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Armed & Magical

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Armed & Magical

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Author: Lisa Shearin
Publisher: Ace Books, 2008
Series: Raine Benares: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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"My name is Raine Benares. Until last week I was a seeker, a finder of things lost and people missing. Now I'm psychic roommates with the Saghred, an ancient stone with cataclysmic powers. Just me, the stone, and all the souls its ingested over the centuries. Crowded doesn't even begin to describe it. All I want is my life back, which means getting rid of the stone and the power it possesses.

"To sort things out, I head for the Isle of Mid, home to the most prestigious sorcery school, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users. Its also home to power-grubbing mages who want me dead and goblins who see me as a thief. As if that's not enough, Mid's best student spellsingers are disappearing left and right, and I'm expected to find them. Lives are at stake, goblins are threatening to sue, mages are getting greedier, and the stone's power is getting stronger by the hour. This could get ugly."


Armed & Magical
Chapter 1

"Once again I'm glad I'm not welcome in polite society," I muttered.

Phaelan grunted in agreement. My cousin wasn't welcome in polite society either, but for a different reason. He was a pirate. Excuse me, seafaring businessman. I was a seeker. Among some magic users, seeking didn't rate much higher than pirating. I didn't care what some magic users thought.

There had to be a better way to spend our first day on the Isle of Mid than listening to over-educated mage professors making long-winded speeches, but our guards hadn't asked us what we wanted.

Our guards were a pair of Guardians from the Conclave of Sorcerers. We were in their citadel's tower overlooking the town's main square where the boring speeches were being made. We weren't prisoners, but we weren't exactly guests.

My accommodations in the citadel were bright, airy, more than comfortable, with a sweeping view of Mid's harbor. Being a member of the Benares family, I kind of expected something along the lines of dark, damp, with a view of iron bars. Sometimes it's nice to be disappointed. Phaelan had opted to stay on his ship anchored in Mid's harbor. Good choice. At least he had one.

Phaelan was here because he'd come with me. I was here because I had to be.

My name is Raine Benares. I'm an elf and a seeker--a finder of things lost and people missing. I can now add "finder of stones of cataclysmic power" to my resume. I found one last week, and I can't get rid of it, or the cataclysmic power it gave me as some sort of sick and twisted finder's fee.

The stone with the warped sense of humor is called the Saghred. It's a black rock about the size of a man's fist that fell from the sky a millennium ago, more or less. In ancient times, armies that carried the Saghred before them were indestructible--and their adversaries were annihilated. You'd think something as small as the Saghred couldn't cause all that much trouble, but you'd be wrong--apparently size really doesn't matter.

Every magic user who'd been bonded to the Saghred had gone crazy. Not crazy like an eccentric aunt, but take-over-the-world-and-kill-millions kind of crazy. The Saghred and I were bonded, but I couldn't sense it now. It was locked in a containment room in the lowest level of the citadel, under heavy guard, and spellbound under layers of the strongest bindings the Guardians could weave. But it'd already done its damage to me. I no longer needed the Saghred's help to do the things I could do now. My magical skill level used to be marginal. I didn't know what my limits were now--or even if I had any limits. I didn't know if the Guardians were keeping me in the citadel for my own protection or for everyone else's. I didn't think the Guardians were all that sure either.

I didn't want a link with a legendary stone of power. That's why I was here. One of those fancy-robed, speech-making mages trying to impress new students and their parents with a lot of long words might be my only hope of getting rid of it. That thought alone was almost as scary as the stone I was attached to.

The Isle of Mid was home to the most prestigious college for sorcery, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users in the seven kingdoms. Classes for the fall semester were starting in a few days, hence the pompous speeches. Parents with magically talented kids had to shell out a lot of gold to send their darlings to the Conclave's college. I guess the faculty wanted to assure the parents they'd be getting their money's worth.

A tower room in a citadel was the last place I wanted to be. However, my guards looked downright content. Vegard and Riston were both big and human, and Vegard was endearingly homicidal. The Guardians' sworn duty was to protect the members of the Conclave and defend the Isle of Mid against any outside threat, but they spent most of their time protecting the Conclave, students and citizens from each other. The Guardians were sorcerers and warriors, and keeping the peace in a city of sorcerers gave them plenty of practice at being both.

Vegard and Riston's job today was to guard and protect me. And considering that I was in a tower room in the Guardians' citadel, it looked like a pretty plum assignment. I mean, how much trouble could a girl get into under heavy guard in a tower room? Notice I didn't ask that question out loud. No need to rub Fate's nose in something when I'd been tempting her enough lately.

Phaelan had generously offered his guard services as well, just in case something happened to me that my Guardian bodyguards couldn't handle. Phaelan's guard-on-duty stance resembled his pirate-on-shore-leave stance of leaning back in a chair with his feet up, but instead of a tavern table, his boots were doing a fine job of holding down the windowsill. I don't know how I'd ever felt safe without him.

My cousin looked like the rest of my family--dark hair, dark eyes, dark good looks, equally dark disposition. I stood out like a flaming match at night with my long red gold hair, gray eyes, and pale skin. Considering my present circumstances, I was surprised there weren't a few white hairs among the red.

Phaelan leaned forward, looking down into the square. "What's he saying?"

"That's Loran Abas, professor emeritus of chanting," Vegard told him.

My cousin blinked. "There's a class for that?"

"Afraid so. Trust me, you don't want to hear what he's saying. Though if you'd like, I can fix it so you can."

Vegard didn't say if that fixing would involve magic, but I suspected it did. Phaelan wasn't a big fan of magic.

"No, thanks."

We were about four stories up, and the window was just an opening in the fortress wall, so I could hear snatches of what some of the professors were saying, but that was about it, and that was fine with me.

The blond Guardian shrugged. "Your choice, but you're missing out on some of the finest-quality, droning bullshit you'll ever hear."

Phaelan's expression never changed. "My world will go on without it."

"Sat through more than your share of those?" I asked Vegard.

"Stood through is more like it--at attention. Over the years, I've learned to block out the voice of virtually anyone. It's a gift I'm glad to say I have."

"It also makes it easier to hear the audience's comments," Riston added. "That's the entertaining part right there."

I looked back down at the sea of humanity, and elves, goblins and dwarves. A tall and leanly muscled elf in the steel gray uniform of the Guardians stood on the raised stage just behind Archmagus Justinius Valerian's chair at his right hand. Mychael Eiliesor. I couldn't make out his expression, but I was sure it was a perfect, polite, professional mask.

Mychael Eiliesor was the paladin and commander of the Guardians. He was also an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, coated in yum. The yum was apparent to any female with working eyes. What wasn't apparent was what was going on behind Mychael's tropical sea blue eyes.

I liked Mychael. I think Mychael liked me, but he wasn't about to let liking me get in the way of his duty. As paladin, protecting the Saghred was his responsibility. And since the Saghred and I were psychic roommates, that protection extended to me. He took that job very seriously. Regardless of how Mychael felt about me, he wasn't taking any chances. That caution took the form of Vegard and Riston, tower rooms, and plush and all-too-secure accommodations. The words "gilded cage" came to mind. I didn't like cages; it didn't matter what they were made of.

Archmagus Justinius Valerian rose and approached the podium as the final speaker. The archmagus had absolute authority over the Isle of Mid and everyone on it. He was also the mage Mychael had deemed most likely to help me sever my link with the Saghred.

The audience greeted their archmagus with cheers and whistles. I didn't know if the cheers were for Justinius, or because he was the final speaker, or both. Either way, the wall of sound was almost deafening.

A slow grin spread over Vegard's face. "This is usually good. In our younger days, if we weren't on duty, we'd meet at the tavern across the street to listen to the old man."

I must have looked unenlightened at his source of amusement.

"We did shots at every sarcastic remark," Riston clarified.

Vegard grinned. "We got so drunk."

The archmagus stepped up to the podium. The other speakers had used notes; Justinius Valerian used his brain. As to sarcasm, his speech had plenty to go around. The old man spared no one. The loudest cheers from the student section came after snarky comments aimed directly at them. The worse the abuse, the louder the cheers. I smiled. They were probably doing shots down there, too. The students loved him.

I wasn't the only one taking advantage of an upper floor window as a vantage point. Nearly every window of houses, shops, and businesses around the main square were filled with spectators. The window directly across from ours had been empty.

It wasn't anymore.

Oh hell.

The archmagus's voice faded into the background as Banan Ryce gave me a casual salute.

Banan Ryce was commander of the Nightshades. Nightshades were elves--they were also assassins, kidnappers, blackmailers, or whatever they had been given enough gold to do. I knew Banan; he'd met me. Let's just leave it at that.

Thanks to my Saghred-enhanced skills, I knew that Banan's salute was more than a greeting for me, it was a signal, and his people in the crowd below responded. Some moved into position, others were already where they needed to be to do whatever it was they were going to do. I knew exactly which ones were there at Banan's bidding as surely as if they had a bright red spot painted on top of their heads.

I stood. "We've got trouble."

I felt Vegard and Riston's power flare behind me. It would be way too little, far too late.

Vegard tried to shield me, with both body and wards. "Where?"

I didn't let him do either. "Everywhere. At least thirty Nightshades. They're all over the square and they're moving. That's Banan Ryce in that window there. You know him?"

Vegard looked, saw Banan, and spat an obscenity that described him perfectly. Sounded like Vegard knew Banan, too.

I could see into the collective minds of the Nightshades. Their intentions were as clear as if they had yelled them up to me. They were going to collapse the stage. They weren't aiming for the stage itself or the dignitaries seated on it; they were going for the supports under the stage. The stage was a good dozen feet above the street. The Guardians posted around the base of the stage would be crushed under the combined weight of falling wood and people. The fall from the stage might kill some; but the Nightshades were there to ensure their two main targets didn't survive.

Justinius Valerian and Mychael Eiliesor.

"Target?" Riston was suddenly at my other side.

"Mychael and the archmagus. The Nightshades are collapsing the stage," I said.

And a lot of people were going to die when they did.

Vegard saw Banan's people moving. "Riston alert--"

Riston was already charging down the stairs. "I'm on it!" he yelled back.

I dimly heard him shouting orders. Everything below had melted into slow motion. Banan's men stopped, and I felt their power quickly building. Armed Guardians were pouring out of the citadel, but they wouldn't get there in time. The spells of Banan's people weren't silent, but there were too many of them. If only a handful of them survived, it would be enough to do what they'd planned.

Kill the archmagus and the paladin, and take a lot of innocent people with them when they did it.

I didn't think; I just reacted. I could move small objects with my mind; the same went for stopping. That was what I could do before the Saghred. From my vantage point, the Nightshades were just small objects in need of moving and stopping. I didn't have to break them, just their concentration. I struck, and the ones who hadn't bothered to magically shield themselves went flying. None of them landed on their feet, and some of them were thrown against buildings. None of those got back up. That maneuver alone cut Banan's numbers by half.

Banan laughed and applauded in the window across from me. Panicked screams came from below. The stage was collapsing on itself. My hand instinctively shot out to stop it. Four stories up made no difference. I'd always used gestures when moving anything bigger than myself; it helped me to focus my magic. The stage wasn't a small object. The screams faded in my ears, and all I could hear was the hissing in and out of my own breathing. I didn't know how long I'd be able to keep the stage from falling, but I suspected it wouldn't be long. What I was doing was mind over matter. Problem was, my mind couldn't get past how heavy that matter was. And I was doing it alone. No Saghred, just me. The new, improved, really scary me.

Mychael was helping Justinius Valerian off the stage. I had no idea how Mychael managed to steady them both on the pitching and collapsing platform, but he was paladin for a reason. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a crossbow bolt fly toward them. Valerian saw it, too. He viciously spat something at it and the bolt reversed direction and hit the sniper in the chest, sending him off the rooftop and down to the street.

The stage was coming down whether I wanted it to or not. Gravity would only be defied for so long. My hand shook violently as I let what was left of the stage come to rest on the cobbles, praying that everyone around the perimeter was out of the way. My breathing was ragged and I heard gasps and whimpers I dimly recognized as me.

"Good job, ma'am," I heard Vegard say. His voice tight with awe and maybe fear.

Phaelan looked a little wild-eyed. "Shit."

Yeah. I felt the same way.

I leaned over and rested my hands on wobbly knees, trying to get my wind back. I could barely lift my head, let alone another stage. I looked out the window.

Banan Ryce was on the street and in a big hurry to get somewhere, and it looked like that somewhere was away from me. He vanished into the student section.

I pushed Vegard and Phaelan out of the way and stumbled down the stairs. Black speckles danced on the edges of my vision and I felt woozy. I pushed that out of the way, too.

"Stop!" Vegard yelled.

I didn't stop, but I didn't get away from him, either. I'd just lifted a stage; he hadn't.

He stopped me with a hand on my arm. I noticed that it was a very respectful hand, no hard grip.

"I'm going after him." My strength was coming back, and my rage had never left me. "I'm a seeker. I can track the bastard."

Vegard hesitated, clearly torn between duty and getting his hands on Banan Ryce.

"Go." His voice was more growl than words. "We've got your back."

I didn't stop to ask who besides Vegard had my back. I assumed it was Riston and Phaelan. Truth was, I didn't care. I'd have gone after Banan Ryce alone. It wouldn't have been smart, but I was too angry to worry about smarts and my own safety right now.

The square was chaos. Wading through a crowd of panicked people was bad enough, but multiply that times ten when those people were magic users. They were scared, they were angry, and they were looking to protect themselves. The magical distortion from their shields should have negated any tracking I could do. It didn't. Banan Ryce's magical scent rode the air. Time to remind the bastard just how good a seeker I was, new powers or not.

I tracked Banan to a side street that was little more than an alley. He wasn't trying to hide; he was trying to run. I didn't blame him. You didn't try to kill that many people and hang around for kudos.

"Wait," Vegard told me. He scanned the crowd over my head. "Jori!" he bellowed.

Moments later, a young Guardian pushed his way through the crowd to us. His eyes were borderline panicked. "Sir Vegard, what happened? Who--"

"Later," Vegard yelled over the screaming and shouting people surging around us.

The kid had a crossbow. He didn't look old enough to use it. I was, and better yet, I had a target. I didn't need magic to take out Banan Ryce.

"I need your bow," I told him.

The young Guardian looked to Vegard.

"Give it to her," Vegard ordered. "And your bolts, too."

He obeyed. Vegard was getting downright handy to have around.

"Riston and Captain Benares are somewhere behind us," Vegard told him. "Find them and tell them we've gone in there." He jerked his head toward the alley. "We want backup."

The young man's eyes went wide. "Benares?"

"Yes, that Captain Benares," Vegard barked. "Get over it."

"Yes, sir. Over it, sir. I'll find Sir Riston."

Vegard and I crossed the street and stopped with our backs against the wall leading into the alley. I knew Banan had stopped somewhere in that alley. I could feel him. Turning that corner just might get our heads blown off.

"How many ways out of that alley?" I asked Vegard.

"One exit, one courtyard."

I somehow knew Banan wasn't going for the exit. "He's in the courtyard waiting for something, and I don't think it's us."

Vegard drew his ax off his back. His hands and the ax blade flickered with blue fire. Now that's what I called backup.

I checked around the corner. The alley was empty. We went in. The entrance to the courtyard was about halfway down the alley.

The heat from two furnaces against the far wall hit us head on. Leaning against walls and lying on tables were mirrors in various stages of completion. There were piles of sand for making them, and crates for shipping them.

A mirror factory. Just my kind of place.

Some of the mirrors were man height. They could have been mirrors to admire yourself in, or they could be an exit for Banan--or an entrance for his backup. I hated mirrors.

Mirror magic took a lot of discipline, a lot of concentration, and could make a lot of trouble if the mage were so inclined. Mirror mages could use mirrors to translocate people, manifest creatures, or move objects from one place to another. Then there was the spying and peeking that could be done from any bespelled and unwarded mirror. I was sure there were perfectly moral mirror mages--I just hadn't met any.

Banan was there and he wasn't alone. He could never resist leaving a crime scene without a souvenir. In this case, his souvenir was also a hostage.

She was young, blond and terrified. From her age and the simple robes she wore, she was probably a student.

As leader of the Nightshades, Banan had spent a lot of time outdoors and looked it. His dark hair and tanned face were a startling contrast to his pale green eyes. He was rugged, he was handsome, and he knew it. He also fancied himself a ladies man. Unfortunately the ladies he fancied didn't always fancy him back, and that was just the way Banan liked it. Murder was his job; rape was what he did for fun.

Banan didn't look concerned in the least to see himself on the business end of my crossbow. "Ah, Raine, you found us. I should have known you would sniff me out. You were magnificent back there. You performed just as I'd expected--and as my clients were promised. Everybody's happy."

The bastard had set me up. Someone wanted to see what I could do, and Banan had set up the audition.

"Well, almost everybody." Banan's grin was crooked. He thought it was charming. "My two targets survived, didn't they?"

"They did."

The elf shrugged. "Well, if at first you don't succeed..."

I pushed down the urge to pull the trigger. The girl was too close to Banan for comfort, either mine or hers. The urge didn't go without a fight. That was fine; I didn't plan to keep it locked down for long. As soon as I could get her out of my line of fire, I'd give Banan a performance I could be proud of. I'd even put a little magical something extra on the tip of the bolt that'd slice through his shields like hot butter.

I gazed down the bolt's shaft. I had a gratifyingly clear shot at the space between Banan's green eyes. He pulled the girl tighter against him. Vegard growled low in the back of his throat, and his magic clawed the air with the sound. Banan ignored him, all of his attention on me. He didn't consider Vegard much of a threat. His mistake.

"Wouldn't it be easier to use the Saghred?" Banan taunted me.

"I only use the rock against big trouble. You don't make my list." I kept my concentration where it belonged--on the sweet spot between Banan's eyes. "Let her go."

The elf smiled. "Not going to happen."

I held the crossbow steady; my finger tightened on the trigger. "Never hurts to ask first."

A familiar fire bloomed in the center of my chest. Fire to consume Banan Ryce, and anyone who might step out of a mirror to help him. The fire and the Saghred's power that fed it blazed under my breastbone, white hot and raging. Just call it, came the whispered impulse in my mind. The power was mine for the taking. I shoved down the fire and the impulse. I swallowed them hard and held them down. The fire flickered and writhed, trying to get around my will. I pressed harder and it stopped. The tip of the crossbow bolt wavered.

Banan saw it and laughed.

"You want the power--and I know you want me." His voice was low, compelling. "Put down the crossbow and take me, Raine. Like you have a choice."

The fire had diminished to a warm, soft glow, a harmless glow, a glow that only wanted to help me protect the girl. Just to help. Help me. My hands were sweating.

The Saghred was talking to me inside my head. That was impossible. The Saghred was spellbound, under guard, and under lock and key.

Only as long as you want it to be.

It wasn't a whisper; it wasn't even a voice. It was the truth. If I willed it, the Saghred would shake off its bindings and destroy Banan Ryce.

Banan faded into the background, so did Vegard and the girl. It was just me and the Saghred. The fire burned and the temptation grew. I clenched my jaw against them both. I would not be used.

My finger tightened on the trigger.

A flash of reflected mirror light blinded me.

I dropped to the ground and rolled. If I couldn't see, I was a target. Banan had been doing more than admiring his reflection. Strong hands grabbed me. I tried to bring the crossbow up.

"It's me!"


"I've got you." Vegard took the bow and hauled me to my feet, pulling us both behind a stack of packing crates. I couldn't see the crates, but I could smell the wood.

The girl screamed.

"Stay!" Vegard ordered me.

I nodded past the tears streaming down my face. I wasn't crying, but apparently my eyes were. Vegard let me go, and I heard him step out from behind the crate. He swore.

I blinked my eyes back to working order and looked where Banan had been.

He was gone and the girl along with him. The surface of one of the big mirrors rippled from recent use. Banan had just dragged his prize out of another mirror somewhere on the island, the mirror this one had been linked to--and there was no way in hell of finding out where it was. Mirror magic left no trace or trail. As a seeker, that was why I really hated mirrors.

Guardians ran into the courtyard; Riston and Phaelan were with them. An officer I didn't recognize approached us. He saluted Vegard, then he looked at me. I was tear streaked, dust covered, and I imagine I wasn't much to look at.

"Ma'am, I need you to come with us."

Copyright © 2008 by Lisa Shearin


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