AT THE SAME time he'd arrived in our last weapons training session, the page arrived again. Everyone froze for an instant.

'What?' Iggy growled loudly. 'Again? Come on this is ridiculous.'

Our men and the other Lieutenants gave him narrow looks. Sabyn went to open his mouth but the page interrupted him. 'No sir, it's your turn. The fabricer has requested the company of the Lieutenants for their fittings.'

There was a moment of silence and I exchanged amused glances with the girls. Sian stepped forward and struck a tragic pose, the back of her wrist to her forehead and in a very bad French accent declared. 'Whaz? Whaz eez theeze? Argh. Non non, eet ezz impozeble—Ve moost practice.'

Kassie and I started laughing while all the men's jaws dropped. Loi decided to join Sian and began to shake her finger at Iggy, her other hand on her hip. 'Ouw can ve ever beelef ouh are seriouz? Non, zez cannot do.' Everyone laughed hard while Iggy gave us his best death stare and turned, marching off down the corridor. Hiccupping with laughter the rest of them followed, along with the somewhat disturbed looking page.

At dinner that evening, Rumal and Daron had the room in fits of laughter with their impersonation of the day's performance.

THE NEXT DAY was a free day and I meant to sleep late but thanks to my very accurate body clock woke at dawn like usual. The others slept soundly while Audi and I crept out of the room. I would've liked to have found Alek and gone for a run, but he'd already told me last night that all the guys would be busy for the next couple of days. So other than at dinner I wouldn't get to see him. It didn't improve the butterflies that'd taken up residence in my stomach. I sighed and Audi nudged my hand, I smiled down at her and gave her ears a good scratch. 'Even Nnelg is too busy to keep us company.'

Audi's ears perked at the dragon's name then drooped. Nnelg must have already explained to her. They seemed to communicate well now, though I've no idea how. As long as it works for them, I thought and clucked my tongue at her, indicating with my head which way to go. The run around the inner gate was pleasant at this time and a variety of birds sung out their greetings. It gave me another pang of homesickness. I really missed the sound of the tui, kereru and fantails we heard in New Zealand. I'd never hear them again. The butterflies in my stomach made me feel queasy and I stopped running, leaning against a tree for a breather. A crashing sound made me snap my head up, looking for Audrey. She stood beside me and stayed tense and ready while the sound grew closer.


I relaxed, relieved and pleased. 'Yakov. I thought I was the only one crazy enough to be out here at this time.' I grinned at the red faced man.

He laughed at me. 'Ha. This isn't even early. Normally I run when the moon is still up. You've got nothing on me.'

'Mind if I join you?'

'Not at all,' he panted. 'Come on then.'

We raced off down the track, managing a brief conversation.

'Looking forward to the ball?' he gasped out.

'Yes,' pause. 'And no.'

'Why not?' Yakov asked in surprise.

'Because after the ball we begin with our real roles.'


We both fell quiet when we started up a bit of a climb. At the top, having passed through the gate, Yakov turned to me.

'It will be a very interesting position.'

'Oh I don't doubt it. It might sound silly, but I find it unnerving to only look at things from one way. Having it spread out in front of us, so... so cut and dry,' I paused. 'It just feels weird.'

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