Chapter 18

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LILY was proving to be quite skilled with a pair of daggers. When she had beaten Venix- her with two daggers and him with a sword- she could hardly believe it.

But she had to admit that the short blades felt much more comfortable that the heavy sword had, even if she'd grown used to the sword in time. The daggers fit better in her hands, and she found them easier to use. Everyone had their strengths, she supposed.

At archery she was constantly average, managing to hit the outer circles of the target. Here Brennon and Iressa shone, hitting dead center every time. Vena was utterly awful at it- she had hit the target only once in all their days of practice. She didn't mind, though, for her skill with a sword was enough for her.

Lily knew that things were getting serious when Colonel Ulima began advancing them more frequently. The Colonel disliked their batch so fiercely that for her to personally teach them, even for a day, was unheard of.

"You're all useless!" She boomed, and Lily cringed. Did she put all the batches through this torment, or was it just them? According to Ada's brother, it was everyone, but she wasn't so hard on the other batched as she was with theirs, as Lily could clearly see. She was much kinder- if the word kind could be used to express Colonel Ulima- to the newer soldiers-in-training than she had ever been to them.

"Is this how you are planning to fight the Gongjensu?" She yelled, pacing in front of them.

"The bloody thorn," Venix muttered, and Lily chuckled dryly.

"What was that, Soldier?" She said, standing right in front of them. Lily offered Venix a discreet, sympathetic wince as he slowly turned to face her.

"What was what, Colonel?"

"Don't pretend, Soldier!" She said, raising an eyebrow. "You said something."

"Nothing pertaining to you, Colonel," Venix said, adopting the horribly formal speech he used whenever he talked to her.

The Colonel gave an impressive snort before turning to criticize Ada and Iressa.

"You were saved," Lily whispered, and Venix nodded.

"Thank the leaves for that."

Colonel Ulima pushed them so hard that they hardly had strength to form a circle for lunch. Instead, they collapsed onto the ground haphazardly, leaning against trees. Lily was sure that even the tree's bark would be damp due to her sweat.

She pulled out her lunch, first chugging down quite a lot of fresh, cool water with a sigh.

Venix glanced behind him, probably to look out for the Colonel. She was on the other side of the field, no chance of her hearing them.

"For the love of all that's green, can't she be a bit nicer?" He groaned, rubbing his calloused palms. Lily understood the sentiment, her wrists hurting as well from so much dueling.

"She's only trying to make us good soldiers," Ada offered, tying her hair up tightly.

"You don't need to defend her, Ada," Vena said, sighing. Complaining about Colonel Ulima was the one area where the twins agreed.

"She's looking this way, shut your mouths," Iressa hissed.

Lily chuckled as Venix said, "So, have you seen the roses Vena's been growing in front of our house?"

"You're so afraid of her," Brennon said, shaking his head, and Ada laughed.

Venix glared, "I'm not. It was an honest question." He turned to Ada, "So, have you seen them? I'd be pleased to give one to you."

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