Home > Magic Study (Study #2)(14)

Magic Study (Study #2)(14)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

Finally, Leif appeared. Refusing to acknowledge my presence, he started down a forest path. After a couple of hours, I grew tired of following him in silence. I pulled my bow and began executing blocks and jabs as I walked. I concentrated on the feel of the wood in my hands, setting my mind into that mental awareness that Irys had claimed was my way of tapping into the magical power source.

To practice control of the magic, I projected my awareness out. At first, I encountered a cold stone wall. Confused, I retreated until I realized the barrier was Leif’s mind; closed and unyielding. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Skirting his presence, I sought the calm forest surrounding us. I crept with a chipmunk, looking for nuts. I froze with a young deer, hearing the sound of footsteps. My mind touched different creatures as I reached out. Gradually, I projected my awareness farther and farther away, seeing how far I could go.

Behind me, I could still feel the people at the market, five or six miles away. Thrilled, I pushed ahead to see if a town was close by. At first, I touched only more animals, but just as I was about to pull back, my mind touched a man.

Careful to avoid breaking the Ethical Code, I skimmed the surface of his mind. He was a hunter, waiting for prey, and he wasn’t alone. There were many men around him. They crouched in the bushes just off the trail. One sat on a horse with his weapon poised for an attack. I wondered what they hunted. Curiosity made me dip a little deeper into the man’s thoughts. An image of his prey appeared, snapping me back to my body.

I stopped.

I must have gasped, because Leif turned and stared at me. “What are you doing?” he demanded.

“The forest. Men.”

“Of course. The woods are full of game,” he explained as if talking to a simpleton.

“Not hunters. Ambushers. Waiting for us.”

Chapter Five

“Ambushers? Don’t be ridiculous,” Leif said. Amazement colored his voice. “You’re not in Ixia anymore.”

“Why would a hunting party hide so close to the path?” I asked, ignoring his tone and hoping that logic would prevail.

“Animals use the forest trails. It’s easier than fighting through the underbrush.” Leif started to walk away. “Come on.”

“No. You’re leading us into a trap.”

“Fine. I’ll go without you.”

When he turned his back again, I was gripped with rage. “Do you think I’m lying?” The words growled from between my teeth.

“No. I think you’re suspicious of everything and everyone, just like a northerner.” His mouth twisted as if he wanted to spit.

“You think I’m a spy,” I snapped at him in frustration. “I’ll lower my defenses. Project your mind out and see for yourself that I’m not here to spy on Sitia.”

“I can’t read minds. In fact, no Zaltana can.”

I ignored the jab. “Can’t you at least sense who I am?”

“Physically you’re a Zaltana. But just because Irys claims you survived Mogkan’s efforts to wipe your mind doesn’t mean it’s true.” Leif pointed an accusing finger at me. “You could be a pawn, an empty vessel that has been provided with a northern host. What better way to have eyes and ears in the south?”

“Ridiculous.”

“No. It’s not. You’ve revealed yourself,” Leif said with a quiet intensity. Then his eyes dulled and turned vacant as if he peered into another world. “I taste strong loyalty and longing for Ixia emanating from you. You stink of blood and pain and death. Anger and passion and fire buzz around you like a haze.” His gaze refocused on me. “My sister would be reveling in her freedom, and wrapped with hatred for her captors. You have lost your soul to the north. You are not my sister. It would have been better if you had died than return to us tainted.”

I took a deep breath to calm the sudden fury that threatened to take control. “Wake up, Leif! What you dreamed of finding in the jungle didn’t factor in reality. I’m not that innocent six-year-old. I endured more than you can imagine and fought hard to keep my soul.” I shook my head. I was not going to explain myself to this stubborn fool. “I know who I am. Perhaps you need to reevaluate your expectations of me.”

We stood for a moment, glaring at each other. Finally, I said, “You’re walking into an ambush.”

“I’m walking to the Citadel. Are you coming?”

I weighed my options. If I used my grapple and rope to climb into the trees, I could travel through the forest canopy and move past the ambush while remaining near the trail. But what about Leif; my brother who acted like my enemy? He had his machete. Did he know how to use it in a fight?

What if he were injured in the ambush? It would be his own fault. We were brother and sister by blood alone, and I couldn’t imagine Leif and me ever being close. Still, a pang of regret touched my heart. Esau and Perl wouldn’t want to see Leif hurt. Then I realized Leif was a magician. Could he defend himself with his magic? I shook my head. I didn’t know enough about magic to even contemplate what could be done with it.

“I would have never guessed a hunting party could frighten a northerner away.” Leif laughed as he set off down the trail.

That did it. I unslung my backpack and found my switchblade. Cutting a small slit along the outer seam of my new pants, I strapped the thigh-holder to my leg. I pulled apart my single braid, and wrapped my hair up into a bun using my lock picks to hold it in place. Now dressed for a fight, I slipped my pack over one shoulder, and raced after Leif.

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