Thorne sat cross-legged on the ground. “Let’s practice earth today.”
After she lowered herself beside him, she folded her arms. “I want to learn fire.”
With a sigh, Thorne rubbed the back of his neck. “We’ve been over this. We studied air first because it resists the least and is more malleable. Also, it’s part of everything, so we must start with it. Now we can move to earth, next water, eventually fire, which is too dangerous at your current level of ability. If it got out of control, you could create an inferno, destroy thousands of acres, and cost countless animal, and possibly, human lives. Try to understand, you aren’t ready for that kind of power yet.”
“Please, I need something useful.”
Thorne patted her knee. “Mastering the elements takes a lot of patience. Though you possess potential, you can’t rush the process. No one can.”
“Can I at least make glass?” I could fashion spears and hurl them at an enemy.
He shook his head. “Manipulating air and heat at the same time is beyond your current capabilities. However, I can teach you to mound the sand into hills or swirl it around to dig holes. Later, I’ll show you how to combine it with water to make clay to mold into pottery. That’s a practical skill. For example, you could make your own dishes.”
Seriously? Fantastic, I’ll throw dirt in my enemies’ eyes. She tried once more. “Couldn’t we switch to water now? After all, that’s my natural environment, and I should be better with it than any of the others.” And I can drown my enemies.
He pursed his lips, considering. “Later today, if this goes well.”
She huffed. “Let’s continue.”
“First, you pull a little up and guide it through the air.” He extended his hand, fingers spread and pointing down. “Visualize the grains rising from the ground and moving toward you. When they’re almost level with your palm, move it back and forth, and they’ll follow.”
As she mimicked his gesture, Athenia concentrated and reached out. After a few seconds, vibrations signaled success, so she opened her eyes. A teaspoonful hovered a little above the ground. She made a motion with her arm, and the grains followed.
“Good. Now, twirl it in a circle.”
She managed to make it swerve around in something like an oval. Sweat trickled from her temples and dampened her shirt under the arms. “Oof, I didn’t think it would be so hard.”
“You build mage strength like muscles in the body with time and practice. Rest and we’ll try again.”
With a sigh of relief, she let the tiny amount fall. “Too much effort, it’s not worth it.”
Thorne wove his pile in a complicated pattern of swirls and twists before letting it descend.
He laughed. “Soon, you’ll be able to do it, too. Remember, though, magic always costs. Most often, energy. Mages consume our own resources for fuel, but some who practice dark arts steal the life force from animals or humans. At some point, they’ll pay the price for taking what doesn’t belong to them.”
“How? From what I’ve seen, they get stronger.” Bitterness rose and soured her stomach.
He patted her hand. “We stopped Merlindrake.”
Tears came to her eyes. “Not in time to save Delphie or so many other young Nerei females.” Unable to stop her sobs, she hid her head in her hands.
Thorne’s arms enfolded her, and he rested his chin on the top of her head. “Let it out. Grieving for your sister and the others is important. Allow yourself to feel the pain.”
She sniffled. “I want to move on. I’ll never forget Delphie, but I can’t keep letting her loss rip me apart. I want to feel warm again.”
She sought his lips for comfort.
At first, he leaned into her, but then he pulled away. “I’m sorry, that’s not appropriate.”
Like he had poured a bucket of ice cubes over her head, cold streaked down her back and through her limbs.
She shot to her feet. “I apologize, master. In the future, I’ll keep my actions more professional.”
He rose and brushed off his hands. “It’s not that—”
She interrupted. “Don’t you remember the night in my cave? Don’t you ever think of how good we were together?”
He folded his arms across his chest. “The night you used sex to drain me?”
She flushed. Shame gnawed at her gut, but she didn’t back down. “You haven’t forgiven me, and you still don’t trust me. Admit it.”
He reached out but didn’t quite touch her shoulder. “I forgive you, but trust must be earned. The damage will take time and effort for you to repair.”
She dashed the moisture from her cheeks. “If lessons are done for today, I’m going for a swim.”
She stalked off to a spot where the mangroves grew thick enough to shield her from his eyes. As she stripped off her clothes and stored them in a hollow branch of an old oak, she thought about the man from the day before. Should I have told Thorne about him? What difference does it make? Thorne doesn’t care about me. No wonder he won’t teach me anything worthwhile. He doesn’t trust me anymore than the others do. I’m alone, and I always will be. I must protect myself and the only way to do that is to amass more power.
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