Chapter Eleven

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DUSK CAME SWIFTLY. Their time was dwindling, and, in the very last hour, Isiilde finally came across something that gave her pause. The nymph froze, her teeth poised to sink into a caramel-coated apple, transfixed by the vacant area before her. Looking around at the magnificent pavilions, all evenly spaced, she found the irregular void an odd sight. Her rangy escort had a slight smile on his lips as he picked out a chocolate from her basket.

"This is certainly fascinating," he remarked. "Hmm, and what may I ask would hold a faerie so enchanted with an empty spot?" She realized she was drooling caramel and quickly completed her bite.

"It doesn't seem right," she realized aloud.

"And why is that?" His sharp eyes twinkled down at her, expectant and inquiring. Everyone was giving the vacant area a wide berth. No one seemed inclined to walk across the space.

"It doesn't feel empty." The words sounded foolish to her own ears.

"Have a bit more confidence in your instincts, my dear." Marsais' deft fingers flashed with movement before he swept a hand over her eyes. The weave tickled her skin, and she laughed in response, but her delight ended a moment later when a drab, grey pavilion shimmered into existence.

"You've found what I was looking for." Marsais brightened and popped a piece of chocolate into his mouth, which was followed by an appreciative grunt. "The Xaionian lifestyle does have its advantages."

"Marsais?"

"Hmm."

"Why would a shop be hidden?" she asked, studying the unremarkable pavilion.

"Why do you think?" They started walking towards the entrance, but she felt a strange desire to avoid the tent. The area was warded, she realized.

Isiilde pondered his question for a moment. "So ordinary people won't find it. They only want those with an arcane sight to enter, such as Wise Ones."

"Precisely," he nodded with approval.

"I should have known you'd want to go to the most interesting shop."

"Hmm, I find every shop interesting when you're exploring it. I thought that poor clothing merchant was going to have a heart attack when you insisted on donning half the garments in his shop."

"Well, if he didn't charge such outrageous prices, I would have liked the pale gold dress and the green cloak," she admitted. Further conversation on the matter fell away as they stepped into the tent.

As with Marsais' enchanted rucksack, the tent was far larger on the inside than out. An entire bazaar sprawled inside, where anything and everything that might interest a Wise One could be found. Instead of having the temporary feel of a cloth pavilion, it felt solid, as if it had been built with wood, stone, and mortar.

Guards posted at the entryway ordered everyone to remove their masks as they entered. And as a result Isiilde recognized many of the faces present. She took a cue from Marsais and pulled her cowl down, concealing her features.

Too many people from the tower would recognize the Archlord, vagabond or no, and she doubted he wanted to deal with his fellow Wise Ones just yet. And she certainly didn't want to be recognized. It had been over a week since her incident with Crumpet and she hadn't been back to the castle since, nor had Oenghus for that matter. It was highly unlikely that everyone would be as understanding as Coyle.

Translucent orbs full of fireflies drifted in the air, just as they had outside, but their brilliance was magnified in the darkness of the tent, casting an ominous glow over the bustling bazaar. And while the festival outside had had a blithe atmosphere, in here things were grave and intense, with an undercurrent of powerful forces seething below the surface of her awareness.

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