Scent of Magic Page 5

More rustling announced the arrival of another five dead ufas. They always traveled in packs. They fanned out, blocking any chance for escape. Not as if he could outrun one, let alone six.

Kerrick tried to influence the vines growing nearby, hoping they would tangle in the ufas’ legs, but the forest didn’t sense the ufas as a threat, even as they moved through the underbrush. Dead flesh nourished the living green and was an accepted part of its ecosystem. And the tree canopy above him contained nothing but healthy strong limbs.

With no other recourse left, he gripped the hilt of his sword, hoping to take a couple out before they finished him.


I reached the outskirts of Mengels fourteen days after I left Kerrick. Bypassing Zabin had been tedious. I’d spent more time hiding than walking. The High Priestess Estrid’s holy army patrols covered more ground than before. Plus she had increased the frequency of their sweeps.

The noise of her squads’ passage through the forest had made it easy to avoid them—it just took longer. But their ineptitude worried me greatly. There was no way they would be able to perform any stealth military tactics without giving their positions away. Tohon’s troops would cut right through them. They needed to learn Kerrick’s trick of moving in the woods without making a sound.

Outside the Lamp Post Inn, I wrapped my hair into a tight knot. It had grown a couple inches since Mom and her daughter, Melina, had dyed the blond strands back to my natural auburn color and trimmed it. Now it hung straight to the end of my shoulder blades.

I donned a pair of eyeglasses that I’d found. It made everything a little blurry but not enough to hinder me. Then I pulled the hood of my cloak over my head. While the spring days had been warm, the nights cooled fast enough that I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention. I’d decided to enter the inn during the evening rush when the arrival of one more person wouldn’t be unusual. I’d rent a room where Mom could help me with a better disguise when she had time.

A good plan, except only a few people arrived. Anxiety grew. Mom always had a full house. Well, the days I’d been here she had. Perhaps this was her off-season.

When I pushed into the common room, I jerked to a stop. The reasons for the small turnout sat at the bar and occupied most of the tables. Estrid’s red-robed acolytes had invaded the inn.

I would have retreated, but a few of the acolytes spotted me standing in the doorway. If I left, it would be suspicious. So I strolled over to the bar to inquire about a room. Waiting for the bartender to finish with another customer, I scanned the inn’s common area.

A blaze roared in the hearth. Mom had covered the rough wooden tables with bright tablecloths, and cushions softened the chairs. Pastel paintings of flowers hung on the walls, and the mantel displayed Mom’s teapot collection. Despite the relaxed decor, tension thickened the air.

The door to the kitchen banged open. Mom stood on the threshold brandishing a spoon and fussing at one of the servers. Wisps of her pure white hair had escaped her bun. Stains coated her apron, and she looked years older even though I’d last seen her four and a half months ago. Not good.

She spotted me but didn’t react. “What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to rent a room.”

Mom glanced at the acolytes sitting at the bar. One man nodded to her. She pointed her spoon toward the tables. “Have a seat. I might have an open room, let me check.”

Oh, no. I retreated and found a small table in the back right corner out of the direct firelight. My thoughts swirled with questions. When had Estrid invaded Mengels? Should I just bolt and hope for the best?

A server I didn’t recognize took my order. In fact, I didn’t know any of the waitstaff. More than a few acolytes eyed me with interest. Swords hung from their waists. Which was a new twist. The acolytes I’d seen before hadn’t been armed. Well, not visibly. I wondered if these devotees would try to “recruit” me as they had my sister.

Noelle had been living on the streets of Grzebien when Estrid’s army had arrived to “help” the plague survivors, whether they’d wanted it or not. Along with a group of other street rats, Noelle had been rounded up and sent to a training camp.

The scars on my back burned with guilt as I remembered Noelle swinging a mallet at my head and accusing me of abandoning her. She’d been ten when my mother and younger brother, Allyn, had sickened with the plague and died, leaving her alone. At the time, I was in Galee working as an apprentice healer. Noelle said she’d sent me letters begging me to come home, but I never received them. I suspected my mentor, Tara, had intercepted them.

That still wasn’t an acceptable excuse. Or the fact that, since the plague swept with such speed, I wouldn’t have gotten home in time. Noelle was right. I’d abandoned her, and I needed to make amends.

Since my every move was being scrutinized by the acolytes, I ate my meal without tasting it.

Mom arrived with a slice of strawberry pie. She set it down in front of me.

“I didn’t order—”

“A skinny little thing like you can afford to have dessert.”

And just for a second, I caught a gleam of recognition in her eyes before she returned to brisk innkeeper.

“I do have a vacancy. How long are you planning to stay?”

“One night.”

“Just you?”


“When you’re finished, I’ll show you the way.” She left.

Kerrick was right. The pie was delicious. Too bad I couldn’t really enjoy it. Not with Mom acting so strange. I hoped I’d have time to talk to her before the acolytes ambushed me. Because even looking through the blurry lenses of my glasses, there was no missing the nods and speculative stares that passed between them.

Prev Next