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Kai shut the infirmary’s door, cutting off Lavanya’s nagging, thankful she had severed the mental connection between them. She didn’t have the energy to deal with her guardian. At least not right now.
It was only when they were in the safety of the guild’s barriers that Kai had allowed herself to breathe. Her first mission didn’t go as planned, which irritated her to say the least. If certain hunters got wind of this, she would never stop the snickering. But at least she could say that it wasn’t her fault. Kai had been the one to save Lavanya and get them out of there. If it wasn’t for her, one of the guild’s most elite would be dead right now. Or worse. Though it was odd for Lavanya to make a slip up. She was overly cautious with most things, and always on guard. For Lavanya to be careless was out of the ordinary, to say the least.
Kai stretched and tried to comfort her aching muscles. Her arms were sore. Her lids heavy. Her whole body moaned for rest as her stomach grumbled to be filled up again. The adrenaline that had masked her deprived body was fading away, leaving her to deal with the after effects. At least, she thought, the dining hall was opened all day. Her stomach growled happily as it dreamed of fresh fruits and ham slices.
Kai made her way down the hall. She hissed as her left wrist stiffened. The shadow was here again. He crept up nearly every time her wrist hurt. That was the nature of restless spirits, she guessed.
She ignored him and focused on the walls. Old sconce lanterns faintly illuminated office doors and the unusual wall décor. Well, unusual for a regular office, she supposed. Various shields, swords, axes, and other weapons hung between the doors. Unlike the ones in the weapons vault, these were ancient. Many were from the first renegades, the ones who had built the guild hundreds of years back. During her time here, Kai had learned that Radulf, the guild leader, was very fond of the past and decided to keep it alive in various places throughout the guildhall. She guessed that’s what vampires did to pass the time – hold onto the past for as long as they could.
A glint caught her eye and she stopped. Her favorite weapon, a steel sword from Northern Europe, hung beside her. She stared up at its sheath and followed the golden eagles as they flew about it. Kai didn’t know why it called to her, but it always felt like it was trying to tell her something. As if the eagles were clueing her in on a secret.
She reached out her hand to touch it-
Hair rose on her arms.
She unsheathed her knife and spun a quarter to the left.
Blades clashed together, a slight ringing in her ears.
Blonde curls danced as she threw off the hunter.
The other skidded back a little. “That isn’t fair, Kai!”
“What do you want, Goldi?” Kai sheathed her knife back. She winced as her wrist twitched. “I’m not in the mood right now.”
Goldi sheathed her own slender silver blade at her hip. “You’re never in the mood to play, are you?”
Playing. That’s what it was.
Ever since Kai came to the guild, Goldi had attached herself as a best friend of sorts. It would make sense if they had normal lives. Two teenage girls with similar interests hanging out together. Sounded right. But usually, those types of girls never had to deal with bloodsuckers or missions or trained with various weapons just to stay alive.
Nonetheless, Goldi took every opportunity she could to surprise Kai with an almost lethal attack. None of them worked, of course. And it was good training for both of them. But Goldi’s constant cheeriness was about as bad as Lavanya’s talking and wore Kai down.
Goldi’s beaming personality was even more blinding with the bouncing blonde curls and the big blue eyes that rivaled any anime character’s. Kai couldn’t believe someone as sweet as Goldi could even make it as a hunter. But, then again, this guild had very odd characters.
“Why are you down here, anyways?” Kai asked as she walked on.
Goldi followed. “We just got back from a mission and poor Bear cut his arm.”
Kai’s ears perked up. “Darius?”
“Oh, yes. He got caught up talking with Terrance. I came down to see if one of the healers were in.”
“Only one. Ghost.”
“Why him?” The pout in Goldi’s voice was hard to miss. “He’s so mean to me.”
“He’s mean to everyone.”
“True, true. But that doesn’t give him any right to.”
“You got me there.”
Kai hid a chuckle. Goldi and Lavanya were way too similar for their own good. In fact, they would have made a great team. Kai wondered why they hadn’t been. Goldi had come to the guild long before Kai had even stepped foot here in the mainland. But teams of senior and junior hunters were chosen by Radulf and him alone. Who knew what that vampire had been thinking.
Kai and Goldi neared the stairs as a tall figure came down. Darius.
His firm muscles, too tight under his tank, were perfect examples of a finely tuned body. His track record for completing missions without a hitch in less time than was given for them made him a legend. Even without all that, the man emanated a demand for respect without speaking a word or showing off. And others gladly gave him that. Even her.
Kai couldn’t deny that she was interested in him. He was the ultimate goal. Well, at least the perfection of his hunter lifestyle. If she had all that, she would never hear another snide comment again. But she would never admit that to anyone. That would be weak. And stupid. Lavanya would never let her live it down.
“Bear!” Goldi ran up to him and jumped.
The man caught her and she curled her arms and legs around him. Kai ignored Goldi’s jabbering and looked straight at Darius’s forearm. It was lightly bandaged, yet the bloodstain looked new like the cut had recently opened. Usually, Darius was careful to never get wounded, let alone open a wound back up. He must have been protecting Goldi.
Kai rolled her shoulders back, ignoring her body’s complaints, and strode over to the hunters. “Come on, Darius. You’re supposed to be invincible.” She hit his shoulder above the bandage. “Looks like you’re just getting weaker.”
He chuckled. “It’s just a scratch. But Goldi wants me to check just in case.”
“Sure it is.”
“Where’s Lavanya?” Darius sat Goldi back down on the floor. The girl popped up and swirled down the hall.
Kai shrugged her shoulders. “She got herself hurt.”
“That’s not good.”
“She’s still complaining about clothes, so she’s alright.”
“At least there’s that.” Darius ruffled her hair.
Kai swatted him away.
“Get to bed soon. You’ll need your strength for tonight’s literature lesson.”
Kai groaned. “You’ve talked to that woman?”
Darius’s dark eyes stared her down and she felt herself shrink to the size of a mouse. “Nefertari is a fine teacher. She’s willing to help you as long as you’re willing to learn.”
“Yeah.” Kai stiffened and turned away. “Sure.”
“See you, Kai!” Goldi shouted.
But Kai ignored them both.
She walked on, more determined to snatch some food from the dining hall and hide away in her room.
What was Darius’s deal anyway? He never had to put up with annoying tutors or lessons or massive headaches that got in the way of real training. He passed all his classes with only a few short tests, from what she heard, and was a junior hunter in no time. He became a senior hunter soon after that, once he hit seventeen; two years earlier than most.
Besides, Kai was here to be a hunter, not to learn about books she’d never read on her own or complex mathematics she’d never use in her life. If it wasn’t a requirement for senior hunter status, Kai wouldn’t even bother with it. And Nefertari could whine about Kai all she wanted. Kai despised the woman for looking down at her and nagging her about her grades. Even Lavanya wasn’t that bad.
Kai let out a deep breath and let the subject go as she walked up the stairs. First food, then room. After that, she could make a plan to skip out of her lessons tonight.
The first rays of the morning greeted her as she passed the bend of the staircase and stepped onto the main floor. Those rays glimmered through one side of the enormous glass dome, the guildhall’s main hub. It was empty right now and Kai saw every bit of the outside world. To her right, the large training grounds. To her left, lush gardens, where a smaller dome acted as the main entrance to this one. Eight large buildings, four in front of her and four behind, stood tall, each connecting back to the dome by arching glass bridges. And all of it was surrounded by dense forest and magical barriers to keep the unknowing and unwanted out. There was no doubt why the members of the guild nicknamed this place the spider’s den. And the sun shined down on all of it, forcing Mateo’s shadow form out of her peripheral vision.
“H-hey, Kai.” A familiar, irking voice called her wandering mind to attention.
She tilted her head to the side. A tall, scrawny guy around her age stood a few feet away. Her thoughts groaned. Not him again.
“H-hey.” Fidget scratched the back of his head, a goofy smile taking up half his face. “I was wondering if you’d like to . . . You know, grab a bite to eat or something?”
Not many guys looked her way, and Kai didn’t bother looking their way either. They either didn’t like her or knew better than to mess with her. But Fidget was too persistent for his own good. Though Lavanya was convinced they would make a cute couple, Kai only saw him as a daily annoyance. She’d rather have to deal with Nefertari’s consistent nagging than him gaining enough false courage to talk to her.
“Sorry. But I’m getting my food to go.” She turned around and walked towards the bridge that led to the dining and storage building.
Light thumps followed.
“Well . . . we could train together afterward.”
“I don’t think I’ll be in the mood to train.” At least not with him.
“I guess you’re right. You did just get back from your first mission. How was it by the way?”
“Easy.” She wasn’t going to tell him anything.
“That’s good. Mine was a disaster. But that was more me than the mission’s difficulty.” A light laugh.
Kai remembered. It aggravated her to know Fidget was chosen for a mission before she was. They had both been admitted into the guild at the same time. Yet, even with his meek nature, this guy had been able to excel to junior hunter a whole year before her. She and other hunters considered it all luck. The only thing Kai could relish was the fact that she was the youngest junior hunter in the guild’s modern history.
“My guardian said he would talk to Radulf about making me a senior hunter sometime soon. So I guess I’ve grown a little on the front lines since then.”
“Good for you.” Kai hustled up the bridge’s short arch. She was almost to the dining hall.
“Wait. I didn’t mean anything by that.” He scrambled to keep up with her. “I know you’ll get to senior hunter soon. Everyone does. It takes time-“
She whipped around and pointed a finger right in his face. Fidget jerked to a stop but caught himself before he fell over.
“Look here,” she started. “I don’t care about your hunting career. Or your offers to hang out. Would you leave me alone for once?”
He didn’t say a thing.
She huffed and spun back around. Annoying, little-
“Did you – did you hurt your wrist last night?”
She marched away.
“Wait! Did you?”
“What does it matter to you?” she spat.
“It’s just that bruise doesn’t look too good.”
Kai sped up.
She ignored his calls and slammed opened one of the dining hall’s large oak doors. A few people were there, but only some looked up at her. She ignored them as she hurried down one curved wall, past a few of the dozen tables and benches, and into the food line. Grateful for no one ahead of her, Kai snatched up a few fruits, bacon and sausage before checking out.
A slightly plump woman smiled at her as she offered a take-out box. “Fancy seeing you, child. How was the mission?”
Kai was grateful to see the sweet woman. She was the only kind face here in the dining room.
“Easy enough, Miss Amari.” Kai put her food in the box.
“I knew it’d be for you. Have a nice day, honey.”
Kai bowed her head and walked back to the doors. That guy was there, rubbing the back of his head. She pushed passed him and left.
She dashed away. She didn’t want to give him a chance to run after her. But as she neared the glass dome, she realized he wasn’t following her. Good. He finally realized she couldn’t stand him.
Kai slowed down to a brisk walk. Her left wrist twitched, agitated. Thankfully, the shadow didn’t appear.
She lifted her arm up. That guy had mentioned a bruise. Kai had been careful last night to not injure it. If something had hit her scar in just the right way, she would be in big trouble. The only thing that could have brought a bruise was attacking that vampire last night. But even then, her wrist should have been alright.
Kai bit a part of her sleeve and pulled it up.
Then she stopped dead in her tracks. This was no bruise, she realized. Her scar was colored an inky black. Just under the surface blood pooled into it.
Her stomach lurched.
Kai rubbed her wrist on her shirt, but the mark didn’t go away. She rubbed it harder on her jeans. But it was still there. Harder and harder.
But the black remained.
It was there. It was real. And it was warning her.
Kai knew the binding spell was broken. And now the curse she had hidden behind her scar for years was awakened.
© E.N. Chaffin 2019. All rights reserved. Any reproduction without author permission is against the copyright laws of the United States of America.