A strained silence falls over the group. Kemp processes what he’s heard as Crofton gives Ari a surprised look. She knew the information would be news to Kemp, but she thought Crofton might’ve known because of his mother and father. Judging from his expression she’d been wrong.
“Your mom could destroy magic?” Crofton asks in a low voice. His eyes scan the empty room quickly. “And the Source of magic knew this?”
“Of course it did,” Ari says angrily. “Look, the magic blocked in me may have the same ability to destroy magic and I think that’s what it’s afraid of.”
Kemp leans back in his seat. “It wouldn’t be the only one afraid. If it becomes common knowledge that your mother could destroy a person’s magic and that you may have the same ability…many magic users wouldn’t want that to exist.”
“Do you include yourself in that generalization?” Ari asks.
His eyes search Ari’s face. Leaning on the table and taking a piece of cooked meat, Kemp shrugs. “Not really. You don’t seem like the type to randomly kill someone’s magic for the hell of it. I doubt you would even do it to your enemies unless they deserved it over death.”
Ari avoids Kemp’s eyes. “Sounds like you think you know me pretty well.”
“I only speak from our short time together. So, how do we unblock your magic?”
Crofton chokes on a piece of meat. “Do we really want to unblock it? Wouldn’t that encourage those scared of it to be even more…you know, scared?”
“But it would be the perfect weapon against those chasing us. If we stop their magic, they’ll be easier to handle.”
“More to the point, if I can cut off the connection they have to the source they might not want to chase us anymore,” Ari says. “Assuming the Source is controlling them, which my mother seemed to believe.”
Crofton shakes his head. “I don’t like the idea of calling you a weapon.”
“Perfect attack then,” Kemp says. “How do we unblock it?”
“I have to find masters of magic.”
“Masters of magic? What does that even mean?” Crofton asks.
Elbowing him in the side, Ari’s eyes water. “Kiphy Lakeen was a master.”
Crofton’s eyes widen as he remembers the old magic user. “We have to find more people like him? Gods, that’ll be…”
“Difficult? Impossible?” Kemp says.
“Terrifying,” Crofton says.
“Right, so now that you both know this, we need to discuss our story.”
“Our story?” Crofton asks.
“We can’t go around telling people that men are chasing after us because I may or may not be able to destroy magic. And we can’t tell them we’re searching for my father.”
“I understand the first bit there, but why can’t we tell them about your father?” Kemp asks, taking another piece of meat.
Glaring at him, Crofton grabs a piece of meat for himself. “Because there are still people who think of Ime and Meah as enemies and view anyone who supports them in the same light. If they learned Ari was their daughter, they may try something stupid.”
“You mean kill her.”
“Yes to both of you. So what’s our story?” Ari says taking a large piece of meat for herself.
“We’re heading through the Redlands and ultimately to the coast, correct?” Kemp asks.
Ari nods. “My dad ceased contact once he left Myldea to sail across the Great Sea to Deirak.”
“Then we tell people we’re on our way to Deirak.”
“But why would we be going there?”
Crofton grunts as he tries to chew and swallow quickly. “People will be hearing about the attack on Kellahn soon enough. We could say we heard about it and figured if even the legendary city was being besieged, the only place left safe to go is Deirak.”
“But that’ll only create panic. We don’t want half the country chasing after us in fear.”
“Not if we make it sound like we’re paranoid,” Kemp adds.
Raising an eyebrow, Ari gives him an incredulous look. “What does that even mean?”
“We had a lot of people like that pass through my village. They claimed the end was coming and they were moving on to a safer place. If you give any story a pinch of crazy people will help while behind your back taking pity on you.”
“Okay, so how do we add a little crazy to our story?” Ari asks.
“Simple, we say the one behind the attack was the reincarnation of the Blood King,” Crofton says, finally taking a large gulp from his drink.
“How is that simple? That doesn’t sound crazy.”
Shaking his head, Kemp shakes his finger at Crofton. “No, that’s a pinch of crazy. Everyone’s heard of the Blood King even if they weren’t part of the conflict. They also heard how your father killed him. Reincarnations are a prime indicator of something not being right in the head.” He leans across the table and slaps Crofton’s arm. “Good one.”
Taking aback by Kemp’s compliment, Crofton mumbles a “thanks” between swallows of meat.
“Fine, the attacks were done by the reincarnation of the Blood King.”
“Only the reincarnation of the Blood King. That’ll add enough crazy for even those who might believe a reincarnation could be possible. They’d never believe a single person attacked the city.” Kemp smiles, pleased with the story.
Sitting back in her chair, Ari wonders if the story will truly work. The fear of another magic user rising up to take the Blood King’s place has always been a fear in the hearts of those who were affected by Blood King Klaeon’s rule. But if the story will help them safely reach her father, she’s ready to try it.
“Now that that’s settled, how long do you think it’ll be before we can speak to those scouts?” Crofton asks.
“Whenever they’ve had enough time to rest. They’re sent ahead to prepare everything so when the caravan arrives they can load up and go with little stopping.” Ari hesitates. “We have to be better communicators.”
“Better communicators? Why?”
Kemp snorts. He struggles to keep the laughter from his voice when Crofton gives him an angered look. “No, no, I can see why you’re confused. When I kept the fact my village was attacked from you, I was secretly hoping you’d find it out from a complete stranger who has no business knowing.” He points to Ari. “And the fact she felt she couldn’t trust us to know why those chasing us want her dead was a secret ploy to force us to ask her how her day’s been.”
Standing quickly, Crofton’s chair fell to the floor behind him. “Do you have a problem?”
“No, but you apparently do.” Kemp takes a drink from his glass.
Crofton attempts to slap the drink from Kemp’s face, but Ari grabs his arm in time. “This is why we need to communicate. You’re pissed off at Kemp for some reason and you won’t say why. It makes it dangerous. We have to trust each other which means no more secrets that may lead to getting us killed.”
Meeting her eyes, Crofton bites his bottom lip before grabbing his chair and slamming its legs on the floor. He sits and crosses his arms on the table in front of him. “Fine! I don’t like how you just came and made yourself so god damn comfortable. I don’t like how you kept the fact a rogue gang of men attacked your village from us and I don’t like how you’re a magic user and can protect her better than I can.” He motions his head to Ari at the last part, causing her to blush slightly.
Nodding his head, Kemp leans back in his chair and smiles at Crofton. “All right, my turn. I don’t like how you didn’t have a problem with me until the attacks on your city, making me think you thought I had something to do with it. I don’t like how you think she needs protection when she can clearly take care of herself. I don’t like how you play yourself short, I’ve seen you fight and you’ve got high skills better than some magic users I know. And I don’t like the look you keep giving me when you think I’ve said something stupid when truthfully, I never grew up in the same kind of place you two did.”
The two lock their eyes on Ari. She stares back at both confused. “What?”
“Your turn,” they say in unison.
“I don’t have anything to say.”
“We both did it, it’s only fair if you do it too,” Kemp says.
“Hold on, neither of you said anything to me so before I go you two better do me.”
Both men’s eyes widen and a touch of pink rises on their cheeks. Amused smiles curl up their lips and Ari rolls her eyes.
“You know what I mean. Don’t act like children.”
“I’ll go first,” Kemp says. “You’re too reckless. I haven’t decided yet if it’s because you want to prove something to us or you just don’t have a clue how cruel the world can be. I think you could use with some hand to hand combat training and I think you’re still hiding something from us.”
Ari tries to speak, but Crofton slaps his hand over her mouth. “Nuh-uh, not until I go. I agree with Kemp about your recklessness. I agree that you’re still hiding something from us, but I think it’s because you don’t know it yet. And, if you’re demanding honesty, I don’t want you to unlock your magic. You don’t need it and we don’t need the added trouble it might bring us. We don’t even know what it really is and it might…” he trails off, unwilling to finish his thought.
Ari forces his hand away. “No, finish. No secrets.”
“I’m worried it’ll change you. Kiphy used to tell us stories about magic users who had great power awaken within them and how it changed them. I’m afraid it’ll change you and I already like the you you are now.”
Kemp raises his hand. “I’d like to add that to my list now, too.”
“Right, now it’s my turn.” Ari takes a large gulp from her drink and sighs. “Kemp…no more secrets or else I’ll punch you in the face. I want you to remember why you went to Kellahn and never forget you need to find a master, too. My needs don’t outweigh yours.”
Raising his glass, Kemp nods his head. “Deal.”
Turning to Crofton, Ari hesitates before placing her hand on his leg. “Crofton, you’ve been my friend since we could first walk and talk. But your overprotectiveness is not needed or welcomed. I trust you enough to watch my back in a fight, trust that you can trust me enough to cover yours. I also want you to stop this stupid alpha male fighting with Kemp. We’re all comrades now.”
Crofton swallows, struggling to hide his emotions, but he manages a curt nod.
“As for this secret you think I’m keeping, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about, but if I do figure it out I swear you two will be the first to know.”
“Bout damn time you three got to it.” Nani appears standing at the head of the table. He winks at Ari. “I wasn’t sure you’d actually go through with it. The scouts are rested and gathering supplies as we speak. If you want to talk to them, now’s the time. Once everything’s ready they’ll go back to sleeping until tomorrow and by then they won’t want to listen to anyone.”
Ari smiles at Crofton and Kemp. “Let’s go get our ride.”