“You alright, Commander?” My tone was mocking. “You’re looking like something off an appeal poster.”
Totally peeved now, Jared growled as he raised his hand high and projected a massive lightning bolt. The voltage was so high that there was a ripple in the air. But I’d pre-empted him.
I squatted on the floor, slapped my palm to the ground on my right side and raised my arm over me to then slap my palm on my left side. Simultaneously I had tugged at the surrounding energy, making a beautiful silvery-blue energy shield appear over me like a tent. The lightning ricocheted off the force field, slamming into the eastern wall.
Before Jared could act again I sprung up in less than a blink, remoulding the energy from the shield into a silvery-blue ball. I blasted it at him. He moved fast, but not fast enough. It struck his arm.
Trying to appear unfazed, he emitted another stream of blue sparks but using both hands this time. Wow he really wanted to hurt me. And that really would hurt.
I pounded my foot twice on the ground, absorbed the energy of the Earth into me and let it sprout out as a mound of earth that rose speedily in front of me, building a protective bolder. Jared, relentless, was zapping the mound of earth when I darted out from behind it – my energy whip back in hand – and cracked the whip around him, pinning his arms to his sides. I yanked hard on the whip, bringing a tied-up Jared toward me. Just for fun, I cracked the whip again, making him slam once to the ground before I then let the whip fade away.
I looked down at a coughing Jared and arched a brow. “Now who’s the pretty girl?”
Although he appeared a mixture of nettled, flabbergasted and stupefied, his mouth twitched slightly in some form of dark amusement.
I offered my hand to him but he bounced independently to his feet, still staring at me. He seemed undecided whether to be extremely exasperated or pleasantly surprised. Either way, there was some respect there in his gaze. It was hard for me not to look smug considering the way he had dismissed me earlier. But I didn’t give him an ‘I told you so’ look or a quirky grin. Disconcertingly, I was actually more caught up in this little silent exchange of respect than I was in the glory of having won the duel. He might be a chauvinist, but he was a gorgeous one.
“Didn’t I tell you she was fast?” said Green as he joined Jared.
Slap-head came next. “Definitely a disguised Pagori on crack,” he decided as he clucked me. “Know that you can practice on me with that whip anytime.”
Jared didn’t look amused by that and squared his shoulders. “Could you all return to the line while I consult with Commander Sherman and Commander Norton.”
“And I thought my gift was cool,” said Slap-head as we joined the end of the reforming line below the spectator’s box.
I glanced up at Sebastian. Grinning with satisfaction and pride, he saluted me. I smiled.
“I’m Max, by the way,” Slap-head told me as he held out his hand.
I took it. “Sam. I prefer to call you Slap-head though.”
He laughed. “Whatever turns you on. Hey, Feeders are really rare. I heard that most Feeders go crazy and die after a few years because all the energy overwhelms them.”
Distracting me from responding, I caught Jared swerve and meet my eyes. His expression was thoughtful. For a small moment I thought about smiling at him. I’m actually not much of a smiler so that was odd.
“Good luck,” said the thorn-exhaling Keja vampire who suddenly appeared on my right.
I win a duel and suddenly everyone’s nicey, nicey. I simply nodded.
Finally the three commanders came to stand before the line of potential recruits. Jared’s gaze settled on each one of us for a few seconds before he spoke. “Between the three of us, we have selected three of you to join my squad. The rest of you will be required to return home imminently.” He walked to the front of the line and then began a slow walk passed the recruits. He stopped in front of the Pagori with the power to deflect and pointed at him with a congratulatory look on his gorgeous face. “Well done.” Next he stopped at Max and pointed. No surprise there – Max’s power to cause sensory deprivation was really good. Then Jared came to the end of the line, standing between myself and the thorn-exhaling Keja. He looked at each of us, then slowly raised his hand, extended his index finger...and pointed at the Keja.
What a f**king little shit.
Instantly there were murmurs and gasps, whether those were of surprise or disagreement I didn’t know. I didn’t care to find out. “Congratulations,” I said to Max and the Keja beside me. Then I twirled sharply and paced away.
“Sam!” Max caught up with me and sighed. “You should have gotten a place. You deserved it more than any of us.”
“It’s alright,” I said though my tone made it clear that it wasn’t. I let my eyes track down Jared who was staring at me with a crease between his eyebrows. As I spoke to Max I continued to look hard at Jared, “I wouldn’t want to work for a sexist twat anyway.”
As I stormed away, I couldn’t decide what incensed me more; the fact that I hadn’t been given a place in the legion even after proving myself, or the fact that this bothered me so much. It was now that I realised that I hadn’t just wanted a place to spite Victor or to escape him, or even to annoy Jared. The truth was that I’d wanted to be a part of the picture that Sebastian had tried selling me, to make the most out of the life I now had whether it had been my choosing or not. I wanted to be part of something important, to have a purpose beyond Victor’s plans for me.
Sebastian travelled with vampire speed to my side. “Sam, I -”
“It’s fine. Really.” But I’d said it too sharply, I didn’t sound in the least bit convincing.
“I intend to dispute Jared’s decision. His judgement was impaired by his -”
“Really Sebastian don’t bother,” I advised him gently as we entered the museum-like house. “If I had to see Jared’s ugly mug every day, I’d probably stake him.”
“Yes, I’d imagine you would,” agreed an amused, unfamiliar voice before me. It belonged to a Latino-looking Keja, though he spoke in a very clear American accent, with shoulder length, thick, coal-black hair and the widest eyes. Everything about the way he conducted himself while he slowly circled me spoke of pure power. This had to be the Grand High Master himself. Flanking him were two Pagori vampires, both looked robotic and fearless.