The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic) (3 page)

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
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The Temple of the Butterflies contained wards that circled like bees around the flowers. If I had contacted you, I might have been detected,
Ululenia said.

“Figured it was something like that.” Loch nodded. “Well, I appreciate both you and Icy making time to back me up here, even with the team disbanded.”

“I’m here, too,” Kail said, finishing up one last cough.

“You’re my assistant, Kail. You get paid.”

“Not enough. That hurt a
lot
.” Kail looked at Icy Fist suspiciously. “Icy, you look fine. Why do you look fine?”

“You are in pain because your body was tense striking the surface of the water. I was able to relax my body.”

“Oh, fine, I’ll just not be so
tense
next time I jump off a cliff.” Kail glared. “Are you even cold?”

“Extremely,” Icy said. “I am simply not whining about it.”

Loch looked back up the mountains. The Temple of the Butterflies was already far behind them, and the figures on the stairs were barely visible. There was no way they’d be caught now.

“I was worried the diplomatic meeting might go badly.” Loch stopped her teeth from chattering with an effort. “I had no idea it would be like this.”

“Why in Byn-kodar’s hell would they think
you
turned Heaven’s Spire into a weapon
,
Captain?” Kail asked.

“I’m not sure yet.” Loch pulled herself up higher on Ululenia’s shell. “But I intend to find out.”

“As long as you find out back in the Republic,” Kail said. “There’s the border garrison.” Loch turned and looked ahead and spotted the small fort that marked the divide between the Republic and the Empire. Their airship was still tied up in the docking field.

There were guards out by the river, and they had clearly spotted the group. More soldiers came outside as the river brought them closer.

“Hey,” Kail called as they drew near. “Remember us? With the diplomats?”

Apparently they did. The soldiers threw ropes, which Icy and Loch caught. Ululenia flexed gently and brought them to the riverbank, and helping hands pulled them ashore.

Still kneeling, Loch scanned the soldiers until she found the garrison commander. “The Imperials set a trap. Everyone else is captured. We need to send word up to Heaven’s Spire.”

“We know,” said the garrison commander. “We’ll get them back.”

Loch pushed herself to her feet and tried to shake off the hands that were steadying her. “I’m not sure what they want, but . . .” She stopped, looked up at the garrison commander. “What do you mean,
you know
?”

“They want you, Justicar Loch,” said the garrison commander, and the hands steadying her went tight on her arms and shoulders, “and they’re going to get you. I am hereby placing you under arrest pending extradition to the Empire.”

Two

A
TTENDANT
S
HENZIENCIS DONNED
her armor and found the princess in the dining hall, which had been converted into a place for the healers to work.

Princess Veiled Lightning sat on a bench, glaring as an unfortunate young man bandaged a cut above her left eye. Her nose was swollen, and she sat stiffly with an icepack bound to the base of her neck. Her guardian, Gentle Thunder, stood at her side, hands resting on his great ax.

The princess stood as Shenziencis approached and gave a formal bow. “Attendant, I humbly apologize.”

Internally, Shenziencis smiled, but she knew that the princess had to be handled carefully. Nobles rarely took well to being reminded that she had predicted exactly what had happened. “Isafesira de Lochenville is a dangerous criminal,” she said instead. “You took all appropriate precautions to capture her.”

“It was not enough.” The princess waved the healer away. “All the soldiers, all your monks, and she still vandalizes the temple, injures dozens, and escapes unscathed.”

“She also defeated you and stole the Nine-Ringed Dragon,” Gentle Thunder said. His deep voice was softer than Shenziencis expected, as though he was afraid he would break something if he spoke too harshly. His impertinence was also surprising, although he had protected her since childhood and taught her to fight, so perhaps he had gained the right to address her so in private.

“Yes, I recall that,” the princess said, glaring at her guardian.

“Good,” he said in the same calm tone, unperturbed by her anger. “If you did not, I would have the healers examine your head, Veil.”

Princess Veiled Lightning sat again and folded her arms, her hands disappearing into the voluminous sleeves of her rich violet dress. Shenziencis looked at her. She was close, very close, but still required a push.

“The Nine-Ringed Dragon is but an object,” Shenziencis said, picking her words carefully. “Like the Butterfly Gong or one of the vases the Republic woman smashed. The loss of such things may damage our pride, Your Highness, but only if we allow it.”

The princess shot her a dirty look, and Shenziencis made sure her smile stayed inside as the princess spoke. “Isafesira de Lochenville is the Empire’s only hope of avoiding war with the Republic. If she goes free, thousands will die.”

“What are you saying, Veil?” Gentle Thunder asked.

Princess Veiled Lightning raised her hand, and energy crackled between her curled fingers. “We must go after her.”

Shenziencis heard the righteous anger in the princess’s voice, and the hurt pride under it, just as she had hoped. She did smile now, and bowed low. “Your Highness, I would be honored to assist.”

Loch did not resist as a Republic soldier stripped her sword away. Another came forward with the manacles.

“This was supposed to be a nice clean handover,” the garrison commander said, sighing. “Ambassador Threvein said he had it handled with the Empire.”

“Why, though?” Loch asked.

The garrison commander shook his head. “Sorry, ma’am. That’s above my pay grade.”

Loch nodded. “No hard feelings.”

“Arrogant apple, babbling brook, creeping cat?” the
soldier holding her asked, and then tipped over bonelessly.

“It’s about time,” Kail muttered as he punched one soldier, ducked away from an attempt to tackle him, and took down a second with an uppercut.

“Dawdling duckling, excellent eggshells,” added the soldier holding Loch’s sword. She took it back from him as he toppled over as well.

“Mind-magic!” the garrison commander barked. “Warding charms, now!”

One of the soldiers drew his blade, and Loch stepped in and spun her sword near his face. The blade’s rings rattled, and the red scarf flapped across his field of vision, blinding him long enough for Loch to chop down hard on his sword-hand. He stumbled back, said, “Fondling fern,” and fell over.

Ululenia had shifted into what Loch thought of as her normal form—a slight, pale woman with ash-blond hair and a shining rainbow horn upon her brow. She stared at a soldier rushing toward her, and her horn flared. “Gullible goat,” he said, passing out at her feet.

“Still going with the same mind-muddle trick?” Kail asked, elbowing a soldier in the face.

“How many times did you suggest that you gently embraced the mothers of the Imperial soldiers?” Ululenia asked, shifting into a snow white dove as another soldier lunged at her.

“Just . . . one?” Kail said, grabbing a sword from a fallen soldier and parrying another attack. “Although technically, I think I insulted the princess’s mother.”

“That would be the empress, Kail.” Loch advanced on the garrison commander, blade ready. “Nobody has died yet,” she said to him. “Let us walk out of here.”

“Not going to happen.” Around the commander’s neck, just above the line of his ringmail, a pale green crystal glittered on a chain. “Your fairy friend can’t get all my men, and my orders are clear.”

“Again, no hard feelings,” Loch said, and brandished her sword, putting it through an impressive spin. The garrison commander was so busy looking at it that he didn’t notice Icy approaching until he somersaulted between them, rose to his feet, snapped the crystal charm from the chain around the commander’s neck, and rolled away as the garrison commander slashed down at him. “Ululenia?” she said.

“No matter where you run, you’ll never escape,” the commander said as Ululenia’s horn flared. “The Republic will . . . humming honeysuckle.” With a final glare, he dropped to his knees and then collapsed completely.

“Thank you, Icy.” Loch looked at the garrison. More soldiers were already running their way.

Icy held the crystal charm up and crushed it with a snap of his fingers. “I judged that you did not wish to kill any Republic soldiers.”

“You judged correctly. Kail, how have those piloting lessons been going?”

“Let’s find out, Captain.” Kail was already jogging toward the airship tethered in the docking field.

The airship’s great balloon was still inflated, since it would have been prohibitively expensive to dismiss the wind-daemon inside only to summon it again later. Under the balloon, the main body of the ship was a wooden teardrop, flat on the bottom so that it rested gently on the ground. It had four sailwings for steering, and a lower deck with bunks and a small cargo hold.

Because it had been used for flights close to Imperial territory, it also carried a single flamecannon on its bow, mounted on a heavy platform that could be adjusted to fire either ahead or at the ground below.

Kail hopped up, found the main control panel near the back of the airship, and began pressing buttons and pushing levers with confidence. “Just be a minute.”

“Consider haste,” Icy said, vaulting over the side and onto the main deck.

“Fleet as the deer,” Ululenia added as she climbed up as well. “The soldiers number many, and coaxing even one mind to befuddlement is an effort.”

“Fine, fine. Anybody else want to bother me while I’m flying an airship without an instructor for the first time?” Kail pulled a few levers, and without looking up got Loch’s attention. “Hey, so I knew about Icy, but Ululenia caught me by surprise.”

“Last-minute addition,” Loch said, chopping through the mooring tether with a clean slash of her blade. She pulled herself up onto the airship’s main deck as it rocked and began to rise.

“We got any more hiding around here, waiting to come help? What about Dairy?” Kail glanced over at Ululenia. “I thought he’d be with you.”

“I do not wish to discuss it,” Ululenia said, and looked down at the approaching soldiers. Her horn flared, and the grass around their boots twisted and twined. The few in front fell over, and the second rank tripped over them.

“Wait, is this because you only like virgins?” Kail asked, adjusting a dial and pressing more buttons. “You didn’t leave Dairy after you—”

“I do
not
wish to
discuss
it,” Ululenia said, shooting Kail a glare. “Perchance fly the ship?”

“Fine, fine. I’m just saying . . .” Kail caught Ululenia’s look. “Nothing. I’m just saying nothing. And flying the ship. Perchancishly.”

The sailwings flexed, and as the wind-daemon inside the balloon strained against its cage, the airship rose up into the sky. One of the soldiers fired a bolt that bounced uselessly off the magically protected balloon, and then they were out of range, shouting in frustration as Loch looked down at them from the sky.

“Steering, steering . . .”—Kail pulled a lever, and the airship rocked—“. . . is clearly something other than
that
. Oh, here we go.” He pulled another lever, and the airship evened out, then turned slowly in place as it continued to rise. “Destination, Captain?”

“Heaven’s Spire,” Loch said, spinning her sword absently. The rings rattled with the movement. Maybe that was what the damned things were for—to sound pretty. Just like the scarf on the hilt—if it wasn’t there to wipe up blood or distract people—was apparently supposed to look good.

“You will uncover the truth,” Icy said beside her.

“The Empire doesn’t have access to as much raw iron as the Republic, right?” She held the sword up. “Maybe the rings are for blocking. They get dinged up, you replace them instead of having to forge a whole new sword.”

Icy smiled. “Sadly, my training was only with my body, or I would know more about the intricacies of the ringed broadsword. The Nine-Ringed Dragon is far superior to the cavalry saber you once owned, however.”

“Actually, I stole that one, too.”

“Ah.” Icy blinked. “Have you considered purchasing a weapon legitimately?”

“Someone I’m fighting usually has one I like.” Loch grinned, then sighed, looking back up the Iceford to where the Temple of Butterflies sat nestled between the mountains. “Seems like I run into bad luck every time I fight my way through that temple.”

“You were here before, when Silestin sent you behind Imperial lines.”

“Yeah. Me, Kail, Uribin . . . you remember Uribin? He owns the restaurant we met up at last time?”

Kail looked over. “He made that incredibly good catfish the captain and I ate while you had a plate of steamed vegetables.”

“The vegetables were also very good,” Icy said politely. “And Jyelle? Was she here as well?”

“Nah,” Kail said while Loch ducked her head. “Captain had already kicked her out of the unit for going after Imperial civilians. Jyelle made it back into the Republic on her own.”

“She brought a grudge,” Icy said, which was putting it mildly, given that Jyelle had kept trying to kill Loch right up to the point when a wind-daemon had eaten her. “And given what occurred at the Temple of Butterflies, it would seem she is not the only one who wishes you ill.”

“Loch tends to be memorable,” Kail said.

Loch glanced over. “Speaking of memory, is there any chance you might actually apply those piloting lessons you’ve been taking before all the guards wake up?”

With Kail’s sometimes-lurching steering, the airship soared toward Heaven’s Spire and, hopefully, Loch’s answers.

Pesyr Plaza was an open-air shopping and dining center in the business district of Heaven’s Spire. Named for the god of craftsman and artificiers, the plaza was located near many of the buildings where lapitects and wizards kept Heaven’s Spire floating properly over the Republic. Around the edges of the plaza, restaurants served professionals taking long lunches, kahva-houses kept the mages awake after a long night of study, and shops sold the latest magical trinkets to people with too much disposable income.

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
9.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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