Except for one piece of unfinished business that kept scratching at her—the piece Jaenelle said Lucivar would help her finish.

Thank the Darkness this practice was in the afternoon, when few Eyriens would be present. She didn’t want an audience for whatever Lucivar had in mind.

She’d completed her warm-up and was going through the moves a second time when Lucivar walked in, followed by Hallevar, Tamnar, and Jillian. The girl ran to the selection of sparring sticks that were kept on one wall and returned with two. Handing one to Tamnar, she settled into her own warm-up routine.

Surreal watched Lucivar watch Jillian. Any male who thought the girl didn’t have a father to protect her was in for a rude, and rather terrifying, surprise.

After a nod of approval to Jillian and Tamnar, Lucivar called in his sparring stick and went through the warm-up. Then he stepped into the sparring circle, looked Surreal in the eyes, and smiled his lazy, arrogant smile. “Come on, darling. Let’s see if you learned anything.”

She stepped into the circle. “I’ve learned more than you think, darling.”

“Shield,” he said as he created a Red shield around himself.

She created a Green shield around herself.

He shook his head. “No. For this, witchling, you’ll need the Gray.”

“To spar?” she asked, surprised.

“To cleanse,” he replied quietly.

She understood then what he was offering—to be a target for her anger against all the enemies she hadn’t fought but who had crowded her dreams, including the Eyrien bastard who had killed Kester and hurt Rainier. In order to do that, Lucivar wasn’t going to hold back, so that she couldn’t hold back.

She glanced at Jillian, Tamnar, and Hallevar. “Maybe they should leave.” She didn’t care if Rainier stayed, but she didn’t want Lucivar to have trouble with the Eyriens over this kindness to her.

“No,” he said. “There are lessons that need to be learned. Let them learn.”

With that, he began the sparring match, his strikes against her stick so light and controlled it was almost an insult. But she didn’t push harder, didn’t escalate. Not yet.

Light. Easy. Wouldn’t stay that way. She could feel the anger rising, that last piece of unfinished business. But nothing was pushing her temper enough to snap the leash, and the sparring they were doing would exercise the body but it wouldn’t finish cleansing the heart.

Then Jillian took a step closer to the circle, and Lucivar turned on the girl and struck out. She squealed, but raised her stick and blocked the blow.

A deliberate move, but not against Jillian. The move was intended to provoke her. And it worked. Surreal felt her temper snap the leash, and she went after Lucivar hard and fast, using everything he’d taught her about fighting with the sticks.

He met her, matched her, a powerful adversary. She didn’t know how long they’d been fighting, wasn’t going to care if some fool called time. But Hell’s fire, she was feeling the rasp and burn in her lungs, so she wasn’t going to be able to go on much longer.

She used Craft to enhance the sound of her raspy breathing to make sure her adversary heard it and thought she was fading. She fumbled a move, deliberately—and saw him hesitate for a heartbeat before he responded.

“That’s enough, Surreal,” he said.

“No, it’s not.” Not until she won.

She feinted, clumsily—and saw another hesitation. Then she planted her feet in a way that looked unbalanced, and he made a move that would take a lesser opponent out of a fight. But it left his ribs exposed for just a moment.

And she struck, putting Gray power into the blow.

He couldn’t counter the move in time. Her Gray shattered his Red shield. He got his stick up enough to deflect some of the blow, but her stick still met his ribs with savage force.

Pain flashed across his face before he regained control and danced away from her.

She didn’t follow because that look of pain cleared her mind and snuffed out her anger. He was no longer the adversary; he was Lucivar. She stared at him, seeing him again on the killing field in the spooky house. Grace and deadly power. Lucivar had walked into that place to save her and Rainier. And he’d walked out again without the smallest scratch. How could he get hurt now?

“You son of a whoring bitch,” she said. “You did that on purpose.” Because there were lessons that needed to be learned.

“I made a mistake, chose the wrong move,” he replied.

“And the sun shines in Hell. You did that on purpose.”

“I fell for a trick and miscalculated the strength of my adversary’s blow. I made a mistake.”

Made a mistake. Like she’d done in the spooky house. She had miscalculated there, underestimated there. Wasn’t the first time she’d made a mistake and probably wouldn’t be her last. But making mistakes didn’t make her weak.

She stared at Lucivar and understood what he’d wanted to give her before she left Ebon Rih. Maybe in a few weeks she would feel grateful. Right now she hated him for the price he’d just paid to give her this last lesson.

She dropped the stick and walked out of the eyrie.

Lucivar waited until Surreal left before he set one end of the sparring stick on the floor and leaned on it. He’d taken a risk giving her that opening, especially since she was channeling her Gray strength and he had stayed with the Red so that she would be the dominant power.

He really hoped what he’d seen in her eyes before she walked away wouldn’t be there every time she looked at him from now on.

Everything has a price, old son. You gave her what she needed to finish healing.

“How bad?” Rainier asked.

“Ribs hurt like a wicked bitch, but I don’t think any of them are broken,” he replied.

“That was a damn fool thing to do,” Hallevar said. “I’d better summon Nurian to look at you.”

“Do that.” That move had been a lot more foolish than he’d anticipated.

Rainier studied him a little too long. “Was it worth it?”

Fortunately, Nurian burst into the eyrie at that moment and he didn’t have to answer.

But he did wonder if he would ever have the answer.

“Are you certain you can do this?” Falonar asked the Warlords who were the dominant males in the northern hunting camps.

“Are you certain about the information you got about that weak left ankle?” one asked.

“I’m certain,” he replied.

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