Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(5)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(5)
Author: Chloe Neill

That was the other reason I kept the monster hidden. Because it wouldn’t be a nightmare just for my mother, but for everyone else, as well. A demon’s red eyes. A leviathan’s power.

I defied explanation. I was other.

“All right,” I said quietly, closing my eyes as I settled on the mat. “Your turn.”

It shifted within me, the movement still vaguely unsettling. It didn’t care as much for yoga as I did, but viewed it, I think, the way I viewed sword training—as a necessity for our survival. In the quiet of dusk, we worked through a dozen poses, each more challenging than the last. And with each movement, each stretch, each slow and steady and deep breath, I could feel its tension ease, like tight restraints loosened.

With each stretch, I became more aware of its consciousness. And because of that, a little less aware of my own, as if its thoughts replaced mine. This was tricky territory, as I had no idea if I might accidentally let it go too far and permanently give up control. I didn’t want that. This was still my body; I’d been here first. But I was getting to know it as a creature with its own awareness and emotions. Which felt very strange to say, and even stranger to feel. And it was a creature of power. Of strength and speed that would hurt or help me, depending on its mood.

And right now, its mood was feisty.

Yoga had apparently not been enough, probably because my own adrenaline was up in anticipation of our midnight rendezvous. It wanted more action. But this wasn’t the time or place to show the AAM how unusual we were, how I carried some sort of second spirit along with my own. Whatever punishment they’d designed for my “crimes” would pale next to those sanctions. Letting it loose in front of the AAM could get both of us killed.

It may have agreed, but that didn’t ease its gnawing hunger. Not for food, but for fight.

“A compromise,” I murmured, aware I was murmuring to myself while alone in my room. “I’ll let you train with the dagger, and you can move all you want here. But tonight is just for me. I like staying alive, and you’ll frighten them.”

It seemed excited by that, and I couldn’t fault the sentiment. But still.

“Dagger,” I said. “Or nothing.”

It relented, was angry for a moment, but by the time I’d taken my dagger from its sheath and opened the bedroom door, the anger had dissolved into excitement. The loft was still quiet, Lulu’s bedroom door still closed. So I padded into the main room, the only light the glow of streetlights outside, filtered into a smear of rainbow through the filter-covered windows. It was a big space, with plenty of room to move.

I glanced back at the hallway, waiting in silence for a moment to ensure I was alone, and felt the stab of guilt—not the first—that I was hiding this from Lulu. But she already put up with me, a vampire, in her Sup-free space, and was trying to avoid the worst of the supernatural drama. I still wasn’t sure what the monster was, or why it existed, and dragging her into that mystery seemed unfair. Not that denial was a great foundation for a friendship. But it was all I could manage right now.

I stepped into the middle of the space, pulled my hair into a knot, and closed my eyes.

“All right,” I whispered. “Go.”

It didn’t hesitate. The monster stretched, seemed to fill my limbs with its own shadows, and began to play. It flipped the dagger in the air, caught it so the point faced downward, and struck out in a neat curve around my body. Then into a crouch, one leg extended, before bouncing back to its feet again.

“Nicely done,” I whispered, felt its acknowledgment, its pride. Then we were moving again.

A flip of the dagger, then forward slashes. Left, right, up would have done plenty of damage to an opponent. Then, much to my surprise, we were turning a side handspring, dagger tucked in, and landed in a classic fighting position. Body angled to prevent full frontal strikes, muscles warming, heart beating faster with the movement—and the thrill of it. The monster’s origin was unknown, but I was decidedly vampire. And vampires loved to fight.

How had it learned these moves? I’d probably seen someone practice them—my four years at Maison Dumas had involved hand-to-hand and weapons training—but I couldn’t remember having executed them before. Not like this—like katas in a martial arts practice.

“What were you?” I asked it, half-afraid of its answer—and the revelations or obligations that would follow it. But it dismissed the question, flipped the dagger into its left hand, and struck out again. Dagger strike, high kick. Dagger strike, crescent kick. Dagger strike, side kick. All good moves. Moves I might need to try.

The shadow of emotion I sensed from it was mostly condescension. Because, I was slow to realize, that was exactly the point. It wasn’t just stretching or exercising, or working out anger. It was trying to remind me, like flipping back through those lessons I’d learned in Paris. Because I had foes to face tonight. We both had foes. And the monster knew that if I was gone, it was gone, too.

“Okay,” I whispered, pausing for a moment to open my eyes, to watch and listen for movement. And when I was sure the loft was still dark, still quiet, I closed my eyes again. And instead of trying to watch what the monster was doing, I tried to just feel it.

Sweep down with the dagger into a spin, bring the dagger up again. Block an invisible strike with the forearm, sweep left with the dagger. Pivot, crouch to avoid a high strike, back kick.

The movements began to blend, each strike flowing into the next. It was like flying, total freedom from gravity, from limitations. A dance of magic and strength and speed. And with the two of us together, a finesse I didn’t think I’d had before.

And then a side kick, and glass exploded, and the noise was tremendous. I rushed back to the surface of my mind like a swimmer who’d been down too long, gulping in air, and looked around.

I’d knocked over the damned recycling.

I’d gotten too close to the island and kicked over a small bin I’d filled the night before with empty bottles. Glass, still sticky with the dregs of beer, lay scattered on the floor like a mosaic.

There was running down the hall. Go, I urged it, and looked down at my bare feet. I was trapped in a circle of my own making.

Lulu ran into the room, still in her pajama bottoms and tank. “What the hell happened?”

Back, I ordered silently, because I could still feel it pacing. It had enjoyed the fight and didn’t want to go back now. But we had no choice.

Back, I demanded, putting every ounce of power and glamour I could manage into the command. Before you get us both kicked out.

Finally, it receded.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was practicing some katas for tonight, but I screwed up my aim on a kick and knocked over the damn bin.”

Lulu surveyed the room like a cop reviewing a crime scene, and I all but held my breath while she did it. But then she sighed and walked to the kitchen, righted the bin, and began putting glass chunks into it. “You’re barefoot,” she said. “Stay where you are. I’ll get this. Kicking is for the gym, not the loft.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Last thing you need is stitches before you go to the principal’s office.”

I snorted, because she was right. That was exactly how it felt. “Is that what we’re calling it?”

“So I don’t freak out about it, yes.”

I looked back at her, saw the worry in her eyes. And felt immediately guilty that I’d missed that last night—and had been entertaining a monster of indeterminate supernatural origin in the meantime.

“It’s going to be fine,” I said.

“You can’t promise that,” she said. “And they aren’t here to take your word for it that you’ll be a good little vampire. Misogynist pricks. They’re going to pick a fight with you.”

“I know. I promise I won’t take any unnecessary risks, and I won’t be going out there alone. Arrogant as they may be, there’s only so much they can do.” Or so I hoped. I looked back at her. “Where are you going tonight?”

“To hang with Mateo at the furnace. Why?”

“Stay with him, stay away from the loft, until you hear from me. Just in case.”

“Okay,” she said after a moment. “I’d thought about staying the night over there.”

I lifted my brows. “Staying at Mateo’s?”

“It was an idea,” she said slyly. “If the mood strikes.”

“Good for you,” I said with a smile.

Lulu chucked a big piece of glass into the bin, then used a wet paper towel to clean up the rest of the mess I’d made. And I didn’t care for that metaphor.

Across the room, my screen rang.

Lulu glanced at it. “Are you in for Petra?”

“Sure,” I said, and she tossed over my screen. I managed to catch it, avoiding another round of spilling things across the floor.

“Elisa,” I said, answering it. Her face popped on-screen, her dark hair pulled into a tail. “And you’re on speaker, so be clever enough for a crowd.”

“How about the Grove?” she asked.

Lulu’s brows lifted, then she looked at me with speculation. “The place in the burbs that does outdoor weddings?”

“Yeah. My cousin was married there,” Petra said. “She had eighteen bridesmaids.”

“Who needs eighteen bridesmaids?” I asked. “That’s horrifying.”

“A woman who wants a three-hour wedding ceremony.” Petra sighed hugely. “She organized them like a chorus and made them sing a song for her.”

“No way that happened.”

“Would you like to see the evidence? I can send you pictures. It was a beautiful ceremony . . . until the lightning storm.” Her voice was mild and pleasant, belied by the glimmer in her eyes.

“You ruined your cousin’s wedding with a lightning storm?” Lulu asked, and even she looked a little impressed.

“I didn’t ruin it,” said the aeromancer. “I just made it shorter.”

   
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