Hunted by Magic (The Baine Chronicles #3)(4)

by Jasmine Walt

My heart sank as I glanced down at the stone again. Fenris was right – when I’d first tested the charm the glow had been bright, nearly dazzling, but it was faint now, barely enough to draw attention.

“I guess that means we have to find him fast,” I said, stuffing the charm back beneath my shirt. If Fenris was right, I shouldn’t be advertising the damn thing. “Did you learn anything useful from the Council meeting, before they threw us out?”

“Nothing good.” Fenris’s expression shifted to worry. “They were mostly just shouting at each other, especially at Director Chen. Because she’s so new, they don’t respect her authority. Showing you any overt support would endanger what leverage she has.”

“Fine.” I pressed my lips together for a moment, but decided to let it go. Director Chen’s position had a lot to do with politics, something I didn’t envy her at all. I couldn’t really blame her for trying to keep her position secure when Iannis wasn’t there to back her up. “Anything else?”

“They did agree to offer a reward of five hundred gold pieces for anyone who brings Iannis back alive.”

“Five hundred?” My eyes nearly popped out of my skull. “With that amount, I’m surprised the entire Enforcers Guild isn’t on the job.”

“I’m sure they will be soon enough,” Fenris said dryly. “And as you’ve proven more than once, not all of them can be trusted.”

“All the more reason to find him first.” I stood up. “Regardless of Chen’s reasons for publicly tossing me to the dogs, I’m not letting her off the hook so easily. She’s going to include me in this rescue mission, one way or another.”

“Naya,” Fenris protested as I turned for the door. “You really should keep a low profile right now. With Iannis gone, the other mages are looking for any reason to turn on you. For now, at least until we figure out a plan, you should keep your head down.”

“You know I’m no good at keeping my head down,” I told him as I opened the door. “But at least I’m good at keeping it on my shoulders.”

I slipped into Director Chen’s office, plopping down into one of her visitors’ chairs to wait for her return from the Council meeting. The hard wooden seat was decidedly uncomfortable; the cushion was barely there, and the relief of dragons carved into the back of the chair dug unpleasantly into my spine. I wondered if Director Chen had ordered these chairs because, like her, they were Garaian, or because she wanted to discourage visitors. They definitely went with the Garaian motif in the room, from the stylized porcelain vases decorating her shelves and sitting on her desk to the silk, dragon-printed curtains hanging from either side of the window behind her desk.

I was just considering abandoning my chair for hers when Director Chen stepped into the room. She froze, her dark eyes on mine as I twisted around to face her, but her surprise quickly melted away into the lake of calm I was accustomed to seeing from her.

“Miss Baine.” Her voice was cool as she closed the door behind her. Silk robes rustled against skin as she moved around me to sit in her cushy chair, and the scent of jasmine tickled my nose. “As usual, you fail to stay out of places where you do not belong.”

“Thankfully, I don’t care whether or not you think I belong.” I crossed my legs and regarded Director Chen steadily as she sat down. Curiously, she avoided my gaze and reached for a small, rectangular silk-covered box instead. She flipped open the little latch, revealing two brass-colored balls roughly the size of chicken eggs – Garaian meditation balls. She picked one up, her fine, delicate fingers wrapping around the brass as she finally turned to look at me.

“Stressed much?” I arched a brow.

Her expression didn’t change, but her knuckles whitened as she squeezed a little tighter. “I find these help me focus in tumultuous times, which today certainly qualifies as. If you still hope to be included in the search party, I cannot help you, Miss Baine. You should leave while you can.”

“Why?” I slapped my hand against the cherrywood edge of the desk. The color of the smooth surface reminded me of Iannis’s hair, hair that in my weaker, unguarded moments I’d envisioned running my hands through. “You know that I deserve to be part of this mission. The Chief Mage’s decision to take me on as his apprentice is the only reason I’m still alive. I’m more motivated to find him than almost any other person in this city.”

“That may be, but I cannot afford to take anyone along whose loyalty to Canalo is not above reproach. Though it may not be fair, the majority of the Council members do not trust you.”

“Don’t you think this might be a good opportunity for me to earn their trust?” I gripped the arms of my chair, hard. Normally I didn’t give a rat’s ass about earning the trust or respect of any of the mages, but clearly my refusal to pander was coming back to bite me now.

“Perhaps, but your shifter abilities are of little use on an airship, and I doubt the other participants would be comfortable sharing such a small space with you.” She gripped the ball tighter, and I could tell she was hanging onto her patience by a thread.

“I could go in a separate ship.” I was getting desperate, I knew, but dammit, I needed to be on this mission!

“If you have a spare ship lying around, feel free.” Director Chen arched a brow. “The Guild’s last available airship is needed by the Finance Secretary. He is the only delegate left from the original team, and Canalo must have at least one representative at the Convention.”

“Ugh.” I slumped back in my chair as I tried to think of something else, anything else. I almost considered mentioning that I had the charm to try and sway her, but Fenris and I had agreed to keep our mouths shut about it to all but my closest friends, and Director Chen most definitely was not in that camp. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Director Chen regarded me for a long moment, a flicker of wary sympathy in her dark eyes. “I strongly suggest that you stay out of sight until we return with the Chief Mage. Without his protection, the senior mages have little reason to tolerate you. I would hate to return with Lord Iannis only to find that he’s already lost his apprentice.”

Since I didn’t have anything to say to that, I rose, then inclined my head. “Alright. Thank you for your time, Director Chen.”