Scent of Magic Page 41

“Did you talk to them?”

“Yes. The fleeing citizens told us they had a few hours’ warning so they left with what they could carry before the tribes reached the city. We didn’t see anyone else after the fifth day.”

Not a surprise. “What about within the city? Are there survivors there?”

“We were unable to pierce their outer encampments. But we did loop around them. And, sir...” Jave hesitated.

“Go on.”

“There are more tribes arriving. We spotted a line of campfires stretching to the north.”

Kerrick kept his emotions in check even though fear washed through him. His army was already outnumbered. “Anything else?”

“Yes. When we returned for our horses, we saw evidence that a large force had passed through the forest south of Krakowa.”

“More refugees?” He hoped.

“No. We caught up to them. The tribes are spreading south, heading this way.”

Kerrick cursed. What about “most important first” hadn’t the sergeant understood? He pressed his balled fists against his thighs to prevent him from shaking the man. After he had lost his temper and hit Avry, he had vowed never to do it again. To anyone. Well, except the enemy. And Tohon. It would be pure joy to feel his fist connect with that man’s jaw. But that was a fight for another day.

“How many are coming?” Kerrick asked.

“About a thousand. And they’re all warriors.”

“How far away are they?”

“Right now, they’re about a day from Krakowa. They’re moving slowly, as if feeling their way. I’d say about six to eight miles a day. The woods are pretty thick.”



Finally, one bit of good news. Kerrick calculated the distance and amount of time his army needed to travel in order to meet up with the advancing tribes in the forest that stretched about fifty miles south of the city. Once the warriors reached the grass plains, then Kerrick’s smaller force had no chance of stopping them.

With this ungainly group, even if they doubled their speed and increased the number of hours marching, it would be impossible. However, if he split the army into four units, traveling independently, it just might work.

Kerrick called a stop for the night and met with Zamiel and the majors. For once, they all agreed with his plan. They would split the supplies four ways. Two companies would travel wide into flanking positions. The other two would head straight north. Kerrick would scout ahead with his squad and send runners back to each unit to report the tribes’ location and a point of engagement.

In the morning, it didn’t take long to organize the companies, but there were issues with the division of supplies. Kerrick ordered General Zamiel to handle it. He could be counted on to remain impartial and fair.

He was going over a few last-minute instructions with his majors when Cerise arrived. She waited until he finished before approaching him.

“Problem?” he asked.

“Yes. We found...something in the supply wagons.”

“Just spit it out. It can’t be any worse than the news you brought me yesterday.”

“Uh...” Cerise gestured.

Sergeant Jave dragged two struggling figures closer. Danny and Zila stopped fighting when they met Kerrick’s gaze.

“I stand corrected,” he said.


“You can’t go alone,” Ryne said, sounding rather annoyingly like Kerrick. “There’ve been reports of clashes with Tohon’s troops to the southwest.”

“I don’t want anyone to see me get swallowed by a giant lily. That’ll set off too many questions that I’d like to avoid answering,” I said.

We sat on opposite sides of his conference table inside his tent. I had Dagger Company’s squads practicing the silent training in the forest and had left Sergeant Odd in charge of the afternoon sessions. His Odd Squad trained as much as possible. They were determined to improve in order to jackknife the jumping jacks. With an evil gleam in his eyes, Odd had called it a little payback.

“Then take a few soldiers you can trust,” Ryne said.

From his post by the entrance, Quain snorted with derision and muttered, “That rules out everyone here.”

I ignored him. “Belen left yesterday with Ursan and the jacks.” They were hunting the dead. A shiver brushed my spine.

“What about your lieutenant and a couple of the other sergeants in your platoon?” Ryne asked.

I considered confiding in Thea, Wynn and Liv. Thea already knew enough to guess, and my roommates had suspected I wasn’t quite what I’d claimed from the beginning. “All right. I’ll talk to my LT.”

“The sooner the better,” he said. “It would be best if you returned before Belen.”

“You’re that confident he’ll succeed?”

“He hasn’t failed me or Kerrick yet.”

Or me. I rubbed my stomach. He had stayed between me and the mercs long enough for Kerrick and the others to get into position, sacrificing his life to save me from capture.

“Why should I be back first?” I asked.

“Once Estrid sees the truth of Tohon’s depravity, one of three things will happen. She’ll either order it decapitated immediately, claiming it’s a one-of-a-kind abomination, or she’ll cover it up, ordering Ursan to keep it quiet until she can determine exactly what it is, or she’ll be smart and involve her top military aides right away and prepare her army for what they’ll be facing.”

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