Hunted by Magic (The Baine Chronicles #3)(12)


by Jasmine Walt

“You’re right.” Fenris snatched his hand back, glaring at me with his yellow shifter eyes. “You don’t know what my past is. As I’ve said, I’m perfectly capable of defending myself.”

“That may be so, but I’m still taking Annia,” I said coolly. “Remember that without her, we wouldn’t have the balloon. So you’ll have to put up with the ‘inconvenience’ of it, or find another mode of transportation.”

Fenris held my gaze for a moment longer, then looked away and sighed. “I suppose I can’t argue with that. It’s just…this is a very sensitive mission, Sunaya. The more people involved, the greater the danger that things can go wrong. Her sister sides with the enemy.”

“I get it, but we need Annia. Besides, I trust her implicitly. She’s not going to fuck us over.”

“For Iannis’s sake, I hope you’re right.”

“Alright,” I said when we were all gathered around the balloon outside the workshop. Elnos and Noria had dragged the contraption to the small lot behind the shop to prepare it for liftoff. It was already inflated, the magical coal activated and burning brightly. “Guess it’s time for us to get on this thing.”

Fenris winced a little as he took in the neon-bright purple and yellow fabric of the balloon itself. “We’re not going to blend in very well.”

“Yeah, well I wasn’t exactly creating this for a stealth mission,” Noria snapped. She stepped up onto the platform we were going to use to board the balloon, then tapped the sandbags hanging off the basket. “Remember, these guys stay on here. The whole point is to make sure the balloon doesn’t rise too fast when you lift off. The only exception is if for some reason you guys lose altitude and you’re plummeting to the ground too fast. Then you drop them to lighten your load and slow your descent.”

“We get it, Noria,” Annia said quietly. There was a sadness in her dark eyes as she looked at her sister, and I wondered if it was because of the rift that had sprung between them when Annia had demanded Noria give up the balloon, or because of Noria’s pro-Resistance attitude.

“Alright, well if you’re so sure, let’s get you boarded.” Noria’s narrowed eyes surveyed us. “You guys sure about this? Once you’re gone, it’s pretty hard to come back.”

“We’re sure.” I eyed Noria’s stiffened spine and rock-hard shoulders, then stepped forward and embraced her. She jolted in surprise at my touch, and I felt guilty that she would react this way to a show of affection from me. “Thank you so much, Nor. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Noria sighed a little, hugging me back, and when I pulled away I was surprised to see a film of tears in her eyes. “I just want you all to be safe, and going out there to rescue the Chief Mage, especially at a time like this, is reckless. He’s got boatloads of magic, Naya – surely he can take care of himself.”

I snorted. “You’re here to talk to me about recklessness?” In that department Noria was even worse than I was. “Besides, if it were Elnos out there, wouldn’t you be going regardless of the danger?”

“I love Elnos.” Noria arched a brow. “Are you trying to tell me that you love the Chief Mage?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I said lightly, though my heartbeat began to pick up at the accusation. “But he’s my mentor now, and I’ve already lost one of those this year. I don’t want to lose another.”

“Alright.” Noria sighed, then stepped aside to give me access to the platform. “Go on, then.”

“Wait!”

I turned at the sound of Comenius’s voice, and a smile broke out across my face as I watched him hurry into the lot with Elania on his heels. His features sagged with relief as he took us all in. “Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t miss you.”

“Me too.” I stepped forward and into Com’s waiting embrace. “Will you check on Lakin for me whenever you get a moment? I know you’re not really comfortable with being in Shiftertown, but I’m sure his hands are more than full, and there are probably many wounded that could use your assistance.”

“I’ll do what I can.” Comenius hugged me tightly, and I laid my head on his shoulder, soaking up his comforting embrace. His herbal scent surrounded me, and as I glanced over his shoulder at Elania, I was surprised to see jealousy in her dark eyes as she regarded us silently. But as soon as I stepped out of the embrace, the look in her eyes was gone, and a warm smile spread across her features as she came to hug me as well.

“May the gods be with you, Sunaya,” she told me.

“And you.” Truthfully, I had no idea what she meant by that, as I’d always operated under the assumption that there was one god – Magorah. I’d only recently found out that mages worshipped a version of Him called the Creator, as well as His right-hand woman, the first mage Resinah. I was still trying to wrap my head around what was true, but I couldn’t deny that I’d felt a strong, powerful presence in Resinah’s temple, and more than once I’d even imagined hearing her voice.

I stepped onto the platform, then turned back to face Noria as a thought occurred to me. “Promise me something.”

“What?”

“Will you wait to join the Resistance?” When Noria’s face stiffened, I added, “At least until we get back? I’d hate to think this is the last time we’ll see you.” Once Noria joined up with the Resistance she would become an outlaw, and would have to flee to one of the Resistance’s hidden camps.

“I’ll try,” she allowed, her voice tight. “But no promises.”

I nodded, then boarded the balloon. It was the best I could hope for.

“Take care of my sister, will you?” Annia called to Elnos as she hopped into the basket with me.

“Of course.” Elnos nodded solemnly. Although he wouldn’t – or rather, couldn’t – stop Noria from joining the Resistance, he wasn’t a fan of the idea. He would try to hold her off as long as possible.

“Alright,” Fenris said as he settled himself into the basket along with us. “Let’s get going.”

Noria and Elnos rushed to cut the ropes tying the balloon to the ground. As they did, I took hold of the rope dangling from above, which I was supposed to direct my magic through to steer the balloon. I gripped the edge of the basket with my other hand as the balloon began to rise into the air, slowly, ever so slowly, and I watched as we crested the tops of the various buildings that made up the compound of the Academy. Soon we were high enough to see all of Rowanville – I could make out my apartment building, clustered in between so many of the other buildings and shops in Rowanville, and further up, the Port, nestled alongside Solantha Bay’s glittering coast. Turning my neck, I also caught sight of Solantha Palace, Iannis’s home, its towers and turrets spearing the gorgeous blue sky. The sun was halfway up its ascent to noon, casting bright rays over the glittering Bay waters, and I felt a tug at my heart. Solantha might be unsafe for me right now, but it was still my home, and I hated to leave it.