Poison Study Page 55

I hunched over the table, regretting that my comment had caused Rand pain. My pockets bulged uncomfortably with the beans. I shifted in my seat. Liza would have good cause when she blamed this mood swing on me. Valek’s actions with Rand’s mother seemed harsh from Rand’s perspective, but when I thought about it from Valek’s point of view, it made sense. His job was to protect the Commander.

I lived the next two days in a fog. Events blurred together. Tasting, training, tasting, training. Ari’s and Janco’s curses and attempts to rouse me remained unsuccessful. The news that I could start knife defense failed to produce any enthusiasm. My body felt as wooden as the bow I held.

When Margg materialized after one of my training sessions to inform me that a meeting with her contact had been scheduled for the following evening, it was with great difficulty that I summoned the strength to rally.

I thought out each possible scenario, and each combination of events kept leading me to one conclusion. Who would believe me if I reported the meeting? No one. I needed a witness who could also act as a protector. Ari’s name sprang to mind. But I didn’t want any suspicion to fall on him if something went wrong. It was also possible that Margg’s contact had a boss, or a whole network of informers, and I could be getting in over my head. Dance as I might, there was but one course of action, and it led to but one person: Valek.

I dreaded the encounter. My interaction with him had dwindled to the silent awkward dispensing of my antidote every morning. But after tasting the Commander’s dinner, I sought Valek out, my stomach performing flips. His office was locked, so I tried his suite. He wasn’t in the living room, but I heard a faint sound from upstairs. A thin slash of light glowed under the door to Valek’s carving studio. A metallic grinding noise raised goose bumps on my flesh.

I faltered at the entrance. This was probably the worst time to disturb him, but I was to meet Margg’s contact the next day. I had no time to waste. Gathering courage, I knocked and opened the door without waiting for an answer.

Valek’s lantern flickered. He stopped grinding. The wheel spun in silence, reflecting pinpricks of light that whirled along the walls and ceiling.

He asked, “What is it?”

“I’ve had an offer. Someone wants to pay me for information about the Commander.”

He spun around. His face was half hidden in shadows, but it was as rigid as the stone he held. “Why tell me?”

“I thought you might want to follow along. This might be the one who has been leaking information about me.”

He stared at me.

I wished then that I held a heavy rock, because I had the sudden desire to bash it on his head. “Espionage is illegal. You might want to make an arrest, or maybe even feed this leak some misinformation. You know, spy stuff. Remember? Or have you become bored with that, too?” Anger fueled my words.

I took a breath to launch into an attack, but it slid unvoiced past my clenched teeth. There was a slight softening in Valek’s face. Renewed interest emanated from him, as if he had been holding every muscle taut and had just relaxed.

“Who?” he asked finally. “And when?”

“Margg approached me, and she mentioned a contact. We’re meeting tomorrow night.” I studied his expression. Was he surprised or hurt by Margg’s treachery? I couldn’t tell. Reading Valek’s true mood was like trying to decipher a foreign language.

“All right, proceed as planned. I’ll tail you to the rendezvous, and see who we’re dealing with. We’ll start by feeding this contact some accurate information to make you look reliable. Perhaps the Commander’s change of successor would work. It’s harmless information that will be made public anyway. Then we’ll go from there.”

We outlined the details. Even though I was placing my life in danger, I felt cheerful. I had my old Valek back. But for how long? I wondered as wariness crept back in.

When we were through, I turned to go.


I halted in the doorway, looking back over my shoulder.

“You once said I wasn’t ready to believe your reason for killing Reyad. I’ll believe you now.”

“But I’m not ready to tell you,” I said and left the room.

Chapter Twenty

Damn valek! damn, damn, damn him! gave me the cold shoulder for four days and then expected me to trust him? i’d admitted to murder. they’d arrested the right person. That was all he should care about.

Walking down the stairs in the darkness, I headed toward my room. I have to get out of this place, I thought with sudden intensity. The overwhelming desire to take off and damn the antidote was strong. Run away, run away, run away sang in my mind. A familiar tune. I had heard it before when I was with Reyad. Memories I had thought were tightly locked away now threatened to push free, seeping through the cracks. Damn Valek! It was his fault I couldn’t suppress my memories any longer.

In my room, I locked the door. When I turned around, I spied Reyad’s ghost lounging on my bed. The wound in his neck hung open, and blood stained his nightshirt black. In contrast, his blond hair was combed in the latest style, his mustache groomed to perfection, and his light blue eyes glowed.

“Get out,” I said. He was, I reminded myself, an intangible ghost and not, absolutely not, to be feared.

“What kind of greeting is that for an old friend?” Reyad asked. He lifted a book on poisons off my nightstand, and flipped through the pages.

I stared at him in shock. He spoke in my mind. He held a book. A ghost, a ghost, I kept repeating. Reyad was unaffected. He laughed.

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