Night Study

By: Maria V. Snyder



Valek blinked at me. “You’re what?”

I drew in a deep breath and held up the glass vial filled with moon potion. My hand trembled, sending waves through the white liquid inside. “Pregnant... I think.”

“Before we celebrate, love, let’s go over your logic.”

Surprise pierced my growing panic, and I glanced at him. “You want to celebrate? I was taking the moon potion to prevent this.”

He took the vial from me and set it on the bed. Then he laced his fingers in mine and pulled me close. “Of course it would be a cause for celebration. Well, a quiet celebration.” Valek gave me a wry smile—we both had so many enemies, it wouldn’t be smart to announce my condition to the world.

My anxiety eased a bit.

“Now, why does that vial mean you’re with child?” Valek asked.

“Healer Hayes told me to take the potion after I’d be protected for another year. But I haven’t yet, and it’s been...” I calculated in my head. It’d been six weeks since I’d last had my blood cycle. “I’m two weeks late.” My stomach churned with distress—talk about the worst possible time to be pregnant.

“A lot has happened to you in the last four weeks. Maybe you’re late because of the stress.”

Valek had a point. It had happened to me before during trying times. And recently I’d been the target of an assassination attempt. Twice. The first occurred a month ago, when I was shot with an arrow that I suspected had been filled with a poison that blocked my magic. Or so I’d thought. I tightened my grip at a sudden notion. “Could the loss of my powers be due to being pregnant?”

“If that was the case, wouldn’t Irys know that’s a side effect? You said she was as baffled as Bain was about why your magic is blocked.”

He was right. If magic loss was a common side effect during pregnancy, the Master Magicians would be aware of that. Disappointment deflated my brief surge of hope. I’d been searching for a poison or substance that explained my current predicament without success for the past month.

Correctly reading my expression, Valek squeezed my fingers. “It still might be possible. I’m immune to magic. Maybe Junior takes after his dear old dad.”

Ignoring the Junior comment, I asked, “In that case, wouldn’t I be immune, as well?” That protection would have been more than welcome four days ago when Owen Moon’s magic had sliced right through me. If it hadn’t been for Valek encouraging me to survive, I’d be a mindless, drooling mess right now.

Valek shrugged. “We’ve encountered so many different...quirks of magic over the years, this may well be one of them.” He grinned. “Time will tell. And during that time, you’ll be safe. No assassin would dare target you while you’re with me.”

I was more worried about Owen Moon. The rogue magician had managed to escape after attacking me. He had been growing the Curare vine in a hothouse made of glass. When a person was pricked by Curare, it caused full-body paralysis, which was an effective and nonlethal weapon, since the victim could still breathe.

When Owen had been captured in Ixia four years ago, the Commander assured the Sitian Council, Valek and me that Owen had been executed. Instead, the rogue magician had negotiated a deal with the Commander to manufacture and produce Curare for Ixia’s army.

A nice little arrangement, until Owen turned greedy. He sold the drug to other interested parties, and it upset the Commander so much he sent Valek to shut down Owen’s entire smuggling operation. Too bad the Commander failed to inform Valek of who had really been in charge of the operation.

We’d all had our share of nasty little surprises in the past week.

“What if Owen shows up?” I asked.

The muscles along Valek’s sharp jaw tightened as fury flared in his sapphire-blue eyes. “Don’t worry about Owen. Janco and Onora will be traveling with us.”

I understood his anger. Owen also knew Valek’s weakness. Because he was immune to magic, a null shield cast around him would trap Valek as if he’d been imprisoned in an invisible cell. It was just a matter of time before the word spread to other magicians, and those who could erect a null shield bubble would have an easy way to stop the infamous Ixian assassin.

“Speaking of traveling,” I said to lighten the mood. “If you want to leave tomorrow morning, I need that bath.”

The hard lines on his angular face softened. “I’ll show you the way.” Valek let go of my hands.

“Uh-huh. Mighty nice of you.”

“I aim to please.” He leered, but it soon turned into a more contemplative expression.

As I gathered my clean clothes and soap, Valek picked up the vial of moon potion.

“What about this?” he asked.

“If stress has delayed me, then I should drink it afterward like Healer Hayes instructed.”

His brow puckered. “How long does it last?”

“A year, but I usually take it about a month before the year is up just to be safe.”

“Is it a hundred percent effective?”

Odd questions, but I humored him. “No. For some, it doesn’t work, but I’ve been taking it for eight years now without a problem.” Until now.