All Spell Breaks Loose
“That still doesn’t answer my question,” Badru said. “I don’t care what parts any of you have dragging the ground. No answer from you, no help from me. How are you getting in?”
“We’re not walking in the front doors, sir, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Tam said. “Imala knows a passage that was created during the last renovation. I have a tunnel that was built during the original construction.”
Badru’s eyes narrowed. “Do you know if either one’s been compromised?”
Imala answered that one. “As of last month, neither one was known to anyone other than Tam and myself.”
“A lot of bad can happen in a month.”
Amen to that.
Badru smiled slyly. “I know a way in that you wouldn’t need to worry about any Khrynsani guards at all.”
Now Tam and Imala looked at the old mage like he was crazy. Mychael and I shared a blank stare.
“Is this an idea you’d like to share with us elves, too?” Mychael asked.
“There’s a cave about a mile from the harbor,” Badru told us. “It’s set into the cliffs just above sea level. The cave opens into tunnels which lead up into the temple.”
I glanced from Tam to Imala. “That sounds nice enough, but I take it there’s a reason why we don’t want to go that way.”
Tam answered me. “There are usually several reasons living in those caves at any given time.”
“Sea dragons,” Imala clarified.
That did it. Kesyn Badru had spent too much time in a possessed house.
I’d seen a full-grown sea dragon before just off the coast of Stiren. Lucky for us, it must have just eaten, and wasn’t interested in either Phaelan’s ship or crew. The only difference between sea dragons and Khrynsani was the way they’d kill us. Personally, I’d rather be stabbed than eaten. Sea dragons didn’t care if you were dead before they started eating you.
“In addition to guarding the sea cave entrance, the Khrynsani use the dragons for garbage disposal,” Badru told us. “Corpses of sacrifices, prisoners who outlive their usefulness, Khrynsani whose loyalties become questionable.” He hesitated. “The one unfortunate part is that the tunnels end near the temple dungeons, which I’d really rather not visit.”
At the mention of the temple dungeons, Tam’s eyes lit up, and suddenly Kesyn Badru wasn’t the craziest person in the room anymore. I knew exactly what he was thinking, and I wasn’t any happier about that idea than I was with playing hide-and-seek with hungry sea dragons.
“Tam, we can’t risk—” I began.
“Our most powerful mages and top military minds—all imprisoned by Sarad because they refused to bow to him.” Tam looked at Mychael. “We’d have an army that’s on our side.”
“And your father.”
“Yes, and my father. It won’t make up for everything I’ve done, but it’d be a start.”
“I like even odds,” Mychael said. “But if evening the odds risks the mission, it’s not worth the attempt.”
I bit my bottom lip. “Though…”
“Not you, too?”
I raised both of my hands defensively. “Hey, just trying to do that ‘stay flexible, stay alive’ thing you were talking about. As little as we need something else to do while under Sarad Nukpana’s nose, this might be just the thing we need to buy us some time. Sometimes chaos is a good thing. A bunch of vindictive battle-hardened mages and warriors loose in the temple on the eve of Sarad Nukpana’s greatest triumph. Yes, Nukpana will have to leave guards around the Saghred, but he’ll have no other choice than to send the rest of them to stop that prison break.”
Tam spoke. “Mychael, with their help, we might just be able to destroy the Saghred and Sarad’s Gate. Mother said the team that’s trained and ready to destroy that Gate are in those dungeons. At the very least, we’d be giving these men and women the dignity of dying while fighting instead of waiting to be slaughtered like animals. To me, that’s a chance worth taking.”
Mychael frowned. “I know they won’t take orders from me, and you didn’t exactly leave a clean record when you had to get out of town.”
“Imala, would they listen to you?” I asked. “Or would they think you were still working for Sathrik?”
“Shit,” she swore mildly.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Part of why Imala Kalis had been able to gather so much inside information on King Sathrik’s plans was that, technically, she still worked for the guy. For goblins, maintaining dual alliances came as naturally as breathing. But this wasn’t a game for the men and woman Sarad Nukpana had imprisoned in those dungeons, and Imala telling them she was one of the good guys might not go over well.
“Think you could convince them that you wouldn’t set them free just to turn around and set them up?” I asked.
“They would listen to you,” Tam said quietly.
I blinked. “Me? You know I’m an elf, and I think that’s going to be fairly obvious to them, too.”
“You’re also the Saghred’s bond servant.”
Imala nodded. “Our people know who you are, and that includes what you look like.”
“But I don’t have any magic.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Tam said. “They know what you’ve done to thwart Sarad Nukpana, and they know that he wants—and needs—you dead. You’re here to destroy the Saghred. Mychael is the paladin of the Conclave Guardians, the keepers of the Saghred for the past thousand years.” He flashed a grin. “The two of you have the hero credentials; we’ll just be there as your trusty sidekicks.”
I snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“That we’re trusty or sidekicks?”
I gave him a crooked smile. “Either one.”
“I haven’t spent all of my time in this house,” Badru said. “I’ve been out, and there are some people I still trust to talk to. From what I’ve heard, Sarad’s keeping those prisoners healthy and well fed. Apparently that rock doesn’t like weak food. I’m sure those boys and girls would like nothing better than to pay Sarad back with interest for fattening them up for the slaughter.”
“Okay,” Mychael began. “I’m not saying we’re going to do this thing, but how many cells are there and how do they open?”
“A dozen cells on two levels,” Tam said. “All but a few of them open with the same key. The chief guard and his senior officers each have one.”
“How many officers?”
“Think we can get our hands on one?” Mychael shot Tam a meaningful look. “Quietly?”
Tam’s grin was slow and borderline evil. In that moment, he looked entirely too much like Talon. “He’ll never know what happened.”
Kesyn Badru’s instructions for getting out of the house were simple: run like hell and don’t look back. Throughout my professional career, I’d successfully used that strategy many times. I was glad to be able to say that it worked this time, too.
It was full dark once we got outside. The streets would be busier, and the odds for getting stopped and/or captured would be greater. We were still cloaked and hooded, and Kesyn Badru was sporting a battered, wide-brim hat. Since we were headed for the harbor, then the sea cave, the most direct route would have us going under a place I’d heard a lot about, and had absolutely no desire to visit.
It had another fancy-sounding name, but over the centuries, it’d been used to make public examples of anyone unlucky or stupid enough to piss off a Mal’Salin monarch. If we managed to get Chigaru on the throne and he started pulling that all-powerful crap, he’d be getting another visit from yours truly. Only I’d have the family fleet backing me up. Phaelan and Uncle Ryn would happily blast his butt off of that throne. If I risked my life to help put someone on a throne, they damned sure better behave when they got there.
To get to Execution Square, Badru led us through parts of the city where you hoped you were carrying more steel than the thugs waiting around the corner, in the next doorway, and down the alley you just passed. Between the five of us, we must have been packing enough, because no one jumped us. While it didn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies, it did lessen the white-knuckled death grip I had on my dagger.
Badru stopped at a narrow stair that ran against the side of a building. The stairs went down to somewhere. The first four I could see; the rest disappeared into the dark.
He readjusted the brim of his hat. “There’s twenty steps with a door at the bottom,” he said. “We’ll make some light once we get inside. Watch your step.”
A storage room led to the sewers, which led to a cobweb-filled tunnel. Before we’d left the house, Badru had filled a small knapsack with odds and ends he said would come in handy. He’d given us each a ball not much larger than a die, an invention of his. You shook it and the liquid inside made almost as much light as a lightglobe. Plenty of light, no heat, and, best of all, no magic. If you needed to put it out quickly, you just stuck it in your pocket.
Fire of any kind would have been bad walking through cobwebs. But the nice thing about them being here was that it meant no one else had been. I briefly wondered if Magh’Sceadu could flow through cobwebs. We moved fast and in complete silence. We had a destination and we wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
I estimated we’d been walking for nearly an hour, when Kesyn Badru stopped and we did likewise. I couldn’t see much in the dim light, but I could hear plenty. Voices, footsteps, a lot of both—and all coming from directly over our heads. Quick glances darted between Badru, Tam, and Imala. Though this time, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that something was happening in Execution Square and crowds were gathering to watch. I didn’t see any way that this could be good.