I swear, faeries are sadists.
Did Alina take me hunting after my great fainting faux pas? No. No, she did not. Where did she haul my embarrassed ass? The gym.
“Are we warding gyms now?”
“This one is already warded or there wouldn’t be people here.” She jerked a thumb in the direction of the weight room where several men and women lifted hunks of metal. Their efforts made me want to eat a chocolate bar.
“Then why are we here?”
“You have a date with a treadmill.”
I scowled at her. “You’re joking, right?”
“Not in the least.” She examined her manicure, frowning at a chip on one of her nails. “You’re my responsibility, which means if you’re going to hunt with me, you’ll be fast enough, strong enough, and skilled enough not to get killed.”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
She smiled. “Punch me.”
I frowned and then shrugged. Whatever. I hauled my arm back, swung at her, and went stumbling as I smacked empty air. Something collided with my ankles and I went flying face first toward the floor, stopping short of kissing concrete only because Alina snatched my shirt and hauled me upright.
“You have the mind and the will, but lack the training.” She leaned over my shoulder and grinned at me, her purple hair tickling my cheek. “I’d be a crappy superhero if I let my sidekick get killed.”
I huffed out a breath and stalked off toward the treadmills. She followed me, waiting until I picked one and then hopped on the one next to it. “We’ll start with five miles.”
“That’s not too bad. I walk that much—”
She interrupted, “Run.” She reached over and hit a button on my treadmill. “Go.”
I almost fell off the damn thing as I scrabbled to gain my feet and start running. Mile one wasn’t terrible. All the walking I did kept me moderately fit. By mile three I had dropped my pace by half and by mile five one could only call it running if I were a turtle. I collapsed onto the floor in a heap at the end of the run.
Alina hopped off with a bounce, not even winded. “Okay. Now we spar.”
“What?” I wheezed.
At least she handed me a bottle of water and gave me ten minutes to recover. “Your rest breaks will shrink as we go,” she warned.
I expected to get pummeled, but much of our so-called sparring involved her correcting my form, showing me how to properly punch, kick, and fall. By the time she dragged me off the training mat, I didn’t even protest at being zipped through dimensions to get back to the apartment. I hadn’t fought anything, but I sure felt like it. I crashed on the sofa, vaguely registering that Alina went out again, probably to hunt, but I was too exhausted to move.
As I drifted toward sleep, whole body aching, I debated giving up the idea of hunting, but letting a stupid treadmill beat me seemed pretty pathetic. UnSeelie were fast, very fast, and who knew how much territory Alina covered in a night.
That became our routine. Alina dragged me on errands, meetings and to the gym. She disappeared to hunt alone, came home and slept for awhile, and then kicked my ass at the gym.
I figured the torture sessions excused my new habit of chocolate cake for breakfast. Okay, I ate omelets and healthy crap too, but a girl has needs and I need chocolate. Besides, after weeks of running and learning how not to die, according to Alina, I almost enjoyed our morning routine.
I kicked back and streamed an old comedy series, waiting for Alina to get in as usual. Internet reception varied, as infrastructure suffered from this stupid war—although the government refused to call it that– but Alina’s net always worked. There were definite perks to this whole Faerie sidekick gig.
I surfaced from my binging when my stomach demanded food and my bladder bitched about my intake of soda. I got up to silence the bladder and realized it was nearly non and Alina hadn’t appeared. I went down the small hall after my bathroom detour and tapped on the door to her room, listening for any noise. I inched it open, peeking in, then opened it all the way. Maybe she had come in before I woke up.
Her bed sat empty, still neatly made from yesterday. The bright happy colors on her quilt seemed muted, or maybe it was just me.
What was the protocol? 911, what’s your emergency? My Faerie roommate hasn’t come home. It sounded inane even in my head even if 911 worked. Police had their hands full tracking down violent killers and keeping some semblance of order. Missing people just stayed missing nowadays. Not to mention, she was a grown woman and a faerie who could shift dimensions. Surely someone kept track of her. She went out and hunted things that fought back. Wouldn’t they care if one of those things she hunted had been faster, stronger, deadlier?
I went back to the living room and searched the comm directory, which didn’t take long. It only contained a handful of names and numbers. The only two I recognized were Katarina and Zane Gratig. I was so not going to call the scary executioner dude. He looked at me as if he could see through me. It gave me the shivers.
I hit Katarina’s number and the comm dialed. I okayed the holo projection, figuring she might remember me.
“Yes?” The scary executioner dude stared back at me.
I yelped and disconnected. I went back to Alina’s room, making a mess as I hunted through her closet, but finally found a stash of weapons in a box that looked like someone had gone nuts with a bedazzler. For all I knew that shit was real, but all I cared about were the nice dangerous grenades, shiny swords, and a stack of guns and ammo to outfit a small platoon. I grinned, geared up and headed toward the door.
Nearly seven feet of intimidation stood in the doorway. He looked me up and down. “You called.”
I gulped. I thought of Alina. She wouldn’t be intimidate. My knees shook. I wasn’t Alina. Seconds ticked past as he scowled down at me. I finally squeaked out. “Alina hasn’t come home.”
If he’d been scowling before, his expression turned into a deadly glower and pointed at the sword in my belt. “You’ll need more than that to find her, kid. Come on.”
He turned away and gray hazed my vision. I remembered to breathe as I locked up and followed the legendary Zane Gratig. I couldn’t afford to faint again. Sidekicks don’t faint and leave the hero in danger, at least that’s what I told myself as I got into the most badass aircar I’d ever seen. I maybe squealed like a twelve year old on a roller coaster when Gratig sent it straight vertical and forward so fast I think I pulled gs.
I squeezed my eyes shut and yelled at Alina in my head. I’m riding in an air car with a crazy alien executioner. You better be in trouble, Alina, and not on some other continent having magic sex or something. I will kill you myself if you aren’t in trouble.
Maybe I thought too loud, because as we zipped over Memphis, the crazy alien executioner busted out laughing.