Sunday, February 6, 2011
Chapter Four of CON & CONJURE by Lisa Shearin
I thought I would be the one sharing Rache’s crosshairs with Prince Chigaru.
I was wrong.
We searched the building Rache had used for a killing perch, which conveniently for my homicidal ex was a Conclave office building that was being renovated, so there were no occupants who would have been very much-needed witnesses. Even more frustrating, the workmen who were there had been on the lower floors and hadn’t seen anyone.
Right now I didn’t know if someone had paid Rache to kill Mychael, or if he was making this hit a personal vendetta. The potential who, why, and how much didn’t matter. The bottom line was that Rache wanted Mychael dead, and if no one was paying him that meant that in some twisted way, it was my fault.
To make the situation worse—if that was even possible—I hadn’t known he was there until his bolt hit Mychael’s armor. That meant a veil of some kind. Rache didn’t have magical talent, but it was possible that his employer had given him an amulet personally keyed to him whose purpose was to veil his presence. I’d encountered them before, but they were obscenely expensive. But if Taltek Balmorlan could afford to fund the start of a war and retain Rache’s services to help that war happen, he could certainly afford a custom-made magical trinket.
We were walking quickly back to the Greyhound Hotel. Mychael had set the fast pace. He wasn’t trying to put distance between him and the man who tried to turn him into roadkill, Mychael wanted to get back to the scene of what he considered the bigger crime and Prince Chigaru as quickly as possible. There were plenty of Guardians there, and a senior knight to act in Mychael’s stead, but when a hopefully future head of state was poisoned, shot, and nearly blown up, that was a situation that needed to be handled by the paladin himself.
Mychael’s scowl mirrored my own. We’d chased Rache halfway across town, and now we were coming back empty handed. Mychael took that personally.
So did I.
Rache had gotten away from me twice in one day, and that pissed me off. Though Rache had missed his target twice, and I knew that would piss him off. Rache didn’t miss.
Though what bothered me the most was that for all intents and purposes, Mychael completely blew off the fact that Rache Kai had just tried to kill him. And Vegard and the other Guardians didn’t seem all that bent out of shape about it, either.
I nearly had to run to keep up with Mychael’s long strides. “So world-class assassins take shots at you every day?” I snapped.
“Rache just tried to skewer you and you don’t care.”
“Trust me, I care.”
“You don’t act like it.”
“Because I have a worse situation on the waterfront and at the Greyhound. We didn’t catch Rache, and my time was wasted.”
“And your life was damned near ended.”
“Damned near. I won’t forget the attempt, but it was just that, an attempt.”
“So you’re not concerned?”
“At the moment, I’m more concerned with keeping Prince Chigaru alive. And with three assassination attempts before he even set foot on dry land, I think we can count on everyone who tried before trying again. That concerns me.”
We went around the next corner and the voices coming from the waterfront was like a solid wall of sound. That was one of the things you could always count from a crowd that’s just seen a big explosion—the smart ones had gotten the hell away, leaving the morbidly curious and the brainless gawkers, and the only thing either group did was get in everyone’s way who was trying to clean up the literal and political mess.
Mychael apparently trusted his men to deal with it all. He didn’t even pause, but headed straight for the Greyhound Hotel.
Prince Chigaru Mal’Salin had reserved nearly the entire hotel—a palatial structure in the center of the Judicial District built to accommodate visiting dignitaries and obscenely wealthy mages and student parents. I was used to inns where the smoke was as thick as the coffee. In my opinion, all the polished marble and gilded woodwork was a bit much, but I wasn’t the one footing the bill.
What I saw filling the entire wall behind the registration desk caused a twitch to take up residence in my right eyelid.
I looked around the room. More mirrors, ridiculously large and abundant mirrors.
Some people were content to merely ask for trouble; the hotel’s owner was on his knees begging for it. All kind of nastiness could get into a room through a mirror. Assassins, spies, black mages, demons. Prince Chigaru had dodged death three times already, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.
I couldn’t believe this. “Who the hell thought those were a good idea?” I asked Mychael.
He looked where I was looking. “I’m not fond of them, myself.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Not fond? They’re unwarded mirrors. What kind of lunatic would—”
“I had my best mirror mages check them. They’re completely warded.”
“But they aren’t all . . .” I made a wavy motion with my hand, “nauseatingly rippley.”
Warded mirrors rippled, rippling mirrors would make a lot of hotel guests sick. I could see where that would be bad for business.
“It’s a special kind of warding,” Mychael said. “I had a mirror mage friend of mine check them again last night. He assures me that nothing’s coming in that way.”
Imala was waiting for us in the lobby, though waiting normally implied patient and calm. Imala was neither. The head of the goblin secret service was pacing, and judging from the floor space available all around her, her people were very smart.
They were staying out of her way.
She spotted us and closed the distance. “Well?”
“He tried to kill Mychael, too,” I told her.
Imala’s expression didn’t change. “And?”
I didn’t think anyone could be less concerned than Mychael about Rache’s second target, but I was wrong.
“And we didn’t get the bastard,” I told her.
Imala didn’t say a word; instead she closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. Yep, the lady was frustrated to the point of violence. We had three assassins and only one of them was in something resembling custody. Imala’s day was far from over.
“Raine, I know you did your best,” she told me.
I was sure Imala meant it, but what she said wasn’t what I heard. “You did your best” ranked right up there with “I’m disappointed” as far as I was concerned. Both sounded nice enough, but it didn’t make me feel any better about failing. You couldn’t sugarcoat failure. The only thing that would cure that was having Rache trussed at my feet. Feet that would kick him a few times before anyone official could haul his sorry ass away.
“And it wasn’t good enough.” I paused. “I know him, Imala. I’ll find him.”
I told her exactly how well I knew Rache Kai.
She laughed, and a few of her people backed away even further. “For many goblins, such a relationship would be cause for boasting, not shame.”
“What have you found out from the healer?” Mychael asked her.
“That he’s telling the truth; or at least he thinks he is.”
“Chatar was with the other four mages attempting to push the boat away—”
I started to explain that I didn’t shove the boat into the yacht, but Imala held up her hand.
“Tam told me what truly happened. Thank you for your attempt. You risked much to make it. Our mages misunderstood what they saw and counteracted your efforts.”
“The mage was telling the truth . . .” Mychael prompted, encouraging Imala to continue.
“I have witnesses,” Imala said, “the trustworthy kind, who say that Chatar was on the stern of the yacht with the other four mages. However, I also have equally reliable witnesses who place Chatar near the prince when the attack came.”
“So who’s lying?” I asked.
“Neither. All honestly believe that they are telling the truth. Tam and I have questioned them ourselves. Both of us are quite adept at discerning falsehood.”
“Any magical hanky-panky with your reliable witnesses’ minds?”
“None that we can discern.”
“Did you find the weapon?” Mychael asked.
Imala shook her head. “Nothing was found on Chatar’s person or in his cabin.” She shrugged. “But that means little considering it could have been easily disposed of in the harbor following the explosion.”
“Where is Chatar now?” I asked.
“In his room. He’s being guarded, but for the moment, that is all.” Imala smiled, very slightly. “He claims you accused him because he and the other mages stopped you from assassinating the prince.”
I snorted. “And what about his own colleagues pointing the finger at him?”
“He says he was framed by rivals.”
“So, let me get this straight. Everyone on that yacht considers themselves to be loyal to the prince, yet there are rivalries strong enough that they’d frame each other for murder?”
“These are goblin courtiers, Raine. Rivalries start in the crib. Intrigues begin when we can walk.”
She shrugged. “It’s the way of our people.”
“It’s a wonder anyone sleeps at night.”
“We sleep mostly during the day.” Imala’s smile broadened until her dimple showed. “And then we find it advantageous to be light sleepers.”
Mychael needed to see Prince Chigaru—and Chigaru wanted to see me.
Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better.
Imala escorted us up to the prince’s suite herself. It was protocol and polite, but mainly it kept two elves from being met with drawn steel and bad attitudes. Imala knew at least I would respond accordingly. That was what she really didn’t want—any of her people to get themselves permanently dead because they were momentarily cocky.
Tam met us in the sitting room in the prince’s suite. He was dry and once again perfectly groomed. His robes were mostly raw black silk with velvet trim. They swept the floor but were slit up the sides to show fitted leather trousers and boots. Tam shared my opinion about robes—they were fashionable deathtraps. Trying to fight or run away from someone or something bent on killing you was best done with unencumbered legs. I’d imagine that was ten times as true in the goblin court. Tam’s hair fell in an ebony sheet down his back, and was held away from his face by a silver circlet set with a single ruby. A silver chain of office was draped over his broad shoulders.
We told him what happened with Rache, what nearly happened with Mychael—but most importantly, what didn’t happen. No Rache Kai in chains. Tam hissed a particularly descriptive obscenity in Goblin.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” I told him.
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