The sharp crack of her superior’s voice assaulted her ears. Focusing, Evadna held her barrier of air up despite the barrage of arrows assaulting it. She could feel the drain caused by every arrow that came in contact with the barrier, as if they were piercing her. She was tiring.
“Send the first line through.”
Shock threatened her concentration. They’d never sent people against her barrier before. She didn’t know what to expect. And she was already waning.
Closing her eyes, she sank herself into the song thrumming throughout her body. It felt as if her very heartbeat danced to the song’s rhythm.
Even with her eyes closed, she felt the impact as the first line of Follows soldiers attempted to crash through her barrier. She stumbled, gasping for air. Squeezing her eyes shut even tighter, she began singing the song aloud. The song was her lifeline. If she paid any attention to the noise, to the drain on her energy, she had no hope of holding up her barrier.
Another attempt to break her barrier sent her onto her knees. She cried out in pain, but kept singing.
A voice whispered in her ear. “Hold the barrier, Evadna. You can do it. You are stronger than you know.”
It was her superior whispering in her ear. Another crash into her barrier and she shouted, curling in on herself. Everything hurt. Her bones ached. Her blood felt sluggish with its song. Her brain felt woozy.
Something dripped from her nose.
Despite the words, Evadna huddled on the floor, mumbling her song with what strength she had left, waiting for the next blow. She dared not open her eyes, sure her barrier would fall if she did.
A hand on her shoulder. “Enough, Evadna. Let go of the spell. You did well.”
Evadna looked up into her superior’s face, his blue eyes intent on hers. She released the song, the spell holding the barrier up. Slowly, she rose to her feet, wiping the wetness on her face. Her hand came away bloody. She was bleeding?
“Take a break. It’s time for the noon meal. I’ll see you afterwards,” he told her. Evadna saluted and turned on her heel, following the rest of the soldiers to the food tent. Riki immediately stepped in to walk beside her.
“That was very impressive.”
“Was it?” Evadna said, not looking at her.
Riki nodded. “Especially when the blood started pouring from your nostrils. Now that’s sexy. All the men were in a dither.”
Evadna glanced at her, not sure how to respond to such a comment. Riki smiled winningly at her.
“Do you always bleed?” Riki said, her tone serious.
Evadna shook her head. “This was a first.”
Riki made a sound in the back of her throat in reply.
They entered the food tent and immediately took their spots in line.
“Impressive job, Lips,” said a man ahead of them in line. He was blond, with a single roguish dimple. “ You’ve got something right…there.”
Evadna evaded his reaching hand. “Yes, yes, I know there’s blood on my face. Leave it be, Jack.”
Jack chuckled unrepentantly. “Seriously, though, I’ve never seen the like.” Turning to Riki, he said, “And who’s your new partner?”
Noticing Riki’s dumbstruck expression, Evadna introduced her. Jack shook Riki’s hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Riki. You’re a lucky girl to have Evadna as your partner. What I would give to sleep beside her each night.”
Evadna slapped him in the back of his head and Riki came out of her stupor enough to guffaw. “Right. Good luck with that,” Riki commented, smirking.
Jack rubbed his head, giving Evadna a wounded look that she rolled her eyes at. “Be gentle, love. Be gentle.”
When they’d been served their food, they chose seats together at one of the tables and were joined by a few of Jack’s and Evadna’s friends. Jack and Evadna introduced Riki to them all and then everyone dug in. It was eat first, talk later. No one wanted to miss out on filling their stomachs because they were too busy chatting to eat.
Once they’d eaten enough, talk turned towards the tournament coming up in a couple of months. Evadna listened quietly, remembering the letter she’d read this morning from Alby, encouraging her to enter. Soldiers entered the tournament for a number of reasons, some for the competition alone and others to be noticed and considered for advancement in some form or other. The seasoned soldiers entered to stay sharp, they didn’t need advancement anymore. Evadna wanted to go on a mission. She needed them to acknowledge that she was ready for such a step. She needed real life experience. She needed to be able to protect Alby.
“What do you need to do to enter?” Riki asked.
“Easy. Sign up,” said Misha, a tall, burly blonde.
“Where do you sign up?”
Jack winked at her. “Eager to prove yourself, are you? Would it not be better to be an observer first time round? Better informed is better prepared.”
“He’s right,” Evadna pitched in. “As much as the tournament is useful for moving up in the ranks and making a name for yourself, it is also a great way to get a bad reputation as well. Wait a little. Watch it first.”
Riki shrugged dismissively. “I was just asking.”
Jack eyed Evadna speculatively. “Has your time come around, Lips? Are you finally going to give it a go?”
Riki and Misha perked up, listening for her response. Evadna grimaced at him, not deigning to answer.
Chuckling, he shouldered her companionably. “This is going to be epic.”
“Your entering?” Riki clarified.
Evadna looked down at her empty plate, uncomfortable.
“Looks like it,” Misha mumbled.