Hunted by Magic (The Baine Chronicles #3)(13)


by Jasmine Walt

“Sunaya.” Fenris’s voice was at my ear. “You need to steer now, or the wind is going to blow us off course.”

“Right.” The wind was already pushing the balloon in a northwesterly direction, and we needed to head southeast. I cast one last glance toward Solantha, my eyes briefly lingering on Hawk Hill across the bay where Resinah’s temple was secluded, then turned away. Focusing, I mumbled the Words that Elnos had taught me, and the burnt-sugar scent of magic laced the air as the rope between my fingers began to glow. Some directional instinct activated inside of me, a product of the spell, and I tugged the rope in the direction I wanted the balloon to follow.

“Nice job,” Annia said as the balloon began moving southeast. She braced her arms on the edge of the basket and looked out, her dark red hair streaming out behind her like a banner. The sun kissed her face, highlighting her skin with a peachy glow, and from the way Fenris was eyeing her I saw I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed.

“What?” he asked defensively when he noticed I’d switched my gaze to his.

“Just wondering if you’ve got something to share with the class.”

“You already know how I feel about having her here,” he muttered, but he averted his gaze.

But as I continued to steer the balloon, I wondered if I really did know how he felt. Fenris had stressed the need for discretion on this mission, but I wasn’t sure why. After all, there was a horde of people heading out to search for Iannis. Why did it make a difference that Annia was teaming up with us as opposed to going out on her own, or with a crew of Enforcers? Was there some kind of secret that Fenris was worried she’d find out about?

He does seem to have his fair share of secrets, I thought as I looked out across the changing landscape. We’d cleared the city now, and rolling hills of green stretched out below us, side by side with plots of farmland and orchards. The trees beneath us were laden with fruit just ripe for the picking. Hopefully whatever part of Mexia we ended up in would also have fruit- laden bushes or trees, or at the very least plentiful game. But at least part of the Coazi area was supposed to be desert country, so perhaps that was overly optimistic.

So long as we find Iannis, I’ll put up with anything, I thought, my eyes firmly on the horizon. I only hoped that we found him before it was too late.

6

“By the Ur-God,” Annia swore, her teeth chattering, “is there anything we can do to make it less freezing in here?”

“Sorry, but the closest heat source we have is currently being used to power the balloon right now.” I turned my head to look at Annia, who was huddled in a corner of the basket, her bedroll unwrapped and tucked around her. Her cheeks were pink from the cold, as I imagined mine were – they stung from constantly being slapped by the winds buffeting our balloon.

“I wish I’d packed more layers to wear,” she groused, her dark brows drawn together in a scowl. “This drafty basket is letting in far more air than the airships I’ve traveled on. Honestly, you’d think it was winter up here!”

“It is rather cold,” Fenris agreed. He was sitting on the opposite end of basket from Annia, his knees drawn up to his chest as well, but he’d forgone the bedroll – since he was a shifter, the cold didn’t affect him as badly.

“Seriously, Naya,” Annia said, “can’t you use your magic to heat up the air or something?”

“Keeping the air warm in here would require constant use of my magic, and I’m already using it to steer the balloon,” I told her. “I’m not a never-ending power source, Annia – that would drain me eventually.”

“Oh alright,” she sighed, burrowing a little deeper into her bedroll. “But this still sucks.”

“I told you we shouldn’t have brought her.” Fenris’s voice echoed into my mind, a little smugly. “She’s clearly not cut out for this kind of travel.”

“You have no idea what Annia is and isn’t cut out for.” Annoyed, I turned to glare at him, but I found that he wasn’t even looking at me. Rather, he was staring at Annia over his knees, his yellow eyes glimmering with ire.

My scowl melted away into a grin as an idea came to me. “Go sit over there with her.”

Fenris’s eyes snapped toward me. “Excuse me?”

“Oh you heard me right.” My grin widened. “Go get under the bedroll with Annia and share your body heat with her.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Fenris bit out. “You keep saying she can take care of herself. She doesn’t need me.”

“Oh stop being such an ass.” I would have been annoyed at his recalcitrance if I wasn’t enjoying how uncomfortable he was becoming. I’d never seen Fenris so ruffled. “You know why we need her, and there’s no point in letting her suffer if we don’t have to. Be a gentleman, for Magorah’s sake! Unless you don’t know how.”

“Of course I know how,” Fenris snapped.

“Know how to do what?” Annia asked, and we both snapped our heads around to look at her. Her dark, thickly lashed eyes were peeking out from beneath the bedroll, and they latched onto Fenris hopefully. “Build a fire in here without setting the whole basket aflame?”

“No,” Fenris sighed, his voice softening. He rolled onto his knees, and the basket rocked a little as he made his way toward Annia. “But I suppose I can help warm you up with my body heat.”

“Oooh.” Annia waggled her eyebrows, and I nearly lost it. “Does that mean you’re getting naked?”

“Hardly.” Fenris kept his voice even, but his short, dark hair wasn’t long enough to hide his ears, and I bit back a laugh as I watched them turn red. Annia lifted the bedroll and waved Fenris over – a gesture that cost her as the exposure caused her to start shivering again. Noticing, Fenris quickly got under the bedroll with her and tucked it around them both, pressing his stocky body close to Annia’s.

“There,” I said, grinning. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“You put him up to this?” Annia asked, her brows arched.

“Well, I didn’t want my best friend turning into a popsicle. Feel free to snuggle in closer – he doesn’t mind.”

“What…?” Fenris started to protest as Annia did exactly that, and I let out a snicker. From the glint in her dark eyes, I knew she was playing along with me. Fenris was ridiculously easy to tease, and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t done it before. Probably because we didn’t really spend any idle time together. As I watched Fenris slowly begin to relax, I wondered if he spent idle time in the company of others at all. He was close friends with Iannis, sure, but I’d hardly ever heard the two of them talk of anything other than business, and he didn’t appear to have close relationships with anyone else.