Scent of Magic Page 43

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I watched Jael’s tent. It didn’t take long for Noelle to leave, running an errand for the general. Following her, I waited for the opportunity to confront her. She kept busy, fetching officers, delivering orders and bringing a tray of food. Every third or fourth time, she’d remain inside the tent longer than a few minutes.

About to give up for the night, I caught movement near the entrance. Noelle headed back to the mess tent. This time she took the food in the opposite direction. I scrambled to keep up as she wove through the camp. Then she slipped between tents, disappearing from view. Dashing after her, I entered the same gap and stopped. The opening led to a secluded spot behind a row of officers’ quarters. Moonlight illuminated the space.

Noelle plopped on the ground as if exhausted. I debated. Should I wait until she finished eating? Or approach her now?

“Why are you following me, Sergeant Irina?” she asked.

My heart swelled a bit with pride—she could spot a tail. I stepped from the shadows. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but you’re always so busy.”

Noelle speared a piece of meat with her fork. “The general’s preparing for war. It’s not a good time for idle chatter.” Her tone implied this wasn’t a good time either.

Too bad. “And once Tohon attacks, it’s not going to get any better.”

“You have five minutes.” She scraped her teeth on the fork’s tines.

The metallic screech cut right through me as it had the thousand times when we were growing up. I shuddered.

Setting her tray aside, she surged to her feet. “I should have known. You’d never sacrifice your life for another. You’re incapable of bravery.”

So much for the happy reunion. I had expected this to be difficult, but there had been a tiny bit of hope that she’d forgiven me.

She gestured to my uniform. “And you’ve been hiding in plain sight. Neat trick. Did you do that when Mom and Allyn were sick? Spying on us until they died? Waiting until I left town before making your presence known to the neighbors?”

“No. I explained it all—”

“In your letter, I know. It doesn’t matter. As soon as you learned about the plague, you should have come straight home to check on us. Family first, Avry.”

“You’re right. I messed up, Noelle. I made a horrible, selfish mistake. I’m sorry.”

She crossed her arms. “Sorry doesn’t cut it.”

“Then what can I do to atone for my actions?”

“Contract the plague and die a horrible, painful death.” Her tone was nasty.

“Done that. What’s next?”

“You’re such a liar.” Noelle swept past me.

I grabbed her wrist and spun her around to face me. “I have  never lied to you.”

She pointed to the stripes on my sleeve. “What do you call this, Sergeant? I’d say impersonating a soldier is lying.”

“I meant the real you, Noelle. Not Jael’s lackey. I’ve never deceived my little shadow.”

Yanking her wrist from my grip, she said, “That person is long gone. She died during the plague. A good thing, too. She was weak and pathetic, begging for help, crying nonstop for days, letting the street rats take advantage of her, hoping to find a friendly...anything. She learned that in order to survive, she needed to kill her old self. To become the complete opposite. And I don’t fall for anyone’s tricks.” She gestured to me. “Besides, I’m going to tell Jael about you. So you should run as far away from here as fast as possible.”

“Not going to happen. I’m done running and hiding. When I return from my mission, everyone will know who I am.”

“Then Jael will kill you.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. And I’m not afraid of her.” Which was true. After Tohon, no one scared me.

Noelle failed to look convinced.

“What else can I do?” I asked.

“Leave me alone.”


“Then I’ll kill you.” She pulled a dagger from her belt and brandished it. “I call this my little shadow. It kept me alive more than once.”

“You’ll have to hit a vital organ or a major artery,” I warned. “Otherwise I’ll heal.”

“I’ve treated the blade with a fast-acting poison.”

More impressed than frightened, I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet. When she lunged, I twisted to the side and caught her wrist, trapping her arm against my body. My fingers touched her skin.

“Noelle, stop.”

“Or what? You’ll hurt me?”

“I can.”

“But you won’t because you’re trying to make amends,” she mocked.

“No. I won’t because I will never hurt you again.” I let her go and held my hands out to the side.

“You’re not going to give up, are you?”

“No. Because the old Noelle isn’t dead. Far from it. She’s hiding inside and I plan to coax her out.”

“Don’t bother.” She stabbed her blade into my stomach. Caught off guard, I stumbled back.

Keeping her hand on the hilt, she stayed with me. “How about now? Give up?”

Despite the burning pain eating through my guts, I met her gaze. “No.”

For just a second, the old Noelle gazed back. But she pressed her lips together. Yanking the weapon out, she wiped the blade on my shirt. “Next time it will be coated with poison. Stay away from me.”

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