Authors: Lisa Shearin
WEDDING BELLS, MAGIC SPELLS
A Raine Benares Novel
By Lisa Shearin
For all of my fans who never stopped asking me,
“What happens next?!”
I’d spent entirely too much time in front of mirrors lately. For
most people, that would simply mean they were vain. For a magic user like me, it meant you might have a death wish.
Mirrors let normal people admire how good they look, or how bad the morning after a night out.
The mirrors I had no desire to be standing in front of didn’t exist for vanity. This room was a place of starting points and destinations, a way of traveling from one location to another, whether that distance was separated by a few miles or a few thousand. Most of the mirrors were large enough for at least one person to step through. Those were held upright by floor-mounted metal or wood frames, some ornately etched or carved, some just plain and practical. All of them were maintained and operated by Guardian mirror mages—magic users who were beyond skilled at opening, navigating, and closing the ways from one place to another, ways that were critical to the Guardians and the Conclave of Sorcerers that they protected. One such mage was currently preparing one of the larger mirrors for use.
All mirrors did for me was to give me a raging case of the creeps.
My name is Raine Benares. I’m an elf and I was a seeker. Well, technically I still am a seeker, only now I’m much more than a magical finder of people lost and things missing. The “much more” part wasn’t my idea or choice. Three months ago, a soul-sucking stone of cataclysmic power called the Saghred attached itself to me like a psychic leech and gave me magical abilities I didn’t want and that no sane person needed to have. Since destroying the stone, I didn’t know if I still had those abilities, or if they’d been a package deal with the Saghred. In ancient times, armies that carried the Saghred before them were indestructible. That quality supposedly applied to the rock as well.
To destroy the Saghred had involved going through a mirror here to one hundreds of miles away in the goblin capital of Regor.
I’d been part of a strike team tasked with getting to Regor, hunting down, and destroying the Saghred. Our trip hadn’t exactly been leisurely. We’d been under attack. The only escape route had been through that mirror. What was to have been an orderly, one-person-at-a-time scenario had degenerated into a dive-for-your-life trip.
If we had failed to stop the sadistic goblin dark mage controlling the stone, my soul would have been slurped up for an eternity of torment along with hundreds of thousands of others who’d been sacrificed to the Saghred over the ages. Destroying the stone first meant releasing all of the souls held captive inside. We’d done that, then I had smashed the rock into crystalline dust. The fact that I was standing here alive was proof that anything could be destroyed if someone was motivated enough.
I was someone and I had been seriously motivated.
The team had survived, the Saghred had been shattered, and the evil dark mage carried off by a nine-foot-tall bull demon into the Lower Hells.
I’d thought that meant mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, it was only the beginning.
With the destruction of the Saghred and a new, non-psychotic king on the goblin throne, an elf/goblin/human peace treaty was being negotiated on the neutral ground of the Isle of Mid. For as long as history has been written down, elves have hated goblins and goblins have despised elves, with humans just trying not to get caught in the middle of seemingly one war after another. That was the way it was, is, and how everyone thought it always would be.
We were going to do everything we could to change that.
Leading the charge would be the Conclave Guardians. The Guardians were mages and warriors whose primary job was the defense of the Conclave of Sorcerers, the governing body of all magic users in the Seven Kingdoms. The Conclave was based on the Isle of Mid, giving the Guardians the dubious honor of being peacekeepers on an island packed with mage bureaucrats, mage professors, and teenage mages in training at the Conclave’s college—a volatile combination any way you looked at it.
The Guardians were also the most elite magical fighting force in the Seven Kingdoms, and as the Guardians’ paladin and commander, Mychael Eiliesor was the top lawman on Mid. If it happened on this island, it was his business. He was an elf, a master spellsinger, healer, and warrior lethally skilled in battlefield magic.
He was also my fiancé.
Since the formation of the Seven Kingdoms, not only had the Isle of Mid been neutral, so had the Guardians. The Conclave? Not so much. It depended on who you were dealing with, which way the wind was blowing, and what was in it for them. But within the walls of the Guardians’ citadel, they made the rules and enforced the law, so the peace talks would take place here. That was the one thing all of the delegates had agreed on. Now that the Saghred had been destroyed, no one kingdom had a military or magical advantage over the other. The chances to reach a peace agreement would never be better than they were right now.
It would be the Guardians’ job to ensure that the delegates played nice and stayed safe.
It sounded simple enough, but I didn’t kid myself that more than a thousand years of hate and distrust was going to evaporate overnight just because some diplomats got together and signed a piece of paper. Ink scratched on paper wasn’t a guarantee of anything, not even good penmanship.
Trust was the biggest issue.
Neither trusted the other not to slaughter them while they slept.
Elves were awake during the day and slept at night.
Goblins were nocturnal.
And they differed from other races in more ways than one. Their skin was a pearlescent gray varying in shades from light to dark. But the big distinction—and what had kept elves reaching for their weapons for the past millennia—were the fangs.
Goblins had fangs and they weren’t for decorative use only. Like elves, goblins were tall and lean and, also like elves, much stronger than they looked. While most elf children were still playing with toys, goblin kids were given blades and taught how to use them. Running with knives was encouraged, and intrigue was a way of life. Toss
into the mix, and trust was a hard thing to come by.
Since both races had pointed ears and a preponderance of magically gifted individuals, it was said that elves and goblins had a common ancestor. I didn’t know if it was true or not, though it sounded logical enough to me. But it was an opinion best kept to one’s self. There was no quicker way to be challenged to a duel with an old-blood noble of either race, whether mage or mundane, than to open that topic for debate.
However, not all elves and goblins wanted to use each other for target practice.
I was here in the mirror room to welcome a friend coming in from the elven capital of Silvanlar. Duke Markus Sevelien was coming for my and Mychael’s wedding. He was also the director of elven intelligence and part of the elven delegation for the peace talks.
I’d done seeker contract work for Markus over the years, finding missing elven diplomats, agents, and assorted nobles who’d gotten involved in something over their highborn heads. It was gratifying work, and I’d been good at it. I considered him a friend, a good one.
And in about another hour the goblin delegation would arrive, and I was sure Markus would stay to welcome Tamnais Nathrach and Imala Kalis. The new goblin ambassador to Mid, Dakarai Enric, was already in residence at the goblin embassy here. Tam was the chief mage and chancellor for the goblin king Chigaru Mal’Salin, and Imala was the director of the goblin secret service.
I would be welcoming both of them with hugs. Markus would greet Tam with a warm handshake, but the last time he’d seen Imala, they’d done that double-cheek-kissing thing. That alone should communicate enough peace for anyone. Unfortunately, Markus and I were the elven exception and so were our goblin friends.
I trusted Tam, Imala, and Markus with my life. Who I’d never met, and had no reason to trust, were the people the other delegates would be taking the signed treaty home to. Those were the individuals in their respective governments with the power to enforce what would be decided here—or pick and choose what they liked and what suited their political agendas.
There was never a convenient time for the top lawman in the Seven Kingdoms to get married. We’d already had to put off the wedding twice for one thing or another. We’d picked a date during the peace talks for one reason only—our friends. Tam and Imala were on the goblin delegation, and Markus was on the elven. Mychael’s younger sister was on the elven ambassador’s staff. It was the only time we’d be able to get them all in one place at one time.
The world was watching us. It was the Guardians’ job to keep the delegates safe, and ensure that the treaty was drafted and signed.
Screwing up any of the above wasn’t an option.
Like I said before, my last name is Benares. My relatives make up the most notorious criminal family in the Seven Kingdoms. The Benares family is good at being bad, and proud of it. I was a member of the family, but not in the family business.
Yeah, I know. No one else believes me, either.
Archmagus Justinius Valerian is the most powerful mage in the Seven Kingdoms and has complete authority over the Isle of Mid and everyone on it. The Guardians take their marching orders from him. I wasn’t technically a Guardian, but Justinius wanted me to be the first female in the order. I hadn’t given him my final decision yet—though I’d already made it. During the past few weeks, I’d had time to think of something other than a way to survive the next few minutes. After everything that’d happened over the past months, I’d clearly seen a need, and I wanted to meet it.
I wanted to establish a program that would locate, protect, and educate magically powerful, at-risk children.
Right now, neither the Conclave nor the Guardians had anything in place to keep magical prodigies from being exploited by the Taltek Balmorlans of the world. He had used his position as an inquisitor in elven intelligence to front a black market kidnapping ring.
Yes, the Guardians had enough on their plate, but the people they protected—the Conclave and the Seat of Twelve—could take care of themselves, and if they couldn’t, it was high time they learned. The Conclave governed the magic users of the Seven Kingdoms and was quick to prosecute if they broke any of the laws. I’d found that out firsthand. But as far as I’d seen, they didn’t do a thing to protect the average magic user. And what about the children, the young ones, the ones who would never make it to the Conclave’s college because their parents couldn’t afford it? At worst, these kids were left to their own devices. Sometimes their parents (if they had any) hired tutors, who very often did more harm than good with a highly gifted child. There were mages, like my godfather Garadin Wyne, Piaras’s grandmother Tarsilia Rivalin, and Tam’s first teacher Kesyn Badru, who were amazing teachers of precocious prodigies. There had to be others out there just like them.
I’d already talked to Mychael about it. He thought it was a great idea and a program that was long overdue. After the peace talks, I’d sit down with Justinius and tell him that I would be a Guardian, but in my own way. Also, until I knew what level of magic I had, the less I slung spells around, the better—and possibly safer—for everyone.