Chapter 9

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            Rika winced as she hobbled out of the inn and into the patchy sunlight of the morning. Damek followed, grinning. She glared at the blue-haired man, her face pretty much the only part of her that didn’t hurt. “You’re a sadist. I might have believed my body’s supposed to feel this sore after training, but waking me up at dawn…you’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

           “I am enjoying this, but not because I’m a sadist. You’re going to be sore for a while, so you might as well get used to it. You have a lot to learn.”

            She muttered something uncomplimentary before turning to look at Ahisu, who was just now making his way out of the inn, blinking in the light. “You agree with me, right? Damek’s like a demon.”

            Ahisu looked at Damek, then snorted quietly. “Hardly.”

            “You’re both ganging up on me,” Rika whined. But a moment later she was smiling again. It was hard to stay in a bad mood when she was in another world. She’d woken with a feeling of excitement, of anticipation of everything she was going to see and do before going home. All those things she’d read and dreamed about. Part of her almost hoped it would take a week or so for the mage to ready the spell, just so she had more of a chance to see things. It was only the thought of her brother Connor that kept her from actually suggesting she wait a day or two before seeing the mage. He had to be nearly out of his mind with worry by now. She wondered if he’d actually called their parents or not…

            Rika shook herself. Now wasn’t the time to think about that stuff. She was doing all she could to get home as quickly as possible, so she might as well just enjoy what time she had here. Being all doom and gloom about it wasn’t going to do anything good for any of them.

            Smile again spreading across her face, Rika would have skipped along behind Damek if her legs weren’t as sore as they were. He led her and Ahisu into the crowds the lined the streets and sometimes poured into them. Everywhere Rika looked, there was something new to catch her attention.

            Here, a man selling some kind of fruit that looked like a cross between a banana and a cantaloupe. Beside him, a woman dancing in a dress covered in tiny brass bells, so that she made her own music as she swayed, shimmied and leapt. Across from her was a tall woman wearing robes that were covered in silver hammers and anvils, obviously a mage, but Rika couldn’t figure out what kind.

            But the sight of a tall lordling trotting by captured her attention. Even she could tell that his bright green outfit had cost a lot of money and that he was obviously important, not needing the two bodyguards following behind him to clue her into that. A loud screech had her jerking to stare, but it was only a man showing off his trained falcon, the bird mantling on his glove.

            Just as distracting as the sights were the sounds Rika heard. Here, a snatch of lively music, there, a conversation about some magical tomb. As they wove their wave in and out of the crowds, sometimes going quickly, sometimes slow, Rika heard more than one interesting rumour.

            “It’s true! I saw the monster for myself! As big as a house!” Cried a male voice to her left.

            “And do you know what he said then? That he’d been turned into a newt,” said a disgusted woman’s voice.

            “…and the soldiers are looking all over for this person. I can scarcely believe they’d be in such an out of the way town,” another female voice sighed.

            “…his youngest daughter ran off with that troupe of performers that passed through here the other week,” said a man, voice filled with sympathy.

            “..ka. Rika. Rika!”

            She jerked, looking away from the woman playing a weird flute-guitar instrument, to Damek, flushing slightly. “Yeah?”

            “Did you bring your book? The one you said brought you here?”

            Rika nodded, patting her satchel, which now also contained some of the smaller things that Ahisu had picked up for her. “I always keep it with me. Just in case.”

            “I’d like to take a look at it, at some point.”

            She shook her head, cheeks flaring red again. “No. It’s embarrassing. It…it keeps writing down exactly what’s happening to me. Even what I’m thinking. I don’t want anyone reading it. Ever.”

            Damek shrugged. “Alright then. We’re almost to the mage’s place. Just another block before we turn. We should be seeing him within the next five minutes.”

            Rika grinned at him before turning her attention back to the crowds. This might be her last chance to see this kind of thing. The feeling of something touching her bag had Rika swinging around to see. Ahisu met her eyes, then flicked his gaze over to the youth ducking into the thickest part of the crowd. Only when he was out of sight did Ahisu take his staff off her bag. It Rika a few seconds to put the two things together. When she did, she smiled at the mage. “Thanks!”

            If he replied, she didn’t hear it. Now they were turning off the main street, rounding he corner into a place that had more houses and what looked almost like apartment buildings than shops. There were more children and animals here. Rika was nearly bowled over by a large dog being chased by a shrieking child, then nearly stepped on a chicken that was pecking by the side of the road when she stumbled. She heard Damek’s chuckle and stuck her tongue out at him, the same way she’d have done if he Connor. Sometimes he reminded her of her brother, not always in a good way.

            He only laughed again, swinging them around one of the bigger buildings to face a small house, this one with a tornado looking design nailed to the front of it. Damek led them up the cracked stone stairs and rapped on the front door. After a minute with no response, he knocked again. It was the same thing. About to knock a third time, a voice called out to them from the road.

            “If you’re looking for old Onuris, he’s gone,” said a woman with a tight bun on top of her head.

            “When will he be back?” Damek asked.

            She shook her head. “He’s not coming back. He moved to Harniche.”

            As the words penetrated her brain, Rika felt her stomach drop to her toes, leaving her frozen except for her hammering heart.

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