Scent of Magic Page 40

“We can’t trust either of them,” Belen said.

“Who says I have?” Ryne asked with an impish grin.

“You did go into the forest for that exercise,” I said.

“It was all part of my plan.”

“Uh-huh. Right.”

Ryne laughed. “Now tell us everything that has happened since we parted company.”

It took a while to fill them in on the details of my encounter with the Peace Lily and my life as Sergeant Irina. I did leave out a few personal ones about Kerrick and me. Ryne asked a couple questions during my tale, but when I finished, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. I helped myself to a glass of water, soothing my burning throat.

“You know what you need to do next, right?” Ryne asked.

I hadn’t before, but after spelling it all out for them the answer was obvious. The realization caused guilt to swell. I’d wasted so much time. “Go collect Peace Lily...serum and experiment with it.”

“Why?” Belen asked. “The plague is over.”

“Because we might be able to use the substance to revive the dead,” I said.

“Like Tohon does?”

“Oh, no. Living and breathing like me.”

“How do you know it’ll work?”

“I don’t. That’s why I would need to experiment.”

“Isn’t that how the plague started? With healers playing around with the Death Lily toxin and losing control,” Quain said.

“They were trying to discover a cure for the toxin,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter what the intentions were or what the logic was behind the decision. What matters is that six million people died.” Quain gasped in mock horror, then added with deadly sarcasm, “Unless those six million people are pretending to be dead.”


Kerrick watched as the long line of his army marched past. The soldiers’ loud tread grated on his nerves along with their slow progress. He missed Belen and the others. Missed being responsible for only a small unit. They could have covered twice the ground in the same time. His gaze tracked to the end where the supply wagons and auxiliary personnel were guarded by one of Ryne’s elite squads—the remaining six squads had accompanied Ryne. With an army this size, food and supplies were vital. Kerrick couldn’t let them be stolen or compromised in any way.

They’d been on the road for two days and covered a scant twenty miles. At this rate, they wouldn’t arrive at Krakowa for another eleven days. One benefit to the ruckus of four-hundred-plus soldiers was they’d attracted a few stragglers who joined their ranks. The entire army would have to be quieter when they closed in on Krakowa, which would slow them down even more.

As they’d traveled farther from the Nine Mountains, the terrain smoothed and opened up into flat grasslands. The long blades of grass swayed stiffly in the breeze, filling the air with a dry rasp. No rain meant firm ground perfect for walking, but it also meant limited water. And that led to more problems.

Kerrick clutched the reins tighter. The horse shifted under him but remained in place. Ryne had made it sound so easy. Take half his army and drive the tribes back to the wildlands. He hadn’t mentioned the squabbles between personnel, the logistics of feeding everyone and digging latrines in hard sun-cooked earth while fighting off hungry packs of ufas—the living kind, thank the forest.

One of his majors rode toward him. Probably to suggest they stop for the night. Ryne had given him four companies with four majors who bickered worse than Kerrick and his brother. They handled most of the day-to-day drudgery but needed him to make all the key decisions and to mediate all their disagreements. Most of the time Kerrick asked General Zamiel his opinion and the general had quickly turned into his primary adviser.

Each major also rode a horse. Kerrick had argued with Ryne against bringing horses. Too noisy. However, he had to admit they made communication between him and the majors easier and faster.

“Prince Kerrick,” Major Sondra called. “The scouts have returned.”

Finally. He spurred his mount and followed the major to the front of the column. Half his squad had been sent to collect information on the tribes right after Ryne had received the news of the attack. They had been trained by Kerrick, and he’d picked the best for the mission, but he’d worried over their lack of experience.

He spotted the scouts walking their sweaty horses. Counting heads, Kerrick felt a moment of relief. All four had survived. They appeared tired. Dust coated their fatigues and hair.

As soon as he dismounted, Sergeant Jave and the others snapped to attention.

“Relax, gentlemen,” Kerrick said, then caught his mistake. “Sorry, Cerise.”

She waved off his apology. Once she had realized he treated everyone in his squad the same, she had stopped correcting him.

“Report,” he said to Jave.

The sergeant opened his mouth but then closed it as if uncertain where to start.

“Most important first.”

“Yes, sir. We confirmed that the tribes have invaded Krakowa, and we have ascertained there are approximately twelve hundred camped around the city’s boundaries.”

Hell. “All warriors?”

“No, sir. It appeared to be the entire tribe, including children.”

Interesting. “Did you see any survivors?”

“Yes. Three days after we left Prince Ryne’s, we encountered a number of refugees, traveling south.”

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