Hunted by Magic (The Baine Chronicles #3)(6)

by Jasmine Walt

Since my beloved steambike had been lost in Durain, I had to walk all the way down to the Port. Underneath the illusion I was still barefoot, so I hitched rides on the backs of carriages whenever I could, but it still took me nearly an hour to make what would normally have been a ten-minute trip.

My sore feet breathed a sigh of relief as they finally hit the boardwalk. I made my way down to Witches’ End, the place where magic users from other countries who’d managed to get permission to settle within the Federation ran their shops. There were apothecary shops, fortune tellers, psychics, and more here – because they were born and raised in other countries, they managed to escape the no-magic rule that plagued the rest of the non-mage families in the Northia Federation. They were all licensed and registered with the state and had to adhere to strict regulations, but it was still better than being forced to have your magic stripped away, or being executed – the two choices I’d hidden from my entire life, before the truth of my half-mage heritage had come to light.

My friend Comenius ran a small shop there, called Over the Hedge. As a hedgewitch he specialized in nature magic, and offered charms and potions that were basically natural remedies enhanced by magic, like the nasty tonic he and Elania had made for me back at the Palace. I could see through the windowpane that Comenius was manning the counter, so I pushed my way inside, the little bell on the door tinkling as I entered. Comenius looked up from the register, and relief crossed his face as I dropped the illusion, allowing my true form to surface again.

“Welche Erleichterung!” he exclaimed, hurrying around the counter – there was nobody else in the shop right now. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he added, wrapping his arms around me.

I hugged him back, inhaling his woodsy, herbal scent, but didn’t allow myself to get lost in his embrace for long – there was work to do. “Director Chen won’t let me be part of the rescue mission, and neither will the Council. Apparently they don’t trust me.”

“I’d say it’s gone a little beyond that,” Comenius said darkly, flipping the OPEN sign on the door to CLOSED and locking it twice. “I had guards here less than half an hour ago searching for you. Apparently there is a warrant out for your arrest.”

“Typical.” I gnashed my teeth together as he drew me behind the counter and into the back room. Half the space was taken up by wooden shelves stocked with merchandise and supplies, and the other half was dominated by a large, flat table where Comenius mixed herbal remedies and made charms. Bypassing his work area, he pulled me up a wooden staircase that led to the apartment above the shop. “Iannis is missing, and the first thing they think of is using the opportunity to get rid of me.”

“They see you as a threat, and not without reason,” Comenius said as he opened the door to his apartment. “You’ve been encouraging the Chief Mage to dig into places the others might rather he not look at too closely. That kind of thing is bound to stir enemies out of the woodwork, for both him and yourself.”

Nodding, I looked around as Comenius closed the door behind us. His place was twice the size of my apartment in Rowanville, with an open floor plan where the kitchen, living room, and dining area were separated by arches rather than doors. The only walled-off area was to the back, where Comenius’s bedroom suite was – I had personal knowledge of that space, as we’d been lovers once upon a very long time ago. But though I still felt the occasional spark when we touched or locked eyes, there wasn’t much more than friendship between us, especially now that Elania was in his life and Iannis was in mine.

Even if Iannis and I were off-limits to each other.

“Okay, so what do we do now?” I demanded, sitting down on the dark green futon Comenius used as a couch. “Do I just cower in your apartment, keeping my head down like everyone keeps insisting that I do?”

Comenius snorted as he put on a pot of tea and grabbed a tin of cookies from one of his cupboards. “Since I highly doubt you’re capable of hiding out in my apartment even to save your own life, never mind the Chief Mage’s, I’m not even going to suggest it. We will come up with a plan, which likely will revolve around the use of that charm you have.”

“Yeah.” I drew the chain out from beneath my jacket and stared down at the opal. As I focused my attention on it and thought of Iannis, it glowed blue again, and I felt a tug on my soul. The magic seemed to be pulling me in an easterly direction, which made sense since Dara, the Federation capital, was located on Northia’s east coast. But that wasn’t particularly helpful, because there was a vast amount of land between us and Dara. I really didn’t have any more information than Chen’s search party, now that I thought about it.

“From what I understand about serapha charms,” Comenius said as he joined me on the sofa, “they won’t pinpoint the location of the person tied to them, but so long as you follow that internal tug, it will lead you straight to the other half of the charm, and thus to the person wearing it.”

“Maybe, but that means wandering across the country on foot for who knows how long. And even if it pulls me in the right direction, if I follow it blindly it’ll probably lead me straight across a chasm with my luck.” I scowled down at the stone, annoyed at how useless it was proving to be. But then again, Iannis had used it to find me, hadn’t he? “There has to be a better way to go about this.”

“I’m sure there is, but I’m afraid I’m not the one to do it.” Comenius smiled. “Thankfully, we both know someone who is.”

It didn’t take long for Elania to arrive. As soon as the shop’s doorbell rang, Comenius was on his feet, hurrying down the stairs. It was both amusing and disconcerting, the way my normally level-headed friend seemed to be infatuated with Elania, the witch who ran the apothecary shop down at the other end of the pier. From what I understood, like many witches Elania could also do spellcasting, which was why Comenius was enlisting her help. It almost made me wonder whether Elania had somehow bewitched my friend, as it was precisely because of his cautious, level-headed nature that the two of us had called things off. But I didn’t sense anything magically off about Comenius. The only magic he was caught up in was the magic of lust, and that was something we were all subject to, no magical potions or spells required.

I should know, because as a shifter, or at least half-shifter, lust was a much bigger inconvenience to me than it was for a human or mage. Twice a year, shifter females went into heat and became insatiable creatures, consumed by the urge to mate and little else. The clock reset every time it was over, regardless of whether or not we were impregnated, but during the period in between our hormones ramped up bit by bit until we exploded all over again.