Con & conjure, p.42
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       Con & Conjure, p.42

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 42

 

  I came to and heard groaning. I think it was me.

  Strong arms wrapped around my waist, lifting me up. That definitely wasn’t me.

  I was hanging by my wrists, my shoulders on fire, and the contents of my stomach threatening to leave.

  “I’ve got you,” a familiar voice assured me. He made it sound like a good thing.

  The voice was familiar, but my head was throbbing so hard it couldn’t find a name to go with it.

  Hands on my wrists . . . the rattling of chains . . . where was . . .

  “We’re getting out of here, cousin. ”

  Cousin? Cousin . . . cousin . . . Phaelan.

  I tried to fight my way out of a cold fog that didn’t want to let me go, a fog with soft tendrils, faintly glowing, comforting, caressing, promising safety . . . forever. I sank into a woven blanket of them. I was so tired . . . sleep . . . just for a little while.

  “Raine!” the voice shouted from far away. “Stay with me!”

  Sharp metal bit into raw skin. My raw skin. Tendrils gently touched my wrists, soothing the pain, a dark power seeping into me, carrying away the pain and fear and replacing it with an eager hunger. I felt a body next to me, a warm body with blood surging through its veins; a living body containing a vibrant soul. The tendrils that held me wanted that soul.

  I wanted that soul, and I would have it.

  A low growl of need rose in my throat in anticipation of wrapping my arms, my tendrils around that soul, to feel it struggle in vain against my power, as hunter to prey, the body encasing it helpless to stop me from taking what was mine. It was my right; it was how it should be. How it would be again.

  “Raine!” A hand slapped me sharply across the face.

  I snarled, striking out. With a shout of shock and pain, the body’s arm released me. I dropped in the chains, agony searing through my muscles. The arms lifted me again, shaking me. I gasped, waking, trying to pull myself up through the fog. The tendrils pulled me back. I got my eyes opened, and a pair of dark eyes stared into my own. Frightened eyes. Familiar eyes. I blinked a few times to focus.

  Phaelan.

  The weight pulling me down was manacles on my wrists and me hanging from them. I was in a cell.

  “Where?” I rasped, my voice hoarse from something. What had I been . . .

  “Dungeon,” Phaelan said, his hands working quickly over my head, the scratching of metal on metal.

  Picklocks.

  I dragged my eyes to a man sprawled on the stone floor. Memory slowly surfaced. Taltek Balmorlan, the elven embassy, the elven mage.

  The Saghred. The tendrils trapped him and the stone took him. Through me. His soul went inside of me, was inside of me now. I tasted the metallic tang of my own blood in my mouth, the coppery . . .

  Blood. A sacrifice.

  I gasped, choking on my own breath. “No!” I tried to get away from Phaelan, to get away from myself, but he just held me tighter.

  “What the—”

  I panicked, thrashing and struggling. “Get away!”

  “It’s all right, I’m—”

  “Don’t touch me!”

  Phaelan’s grip tightened. “The rock doesn’t want a damned thing to do with me. I’m not bleeding, and you heard him”—he jerked his head toward Balmorlan lying motionless on the floor—“I’m moldy bread. And since I’m not a magic user, I can pick the locks on these things. ”

  He was right. The Saghred didn’t want him. It had wanted me to do it, to make me take him.

  I barely got my head turned away from Phaelan before I threw up.

  He held me through all of it, making comforting sounds against my hair until my gags turned to sobs.

  “Raine, easy, shhh. I know, I know. I need you to be still for me. ” Phaelan worked faster at the manacles’ locks. There was a sharp click, and my right arm dropped to my side. The only feeling I had was a cold, sharp tingle, stabbing like tiny needles on every square inch of my arm.

  I tried to swallow, but just ended up panting. “No, you don’t know—”

  Phaelan quickly looked away from me, concentrating on the other manacle, but I’d seen his eyes, haunted by what he’d seen. He was scared to death. Nothing scared Phaelan. What happened had. I had. And he’d had a front row seat for all of it.

  Then he looked me squarely in the eyes. “I’ll tell you what I know; I know you’d never hurt me. ”

  Fear and the other thing I’d felt—what the Saghred had made me feel—twisted in confusion inside of me. “I’m glad you know it. ”

  Phaelan took a handkerchief from his doublet and gently wiped my mouth and chin. “You don’t have to. ” One corner of his mouth curled into a crooked smile, Phaelan’s smile. “I know it enough for both of us. ”

  “Thank you. ” My voice was so quiet I barely heard it myself. My throat was as raw as my wrists. I didn’t think I could scream anymore, but that didn’t mean one stray thought about what I’d done to that mage and nearly done to Phaelan wouldn’t make me start again.

  I swallowed, forcing down a rising scream with it. “Guards?”

  Phaelan shook his head. “I didn’t see or hear any. They’re probably hunting for Rache. A couple of them saw what you did . . . what happened, and ran like their asses were on fire. Unlikely they’re coming back. ”

  “We need to hurry,” I managed.

  “Goes without saying. ” He gave the picklock a sharp twist and the manacle clicked open. My other arm dropped. My body tried to do the same thing, but Phaelan was faster than gravity.

  “Gotcha. ”

  I rested my forehead on his shoulder. I’d survived. The Saghred had fed and I was still alive. The rock had taken a man, an actual living man, reduced his body to vapor and inhaled his soul, right in front of me.

  Through me.

  I was still here, and so was Phaelan.

  I chuckled, though it came off more like a running start toward hysteria. My sense of humor must have been marginally intact. Good. Hopefully my sanity had not only come along for the ride, but was going to stick around. If the Saghred had one or two more meals through me, I had no doubt I’d qualify for a padded room. I wasn’t going to think about that, either.

  Phaelan unlocked the chains around my waist and eased me down to the floor, a floor that had never felt so good. I breathed slowly, in and out, trying to convince my stomach not to mutiny again. Taltek Balmorlan lay in a motionless heap. Phaelan wasn’t bleeding, but Balmorlan was, across the back of the head. My cousin was making quick work of my ankle manacles, but he glanced up and saw where I was looking.

  “The rock doing its thing with that mage made for one hell of a distraction,” he said. “Let me pick my way out of those manacles and make good use of the chain—right across the back of the bastard’s head. ”

  “He’s dead?”

  Phaelan went back to work. “Don’t know, care less. ”

  A split second later, he had me out of my ankle chains.

  “Got a blade on you?” Phaelan asked.

  “Check my boots. ”

  He did and I didn’t. He looked at Balmorlan and growled in frustration.

  “What?” I asked.

  “I’m not leaving him alive. ”

  As much as I wanted Taltek Balmorlan no longer breathing my air, killing him would just get rid of him; it wouldn’t get rid of his allies, his spies, and his lackeys. If Balmorlan was found dead, they’d just regroup and continue as planned. It would delay them, but it wouldn’t stop them. Leaving Balmorlan alive—and able to talk—would give us the best chance to end his war-monger operation once and for all.

  I told Phaelan what I was thinking.

  Phaelan’s expression said loud and clear that he didn’t like what I was thinking. However, his vicious and frustrated kick to Balmorlan’s ribs said he agreed with me. Under extreme protest.

  “Get his keys,”
I said. “I want in his office. ”

  Phaelan’s eyes lit with soon-to-be-fulfilled avarice. “That’s my girl. The mage payroll—enough to pay six. ” He nodded in approval. “We’ll make a card-carrying Benares out of you yet. ” He flipped the inquisitor over like a sack of grain. “Rest for a minute,” he told me then proceeded to do a very professional job of plundering the body.

  I wasn’t interested in gold. If that was Balmorlan’s only office in the embassy, he probably kept things there that were even more valuable than gold—documents, financial records, anything that would make being in this hellhole and force-fed an elf mage worth my while.

  When Phaelan finished his ransacking, he had a full purse, a gag, which meant Balmorlan might have made good on his threat, and a ring of keys.

  But no weapons.

  “Can you scoot over?” Phaelan asked with a vicious grin. “He made those magic-sapping bracelets, now he’s gonna wear ’em. ”

  I got myself against the far wall as Phaelan dragged Balmorlan’s body across the stone floor to where I’d been chained to the wall. Limp arms or not, I wasn’t about to take a chance on the rock eating Balmorlan.

  “Those manacles were custom made for me,” I told Phaelan. “They won’t fit him. ”

  Phaelan’s eyes had an evil gleam. “One way to find out. ” He cuffed a manacle around one of Balmorlan’s wrists, and barely got the thing to lock. “Look at that, it fits. ”

  I smiled. “Someone’s going to be uncomfortable when he wakes up. ”

  Phaelan grinned. “Ain’t it a shame?” He got the other manacle on, then had to put his own ankle manacles on Balmorlan; mine wouldn’t go around his boots.

  While Phaelan was making sure Balmorlan wasn’t going anywhere, I was making sure that I could. I braced my feet on the floor, leaned my back against the wall, and pushed myself up with my legs. It went slowly, but it went.

  “Can you walk?” Phaelan asked.

  I did some careful breathing, forcing the nausea down and keeping myself up. “Try and stop me. ”

  “I won’t, but you can bet someone—”
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