The days and weeks that followed Lord Albin’s visit passed both excruciatingly slowly and dizzyingly fast for Evadna. She worried about the danger he was in, chafing at her lack of knowledge and inability to act. To distract herself from the turmoil, she threw herself even harder into her training. The faster she progressed, the sooner she’d get to join him in whatever he was endeavoring to do. And she could protect him.
Her friends noticed the change in her. They questioned her obsessive, single-mindedness, trying their best to include her in their fun. She would not be moved, though. And eventually, they stopped trying. Her instructors, on the other hand, commended her on her marked improvement. Only one instructor thought to question her – Superior Ranis.
“You are different. Has something happened?”
Getting to her feet again, as he had just knocked her down, she brushed herself off and said, “Nothing, sir.”
He stared at her, an inscrutable expression on his face. “Something has caused this change in you. Are you lying to me or to yourself about it?”
Evadna held her silence, standing at the ready with her staff.
“We had a visitor not too long ago. In fact, he came during the tournament. Rikki and Misha both reported his presence here.” He paused, as if waiting for her to comment. When she remained silent, he continued, “They both mentioned how he seemed strangely interested in you. Do you remember this?”
“Both Rikki and Misha mentioned it. I never saw the man they spoke of. Was -”
Superior Ranis attacked with a viciousness she had never encountered from him before, and she struggled to keep her feet under her as she defended herself from the onslaught. She thought she saw an opening when he left his side undefended and took it, only to be knocked onto her back again.
He pressed his staff against her neck. “You lied to me.”
Struggling to talk, she said, “I…didn’t…lie to you.”
At her words, he sneered and pressed a little harder. She squirmed and tried to throw him off, but he held her down expertly. Fear began to creep in. His eyes were hard and ruthless. “Still lying,” he seethed.
“Not…” she couldn’t say anything more, the pressure against her neck was too great. Growing desperate, she took hold of her magic.
“Stop…it” he gasped, struggling to breathe. When he realized she wouldn’t stop, he released her, staggering away.
As soon as she was free, she let go of her magic. Getting to her knees, she eyed him warily as she recovered her breath, watching him do the same.
“Bloody hell, woman,” he croaked. “I wasn’t going to kill you.”
“Could have fooled me,” she rasped in reply.
Shaking his head, he drew near and offered his hand. Hesitantly, she took it and he helped her to her feet.
“I know you saw him. I know you are lying to me. But I understand. I won’t report you. Now go. That’s enough for today. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
A deep furrow in her brow, she turned to leave.
“One more thing,” he said. “Never attack me again. I won’t turn a blind eye a second time.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, then departed.
He stared after her for some time in contemplation.
“She’s ready,” he seemed to say to nobody.
“I agree,” came the reply, as a man stepped out from his hiding place.