“And ghuls here in the Roost,” the scar-faced Tribesman says. “I’m not the only one who’s seen them—”
I glance over, unable to help myself, and as if I’ve drawn him with my gaze, the Tribesman flicks his eyes toward me and away. Then he jerks them back again.
I step right into a puddle and slip. My hood falls from my head. Damn it. I scramble to my feet, yanking the hood over my eyes and glancing over my shoulder as I do. The Tribesman still watches, dark eyes narrowed.
Get out of here, Laia! I hurry away, turning down one alley and then another before chancing a look over my shoulder. No Tribesman. I sigh in relief.
The rain thickens, and I circle back to the apothecary. I peek out of the alley I’m in to see if the Tribesman and his friends are still at the tea stall. But they appear to have left. Before they can return—and before anyone else sees me—I duck into the shop.
The smell of herbs washes over me, tinged by something dark and bitter. The roof is so low I nearly hit my head. Traditional Tribal lamps hang from the ceiling, their intricate floral glow in sharp contrast to the earthy darkness of the shop.
“Epkah kesiah meda karun?”
A Tribal child of about ten years addresses me from behind the counter. Herbs hang in bunches over her head. The vials that line the walls behind her gleam. I eye them, searching for anything familiar. The girl clears her throat.
“Epkah Keeya Necheya?”
For all I know, she could be telling me I reek like a horse. But I do not have time to puzzle it out, so I pitch my voice low and hope she understands me.
The girl nods and rummages through a drawer or two before shaking her head, coming around the counter, and scanning the shelves. She scratches her chin, holds up a finger to me as if to tell me to wait, and slips through a back door. I glimpse a windowed storage room before the door swings shut.
A minute passes. Another. Come on. I’ve been away from Elias for at least an hour, and it will take me another half hour to get back to him. And that’s if this girl even has the Tellis. What if he has another seizure? What if he shouts or yells and gives away his location to someone happening by?
The door opens, and the girl is back, this time with a squat jar of amber liquid: Tellis extract. From behind the counter, she painstakingly pulls out another, smaller vial and looks at me expectantly.
I hold up both hands once, twice. “Twenty drachms.” That should be enough to last Elias a while. The child measures out the liquid with excruciating slowness, her eyes darting up at me every few seconds.
When she’s finally sealed the vial with wax, I reach out to take it, but she jerks it away, wiggling four fingers at me. I drop four silvers into her hands. She shakes her head.
“Zaver!” She takes out a gold mark from a pouch and waves it in the air.
“Four marks?” I burst out. “You might as well ask for the bleeding moon!” The girl just juts out her chin. I don’t have time to haggle, so I dig the money out and slam it down, holding out my hand for the Tellis.
She hesitates, her eyes darting to the front door.
I draw my dagger with one hand and grab the vial with the other, shoving out of the shack with teeth bared. But the only movement in the dark lane is from a goat gnawing on some garbage. The beast bleats at me before turning back to his feast.
Still, I am uneasy. The Tribal girl was acting strange. I bolt, staying away from the main thoroughfare and sticking to the muddy, poorly lit back alleys of the market. I hurry to the western edge of the Roost, so focused on looking back that I don’t see the dark, lean figure in front of me until I’ve run right into him.
“Pardon me,” a silky voice says. The stink of ghas and tea leaves overpowers me. “I didn’t see you there.”
My skin goes cold at the familiarity of the voice. The Tribesman. The one with the scar. His eyes lock with mine and narrow. “And what’s a gold-eyed Scholar girl doing in Raider’s Roost? Running from something, perhaps?” Skies. He did recognize me.
I dart to his right, but he blocks me.
“Out of my way.” I flash my knife at him. He laughs and puts one hand on my shoulder, neatly disarming me with the other.
“You’ll put out your own eye, little tigress.” He spins my dagger in one hand. “I am Shikaat, of Tribe Gula. And you are …?”
“None of your business.” I try to yank away from him, but his hand is like a vise.
“I just want to chat. Walk with me.” He tightens the hand on my shoulder.
“Get off me.” I kick at his ankle, and he winces and releases me. But when I dart toward the entrance to a side alley, he snatches my arm, and then grabs my other wrist, shoving up my sleeves.
“Slaves’ cuffs.” He runs a finger along the still-chafed skin of my wrists. “Recently removed. Interesting. Would you care to hear my theory?”
He leans close, black eyes sparkling, as if he’s sharing a joke. “I think there are very few Scholar girls with golden eyes wandering the wilderness, little tigress. Your injuries tell me you’ve seen battle. You smell of soot—perhaps from the fires in Serra? And the medicine—well, that’s most interesting of all.”
Our exchange has drawn curious glances—more than curious. A Mariner and a Martial, both wearing leather armor that marks them as bounty hunters, watch with interest. One approaches, but the Tribesman marches me down the alley away from them. He barks a word into the shadows. A moment later, two men materialize—his toadies, no doubt—and turn to head off the bounty hunters.