Con & conjure, p.23
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       Con & Conjure, p.23

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 23

 

  The mirror may have been warded before, but it wasn’t now.

  At first glance, someone might think the body had been torn in half. This was worse, if that was possible. From the waist up, the man was on the floor. From the waist down, he was inside the mirror, wherever the monster that had grabbed him had come from—and where it had gone back to, trying to drag its prize with it.

  Imala snatched some kind of metal sculpture off a small table next to the mirror. “Shield your eyes,” she ordered. With one smooth move, she hurled the sculpture into the mirror, shattering it, and exposing nothing but a wall behind it—with half a body lying at its base. That shut one door to Hell or wherever that thing had come from, but it left entirely too many more on this side with us. I swore if I lived through this I was going to shatter every mirror I saw for the rest of my life.

  Mago swallowed with an audible gulp. “So much for where the buggers are coming from. ”

  I hustled our little party the rest of the way down to the fourth floor. Chaos reigned. Judging by the screams coming from down the darkened corridor, a lot of people hadn’t made it past the doors to their rooms before they were attacked.

  Imala hissed in frustration.

  If we stopped to help, we stopped to die. She knew it and she hated it. The odds of us making it out of here ourselves weren’t too gre—

  Pain, like a hammer to the chest, sent me to my knees.

  My mouth was open, but no air was making it in or out. I tried to speak, struggled to breathe, my hands joining my knees on the floor. Pain, sharper than the first, sent me facedown on the carpet. Power surged in my chest, alternating with the pain. At each surge, I gasped a little air. The power was the Saghred.

  So was the pain.

  I knew it. I didn’t know how, but I did.

  The Saghred twisted and jerked against my chest. It wanted to stay here. Badly. To stay and to feed. Dying people released souls, souls the rock wanted, needed like it needed nothing else.

  Its need became mine.

  I raised my head and saw them. Souls fleeing dying bodies, their last moments of life spent in terror and screaming, in a hotel turned hunting ground, a slaughterhouse for the demons and nightmares that came out of mirrors, through walls and up through the floors.

  “Raine?” I heard Imala call as if from far away. “Raine!”

  All I could manage was a head shake, which was what the rest of me was doing. I forced myself to breathe slowly. In. Out. Just keep the air moving. All I got was a lot of rasp and too little air.

  “You!” She shouted to someone, sounding closer now. “Help me. ”

  Strong hands locked around my upper arms, pulling me to my feet; another arm went around my waist, supporting me. Mago’s arm.

  “Are you all right?” he asked, even though he knew I wasn’t.

  I couldn’t answer. I hissed air in and out between my teeth to keep control. The rock wasn’t taking me, not now. Another punch to the chest made me stagger, but the pain was milder. The surging, swirling power was taking its place. The pressure on my chest suddenly lifted, and I sucked the cold air into my burning lungs, cooling, calming. “I’ll be fine . . . when we get out. ”

  Imala’s small hands gripped my upper arm; Mago took over where one of Chigaru’s guards had hauled me to my feet.

  “I’m here, Raine,” Imala said. “We’re getting out; just keep moving. ”

  I managed a nod, my vision starting to clear. My steps were like lead; I didn’t know if it was the spell-thick air or the Saghred’s desperation to feed. It coiled tightly inside of me, its rage building. I knew what it was about to do, but I couldn’t speak, couldn’t warn Imala.

  The Saghred struck her. Its power surged down my arm and into Imala.

  She screamed, but she didn’t let go of me. Exactly the opposite—she tightened her grip. The rock had bitten Justinius Valerian before; he’d held on to me, and like Imala, he didn’t let me go until he was ready to. The old man was the most powerful mage in the world. Imala wasn’t. But latching on harder when the Saghred struck sure as hell qualified her as one of the most gutsy.

  The rock could have killed her—could have done worse than kill her—but it didn’t.

  “Sorry,” I managed.

  The goblin flashed a pained smile. “That rock’s not going to tell either one of us what to do. ”

  What felt like an eternity later, we reached the third floor.

  We weren’t going to get anywhere near Mago’s room.

  It was on fire.

  That entire end of the third floor corridor was engulfed in flames, flames moving so quickly even the smoke couldn’t keep up.

  There was nowhere to go except down.

  The fire rolled its way across the ceiling beams, tongues of blue and gold flame licking their way around the wooden columns, the gilt paint melting in the heat, running in golden rivulets down the scorched wood.

  “That’s not just fire,” Imala said.

  “No, it’s not. ” It was magic, magic of the most exotic and deadly kind.

  A wall of flame parted, revealing a man standing in front of the mirror on the third-floor landing. His robes were on fire, spirals of flame licking his face, his hair . . .

  And not consuming, not burning any of him.

  Oh hell.

  A firemage. An elven firemage.

  The demons and monsters were just to trap us in the hotel while a firemage burned it down around us.

  Some mages could use fire, but firemages could morph themselves into fire, into living torches. They could burn a building from the inside out, walking through flames of their own making, spreading the fire, the death.

  Shouts and screams—and heat—swirled up from the lobby below. The entire hotel was on fire.

  “Run!” Imala shouted.

  Downstairs, the lobby was a hysterical mob scene. Those who had lived long enough to get downstairs were surging for the front doors, crushing, trampling in a blind panic. Flames covered the carved banisters, blackened the edge of the pale marble staircase, but the center was still clear. We ran for it.

  Imala turned toward me and shouted something.

  Her words were lost in a roar of fire from overhead. A support beam cracked and broke, showering us with sparks. Mago yanked me toward him; Imala dove in the other direction as the beam and a chunk of the ceiling crashed to the floor.

  We couldn’t get to Imala and Chigaru, and they couldn’t reach us.

  Dammit.

  Mago pulled on my arm. “This way!”

  A shriek came from the front doors as a javelin of fire struck a goblin in the chest, burning a hole completely through him. A second fire spear sent the goblin behind him up in flames.

  There was another firemage outside, probably on the roof of an adjacent building, and the bastard knew what he was doing—if killing everyone inside the hotel was what he wanted.

  If you tried to escape, he just killed you faster.

  There weren’t but a handful of true firemages in the entire world, and Balmorlan had brought at least two of them here.

  I couldn’t stop the fire. The Saghred probably could, but I had no idea how.

  I could stop those firemages. Under their flames, they were just as killable as the rest of us.

  Mago and I ran toward the back of the hotel, to the door we’d used to get in. He got there first and pushed against the door, flinging it—

  “No!” I screamed.

  A fire javelin missed him by no more than an inch, slamming into the wall behind us. The fire instantly caught and spread. We couldn’t go back. This door, covered by another firemage sniper, was our only way out.

  I knew what I had to do.

  People were dead. They were being murdered, slaughtered by nightmares made real. Unless I killed the killers, it wouldn’t end until they ran out of victims. I had no choice. I
didn’t know what would happen to me, what the Saghred would do to me.

  Taltek Balmorlan was about to get his show.

  The Saghred’s power pulsed eagerly inside of me. Eager to kill, to destroy.

  Mago met my eyes and he froze. I didn’t know what he saw, and I probably didn’t want to know. He probably saw power, raw and primal. And deadly.

  “Raine, no. Don’t do th—”

  “Stay behind me. ” My voice was tight. It was all I could do to hold the rock back.

  Then I stopped trying, stopped fighting. I didn’t struggle against its power.

  I embraced it.

  Smoke poured out of the hotel. Out on the street, people ran through the smoke, blinded, choking.

  I did neither.

  I could see through the smoke as if it weren’t there. I knew where each firemage was, the paths of their magic a glowing, pulsing line from their targets right back to them. There were four firemages in sniper positions in buildings in front of the hotel. I didn’t have to see them; I knew where they were. Three were on either side of the building, and one had just tried to kill Mago.

  Eight outside, at least one inside—and all of them were elves.

  If I didn’t stop them, hundreds of innocent people, including Mychael, Tam, and Imala, would be burned alive inside the hotel.

  That had been Taltek Balmorlan’s plan all along.

  If I stopped the firemages, Balmorlan got his show. If I failed, every goblin who threatened his war with Sathrik died. The bastard won either way.

  No.

  It stopped and it stopped now.

  I stepped through the door and right into the sights of the firemage sniper on the roof. I felt her gathering power, gathering fire to incinerate me and Mago where we stood. She took her best shot.

  It was her last.

  The Saghred’s magic surged through my body and out of the fist I punched skyward at her killing perch. I didn’t know how to take down a firemage, but the magic inside of me did.

  The bitch had it coming.

  My body blazed red with the Saghred’s power, its magic and mine slamming into the mage, turning her body into a screaming ball of fire arching out over the roof’s edge and down five stories to the street below.

  When I’d used the power the Saghred had given me before, it felt like the power was using me. Not this time. We worked in perfect partnership; I visualized what I wanted to do and it happened. Immediately. No thought, no hesitation.
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