Con & conjure, p.11
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       Con & Conjure, p.11

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 11

  “Virtually any goblin in Regor will sell something they value for the chance to be owed a favor by a powerful member of the court,” Tam told me. “That includes assassins. ”

  “A wealthy court noble could be trying to buy his or her way into my brother’s good graces by proving that those assassins acted under their orders,” Chigaru said. “Sometimes favors or putting another in your debt is more advantageous. ”

  And framing the elves while they did it. The elves were going for the straightforward approach of hiring Rache.

  “I know you didn’t ask me here to tell me all about goblin court politics,” I told Chigaru. “I have an assassin to track down, so if you don’t mind too terribly, can we just get on with it?”

  I swear the prince squirmed, and if possible, he actually looked more arrogant. Someone was feeling a tad defensive. This could be fun. I was long overdue.

  “Raine has had a long day, Your Highness,” Tam said. “Sometimes the easiest way to do something is to simply ask. ”

  The only thing Chigaru looked like he was going to do was simply be sick. “I would like . . . ” The prince stopped as if he were about to choke on the words.

  Tam sighed. “Chigaru, we have spoken of this on more than one occasion. To make such a request is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. ”

  “I require your help. In Regor. ” The words weren’t exactly rushed, but the goblin prince did get them out before he managed to gag on them.

  I wasn’t letting him go that easily. “Require my help?”

  “I . . . I need your help. ”

  I kept my expression blank. It wasn’t easy with the snicker lodged in my throat. I think Tam wanted me to make Chigaru squirm. That was the kind of help I was only too happy to give. “I see. And does this need include me beside you in this Execution Square I’ve heard so much about from Tam and Imala? Because being pulled apart by four horses isn’t the way I plan to die. ”

  The prince spoke through gritted teeth. “If we do not fail, there will be no executions. ”

  “I’m not talking about failing. I’m talking about not going to Regor. Period. ”

  Chigaru drew himself up regally; at least he tried. Not easy to do with all those bandages. Oh yeah, here comes the royal proclamation. I had news for him, I wasn’t—

  “Thousands of people will die if you do not help. ”

  Ah, the good old guilt trip. There was nothing like the classics.

  “They need you . . . I need you. ”

  Damned if he didn’t look sincere. I shot the barest glance at Tam, and got the barest nod in return. Dang, playtime was over; just when I was starting to have fun.

  “I came to Mid early for a reason,” Chigaru told me.

  “Other than setting yourself up for use in target practice?”

  “Actually Raine, he does have a reason. Mychael, you need to hear this. ” Tam shot Chigaru a chastising look. “It would have been better if this intelligence had been communicated to us earlier. Much time has been needlessly lost. ”

  Not only was playtime over, so was waiting for the prince to remember his manners and invite me to sit down. The only chairs in the room were those fragile things ladies perched on while drinking tea from absurdly dainty cups. I sat down, crossed my arms, and gave the prince my best glare.

  “Word has reached me from agents in my brother’s court that Sathrik and Sarad Nukpana have begun preparations for when the Saghred is in their hands. ”

  Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

  Mychael frowned. “The Saghred is in our citadel, defended by over five hundred Guardians. It’s buried, spellbound, and warded. ”

  Chigaru shrugged. “My agents say that Sarad Nukpana prepares as if that is of little consequence. ” His dark eyes narrowed to black murder. “And my brother prepares to force the woman I love to marry him. ”

  That was more than a little concerning. Nukpana’s confidence, not the woman-I-love part. Sarad Nukpana wasn’t one to be confident without a reason. If he thought he had a way to steal the Saghred from underneath the Guardians’ collective nose that meant that he had one. We had enough problems on our plates right now without Sarad Nukpana coming up with some secret, sinister, and ultimately successful plan.

  “Mychael, he’s building the base for a Gate,” Tam said.

  Oh, holy hell.

  A Gate is a mage-made tear in the fabric of reality. You could walk through a Gate like stepping through a door, except that doorway could cover miles instead of inches. A Gate is conjured with magic of the blackest kind, fueled by terror, torture, despair and death—the more the merrier.

  It was right up Sarad Nukpana’s dark alley.

  I’d seen him use one before. If there was one thing Nukpana was good at it was torturing and murdering people to do black magic.

  “Sathrik has a portion of the goblin army working outside of Regor, constructing the base for what my sources say will be the largest Gate ever built. ”

  I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Let me guess, big enough for an army. ”

  Tam nodded, his expression grave. “The entire army and more. ”

  “And another wild guess has Nukpana planning to have that Gate open in Pengor somewhere near a major elven population center—an unarmed one. ”

  “At this point, all any of us can do is guess, but I think it’s safe to say that Pengor would be among his first targets. ”

  Nukpana would have plenty of sacrificial victims to keep the Gate open—or to feed to the Saghred to power the stone. And once he’d killed, sacrificed, or enslaved the elves in one area, he could simply redirect the Gate to open in another place. There would be no warning, no time to prepare. The elven armies couldn’t be everywhere at once. It was slaughter on an epic scale waiting to happen.

  Imala’s agents in Regor had reported to her that Sarad Nukpana was lurking behind Sathrik’s throne, whispering sinful somethings in His Majesty’s pointed ear about vengeance most sweet and a stone most powerful—and how by killing me, they could have both.

  “This is why I need your help,” Chigaru told me. “For my people—and yours. ”

  “Your people aren’t the ones about to be invaded. ”

  “They’re the ones about to be killed to open that Gate. ”

  Damn.

  “And as you know, magically powerful victims are best not only for powering a Gate, but for keeping it stable. ”

  Mychael scowled. “I take it Nukpana has sent his Khrynsani out to capture goblin mages. ”

  Tam nodded. “Goblin mages and nobles have been vanishing from their homes and estates for the past two months. ”

  “Vanishing as in kidnapped,” I said.

  “Those mages and nobles were chosen with care,” Tam said. “If you oppose King Sathrik or are a powerful mage, you’ll find yourself and your family being dragged from your beds. They’re being held in the Mal’Salin palace dungeons. ”

  Chigaru spoke. “And to prevent a city-wide panic, or a coup breaking down the palace gates, Sathrik has publically announced that these mages and nobles are traitors who fled rather than face the consequences of their criminal actions. The truth is their only crime was to oppose my brother’s rule, and support mine. ”

  And any chance Chigaru had of overthrowing Sathrik—and Sarad Nukpana—would die with them.

  Unless somebody stopped them.

  Last time I checked, I was someone.

  Tam looked at Mychael. “Sarad has made it known that he needs more mages to keep that Gate stable. ”

  Mychael stood in silence, a muscle working in his jaw. “They’re coming here first. ”

  “There is one thing that will prevent a full-scale invasion,” Chigaru told him. “Giving them the Saghred. ” The goblin prince looked at me. “And you, Raine. Most of all, my brother wants you. ”

  Chapter 5

  You’d
think being told an evil king and his even-more-evil quasi-demigod minion want you at their mercy or thousands of people would die would be as bad as anyone’s day could get.

  You’d be wrong.

  The Seat of Twelve had to be told.

  The Seat of Twelve was the ruling council for the Conclave, which was the governing body for every magic user of consequence in the seven kingdoms. These were twelve of the most powerful mages, period. Thanks to the Saghred, I now had more power than any of them. This bothered them.

  A lot.

  In their collective opinion, anyone with that much power needed to be watched very closely. Which meant if I so much as blinked wrong, I’d find myself in a citadel containment room. And if I completely cut loose with the power the Saghred had given me, my head and shoulders would soon be parting ways.

  Before the meeting, Mychael needed to meet briefly with Justinius Valerian, the archmage, the supreme head of the Conclave of Sorcerers, the commander in chief of the Brotherhood of Conclave Guardians, and a crafty, foultempered old man.

  I loved the guy.

  Even better, he was right fond of me, too.

  Vegard and I were in the citadel on our way to Mychael’s office to wait. His office had wards and a well-stocked bar. I needed the former and wanted the latter.

  Naturally, we didn’t make it there.

  From the end of the hallway came a cool and crisp voice. “I hoped I would find you here, Mistress Benares. ”

  Crap in a bucket.

  The voice belonged to an elven mage who thought he was about to get me right where he’d wanted me since the day I set foot on Mid.

  A tall figure stepped into view.

  Magus Carnades Silvanus was a pure-blooded high elf who wasn’t about to let anyone forget it. White-blond hair, glacier blue eyes, pristine porcelain complexion. His black and silver robes were elegant and expensive, and emphasized his cold beauty. Gleaming against the silk of his robes was a mirrored disk dangling at the end of a silver chain. I’d never liked mirror mages, and I’d never like Carnades Silvanus.

  As the senior mage on the Seat of Twelve, Carnades Silvanus saw himself as the champion of the elven people. I saw him as a self-righteous, narrow-minded jerk. Unfortunately, he also had the influence to convince a lot of powerful and dangerous people to see things his way.

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