As Denver Beck fled down the three flights of stairs to the main floor of the two-century old manor house, he nearly collided with the housekeeper. He didn’t slow long enough to apologize, worry driving him forward as he jogged along the hallway. Once he reached the grand master’s door, he pounded on it. While he waited for a reply, Beck paced, muscles knotted and heart racing.
“Come!” a voice called out.
A phone rang as Beck hurried inside, causing him to come to an abrupt halt. Grand Master Trevor MacTavish waved him toward a chair as he took the call, but Beck remained upright, too nervous to sit.
His superior was about Angus Stewart’s age, early sixties, with world-weary blue eyes, his silver hair tied back in a ponytail. His muscles were sculpted as if formed by solid steel.
While MacTavish worked through the call, Beck’s eyes rose to the massive stained glass window behind the master’s desk, a work of art that captured the moment Lucifer had been booted out of Heaven. Behind the plummeting figure were banks of clouds and stars, with the light pouring down from above. Whoever had created the window had caught Lucifer’s likeness perfectly, which meant the artist must have met him in person.
Every time Beck saw that image he winced, a visceral reminder that no one was above falling from grace, not even a grand master. No doubt that was why it was here.
MacTavish hung up the phone, eyed Beck for a moment then frowned. “Tell me what’s troublin’ ya, lad,” the man said, his Scottish accent lighter than most. “Are ya feelin’ better?”
“Yeah, it’s not me that’s the problem.” Beck began to pace again, it was that or bellow his frustration. “I was textin’ back and forth with Riley, tellin’ her that Brennan was runnin’ a little late. She says she’s already in the car with him, but when I tried to call her there was no answer. So I called Brennan. He just got to the airport and Riley’s nowhere to be seen.”
Beck didn’t wait for a reply. “Somethin’s wrong, I can feel in my gut.”
“Then we’ll trust that feelin’. That’s the kind of intuition that keeps us alive.”
The grand master thumbed his cell phone. “Brennan, it’s MacTavish. Have ya located the Blackthorne girl yet?” He frowned at the answer. Then the frown deepened. “What?” he said. “No, don’t come back here. Walk around. She has to be there. This might just be a misunderstandin’, but we canna take any chances.”
He ended the call and set the phone aside.
“Well?” Beck demanded.
MacTavish shook his head. “She’s not where she should be.”
Beck sank into the closest chair, his mind tumbling over and over.
This was his fault; he should have been there to meet her. He’d planned to, and then he’d been ill most of the day, throwing up. A stomach bug he thought, though that wasn’t normal for him. When Brennan had offered to pick her up to give him time to recover, it seemed like a great plan – Beck would take the train down to Edinburgh later and meet Riley at the hotel about nine. Then they’d make up for all the months they’d been apart.
Grand Master MacTavish was on his phone again, this time speaking to someone in airport security. He relayed his request and ended the call.
“They’re gonna review the security tapes.”
“They don’t know what she looks like,” Beck said.
“That’s why I’m sending them a photo of Riley from our files,” MacTavish replied, his fingers tapping across his computer keyboard.
The minutes felt like days as they waited. Beck tried to call Riley again and got her voice mail. Where is she?
He jumped when the grand master’s phone trilled.
“MacTavish.” The frown was back again. “Yer sure? What about the parkin’ lot? Aye, please check those tapes as well. Thank ya.” He hung up. “The security folks say Riley was picked up by a man who was holdin’ a sign with her name on it. He was tall and thin and dark haired.”
“Ah, shit. If he had a sign, she would have thought it was Brennan,” Beck muttering, skimming a hand through his hair in agitation. “I should have told her what he looked like, but I never thought….” That anyone would try to mess with her here. “Why would anyone want her, besides me, that is.”
“Time will tell if this is a straightforward kidnappin’ for ransom or somethin’ else.”
“I’m not rich, so askin’ for money is a waste of time,” Beck countered. Which meant this was probably something entirely different, and that didn’t make him feel any better. He surged to his feet. “I need to borrow one of the cars. I have to get to Edinburgh as soon as possible.”
“I’ll drive ya myself,” MacTavish said as he rose from behind the desk.
“I swear, if she’s hurt, I’ll kill the sonovabitch who did this,” Beck warned, his fists knotted.
“Aye, lad. That’s just one of the reasons I’m comin’ with ya.”
# # #
A chill brought Riley back to consciousness, the sort that began deep in her bones and then leached out into her skin. Grass tickled her face and her entire left side ached from being in a cramped position for too long. But how long had it been?
Riley took inventory as best she could: her arms were tied in front of her and a blindfold covered her eyes. She tried to swallow against the thick phlegm in her throat while the scent of crisp air assaulted her nose. A slight breeze blew through her hair and traffic noises echoed in the distance. She was in a city. Edinburgh? They’d been driving in that direction when Brennan had ambushed her.
Her temper stirred. What the hell is all this about?
The faint tug of necromantic magic skittered across her skin and it made her shiver. Riley knew that all too well, experienced it firsthand when she and her summoner friend, Mortimer Alexander, had called up a demon in an Atlanta cemetery.
“We have to perform the ritual now,” a male voice insisted. Brennan.
Why would he do this? He has to know the grand masters will go ballistic.
“Robbie, this is kidnapping,” another man protested, voice quavering with worry, his accent hailing from somewhere south of the Scottish border.
Robbie? Beck had said that Brennan’s first name was Dave.
Riley had just taken this guy’s word that he was Brennan. I’m so stupid.
“No one said anything about committing a crime,” a third voice complained, a female, but it wasn’t Bess, the woman in the car. “You said the girl would come to us willingly.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Robbie said.
“It will when the police come after us,” the woman replied.
The numbness in Riley’s left arm left her no choice but to move and try to restore circulation. The instant she did, a shoe nudged her in the knee.
“You’re awake. Sit up,” Robbie ordered.
So much for stealth intelligence gathering.
It took some effort to pull herself upright, but Riley got it done. As the blood coursed back into the arm, she winced in discomfort. When she reached for the blindfold she was warned against removing it.
“Behave yourself, and when this is over you can go free,” Robbie warned.
Like I believe that.
They had committed a felony, and Riley suspected the Scottish cops wouldn’t be any more forgiving about that than the police in Atlanta.
“If this is about money,” she began.
“It’s not,” Robbie replied.
“How did you know I was coming to Scotland?”
Since Robbie and Bess had known when she’d be arriving at the airport, that meant someone within the grand masters organization had ratted her out. That wasn’t a comforting thought.
In response, Riley’s lungs began to constrict, the harbinger of a panic attack. Not now! She focused on taking careful, measured breaths, refusing to give into her body’s desire to freak out. By now Beck would be tearing the city apart trying to find her, and he wouldn’t be on his own; the grand masters would take her disappearance personally.
Thinking of her guy helped calm her fears, got her mind back in the game. With her breathing under control, it was time to figure out what was really going on.
“What’s up with this, guys?” she asked, hating that she couldn’t see them, couldn’t read their facial expressions.
“All we need is some of your blood for a spell,” was Robbie’s curt reply.
Even her friend Mort didn’t use that in his incantations, and neither had Lord Ozymandias, the most senior summoner in Atlanta. Using blood was old school, creepy even.
Bound the way she was there was no way Riley could get free and screaming for help wasn’t likely to do her much good or they’d have gagged her. Her only chance was to get them to believe she was fine with all this.
“I can help you,” she offered.
There was silence.
“I’m serious. I’ve . . . studied with a necromancer. I know how spells work.”
The other male took the bait. “If she can help us—” he began.
“That’s enough, Callan,” Robbie said.
“Come on, take off the blindfold, will you?” Riley urged.
There was a long pause and then, to her surprise, the cloth was removed. Riley’s guess had been correct; they were in a graveyard and it appeared to be very old one, with a line of weathered crypts stretching along a tall stone wall. Some were sealed, others missing a roof or door.
Four figures stood a short distance way, two in pale gray robes, their faces obscured by hoods. Bess was present, but in still in her street clothes, which meant she probably wasn’t a summoner. Robbie was near her, his hood back and his robe a darker steel grey. That must have been the fabric Riley saw in the car’s trunk.
Summoners indicated their magical ability by the color of their robes — the more prowess, the darker the fabric. That the robes were all shades of grey told her her kidnappers were just past novice grade.
Riley zeroed on a despondent Bess. “Why am I here?”
“I’m sorry.” She shot a frown at Robbie. “I didn’t know he was going to do that to you.”
“Same here,” the other woman said, flipping back her hood to reveal curly blond hair. She was in her mid-twenties and stood closer to Callan than the others. His girlfriend perhaps?
None of this made sense. The closest gravestones were dated from the eighteen hundreds. Necromancers usually called up the recently deceased, not people who had been dead since the Civil War.
“So what’s really going on?” Riley pressed.
“My daughter . . . is dying,” Bess said, choking up. “She’s only five and the doctors don’t . . . know why. We have to summon an angel, to cure her.”
That wasn’t as crazy as it sounded — Riley’s ex-boyfriend Simon Adler was currently wandering the globe in search of his lost faith because of just such a miracle.
Still, this felt weird: a desperate mother, three low grade necros and some wild ass idea that they can control one of Heaven’s big boys? It was a recipe for disaster, on feathered wings.
It was time to let them know just what they could be facing.
“You’re right, angels can cure people, but they can be really touchy,” Riley replied. “If you can call one up – and that’s a really big if — there is no guarantee that it won’t be pissed and kill us all.”
“No! They’re not like that,” Bess insisted, blinking back tears. “They’re loving and kind. An angel will heal Mavis, I know it.”
The woman’s desperation was so thick Riley was surprised it didn’t suffocate her.
Riley turned her attention to Robbie, hoping to get through to him. “It’s good that you’re trying to help, but you’re out of your league here. Angels are serious business and you’re just junior summoners. This won’t go well, I promise.”
“It will go just fine,” Robbie replied, but she could see beads of sweat on his forehead now, despite the chilly night air.
“Why do you need my blood? Angels don’t need that. That’s dark magic.”
“We’re using your blood because Hell owns your soul,” Robbie said solemnly. “What better bait than one who is damned?”
“Damned?” Riley replied. “No way.”
The price to reclaim her soul had been far too high — it’d taken the death of someone she’d really cared about to get it back. She thought of showing them Heaven’s mark, the crown embedded in the palm of her left hand, but somehow she doubted it would change their minds. “I swear, my soul is my own.”
He ignored her, extracting a piece of parchment from under his robe. “If you interfere, I will cut your throat and then we’ll have plenty of blood. Do you understand?”
A gasp came from the others, along with immediate protests. It appeared that this dude was working on a different wavelength than the other three. But why was that? What did he get out of this?
Street cred. A lower level necro who summons an angel would suddenly rate a lot more respect from his betters. Might even jump him a few grades up in the darker robe scale.
Robbie was the threat here, not Bess or the other two.
“Get her blood,” he ordered.
Callan knelt next to her, the ceremonial knife in his shaking hand. “I’m sorry,” he said, his sad eyes meeting hers. “But we really need to do this if Bess’s daughter is going to make it.”
“This isn’t going to work. Your magic isn’t strong enough to hold an angel.”
“Callan?” Robbie nudged. “Get it done.”
“Don’t worry,” Callan murmured, “I won’t let anything happen to you, I swear.”
Riley didn’t bother to fight, but looked away as the knife met her arm, gritting her teeth as the slice caused her blood to trickle into the chalice. Once it was over, Callan took the time to bind the wound with a length of gauze and adhesive tape.
“Thank you,” she said. He nodded, his face pale now. Before he stood, he pointedly laid the bloodied knife within her reach. Then he gave her nod and stepped back.
Her stomach queasy and her arm throbbing, Riley desperately tried to remember everything she knew about angels. Unfortunately, most of it wasn’t comforting; they were scary and deadly creatures, even the ones who called Heaven their home.
Riley began to slowly move her bound hands nearer to the knife. Robbie wasn’t paying attention to her now, too busy setting the protective circle around himself and the others. She continued to pull the knife closer in little tugs. It wouldn’t protect her against a pissed-off angel, but if she could free herself, she might be able to escape.
Only a bit more . . .
The magical circle popped into existence, but it was weaker than Riley would have expected. Before she could point that out, Robbie began to intone a steady stream of Latin, with the other necros holding their breath. Bess was pale as moonlight, her hands clenched in front of her.
As the summoning spell wove around them, Riley studied it like an ancient manuscript, cherry-picking through the Latin, noting what words she understood. There should have been more brightness in the various phrases if you were summoning one of Heaven’s winged messengers. More praise and awe, less . . . darkness.
Riley looked up at the others, wondering if they’d noticed that darker undercurrent. Callan’s eyes were wider now and he gave her a panicked expression. Apparently she wasn’t the only one wondering just what kind of incantation was being woven.
The moment Robbie poured her blood onto the ground, the spell turned sinister, the words purely malevolent, not the kind you’d use to call up one of Heaven’s creatures.
Robbie was summoning a demon.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
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