Chapter 30

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          Mages, Rika decided, were a lot like cats. Independent, proud, and always wanting to appear mysterious and in control. It took her until the second mage they met to realize this. And to realize why every last one hemmed and hawed when they explained what they wanted them to do. Not a single one of them wanted to admit they couldn’t send her home.

            She guessed Damek must be having similar thoughts, since he glared at the woman they were talking to and said “If you don’t have the power to do it, then say so and stop wasting our time.”

            The mage choked, then drew herself up, looking even more like a cat, an offended one, than ever. “I am a mage, and you will show me proper respect, or I’ll send you somewhere you’ll regret!”

            Damek crossed his arms. “We’re looking for a mage to send her home. If you can’t do it, and don’t tell us instead of saying things about the time not being right and you being busy, how is that showing us any kind of respect? And if you aren’t showing it to us, then why should I bother showing any to you after that? Now, since you obviously can’t work the spell to send her home, can you at least give us the name of a travel mage that would have that kind of power? I know all you mages gossip about each other worse than old fishwives.”

            When the woman continued to look offended, Rika leaned forward and said “Please? I really just want to go home.”

            For a minute, the mage just stared at her. Then she sighed and leaned back in her chair, the only furniture in the tiny room at the front of her house other than the table that sat in front of her. “The strongest travel mage I’ve heard of is called Onuris. The last I heard, he’s living in Saimore. He does like to move around, so you’d best hurry if you want to see him.”

            Rika frowned for a second, then winced when she heard Saimore. She bowed her to the mage before following Damek out. Back out in the orange light of the setting sun, she looked at him, noting the grimace on his face. “It seems like we’re back to chasing the same mage.”

            He nodded. “I’m sorry, stranger-girl. I really thought we’d find a mage here powerful enough to send you home. We might as well head back to the inn and tell Elthia and the mage, if he’s come back from wherever he went. This one was supposed to be the strongest travel mage in the whole city. At least we know that the mage we’re looking for has moved to Harniche. We’re closer to there than we would have been had we not come to the capital.”

            The smile Rika turned on him was more to reassure her friend than because she felt any hope. It seemed to her like the entire world she was in was conspiring to keep her stuck there. It had her wondering if she was ever going to make it home again.

            Damek ruffled her hair with a smile of his own before leading the way into the crowds. Rika followed, focusing on the hundreds of conversations happening around her, concentrating on those rather than the sick feeling that was beginning to spread through her stomach.

            “…king’s only got a few more months before he dies-”

            “Have you seen the prices there? I wouldn’t go back for all the-”

            “And she’s still walking around like nothing’s wrong!”

            “I can’t believe you got the position!”

            “…Lord Atelic’s soldiers-”

            The last had Rika jerking her head to stare, trying to isolate the men’s conversation happening in the café just up and to her right. “…him and Lord Zobah are still competing, huh?”

            “I heard from my sister it’s all about some prophecy or another.”

            “Well, you sister would know. She spends so much time chasing after soldiers instead of doing-”

            The rest of the conversation was caught off by a thump and a yelp, and even those were soon lost as Rika hurried to catch up to Damek. His hair at least made him easier to find, since her eyes were automatically drawn to the unusual colours. There didn’t seem to be too many of that, which had made her think that they might be like red hair at home, something not terribly common. But that wasn’t the thought her mind was turning over and over in her head. Those men had talked about a prophecy, one in which Atelic and Zobah were both concerned about. She had to wonder if it had anything to do with her.

            Rika waited until they were back at the inn, in Damek and Ahisu’s room, with Elthia as well. She was glad to see that the mage was back. She wanted to hear his opinions on the rumour, given he knew magic far better than the rest of them. But she waited until Damek had finished explaining about the travel mage they now had to chase to Harniche before telling the others what she’d overheard.

            Damek shook his head. “I haven’t heard anything like that, though I’ll admit, I haven’t been listening too much to the gossip lately. But you need to understand, stranger-girl, that prophecies and seeing into the future is among the very rarest of magics. I don’t know anyone in over half a century who’s had the power for it.”

            “But it’d explain why they’re chasing me!”

            He nodded at that. “You’re right enough. It’s not like we’ve found a good reason for their interest in you so far.”

            Elthia frowned. “What does the prophecy say? If we knew that, we would know what is necessary for them to leave Rika alone.”

            Damek shrugged. “That’s something we obviously need to find out, if we can. From what I know, most prophecies are kept pretty quiet by those who know, in case people finding out ruins them.”

            “Reverse,” Ahisu said, watching them all.

            It took Rika a minute to get what he was saying. “The reverse? Like people finding out about them making them come true?”

            The mage inclined his head slightly, making Damek snort. “If it’s self-fulfilling, it’s not much of a prophecy.”

            The look Ahisu turned on him was full of enough contempt for all of them to be able to read easily. Before Damek could do more than glare, the mage rose, and swept out of the room. Rika stared after him, then turned back to her blue-haired friend. Calming him down came before lecturing Ahisu about manners.

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