THIRTY TWO

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RAVENNA'S EYES NARROWED

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RAVENNA'S EYES NARROWED. Another wave of daggers shot forward, shattering against his shield like snowballs. As his shield lowered, Vyses laughed at her. "Come on now, las. You could at least put some effort into killing me."

Her hands curled into tight fists. The talisman began to burn at the base of her throat —a mild discomfort that only added to the annoyance that sizzled through her veins. "I am trying," she snapped at him. Another tidal wave of frozen blades crashed against his shield.

"Not hard enough."

His smirk haunted her. It teased her like Caelan's did, only with an added sense of maliciousness. He enjoyed her anger. With a scowl, Ravenna took a deep breath and repositioned her hands. More daggers swarmed through the depths of her mind. As the weapons breached reality, she moved her hands quicker. Another wave shot forward. Then another. Each bigger and faster than the last. Her talisman grew hotter and Ravenna's hands began to glow.

A sea of frozen daggers surrounded them, all aimed at Vyses.

Her lips curled back around a smirk of her own. As he deflected the blades, she bolted through the crossfire toward him. He didn't notice her approach until her fist drew back in a punch. Before she could blink, Vyses whipped around and caught her wrist. His eyes glowed crimson.

The anger inside of her instantly vanished, replaced with a mixture of dread and terror. The ice around them froze midair. Her heart stopped inside her chest. She blinked. In the quick moment that her eyes were closed, a single image appeared within her mind –a pair of glowing red eyes, staring at her from within a dark abyss.

The moment that her eyes reopened, there wasn't any red in his. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes overflowed with concern. "Ravenna?" he spoke softly. "Are you alright?"

His hand still gripped her wrist, gently now. The other pressed against the small of her back. A sphere of red surrounded them and, the second that Ravenna felt she could breathe again, all of the daggers around them shattered against it. She stepped backward, away from him, and the sphere vanished. Her hand lifted to her forehead. She opened her mouth to speak but couldn't get a word out.

Vyses frowned at her. "I think that ought to be enough for today," he said. He spoke quietly, as if he was afraid to spook her. "You have already learned a lot. Not only were you able to perform the spell quickly, but you were quick to combine it with another form of attack. You are very good at thinking on your feet."

Ravenna shook her head and lowered her hand. Everything had happened so fast. Her head spun and she couldn't think. She knew that there had been red in his eyes. There had to have been. Yet it happened so fast, and she was so wrapped up with the spell, it was hard to be certain that her eyes weren't playing tricks.

"I'm fine," she forced out. "Let's keep going."

His gaze pierced through her. The knot inside her stomach began to unwind and Ravenna's hands curled into tight fists at her sides. She met his gaze evenly. "Are you sure?" he asked.

She nodded.

Another moment of their staring contest ensued as Vyses made up his mind. Then he walked toward the edges of the room and deposited his shield on its rack. "I want you to summon a sword of ice," he told her. "We will spar for a bit."

Ravenna pursed her lips and concentrated on the image of a sword. A bead of ice appeared in her palm. Within seconds, it transformed into the hilt of the sword she'd imagined. Balancing the sword in her palm, she glanced up to find Vyses watching her with clouded eyes. She furrowed her brows at him. "What?"

His lips quirked into a smile. "It hasn't even been a day and yet you've already learned to exploit that spell."

She didn't bother to respond. Both hands clasped tightly around the hilt, she lowered into a defensive stance. Ravenna had no experience with swordplay, aside from the few moves she'd seen the soldiers in her home village practice. She watched as Vyses approached. His pace was relaxed, and almost distracted. His gaze remained on the sword in his hands. As he slowly traced his fingertips along the length of the blade, Ravenna eased out of her stance. "Is that really necessary?" she huffed at him.

His gaze slid toward her. "Very," he said. Only it sounded as though his voice came from behind her.

Ravenna whipped around, just in time to block a swipe at her chest. Shock swept through her arms as their blades cracked against each other. Vyses laughed and took a step backward, avoiding her retaliation. "You are quite easy to distract," he said. "Focus on your opponent as a whole, not just the sword. If watched two closely, one hand can distract and the other can sneak an attack. Keeping your gaze on your opponent as a whole, you will detect when both hands move."

Her brow furrowed. She launched forward and attempted to attack him.

He easily deflected her attacks. "You also need to keep your mind open. Absorb your surroundings and respond to them. Don't become completely enraptured by the swordfight. The moment that you do lose yourself to the fight, you open yourself up to other forms of an attack. React but don't become distracted."

"That sounds a lot easier said than done," she muttered under her breath. "If I try to focus on my surroundings, then I could miss an attack."

"It's a game of balance. You'll master it quick."

Vyses lunged forward and started to attack her. His movements were lazy compared to previous attacks, and felt much less threatening. Nevertheless, Ravenna did her best to deflect each blow. The sword in her hand sang with each strike against his. Her gaze remained on Vyses's face –more importantly, his devious smirk. From this perspective, she could see every movement his hands made through her peripheral vision.

The more that Ravenna became comfortable with their violent dance, the harder Vyses swung his sword. After a particularly hard blow cracked against Ravenna's sword, his smirk deepened and he started to ask questions. Vyses asked her all sorts of simple questions in an attempt to keep her distracted. Her favorite color, the best city in the kingdom, the best fruit –he wanted to know it all. As their training progressed and Ravenna became better with her sword, the questions took a turn toward something more personal, something that she didn't want to discuss.

"So tell me about your family," Vyses said. He ducked an attack and swiped at her. "About your mother. I'm sure she was a great woman to have raised you so well."

Ravenna's eyes narrowed. "I would prefer not to talk about her."

"Your father?"

"I don't wish to talk about him either."

Vyses's eyes shimmered with amusement. "How did you get your powers then? Were you born with them or did they come later?"

Ravenna didn't answer him. Her sword arched toward his head and Vyses easily deflected it. His gaze remained steadied on her face, attempting to read through her stony expression. She never liked discussing her human past, even with those who she considered friends. It was a sour spot in the back of her mind. The memories were also tainted with age, and blocked like most traumatic memories were. She essentially knew the basics –or what was whispered through the grapevine. She knew that she'd killed her entire village, including her mother. She knew that a group of soldiers had attempted to stop her. She knew that she'd murdered them too. She knew she'd died that night as well, and somehow had come back to life, possessing her icy powers. That was about it.

"Did you kill someone for your powers?" Vyses asked.

Ravenna took a step backward and lowered her sword. She pinned Vyses with a dark look. "I think this has been enough training for today," she said. Her voice sounded different –a little lower and dripping with venom. It was bad enough Caelan had pushed her into that sour spot the night before, screaming at her about her past.

Vyses arched an eyebrow at her. "As you wish," he said. 

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