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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(94) by Anne Bishop
  • “Well?“ Jared asked when Blaed met him where the main road forked with a stony track.

    Blaed patted the sweating mare’s neck, then lengthened the reins to give her a chance to stretch her back.

    “I didn’t see any sign of riders passing down that track,” Blaed said cautiously, “but it’s stony ground.” Then he took a deep breath and huffed it out. “Hell’s fire, Jared, I’m not a trained guard. I can handle a knife, and I know how to fight with Craft, but I could have looked at something obvious and not known it. The track does seem to run straight north. It’s wide enough to accommodate the wagon, although there’s a stretch that looks like it was cut out of the rock. No maneuvering room there.”

    “So once we’re in that stretch, we’re committed to going forward.”

    Blaed nodded.

    Jared rubbed his thumb over the saddle horn. “Anything else?”

    “There’s a large nest of viper rats among the boulders. I didn’t see them, but I heard them.”

    Jared smiled grimly. “If we lock the boys in the wagon, we just might avoid having one of them get bit.”

    Blaed waited. “Well?”

    Jared looked back up the road he’d spent the past hour scouting, probing. “I found signs of a large group of riders having come this way recently. A day ago. Maybe two. But I didn’t find them.”

    Blaed rubbed his neck. “A Red probe can cover a lot of ground.”

    “And a Black Widow can spin a web that would defeat that probe.”

    An uncomfortable silence settled between them.

    The four of them had gathered inside the wagon late last night. During the talking and planning, a lot of things had been revealed.

    Lia had told Thera and Blaed the reasons the “Gray Lady” had gone to Raej one last time. She’d told them about the wrongness she had felt and about the warning note that had sent them fleeing cross-country.

    But she didn’t tell them why she hadn’t been able to buy passage on a second Coach.

    Then Thera had told the three of them about the tangled webs she’d created for the wagon.

    Jared still wasn’t sure if he’d have felt easier if he’d known about Thera’s precaution earlier, but that kind of skill in a witch not fully trained had served as a sharp reminder of why Black Widows, with their ability to ensnare or deceive a person’s mind, were so dangerous.

    She’d called it a mirroring web. A fairly simple tangled web. When triggered by a psychic probe, the web returned a message more subtle than a thought or a feeling. The probe would touch the web and deliver a simple message:Nothing there .

    While they were still at the inn Lia had brought them to after leaving Raej, Thera had embedded four of those tangled webs into the wood of the wagon—one on each side. She couldn’t—or wouldn’t—say why she’d done it. But Jared suspected she’d been covering her own tracks, just in case her sire had somehow been able to trace her to the slave auction. It didn’t really matter who she’d originally created those webs to hide, the result was the same: How many times during their journey had someone probed for them after finding one of those brass buttons and found “nothing there”?

    And had he really seen evidence of an abandoned camp when he’d scouted the road an hour ago, or could those men have been hiding nearby in the land’s many dips and hollows, shielded by a similar kind of tangled web?

    Jared broke the silence first. “The road loops, then heads north.”

    Blaed nodded slowly, looking at the track that forked with the road. “The track’s a shortcut then. If marauders blocked both ends, we’d be trapped on it.” He closed his eyes. “Jared, the Winds cross that track right near the stretch of boulders.”

    Jared swore fiercely. While it was customary to use the official landing places—and it was certainly safer since there wasn’t the risk of dropping from the Webs onto precarious ground—the Blood could catch the Winds or drop from them anywhere along the way. Which meant they could have unwelcome company without any warning.

    If they abandoned the wagon and horses, he could put a Red shield around all of them and they could ride the Winds the rest of the way to Ranon’s Wood. Even shielded, riding that dark a Web would be an uncomfortable ride for the lighter-Jeweled among them—and a desperate one for Cathryn, Tomas, and Garth, who couldn’t rideany of the Winds without the protection of a Coach.

    If they did it, it would have to be the Red Wind. A lighter Web would be easier on the others. It would also increase the risk of having enemies riding the Wind with them.

    But all it would take was one Red-Jeweled marauder unleashing enough power to break his shield and the others would have no time to drop from the Wind before their minds were torn apart by the power in the Red Web.

    “I know,” Blaed said quietly. “I did think of it. I also considered letting everyone capable of it ride the Wind of their Jewels.”

    “You’d let Thera ride alone?”

    “No. Even if Iwas willing, she wouldn’t ride the Winds alone. Between them, she and Lia would gather up the children and Garth.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire