Chapter 39

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            Rika fell back onto the couch, staring up at the water-stained ceiling. Everyone had left her after breakfast. Elthia, to get supplies for making hair dye, Damek, to gather information, and Ahisu…well to do whatever it was he did when he disappeared. At least this time he’d come to let her know before going. Not that it helped.

            Thanks to her frenzy of activity, the house was no long dirty, every scrap of linen in the place and the stuff they’d picked up the night before was clean, and drying in the tiny walled yard that lay just off the kitchen. She’d swept and mopped every floor, beaten the rugs from the bedrooms, and even washed every dish in the place. Twice. Which left her with nothing to do until the others came back, which they’d all said wouldn’t be until roughly noon.

            She got up and poked her head out a window, looking for the sun and missing the convenience of clocks. She guessed it was somewhere between nine and ten. Shutting the window, she dropped back into a chair with a sigh. She really didn’t want to wash the dishes again. She couldn’t get them any cleaner…

            Thinking about the dishes sparked an idea that had her grinning. She raced back up to her room and grabbed her new disguise. Mage robes in a pale purple, complete with a white and purple wand that Ahisu had given her the night before, made her feel better about still having to wear the damned hat. But that was only until tonight. Elthia had promised she’d have hair dye ready and then Rika wouldn’t have to suffer the itchy thing. It made her want to scratch worse than the time she’d gotten head lice in elementary school.

            Quick as she could, she got changed, feeling a little thrill about wearing robes. It made her feel like more of a mage. She even slid the wand into one wide sleeve, into the little catch Elthia had helped her sew into it, so it was always close at hand. She slipped the money pouch Damek had given her into the other sleeve, the one that had a pocket inside of it, and hurried downstairs.

            At the door, she took a deep breath, grabbed the extra key and a basket before reminding herself of what her back story was, should anyone ask. Only then did she head outside, taking care to lock the door behind her. Then, with a smile on her face as she swung the basket, she headed down the street.

            She remembered that Damek had said there was a small market, just down the street they were on and a bit to the right. She figured she could go, pick up enough food to make a good lunch, then surprise everyone by having it ready by the time they got back. Not only would she be being useful, but it would keep her from going stir crazy.

            It was odd. She’d never been bothered being left alone before, but, now that she thought about it, that’s because she always had books to read. Here, she hadn’t read a single one, unless she counted the handful of times she’d checked her book to see if it was still writing down everything she thought and felt. Which it was.

            And really, she didn’t feel the urge to pick up a book. She wasn’t sure if that was because she was afraid that the next one she picked up might send her somewhere worse, or if it would just feel…flat. Thinking back on some of her favourite books made her wince. Having lived in a world where magic existed, she thought that some of them now seemed, kind of, stupid really. Like the talking animals thing. She hadn’t seen a single animal talk or even heard about one. She’d ask the others, but she got the feeling that that didn’t actually happen. Ever.

            Lost in her thoughts, it wasn’t until Rika heard the sound of hooves on the road that she remembered where she was and what she was supposed to be doing. She shook her head and made a right, figuring she could backtrack a bit if she’d gone too far, hearing the horse pulled cart continue straight behind her. She thought she should reach the market in the next five or ten minutes. The way Damek had talked, she couldn’t imagine it was too far.

            She looked around as she walked down the winding road, taking in the houses squashed together, most of them tall and narrow. Often there were children or animals in front of them, sometimes a woman working at peeling or shelling food, sometimes even scrubbing laundry. More often than not in those cases, there were a few of them, all talking to each other and laughing, while their hands moved quickly at their work.

            For all its lack of modern conveniences, and the problems she had since coming here, Rika had to admit, it seemed like a nice place. Not perfect, certainly, but no place was. For the most part, people seemed happy. At least, they seemed to smile and laugh enough that that had to be the case.

            If it hadn’t been for Connor and Myra, Rika thought she might have considered actually staying. This was the world of her dreams. But, she couldn’t do that to those too. Especially to Connor. As it was, he had to be out of his mind with worry. He had to have called the cops and their parents by now. Which meant she was going to have to deal with that entire storm when she got home. Still, she did miss her brother fiercely. It was a pity she couldn’t find a way to bring him and Myra here…Except of course her friend’s family would go just as bananas as Connor was if Myra were to disappear.

            Rika looked up and frowned. Still no sign of the market. She sighed. She’d probably walked to far down the first street. She turned down the next one that led back the way she’d come. Sooner or later, she had to run into it.

            That thought got her started on what she thought she should make for lunch. It would depend on what was at the market, but she thought she might be able to pull off pancakes of some description. And sausages and eggs if they had them. Of course, that was more for breakfast, but she was limited in what she could make given the primitive stove and oven she had to work with. Heck, she couldn’t even keep the temperature constant, since it was all using wood fire.

            She wondered if she could convince Shetton, if he came back in time, to help her keep the fire going at the same rate. Then she frowned. She wasn’t even sure he could do that. But he was a demon after all. Weren’t demons all about fire?

            Shouts ahead of her had Rika looking up. Two carts had collided, spilled beer and splintered wood filling the street, making it impossible to get through. Wincing, Rika ducked down a side street. She’d just turn back the other way when she had a chance.

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