Hunted by Magic (The Baine Chronicles #3)(15)


by Jasmine Walt

I bumped my head against her leg and made a purring sound in answer, then curled up by her feet and stared into the fire. With a full belly and nothing pressingly urgent to do, sleeping in front of the campfire sounded like a really nice idea right about now.

“I’m going to explore for a bit,” Fenris told me. I cracked open an eye to see him standing under the trees, swishing his tail. “You’ll be staying here with Annia?”

“Yeah. I’ve had my share of exercise, thanks.”

Fenris inclined his head once, then bounded off into the forest. I didn’t know where he got his energy from, but then again I’d done most of the steering today, so it stood to reason he wasn’t as pooped as I was.

“So,” Annia said just as I was about to drift off, “what’s the deal with Fenris?”

Huffing, I lifted my head to glare at her. Couldn’t a girl take a catnap? It wasn’t like we could actually communicate while I was in beast form.

Annia only lifted an eyebrow. “Oh, give me a break and change back already. I’m not sitting out here by myself and talking to the air when I’ve got you for company.”

I made a disgruntled noise in the back of my throat, but did as she asked and changed back into human form. Once I was on two legs again, I sat down on the log beside her and stared up at the sky. The sun had fully set, leaving only a tinge of purple at the edges of the dark sky. Out here in the wilderness, I could see more stars than sky, many of them more luminous than even the waxing moon hanging above our heads.

“Not sure what you want me to tell you about Fenris,” I finally said. “I don’t really know much about him.”

“You have to know something,” Annia said, looking at me curiously. “From what I understand, you two are the only shifters who spend any substantial length of time in the Palace. What’s up with that?”

“Well, I know why I ended up in the Palace,” I said, playing with the ends of my ponytail. I’d scooped my hair back and tied it with a leather band hours ago – the winds had kept blowing it in my face and making visibility difficult while I was steering the balloon. “The Chief Mage took an interest in my abilities, and he hasn’t gotten tired of me yet. But I have no idea why he and Fenris are friends. It’s not like Fenris is half-mage like me.”

“If he’s not a mage, then how is it that he was able to help you steer the balloon?” Annia asked, puzzled. “I thought you had to have magic in order to do that. Isn’t that what Noria said?”

“I…” I opened my mouth, and then closed it again. I didn’t have an answer for that. “He must have picked up some kind of trick from Iannis.”

“How do you know he isn’t a hybrid like you?”

“He’s not.” I shook my head emphatically – of this I was certain. “He smells like a full-blooded shifter to me.” I slanted my eyes toward her. “Why are you so curious, anyway?”

“I like to know who I’m working with.” Annia’s lips curved into a small smile. “And besides, I’m curious as to why he’s so stiff and fidgety around me. If it weren’t for you, I’d think he’d never been around a woman before.”

“I think he’s just not used to new people.” But my own lips twitched, and I had to stifle a laugh. “Just how ‘stiff’ was he under that blanket anyway?”

Annia snickered. “He wasn’t that kind of stiff, you pervert.” Her dark eyes twinkled with mirth as she shook her head at me. “In fact, I have to wonder if he’s even into women.”

“Wait a second.” My mouth formed a little ‘o’ of horror as the implications of that dawned on me. “All the time he and Iannis spend together…do you think…?”

“Do you think what?” Fenris asked, emerging from the forest in human form.

“Nothing,” Annia and I said in unison.

“Hmm.” Fenris’s yellow eyes narrowed, but he didn’t press the matter further. “I suggest we get to sleep soon, so we can get an early start in the morning. The sooner we find Iannis, the better.”

“Right.” We cleaned up what mess we’d made from dinner, then established a watch schedule – Fenris was first, I was second, and Annia was taking third. Fenris settled down by the fire, and Annia and I bedded down in the tents, which were each only large enough to accommodate a single person. As I fastened the tent’s entrance, I took a moment to study Fenris’s profile. I’d always thought of him as Iannis’s stalwart companion, a trusted advisor and friend. But what if they were more? What if Fenris’s motivation for finding Iannis went beyond simple friendship?

But if that’s the case, then why would Fenris have encouraged Iannis to exchange serapha charms with me?

“Do you need something, Sunaya?” Fenris asked, turning to look my way.

“No.” I shook my head, my cheeks flushing a little at having been caught staring. “I just…it’s nothing. Goodnight.”

I finished zipping up the tent, then flopped back onto my bedroll. I was chasing my thoughts in circles around my head. If Fenris was in an intimate relationship with Iannis, he wouldn’t have wanted us to exchange serapha charms. I hadn’t known this at the time, but serapha charms were usually exchanged between engaged or married couples – they were a semi-permanent method of binding two souls together, so that each would always be able to find the other. Even though I hadn’t known that at the time Iannis and I had made the charms, Fenris had. In fact, it had been his suggestion.

The only explanation that made sense was that Fenris and Iannis weren’t lovers. I was worrying about nothing.

It doesn’t matter, I told myself firmly. You’re all in this together regardless. Wondering about Iannis’s relationship with Fenris wasn’t going to help me find him. Putting the matter aside, I forced myself to relax into sleep. There would be plenty of time to think about these things once Iannis was safely recovered. Or so I hoped.

7

The next day started off well enough. We rose early, broke camp, and managed to get the balloon into the air with only two false starts. Not too bad for a couple of amateurs. It was just as cold up in the air as it had been yesterday, but Fenris and I took turns sharing the bedroll with Annia and we made do.