Con & conjure, p.46
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       Con & Conjure, p.46
 

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 46

 

  Vegard wanted to know, but didn’t want to ask. Was I still in my right mind? Considering everything that’d happened since the Saghred had latched on to me like a soul-sucking leach, sanity was relative.

  “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m still sane, whatever that means. And if I don’t think about the alternative, I won’t go skipping down that path. ”

  “In that case, you didn’t hear me ask. ”

  I gave him a curt nod. Denial has always worked great for me. It’d never made a problem go away, but I was in denial about that, too.

  “You saved me the exertion of looking for you,” Markus said. “Though I confess I was rather looking forward to releasing these gentlemen to find you by any means possible. ”

  The men behind him didn’t look gentle in the least. They looked a bit disappointed, too.

  “They can go collect Taltek Balmorlan, if they’d like,” I said. “That way their trip won’t be a complete waste. ”

  Markus’s dark eyes gleamed. “And where is my wayward and also soon-to-be-ex employee?”

  Phaelan spoke up. “Special-built cell, Level Twelve wards, chained to the wall in magic-sapping manacles. ” He glanced at me. “Did I get it right, cousin?”

  “Perfectly. ” I handed the satchel full of documents to Markus.

  “What is—”

  “Documents I found in Balmorlan’s office,” I told him. “Protect-with-your-life kind of documents. Promissory notes, deeds to property—I think I even saw a will—all signed by Taltek Balmorlan. He’s collecting money and anything else of value to fund his own war against the goblins and anyone else who gets in his way. I couldn’t take the time to go through the lot of them, but a couple of the documents I saw were witnessed by Carnades. ”

  For the first time in my life, I heard Markus Sevelien whistle.

  Giles Keril picked that moment to faint.

  Phaelan stepped aside to avoid Keril’s head hitting his boots. “Looks like he’s impressed, too. ”

  Markus raised his voice so that the entire embassy staff could hear. “Sir Vegard, I would like to formally request that your knights remain here to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition of power. ”

  The big Guardian grinned. “We’re here to serve, Your Grace. ”

  “And if you would be so kind as to select a few of your men to escort—or carry, as the case may be—ex-Ambassador Keril to a maximum security cell and see to it that he and ex-Inquisitor Balmorlan are not allowed to communicate in any way. ”

  Vegard inclined his head. “On behalf of the paladin and archmagus, the Conclave Guardians are honored to render any assistance we can to ensure the security of this island and the protection of its law-abiding citizens. ” At the last part, he shot a dark look down at the sprawled Giles Keril.

  “Nice,” I murmured.

  Vegard flashed a grin. “Sounded good to me, too. ”

  Markus’s sharp black eyes scanned the room like he was memorizing every guilty face, at least half of which were trying to be casual while noting the nearest exits. “Raine, my apologies, but I need to remain here. I’ve found through unfortunate experience that after a person of power is removed from their post, the underlings have an annoying habit of vanishing along with evidence that may connect them to crimes their superiors may have committed. ”

  “There looked to be plenty of vacancies in the dungeon,” Phaelan suggested brightly.

  Markus smiled. “That was to be my next request to Sir Vegard. ”

  The big Guardian’s eyes fell like a slab of granite on the nearest pack of bureaucrats who suddenly found the floor beneath their boots simply fascinating. “I’d recommend starting with the senior embassy staff and working our way down until we run out of cells. ”

  Markus nodded in approval. “Eminently practical. ”

  Vegard smiled in a quick flash of teeth. “I think you’ll be pleased with how many lackeys my men can fit in a cell. ”

  “Just leave me enough people to operate the embassy. ”

  “How many is that exactly?”

  “More than myself. ”

  “Done. ”

  Vegard issued orders and the Guardians started herding bureaucrats in silly pseudo-military uniforms down the same stairs that Phaelan and I had sneaked up.

  “There’s still a price on my head?” I asked Markus.

  “Oh, yes. But I don’t believe any man who saw you right now would be foolish enough to attempt to collect. ”

  I snorted. “The citadel’s packed with fools. ”

  “You’re referring to Carnades?”

  “The very one at the top of the Seat-of-Twelve heap. ”

  “Then you’ll want to know that when I left the citadel to come here, Carnades was being escorted to the archmagus’s office for questioning. ”

  “Questioning?”

  Markus’s dark eyes glittered and he lowered his voice. “A result of your other cousin’s activities, I believe. Tell Mago that should he ever wish to change careers, I would gladly offer him a position in intelligence. ”

  As a testament to Phaelan’s determination to stick to me like glue, he did something even more terrifying than fight a werecrab.

  He rode a sky dragon.

  Speed was critical. Going by ground, even on the fastest horses, was out of the question. Less than five minutes versus half an hour or more equals no contest. I was on the second saddle behind Vegard, and Phaelan had a white-knuckled grip on the horn of his saddle behind a Guardian dragon pilot. My cousin sat rigidly upright, staring straight ahead, unblinking, unmoving, either from terror he was having now, or the fear of the terror he would have if he looked down. Phaelan had sailed into the teeth of the Straits of Mourning with half a crew and storm-ripped sails, but apparently taking him off the ground took away every bit of daredevil he had.

  I didn’t like being on a sky dragon, either, but I liked the thought of Sarad Nukpana getting his hands on the Saghred—and thereby his hands on me—even less. Unlike Phaelan, I felt better if I kept my eyes on the ground. That’s where I wanted to be, and if I kept looking at it, maybe my stomach would believe we were actually going to make it there. The sun had not yet come up as we banked over the harbor on our approach to the citadel, and our dragons announced their landing intentions with deafening shrieks.

  One of them sounded suspiciously like Phaelan.

  I grinned, then started to laugh. I couldn’t help it, and I—

  Choked. Did a bug fly in my—

  My throat constricted as if a giant hand were tightening around it, clutching, suffocating me. I panicked and tried to pull air in. Nothing. With the pressure came a presence I instantly recognized.

  The Saghred.

  I felt close enough to the rock to smell it. Corruption, vile and sickening, like sour bile at the back of my throat. Ancient, rotten, and malignant.

  The Saghred was me. I was the rock.

  And the thief had both of us.

  I didn’t see him; I didn’t have to. The bastard’s hand was wrapped around the rock, around me. He’d gotten past the guards and the wards, and had stolen the Saghred.

  The rock wasn’t doing a damned thing to stop him.

  It wanted to be taken.

  The edges of my vision were going dark. Holy hell, I was going to pass out flying over the city. I clutched the saddle horn in front of me with one hand and pounded desperately on Vegard’s back with the other, grabbing at his shoulder.

  Vegard turned, saw my face, and his eyes went wide. He shouted something I couldn’t hear. The roar I heard wasn’t the wind; it was my breath rasping, absurdly loud like I was trapped inside a box with no air, no light. I knew I wasn’t locked inside a box, and not only did I have plenty of air, I was flying through it. My body didn’t believe it, panicking, fighting to escape. My legs jerked with a mind of their own and did something very bad.

  I
kicked off the leg restraints, also known as the only things strapping me to a giant airborne lizard.

  I fell off.

  I clawed at the saddle as I slid from Kalinpar’s back. My hands, still weak from the manacles, slipped off of the smooth leather edge, my other grasping for something, anything.

  Vegard’s big hand closed like a vise around my wrist.

  “Shit!”

  Vegard didn’t mince words. I couldn’t make them.

  Vegard fought to keep Kalinpar steady, struggled to haul me back into the saddle or at the very least not drop me, while trying to keep from falling off himself. The morbid pessimist in the back of my head wondered if I fell, would I die instantly on impact, or would I get to feel myself break and/or splat into a million pieces; and if so, what would it feel like?

  That made me scream, or at least try to.

  “Give me your other hand!” Vegard bellowed.

  My hand, arm, and the rest of me was dangling at talon level with Kalinpar. The dragon’s talons were the length of my hand. Had Kalinpar been trained to pluck a falling person out of the air without a fatal puncture?

  “Raine!” Vegard screamed.

  His grip was slipping.

  Vegard didn’t have the leverage to pull me up, and I didn’t have the strength. The thief was on the move, carrying the boxed Saghred in a pocket or pouch. His pace was smooth and unhurried. No, he wouldn’t want to attract attention. I had a link with a rock that did nothing but destroy, and I couldn’t so much as burn a hole in the bastard’s pocket.

  I wasn’t the Saghred. I was me, and I was dangling above the city, and the only thing between me and a messy death was getting back on a flying lizard. Thick leather straps crisscrossed underneath Kalinpar’s gray-scaled belly, strong enough to hold two saddles and two men.

  Strong enough to hold a desperate-not-to-die elf.

  A gust of wind caught my legs; Vegard’s gloved fingers slipped again. I screamed, this time in rage, and sound actually made it out. I was not going to fall. I was not going to die. I was going to get on the ground, run down a thief, take that rock away from him, and club him over the head with it. Hard. Repeatedly. I hooked the edge of my fingers under Kalinpar’s belly strap, then up to the second knuckle, then wrapped my fist around it with a white-knuckled death grip. Which was exactly what it was going to take to get me to let that leather strap go. Death himself would have to come and pry my fingers off one at a time.
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