Chapter 7

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When we arrive downtown, it's sprinkling, and the air is already high with humidity

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When we arrive downtown, it's sprinkling, and the air is already high with humidity. I press my hair down, trying to tame the frizz before the wild curls spring up. Then I remember, touching my hair will only make it worse. I should not have worn it down today.

The square is in better shape than it was the night the demons invaded. They've cleaned up the mess. Watered down the cobblestone roads, along with the brightly painted staccato walls and wood paneling on the structures we've restored. The marble fountain is clear, again, free of all blood and body parts.

Shops are open, displaying their salvaged and handcrafted merchandise in the windows and on racks outside. Chimes ring every minute at how busy this area is, while one door squeaks nearby, desperately needing some oiled lubrication. It's as if nothing ever happened. Move on from the past and look towards a brighter future, as Gregori says.

Strings of lights slowly illuminate in the trees, above the shops, and in the Mercado as the dark rain clouds hang overhead. People are everywhere, chit chatting and shopping. Their phones all pointed at us.

This is a bad idea. What is Marc thinking? Parading the twins around when they aren't officially my guardians, yet, when he wanted to send them home just as much as me. If I can keep my distance today, then it will be okay. I'll be okay.

I walk off. Someone catches my hand before I can get very far. "Don't even think about it," Marc says. "Don't even dream about it. Today, you're not running away."

"Then explain to me how this is training," I snap. A few passersby glance our way, hiding behind their phones and umbrellas. It seems I'm the one bringing most of the attention.

"I'd also like to hear this explanation." Darious strolls up with the twins right behind him. He's sporting the same pastel blazer, this time with warm-colored clothing, and still adorning that golden mask. I wonder if he ever takes it off.

He glances at our hands and narrows his eyes. "It can't be as serious as flirting out in the open when you're supposed to be practicing self-restraint."

Marc doesn't let my hand go, even when I try to pull away. Instead, he steps closer, making Darious' frown deeper. "I've been given special permission for physical contact. Or did you forget the agreements we established with earth?"

"The agreements specify physical contact is only allowed in combat or training sessions. And I don't see you training or gracing each other with your swords," Darious says.

Marc's grip tightens. "Mika, come here."

Mika takes his time strolling over, hands loosely hanging from his fitting pants pockets. When he stops, he stands at a distance. There's something off about his cheery smile, giving me this unsettling feeling in the pit of my gut.

Marc purses his lips. "I was told you both weren't cooperating as teammates should. Then as a training exercise, you will hold hands the entire day until you're both comfortable with each other and learn to cooperate."

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