The trouble with demons, p.1
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       The Trouble with Demons, p.1

         Part #3 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
The Trouble with Demons
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  I knew there was evil in the world. Death and taxes were all necessary evils.

  So was shopping.

  “I hate shopping,” I muttered.

  “Of course you do,” Phaelan said. “You’re a Benares. We’re not used to paying for anything. ” Phaelan was my cousin; he called himself a seafaring businessman. Law enforcement in every major port city called him “that damned pirate,” or less flattering epithets, none of them repeatable here.

  I really hated shopping. More to the point, I hated the aggravation of having to go into one shop after another to actually find the things I needed, things I had to have. Which was really strange considering what I did for a living.

  My name is Raine Benares. I’m an elf and a seeker—and then some.

  Two weeks ago, I found the Saghred—an ancient stone of cataclysmic power, an annihilator of armies, a stealer of souls, an eater of spellsingers, and the bane of my existence. The soul-sucking rock attached itself to me like a psychic leech. My magical skill level used to be marginal. Now I don’t think I have any limits.

  So I came to the only place with people who could possibly help me.

  The Isle of Mid was home to the most prestigious college for sorcery, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users in the seven kingdoms. My new talents put me at the top of every power-hungry mage’s most-wanted list. They wanted to kill me, or kidnap and use me, or keep me locked up for the rest of my life. I just wanted to get rid of the damned rock.

  Since arriving on the island, I’d stepped hard on some faculty toes, assaulted the number-two mage on the island (he started it), single-handedly stormed the elven embassy, then topped it off with a walk on black magic’s wild side with a sexy goblin dark mage. It was a good way to make a bad first impression.

  If that wasn’t enough, now I had to go shopping. I had one good set of leathers, and I was wearing them: trousers, above-the-knee boots, and my favorite doublet, all in formfitting, supple brown leather. I liked the doublet because it had steel links woven between the outer leather and inner lining. It also had leather sleeves to hide my weapons, a pair of knives in forearm sheaths I carried when I knew someone was going to jump me, but I just didn’t know when, which over the past few weeks had become the story of my life.

  My leathers had taken a beating since I’d arrived on Mid, and as little as I liked it, I had to replace them, hence the need to shop.

  “Have you considered something in scarlet leather?” Phaelan mused from beside me.

  “Have you considered just painting a bull’s-eye on my back?” I retorted.

  My cousin wasn’t with me because he liked shopping. He was by my side because being within five feet of me was a guarantee of getting into trouble of the worst kind. Phaelan hadn’t plundered or pillaged anything in weeks. He was bored. So this morning, he was a cocky, swaggering invitation for Trouble to bring it on and do her worst.

  Phaelan ignored my irritation, and his grin flashed white against his tanned face. “Raine, everyone knows who you are, what you are, and where you are. It’s not like you’re trying to hide. ”

  “Ma’am, there are mages on this island who could kill you without even seeing you. ”

  That cheerful insight came from Vegard Rolfgar, Conclave Guardian, my bodyguard, and my personal shadow. He was big, blond, bearded, and human—classic Myloran sea-raider stock. The Guardians were sorcerers and warriors, and had the dubious honor of being peacekeepers on an island packed with mage bureaucrats, mage professors, and teenage mages in training—a volatile combination any way you looked at it.

  “Yes, I’ve got a price on my head and every other body part,” I said. “Do either one of you have a point?”

  Phaelan’s laugh was more like a bark. “Live fast, die young, and leave behind a damned fine-dressed corpse. ”

  My cousin favored scarlet, but today he was a vision in royal blue. His trousers were leather; his doublet was suede slashed to reveal the whitest of linen shirts. High leather boots matched his belt and baldric, all of black leather, and his dark hair was tied into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. Phaelan’s favorite rapier swung comfortably at his side, with a brace of long daggers behind his back. There were plenty of other bladed weapons out of sight, but within quick reach. Our family didn’t like to be caught short.

  I made a show of looking him over. “Much like yourself?”

  Phaelan leveled those dark eyes on me. “Cousin, you can slink around this island in black or brown, or you can show the bastards that your balls are bigger than theirs. You’re the Saghred’s best friend; they’re scared shitless of you. ”

  The aforementioned bastards also wanted what I had—potentially unlimited power without the insanity and death side effects that typically went with Saghred exposure and use. But just because contact with the rock hadn’t turned me into a cackling loony or killed me yet didn’t mean that a padded room with level twelve wards wasn’t in my not-so-distant future.

  I had to be careful; more than careful—vigilant. Of the Saghred, but mostly of myself. As long as I tapped its power, the rock didn’t give a damn what I did with it. Even though I had done only good things for the right reasons—like refusing to stand by and let innocent people be killed—using the Saghred’s power to prevent those deaths had probably brought me one step closer to crazy. Or not. Everyone else who had used the Saghred had quickly gone off the deep end. I hadn’t. And no one, including me, knew why.

  I wasn’t sure which was more dangerous anymore, me or the rock.

  “How do you think Dad and I control those mangy, homicidal maniacs we call our crews?” Phaelan was saying. “There’s always one or two that step out of line. We simply turn them into a well-publicized example, and the rest behave themselves. ”

  I just looked at him. “How about they’re just mangy, money-grubbing , homicidal maniacs who put up with your crap to get a cut of the gold a Benares ship brings in?”

  Phaelan flashed a crooked grin. “There’s that, too. ”

  At least Phaelan knew who’d be planting daggers between his shoulder blades. I had no freaking clue. Don’t get me wrong; I knew the names and faces of most of the mages or bureaucrats who wanted me dead or snatched. But I also knew that they’d never dream of getting my blood on their lily-pure hands. They’d hire someone else to do it for them.

  Generally the rich and powerful were tighter than a banker’s fist on their purse strings, but if they wanted something done badly enough, they’d be willing to cough up the coin. They also did their homework before they hired help to ensure they’d be getting their money’s worth. So chances were any assassin or kidnapper they sent after me would be pros who knew their business. Phaelan knew the cream of the crop by name and on sight. I knew a couple of them myself—some a little too well.

  Phaelan had men staking out the docks who knew whom to look for, and runners who would bring news of any sightings to his flagship, the Fortune. So if a pro stepped off of a ship, boat, or dinghy, Phaelan and I would have his or her name within minutes, but that didn’t stop the space between my shoulder blades from itching.

  I had Phaelan and Vegard with me and four uniformed Guardians around them. They were close, but not too close. Other Guardians in plain clothes mingled with the crowds. Most women go shopping with their girlfriends; I go with an armed escort.

  Within the hour, the armorer had taken my measurements and would be making me some leathers a woman could be proud of wearing and safe being seen in—or shot at. I’d ordered three ensembles: one in black, one in brown, and one in midnight blue. To his credit, the man didn’t balk at the rush job. I knew he
wanted me to be wearing his work as soon as possible. When someone finally did take a shot or stab at me, he wanted to make sure it was his leathers that saved my hide. There was nothing like a foiled hit to boost business.

  Phaelan was less than thrilled with my choice of colors.

  “You wear red,” I told him as we left the shop. “I don’t. With my red hair it’d make me look like a lit match. ”

  Something blue darted on the edge of my vision. Several blue somethings, man-sized, about a quarter of a block ahead. A blue so bright that it gave Phaelan’s doublet a run for its money.

  One of them stopped and stared at me.

  I stopped breathing.

  The thing was standing in the middle of the street, people flowing around it as if it weren’t even there.

  It was blue, all right. From its clawed feet to the top of its bald and horned head. Blue.

  It was also naked.

  I couldn’t tell if it was male or female, and I really didn’t want to get close enough to find out. But it didn’t appear to have anything to indicate that it was either sex. Creepy.

  It grinned at me and darted down a side street.

  I think my mouth fell open. “What’s bright blue and buck naked?” I never took my eyes from where it’d gone.

  “Hmmm, I don’t know,” Phaelan mused. “I haven’t heard that one. Vegard?”

  The big Guardian shrugged. “New joke?”

  “No joke,” I told them both. “You didn’t see it, did you?”

  At the tension in my voice, Vegard moved in front of me. Protectively. Annoyingly. Now I couldn’t see anything. I ducked under his arm and headed for that side street. Vegard reached out to push me behind him and I ducked out of reach and ran. Phaelan and the Guardians were right on our heels.

  “They were blue, naked, claw-footed, with horns on their heads,” I told Vegard.

  “What?” The Guardian stopped, pulling me with him.

  “Ma’am, are you sure you haven’t been—”

  I drew breath to retort, but a scream from that side street answered him better than I could.

  It’s been my experience that nothing clears a crowded street quicker than a scream. In this instance, I approved of crowd cowardice. Fewer people on the street meant fewer people hurt. It also meant fewer people between me and where I was determined to go. And if I had to drag a big, blond Guardian behind me, so be it.

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