Scent of Magic Page 7

“Not to worry.” Mom rummaged through her supplies and produced a pair of glasses with silver wired frames. “These have plain glass.”

She helped me adjust them so they fit.

“Smart,” I said.

Sadness filled her eyes. “No, I’m not. If I’d listened to the rumors, I could have sent Melina away before those red-robed devils arrived.”

“Where would you have sent her? Not north or west, Tohon is invading those realms as we speak. Estrid has the north and east occupied. South?”

Pausing in the middle of cleaning up, she gaped at me. “No. Travelers from the south have told me such horror stories about a Skeleton King in Ryazan Realm.”

“Skeleton King?”

“He has gathered a following and they’re armed with the bones of their enemies.”

“Are you sure? That sounds far-fetched.”

“If it was only one or two travelers, I’d dismiss it, but many people have been fleeing from Ryazan. And they all say the same things.”

Just what we needed—more trouble. “Then you couldn’t have sent her anywhere, Mom. No place is safe anymore.”

* * *

No place is safe. My words to Mom replayed in my mind as I waited on top of the armoire. There was just enough room for me to sit cross-legged. Watery moonlight illuminated the lump under the bedcovers, but my hiding spot remained in the shadows.

A breeze rustled the leaves in the forest outside my open window. The fresh scent of living green reminded me of Kerrick. I half expected him to climb into my room. But nothing stirred or caused the insects to halt their nightly chirping.

The thin handles of my throwing knives dug into my damp palms. My cloak hung inside the armoire, and I wore my black travel clothes. Three years on the run from bounty hunters and mercenaries had taught me patience.

To pass the time, I thought about a new name and realm. Since my skin color now matched the people born in the northern realms, I decided I would be from Gubkin. It was tempting to pick Alga, but when Prince Kerrick of Alga showed up with Prince Ryne of Ivdel, there was a slight chance someone would try to introduce us. Plague survivors always sought out others from their former realms.

As for a name...I chose my mother’s name, Irina. A wave of grief swelled. I’d never had the chance to say goodbye to her or Allyn. Noelle had buried them in the mass graves and left Lekas. I’d arrived home to an empty house. My father and older brother, Criss, had died in a mine collapse before the plague struck. Four members of my family gone. I swallowed the tears that threatened. I would not lose Noelle, too.

The sudden quiet warned me. Shuffling footsteps outside approached my window. I shifted into a crouch and concentrated on the sounds. Two acolytes moved to block my escape. Then the lock on my door clicked and two robed figures entered. One moved toward my bed while the other stood before the now closed door.

Only four? Or did they have more waiting in the hallway? Did it matter? Not really.

I threw a knife at the person guarding the door—thunk—and then a second—thunk—pinning the sleeves of his robe to the wood. One down. I leapt off the armoire and landed on the acolyte near the bed. He fell with a solid thud. Just to be safe, I touched the back of his neck.

Power swelled from my core, and I channeled it into him, zapping him into unconsciousness. Not many people knew healers had that ability, and the acolyte wouldn’t remember what hit him. I doubted his partner even saw the action as he struggled to free himself.

Now for the two outside. I dove through the window, hit the ground and rolled. A cry of surprise sounded nearby, but I gained my feet and dashed into the woods. They chased after me. As soon as I reached a thicker area, I slowed and moved through the forest the way Kerrick had taught me.

My passage matched the natural sounds of the woods. Unlike my pursuers, who crashed through as if running from a pack of ufas. I found a hiding spot. They cursed as they stumbled into trees, and the fabric of their robes caught on thorns. I muffled my breathing as one came quite close to me.

He yelled at his companion to stop making so much noise. They paused and listened, then decided to split up to cover more ground. Big mistake. I waited until they were far enough apart, then I stepped behind the acolyte who had yelled.

Touching the back of his neck, I zapped him. He jerked in surprise before collapsing.

His companion’s noisy passage was easy to track. I caught up to him and pulled my stiletto. Instead of zapping this one, I pressed the tip of the blade against his throat. “Looking for me?”

He froze. “Uh.”

“Don’t do anything stupid,” I warned as I yanked his sword from his belt and tossed it aside. “Follow my orders and your head will remain attached to your thick neck. Understand?”


“Good. Let’s go.” I grabbed the collar of his robe.

“Where?” he asked.

“Back to the Lamp Post Inn.”

He paused. “You’re crazy.”

“So I’ve heard.” I poked him with my blade. “Now move.”

When we reached the front of the inn, I instructed my captive to go inside first. Drawing in a deep breath, I stayed behind him as he pushed open the door. This could be a very big mistake. I steadied my nerves by concentrating on being confident like Loren and cocky like Quain.

While we were still in the shadowy threshold, I peeked around my guy. The common area was rather crowded for the middle of the night. I counted five. All armed.

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