Con & conjure, p.50
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       Con & Conjure, p.50

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 50

 

  My fist directly confronted his temple.

  The thief dropped the dagger—and his glamour.

  He had the high cheekbones and fine, straight nose of a pure-blooded goblin. He wouldn’t have either for long, if my fists had their way. Mychael’s armor vanished with the glamour, leaving the goblin wearing his own clothes with leather armor covering only the most vital of areas. Hurt a man badly enough in a non-vital area and it’d turn vital real quick.

  He was bigger and stronger. I was desperate and terrified and exhausted. But desperation trumped terror and exhaustion every time. It had to. The thief pivoted his body, trying to pin my arms, my legs, pin anything he could to get me to stop kicking and punching. I didn’t have long nails, but I used what I had on the upswept tip of one ear and sank my teeth into the other.

  He screamed. I snarled.

  Next to nuts, the tips of a goblin’s ears were one of their most sensitive parts.

  I growled and shook my head like a terrier with a rat. I didn’t have much, but I used what I had. It was an ugly fight, but I wasn’t in it to make it pretty. I was in it to win, or at least survive. I used every trick in the book and wrote a couple of new pages right there on the spot. The damned rock just sat there watching, or waiting, or whatever.

  I had to hand it to Imala’s uniform design—skintight also meant impossible to hold on to.

  The air grew heavy with power, like air just before a lightning strike, prickling my skin like thousands of hot needles.

  Not yet. Please, no, not yet.

  I was facing the back wall. A long, narrow part of the bricks shimmered. The sickly sweet, coppery stench of blood came from beyond.

  The Gate.

  It opened simply, no mouth of Hell, no brimstone stench, just a parting curtain of silvery fog. The smell of blood came from the Gate and the chanting of voices came from beyond it. The chants and what was feeding the Gate were worse, much worse—the screams in the background proved it.

  A tall figure appeared just beyond the opening.

  Sarad Nukpana. Now in his uncle Janos Ghalfari’s body.

  Sarad Nukpana had been consumed by the Saghred, escaped, and attempted to regenerate his body by ingesting the life forces of the most powerful mages he could hunt down. Desperate for a body to inhabit, Nukpana took the corpse of his recently dead uncle, the nachtmagus Janos Ghalfari.

  Sarad Nukpana considered it all my fault.

  In a way, it was.

  Now he was going to make me pay.

  Nukpana was lean and lethal. His black hair gleamed in the light of the torches burning behind him. Like many a serpent that’d slithered out of a dark place, Sarad Nukpana was beautiful to look at; but unless you wanted to die, you needed to stay out of striking distance.

  I was within striking distance. I knew it, and so did he.

  So did the thief. He planted his fist in my gut.

  I folded double in a red haze of agony. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak. I was facing the Gate, curled up and panting on the floor less than ten steps from being at Sarad Nukpana’s feet.

  He smiled, fangs gleaming in the firelight. “Mine,” he purred. He whispered as if I were his lover. “Even my dreams were not this good, little seeker. ”

  He had me right where he wanted me, or he would as soon as he stepped through that Gate and claimed what he saw as his—the Saghred and me.

  “Give me the Saghred,” Nukpana ordered the thief. “Then bring the girl. ”

  Nukpana didn’t step through the Gate.

  He couldn’t.

  An instant later, I realized why.

  The thief had only called for it less than a half hour before. Nukpana would have had to work fast, and apparently fast meant one-way. The thief could go in, but Sarad Nukpana couldn’t come out.

  Hope flickered. It didn’t flare, but at least it hadn’t been stomped out.

  Though nothing—especially me—was going to keep the thief from taking me through that Gate with him. I managed a gasp and a little air. Heavy breathing on the bastard’s boots wouldn’t exactly be a defiant gesture.

  The torchlight from beyond the Gate glinted off the goblin thief’s dagger on the floor not two feet from where I was curled up. Both of my hands were busy clenched in agony around my stomach. If I could persuade one to move, I could just reach the thing. Though reaching was a long way from using. Hell, breathing was a long way from happening. Every time I tried, it was like pushing a white-hot poker through my own guts.

  The thief pulled on the armored glove lying on the chair next to the Saghred and picked up the rock. He was bleeding, but was careful not to let any of it come in contact with the Saghred. Just my luck.

  I wasn’t just going to lie there and wait for the bastard to come pick me up like so much baggage. If I did nothing, I was going to die. If I did something, I’d probably still end up dead, but I’d have my self-respect—like that was going to do me any good once Sarad Nukpana started his fun and games. I unclenched my right hand and slid it along the floor toward the dagger. I thought the pain would knock me unconscious. I bit my lip against a scream until I tasted my own blood, but my hand didn’t stop moving. I closed my hand around the dagger’s grip.

  Then all hell broke loose.

  An explosion from upstairs shook the floor under me as if a giant fist had splintered the door and the walls it’d been attached to. Goblin voices shouted, followed by the ring of steel on steel, screams, falling bodies, and more dust falling from the ceiling.

  The thief looked up and swore. He yelled something up at his men. At least I think he was yelling. Everything sounded the same and all of it was too loud, like I’d been kicked in the head instead of the gut.

  “Give me the stone and get the girl!” Nukpana shouted.

  The thief crossed the distance between us in three strides, and I did the only thing I could do with the dagger in my hand—I drove it through the top of his boot and into his foot.

  The goblin howled in pain and kicked me with his other foot, the tip of his boot landing a vicious blow to my shoulder, the movement ripping the dagger out of his foot, but not out of my grip. The fighting upstairs got louder and the goblin snatched me up by the arm, the Saghred in one hand and me in the other. I struggled to get my legs under me and to get that dagger into him.

  Eight steps to the Gate.

  The thief quickly exchanged his grip on my arm for his arm tight around my throat. The harder I fought, the tighter he squeezed, until my vision started to go black.

  Six steps.

  I desperately tried to dig my heels into the dirt floor. The thief just dragged me.

  Four.

  “Raine!” shouted voices from upstairs.

  Mychael. And Tam.

  Sarad Nukpana extended his armored hand as far as he dared toward the Gate opening, his glittering black eyes locked on the Saghred.

  Three steps.

  “Give it to me!” Sarad Nukpana screamed.

  Then he’d slam the Gate shut. He’d give up the chance to get me to get the rock.

  “And leave me here,” the thief growled.

  Two steps.

  I desperately slashed at the thief’s forearm that was locked around my throat. It was covered in leather, but that didn’t stop me. I cried and screamed and slammed the point of the dagger past my throat into whatever I could stab. The tip sank into skin, once, twice, three times, and the goblin’s hold loosened for an instant. I twisted and brought the dagger up from below, underneath the leather chest plate, and buried it up to the hilt in soft flesh.

  One step to the Gate.

  Time slowed and stretched.

  I looked up into the goblin thief’s eyes. The dagger wasn’t long enough to have reached his heart, but it didn’t have to be.

  The goblin’s eyes were fixed and staring. Flecks of foam were at one corner of his
mouth. The dagger had been poisoned.

  The thief began to fall backward toward the Gate, taking me with him. Sarad Nukpana’s black-armored hand punched through the Gate inches from me.

  How the hell did he—

  The thief’s hand went limp in death and the Saghred began to fall. I didn’t think; I just reached for it. Sarad Nukpana extended his arm through the opening, the power from the Gate heating the metal of his glove to molten red, like armor on a forge. Nukpana snatched the Saghred out of the air, clutching it and howling in mindless agony. His hand being cooked alive in that armored glove didn’t stop him from reaching through the Gate with his other hand, his bare hand, clawing at me, his flesh burning, the skin melting away from his fingers, his hand.

  Black-robed figures rushed up behind Nukpana, pulling him back. He fought them, lunging toward me. They dragged him back and Sarad Nukpana screamed. His words rang through the Gate and slammed into me with physical blows. “No! She is mine!”

  A blast of heat threw me halfway across the room as the Gate closed.

  Sarad Nukpana was on the other side. In Regor.

  I was lying on my belly in a dusty basement gasping for air.

  Sarad Nukpana had taken the Saghred.

  I was still here.

  But part of me had been stolen along with it.

  Chapter 24

  Whoever said waiting was the hardest part must not have been waiting on much of anything.

  I was waiting for people to die.

  On me. Through me. Talk about living from one breath to the next.

  Just like Sarad Nukpana’s goblin mage prisoners were doing right now.

  His injuries were probably all that was keeping him from starting the slaughter. With any luck, he’d never be able to hold a dagger again. No one had made him stick his hands through that Gate, but that didn’t matter. He’d blame me for that, too. That’d be fine with me; I’d gladly take the credit for crippling the bastard.

  Now I was all that was standing between him and full control of the Saghred—he either needed me captured then dead, or just dead would be perfectly fine with him, though I know he’d rather have the fun of doing it himself.

  The Gate had closed with Nukpana and the Saghred on the other side nearly twelve hours ago. I dimly recalled another sky dragon ride to the citadel that had been thankfully uneventful. I had no recollection of Mychael carrying me to his apartment or putting me to bed. Exhaustion would do that to you. I’d only been awake for about an hour. From the way my back ached, I think I’d spent nearly the entire day sleeping, or whatever, in the same position. Unconsciousness didn’t count as real sleep, but right now I was grateful for what I’d gotten. Every minute I could spend essentially out cold was one less minute wondering if any sudden chest pain was an impending heart attack or an incoming Saghred sacrifice. I think I’d rather have the heart attack. Generally those only happened once. That it could be fatal might actually be a plus.

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