Magic Lost,Trouble Found, page 1
I opted for the direct approach…
I tackled Sarad Nukpana from the side. He was definitely surprised. So was the Guardian. Nukpana and I hit the ground hard.
His midnight eyes widened, and then he smiled. “Mistress Benares, how good of you to join us.”
My mouth dropped open, and I was too stunned to move. The goblin reached for me, but the elf got there first, jerking me away from Nukpana.
Close contact gave me a good look at the Guardian, and he was good to look at. His eyes were stunning. Tropical seas stunning—and lock up your daughters and wives trouble.
The center of my chest suddenly grew warm. It could have been my increased heart rate, but I wasn’t betting on it. The Guardian’s intense gaze went to my chest. I didn’t think he was admiring the view. The amulet flared to life.
The Guardian’s eyes widened with amazement, and he tightened his grip on me. He had my arms, so the action I was forced to take was entirely his fault. It was as direct as my previous action, but not nearly as polite.
In the next instant, the Guardian was on his knees trying to remember how to breathe.
Magic Lost, Trouble Found
ACE BOOKS, NEW YORK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Shearin.
Cover art by Aleta Rafton.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
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Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
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ACE and the “A” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To my agent, Kristin Nelson, for your guidance, enthusiasm, and for believing in the magic.
To my editor, Anne Sowards, for your sharp eyes, and for always taking the time to answer a new author’s questions.
And most of all to my husband, Derek. Thank you for your love, patience, and encouragement. You never doubted, and always believed.
Sorcerers weren’t normal, sorcery wasn’t natural, and Quentin Rand didn’t like either one.
Quentin had always made an exception for me, but just because you tolerated what a friend was, didn’t mean you understood what they did. Nothing explained to me what Quentin was doing breaking into the townhouse of one of Mermeia’s most infamous necromancers. Quentin was a thief—at least he used to be. And to the best of my knowledge, he wasn’t a suicidal ex-thief. Yet there he was crouched in the shadows of Nachtmagus Nigelius Nicabar’s back door, picklocks at the ready. While not the most efficient way to ask for death, it was one of the more certain.
I knew all about Nigel’s house wards. The human necromancer did everything he could to inflate his reputation, but he didn’t depend on it to protect his valuables. Magical wards were home security at its most basic, and Nigel had some good ones. But although they were nasty, they wouldn’t kill—rumor had it Nigel liked to save that pleasure for himself. I guess when you worked with the dead for a living, your idea of fun was a little different from everyone else’s. The city watch frowned on citizens taking the law into their own hands like that, but the watch was notoriously shorthanded in the Districts. They couldn’t prosecute what they didn’t know about, and I’d rather they didn’t know Quentin was here tonight.
Quentin occasionally works for me. My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. I find things. Most times the people who hire me are glad when I do, but sometimes they’re sorry they asked. Personally, I think people should be more careful what they ask for. Some things are better left unfound.
Seeking isn’t the flashiest occupation a sorceress can put out her shingle for, or the most highly regarded, but it pays the rent on time. I’ve found the formerly unfindable for the Mermeia city watch, and since I’m an elf, elven intelligence has sought my help on more than one occasion. Most of what I’m hired to find didn’t get lost by itself. It had help. Help you could depend on to use blades or bolts or nastier magical means to keep what they went to all the trouble to get. When that’s the case, I go by the rule of me or them.
I also apply that rule to my friends. That’s why I was cooling my heels in one of Mermeia’s more aromatic alleys—to keep Quentin’s moonlighting from earning him a one-way trip to the city morgue.
As a former career thief, Quentin knew the underside of Mermeia better than just about anyone. That’s why I hired him. Well, it was one of the reasons. Our professional paths had crossed from time to time over the years. What I had been hired to find was often something Quentin had been hired to steal. It got to the point that I just started my search with Quentin to save myself a lot of unnecessary footwork. He didn’t take it personally, and neither did I. However, I always extended to Quentin the professional courtesy of waiting until the object in question had left his hands before recovering it. That way he got paid while maintaining his reputation. But when the risks started to outweigh the rewards, Quentin thought that an early end to his career might keep the same fate from befalling his life. I helped him bridge the gap between thief and quasi-law-abiding citizen.
The city of Mermeia in the kingdom of Brenir consisted of five islands that had been forced into existence by the determination of its founders, and kept from sinking by the greed of its merchants. A powerful force, greed. It made solid ground where there had once been marsh; built palaces and trading houses where there were reeds; and inspired humans, elves, goblins, and magic users of all races to live together in a city separated only by the canals that marked their respective Districts. Sometimes we even got along.
I cupped my hands to my mouth, blowing on cold-numbed fingers. I was trying to breathe through my mouth to keep my nose from becoming any more traumatized than it already was. The cozy little alley I’d found across Pasquine Street from Nigel’s townhouse held a charm all its own. I’d put a shielding spell across the entrance, so unless Quentin walked over and looked in, he couldn’t see or hear me. The alley walls were slick with something dark and damp and best left unidentified. The air was chilly but still warm enough to enhance the aroma of the garbage sharing the alley with me. And the stench of the canal a block away at low tide only further enhanced my sensory experience. I rubbed my hands together, then gave up and reached for the gloves at my belt. Not that I wanted anything to happen to Quentin, but it would be nice if all this turned out to be worth my while.
“You stood me up.”
I yelped. I recognized the voice, which was the only reason my throwing knife remained in my hand, instead of being lodged in the voice’s owner.
I blew out my breath. “Don’t do that!” I sheathed my knife, though I was still tempted to use it, more from acute embarrassment than anything else.
Phaelan chuckled and stepped out of the shadows hiding the alley entrance from the street. My cousin looked like the rest of my family—dark hair, dark eyes, dark good looks, equally dark disposition. Next to them, I stood out like a flaming match at night with my long red gold hair, gray eyes, and pale skin. The hair and skin tone were from my mother. I assumed my eyes were from my father. Neither parent was around for me to ask.
Phaelan was the main reason having the name Benares was an asset in the seeking business. When looking for pilfered goods, it helped to be related to experts—professional pilferers all.
You could say our family was well known in the import and export business. The goods my cousin’s side of the family imported never saw the light of day in a harbormaster’s ledger, and the exports consisted of vast profits sent to secret family accounts in various banks in numerous kingdoms. Phaelan’s natural talent was in acquisitions. Many times he neglected to get permission from the owners whose goods he intended to acquire; or when he did ask, his request often came from the business end of a cannon.
“Since when does spending the night in an alley rate above dinner with me at the Crown and Anchor?” he asked.
“Since Quentin’s moonlighting again.”
“Varek said you were staking out Nigel Nicabar’s. He didn’t say anything about Quentin.”
When in Mermeia, Phaelan did business out of the Spyglass, and Varek Akar, the proprietor, served the dual purpose of business manager and social secretary for my cousin when he was in town. I didn’t normally make my stakeouts public knowledge, but since Nigel was involved, I thought it’d be a good idea to let my next of kin know where to find me.
“That’s because I didn’t mention Quentin,” I told him. “I’d rather the watch not get wind that he’s working again.”
“Varek knows how to keep his mouth shut.”
“I trust Varek, but I don’t feel the same way about his new barkeep. Quentin hasn’t done anything illegal tonight.”
Phaelan laughed, his voice low. “Night ain’t over yet.”
He was right, but I didn’t have to admit it. If certain members of the watch knew where he was, they’d jump to conclusions, and then they’d jump Quentin.
Phaelan’s ship had arrived in port late that afternoon, and the plan had been to meet for an early dinner. Early, because I knew he had plans later—plans that had everything to do with a woman, but nothing to do with a lady. My cousin had a strict threefold agenda on his first night in any port—get fed, get laid, and get drunk, in that order. Occasionally he would skip the food, but never the other two. When in Mermeia, my cousin could either be found in one of the city’s less reputable gambling parlors, or enjoying the comforts offered at Madame Natasha’s Joy Garden, and probably the attentions of Madame Natasha herself. This evening, Phaelan was positively resplendent in a doublet of scarlet buckskin, with matching breeches topped with high, black leather boots. At his side was the swept-hilt rapier he favored when out on the town. And unless my nose deceived me, his white linen shirt was as well scrubbed as Phaelan himself. An earring set with a single ruby gleamed in the lobe of one elegantly pointed ear. I knew all the fuss wasn’t on account of me.
“You took a bath,” I said. “And shaved. I’m impressed.”
“Just fancying myself up for you, darlin’.”
“I’m sure Madame Natasha and her girls will also appreciate your consideration.”
He grinned in a flash of white teeth. It was the kind of grin that could get him anything he wanted at Madame Natasha’s—or anywhere else in Mermeia—for free. He nodded toward where Quentin still waited by Nigel’s side door. “So what’s he doing here?”
“Asking for more trouble than he can handle.”
The grin broadened. “From Nigel or you?”
“Then walk across the street and stop him. The Crown’s still holding a table for us.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Being here wasn’t his idea.”
“So someone paid him well. Wouldn’t be the first time. Let’s go and let the man earn his money.”
I didn’t budge. “How much would it take for you to break into Nigel’s at night?”
To his credit, Phaelan didn’t have to think long. “More money than most in this city can lay hands to.”
“Exactly. And Quentin’s terrified of necromancers. There’s more involved here than money, meaning whoever hired Quentin scares him more than Nigel does. Quentin’s been trying to keep his nose clean and someone won’t let him—and I don’t like it.”
“So ask him who it is.”
“Quentin bought a new set of picklocks last week and started keeping to himself. I started asking him questions. He started avoiding me.” I indicated the assortment of armaments and dark leather that made up my evening ensemble—all topped by a ridiculously large and hooded cloak to keep Quentin from recognizing me had he spotted me. As an added precaution, my hair was contained in a long braid and hidden under the cloak. “Hence the cloak-and-dagger routine.”
“So if he won’t tell you what he’s up to, you’re just going to follow him while he does it.”
I nodded. “Exactly. And pull his backside out of the fire if need be. Afterward, we’re going to have a little chat.” I glanced back at the alley entrance. Phaelan hadn’t brought any of his crew with him. That was surprising.
“My men only want to end up in an alley after they’ve been drinking all night—or if they’re waiting for someone. Even if they knew they’d be sharing that alley with you, I’d have a mutiny in the making.”
I didn’t have a response for that. I’d have mutinied, too. We settled back and waited.
A chat with Quentin was a given, but I hoped pulling his backside out of the fire wasn’t going to be a part of my evening. Though with Quentin’s current track record, both were
Two months ago, Quentin had been hired to steal an emerald necklace being delivered to a local duke. The jeweler reported the theft to the duke. His Grace wasn’t home, but his wife was. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the duchess despised emeralds—but they were the favorite gem of the woman she suspected of being her husband’s mistress. Bad went to worse for both the duke and Quentin. The duke simply retreated to his country estate. Quentin had to hide in the Daith Swamp for three weeks. He emerged a changed man. I guess three weeks of eating nothing but silt slugs will do that to you.
I found out about all this after the fact. When Quentin got around to admitting his career relapse to me, he also admitted that the job could have gone better. My friends on the city watch thought Quentin’s flair for understatement was exceeded only by his bad luck—or stupidity—depending on who you asked.
Yet here he was tonight, about to break into the house of the nastiest necromancer Mermeia had to offer. Some people were slow learners. But I would say that if Quentin was looking for a fate worse than eating silt slugs in a swamp, he’d come to the right place.
About ten minutes passed, and Quentin hadn’t so much as flinched. I couldn’t say the same for Phaelan. Three months at sea had taken its toll. There was something he desperately wanted to be doing right now, and standing in a stinking alley listening to himself breathe wasn’t it.
“Go on, Phaelan. Nothing’s going to happen here that I can’t handle.”
“Not a chance. Nigel isn’t known for being understanding of trespassers.”
“I’m not trespassing; Quentin is.” I flashed Phaelan a grin of my own. “Besides, Nigel’s not home. If he were, I wouldn’t let Quentin within three blocks of here.”
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