Con & conjure, p.22
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       Con & Conjure, p.22
 

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 22

 

  Chapter 9

  Screams came from the main stairs and the floor below us. For the first few seconds, those screams were because of the dark, the base fear we all have of the unknown. But panic in a pitch-dark building—where getting out meant going down flights of stairs—could be bad, worse than bad. I’d seen the aftermath before.

  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. How far was it to the service stairs door? Twenty steps? Thirty? The goblins around me went completely silent, and no one drew a weapon. Good. Blades in the dark and in close quarters meant accidents of the fatal kind. Goblins wouldn’t be scared of the dark because they could see in it. I couldn’t see, and I was scared. I also wanted to see where I was going and what might be coming after me almost as badly as I wanted to get out.

  I wanted out, but this was only the beginning of what Balmorlan had set in motion because I was in here. And I was in here because he knew I could handle it.

  But only with the Saghred.

  I backhanded that thought out of my mind.

  Light, Raine. One thing at a time; get yourself some light.

  I held my hand at what I thought to be level with my face, palm up, and summoned my magic. Normally, a bright lightglobe would instantly spin itself into existence. All I got now was sputtering sparks, their light going only a foot or two in front of me, but it was enough for me to see that the lightglobe set into the wall nearest me hadn’t gone out.

  It’d been smothered.

  Just like the next one and the one after that.

  A black fog covered everything, sliding against my skin like an oily darkness. The air quickly grew cold and thick; trying to lift my arm was like being under water.

  Muffled magic, smothered lightglobes, greasy air. Only one thing could do that.

  Magic of the blackest kind.

  Who or whatever was behind this spell didn’t want us getting out of the hotel.

  Who or whatever could bite me. I gritted my teeth and pushed my way through the murk toward Mychael.

  I could barely see Imala at the edge of my light. She spat out a low curse. “What the hell is this? It doesn’t smell like smoke. ”

  “It isn’t,” Tam said, his voice tight. A red lightglobe struggled to life above his outstretched hand. More red orbs of light bloomed as the goblin mages followed suit. None of them did much to cut through the oily murk.

  “Where’s it coming from?” Mago’s breath came on a plume of frost.

  Only then did I realize that I was shivering. I thought I was just scared. I was, but I was also freezing. “It’s cold enough to hang meat in here. ”

  That earned me a dark chuckle from the goblin guard closest to me.

  “We’re out of here,” Mychael told us. “Now. ”

  A goblin was pushing his armored shoulder against the stairwell door. “Sir, it won’t open. ”

  A second guard joined him. They were big, but that door wasn’t budging.

  With a visible effort, Mychael waded through the magicthickened air and the goblins made way for him. “It shouldn’t have a lock. ” He laid his hand flat against the door’s wood and the iron bands that wrapped them and I could literally see the surge of Mychael’s power go into the door, power that should have blown the thing off its hinges.

  It didn’t budge.

  It should have done a lot more than budge. I’d seen Mychael disintegrate doors sealed shut with Level Twelve wards.

  The door began to glow and hum, getting brighter and louder.

  Oh hell.

  “Down!” Mychael shouted.

  He shoved the guards away from the door and flung himself down the corridor and against the wall. I covered Mago and me with the best shield I could manage on short notice.

  The door exploded outward in a scream of tortured iron hinges, its splintered wood now deadly stakes flying down the hallway.

  Doors couldn’t absorb magic and spit it back. That was impossible. Though the smoking black hole where the door had been clearly said otherwise.

  I scrambled to my feet, pulling Mago with me.

  Whether the door had been blown out, blown in, or blown up didn’t matter. It was gone and we could run through the hole that was—

  Filled with a monster. Not just filled, packed.

  Even in the dim light, there was no mistaking what that thing was.

  A buka.

  The nine-foot-tall, hairy, long-fanged, and longer-armed mountain monster out of goblin legend.

  The creature had to duck and twist to get its thick body through the door opening. Its roar was deafening in the confined hallway, drowning out any shouts or commands. For the first time ever, I heard a goblin scream.

  The buka was fast, faster than any living creature had a right to be. Goblins were quick, but for the ones closest to the door, the only thing they did quickly was die. With two swipes of one of the buka’s long arms with its claw-hooked hands, screams became feral shrieks as dark goblin blood spattered against the walls and ceiling.

  The buka had appeared, attacked, and killed in less than five seconds.

  The goblins instantly went from forced calm to near hysteria, but they didn’t stampede. The cries and shouts from the lower floors redoubled, probably at the sight of their own bukas—or things even worse.

  A panicked scream came from the main stairs. A man was scrambling up them, his face a terrified mask. An enormous gnarled hand reached up from the gloom below and grabbed the man by both legs at once, jerked him off his feet, and snatched him down the stairs. There was a quick, wet snap of bone in the dark, and the man’s screams rose to an inhuman shriek. Two more snaps and the shrieks stopped.

  The buka looked directly to where Chigaru’s guards supported the prince against the wall, one on either side. The buka roared, baring fangs the length of my fingers, and lunged toward him. Mychael threw himself between the monster and the prince, the steel of his sword infused and glowing with magic. Tam was next to him, his unseen power adding to Mychael’s strike. Between the two of them, they gave the bastard something to really roar about.

  Or they should have.

  The thing ate Mychael’s magic like candy and Tam’s like a sugar topping. Absorbed. Gone. The sword didn’t even part its fur.

  “Raine, get him out of here!” Mychael shouted.

  I knew he meant the prince. “I’m not leaving without—”

  “We’ll follow!”

  “If we can” went unsaid.

  Imala shouted to the prince’s guards. One got in front of Chigaru and the other behind, and pushed their way through the courtiers, toward Imala and me.

  I looked down the stairs. Just because I couldn’t see the giant hand and the nightmare it was attached to, didn’t mean that it wasn’t down there waiting with its closest monster friends. Terrorizing a hotel packed with people wouldn’t be a solo effort. The sounds of screaming, running, and panicked people coming up from below proved it.

  Imala, Chigaru, and his guards reached us.

  Mago clutched my arm. “I have a ladder in my room. If we can get there, we can get the prince out through the window. ”

  I had a surge of hope. Mago’s escape ladder, in his luggage . . .

  Luggage that Balmorlan had ordered taken.

  I swore. “It’s not there. Balmorlan took—”

  Mago bared his teeth in a fierce grin. “I keep it under the mattress in case of emergency. ”

  If this wasn’t an emergency, I didn’t know what was.

  Make it down two floors alive instead of four. Sounded like better odds to me, though it depended on what hell spawn was waiting on the fourth and third floors. Mago’s room was at the end of the freaking hall. One death trap at a time, Raine. One at a time.

  “Let’s go!”

  We went down the stairs as quickly as the darkness and probable presence of monsters would allow. Imala and M
ago were on either side of me. Chigaru was moving on his own, but his guards were sticking close, as were two of his mages. Other goblin courtiers brought up the rear. I didn’t see Mychael or Tam.

  Chatar was one of the prince’s mages.

  Great. Monsters weren’t bad enough, now I had a mage accused of murder because of me close enough to shoot one of his poisoned darts into the back of my neck. There needed to be a revenge timeout until we were out of here.

  Mago tripped, the gilt railing the only thing that kept him from falling into the stairwell. “What the hell is—” He looked down at the carpet and sucked in his breath with a hiss.

  A foot. A man’s foot.

  The shoe was still on, but the rest of the body was gone, though not without a trace. Blood and gore soaked the carpet in a dark trail down the next dozen or so steps.

  Visuals to go with the sounds we’d heard.

  Chigaru stepped up beside me. “What lies below, seeker?”

  The prince was simply calling me what I was. No insult or slight intended. He was standing beside me, in the glow of what light I had.

  He was a target in more ways than one and he knew it.

  “Whatever waits for us was sent here because of me,” he said quietly.

  He was only partly right, but I wasn’t going to be the bearer of that bad news.

  The prince’s ramrod straight posture told me more. He wasn’t going to let any more of his people be killed trying to protect him. When he had stood on the bow of his yacht, he had been trying to draw out his assassin. Now, he was using his body as a shield for his people, some of whom were probably plotting to kill him—and one of them was standing not five feet away.

  A noble Mal’Salin.

  Icicles must be forming in the Lower Hells. Big ones.

  Focus, Raine. Bukas and monsters with giant, peoplesnatching hands didn’t just jump out of a black mage’s twisted imagination. I picked up the pace as much as I could in the thickened air. The slower we moved, the faster we could find ourselves eviscerated and eaten, and not necessarily in that order. One of Chigaru’s guards walked directly in front of him, so the prince didn’t have to force his way through the air. Having to slow down for the prince—or worse, having to stop for him—could be fatal for all of us.

  Imala’s red lightglobe reflected off one of the hotel’s mirrors. Mine shone on what was sprawled at its base.
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