Con & conjure, p.19
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       Con & Conjure, p.19

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 19

 

  Vegard was a vision of servile propriety in black tunic, poofy black knee breeches, black hose, and . . . did my eyes deceive me? Nope, they knew what they were seeing—black shoes with darling black silk rosettes on top. The big Guardian’s blond hair was pulled back and tightly braided, his beard was closely trimmed in dandy fashion, and a pair of delicate gold-rimmed spectacles were perched on what was definitely not Vegard’s real nose.

  “Hello, I’m Marc, and I’ll be your server today. ”

  As I looked up at him, I had to bite my bottom lip as tears welled up in my eyes. Fortunately, my back was to Balmorlan so he couldn’t witness my facial contortions.

  Vegard, the consummate professional, didn’t bat an eye—which were now green, by the way.

  “Would you like to hear our chef’s specials?” he asked.

  “Of course,” Mago told him, knowing that I was well past the power of speech.

  I got myself under control as Vegard—excuse me, Marc—prattled on about the sauce for this fish or the glaze for that steak, and even went so far as to make wine recommendations for each. Impressive.

  Mago ordered the best cut of beef in the largest portion the restaurant had. Mid was an island and a rocky one at that. Fish were plentiful, but beef would most definitely be an import—a pricey one.

  I handed my menu back to Marc with a bright smile. “I’ll have what he’s having. ”

  Balmorlan ordered the fish.

  I proposed that we not talk business until after we’d eaten. Balmorlan didn’t like it, but then Balmorlan wasn’t going to like much about our meeting, though he wouldn’t know it until the results jumped up and bit him on the ass.

  As we chatted and ate what was quite possibly the best meal I’d ever had, I became painfully aware that Taltek Balmorlan wasn’t what one would call a scintillating conversationalist. Mago, on the other hand, was well educated, well traveled, well-heeled, and well . . . interesting. Everything Balmorlan obviously was not.

  I knew there had to be an accepted way to discuss buying something of questionable legality with money that was not your own. Since I had no clue what that was, I went with the direct approach. It seemed to be the way Symon would handle it. And since Balmorlan apparently accepted me as the genuine article, I just cut to the chase.

  “You didn’t ask me all the way here from D’Mai for lunch. ”

  “I would have preferred a more private meeting location. ”

  “Such as your embassy, which is considered elven soil and is subject to elven law. ” I dabbed my lips with my napkin and laid it carefully on the table. “I’m not an elf and the people whose interests I represent aren’t elves. So you can understand my suspicion of your elven privacy. ”

  “Symon, Symon, you misjudge me. Have I ever gone back on my word or not delivered what I’d promised?”

  I had no idea what Balmorlan had promised or delivered, so I went with a stony silence. It seemed like the right response.

  Balmorlan pursed his lips in annoyance and lowered his voice. “You can’t still blame me for your operation in Tamir. ”

  “Can’t I?”

  “Your associates got what they paid for. However, it was beyond my control that the intelligence I was given reported that the garrison was empty. There was no way I could have known that your partners’ men had been set up for an ambush. ”

  “Your intelligence was obviously lacking. ”

  Balmorlan shrugged. “The loss of life was regrettable, but unavoidable given the circumstances. ”

  “And now you ask me here to attempt to sell those I represent yet another disaster in the making. ”

  “Ah, but you came. And I can I assure you that your employers will be delighted with their purchase. ”

  “Their delight has yet to be seen, and I came only because I was ordered. This meeting was not my choice. ” I gave Balmorlan what I hoped was an oily smile. “Though it is my choice whether or not I reject your offer. ” I sat back in my chair. “What do you want? And don’t waste any more of my time. The quicker I can get off of this cursed rock, the better. ”

  “I’m offering them power. ”

  “Pardon me?”

  Balmorlan leaned forward. “Power. I’m offering you and your associates a chance to eliminate those who oppose you once and for all. No more risks, just profits and unquestioned power. ”

  I gave him a scoffing laugh. “For once and for all and on your word. An amusing proposition, but not one I’m inclined to accept. ” My humor vanished. “I require proof. Tangible proof. ”

  Balmorlan smiled the smile of a man with a secret. “I can provide it. Proof of how with one strike, your associates will be in unopposed possession of all southern Nebia. ”

  One strike. I forced my breathing to remain even. He couldn’t mean—

  “I can provide this for you and your associates,” Balmorlan was saying.

  “Now?”

  “By this time tomorrow. ”

  “For a price. ” I forced the words out.

  “Naturally. ”

  The son of a bitch was selling the Saghred’s power. Power he didn’t have.

  Yet.

  Unless he got his hands on me, and he was giving himself one whole day to get the job done. Cocky bastard. Simply killing me wouldn’t get him the Saghred’s power. The rock was locked and guarded in the citadel. The only thing my death would do would be to let the Saghred latch on to the first mage it could lure within touching distance. Taltek Balmorlan couldn’t steal the Saghred, but he seemed confident that he could steal me.

  Within one day.

  I didn’t say anything. I didn’t trust myself to say anything. However, I did trust myself to put the steak knife that had found its way into my hand to good use. I toyed with the handle.

  Mago cleared his throat. “Considering the history of my colleague’s dealings with you, his associates can hardly be expected to accept any claims at face value. ”

  Balmorlan bristled. “You’re saying that I’m a liar?”

  “Not yet,” I said smoothly. “My associates now find it prudent to proceed with caution to any offer you make. ” I paused. “They will only tolerate being burned once,” I said with quiet menace. “They will not allow it to happen again. ”

  Mago spoke. “You seem confident that you can deliver the promised results, Inquisitor Balmorlan. But you understand that we cannot share your confidence, let alone assign monetary worth to it based on a few words—”

  “Meaning we want to know precisely what you’re selling,” I broke in. I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear the son of a bitch say it.

  “Very well,” Balmorlan said. “By this time tomorrow, the Saghred’s power will be mine. ”

  I didn’t move. “From what I’ve been told, the Saghred’s bond servant is an elven seeker by the name of Raine Benares. This Benares woman is a magic user; you are not, so I fail to see how you could not only claim to possess and wield such power, but offer it to others. ”

  “By possessing Raine Benares,” Balmorlan replied smoothly. “My own mages will be able to wield the stone’s power through her. And best of all, my claim to the woman will be perfectly legal. ”

  I leaned forward, hopefully the very picture of a skeptical negotiator, not a banker about to dive across a table with a steak knife. “To claim is one thing, to gain cooperation is quite another. ”

  “Her cooperation is not needed,” Balmorlan said. “Once she’s in custody, I have a specially constructed cell waiting with magic-neutralizing restraints. I’ve retained the services of mages eager to taste the Saghred’s power for themselves. ”

  Mago’s eyes were the flat black of a shark, his voice cold. “If the woman is chained and can’t access the stone’s power, how can these mages—”

  “The Saghred is hungry,” Balmorlan told him point-blank. “It’ll bond with my mages like a starving demon being
offered fresh meat. ” He paused and smiled. “Except in the Saghred’s case it will be fresh souls. The stone will have to be well fed before it can be properly used. We’ll feed it through the elf woman, and once the Saghred is satisfied, my mages can put the stone’s power to good use. ” He tossed back the remainder of his drink. “Raine Benares is merely a conduit for souls and power. She’ll be used as long as she remains useful. You’re aware of what the Saghred can do?”

  I knew the answer to that one. “I am. ”

  “Then you know that my offer is genuine. I’ve arranged a demonstration of the Saghred’s power that will more than prove the validity of my offer. ”

  Demonstration? That would be some trick since I was sitting right here.

  “Where and how?” I asked.

  Taltek Balmorlan grinned. “Let’s just say I’ve taken the liberty of moving your luggage from the Greyhound Hotel to a safer location. ”

  Chapter 8

  Mago didn’t move a muscle. “Safer?”

  “It’s also safe to say there will be no need to pay your hotel bill. ” Balmorlan smiled, showing us his teeth.

  Teeth I wanted nothing more than to knock out.

  “There’s a tavern on the corner of Hobwell Street that will provide us with a splendid view and adequate protection,” Balmorlan continued. “I’ve arranged a table by the window. As soon as we arrive, the show will begin. ”

  “That’s nearly two blocks from the hotel,” Mago noted. His voice was calm, his posture nonchalant. He always had been a good actor.

  When hundreds of lives depended on it, I could fake calm, too. “I’m not fond of surprises,” I told Balmorlan. “Just what is this demonstration of yours?”

  “There will be an attack on the Greyhound Hotel, but the primary target is its occupants. At this moment, Raine Benares is in the hotel meeting with her goblin prince. ”

  I froze. A meeting I’d canceled to be here.
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