Poison Study Page 80

She was wearing her hawk mistress uniform. Her hair had been tied back in accordance to Ixia’s military regulations. She had probably walked through the castle unchallenged.

I glanced toward my “bodyguards.” They were engrossed in their conversation, ignoring Irys and me. Uneasiness rolled in my stomach. I inched closer to my companions as she came into the room.

“Won’t Valek sense your magic?” I asked her, gesturing to Ari and Janco.

“He’s on the other side of the castle,” she said as she stepped nearer. “But I did feel someone pulling power before we arrived. Two brief surges. So there is or was another magician in the castle.”

“Wouldn’t you know?” I asked in alarm.

“Unfortunately no.”

“But you do know who it is? Right?”

She shook her head. “There are several magicians that have disappeared. They’re either dead or hiding. And some keep to themselves and we never know about them. It could be anyone. I can only identify a magician if I have established a link with him or her, as I have linked with you.” Irys examined the weapons lined against the wall.

“What’s wrong with the Commander?” she asked. “His thoughts are practically dripping out of his head. He’s so open, I could go in and extract any information I wanted if it weren’t against our moral code of ethics.”

I couldn’t answer her. “What are you doing here?” I asked instead.

Irys smiled. She gestured to the bow in my hands. “What were you doing with that weapon?”

Seeing no reason to lie, I explained about my training.

“How did you do today?” she asked.

“I beat all three opponents for the first time.”

“Interesting.” Irys seemed pleased.

I glanced over at Ari and Janco, who were still involved in their conversation. “Why are you here?” I asked again. “You promised me a year.” Then I had a sudden horrific thought. “Am I closer to flameout?”

“There’s still time. You’ve stabilized for now, but how close are you to coming to Sitia?”

“The antidote is beyond my reach. Unless you can steal the information from Valek’s mind?”

She frowned. “Impossible. But my healers say if you can filch enough antidote to last a month, there’s a possibility we can remove the poison from your body. Come with us when we leave. I have an adviser just your size. She’ll wear your uniform and lure Valek and his men away while you take her place. With a mask on, no one would know.” Irys spoke with assurance. She was either unconcerned or unaware of the risks.

Hope bloomed in my chest. My heart raced. I had to calm myself with a cold reminder that Irys had said there was a possibility of removing the poison. In other words, no guarantees. The escape plan appeared straightforward, but I searched for loopholes anyway. I knew better than to fully trust her.

Deciding, I said, “Adviser Mogkan was here last week. Is he one of your spies?”

“Mogkan, Mogkan.” She turned the name over her tongue.

“Tall with gray eyes and wears his long black hair in a single braid.” I formed a picture of him in my mind. “Valek said he has power.”

“Kangom! How unoriginal! He dropped from sight ten years ago. There was a big scandal about his alleged involvement with some kidnapping ring. Oh.” Irys inhaled sharply and studied my face. Giving her head a tight shake, she asked with keen interest, “So where has he been hiding?”

“MD–5. Is he wanted?”

“Only if he becomes a danger to Sitia. But that explains why we’ve been picking up occasional flares of magic from that direction.” She cocked her head as if straining to hear some faint music. “There is a faint flow of magic to the castle. It could be from Kangom…Mogkan, although it’s highly unlikely. He doesn’t have that kind of strength. It’s probably just a tiny ripple in the power source, like a loop of thread hanging down. It happens from time to time. But I did feel someone pulling power recently.” She paused, staring at me with her direct emerald gaze. “Are you coming with me?”

Mogkan’s magic might not concern her, but it concerned me. There seemed to be a link between Mogkan’s magic and the Commander’s unusual behavior, but I couldn’t quite grasp the reason why.

Undecided, I rolled it around my mind, much as I moved food in my mouth, tasting for danger. Running away had always been an automatic defensive move, and going south offered my best chance for survival. Months ago, I would have jumped at the offer, but now I felt as if I would be abandoning ship too soon, that there was a remedy yet to be discovered.

“No,” I said. “Not yet.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Probably, but I need to finish something first, then I’ll keep my promise and come to Sitia.”

“If you’re still alive.”

“Maybe you can help me. Is there some way I can shield my mind from magical influence?”

Irys cocked her head. “You’re worried about Kangom?”


“I think so. You’re strong enough to handle it.” She handed me the bow. “Do one of your katas, eyes closed, and clear your mind.”

I started a blocking bow kata.

“Imagine one brick. Place the brick on the ground, and then make a row of them. Using imaginary mortar, build another row. Keep building until you have a wall as high as your head.”

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