Defection

Chapter 29

by MacKenzie Kennedy

Northroad smiled through gritted teeth. If she fidgeted one more time...

Court life was full of stand and wait. Both his brother and sister-in-law were used to this.

Her fingers started tapping out the rhythm for a spell that would require a symbol on the floor to work. No, it was just memory work.

Northroad stifled a sigh. He loved her and really, there wasn't any reason for them both to be here.

He walked the few steps to Aayla's side and leaned down. "Would you like to check the rest of the palace?"

The grateful look she gave him was worth it. "Really?"

"Mm. Go inspect something."

She flashed him a grin and was off.

MMM

Skythunder had already claimed a new workroom and both Ean and Orn as assistants-in-training.

So they were unavailable.

Aayla looked down at her diagram. All the blank rooms were undisputed. The ones with an X had been.

"Sounds simple enough," Aayla murmured to herself. "Find an unmarked room and someone in it, then inspect."

"Ah. Is mine next?"

Aayla whipped her head around. A thin man in his early twenties pushed his glasses up nervously. "It depends on which lab is yours." She offered the diagram.

He took it, saying, "I didn't mean to imply that one of the rooms is mine. But I am a lab assistant."

Aayla shrugged. "That's fine. I just spent the last four months being a temporary one."

"Ah. The room hasn't been inspected." He glanced up. "I can let you in."

"Thank you."

They walked down the hall to the right door and the assistant used his key. They stepped inside and Aayla was given the tour.

"And this-" the assistant began, gesturing to a leafy green plant.

With reflexes trained by war (but mostly student and peacetime mage 'activities'), Aayla dropped to the floor, taking the unnamed lab assistant with her before the boom had barely begun.

A good minute after the noise had stopped, the assistant raised his hands from the back of his head and looked up. "Well," he said. "Nothing looks damaged from here." He levered himself into a sitting position. "And I'm not bleeding. How are you?"

Aayla did her own check. "I'm okay."

"Brilliant." He hopped to his feet and hurried off toward where the explosion had come from. "Now what made that noise?"

Aayla put shields in place before she did anything else, including getting up. She keyed them to the assistant the second she locked eyes on him. "Just in case, we should check for concussions."

"Mm? Oh, yes." He walked a few steps right, opened a drawer, pulled out a mirror, and checked his pupils. "I'm okay." He offered it to her.

Aayla sighed. Another one of those 'head in the clouds of science' types. "Someone else needs to look." She looked at his eyes at the same time he checked hers. "Fine."

"Good." He went back to looking for the cause of the explosion, picking up things and looking for scorch marks.

He finally opened a drawer and smoke came out. "Hm..." he said, waving it away and peering inside. "That wasn't supposed to be explosive..."

Footsteps echoed in the hall and Aayla cringed. "Is there someone else working here today or do all the labs have alarms?"

"Alarms," the assistant said, distracted. "Why?"

"I could be in a lot of trouble."

"Why?"

Skythunder cautiously poked his head around the doorway. "Oh," he said, relaxing when he saw Aayla. "Are you all right?"

"Just fine. Why are you here?"

Skythunder smiled. "I put a spell on you in case you encountered any explosions you didn't trigger yourself."

Aayla frowned at that. "That's a pretty specific spell."

"Yes. What went wrong?"

Aayla shrugged. " I was inspecting and there was a boom."

"But I've got it contained and cleaned up," the assistant said. "Mella and I can start with that tomorrow."

"What is your name?" Aayla asked, frowning slightly at the assistant. "I refuse to go through an explosion with someone and not know their name."

"Oh, it's Tain."

"Tain, I'm Mage Teablossom. This is Mage Skythunder."

He blinked at them, opened his mouth, then shut it. He tilted his head. "There's someone else coming."

"I don't hear-" No, there were footsteps. Darn.

Aayla moved outside with Skythunder while Tain followed her. "Oh, no," she groaned.

"Are you all right?" Northroad said, coming to a stop in front of them, eyes moving over them.

"Yes, we're fine." Maybe if she tried being reassuring?

Northroad took a deep breath. "Mage Aayla Teablossom, was there an explosion?"

"Yes."

"In a lab you were inspecting?"

"Yes."

"And no one was hurt."

"No one at all."

"Good." Northroad paused. "What are you two doing coming to another country and blowing up someone else's lab?!"

Skythunder frowned. "I wasn't here. And I have my own workroom." He pointed in the direction of said workroom to be helpful.

"This 'is' my country and I wasn't near whatever blew up," Aayla said, crossing her arms.

"It was contained to a drawer." Three sets of eyes went to the assistant. "It wasn't supposed to be explosive. It's not the mage's fault. She acted most admirably, throwing me down like that."

"You threw someone down?" Northroad said.

"There was an explosion!"

"Oh yes. I could have been killed," Tain said. "But for now, I think I'll find the book I was after and go back to my room. Mella insists that I have more reading to do." He ducked back inside the lab before anyone could reply.

Northroad scrubbed his hand over his eyes. "Teablossom..."

"I'll leave the inspecting to someone else and go help Skythunder."

"Yes," Skythunder said happily. "If you blow up my workroom, I won't care."

"No one is blowing up anything. This is my sister-in-law's country. I'm sure she'd like it intact."

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