A Curse of Tooth and Claw: Chapter Four
In which Kiki has an awkward encounter.
Kiki’s footsteps were heavy as she walked away from the infirmary. A burst of wind gusted past and forced a shiver down her spine. Kiki resisted the urge to wrap her arms around herself for warmth. There were too many yearlings and Attendants buzzing around the camp to let her guard down.
Kiki glanced at the night sky, a halo of white radiated from the moon casting the Slayer camp in a wash of eerie shadows. Though it was near the witching hour, the night was still young in Slayer terms. It wouldn’t be until the sun peeked across the horizon that everyone could release their anxious breaths.
Most attacks happened at night under the cover of darkness. Once it was day, the demons seemed more reluctant to face the harsh rays of the sun. Still, the Slayers couldn’t afford to relax. Even during the day.
Kiki reach the supply building which sat in the innermost ring of the camp. The stone structure was a sorry excuse of a building and likely should have been condemned a generation ago. In any case, despite the crumbling parapets and the chunks of masonry that occasionally fell from the outer walls, it was the warmest place in the entire fortress. Well, that wasn’t entirely true, the warmest was the General’s quarters where all the higher-ups took shelter from the cold and pretended to lead the northern forces. Kiki could help but scoff at the visual of all the commanders warming themselves near roaring fires.
Kiki pushed against the rotting wooden door of the supply building. The metal hinges resisted and groaned as she pressed her weight against the door as if even the building were opposed to the burst of frigid air that would infiltrate its solitary halls.
The torches that lined the length of the supply hall flickered as the wind from outside rushed in. Kiki’s skin prickled with the warmth that rushed her face and the ice that chilled her spine. She quickly shoved the door closed again.
At the end of the hall, a young man was hunched over the supply counter, his full attention on the task in his hands.
The second she realized who was on duty, Kiki considered going back out again. Even from this distance, she could tell that the officer on duty was her previous boyfriend and she’d rather brave the cold than brave what was to come next.
The supply officer lifted his head to see who’d come into the hall and a smile split his face.
Kiki groaned internally. There was no going back now. If she ran, she’d only look like a coward, and, of course, that was not acceptable.
Kiki pressed her shoulders back and adopted that false bravado she had become so accustomed to wearing.
“If it isn’t the Sicario herself,” the officer said, a look of mischief glinting in his blue eyes.
Kiki steeled her spine. She had the biggest soft spot for guys with hair blacker than Slayer leather and eyes as bright as sapphires. “I’m here for supplies, Turi. Not to flirt.” Kiki removed her machete from her belt strap and let it fall onto the supply counter with a resounding thunk.
Turi Artchete grinned with a devilish tilt to his full lips. “That’s too bad.” He gave her one last meaningful look before turning to the crates of supplies kept behind the counter.
Kiki felt a flutter in her stomach at the look in Turi’s eyes. He’d always had such an effect on her. It had been that reason alone that she’d broken up with him over a year ago. She couldn’t afford another distraction, she had enough to worry about. Keeping Luna off the front lines. Making sure Yarixa didn’t get another tooth lodged into her neck. Watching out for her own hide. No, the split had been the right decision. Even if Kiki still wondered whether she could have made room in her heart for one more person.
As Turi rummaged through the crates, Kiki eyed the obsidian tlazons sitting just behind the counter. Their edges glinted in the flickering torchlight.
She’d come here for supplies, after all, no sense in not restocking. She helped herself to the fresh tlazons and slid them into the straps wrapped across her chest.
As she tucked the last tlazon into its spot, she noticed what Turi had been working on when she’d first walked in. It looked like a clash between a set of knuckle rings and a spiked garrote. Only the spikes were forged into the shape of four claws.
Turi had always liked to tinker and make new weapons, it looked like he was back to his old antics. Though to be fair, most of his weapons were familiar and offshoots of weapons that were already part of the Slayer arsenal. This, however, was new.
Kiki’s fingers itched to take hold of the new weapon.
“Don’t even think about it,” said Turi, his back still turned to her.
Kiki cursed beneath her breath, Turi knew her too well. Regardless, she swiped the claws off the counter and examined them. “I see you’ve been experimenting again.” Kiki turned the set of claws over in her hands, admiring the craftsmanship and attention to detail.
“I could say the same for you.” Turi returned to the counter with a gleaming obsidian machete, the edge razor sharp. “You cut your hair again.”
Kiki ran a hand through her chin-length hair. “I needed something more practical,” she said, feeling a bit self-conscious. She’d had waist-length hair when she’d dated Turi and he had always commented on how pretty it was. She felt dumb for thinking his opinion mattered, but somewhere inside she knew she still cared about what he thought.
“It suits you,” he said, sliding the machete and a new sheath over the counter.
Though she knew she had no right to feel it, Kiki couldn’t help the ripple of satisfaction that rushed along her neck.
Turi offered her a sweet smile and a light of hope sparkled in his eyes.
Eager to change the topic, Kiki held the claws up. “These are nice.”
Turi reached out and took them from her. “They’re not ready yet. I still have some adjustments to make.”
“When are you going to transfer to engineering. You’re wasting your talent here.”
Turi returned to tinkering with the claws with a set of metal pliers. “I like it here. My friends are here. There’s always work to do. What’s not to like?”
Kiki scoffed. “How about the freezing cold? Or the fact that there’s never enough meat at dinner time? Or the fact that more Slayers die along this strip of the Cicatrix than anywhere else?”
Turi looked up at her. The torch flame danced in his blue eyes. “You’re here,” he said, his voice soft and inviting.
Kiki sobered immediately. Her face turned cold and she became all business. Distractions were the last thing she needed right now. Her main priority was keeping Yari, Luna, and herself alive. An assignment to the southern border wouldn’t hurt. Nothing else mattered. Even boys with blue eyes and devilish smirks. “Not for long,” she said, grabbing the machete and turning on her heel.
Turi groaned from behind her. “What did I say now?”
Kiki paused, her shoulders felt suddenly heavy as she rotated to face Turi. Why he bothered with her, she would never know. She was an overprotective control freak most days and a pain in the ass on the others.
“I have my priorities,” she said with a shrug.
Turi sighed, the light in his eyes faded and the mischief on his lips soured. “I’ve just never been one of them. Have I?”
Kiki opened her mouth to respond but Turi cut her off.
“Don’t. I can’t hear another excuse out of you.”
Kiki clenched her fist and began to walk out of the supply hall. “Thanks for the gear.” She yanked the door open only to find Solana Ramirez on the other side with her arm outstretched.
Kiki cursed under her breath. Well, crap.
Solana’s usually blank expression turned to ice at the sight of Kiki. “Quirera,” the Commander said. Her quick gaze took in the fresh supply of tlazons strapped to Kiki’s chest and the freshly oiled machete sheath. She tilted her head the way a jaguar might in the middle of a hunt. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Kiki tried to step around the Commander. “Nowhere,” she said with a fake smile. “Back to the barracks, of course.”
Solana narrowed her eyes. “Which is it then? Nowhere or the barracks?”
Kiki resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Actually, I don’t know why I said that, I’m starving. So it’s to the mess hall for me.” Kiki tried to move around Solana again but the Commander clapped a firm hand on her shoulder and steered her back into the tent.
“You wouldn’t be restocking your supplies to return to the Wall, now, would you?” Solana said, her tone sharp and her grip even sharper. “Because, if you were, you’d be disobeying direct orders and I’d have no choice but to charge you with insubordination.”
Solana moved her back to the counter where Turi stood, his eyes trained on the counter in front of him. “Put it back,”Solana ordered.
Kiki begrudgingly removed the new machete and tossed it onto the counter. Turi kept his eyes down as he grabbed the machete and made it disappear beneath the counter.
“If you were anyone else, I’d hold you back a year for your clear inability to follow orders.”
Kiki felt a surge of rebellion burning in her chest. “But I’m not just anyone. Am I? I’m the most decorated Slayer in the Corps. You couldn’t hold me back even if you tried.”
Solana sneered. “You’re not a Slayer yet.”
Kiki waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Technicalities.”
Solana’s eyes took on a hard gleam. “I may not be able to hold you back a year, but I can keep you from the graduation carnival tomorrow night.”
At that, Kiki’s false bravado wavered. Miss the party? The only thing she’d been looking forward to for months? Kiki felt the blood drain from her face. “You wouldn’t.”
Solana smirked and released her hold on Kiki. “One more act of defiance and I won’t hesitate.” With that, she pushed past Kiki and started to talk with Turi acting as if Kiki weren’t even there.
Kiki felt a seed of unease unfurl in her stomach as she walked out of the supply tent. Solana Ramirez would be the end of her, Kiki was sure of it. Kiki didn’t know what she’d done to make Solana hate her so much, but whatever it had been, Kiki was certain that Solana had deserved it.