"I think you smoke them so you have something to do while thinking up your next witty line."
He choked on the smoke, caught between inhaling and laughing. "Rose Hathaway, I can't wait to see you again. If you're this charming while tired and annoyed and this gorgeous while bruised and in ski clothes, you must be devastating at your peak."
"If by 'devastating' you mean that you should fear for your life, then yeah. You're right." I jerked open the door. "Good night, Adrian."
"I'll see you soon."
"Not likely. I told you, I'm not into older guys."
I walked into the lodge. As the door closed, I just barely heard him call behind me, "Sure, you aren't."
LISSA WAS UP AND GONE before I even stirred the next morning, which meant I had the bathroom to myself while I got ready for the day. I loved that bathroom. It was enormous. My king-size bed would have fit comfortably inside it. A scalding shower with three different nozzles woke me up, though my muscles ached from yesterday. As I stood in front of the full-length mirror and combed my hair, I saw with some disappointment that the bruise was still there. It was significantly lighter, however, and had turned yellowish. Some concealer and powder almost entirely covered it up.
I headed downstairs in search of food. The dining room was just shutting down breakfast, but one of the waitresses gave me a couple of peach marzipan scones to go. Munching on one as I walked, I expanded my senses to get a feel for where Lissa was. After a couple of moments, I sensed her on the other side of the lodge, away from the student rooms. I followed the trail until I arrived at a room on the third floor. I knocked.
Christian opened the door. "Sleeping Beauty arrives. Welcome."
He ushered me inside. Lissa sat cross-legged on the room's bed and smiled when she saw me. The room was as sumptuous as mine, but most of the furniture had been shoved aside to make space, and in that open area, Tasha stood.
"Good morning," she said.
"Hey," I said. So much for avoiding her.
Lissa patted a spot beside her. "You've got to see this."
"What's going on?" I sat down on the bed and finished the last of the scone.
"Bad things," she said mischievously. "You'll approve."
Christian walked over to the empty space and faced Tasha. They regarded each other, forgetting about Lissa and me. I'd apparently interrupted something.
"So why can't I just stick with the consuming spell?" asked Christian.
"Because it uses a lot of energy," she told him. Even with jeans and a ponytail- and the scar- she managed to look ridiculously cute. "Plus, it'll most likely kill your opponent."
He scoffed. "Why wouldn't I want to kill a Strigoi?"
"You might not always be fighting one. Or maybe you need information from them. Regardless, you should be prepared either way."
They were practicing offensive magic, I realized. Excitement and interest replaced the sullenness I'd acquired upon seeing Tasha. Lissa hadn't been kidding about them doing "bad things." I'd always suspected they were practicing offensive magic, but... wow. Thinking about it and actually seeing it were two very different things. Using magic as a weapon was forbidden. A punishable offense. A student experimenting with it might be forgiven and simply disciplined, but for an adult to actively be teaching a minor...yeah. That could get Tasha in major trouble. For half a second, I toyed with the idea of turning her in. Immediately, I dismissed the notion. I might hate her for making moves on Dimitri, but part of me sort of believed in what she and Christian were doing. Plus, it was just cool.
"A distracting spell is almost as useful," she continued.
Her blue eyes took on the intense focus I often saw Moroi get while using magic. Her wrist flicked forward, and a streak of fire snaked past Christian's face. It didn't touch him, but from the way he flinched, I suspected it had been close enough for him to feel the heat.
"Try it," she told him.
Christian hesitated for only a moment and then made the same hand motion she had. Fire streaked out, but it had none of the finely tuned control hers had had. He also didn't have her aim. It went straight for her face, but before it could touch her, it parted and split around her, almost like it had hit an invisible shield. She'd deflected it with her own magic.
"Not bad- aside from the fact you would have burned my face off."
Even I wouldn't want her face burned off. But her hair...ah, yes. We'd see how pretty she was without that raven-black mane.
She and Christian practiced a while longer. He improved as time went by, though he clearly had a ways to go before he had Tasha's skill. My interest grew and grew as they went on, and I found myself pondering all the possibilities this kind of magic could offer.
They wrapped up their lesson when Tasha said she had to go. Christian sighed, clearly frustrated that he hadn't been able to master the spell in an hour. His competitive nature was almost as strong as mine.
"I still think it'd be easier to just burn them entirely," he argued.
Tasha smiled as she brushed her hair into a tighter ponytail. Yeah. She could definitely do without that hair, particularly since I knew how much Dimitri liked long hair.
"Easier because it involves less focus. It's sloppy. Your magic'll be stronger in the long run if you can learn this. And, like I said, it has its uses."
I didn't want to agree with her, but I couldn't help it.
"It could be really useful if you were fighting with a guardian," I said excitedly. "Especially if completely burning a Strigoi takes so much energy. This way, you use just a quick burst of your strength to distract the Strigoi. And it will distract one since they hate fire so much. Then that's all the time a guardian would need to stake them. You could take down a whole bunch of Strigoi that way."
Tasha grinned at me. Some Moroi- like Lissa and Adrian- smiled without showing their teeth. Tasha always showed hers, including the fangs.
"Exactly. You and I'll have to go Strigoi hunting someday," she teased.
"I don't think so," I replied.
The words in and of themselves weren't that bad, but the tone I used to deliver them certainly was. Cold. Unfriendly. Tasha looked momentarily surprised at my abrupt change in attitude but shrugged it off. Shock from Lissa traveled to me through the bond.
Tasha didn't seem bothered, however. She chatted with us a bit longer and made plans to see Christian for dinner. Lissa gave me a sharp look as she, Christian, and I walked down the elaborate spiral staircase leading back down to the lobby.