Con & conjure, p.12
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       Con & Conjure, p.12

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 12


  Two others stepped up behind him. Elves. Mages. Two mages on the Seat of Twelve. I’d seen them before with Carnades. Always standing a step or two behind, their deference to Carnades made it clear to anyone who cared to notice that they were nothing but lackeys. Lackeys who were probably two of the top mages in the kingdoms, but were still Carnades’s flunkies and hangers-on. As Carnades grew in power and influence, they moved up the ladder with him without doing a thing except what he told them to.

  Vegard came to reluctant attention. The Guardians’ main duty was the protection of the archmagus and the mages of the Seat of Twelve. Carnades was second in command only to the archmagus, and he was convinced that my involvement with certain goblins not only made me a goblin sympathizer, but a traitor to the elven people.

  He smiled, a dazzling white flash of insincerity. “I understand that your visit to greet your precious prince didn’t turn out as you planned. ”

  I flashed him a smile of my own. “I don’t think anyone got what they paid for this morning. Too bad assassins don’t give refunds, isn’t it?”

  That wiped the smirk off his face.

  Carnades and Taltek Balmorlan had become the best of friends, and friends didn’t keep secrets from each other—especially not secrets that involved hiring the deadliest assassin in the kingdoms, who conveniently happened to be an elf.

  “You used your Saghred-spawned power to defend a Mal’Salin—a creature who would go to any length to kill an elf, any elf. ” Carnades’s voice was a self-satisfied purr. “Except you, of course. Merely a continuation of the relationship that began in—”

  “Relationship?” Maybe I’d hit my head when I fell against that guard shack wall.

  “Your clandestine meeting with the prince at an estate in Mermeia was—”

  “A kidnapping. Mine. Prince Chigaru wanted me to find the Saghred for him. I refused. ”

  “A second encounter was more public. An embrace at the goblin king’s masked ball two nights later. ”

  “If your snitches had looked closely enough they would have seen that the prince had a dagger to my ribs. Stepping away from him wasn’t just ill-advised, it was impossible. ” I took two steps closer to Carnades, close enough to make him flinch. “But I could hardly expect you to be concerned with facts. ” I lowered my voice to the same purr. “You just want an excuse. ”

  “Guardian, I want to speak to Mistress Benares alone. ” Carnades said it without even looking at Vegard. He knew Vegard’s name; he just refused to use it. Just one more way to belittle Mychael’s knights.

  “It’s all right, Vegard,” I said. “I want to have a private chat with Magus Silvanus. ”

  Vegard and Carnades’s two yes-mages moved down the hall and out of earshot. However, I did notice that Vegard stayed within his ax-throwing range. I gave him a knowing wink.

  “Let’s stop playing games, Mistress Benares,” Carnades said.

  “Works for me. I’m tired of this one anyway. For starters, stop with the ‘Mistress Benares’ act. You hate my guts; I hate yours, so why waste perfectly good dislike on acting polite when neither of us wants to. I know there’s another five-letter word you’d love to call me, but for now let’s just go with ‘Raine,’ shall we?”

  Carnades’s mouth twisted with distaste. “That would imply familiarity. ”

  “Yeah, it’s offensive to me, too. But let’s try just this once. ” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Okay, you’ve got your privacy. Talk. ”

  “I want to see you dead. ”

  “That’s nothing new, but you are dispensing with the small talk. I like that. ”

  “The ideal end for you would be on an executioner’s block before sundown. That won’t be for another two hours. In my opinion, that’s two hours too late. Unfortunately, for the good of many, the desires of the few must be pushed aside. ”

  “Meaning you don’t get to see my head lopped off before you go to dinner. ”

  “That would be a much better start to my evening. ” Carnades’s lips curled into a mocking smile. “Though from what the Saghred’s history has shown us, I won’t have much longer to wait. ”

  “So now you’re entertaining yourself by rewriting history?”

  “There’s no need to alter the truth,” Carnades said. “You’ve read Rudra Muralin’s journal. He was the Saghred’s bond servant, exactly like yourself. No doubt you’ve realized that you’re following in his footsteps. ”

  “I am not now, nor will I ever be like Rudra Muralin,” I said, my voice tight with fury. The goblin was a thousandyear-old, seriously psychotic mage who’d used the Saghred to slaughter thousands and enslave thousands more. He was dead now. Permanently, thanks to Sarad Nukpana. In several pieces then reduced to ashes, thanks to Imala Kalis.

  “You have used the Saghred more than a few times now,” Carnades continued as if I hadn’t said a word. “It becomes more a part of you each time. You don’t see this, but others can. I can. Soon its desires will become your own. When that happens, you’ll have become too dangerous to live. It’s only a matter of time. ” His long fingers toyed negligently with the jeweled chain lying against his dark robes. “It will happen quite soon, I think. ” His eyes gleamed in triumph. “If it hasn’t already. ”

  My breath froze. Carnades hadn’t been at the harbor this morning; and even if he had, he’d have had no way of knowing about the goblin mages—and how the Saghred had made me want to kill the lot of them.

  “If that little dream makes you happy, keep having it. ” My voice was steady, but the rest of me wasn’t.

  “Isn’t it odd that you claim to want to be rid of the Saghred and the power it has given you, but you have yet to expend any real effort toward achieving that end? The stone’s influence over you goes deeper than you will admit. ”

  I forced a smile. “I’ve been a little busy. It’s hard to work on my own problems when more pressing issues keep coming up. Many of them were your fault; the others you kept sticking your nose into and making them worse. And on at least three occasions, if it weren’t for me, your own arrogant stupidity would have gotten you killed. I saved your life, and what thanks do I get?”

  The smile grew. “A chance to save your pirate cousin from probable torture and certain execution. ”

  I went perfectly still.

  “You don’t believe me,” Carnades murmured.

  “Why wouldn’t I? Threatening innocent people with violence to get what you want. It’s the ultimate villain cliché, but from you, I believe it. ”

  “Good. That will save me the effort to prove my sincerity. I assure you my associates and I would be doing nothing illegal. ”

  “So torture and execution aren’t illegal in your little world?”

  “Neither I nor any of my associates would harm one hair on Captain Benares’s head. We would merely be apprehending a known criminal. ”

  “Mychael and the archmage have granted Phaelan immunity while he is on Mid. ”

  “That immunity ceases to exist once he is out of Mid’s waters,” Carnades noted.

  “Phaelan’s not leaving Mid anytime soon. ”

  “I never said it would be his choice. ”

  “That’s kidnapping. ”

  “Not at all. Like yourself, I am merely warning you of the impending actions of others. Not that they would be committing a crime. They would merely be apprehending a known and wanted criminal. There are countless warrants for the infamous Captain Phaelan Benares’s arrest. Some of the rewards being offered are quite exorbitant. Your cousin must be exceedingly proficient at his chosen calling. They can’t all have him, of course. I understand there are plans to award him to the highest bidder. It would be the only fair way to settle any conflicting claims. And with such a wanted man as Captain Benares, there are certain to be conflicts. ”

  “What do you want?”

  Carnades stepped closer. “I want nothing, Raine. In fac
t, I am offering you an opportunity to save the life of your cousin and help your own people. ”

  “An opportunity. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it called that before. And let me guess, all I have to do is walk through the gates of the elven embassy of my own free will. ”

  “Would that be so difficult?”

  “Then a certain elven intelligence inquisitor will escort me to a warded cell made just for me, and clap me into a set of custom-made manacles. Have I missed anything?”

  “In exchange for your cooperation, your family will not be harmed. ”

  The Saghred twisted in my chest, my rage awakening it.

  Carnades knew. He laughed softly and his voice dropped to a bare whisper. “You want to obliterate me, don’t you, Raine? The urge is almost more than you can bear. How many nights have you lain awake wondering how much longer until you lose what little control you have left? Knowing that the instant you do there will be no going back. ”

  “And all I have to do is let Balmorlan’s sicko mages get their hands on the Saghred by getting their hands on me, so you and yours can destroy every goblin breathing your air. ”

  “Before they do the same to us,” Carnades hissed. “Before you further betray your people to help our enemies. Enemies who at this moment are planning our race’s destruction. ”

  “Destroy them before they can destroy us. Brilliant. It never occurred to you to work with the goblins who have no interest in killing a single elf. Who want to bring down the goblins who do want the elves’ collective neck in a noose. ”

  “There are no such creatures. Goblins kill. It’s what they are. Consumed by evil from the moment they are spawned. ”

  “You want to see what evil really looks like?” I snarled. “Take a look in the mirror hanging around your own neck. ”

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