Con & conjure, p.2
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       Con & Conjure, p.2

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 2


  “Working day and night to find a way to get rid of the damned thing. I’m close. Really close. ”

  I didn’t say what I meant by “close. ” The only way I’d found to destroy the Saghred and break its hold on me was to empty the rock of the thousands of souls it held captive inside. The only creatures who could accomplish this monumental feat were Reapers—Death’s minions, gatherers of the dead and dying. I wasn’t dead or dying, at least not until they got hold of me. In their soul-sucking frenzy, they’d probably take my soul, too. “Probably” was too close to “definitely” for my taste. Needless to say, I was looking hard for other options.

  “Pity the Saghred would eventually drive you insane,” Mago was saying. “Do you have any idea of how much money you could make with that much power?”

  “Unless it’d be enough to buy back my sanity and life, everyone can keep their money. ”

  A sparkle of life—and avarice—lit Mago’s dark eyes. “Until we relieve them of it. ”

  That moment of bringing financial ruin to those threatening me and mine couldn’t come soon enough.

  “When do we start?” I asked him.

  “As soon as I get my land legs under me. ” Mago paused and grimaced as if his stomach was considering doing something unpleasant. “And once I can keep a decent meal in me. ”

  We all wanted that. Phaelan nudged the bucket closer.

  “I’m hopeful that I can attain both states of equilibrium by tonight,” Mago muttered. “I’m scheduled to dine with my affluent client this evening. ”

  I frowned. “He’s here already?” Call me paranoid, but most of the affluent people on Mid right now had a finger in the let’s-get-Raine-Benares pie.

  “My client has some financial transactions he wants to conduct, and he will only do so in person. So your request to come to Mid couldn’t have come at a more convenient time. ”

  “Well, we wouldn’t want you to be inconvenienced on our account,” I told him.

  Mago glanced toward the office’s windows. “His ship was not far behind mine. ”

  Phaelan was already looking out over the harbor. “Would that client be a crazy goblin bastard looking to get himself shot full of holes?”

  I quickly joined him. “What crazy bas—” I didn’t finish the question; I couldn’t. And people said I was nuts.

  Prince Chigaru Mal’Salin, exiled younger brother of the goblin king, with a price on his head and every other body part, was brazenly standing in clear view near the bow of a luxury yacht sailing into the harbor. His personal standard was flying at the top of the ship’s tallest mast, telling even the most clueless exactly who and what he was.

  Phaelan was absolutely right. He was a crazy goblin bastard. Though his last name was Mal’Salin, crazy was in their blood.

  Mago looked over both of our shoulders and saw what we saw. “Oh, bloody hell. ”

  Phaelan clapped him on the shoulder. “Think about it this way, brother. If someone puts a bolt in him, you won’t have to worry about keeping dinner down. ”

  I didn’t like Chigaru Mal’Salin, and unless his feelings had changed, the prince didn’t like me, either.

  It wasn’t easy to forgive someone who had used a friend of mine as bait to kidnap me, and then threaten that friend with torture to get me to find and use the Saghred for him. I couldn’t believe that his manners had improved any since then. The prince was cunning, manipulative, ruthless, and conspiracies and plots were recreational activities. In other words, a Mal’Salin. But unlike his brother, Chigaru could be reasoned with and he wasn’t nuts.

  Well, at least not as nuts as his brother.

  I knew Prince Chigaru was coming to Mid; he just wasn’t supposed to be here this soon. The prince had made the trip from wherever his last hiding place was for two reasons, and both of those reasons were because of his brother. One was in response to his brother’s invitation to bury the hatchet and sign a peace agreement. The second reason was to overthrow his brother’s government then bury that hatchet in one of his vital parts. Not directly, mind you. Direct confrontation wasn’t the goblin way. Intrigue and subterfuge were the favored methods for two powerful goblins to settle things once they’d reached an impasse.

  Sathrik wanted his little brother dead. Chigaru had refused to stand still for any of Sathrik’s assassins.

  In goblin diplomatic parlance, this was called an impasse.

  In the face of such an impasse, Prince Chigaru’s behavior was brazen at best, wantonly suicidal at worst.

  Phaelan nudged Mago in the ribs. “Shouldn’t you go out and greet your ‘affluent’ client?”

  “I would prefer a bath and a change of clothes first. ”

  “And see if he makes it to shore in one piece,” I muttered.

  “That, too. ”

  Like elves, goblins were generally tall, sleekly muscled, and lithe with elegantly pointed ears. There, pretty much all resemblance between the two races ended. Sure, some elves had large black eyes, though none had a goblin’s pale gray skin and sharp white fangs, but those weren’t our biggest differences.

  I enjoyed intrigue as much as most of my family. But goblins took it to an entirely different level. For goblins, intrigue was a full-time, full-contact sport, played to the death—or to the win—whichever came first. And that funloving nature was multiplied to an absurd degree when goblins got anywhere near the Mal’Salin royal court.

  And if a goblin’s last name actually was Mal’Salin . . . well, you get the picture.

  Then I noticed something odd, even odder than a goblin prince making himself into a two-legged target.

  Chigaru Mal’Salin was standing alone.

  There should have been crew swarming all over the ship, preparing it to dock. There were crew working, but they were all careful not to cross in front of the prince.

  Too careful.

  I drew in a touch of power and focused it on Chigaru, to see him through the eyes of a seeker. The prince was shielded against magic and weapons. The spell protecting him was light and subtle, and completely invisible. I only knew it was there thanks to my Saghred-heightened senses. It was incredibly sophisticated work, like a tightly woven steel web that curved out in front of him like a protective shield.

  The goblin prince was using himself as bait.

  I looked over the crowds beginning to gather in curiosity at his arrival, and the dock workers going about their business. There were a few people—goblins, humans, and elves—whose eyes weren’t on the prince and his yacht, but were intently watching others, scanning the crowd.

  Just like I was.

  Agents of the prince, ready to take down any hopeful assassins.

  Agents of the prince’s opposition, ready to take out the prince.

  Chigaru was still a crazy bastard, but he was also crazy like a fox. Get someone to take a shot at him before he even set foot on dry land, his people pounce on them, interrogate them into revealing any accomplices, and he saves himself the trouble of spending every waking moment of his visit jumping at his own shadow.

  Brilliant. In an insane kind of way.

  I opened the door from the office and stepped outside onto the dock built adjacent to the warehouse. Phaelan came out with me. Mago stayed inside and out of sight.

  “He’s trying to get someone to take a shot at him,” I said.

  Phaelan heard me, but he wasn’t scanning the crowd, or even looking at the prince. My cousin’s dark eyes were intent on the busy harbor. It was the morning high tide and fishing boats of all sizes were coming in with the night’s catch, and merchant and passenger ships were either setting sail or arriving.

  I looked where Phaelan was looking. It was a pair of small ships, not much more than boats really, running protectively near the prince’s yacht, guiding it in. I recognized them. Mid’s harbormaster used dozens of them for patrolling the harbor and escorting larger ships. The
pilot boats’ sails were full, the canvas straining.

  I didn’t see anything wrong, but Phaelan obviously did.

  “What is it?”

  “There’s only one man on each boat. The pilots. Harbor regulations in every major port stipulate a pilot and two crew. And do you notice anything wrong with the wind out there?”

  One boat was running slightly behind the other—intentionally hanging back. No mean feat with all that wind.

  I froze. “Wait a minute. ” My eyes flicked to the goblin yacht’s rigging. The crew had pulled the sails in, and what canvas was still up was far from full. The only air moving in the center of the harbor was a light breeze.

  There was plenty of wind behind those two pilot boats, but it sure as hell wasn’t natural.

  A weather wizard. He or she was good, and probably about to split a gut moving enough air to fill those sails.

  “And pilot boats keep themselves light, easier to maneuver,” Phaelan was saying. “The one out front is riding lower in the water than it should. ” He scowled. “Way lower. ”

  One man, one laden boat. Another behind, no extra weight. Oh crap.

  I reached over and yanked Phaelan’s spyglass out of his belt to take a look.

  Elves. The pilots were both elves, in boats running alongside a yacht carrying a goblin prince—and the best hope for peace, a peace a lot of powerful elves and goblins didn’t want. The extra weight on one boat didn’t mean it was a suicide run with a hold full of explosives, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t.

  I handed the spyglass to Phaelan. “I’m going out to take a look. ”

  I couldn’t walk on water out to those boats, but as a seeker, I didn’t need to.

  I’d only done a Sending a few times before. The last time I’d been trying to locate a kidnapped spellsinger. Someone with mage-level talent had blocked me then. Now, the only thing between me and my destination was half a harbor full of water. Water and I had an agreement. I stayed away from it and it wouldn’t drown me. I came from a family of pirates and I couldn’t swim for shit. Yeah, it was pathetic.
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