Con & conjure, p.47
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       Con & Conjure, p.47

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 47

 

  “Hang on!” Vegard shouted.

  I shot him a look and got a grin in return.

  The grin widened. “You’re about to get a lift. ”

  What?

  I looked down. There weren’t any buildings or streets, just a big, broad, scaled back. Phaelan’s pilot expertly guided his dragon up beneath where my legs dangled, staying just out of the way of Kalinpar’s powerful wings. The sky dragon’s back was as good as solid ground. Phaelan’s hands steadied my legs just below the knees. Vegard got a firm grip on my arm, and between the two of them—and a pathetic amount of assistance from me—got me back in the saddle. I wasted no time strapping my legs back onto Kalinpar’s sides where they belonged.

  “Let’s get you on the ground,” Vegard shouted back at me.

  I gasped for breath, and the rushing wind tried to take it away. “Thief . . . has the rock . . . not in citadel. ”

  Vegard’s eyes narrowed in fury. “Where?”

  “Moving. ”

  “Can you track him?”

  I only felt like I was riding in his pocket. I nodded.

  Vegard signaled to Phaelan’s pilot to go to the citadel and get reinforcements.

  I stopped fighting the contact with the rock. I couldn’t see where the thief was, but I could feel him, like an invisible string bound me to him. As we circled back from the citadel, the string tightened. I had no clue how I could sense the rock, yet couldn’t tap one iota of magic. I’d just add it to the absurdly long list of crap I didn’t understand.

  “Down!” I shouted. “Need to be closer . . . to the street. ”

  “Hold on. ”

  I’d heard that sky dragons were nimble enough to fly and land pretty much anywhere. I’d never seen it, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be in the saddle of one while it happened.

  Vegard sent Kalinpar into a full dive.

  Kalinpar shrieked in pure joy.

  I just shrieked.

  The sky dragon leveled out just below the rooftops in an entirely too small street. I got an up-close look at the goblin thief wearing what I guessed was his own skin, and he got the same view of the three of us. His eyes widened, right before he darted down a too-narrow-for-Kalinpar side street and out of our reach.

  Vegard pulled back hard on the dragon’s reins and banked back up into the sky. My stomach tried to do the same. He leveled off just above the rooftops.

  “Still sense him?”

  The only sense I had was the need to be sick. I shoved it down, literally, and focused on the rock with everything I had. I might not have magic right now, but I had something even more powerful.

  Stubbornness.

  That thief wasn’t getting away. He couldn’t get away. If he did I’d wish I was dead or sharing the Saghred’s link with a bunch of pervert elf mages. They’d get to share the sensation of having people slaughtered and feel like they were being slaughtered on them, feel their souls being torn out of their dying bodies, those bodies disintegrated under the Saghred’s destructive magic.

  Over and over again.

  Dozens or hundreds or even thousands of times. Until the Saghred was full. Until it was at full power. And Sarad Nukpana and his king could turn that power against anyone they chose. Unrelenting. Unstoppable.

  “Left!” I shouted.

  I followed the thief and guided Vegard to an intersection that might be big enough to land in. Not that we had a choice. The thief was there, so we were going to land.

  It wasn’t the worst part of town, but it was far from the best. We were less than a dozen or so blocks from the citadel, but we weren’t close enough that they’d come running if I screamed loud enough.

  The sun wasn’t up, and the dregs of Mid’s society were still out. They scattered when Kalinpar swooped in for a landing, claws extended.

  Vegard swung a long leg over the dragon’s neck and smoothly dismounted.

  I smoothly fell off.

  “You look green, ma’am. ”

  “Feel green. ”

  “You gonna make it?”

  “Not if we don’t get that rock back. ”

  He gave me a hand up and I took it. Behind us, Kalinpar snorted.

  “Stay,” Vegard told him. “Signal. ”

  In response, the sky dragon tossed back his head and sent a plume of blue flame straight up above the rooftops. Any Guardian pilots in the air couldn’t miss that.

  The plume also lit the outlines of some less-than-scrupulous individuals closing in on Kalinpar or at least thinking about it. The dragon turned his massive head in their direction, and I swear he smiled.

  Vegard saw it, too. “Signal first. Play later. ”

  Kalinpar stopped smiling and sent a short, miffed plume in the air, angled slightly toward the nearest thug. The thugs jumped back. The dragon smiled.

  We left Kalinpar to his amusements.

  We had to catch a thief.

  Chapter 22

  Dawn was less than an hour away. We didn’t have an hour.

  “Which way?” Vegard asked.

  I hesitated. I hadn’t told Vegard that my magic was gone. I especially hadn’t told him that I’d damn near taken Phaelan’s soul. That wasn’t the kind of comment you casually tossed out there before going into a place where we’d be trusting each other with our lives. I didn’t think the Saghred would try anything with Vegard. When my magic had gone, so had my soul-sucking urges. At least I thought they were gone. If they weren’t, it wouldn’t be the first time that the Saghred tried to pull a fast one.

  I’d hoped my magic would be back by now. It wasn’t, and we were going after a master glamourer who had a rock of cataclysmic power in his pocket. The goblin couldn’t use it, neither could I; but the rock, however, might take offense at me wanting to take it back to the citadel.

  Big, messy, soul-sucking offense.

  Right now, I could barely sense it, and without my magic, I couldn’t tap the thing even if our lives depended on it, and they probably would.

  I gave Vegard the short and not-so-sweet version of my magicless state.

  To his credit, he didn’t put his fist through the wall we were standing against, even when I told him it was all the fault of Taltek Balmorlan and his magic-sapping manacles.

  Or the Saghred.

  Or all three.

  I had no clue and I desperately wanted one—along with my magic back.

  I’d never lost my magic before, and had never heard of anyone who had lost theirs, so any reason I came up with would be nothing but a guess. But any guess I made wouldn’t alter the fact that magically speaking, I was as naked as the day I was born.

  “Can you get a general direction from the Saghred?” Vegard asked.

  “Think so. ”

  I reached out. Not with the magic I didn’t have, just with a link to a cursed rock.

  The Saghred was here, close by. I knew that much. What I had no clue about was which way the goblin had gone with it. Now that we were on the ground, my sense of the rock was spread thin, as if the trail had been smeared over the whole block. Naturally, it wasn’t a block with only one or two buildings; it was a rat’s warren of narrow, twisting streets and alleys, recessed doorways and darkened windows. Perfect for seeing without being seen. Perfect for a goblin who could see better in the dark than a hundred cats combined.

  My life, soul, and sanity depended on going into that dark and finding that goblin and the rock he’d stolen. A diluted trail from the Saghred meant only one thing—magic of the interfering kind. That meant our thief wasn’t alone. I couldn’t see a master glamourer and thief conjuring a ward complex enough to mask an object as powerful as the Saghred.

  A Khrynsani could. I already knew from the two suicide bombers in the harbor that there were Khrynsani on Mid. Well, those two particular Khrynsani weren’t anywhere anymore, but they didn’t travel only in pairs. Like rats, if you s
aw two, simply check the dark corners. There were more; you could count on it.

  I quietly told Vegard what I’d sensed—and what I couldn’t.

  “Don’t worry, ma’am,” he assured me. “I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve. ”

  “You might need more than that,” I whispered. I quickly told him about the thief’s arsenal—darts and strawberries—one eatable, both poisonous. I didn’t mention the box the poison came in or the itty-bitty portrait of me in it. If Vegard knew he’d take me back to Kalinpar and order the dragon to make me stay. At least he’d try. By not telling him, I was saving valuable time. Vegard wouldn’t have seen it that way, but then Vegard wasn’t going to know.

  Ten minutes ago, the goblin thief had been wearing his own skin. For a man who could alter his appearance in the blink of an eye, ten minutes was an eternity. The goblin had the Saghred, was on his home turf, lurking in the dark, and could look like anyone by now.

  I didn’t have diddly-squat.

  No sleep, no strength, no magic. I’d been kidnapped, chained, choked, force-fed a mage, and fallen off of a sky dragon.

  The thief had changed into a beautiful girl, had a kinkyfun evening, and an hour ago had taken an early-morning stroll into the citadel to pick up and carry out a rock.

  I was on my last leg. He was just getting warmed up.

  And to top it all off, he knew we were here.

  “Ma’am, I don’t suppose you’d stay here and let me take care of this?”

  I just looked at him.

  “Didn’t think so. ” Vegard took what to him was a short sword from the harness across his back, and offered it to me. To me, it was massive.

  “As much as I’d love to take that,” I told him, “right now I couldn’t hold it up, let alone run anyone through with it. Got something smaller?”

  Vegard flashed a quick grin. “That’s something I never thought I’d hear you ask. ”

  “Me, either. ”

  He handed me a pair of long, slender daggers.

  “Aren’t those a little . . . dainty for you?” I asked.

  “I’m not always a brute. I can do subtle. ”

  “Vegard?”

  “Ma’am?”
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