The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic) (5 page)

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
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Her grip on what was quite clearly an Imperial noble’s blade was steady and assured, though. “Guessing you got out of the Temple of Butterflies on the Iceford,” he said. “Sounds cold.”

“A bit, yes.”

“Impressive as hell, though.” Bertram gestured at the kahva pot. “Pour one for yourself if you like.”

She did. “So a few Learned tried to send me to the Republic as a scapegoat because they want me dead.”

“And the Skilled turned on you because they’d turn on their own mothers to avoid another war,” Bertram said, and nodded. “Not Cevirt, of course. He’s, what, like an uncle to you? Family friend, at least. He and I did our damnedest to countermand the orders once we found out what was coming.”

Loch nodded at that, her face grim. “For all the good it did. I got out on my own.”

Bertram stirred his kahva as Loch drank. “I didn’t say otherwise. So . . . what now, Justicar Loch? You wouldn’t have broken into my palace without a plan, and I’m sincerely hoping that plan wasn’t just to kill me.”

She swallowed her kahva. “
I’m
sincerely hoping not to go to war with the Empire
or
end up in an Imperial prison.”

“It’s good to have goals, isn’t it?” Bertram sighed, looking at the pretty young Urujar woman sitting across the table. “Now, I’m not sure what you and your little band of thieves have been doing for the past few months, but
I
have been trying to talk the Empire down from treating Heaven’s Spire’s little bolt-of-lightning trick like an act of war.”

“It
was
an act of war,” Loch pointed out. “We just managed to kill the bastard trying to start it.”


We
being your sister.” Bertram smiled. “In any event, some of our friends in the Voyancy likely passed information to sources across the border, claiming that you were responsible for weaponizing Heaven’s Spire. The Imperials had already heard about you from our own puppet shows, back when Silestin was trying to frame you as a traitor.”

“Kind of a lousy traitor to the Republic if I helped turn Heaven’s Spire into a weapon.” Loch toyed with one of the apparently decorative rings on the back of her blade.

“The Imperials knew at the very least that you were involved,” Bertram said, shrugging, “and they wanted you turned over for trial and questioning.”

“And when it became clear that I hadn’t done it,” Loch said, “they’d realize the Republic had lied.”

“And we’d be right back to war,” Bertram finished, “with only a small delay and you tortured beyond recognition to show for it. That’s why Cevirt and I proposed an alternate peace offering to the Imperials.” Loch raised an eyebrow. “They’ve made noises about some artifacts and treasures that went missing in the last war, or the one before that.”

“Magical?” Loch asked.

“Some of them. Others just rare and expensive.” Bertram took one final sip of his kahva. “The Republic has some of them, and can get its hands on others. There’s only one that’s out of our hands, and it’s the one that the Imperials were most insistent on.” He finished his biscuit, wincing. He hated eating it dry when his kahva was already gone. “If we got that one last thing, we might
possibly
be able to give the Imperials a peace offering.”

Loch took another sip, eyes closed. Bertram did not make the mistake of thinking that this was an opportunity for sudden movements, even as her shoulders relaxed ever so slightly. After a pause, she said in a resigned voice, “So what am I going to go get for you?”

Bertram smiled. “I think you’ll find it familiar. It’s an ancient elven manuscript,
The Love Song of Eillenfiniel.”

Loch’s eyes snapped open, and her jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me.”

Bertram chuckled. “At least you know what it looks like.”

Loch was actually sputtering now. “The manuscript that I stole from Silestin? That I gave to the elves to save Heaven’s Spire from crashing?”

“See, now you understand why we can’t get our hands on it ourselves,” Bertram said easily. “Those pointy-eared bastards won’t even talk to us about buying the damn thing back.”

Loch’s eyes narrowed. “How does that belong to the Imperials? That book was in my family for generations!”

“Oh, they’re probably lying,” Bertram said with a little wave of his hand, “but I’m sure they had something about it being theirs originally. So, Justicar Loch, are you going to get that book and save the Republic?” At her glare, he chuckled again. “Oh, come on, how hard can it be? You stole it once already.”

She shook her head. The veins in her neck stood out a little. If Bertram had been unmarried and several decades younger, he’d have considered courting the pretty woman. As it was, he was just pleasantly distracted, and a little conflicted about the sword in her hand.

“What can you give me?” she asked.

“The order for your arrest and handover was illegal. Once the voyants find out that you escaped, though, they’ll push for something official to save face . . . and they’ll push behind the scenes as well,” Bertram said, and checked the time. It was going to be close. “I’ll push back. You won’t get any official trouble from the Republic, and you’ll keep your rank in the justicars.”

“I probably could have done that myself,” Loch said dryly. “I
do
know someone in the justicars.”

“And I’ll make sure he stays there, along with the rest of your friends,” Bertram said, “and I will buy you as much time to get the book for the Imperials. Now, I’d offer you a message crystal to contact me, but we both know that could be used to track you, so when you get your hands on that little elven book of sex poems, you get in touch however you can.”

She bolted the last of her kahva and stood. “If you cross me, I’ll kill you.”

“Given what happened to the last Archvoyant,” Bertram said, “I took that as a given.”

She spun the blade and walked out of the room.

Perhaps thirty seconds later, one of the servants knocked on the door. “Sir? One of our men was found unconscious in the garden, and we saw signs of forced entry.”

“It’s under control,” Bertram said. “Show in my next appointment.”

The servant noted Bertram sitting alone at a table with two kahva cups and said nothing. A moment later, Bertram’s next appointment walked in.

“She agreed?” Voyant Cevirt asked as he sat at the table.

“You knew she would,” Bertram said. “Pour yourself a cup.”

 

Three

L
OCH MET
T
ERN
and Hessler at the kahva-house. They were seated by the window with waxed paper cups in hand. Tern had what was presumably kahva under an enormous layer of whipped cream, caramel, and cinnamon sprinkles. Hessler had tea.

“So neither of you know how to drink kahva,” Loch said as she sat down.

“Says the woman who only sits before us because we hacked docking protocols to clear you. What did the Archvoyant say?” Tern asked, licking the whipped cream off the top of her presumably-kahva.

“You remember the elven manuscript we stole from Silestin?” Loch asked. Tern and Hessler nodded.

“I need to steal it back.”

Tern’s cough sprayed whipped cream across the table. “Oh, come on!”

Hessler produced a paper napkin and wiped it up. “They intend to give it to the Empire instead of handing you over?”

“Something like that.” Loch thought for a moment. Too much running and fighting followed by strong kahva at the palace had left her mind bouncing uselessly from thought to thought. Having a chance to sit down allowed her to finally focus. “First thing I need to do is trace the manuscript, find out where the elves have it now.”

“If it’s back in the Elflands, we’re screwed,” Tern said. “Nobody gets in there.”

“You’re right about that. But
we’re
not anything. There’s no ‘we’.”

Tern looked at Loch in confusion. “You’re not getting the gang back together?”

“The Republic is after me, not all of you.” Loch massaged the bridge of her nose. “I appreciate the offer, and I might need another favor or two, but there’s no need to drag you all into this.”

“Unless the Republic goes to war with the Empire,” Hessler said, “which would drag us into it quite effectively.”

“And forget you for a minute!” Tern added. “You think the Empire might ask for anyone else who was part of the team that accidentally triggered Silestin’s weapon? Like, say, the girl who was messing around with the controls?”

Loch sighed. “Listen . . .”

“Captain trying to let you guys off the hook?” Kail asked as he sat down at the table. Loch turned to see Icy and Ululenia there as well, Icy in nondescript pants and a shirt instead of his flowing robes, and Ululenia with her glowing horn turned off.

“It’s okay. I remembered my self-interest,” Tern said. “Hey, Icy! How was the Empire?”

“Violent and subsequently very cold.”

“Hey, Tern,” Kail cut in, “did you know all the monks get to fight? It’s just Icy who took a vow not to.” Kail glared at Icy as though it offended him personally. “Come on, Icy—even the unicorn fights.”

“As the mother doe protecting her fawn,” Ululenia said modestly.

“Speaking of which,” Hessler said, looking around, “where
is
Dairy?”

Ululenia gave him a narrow-eyed look, and Kail shrugged. “She doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Hessler returned Ululenia’s glare. “I entrusted Dairy to your care, Ululenia,
despite
my opinions about your predilection for virgins.”

“Oh, come on, Hessler, it’s not like she
killed
him or anything,” Tern said. “She probably just used him for sex and then dumped him once he was no longer a virgin. Which . . . wait. That’s, okay, it’s not
worse
, but—”

“Dairy is, or at least
was
, a child of prophecy,” Hessler said, leaning forward and pointing at Ululenia, “and even after the prophecy’s fulfillment, it is possible that he could be targeted by groups with esoteric interests in the gods or the ancients. If you cast him aside after you had your way with him—”

“Dairy is fine,” Ululenia said in a tone that clearly signaled an end to the discussion. “We have parted ways. I do not know where he is, and I do not wish to discuss it further.”

“See?” Kail said, elbowing Loch in the arm. “With a team like this, there’s no way things can go wrong.”

“Their team includes an Imperial acrobat, a safecracker with a lot of nasty alchemical tricks, and Loch herself, who led a scouting unit during the war,” said Captain Nystin of the Knights of Gedesar. He stood in a dimly lit room in the warehouse district of Heaven’s Spire, in front of a chalkboard that had written descriptions of each member of the team, along with a pencil sketch where possible. A team of a dozen soldiers sat before him. “Those are bad enough, but they aren’t the ones we’re worried about. Grid?”

One of the other knights stood. Like Nystin, she wore the traditional armor of the Knights of Gedesar, made from bands of metal fastened to internal leather straps. The banded strips offered less protection than full plate, but far greater flexibility. The Knights of Gedesar fought a lot of things that had to be dodged. The armor was a dull dark gray, an
yvkefer
alloy that was largely immune to magic, with wyvern leather underneath that was magic resistant as well.

“Hessler,” Grid said. She pointed to the bearded man on the chalkboard. “Dropped out of university for illegally creating magical artifacts. He mostly sticks to illusions, but don’t let that fool you. He can use them to blind you, turn one of his pals invisible, the whole deal. No reports of him summoning daemons, but . . . well, he’s a wizard.” Some of the knights in the room chuckled.

“Scale, what have you got?” Nystin pointed at another knight, who stood and nodded as Grid sat back down.

“Only monster on the team is a unicorn,” Scale said, jerking his chin at the chalkboard. “No picture, because she can look like pretty much anything she wants, although it’s usually white. We’ve got her listed at entry-level nature magic—less than you’d see from an elven adept, and not usually used offensively. Her real trick is the mental crap. She’s confirmed to
at least
have mind-reading and mental attack capabilities, with unconfirmed reports of enslavement and control.”

Nystin grimaced. “Visors stay down at all times. I doubt she’s hexing anyone through solid
yvkefer.
” He knocked on the side of his helmet.

“This might be worth bending the rules for, sir,” Scale said. “A warding charm, or—”

“No warding charms,” Nystin said, cutting him off.

“Yes, sir.” Scale snapped back to attention, clearly embarrassed and defensive. He hadn’t been on enough bad operations to know how it could go.

“We’re not using them for two reasons,” Nystin said with a bit less edge in his voice. “First, because we’re the gods-damned Knights of Gedesar. The Republic calls us when some nasty magical son of a bitch needs a knife in the back. We don’t
use
magic. We don’t
need
magic.”

“Yes, sir.” Scale nodded in apology. “Then per protocol for byproducts of ancient magic, I recommend silver on
the horn.”

“Go for the glow,” Nystin confirmed, and Scale sat down. “The second reason we’re not using warding charms. Hex?”

An older knight stood up slowly. Nystin knew that when he was off duty, Hex favored one leg with a cane, the product of an ugly fight with a rogue wizard some years back. Technically, Nystin should have put the old knight on desk duty, but Hex hadn’t yet let it affect his performance on the job . . . and for somebody like Hex, a desk was a death sentence.

“Death priestess,” Hex said, his voice raspy from years of shouted commands and regrettable drinks. The rest of the knights sucked in a breath at his words. “We’re confirmed on it. Not just death magic, not some necromancer using corpses as golems. We’ve got an honest-to-gods worshipper of Byn-kodar on our hands. She can manipulate magical auras. If she wanted to, she could nullify the shield around Heaven’s Spire that keeps the air in. Hell, she could turn the air poisonous. She’s raised zombies. If pressed, we can assume she’ll do worse, up to and including sucking the life right out of you. So no charms, and keep your helmets down.”

One of the knights raised a hand. “What’s she look like?”

“No intel,” Nystin said. “Nobody who looked at her could recall a damn thing.”

“Ordinarily, with a death priest, decapitation works best,” Hex went on, “but she’s also armed with a warhammer of the ancients. Do not engage at close quarters. Stay at range and stick to crossbows until command determines she’s weakened sufficiently for a team to close safely.”

“Bolts until she calls upon her magic to heal her,” Nystin said. “Once I give word, hack her damned head off and let her meet her god in person.”

“Too bad she can’t turn
herself
into a zombie,” one of the knights joked, and the others laughed. Nystin allowed it. He was sending his men into a battle that would most likely leave some of them dead. He knew when to loosen the reins a bit.

“I’m calling four teams,” he said when the laughter died down. “Hex, Scale, Grid: you’ve got your regulars, neutralize your targets and assist as needed. Rib and Glass, you’re with me. We focus on Loch and the other mundanes and provide backup where necessary. Questions?”

Nobody had anything else. Nystin nodded. “Remember our target: Isafesira de Lochenville. Everyone else is an obstacle. She’s the one we need to kill. Visors down. Let’s move.”

They pounded out of the warehouse at a jog in wedge formation and hit the streets of Heaven’s Spire. They had been authorized for daylight operation, and civilians gawked at them as they ran by.

Another commander might have been pleased to see his soldiers, normally stuck on night jobs, get a little recognition for a chance. Captain Nystin hated it. Every civilian who saw them was someone who could tell a friend about the black armor, the full helmets whose visors were covered with an
yvkefer
mesh, the silver daggers and crystal-tipped war maces. Every story told about the shadowy Knights of Gedesar was intel that some power-mad wizard or monster could take and think of a way to counter.

Nystin’s men lived in a world full of uncontrolled magic and fools who wanted to play with it. The only reason they gave better than they got was that so few of the bastards ever saw his people coming.

So even though they were free to be in the open, he still kept them to back streets until they were near the objective. A block before the kahva-house, he stopped the men in an alley. The shadows didn’t hide his men, but they gave decent cover, at least.

A nondescript man in civilian clothing walked by the alley. “Went inside twenty minutes ago. None of them have left. Solids on the wizard, probable on the unicorn,” he said without stopping.

Nystin nodded. “Hex, you’re on point. My team backs you. Scale and Grid, front window and side. Let’s move!”

Hex and his men hit the street at a dead run, the old knight showing no sign of the limp that slowed him down in his off-duty hours. Nystin and his men were right behind him. Two men in each trio had maces and daggers out, and one, the shooter, had a crossbow cranked and ready.

Hex kicked the front door clean off its hinges and burst inside. “Everybody down! Republic orders!” Nystin heard the windows shatter even as he came in close behind, weapons raised.

Civilians were screaming and hitting the floor. For a moment, Nystin thought someone was already hit, but then, through the mesh of his visor, the colors resolved to dark brown instead of dark red, and he realized it was kahva spilling across the floor.

He checked his points, knew his men were doing the same, as were Grid and Scale’s teams as they clambered into the room, weapons raised over the civilians who had fallen to the floor. There were Urujar women present, but none of them looked like Loch. “Dusters!”

The shooter in each trio threw out a pouch that fell open as it flew, spraying dust everywhere. In moments, the kahva-house was filled with smoke.

No telltale holes to mark an invisible person, no itchy little urge to look away from part of the room that would indicate a fairy creature trying to play with his mind. “Clear!” Hex shouted, obviously pissed off.

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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