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Chapter 26

I hung there and tried to wrap my head around that one.

You are confused, Muralin murmured sympathetically. It must be too much for you to comprehend. Ill explain, and Ill use small words. I died when I fell into that ravine. Or to be more exact, my heart stopped. It was only for a few moments, but it was long enough. In that instant, I ceased to be the Saghreds bond servant. Your father was a mage, so when he took the Saghred, the mantle of bond servant passed to him. When the Saghred absorbed him, the stone considered him dead and the honor of bond servant remained unclaimeduntil you unwittingly stumbled upon it. Then the honor passed to you by blood relationand by what scant magical ability you possess. Unfortunately, the stone will only accept one bond servant at a time. He smiled. I understand you attempted to read my works?

Yeah, I read them, cover to cover, and I even did it without moving my lips. You needed a good editor; you couldnt say anything in less than ten pages. They put me to sleep in the tub, and if it hadnt been for Sarad Nukpana, I probably would have drowned. By the way, he sends his regards.

Muralins smile vanished. Im certain he doesand he can keep sending his regards from precisely where he is. When you sacrificed Nukpana to the Saghred, your methods were not only primitive, but inefficient. There is a more direct and personal way for the bond servant to feed the stone.

The last piece of the puzzle clicked into place. I couldnt tell if the twisting in my chest was the manacles doing or my own growing panic.

I knew what he meant. I had read it myself.

Rudra Muralin hadnt always taken the Saghred with him on his kings destroy-and-enslave excursions. Sometimes the rock had stayed at homeand it had stayed at full power. As bond servant, Muralin would accept gifts on behalf of the Saghred.

Those gifts were sacrifices.

Magic user sacrifices. Spellsinger souls. No wonder Rudra Muralin was a raving loony.

My body was meant to contain one soul. Mine.

Rudra Muralin was watching me closely. Now you understand. Just as the Saghreds power flows through you, the sacrifices will flow through you to the Saghred. They merely have to be killed so that their blood falls on you. Ive found that slit throats work best. Once the stone has fed, I will kill you and the honor of bond servant will return to me where it belongs.

You still wont have the Saghred, I heard myself say. But Id be deadand so would Piaras and every spellsinger in that cell.

Ive used the Saghred to level cities. Muralins tone was flat. He was finished playing. I will gladly destroy one citadel. I can feed the Saghred from any distance, and use it the same way.

The citadel destroyed. Hundreds of Guardians dead in an instant.

Mychael.

Muralin nodded. Only the Saghred will remain. Ill have to wait until the crater cools, but then I can reclaim what is mine. This time Ill be the one giving the orders; no king will command me. His lips smiled, but his eyes were the flat black of a shark. I may even offer my unique services on the open marketfor the right price, of course.

Megalomaniac and entrepreneur, I managed past the tightness in my throat. Unlimited death and destruction to the highest bidder.

Merely trying to adapt to modern times.

I wont take sacrifices, I told him. I tried to sound defiant. I dont think it worked.

The Saghred is willing. What you want is irrelevant. Those manacles will keep you from causing me any more trouble, but they wont keep the Saghred from feeding. He drew a thin, curved dagger. Youre the bond servant; so in theory, this should work. But since youre an elf Well, I wouldnt want to waste any of my valuable spellsingers. Tamnaiss half-breed bastard will make a perfect test subject.

Talons aqua eyes widened in disbelief, and he screamed in muffled rage from behind his gag.

Your father didnt tell you? Muralin asked mildly. Or should I say your father refused to claim you. Hardly surprising. Taking pleasure from elves is permissible; procreating is not. His shame is understandable.

I should probably have kept my mouth shut, but I didnt want to.

My father kept the Saghred away from you for eight or was it nine? hundred years. Not too shabby for an elf. I lowered my voice in commiseration. Must have embarrassed the hell out of you. Your shame is understandable.

Rudra Muralins hand went white-knuckled around the daggers grip. Since youre an elf and female, the feeding process will probably shatter your sanity. You should be grateful that Im merciful and willing to kill you quickly. His eyes glittered with something nasty. And if the Saghred rejects Tamnaiss spawn, all Ive lost is something that should have been drowned at birth.

I pushed down my rage. What a sweetheart. If you unhook me, Ill give you a hug.

Rudra Muralin turned to Talons guards. Bring him.

Talon fought like a wildcat despite being tied up, and his guards had to virtually drag him across the floor to me.

You need do nothing, Muralin told me. He came closer, circling me to stand just behind my right shoulder. My legs werent chained and he wasnt taking any chances. If my test is successful, Ill have the other spellsingers brought in one at a time. His voice turned soft and coaxing next to my ear. Just relax, Raine. The Saghred has done this many times. It knows what to do.

I felt myself begin to respond to his voice, to do what he said. I fought the urge to thrash and struggle. I was still desperately trying to come up with a way to get out of this while trying not to look desperate.

One of the guards grabbed a handful of Talons long hair and jerked his head back, exposing his throat. Rudra Muralin moved into position behind him.

I felt the Saghred. I couldnt use its power, but it was there, quivering in anticipation, waiting, eager.

But not for Talons blood.

It was ignoring Talon completely. Its attention was elsewhereand so was mine.

Muralin sensed something was wrong.

I met his black eyes. Its not Talons fault. I let one corner of my mouth curve into a crooked grin. Its yours.

Rudra Muralin was a thousand years old, but he was still just a boy.

The lower hells must be freezing over. The Saghred and I actually agreed on something.

Why would you want a boy when you could have a man? A voice came from the shadows, low and dark with barely contained rage. Tams voice.

Release my son.

Heavily armed and black-armored goblins silently emerged from the tunnels and quickly surrounded the Khrynsani. Dark power rolled in waves from each and every one of them. These werent nightclub bouncers. Tam had called in high-powered, out-of-town talent.

The Khrynsani werent outnumbered, but I do believe they were outgunned. The same thought was crossing their minds. They looked to Rudra Muralin for the command they had to expect but didnt want to hear. Even death-loving Khrynsani didnt want to die.

Tams dark eyes glittered in the dim light. This wasnt the Tam I knew. This was Primaru Tamnais Nathrach: dark mage, former chief shaman for the House of MalSalin, magical enforcer to the goblin queenand a really pissed-off father.

Tam was dressed for sending Rudra Muralin to his reserved place in the lower hells. He was in black from head to toe, including boots that came up to midthigh. His armor was leather and matte black steel, he was wearing blades anywhere and everywhere he had the room, and his hair was pulled back in a long, goblin battle braid. When he stepped into the room, his braid didnt move. Probably another blade.

Rudra Muralin was standing between Tam and his son. When bad people threaten your child, I imagine that could make you a little irrational. Add irrational to rage and black magic and youve got a powder keg ready and eager to explode. Most people would run screaming from that kind of blast before it happened.

Tam was going to run toward it; I could see it in his eyes. And if he got the chance, Rudra Muralin was going to do the exact same thing.

And I was hanging there like a side of beef, smack dab in the middle of the room, with Piaras sprawled in a corner, out cold.

Like Id said, things were going to get ugly.

I offered you a place of honor among my new disciples. Muralins voice was ominously quiet. You scorned my gift.

I blinked. So the petulant punk was going to slaughter Talon out of spite?

Tam looked past Rudra Muralin to me.

Did he harm you?

Just my dignity for now, but I dont like his plans for later.

Plans can change.

I was hoping youd say that. I tilted my head to the right. Piaras is on the floor over there. Please get him out of here.

Tams eyes went back to Muralin. Done.

Muralin actually made tsking sounds. You shouldnt make promises you cant keep, Tamnais. Your spawn means nothing to me; I have other sacrifices. But your elf whore is mine.

Whore?

Chain me, steal my magic, slaughter kids on me, kill me, and call me a whore? I flexed my feet. Theres payback due on that one.

Rudra Muralin took the curved knife away from Talons throat and, with a disdainful smile, shoved him to the floor. Talons hands were still bound behind him and he landed hard on his shoulder. A muffled sound of pain came from behind his gag, but when he looked up at Rudra Muralin, his aqua eyes were crystal clear and blazing with hatred.

Theres your filthy bastard, Muralin purred. Come and get it.

Tam did.

Now I dont mind all hell breaking loose. My family loves a good fight. But a torture chamber full of leather-clad goblin dark mages, and me dangling from the ceiling like a party favor? No, thanks.

Fortunately, most of the spellslinging was aimed elsewhere. One of Tams men dragged Piaras clear and took up a defensive stance in front of him. Good. Piaras looked like he was starting to come around. Even better. Hopefully hed realize that the goblins were divided into us and them, and that the goblin standing guard over him was one of us.

Talon was on his feet and was looking for a way out when a Khrynsani with a wicked-looking dagger locked his arm around Talons throat and pulled him in tight for the kill. Bad move. Talons hands were tied behind his back and they were perfectly aligned with their intended target. The guards shriek confirmed it. The kid traded his death grip on the Khrynsanis dangly bits for a sharp twist, and didnt let go until the guards knees buckled. Having been a man myself for several hours this evening, I knew firsthand that there was no pain like man pain.

Talon! I yelled.

The kid turned. He was gagged and tied; I was chained to a hook. We were quite a pair.

Swing me!

The kid looked baffled for a split second; then he grinned.

I narrowed my eyes. Not that kind of swing. Get behind me and push.

He did, and I got the intense satisfaction of kicking a Khrynsani in the back of the head.

I was on the backswing when I saw Rudra Muralin coming for me, curved dagger held low.

He wanted control of the Saghredand if he killed me, he had it. I could not believe this. My lifes goal was to get rid of the Saghred. Now to keep my life, I had to fight for the rock. Irony sucked.

Rudra Muralin ran straight at me and I used the only weapons I had. I wrapped my legs around his waist, pinned his arms to his side, and squeezed my thighs together. I felt his power building, so I twisted sharply, squeezed harder, and screamed right in his face.

Tams blackjack came down on the back of his head. Rudra Muralin went limp between my legs and I let him go before his weight dislocated my shoulders.

No spells? I gasped.

No need. Tam grinned and tucked the blackjack back in his belt.

He bent and wrapped his arms around my hips and lifted me straight up. I unhooked the chain and lowered my arms, my shoulders screaming in protest.

I grimaced. I am going to be so sore in the morning.

Tam loosened his hold enough that I slowly slid down the length of him until my feet were on the floor. Tam didnt let go. Id kind of thought and hoped he wouldnt.

Nice work, he murmured.

I shrugged as much as my aching shoulders would let me. If you cant fight, distract.

I looked around the room and swallowed. Tams black-magic hit squad didnt believe in taking prisoners. If it was Khrynsani, it was dead.

Piaras was on his feet and mostly conscious. Talon was untied and ungagged.

Garai? Tam never took his dark eyes from mine.

One of the goblins approached. Your will, my primaru?

Find the keys.

At once.

I stopped and my eyes went wide. With all the black magic flying around the room, the Saghred should have been trying to burn a hole in my chest. It wasnt.

Oh yeah. The manacles.

Tam knew. He grinned slowly, then bent his head and kissed me even slower. One arm pulled me tight against him; his free hand cradled my face and one finger lightly traced the tip of my ear.

I told myself that my legs were still weak from hanging; Tams kiss and nibbling fangs had nothing to do with it.

Tam raised his head and looked down at me; his dark eyes had gotten even darker.

See, no Saghred kickback, he murmured.

Not a peep, I managed.

His smile turned seven ways wicked. Maybe we should keep the manacles.

I met his smile and raised him a grin. They could come in handy. And youre very bad.

His smile faded. Thats what Ive been trying to tell you.

Garai brought the keys and Tam unlocked the manacles. He pocketed the key, then held out the manacles to Talon.

Would you care to do the honors? Tam asked his son, indicating the still-unconscious Rudra Muralin.

Talon bared his fangs in a ferocious smile. Id love to.

Tams expression went solemn. We should talk later.

The kid snorted. Damned right we should. He stopped and thought. Sir, he added.

I took a couple of quick steps back from Tam. The second those manacles came off, the burn was back. With the room full of black magicand especially Tams proximitythe Saghred was looking for a piece of the action. It felt like it was going to take the first piece out of me.

Raine, are you Tam took a concerned step toward me.

I held out my hand to stop him. He understood and didnt come any closer.

I took slow, measured breaths. Maybe we should have left the manacles on me. I tried a grin; it didnt quite make it.

Rudra Muralin chuckled dryly. He was on the floor, he was manacledand he was smiling. That didnt bode well.

He looked around at his dead Khrynsani guards. Bravo, Tamnais. Youve always been the thorough type. Very neat, very meticulous work. My temple guards were here with me. His black eyes were shining. My shamans are with the spellsingers. And if I didnt return within the half hour Well, lets just say they had their orders. He smiled, slow and horrible. Times up, Tamnais. The harvest has begun.


Chapter 25 | Armed & Magical | Chapter 27