Scent of Magic Page 24

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On my next day off, I walked into Zabin to buy a few needed items. It had been fifty long days since Kerrick and I parted. I calculated the time it would take for him to reach Ryne’s castle. Then added the approximate days Ryne would need to assemble his elite troops, plus the fact that a bigger group would move more slowly, especially when crossing the Nine Mountains.

My spirits sank. Kerrick and Ryne probably wouldn’t arrive for another week at the earliest and more realistically, not for another two weeks.

The hustle and bustle of the market helped to take my mind off Kerrick. Dressed in my fatigues, I blended into the crowd, and no one gave me more than a passing glance. Handy.

I browsed the stalls, purchasing new undergarments and leather ties for my hair. During Liv and Wynn’s last patrol, I had reapplied Mom’s lightening cream and dyed my hair again. Mom’s estimates of how long my disguise would last didn’t quite match for me. My healing powers accounted for the faster recovery.

After I finished my shopping, I paused in front of the weapons merchant’s table of goods. I hoped it looked as if I hadn’t been planning to stop there. The owner appeared at my elbow. I recognized him from before, but he didn’t show any signs that he remembered me.

He launched into a sales pitch for each weapon I touched. Under his easy, affable personality, I sensed tension, as if he chose his words with care. It made sense, considering this town was basically occupied territory and his livelihood could be shut down at any time by Estrid or Jael.

I played along, asking questions about one or another sword or knife. When he mentioned liquid metal, my heart squeezed harder.

“What’s so special about liquid metal?” I asked, keeping the same noncommittal tone.

“It’s mined from the bottom of the Nine Mountains and the edge never dulls.”

“Never dulls? That’s hard to believe.”

He demonstrated with two different blades, dragging them along a rough surface. The liquid metal kept its sharp edge. Impressive—reminding me my stiletto was also made from the same metal. I hadn’t had to sharpen it yet, but then again, I hadn’t used it that much either.

“Why doesn’t it dull?” I asked.

He floundered for a second. “Well, it’s unique to all the Fifteen Realms. It’s also very flexible, lightweight and near impossible to break.”

In other words, he didn’t know. “Do you have any armor made with liquid metal?”

“That would be useful, especially in these trying times. However, the supply is limited. The mines have been shut down since the plague. I’ve only a few knives left.”

That last bit sounded like a sales ploy. But in the end, I bought a small dagger with a boot sheath so I could hide the weapon.

On my way back to camp, I spotted Belen leaving Jael’s tent. No mistaking the bear of a man who towered over everyone. The sudden desire to run up and hug him pulsed in my veins. Instead, I changed course so I’d avoid passing him.

Belen’s return created problems for me. After a couple days, the camp gossip must have informed him about the silent training. He showed up during one of our sessions, no doubt curious.

At first, he watched or, rather, listened to the exercise. None of the men learning the technique heard his near soundless entrance into the woods, which, considering his size, always impressed me. I knew right away. After traveling with him for three months, I could detect his subtle movements.

He waited until after we had finished for the day to appear as if by magic from a clump of bushes. Two members of the Odd Squad cried out in surprise. I used the distraction to fade into the forest.

“Not bad, gentlemen,” Belen said in his friendly baritone. “You need more practice, but not bad at all.”

They stood a little straighter at the compliment.

Belen glanced around. “So where’s this Sergeant Irina that I’ve been hearing about?”

I kept still, hoping no one saw where I’d disappeared. The men exchanged looks as a murmur rippled through the two squads.

Ursan came to my rescue. “She’s out on a special assignment. Can I help you?”

“No need, Sergeant,” Belen said. “Just wanted to compare notes. When she returns, can you tell her I’d like to talk?”

“I’ll let her know. Will you be around for a while or are you heading out soon?” Ursan asked.

Standing next to Belen, Ursan didn’t appear to be as tall or as muscular. Belen had a few inches on Ursan and was thicker. Lines of fatigue creased Belen’s face, and he sported a few cuts and bruises. He rubbed his big hand over the black stubble on his jaw. His hair had also grown. The ends brushed the collar of his shirt.

“I’m staying for a couple more days,” Belen said.

“Another patrol?”

“No. It’s personal, Sergeant. I need to find my friends. They’ve been gone too long.”

Belen hid his emotions, but I knew Poppa Bear must be beside himself with worry over us. He’d protected Kerrick since childhood. It had to be hard not knowing what had happened while we’d been in Sogra, rescuing Ryne from Tohon.

Then it hit me. Belen needed to be told Ryne and the others were safe. Otherwise, he’d search Sogra and Vyg for us. And he’d get caught and killed.

How could I give him this information without revealing myself? I considered my options as Ursan, Belen and the others left the forest, returning to the camp. I could send him an anonymous note, or start a rumor. But would he believe them? It was worth a try. If he decided to leave regardless, I would stop him.

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