Chapter Twenty-Three

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Silence filled the room.

I could feel the gaze of everyone, now locked on me instead of Mace. Asten was the first one to break the silence.

"Come with me...just help me bring Mace to another room," he said quietly, ignoring my bold statement. But I knew what he was doing, and I was grateful. I needed to get out of there. If I was right...anybody in the room could want me dead.

I stood up and grabbed Mace's legs as Asten grabbed his shoulders. We carried him through the crowd. Both January and Kyan wasted no time in joining us. They held doors as we went down a hallway beyond the meeting room. The floor had navy blue carpeting. Fluorescent light fixtures illuminated photos of athletes on the walls.

We turned into a bedroom at the end of the hallway. There was a mattress in the corner with more sports posters taped haphazardly on the wall. Next to the bed was a door leading into an open bathroom.

I helped rest Mace on the mattress before stepping back and letting Kyan finish his job.

Before I could leave the room and go hide somewhere alone, Asten caught my attention.

"Calestia...I need to talk to you...," he said quietly. It didn't seem like much of a choice. I nodded quickly and followed him as he walked into the closest isolated place. The bathroom.

Once inside, he shut the door. He took a match from his pocket and lit up the few candles scattered about the room by the Snow Society. There was a small battery-operated fan in the corner of the room, which he also switched on, allowing some of the musty air in the room to swirl around. But I knew it had more to do with trying to drown out our voices.

I had a feeling I knew what this was going to be about. It was ironic really.

"If the person was looking for you, you need to be careful," Asten stated, getting straight to the point. I wasn't sure if I even trusted him at this point. He could easily be the one who wanted me dead. I just assumed that if he wanted me dead, he would have done it by now.

I leaned against the wall of the tiled bathroom and sighed. "I know. I can handle myself...," I replied weakly. I could fight, and win sometimes, but I was no expert. I was just average. Maybe even less than average, since the only fighting I got was from small skirmishes during my search for supplies.

"You could use training." He crossed his arms over his chest like he wanted me to take his suggestion seriously.

"I honestly don't think I need it."

"But there's no harm in doing it...," he replied persuasively. I was beginning to wonder why he even cared about me. It could've just been his personality, since he'd willingly tried to free Jadyn and Axel. Most people would have let that situation alone. Survival had to be your only goal in a world like this. But for some reason, even if his actions weren't meant specifically for Jadyn and Axel, he still had given into selflessness instead of survival.

I crossed my arms in imitation of Asten. He seemed genuine and I had nothing to lose. I could always use more help. Trying not to give away if I was totally in on his idea or not, I responded, "So who would even be teaching me everything?"

"Me."

"Are you sure you're qualified for that?"

"I was trained in self defense...mainly by my mom, who was always so worried something terrible would happen to me after some of the events that she'd been through. You don't have to do it if you don't want to, but I'm giving you the option."

I considered his offer. I didn't really trust him. After what had happened, how could I? But if I did go along with this, I could end up stronger, faster, better...

More able to fight off anyone trying to hurt me.

"I'll think about it, okay?" I finally said after a while, and Asten just nodded his response.

"I'll be here if you want to...," he said, and I could tell our conversation was wrapping up. He clicked off the fan and the cold air in the room began to still. He was about to place his hand on the handle, when he paused. "...And one more thing."

I raised my eyebrows, staring back into his cloudy eyes, waiting for him to go on. The momentary silence was discomforting in the tight room, and the musty air was beginning to settle into its original position, back to being undisturbed, ignored, and untouched.

He took in a breath like he was steeling himself to say something.

"...It's not your fault," he said, before blowing out the nearest candle and leaving me standing alone in the room, left with only the echo of his words which sent a pang of emotion slamming into my heart as I realized...

I had been blaming myself. I always did.

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