“Are you sure you want to do this?“
She had that superior tone in her voice. I would’ve thought I’d have gotten used to it by now, but no—it still sent jolts of adrenaline arcing through my limbs. It rankled me, the way she talked, sure; but it wasn’t just anger that made my fingers twitch. It was need.
I crossed my arms over my gray robes, while she was likely cracking her knuckles. Her arms were behind her back, so I couldn’t see; but that’s what she always did before one of these bouts.
I gathered up the phlegm and saliva from my mouth, spat it towards the grassy earth between us—but the whole of it evaporated before it hit the ground. I felt overwarm, even as the chilly autumn breeze kicked up around us, sending the brown braid of my hair fluttering to my right as her short, black hair was merely tousled by it. Floating with the wind, though, were sparks of light that came from behind her. She was showing off. She always did.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” I sighed, annoyed.
Her grin made it obvious that she knew, but she asked anyway. “Do what?”
“That,” I said, gesturing a gloved hand to the cinders she was casting off, drifting precariously close to the dry trees and grasses nearby. “It’s dangerous, Selyana. How many times do I tell you?“
“So’s everything we do out here,” she countered, still grinning. “And a few embers haven’t caused any problems for us yet.”
“Only because I’m the one that handles them.” Rolling my eyes, I closed my fist around nothing, nothing except the chill wind. I focused intently and felt the temperature dropping around me, cooled by my grip on the cold and the power I used to master it. Turning my fists in just the way I’d been taught, just the way I’d practiced for months now, I channeled my magic through my foci, through the tiny sapphires on the leather gloves over both my hands, and pushed that power outward to snuff the sparks of heat in midair. They winked out like lanterns and I smiled, satisfied.
“Bravo, Mietelle, bravo.” Selyana’s posture was relaxed, casual, while she noisily clapped her hands in front of her—her gloves, too, were made from leather and set with stones, only she wore rubies instead. Pale fingertips stuck out from the gloves; I’d often wondered if she had cut the ends open herself, or if they just were made that way for pyromancers.
Each sarcastic, mocking clap sent more and more flickering sparks into the air, but these ones guttered out on their own. I had simply made the air too cold for them to last more than a few seconds. Selyana grew frustrated at this, and at my smile, so she changed tack within seconds. Far from casual, her shoulders rolled back, she planted both black-booted feat in the ground, and her gloved fists closed at either side of her waist. She refused to wear the robes that were our mandated uniform, instead wearing a haphazard combination of cloth, leather, and steel that always made me question how she kept from setting herself on fire.
In short, it was just like her. It always had been. She could be strange and impatient, but always quick, clever, energetic… my eyes went up and down her figure, once. Always her.
Selyana rolled her neck around in a circle, fixing her glare on me. “Come on. We don’t have all day.”
“It’s our day off,” I replied, enjoying the way I could irritate her just by flashing a smirk. She may have won some contests of ours, but I more often won the verbal duels. Her patience could grow delightfully thin with me.
“Yes,” she answered, “but if we’re missing from the college and out in the woods for hours, someone is bound to notice, and we’re probably going to get expelled for it.“
When had Selyana ever been concerned about expulsion? She only barely scraped by in any class that didn’t in some way feature flames, heat, or any variety of combustion. I raised an eyebrow, saying nothing.
She stared at me a moment before relenting from her own silence. “Okay, so maybe I’m a little eager to get back.“
I smiled, obviously eyeing the rosy flush on her cheeks. “Now whyever could that be?” I teased.
“Shut it, Mietelle.” Selyana growled and clenched hard with her hands. A flood of tiny flames fell from her fists, singeing two circles in the grass where she stood opposite me. “Are we doing this, or aren’t we? Quit buying time for yourself.”
“I’m not buying time.” I spoke too quickly, too defensively to sound confident. She noticed, and pounced on it—all smiles once more, ready to take back her control of the situation. But I didn’t let that get to me. I shifted my stance to one of readiness: one leg forward, knees bent and tense like springs ready to erupt, open palms waiting in the air before me with my stare locked to Selyana’s.
I had to keep my eyes fixed. I knew that there was a growing blush on my own cheeks, too, at the thought of what was awaiting us. She’d pounce if I even gave her the chance to notice. I had to be confident, or this wouldn’t work, and I wouldn’t win.
However confident or comfortable the posture was meant to be, I still shook slightly, heart pounding while I swallowed. It tasted metallic, from the back of my mouth; Selyana would have called it fear, but I imagined that it was pure excitement instead. I shook my head, cleared my thoughts, and gently bounced to and fro on my soft soles to ease my tension. “Are you ready?” I asked hesitantly.
She crouched low, legs bent like a sprinter’s, and bared her teeth. “Same rules as ever?”
I nodded, steadying my hands to keep ready for Selyana’s lightning-quick advance. “Same rules. Anything goes. First to pin and earn a submission wins.”
“Ready, then.” It always amazed me how fast she could go from laughing and jovial to utterly focused, determined on her task. She stared at me from her low stance, maybe just ten meters away, her jaw clenched tightly.
I swallowed. Again, that metal, exciting taste. The plan in the back of my mind would have to wait, would have to stay hidden until the time was right. Fortunately… I’d be matched enough to keep me distracted, to hide any more tells Selyana could catch me on.
I didn’t swallow, I didn’t shake my head, I barely even breathed; I only inhaled enough to say, “Ready.”
I snapped my fingers. A tiny white snowflake flickered into existence halfway between us, hovering above our heads and slowly drifting down. My eyes tracked it down, down past the gray skies overhead, through the red and orange leaves of the trees, past their trunks—and when it sank far enough for me to see anything of Selyana, I saw that she watched it with the same intensity. The flake went lower, and lower, and lower, and...
It touched the grass with a flicker of magical light. So intense was the heat from Selyana’s magic that it melted instantly, and when I looked up—
—she was gone. Wait. That wasn’t supposed to happen. The only sign left of her were cinders, falling to the ground where she had stood. My posture and poise dissolved as fast as the snowflake, and I found myself whirling around, peering through the trees that surrounded us, looking for any flicker of light. She always charged right at me. She always did. What in the world was Selyana doing?
Slowly, I backed against one of the trees and chased down my breath, swinging my head left and right as I went over my plan one more time, ten more times in muttered, panicked words. I couldn’t keep it down, couldn’t keep it from showing on my face, the flush from more than just heat. But I needed to know where she was for any of it to work; why did she have to choose the same day I’d chosen to change strategies?!
“Mietelle.” A whisper, a flourish of warmth to my left—I threw out both hands and shouted a command, willing the coldness in the air to deepen, broaden, finding moisture to condense itself into a wall of solid ice, two meters high and one meter thick. The onrush of cold air stung at my face, reddening my cheeks, and I saw that the wall was already dripping from whatever heat Selyana had conjured. But staring through it, I saw that she was long gone. If she’d ever been there at all.
“Don’t wear yourself out too fast, now,” she giggled from somewhere amongst the trees; somewhere close. I pushed my back against the icy wall this time, knowing I could sense through it better than something so flammable as a tree, and tried to clear my thoughts once more. To forget the plan and the fear—they would each come to me in time, if I had any need for them. I took a breath, deep and cold to my lungs, then I shut my eyes.
With sight gone, I was forced to feel with other senses. Cold wetness was against my back, warmth was on my cheeks; touch and feeling would be no help. I smelled the forest, I smelled perfume. My own, not hers. Selyana never wore perfume. I tasted that nervous energy once more. I listened, too, but I only heard the cracking of ice, the wind around me, birds in the distance.
None of it would help me find her—unless I, too, tried something new. I lowered my hands to my sides, and quietly as I could, began to snap my thumbs in sequence against all four fingers on each gloved hand. My feet carried me around the wall in slow steps while I summoned snowflakes into the air, eight at a time. Dozens of them, then hundreds were in the air, and I could pinpoint each one like bright stars in the sky, even with my eyes closed. The magic of them was that familiar, that easy. Some landed on the grass, some gathered atop the block of cold, some flitted between the trees, some landed on branches...
... and some began to melt. Just a few of them, instantly evaporating, leaving nothing behind but a dim echo. Not to my left, not to my right. Up above me. Inching around the wall had been a wise choice; Selyana, I now knew, was crouched on a branch some twenty feet above me, almost directly above where I’d been hiding before.
She was being patient. And quiet. Both of those were new for her. She must really want to win this one, I realized.
And that made me grin, flushing even deeper. Did she know what I was planning? Is that why she’d changed her tactics, why she was trying so hard to win?
It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to let her, not this time. I stopped snapping, opened my eyes, and put one palm against the ice wall. Soundlessly, almost instantaneously, a spike shot out from the opposite side angling upwards and stabbed through the bottom of the branch that she had put all her weight upon. Almost as fast, I twisted the cold into that bough and froze it, right where it met the trunk of the tree, crystallizing it in the span of a second.
I heard her gasp from up above. And then her weight gave out, cracking apart the frozen branch and sending her hurtling toward the earth with a screech keening out of her lungs. I put my other palm back, quickly, and another spike darted out—this one took a wider, smoother curve, swirling up into the air like a corkscrew then catching her in mid-flight. She slid down it face-first, still screaming, but before she could slam her face into the wall I diverted the cold slide to another track. Forming the ice beneath her took all of my concentration, all the thought I had in the face of her shouts, but once I heard a gentle thud I knew I could relax.
Laughing, I stepped out from behind the wall. Selyana lay on her back, just beginning to sit up and rubbing her forehead, perched atop a hastily conjured block of ice; one about the size and shape of a bed for two, headboard and all. She looked around, upward, following the spiraling slide all the way down to the chilly mattress she now rested on, then glared at me. “You’re showing off.”
The smile wouldn’t leave my lips. “I do my best work under pressure. You know that,” I replied, with a pause. “And you like my work.”
For a moment she stared, laying on the bed of my own making. I could see the working in her mind, the considering, the measuring… for a moment, I thought Selyana would surrender right then.
She snarled instead, then made to dive at me with her fingers spread like claws; I lifted my hands as response, shooting four tendrils of ice up and off the bed’s corners to snatch at her wrists and ankles. Selyana shrieked at the cold, twisted against them, all while I made them more and more solid, flipping her onto her back and setting her down in the center of the bed once more.
I paced closer while she struggled. “You’re trying out a few more tricks today, so why can’t I?”
“Because no matter what you try, I always win,” Selyana hissed, like the steam that was shooting off her limbs as she tried to melt the ice into nothing, to little avail. I was amazed at my own control, keeping her from dissolving it, but kept my concentration front and center. Despite the pyromancer writhing on my bed in glacial bonds.
She wasn’t lying to me. She did always win. We’d sparred like this at least a dozen times already, and not once had I been able to pin her, let alone get a submission out of her. She was just too quick, and too stubborn, and too hot. But now the glee showed plain on my face while I loomed above her. “Maybe I’d like to win for a change,” I said quietly.
All her skin looked reddened from the cold, but had that made her blush a shade darker? “If you did want that,” she began as quiet as I, then she smirked. “You’d have to try a lot harder than this.”
The cracking of ice cut off whatever question I was about to pose—she’d been holding back, biding her strength, then she bored through my glacial cuffs faster than I could think to strengthen them. She twisted her body, kicked off the bed, leaped into the air on a shower of embers, and then she was upon me. Her fists came flying right for my chest, and I barely got my palms up in time to stop them and catch her by the knuckles.
A shockwave exploded between us, great and booming and ringing in my ears, sending both of us hurtling in opposite directions and slamming onto our backs in the grass. Steam hung in the air where our hands had met, and I felt warm rain dripping onto my face. The wind had blown out of me, but I scrambled up quickly—
—Selyana was already running straight for me, grinning like a madwoman, flames flashing underfoot with every step. No time for a wall, I froze the moisture on my right arm into a makeshift shield and brought it up to block her blazing punch, shoved back again by the burst of steam.
You fool! I shouted in my head, suddenly remembering even while I put up another shield, blocked another crazed strike, The plan! Now’s the time for the plan!
Old habits couldn’t be ignored, though. Whenever she beared down on me my reflexes kicked in, I threw up an icy arm to defend myself and was punched back, again and again. My breath came ragged, my muscles ached, all while she never seemed to tire. She didn’t even sweat—or perhaps she did, but the drops of perspiration simply boiled away as soon as they appeared on her smooth, soft skin.
Again she charged me, slammed against me, sent me skidding backward until I could find my footing and stand my ground. Then she hurled herself forward once more, fast as fire running across tinder, engulfing it with more fire still. I swallowed, I planted my feet, and I didn’t move. I didn’t raise an arm. I didn’t summon anything to protect myself. And Selyana only noticed when she was but three steps away from me, her eyes gone wide with confusion and fear, one of her steps tumbling beneath her. She took the last step, tumbling toward me with an outstretched arm, and I caught it.
I grabbed her wrist, grabbed her shoulder, took her momentum and lifted her into the air over me. My feet were rooted to the forest floor, encased in solid ice, giving me the leverage to twist her through the air and throw her coughing to the ground before me. I stepped free of the ice to put one cold foot on her chest before she could begin to rise. I couldn’t help but gloat. “Who’s laughing now, Selyana?”
“Not me,” she grunted, “but definitely not you.” Selyana pounded her fist against the ground, just below my head, evoking a swirling gout of flame that erupted into the sky. I stumbled back, out of its way, but then she swung her body around and gripped my ankles, toppling me straight down to her level with a cry.
I fell face first, and Selyana pounced atop me, pinning my body and wrenching one of my arms back into the air, fingers wiggling uselessly. “Yield!” she barked. Her voice was hot as flame on my neck, hungry and hoarse.
I refused to move, though. I kept struggling beneath her, conjuring rivulets of ice to try and throw her off, but she always melted them instantaneously. “Give up already!” she demanded.
Even with a faceful of grass and dirt, I managed to speak. “Y-you’ll have to try harder than that.”
Selyana hesitated. Then she yanked my arm back even farther, forcing a pained cry from my lips. “I said yield,” she muttered into my ear. “Mietelle. Come on. I don’t want to do this any longer.”
I was panting, slick with sweat from her aura of warmth, the exertion of the fight, and the strain of her pinning. “You won’t have to,” I murmured.
She paused again. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Given that she couldn’t see my face... I allowed myself a smile. “Look at your feet, Selyana.”
I heard her clothes rustling, then a soft sound from her mouth. “Tricky little thing—you’ve been concentrating this whole time? I’m impressed, Mietelle. But you know that won’t help you.”
“No,” she repeated, “it won’t. Freezing your feet might’ve helped before, very clever by the way, but all it’s going to do to me is keep me here, pinning you until you yield.“
“Maybe that’s what I want,” I suggested.
Selyana laughed, but I caught a hint of unease in her tone. “How’s that?”
“Maybe,” I continued, “I’m biding my time, saving my energy, while you’ve exerted all of yours.”
“I have not,” she said defiantly.
But I spoke over her. “Maybe all that running, faster than my eyes, has made you just as exhausted as I am.”
“Maybe now that I’ve lasted longer than a few minutes against you, I’ve found out why your energy always feels so limitless. How you never tire, never sweat, never breathe like I do.”
She gave no words, but I heard her breathing. Heavy and labored.
I swallowed. I’d had words, planned, in my head to say. But I couldn’t remember them, else I couldn’t force them out into the air. But I had to say something. “Maybe that’s why you haven’t melted the ice at your feet,” I posited.
“What?” Again, Selyana’s nervy, strangled laugh.
“Why haven’t you?”
“I already told you. It doesn’t matter, that’s why.”
“If it doesn’t matter, then why not do it?”
“Shut up,” she muttered.
An errant giggle left my lips. “Why?”
“Because you’re confusing me, that’s why.” She tightened her grip, but at this point, it wasn’t even that painful.
“That’s not all I’m doing,” I whispered.
“You heard me.”
“No, but I meant—”
“—you meant, what else am I doing?”
“You can make fire anywhere,” I began by way of explanation, “you can conjure it in balls or vortexes or anything you imagine, no limitations. But with ice—”
“It has to be tethered,” Selyana finished. “Yes. I know. You tell me the differences every other day so that you can sound intelligent.” I giggled again, though I could feel her glare on the back of my head. “What now?”
“You get defensive when you’re nervous, that’s all.”
“I do n—no, wait, I’m not—”
“It’s okay,” I said, whisper-soft to hide my tension, “it’s only natural that you’re feeling it already.”
I ignored her. “How long have we been lying here in the dirt?”
“I don’t—why does that matter?“
“How long has it been since your legs moved an inch?”
She held silent.
“How long, Selyana?”
“Doesn’t matter,” she scoffed.
“That’s right,” I agreed. “It doesn’t, because you haven’t for some time, and you won’t for some time.”
“I can move whenever I want.”
“Then why don’t you?” Silence. “Is it because you don’t want to?”
“Of course I don’t want to. I’m winning.“
“Of course you don’t want to,” I repeated. “You don’t want to move, even though I’ve frozen your feet and your legs.”
“What? My legs aren’t—”
“They don’t appear frozen, no. But they feel it, don’t they? You can’t move them at all, just like your toes in the ice.“
“That doesn’t matter,” she argued. “I can still move them. I know I can.”
“But what you can’t do, Selyana, is gather the will to move them.” I imagined the perplexed look on her face, felt shivers of cold across my body at the image. “You’re so exhausted, Selyana. You can’t find the energy to do much of anything, can you?“
“I have no idea what you’re even saying, Mietelle—what does this have to do with—”
“Why I’ve frozen your feet? Why I’ve frozen your legs, and your arms, and your hands, too?” I smiled. “You hadn’t noticed, had you? You’re stuck, Selyana. You don’t have the energy to do anything but hold me down and hold me still.”
“That’s... that isn’t...”
“Possible?” I questioned. “Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. And maybe that’s why I froze your feet to the ground. Perhaps I just needed a tether, like you said, an anchor through which to spread my magic like you spread your fire. Maybe I’ve ran ice through your insides, freezing your muscles and your blood to hold you still, and all this talk of will and energy is just to confuse you. Would that make more sense?”
“... I don’t... know?” Her breathing had slowed, and slowed even further, still a warm rhythm against my braid. “I can’t move... anything, Mietelle... what’re you doing?”
“Do you really want to know?”
She hesitated. She held her breath, and I held mine, and I could feel the whole world’s silent, heavy tension. “Yes,” Selyana answered me, softer than a whisper.
The quiet made the words come back. The curiosity, the inkling of… something, in her voice, made the words leave my lips: the ones I’d planned to say for days. Meticulously writing, rewriting, memorizing by rote. “It’s not just your feet that I’ve frozen, dear, but I haven’t paralyzed your limbs, either. I haven’t coated that abstract concept of willpower in a layer of ice so thick that you can’t draw on it at all. I haven’t stolen your energy, your power, your magic from you, to where you can’t even lift a finger, let alone summon a flame.” I swallowed down the dryness, the metal in my throat. “I froze your feet so that I could hold you there. So that I could distract you, and confuse you, while I worked another spell through it. Through you. Through the limbs that you’re still trying, trying so hard to move. I’ve been practicing, Selyana. I’ve been learning. I’ve been waiting for this.”
“For what?” Her voice was barely a sound, soft and flat on the autumn wind.
“You didn’t realize that I froze your feet,” I said, growing louder as her words came quieter, emboldened by the quiet, driven by something in my gut that squirmed and twisted and insisted I keep going. “You didn’t realize that I froze your limbs, and your torso, and your head, and your neck, and all the rest of you. Only when I told you did you notice, did you struggle, did you realize how futile that would be.”
This was it. This was the moment. I knew she’d be approaching the conclusion—I had to get there first. I spoke quickly, powerfully, ignoring the quaver in my voice. “Have you managed to realize that I’ve frozen your mind, Selyana?”
She said nothing.
“Have you figured it out, dear? That I reached inside you with cold and stiffness and ice to chill not your body, smother not your flames, but stifle your very thoughts?”
Still, she said nothing.
“Did you notice it when it got hard to think? When you couldn’t make sense of my words, simple as they were? When you couldn’t surmount a simple thought to move your arms or legs as you may have wanted to?”
She didn’t move. I only felt her breathe. Slowly, I turned my head along the grass, my left eye peering up to glimpse her face.
Her cheeks were bright red. Her lips were open, breathing, and wide like her eyes; it was almost as if she’d realized it right as I spoke it aloud. Those eyes. Light, brown, deep, and sweet as honey. She stared downward, to where the knot of my braid had been, and did not look as I moved beneath her. She did not resist as I freed my arm from her hold, slid my legs out from hers, inched slowly on my hips away from her pin.
She didn’t move at all. I could barely even see the motion of her chest, down and up, and the gentle quiver of her arms; one that still pressed hard on the ground for balance, and the other that stood in the air, grasping for a wrist that wasn’t there.
It wasn’t that she was frozen. It was that she thought herself frozen. That she felt every muscle in her body couldn’t move, wouldn’t move, and even if they did she would not notice it.
She could not notice it. The spell had worked. I felt myself heave a sigh of relief. “It really worked.“
It wasn’t how I thought she’d look. The texts had described more… tiredness. Sluggishness. Limpness, rather than stiffness. The spells weren’t exactly meant to be twisted together with those of cold, with a chill in the mind, so perhaps that…
I blinked. I realized I was simply sitting there while she was stiff as a statue. She wouldn’t notice if I did anything, would she?
I crawled closer to study her posture, then I yelped when her empty eyes blinked of their own accord. Scrambling back, I braced myself for her fiery reprisal... but still, Selyana didn’t move. I came to her side once more and felt my fingers against the bare flesh of her neck, feeling the calm and steady heart beating through her veins. The spell was subtle, advanced, powerful sorcery—it had frozen over her thoughts as surely as ice could coat and cover anything. All I’d needed were the inroads: the exhaustion that made her body and magic weak, the ice she’d let carelessly grow around her feet, and the barest suggestion of mine, that she might have ignored more than just that.
That was all I had needed to work the spell over her mind, left wide open for me to enter. That, and... well, the book had said that a subject who desired the magic would be far more amenable to its existence...
My eyes strayed over Selyana’s frozen face, her stiffened, barely-quivering limbs. Blush grew hot on my cheeks, and it felt as though my heart was trying to burst out of my chest. She had wanted it? Wanted it so badly as to let the stiffening of thought extend to her whole body?
I was finally beginning to realize—I wanted it, as well. The nights spend studying, practicing, casting the lightest charms on my own mind… I’d told myself it was just to win the duel, just to make her impressed, but deep down… I had wanted it as badly as she.
I had wanted her. Like this, or in a slump, or sprawled on a makeshift bed of ice, or kicking and rolling in the grass… she had trusted me enough, for this. She had wanted me enough, for this, this foreign and strange and impossible feeling… I stared into her eyes. Even without thought, without emotion, without anything... “You are still so beautiful,” I whispered. Closing my eyes, finding her hair with one trembling hand, I leaned close and pressed my lips to the warmth of her cheek. I kissed her there, and again, and again, then brought my mouth against her wide-open lips—faster there, making love to the woman before me who couldn’t move, who couldn’t even know what was occurring.
Or perhaps she could. Would she want that, too? Her breath came quicker, hotter against my face while I tasted a salty trickle of her saliva, kissing down her chin, her neck, her open collar, lower toward her chest...
Selyana was too clothed for me to continue. And I had to know, from her own lips, what she truly wanted. Gently I extricated myself from the unmoving prison of her arms and legs; I placed a hand on the ground to dissolve the crystals of ice that rooted her feet, and was surprised when she adjusted on her own. Her feet planted themselves without thought, without feeling, and I slowly began to turn her over. Holding her by the shoulders, I brought her body face up and gently laid her back onto the ground. I tested her arms—rigid, but movable by my hands—then flattened them into the grass, along with her legs.
Then I climbed atop her, legs on her legs, hands on her muscled arms, face leaning toward her shocked, vacant stare. I twitched a finger, reached into her mind, and breathed the barest warmth of life into the silent stretch there. “Selyana, can you hear me?”
Her lips closed, then they murmured, “Yes, Mietelle.”
I didn’t suppress the tremors that shook me, the excitement and arousal that made me want to do far, far more, anything to hear that empty and hollow tone. It was foreign. It was unnatural. She usually spoke with so much life, so much emotion, so much passion... to hear it held, stifled, and captive, by my power alone, was one of the strangest joys I’d ever yet felt.
And yet—there was still the duel. I spoke breathlessly. “Selyana, my dear. Would you please say, ‘I submit to you, Mietelle?’”
I could feel the slow workings of her mind, the few thoughts I’d allowed her pulling themselves into order, and the warm, deep breath she took before sighing out the word. “I submit to you, Mietelle...”
Gods. A voice I would do anything for. I stared at her, took it all in, and held my breath for five counts. Then I exhaled, sat back on my heels, and clapped my hands above her—filling the air with a flash of light and a burst of sparkling snowdust.
Selyana blinked. Then blinked again. And again, more and more rapidly, her eyes beginning to flit around freely, before a groan wound its way out of her throat. “Are you alright?” I asked, paralyzed by sudden concern for her.
“Ugh... think so,” she mumbled, finding her temples with the points of her fingers and massaging them in circles.
“Does it ache?”
“Sort of, a little, but it’s not that...” Selyana blinked again. Then she finally looked around, seeing her state, and met my eyes. I hadn’t thought her blush could get even deeper, but I was pleasantly surprised. “You mean,” she began hesitantly, “that all that, all this, wasn’t a dream?”
I felt myself flushing just as terribly. “Well, what do you remember?”
“I was going to punch you in the face,” Selyana chuckled. “Then you flipped me, then I flipped you, then I had you there but you froze my feet and I couldn’t move, and then I couldn’t move anything, and then I couldn’t think...”
I chewed at my lip, shifting my legs above her. “And then?”
“It’s so strange,” she murmured. “I remember it now, and I was seeing it all then, but I didn’t feel anything... I wasn’t even thinking about it. It was like I just existed, but I wasn’t me, or maybe I was, or...” Abruptly she paused and gulped. “You kissed me.”
“Guilty,” I said around a very bashful smile.
“You kissed me a lot,” she laughed, and I giggled along with her before she paused again. “That was... all new. That’s never happened—it was mind magic you used, wasn’t it?“
“A little of it, and a little of cold, yes.”
“And you...” she searched for the words, “well, you clearly, um, well—you seemed excited, so—what are you laughing at!“
I covered my mouth with both hands, shoulders shaking from the laughter I suppressed. “Nothing!” I cried. “You’re just... well, you’re cute when you try to tiptoe around things...”
Selyana’s eyebrow arced upward. “You want me to be blunt, Mietelle? Like I know you enjoy?” I nodded slowly, into her growing smirk. “Talking about my thoughts, about what you’d done, about what was happening to me... that wasn’t all necessary, was it.“
“No,” I answered. “Only a little, to distract you and... er, why do you ask?”
She grinned. “I ask because you enjoyed it, didn’t you?” This time, I was the silent one, and her chuckling went on. “You liked making me all weak, confused, uncertain. You liked making me still. And frozen. And... mindless?“
Slowly, I lowered my hands into the lap of my robes, then I cleared my throat noisily. “Um. I did, actually.”
“Good,” Selyana sighed to my relief. “Me too.”
I squinted down at her, skeptical. It was like her to tease me sometimes. “You’re being serious?” I asked.
“How could I not be?” She sat up, hands planted behind her with her legs still pinned beneath my own. “That was so fun. It was amazing. It was wonderful. It was hot as hells, Mietelle.” I blushed brighter, and Selyana brought one of her hands to brush against my cheek. I leaned into her warm touch like a cat getting its scritches. “I don’t know how you came up with it, or half of how you did it—but you did. And you won, for gods’ sakes. You won!“
“I won,” I said to myself, then a grin split my face. “I won!”
Without warning, the pyromancer wrapped me in a hug with both arms, and I fell into the heat of her embrace, both of us laughing our tired selves silly. “I’m only a little disappointed in myself,” Selyana said eventually. “I was expecting to win, you know.”
“You always are, dear,” I giggled.
“Yeah, sure, but this time? I was ready to go all out. I mean the whole damn thing—I’ve got candles, I’ve got incense, hun I even got new linens. Linens, Mietelle!“
“Oooohh,” I gaped, before shoving a kiss against the side of her neck. “The winner gets to sleep in her own bed, those are the rules. You’ll just have to save it all for the next time you win... if there’s a next time you win!“
“Oh shut it!” she growled, then tackled me to the forest floor, both of us twisting, rolling, and wrestling against each other until the hours waned to evening, until our muscles tired to complaint, and until our bodies hummed with a different sort of heat. Selyana took my hand and pulled me up from the ground. Briefly, teasingly, she dipped in and kissed me on the lips before sprinting off toward the college grounds; leaving me rushing after her with her taste on my tongue, mingling and dancing with the taste of pure excitement.