Con & conjure, p.14
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       Con & Conjure, p.14

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 14

 

  Sarad Nukpana wanted me dead. He wanted me worse than dead. And he’d destroy every elf he could hunt down, because an elf had deprived him of his ultimate prize. Out of spite, the goblin would destroy everyone I loved, but I’d already be dead. I snorted. Yeah, lucky me.

  “Son of a bitch!” The phrase was getting a bit old, but nothing expressed frustration like repetitive swearing.

  “We won’t use the Saghred and we won’t use you. ”

  Mychael said it like a solemn promise, and I knew he would do everything in his power to prevent either from happening, but this was something he wouldn’t be able to stop alone.

  “And we sure as hell aren’t slaughtering our people to feed the damned rock,” Justinius said. He flashed an evil grin. “Though if Carnades is so keen on pushing that proposal of his, the smarmy bastard can be first in line. The Saghred finds magic users especially tasty. ”

  Normally, my sick sense of humor would like the idea of Carnades paying the price for his own evil plot. But “the front of the line” meant the first to have his soul sucked into the Saghred through me, after I’d been coated in his blood. Nothing to laugh at there. Screaming for the rest of my soon-to-be-terminated life would be more like it.

  Justinius handed a drink to me, then gave one to Mychael. “My predecessor exiled . . . excuse me, assigned Carnades to be the Conclave emissary to the goblin court. I think he hoped Carnades would have what goblin courtiers call an accident, but the bastard came back to Mid just like a rash on my bony ass. ”

  “I saw Carnades before the meeting,” I told them.

  Mychael’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

  “I expected the usual threats, but he’s getting creative. ” I told them what Carnades had threatened to have done to Phaelan unless I took a stroll over to the elven embassy, knocked on the door, and asked to move in. I didn’t mention the five goblin mages at the harbor this morning—and my sudden urge to stop their interference by permanently stopping them. I hadn’t killed anyone, therefore it wasn’t a problem. Yet.

  Justinius set his glass on his desk. It was empty. “You need to let your cousin know that he’s a target. ”

  “So he can do something stupid like come on shore after Carnades?” I countered.

  Mychael’s lips turned up in a slow grin. “Just tell your Uncle Ryn. He’s told me some stories, and several of them ended up with him literally sitting on Phaelan. He knows how to keep his son in line. ”

  I nodded. “And Uncle Ryn can keep his temper. He won’t go after Carnades—at least not directly. ” I chuckled, and it sounded a little evil, even to me.

  Think, Raine. Yes, you’re tired. Yes, you’re scared out of your mind. Yes, you’ve got so many people who want you dead or worse that they’re going to have to start taking numbers. And to top it off, you nearly married one of them. You want to live to see next week? Then get a grip on yourself. If you’re going down, take some of those people down with you.

  “How long until you have confirmation of what Nukpana and his pet king are really up to?” I asked Mychael.

  “Sky dragon flight time between here and Regor is two days. I’ve told my men not to get too close. Any closer than three miles and Nukpana will be able to sense them even with the veils they’re using. All they’re looking for are signs that a lot of magic is building up. In my opinion, that would more than prove Chigaru’s claim. ”

  The three of us didn’t need proof. We knew Chigaru wasn’t lying. Though the human mage was right; it’d be a great way to get an island full of mages to help take on his big brother. And one way or another Sathrik Mal’Salin and his army were coming. At least the goblin army was coming. I really couldn’t see Sathrik stepping through that Gate until he was sure that no one was left standing who could so much as ruffle his hair. And if we were in that condition, Sarad Nukpana could just stroll into the citadel and scoop up the Saghred. If I were dead, the stone would bond to him like a starving newborn.

  Unless the rock was dust.

  “Solutions, gentlemen?” I really wanted another one other than my soul in the stomach—or whatever—of a Reaper.

  Justinius didn’t hesitate. “We fight. ”

  I raised an eyebrow. “Against an army. ”

  The old man grinned. “I never said how we would fight. ”

  I looked at Mychael. He was already looking at me. He also knew what I was thinking.

  “Absolutely not,” he told me.

  “We can’t let Nukpana get his hands on the Saghred. ” I said. “You know how obscenely strong he is now. If he gets the Saghred, no one or nothing will be able to stop him. ” I hesitated. “Which means we have to stop this now. ”

  “Reapers?” Justinius asked.

  I looked at him in surprise.

  “I know what’s going on in my own citadel, girl,” he said with a trace of a smile. “You’ve been working with Vidor Kalta. Find out anything?”

  Kalta was a nachtmagus. He was human, and a great guy for someone who worked with dead people for a living. A nachtmagus could control the dead—in all of their forms. Communicating with the dead was the least of what they could do. I’d heard that given enough time, money, and motivation they could raise the dead. Reapers weren’t dead, but like Vidor Kalta, they worked closely with them.

  “Through my link to the Saghred, I’m also connected to the souls trapped inside,” I told him. “And since I’m also a conduit for the rock’s power, I can serve the same function for its inmates. Reapers calm panic. If I were dying on a battlefield, I could see where a cool, soothing calm would be a good thing. The souls they’ve already drawn out of me wanted to leave the rock. Too bad for me it felt like someone was dragging my insides out through my chest. Multiply that a couple thousand times . . . if it didn’t kill me, I’d be wishing that someone would. ”

  “Is that all he could tell you?” Justinius asked.

  “No, but none of the rest of it does anything to help me. ” I raked my fingers through my hair. “He’s sent out some carefully worded queries to a few colleagues that he trusts. Some of them specialize in Reapers and their behavior—a few of them are actually still alive and didn’t get eaten by their own homework. ” I looked at Mychael. “How much time do we have until that Gate’s ready?”

  “Judging from what Chigaru’s spies said, we have about five days. It’ll be enough time to get the students off the island—and anyone else who wants to leave. ” He paused. “I want you to be one of them. ”

  “We’ve had this discussion; I’ve given you my answer and it’s still the same one. If anyone needs to leave, it’s you. I’m not the one who got shot at this morning. ”

  Justinius raised one bushy, white eyebrow. “Now that I didn’t know. Care to fill me in, son?”

  Mychael did, but left out any mention of my relation to said killer.

  “That tells me who, what, and when,” Justinius said when Mychael finished. “But why did he pick you for a target?”

  I spoke right up. “I can answer that one, sir. ” No use trying to hide it. I laid it out for him, simply and directly.

  The old man whistled. “Damn, girl. And here I was thinking that your knack for finding trouble started with the Saghred. ”

  I sighed. “No, sir. Unfortunately, trouble is what I find best. Always has been. ”

  “You do a fine job of it. ”

  “Thank you, sir. ” I tossed back the rest of my drink. “Though I’m working on something that could take care of Rache’s itchy trigger finger and suck the wind out of Carnades’s sails at the same time. ”

  “We believe that Rache Kai was paid by Taltek Balmorlan to assassinate the prince,” Mychael said.

  Justinius glowered. “Balmorlan also wants to get his hands on our girl here. ” If Balmorlan had been in the room right now, I had no doubt that the old man would have turned him into the cockroach that he really was and then stomped on him
. I had to really resist the urge to kiss the old guy.

  “And Carnades is Balmorlan’s newest best friend—and investor,” I told him.

  “You have proof?” Justinius asked.

  “Let’s just say that I know someone at Balmorlan’s bank. ”

  Justinius smiled slowly. “Is this someone willing to help?”

  I grinned. “Willing and eager. ”

  “You know that Carnades isn’t going to wait until he gets the votes he needs. ”

  “That’s fine,” I said. “Neither am I. ”

  Chapter 6

  Carnades had tossed down the gauntlet, and I was only too happy to pick it up.

  Either I cooperated or my family would pay the price. It wasn’t the first time a Benares had been threatened like that, and the family had several favored forms of retaliation.

  I was about to set one of those in motion. I’d be doing what a Benares does best.

  Scheme and scam. Or in my case, con and conjure.

  Time to find Mago.

  Setting up Phaelan and paying Rache to kill Chigaru and Mychael took money. A lot of money. I knew for a fact that Rache wouldn’t kill a fly without being paid, and Carnades’s lackeys wouldn’t go after Phaelan without having their pockets well lined. The best way to stop them would be to stop their money, then see what I could do about taking every coin they already had.

  Prince Chigaru hadn’t reserved the entire hotel, but he’d come close. There were goblins at every opening that could even remotely be considered a way in or out. I’d been taught since childhood how to get around virtually any obstacle an opponent could throw at me.

  It wasn’t easy, but I got into the hotel without anyone seeing me. No goblin in this hotel knew that Prince Chigaru’s personal banker was a Benares, and there was no reason why I would know Mago Perrone.

  So, I snuck in.

  Almost as difficult as getting into the hotel undetected was convincing Vegard to wait for me at a bar across the street. In no way could a big, blond Guardian blend in with a hotel full of goblins. I was small and fit through openings Vegard couldn’t get his head into, let alone those shoulders of his. I thought about telling Tam and Imala about my little trick, but decided against it for now. I might need to sneak back in before all this was over.

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