Chapter 46

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Look, the Windmage is now the Airmage because it just sounds better. Let's run with it.

The knife felt odd on Anele's waist. It was roughly the same size and weight as the one she'd abandoned in the Pettygod's gut, but hers had been roughly faceted and awkward to hold without cutting oneself. Which had been the point, because it couldn't cut her. But this one's blade was smooth and straight, the flat a gleaming mirror tapering to razor edges that could have sliced an elephant's leg to the bone in a swipe.

It had even been shaped with a hilt and a ball to serve as a little pommel. That made it easy to loop into the frayed rope hoop on her waistband, but it raised another difficult question.

"It was a gift from a friend," the Airmage said.

She'd stopped trying to struggle under Anele's heel. In fact, she'd twisted to sit crosslegged, one hand under Anele's foot, the other balled into a fist to rest her chin on. When Anele scowled, she shrugged.

"Funny thing about the truth is you either believe it or you don't," the Airmage said.

"Who's the friend?"

The Airmage looked up at her, eyes narrowing under the folds of silk over her face. There was some mask over her soul, because her gaze wasn't as powerful as it should have been. Anele still caught the hints of warm air and still water in them, but that was only because the house they had crashed into was still dry. Outside in the rain, it'd been as if she'd had no gaze at all.

"You're an Earthwitch."

Anele's jaw flexed. "I'm asking the questions."

"It wasn't a question. I mean I guessed your Earth aspect but no one's ever been that bent up over that knife, and very few people know what's special about it."

It was nothing to grab the front of the Airmage's robes again. Anele leant over her, braids falling between them as if to curtain out the world.

"The name of the Earthwitch who gave you this knife. Now."

"Oh, they're not an Earthwitch, more of a--"

Someone flexed their soul outside, and a great howl of pain followed. A little further down, a clash of iron on iron and the hard thud of something fleshy crashing into something hard. And then the vibrations of dozens of feet pounding the ground crawled under Anele's heel. A few heartbeats passed as the footfalls grew louder, then a wave of aura preceded them, subtle and bitter, turning the air like smoke. Hunger.

Scavengers. Headed... Anele closed her eyes. Headed towards the medic temple. A whole host of them, and they'd flow right past the street she was on to get there.

Get out of town. Now.

Salleh's warning. And wouldn't it had been nice if she'd spared a second to explain what was coming. But she had the soul and Anele had sensed her moving away from the temple. That left only...

Anele shot upright, and took the Airmage with her, pinning her to a support beam with one hand.

"What did you want with the Pettygod?"

Anele and Salleh had drained his soul the brink of death in their fight, and the sheer demand of maintaining an iron body had sucked away the rest. He was good as dead, and his stoneiris had been scrambled even when he had a belly full of power. But no one who hadn't gotten up close with him would know that. A Pettygod's stoneiris, a whole one at least, could offer a treasure of insight that most mages would kill their own fathers for.

"I wanted to read his aspect," the Airmage said. "See what made him."

That sounded dangerously close to something Wenyanga might have said. Anele sighed. "If I let go of you, you're going to run away, aren't you?"

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