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Cast in Courtlight [Chronicles of Elantra Series Book 2] [Secure]
by Michelle Sagara

Category: Fantasy/Mainstream
Description: In Elantra, a job well done is rewarded with a more dangerous task. And so, after defeating a dark evil, Kaylin must enter a place of deceit and treachery. A world where silk and jewels hide deadly secrets.... Kaylin goes before the Barrani High Court, where a misspoken word brings sure death. And Kaylin's never been known for her grace or manners. But the High Lord's heir is suspiciously ill and Kaylin's healing magic is the only shot at saving him--if she manages to dodge the traps laid for her. Only to discover that the healing might turn out to be the simplest of the tasks before her....
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/LUNA, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007

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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [655 KB]

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CHAPTER 1

In the old days, before the Dragon Emperor—sometimes called the Eternal Emperor by those responsible for toadying—had invested the Halls of Law with the laws which governed the Empire, angry Dragons simply ate the idiots who were stupid enough to irritate them. Or, if they were unappetizing, burned them into a very slight pile of ash.

Ash had the advantage of requiring little to no paperwork.

Marcus Kassan, Sergeant for the Hawks—one branch of officers who served in the Halls of Law—stared gloomily at a pile of paperwork that, were it placed end to end, would loom above him. At over six foot, that was difficult. The desire to shred it caused his claws to flick in and out of the fur of his forepaws.

The desire to avoid annoying Caitlin, the woman who was—inasmuch as the Hawks allowed it—den mother to the interior office, which set schedules, logged reports, and prepared duty rosters and pay chits, was just slightly stronger. In their personal life, Leontines disavowed all paperwork, usually by the expedient of chewing it, shredding it, or burning it, when it wasn't useful for the kits' litter.

Then again, he'd been at his desk for the better part of an hour. He expected there'd be a shift in the balance before the day—which looked to be long and grueling—was over.

Caitlin smiled at him from the nest she made of the paperwork she endured, day in, day out. It was a slightly sharp smile that looked, on the surface, quiet and sweet. That was Caitlin. Human all over. She'd been with him for years. He was aware of her value; the three people before her had lasted two weeks, three weeks, and four days, respectively. They had all babbled like morons.

Fear does that, Caitlin had said when she'd applied for the job. She was bird-thin and fragile to the eye, and her voice was soft and feminine—no growl or fang there. But definitely some spine. She was one of two people who manned the desks who could stand six inches from his face when he was on the edge of fury. She barely blinked, and attributed that, regretfully, to his breath.

At any other time of the year, paperwork was optional. Pay chits and duty rosters weren't, but he was enough of a Sergeant to at least sign off on them when he wasn't actively composing the lists themselves. No, this hideous mess was courtesy of the Festival. Permits, copied laboriously by clerks in some merchant branch of the Imperial palace, had been sent by dim-witted couriers in bags that were half again as large as Caitlin. Bags. Plural.

But not just permits. Festival regulations, which seemed to change year after year. The names of important dignitaries from the farthest damn fringe of the Empire of Ala'an, manifests of cargo transports, and diplomatic grants were also shoved in the same bags. The latter were, however, sealed in a way that screamed "special privilege." Diplomatic immunity.

Marcus hated the Festival season. The city was enough of a problem; throwing foreigners into the streets by the thousands was just asking for trouble.

Not only that, but every get-rich-quick scheme that had occurred to any half-wit moron in the street could be expected to rear its imbecilic head during the next two weeks. Unfortunately, every get-rich-quick scheme that occurred to any cunning, intelligent person would also rear its head during the next two weeks. The money that flowed into the Empire's capital during the Festival was staggering, and everyone wanted a piece of it.

The Swordlord, and the men who followed his orders, were probably in worse shape, and this provided a moment's comfort to Marcus. He was Hawk, through and through; the Swords were his natural rivals. Not, of course, his enemies; they all served the Lords of Law, and they all worked in the labyrinthine buildings referred to as the Halls of Law by people who saw them from the outside. But the Hawks and the Swords had their own way of doing things, and when the Festival season was at its height, there were always disagreements.

On the other hand, at least the Swords were in the streets; the damn Wolves were at bay. It was hard to hunt in the city during the Festival, even at the behest of the Wolflord. The Wolves were kept in reserve in case of riot, when all servants of the Law could be called into action. This was, however, downtime for the Wolves, and Marcus sullenly resented them their freedom.

Paperwork was best left for bureaucrats.

Unfortunately, bureaucrats were damn good at shoveling the work onto the shoulders of men and women who were already too busy, where being too busy meant they didn't have time to kick up enough of a fuss to give it back.

He heard a door slam. It was followed by a raised, angry voice—only one—and the sound of a very heavy tread. Deliberately heavy.

Paperwork looked almost good in comparison.

"Oh dear," Caitlin said. "That's three this week."

"Two. One of them left last week." He rearranged the paperwork in the vague hope that this would provide some sort of fortification against the red and dour expression of a very annoyed mage.

Sure enough, down the long hall that led from the West Room, which had been ceded to the Hawklord for educational purposes, the swirling robes of a man who had probably been ancient ten years ago came into view. His fists were bunched just below the drape of long sleeves, and his forehead was engraved with permanent wrinkles. The kind that said foul mood.

The office had grown somewhat quieter as people stopped to listen in. You could count on curiosity to get the better of work at Festival time. Well, to be fair, at any time, but during the Festival it was more costly.

Copyright © 2006 by Michelle Sagara.


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