Con & conjure, p.51
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       Con & Conjure, p.51

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 51


  Vegard was going to be fine. He was conscious within an hour after the Gate had closed, and was as sick as Mago in rough seas for the next five. Mychael hadn’t declared him fit for duty yet. Vegard was probably ready for what most Guardians considered duty. Mychael was saying Vegard wasn’t ready to return to duty guarding me yet. I didn’t think any man was truly ready for that.

  Not going after the Saghred was not an option. Getting to Regor the normal way would take weeks. We didn’t have weeks. We might not even have days.

  Mychael had come to see me when he’d been told that I was up. He’d been in emergency meetings all day with the archmagus, the Seat of Twelve, and half the Conclave trying to find a way to stop what Sarad Nukpana had set in motion the moment he snatched the Saghred through that Gate. But his main concern was doing what every paladin down through the centuries prayed he’d never have to do—protect the citizens, students, and mages of Mid from imminent invasion.

  Sarad Nukpana had said he was coming after me, but the students weren’t being evacuated just to protect them from being killed—at least not in the normal way. Sarad Nukpana was many things, most of them evil and insane, but he wasn’t wasteful. The Saghred gained more power from magically talented sacrifices. Nukpana wasn’t only coming to Mid to get me, he was coming to power up the rock, to prepare it for conquest. Taking the lives of Mid’s students and mages would give him everything he needed and then some.

  The Guardians who’d flown the reconnaissance mission to the plains outside of Regor had returned a few hours ago and reported a massive magical buildup as well as the construction of a framed platform that looked to be wide enough for at least a hundred men to go through standing shoulder to shoulder.

  Wide enough for an army.

  A hundred. Then a hundred more and hundreds after that, waiting on that plain outside of Regor for their turn to step through that Gate directly into Mid, an elven city, or any damned place the goblin king or Sarad Nukpana wanted them to be.

  Even if we had a way to empty the Saghred of the souls it held now, unless we could destroy it, Sarad Nukpana would simply sacrifice more to feed it. Starting with Tam’s parents, Chigaru’s allies, Mid’s students, the Conclave’s mages.

  The only people capable of stopping him.

  Though as a silver lining to our catastrophe, we’d done some stopping ourselves.

  With Carnades and Balmorlan laid low, their entire criminal network was crumbling or running like hell, some straight to their lawyers.

  The documents I found in Taltek Balmorlan’s office would ruin them all. The fruits of Mago’s labor had been enough to get Carnades charged with treason, not to the elven government, those charges were still pending, but to the Conclave. The Conclave of Sorcerers was a neutral governing body. Neutral organizations frowned on its members starting wars.

  Mago had a lawyer-to-lackey chat with Carnades’s two yes-mages on the Seat of Twelve—at least that was the profession Mago had chosen for the occasion. Living in a man’s pocket was enlightening. And if that man was the arrogant sort, he gave his lackeys no more consideration than the furniture. Furniture with ears, alert ears. Carnades’s yes-mages had heard things, seen things, and knew things. These mages were willing to ride Carnades’s robe hem to power, but not to the prison Mago convinced them they were going to. They sang. Two members of the Seat of Twelve laying down proof of extortion, bribery, misappropriated Conclave funds, and treason, carried enough weight to get a search warrant for Carnades’s office and home. More evidence was found, charges were brought, and the people rejoiced. Well, I was rejoicing.

  I would have enjoyed it a lot more if Sarad Nukpana hadn’t been breathing down my neck from hundreds of miles away.

  My ex-fiancé had vanished just like he’d appeared—without a trace. No one had seen Rache Kai, and no one was really looking for him. One killer on the island was an inconvenience; hundreds was an invasion. His note to Balmorlan said the deal was off and I believed him. And me sticking a certain poisoned dagger through a boot had eliminated the need to protect Prince Chigaru against a master glamourer/thief/assassin armed with the Nukpana family poison, a box of poison that Imala had taken into custody. I would have felt a lot better if she’d destroyed it. Though Imala, always the secret service director, said it would be a waste to destroy a weapon she hoped to soon put to good use. I knew exactly what she was thinking. Sarad Nukpana killed by his own family’s poison. It’d be ironic as hell.

  Goblins loved irony.

  Taltek Balmorlan was imprisoned in his own dungeon by the one man who could get him to admit everything he’d done and rat on the powerful and influential people he’d convinced to help him do it. People who also knew how and where to buy the services they needed to clean up the mess Balmorlan had made—starting with Balmorlan. Rache might soon find himself besieged with work offers.

  We’d taken down the bad guys, but the evil ones had gotten away.

  I’d glanced outside the apartment door once since getting up. It looked like Mychael had posted half a platoon of Guardians. I guess that was what it took to make him feel I was safe.

  I’d had a bath. I was having a meal.

  I had a visitor.

  A visitor who insisted I finish eating before he’d give me any more news. He told me I had to keep my strength up. I was surprised he didn’t tell me to eat my vegetables.

  Dads were like that.

  After that, all similarities between my dad and every other dad in the seven kingdoms ended.

  “Sarad won’t begin feeding the Saghred immediately,” he told me. “He has no reason to hurry and every reason to proceed with caution. ”

  If anyone else had been in the room, it’d seem odd for them to hear that kind of calm assurance from a kid who didn’t look old enough to buy himself a drink in a bar, even if he was a kid in a Guardian uniform. The young, blond elf sitting across from me was my father.

  Arlyn Ravide, the young Guardian in whose body my dad’s soul lived, had died at the hands of the demon queen, the Scythe of Nen plunged through his heart. She’d wet the blade with his sacrificial blood, then stabbed the Saghred with equal ease to open the stone for her demon king consort to escape. The demon king was still trapped inside the Saghred, but Sarad Nukpana and five other inmates he’d plotted with while inside had escaped. My dad’s soul had escaped and occupied Arlyn Ravide’s lifeless body.

  Dad’s real name was Eamaliel Anguis, a beautiful silverhaired, gray-eyed, pure-blooded high elf. He had been the Saghred’s Guardian and bond servant before me.

  Nearly a thousand years before me. He was 934 years old.

  Running for your life carrying the Saghred did that to you. I guess the rock didn’t want to be alone.

  I’d only been stuck with the rock for three months. Dad had the Saghred and the people who wanted it chasing him the better part of a millennium. It had cost him his body when the rock turned its bond servant into its next meal.

  It’d cost my mother her life.

  “Sarad knows what it’s like to be inside the Saghred,” Dad continued. “He’ll want to be entirely sure of the ritual before he conducts it in public. King Sathrik will gather those of influence who oppose him but whom he dare not act against, to witness the sacrifices. ”

  I pushed my plate aside, appetite gone. “To take the fight out of every last one of them. ”

  “Exactly. So we have a little time. ” Dad smiled. “Besides, it wouldn’t look good for Sarad to get sucked inside the Saghred again, only this time in front of the people he’s trying to impress. ”

  This wouldn’t be the first time the Saghred had been taken from a goblin king and a mad Khrynsani. Dad and an elite team of Guardians had done it that time, too. Now he was talking about doing it again.

  Like I said, goblins loved irony.

  I didn’t.

  “Okay, what’s the fix?”

He arched a brow at me. “Pardon?”

  “The fix. The way we’re going to get there. You’re talking like getting to Regor before Nukpana starts feeding souls to the Saghred isn’t our biggest problem. ”

  “It’s not. ” He paused, the pause of a man who was about to say something he knew I didn’t want to hear. “We’ll be using a mirror. ”

  Oh hell.

  I just looked at him. “You know I hate mirrors, right?”

  “I’m not fond of them myself, but it’s our only option. The entrance mirror is here in the citadel. The exit is in a cave ten miles southwest of Regor. ”

  We would be there in seconds. Step into one mirror, step out of another. We’d be in the goblin capital in time for a midnight snack. Easy, fast, hopefully not fatal.

  “The team will have to be small by necessity,” he continued. “No more than ten people. ”

  I took a breath and tried to let it out without it shaking. I failed.

  Dad studied my face for a moment. “Raine?”

  “My magic’s gone,” I said slowly. “You know that, right?”

  “I know. ” His eyes were steady. “I’ve talked to Mychael about it and we want you to be on Phaelan’s ship out of here on the morning tide. ”

  Running for the rest of my life. Dad had been doing it for almost a thousand years. How long until I was caught? Or just got tired of running and let them catch me.

  No. No more.

  It wasn’t going to end like that. I wasn’t going to end like that.

  I wanted to live, and dammit, I wanted a life. A happy one. If anyone deserved all of that and more, and to never have to look over his shoulder again, it was the man sitting across from me. And all of it—my life, his life, the survival of everyone Sarad Nukpana wanted dead—depended on us doing this and not failing.

  Dad sat there, watching me, probably reading my mind.

  “You want to go. ” He stated it simply, no question.

  “Walking through a mirror to Regor to take on Sarad Nukpana and the goblin army with no magic? Hell, no, that’s not what I want. No one in their right mind would want that. But I’m not running and I won’t let anyone else risk death or worse while I go sailing with Phaelan. ” I stood up and looked around for my gear. “Kick someone off that team of yours. I’m going. ”
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