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Chapter 3

I want to help find that girl, I said as soon as Mychael closed the archmaguss office door behind us.

Mychael sighed. He looked about as tired as I felt. I wasnt the only one whose day had gone down the crapper.

I know you want to help, he told me. And under normal circumstances, I would welcome that help, but

Im dangerous, I finished for him. And unpredictable, and infected with the Saghred.

Mychaels lips curled into a weary smile. I knew you were dangerous and unpredictable the moment I met you.

That had been last week. Our first meeting had been mistaken identity, followed by misunderstanding, ending in me kicking Mychael in the balls. Not one of my glowing moments.

What happened today just further proves my point, Mychael was saying. The Nightshades are here; so are the Khrynsani. The safest place for you is in this citadel. The Khrynsani want to get their hands on you. And the same people who hired Banan Ryce to collapse that stage could have also paid him to kidnap you. His blue eyes were hard. Neither is going to happen.

I took a breath and told myself to calm down. Mychael didnt respond to emotional tirades. He was the paladin; he demanded cooperation, and respected logic. I knew a way I could give him both and still get what I wanted.

I dont want Banan yanking me through a mirror, either, I told him. I also dont need to leave the citadel to help find that girl. Lock me in the highest tower youve got, have Vegard sit on me, just get me something that belongs to her, something shes worn recently, or used, like a hairbrush. Hairbrushes are great. I dont need to do the footwork. Your men and the city watch know this island better than I do. Just let me point them in the right direction.

I stopped, mainly because Id run out of air. Mychael didnt say anything, but I could tell he was wavering.

You can link to a victim through objects? he asked.

Yes, I can link through objects. Itll be like Im inside the girls head.

For a seeker, one of the best ways to find a missing person was to hold an object that belonged to them. The closer the person was to that object, the better. Before Id picked up more magical mojo courtesy of the Saghred, my seeking talents were good, better than most, but still pretty basic. I could use an object to track the person who owned that object, but most of what I got were just impressions, not a direct link. I could then use those impressionsand some good old-fashioned footworkto find the missing person. Thanks to the Saghred, whats normal for me now is unheard of for most seekers. I can link directly to the person. Last week, I got a murder victims final moments in full color, sound, smell, and touch. I felt like I was being murdered right along with him. Not pleasant, but neither was being murdered. That was the first and only time Id done it. I assumed it would work even better with a living subject. I wasnt about to tell Mychael that Id only done it once. Show no doubt, know no refusal.

Can any seeker on your city watch do that? I asked quietly.

From his silence I knew none of them could. I waited.

Ill get you her hairbrush.

An hour or so later someone knocked on the door to my room. I expected a hairbrush. It was Riston.

The paladin would like to see you in his office.

When I got there, Mychael wasnt alone. I took one look at his guest and I think my mouth fell open.

The mans robes were a riot of silk and color. Red, orange, amber, goldevery color that flame could be at one point or another in its capricious existencethis man managed to wear them all at once and wear them well. It was nothing short of a stunning fashion achievement.

Maestro, this is Raine Benares, Mychael said. Raine, this is Maestro Ronan Cayle.

If you were a magic user, youd heard of Ronan Cayle. The spellsinging master. The legend who only taught future legends. The maestro who turned out the finest spellsingers the Isle of Mid and the Conclave had to offer. Mychaels teacher.

Mychael was a spellsinger and a healer. Each was a highly desirable magical talent, and Mychael was gifted with both. With the power of his voice alone, a spellsinger could influence thought with a quietly hummed phrase, or control actions with simple speech or carefully crafted tune. One person or thousandsthe number didnt matter. One spellsinger could turn the tide of battle. Gifted spellsingers were highly prized and sought afternot to mention rare and dangerous. Mychael could do virtually anything he wanted to with that baritone of his, and not only would his intended victim not mind in the least, hed enjoy it. I know I had.

His spellsinging teachers appearance didnt match his reputation. Ronan Cayles features were strong and solid, but it was the kind of face that would go unnoticed in a crowd. He was human, but from the amber glint in his hazel eyes, there was elf in there somewhere.

The maestro extended his hand for mine. I gave it to him and was treated to a most proficient hand kiss.

So this was Piarass future teacher.

Piaras Rivalin was an elf, my Mermeian landladys grandson, and the little brother Id always wanted. Hed also attracted unwanted attention last week as a result of the Saghred. Piaras had fought off that attention with a level of spellsinging talent unheard of for a seventeen-year-old. His singing voice was magnificent, but it was also an incredibly powerful weapon that he needed to learn to control. My godfather, Garadin Wyne, had been Piarass first voice teacher. He knew Ronan Cayle from his Conclave days and had sent the maestro a letter of recommendation. Mychael added his recommendation to Garadins, effectively securing an audition for Piaras.

Tarsilia Rivalin and Garadin had come with us to Mid, but at my insistence had returned to Mermeia. Piaras and I were surrounded by hundreds of Guardians; we were as safe as we were going to get, so there was no reason for them to stay. Plus Piaras would be going to school; I would be looking for a way out of my Saghred predicament. Neither were short-term activities. I snorted to myself. The way my luck was running, Piaras would graduate before I was out of this mess.

Piaras was practicing downstairs in the citadels music room for his audition tomorrow with the maestro. The poor kid was already scared to death. Hopefully he hadnt heard the maestro was in the citadel.

We need your help, Mychael was saying. He didnt sound too happy about it.

I didnt move. With what?

The Saghred. Since spellbinding isnt containing it, I asked Ronan if he knew a spellsong that would work. He does. You can sense that the Saghred is awake. His expression darkened. Unfortunately, we cannot. It would be helpful to know whether the spellsong is working. He paused uncomfortably. We need you to go down into the containment rooms with us.

That was the part he really didnt like.

I hadnt been down to the Guardians containment rooms, and I didnt want to go now. But I also didnt want the Saghred awake and in my head.

Ill go, I told him. What kind of spellsong are you going to use? I asked the maestro.

A sleepsong, Cayle told me. Since binding the Saghred itself was ineffective, Mychael and I thought that the souls inside would be a better target.

I bristled. I didnt like hearing my father described as a target.

The song Ill be using is for the binding of wayward souls, he continued.

Binding? My voice was tight with restraint. My father was not a wayward soul. Being trapped in the Saghred was torture enough; I did not want him bound and unable to move.

Ronan Cayle sensed my growing anger. So did Mychael.

Raine, its like sleep, Mychael explained.

I would think you would want Sarad Nukpana bound, Cayle said, clearly puzzled at my reaction.

Im not talking about Sarad Nukpana, I said, my voice low and quiet.

Ronan knows about your father, Mychael told me.

Ah, then I understand your concern, Cayle said. I can guarantee that your father will not be harmed.

Have you ever been hit with this sleepsong?

No, but

Then you cant guarantee me a damned thing.

Mychael stepped between us. Raine.

This is my father were talking about!

And Sarad Nukpana, he reminded me sternly. And who knows how many others just like him. Raine, your father gave over eight hundred years of his life to keep the Saghred out of the hands of people like Sarad Nukpana. Mychaels intense blue gaze never wavered. It cant remain active. Your father is a Guardian; he knows his duty. He would want us to do this. Mychaels voice lost some of its edge. Hes trapped inside the Saghred. Youve been in there; you know what its like. Sleep would be a mercy.

I remembered what I had seen. Those who had been in the Saghred the longest had been reduced to filmy, faceless wraiths. Other prisoners seemed to be more solid, but their bodies looked ravaged and wasted as if from disease. I had seen my father. Elegantly pointed ears, a beautiful, pure-blooded high elf. His hair was silver, and his eyes were the gray of gathering storm clouds. Eyes identical to my own. He had only been inside the Saghred for a year, and he had already begun to fade.

I had been able to see through him.

I gritted my teeth and stifled a sniff. I would not tear up in front of Mychael, and I sure as hell wouldnt in front of a stranger.

Mychael looked at me. I stared at him. I didnt say anything because I knew he was right. My father had been taken by the Saghred while trying to hide it from the Khrynsani and Sarad Nukpana. He would want us to do this.

Is it really like sleep? I asked Mychael quietly.

He gave me a sad smile. Yes, its like sleep.

I looked from Mychael to Ronan Cayle. Tell me what you need me to do.

The Guardians containment rooms were beneath the basements of the citadel. They were rooms that could be locked down tight enough to hold something as powerful as the Saghred. The corridors were cold stone; the doors to various rooms were thick wood and banded with some serious iron. There was nothing supernatural beasties liked less than iron. I wondered if those supernatural occupants had included the two-legged variety from time to time. Considering that Mid was an island full of sorcerers, I would be willing to bet these rooms had also been used as prison cells.

The farther into the depths of the citadel we went, the thicker the air got. Chilled and constricting. Breathing became an effort. It wasnt the closeness and thickness of the walls that gave me that impression; it was something else.

What kind of containments do you have on this place? I asked Mychael, using more breath than I could actually spare.

Level ten here, level twelve on the next two floors down.

Containment spells only went up to twelve. Mychael had arranged housing for the Guardians newest guest on the bottom floor of the citadel. Bottom floor, subterranean, level-twelve containments, plenty of experienced Guardian chaperonesand someone was trying to break curfew. I bet I knew who the bad boy was. I didnt need any proof to know that Sarad Nukpana would have turned ringleader the moment he was inside the Saghred.

Level twelve should be reassuring, I said.

Mychaels expression was grim. It usually is.

I prided myself on being in good shape. Most times being a seeker just demanded that you be in better shape than what was chasing you. I had always aspired to go beyond that. Yet here I was, going down flights of stairs, and I was out of breath. That was just plain wrong.

I took a ragged gasp of air. Is this normal?

To my satisfaction, Mychael did look a tad flushed himself, and so did Ronan Cayle. Being paladin meant he had to be in better shape than everyone, and Ronan Cayles lung capacity was as well-known as his voice.

To a degree. Mychael took a deep breath. We layer our shields. When theyve just been replenished, it can thicken the air somewhat.

Somewhat like this?

Nothing like this.

Not only was the air thick, it was cloying in my mouth, my throat, my lungs, threatening to choke me, and it didnt smell too great, either. Though the smell was the least of my problems. Sliding up from below along the chilled stone walls came a sibilant whisper. I knew that voice. I didnt know if I heard it with my ears or in my head, but I knew who it was and where it was coming from. The language was Goblin, as was the speaker.

Good morning, my little seeker, Sarad Nukpana murmured.

Those five silky little words were all it took to start my skin crawling on the soles of my feet and keep going until it reached my scalp. The voice sounded husky from sleep, carried the warmth of the bed, and was way too intimate under any circumstances, especially since Sarad Nukpana was the last person I wanted to open my eyes and find sharing my pillow.

I took a slow and careful breath, not daring to move. Do you hear that? I asked Mychael.

From my expression he knew I had heard something bad. Hear what?

He cannot hear my words or thoughts, little seeker. Only you.

Mychael scowled. Nukpana?

I nodded in the smallest motion possible.

Give your paladin my regards.

The goblins voice felt like a cat rubbing up against my facenot a sensation I used to mind. Until now.

I swallowed. He says hello.

We picked up the pace. Nukpanas warm laughter bubbled up around us.

Our power grows. I could almost feel the goblins languid stretch. Tell your paladin and his maestro that they cannot stop us.

Mychael, unless Sarad Nukpanas taken to referring to himself in the royal we, hes found some like-minded friends in there.

Im not surprised.

I am. He never struck me as the friend-making type.

Allies, little seeker. Allies. All of a like mind; all with the same goal.

If Sarad Nukpana could talk to me in my head, the least I could do was return the favor. I knew how.

So, what kind of club are you and your new friends starting? I asked.

We merely wish to ensure our survivaland our prosperity. You will help us accomplish both.

Fat chance.

You cannot refuse us any more than you can refuse to breathe. You are a bond servant to the Saghred, like your fatherbefore you. There was a knowing smile in his voice. Even now you do its will.

That was unwelcome news. I tried to find breathable air and go down the stairs, while my mind raced to find what I could have done to make the Saghred happy. Id lifted the stage this morning with the power the Saghred had already given me. I didnt tap the stone. And when it tempted me in that courtyard, I didnt give in. I couldnt see how either was doing the Saghreds will.

Soon its desires will become your own, and you will have an eternity to fulfill them. You are strong enough to serve, but too weak to resist.

The sense of Sarad Nukpana abruptly vanished. So much for him ignoring me, I said out loud.

Concern flashed in Mychaels blue eyes. What did he say?

Oh, nothing much, just promised me eternal servitude. I made a little dismissive waving motion with my hand. I saw that it was shaking. Hes just trying to scare me.

Scared is the smartest thing you could be right now.

That must make me the smartest person on the island.

Are you all right?

If I said yes, Id be lying. Having an evil madman popping into my head isnt something I want as a permanent arrangement.

And it wont be, Mychael promised, his intense expression telling me hed never broken a promise and wasnt about to start with me.

Its my new lifes goal, too. By the way, hes found some new friends to play with, and they have plans.

That earned me a couple of words I didnt expect to hear from a paladin.

Sarad Nukpanas low laughter bubbled up again in my head. I told myself it was only the memory, not the real thing. It didnt lessen the creepies. And I didnt share with Mychael that Nukpana considered me his new helpmate. One catastrophic problem at a time.

We arrived at the citadels lowest level. The Saghreds containment rooms door was just a door. It didnt look like a portal to the bowels of hell or the entrance to the unspeakable. It was just a thick wooden door, banded with iron, and flanked by a pair of burly Guardians who didnt look happy to be there. I didnt blame them.

Sarad Nukpana wasnt going to go to sleep without a fight. I thought the comparison to an obnoxious child was oddly appropriate. Id threaten to spank him, but unlike a child, Sarad Nukpana would probably enjoy it. In fact, I was sure of it.

Once were inside, let us know if the subject begins to misbehave, Cayle reminded me.

It looked like I wasnt the only one using a naughty schoolboy analogy.

Trust mewhen the Saghred misbehaves, youll know about it whether I tell you or not. But Ill be glad to mention the obvious when it happens.

You mean if it happens.

Well, we can all hope for that.

Mychael had been speaking in low tones with the Guardians on duty at the door. He crossed the corridor to where we waited. Are we ready?

To get it over with, I said.

Mychael nodded, and the Guardians posted on either side of the door unlocked, unlatched, and opened it.

The stairs and the room below were brightly lit, but only for the benefit of the Guardians on duty. Being its own self-contained little world, the Saghred made its own interior light. The outside world was not visible from inside. Unfortunately, I had this knowledge firsthand.

The room contained only the essentialsfour Guardians and the object they guarded. One look at the Saghred sitting on its pedestal told me that the stone had its figurative eyes closed, but it was far from asleep. Unlike with a child pretending to be asleep, Mychael, Ronan, and I werent just going to turn off the bedroom lights and close the door on our way out.

Sarad Nukpana was nowhere to be heard. Maybe hed rolled over and gone back to sleep. Maybe he and his new friends were up late last night plotting world domination.

I didnt like any of it, no maybe about it.

The Saghred sat on a small table in the center of the room, still in the translucent, white stone casket Mychael had used to transport it to Mid. It was still translucent, but it sure wasnt white.

I couldnt ever think of a time when a red glow was a good thing.

The Saghreds glow reminded me of an angry, red eye. I half expected to hear a warning growl to go along with it. The rock was clearly not amused, which told me the shields might be holding. Barely.

I had heard about the kind of power Conclave-trained Guardians could put into their containment spells. It was an accepted fact that if a Guardian clamped something or someone down, it stayed put. I didnt think the Saghred had heard the same storiesand if Sarad Nukpana had, he was delighting in ignoring them.

The Saghreds glow faded to a softly pulsing pink, and I felt the faintest tug, like a childs hand wrapping around my little finger, a soft insistence, a come-watch-what-I-can-do kind of invitation. Sweet and innocent and perfectly harmless.

You can bat your eyelashes at me all day, I told the Saghred. Im not buying.

I could only describe what happened next as a tantrum.

The containment box lid sprang open and a beam of blood-red light shot out and engulfed one of the Guardians. He screamed, and I lunged for the box. I knew it was a bad idea. I also knew it was exactly what Sarad Nukpana wanted. But I knew the Guardian was dead or worse if I did nothing.

As soon as my hand touched the open lid, I realized just how bad an idea it was. The last voice I heard from outside the Saghred was Mychaels shout.

Chapter 2 | Armed & Magical | Chapter 4