Con & conjure, p.45
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       Con & Conjure, p.45

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 45


  The werecrab twitched twice then was still. I wasn’t about to turn my back on it, dead or not.

  I stared at the tray. It was almost bent in half and in the center was a jagged hole where the claw’s edge had punched through the metal.

  I slumped against the wall, breathing hard. Apparently pounding a werecrab with a tray took it out of a girl. “Gimme a minute,” I panted.

  Phaelan ran into the armory and replenished his weapons, and got a sword for me. “We don’t have a minute. ”

  “How ’bout a second?”

  “How about I carry you?”

  I made myself stand up. “How about you just find the way out of here. ”

  Phaelan looked down the hall beyond the dead crab. He wasn’t seeing the hall; he was remembering what was on Tanik’s blueprint. At least I hoped he was remembering.

  “Follow me,” he said.

  For once, I was happy to do what he said, no questions asked.

  Turned out I should have asked questions.

  “How much farther?” I asked after we’d gone up one floor and through another ten minutes.

  I was more than a little uneasy. Not that I wanted to find out that the werecrab had backup, or all of the guards were waiting for us in the dark just ahead, but a dungeon without any guards—while nice—wasn’t right, and I didn’t trust our good fortune or believe it for a second.

  “Uh . . . I’m not exactly sure,” Phaelan admitted.

  I blinked. “What do you mean you’re not sure? Where are we?”

  “I’m not sure of that, either. ”

  Phaelan looked slightly embarrassed. It wasn’t a look I’d seen on him often, and considering what it implied, I didn’t want to see it on him now.

  I gaped at him. “We’re lost?”

  “I didn’t say that. ”

  “You didn’t have to. You don’t know where we are. That’s called lost. ”

  “The blueprints didn’t include this floor. Besides, I prefer to think of it as temporarily misplaced. ”

  I took a breath and let it out slowly. I told myself we were fine and we were going to stay that way. At the moment no one was trying to kill us or clip us in half. So it was all good. It still didn’t alter the fact that we were lost with an exit hopefully still somewhere ahead of us. It also didn’t change the spooky silence behind us—silence I didn’t trust.

  The silence didn’t stay silent for long.

  At the pounding of heavy boots on the stone floor, Phaelan and I ran like hell for the first open doorway we could find. Thankfully, the room was not only empty, but dark.

  A trio of embassy guards ran past us. I adjusted my grip on my sword, held my breath, tried to think invisible thoughts, and hoped Phaelan was doing the same. While I didn’t want to go in the same direction as a bunch of elven guards, they appeared to be going up to the embassy’s main floor. Coincidentally, up for them happened to be out for us. We trailed them at a safe distance.

  The embassy’s entry hall was packed. Mostly with embassy employees, but I gave a silent cheer when I caught a glimpse of burnished steel Guardian battle armor just inside the massive embassy doors. I wasn’t close enough to see who they were, but the fact that they were here was enough.

  No one had seen me and Phaelan, and for now, we wanted to keep it that way. We ducked behind one of the absurdly big columns around the edge of the room. We were far enough away from the crowd of curious onlookers not to be found, but close enough to hear what was going on.

  A man was speaking. Loudly. He wanted everyone to hear every word he had to say. I knew that voice. I only heard the last part of what he was saying, but those words made my day, week, and life.

  “Ambassador Giles Keril, in the name of Her Majesty, Queen Lisara Ambrosiel, I relieve you of your post and place you under arrest for aiding and abetting the kidnapping and torture of elven subjects, obstructing justice, and treason against the elven government. ”

  I grinned like I hadn’t grinned in weeks. It wasn’t just that Giles Keril, patsy to Taltek Balmorlan, was about to be locked up in his own embassy. It was the beautiful sound of a voice from beyond the grave.

  Duke Markus Sevelien picked himself one hell of a time to return from the dead.

  Chapter 21

  Duke Markus Sevelien was the chief of elven intelligence. For the past few weeks, Markus had been officially—though not actually—dead. Taltek Balmorlan had arranged for his boss to have the kind of housewarming present that really warmed the house—by blowing it up then burning down what was left. As a result, Markus had found it advantageous to let Balmorlan and his allies inside the agency continue to believe that he’d died in that explosion. He thought he could better clean his agency of rats if they thought he was dead and came crawling out of the woodwork to take over the house.

  As always, Markus’s timing was impeccable.

  Markus wore his usual black, looking unusually elegant for a man who had been considered by most to be dearly departed until mere minutes ago. Though to ex-ambassador Giles Keril, the elven duke probably looked like Death himself with a newfound sense of style.

  As the chief of elven intelligence, even one newly back from the dead, Markus had the right to take over the embassy and everyone in it. And with a grim-faced Vegard and at least four dozen Guardians armed to the teeth and beyond at his back, he was not only exercising his rights, but daring anyone to say or try to do anything about it. No one looked inclined to do either.

  Vegard looked like he really wanted someone to try.

  Giles Keril’s mouth hung open in shock. “Your Grace,” he managed. “I protest these charges. ”

  Markus gave him a chilly smile. “You deny that Raine and Phaelan Benares are at this moment imprisoned in the dungeons of this embassy with the intent of torture and death?”

  The little man drew himself up to what little height he had. “I not only deny the charges, I demand to know the identity of my accusers. It is my right. ”

  If that wasn’t an entry line, I didn’t know what was. I looked at Phaelan. “Are my eyes still glowing?”

  “Not as much as they were, but you still look scary as hell. ”

  “Bet you say that to all the girls. ”

  I walked and the guards parted. I even heard a sword drop. I gave them what I hoped was an evil glare. I hoped it wasn’t what I felt like, the grimace of a woman who was about to throw up on her own boots. Throwing up on myself wouldn’t exactly be intimidating. Phaelan stayed right by my side, his swagger telling every guard or embassy official we passed that “We’re wanted fugitives and you can’t do a damned thing about it. ” I glanced at Phaelan, half expecting to see him sticking his tongue out.

  Once the last of the gawking embassy bystanders parted and there was nothing between me and Giles Keril but a gratifyingly small section of empty floor, I got the satisfaction of seeing a man literally shake in his boots. I didn’t know if it was the shock of just seeing me upright and breathing, or the terror of seeing me upright, breathing, and with glowing eyes. It didn’t matter; I enjoyed it anyway.

  “Good to see you, Raine. ” Markus’s smooth greeting would have been right at home at an embassy cocktail party. He graciously inclined his head to Phaelan. “Captain Benares. ”

  “Good to be alive to be seen. ” I stopped when I got close enough to Giles Keril to make him start to hyperventilate. I didn’t think Markus wanted him to faint quite yet. “Where’s Mychael?”

  “The citadel, ma’am,” Vegard said. “We have a situation there. ”

  I felt a little sicker than I already was. “The Saghred?”

  “The rock’s still where it’s supposed to be, but we have a thief in the house. The boss is trying to find him before he makes a try for it. ”

  “That thief’s a master glamourer. ”

  “He knows. ”

  I blinked. “How did—”

bsp; Vegard cleared his throat awkwardly. “He got a message from . . . uh, a mutual acquaintance of yours. ”

  Rache Kai.

  First he killed Balmorlan’s mages, and then he warned Mychael about the goblin thief. If he thought that meant we owed him, he had another thing . . .

  I stopped and smiled. Yeah, we did owe him. I was sure Rache had a reason for doing what he did, and there was even a remote possibility that reason didn’t have anything to do with Rache. He could have merely been thinking about someone else besides himself for a change. Yeah, and he probably had some mountain property to sell me in the Daith Swamp. I chuckled, and instantly three pairs of eyes were on me. Worried eyes.

  I held up my hands. “I just thought of something funny; I haven’t gone over the edge. ”

  Markus stepped in close and kept his face neutral. Vegard was right behind him. “You don’t look well,” Markus murmured without moving his lips.

  “Flirt,” I told him.

  “Raine. ”

  Nothing like a joke you didn’t feel like making falling flat. “I . . . ate a mage. ”

  Markus didn’t so much as bat an eye. “I see. ”

  A master of understatement, my erstwhile employer. Truth was, if I let myself so much as think about what did happen and what nearly had happened, I’d want a cozy padded room all my own that I could curl up in the corner of.

  “You might say I have a bit of indigestion right now that I’m trying really hard not to dwell on. ”

  “Understood. ”

  I was also trying really hard not to look at Vegard. I knew I’d see every flavor of pain and guilt in my big Guardian’s big blues. If I saw that, I just might lose what little grip I had. I think he knew.

  “Ma’am,” he said, his voice tight. “This wouldn’t have happened if I—”

  I raised my hand to stop him from finishing. If he finished, my grip on sanity might be the same. “Nothing you could have done. Shit happens. ”

  “Not to you and not on my watch,” Vegard growled. He paused uncomfortably. “Are you . . . ”
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