Colin “Hunter” Abreen was my brother’s best friend, the best basilisk hunter instructor at Magik Prep, and definitely off limits. My treacherous heart needed more persuasion on this last part.
On a stupid whim I’d signed myself up for Colin’s 401 basilisk hunter course as my senior elective. Because I was a glutton for punishment. And a hopeless basilisk hunter. I’d been sent to the infirmary with punctures in various places more times than anyone else. Ever. More times than anyone who had ever taken the class.
It didn’t matter how hard I tried, how much I practiced my technique, how much I wanted to excel and impress Colin. I just couldn’t see the stupid creatures. But they always saw me. And then they bit me.
My pointed ears twitched, my blonde hair pulled up and out of the way so nothing would hinder my ability to hear their soft slithering. My ears were more reliable than my eyesight in picking out their inconspicuous bodies in the dense underbrush of the academy’s forested park where class was held. Even using my enhanced vision goggles that protected me from the dangerous stare of the loathsome beasts, my ears were a better bet.
My fingers gripped my net and my hooked stick. I would catch this basilisk if it was the last thing I did. We’d been stalking each other in circles for the past 78 increments. I was done stalking. I was ready to conquer.
A slither to the right!
No, there, in the bush!
I silently raised my net and hook, ready to scoop up a smarmy, slithery, insufferable creature. Crouching as Colin had instructed, I crept forward with the grace of a sleek-bodied water ghost.
A slight movement!
I howled and dropped my net that had snared a terribly dangerous patch of wildflowers and clutched my hand. My whole arm smarted as the creature’s mild venom spread needle-like tingles up to my shoulder. Glancing at the bushy fronds in front of me, I just made out the basilisk’s disappearing tail.
Biting back a curse, I glanced at my hand. It wasn’t a bad bite. But it was a bite. And I’d failed yet again to capture a reptilian fiend.
I ripped off my goggles and stomped towards the tent at the opening of the woods that served as headquarters.
Colin looked up from his desk and I swear a smile flitted across his face as I came crashing out of the underbrush.
My shoulders slumped in defeat. “Again.”
“Let me see.”
I held out my hand to him and he took it carefully in his large rough ones. I suppressed a shiver. He turned my palm over and then back to the marred skin by my knuckles.
“Come on. These are just scratches. I can patch these up with the first aid kit here.”
He led me over to a stump where I sagged like a bag of bones. I felt like a child. A child who wanted desperately to gain their teacher’s approval. Except I wanted more than Colin’s approval. I wanted him to look at me the way I looked at him. A heavy sigh escaped my lungs.
“Cheer up Kaebre. Basilisk hunting isn’t for everyone. So long as you capture one before the term ends, you’ll have passed the course.”
Mortification slid through me and I clenched my teeth to keep my chin from quivering. I was humiliated. I was pathetic. I was the only student in the course not to have netted a basilisk. Fresh worry for my grade slid over the humiliation.
“How did you become so good so quickly?” I asked him quietly. “You broke every basilisk catching record within six weeks of starting the course, and now that you’re the instructor, even top universities have started trying to recruit you for their basilisk programs. Col, how did you do it?”
He was still a minute, his broad shoulders moving slowly as he took a breath. His shaggy thatch of bronze hair grazed over his forehead in the slight breeze. His head was bent, fingers carefully tying off the gauze around my hand. He stilled even more; his body chiseled marble bowed over my hand.
Slowly he tipped his head so that his blue eyes met mine. My breath caught and my heart sped up as he locked gazes with me. His hands still engulfed mine.
“Kaebre,” he started then paused.
My eyebrows rose, encouraging him as my fingers squeezed his lightly before I could stop them.
“I’m about to tell you something that is not common knowledge. I’d like to keep it that way.”
I nodded. He was trusting me with sensitive information? Was it possible I’d worked my way up from best friend’s little sister to reliable student?
He glanced around, ensuring we were alone before meeting my eyes again.
“I’m color blind. Completely.”
I cocked my head, the full weight of his words slowly registering. Color blind? It was a rare genetic trait. Rare, undesired, and dangerous in a world filled with colored magic. Use the wrong color and you could kill yourself or somebody else.
But how did that help him catch basilisks?
The corner of his mouth tipped at my confusion.
“Their camouflage isn’t camouflage to me. I see everything in black, white, and grey. Without their colors to blend in, it’s easy to spot their markings between the leaves and the underbrush.”
I was stunned as my thoughts caught up.
“You’ve hid it your whole life.”
“I can’t see colors, but I can still see other things.” He ran his thumb over my knuckles and my face flamed.
“I’ll make a deal with you. You catch a basilisk, pass the course, and once you graduate in a month, we’ll talk about the becoming shade of grey on your face right now.”
He squeezed my hands as my eyes sparkled.
I would catch a basilisk if I had to do it with my teeth.