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The Trouble with Demons

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The Trouble with Demons

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Author: Lisa Shearin
Publisher: Ace Books, 2009
Series: Raine Benares: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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For seeker Raine Benares, a demon infestation on the Isle of Mid couldn't come at a worse time. Already fighting the influence of the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone, Raine discovers she is also magically bonded to a dark mage and a white knight, two dangerous and powerful men on opposing sides.Turns out, the demons want the key to unlock the Saghred. As a seeker, Raine should be able to find it first. As the axis of light and dark powers, she's a magical cataclysm waiting to happen.


The Trouble with Demons
Chapter 1

I knew there was evil in the world. Death and taxes were all necessary evils.

So was shopping.

"I hate shopping," I muttered.

"Of course you do," Phaelan said. "You're a Benares. We're not used to paying for anything." Phaelan was my cousin; he called himself a seafaring businessman. Law enforcement in every major port city called him that damned pirate, or less flattering epithets, none of them repeatable here.

I really hated shopping. More to the point, I hated the aggravation of having to go into one shop after another to actually find the things I needed, things I had to have. Which was really strange considering what I did for a living.

My name is Raine Benares. I'm an elf and a seeker--and then some.

Two weeks ago, I found the Saghred--an ancient stone of cataclysmic power, an annihilator of armies, a stealer of souls, eater of spellsingers, and the bane of my existence. The soul-sucking rock attached itself to me like a psychic leech. My magical skill level used to be marginal. Now I don't think I have any limits.

So I came to the only place with people who could possibly help me.

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. My new talents put me at the top of every power-hungry mage's most-wanted list. They wanted to kill me, or kidnap and use me, or keep me locked up for the rest of my life. I just wanted to get rid of the damned rock.

Since arriving on the island, I'd stepped hard on some faculty toes, assaulted the number two mage on the island (he started it), single-handedly stormed the elven embassy, then topped it off with a walk on black magic's wild side with a sexy goblin dark mage. It was a good way to make a bad first impression.

If that wasn't enough, now I had to go shopping. I had one good set of leathers, and I was wearing them: trousers, above-the-knee boots, and my favorite doublet, all in form-fitting, supple brown leather. I liked the doublet because it had steel links woven between the outer leather and inner lining. It also had leather sleeves to hide my weapons, a pair of knives in forearm sheaths I carried when I knew someone was going to jump me, but I just didn't know when, which over the past few weeks had become the story of my life.

My leathers had taken a beating since I'd arrived on Mid, and as little as I liked it, I had to replace them, hence the need to shop.

"Have you considered something in scarlet leather?" Phaelan mused from beside me.

"Have you considered just painting a bull's-eye on my back?" I retorted.

My cousin wasn't with me because he liked shopping. He was by my side because being within five feet of me was a guarantee of getting into trouble of the worst kind. Phaelan hadn't plundered or pillaged anything in weeks. He was bored. So this morning, he was a cocky, swaggering invitation for Trouble to bring it on and do her worst.

Phaelan ignored my irritation, and his grin flashed white against his tanned face. "Raine, everyone knows who you are, what you are, and where you are. It's not like you're trying to hide."

"Ma'am, there are mages on this island who could kill you without even seeing you."

That cheerful insight came from Vegard Rolfgar, Conclave Guardian, my bodyguard, and my personal shadow. He was big, blond, bearded, and human--classic Myloran sea-raider stock. The Guardians were sorcerers and warriors and had the dubious honor of being peacekeepers on an island packed with mage bureaucrats, mage professors, and teenage mages in training--a volatile combination any way you looked at it.

"Yes, I've got a price on my head and every other body part," I said. "Do either one of you have a point?"

Phaelan's laugh was more like a bark. "Live fast, die young, and leave behind a damned fine-dressed corpse."

My cousin favored scarlet, but today he was a vision in royal blue. His trousers were leather, his doublet was suede slashed to reveal the whitest of linen shirts. High leather boots matched his belt and baldric, all of black leather, and his dark hair was tied into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. Phaelan's favorite rapier swung comfortably at his side, with a brace of long daggers behind his back. There were plenty of other bladed weapons out of sight, but within quick reach. Our family didn't like to be caught short.

I made a show of looking him over. "Much like yourself?"

Phaelan leveled those dark eyes on me. "Cousin, you can slink around this island in black or brown, or you can show the bastards that your balls are bigger than theirs. You're the Saghred's best friend; they're scared shitless of you."

The aforementioned bastards also wanted what I had--potentially unlimited power without the insanity and death side effects that typically went with Saghred exposure and use. But just because contact with the rock hadn't turned me into a cackling loony or killed me yet didn't mean that a padded room with level twelve wards wasn't in my not-so-distant future.

I had to be careful; more than careful, vigilant. Of the Saghred, but mostly of myself. As long as I tapped its power, the rock didn't give a damn what I did with it. Even though I had only done good things for the right reasons--like refusing to stand by and let innocent people be killed--using the Saghred's power to prevent those deaths had probably brought me one step closer to crazy. Or not. Everyone else who had used the Saghred had quickly gone off the deep end. I hadn't. And no one, including me, knew why.

I wasn't sure which was more dangerous anymore, me or the rock.

"How do you think Dad and I control those mangy, homicidal maniacs we call our crews?" Phaelan was saying. "There's always one or two that step out of line. We simply turn them into a well-publicized example, and the rest behave themselves."

I just looked at him. "How about they're just mangy, money-grubbing, homicidal maniacs who put up with your crap to get a cut of the gold a Benares ship brings in?"

Phaelan flashed a crooked grin. "There's that, too."

At least Phaelan knew who'd be planting daggers between his shoulder blades. I had no freaking clue. Don't get me wrong; I knew the names and faces of most of the mages or bureaucrats who wanted me dead or snatched. I also knew that they'd never dream of getting my blood on their lily-pure hands. They'd hire someone else to do it for them. Generally the rich and powerful were tighter than a banker's fist on their purse strings, but if they wanted something done badly enough, they'd be willing to cough up the coin. They also did their homework before they hired help to ensure they'd be getting their money's worth. So chances were any assassin or kidnapper they sent after me would be pros who knew their business. Phaelan knew the cream of the crop by name and on sight. I knew a couple of them myself--some a little too well. Phaelan had men staking out the docks who knew who to look for and runners who would bring news of any sightings to his flagship, the Fortune. So if a pro stepped off of a ship, boat, or dinghy, Phaelan and I would have his or her name within minutes, but that didn't stop the space between my shoulder blades from itching.

I had Phaelan and Vegard with me and four uniformed Guardians around them. They were close, but not too close. Other Guardians in plain clothes mingled with the crowds. Most women go shopping with their girlfriends; I go with an armed escort.


Within the hour, the armorer had taken my measurements and would be making me some leathers a woman could be proud of wearing and safe being seen in--or shot at.

I'd ordered three ensembles: one in black, one in brown, and one in midnight blue. To his credit, the man didn't balk at the rush job. I knew he wanted me to be wearing his work as soon as possible. When someone finally did take a shot or stab at me, he wanted to make sure it was his leathers that saved my hide. There was nothing like a foiled hit to boost business.

Phaelan was less than thrilled with my choice of colors.

"You wear red," I told him as we left the shop. "I don't. With my red hair it'd make me look like a lit match."

Something blue darted on the edge of my vision. Several blue somethings, man-sized, about a quarter of a block ahead. A blue so bright that it gave Phaelan's doublet a run for its money.

One of them stopped and stared at me.

I stopped breathing.

The thing was standing in the middle of the street, people flowing around it like it wasn't even there.

It was blue, all right. From its clawed feet to the top of its bald and horned head. Blue.

It was also naked.

I couldn't tell if it was male or female, and I really didn't want to get close enough to find out. But it didn't appear to have anything to indicate that it was either sex. Creepy.

It grinned at me and darted down a side street.

I think my mouth fell open. "What's bright blue and buck naked?" I never took my eyes from where it'd gone.

"Hmmm, I don't know," Phaelan mused. "I haven't heard that one. Vegard?"

The big Guardian shrugged. "New joke?"

"No joke," I told them both. "You didn't see it, did you?"

At the tension in my voice, Vegard moved in front of me. Protectively. Annoyingly. Now I couldn't see anything. I ducked under his arm and headed for that side street. Vegard reached out to push me behind him and I ducked out of reach and ran. Phaelan and the Guardians were right on our heels.

"They were blue, naked, claw-footed, with horns on their heads," I told Vegard.

"What?" The Guardian stopped, pulling me with him. "Ma'am, are you sure you haven't been--"

I drew breath to retort, but a scream from that side street answered him better than I could.

It's been my experience that nothing clears a crowded street quicker than a scream. In this instance, I approved of crowd cowardice. Fewer people on the street meant fewer people hurt. It also meant fewer people between me and where I was determined to go. And if I had to drag a big, blond Guardian behind me, so be it.

Vegard drew a massive battle-ax from the harness on his back, the steel blade shimmering pale blue with magic.

He insisted on looking around the corner first. I let him.

He took a look and relaxed the arm holding the ax. "Ma'am, there's nothing there." He said it as if nothing was precisely what he expected to find.

I wasn't giving up. "What about the scream?"

"One scream, no victim--at least not here." Vegard turned to a pair of Guardians in plain clothes. "Erik, take Dacan and see if you can track down where--"

I stepped around Vegard to look down that street myself. "I can't believe there's no..." I looked, saw, jumped back, and flattened myself against the stone wall beside Vegard.

There were nearly a dozen of us. There were more of them. A lot more.

"Vegard, there are definitely--"

The scream turned into a shriek, and it was coming from that street.

Phaelan had his rapier in his hand and stepped around the corner. In a split second, his face went from combative to confused. "What the hell?"

"I don't have it!" A terrified voice shrieked.

Vegard and I looked where Phaelan was looking. An elf in mage robes was rolling around in the street, cringing and trying to cover his head. Just him, no one else. Apparently that's what Phaelan and Vegard saw.

I saw a gang of blue monsters mugging a mage.

I tried to duck past Vegard. The big Guardian moved with me this time, completely blocking my way.

"But they're beating the crap out of him!" And I was tempted to beat the same thing out of Vegard.

"Who are they, ma'am?"

I swore. The creatures had to be using a cloaking spell of some kind. I desperately looked around for something, anything. There it was. A broken piece of cobble. Perfect. I bared my teeth in grim satisfaction, took aim, and threw that chunk of brick as hard as I could at the closest blue head.

It hit. The pain made the thing drop its cloak, and it turned, thin blue lips curling back to show me a collection of jagged, unnervingly sharp, and entirely too many teeth. One by one, the others did the same as they left the elf lying motionless in the street and turned on us.

Sometimes it was bad when a plan worked. The "I told you so" on my lips turned into the four-letter word that I rarely use.

Now Phaelan and Vegard saw what I saw.

Phaelan didn't say anything; he just blanched.

"Demons!" Vegard bellowed to his men.

The Guardians drew weapons shimmering with magic, magic that would slice through anything it touched. Vegard picked me up and forcibly put me behind him. I didn't stay there. Thanks to me, we had the undivided attention of over two dozen blue and now angry demons, so Vegard didn't have time to argue with me.
Some of the demons cloaked again.

Vegard's pale blue eyes darted. "Dammit!"

"It's a cloak," I told him.

I drew the pair of swords strapped across my back. The longer my steel, the farther away I could stay from those things. In theory.

"You can see them?" Vegard asked.

"Yeah, I'm just lucky that way." I centered my attention on the demon that had focused his yellow eyes on me. He grinned. I didn't.

I felt Vegard's power building beside me.

"Shield your eyes," he ordered.

"What are you--"

"Street dust," he said with a vicious smile. "No cloak is that solid."

I half covered my eyes, and with a simple gesture and word, Vegard kicked up a dust storm, coating the demons in dust and whatever else was in the gutters. The cloaked demons were still cloaked, but thanks to Vegard's dirt bath, everyone could see them just fine. I loved a man who could think dirty on his feet.

The demons charged. We spread out to give ourselves room to fight. I claimed a piece of street with a wall at my back. Better a wall than a demon.

"Want some company?" Phaelan's maniacal grin told me this was the most fun he'd had since last week, when he'd helped blast a hole in the elven embassy.

Phaelan wasn't the only one who wanted to keep me company. The demon who'd targeted me was closing distance fast. He didn't have a weapon. Those horns and talon-tipped hands were weapons. When he was within range, I opened his gut with the tip of one of my blades. I expected insides to fall out, not his hand to go into the hole I'd made, making it bigger.

Oh, that wasn't good.

The demon grinned wider and pulled out a fistful of something you'd think he'd need to keep. The stench was all too familiar.

I was almost too disgusted to move. Almost.

The demon flung it right at us.

"Incoming!" I yelled. I ducked and pulled Phaelan with me.

The glob splattered on the wall behind us, sizzling coin-sized holes in the brick. Coin-sized holes that could have been in us. The demon reached in and reloaded.

We weren't going to be here when that hand came out.

Vegard nearly sliced a demon in half with his ax. The demon healed. Immediately. One second he was almost in two parts, then he wasn't. Vegard coolly noted it and put his ax back in its harness. When he'd sheathed his weapon, his hands glowed incandescent white.

Change of tactics. One of the things the Saghred had done was to make me a fast learner when it came to magic. I didn't have to tap the stone, just use the power boost the Saghred had given the abilities I already had, letting me save my skin without risking my soul.

Phaelan was darting and weaving, trying to get in close enough to take out that demon's hands before the demon could take out more ammo.

"What the hell are you doing?" he shouted.

I kept my eyes on Vegard's glowing hands. "Learning."

It was the same concept as a lightglobe, times a thousand. Basic magic, multiplied into something lethal. I looked down at my hands and concentrated. Considering that two dozen demons had us pinned down, I did my concentrating real quick. I had almost conjured a respectable flare of light when one of the demons roared.

I damned near jumped out of my skin. "Son of a bitch!"

I tried again, this time through gritted teeth. The teeth gritting must have helped, because in the next instant, I was lobbing fireballs along with Vegard.

Mine weren't as big as his and didn't glow as bright, but they made up for it in tenacity. These weren't flames the demons could drop and roll to put out. It was sticking to them--and burning. Saghred-enhanced magic was saving my biscuits once again.

The elven mage was struggling weakly to drag himself out of the middle of the street. A demon blocked his way. He was taller than the others, his skin darker, almost purple. The mage looked up, eyes wide with panic, and said something I couldn't hear.

"Vegard, cover me!" I yelled.

I didn't wait for a response. Rage fed the fireballs in my hands until I could feel the heat. I ran toward the mage, hurling the fireballs at the demon as one clawed hand locked around the mage's throat, claws piercing his flesh, pulling him to his feet and tearing his throat out doing it. The demon simply raised his free hand, and one of my fireballs ricocheted off of it and came right back at me.

I swore and ducked. The fireball hit the wall behind me and burned straight through the brick. Seconds later, I heard flames crackling from inside. Crap.

The demon was staring at me, his eyes yellow with a vertical slit for a pupil, like a goat. But unlike any goat I'd ever seen, the demon's pupils glowed red.
A familiar fire bloomed in the center of my chest. The Saghred. I silently went through a litany of curses. I did not need this now. I braced myself for the surge of Saghred-spawned power that was coming. Power that would consume me, force me to fight it rather than the demon. Power that was going to get me killed just like that mage.

Nothing. No surge, no force, nothing. What the hell?

The demon smiled slowly, the tips of his needle teeth visible. I desperately called my magic for another fireball. Not a spark. All the fire I had seethed in my chest. It wasn't white hot and raging; the stone's power wasn't fighting to get free. It burned bright, warm, welcoming.

For the demon.

The demon looked at me, unclenched his hand, and negligently tossed the dead mage aside. The he stepped back and bowed deeply and respectfully.

"We are honored by your presence," he told me.

Then he cloaked, invisible to all but me, and with one leap was on the wall like a big purple spider, the talons of his claws and feet clicking and gouging chunks out of the bricks as he scuttled around the corner, right over the clueless heads of a crowd that was forming at the end of the street.

I knelt over the mage. His dead eyes stared sightlessly at the sky as blood pooled and spread beneath his ruined throat.

I heard murmurs from the far end of the street. Most of the people had just arrived, waiting until the fight was over to come out of hiding.

I was kneeling over the mage, his blood on my hands. They were looking at me, grim-faced, angry, and accusing.

"Murderer!" someone yelled.

Oh shit.

Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Shearin


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