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I have no idea how, but I survive the rest of Atlantis Tech. I clench one hand underneath my desk, out of sight, where I can squeeze it as much as I need, while my knuckles turn bloodless and my nails bite into my palm . . . all so that I can keep the focus and make the notes without breaking apart.

I sing each note—clean, remote and emotionless, all along imagining myself disembodied, a machine—and move the orichalcum piece forward, reset it, then switch with Laronda. I have very little memory of most of it for some reason. Class is over soon enough, and then there’s only one more left for the day, which is Combat.

Relief. . . . I know this is just nuts, but I actually feel relief going back down again to the hateful basement and Training Hall, where I don’t have to make another musical sound.

When I get there, the gym is nearly empty, and the Instructors have not shown up yet.

A couple of people are milling around near the workout equipment, watching some guy use a punching bag. . . .

Oh great. It’s Wade and Derek with the neck tattoo. Their backs are turned, but I recognize Derek’s coiling spiked serpent pattern crawling up his muscular neck and disappearing into the dark short-cropped hair at the base of his head. The two of them stand with arms folded, watching a third, the one’s who’s working out with the punching bag.

Whoever the guy is, he’s moving fast. And I mean, fast. He’s throwing punches in a volley, right and left hooks, and the shirt portion of the grey uniform he should be wearing is lying carelessly discarded on the floor a few steps away. . . .

He’s naked to the waist, and he’s got an amazing upper body. Meanwhile, his uniform pants, tucked into short boots, show off impressive legs and a tight compact rear.

I gulp. . . .

The guy has long, raven-black hair, very dark and straight. It slides against his back with every movement he makes. His deeply bronzed torso is gleaming with sweat, and now I’ve stopped in my tracks. I am staring so hard, because, holy lord, what a body! There is so much amazing definition in his triceps and biceps, his deltoids emphasizing the breadth of his shoulders in contrast with the lean waist.

He wears a prominent red armband around his upper arm, right over the sexy bicep.

Okay, this guy has to be Atlantean. Yes, his hair is pure “black-hole” black, with not a trace of gold, but there’s just very little doubt he is not from our Earth.

Why? Because he’s just too impossibly fast. . . . He moves precisely like the other Atlanteans I’ve seen so far.

If I’m wrong, I will eat my words. I mean, my thoughts. All right, screw my thoughts—they are kind of making me blush right now.

While I am gawking, more Candidates fill the classroom. Now a small crowd has gathered, watching this guy destroy the punching bag. We all stand in silent admiration.

Finally he is done.

He stops and stands back, bringing his hands down in a stance so smooth that it is worthy of a dancer. His chest rises and falls as he catches his breath. He turns around to face us.

A stone-cold handsome face of lean angles meets us. His brows are well defined and his dark brown eyes are emphasized in kohl. Oh yeah, he’s Atlantean.

But, what’s with that amazing black hair?

While he stands looking at us, woots of approval follow his performance, and many of the Candidates clap.

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