Chapter Three: Roxy

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The return trip to the camp took a few hours on the back of Vincent's bike, putting my three day hike to shame. The same paths I battled through at what I thought was a rapid pace, Vincent rode across without a care. I might have pitied Cin his return journey, if he didn't deserve it. The image of the wild determination in his eyes as he pulled out the knife was still sharp in my mind.

When Vincent pulled to a stop outside the main building, my closest friend and cousin, Avery, was waiting on the steps. She stood up when she saw us and gave me a lazy wave. Avery was tall and slender, with high cheekbones framing the gaps in her face where cheeks should have been. Her eyebrows were arched and defiant, her eyes the same bottomless brown as mine and the rest of our family. The severity of her features somehow only made her even more stunningly beautiful than she would have been otherwise. She walked down to meet us slowly. I knew she was taking extra care to appear her best---she had always had a thing for Vincent.

I could sort of see what she was getting at when he slipped from the bike and pulled off his helmet, revealing his long, unruly black hair, streaked with the same dramatic red as all Helian Protectors (those of us with powers gifted by the Fire God to serve and protect the Realm). His eyes were warmer than mine or Ave's, more inviting, but the rest of his features were colder, harsher, more defined; there was something dangerous and reckless about him which turned the usually unflappable Avery into a silly school-girl. But Vincent had been my mentor since I was five; he was like an annoying older brother, always telling me what to do and how to behave; reminding me of my youth and insignificance at every available opportunity.

''Give me the rings. I'd better go report on how you've done. I'll leave you two to catch up," he said, collecting the rings before walking inside.

Avery let out an audible sigh, her eyes following him in. Once he vanished through the door she turned back towards me. ''So how did it go?"

''It was three days in the jungle without food, water or a decent bed. I haven't washed in days and I spent last night sleeping in a tree... How do you think it went?"

Avery laughed.

''Cinaer was a nightmare. He was so afraid of losing to me that he pulled a knife!"

She gasped at that. ''Seriously? Surely even Cin wouldn't go that far."

I nodded. ''The guy's insane; if he wasn't so self-absorbed he'd probably have stabbed me there and then."

''Doesn't bode well for the future really does it." Avery laughed darkly and a small flame flared up on her fingertips, which she popped into her mouth, inhaling deeply before breathing out a ring of smoke. ''What with your mother's crazy obsession with you marrying him and all."

I shook my head, ''I can handle Cinaer." My mother, on the other hand, was a different matter entirely. She had decided early on that Cin would be a great match for me. On paper I suppose he was---his father was the head of the second city, Kalme, so it would be a joining of two elite families---me being the granddaughter of the current King and second in line to the throne, after my father. Sure, he was incredibly good looking and could be smoulderingly sexy when he tried, but he always seemed to try too hard; he couldn't pass a mirror without looking in it twice. He could also be cruel. I'm no perfect goody-two-shoes---I like breaking the rules as much as any Helian---but I'm not malicious; I just like to have fun. My relationship with Cin was turbulent to say the least.

Flames flared at my fingers in frustration; normally I had them under control, but I'd only had my powers for six months and when I got angry there was nothing I could do to stop them. It had been even worse when they first manifested though; spontaneous fires erupted all over the place. That's supposedly why they send us to the camp: to 'train us'.

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