Chapter no 32 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌BEFORE

Nightbane (The Lightlark Saga Book 2)

Grim was gone in the morning. Her chest still burned in pain, but the healing elixir had worked. Her skin was nearly completely healed.

That night, after her training, he appeared in her room again. Any trace of humanity she had seen from him the night prior was gone. He looked furious.

“If you are going to insist on keeping my device and portaling anywhere you wish, I will teach you how not to be an idiot.”

Isla glared at him. “Or what?”

“Or I will take it back,” he said, eyes darting to the floorboard where she kept her starstick.

Her hands clenched. She knew he wasn’t kidding. “Fine,” she said. “When are you going to teach me?”

“Now.” He grabbed her arm, and the world turned. When it righted itself, they were in a long hall.

“This . . . is in your palace,” she said, looking around. “It’s a training room,” he said.

“I didn’t bring anything,” Isla said. Grim made a motion, and her starstick fell through the sky, right into her hand.

“How did you—”

“The first thing you should know is your device is unreliable,” he said. “I did not pour much power into it. Around other portaling ability, it won’t always work.” That explained why it had failed her during their first meeting. “Portaling power is all about visualization. That is why you believe you can’t go anywhere you haven’t already been.”

“So how do I go somewhere I can’t visualize?”

“Maps help,” he said. “It’s easier to go places when you have a sense of the distance and relation to other locations.” Grim clearly didn’t rely on maps anymore. Hundreds of years of mastery seemed to mean he could travel nearly anywhere he pleased. “Now,” he said. “About the short distances.”

Grim was there. Then he wasn’t. He appeared right behind her.

“It requires far more control. And control is developed through practice.” He nodded at her starstick. “Try to portal across the room.”

Isla planted her feet firmly against the ground. She drew her puddle and focused on the small distance. Visualized the other side of the hall.

She landed on dark volcanic sand. The tide washed in, soaking her hands and knees. She heard a tsk above her. She looked up to see Grim standing there, frowning. His castle was a monstrosity above, overlooking the beach. “You overshot by a bit,” he said.

He portaled them back. “Again.”

The next time, she landed in the night market. Grim swept her away before anyone noticed.

The time after that, she appeared in his bedroom. It was immaculate.

Grim sighed. “You are, surprisingly, getting closer.”

After five more disastrous attempts, she appeared in a throne room. It was long as a field. The throne was made up of what looked to be calcified shadows, melted together, moving.

“The training room is the next one over,” he said behind her.

She turned around to face him. “Where are your people? Your attendants? Your nobles?”

“In other parts of the castle,” he said. “Most parts are restricted only to me.”

Grim was free, but he seemed almost as enclosed as she was. “How often do you see them?”

“Whenever I command it.” He motioned behind her. “Close your eyes.” She did. He took a step forward. He was so close she could feel his breath on her cheek. “Focus.”

It was hard to focus on anything with him this close to her, but she tried. She made a map in her mind of all the places she had mistakenly portaled to. The distance between her and the training room became clearer. She kept her eyes closed as she reached for her starstick and formed her puddle. She fell through.

“Good,” Grim said, her only indication that she had done it. She opened her eyes. She was in the center of the training room. “I was beginning to think you were incapable of being trained.”

Isla glared at him.

“Now,” he said. He made a motion, and one of her favorite swords fell through the air. She caught it. “You are tolerable at swordplay, but your defense needs work.”

She scowled at him. “My guardian is an excellent teacher.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Has she seen war? Has she encountered creatures who could swallow her whole?”

Isla flattened her mouth into a line. Terra and Poppy had both been born after the curses were spun. As far as she knew, they had never left the Wildling newland. “No,” she said through her teeth.

“Then it seems I have a few more lessons to teach you,” he said. In an instant, he had his own blade in his hand and he was on her, sword moving so rapidly, she could barely keep track of it. He grunted commands while he fought, criticizing her technique, chastising her every move.

“Dead,” he said, slicing the thinnest of lines across her chest with his sword. It cut through the fabric of her shirt but did not pierce skin. That kind of control was extraordinary. One inch off, and her insides would be spilling out. She reached out to block him again.

His blade sliced against her stomach, forming another slash in her clothing. “Dead,” he said again.

She tried her best to cut him, but no matter how hard she fought, how much she tried to trick him, his blade was always there, sending hers away.

Isla gasped as his sword swept across her throat. This time, he did cut her. The smallest drop of blood dripped down her neck. “Very dead,” he said, his voice just a whisper, far too close.

A growl sounded deep in her chest. The demon could have killed her by accident. Enraged, she fought harder, advancing, cutting the air between them to pieces. She wanted to cut him to pieces.

He blocked every blow, but there was an opening. She saw it, and took it, and cut the smallest rip in his shirt.

Isla grinned and was unceremoniously knocked on her back. He had kicked her feet out from under her.

She made an awful sound as she fought for breath. Grim leaned over her. “Another lesson. Sometimes your opponent will let you get a hit in, as a distraction.” His blade traveled up her chest, right to the center of her breast. He tapped once and said, “Dead.”

Isla glared at him. “I get it. You could kill me any number of ways, including with a sword. Teach me to be better.”

He did. They spent the rest of the night dueling in that room. He taught her moves that were ingenious. He taught her how to fight without a sword as well.

“Always go for the nose,” he said.

By the time the sun came up, and Isla was due in her quarters for even more training, she was dripping in sweat. “Thank you,” she said, even though she knew he wasn’t training her for any other reason than because he needed her to find the sword. You’re no good to me dead, he had said.

“The celebration on Creetan’s Crag is in three days,” he said. He stepped close, narrowing his eyes. “Before then, do me a favor, and don’t die.”

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