The dream always started the same. Kiri found herself floating in the vastness of space, just above Earth. Only seconds went by before she sped past the stars on a destination that no human had ever reached.
In what felt like a blink of an eye, she arrived in a different galaxy, and an Earth-like planet loomed before her. Kiri was no stranger to it. She’d been visiting it in her dreams for the last four years. Her first encounter was when she was twelve, and since then, had dreamed this dream at least three times a week. Without fail.
The planet’s surface rushed up to meet her. The first couple of times she’d held her hands up in front of her face as if to stop it from hitting her. Now, she knew what to expect. She didn’t even flinch.
Her fast travel came to an abrupt stop once her feet touched the smooth surface of the floor in a large open-ceilinged room. The four thick, white-marbled walls that surrounded her had no entrance except for the way she’d come in. Ornately carved pillars stood at even intervals, seeming to keep the walls upright.
She turned her gaze to the center of the room, and it landed on him. Kiri slowly walked toward the only other person there. As usual, she couldn’t stop herself from admiring him. He was two years older than her, and already stood at six feet. His body was thickly padded with muscle. He turned his head in her direction and shook his shoulder-length blond hair to his back. He looked human in every way. Only his eyes gave him away as being of an alien species. They were copper, and had the same glow to them that the bottom of a copper-lined pot had.
Kiri came to a stop once she was a foot away from him. They silently looked at each other. His face held no expression, and his eyes conveyed no emotion. She’d found him impossible to read. For a teenager, he came across as someone much older, one who’d seen things no boy his age should have. She never asked, and he never volunteered any information. He was like a closed book. The only thing she knew about him was his name and age. Cax.
In a sudden burst of movement, Cax launched himself at Kiri. His fist shot toward her, but she easily dodged it. She’d expected it. Meeting with him in this dream world was all about training in hand-to-hand combat. It never deviated from it. He wouldn’t allow it.
The very first dream she’d had of him, he’d told her his name and that he’d summoned her for a purpose. She needed to learn to fight, to be a warrior, a protector. Then he’d proceeded to beat the crap out of her.
Now with four years of karate classes in the real world and a black belt, Kiri no longer was a punching bag. She gave as good as she got. She blocked another of Cax’s punches before she kicked him away. He let out an animalistic growl and came at her again.
They exchanged a flurry of punches and kicks. Cax didn’t hold anything back. Kiri felt the pain each time his fist connected with any part of her body as if it’d happened in the real world. She’d even have the bruises to show what she’d gone through once she was awake.
After what seemed like an hour, Cax brought their training session to a stop. Kiri panted as she tried to catch her breath. Usually, he’d nod, tell her what she needed to work on, and send her home. This time, he stared at her intently.
Once she couldn’t take the silence anymore, she asked, “What?”
Cax stepped closer until he almost stood toe-to-toe to her. He ran his gaze over her face, as if he were memorizing it. He reached up and gently brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. Kiri sucked in a breath. He’d never touched her like that before. The only contact they had was when they trained. The soft brush of his fingertips was something she’d longed for this past year. He’d come to mean more to her than a fighting partner. Not that she’d ever tell him that.
He looked her in the eyes. “This is the last time we’ll meet like this.”
She furrowed her eyebrows. “What? Why? You told me just last week that you didn’t think I was ready—for what, you’ve never told me.”
“We’re leaving in the morning, Kiri. I’ll be in stasis for two of your planet’s years. I won’t be able to summon you then.” Cax gazed at her closely. “You have to continue your training on your own. Plus, you need to learn how to handle a weapon. Something that’s silent when used and is easily carried. Something that will take out your enemy without them seeing you.”
Kiri frowned. “You mean, like a bow and arrow?”
“Show me this weapon.”
She pictured them, and how they were used. She didn’t know if it was because they were in her dream world or not, but Cax was able to see the things in her mind if she purposely tried to mentally send it to him.
He nodded. “Yes. A bow and arrow. You must learn how to use this weapon. Start as soon as you can. The countdown has begun.”
“What countdown? Why won’t you ever tell me why I need to become a warrior?” Cax shook his head, and Kiri bit back the urge to groan in frustration. “Fine. Whatever. Be that way.”
“Just know that out of all the people on your planet, I’m only capable of making a connection with you and able to summon you. You’re special to me.”
Before Kiri could ask what that meant, Cax bent his head and kissed her. Not a simple peck, but a full claiming of her lips. It lasted only seconds. She had to force herself to keep breathing as he pulled away and rested his forehead on hers.
“Promise you won’t forget me,” he said in a near whisper.
“And keep training.”
Cax stepped back. He gave her a look that made Kiri’s heart beat faster. “I’ll miss you, Kiri.”
She reached for him, but it was already too late. Kiri shot up out of the room and into deep space. She once more sped past the stars until she arrived at Earth. She came awake as she settled into her body.
Kiri turned her head when she realized her alarm clock was beeping. She groaned as she reached over to shut it off. Her muscles ached as they always did after a training session with Cax. She did her best to ignore it and flipped back the covers before she climbed out of bed. She had to get ready for school.
She took out some clothes from her dresser along with a pair of jeans from her closet. After Kiri pulled everything on, she stood in front of the mirror. She cursed under her breath. There was a bruise on her cheek where Cax’s fist had skimmed it. There were also a couple on the outside of each of her forearms from blocking more of his punches. If she really wanted to hide them, she’d have to wear a long-sleeved shirt instead of a short one, which would be ridiculous since it was mid-May in sunny El Centro, California. At this time of year, the temperature averaged around ninety-five degrees.
Kiri dragged a brush through her hair before she went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. With that task completed, she headed downstairs to eat breakfast before the school bus arrived.
Her mom was already in the kitchen. She took one look at Kiri and sighed. “Do we have to make an appointment for you to see Dr. Marshall?”
She avoided looking at her mother. “No.”
Kiri sat at the table before she filled the bowl set out for her with cereal. She poured some milk onto it before she started eating. Dr. Marshall was her shrink. Shortly after her dream meetings with Cax had begun, and she kept waking up with worse bruising than she had now, her parents had taken her to their family physician, thinking she had some strange illness. Once she’d been through a ton of tests and nothing had come up positive, it was deemed she was hurting herself in her sleep. That had led to weekly appointments with a psychiatrist. The only good thing to come out of them was having Dr. Marshall convince Kiri’s parents to let her pursue karate. She’d said the discipline in the sport would help Kiri.
“Are you sure?” her mom asked. “You haven’t been to see her in a while.”
“I’m positive. I’m getting better. She even said so herself.” Her shrink only thought that because Kiri was now able to defend herself better against Cax, and didn’t wake up looking as if someone had beat her with a baseball bat.
“Okay. I won’t push. You know, if you ever need to talk about something, you can come to me.”
“I know. There is one thing. I’d like to take archery lessons as well as my karate.”
Her mom smiled and sat at the table across from Kiri. “I’ll talk it over with your father, but I can’t see him having any problem with it. Dr. Marshall said to let you join any sports you’re interested in. We can start pricing bows and arrows and find a place that has lessons.”
“Can we do that today?”
Her mother chuckled. “You’re in that much of a hurry to start?”
“Yeah.” Kiri figured she had two years to become an expert at archery. Cax had thought it was important for her to learn, so she would.
“Fine. When you’re at school, I’ll call your dad at work and do some research into it.” Her mom looked at the clock on the stove. “You’d better finish your cereal. The bus will be here soon.”
Kiri quickly shoveled the last spoonful into her mouth before she stood and went to kiss her mom on the cheek. “You’re the best.”
She hurried out of the kitchen. Kiri grabbed her backpack by the front door, then went outside to race to the bus stop down the street before the bus arrived.