Scent of Magic Page 6

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Mom led me to a tiny room on the first floor. Relief loosened a few knots in my stomach when I spotted the window between a narrow bed and a tall, thin armoire. I yanked off the spectacles and rubbed the ache in my forehead. While she lit the lantern on the night table, I closed the door and leaned against it.

“Tell me this isn’t as bad as it looks,” I said.

“It’s worse.” Grief leaked through the bland persona she’d adopted.


“Taken.” She sat on the edge of the bed as if her legs could no longer hold her. “As you will be.”

No surprise. “Now?”

“Middle of the night. They have keys to all the doors, so you need to leave right now.”

“Do they recognize me?” I asked.

“No. They think you’re a lone traveler and an easy target.”

“Tell me what happened?”

The story sounded too familiar. Estrid’s troops had arrived to help. They’d conscripted all the young people and “converted” as many as they could, turning them into true believers of the creator.

“My rooms are filled with acolytes, and Chane, the one in charge of Mengels, is staying here, as well,” Mom said.

“The big guy at the bar?” I asked.

“Yes. He says if I cooperate, I’ll see Melina again.”

“Do you know where they took her?”

“Up north. They need soldiers to fight King Tohon’s army. They’re planning to recruit in all the towns in Sectven Realm.” Mom twisted the end of her apron. “I don’t know what I’ll do if she’s killed in battle.”

“She won’t be. I’ll make sure she’s safe.”

Mom glanced at me. “I can’t ask—”

“You’re not. I’m offering. Besides, I saved her before, and I’m not about to let her get hurt again.”

She straightened her apron. “How can I help?”

I debated. Kerrick had instructed me to find a job that made me invisible. If Estrid’s acolytes recruited me as a soldier for her army, then I’d be one of dozens. And one uniformed soldier looked much like another. Except I’d be watched as a potential flight risk and wouldn’t have any freedom. Their squads needed to learn how to move within the forests without giving away their positions or they’d be slaughtered. It was something I could do if I managed to convince them they needed my help.

Mom waited for my answer.

Kerrick wouldn’t be happy. Good thing he wasn’t here to lecture me.

“I need a better disguise.” I explained to Mom about my death and about the Peace Lily’s role in my survival, just in case something happened to me and Kerrick. “However, you cannot tell a soul I’m alive.”

“Of course not, dearie. I protect my girls,” she said with a spark of the Mom I’d remembered.

I outlined my plan.

“Goodness, such a to-do. You’re heading straight into trouble. I hope you know what you’re doing.” She left to fetch a few supplies.

I hoped so, too. While I waited for her, I arranged the room to aid with my plans. Mom returned with a basin, dyes, towels and a tray laden with other materials, including a couple jars filled with flesh-colored goo. At least that was what it looked like.

“I can’t lighten your hair since they’ve seen it darker, but I can dye it so it’s more red than brown.” She gestured for me to sit. “Make sure you always wear it up or pulled back. It will help make you look older.”

She worked fast, and soon my hair was wrapped tight in a towel. Opening one of the jars, she dipped her fingers in and then smeared the goo over my face and neck. Then she attacked my eyebrows with tweezers, plucking without pause. She dyed the thin arcs she left behind.

“This is going to hurt,” she warned me before brandishing a syringe. “Hold very still.”

I almost jumped from my seat when she pricked my bottom lip. Bracing for the stab of pain to my upper lip didn’t make it feel any better. My lips throbbed as if I’d bitten them very hard.

“Watz tat or?” I asked through swollen lips.

“It’s venom from a lannik snake. It’ll make your lips fuller for now.” She considered. “Usually it wears off in six months, but it might not last that long for you.”

“Ight ot?”

“Healers heal faster, right?”

Our bodies healed about ten times faster. I nodded. It was easier than talking.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to them. Now let’s get the lightener off your face.”

Mom washed my face, combed and braided my hair so the braid circled my head like a rope. She sprinkled something wet over my nose and cheeks before blotting at it with a towel.

With a satisfied smile she flourished a hand mirror, turning it until a stranger stared back at me.

“Freckles?” My now pale skin sported an array of freckles.

“They match the hair color. I used an ink that should last six months, and your natural skin color shouldn’t return for at least four months. I’ll put together a package of supplies for you to take along, so you can reapply if needed. And you’ll need a new name and realm to go along with the disguise.” She stepped back and regarded me. “Not bad, dearie. With the spectacles on, no one will recognize you.”

The glasses had given me a headache. Conscious of my lips, I formed my words with care. “I can’t wear...long.”

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