Lisa Shearin - the National Bestselling Author of the fantasy adventure series featuring Raine Benares, a sorceress and seeker of things lost and people missing.
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All Spell Breaks Loose
I landed flat on my face, and spent the next few seconds spitting out dirt.
My hands were out in front of me with gravel embedded in my palms. My knee had rammed itself into something painfully solid. My other leg was pinned under some kind of weight. Basically I was folded up and smushed. After my eyes had finished tearing up, I started to blink them open then realized with a rush of panic that they were open.
Dark. Pitch- dark. Hand-in-front-of-your-face, no-can-see dark. Not to mention cold and wet. Water drizzled like a light rain from somewhere in the darkness behind us.
I tried to make a lightglobe and got a pitiful spark. No amount of effort would get it any bigger or brighter.
The weight on my leg moved. Instinctively, I kicked.
“Sorry. Where are you?”
“Right where you kicked,” came his pained retort.
A blue lightglobe flared to life, and hovered briefly above Mychael’s open palm before he released it to hover by his right shoulder, and he peered into the dark as best as he could see with elven eyes.
“Tam?” he called in a low whisper.
“Clear as far as I can tell,” Tam said quietly from somewhere ahead in the dark.
No Khrynsani. But for how long?
Mychael’s lightglobe showed me that I’d somehow managed to slam my shoulder and knee into the corner of what I assumed was our supply crate. No wonder I hurt.
Mychael, Tam, and Imala were on their feet, the rest of us had landed on other body parts, none of them particularly dignified. I grunted as I got to my feet and rotated my shoulder.
“My lucky day,” I muttered.
Piaras looked around him. “Yeah, lucky.”
I didn’t want Piaras to be here, though it was better to be here and alive, than in that mirror room and probably dead. But the last place he needed to be was in the same city as Sarad Nukpana. The glance I shot at Mychael said all of that and then some. After me, Piaras was next on Sarad Nukpana’s slow-and-agonizing revenge list. Mychael knew all of that as well as I did.
“Welcome to the team, Cadet Rivalin,” he said.
Carnades muttered something that I couldn’t quite make out, but Mychael heard it clearly enough.
The rocks I’d landed on were softer than Mychael’s expression. “He’s here and a member of this team—a qualified member.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the glint of the magic-sapping manacles that Mychael held loosely in one hand behind his back. My heart went into double-time beating. Carnades wasn’t cuffed. Dammit, dam—
Tam took a quick step toward Carnades from the side. For a split second, Carnades’s attention was on Tam—not on Mychael who closed the distance and snapped the manacles on the distracted elf mage.
Mychael stepped back. “Thanks, Tam.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Carnades’s glare, at them both, was pure murder.
Piaras laid his hand flat on the damp cave wall. “This is Regor?” he whispered to no one in particular.
My knee popped and I winced. “A cave a few miles outside of it.”
“Damn,” he whispered in awe.
I agreed with the word, not the sentiment. There was nothing awe-inspiring about being within a few miles—or even closer—of Sarad Nukpana. Terror- stricken was about right. I didn’t think any of that had sunk in for Piaras. Yet.
Tam had conjured a lightglobe of his own and sent its glow back toward the mirror. Carnades’s eyes followed the light to get a look at his mirror. The elf mage’s face suddenly contorted with rage.
“Fuck!” he roared. The echo in the cave ensured that we all got to hear the word at least five times.
“Silence!” Imala hissed.
Tam spat a choice word of his own, drew one of his swords, and vanished back into the dark of the cave. If anyone was waiting to ambush, beat the crap out of, and dump us at Sarad Nukpana’s feet, Carnades had just done a damned fine job of announcing our arrival.
I looked back at the mirror and bit back my own verbal contribution.
The tip of a crossbow bolt protruded from the mirror’s surface. The mirror itself was cracked, broken, worthless. Cracks radiated out from the bolt like a spider’s web. Carnades’s word choice confirmed loud and clear that we had no way home.
Instead of punching through the mirror, that bolt could have just as easily punched through any one of us. When Carnades had slammed that mirror shut behind us, the bolt had been trapped like a fl y in amber. There was definitely a cracked mirror here and most likely a destroyed mirror there. Neither one could get us out.
Tam, Imala, and Chigaru were home. The rest of us were trapped in Hell.
I didn’t know about everyone else, but my morale had just hit an all-time low.
Chigaru was speaking in low hissing tones with Imala. Without his bodyguards—or at least the one who hadn’t tried to kill him—the goblin prince no doubt felt as naked as the day he was born. He’d been on the run from his brother for years, and every second of that time he’d been surrounded by guards and armed courtiers. Now he was within ten or so miles of his brother and his army—without any guards. I sympathized and could have told the prince that I knew exactly how he felt. I was in similar predicament without my magic. Since Carnades didn’t know that, I kept my mouth shut.
“Jabari would never betray me,” Prince Chigaru was saying. “It was chaotic; he must have—”
“It was no mistake, Your Highness,” Imala told him firmly.
“I don’t believe it. I can’t.”
“Well, obviously you’re wrong,” Carnades snapped.
Chigaru growled and lunged for the elf mage. Fortunately, Tam got the prince by the arm as soon as he saw Carnades open his mouth to speak. A wise man, Tam. At this rate, Carnades would be lucky to make it out of the cave alive.
“Are there any unbroken mirrors nearby?” I asked anyone who might know.
“In the city,” Imala replied.
Tam released the prince’s arm, but kept his eye on him. “There are dozens . . . in the palace.”
“Say we destroy the Saghred and find a nice, big, intact mirror.” I was looking at Carnades. “Could you get us home with one of those?”
“Details of how you can accomplish that would be nice.”
“There are four blanks in the citadel mirror room,” Carnades said. “I have one in my home, and another in my Conclave office.”
“A mirror that is not linked to a specific destination.” Carnades’s words dripped with contempt, presumably at my ignorance.
I ignored it and him. I could always punch Carnades later. In fact, that image was going to be my happy thought for the entire trip.
Mychael shot a warning glance at Carnades. “The four blanks in the mirror room were against the opposite wall from ours,” Mychael explained. “Their surfaces were flat, no ripples, no reflections of the people in the room. They could be our way back.”
Mychael left “if they weren’t destroyed” unsaid. My low morale appreciated that.
“We would need to locate either a blank or active mirror in Regor,” he continued. “Carnades would redirect it to one of the blanks on Mid.”
“How long does that take?” Piaras asked.
“About half an hour for most mirror mages,” Mychael replied.
“I could do it in fifteen,” Carnades said disdainfully.
A jerk, but a talented one. “That could be fatally slow if we’ve got half the goblin army on our collective ass,” I noted. “Do you think you could speed it up?”
“That is as quick as anyone could link two mirrors,” Carnades hissed. “I have just as much motivation to escape Regor as you do.”
That statement couldn’t be more true. Sarad Nukpana hated Carnades as much as he did me. So hopefully there’d be plenty of potential getaway mirrors to choose from—and Carnades would be plenty motivated to break his own speed record when we found one of them.
I knew I couldn’t see past our meager lights into the rest of the cave, but that didn’t stop me from trying. “Why isn’t there a welcoming committee here? Not that I mind Nukpana being rude, but I do have a vested interest in why.”
“And I have a vested interest in air,” said a muffled and all-too-familiar voice—from inside the crate. “Could someone let me out?”
Never think that a situation couldn’t get any worse.
Our crate contained something besides supplies.
It had Talon stowed away inside.
It probably should’ve taken a crowbar to get into that crate, but Tam ripped into it just fine with his bare hands—probably so he could wrap them around Talon’s neck. From the look on Tam’s face, the kid would have been better off staying in the box, air or no air. Once Talon got a look at
Talon was even more scrunched up in the crate than I had been when I slammed into it. He’d wedged himself into one corner, his knees tight against his chest, head bent forward, hands clutching what looked like a small ham. My stomach rumbled.
Tam was virtually shaking with suppressed rage, and for once, Talon did the smart thing and kept his mouth shut.
“Cadet Nathrach,” Mychael said. “What a completely unpleasant and unauthorized surprise.”
Talon looked from his dad to his commander. “I can explain.”
“I seriously doubt that.” Tam reached in, grabbed his son by the front of his uniform, and with a hard twist and pull, popped Talon free from the supplies, leaving a roughly Talon-shaped indentation in a stack of blankets. But Talon, being Talon, the moment he was out he started talking. Bad idea. It was like the kid couldn’t help himself.
“I didn’t take any supplies out to make room for me.”
I didn’t think Tam heard one word the kid said.
Discipline—either of the self or the plain variety—wasn’t a big part of Talon’s thinking. He’d been on his own for much of his young life, and had used his magic any way he had to in order to survive. Talon was nearly as talented a spellsinger as Piaras, so the kid had some nifty tricks up those gray uniform sleeves, and he didn’t think twice about whipping any of them out. That there were consequences to his actions, especially to others, was just beginning to occur to him. If he ran into a problem, he had a trick to fix it. Magic wasn’t the cure-all solution to everything. Tam was trying to teach his son that. Regor was no place for Talon to continue his education.
The kid was the proverbial loose cannon. Powerful but unfocused, the majority of his magic remained uncharted waters—deep uncharted waters. That description applied to Piaras, too.
And both of them were stuck here with us.
“If we survive this,” Tam growled, “we’re going to have a long and very meaningful talk.”
“I’ll look forward to it, sir.”
“No, you won’t. I can’t change that you’re here, but I can and will change your future attitude about reckless behavior. Do I make myself clear?”
Talon glanced at Tam’s unyielding face and gulped audibly. “Completely, sir.”
Mychael broke the silence. “Tam, you’re familiar with this cave; you’ll lead us out. Cadets Rivalin and Nathrach, our bad luck is your good. Three of our team members didn’t make it through the mirror. There’s a backpack for each of you. Let’s stock up and move out.”
Just because there weren’t any Khrynsani here to meet us didn’t mean they weren’t on the way. We got our gear quickly and quietly.
“Elves, get behind a goblin,” Tam ordered.
Carnades stiffened. “What?”
Tam spoke as if explaining the obvious, which he was. “Goblins can see in the dark; elves can’t. We can’t have any light, and we can’t make any sound.”
Carnades struggled to get his pack over his shoulder. “Why not put Raine at the front? She can just obliterate anyone who comes at us.”
I’d had enough of Carnades, and we hadn’t been in Regor for more than five minutes. “And announce ourselves to every Khrynsani within a hundred miles,” I said. “Great plan.”
“I merely suggest putting our most effective weapon out front,” he said smoothly. “The goblins know what Raine is capable of. In my opinion, we would remain unmolested.”
I hated to admit it, but I agreed with him. If I’d had all of my power there for the calling, I’d want to be out front, and screw the consequences. I’d blast my way into Regor. Anything to get this over with as quickly as possible. But I didn’t have my power, and even if I did, I couldn’t use it for exactly the reason I told Carnades. Big magic would attract big attention of the goblin army kind. There was safety in sneaking.
“If I start a fight, they’re going to finish it,” I told Carnades. “Are you looking to get ‘finished’?”
Imala slung a pack over her shoulders, settled it on her back, and began tightening the straps. “Sarad knows we’re here, but if we get our asses moving, and if Raine keeps her magic to herself, he may remain ignorant of our exact location.” She shot a meaningful look at Carnades. “Silence—both of voice or magic—is the best way to ensure that Sarad remains that way.”
What a polite way to tell Carnades to keep his mouth shut. Court goblins did have a way with words.
We lined up and left the back of the cave. There was over a thousand miles between Mid and Regor. It had been late morning in Mid, so the sun had probably just risen here. Though you wouldn’t know it from where we were. Caves were absurdly dark.
Tam was leading. The rest of us followed behind, more or less in a goblin- elf order, our footfalls muffled. Not bad for shell- shocked elves in the pitch dark. Though as my eyes adjusted as much as they could, I saw that the cave wasn’t completely dark. Faint green phosphorescence clung to the damp walls from what I guessed was a fungus of some sort. The light let me at least make out Prince Chigaru’s shoulders in front of me.
Shoulders which suddenly stopped.
The sharp whistle of an incoming crossbow bolt announced we weren’t alone anymore.
I dived to the right, toward the cave wall. There was no room for swords, not to mention it was still too freaking dark. I drew one dagger in case someone tried to bring death up close and personal, but I kept it by my side. It’d suck to stab one of my own team; well, except for Carnades.
Mychael and Tam were out front. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them. Imala had enough magic to shield Chigaru who had none. Carnades had probably crawled into a crack in the wall with his hands over his head. Either that or a Khrynsani had tacked him to the wall on the first volley.
The twang of bow strings was abruptly replaced by steel-on-steel combat.
The goblins were happy to continue trying to kill us in the dark. Mychael’s shout of a two-word spell killed their happy real quick.
Light, blazing like the sun at high noon lit the cave. Happy turned to pained shouts and hisses. Tam, Imala, and Chigaru didn’t like it, but each had shielded their eyes with one hand and kept weapons moving in the other.
Amazing thing about survival instinct, when your body realizes it’s in deep and stinky stuff, your eyes find a way to see just a little better than they ordinarily could; your hearing was just a little sharper; your reflexes faster.
I didn’t see the Khrynsani’s lunge at my left side; I felt the air displaced by his movement, and slashed my long dagger across the back of his wrist. With a pained hiss, the goblin jerked his sword back only to instantly close distance with his dagger, giving me a slice of my own. I detected a flash of fang-filled grin right before he stepped in for what he thought was the kill. The Khrynsani froze for a fraction of a second, but it was long enough for me to bury my blade
The last expression on his face wasn’t just terror; it was recognition. The goblin saw me and knew who I was, and for those two blinks, he’d been scared pissless. The way my day had been going, it was nice to be appreciated, even if it was for a power I didn’t have anymore, or at least not right now, when I could really use it.
Two Khrynsani were moving on Tam, and Mychael’s sudden sunlight didn’t stop their forward momentum. I couldn’t throw a knife that far, and even if I could, I’d probably just hit them in the head with the pommel.
Rocks were much easier.
We were in a cave, so rocks were plentiful. No one was charging me, so I scooped up a fist-sized rock, and chucked it hard at the head of the Khrynsani closest to Tam. It took him in the temple, and he went down like the rock that’d hit him.
Unfortunately, some of the Khrynsani had been a little faster than their brothers in adjusting to the light, and I became the center of a lot of unwanted attention.
They recognized me, too.
Judging from the number of Khrynsani readying spells and mouthing incantations, Sarad Nukpana had told them that I was to be the guest of honor. Flattered, I did not feel.
All the rocks in that cave weren’t going to save my bacon.
But a volley of bolts to the Khrynsani’s backs did.
I didn’t know how many Khrynsani were in that cave, but the newcomers had put a dead-on-target bolt in each and every one.
They were hooded and cloaked, but I caught a glimpse here and there of gray skin. Goblins. The Khrynsani were dead, but the newcomers had reloaded and held their crossbows at the ready.
One goblin stepped out in front of the others. Tall and rangy from what I could tell. He stared straight at Tam, then turned his hooded face toward me.
“Nice throwing arm,” he said.
I flexed my hand around the rock I still held. “I stay in practice. You never know who you’re going to meet.” I tossed a rock casually in one hand, and spoke without taking my eyes off the goblin. “Tam, he seems to know you. Who have we just met?”
“My brother,” Tam said, his eyes never leaving the robed figure.
I damned near dropped the rock on my foot. “Your what?”
“His brother, Mistress Benares.” The goblin raised his crossbow and leveled it at Tam. “Welcome home.”
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