Lorwyn bursts through the lab door into the front of the shop. “Miyara, Entero, in the back, right now!” she yells, then slams the door behind her.
Lorwyn yelling is never a good sign. We drop what we’re doing.
As soon as the door shuts behind us, Lorwyn points a finger at a mortified Iskielo and snarls, “He dropped three crates of rainberry crystals. Three.”
This goes some way toward explaining the mess.
It’s not just the crates that are split. Thousands of lovely blue drop-shaped gems are scattered everywhere. We’ll be finding them for days.
“I’m sorry,” Iskielo cries. “I was trying to be efficient, so I picked up as many as I could carry—”
“Clearly you couldn’t,” Lorwyn snaps.
“It’s not efficient if you take on more than you can handle,” I remind Iskielo. “That’s why none of us carry more than one at a time.”
“He does!” Iskielo gestures at my guard, the professional assassin, who could probably carry twice that many without breaking a sweat.
“Dropping things that are too heavy for you is a waste of effort if you want to build strength,” Entero says absently. “But there’s a bigger problem here.”
Iskielo looks ready to cry.
But Entero points at the crystals and asks Lorwyn, “That’s why you called us back?”
She shoots one last glare at Iskielo. “Yes. The crystals are a shell. When they break—”
Now I see. Near the crates, the drops have morphed into tiny animate squiggles, like iridescent blue worms, squirming around. And sometimes shooting into the air. And—
“Did they burrow all those holes through the broken crates?” I ask.
“Yes. I can contain them, but only if I can find them. And they’re not all near the crates.”
She shoots a meaningful look at Iskielo and back at me. She means containing them witchcraft.
“But we need to find them, fast, because I don’t know what they can’t burrow through. I’m operating on the assumption that nothing is sacred until proven otherwise. Human flesh included.”
“Charming,” I murmur. “Iskielo, watch the front.”
“But I can help!”
“And you’re going to, by watching the front,” I say.
“That was not a request,” I say. “Consider this your apology if you like, but Iskielo? Look at your hands.” They’re shaking. “If the rainberries can burrow through flesh, it’s too dangerous for you to be anywhere near them right now anyway. Broken teacups can be replaced, but you cannot. Now take a deep breath, go take care of our customers, and don’t open this door again until I tell you.”
He swallows and goes. Lorwyn lets out a disgusted breath.
“He’s fifteen,” Entero reminds her. “Don’t tell me you never took on more than you could handle at that age. Or now.”
My stomach roils in an almost familiar way as Lorwyn waves her hand at the broken crates, creating a shimmering bubble around all the rainberry crystals.
Which promptly launch a concerted attack on the barrier. Fortunately, it holds.
“I can always handle it,” Lorwyn says coolly.
Just before Entero darts in front of her, slicing through the air.
A rainberry that had flown right at her face drops, now sliced in two, inert, to the floor.
“Where did that knife even come from?” she demands.
“Not telling.” He glances at her sidelong. “But rest assured there are always more.”
“Check over in this corner,” I say.
They eye me dubiously, but as soon as they get close to the place I indicate a flurry of rainberries swarm us. I dance out of the way of Entero’s flashing blades and Lorwyn’s flashing witchlight.
“How did you know?” Lorwyn asks when they’ve made it out the other side of the battle.
I tap my nose.
“You’re kidding. How can you sort out all the scents back here?”
“Never mind,” Entero says grimly, discarding one crackling knife and drawing another. “Miyara, you direct us. Lorwyn and I will execute them.”
“Execute?” Lorwyn rolls her eyes. “Really?”
“On your left!” I cry, and we all dive out of the way.
“They’re intelligent,” Lorwyn mutters a few minutes later. “Of course they’re magic thinking worms. I hate everything.”
“Lorwyn, could you make barriers around each of us?” I ask.
“I don’t need witchcraft,” Entero says. “It’ll be a good workout.”
“Oh, good,” Lorwyn says. “Two adolescent boys in my lab.”
I sigh and equip myself with one of Lorwyn’s emergency flame-shooters, because the only thing that can improve the long afternoon we’re promised is more fire.
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