Chapter 31

885 57 1
                                          

            Morning saw Damek in a more cheerful mood, though Rika had to wonder if that was because his anger had cooled or because he’d spread the misery around by forcing her to go through a new routine. Either way, by the time they had all settled into the common room for breakfast, he wasn’t glaring at Ahisu constantly. He did give the mage a once-over look before sitting.

            Only when they’d finished eating did Damek speak. “Alright, we need to head out today. But there are a couple of things I need to do before leaving. Rather than make you all wait for me, you go on ahead and I’ll catch up when I’m finished. You,” he said, turning to Ahisu with a frown. “You need to keep the girls safe. And I mean no harm coming to them. Either of them. Can you do that for a few hours?”

            Ahisu looked the two women over, then snorted and turned away. Damek’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward until Rika put a hand on his arm and shook her head. “He’s agreed to do it,” she said, having already noted the way the mage had dipped his head slightly when snorting. “And it’s not like I’m entirely useless in a fight.”

            “I know, stranger-girl, but you can be overwhelmed by numbers. And Elthia’s a complete non-combatant.”

            “I’m a healer. We’re taught to stay out of fights and just wait to fix the aftermath,” Elthia said, fiddling with the skirt of her dress-like robe.

            “We’re not blaming you! Everyone knows healers stay out of fights. And a good thing too. A lot more people would die if even one healer died. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been patched up by one, and more than once, it was life-threatening,” Damek said, flashing a grin at her.

            Elthia flushed but returned the smile. “Thank you.”

            After a long moment of silence, Rika asked Damek “What do you need to do?”

            He reached out and ruffled her hair. “I’ll tell you after. You need to worry about packing your stuff up and keeping everyone together. Alright?”

            She couldn’t help her lower lip jutting out but she nodded. “Fine. C’mon, Elthia. We’d better hurry or Damek will come and ‘help’. I’ve seen the way he packs. How his clothes aren’t a mass of wrinkles, I’ll never know.”

            Damek laughed, as Rika led the way back upstairs, nose in the air. Only when they were out of sight did she drop her chin and grin at Elthia. The healer was staring at her. That made Rika chuckle. “He reminds me of my brother at times. Enough that I have to tease him. Now let’s hurry. If he’s going to have to catch up, we might as well make him run to do so. I’ll finally have my revenge for all the things he’s put me through in training!”

            Elthia shook her head. “I have never met anyone like you before.”

            Rika laughed again, holding the door open for the other girl. “It’s okay. You can say it. I’m nuts.”

            That got even Elthia giggling as they both turned their attentions to their scattered belongings. As she folded her clothes up, Rika found herself more glad than ever that the others had brought her bags with them when they’d come to her rescue. She didn’t think she could have stood not having clean clothes. Not to mention that her satchel was one of the few things she had left from home.

            It didn’t take them long to finish, and the pair trooped back downstairs, bags slung onto back and over shoulders. But already, Damek was gone. So was Ahisu, but knowing some of the mage’s usual habits, Rika led the way out of the inn. Ahisu was there, leaning against the inn’s wall, watching the human and horse traffic go by.

            Stopping in front of him, with Elthia just a few steps behind her, Rika smiled. “Which way? I assume it’s not the way we came in.”

            He inclined his head then moved into the swirl of humanity that hurried along the roadside. Rika and Elthia took a moment to follow, nearly losing him in the crush. But Ahisu’s head-to-toe black ensemble combined with his above average height made him easy enough to find again.

            Ahisu glanced at them only once, before his attention was locked onto what was in front of him. Rika resisted the urge to grab a handful of his sleeve so she didn’t lose him, not wanting to look like a child trying to stay close to their mother. There were so many people that it was hard not to worry about getting lost.

            Being in this city, Rika assumed one of the biggest if not the largest since it was the capital, made her miss proper sewage systems. Here, the gutters were often filled with things gross enough when she could identify them mixed with things she was glad she couldn’t. She was thankful it was early. The city smelled already, of sweat, feces, urine, woodsmoke, and burnt food. She couldn’t imagine how bad it would be in the heat of noon. Rika was really glad they’d missed it the day before with their nap and would almost certainly miss it again once they were out of the city. None of the books she’d read had ever prepared her for how bad things smelled in the cities.

            As they dodged their way around people, carts, horses, cows, and buildings, Rika kept her eyes open and searching. Her vigilance was rewarded when she caught sight of yellow uniforms in a stomach-sickeningly familiar shade. Immediately she grabbed Elthia and Ahisu’s hands, dragging them around one corner, then up towards a different street. After another quick look around, one that showed no soldiers, she released them. Both of them stared at her with similar expressions.

            “There were soldiers in yellow uniforms. I didn’t want them to see us. They have to have found out I’m gone by now.”

            Elthia blanched while Ahisu glanced towards Shetton, who’d been following them off and on since they’d left the inn. At his master’s nod, the demon grinned, and turned away from them, ending up swallowed by the crowd in moments. Only then did Ahisu resume leading them out of the city. Rika hoped that whatever Shetton was doing, it would keep them from being caught by soldiers again.

Reader BewareWhere stories live. Discover now