Chapter 22

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Amates 29, 1277. Outside the town of Talabrae’s Deep at the edge of the Great Chasm 

 
     “Town ahead! Talabrae’s Deep!”
 
     Tyre’s bellow from the front of the windwagon jarred me awake. I found the world’s largest cat nose sniffing at my cheek. His whiskers almost made me sneeze. It took me another minute to drag myself from sleep and form words. Coffee would help. Somewhere close by, people were moving around the windwagon.
 
     “Yoi T’kalo, Nicodemus.”
 
     This had been my morning ritual for the past eight days of travel, ever since I left the Tirak clutch-clan and their ruins. Being greeted by the Planus smoke cheetah wasn’t a part of Ki’s order to rest and recover. The big cat had his own opinions.
 
     Nicodemus yawned at me with a squeak. After that, he purred, shoving his whiskers at me.
 
     I shoved his head aside.
 
     “Not now.” I pulled myself into a sitting position on the futon mattress, then stretched. The footsteps nearby faded out, and more comfortable sounds took their place. Windwagon rigging creaked in the breeze outside while someone tied down and set an anchor. The usual work when a windwagon came to a stop.
 
     “Where’s everyone?” I asked. “Outside?”
 
     Nicodemus ignored my question. Instead, he sauntered onto the mattress while he scrubbed his flank against my arm. After a slow turn, he took my place on the futon.
 
     I shot him a perturbed glare before I got to my feet.
 
     My clothes hadn’t entirely survived what I went through after the Crimson Company camp. They could be mended, so I kept them, but had them stuffed into the room’s tiny footlocker. I was down to my only spare trousers and shirt. Expeditions were always rough on clothing.
 
     I had slipped those on before Ki knocked on the door frame.
 
     “You’re looking better. Color looks good. Death warmed over doesn’t become you.”
 
     “Doesn’t become anybody,” I replied with a touch of sass under my tone. Confined to quarters wasn’t fun, no matter if I was aboard a windwagon or a sailing ship. At least with a windwagon, I had my own room.
 
     “Did I hear that right? We’re at Talabrae’s Deep?” I asked.
 
     Ki nodded, then leaned against the door frame with a shoulder.
 
     “We are. Evi plans to go out and have a look around. Tyre already is. He was going to make nice with the local merchants. You and I? We stay here with Mikasi. Just in case.”
 
     “Sha’ree drown it all!” I growled.
 
     Ki chuckled.
 
     “I told Tyre you wouldn’t like it.” Ki’s tiefling tail swayed like a calm pendulum. “But I agree with him. This time, it’s better safe than running in chin first. The Crimson Company has a big lead on us, and they would’ve come through here by now.” He shrugged. “For all we know, they left some enforcers behind to do some leg-breaking.”
 
     I picked up my shoulder bag and fished my journal out of it. My temper was already short from being confined to quarters. The news of having to stay on the Sheldrake while others scouted around to make sure it was safe didn’t help. Reading sometimes helped me blow off steam, and I really needed to do that.
 
     “I blend in,” I complained.
 
     “Not with those eyes, you won’t.”
 
     I winced, then glowered at Ki. But he had a good point.
 
     When I first got back to the Sheldrake, Ki mentioned he could tell that I had been treated by a master healer. I had a few scars from the kobold skirmish, but Odro healed the rest. The reptile spines growing along my arms? Those were gone; not even a scale was left behind. But then, there were my eyes.
 
     My eyes used to be a dark brown. Now, after that magic storm Baron Marius conjured up, they were a dark gold. They weren’t quite kobold eyes; Odro had adjusted that much. But they weren’t back to normal. Odro warned me this might be permanent, and I should be careful. He wanted me to take my time to get used to them, since they weren’t human eyes anymore.
 
     That had been hard to take.
 
     One thing I had noticed was that the light was brighter. Sharper. Mikasi had fashioned up a set of goggles for me with smoky quartz eye coverings. I needed them in the middle of the day. Without them? I’d get a sharp headache.
 
     Then there were the dizzy spells. They weren’t strong and didn’t happen too often, but it was what encouraged Ki to slap an order of bed rest on me.
 
     “I’ll wear my goggles. No one will notice.”
 
     Ki stared at me with a flat expression.
 
     I jammed my journal back into my shoulder bag.
 
     “Fine! I’ll wait aboard,” I snapped.
 
     My anger really wasn’t aimed at Ki, and he knew it. I wasn’t a good patient at the best of times. Sitting around and waiting wasn’t easy for me, either. After I snapped at Ki, I stormed out of the cabin, then paced the Sheldrake’s common room.
 
     Ki waited a moment by the door frame while I fumed. Once I had burned out some of my frustration, he cleared his throat.
 
     “So, all that ‘the crystal reflects what’s inside you’ this Odro told you about… you believe that?”
 
     I glanced at Ki, then stalked over to my favorite window aboard the Sheldrake. Outside, the dark, blue-gray stone buildings of Talabrae’s Deep took up most of the view. The mining town was nestled in the rolling hill country of the Bonagrave Hills that hugged the Great Chasm.
 
     Those hills spread out in all directions around the town, except to the east. In that direction, they ran up against the edge of the Great Chasm itself. The rough edge of the impossibly deep canyon cut through the hills like a giant knife. Fog clouds rolled beside the cutting like the waves of a ghost sea.
 
     I watched the fog for a few seconds while my mind wandered. Did I believe what Odro said?
 
     “The whole ‘reflection’ thing?” I sighed. “I don’t know. Ki, I don’t deal in magic. It’s there around me, like when you cast healing spells, but my world isn’t like that. It’s facts, numbers. Old relics or documents about people long dead. You know, history.”
 
     Ki joined me at the window with two cups of coffee and offered me one. I took a sip to let the wonderful sensation wash over me. The tension bled away. Ki took a slow sip out of his own cup.
 
     “Kobolds and that ‘Sacred Philosophy of the Way’ they have is complicated. It’s a religion, but again… not. Sometimes it’s more of a philosophy they try to follow. Maybe there isn’t a difference.” He glanced outside at the town. “You said that after a few tries, the crystal floated for you, too.”
 
     I barked out a short laugh and shook my head.
 
     “Floated? A little.” I shrugged. “I think it was probably falling over sideways, laughing at me.”
 
     Ki grinned as he looked out the window. I noticed his tail swayed thoughtfully while he pursed his lips.
 
     “That reaction. What you described,” he shook his head slowly. “That isn’t anything I recognize as magic. At least not the kind I’ve studied. What did it feel like?”
 
     I frowned at him.
 
     “Feel like?”
 
     He glanced at me with a smirk.
 
     “Yes, feel like.” Ki held a hand out the open window. “Magic has a ‘feel’, Tela. Like warm sunlight against your skin, or the sound of wind rustling the grass. Magic connects things around us, like tendons connecting muscle to bone.”
 
     I stared outside. Feel? How did it feel? To be honest, I wasn’t sure.
 
     Ki had mentioned that before about casting spells. How all magic had a sensation that depended on what was being cast. I never studied magic, so I didn’t pay it a lot of attention.
 
     “I… don’t know?” I stared off into space while I dredged up the memory again. Another sip of coffee brought it into focus. “Light?”
 
     “You mean you felt light? Like you were floating?”
 
     I shook my head.
 
     “No. Not like that. Everything seemed clear. It was like the light in the room was a little brighter. The shadows had pulled back and even the dust seemed to fade into the background.” I paused and squinted at the air in front of me, recalling the odd sensations. “I remember suddenly being so clear-headed, Ki. Like I had just got up from a really good night’s sleep.”
 
     When Ki didn’t reply, I glanced over to find him staring at me with a deep, concerned frown. The intensity made me fidget.
 
     “What?”
 
     “Mind magic,” he said with a dark tone coloring his words. “Rare. Dangerous. At least it’s rare anywhere on Planus, like in Ishnanor or even in the Kingdom of Jata. I’m not sure about anywhere else.”
 
     Ki could be a little paranoid, especially when it came to ruins and what ancient moss, mildew, or disease was lying in wait to kill everyone. This was different. There was a tone in his voice I hadn’t heard him use before.
 
     “Just how ‘dangerous’ are we talking about here? Magically make you drunk enough to wake up next to a happy, snoring bugbear? Or is this ‘fireball inside your head’ kind of dangerous?”
 
     Ki sighed.
 
     “Closer to the latter, but more sinister. From what little I’ve found to read on it, if a spell goes wrong, the magical backlash can roll back into the caster’s mind. I don’t mean the typical headaches you hear about. I mean, break the caster’s grip on what’s real. Shatter it like glass. The worst stories say this magical backlash might even act like a sickness and infect other casters nearby.”
 
     I nearly dropped my coffee.

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