Illumination 7.1: Practice, Practice

Ajax and Jehane sat together in the dining hall. Ajax was as restless and full of unfocused energy as he’d been for the last few days. His reckless plans weren’t getting the support he wanted; Elian kept stubbornly refusing to let him sneak out, and Seth was still strange and unpredictable. But Jehane thought that today she had something that would give his energy a more positive spin.

She hoped so, anyhow.

“Rose and Kotone have invited me to come along the next time they go on patrol.” She looked down at her ham and butter baguette. “It felt so odd. Like I was betraying Natalie somehow.” When she glanced up, Ajax was staring off into space. “But then I realized… you and Seth aren’t allowed to go out, but I am.” A nervous giggle escaped her. “They want me to go out. If I feel strong enough. Because I’m so delicate and fragile and helpless.” The giggle wanted to turn into a sob, so she rushed on. “I thought I’d go out and see what there is to see. Maybe it will help.”

Ajax looked at her, then nodded, his reaction so subdued that she wondered if he’d been paying attention to her. It was like he thought what she was doing was totally normal, absolutely what he expected.

It felt nice, she realized. He hadn’t been here long enough to absorb the general attitude most of the Tower took with Jehane, and even though he’d had to rescue her from Hatherly, he seemed to assume she was basically competent. She hoped she could show him how right he was.

Seth appeared as if out of nowhere and sat down beside her. “Did I hear you talking about two-timing us, Jehane? Natalie’s gone and I’m grounded, so you’re just moving on with new teachers?”

That stung, but not as much as expected. Seth’s current perspective on the world and other people wasn’t true, she’d seen that from her conversation in the gym with Ajax. So instead of answering, or arguing, she just stuck her tongue out.

Seth froze, staring at her like she’d grown a second head.

“What?”

Seth unfroze, leaning his arms on the table. “You’re normally such a good little girl. But tell you what, you go visit Earth, and Ajax and I will work really hard on his book reports. I hear if he earns enough extra credit, he can earn a whole range of prizes. Ice cream cones. Movie tickets. Echthroi latchkeys.”

Ajax raised one finger in Seth’s direction, without even bothering to look at him. “What city are you going to?”

“Minneapolis. That’s your hometown, isn’t it?”

Ajax looked away. “Yeah.”

“I bet we can go check on your dad. I mean, if you want us to.”

Ajax scowled. “Him? No way. I was thinking about the other people I knew. But I bet they’re better off now. Without me around, with my great big anima attracting all the chicks. Wait, no, I mean ‘monsters’.”

Seth said, “Awww. Hey, Jehane. I actually wanted to ask you a favor. If, while you’re out and about, you come across any of those bastards, do you think you could stab one of them for me? Well, I say ‘one of them’ but I’d like all of them. Many times. But I’ll take what I can get.”

Jehane hesitated. “Seth— I was right next to Hatherly after he killed Laurel and I couldn’t summon anything to stab him with. Even if I was in the position you want me to be in—” and she stopped. She didn’t want to commit to future incompetence, not now.

“I know. I was there.” His voice was surprisingly gentle. “Here.” He pulled a knife out from behind his back. It looked like one of his knives: subtly different in appearance, but glaringly silent against his shadow music.

Jehane recoiled, but he took her hand and put the knife in it, closing her fingers tightly. It was shockingly real against her palm. The blade was black and silver, and the grip was leather wrapped around the tang. “How in the world did you get this?”

Seth shrugged. “I bought it with my first paycheck. I wanted to see how it compared to my own weapons, see how well I could use it.”

“Why would you want to do that?” Jehane asked, bewildered.

But Ajax said, his gaze suddenly intense, “How well could you use it?”

Seth smirked. “Not very well. But you know what? Learning to use it made me better with my anima knives.”

“Huh.” Ajax’s gaze moved to the blade Jehane still clutched.

“Good luck finding a scythe, big guy.” And for a moment, Seth’s smile was his old smile. Then he looked at Jehane again, and it twisted.

“Is—is there a case for it?”

“Yes. You can put it on your back, and nobody will ever know it’s there.”

She stared at the blade, hypnotized by the light glinting off the edge. How often had Seth carried it?

“Don’t be afraid of it, Jehane.” His voice was soft. “It’s an answer, not a question.”

She dragged her gaze away from the blade and met Seth’s. Then, her fingers tightened on the grip. “All right. Show me how to hold it properly.”

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