Con & conjure, p.43
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       Con & Conjure, p.43

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 43


  “Else will,” I finished. “I know. I’ll bite the bastards on the kneecaps if I have to. ”

  “Hasn’t been a jail built yet that can hold a Benares once we’ve decided to leave. ” Phaelan went to the open and wardless cell door and checked both ways. “We’re still clear, let’s—” He looked back at me and his eyes widened. “Um . . . your eyes are glowing. ”

  The bottom dropped out of my stomach and I suddenly felt sick with fear. Just because the rock was digesting didn’t mean it wasn’t paying attention.

  “Trust me,” Phaelan said. “There’s nothing wrong with my eyes. ”

  “Then let’s put me to good use. ” I looked back at Balmorlan. When Phaelan wanted someone unconscious, he didn’t fool around. Chained in his own custom-made iron with the practical addition of a gag. “I must say you’re a beautiful sight,” I muttered.

  Once in the corridor, Phaelan walked like a man with a purpose—and a man who knew where he was going.

  “Uh . . . been here before?” I asked.

  “Just on paper. When Balmorlan started threatening you, I figured blueprints for this place might come in handy. Tanik sold me a set. Included the layout, and everything we need to avoid to get out of here. Guaranteed. ”

  Tanik Ozal was a smuggler. Though the goods he dealt in didn’t end up in a dusty warehouse or back alley trading room. Tanik’s source of his considerable income was the choicest merchandise for the wealthiest clients. I didn’t trust him as far as I could toss him, but he’d helped me and Phaelan in the past.

  “He gave me the family rate,” Phaelan was saying. “Only charged me half a fortune. ”

  “What a sweetheart. ”

  Fortunately, it didn’t take a genius to find Taltek Balmorlan’s office. It was the only locked door that wasn’t a cell.

  I let Phaelan work the keys in the lock while I kept watch. Problem was there was nothing to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the possibility of having five full minutes without the need to fight for my life; I just didn’t believe it. Lady Luck wasn’t speaking to me, and Fate had apparently decided to write me off. But neither of those changed the fact that no one was down here, at least not right now. The guards had seen what the Saghred had done to that mage. To them it’d looked like I’d done it, and every last one of them had run like hell and hadn’t come back. Maybe they’d gone for reinforcements, and a freaking platoon was going to come running around the corner any second now.

  Now that would be more the way my luck was running.

  “Can you work faster?” I whispered.

  Phaelan never took his eyes from the lock and keys. “Would if I could,” he said in a singsong voice. He tried one key after the other. “You know, this’ll be a nice haul for getting knocked over the head and chained up. The mages are all dead, so their money is all ours. ”

  My plan for that pile of dirty money was to give it to Imala and Tam for Chigaru, that is if we got out of here with our lives—and after I got my strength back and wrestled Phaelan for it.

  There was a click.

  “Yes!” Phaelan hissed in celebration.

  It wasn’t a large office, just enough room for a desk, two chairs, and a cabinet. Taltek Balmorlan was a tidy megalomaniac. Retentive, actually. Writing quills arranged in a wooden rack in order of size. Inkwells were capped with no dribbles down the sides of the bottles, and there were no papers out anywhere. That was just wrong. Though if everything was in its proper place, then the proper place for what both Phaelan and I were looking for would be a safe. Now we just had to find the damned thing.

  There was nothing hanging on the walls and no rug on the floor for a safe to hide behind or under.

  “Walls are stone,” Phaelan noted.

  “So’s the floor. See any seams?”

  “Nothing. You?”

  “Nada. ”

  We looked at each other. “Ransack,” we said together.

  We went to work. Phaelan was a pirate and I was a seeker, so both of us had extensive experience making short work searching a room without getting caught. I opened a shallow cabinet, put my hands against the wood panel on the back and pushed it back and forth, testing for some give in the wood. And give it did. It slid to the right, exposing a not-so-solid part of the wall. A safe that wasn’t very safe. Bad for Balmorlan and best for us, it opened with yet another key on the ring. It only took Phaelan two tries to get it open.

  Inside was a strongbox and papers—lots of papers.

  “Get the box out of my way,” I said. My arms were functional enough for paper, but not a box of gold, even if it was probably the lightweight goblin variety.

  Phaelan reached over my shoulder. “With pleasure. ”

  I’d also had experience doing a fast scan of paperwork, but the thing we needed to do faster than that was to leave. I didn’t want to risk leaving anything behind that might put Taltek Balmorlan away for the rest of his life.

  I started snatching the papers out of the safe. “See anything to put these in?”

  Phaelan was incredulous. “You’re taking them all?”

  I just looked at him. “You’re taking all the gold?”

  “Good point. Stupid question. ” He looked under the desk and held up a leather satchel, a nice one. “This do the trick?”

  “Yeah. ”

  Phaelan tossed it; I caught it and started stuffing. A ledger slipped out of my hand and fell on my foot. I bent over to get it, and nausea reared its ugly head.

  “Damn,” I muttered, slowly lifting my head up and forcing the contents of my stomach down.

  “Easy,” Phaelan cautioned.

  “Later. ” I got the ledger and stood up. It’d fallen open.

  To Carnades Silvanus’s signature.

  I felt dizzy again and it had nothing to do with the Saghred and everything to do with taking down everyone who’d supported the bastards who wanted me and everyone I loved imprisoned or dead. I scanned the document, flipped the page, and did the same, again and again.

  They were pledges, signed pledges of support, monetary and otherwise. I recognized enough of the names to know that Taltek Balmorlan had secured as allies some of the most powerful men and women in the elven government, military, and aristocracy.

  Signed, sealed, and witnessed.

  At least half of them had been witnessed by Carnades Silvanus.

  I held all of it in my hands.

  If I’d had the strength, I’d have jumped for joy. For now, I’d settle for not throwing up again.

  “I can see risking your life for money, but you’re taking a book for booty. ” Phaelan shook his head as he emptied the last of the gold in what had to have been his last pocket. “Where did we go wrong with you?”

  “It’s not a book. It’s a leather-bound payback. ”

  No one was going to stop me from getting out of here and getting these papers into the hands of the right people, people who knew how to use them to inflict maximum damage on Balmorlan and his generous new friends.

  I fastened the satchel’s buckle, slung its long strap over my shoulder and across my chest, and peered out into the hall. Still empty. “We need weapons. ”

  Phaelan stepped around me and out into the hall. I followed. “Blueprints say there’s a guard station at the next right turn. ”

  We heard it before we saw it, but not before it’d seen us. It was waiting, between us and a guard station we weren’t going to live long enough to reach.

  It scuttled out in front of us, stopping less than ten feet away, massive eyestalks locked on us. I knew now why there were no guards down here. They could just turn this thing loose and know that the prisoners would either stay put or get eaten.

  Phaelan recovered his voice before I did, though it was higher than normal. “What the fuck is that?”

  It was a crab, an enormous crab. Pinchers the size of my head and a shell that came way p
ast my knees. Unblinking black eyes glittered on the ends of eyestalks as thick as my forearms. Black eyes that were fixed on us.

  Phaelan froze. “This wasn’t on the blueprints. Tanik, you bastard, I want my money back!”

  Chapter 20

  Where were a claw cracker and hot butter when you needed them?

  I’d eaten crab. I loved crab. Now I faced the very real and immediate irony of a crab eating me—or at least pinching off my leg. I thought crab legs were delicious. I wondered in a moment of giddy panic if giant crabs felt the same way about people legs.

  Years ago, I’d run into a werehound in a goblin prison. I was there as an unwanted visitor helping a valued guest leave. There was an explosion two cell blocks over, and the guards had run to put out the resulting fire. The explosion had been my doing; releasing a werehound to patrol in their absence had been the guards’.

  I’d been expecting a werehound. One drugged treat and two minutes later, it’d been dozing like a puppy.

  Right now, I didn’t think we had minutes, and I had no idea what the hell a giant crab ate. Though from the way its claws were clicking and clacking, I think it knew exactly what it wanted.

  I’d be willing to bet those pincers weren’t its only weapon. Its shell had a dull metallic sheen, more like armor than anything else, and the shell’s edges looked razor sharp and were actually dripping with strands of green slime. Poisonous? Probably. I couldn’t imagine green slime being a good thing.

  “Do crabs have ears?” Phaelan whispered.

  “How the hell am I supposed to know?”

  The eyestalks swiveled toward us. Apparently werecrabs did.

  Yeah, I know, but at least werecrab sounded remotely dangerous, because being snipped into big-sized chunks by a mere crab, even a giant one, would be beyond embarrassing. I didn’t know if the thing was something else between sunup and sundown, and right now it didn’t matter.

  Werecrab, it was.

  Run away was my impulse, but it wasn’t an option, at least not with a hungry crustacean standing between us and what Phaelan’s blueprints said was freedom. One of us could distract the thing while the other darted around it. Problem was the crab’s shell with its dripping slime almost extended from one side of the corridor to the other. There was no room to get around it, and the only way we could distract it would result in one of us losing an arm or leg. I wasn’t eager to try either one, but the crab didn’t look inclined to go back where it came from, and as to us going back to where we came—
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