TWENTY FOUR

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RAVENNA BLINKED AS Caelan rushed forward, an arm drawn back

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RAVENNA BLINKED AS Caelan rushed forward, an arm drawn back. His hand was curled into a fist, flakes of powdery magic dancing across his knuckles. "What are you doing?" she shouted and dodged a punch.

Caelan didn't give her time to react, lashing out with another fist. "You wanted a different approach," he remarked coldly. His eyes were dark, tainted with an unnamable emotion.

Her eyes grew wider. "This isn't what I meant!"

She jerked backward and lifted both arms. A shield of ice grew in front of her. His fist pierced through the sheet of ice, shattering it. Splinters of ice rained to the ground. Ravenna scowled and ducked down, toward the ground, avoiding another punch. "Caelan!"

The corners of his lips curled upward.

His fists moved faster, combined with a torrent of white magic. Streams of white magic crashed against each thin shield she conjured, cracking them into small slivers of ice. Ravenna struggled with her hands, struggled to perform the spell. It was much harder while trying to dodge his attacks. "I take it back," she shouted. She tripped over a root and fell backward. Her arms crossed in front of her face, a dome of ice appearing over her form. She squeezed her eyes shut and shouted, "I take it back. Just stop attacking me! I can't think straight. I can't even do the right hand motions."

Caelan paused. He stood over her fallen form, an eyebrow arched with amusement. "Imagine what would happen if I were an actual enemy. Do you honestly believe that your attacker would stop trying to kill you just because you begged them to? You're even more of an idiot than I originally believed."

Ravenna poked an eye open. "Of course not."

Her hands moved quick. The dome above her vanished and she kicked out. Caelan jolted backwards, narrowly avoiding her attack, and almost missed a spear of ice zipping toward him from the other direction. He dodged the spear and then cursed silently under his breath as it followed his movements. His hands moved too fast for her to follow and white shield formed in front of him. The spear crashed against it, shattering into thousands of glistening fragments. Ravenna jumped to her feet and took a sharp step forward. Her ice responded, and thick shards surged forward in the direction that she stepped in. Caelan maintained his spherical shield, watching as a wave of ice shards shot toward him. The ice pelted his shield, splintering against the white magic. The shield began to crack. A spider web of darkened veins appeared across the shield, and it began to falter. Caelan quickly reformed the spell, strengthening his shield against her storm of shards. Ravenna continued to move forward, sending more and more shards flying toward him. Her devious smile grew.

Caelan smirked. He crouched down, bracing himself against his shield, against the thunderstorm of razor sharp ice. His hands were hidden from her view. Ravenna's brows furrowed suspiciously.

A hand curled around her shoulder. Ravenna's blood ran cold. She jerked around, wide eyes landing on a second Caelan. His lips stretched around a massive grin. "Nice try," he remarked. His hand shot forward and a blast of magic exploded from his fingertips.

The magic pushed Ravenna backward. As she fell to the ground, a second pair of hands caught her, holding her upward. She scowled and looked back. The first Caelan smirked down at her and remarked, "That shield would have definitely helped keep you on your feet."

Her lips twisted around a pout. She stood and moved away from him, watching both versions of Caelan warily. Both crossed their arms over their chests, their eyes twinkling with amusement. The second Caelan began to disintegrate, fading into the wind. The moment the clone had vanished, the original Caelan snickered.

"So you prefer the teasing then?" he asked.

She stuck her tongue out at him. "You stop it," she snapped. Her brows furrowed with curiosity. "How are you able to make a clone of yourself?"

"That's a more advanced spell for another day, when you are more advanced." Then he paused, and added, "If you ever become more advanced, that is."

She huffed. Her gaze shifted toward her hands, and she begrudgingly formed the hand motions again. Her shield reformed in front of her, still a trembling mess of watery magic. Another sigh escaped her lips, and she blew at the strands of hair that framed her face. She glanced toward Caelan.

He nodded. "Keep practicing."

The training continued in much the same fashion as the sun moved across the sky, toward the horizon. As nightfall drew closer, Ravenna's shield became less shaky, and more of a solid circle like the spell intended. The darker the world around them got, the more that Caelan began to shift around on his feet and warily eye their surroundings.

"Let's retire for the night," Caelan announced suddenly, placing a hand on Ravenna's shoulder.

She frowned and turned toward him. "But I've almost got it," she said. "Just a little longer."

Caelan shook his head. His gaze was elsewhere, focused on the trees that surrounded them. "No. We need to leave now. The forest is not safe at night."

The ghost girl's face flashed across her mind's eye, and Ravenna pursed her lips, allowing him to lead her back toward the house. He lead her through the garden, waving a hand over the produce that surrounded them. As they walked, various vegetables sprouted from the ground and floated after them.

"What's for dinner?" she asked.

He opened the back door and stepped aside, allowing her to enter first. She entered the house and watched, somewhat amused, as a trail of vegetables danced through the air toward the kitchen. Once the last had entered the house, Caelan stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "I can make soup," he answered.

Her nose curled. "Again?"

His eyes narrowed. "Do you have a better suggestion?"

Ravenna snickered and stepped into the kitchen. She approached the main table, where the produce had formed a small pile. Glancing back at Caelan, she said, "You just sit back and let a real cook show you how it's done."

Caelan leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyebrows furrowed. "Right. Just don't burn my house down."

She didn't respond. There was an old recipe of her mother's, which involved sautéed peppers, steamed vegetables, and clusters of rice. It wasn't hard, nor was it time consuming. As she began to chopping the vegetables in front of her, she glanced upward, toward the kitchen window.

Standing at the edge of the garden, just beneath the shaded trees, was the ghost girl, watching her. 

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