Poison Study Page 52

Nix continued to plague me during my morning run. He threw rocks, he spat on me and tripped me. I had to change my routine to avoid him by running laps around the outer wall of the castle complex. My defensive abilities were still in the beginning stages, and not sufficient for a confrontation with Nix. At least, not yet. There were advantages to running outside the complex. The smooth grass was softer on my feet than the dirt path inside the complex, and by jogging before dawn, I encountered no one, which added to the deception that I had quit training.

At the end of the cooling season, the hours of daylight shortened, and our training sessions ended with the setting sun. In the semidarkness of twilight I headed to the baths, moving with care to accommodate my bruised ribs. Janco, that annoying jackrabbit, had gotten through my defenses with his speedy little jabs.

As I approached the entrance to the baths, a large shadow detached from the stone wall. Alarmed, I stepped back into a fighting stance. Fear, excitement and doubt raced through my body. Would I need to defend myself? Could I do it? Should I run?

Margg’s ample shape coalesced out of the shadows, and I relaxed a bit.

“What do you want?” I asked. “Are you running another errand for your master like a good doggie?”

“Better than being a rat caught in a trap.”

I brushed past her. Exchanging insults, while enjoyable, was a waste of my time.

“Would the rat like some cheese?” she asked.

I turned. “What?”

“Cheese. Money. Gold. I bet you’re the kind of rat that would do anything for a piece of cheese.”

Chapter Nineteen

“What would I have to do to get a piece of cheese?” I asked. I knew it! Margg was the one leaking information about me, and now she wanted to use me. Finally, some evidence.

“I have a source that pays well for information. It’s the perfect setup for a little rat,” Margg said.

“What kind of information?”

“Anything you might overhear while you’re scurrying around the Commander’s office or Valek’s apartment. My contact pays on a sliding scale; the juicier the news, the bigger the chunk of cheese.”

“How does it work?” My mind raced. Right now it was her word against mine. I needed proof I could show Valek. To be able to finger both Margg and her source would be a sweet treat.

“You give me the information,” she said, “and I pass it along. I collect the money, and give it to you, minus a fifteen percent fee.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that you’d stick to fifteen percent cut of a total I’d be unaware of?”

She shrugged. “It’s either that or nothing. I’d think that a half-starved rat like you would pounce on any morsel, no matter how small.” Margg began to walk away.

“What if we went to your source together?” I suggested. “Then you’d still receive your fee.”

She stopped. Uncertainty creased her fleshy face. “I’ll have to check.” She disappeared down the hallway.

I lingered outside the baths for a while, considering the possibility of following Margg around for a couple of days, but dismissed the idea. If her contact didn’t like my suggestion, I’d scamper to Margg with my tail between my legs, begging for another chance. She’d enjoy that! Then I’d follow her. Revealing her as a traitor to Valek would be a pleasure.

My conversation with Margg had used up my bath time, so I headed to the Commander’s office. When I arrived, Sammy, Rand’s kitchen boy, hovered outside the closed door holding a tray of food. I could hear a muffled angry voice inside.

“What’s going on?” I asked Sammy.

“They’re arguing,” he said.


“The Commander and Valek.”

I took the tray of cooling food from Sammy. No reason we both had to be there. “Get going. I’m sure Rand needs you.”

Sammy smiled his relief and sprinted through the throne room. I’d seen the kitchen during dinnertime. Servers and cooks swarmed like bees with Rand directing the chaos. Barking orders, he controlled his kitchen staff like the queen bee of the hive.

Knowing the Commander disliked cold food, I stood close to his door, waiting for a break in the conversation. From my new position I could hear Valek clearly.

“Whatever possessed you to change your successor?” Valek demanded.

The Commander’s soft reply passed through the wooden door as an indecipherable murmur.

“In the fifteen years I’ve known you, you’ve never reversed a decision.” Valek’s tone became more reasonable. “This isn’t a ploy to discover your successor. I just want to know why you changed your mind. Why now?”

The response wasn’t to Valek’s liking. With a sarcastic jab in his voice, he said, “Always, Sir.”

Valek jerked the door open. I stumbled into the office.

He wore a glacial expression. Only his eyes showed his fury. They were pools of molten lava beneath an icy crust. “Yelena, where the hell have you been? The Commander’s waiting for his dinner.” Not expecting an answer, Valek strode briskly through the throne room. Advisers and soldiers melted from his path.

Valek’s anger seemed extreme. Everyone in Ixia knew that one of the eight Generals had been chosen as the Commander’s successor. In the typical paranoid custom of the Commander’s ruling, the name of the selected General was kept secret. Each General held an envelope that contained a piece of a puzzle. When the Commander died, they would assemble the puzzle to reveal an encrypted message. A key would be required to decipher the note. A key only Valek held. The chosen General would then have the complete support of the military and the Commander’s staff.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies