Con & conjure, p.25
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       Con & Conjure, p.25

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 25


  Mago didn’t say a word. He knew I was right.

  Carnades Silvanus wanted an excuse to lock me up, but he needed proof—and I’d just handed him both on a silver platter.

  Dammit to hell.

  If I’d been thinking straight, would I have done the same thing? Yes. People were dying; I could help, so I did. End of story. Unfortunately, it could also be the end of me. I hadn’t been in control. I let the power inside of me take over. It had been the only way I could stop those firemages. I had the power to do it, and I used it. I didn’t care what Mago said. I’d enjoyed it so much that I wasn’t just shaking in rage. I was terrified. I wanted to scream and curl up in a dark corner and hide. I wasn’t afraid of Carnades Silvanus and what he could have the Conclave’s Seat of Twelve do to me.

  I was afraid of myself.

  I’d let myself be taken over by something stronger than myself. Nothing sent me into a panic quicker than being helpless. Yes, the Saghred had used me as its bitch, and I probably couldn’t have done anything to stop it once I had started killing those firemages. But what terrified me the most was that I hadn’t wanted to.

  I let it have its way with me, and I enjoyed—no, I relished—every second of it. No doubt, every single witness who had seen me in that street thought I was a power-crazed maniac. And they were right. I had control of myself for the moment, but how long would it last? Until the next time another power-crazed maniac tried to slaughter innocents? Then I’d slaughter them. That made me no better than the Sarad Nukpanas of the world.

  If the Saghred got that much control over me once, it could easily do it again. The rock’s power was coiled quietly inside of me, patiently waiting for its next chance. Gloating in triumph at what it’d just made me do.

  I’d just played right into the hands of everyone who wanted to get their hands on me. Carnades and Taltek Balmorlan shared more than the same race—they shared the same ideology. I’d just used the Saghred’s power twice in as many days, both times in defense of a goblin prince and his people. I would have saved them if they’d been elves, humans, or purple polka-dotted ogres. I valued life.

  They valued power.

  Sarad Nukpana and Sathrik Mal’Salin wanted me dead. Locked in the citadel, they’d know right where to find me. Or just wait for Carnades to get his ultimate wish—my head separated from my body. With me dead, the Saghred’s power would fall to the first mage-level person—elf, goblin, or human—to get their hands on it. It would be the beginning of the end of the world as we knew it. If the elves got it, they’d destroy the goblins. If the goblins got it, they’d destroy the elves. Either way, every living thing was screwed.

  Mago was seated at the table, his fingers steepled in front of his face, watching me. I’d never even noticed that he’d moved.

  His gaze continued to search my face. “The question you have to answer for yourself is what are you going to do about it?”

  I wasn’t going to hide here. They weren’t going to win. I couldn’t let them. Raine Benares couldn’t set foot on the streets.

  I couldn’t be seen, but Symon Wiggs could.

  A very slow smile crept across Mago’s lips. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but you obviously like it. ”

  “The best place to hide is in plain sight of those you don’t want to find you, so I’ll put myself in the last place Balmorlan will think to look for me. Sitting right across the table from him. ” I smiled and it was fierce. I made this choice, not the rock, and it felt good. “He’s not going to get me, and he’s not going to get away with what he just did. I say we stick with the plan—we bring the bastard down. That’ll bring down his allies, too . . . ” I paused. I didn’t like what I was thinking, but I saw no other option. “And if that doesn’t work, I’ll take him out. ”

  “You mean kill him. ”

  “I don’t see any other way to stop this, do you?”

  “Not really. ”

  “You don’t approve. ”

  “Phaelan would. But I rob, not kill. ”

  “Well, robbing clearly isn’t my area of expertise. Killing is. I just proved that. ”

  “You only proved that you care about people. ”

  “Killing Taltek Balmorlan would go a long way toward protecting everyone. ”

  Mago gazed at me a moment, his expression unreadable. “Whatever you have to do, I’m behind you all the way. ”

  The lump in my throat was back. I wasn’t sure if it was from Mago’s support or the thought that I was ready to murder someone in cold blood. Taltek Balmorlan definitely had cold blood, and his death would keep hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions from meeting the same fate from the Saghred should he gain control over it—and me.

  “Thank you,” I managed. “Can you get a message to Balmorlan telling him that we saw his display, were very impressed, and want to do business?”

  “Without difficulty. ”

  “I don’t like the idea of you being on the streets, but—”

  “My name and face isn’t all over the city. Yours is. I also feel confident in saying that no one who matters saw us together; in that smoke, no one could see anything. As to my personal safety, I slink along back streets just as well as I move among the gentry. ” He stood and walked over to the wardrobe.

  “What are you looking for?”

  Mago thoughtfully flipped through the clothes hanging there. “I was thinking something more appropriate to slinking. ” He stopped and with a flourish, pulled out a heavy midnight blue cloak. “Something perfect for a cloak-and-dagger evening. ”

  I rolled my eyes. I had to admit it felt good. Anything I could think about rather than what I just did was good.

  Mago swirled the cloak to settle it on his shoulders. “I don’t believe anyone could identify me as the man with Raine Benares; but in my business, there are acceptable and expected risks, and there are foolish risks. I would rather not have the word ‘fool’ appear on my gravestone. A hooded cloak will go a long way to ensuring my prolonged life. Like my little brother, I highly value my hide. ”

  My vision blurred. “I highly value your hide, too. ”

  “Is that your way of telling me to be careful?”

  “And to come back. ”

  Mago crossed the room and kissed me on the forehead. “Nothing will prevent me, dear cousin. ”

  After I’d closed the door behind Mago, and reactivated the wards, I went over to the bed and essentially collapsed on it. Mago said he’d use the family knock when he came back, but that he wanted me to try and get some sleep.

  Sleep. Like that was going to happen.

  My eyes welled up with tears. The last time I’d been in this bed had been with Mychael. I’d been warm, cherished, loved. I was walking the fine line between being a felon on the run for the rest of my life or losing my life—or my soul or sanity—in the next few days.

  If the Saghred had taken a big bite out of my sanity, would I know it? Crazy people—especially cackling-crazy villains—never thought they were nuts. They could justify everything they did.

  Like I’d just done.

  I bit my bottom lip to keep from crying. I curled up into the tightest ball I could, folding in on myself, protecting what little the Saghred hadn’t torn away from me and used. I buried my face in the pillow and the sobs came, racking and uncontrolled.

  In the next few days I had to ruin Balmorlan or kill him, stop my former fiancé from killing the man I loved, keep a goblin prince alive, and prevent a full-scale racial war from ending life as we knew it. All while keeping myself alive, sane, and unarrested.

  My time was literally running out.

  Chapter 11

  Mago returned a few hours later, told me his plan, and after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I had to admit that it was brilliant.

  No one but a Benares would be crazy enough to do this.

  I was standing in a cathouse, glamou
red as a puny banker. In the next hour, I would be having a late supper with an elven inquisitor. For dessert, I would con or possibly kill said inquisitor.

  The best thing about the entire scheme was that as long as I was glamoured as Symon Wiggs, I couldn’t use the Saghred.

  And the Saghred couldn’t use me.

  “Tell me again why we’re here?” I asked Mago.

  “We need information before our meeting, which is conveniently at a restaurant across the street. If you want to know every secret, scandal, or just catch up on the day’s news, go to the best house in town, have some drinks and a cigar in the madam’s parlor, throw some money around . . . ” He spread his hands and smiled. “And the news will come to you. ”

  “Could we find out what happened to Mychael, Tam, and—”

  “Most assuredly. ”

  I let out a sigh that was half relief, half anxiety. I had to know what happened; right now ignorance wasn’t bliss, it was torment. You’ll know when you know, Raine. Try not to think about it.

  Yeah, right.

  “You know the madam here?” I asked even though I was hardly surprised.

  “As a matter of fact, I am on the most cordial of terms with the madams of the finest houses in most major cities. You would be surprised how many business deals are made in a madam’s parlor. ”

  “No, I wouldn’t. ”

  “Cultivating such relationships is the most advantageous mixing of business and pleasure. ” He dipped his head toward my ear and lowered his voice. “How long can you hold that glamour?”

  “The longest I’ve had to hold one is three hours. ”

  “Could you hold it for longer if you had to?”

  “I don’t know how much strength it takes to hold an anatomically correct glamour. And I hope I don’t have to find out. ”

  The Satyr’s Grove was exactly as I’d remembered it. Well, as much as I could remember from running through it, chasing then fighting the specter of an ancient elven sorcerer who’d possessed one of the customers. The Night of the Naked Possessed Guy definitely ranked up there as one of my less dignified.
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