Con & conjure, p.44
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       Con & Conjure, p.44

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 44

 

  “Is there a way out behind us?” I asked.

  “Would I still be here if there was?” Phaelan was bouncing on the balls of his feet, ready to move in any direction, including up. “What are you waiting for? Do your thing. ”

  “My thing?”

  Phaelan wiggled his fingers in the air. “Magic. You can move things. Move that. ”

  “Don’t know if I can. ”

  “What do you mean you don’t—”

  “Magic doesn’t always work on magic. ”

  “It ain’t magic; it’s a crab. ”

  “If it’s a construct, anything I do won’t dest—”

  “What the hell’s a—”

  “It means it doesn’t really exist. Looks real, feels real, but ain’t real. ” My voice was edging toward panic, and the rest of me wasn’t far behind.

  “Well, that construct wants to take a bite out of my leg. That real enough for you?”

  My borderline anxiety attack wasn’t just because my only way out of this hellhole was blocked by a werecrab. My magic could tell me if the werecrab was real or not. The real problem was that I couldn’t tell.

  My heart pounded absurdly loud in my ears.

  My magic wasn’t working.

  Nothing, not even a spark. I never believed that blood could actually run cold, but mine did.

  The few times that I’d actually used the Saghred, I’d been winded afterward, sometimes knocked on my ass, but I’d never lost my magic. Could it have been the manacles? Were there aftereffects from being locked in them after a certain length of time? Or could the Saghred have been pissed off at not getting Phaelan’s soul and decided to suck out my magic instead? I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, and it didn’t matter.

  A werecrab was here and my magic was not.

  And we were getting out of here.

  Did I need magic to ruin Taltek Balmorlan and Carnades Silvanus? No. The only thing I needed was the documents I had. Documents that I would get out of here in one piece and us along with them. The only thing Phaelan valued more than his skin was the goblin gold stuffed in every pocket he had. I wasn’t about to tell him that gold wasn’t his to spend. If avarice and the urge to spend Balmorlan’s hard-stolen gold was enough motivation to take down a giant crab, I’d let him think every last coin was his to have, to hold, and to spend.

  I actually heard Phaelan swallow next to me. “So do your seeker thing and—”

  “It isn’t working. ”

  “What?”

  “My magic isn’t working. ” I said it without moving my lips. Hell, I wasn’t about to move a muscle. I stayed frozen to the spot. If I moved, the werecrab would move, and if the werecrab moved, chances were that I’d go from frozen elf to tasty treat in two clicks of a claw.

  Realization dawned on my cousin at the same time that all the blood seemed to run out of his face. “You’re just running low on juice, right?”

  Phaelan didn’t want to hear that this was more than a momentary inconvenience. He didn’t like magic, but he’d never objected to me using it to save his ass.

  “No juice,” I said.

  “Shit. ”

  The crab hadn’t attacked us yet. That was good, but it could also be bad. The thing could have been trained to keep escaping prisoners right where they were until the guards could get there. I didn’t know if this was what was keeping the crab at pincer’s length, but I wasn’t going to ask too many questions.

  I risked moving my head and looked around for something, anything we could use as a weapon. The dungeon was lit by lightglobes, not torches, so there was no handy fire on a stick. Nothing on the wall or on the floor . . . wait a minute. A metal tray with the remains of a meal sat outside of a cell door. It was a pathetic excuse for a weapon, but if you didn’t have what you needed, you made do with what you had.

  I carefully backed up and bent down for the tray without taking my eyes off the snapping claws. I had no idea why the thing hadn’t rushed us by now, but I wasn’t going to look a gift werecrab in the mandibles.

  The tray wasn’t heavy, which was good for a seeker with numb arms. The metal caught the light and I damned near blinded myself. Crap it. What kind of dungeon had fancy, shiny metal . . .

  Shiny?

  That could work . . . only one way to find out. I carefully stepped forward. I didn’t have to be close, just close enough.

  Phaelan caught a glimpse of light reflecting off the tray, and a slow grin spread over his face. “Can you make the thing back up past the armory door?”

  “That’s the plan. ”

  “We arm ourselves and then have some crab shish kebob. ”

  I could be in the mood for crab.

  I caught the reflection of a lightglobe just behind the werecrab, and carefully angled the tray toward its eyestalks. I got a reflection, bright and blinding.

  On the freaking wall.

  At that moment, the werecrab got tired of waiting.

  The crab scuttled at me faster than something that should be served with melted butter had a right to. I squealed before I could stop myself, thrust the tray out in front of me, and scurried backward, Phaelan right there with me. The only thing between us and being pinched and picked to death was a flimsy, shiny tray.

  The werecrab stopped, eyestalks flinching backward in what would have been surprise or fear on something that didn’t have eight legs. Then it backed up, virtually tripping over those spindly legs trying to get away from that tray. What the hell was it—

  Its reflection.

  It was probably the thing’s first look at itself, and it clearly didn’t like what it saw. We weren’t the only ones scared of that crab—it was afraid of itself.

  “That’s it, you ugly beastie,” Phaelan murmured from beside me. “Back up. ”

  The werecrab did.

  “Nice and slow,” Phaelan told me. “Too fast and he might fight back. ”

  I shot Phaelan the mother of all shut-up looks.

  “Sorry, that was obvious, wasn’t it?”

  “Yes. ”

  We continued walking forward and the werecrab continued cooperating. For now. Scary things had a tendency to be less scary if they didn’t immediately try to bite your face off. A werecrab probably had a tiny brain, but I didn’t want to find out how long it’d take him to figure out what he saw in that tray wasn’t a scary thing and that he was running from himself—or worse, decided to kill his reflection.

  “Just a little farther,” Phaelan murmured.

  I risked a quick glance beyond the werecrab and saw blades, blessed blades hanging on the wall of a room with the miracle of an unlocked and open door. If Lady Luck wasn’t speaking to me, maybe she at least wanted to leave Phaelan alive long enough for a chat.

  The werecrab backed up past the door, and Phaelan darted inside. After a few seconds of clanging and commotion, my cousin came out of that room with enough steel to start his own war. He slipped a long dagger through my belt at the small of my back, and I swear my heart rate dropped by half at the weight of some good, sharp steel.

  Phaelan didn’t waste time making use of what he’d pilfered. He clutched a huge elven broadsword in both hands and lunged.

  The crab’s claw shot out and snapped it in half.

  The blade clattered loudly to the floor. Tempered steel cut like paper with scissors.

  That was bad.

  Phaelan dropped what was left of the sword, drew a pair of short swords, and rethought his strategy.

  The long dagger Phaelan had given me wasn’t long enough for me to risk my arm by getting inside that thing’s snipping-in-half distance.

  Phaelan and I immediately went with a tactic that had served us well in the past—distract and destroy. I made use of the tray for the distraction part, but unless I got my magic back—or my hands on a really long spear—the destruction was up to Phaelan.

  I did
n’t think crustaceans had tactics. I was wrong. The crab had two pincers and poisonous shell edges, and was doing its best to pin one or both of us against the wall so it could use any of the above. The werecrab maneuvered with amazing agility, darting in to attack with its pincers, and quickly scuttling back when Phaelan lunged with his short swords. He didn’t want to try his luck stabbing anywhere on that armored shell. He needed to get a blade in its belly, without getting his hands snipped off.

  The damn thing’s eyes could swivel on those stalks, and nothing we did caught it off guard.

  Wait a minute.

  Eyes. On stalks.

  Saghred-induced exhaustion must have made me dimwitted.

  “The eyestalks,” I told Phaelan.

  “Yeah, the damn thing sees me just fine,” Phaelan growled.

  “Cut them off!”

  The crab could still kill us if it couldn’t see us, but blinding it would at least give one of us a chance to get the heel of a boot under its shell and flip it on its back. Then Phaelan could drive a blade into its vitals. Of course severing its eyestalks and flipping it onto its back meant going in between its pincers. Distract with the tray, take out the eyestalks with the blade, then kick and flip. Sounded simple. It also sounded like something we’d better get right the first time.

  I feinted to the right with the tray, and the werecrab slammed a claw dead into the center of the tray, just like a boxer’s punch. At the same time, Phaelan lunged for the eyestalks.

  And the crab’s other claw neatly clipped the short sword in half.

  The blade clattered to the floor to join the other. I used the tray like a combo of a shield and club, beating the claw back and hitting any other part of it that I could. Phaelan was still moving, and a split second later had sliced through both eyestalks using his other blade with a yell that sounded more like a terrified girly scream. I caught the bottom edge of the crab’s shell with the toe of my boot and kicked with everything I had left.

  The crab was a lot lighter than it looked and flipped right over. Only now its legs and pinchers were flailing madly over its vulnerable underside. Phaelan did some evasive darting and weaving, and when he saw an opening, drove his sword in up to the hilt. The legs slowed their flailing, and the pincers faltered in mid pinch mere inches from his face. Phaelan jumped back, pulling his blade back with him. It was coated with something icky that bubbled and sizzled on the steel. He dropped the sword before the bubbling reached his hand.
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