. On each other.'

The girls froze and stared at Elena with alarmed expressions.

'Isn't that dangerous?' Loi asked dubiously.

'Only if you do not defend yourselves,' Elena replied. Then she chuckled.

'I don't think you will be able to do any damage to each other as you'll be hesitating. But you'll get over that and by then be prepared to attack and defend yourselves adequately. It's the best way to learn, probably not unlike your Jujitsu.'

They kept up their dubious expressions.

'Besides, I can heal any injuries you incur,' she smiled brightly at them. 'So you will be fine.'

WHAT SHE DIDN'T mention was that she could heal our injuries once back at the castle, due to the preparation involved. Nothing makes the flight back to the castle seem eons longer than it is than a decent injury. And if you happened to cause said injury, you got to spend the ride back feeling like an utter bully.

'I'm so sorry,' I said for the eighth time.

'Seriously, Cat, shut-up. This is part and parcel of the training and I get that. But right now my back is really stinging and I'd love to hurt you. So shut-up.'

I flinched at her tone. Elena had split us into teams, Loi and I facing off against Sian and Kassie. We'd won, thanks to Loi's clever idea to create a tunnel through the ground through which I'd then directed a hard stream of fire, singing a good layer of skin off Sian's back in the process. I'd call it payback for her nearly drowning us, but a burn like that is pretty vicious. Daron shot me a cold look when he helped Sian down. All the guys had issues with it, even though it was the third session of the week. Only two days until our rest day and I couldn't wait. So far this week I'd had my feet broken by Loi when she buried my legs, not realizing that the area contained mainly rocks. Kassie had electrocuted us when she pulled in a storm with Sian's help; the look on Alek and Sabyn's faces when they saw our hair that evening had been classic. Loi had broken her leg when Kass dropped her from a decent height and we'd all received numerous cuts, bruises, scrapes and burns. It certainly proved Elena's healing gift, but you weren't sure whether or not to be grateful. Grateful, because it didn't hurt anymore and you were fine, not so grateful as it meant the following day was physical training. Then there was the other kicker we'd discovered through injuring one another. We could sense each others' pain through our gift. Being Elementals means we really are linked, making the ride back feel that much longer.

At the castle Elena whisked Sian off to our suite, the three of us following right behind. It fascinated us to watch Elena's gift and we crowded close. Before our eyes we watched the skin heal and at the same time the stinging sensation we all felt, thanks to our link, vanished. Sian relaxed straight away and we settled down to dinner in our room. It had become a habit after our Elemental training because we were too exhausted to dress for the Great Hall. Yakov, Elena and the men joined us, making them enjoyable evenings.

'What did Sian do?' Yakov deadpanned after seeing her back. Everyone laughed when I blushed and apologized again.

Dinner flew by and it seemed far too soon that Alek kissed me goodnight. I kept my arms locked around his neck while I grumbled. 'I don't want to go to sleep, 'cause tomorrows not the rest day and I'm tired.'

'Awww, kitten,' he teased, chuckling when I narrowed my eyes at him. Kitten had never been a pet name I'd envisioned for myself.

'But we get to practice sword fighting tomorrow and then you girls get to annoy Iggy in the afternoon.'

That's true. Iggy had been trying to best one of us ever since Kassie's demonstration with him. He had yet to succeed.

CAT POUTED AT his words but they appeared to appease her a little. At the mention of Iggy a smile tugged at her mouth. Actually I think it's Cat's turn tomorrow, can't wait to see her kick his ass. He wrapped his arms tighter around her back, savoring the kiss until Loi started to tease them.

I THREW A pillow at Loi when I got into my bed. 'Thanks a lot.'

'Some of us want to sleep, Cat. You two could have been at it all night.'

I smirked. 'No, that'd be Kassie.'

Sian and Loi laughed hard when Kass clambered over the top of her bed to mine and walloped me with her pillow. 'But. It's. True.' I protested between thumps and she gave in, laughing. Kass used her gift to extinguish the lamps and I fell asleep moments later.

LOI DREAMT A weird dream. She stood in a vast swamp the mud thick and the stench strong. Her feet were firmly stuck and she wriggled hard to try to loosen them, but it seemed to make them more stuck. She reached down to pull one up when a force grabbed her by the throat and squeezed tight.

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