I was going to Hell and had no clue what to pack.
Regor was the goblin capital, home to my friend Tam and thousands of other goblins. Their home. My Hell.
I’m Raine Benares. An elven seeker whose job used to be finding lost things and missing people, usually in nice, safe places like prisons and war zones. Now, thanks to a runin with a soulsucking rock looking for someone to call home, the entire world was about to turn into a war zone, and yours truly was the epicenter.
Yesterday the worldending stone known as the Saghred had been stolen. I called it several other names not repeatable in public. The thing had attached itself to me and magnified my magic; and even now that it was thousands of miles away, we were still bonded. The goblin who had ordered it stolen needed me dead to break that bond and transfer control of the rock and all of its power to himself. To stand a snowball’s chance in hell (excuse me, Tam’s home) of destroying the rock, I needed to stay very much alive.
Hence my dilemmasave the world or die a slow and painful death. Though I couldn’t exactly call my situation a dilemma. A dilemma implied you had a choice. If it was up to me, somebody else could save the world; I’d just rather keep breathing. However, if I managed by some major miracle to do both, I wanted to be properly dressed for it. Headtotoe steel surrounded by a platoon of Conclave Guardians should do the trick. Some people would call that paranoid; I called it barely adequate accessorizing.
But I wouldn’t have a platoon, and headtotoe steel would make running away more of a challenge than I was up for. I was armored, both leather and steel, enough for protection, but without impeding any sudden need to retreat. Less than a dozen of us would be sneaking into Regor, stealing the Saghred, destroying it in a way that would hopefully not do the same to me, and getting back to Mid with the same pieces and parts that we left with.
A handful of us against the might of the goblin king, the goblin army, and probably some absurdly huge demons who owed them all favors. Oh yeah, and one soulhungry rock.
And how could I forget an allpowerful, fledgling goblin demigod by the name of Sarad Nukpana?
Survival would take a miracle.
Especially since I didn’t have a lick of magic to my name.
The Saghred had stolen my magic, then the goblins had stolen the stone.
It sucked to be me right now.
I was going to where my worst enemy was and I had no magic. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I had a spark, and if I held it against a wick long enough, I might just be able to light a candle. Sarad Nukpana was constructing, and about to open, a Gate big enough for an army to go through, a hundred goblins at a timeand doing every last bit of it with magic. He could teleport an army, and right now I’d work up a sweat lighting a candle. We’d love to be able to destroy the Saghred and the Gate, but our first priority was the rock.
The plan was simpleor simply suicide. Nukpana had the Saghred, but we still had the Scythe of Nen. Literally eons ago, the demon king had it forged so he could cut into the Saghred like an oyster and slurp up the souls inside. In theory, the Saghred could be destroyed if it was first emptied of souls. It was a logical solution, but this was a soulsnatching rock that had kept itself intact through the ages by making its own logic and luck. And it wasn’t exactly a solution, or even a good idea, to let the souls out. Most of them hadn’t been nice people to begin with; in fact, a lot of them could give Sarad Nukpana competition in the evil megalomaniac department.
While some would want nothing more than to float off to their great reward. Otherspowerful and evil otherswould infest and possess the first bodies they could take. That presented two problems. One, they could possess us; the problem there being obvious. Two, they could possess any Khrynsani in the immediate vicinity of the high altar. That would be Sarad Nukpana and his craziest and most powerful black mage allies. Evil plus evil equals extremely undesirable.
The world had enough problems without that happening.
Unfortunately, even if Sarad Nukpana gave us a clear path to the Saghred, we still needed the help of one goblin in Regor to keep those souls from infesting and possessingKesyn Badru, Tam’s first magic teacher, the man who tried to prevent Tam from running down magic’s dark path to do the things an entirelytoopowerful young mage had no business doing. Tam had been more like his teenage son, Talon than he’d care to admit, and had successfully destroyed anything resembling a relationship with his teacher. For all we knew, when we found him, Kesyn Badru might try to turn Tam into something squishy on sight or simply kill him. From what I’d heard about Tam’s youthful indiscretions, I really wouldn’t blame Kesyn Badru in the least.
The way things were stacking up, Sarad Nukpana might be easier to deal with.
Kesyn Badru was an expert on Reapers. Reapers basically worked for Death, gathering wayward souls and taking them to where they needed to go next. When we opened the Saghred, we needed plenty of Reapers standing by for the cleanup of any souls who refused to move along nicely.
Bottom line, slicing into the Saghred with the Scythe of Nen and letting the souls inside go free could make it possible for us to destroy the stone.
And since I was bound to the Saghred, the Reapers we needed to collect the souls might collect me, too.
Yesterday Sarad Nukpana’s thief had forced our hand. We had no choice but to try to do all of the above. And if it let meor Mychael, if I wasn’t alive to do it myselfsmash the thing into a million pieces, it would be worth it. Simply stealing the Saghred back was no longer an option. Sarad Nukpana had to be stopped, and whatever I had to do would be worth it.
If I died, I would have died to save millions from torment, slavery, or death at Sarad Nukpana’s hands. I’d been telling myself all night that it’d be a good and noble death.
I’d never been more terrified in my life. I was almost sick with it.
There were easier and certainly less painful ways to commit suicide. The only upside to this whole thing was that we’d be leaving for Regor within the hour. That didn’t leave much time for me to imagine all the ways Sarad Nukpana, the Saghred, or the Reapers could kill me. The less time I had to ponder any of those, the better.
Leaving here within the hour, and arriving in Regor seconds after that.
I despised mirror magic, but I had to admit that it was a damned efficient way to get from one place to another.
To tell you the truth, I was scared to death of it. Partly because I didn’t understand how the finer points of the art worked. Stepping into one mirror and instantly walking out of another one hundreds or even thousands of miles away sure as hell wasn’t a parlor trickand mirror mages knew it. Superior to everyone else was how the best of them saw themselves; though most felt that simple worship would suffice. I’d never met a humble mirror mage.
I did a last check of the pack I was taking with me. More weapons than anything else, small and easily concealed. What couldn’t be hidden was already strapped to me. I wasn’t taking much by way of clothesone change of everything in case what I was wearing picked up a couple of unsightly bloodstains or sword slashes. It’d been my experience that running for your life was best done while carrying as little extraneous weight as possible.
I slung my small pack over my shoulder and opened the door.
Standing there, hand raised to knock, was one of the last people I expected.
He was a tall young elf, with big brown eyes and dark brown curls that would have made him look perfectly at home painted on the ceiling of some fancy chapel. To the pair of Guardians posted outside my door, Piaras was an eighteenyearold cadet in their order. To me he was the little brother I’d never had, but always wanted.
I’d known Piaras since he was twelve. The selfpossessed young man standing in front of me had grown up fast over a too short period of time. No one had given him a choice, either. For the two of us, the past three months had been one dealwithitordie moment right after another. Piaras had faced and fought things that would have sent most kids his age scrambling under their beds. To make it even worse, he was in nearly as much danger from Sarad Nukpana as I was. The bastard knew how much I loved Piaras; knew it and wouldn’t hesitate to use him to get to me.
Piaras’s dream had been to become a Guardian and here he was in the uniform and armor of a cadet. In my opinion, he should have been on one of the ships trying to evacuate the other students from the island before the goblins invaded.
I stared up at him. Come to see me off before you get your butt on an evac ship?”
Yes and no.”
’Yes’ you’re getting on that ship, and ’no’ you’re not here to see me off, right?”
Dammit, Piaras. I”
Paladin Eiliesor gave us all the choice. I chose to stay.”
You should be on a ship.”
I’m needed here.”<...