Con & conjure, p.8
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       Con & Conjure, p.8

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 8

 

  I resisted the urge to punch my cousin. “I’m personal. Rache knew I was in Mermeia. He didn’t come after me then, and he won’t come after me now. ”

  At least I hoped not.

  “Unless you try leading every Guardian on the island to his hideout,” Phaelan continued. “I don’t know about Rache, but I’d take that personally. ”

  And I was thinking about personally yanking my cousin behind the harbormaster’s shack and kicking his ass.

  I shot him a look that said just that. “We can stand around here talking, or we can go and get ourselves an assassin. ”

  “Absolutely not,” was Mychael’s response when I said I needed to be there when they caught him.

  “Mychael, just because I tell you where he is, doesn’t mean he’s going to stay put for you. By the time your men get there, he’ll be gone. Rache can smell someone coming after him. ”

  “And he won’t be smelling you. I’ve caught him by surprise before. ”

  “And he’s still alive. ”

  “So am I,” Mychael countered.

  “And so am I. You know I have to be at the front of your hunting party for this to work. ”

  His frown told me he knew it and he didn’t like it.

  That made two of us.

  I knew that finding Rache wasn’t going to be easy. He knew me and he knew how I worked. Yes, I’d learned a lot as a seeker since I’d last seen Rache, but no doubt he’d been keeping up with me just like I’d been keeping up with him. And even though my seeking skills had been multiplied by a factor of a hundred thanks to the power boost I’d gotten from the Saghred, the rock had merely enhanced the skill set that I already had.

  Rache knew that skill set. He’d volunteered to let me practice my tracking spells on him. He’d gotten entirely too good at staying one step ahead of me. I usually found him. Eventually. That was then and for practice. This was now and for keeps.

  It didn’t take me long to pick up Rache’s trail. The impressions from the crossbow bolt had reminded me of any details that I had forgotten. I hadn’t forgotten much, and it didn’t take me long to recall every last bit of it. We found that he’d been staying at an inn in the entertainment district. It had the benefit of a lot of people coming and going, and no one really paid attention to anyone else. Everyone was focused on their own pleasure—unless their pleasure involved finding someone else. Rache had the knack for making people either not want to be anywhere near him—or to be very close to him.

  Yep, I’d been young and stupid.

  And I’d been in love. My first and, I thought, my last time.

  Until Mychael.

  When I was in training to be a seeker, I’d thought that tracking Rache was just good practice. Though if I’d been paying attention, I’d have noticed that he was way too good at staying one step ahead of me. Rache claimed to be a merchant, which explained why he traveled a lot. That he was a successful merchant explained why he would bring me such expensive presents when he returned. That certainly explained the travel, money, and the uncanny ability to avoid detection and capture. Not a skill set often seen in your average merchant.

  But downright critical in your above average assassin.

  “Anything?”

  Mychael was about twenty paces back, giving me enough room to work, but when you share some kind of mysterious magical bond with someone that lets you talk to each other without speaking, personal space changes into something that’s neither space nor personal. I hadn’t minded until now. Being able to talk without speaking to the man I was sleeping with was fun, and being able to do it in public took it a couple of steps and a leap over from fun and into naughty fun. But having the man I loved inside my head while I was hunting the man I used to love took awkward to a whole new level.

  “He’s ahead. ” It was all I said because it was all I knew. Rache was still ahead of us. I couldn’t sense that he was moving, but we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to him, either. The Rache I’d known and broken up with wasn’t a magic user; he wasn’t even a magic dabbler. Though maybe he’d lied to me about that, too. I didn’t want to find out now that Rache followed our breakup with an extended period of self-improvement.

  Just in case, I quietly muttered my personal shields into place. They’d deflect a crossbow bolt—or a novice magic user’s attempt to fry me.

  The farther toward the city center we got, the more uneasy I became. There were plenty of places for an assassin to hide—but only one was protected by wards, guards, and diplomatic immunity.

  The elven embassy.

  And guess what? That’s where Rache’s trail went cold.

  The elven embassy was located half a block from the goblin embassy. And judging from the guards in full battle armor punctuating the walls around both compounds, everyone knew everything that had happened in the harbor. Everyone also looked entirely too eager to find a reason to retaliate. Retaliation of the painful, bloody, and deadly kind.

  Neither Mychael, his Guardians, nor I shared the same homicidal need.

  All of us were presently standing between the two embassies, but across the street from either one. I wasn’t comfortable with our proximity to either embassy’s range of fire. I think some of Mychael’s boys were beginning to reach the same conclusion.

  “This isn’t a good place, sir. ” Leave it to Vegard to say what we were all thinking.

  Mychael’s stony gaze went from the elven embassy to the goblin embassy. “Which one?”

  I knew that question was for me, and I also knew that I had no idea how to answer him. I stood a fifty-percent chance of being right—or wrong. Truth was, I didn’t want to go into either place. I’d been inside the elven embassy once, gotten trapped, damned near died, and didn’t want a repeat of either experience. I hadn’t been inside the goblin embassy, but if the exterior trappings—sharpened black iron stakes for fence railings, and blood-red wards sizzling on the gates—were any preview of what waited inside, I’d rather stand here in the street. Not to mention, I was an elf, a member of the race that all believed just tried to kill a goblin prince.

  Embassy Row was normally crowded with coaches and pedestrians this time of day.

  There wasn’t a living soul to be seen.

  People knew what had happened. They were smart enough to stay away from the elven and goblin embassies. If someone fired a shot or launched a spell, Embassy Row would turn into ground zero for the beginning of a war.

  Unless they were crazy, people usually stayed away from war zones.

  We were standing right in the middle of the street. I guess that made us several kinds of crazy.

  The elven embassy looked like it was expecting a full-scale attack at any moment. The guards appeared ready to shoot anything that moved wrong. And to put the paranoia icing on the cake, the embassy actually had battlements complete with armed and patrolling guards. Some of those guards had partners—nearly waist high, dark, sleek, and red eyed. Werehounds.

  Rache had tried to kill Prince Chigaru—a goblin. There were plenty of goblins who wanted him dead, but so did a lot of elves.

  Left or right. Elf or goblin.

  Take your pick.

  I didn’t want either one.

  “This is a quandary,” Vegard noted.

  My Guardian bodyguard had the gift for ultimate understatement.

  I looked back toward the elven embassy. A man I knew only too well stood on its marble stairs, watching me, wearing the same smarmy and smug expression he usually did.

  You could see Taltek Balmorlan in a room and look right past him—which was exactly what the elven inquisitor wanted. The word that described him best was average. His hair and eyes were an unremarkable shade of dull brown. He was of average height with average looks. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about his appearance.

  It was perfect camouflage for the predator he was.

  Balm
orlan wanted war with the goblins. Balmorlan would want Prince Chigaru dead.

  Taltek Balmorlan wanted me.

  He was an inquisitor for elven intelligence. That was his job title. What he actually did was deal in weapons, and in a world of magic, mages were weapons—so Balmorlan dealt in mages. I called it kidnapping; Balmorlan called it doing business. Guess who was at the top of his shopping list?

  I stepped out into the street.

  “Ma’am,” Vegard cautioned.

  Mychael didn’t say a word either out loud or inside my head. He knew what Balmorlan had planned for me.

  Unable to get his hands on the Saghred, the elven inquisitor had found a way to bond other mages to me, which would allow them to tap and use the Saghred—by using me. He’d had a warded cell built in the elven embassy with Level Twelve wards, detainment spells layered for strength, and magic-depleting manacles bolted to the walls.

  All he was missing was me in those manacles.

  I was Balmorlan’s target.

  And he was mine.

  Rache’s trail ended here. With all the wards and spells protecting both embassy compounds, he could be in either one, though I was leaning toward the elves as Rache’s latest clients. Taltek Balmorlan and his elven government allies had access to more money than was in the elven royal treasury.

  He could afford Rache. Easily.

  Besides, Imala Kalis was firmly in control of the goblin embassy. She was working every waking hour to plan the coup that would kick Sathrik off the throne and put Chigaru on it, not put the prince in the Mal’Salin family crypt.

  I stood there, letting Taltek Balmorlan get an eyeful. It was all he was going to get, and I gave him a smug smile of my own to let him know it.

  “Is he in there?” Mychael asked out loud and from right behind me, then he stepped up to stand by my side. I felt a surge of satisfied delight. Mychael and I were in the middle of Embassy Row. Vegard wasn’t with him, so he’d obviously asked him and his men to wait on the other side of the street.

  Mychael beside me was an obvious challenge to Taltek Balmorlan—or Rache. Mess with my woman, and you mess with me, his posture said.

  “I want you now,” I murmured.
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