Home > Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(4)

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(4)
Ilona Andrews

“Yes. An inn on Earth is ideal. It is defined as neutral ground and we can rely on an innkeeper’s power to keep the participants in check.”

“Let me guess: you’ve tried other inns and everyone turned you down. Am I your last stop?”

George took a deep breath. “Yes.”

“There was an attempt to broker peace between Otrokar and Holy Cosmic Anocracy,” I said. “About fifty years ago.”

He braided his long elegant fingers into a single. “Yes, I’m familiar with it.”

“Then you also know how it ended.”

“I believe the Patriarch of House Jero lunged at the Otrokar Korum, and Korum beheaded him.”

“He ripped the Patrirach’s head off with his bare hands and then proceed to beat the Marshall of House Jero to death with it.”

“Well, it does sound risky when you put it that way…”

“It’s not risky, it’s suicidal.”

“Should I take it as a no?” George asked.

This was a really bad idea.

“How many people do you expect?”

“At least twelve from each party.”

Thirty six guests. My heart sped up. Thirty six guests, each with robust magic. This would sustain the inn for years to come. Not to mention that if I managed to pull it off, it would raise the inn’s standing.

No, what was I thinking? It would be crazy. I would have to keep peace between thirty six individuals, each dying to kill the other. It would be terrible. The risk… The gamble was too great.

What did I have to lose?

George reached into his pocket, produced a small tablet about the size of a playing car and just as thin and showed it to me. Two numbers: $500,000 and $1,000,000.

“The first is your payment in the event the arbitration fails. The second is payment if we succeed.”

Five hundred thousand. We needed the money. I could finally upgrade my books. I could buy the additional building materials for the inn.

No. I might as well set Gertrude Hunt on fire.

My gaze fell on the portrait of my parents. They were looking at me. Demilles never backed down from a challenge. Neither did they take unnecessary risks.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I could simply sit here and continue to wait for a chance traveler to happen my way…

“If I do this, I would need you to meet my conditions,” I said.

“Absolutely.”

“I want agreements of reimbursement to be drawn up and signed by all parties. I want a sum of money to be set aside in escrow from each faction and placed under Arbiter’s control. If they damage the inn, I want them to pay for the damages.”

“I find it reasonable.”

“I need each party to review and sign Earth’s no-disclosure policy. Ordinary citizens of this planet can’t know of their existence. For example, we may experience visits from local law enforcement and I want it expressly understood that nobody will be crushing their necks or ripping off their heads.”

“Also reasonable.”

“I may think of some additional restrictions. Do you have any concerns?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.” George turned and glanced at the modest room. “I mean no disrespect, but your establishment is considerably smaller than I was led to believe. I’m don’t believe we have enough room.”

I rose. “Have you visited many inns?”

“No. I haven’t had the pleasure. Yours is my first.”

I pulled the magic to me. What I was about to do would likely drain most of the inn’s resources and mine. If he walked away from our deal after, it would take us a very long time to recover. But we could get guests, it would be all worth it.

I picked up my broom. The magic vibrated within me, building and building, held so tight, like a giant spring compressed to its limit. George rose and stood next to me.

I raised the broom, bristles up, pictured the interior of the inn in my mind, and brought the broom down. Wood connected with floor boards with a dry knock.

Magic rolled through the inn like an avalanche, the wood and stone suddenly elastic and flowing. The interior of the inn opened, like a blossoming flower. The walls moved apart. The ceiling soared. The magic kept streaming out of me, so fast, I felt light-headed. Polished pink marble, rolled over the floor, sheathed the walls, and surged up, forming stately columns.

Next to me George stood very still.

Two story tall windows opened in the marble. I leaned on the broom for support. Vaulted ceiling turned pure white. Crystal chandeliers sprouted like bunches of exquisite blossoms. Golden flourishes spiraled and curved on the floor. Lights flared among the crystal.

I cut off the magic. The power snapped inside me like an elastic rubber band. I reeled from the impact.

The Grand Ballroom spread before us, grandiose, elegant, and glowing.

The Arbiter closed his mouth with a click. “I stand corrected.”

Chapter 2

The enormous bolt of faux silk unrolled slowly at my feet, its end disappearing into the marble floor. Beast had barked at it out of principle for about five minutes, until she finally decided that it wasn’t that exciting and went off to explore the vastness of the ballroom. She sniffed at the corners, found a quiet spot, and lay down.

I would’ve loved nothing more than to join her, except not on the floor but in my nice soft bed. Opening the ballroom drained me. I felt like I had run several miles, but the time line for the peace summit was tight. The Arbiter wanted to get started within forty eight hours, which meant that instead of taking a nap, I stole one of Caldenia’s Mello Yello cans to stay awake, jumped into my car and drove through the rain to rent a truck. I drove the truck to Austin to the largest regional fabric distributor. There I bought the enormous roll of faux silk and another of cotton. That cost me a third of my emergency fund. Next I stopped at a stone and landscaping place and purchased bulk stone. They helped me load it and when I came back, I dumped it in the back yard, where the inn promptly ate it.

The inn continued to consume the faux silk inch by inch. I valiantly did my best to stay on my feet.

“Well. This is quite a development.”

I turned to see Caldenia standing in the doorway. “Your Grace.”

The older woman slowly stepped into the ballroom. Her gaze slid over the marble floor, columns, and the soaring white ceiling with golden flourishes on it.

“What’s the occasion?”

“We’re hosting a diplomatic summit.”

She turned on her foot and looked at me, her eyes sharp. “My dear, don’t tease me.”

“This roll of faux silk cost me six dollars per yard,” I told her. “Once I purchase food, I will be destitute.

Caldenia blinked. “Who are the attending parties?”

“The Holy Anocracy represented by House Krahr, the Hope-crushing Horde, and the Merchants of Baha-char. They coming here for Arbitration and they will probably try to murder each other the moment they walk through the door.”

Caldenia’s eyes widened. “Do you really think so? This is absolutely marvelous!”

She would think so, wouldn’t she?

“Tell me the plan.”

I sighed and pointed at the eastern wall. I had formed a balcony along the east, west, and south sides of the room. Each balcony terminated too far from its neighbors and was too high to jump from. At least too high in human terms.

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