New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder transports readers back to the realms of Sitia and Ixia in an exciting new Study novel full of magic, danger and intrigue.
Ever since being kidnapped from the Illiais Jungle as a child, Yelena Zaltana's life has been fraught with peril. But the recent loss of her Soulfinding abilities has endangered her more than ever before. As she desperately searches for a way to reclaim her magic, her enemies are closing in, and neither Ixia nor Sitia is safe for her anymore. Especially since the growing discord between the two countries and the possibility of a war threatens everything Yelena holds dear.
Valek is determined to protect Yelena, but he's quickly running out of options. The Commander suspects that his loyalties are divided, and he's been keeping secrets from Valek secrets that put him, Yelena and all their friends in terrible danger. As they uncover the various layers of the Commander's mysterious plans, they realize it's far more sinister than they could have ever imagined.
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Valek blinked at me. "You're what?" I drew in a deep breath and held up the glass vial filled with moon potion. My hand trembled, sending waves through the white liquid inside. "Pregnant I think."
"Before we celebrate, love, let's go over your logic." Surprise pierced my growing panic, and I glanced at him. "You want to celebrate? I was taking the moon potion to prevent this."
He took the vial from me and set it on the bed. Then he laced his fingers in mine and pulled me close. "Of course it would be a cause for celebration. Well, a quiet celebration." Valek gave me a wry smilewe both had so many enemies, it wouldn't be smart to announce my condition to the world.
My anxiety eased a bit.
"Now, why does that vial mean you're with child?" Valek asked.
"Healer Hayes told me to take the potion after I bled so I'd be protected for another year. But I haven't yet, and it's been " I calculated in my head. It'd been six weeks since I'd last had my blood cycle. "I'm two weeks late." My stomach churned with distresstalk about the worst possible time to be pregnant.
"A lot has happened to you in the last four weeks. Maybe you're late because of the stress."
Valek had a point. It had happened to me before during trying times. And recently I'd been the target of an assassination attempt. Twice. The first occurred a month ago, when I was shot with an arrow that I suspected had been filled with a poison that blocked my magic. Or so I'd thought. I tightened my grip at a sudden notion. "Could the loss of my powers be due to being pregnant?"
"If that was the case, wouldn't Irys know that's a side effect? You said she was as baffled as Bain was about why your magic is blocked."
He was right. If magic loss was a common side effect during pregnancy, the Master Magicians would be aware of that. Disappointment deflated my brief surge of hope. I'd been searching for a poison or substance that explained my current predicament without success for the past month.
Correctly reading my expression, Valek squeezed my fingers. "It still might be possible. I'm immune to magic. Maybe Junior takes after his dear old dad."
Ignoring the Junior comment, I asked, "In that case, wouldn't I be immune, as well?" That protection would have been more than welcome four days ago when Owen Moon's magic had sliced right through me. If it hadn't been for Valek encouraging me to survive, I'd be a mindless, drooling mess right now.
Valek shrugged. "We've encountered so many different quirks of magic over the years, this may well be one of them." He grinned. "Time will tell. And during that time, you'll be safe. No assassin would dare target you while you're with me."
I was more worried about Owen Moon. The rogue magician had managed to escape after attacking me. He had been growing the Curare vine in a hothouse made of glass. When a person was pricked by Curare, it caused full-body paralysis, which was an effective and nonlethal weapon, since the victim could still breathe.
When Owen had been captured in Ixia four years ago, the Commander assured the Sitian Council, Valek and me that Owen had been executed. Instead, the rogue magician had negotiated a deal with the Commander to manufacture and produce Curare for Ixia's army.
A nice little arrangement, until Owen turned greedy. He sold the drug to other interested parties, and it upset the Commander so much he sent Valek to shut down Owen's entire smuggling operation. Too bad the Commander failed to inform Valek of who had really been in charge of the operation.
We'd all had our share of nasty little surprises in the past week.
"What if Owen shows up?" I asked.
The muscles along Valek's sharp jaw tightened as fury flared in his sapphire-blue eyes. "Don't worry about Owen. Janco and Onora will be traveling with us."
I understood his anger. Owen also knew Valek's weakness. Because he was immune to magic, a null shield cast around him would trap Valek as if he'd been imprisoned in an invisible cell. It was just a matter of time before the word spread to other magicians, and those who could erect a null shield bubble would have an easy way to stop the infamous Ixian assassin.
"Speaking of traveling," I said to lighten the mood. "If you want to leave tomorrow morning, I need that bath."
The hard lines on his angular face softened. "I'll show you the way." Valek let go of my hands.
"Uh-huh. Mighty nice of you."
"I aim to please." He leered, but it soon turned into a more contemplative expression.
As I gathered my clean clothes and soap, Valek picked up the vial of moon potion.
"What about this?" he asked.
"If stress has delayed me, then I should drink it afterward like Healer Hayes instructed."
His brow puckered. "How long does it last?"
"A year, but I usually take it about a month before the year is up just to be safe."
"Is it a hundred percent effective?"
Odd questions, but I humored him. "No. For some, it doesn't work, but I've been taking it for eight years now without a problem." Until now.
"Oh." He set it on the top of the dresser. "What if you wish to have a child sooner?"
"Don't you know all this?"
"No. We use different substances in Ixia."
"In that case, there is another potion called starlight that reverses the effects of the moon potion."
Valek stilled. "How fast?"
"I think it's within hours. I'm not sure. Why all this interest?"
There was something in the taut line of his body that caused me to suspect there was more to it than mere curiosity. But I decided to let it go. Besides, after lying in bed recovering for the past four days, I really needed that bath. And a change of scenery. The bedroom I'd been occupying had bland yellow walls, a single bed, night table, dresser and no decorations.
Valek escorted me down to the ground floor. The farmhouse had plenty of rooms, which was probably why Owen had bought it for his base of operations. The complex of stables, barns and other structures hid his movements from public view while the large chain-link fence kept curious neighbors from stopping by for a visit. Not that there were many people around. The farm was in a remote area in the northern part of the Moon Clan's lands, near the border with Ixia.
"What's the closest town?" I asked Valek. I'd been tied down under a tarp while being transported here, so I'd counted towns by the vibrations from the wagon wheels trundling over the cobblestones, guessing we were three towns east of Lapeer.
"Broken Bridge is just west of here."
I glanced at him. "Interesting name."
"An accurate name. There was a bridge spanning the Sun-worth River at that location, but a flood cracked it in half a long time ago. One half floated down the river, but the other remains on the far bank. No one remembers the real name of the town."
"How do you know all this?"
He grinned. "I've been talking to the locals. Mostly to discover how long Owen's been here, if they'd seen any other strangers around town and if they know about other places he might own. Town gossip can be very informative."
When we reached the washroom, I sighed in contentment when I spotted the glowing coals under a large metal tank. Hot water was just an open valve away. An oval tub sat in the middle of the stone washroom. A row of hooks lined the wall above a bench. Towels had been stacked in a cabinet next to it.
Valek filled the tub while I peeled off my sweat-stiffened tunic. The crisp air caused goose bumps to coat my skin. It was just two weeks into the warming season, and while each day would be a bit warmer than the last, it would be another month before I wouldn't need a cloak during the day. Nights would remain cool well into the warm season.
The rest of my clothing soon joined my tunic on the floor. Before I could even shiver, Valek wrapped me in an embrace. Warmth enveloped me and I gazed up into his eyes.
He swooped in for a kiss. I hooked my arms around his neck and laced my fingers in his shoulder-length black hair, deepening the kiss. My worries melted as heat spread throughout my body.
Too soon, he pulled back. "Your water's getting cold."
"I'm not the one still wearing clothes." Regret flashed across his face. "I've a few things to take care of before we leave tomorrow."
He silenced my protest with another kiss. "Tonight. I promise."
After he left, the cold rushed in with a vengeance. I grabbed a towel and my supplies and hurried to the tub, setting the items on a nearby table. Steam curled from the water and I stepped into bliss, sighing as I submerged up to my neck. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the soak until my worries once again solidified. The biggest one pushed all the others to the side, and I rested my hands on my lower abdomen.
No. Valek was right. Stress and trauma had upset my monthly cycles before. This time was no different. Besides, the moon potion had worked for eight years; no reason to doubt its potency now.
Fear stirred in my chest. I couldn't be pregnant. Not now. Assassins had been hired to kill me, I had no magic and Owen Moona dangerous and powerful magician who also wanted me deadwas at large. Plus this new girl, Onorayet another assassinwas after Valek's job as Ixia's security chief. And he had dozens of enemies.
Then again, I couldn't imagine our lives ever settling down enough for the timing to be perfect. A child of ours would never be safe. But no need to jump to conclusions just yet. As Valek had said, time will tell. And if I wasn't ?
It'd be for the best. Yet a faint pang of disappointment poked my chest at the thought. Silly.
When the water turned lukewarm, I grabbed my soap. Careful of the scabbed-over rope burns and multicolored bruises around my wrists and ankles, I scrubbed off a few layers of grime. Old scars crisscrossed my stomach, ribs, legs and arms. I'd seen more than my share of action. The newest scar, a roundish shape just below my left clavicle, had been made by the first assassin's arrow just a month ago.
I fingered the ridges, remembering the force of the impact that had knocked me from Kiki's back. The shaft had been filled with an unknown liquid poison. My magic expelled most of the drugor so I'd thoughtand healed the wound. That had been the last time I drew from the blanket of power that surrounded the world and fueled a magician's magic. Once I recovered from the injury, Valek and I enjoyed the remaining day of our vacation before he left for Ixia. That morning, the symptoms of the poison began, and I spent the day suffering from intense hot and cold flashes. When they finally ceased, my ability to draw power was gone.
A delay between poisoning and the onset of the symptoms was not unheard-of. Many assassins liked to be well away before anyone suspected foul play. Yet in this case, shooting a victim with an arrow was far from subtle. I considered. The poison may have nothing to do with my blocked magic. Perhaps it was just added insurance, in case the assassin missed my heart. My ability to drain the substance from my wound then turned a lethal dose into a sick day in bed. That scenario implied there was another cause.
Conception? If I was with child, the timing coincided. But again, if magicians lost their powers while pregnant, it'd be well-known. Unless, as Valek had said, there was some quirk in the magic. Perhaps First Magician Bain Bloodgood would know, or he could search through his history books for a reference to a similar occurrence. It'd be too dangerous to send him a message right now, and it might be a bit premature at this point. Once I had confirmation of my condition, then I'd talk to Bain.
Clean, I rinsed off the soap and dressed in record time. My stomach growled, so I searched for something to eat. No surprise that my brother, Leif, stood at the kitchen's long counter with his hands in a large metal mixing bowl.
Leif was never far from the food.
His strong forearms flexed as he kneaded the dough. About six inches taller than me, his broad shoulders and square jaw gave him a stocky appearance, but despite being obsessed with eating, it was all muscle under his brown tunic.
"You going to stand there all day?" Leif asked without glancing in my direction. His magic sensed a person's proximity, as well as intentions, moods and guilt. He frequently aided the Sitian Council in their investigations.
"I'm still recovering from the shock of seeing you cook."
He grunted. "Who do you think has been feeding you the last four days?"
I stepped into the spacious kitchen. A mammoth stone hearth comprised the entire far wall. Coals glowed red-hot under a large-sized white brick oven, above which hung an assortment of black iron pots. The scent of baking bread filled the air. A long wooden table with seating for at least two dozen bisected the room.
"I know you're famous for your wet-dog tea and rabbit stew, but I thought you'd rather eat other people's cooking."
"It's corgarviy tea, and without it, you'd still be drooling on your pillow."
True. Even though it smelled awful, it had helped rejuvenate me. I joined him at the counter. An impressive array of utensils, tools, bowls and equipment lined the shelves.
"Besides, if I had a kitchen like this, I'd cook all the time." Leif studied me. "Hungry?"
He gestured to the bench near the table. "Sit."
I didn't waste any time, and he laughed. In that instant, he looked much younger than twenty-nine, which was two years older than me. He grabbed a bowl and uncovered one of the pots on the hearth. Ladling a heaping portion into the bowl, he then placed the steaming goodness in front of me, along with a spoon.