Magnolia felt the air whupf out of her lungs as she hit the floor for the third time, a foot on her stomach, and a fist inches from her face.
‘You’re slow today,’ Taylor chided, opening his fist, grabbing the front of her dress and hauling her to her feet.
‘Sorry sir,’ she said, requiring her hair back into a ponytail, and out of her face.
He threw a punch – a slow movement, a simple opener to gauge her reaction. She stepped around it, grabbed his arm and pulled it back, pulling him off-balance. He shifted behind her, her hands becoming empty, but she simply spun and shrieked in his face, the magic disorientating him long enough for her to land a high kick on his chest and knock him to the ground.
She felt her feathers twitch and flex – usually the reaction wasn’t so strong for such a simple use of magic. She ignored it, kicked it again, and snarled as he grabbed her foot and pulled her off-balance. She tried to grab him, but he shifted again, knocking her to the ground, and placing a foot on her back.
She strayed still, a measure of fealty, showing he’d beaten her for a forth time.
‘Grigori had more of an effect on you than I thought,’ he said, grabbing the back of her dress and pulling her up. ‘You’re useless.’
‘It wasn’t him, sir,’ she said, ‘I’ve been too busy to sleep. I’ve got six hours scheduled in for tonight, sir,’ she said, ‘and there’s nothing more strenuous than-’
‘And if we’re attacked, what then, recruit?’
‘I keep shots of adrenaline and other stimulants in my room, sir, you know that. If you want me to be at peak performance for-’
‘No, I’m…also off-form today.’
She looked at him for a moment. ‘Did you want to call it for now, sir?’
He pulled off his jacket and wiped the sweat from his brow before tossing it over his shoulder. ‘Schedule.’
‘Recruit-’
‘No,’ he said, holding up a form, ‘paper form.’
She immediately required it, attached to a clipboard for convenience, then handed it across. He flicked through the pages several times. ‘You aren’t on here.’
‘I only list myself on the main schedule when I’m on-task with another recruit, otherwise, it seems a little pointless.’
His expression was unreadable. ‘When is your next assignment?’
‘Nothing for today. Just more recruit training, paperwork, my own exercises and running a few of the recruits who have the potential for advanced training through a few scenarios.’
‘And which of that is to be done in the next six hours?’
‘Some of my training, a great degree of the paperwork and-’
‘Reschedule it.’
She pulled the clipboard back, pen automatically appearing in her hand. ‘What did you need me to do instead, sir?’
He put a hand on the schedule. ‘Get some sleep, Magnolia.’
She nearly dropped her pen. ‘S-sir?’
He turned away from her, peeled off his t-shirt and dropped to the floor and began to do push-ups. ‘You’re useless to me like this, Magnolia. Get some sleep.’ He looked at her from the corner of his eye. ‘And be back here at four. I plan to be on-form by then, and if you aren’t, I might just kill you.’
She felt herself smile. ‘Yes sir.’
There was three simple words to say. Words that others could say without thought. Words that could be said in a breath, while asleep, or as an automatic reaction. Three words that would, if spoken, end her life, even if she was allowed to remain breathing.
He paused in his push-ups. ‘You’re still here, recruit.’
The words raced around her mouth, begging to be let out, trying to bribe their way past her lips, but she paid them no attention. There was something that could be said instead, something that would not arouse suspicion…or anything else.
‘I’m glad you weren’t recycled, sir.’
He stared at the floor for a moment, then returned to his exercise.