Con & conjure, p.48
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       Con & Conjure, p.48

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 48

 

  “Bring the brute. ”

  “Don’t worry, ma’am. He’s right here. ” The big Guardian bared his teeth in what might have been a grin. If so, it was one the goblin thief or any of his Khrynsani friends didn’t want to see.

  A sky dragon roar overhead nearly made me jump out of my skin.

  We looked up. Two dragons glided past just above the rooftops, wings slightly pulled back for landing. One of the pilots raised an armored hand at Vegard.

  “Reinforcements,” Vegard snapped. “About damned time. Let’s move; they’ll catch up. ”

  I held my daggers out in front of me. If someone or something came at me out of the dark, it’d be met with steel.

  We moved as fast as I could detect the Saghred’s trail, and as cautiously as our sense of survival demanded. The rock’s presence grew stronger, though not any more definite. It wasn’t moving and we were; you’d think that would be called progress.

  I estimated it was about half an hour until dawn. There should be lights in some of the windows; people should be up, even people who stayed up all night waiting to jump on people like us.

  No one. Nothing.

  I didn’t need my seeker instincts to tell me that was a bad thing.

  Every step I took was like sticking my head into Kalinpar’s mouth while he was feeling playful.

  It was suicidal and I knew it. We should be running in the opposite direction, not sneaking forward. The goblin and whatever friends he had were somewhere ahead, waiting until we got close enough to do something we really weren’t going to like. The Saghred was with them and wanted to be with them. I didn’t need magic to know any of it; my instincts were working just fine, and they were screaming at me to run and not stop until I hit the harbor, and once I got there to start swimming.

  Instincts had a way of thinking you had a choice. I didn’t.

  The look on my face must have said all of that loud and clear. The big Guardian’s only response was a grim nod. I guess surviving something that was suicidal but necessary made you a hero. Failure just made you dead and posthumously stupid.

  I stopped—and stayed stopped.

  The Saghred’s presence rang like a bell. An evil bell, but still a bell. Loud and clear.

  And close. Too close.

  I inclined my head ever so slightly in the direction the rock’s come-hither was coming from. Vegard saw and calmly drew his battle-ax from where it rode across his back, the blade glowing blue with restrained magic. He started to step in front of me. I put a hand on his arm and shook my head once. It didn’t look like an evil hideout; the only thing it looked like was abandoned. The worn, wooden door looked like any other door. Though if the Saghred and that body-morphing thief were in there, absolutely nothing would be what it seemed.

  I took a breath and made it a good one, in case it was my last, and carefully wrapped my hand around the metal latch. I made no move to turn it, but stood perfectly still, willing the essence of the last person who opened it to come to me.

  Nothing.

  I resisted the urge to growl and kick the door. It wasn’t the door’s fault that when the Saghred had fed it’d sucked out my magic along with that elf mage’s soul.

  There, I’d said it.

  I’d been in magic-sapping manacles before; my magic came back almost immediately. I’d been telling myself that since I was in Balmorlan’s longer that it was taking longer for the effect to wear off. I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t want to let the possibility of the alternative so much as cross my thoughts.

  The Saghred had taken my magic, whether by accident or spite. I didn’t want to think about it, but I couldn’t ignore what it might mean. An old door with a rusty latch would be just that and no more. No sense of who last touched it, how much power they were packing, no warning of what waited on the other side. I’d be going in blind.

  I inhaled sharply through my nose and clenched my teeth, willing myself not to scream in impotent fury—or cry. I didn’t have time for either one. Though if I survived this, I’d treat myself to one, the other, or probably both. Vegard’s strong hand tightly squeezed my shoulder, that one touch telling me he knew what I was thinking, and he was there for me. I knew it was a mistake, but I glanced up into his eyes. I couldn’t see them all that well because my vision had suddenly gone blurry. I sniffed, clenched my jaw, and swallowed hard. Vegard laid his big hand next to mine against the door, and his lip curled back with distaste.

  “Khrynsani?” I asked.

  Vegard nodded tightly. “And a hint of a repel ward. Just enough to make people pass by or not notice it at all. ” He took his hand off the door. “We’re waiting for backup. ”

  “We don’t have time to—”

  “Ma’am, do you feel the Saghred moving?”

  “No, but—”

  “Then we wait. ”

  Less than two minutes later, four Guardians silently emerged from the dark on the opposite side of the street.

  Mychael was one of them.

  Yes, running across the street and launching myself at him would make me a target, and it took everything I had not to do it. Another reason to survive and not screw this up. I didn’t know the other three Guardians. They might be Mychael’s men, but there was still a warrant out for my arrest. It might have been rescinded, but until I heard that from Mychael’s own lips, I’d be wary of any armed man I didn’t know.

  If those were Mychael’s lips.

  I normally wasn’t this paranoid, but I wasn’t normally this powerless, either.

  The Saghred was somewhere inside the building behind us. I could feel that; I knew it for a fact. The goblin thief had run in there with it. He sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere without it, so logic said loud and clear that the goblin was in there with his prize, not glamoured as Mychael standing across the street from me.

  “Who are those—”

  “Trustworthy men, ma’am,” Vegard assured me.

  I saw the faint glow of shields as Mychael and his men darted across the street to us. The three Guardians went to the opposite side of the door. Mychael came directly to me, and I stepped back from him.

  Mychael’s expression went from confused to hurt in the time it took me to take that step back.

  “Raine, what—”

  “Prove you’re you. ” My whispered demand didn’t carry past the two of us.

  “Who else would I . . . ” Realization dawned. “I’m not the thief. ”

  “You’re wearing full armor, so it’s not like I can check you for freckles. ”

  One side of his mouth curled in a quick grin, an all-toofamiliar grin. “If we weren’t standing in the middle of the street in the worst part of town, I’d drop my pants, armor and all, and let you inspect to your heart’s content. Would that convince you?”

  I smiled. “Won’t know until I see it. ”

  “You’re a bad girl, Raine Benares. ”

  “You bet I am. ” I said, stepping into his arms.

  Words couldn’t describe how good it felt to hold him, to be held. Best of all, Mychael smelled like Mychael. Though there was something that I couldn’t feel. Our link was gone. It made sense. No magic, no magical link. Dammit. I might be having that good cry sooner than I wanted to.

  I swallowed against the sudden lump in my throat, and gave Mychael a whispered, thirty-second summary of my magic being gone and my theory on how it left.

  Mychael pulled me to him again; my head nestled into the warm hollow of his neck. I felt the pounding of the pulse in his throat, the anger. He quickly released me and stepped around Vegard, one hand extended to check for wards. He frowned and moved his hand closer, then looked at me and Vegard and shook his head once.

  No wards.

  “Let’s hope it’s not a buka on the other side this time,” Mychael muttered. He carefully turned the knob, and the door opened.

  No lock, either
.

  Step into my parlor, and all that.

  Maybe when you got your hands on the most powerful magical object in the world, you forgot the little things like locking doors behind you. I didn’t believe it, but it was better than wasting time dismantling wards and picking locks. On the flip side, I’d been around powerful magical talents long enough to know—by learning the hard way—that when it came to outwitting one, there was no such thing as good luck. More than once, what I’d thought was good luck nearly turned out to be good riddance.

  Mychael led the way into a big room, or at least one big enough that the Guardians’ lightglobes didn’t reach into all the dark corners. The place was covered in dust and empty bottles. The dust was everywhere, except on the bottles that were scattered across the floor just a little too evenly to be happenstance. Drunks don’t usually abandon an empty bottle every three feet to completely cover a room. These were strategically placed to make the most noise. Sometimes the best alarms were the most basic. The Saghred was here, somewhere below my feet, on the next level down. We were on the ground floor. That meant the Saghred was in the basement.

  Naturally.

  Scary, evil, bite-your-face-off, suck-out-your-soul magic. Of course it was in the basement.

  I pointed down.

  Mychael silently mouthed a word that summed up my feelings perfectly. Though actually knowing where the rock was did simplify the plan.

  Find the stairs. Find the rock. Get out.

  Though the plan did have an unspoken fourth step—try not to think about everything that could and probably would go wrong during steps one through three.

  With a few gestures, Mychael ordered two Guardians to guard the door and the other one the stairs. Then he looked at me and mouthed, “Stay here. ” The look I responded with didn’t need any words, mouthed or otherwise, to get my message across. Mychael raised my look and gave me a glare.

  He scanned the door to the basement and silently raised the latch. No wards, no locks, no goblins. My stomach stayed clenched in terror, just in case.

  The stairs were steep and narrow. Beyond that, my expectations were knocked flat.

  There wasn’t a lot of light, but there was enough to see that there was nothing to see. No Khrynsani and no Chameleon—unless he could glamour himself as a brick wall.
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