Con & conjure, p.41
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       Con & Conjure, p.41

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 41

 

  The simple truth was I was stalling. I didn’t want that elf mage to touch me. The Saghred had taken me in the street outside the hotel. I didn’t know if a mage taking me in a dungeon would tighten the stone’s grip on me even further. I remembered Rudra Muralin’s journal only too well. Once he’d taken a sacrificed soul through himself to feed the Saghred, membership in the evil madman club hadn’t been far behind. Phaelan was first in the chow line. Somehow I had to stop this.

  The elf mage reached out and ran one long finger down my chest, but he stopped just short of making contact, smiling at me the whole time.

  I held my breath.

  The Saghred did nothing, absolutely nothing.

  Interesting. I didn’t know if it was a good or bad interesting, but I was all for the rock staying unimpressed, and I didn’t care why. If the Saghred didn’t deem him worthwhile, there would be no effort, no bond, no meal, no imploding goblin embassy. And my sanity and I would get to be roommates for a little longer.

  I did some smiling of my own. “When someone asks for volunteers, it’s usually because no one else in their right mind would want to do it. ”

  “I know the risks,” the mage murmured. “The reward will be worth it. ” He reached out, barely brushing the skin at the hollow of my throat, continuing downward until the tips of his fingers were between my breasts. His green eyes glittered. “I like the leather. ”

  That did it. If I got out of here alive with my mind intact, I was going to have a long talk with Imala about designing some new uniforms for her agents. This getup was a pervert magnet waiting to happen.

  What didn’t happen was the Saghred. The mage had touched me and the Saghred hadn’t touched him back.

  “And why am I waiting for the others?” the mage asked Balmorlan.

  The inquisitor laughed. “You never have been one for sharing, have you?”

  “And I won’t start now. ”

  I saw something out of the corner of my eye that gave hope a boost.

  Phaelan winked at me.

  It was quick, subtle, and I almost missed it. I kept my eyes on the two elves. I’d seen Phaelan; they didn’t need to.

  My cousin had a true knack for ruining a person’s day. It didn’t matter who or what they were, Phaelan was an equal opportunity offender. I had no idea what he had planned. I did know from past experience that it had to be borderline suicidal.

  Sometimes crazy was good.

  Chained to the wall without an option to my name, I just wanted crazy to work.

  Shouts and the sound of running came from the hall, room, or whatever was outside the cell door. A guard stopped just outside, careful not to touch even where the wards had been. The man was wild-eyed and out of breath. “Sir, the mages. They’re . . . ” He stopped and tried to pull in some air.

  “Late,” Balmorlan snapped. “Tell them I don’t tolerate—”

  “They’re dead. ”

  “What?”

  “Murdered, sir. Every one of them stabbed through the heart. ”

  “That’s impossib—”

  “The major said it was a thin blade, probably a stiletto. ”

  Quick and clean.

  Rache.

  When he’d left the bar, he must have come straight here. I bit my bottom lip against a smile. Rache figured I could handle a barroom brawl; he went where his skill set would be the most useful.

  For the first time in years, I wanted to kiss my ex.

  “How long ago?” Balmorlan asked.

  “The healer says within the past hour, no more. ”

  “You’ve locked down the embassy?”

  “Of course, sir. ” The guard pulled a folded piece of parchment out of a pocket in his uniform. “The killer left this next to one of the bodies. ” He started to step into the cell then stopped, looking uncertainly where the wards had crisscrossed the opening.

  Balmorlan walked to the door and snatched the paper from the guard’s hand. “Oh, give me that, you cowa—” He started reading and stopped talking.

  Rache had once written some poetry for me, but somehow I doubted he’d left a love sonnet with a freshly dead body that he’d just made that way.

  The elf stepped away from me. “What does it say?”

  Balmorlan’s face reddened in fury. “The deal’s off, but I’m keeping the gold. ”

  Definitely Rache.

  The mage took the note. “Release the seeker or you’re next,” he read.

  How sweet was that?

  Rache didn’t make idle threats. At the same time, I’d heard of him making a threat then taking his time making good on it. One poor bastard spent years jumping at his own shadow until the one day when that shadow was Rache. His threat would at least make Balmorlan think twice about my part in his evil master plan.

  It was all I could do not to laugh, but the last thing Balmorlan needed to know was that I not only knew who killed his mages, wrote the note, and kept his gold, but I’d almost married him. Rache Kai was a killer, but there was decency in there somewhere, even if it was a little twisted.

  The elf mage suddenly closed the distance between us and gripped the leather just above my breasts in his fists. Leather ties laced the front; they might break or they might not. He bent his head toward me, his face mere inches from mine.

  The elf smirked. “My competition’s gone; let’s see what I’ve won. ”

  I’d just won a way to ruin Balmorlan’s night.

  I didn’t want the bastard touching me, but I wasn’t passing up an opportunity to touch him.

  I slammed my forehead down hard on the bridge of his aristocratic nose and was rewarded with a clean break. Clean for me; bloody for the bastard. The mage screamed and staggered backward, the hands that were about to tear me out of my clothes now clutching his broken, bloody nose.

  That’d put a damper on his libido.

  I froze. Oh, hell. No, no, no.

  Blood.

  Blood on the hands that’d just been on me.

  I sucked in my breath at what I’d just done. Stupid, Raine, stupid. The Saghred needed a victim’s blood to fall on it and then actual contact to complete the sacrifice. If the mage touched me again, the rock would take him, sucking his soul through me—a still-living, breathing, and screaming-my-lungs-out me.

  My body was meant to contain one soul. Mine. No travelers passing through, just me.

  The mage pulled his hands away from his nose and looked at them. Blood covered his fingers.

  “You bitch!” he screamed.

  An instant later, he backhanded me with his bloody hand, and I tasted my own blood in my mouth. My blood, his blood, and . . .

  The Saghred throbbed to life, quivering in anticipation, eager, crouching . . .

  The mage brought his hand back for another strike.

  “No!” Balmorlan barked. “Conscious. We need her conscious. ”

  The mage hissed and turned on him. Balmorlan didn’t flinch.

  “Once you’ve bonded with her, and proven to me that you can use the Saghred alone, the need for her will diminish considerably. ” Balmorlan stood perfectly still and watched me, his eyes glittering with anticipation. “At that point, I wouldn’t be opposed to you exacting appropriate revenge. ”

  The mage slowly wiped the blood from his face with the back of his hand, never taking his eyes from mine. I locked eyes with him; I had to.

  Phaelan was moving.

  To glance at Phaelan would be to draw attention to him, and that couldn’t happen. The mage could get his revenge without ever laying a hand on me—he could kill Phaelan right here and now.

  A chill went through me that had nothing to do with what the mage wanted to do to me. It was for what the Saghred wanted to do to him. I didn’t care if the mage died, but I didn’t want him dying through me.

  The rock was crouched like the predator it was, ready to ta
ke, to consume. The mage thought he was the predator. He was wrong. Dead wrong.

  I knew there was air in the room; I just couldn’t get any of it. “Touch me and you’re a dead man. ”

  The mage laughed. “I’ll be doing more than touching you—”

  Idiot. “You’re bleeding!” I screamed. “The rock—”

  His blood-streaked fingers grabbed my throat, pinning me against the wall. Behind him, Balmorlan’s eyes widened in realization and panic.

  He knew. He knew the one mage he had left was going to die and all of his plans along with him.

  Balmorlan was too slow.

  I couldn’t stop the mage from choking me or the Saghred from taking him.

  I couldn’t breathe; I could only pant as a single tendril of white light sliced through the center of my chest, snapping around the elf’s wrist like a steel vine, anchoring him where he stood. It engulfed the hand that clenched my throat as I whimpered and gasped for air. More tendrils uncoiled in my chest like a nest of snakes, writhing inside of me, desperate to get out. A scream tore its way from my throat as the Saghred did the same to my body, the tendrils ripping their way out of me, lashing at the mage. I screamed and he screamed, raw and agonized, until there was no air left and black flowers bloomed on the edge of my vision. I was blind to everything but the darkness coming for me and the blazing tendrils that shot up the mage’s arm to his shoulder, coiling and constricting, racing hungrily to consume his body. A high-pitched strangled shriek came from inside the column of white flame that was the elf mage.

  The Saghred fed and I screamed.

  The stone was a living thing inside of me, its weight crushing me, filling my screaming mouth and nose with the sharp, coppery taste of blood. More blood than one body could hold, the blood of hundreds, thousands of screaming victims.

  To the Saghred, the mage was just one more.

  And I felt it all.

  His body dissolving, his soul torn from disintegrating flesh, all that he was or had ever been was pulled inside of me. The mage’s soul struggled, writhed in terror and helpless panic.

  It didn’t know yet. It didn’t know it was worse than dead.

  My scream became one of the thousands as I fell into darkness.

  Chapter 19
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