Scent of Magic Page 20

When Jael and Noelle entered the building, I debated. With the infirmary on the ground floor, another soldier walking around wouldn’t be too noticeable. But if any of the infirmary workers recognized me, my cover would be blown.

Instead, I made another sweep of the camp, noting the position of the companies and platoons. There was a large, enclosed complex in the northeast corner. The fence around it had been built with what appeared to be two-story oversized barn doors attached to thick posts. I peeked in through the small gap next to a post. Inside the enclosure was a sprawling collection of barns, sheds and a farmhouse. Why would it be fenced off?

Unable to deduce the reason, I grabbed supper and joined the other sergeants at the fire. With Ursan, Liv and Saul on patrol, there were only three of us. I asked Odd about the complex.

“That’s for the prisoners of war,” he said.

“I didn’t see anyone.”

“They were probably all inside. They wear these bright yellow jumpsuits so they’re real easy to spot. We don’t have many POWs yet. The High Priestess values life, so I’d expect we’ll be ordered to capture our enemies instead of killing them when possible. The enclosure has plenty of room,” Odd said in a dismissive tone.

“Unlike General Jael,” Wynn said. “She has no qualms about killing the enemy and wishes to attack Tohon first, but the High Priestess won’t give her permission.”

“She’s stepped up the patrols again,” Odd said. “How much do you want to bet she’ll disobey the High Priestess’s orders?”

“I’ll bet a week’s pay the colonels won’t let her. They’re still loyal to the High Priestess,” Wynn countered.

Her comment stirred a memory. When Jael had tried to kill us, she’d mentioned not wanting to tip her hand to Estrid. I wondered if that meant she planned to gain the army’s support? Not that a ruthless leader wouldn’t be a good thing against Tohon’s troops, but if she defeated Tohon, that would put Jael in a very powerful position.

“How long will the colonels be loyal?” I asked.

Wynn acted as if I’d insulted them. “They obey the High Priestess’s commands. General Jael is just a messenger.”

“A messenger who can suck all the breath from a man and kill him. I think that adds a little incentive to switch loyalties, don’t you?”

Odd laughed. “She has you there. And, I, for one, would appreciate a more aggressive move. All this slinking around, fact gathering and waiting is driving me crazy. I’m craving some action.”

* * *

Ursan’s jumping jacks returned twelve days after they’d left. It was the last day of spring, and a few soldiers felt their timing was a sign of the creator’s favor. The knots in my stomach loosened when I counted eleven men. In high spirits, the jacks told the other soldiers about near misses and their various adventures.

Major Granvil called Ursan and Lieutenant Thea into his tent for a debriefing. I followed, and no one commented on my presence.

“We encountered a few of Tohon’s patrols,” Ursan said. “But we avoided them as ordered. It was—” he glanced at me “—easy, sir.”

“Then why are you two days late?” Granvil asked.

“We discovered a factory in full operation in sector five. It was well guarded and so was the constant flow of wagons that brought supplies and delivered large metal containers before leaving, loaded with cargo hidden under tarps. We couldn’t leave until we had determined what they’re manufacturing.”

“Go on.”

“I sent a few team members to follow the wagons with the cargo. A couple tracked the wagons with the containers, and the rest watched the factory. We were only able to glimpse inside, but the beta team managed to snatch one of the cargo items. Although I’m not sure it was the only item being manufactured or not. The wagon team then rendezvoused with us, and we returned to camp.”

“Don’t keep us in suspense, Sergeant.”

“The containers then headed to a quarry north of the factory. The team was unable to get close enough to determine exactly what was being extracted from the ground. And the item...” Ursan reached into his pack and withdrew a short fat circular metal pipe. He handed it to Major Granvil.

Granvil examined it before giving it to Lieutenant Thea. She flipped it around, but shrugged and tossed it to me.

My initial impression of a pipe was correct, except both ends flared out in a cone shape, leaving the middle narrower. The edges were thicker and had been rolled, so it wasn’t sharp. About four inches high and ten inches in diameter, it didn’t resemble anything I’d seen before. I handed it to Ursan.

“It pulls apart,” he said. He demonstrated, breaking it into two halves. “Like a manacle cuff or a gauntlet.” Ursan stuck his forearm inside. “You can cinch it tighter, but only so much. You’d have to have really thick arms for it to be of any use.”

The word thick triggered a connection. Horror welled as I realized what the cuff was for.

They were neck protectors for Tohon’s dead soldiers. If we couldn’t decapitate them, they would be impossible to kill.


“No. Shift your weight to the balls of your feet,” Kerrick said to the young man. “Then move.” He clutched two of Flea’s juggling stones—one in each hand. It helped to keep him from screaming in frustration at the young men and women who had been assigned to his squad.

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