Con & conjure, p.13
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       Con & Conjure, p.13

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 13

  Carnades stiffened. You’d think I had slapped him. Believe me, I wanted to do a lot more than that, and the Saghred was eager to help.

  “You refuse my offer?” Frost rolled off his words.

  “And toss it back in your face. ”

  “Very well. I offered you the chance to surrender voluntarily. Enjoy your last few hours of freedom—and if you see your cousin, tell him to do the same. ”

  Surrender or thousands die.

  Don’t surrender, the goblins and/or elves will come and get you, and thousands will still die. I really didn’t want to think about what was going to happen to me in either one of those scenarios.

  I hate no-win choices. In my book, if you don’t have a chance of winning, then it’s not a choice. But either way, I was screwed and innocent people died. I didn’t believe for one second that King Sathrik would stay home and play nice—or Carnades and Balmorlan would crawl back under their collective rock—if I served myself up on a silver platter. But that’s exactly what the Seat of Twelve wanted to do with me as soon as they could vote on it.

  I’d been in this room before. Nothing good had happened in it then, and I didn’t see that changing now.

  In my opinion, it wasn’t a room for the Seat of Twelve to meet—it was a star chamber for passing judgment. I’d been in the hot seat last time, too. The dais was still there, but the throne-like chairs were around a massive table instead. Marginally less imposing, though it still said loud and clear that this group took themselves and their power way too seriously. No low self-esteem here.

  “What are the terms for the surrender?” Carnades asked.

  To Carnades, saving his own lily-white patrician ass and those of his yes-mages was his first priority, the rest of the island’s inhabitants and students be damned, or in this case destroyed.

  “There are no terms, because there will be no surrender. ” Justinius Valerian gave Carnades a look that said loud and clear that he would not say that again. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing to debate.

  Unfortunately the old man was in the minority.

  The Seat of Twelve was shaking in their designer robes. Scared mages meant trouble of the fatal kind for me.

  Fighting never occurred to men and women who depended on fancy magic and political maneuvering more than they did standing their ground and defending what was theirs. To them that was what they hired guards for. Actual fighting was barbaric and beneath them.

  Which was exactly what Sathrik Mal’Salin and Sarad Nukpana were counting on.

  Justinius was the top dog in this well-dressed pack. The old man had teeth and he knew how to use them. The same couldn’t be said for most of the others. Just because you were a mage-level talent didn’t mean you could use that power for fighting.

  That’s why they had established the Guardians.

  Five hundred knights against tens of thousands of goblin warriors, and at least a couple hundred of those warriors were mage-level talents—in black magic. And with Sarad Nukpana coordinating the invasion, I’d be willing to bet that there would be major-class demons among those numbers. I didn’t care how much magical ass Mychael’s boys could kick, outnumbered was outnumbered.

  If I surrendered, all I would do is buy Mychael and his Guardians some time, but when the goblins did attack, it would be ten times worse.

  King Sathrik Mal’Salin and Sarad Nukpana would have the power of the Saghred at their beck and call.

  They would have me.

  If they had me, they didn’t need the rock. They could use the Saghred through my link with it, and sacrifice victims the same way. Nukpana had the power to open the Gate. He was planning to use me to keep it open.

  I was a weapon, a conduit to cataclysmic power, and the goblin king was going to invade the Isle of Mid to come and get me.

  A human mage sat a little apart from the fray, calm and aloof—mainly from the borderline panic among her colleagues. I remembered her. She’d been the only one not in favor of throwing me in a containment room and throwing away the key the last time I was in this room. That didn’t make her a friend, but right now I’d take what I could get.

  “Not that I am questioning Prince Chigaru Mal’Salin’s word, but what proof do we have of this?” Her voice was strong and cut right through the din. “He desires his brother’s throne. No doubt he would have an equal desire in getting Mid’s help to destroy his brother. ”

  A voice of reason. Always a good thing to have.

  “I have people getting that confirmation now, Magus Cagilian,” Mychael told her with a slight bow. “I hope we find no such evidence; but if an impending invasion is confirmed, we must be ready to begin evacuating the students. ”

  Another mage spoke up; actually, it was more of a whine. “But the goblin king said that if we gave him Raine Benares they would not invade. ”

  “And you believe him?” Justinius barked, a short laugh minus the humor. “He and Nukpana want the Saghred. They’ll use Miss Benares to get enough power to come and take it. If they get that far, we’re all toast. ”

  Carnades strode across the room in a swirl of robes and sat on one of the ornate chairs. Naturally it was at the front of the room with the dais behind him and facing me. A nice dramatic backdrop.

  “No one has voiced the obvious solution,” he said. “When the goblins attack, we use the Saghred to strike. ”

  My eyes locked on his. “You mean use me. ”

  “For all intents and purposes, you and the Saghred are now one and the same, so there is no difference. ”

  “Even if I knew how to destroy an army—which I don’t—the rock hasn’t had a decent meal in hundreds of years. That’s hardly enough juice to take on an army. ”

  Carnades didn’t even blink. “Then feed it. ”

  There it was. So much for confirmation whether Carnades was in on Balmorlan’s plan for me.

  No one in the room said a word; no one even breathed.

  You could have heard a fly fart.

  Some of the mages were appalled. Others started nodding in agreement. Too many.

  Mychael broke the silence. “You’re advocating murder,” he said, his voice tight.

  “I’m advocating saving the lives of our citizens,” Carnades countered.

  “And yourself,” I snapped.

  Mychael walked slowly toward Carnades. “By sacrificing our citizens, damning their souls to eternity trapped inside the Saghred, their souls used to fuel a black magic that shouldn’t exist, let alone be used. You want that. ”

  “I want survival. ”

  “The price is too high. ”

  “In your opinion,” Carnades said smoothly. “The Conclave accords say that you only have one vote in this or any other matter brought before the Seat of Twelve. ” He smiled in a flash of perfect teeth. “I don’t make the rules, Paladin Eiliesor. ”

  Justinius’s smile looked more like a shark that’d just spotted lunch. “If any proposal you put before this council for a vote is deemed of questionable sanity or criminal intent, you will find yourself on the other side of those doors, stripped of your vote—and your position on this council. ” The old man’s bright blue eyes glittered in anticipation of that moment. “So says the accords. I don’t make the rules, Carnades, but I’ll enjoy the hell out of enforcing them. Now, do you want to make that proposal of yours official?”

  Carnades looked around the room. He didn’t have the votes and he knew it. Yet. The elf wouldn’t act until he was sure he had the backing to toss me outside the city walls with a bow around my neck for the goblins and slam the gate behind me—or onto the elven embassy’s front steps. We weren’t under siege yet, but the men and women in this room would get a siege mentality real quick. Survival of the strongest; or in this case, the politically strongest.

  Scary thing was, in another day or two, Carnades Silvanus would have his votes. He knew that, too.

 
“Not at this time, Archmagus Valerian. ” The elf mage was the very picture of civility. No one who just walked in would ever think that he’d just calmly suggested killing hundreds of people to save his sorry hide. “I merely ask that this council be open to all solutions to the dire situation we find ourselves in. ” He inclined his head to Mychael. “Though like Paladin Eiliesor, I sincerely hope that the report is false and there is no need for alarm. ” Carnades looked at me. “However, we all must be prepared to make sacrifices. ”

  “Son of a bitch!”

  We were in Justinius’s office. I was pacing and cussing, Mychael was standing in the center of the room, and the old man was pouring liquor for all of us.

  The only thing I wanted more than a stiff drink was Carnades’s face in front of my punching fist.

  Repeatedly.

  I was more than furious at Carnades. I was furious at myself, my situation, and that whatever I did, I was going to die and die horribly. Die knowing that an untold number of people would be following me in the war that would result, and nothing I could do would stop the killing.

  I didn’t say a word between the Seat’s council room and Justinius’s office, but I was thinking plenty. There was a solution, the only solution that might not involve my immediate death.

  Call a Reaper. Let it draw out all of the Saghred’s souls through me. It’d probably take mine with it, but at least the stone could be shattered once it was empty.

  In theory.

  I didn’t know any of this for certain. What I did know for certain was that Sarad Nukpana wouldn’t turn around and go home when he was told that “The Saghred’s been pounded to dust. No power to be had here. Nothing to see. Move along. ” Nukpana would move along, all right. Getting his hands on that rock had been his lifelong obsession. Then I’d tricked Sarad Nukpana into touching the Saghred with his bloody hand and the rock slurped him up as a sacrifice, destroying his body and imprisoning his soul. The goblin fought his way free, and when he couldn’t regenerate his body by consuming the life forces of mages, he claimed the freshly killed body of his uncle for his own.
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LISA SHEARIN SERIES:

  • Raine Benares
  • SPI Files
  •  

    Other author's books:

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      The Trouble with Demons


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      Magic Lost, Trouble Found