Poison Study Page 94

“What’s this all about?” Ari asked.

“I’ll explain it later. Right now—” I stopped short. A complete plan of attack snapped into my mind, but it included Ari and Janco. I had been hoping to keep them safe, but Valek was right. We needed their help.

“I want you to protect Irys with everything you have. It’s very important,” I told my friends.

“Yes, sir,” Ari and Janco said together.

Stunned, I stared at them. They had addressed me as sir , meaning they would follow my orders, even if it led to their death.

Valek’s eyes drilled into mine. “You have a strategy?”


“Tell us.”

Why, I thought as Valek and I crept through the silent empty halls of the manor, had I opened my mouth? My plan. What did I know? Valek, Ari and Janco had years of experience doing this nerve-racking, stomach-turning work, but everyone risked their necks following my plan.

In the dark corridor, I swallowed my fear and reviewed the strategy. At the Commander’s door, we waited to give the others time to move into position. My short breaths seemed to echo off the walls, and I felt as if I was either going to scream or pass out.

After a few moments, Valek picked the lock and we slipped inside. He secured the door. Lighting a lantern, he moved toward the oversize four-poster bed. The Commander was stretched out on top of the bedding, fully clothed. His vacant eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. He made no acknowledgment of our presence.

I sat beside him and took his hand in mine. Following Irys’s brief instructions, I imagined my brick wall, then expanded it until I had built a dome of brick that encompassed us both. Valek pressed against the wall next to the door, waiting for Mogkan. His expression had hardened into his battle face. He was stone cold on the exterior, but I knew that a lethal, molten fury resided within.

It wasn’t long before a key turned in the lock. Silence. Then the door burst open. Four armed guards rushed in. Valek had one down before the man could react. The ringing of swords filled the room.

Mogkan slinked into the chamber after his men had Valek fully engaged. Avoiding the fighting, he moved toward me. A condescending smile touched his lips.

“A brick igloo. How nice. Come on, Yelena, give me some credit. A stone fortress or a steel wall would have been more of a challenge.”

I felt a solid blow strike my mental defenses. Brick crumbled. Patching holes as he hammered on my shield, I prayed with desperation that Ari, Janco and Irys had made it to the room where Mogkan kept the prisoners chained. Irys had explained that she needed to be there with them in order to block Mogkan’s extra power. Even if she succeeded, I would still have to deal with Mogkan’s own magic.

Halting his attack for a second, Mogkan jerked his head to the side, staring off into the distance. “Nice trick,” he said. “Friends of yours? They’re in Reyad’s hallway, but unless they can fight their way through ten men, they won’t make it to my children.”

My heart sank. Mogkan resumed his onslaught with renewed determination. One guard out of four remained in battle with Valek. Hurry, I thought. My defenses weakened with each blow. I threw every ounce of strength into my wall, but it collapsed into a cloud of dust.

Mogkan’s power gripped me like a giant’s fist around my rib cage. I yelped in pain and dropped the Commander’s hand. I stood on weak legs beside the bed just as Valek yanked his sword from the last guard’s dead body.

“Stop or she dies,” Mogkan ordered.

Valek froze. Three more guards hustled into the room, Brazell on their heels. They surrounded Valek. Taking his sword, they forced him to his knees with his hands on his head.

“Go ahead, General. Kill her,” Mogkan said, stepping back to let Brazell pass. “I should have let you slit her throat the first day she arrived.”

“Why listen to Mogkan?” I asked Brazell. “He’s not to be trusted.” Pain crawled along my spine as Mogkan turned his burning eyes upon me.

“What do you mean?” Brazell demanded. He gripped his sword as he glanced from me to Mogkan.

Mogkan laughed. “She’s only trying to delay the inevitable.”

“Like when you tried to delay the Sitian treaty negotiations by poisoning the cognac? Or were you aiming to stop the delegation altogether?” I asked him.

Mogkan’s shock revealed his guilt. Although surprise touched Valek’s face, he remained silent. His body tensed, ready to spring into action.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Brazell said.

“Mogkan wants to avoid contact with the southerners. They would know about—” My throat closed. I clawed at my neck, unable to breathe.

Brazell turned on Mogkan. His square face creased with anger. “What have you been up to?”

“We don’t need a treaty with Sitia. We were getting our supplies without any problems. But you wouldn’t listen to me. You had to be greedy. After establishing a trade treaty it would only be a matter of time before we’d have southerners crossing the border, sniffing around, finding us.” Mogkan showed no fear of Brazell, only anger that he had to explain his actions. “Now, do you want to kill her or should I?”

Spots spun in my eyes as my vision blurred. Before Brazell could answer, Mogkan staggered. His hold on me slipped slightly, releasing my airway. I gasped for air.

“My children!” Mogkan roared. “Even without them, I still have more power than you!”

Like a fish on a hook, I was yanked off my feet and hurled against the wall. My head banged on the stone. Pinned in midair, Mogkan’s power pelted me. Each blow felt like a boulder crashing into me. This is it, I thought. Reyad was right; becoming the food taster had just delayed the inevitable.

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