Con & conjure, p.36
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       Con & Conjure, p.36

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 36

 

  “I’m sure it’ll let us know. ”

  I was sure it would.

  “Dakarai, sir,” I said, brushing the under-the-bed dust off of myself. “You might want to step outside. Literally. Across the street might be far enough. ”

  “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t miss this for the world. ”

  I almost said “your funeral,” but if it was his funeral, it’d be ours first—if there was anything left after the blast, boom, or whatever.

  I hated boxes.

  Mychael slid the box to the side of the bed and within reach without any unsightly explosions, though I could still feel the thing hissing in my mind.

  Mychael bent down to look at the box and I could have sworn the hissing got louder. “Tam, do you recognize what he used?”

  Tam and Mychael were on the floor. Imala and I were standing a few feet away. Not that the boys would have a chance to get up and run if the box suddenly got mean, but we thought it was a good idea to be out of their way.

  Tam put out his hands and they slowly began to glow red. He started murmuring a spell in Old Goblin that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and the skin between my shoulder blades want to crawl and hide.

  Dark magic.

  Tam wouldn’t use it unless he had to. The box was warded with dark magic, so Tam had to use the same kind. Dark calls to dark.

  When he’d completed his incantation, Tam calmly reached under the bed and pulled out the box. I could swear it was vibrating in his hands. Tam hissed a single word at it and it stopped. I no longer had any sense of a ward, spell, or plain old booby trap.

  Tam opened the box and we all held our breath.

  He saw what was inside and his hands gripped the box so hard I heard the wood creak.

  Three narrow, elaborate bottles were nestled in threadbare gold velvet. A red liquid half filled each bottle. There was an indentation for a fourth bottle, but it was missing.

  Mychael’s hand tightened on Tam’s shoulder. “Is that poison?”

  In response, Tam carefully pried one of the bottles loose from its velvet nest and removed the stopper. I’d expected him to take a sniff, not pour a drop onto the floor. It was vivid blue and didn’t spread into the floor as you’d think a liquid should. Then in a blink of an eye, it became as clear as pure water. Somehow I didn’t think the word pure applied to this stuff.

  “Malanarda,” Tam said quietly, his face set like stone.

  “No,” Dakarai said in disbelief, crossing the room to take a look for himself. “It can’t be. ”

  “Is that what was used on Chigaru?” I asked.

  Imala stepped forward and ground the liquid into the floor with the toe of her boot. “If it were, we’d no longer have a prince to protect. ”

  “Malanarda is legendary goblin poison,” the old man told me. “Some claim it doesn’t exist and never did. I’ve heard it called the perfect poison—tasteless, odorless, you didn’t know anything was wrong until it started killing you, and once it did, there was nothing to be done. The formula was lost nearly two hundred years ago, so no more has been made. ”

  “That loses none of its potency,” Imala added.

  Mychael’s lips thinned into a grim line. “No formula, no antidote. ”

  Dakarai nodded.

  “Sounds like what killed Chatar,” I noted. “Quick, dead, and done. ”

  “You could be right,” Imala said.

  “ ‘Could be’?”

  “Except Chatar wouldn’t have poisoned his own strawberries, then eaten them. ”

  The possible plot twists and turns to this setup were starting to hurt my head. “Then what’s this malanarda stuff doing here?”

  “It appears the occupant of this room may not have been the real Chatar. ”

  The goblin master glamourer.

  I blinked. “Can’t goblins do anything straightforward?”

  One corner of Imala’s lips turned upward. “Rarely. ”

  Mychael spoke. “Imala, did either you or your people have Chatar in sight from the time you got out of the hotel until you got here?”

  “That’s precisely the point,” she said. “I did not. I was more intent on the possibility of another firemage attack against the prince. ”

  “Regardless,” Tam told us all, “we have a casket of malanarda here with a missing vial. That we do know, and that is the danger. ”

  Meticulously attached to the gold velvet interior of the box’s lid were small portraits, six in all, all of them goblin. One was a woman. Tam reached in and reverently removed the tiny painting.

  Horror choked my words. “The bastard keeps trophies. ”

  Imala saw the painting. “Oh, Tam,” she breathed.

  I stared at Tam. “Who—”

  “My wife. ” His eyes were haunted. “Calida. ”

  The tiny portrait didn’t show much more than her face, but Calida Nathrach had been beautiful. Her face was fineboned and delicate, but her eyes, even in so small a painting, sparkled with humor—and with life.

  “We knew Calida had been poisoned, though after her death, no sign of it could be found,” Dakarai said. “Tam was accused by her family, but we all knew he was innocent. ”

  “Chatar killed your wife?” I asked Tam.

  “Chatar wasn’t at court then,” Dakarai told me.

  Tam’s hand that held the box was clenched almost white. “Sarad Nukpana was. ”

  “Some of those portraits look older than Sarad Nukpana. ”

  “But not older than his mother and grandfather,” Dakarai said. “I recognize those pictures. The first two men died while Sarad Nukpana’s mother and grandfather were both serving at court. ”

  I was not believing this. “A family poison?”

  “Sarad sent the assassin who tried to kill the prince, and who did murder Chatar,” Imala said. “So it stands to reason that he armed him as well. ”

  There were two small pieces of parchment carefully folded and inserted in the crease of the box next to where the missing bottle had been. I knelt down next to Tam and pulled them out. The first was a sketch, hastily drawn, but I could see who it was.

  Chatar.

  The second sketch had been done with more care. Someone had taken their time to make sure they got it right.

  An eighth portrait. An eighth victim.

  Me.

  Chapter 16

  An assassin had a poisoned dart or chocolate-covered strawberry with my name on it.

  The Seat of Twelve had essentially signed my death warrant. Though I knew what Carnades had planned would be worse than death—turn me over to Taltek Balmorlan and his Saghred power-hungry sicko mages.

  I couldn’t stay in the embassy, and I couldn’t set foot outside. At least not wearing my own skin.

  Everyone was looking at me.

  “Raine—” Tam said, giving me the look. He knew me well enough to know when my wheels were turning.

  “Yeah, yeah, I know. Go to my room, lock the door, and hide under the bed. ”

  “But Sarad wants you alive,” Imala said. “Why would he—”

  “Or dead and the Saghred in his hands,” Mychael said, his tone grim. “A few of my Guardians have shown themselves to be less than trustworthy over the past few weeks. ”

  Tam snorted and shut the box. “Nice way to say ‘traitors. ’”

  Mychael grunted, but he didn’t disagree.

  I thought of Carnades, Balmorlan, and every elf who did their dirty work. “Traitors come in all shapes, sizes, and colors,” I reminded them all.

  “The Saghred is being guarded by only my most-trusted men,” Mychael said. “I also have defensive spells on the room; if anyone sets foot in there, I’ll know it. ”

  “Which means you need to stay close to the rock,” I told him. “When the thief makes his move, you have to be ready to jump on him. ”

  Mycha
el gave me his version of the look. The one that said I was right, he knew I was right, and he didn’t like it one bit.

  I raised my hands in a mollifying gesture. “Hey, I’m just stating the facts. And those facts mean that I can’t stay here, and I definitely can’t go back to the citadel with you. ”

  “Just where do you propose to go?”

  “Hunting. Do what your boys haven’t been able to do. Find Rache. ”

  “So you’re going to stay safe by finding one of the world’s best assassins,” Tam said. “The man whose black heart you broke. ”

  “The man who probably knows the name of this goblin master glamourer. ”

  “How does he know—”

  “Because he told me last night,” I said. “He knows he has competition to kill Chigaru; and when a big payday is at stake, Rache makes it a point to know all about anyone trying to take it away from him. Though if it’d make you all feel better, send a few of your people with me. Just have them stay back; I don’t want Rache spooked. ”

  “What makes you think you can find him?” Mychael asked. “He completely dropped out of sight at the elven embassy. ”

  “Because that wasn’t him. By the time we got there, Rache was already inside the elven embassy. ”

  “I spotted Rache following me again last night,” Mychael said.

  I froze. “What time?”

  He told me.

  “That was about the same time Rache arrived at the Satyr’s Grove,” I told Mychael. “He’s good, but he has yet to be two places at once. ”

  “That doesn’t change the fact that he’s in all probability working for Taltek Balmorlan,” Mychael said.

  “Balmorlan’s probably the man filling Rache’s bank account,” I said. “He wouldn’t tell me who had hired him, but I can connect the dots. For Balmorlan’s plans to work, he needs Chigaru dead. A peace-loving goblin doesn’t do him a damned bit of good. ”

  Imala cleared her throat. “Uh, Raine . . . if he’s working for Balmorlan, then he’s the last man you need to find. ”
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