Chapter 20

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            Rika left their camp after her magic lesson, doing her best to even her breathing out. It wasn’t Ahisu’s fault she’d failed at yet another spell. She didn’t understand it. She could make the paper fly around, but when it came time to actually do something with it, like make hardening it into a knife shape as Ahisu had been trying to get her to do, it never worked. She was beginning to wonder if it was because she was from a different world. Maybe she’d never be able to do magic…

            She shook her head, trying to chase the thoughts away. Instead, she focused on her fellow travellers, most of whom she was only now seeing. The travelling show was by far the most interesting, both for its transportation and for the people coming out of them. One man looked like a cross between a jester and a mime, wearing an explosion of different patterned clothing, but all in black and whites, while another was dressed like some kind of ringmaster, complete with elaborate coat and baton. Nor was it all men. One woman glided out of a wagon, here long dress trailing behind her, while a pair of girls, whose outfits but Rika in mind of strippers, watched and giggled.

            Wandering past the wagons, trying not to stare and failing at it, Rika felt her spirits lift. It really was hard for her to stay in a bad mood when she was in a world like the ones she’d always dreamed about. She wondered if she’d be able to convince the other two to go see the show when they finally stopped. She’d only been to the circus once when she was a kid and had really liked it, so the thought of seeing a show where real magic might play a role thrilled her more than she was willing to admit.

            As she walked around one of the wagons, Rika heard a gasp, followed by a man’s voice saying “We’ll both profit from it.”

            When she heard a woman’s voice reply with “Please, let me go,” Rika immediately turned towards them, darting around so she was on the far side of the wagon. What she saw had her head coming up and her fists balling.

            Back pressed against the wagon’s side, one hand trapped in the man’s grip, a woman stared at her captor with wide eyes. He loomed over her, his pale skin and the dark circles under his eyes visible even in the faint light of the torches and fires that were on the other side of the vehicle. Scratching the arm he had holding her with the other, he leaned closer. “It’s not hard to make. I’ve had others make it for me before.”

            Stalking right up to them, Rika used one of the tricks Damek had taught her, breaking the hold the man had on the woman. Then she shoved her way in front of her, her hands dropping to her hips as she looked the stranger over. “What do you think you’re doing?”

            He blinked at her a few times before glaring. “This is between me and the healer, girl.”

            “Not if you’re grabbing her and trying to force her into things! In fact,” Rika said, turning to look at the woman behind her. “I think it’d be better for everyone if you joined me and my friends at our fire. Then you won’t have to deal with people with no manners.”

            “I’m not finished-”

            Rika cut him off with a look. “Keep bothering her and I’ll be talking to the cop-guards. And to whoever’s in charge of this caravan. You have absolutely no right to be going around menacing innocent people. Goodbye.” With an arm around the other woman’s shoulders, Rika steered her back towards their camp.

            “It’s a good offer, healer,” the man called after them. “I’ll speak to you about it again.”

            Snorting, Rika waited until they were well away from the stranger, and out of earshot of everyone else, before releasing the woman. “Are you alright? He didn’t hurt you or anything? What’s his problem anyway?”

            The woman, who didn’t look to be much older than Rika herself, shook her head. “I’m fine. He’s not the first like that I’ve had come to me. He was trying to get me to brew a vile potion for him, the sort to send his mind flying from his body. But I’m not that sort of healer. I do only what is good for a person!”

            Rika’s eyes lit up. “You’re a healer? Like, you use your powers and then people are better?”

            Nodding and frowning, the woman gave Rika a strange look. “Yes. Is there another kind?”

            “Oh, no,” Rika said, shaking her head and trying to keep a grin from her face, remembering their story. “I was just surprised you’re travelling by yourself. Oh! I’m Rika. What’s your name?”

            “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Elthia. I haven’t thanked you for your help back there. I fear things wouldn’t have gone so well if you hadn’t come. He’s been very persistent since he found out I was a healer. Though this was the first time he grabbed me.”

            “That’s why you should come hang out by our camp. If you stick around us, he won’t bother you. Damek and Ahisu are much better at being scary than I am and they’re also better at fighting, so you’ll be safer if you’re with all of us. C’mon, it’s this way,” Rika said, leading Elthia around the last of the wagons to where they’d set up camp.

            “Where have you been? I was getting worried-” Damek stopped when he noticed that Rika wasn’t alone. “A friend of yours?”

            Rika nodded. “This is Elthia. I thought she’d like to join us tonight,” she said before turning to the healer. “That’s Damek and the guy with the staff is Ahisu. We’re all heading to the capital.”

            “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintances,” Elthia said, flushing slightly under the scrutiny the two men gave her.

After a few moments, Ahisu snorted slightly and turned back to the book he’d been reading. It was Damek who smiled at her and gestured to the fire. “Won’t you sit down with us? I’m sure Rika just dragged you over here without saying much.”

She stuck her tongue out at him as she dropped down beside them. “I was helping.”

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