Scent of Magic Page 52

We continued northeast for another hour, but saw nothing to indicate anyone had passed this way.

Over two hundred dead soldiers had disappeared.


Noak stepped back and gestured for Kerrick to stand. The sounds of fighting filled the forest around them. His army had engaged the tribal warriors, but Kerrick didn’t dare take his gaze off his opponent. Keeping a tight grip on his sword, Kerrick pushed to his feet.

“I see you, Magic Man,” Noak said as he settled into a fighting stance.

Kerrick released the magical camouflage; he had a bad feeling he’d need all his energy.

Noak’s dadao shot forward. Kerrick countered the thick sword just in time. Fear shot through him. Yep, this wasn’t going to be pretty. Noak struck again and again. Kerrick scrambled to protect himself. His actions switched to pure survival mode as Kerrick countered Noak’s lightning-fast attacks. Kerrick blocked and dodged, but the big man had more speed, strength and endurance. The leader was relentless, and Kerrick’s skills inadequate.

As the cuts multiplied on his arms, legs and torso, Kerrick wondered why Noak didn’t press his advantage when he had the opportunity to deliver a killing blow.

Panting with effort, Kerrick swept his sword too wide and Noak’s dadao sliced a deep gash across his stomach. Kerrick stumbled back, and Noak followed, knocking the sword from Kerrick’s hand. Then Noak reversed his sword and punched Kerrick in the ribs with the hilt.

The sickening crunch of bone accompanied an explosion of pain. Kerrick dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. Noak gestured to the skirmish nearby. The tribal warriors fought with a fierce intensity. Blood stained their white uniforms, but Kerrick doubted it was their own blood as they cut easily through his soldiers as if reaping hay. Outnumbered and outmatched, his army lay broken and bloody. Grief and rage filled him, erasing his pain. Kerrick shook the trees with his magic, signaling a retreat before they all died.

With a surge of energy, he hopped to his feet and charged Noak. The leader raised his dadao and struck Kerrick hard on his temple. Blackness claimed him.

* * *

Intense pain shot through his arms, waking Kerrick. Sunlight stabbed. He squeezed his eyes shut as the throbbing in his head caused nausea to swell. Kerrick drew in deep breaths. Each one caused a sharp stab of misery. How many of his ribs were broken? His foggy memories swirled with fear and death—a nightmare that refused to fade.

He needed to remain calm, so he concentrated on his present situation. Lying on his side on the ground, every muscle ached and the sting of multiple cuts flared along his arms and legs. His shirt, still damp with sweat and blood, stuck to his skin. A gash on his right temple burned, and a deep slice along his stomach pulsed with pain.

Trying to relieve the cramps in his arms, Kerrick discovered his wrists had been tightly secured behind his back. And his ankles had been lashed together. With a quick glance through stilted eyelids he confirmed his dire situation. The tribesmen had captured him. He sought his army with his magic. A few of his soldiers fled south. Otherwise, the pale northerners occupied most of the forest. He hoped the rest of his men had obeyed his signal and retreated.

Despite his list of woes, he was alive. But for how long? At least Danny and Zila had gotten away. He hoped his brother, Izak, would heed their warning and evacuate Orel in time.

He recalled his fight with the tribal leader. Even though Kerrick had fought with every skill he possessed, it hadn’t been enough. On the positive side, he still had access to his forest magic. He opened his eyes and surveyed what he could with his limited view. It appeared as if the tribesmen were preparing for travel.

No guards stood near him, so he tapped into the forest’s energy and camouflaged his body. When a shuffle of boots approached, he struggled to his knees, hoping to catch the man by surprise.

Instead a hand clamped around his neck. The instant Noak touched him, Kerrick’s magical connection to the forest was severed and replaced with a cold that gripped him in icy fingers, freezing him to his core.

Two more tribesmen arrived. They yanked him to his feet. His injuries burned with pain. Kerrick was now eye-level with Noak, who still grasped his throat.

“More soldiers coming?” he asked Kerrick.

He refused to answer. Noak pressed his thumb into Kerrick’s windpipe as the cold intensified. Kerrick felt as if his entire body had turned to ice. Part of his mind wondered what type of magician could do that, while another screamed at him to fight back. But he couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe.

Noak eased his grip. Kerrick swayed in relief as the cold receded enough for him to pull air into his lungs.

Touching one of the scars on Kerrick’s neck, Noak said, “Magic Man, you will help us.”

“Not a chance,” Kerrick said.

A fleeting smile twisted his lips. “You understand we never take prisoners, yes?”

Fear traveled through him like a crack snaking along a frozen pond. “Yes.”

“Do you know why?”


“It is a...kindness to kill.” Noak let that sink in, before adding, “If you don’t help, you will wish to be dead.”

Kerrick’s back burned with remembered pain. Estrid’s men had whipped him, trying to get him to divulge Avry’s location. It hadn’t worked then, and it sure as hell wouldn’t work now. He stared at the man, refusing to be intimidated.

Another spark of amusement flashed in those ice-blue eyes. “I like a challenge, Magic Man.” He squeezed.

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