Scent of Magic Page 103

During the height of the panic, the people had blamed the healers for the disease and had vented their anger and fear on us. Only I had survived by hiding and running for three years. A wasted life until Kerrick and his companions had found me. All that time I’d thought the healers had been the scapegoats, but Tohon confirmed that the Guild did indeed start the plague when they experimented with Death Lily toxin, crossing it with another plant to produce what they’d hoped was an anti-venom. Instead, it had turned into a deadly and incurable disease.

Now vines covered most of the ruin. Small saplings and other plants grew between fallen blocks and cracks. A slight breeze blew. Nothing else stirred. However, there could be ambushers buried under the ground.

“There’s no one here. Are you sure this is the right place?” Enric asked.

“No, but there’s an underground records room that we’ll need to check before moving on.”

Even though the place appeared empty, we waited until twilight to venture out in the open. I led Enric to the unremarkable pile of debris that covered the doorway to the room. Clearing off the detritus, I unearthed the door.

“Doesn’t look like anybody’s been here in a long time,” Enric said.

“It’s supposed to look that way.” I pulled the door, and it opened without a squeak. A lantern with a new wick and oil hung just inside the entrance.

“You were right.”

Lighting the wick, I held the lantern aloft, illuminating the steps that spiraled down into the records room. When we reached the bottom, the area was just as I remembered—rows of dusty shelves filled with musty-smelling wooden crates. However, a stack of crates had been piled in the walkway with a paper resting on top.

Enric picked it up and said, “It’s for you.”

It had been folded in half with my name written on the outside. I opened it.

There’s a big storm coming. Seek  shelter.

I must have groaned aloud because Enric grabbed the hilt of his sword. Waving the paper, I said, “Relax. I know where they are. Let’s go before it’s full dark.” I hoped I remembered where that cave was. The one we sheltered in during the blizzard.

It wasn’t far, but there had been snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees. I headed east. Concentrating on finding familiar landmarks, I didn’t notice the off notes until too late.

Two men sprang from the underbrush with swords in hand. Enric yanked his weapon free, but I put my hand on his arm, stopping him.

“Have you guys gone feral?” I asked the monkeys. “What kind of welcome is that?”

“One concocted due to boredom. What took you so long?” Quain asked.

“The usual—dead ufas, Tohon’s evil schemes, Jael’s evil schemes, Death Lilys. You know. Same old, same old. You?”

“About the same,” Loren answered, smiling.

“I’m guessing they’re friendly,” Enric said.

“That depends on who you are.” Quain studied him.

“Down, boy.” I swatted his arm. “He helped us escape.”

“Us?” Loren asked.

“Long story. And I only want to tell it once. Are Flea and Ryne here?”


Relief that they had all survived coursed through my body. I hurried inside the cave, seeking Flea. My need to hug him far outweighed all other considerations.

“I missed you, too, Avry,” Flea said, patting my back. “You should have known Prince Ryne would make sure I did all the dull jobs.”

“I’s just...” I squeezed him again. He was close to Noelle’s age.

Eventually, I let him go, and we all sat around the fire and exchanged information. Ryne had made this cave his headquarters, and messengers interrupted us from time to time.

Ryne also kept glancing at me as if checking my mood while he recounted what they’d been up to. He confirmed they had been hiding in the POW camp and had been harrying Tohon’s soldiers ever since they’d rescued Estrid’s army.

“Are Saul, Odd and Wynn—”

“They’re still alive and working together in the western quadrant,” Ryne said. “We don’t have as many personnel as Tohon, so I’ve split everyone into small, mobile units. Even so, we’re losing ground every day,” Ryne said. “That Death Lily toxin was genius and made such a difference, Avry, but we’ve run out.”

I opened my pack and dumped the contents into a pile on the floor. “Does this help?”

Ryne stood up. “You’re beautiful!” He scooped up a bunch of sacks and raced over to his runners.

“Was he complimenting the toxin sacks or Avry?” Loren asked.

“Well, you have to admit, there’s something special about...bright orange,” Quain quipped.

When Ryne returned, I told my tale.

At one point, Ryne said, “Jael’s gone south. Hmm. Interesting choice.” But he kept quiet during the rest of the story.

It was difficult to recount the Peace Lily’s refusal over Noelle, but Ryne needed to know how the Lilys factored in Tohon’s dead. Flea slid closer to me and put his arm around my shoulder. Having all survived the plague and now a war, no one was a stranger to loss.

Later as we prepared to retire for the night, Ryne pulled me aside. “Avry, I wanted to explain about—”

“Don’t.” I held up a hand. “I don’t want to know the reasons why you left me behind. I’ve assumed it was a tactical decision based on strategy and am fine with that.”

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