Con & conjure, p.1
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       Con & Conjure, p.1

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Con & Conjure
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  There’s no sick like seasick.

  I knew this from personal experience; but fortunately, I wasn’t the one staggering down the gangplank looking like death warmed over and served up.

  Mago Benares was a banker, not a sailor. Or as his employees at the First Bank of D’Mai knew him, Mago Peronne. The name Benares wasn’t exactly welcome in banking circles, since most people wouldn’t want to trust their investments to a member of the most notorious criminal family in the seven kingdoms. Mago had changed his name, but nothing could alter his instincts.

  The Benares family didn’t get all of their money at the business end of a cannon. To Mago, embezzlement was an art, and he considered himself to be a master. This was one time when I had to agree with Mago and his ego. My cousin was at his con artist best when diverting funds, usually into offshore accounts for his own use and enjoyment.

  But this morning, the master was as green as the money he stole. Seasick wasn’t a good look for Mago. Or since he was now standing on a dock rather than a deck, I guess that made him just plain sick. I smiled. I couldn’t help it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Mago; I liked him a lot. But when my normally impeccably dressed and groomed cousin was leaning over a dockside railing, disheveled, disreputable looking, and about to toss what was left of the last food he’d managed to keep down . . . well, call me twisted, but that was funny.

  Mago tossed and Phaelan chuckled from where he was standing next to me. Phaelan’s sense of humor was even more sick and twisted than mine. And yes, it’s possible.

  Though as Mago’s little brother, it was Phaelan’s job not only to embarrass him, but to make him miserable. I’d never seen Mago looking more miserable than he did right now, and Phaelan didn’t have a thing to do with it. My cousins’ dad was Commodore Ryn Benares, the most feared pirate in any body of water larger than a bathtub. Phaelan was a chip off the old mainmast. Mago was quite possibly the craftiest weasel I’d ever met—a weasel who couldn’t set foot on a ship without feeding the fishes.

  I’m a member of the family while not being in the family business. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. No one else believes me, either.

  I’m Raine Benares. Like the rest of my family, I’m an elf. Unlike the rest of my family, I have a legal and moral job. As a result, every other Benares makes more money than I do. Hand-over-fist more. Believe me, crime most definitely pays.

  I’m a seeker. I find lost people and missing things. Though the only things I’ve found lately are more ways to get into trouble and almost get myself killed.

  And a rock the size of a man’s fist is to blame for every last bit of it.

  Ever since the Saghred latched on to me like a leech fresh off a hunger strike, I’ve been attracting the attention of the kind of people I’ve never wanted to have notice me. And to turn my predicament from bad to as bad as it can get, the Saghred has taken my magical talents from mediocre to monstrous. I have more power than any living creature has a right to have or need to possess.

  And therein lies my biggest problem. Other people want to possess that power for themselves—and to get the power, they have to get me.

  That’s why I asked Mago to come to the Isle of Mid. Mid was home to the top college of sorcery and the Conclave of Sorcerers, the ruling body for all magic users. I came here thinking that they could help me. It never occurred to me that they would be the ones who I would need protection from.

  Conclave sorcerers, elven intelligence, and the goblin king. All wanted me and mine. And since they were funded by wealthy and powerful allies, their pockets were deep enough to make it happen.

  Mago was here to help me cut holes in those pockets.

  I knew that what could be paid could be diverted. And what could be schemed could be scammed.

  My family had been behind some elaborate scams before, but none had involved this much money, government officials this highly ranked—and none had my life and the lives of people I loved on the line.

  This time we were playing for keeps.

  I was counting on our scam buying me enough time to get rid of the Saghred. Permanently.

  Phaelan and I were in the office of a dockside warehouse, looking out of the dirty windows facing the harbor. The windows were a special kind of dirty—no one could see in, but we could see out.

  Neither one of us particularly wanted to be seen right now.

  In my opinion, Phaelan had made a monumental effort to blend in. My cousin was normally a vision in a scarlet leather doublet and matching trousers. Today his leathers were dark, his boots scuffed, his tanned face unshaven. His hat had enough brim to conceal his face, not attract attention.

  Phaelan took off the hat and ran one hand impatiently through his shoulder-length black hair. “Mago’s certainly taking his time. ”

  “He has to see to his luggage,” I reminded him. “The man travels with even more clothes than you do. ”

  “I have a reputation to maintain. ”

  “Best-dressed pirate?”

  “Someone has to maintain the standard. ” He took in what I was wearing, sighed, and shook his head.

  I didn’t need to look down at myself to see where Phaelan was going with this. “I happen to like brown and black,” I said. “They’re great colors for redheads. ”

  “So are others that you’ve never tried. ”

  “I’ve never tried painting a target on myself, either. ”

  I’d adopted the mantra of blend and survive. Thanks to the Saghred, people could feel my magic coming a mile away; I was determined the same wasn’t going to be true for seeing me. If wearing brown or black or both helped me blend in with the background and kept me from being a target at least some of the time, then they were officially my favorite colors. Red hair and pale skin made me stand out enough; I was going to camouflage as much of it as I could as well as I could.

  Mago would be joining us here shortly. As a vice president at the First Bank of D’Mai, he couldn’t be seen associating with criminals, either known or supposed. Mago knew the drill. He’d arrange to get his luggage sent ahead to the Greyhound Hotel, the finest accommodations Mid had to offer, and then we’d have a little private meeting. The warehouse’s owner was a friend of the family, meaning he was paid to store stolen goods until they’d cooled enough to be put on the market. That pay also bought us certain benefits like a meeting place that could be counted on to be completely private. These walls only had ears if Phaelan wanted them to.

  While we waited, Phaelan used the toe of his boot to push a bucket next to one of the office’s chairs. I just looked at him.

  “What?” Phaelan asked. “You want Mago throwing up on your boots?”

  Minutes later, a miserable groan came from the open doorway.

  Mago was your basic tall, dark, and handsome elf. Phaelan shared the dark and handsome moniker with his older brother, but Mago had “tall” all to himself. Phaelan had always claimed that Mago stole all of the height so there’d be none left for him. Probably not possible, but if it were, Mago would have been the one who could have stolen it. Mago Benares was the master. He could rob a man blind and have that same man thank him for his diligent work.

  Though right now, the master was miserable. His dark eyes were bloodshot from what I imagine was lack of sleep, he was pale from lack of what he’d last eaten, and most of his black hair had escaped the silk ribbon that always tied it back.

  Phaelan looked past him. “Damn, brother. Did you even close the door?”

  Mago looked at Phaelan like he’d punch him if he could just convince his hand to make a fist.

  I pushed the chair closer to where Mago was leaning shakily against the door frame. After a
moment’s thought, I pushed the bucket over to the chair. Mago looked at me and nodded gratefully at both.

  Phaelan offered him his flask. “Here, this’ll help. ”

  Mago glanced distastefully from the proffered flask, to his little brother, and back again. “If that’s the vile liquid that you consider to be whisky, I’ll pass. ”

  Phaelan shrugged. “Suit yourself. Never let it be said that I didn’t try to help. ”

  “By poisoning me. ”

  Phaelan popped open the flask and raised it in salute. “Mother’s milk. ”

  “I’m certain that Mother would disagree,” Mago said dryly. He gingerly settled himself in the chair, and I passed him my own flask.

  “Caesolian brandy,” I assured him. “And yes, it’s a good year and vintage,” I added before he could ask.

  Mago took a tentative sip. Apparently he was satisfied, because his second sip was more like a gulp. Mago closed his eyes, and with a weary sigh, leaned his head against the back of the chair. “I may live. My thanks, Raine. ”

  “Hey, you’re here to help me stay alive. Returning the favor is the least I can do. ” I pulled up a chair and sat down. “Was it hard to wrangle the time off?”

  Mago opened his eyes and managed a crooked grin. “Actually, I’m here on official bank business. One of my more affluent and private clients has need of some discreet financial services. He normally conducts business through an intermediary, but insisted on an in-person meeting this time. Considering the destination, I agreed to come only after negotiating a raise and a sizable bonus from the bank. ”

  Phaelan laughed, a short bark. “That’s my brother. ” He paused. “Why wouldn’t anyone want to come here?”

  Mago looked at Phaelan like he was a couple of coins short of a full purse. I think I was wearing a similar expression.

  Mago wasn’t going to dignify that question with an answer, so it was up to me to remind Phaelan why Mid was presently the next best thing to a hellhole. “Uh, Hellgate opened, demon infestation. Saghred opened, ancient evil mage infestation. Then Sarad Nukpana sucked out people’s life forces and turned them into beef jerky. ”

  “The Isle of Mid in its present state is hardly a vacation destination,” Mago said. “I wasn’t going to set foot on this cursed rock without hazard pay. ” He looked at me. “Speaking of a cursed rock, how are you doing?”

 

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