Poison Study Page 32

My mind reeled. Why hadn’t I been more curious about my family? I didn’t even know what town I had been found in. We had been told daily of our good fortune, reminded that we had food, clothes, shelter, teachers and even a small allowance. It had been repeatedly pointed out that many children with parents weren’t as well off as we were. Was it a form of brainwashing?

“Well, anyway, I digress,” Valek said into the silence. He stood and resumed his pacing. “I doubt it was missing family members. They wouldn’t want to kill you. Is there anything else, besides murdering Reyad, that you did in the past? Witnessed a crime? Overheard plans for a rebellion? Anything at all?”

“No. Nothing.”

Valek tapped the rock against his forehead. “Then let’s assume this has to do with Reyad. Perhaps he was in league with some southerners and your killing him ruined their plans. Maybe they’re scheming to retake Ixia. Or they think you know something about this plot. But I’ve heard nothing about Sitia attacking us. And why would they? Sitia knows the Commander is content to stay in the north and vice versa.” Valek rubbed a hand over his face before continuing.

“Perhaps Brazell has gotten creative in his old age and hired southerners to kill you; thereby accomplishing his desire to see you dead without implicating himself. No. That doesn’t make sense. Brazell would have hired thugs, no need for a magician. Unless he has connections I’m not aware of, which is highly doubtful.” Valek looked around the room. Only half of the lanterns had been extinguished. Setting the rock down, he finished the job just as the timid predawn light started to brighten the room.

He stopped as if he had a sudden thought and scowled at me.


“Magicians will come north to smuggle one of their own kind to safety,” Valek said. He studied me.

Before I could protest, he asked, “Then why kill you? Unless you’re a Soulfinder, they wouldn’t want you dead.” Valek yawned and gently fingered the bruise on his face. “I’m too tired to think straight. I’m going to bed.” He walked to the stairs.

Soulfinder? I had no idea what that was, but more important concerns needed to be addressed.


He paused with a foot on the first step.

“My antidote.”

“Of course.” He continued up the steps.

While he was upstairs, I wondered how many times in the future I would have to ask for the antidote. The knowledge that it was keeping me alive poisoned my mind as surely as the Butterfly’s Dust poisoned my body.

As the early morning light brightened, I thought of my bed with longing. Valek could sleep, but I had to taste the Commander’s breakfast soon.

Valek came downstairs. Handing me the antidote, he said, “You might want to wear your hair down today.”

“Why?” I ran my fingers through my hair. The ribbons I had braided were torn and knotted.

“To cover the marks on your neck.”

Before going to the Commander’s office, I hurried to the baths. I had just enough time to wash and change into a clean uniform before I had to appear at breakfast. The garrote had left a bright red ring around my neck that I couldn’t cover no matter how I styled my hair.

On my way to the Commander’s office, I saw Liza. She set her mouth in a firm frown and looked away when she passed. Oh well, I thought, another person I’d angered. I regretted having taken my ire out on her, but I wasn’t about to apologize. After all, she had started the argument.

Most mornings the Commander ignored my arrival. I would taste his breakfast, and then sort through his box of Criollo, randomly selecting a piece to verify that no one had poisoned it during the night. Each morning my mouth watered as I anticipated the taste of the bittersweet dessert. Its nutty flavor coating my mouth was the one pleasure I could look forward to during my day. I had argued with Valek that I should test it every time the Commander wanted some, but the Commander hoarded his supply. He rationed out one piece of Criollo after every meal. And I had heard through Rand that the Commander had already requested more from Brazell, along with a copy of the recipe from his cook, Ving.

Each morning after placing the Commander’s breakfast tray on his desk, I would pick up his daily schedule and leave without a word being uttered. But this morning, when I set the tray down, he told me to sit.

Perched on the edge of the hard, wooden chair facing his desk, I felt a feather of fear brush my stomach. I laced my fingers tight together to keep my face impassive.

“Valek has informed me that you had an incident last night. I’m concerned that another attempt on your life will jeopardize our exercise.” The Commander’s golden eyes regarded me as he sipped his tea. “You have presented Valek with a puzzle, and he has assured me that keeping you alive will aid in a speedy resolution. Convince me that you’ll be able to play fugitive without getting yourself killed. According to Valek, you failed to recognize him even after he bumped into you.”

My mouth opened, but I closed it as I considered his words. A hastily explained or illogical argument would not sway the Commander. Also, I had been given an easy out. Why should I risk my neck for his exercise? I wasn’t a skilled spy; I hadn’t been able to identify Valek even when I knew he was following me. But then again it was my neck the murderous assailants were after. If I didn’t try to draw them out on my own terms, they’d pick the time and location. I weighed the argument in my head, feeling as though I was forever on a tightrope, unable to decide which way led to the perfect dismount. Walking back and forth until some outside force came along to push me one way or the other.

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