Spy Glass Page 8

Quartz snorted, jerking me from my thoughts. She stood in front of a stable. I blinked at the stable boy.

“Want me to rub her down?” he asked.

“No thanks, I’ll do it.” I dismounted. Quartz had picked an inn. The stable’s wide walkways, clean stalls and the fresh scent of sweet hay boded well for the rest of the place. “You’re spoiled rotten,” I said, scratching her behind the ears.

“Excuse me?” the boy asked. He hovered nearby.

“Here.” I handed him her bridle. “Hang it up in her stall please.”

When he returned, he helped me remove her saddle and settled her in for the night. I fed her milk oats before searching for the innkeeper. I paused outside the main entrance and laughed. Quartz had a warped sense of humor. Or perhaps she could read my mind? Either way, I hoped the Second Chance Inn had a vacancy.

The next morning, I woke at dawn. The town’s soldiers trained every morning to keep in shape, and I planned to join them. I wrapped my heavy cloak around my shoulders as I hurried to the guards’ headquarters. Located right next to the Councilor’s Hall, the station also housed criminals before they were processed.

When I arrived, I scanned the sweaty faces of the guards. Even in the cold morning air, most of them had tossed their long-sleeved tunics over the fence, training in short sleeves. The sight made me shiver. Steam puffed from their mouths as they heckled each other. More men than women worked on sword drills and self-defense, which made it easy for me to spot Eve.

Although she matched my height, she looked tiny compared to her partner, Nic. A brute of a man, who had made a bad first impression when we met. He recognized me and beamed. When he wrapped me in a bear hug, I had to admit, it wasn’t his fault our first encounter hadn’t gone well. After all, I had been arrested for disobeying the Council’s orders. He had just been doing his job.

Pressed against his damp shirt, I breathed in his rank scent and coughed. “Phew, Nic.” I pulled away. “You stink.”

“Hello to you, too,” he said with a growl. But couldn’t hold it for long. Wrinkles emanated from his big puppy-dog brown eyes which contrasted with his sharp too-many-times broken nose.

“By the end of the cold season, we use him as a weapon,” Eve said.

She gave me a quick hug of welcome. Her short strawberry blond hair tickled my cheek. Intelligence and humor danced in her light blue eyes.

“All right, I’ll bite. A weapon?” I asked.

“He hates bathing during the cold season. So by the end he reeks so bad, we’ll send him into places we know criminals are hiding, and, within minutes, they pour out like rats escaping a burning building. Works better than a stink bomb.”

“Ha, ha,” Nic deadpanned. “You certainly don’t smell like roses after you’ve been working out. Besides, I hate being wet and cold.”

“Me, too,” I said. We launched into stories of woe, trying to outdo each other on who had been wetter and colder during our various adventures.

“No way the Northern Ice Sheet is colder than Briney Lake,” Nic said. “One time, I broke through the ice, sinking up to my thighs—”

“Nic, that’s enough. I’m sure Opal didn’t come to talk about your wet feet,” Eve said. Her gaze focused on me and she crossed her arms, reminding me of her powerful build. “What’s the trouble?”

“Can’t I come visit two friends without—”

“No,” Nic interrupted. “It’s too soon. You should be with your family or that boyfriend of yours, resting and recuperating.”

“Kade’s in Ixia, and my mother’s…wedding preparations drove me away,” I said.

“Why didn’t you go to the Magician’s Keep?” Eve asked. “Doesn’t your sister live there?”

“She lives there with Leif.” When they failed to react, I added, “Have you seen those two together? I’m queasy just thinking about it.”

They shared a glance.

“Why here?” Eve asked.

“Why not? I’m not surrounded by magicians here. Besides, I need something to do. Are you hiring?”

Nic laughed, but Eve punched him on the arm. “She’s serious.”

He sobered. “Come on, Opal. It’s us.”

Trying to keep secrets had gotten me into trouble before. I was supposed to be smarter now. I glanced around the training yard. “Not here. Later, when you’re off duty.”

“Okay, come back for the late-afternoon training session. Bring your sais. After we work out, we’ll grab supper at the Pen,” Nic said.

“The Pen?”

Eve grinned. “The Pig Pen. Nic’s brother owns it. Best stew in town.”

After talking to Nic and Eve, I sent an overland message to my parents and one to Kade, explaining my whereabouts. Then I spent the rest of the day studying Fulgor’s prison. Located in the far northwest quadrant of the city, it occupied a huge area, extending five blocks wide by eight blocks deep. Its sheer outer walls were topped with coils of barbed wire. Glints of sunlight reflected off glass shards that had been cemented into the top third of the wall, acting as an effective and low-cost device to cut climbing ropes.

Watchtowers perched above the four corners of the massive building. I walked around the structure, noting only two well-guarded entrances. The place appeared to be impenetrable. Sneaking into the prison was out of the question. Escape also seemed impossible.

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