Con & conjure, p.20
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       Con & Conjure, p.20

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 20

 

  A meeting Taltek Balmorlan knew about. Who the leak was or where it was didn’t concern me, not now. Snarling and lunging across the table for Balmorlan’s throat wouldn’t save Prince Chigaru, his court, or any of the hundreds of innocent people staying or working in or around the hotel. If it was only safe outside of a two-block area, there was going to be collateral damage. A lot of collateral damage.

  Balmorlan didn’t care about any of that. It was simply a way to make his point. The smirk the smarmy bastard was wearing told me that he had something we wanted, something we couldn’t resist. He was right—he had his life and I wanted to take it.

  “She’ll hardly stand by while the prince, his retinue, and every other living thing inside are annihilated,” Balmorlan continued. “However, to have a chance of saving anyone, she’ll have to use the Saghred. ”

  Mago’s face was expressionless. “And if this Raine Benares is ‘annihilated’ along with the others?”

  Balmorlan waved a dismissive hand. “She’ll be the only creature who will survive. The Saghred would hardly allow its bond servant to be killed before it has found a suitable replacement. And after having used the Saghred, my associates will see to it that Raine Benares is arrested as a public menace. ” He chuckled. “Someone with that much power can hardly remain on the loose among our citizens. So you gentlemen will have your proof, while my associates eliminate a political inconvenience. And if you’re experiencing any guilt at the unavoidable loss of life, don’t bother; my associates had already planned this. It would have happened whether you had accepted my invitation or not. ”

  I had no doubt that every time Balmorlan said “associates” he meant Carnades Silvanus.

  There would be no Saghred demonstration. I was here and so was the rock’s power, but that wouldn’t stop Balmorlan from having everyone in that hotel killed. The only thing there would be was death and a lot of it. Deaths that in Balmorlan’s opinion only the Saghred’s power could stop. I didn’t doubt his opinion. Balmorlan wasn’t a mage, but he knew what mages could do, couldn’t do—and what was beyond their power. I was betting he’d arranged a demonstration of the latter kind.

  And I wouldn’t be sitting in a tavern while it happened.

  Balmorlan pushed back his chair and stood. “The bill has already been taken care of, gentlemen. I have a coach waiting for us. We’ll begin negotiations after you’ve seen the obvious value in—”

  “What do you mean you’re out of lobster bisque!” roared the red-haired mage (aka Mychael) at the next table.

  Marc/Vegard visibly cowered. “Sir, if you will allow me to—”

  “To what? Explain why you brought this vile—”

  Vegard gasped in indignation. “Sir, the ingredients are the finest—”

  “Swill!”

  “The chef assures me that it surpasses even the—”

  Vegard/Marc didn’t get a chance to finish; the gaped-mouthed mages around us didn’t get the chance to regain their composure. Mychael’s fist came up and knocked the bowl from Vegard’s hands, hands seemingly desperate to catch the bowl, not to direct the fishy contents onto Taltek Balmorlan’s head, down the front of his doublet, trousers, and probably into his boots.

  It was a really big bowl of soup.

  It was beautiful.

  Hotel destruction delayed.

  I had to fight the urge to kiss that redheaded mage smack-dab on the lips.

  Vegard/Marc stared at Balmorlan in abject horror. “Sir, I am so sorry. ” He grabbed a pair of cloth napkins from a nearby table and began dabbing at the soup covering the elf’s silk doublet; the napkins doing nothing but spreading the fishy mess around. Balmorlan was trying to stop Vegard from dabbing; Vegard was determined to stop Balmorlan from leaving.

  We had quite the commotion going, and within moments an impeccably dressed man came running out of the back near the kitchens, took one look at the scene in all of its sogginess, took a deep breath, and strode toward us. “Sir, if you will allow me to assist,” he told Balmorlan. His voice was the very essence of professional calm. “I’m the manager, and on behalf of the owners, I offer you our sincerest apologies. Come with me and we can take care of this. ” He lowered his voice. “The fish sauce will be difficult to get out, but not impossible. We have something in the kitchen that will take care of it without too much damage to your clothing. ” He smiled with every bit of charm he could muster. “We’ve had worse stains,” he whispered. The manager gripped Balmorlan’s upper arm with both hands, not giving the inquisitor any choice except to go with him.

  I really hoped there were cats in the alley behind the kitchen. Fish-loving, hungry cats.

  Our coach was waiting just down the street. The city watch normally wouldn’t let a coach park on the street, but coaches didn’t normally have plainclothes Guardian drivers and outriders, either.

  I ran to the coach as quick as Symon’s scrawny legs would carry me, spitting curses the entire way. If any of Balmorlan’s spies reported back to their boss, he’d think I was just pissed at having to clear out of the best hotel in town, or not getting the best of the son of a bitch in our first meeting. The Guardian “footman” saw us coming and got the coach’s door open fast. They had no idea I was a glamoured Raine Benares. Mychael had given them an assignment and they did it without asking questions. All they saw was the pissed off little man they’d driven to the restaurant who now desperately wanted to hurt someone.

  No doubt Taltek Balmorlan would wonder why we didn’t wait for him at the Swan Song or show up at that tavern.

  No doubt I didn’t give a damn.

  Mychael was waiting in the coach, his mage glamour gone and the Guardian paladin back in spades.

  I pulled myself inside and quickly sat down; Mago was right on my heels.

  Mychael tapped twice on the wall behind him and the coach quickly moved out into traffic. “You two are getting out at watcher headquarters. ”

  That was only halfway to the hotel.

  “No deal, I’m—”

  Mychael’s eyes blazed. “Raine, I’m not making any deals with you. He’s set you up—”

  “And people are going to die unless I’m there,” I shot back.

  “You’re not going to be one of them. ”

  “Damn right, I’m not. I’m also not getting out of this coach until it gets to the hotel. I can’t hide, Mychael. Not now. ”

  “Balmorlan said the show wouldn’t start until we joined him at the tavern,” Mago said.

  “With this many lives at stake, that’s a chance I can’t take,” Mychael replied.

  “What could he do that we’d need to be two blocks away?” my cousin asked him.

  “Magic of the worst kind. ”

  “Balmorlan collects mages, remember?” I said bitterly. “The more lethal, the better. ” I didn’t say that he’d be paying any black mages, supernatural assassins, or whatever was waiting at the hotel, with the money we were supposed to get with the transit numbers that we didn’t have. Mago didn’t need me to remind him.

  Mychael glowered. “Which is why you won’t be there,” he told me.

  “Balmorlan already thinks I am there. ” I leaned forward in my seat. “Mychael, it’s me he wants; whatever he’s about to do is my fault, so what I do about it is my decision. And if it’s something that only the Saghred can handle, then I’ll handle it. ” I felt my glamour start to waver. I stopped and steadied my breathing. I knew from experience that pain wasn’t good for a glamour, apparently neither was rage. I couldn’t go back to being myself, not yet. If there was any chance that I could get out of this without taking the lead role in Balmorlan’s horror show, I owed it to Mychael to keep my head down. But if the bastard forced my hand, I’d have no choice. I leaned back in the seat and forced myself into a calm I didn’t feel. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “Balmorlan won’t get a chance to have me hauled off. If I’m caught, I’ll die
of embarrassment first. That’d ruin his day. ”

  “My men can handle anything Balmorlan has planned,” Mychael assured me. “It’s what we train for. My men are inside the hotel, outside the hotel, on rooftops around the hotel, and hell, they’re even on sky dragons patrolling above the hotel. ”

  “Balmorlan seemed sure that I’d have to get involved. ”

  “No, he just knows that if people are in danger you’ll do something about it. ”

  Mago braced himself against the jostling of the speeding coach. “You said what’s going to happen will involve the worst kind of magic. Can you be more specific?”

  “It would have to be something that would catch the prince’s mages off guard; that is if the assault came from inside the building. If it’s outside, he’s hoping to catch my men flat-footed. It’d take a hell of a lot for either one to happen. ”

  My cousin exhaled. While not as uncomfortable with magic as Phaelan, Mago would rather not have to deal with it head-on. Neither would I. “I imagine the prince hasn’t lived as long as he has by not being able to anticipate and counter any attacks,” he said, as if trying to make himself believe it.

  Mychael’s mouth turned into a firm line. “Let’s hope today’s not the exception. ”

  Mychael had the driver pull the coach around to the back of the hotel. He wanted to get everyone who was inside the hotel to safety, but at the same time, he needed to catch the bastards, bitches, or creatures waiting for Balmorlan’s signal. Jumping out of the coach in front of the hotel and screaming that the world was about to end would incite panic in the public and hiding in the bad guys. Both were undesirable for obvious reasons.

  Mychael had the door open and was out before the coach stopped. He turned and looked at me. “You wouldn’t consider staying here, would you. ”

  He didn’t ask it as a question, because he didn’t seriously consider it one. I was going with him. He knew it, and so did I. I dispensed with a verbal response and jumped out of the coach with Mago right behind me. Mychael and I just looked at him.

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