Home > Taste of Darkness (Healer #3)

Taste of Darkness (Healer #3)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

CHAPTER 1

Cold air caressed my back. I rolled over, muttering at Kerrick for hogging the blanket, but stopped. Something felt...odd, wrong, missing. Opening my eyes, I confirmed the emptiness next to me. Kerrick was gone.

For a moment, I stared at the dent in the pillow. Had yesterday been a dream? Had I imagined Wynn’s betrayal, Tohon trapped in a magical stasis, Kerrick’s miraculous arrival, and the rest of the insanity?

No. The events replayed in my head with vivid details. The blood, the overpowering reek of dead ufas, and Wynn’s poisoned knife striking Kerrick’s arm. Poisoned with Death Lily toxin. I’d thought I’d sucked all the deadly poison from Kerrick’s wound...but what if I hadn’t?

Icy fingers of fear wrapped around my heart. I shot to my feet and dressed in record time. Kerrick’s shirt, boots, and sword lay in a heap by the dying fire. Not good.

Out in the large main cavern, the rest of the infirmary staff stirred. I scanned the patients’ cots on the off chance Kerrick had collapsed into one. He hadn’t.

Loren added wood to the cooking hearth, poking it into a bright blaze.

I rushed over to him. “Have you seen Kerrick?”

“Nope, and we figured we wouldn’t see either of you until...” His smirk faded. “Maybe he went outside for some fresh air.” This in a hopeful tone.

“Without his shirt?”

“Well, when nature calls...”

“Or his sword?”

Loren jumped up. “Let’s not panic, Avry.”

Too late.

“Have you searched the other caverns?” he asked.

“Not yet.”

“Okay, then you look for him inside, and I’ll go outside. If he’s not nearby, I’ll ask the guards if they saw him last night. All right?”

I nodded, but dread clawed up my throat. Kerrick wouldn’t be in another cavern unless he’d been too sick to find his way back to me. Gulping down the tight knot, I grabbed a lantern and checked all the other sleeping areas.

A few people grumbled after I swept the light over them, but I didn’t care.

Odd squinted in the brightness, but sat up as if he’d been awake. “What’s wrong?”

I explained.

He cursed. “Not only did Wynn stab us in the back, she’s twisted the blade, too.”

“While I’d love to plot revenge with you—”

“Yeah, go. I’ll be right out.”

The other caverns yielded the same results. Even the one reserved for the privy. A detached part of my mind noted the buckets needed to be dumped. However my heart kept its frantic rhythm. That was the last place inside. Perhaps...

Running back to the main cavern, I spotted Loren and Odd talking to a soldier.

“...sometime after midnight,” the man said. “Don’t recall if he came back or not.”

Loren rounded on him. “Don’t recall! You’re supposed to be guarding us. What if the enemy grabbed him? If someone goes into the woods and doesn’t come back, that’s a big red flag, you idiot!”

Odd touched Loren’s shoulder and tilted his head toward me. “Not helping right now.”

“He was outside?” I asked.

The guard had seen him leave. I dashed out into the cold morning air. The fresh scent of moist earth reminded me of Kerrick. Without hesitating, I embraced the closest bit of foliage, seeking the vibrations of Kerrick’s forest magic.

Nothing. I drew a shaky breath. Don’t jump to conclusions. He could be unconscious. Odd and Loren had followed me out. Six inches shorter than Odd, Loren ran a hand over his buzzed black hair. More silver sprinkled his hair despite only being thirty-five. Odd on the other hand had let his hair grow since Tohon’s surprise attack. Although saying it had grown was being generous. His dark brown locks remained close to his scalp in a fine fuzz.

“We need to search the area. Wake the others,” I ordered.

They hastened inside and soon Flea, Quain, and most of the soldiers had assembled by the cave’s entrance. Using one of Ryne’s military maps, Loren divided the surrounding area into quadrants. The infirmary cave was located in Pomyt Realm, northeast of Zabin and east of the ruins of the Healer’s Guild.

Quain growled at everyone, but he appeared healthy despite being frozen in Sepp’s magical stasis only yesterday. But Flea’s face remained pale and he seemed unsteady on his feet. The discovery of his ability to break Sepp’s stasis had taken a toll on him.

I moved closer to him. “Flea, stay here, you’re in no condition—”

“No. I’m going.” Despite being sixteen, he sounded much older. And his firm gaze meant I’d have an easier time convincing fire not to burn.

Before assigning quadrants to the teams, Loren pulled me aside. “Hate to bring this up, but if he’s... If we find...”

“A dead body?” Not like I hadn’t thought of it a million times since I’d woken up.

“Yeah.”

“Tell them to find me as fast as possible. I have the Lily map—we’ll head to the closest Peace Lily and hope for the best.” I glanced at Flea. A Peace Lily had saved his life and mine; it might save Kerrick’s.

The strain on Loren’s face eased just a bit. “Right.” He shouted orders and the teams of four headed into the woods, fanning out to their assigned areas.

No surprise that Loren, Quain, and Flea joined me. I trailed my fingers along the greenery, hoping to detect Kerrick’s magic. At this point, I’d pray to Estrid’s creator if I thought it would help.

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