Hunted by Magic (The Baine Chronicles #3)(11)


by Jasmine Walt

“Hey, give me some credit!” Annia sounded a bit miffed. “I didn’t just spend time watching him pilot the ship – I made him teach me, and I was pretty close to getting my pilot’s license when we broke up. I wouldn’t offer to pilot the ship if I thought I was going to get us killed.”

Unfortunately, it turned out that Annia’s offer was useless, because despite calling around at all the likely places, we simply couldn’t find any kind of airship. The few ones available to rent had already been snatched up by wealthy families looking to get out of Solantha before the shit hit the fan, and we didn’t know anyone we could ask to borrow a ship from.

“Well this sucks,” I said as I slammed the phone down on the receiver again. “How the fuck are we supposed to get to the Chief Mage if we can’t get an airship?”

“I’m not sure,” Fenris admitted, looking just as put out. “Right now we might have better chances of finding a dragon to take us than an actual airship.”

“Since dragons don’t exist, I find that really depressing.”

“Actually,” Annia said, holding up a finger in thought. “I might have an idea of where we might be able to get an airship. Or at least something like it.”

“Oh yeah?” Hope blossomed in my chest. “Where?”

Annia winked. “Only our favorite little redhead, of course.”

5

“I am not letting you guys borrow my balloon,” Noria insisted, arms crossed over her chest as she scowled at us. Elnos stood behind her, dressed in a pair of patched robes streaked with grime – the two of them had been wrestling with some kind of large, mechanical device before we’d walked into the workshop space they rented at the Academy.

“Why the hell not?” I demanded, gesturing at said balloon. It took up the entire left half of the workshop space, and resembled a giant wicker basket with a strange blanket hanging off it that was bolted to some metallic contraption, presumably something from which to burn coal. “It doesn’t look like you’re using it, and we need it.”

“Our magitech balloon is highly experimental, and not ready,” Elnos protested, stepping forward to take control of the conversation. He spread his hands imploringly, as if trying to make us see reason. “We’ve never taken it farther than the bay, and we’re still tweaking some of the mechanism. We have no idea if it would survive a trip all the way out to Mexia.”

“Besides,” Noria added, tossing her head, “I’m really not interested in helping the Mages Guild. With the Chief Mage gone, maybe the Resistance can finally get something done around here.”

“Noria!” Annia snapped. “Without the Chief Mage to rein everyone in, all we’re going to accomplish is turning Solantha into a messy battleground.”

“So?” Noria lifted her chin. “You have to fight a few battles in order to win a war. Fighting for freedom means you have to be willing to suffer casualties.”

“Fine,” I said through gritted teeth, “but that doesn’t mean the Chief Mage has to be one of those casualties.”

Noria turned her scornful gaze on me. “You know, you’ve really changed, Naya. Just a few months ago, you wouldn’t have lifted a single finger to help the Chief Mage or his band of entitled cronies.”

“That was before the Chief Mage saved my life,” I said evenly.

“Alright,” Annia said before we could take the argument further. “Politics aside, you owe me a crapload of favors, Noria, and it’s time for me to cash in now.”

Noria paled. “You can’t be serious. This is what you’re calling in that favor for?”

“Damn straight. I want that bounty, and Naya wants the Chief Mage. We’re killing two birds with one stone, and you’re going to help us by giving me that balloon.”

“And just how are you going to steer it?” Noria demanded. “We haven’t perfected the steering mechanism yet; it still requires a mage to pilot.” Her eyes shifted toward me. “Preferably one who knows what she’s doing.”

I hesitated, but to my surprise Fenris spoke up. “I’m sure we won’t have a problem figuring it out. Elnos, you can show us the basics, can’t you? Between Sunaya and myself we should be able to keep it going long enough to get us to our destination.”

“Sure,” Elnos agreed, ignoring Noria’s death glare. A mage himself, he was the strange exception in Noria’s life, but only because he believed that magic should be equally accessible to all. Hence why they worked together experimenting with magitech – devices that were powered by both magic and technology. “I’ve no problem teaching you the basics. We don’t want them to die, after all, now do we?” He arched his brows at Noria.

“Of course not.” Noria huffed out a breath, crossing her arms again as she pinned Annia with a gimlet stare. “But after this, you and I are square. Clear?”

“Clear.”

After a brief lesson from Elnos on how to handle the balloon, we set out to gather supplies. Since Fenris couldn’t get back into the Palace to retrieve anything, he and I had to go shopping for travel gear as well as camping supplies for all of us.

“This trip would be much simpler if we weren’t bringing your friend Annia along,” Fenris grumbled as he plucked a bedroll off the shelf of the only camping store that was even open today. I’d spelled us to look like a couple of human students so that we wouldn’t draw attention. “She’s just a human. If something happens to that balloon and we end up stranded somewhere, she’s sure to be a hindrance.”

“Maybe,” I allowed as I inspected the spoons of one of the mess kits I’d put into our shopping basket. There was a tiny nick on the edge of the implement, and I turned back to the shelf I’d grabbed it from so I could replace it. “But Annia’s a damn good Enforcer, and I could use someone with fighting experience at my back.”

“I’m perfectly capable of defending myself,” Fenris said stiffly, tossing the bedroll back and choosing another.

I rolled my eyes, then grabbed his wrist and turned his palm up. “Not a single callus on these bad boys,” I remarked pointedly. “I’m not going to pretend I know what your past is, but if you’ve done any fighting, it was long enough ago that there’s no trace of it on your body.”