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All Spell Breaks Loose

Lisa Shearin - Author

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ISBN 9781101580820 | 304 pages | 29 May 2012 | Ace | 18 - AND UP
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From national bestselling author Lisa Shearin comes a new chapter in "one of the best fantasy series currently on the market." (Night Owl Reviews)

My name is Raine Benares—and it sucks to be me right now. 

I’m a seeker who found the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone that gave me unlimited powers I never wanted. Now I’ve lost the rock—and the magic it gave me—to a goblin dark mage whose main goals are my death and world domination. This is more than incentive enough for a little trip to the goblin capital of Regor with a small band of good friends, not-so-good friends, and one outright enemy. Don’t ask.
 
All we need to do is destroy the Saghred, kill the mage, and put a renegade goblin prince on the throne. Did I mention I’ll be doing that with no magic?


Chapter 1

I was going to Hell and had no clue what to pack.

Regor was the goblin capital, home to my friend Tam and thousands of other goblins. Their home. My Hell.

I’m Raine Benares. An elven seeker whose job used to be finding lost things and missing people, usually in nice, safe places like prisons and war zones. Now, thanks to a run–in with a soul–sucking rock looking for someone to call home, the entire world was about to turn into a war zone, and yours truly was the epicenter.

Yesterday the world–ending stone known as the Saghred had been stolen. I called it several other names not repeatable in public. The thing had attached itself to me and magnified my magic; and even now that it was thousands of miles away, we were still bonded. The goblin who had ordered it stolen needed me dead to break that bond and transfer control of the rock and all of its power to himself. To stand a snowball’s chance in hell (excuse me, Tam’s home) of destroying the rock, I needed to stay very much alive.

Hence my dilemma—save the world or die a slow and painful death. Though I couldn’t exactly call my situation a dilemma. A dilemma implied you had a choice. If it was up to me, somebody else could save the world; I’d just rather keep breathing. However, if I managed by some major miracle to do both, I wanted to be properly dressed for it. Head–to–toe steel surrounded by a platoon of Conclave Guardians should do the trick. Some people would call that paranoid; I called it barely adequate accessorizing.

But I wouldn’t have a platoon, and head–to–toe steel would make running away more of a challenge than I was up for. I was armored, both leather and steel, enough for protection, but without impeding any sudden need to retreat. Less than a dozen of us would be sneaking into Regor, stealing the Saghred, destroying it in a way that would hopefully not do the same to me, and getting back to Mid with the same pieces and parts that we left with.

A handful of us against the might of the goblin king, the goblin army, and probably some absurdly huge demons who owed them all favors. Oh yeah, and one soul–hungry rock.

And how could I forget an all–powerful, fledgling goblin demigod by the name of Sarad Nukpana?

Survival would take a miracle.

Especially since I didn’t have a lick of magic to my name.

The Saghred had stolen my magic, then the goblins had stolen the stone.

It sucked to be me right now.

I was going to where my worst enemy was and I had no magic. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I had a spark, and if I held it against a wick long enough, I might just be able to light a candle. Sarad Nukpana was constructing, and about to open, a Gate big enough for an army to go through, a hundred goblins at a time—and doing every last bit of it with magic. He could teleport an army, and right now I’d work up a sweat lighting a candle. We’d love to be able to destroy the Saghred and the Gate, but our first priority was the rock.

The plan was simple—or simply suicide. Nukpana had the Saghred, but we still had the Scythe of Nen. Literally eons ago, the demon king had it forged so he could cut into the Saghred like an oyster and slurp up the souls inside. In theory, the Saghred could be destroyed if it was first emptied of souls. It was a logical solution, but this was a soul–snatching rock that had kept itself intact through the ages by making its own logic and luck. And it wasn’t exactly a solution, or even a good idea, to let the souls out. Most of them hadn’t been nice people to begin with; in fact, a lot of them could give Sarad Nukpana competition in the evil megalomaniac department.

While some would want nothing more than to float off to their great reward. Others—powerful and evil others—would infest and possess the first bodies they could take. That presented two problems. One, they could possess us; the problem there being obvious. Two, they could possess any Khrynsani in the immediate vicinity of the high altar. That would be Sarad Nukpana and his craziest and most powerful black mage allies. Evil plus evil equals extremely undesirable.

The world had enough problems without that happening.

Unfortunately, even if Sarad Nukpana gave us a clear path to the Saghred, we still needed the help of one goblin in Regor to keep those souls from infesting and possessing—Kesyn Badru, Tam’s first magic teacher, the man who tried to prevent Tam from running down magic’s dark path to do the things an entirely–too–powerful young mage had no business doing. Tam had been more like his teenage son, Talon than he’d care to admit, and had successfully destroyed anything resembling a relationship with his teacher. For all we knew, when we found him, Kesyn Badru might try to turn Tam into something squishy on sight or simply kill him. From what I’d heard about Tam’s youthful indiscretions, I really wouldn’t blame Kesyn Badru in the least.

The way things were stacking up, Sarad Nukpana might be easier to deal with.

Kesyn Badru was an expert on Reapers. Reapers basically worked for Death, gathering wayward souls and taking them to where they needed to go next. When we opened the Saghred, we needed plenty of Reapers standing by for the cleanup of any souls who refused to move along nicely.

Bottom line, slicing into the Saghred with the Scythe of Nen and letting the souls inside go free could make it possible for us to destroy the stone.

Or not.

And since I was bound to the Saghred, the Reapers we needed to collect the souls might collect me, too.

Or not.

Yesterday Sarad Nukpana’s thief had forced our hand. We had no choice but to try to do all of the above. And if it let me—or Mychael, if I wasn’t alive to do it myself—smash the thing into a million pieces, it would be worth it. Simply stealing the Saghred back was no longer an option. Sarad Nukpana had to be stopped, and whatever I had to do would be worth it.

If I died, I would have died to save millions from torment, slavery, or death at Sarad Nukpana’s hands. I’d been telling myself all night that it’d be a good and noble death.

I’d never been more terrified in my life. I was almost sick with it.

There were easier and certainly less painful ways to commit suicide. The only upside to this whole thing was that we’d be leaving for Regor within the hour. That didn’t leave much time for me to imagine all the ways Sarad Nukpana, the Saghred, or the Reapers could kill me. The less time I had to ponder any of those, the better.

Leaving here within the hour, and arriving in Regor seconds after that.

I despised mirror magic, but I had to admit that it was a damned efficient way to get from one place to another.

To tell you the truth, I was scared to death of it. Partly because I didn’t understand how the finer points of the art worked. Stepping into one mirror and instantly walking out of another one hundreds or even thousands of miles away sure as hell wasn’t a parlor trick—and mirror mages knew it. Superior to everyone else was how the best of them saw themselves; though most felt that simple worship would suffice. I’d never met a humble mirror mage.

I did a last check of the pack I was taking with me. More weapons than anything else, small and easily concealed. What couldn’t be hidden was already strapped to me. I wasn’t taking much by way of clothes—one change of everything in case what I was wearing picked up a couple of unsightly bloodstains or sword slashes. It’d been my experience that running for your life was best done while carrying as little extraneous weight as possible.

I slung my small pack over my shoulder and opened the door.

Standing there, hand raised to knock, was one of the last people I expected.

Piaras Rivalin.

He was a tall young elf, with big brown eyes and dark brown curls that would have made him look perfectly at home painted on the ceiling of some fancy chapel. To the pair of Guardians posted outside my door, Piaras was an eighteen–year–old cadet in their order. To me he was the little brother I’d never had, but always wanted.

I’d known Piaras since he was twelve. The self–possessed young man standing in front of me had grown up fast over a too short period of time. No one had given him a choice, either. For the two of us, the past three months had been one deal–with–it–or–die moment right after another. Piaras had faced and fought things that would have sent most kids his age scrambling under their beds. To make it even worse, he was in nearly as much danger from Sarad Nukpana as I was. The bastard knew how much I loved Piaras; knew it and wouldn’t hesitate to use him to get to me.

Piaras’s dream had been to become a Guardian and here he was in the uniform and armor of a cadet. In my opinion, he should have been on one of the ships trying to evacuate the other students from the island before the goblins invaded.

I stared up at him. “Come to see me off before you get your butt on an evac ship?”

“Yes and no.”

“’Yes’ you’re getting on that ship, and ’no’ you’re not here to see me off, right?”

“Reverse them.”

“Dammit, Piaras. I—”

“Paladin Eiliesor gave us all the choice. I chose to stay.”

“You should be on a ship.”

“I’m needed here.”

From most kids his age, those words would come off sounding stubborn. From Piaras, it was steadfast and decisive. I knew I wouldn’t be able to change his mind, but if he wasn’t going to be stubborn, I would.

I lowered my voice. “And I need you alive. While I’m in Regor I need to know you’re safe.”

“Raine, I’ve already reported for duty—”

“Then un–report.” The vehemence in my voice surprised even me.

“You’re not un–reporting.” There was no accusation in his voice; he was simply stating a fact.

“Regor is the last place I want to go, but I don’t have a choice. You do.”

“You have a choice,” Piaras said. “You’re going because you couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t go. You know you can help, so that’s what you’re going to do. Same with me. What I’d really like is to hide under my bed in the barracks, close my eyes, and have every last bit of this crap go away. But that’s not going to happen, so here I am.”

I glared at him. “You know you’re too young to be this smart, don’t you?”

Piaras flashed a smile that was probably making the coeds swoon. “It’s a burden I bear.”

“I’m sure I don’t want to know, but where are they sending you?”

“Here.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Sir Vegard ordered me to take his place as your bodyguard—”

As my bodyguard, Vegard Rolfgar had been shot, tortured, and attacked by demons; damned near dying from all of the above. He’d wanted to go with us to Regor, but Mychael had made him acting paladin instead and put him in charge of the evacuation.

With a life of their own, my fists went to my hips. “You are not going to Regor. I don’t care who—”

Piaras grinned and held up a hand. “Vegard wants me to see you safely to the mirror room and then report back to him.” He stopped and half winced, the sudden embarrassment in his big eyes making him look like that awkward twelve–year–old again. “He ordered me to do one other thing.”

I narrowed my eyes. “And what is that?” Vegard was about to get more trouble from me than he’d have from any invading goblin army.

Piaras stepped forward. “Uh . . . he told me to give you this.”

Piaras hugged me. Hard. My feet left the floor somewhere in the process. I should’ve been grateful that Vegard had Piaras stand–in for him; a hug like that from Vegard probably would’ve cracked a couple of my ribs. When Piaras showed no signs of letting go, I suddenly realized that hug wasn’t just from Vegard. I wrapped my arms around Piaras’s neck; my face buried against his shoulder and fiercely returned his hug. If I didn’t make it back, this could be the last time I’d ever see him. My eyes swam with sudden tears.

Piaras started to put me down.

“No, no. Wait.” I sniffed and tried for a smile. “I have something for . . . Vegard, too. Give him this.” I grabbed both sides of Piaras’s head and planted a big kiss on his forehead, and then hugged him again. That wasn’t just for Vegard, either.

The Guardians behind us snickered.

Piaras blushed to the tips of his pointed ears. “I’ll just tell him about it, if you don’t mind.” He picked up my pack where I’d dropped it to hug him. “I’ll get this.”

“Thank you.” I’d be carrying it myself soon enough, and who knew for how long, so I’d take help now while I could get it.

Every Guardian we passed on our way to the mirror room had somewhere to go and was moving fast. Either that or they were already there and standing guard. To a man, they had one thing in common—the same grim and determined expression. I didn’t know what was behind some of the doors being guarded, but I almost felt sorry for anyone who tried to find out.

I had to move just as fast to keep up with Piaras’s long strides. “After seeing me to the mirror room, what next?”

“Pardon?”

“Your orders. What are they?”

“Once you’re all safely through, I guard that mirror until you come back.”

“Guard?”

“If anyone tries to get into the mirror room who doesn’t belong, they’ll be taking a long nap and waking up in a small cell.”

Piaras could do it; I had no doubt—and neither did any of the hundred or so Guardians he’d accidently put to sleep after he’d only been here a few days. Piaras was a spellsinger, probably the best of his generation. His voice was a deep, rich baritone—and a weapon. As far as magical skills went, spellsinging wasn’t all that rare, but Piaras’s level of skill was. Rare, powerful, and deadly.

I had a thought I didn’t like, but it was a possibility, a very unpleasant one.

“What if someone comes back through our mirror besides us?”

Piaras gave me a grim smile that he should have been too young to have. “We’re equal opportunity sleep–inducers.”

“We?”

“Maestro Cayle will be standing guard with me.”

I experienced a short, but oh–so–welcome, moment of relief. I hadn’t had many of those lately so I enjoyed it while I could. Maestro Ronan Cayle was the best spellsinger there was. If anyone’s ass needed kicking—mage, mundane, or demon—Ronan was the man to serve it up. He was also Piaras’s spellsinging teacher. If Piaras wouldn’t leave the island on an evac ship, knowing that Ronan would be with him was a comfort I’d gladly take.

“Is Talon staying, too?”

Piaras blew out his breath. “Oh yeah.”

“I understand he and Tam had quite the throwdown about that.”

“Heard by half the citadel.”

Talon Nathrach was Tam’s son. As former chief mage and magical enforcer to the goblin royal House of Mal’Salin, Tam was part of the team going to Regor. Talon’s mother had been an elf, which made Talon a half–breed, an abomination to both old–blood elves and goblins. The goblin court in Regor was packed to the walls with old–blood goblin aristocrats. From what I’d heard, they’d kill Talon on sight.

Talon becoming a Guardian cadet was Tam’s effort to teach his impulsive son responsibility, respect, and above all, control. I told Tam he shouldn’t hold his breath.

“You can’t exactly blame Talon,” I said. “He just found his father, and now that father is leaving.” I left the “and maybe never coming back” unsaid. Piaras knew it as well as I did.

“Paladin Eiliesor ordered Talon to report to Sir Vegard for duty.”

I winced. “Bet that didn’t go over well.”

“No, it didn’t.” Piaras grinned. “Though walking back to the barracks last night with Talon tripled my knowledge of Goblin profanity.”

Just before the stairs that led down to the citadel’s lower levels, we passed several openings in the outer walls that looked over the harbor. I stopped, and Piaras and our two Guardian escorts did the same. It was a long way down to the harbor, but I knew crowds of people when I saw them. Students and townspeople, there had to be hundreds of them, being put on any ship in Mid’s harbor that could raise canvas, and get them off of the island. Hopefully to safety. There were merchant ships, Guardian warships, and five pirate ships belonging to my cousin and uncle—Phaelan and Ryn Benares. Father and son, who, between the two of them, were responsible for the vast majority of the high–seas crime in the seven kingdoms. Phaelan had brought me and Piaras to the Isle of Mid on the Fortune. Uncle Ryn had arrived later with his flagship theRed Hawk and three of his best fighting vessels to do what a father and uncle did best—protect the people he loved. Commodore Ryn Benares, the most feared pirate in the seven kingdoms, was a big softie. No one outside the family knew that, and to preserve the cooperation and resulting profitability that the Benares name instilled in every ship to cross our path, we kept that information to ourselves.

Uncle Ryn had originally come to Mid to protect me and Phaelan. But now the students of the Conclave college were in the worst kind of danger. Sarad Nukpana needed sacrifices to keep his transport Gate stable and working—magically talented sacrifices. The kids attending the Conclave college were the best of the best; they’d be the top mages of the next generation. Nukpana saw them as fuel for his invasions.

Uncle Ryn wasn’t concerned that heading up the student evacuation would damage his fearsome reputation. He’d told me that he didn’t give a shit what anyone thought; though he could always claim that the Conclave paid him to do it, which they hadn’t. Uncle Ryn was helping out from the good of his own big heart.

The students were being evacuated youngest to oldest. Getting every student off the island would take time, time that the Isle of Mid may or may not have. The students least able to defend themselves—magically or otherwise—were being shipped out first. Due to the need to transport as many students as quickly as possible, each student was being limited to only one small bag, large enough for a change of clothes and a few personal items. Everything else would be left behind. The hope was that they would be able to return soon.

That depended on us, whether we succeeded in destroying the Saghred.

Or even lived long enough to try.usu¢ b n¢= P¢: fe places like prisons and war zones. Now, thanks to a run–in with a soul–sucking rock looking for someone to call home, the entire world was about to turn into a war zone, and yours truly was the epicenter.

Yesterday the world–ending stone known as the Saghred had been stolen. I called it several other names not repeatable in public. The thing had attached itself to me and magnified my magic; and even now that it was thousands of miles away, we were still bonded. The goblin who had ordered it stolen needed me dead to break that bond and transfer control of the rock and all of its power to himself. To stand a snowball’s chance in hell (excuse me, Tam’s home) of destroying the rock, I needed to stay very much alive.

Hence my dilemma—save the world or die a slow and painful death. Though I couldn’t exactly call my situation a dilemma. A dilemma implied you had a choice. If it was up to me, somebody else could save the world; I’d just rather keep breathing. However, if I managed by some major miracle to do both, I wanted to be properly dressed for it. Head–to–toe steel surrounded by a platoon of Conclave Guardians should do the trick. Some people would call that paranoid; I called it barely adequate accessorizing.

But I wouldn’t have a platoon, and head–to–toe steel would make running away more of a challenge than I was up for. I was armored, both leather and steel, enough for protection, but without impeding any sudden need to retreat. Less than a dozen of us would be sneaking into Regor, stealing the Saghred, destroying it in a way that would hopefully not do the same to me, and getting back to Mid with the same pieces and parts that we left with.

A handful of us against the might of the goblin king, the goblin army, and probably some absurdly huge demons who owed them all favors. Oh yeah, and one soul–hungry rock.

And how could I forget an all–powerful, fledgling goblin demigod by the name of Sarad Nukpana?

Survival would take a miracle.

Especially since I didn’t have a lick of magic to my name.

The Saghred had stolen my magic, then the goblins had stolen the stone.

It sucked to be me right now.

I was going to where my worst enemy was and I had no magic. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I had a spark, and if I held it against a wick long enough, I might just be able to light a candle. Sarad Nukpana was constructing, and about to open, a Gate big enough for an army to go through, a hundred goblins at a time—and doing every last bit of it with magic. He could teleport an army, and right now I’d work up a sweat lighting a candle. We’d love to be able to destroy the Saghred and the Gate, but our first priority was the rock.

The plan was simple—or simply suicide. Nukpana had the Saghred, but we still had the Scythe of Nen. Literally eons ago, the demon king had it forged so he could cut into the Saghred like an oyster and slurp up the souls inside. In theory, the Saghred could be destroyed if it was first emptied of souls. It was a logical solution, but this was a soul–snatching rock that had kept itself intact through the ages by making its own logic and luck. And it wasn’t exactly a solution, or even a good idea, to let the souls out. Most of them hadn’t been nice people to begin with; in fact, a lot of them could give Sarad Nukpana competition in the evil megalomaniac department.

While some would want nothing more than to float off to their great reward. Others—powerful and evil others—would infest and possess the first bodies they could take. That presented two problems. One, they could possess us; the problem there being obvious. Two, they could possess any Khrynsani in the immediate vicinity of the high altar. That would be Sarad Nukpana and his craziest and most powerful black mage allies. Evil plus evil equals extremely undesirable.

The world had enough problems without that happening.

Unfortunately, even if Sarad Nukpana gave us a clear path to the Saghred, we still needed the help of one goblin in Regor to keep those souls from infesting and possessing—Kesyn Badru, Tam’s first magic teacher, the man who tried to prevent Tam from running down magic’s dark path to do the things an entirely–too–powerful young mage had no business doing. Tam had been more like his teenage son, Talon than he’d care to admit, and had successfully destroyed anything resembling a relationship with his teacher. For all we knew, when we found him, Kesyn Badru might try to turn Tam into something squishy on sight or simply kill him. From what I’d heard about Tam’s youthful indiscretions, I really wouldn’t blame Kesyn Badru in the least.

The way things were stacking up, Sarad Nukpana might be easier to deal with.

Kesyn Badru was an expert on Reapers. Reapers basically worked for Death, gathering wayward souls and taking them to where they needed to go next. When we opened the Saghred, we needed plenty of Reapers standing by for the cleanup of any souls who refused to move along nicely.

Bottom line, slicing into the Saghred with the Scythe of Nen and letting the souls inside go free could make it possible for us to destroy the stone.

Or not.

And since I was bound to the Saghred, the Reapers we needed to collect the souls might collect me, too.

Or not.

Yesterday Sarad Nukpana’s thief had forced our hand. We had no choice but to try to do all of the above. And if it let me—or Mychael, if I wasn’t alive to do it myself—smash the thing into a million pieces, it would be worth it. Simply stealing the Saghred back was no longer an option. Sarad Nukpana had to be stopped, and whatever I had to do would be worth it.

If I died, I would have died to save millions from torment, slavery, or death at Sarad Nukpana’s hands. I’d been telling myself all night that it’d be a good and noble death.

I’d never been more terrified in my life. I was almost sick with it.

There were easier and certainly less painful ways to commit suicide. The only upside to this whole thing was that we’d be leaving for Regor within the hour. That didn’t leave much time for me to imagine all the ways Sarad Nukpana, the Saghred, or the Reapers could kill me. The less time I had to ponder any of those, the better.

Leaving here within the hour, and arriving in Regor seconds after that.

I despised mirror magic, but I had to admit that it was a damned efficient way to get from one place to another.

To tell you the truth, I was scared to death of it. Partly because I didn’t understand how the finer points of the art worked. Stepping into one mirror and instantly walking out of another one hundreds or even thousands of miles away sure as hell wasn’t a parlor trick—and mirror mages knew it. Superior to everyone else was how the best of them saw themselves; though most felt that simple worship would suffice. I’d never met a humble mirror mage.

I did a last check of the pack I was taking with me. More weapons than anything else, small and easily concealed. What couldn’t be hidden was already strapped to me. I wasn’t taking much by way of clothes—one change of everything in case what I was wearing picked up a couple of unsightly bloodstains or sword slashes. It’d been my experience that running for your life was best done while carrying as little extraneous weight as possible.

I slung my small pack over my shoulder and opened the door.

Standing there, hand raised to knock, was one of the last people I expected.

Piaras Rivalin.

He was a tall young elf, with big brown eyes and dark brown curls that would have made him look perfectly at home painted on the ceiling of some fancy chapel. To the pair of Guardians posted outside my door, Piaras was an eighteen–year–old cadet in their order. To me he was the little brother I’d never had, but always wanted.

I’d known Piaras since he was twelve. The self–possessed young man standing in front of me had grown up fast over a too short period of time. No one had given him a choice, either. For the two of us, the past three months had been one deal–with–it–or–die moment right after another. Piaras had faced and fought things that would have sent most kids his age scrambling under their beds. To make it even worse, he was in nearly as much danger from Sarad Nukpana as I was. The bastard knew how much I loved Piaras; knew it and wouldn’t hesitate to use him to get to me.

Piaras’s dream had been to become a Guardian and here he was in the uniform and armor of a cadet. In my opinion, he should have been on one of the ships trying to evacuate the other students from the island before the goblins invaded.

I stared up at him. “Come to see me off before you get your butt on an evac ship?”

“Yes and no.”

“’Yes’ you’re getting on that ship, and ’no’ you’re not here to see me off, right?”

“Reverse them.”

“Dammit, Piaras. I—”

“Paladin Eiliesor gave us all the choice. I chose to stay.”

“You should be on a ship.”

“I’m needed here.”

From most kids his age, those words would come off sounding stubborn. From Piaras, it was steadfast and decisive. I knew I wouldn’t be able to change his mind, but if he wasn’t going to be stubborn, I would.

I lowered my voice. “And I need you alive. While I’m in Regor I need to know you’re safe.”

“Raine, I’ve already reported for duty—”

“Then un–report.” The vehemence in my voice surprised even me.

“You’re not un–reporting.” There was no accusation in his voice; he was simply stating a fact.

“Regor is the last place I want to go, but I don’t have a choice. You do.”

“You have a choice,” Piaras said. “You’re going because you couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t go. You know you can help, so that’s what you’re going to do. Same with me. What I’d really like is to hide under my bed in the barracks, close my eyes, and have every last bit of this crap go away. But that’s not going to happen, so here I am.”

I glared at him. “You know you’re too young to be this smart, don’t you?”

Piaras flashed a smile that was probably making the coeds swoon. “It’s a burden I bear.”

“I’m sure I don’t want to know, but where are they sending you?”

“Here.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Sir Vegard ordered me to take his place as your bodyguard—”

As my bodyguard, Vegard Rolfgar had been shot, tortured, and attacked by demons; damned near dying from all of the above. He’d wanted to go with us to Regor, but Mychael had made him acting paladin instead and put him in charge of the evacuation.

With a life of their own, my fists went to my hips. “You are not going to Regor. I don’t care who—”

Piaras grinned and held up a hand. “Vegard wants me to see you safely to the mirror room and then report back to him.” He stopped and half winced, the sudden embarrassment in his big eyes making him look like that awkward twelve–year–old again. “He ordered me to do one other thing.”

I narrowed my eyes. “And what is that?” Vegard was about to get more trouble from me than he’d have from any invading goblin army.

Piaras stepped forward. “Uh . . . he told me to give you this.”

Piaras hugged me. Hard. My feet left the floor somewhere in the process. I should’ve been grateful that Vegard had Piaras stand–in for him; a hug like that from Vegard probably would’ve cracked a couple of my ribs. When Piaras showed no signs of letting go, I suddenly realized that hug wasn’t just from Vegard. I wrapped my arms around Piaras’s neck; my face buried against his shoulder and fiercely returned his hug. If I didn’t make it back, this could be the last time I’d ever see him. My eyes swam with sudden tears.

Piaras started to put me down.

“No, no. Wait.” I sniffed and tried for a smile. “I have something for . . . Vegard, too. Give him this.” I grabbed both sides of Piaras’s head and planted a big kiss on his forehead, and then hugged him again. That wasn’t just for Vegard, either.

The Guardians behind us snickered.

Piaras blushed to the tips of his pointed ears. “I’ll just tell him about it, if you don’t mind.” He picked up my pack where I’d dropped it to hug him. “I’ll get this.”

“Thank you.” I’d be carrying it myself soon enough, and who knew for how long, so I’d take help now while I could get it.

Every Guardian we passed on our way to the mirror room had somewhere to go and was moving fast. Either that or they were already there and standing guard. To a man, they had one thing in common—the same grim and determined expression. I didn’t know what was behind some of the doors being guarded, but I almost felt sorry for anyone who tried to find out.

I had to move just as fast to keep up with Piaras’s long strides. “After seeing me to the mirror room, what next?”

“Pardon?”

“Your orders. What are they?”

“Once you’re all safely through, I guard that mirror until you come back.”

“Guard?”

“If anyone tries to get into the mirror room who doesn’t belong, they’ll be taking a long nap and waking up in a small cell.”

Piaras could do it; I had no doubt—and neither did any of the hundred or so Guardians he’d accidently put to sleep after he’d only been here a few days. Piaras was a spellsinger, probably the best of his generation. His voice was a deep, rich baritone—and a weapon. As far as magical skills went, spellsinging wasn’t all that rare, but Piaras’s level of skill was. Rare, powerful, and deadly.

I had a thought I didn’t like, but it was a possibility, a very unpleasant one.

“What if someone comes back through our mirror besides us?”

Piaras gave me a grim smile that he should have been too young to have. “We’re equal opportunity sleep–inducers.”

“We?”

“Maestro Cayle will be standing guard with me.”

I experienced a short, but oh–so–welcome, moment of relief. I hadn’t had many of those lately so I enjoyed it while I could. Maestro Ronan Cayle was the best spellsinger there was. If anyone’s ass needed kicking—mage, mundane, or demon—Ronan was the man to serve it up. He was also Piaras’s spellsinging teacher. If Piaras wouldn’t leave the island on an evac ship, knowing that Ronan would be with him was a comfort I’d gladly take.

“Is Talon staying, too?”

Piaras blew out his breath. “Oh yeah.”

“I understand he and Tam had quite the throwdown about that.”

“Heard by half the citadel.”

Talon Nathrach was Tam’s son. As former chief mage and magical enforcer to the goblin royal House of Mal’Salin, Tam was part of the team going to Regor. Talon’s mother had been an elf, which made Talon a half–breed, an abomination to both old–blood elves and goblins. The goblin court in Regor was packed to the walls with old–blood goblin aristocrats. From what I’d heard, they’d kill Talon on sight.

Talon becoming a Guardian cadet was Tam’s effort to teach his impulsive son responsibility, respect, and above all, control. I told Tam he shouldn’t hold his breath.

“You can’t exactly blame Talon,” I said. “He just found his father, and now that father is leaving.” I left the “and maybe never coming back” unsaid. Piaras knew it as well as I did.

“Paladin Eiliesor ordered Talon to report to Sir Vegard for duty.”

I winced. “Bet that didn’t go over well.”

“No, it didn’t.” Piaras grinned. “Though walking back to the barracks last night with Talon tripled my knowledge of Goblin profanity.”

Just before the stairs that led down to the citadel’s lower levels, we passed several openings in the outer walls that looked over the harbor. I stopped, and Piaras and our two Guardian escorts did the same. It was a long way down to the harbor, but I knew crowds of people when I saw them. Students and townspeople, there had to be hundreds of them, being put on any ship in Mid’s harbor that could raise canvas, and get them off of the island. Hopefully to safety. There were merchant ships, Guardian warships, and five pirate ships belonging to my cousin and uncle—Phaelan and Ryn Benares. Father and son, who, between the two of them, were responsible for the vast majority of the high–seas crime in the seven kingdoms. Phaelan had brought me and Piaras to the Isle of Mid on the Fortune. Uncle Ryn had arrived later with his flagship theRed Hawk and three of his best fighting vessels to do what a father and uncle did best—protect the people he loved. Commodore Ryn Benares, the most feared pirate in the seven kingdoms, was a big softie. No one outside the family knew that, and to preserve the cooperation and resulting profitability that the Benares name instilled in every ship to cross our path, we kept that information to ourselves.

Uncle Ryn had originally come to Mid to protect me and Phaelan. But now the students of the Conclave college were in the worst kind of danger. Sarad Nukpana needed sacrifices to keep his transport Gate stable and working—magically talented sacrifices. The kids attending the Conclave college were the best of the best; they’d be the top mages of the next generation. Nukpana saw them as fuel for his invasions.

Uncle Ryn wasn’t concerned that heading up the student evacuation would damage his fearsome reputation. He’d told me that he didn’t give a shit what anyone thought; though he could always claim that the Conclave paid him to do it, which they hadn’t. Uncle Ryn was helping out from the good of his own big heart.

The students were being evacuated youngest to oldest. Getting every student off the island would take time, time that the Isle of Mid may or may not have. The students least able to defend themselves—magically or otherwise—were being shipped out first. Due to the need to transport as many students as quickly as possible, each student was being limited to only one small bag, large enough for a change of clothes and a few personal items. Everything else would be left behind. The hope was that they would be able to return soon.

That depended on us, whether we succeeded in destroying the Saghred.

Or even lived long enough to try.





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