hideout; 6 am
Only five hours later, I was rudely awakened from my perch by Raf’s bed. I woke with a curse on my lips — a literal one — and bit it down only when I saw Victor’s violet eyes.
“Wake up,” he said brusquely. “It’s impossible to get you up to speed by the week’s end, but maybe I can drill at least some basic maneuvers through your thick skull.”
He beckoned for me to get up again, and I scowled.
“So,” I said, dropping into a stance I’d seen in the few action movies I’d watched, “what good are bare fists against solid metal robots?”
He walked over and began adjusting my stance. His touch was surprisingly gentle — I’d figured he’d be rougher (I know I would have been). He paused, one hand still grazing my wrist, and said, “There are areas of weakness in the design. Marie, my …she defected from the Warlock’s forces. She was an engineer, and she helped us identify where to strike. A traitor like me.”
His mouth twisted up.
“Er,” I said eloquently. He was still rather close, and I fumbled to come up with a response. “Were you not a traitor?”
His eyes darkened and, without ceremony, his elbow came up to jab me – lightly – on the nose.
“Gah,” I wrenched my head away.
That brought the first real smile to his face. “You’re as open as a toddler,” he said.
“So are you going to teach me how to fix that or are you going to keep making snide remarks?”
That shut him up. “Follow me,” Victor said, all traces of his smile vanished.
Unlike the small, tattered room above, the basement was clean and filled with exercise equipment. The basement easily dwarfed the other room in size. The room was far too large for a team of three people, and I was suddenly struck anew by the group’s loss. If I still had my powers, would I see the ghosts of their team members lingering in this room?
“Wow,” I breathed, eyes roving over the rays of weights and odd, wooden posts. “This looks like you’re training an army.”
“I wish we had an army,” Victor said. His mouth was a grim line as he surveyed the room. “But we only have three, now, and the Warlock grows stronger each day.”
“Have you tried recruiting?”
He scoffed. “People are too afraid to disobey. I can’t blame them; the punishments for rebellion are severe.”
“And you? Are you a traitor two times over, then?”
He smiled, but the gesture was void of mirth. “Yes, I suppose I am. Seeing what happened that day…it made me realize that some things just aren’t worth it. I thought the Warlock would be able to give me the tools I needed to avenge my parents, but I was wrong.”
He took a deep breath and, meeting my eyes squarely, added, “Korra, I’m sorry for what I did. I was blinded by my desire for revenge and too caught up in my own personal agenda to notice how I was affecting others.”
“I-” to my horror, my voice cracked, and I felt my eyes begin to sting with tears. He sounded just like me — for wasn’t what I’d spent the last ten years of my life doing? I was caught up in my own personal agenda. I was blinded by my desire for revenge — but perhaps, for me, it was a revenge for my own actions.
I was my own enemy.
There was no stopping the tears now, and I scrunched my eyes closed, hunching my shoulders. I hated crying in front of other people; it made me look utterly wretched, and I despised being vulnerable.
When the tears finally stopped, I swiped at my face angrily and looked at Victor, daring him to speak. “Well?” I demanded. “Aren’t you going to train me?”
“Come on,” he said, thankfully not commenting on my embarrassing display of weakness. “We have a lot of work to do.”
A “lot,” it turned out, was an understatement. Magic didn’t require much physical exercise — at least, not the standard sort — and my muscles were woefully underdeveloped. As Victor said, there wasn’t much I could do in a week, but I was determined to take any improvement I could get.
Victor was a merciless instructor. He only let me pause when I was on the verge of vomiting, and even then, he pushed me to continue when I’d caught my breath.
“Again!” he commanded, and I lifted my aching leg to attempt another roundhouse kick. It felt like I have lead weights tied to every inch of my body, but the feeling was invigorating.
At first, out of respect for Nora, I’d held back slightly, not wanting to harm Victor. I was so used to dominating my spell casting duels that I thought, foolishly, that skill would translate to physical fighting.
It did not.
I was just about as good as a bumbling toddler, and Victor blocked nearly every blow I attempted. The ones that did land were because, I suspected, he wanted to give me a thread of hope.
Still, it felt good to hit something (at least, when I managed to land a blow). With the loss of my magic, my body was constantly on edge, and I felt like my nerves were frayed to the brink of snapping. This, at least, was a healthy way to release my anger and frustration.
“Good job!” came my sister’s voice.
Surprised, I stumbled to the ground and, clutching at my aching back, pulled myself to my feet.
“You’ve improved,” Nora said cheerfully.
“Tell that to my wounded butt,” I complained.
I heard a muffled snort from Victor’s direction but, when I looked over, his expression was as stone-faced as ever.
“It’s too difficult,” I complained, turning back to my sister. “He’s too — too — it’s like hitting a tree! A fast tree.”
Victor arched a brow. “A fast tree?”
I shook a dismissive hand, saying, “Pick a better simile, then.”
Before he could, however, my pint-sized baby sister whipped out her leg, stopping mere inches from Victor’s vulnerable stomach. She lowered it, and Victor shook his head. “You got me.”
“What does that make us? Nine-seven?”
“Eight-seven, punk,” he said. “Don’t try to cheat.”
I watched them interact, feeling a tinge of jealousy. Victor had known Nora for longer than I had, I realized. Nora was taken when she was eight, and she was now almost eighteen.
Wanting to take some more control of the situation, I interjected, “How did you learn to fight like that, Nora?”
“Years,” she said. “I practiced for years before I got any good. Victor broke me free from Kylo a month after you left, and after that, we were constantly on the run. I couldn’t go to traditional school, and there wasn’t much else to do except train.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling another pang of sorrow. My sister had grown up in war while I was attending a fancy private school filled with children of actors and reality stars. I’d been offered every opportunity Nora lacked.
Wait — she hadn’t been to school? “Quick — what’s twelve times thirteen?”
“Are you serious?” Nora asked.
“156,” she said. “I know how to multiply!”
“Who said you didn’t?” came a new voice, and I jumped — literally.
The sight of the newcomer sent icy fingers raking down my back. A thin woman with glowing, ice blue eyes stared at me curiously. What scared me the most, though, was the glimpse of bone-white fangs between her scarlet lips.
A vampire was in the same room as me. I couldn’t move — witches and vampires had a long, bloody history. I was surprised she wasn’t at my throat by now — couldn’t she smell me? She could kill me in an instant now that I was defenseless. I thought again of my dull, all too human hands; could my lack of magic paradoxically be protecting me?
“Hey, Kel,” Nora greeted, and I looked to my sister in horror. Could she not see that Kel was a bloodsucker? How could she address this monster like she was — was — a friend?
“Sup, Nora,” Kel said. She jerked a thumb in my direction. “This your sister?”
Nora beamed, and I melted. “Yup!” she said, sounding so like the old Nora that I wanted to cry again.
So, for the sake of my sister, I gingerly waved at the vampire.
“Hello,” I said. “I’m Korra.”