The drive to Edinburgh had been two and a half hours of hell. About an hour in, Beck had stopped calling Riley’s cell phone, knowing it was useless. It’d taken all of his control not to hurl his own phone out of the car window in frustration.
What if she’s hurt? What if she’s . . . ?
“Don’t go borrowin’ trouble, lad,” MacTavish said, as if he’d read his mind.
“Why the hell not? Anythin’ could be happenin to her and—”
“I know it’s hard,” the older man conceded.
Beck nodded, his fists knotted again. He wanted to kick and bellow and beat up the whole world until Riley was safe in his arms.
“We’ll find her,” the older man said softly.
“God, I hope so,” Beck whispered. He’d planned it out to be perfect and now everything had gone wrong. He’d looked forward to her visit as much as Riley had, eager to see her, touch her. Love her again.
She has to be scared, but she’ll be smart and fight back. Riley was a survivor. That was why he still held hope.
MacTavish’s cell phone rang and the conversation lasted a number of minutes. Beck tried to read something from his expression, but the man had what Riley called a stone face.
“Good or bad news?” Beck asked as his superior ended the call.
“Mixed,” MacTavish admitted. “They located the car on the airport security video and traced it a Robert Kinross. He’s an English businessman who has been living in Scotland for the last decade. He’s also a summoner.”
“A necromancer?” That Beck hadn’t expected and it took his worries in a whole new direction. “This isn’t about money, then.”
“I’d say that’s exactly the case,” MacTavish replied. “Not everyone believes yer lass’s soul is her own.”
“Do you?” Beck asked before he could stop himself.
MacTavish hesitated. “I trust Stewart’s judgment on that. If he says she’s on the straight and narrow, I believe him. If I didn’t, she wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the manor.”
Beck knew the International Guild and the grand masters kept close track of his girlfriend. It had begun even before they were dating, when Riley’s dad, Paul, had given his soul to Hell. Stewart had been making regular reports to the head office here in Scotland, and while that hadn’t surprised Beck, the depth of those updates had. Now he knew it’d all gone into their archives, so that in hundred years another fresh-faced grand master trainee could read exactly what had happened in Atlanta during the hellish spring of 2018.
MacTavish continued his ruminations. “Riley’s experiences with Heaven and Hell, with the angels and the demons, could prove too enticin’ for some. Perhaps her kidnappers believe she can help them gain power through her relationship with Lucifer.”
“She doesn’t have one. At least not anymore,” Beck grumbled.
“Aye, but do they know that?”
The traffic noticeably slowed, making Beck grind his teeth. At least they were on the outskirts of Edinburgh now.
“I heard ya were ill this mornin’,” his superior said. “How so?”
“I got sick right after breakfast. Throwin’ up. Don’t know why. Felt like crap for about six hours or so and then it cleared up.”
“No lingerin’ effects?”
“A little light-headed. I’ve been drinkin’ lots of water,” Beck replied, indicating a bottle sticking out of his backpack. “When I knew I wouldn’t make it to the airport, Brennan went instead.”
MacTavish gave him a sidelong glance. “Did ya ask him ta do that, or did he make the offer?”
“Ah . . . he offered. I was too busy barfin’ to ask him myself. I figured it was no big deal. I’d get a couple hours of sleep then head down and meet up with Riley.”
“This is the first time ya’ve been sick since ya arrived, am I right?”
Beck nodded. “Well, except that cold I caught on the plane on the way over here.”
“Just as I thought.” MacTavish turned off the motorway and began to thread his way down the winding streets, trying to avoid the tourists.
“Where are we headed?” Beck asked.
“Police station. Thought it the best place ta be while they search for that car. They’ll keep us in the loop.”
That surprised Beck. “You and the cops work together over here?”
“Aye. What about Atlanta?”
“They’re pretty good,” he allowed. “It’s the mayor’s office that’s the pain in the ass.”
“Politicians,” MacTavish snorted. “I swear Lucifer created those vermin just ta give us a wee taste of Hell.”
Beck couldn’t argue with that.
His superior’s phone lit up again. “Understood, thank ya.” MacTavish ended the call. “They found the car at Edinburgh Waverely.”
“The train station would have a security video, right?”
“Aye. They’re reviewin’ it now. But why take her ta such a public place? There’d be too much of an opportunity for her ta try ta escape.”
MacTavish had a point, and it was one that made Beck’s blood chill. “Do ya think they took her somewhere else and just ditched the car so we’d think she was on the train?”
“Then where is she? What’s happenin’ to her?” he asked, though he knew his companion had no answers.
What if I never see her alive again?
Even before Riley could call out a warning there was a dark crack of energy and something popped into existence fifteen feet above them. The form was shrouded in a white cloak, like a silky chrysalis awaiting the birth of a gigantic butterfly.
“It came!” Bess cried as fat tears ran down her face. “Oh, thank God!” She shot a glance over at Callan. “See, it really came!”
Elaine stared upward in wonder. When Callan took her hand she smiled over at him.
“See, I told you it would work,” she said.
Robbie was frowning, displeased.
You jerk, you knew what that spell was for. Now he was wondering why his demon hadn’t appeared. Apparently he didn’t realize that certain higher-level Hellspawn could mimic just about anyone.
The shroud unwound and floated away in the breeze revealing eyes of chilly Arctic blue and black hair that flowed around the being’s stern face. Just like you’d expect with one of Heaven’s own.
No, not quite. Riley knew angels, she’d stood toe-to-toe with the Archangel Michael while bargaining to save mankind from Armageddon. This didn’t feel like one of them.
Slowly the wings extended, gray-white feathers with dark black tips.Riley remembered those markings all too well. She’d last seen them on a Fallen angel.
“Guys . . . this isn’t an—”
“Bow down before me,” the figure commanded. “Worship me!”
Callan, Bess and Elaine instantly fell to their knees. Only Robbie remained standing. He shot Riley a dark look, a warning to hold her silence.
You set these people up.
Until she was free, there wasn’t much she could do. Her fingers curved around the knife handle and she hastily sawed on the ropes.
“My daughter,” Bess began, trembling.
The being stared down at her, cocking its head as if it was reading her thoughts. “Swear your soul to me and she will be made well.”
The ropes severed and Riley shook them off. She shifted the knife to her left hand and then allowed the fingers of her right to curve around a small piece of broken headstone. She rose, unsteady.
“This is not one of Heaven’s angels,” she said. “They don’t ask for your soul. Only demons and Fallen do that.”
“Silence!” the figure said, turning those seething blue eyes upon her.
Riley could feel it picking around the edges of her mind, but it couldn’t get a firm grip. Ever since Ori had trained her how to kill Hellspawn, she’d been able to block out their mind games, keep them from messing with her head.
“No, you’re wrong. You have to be,” Bess said, though her voice was uncertain. She began to tremble, bright tears reforming. “My daughter . . . ”
“It is an angel,” Elaine insisted.
“Are you sure?” Callan asked.
“I can feel it filling me with white light.”
Riley shifted her attention to the thing above them. “Come on down and touch holy ground. Then we’ll know you’re for real.”
“I do not heed the orders of mortals,” it replied.
“I know, but if you’re really an angel, you’ll do it so you can help this lady’s daughter get well.”
The being didn’t move.
“She’s right. Why isn’t it down here with us? It should be able to rest on sanctified ground,” Callan said as he rose from his knees.
Riley’s fingers tightened on the piece of headstone. “We’re waiting,” she called out.
“Give me your soul and you will be spared,” the thing promised, skewering her with those unholy eyes.
“Been there, done that, not going there again,” Riley muttered.
I hope I’m not wrong.
She launched the piece of gravestone into the air, and when it struck a wing, a brilliant spark erupted. The being snarled in response.
“My God, what have you done?” Bess cried. “Now it won’t help us!”
As if on command, the illusion began to shred, beginning with that wing. Feathers smoked and vanished, leaving behind an expanse of leathery skin that culminated in a wicked set of claws.
“Oh damn,” Riley muttered. “An Archfiend.”
Just once I wish I was wrong.
# # #
The demon was a little over six feet in height, its curiously domed head displaying three pairs of eyes, each of which shown with crimson fury. It wore only a loin cloth and the sword it carried was curved, blazing with black fire. A few months before, Riley had killed one of its brethren and wounded another. Back then she’d had the help of a Fallen angel; this time there was no Ori, and she was on her own.
“Why do you necros keep doing this kind of crap?” she demanded, rounding on Robbie. “Don’t you ever learn?”
He ignored her, stepping closer to the edge of the glowing circle, but careful to remain inside. “I have summoned you, Hellspawn. You are my servant! You will obey me!”
“You knew you were calling up a demon?” Callan said. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“It is mine to command,” Robbie replied tersely. “It will heal the child if I order it.”
“I obey no mortal,” the fiend said, its massive wings sending downdrafts that swirled dust around them. Then it smiled, a sight that made Riley’s blood turn to ice.
The protective circle around the others began to warp, its light fading like a dying sun. With a distinctive snap, it vanished.
“The ward!” Elaine cried. “Put it back up!”
Robbie didn’t bother — with a vicious oath, he took off at a run, leaving the others behind.
“Don’t!” Riley called out, but the man kept moving. Robbie made it only a short distance before the demon cut him down with its blazing sword, his screams dying on his lips as his body fell in two distinct pieces.
Riley’s stomach roiled and she looked away, the man’s twitching torso resurrecting gruesome memories she’d tried hard to bury. She grabbed Bess and shoved her behind a large headstone as the other two scrambled to find their own cover.
Callan began to creep among the gravestones, working his way toward one of the open crypts. It was a smart move — if they could get inside the structure, the demon couldn’t grab onto them without risking one of its wings touching sanctified ground.
“Come on!” he called out, waving to them. “Over here.” Despite Riley’s urging, Bess refused to move, her body locked in terror.
“Come on!” he repeated, stepping away from the crypt to beckon to them, heedlessly exposing himself.
“Callan, look out!” Elaine called out.
The demon’s sword missed him, but one of its talons did not. It caught him in the back, impaling him as the Archfiend rose in the air with a triumphant roar.
“Callan!” Elaine cried.
“Give me your soul and I will spare you,” the Archfiend demanded.
Callan shook his head, his face contorted in agony. “No.”
“Give me your soul!” it bellowed.
“Never,” Callan cried out.
Before Riley could find a way to intervene, the demon sent him sailing over the stone wall on the far side of the graveyard. Callan’s scream slit the night. It cut off abruptly.
Elaine began to wail, beating the ground with her fists.
“Give me your souls,” the demon said, winging back toward them. “Or . . . give me Blackthorne’s daughter and you will all go free.”
Riley knew it was lying. Their only hope was for the others to get to safety, then it would be up to her to take care of the thing. She couldn’t let an Archfiend loose on Edinburgh.
She shook Bess, hard. “Get inside the crypt and stay there, do you understand? Take Elaine with you.”
Bess nodded numbly.
Then, after sucking in a deep breath, Riley uttered a quick prayer and stood. Carrying only the knife, she stepped out into the open, making herself the target. Even though Ori had trained her how to kill these things, he’d provided her with a cool angelic sword to do it.
Not this time around.
“Blackthorne’s daughter,” the Archfiend called out as it hovered above her, marking time with its wings. Its voice was thick and gravelly, probably from inhaling purgatory’s sulfuric fumes for eternity.
“Go back to Hell, demon. You have no place here.” Of course, there was no chance this thing would be so awestruck by her presence it’d head right back to the fiery pits in complete terror.
“I am here until those who summoned me are my servants. Or dead.”
“Wow, color me surprised.”
“If you agree to serve me, I will spare the others.”
Archfiends weren’t usually this chatty as playing fair wasn’t in their nature.
Why is it stalling?
“Elaine, no!” Bess called out.
Riley spun around a second before the woman swung at her, a broken brick in hand. As it was, it just brushed past Riley’s skull.
“You got Callan killed, you bitch! Your blood summoned it!” Elaine said, swinging again and missing. “It just wants you, not us!”
Riley wrestled the brick away and tossed it aside. “Don’t listen to the thing! It’s lying to you.”
“Run, little one, run away,” the demon said.
“No!” Riley cried, but before she could wrestle Elaine to the ground, the woman took off. Instead of heading for the crypt, and safety, she fled down the footpath, following in Robbie’s doomed steps.
“Elaine!” Bess called out. “Come back!”
As the demon scooped her up, there was a sickening crack and Elaine hung limply in its claws, her neck broken. The fiend howled in rage at having lost a potential servant, and with only a few beats of its wings the body was unceremoniously dropped over the wall to join Callan in death.
“Dammit!” Riley raged. She didn’t really care what had happened to Robbie — he probably deserved his fate — but now two others were dead.
Over the pounding of her heart she heard the sound of sirens, which meant cops might be headed here. They had no weapons to take down such a demon and they’d die just as quickly as the magical folks had, or find themselves Hell’s servants for eternity.
It was up to her to kill the thing. But how?
Holy ground was her best weapon, but how could she get the Archfiend to touch one of the monuments or the earth? She studied the graveyard’s landscape in the pale moonlight. There has to be some way for this to work. All she needed was enough open ground to get a good head start and . . .
“I will release your father’s soul,” the fiend offered.
Did this thing think she was stupid?
“Nice try, but he’s in Heaven.”
A snarl. “What of the Fallen, the one named Ori? Do you not wish to see him again? Have him touch you as he once did?”
Her fury began to burn hotter. “Ori is dead. And he’s not in Hell either, so don’t bother lying to me. Just shut up, dumbass!”
The instant she used the “d” word she thought of Beck and she felt her courage rise. She could hear his voice so plainly now.
All or nothin’, girl.
“All or nothing,” she repeated.
Riley took off across the open ground, not bothering to hide. Above her she heard the flap of wings as the demon grew closer. Dodging around headstones, she tried hard not to trip, her goal a statue, one close by a tall turret-like structure. The heat off the demon’s sword grew closer as she sprinted the final distance.
The fiend snarled again, furious that its mind games weren’t working. “I shall rip your flesh from your bones and feed upon you. Your blood I will drink.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she murmured, leaping over a headstone.
Right before Riley reached the base of the monument, the creature swooped close and slapped at her with a wing, causing her to fall. As she struggled to rise, it hung above her, creating a whirlwind with its wings. It raised its flaming sword to carve her in half.
At the last moment, she regained her feet, grabbed up her knife and took off. When she reached the monument, she scaled the steps, gaining height, until she reached the statue’s legs. Her breath ragged, she waited for the demon to fly closer.
“Hey! What are you waiting for? Christmas?” she taunted.
The Archfiend snarled and swooped in, trying to knock her free of the statue. As the massive wing drew near, the talon already bloodstained, Riley leapt toward it. It was insane thing to do, but as she slammed against the wing, she slashed at the tendons with the knife. With a bellow the demon grabbed onto her arm with a claw and begin to rise.
She stabbed again and this time, the demon twisted in mid-air, shrieking in fury as black blood rained down. Its damaged wing could no longer support its weight and it sank lower. As it tried to compensate, the fiend veered too close to the turret and clipped it, causing holy white light to sear into like a beacon. For a moment it seemed caught, like a fly in a spider’s web, twisting and crying out.
Fearing it would free itself, Riley frantically clawed her way up the fiend and threw herself against the wing, pinning it against the turret. The pain mounted as white-hot energy roared through her limbs, her joints, her muscles and into her back. She swore she could hear her blood sizzle in her veins.
In a final bid for freedom, the demon raked at her with a claw, pushing her free. Riley hit the earth, hard. Fighting for breath, she struggled to her knees, and crawled toward the monument. The fiend fell, landing in a heap, its cries deafening as the sacred soil purged itself of the evil. Writhing like a giant burning moth in its death throes, it rolled over and over and finally came to rest some ten feet away.
Riley leaned back against the statue, black blood caking on her face. Her head spun, so she slowly edged downward, fearing she might faint and pitch to the ground headfirst. Her own blood ran along an arm and down her back, burning like it was on fire. Finally, she found herself huddled up against the base of the statue. The stone steps were cool and she rested against them, facing away from the burning demon and the thick stench it created.
A soft breeze touched her face, making her shiver. The siren was closer now, as well as swirling lights. She looked over, past Robbie’s remains, to where she’d left Bess, and found the woman staggering out from one of the crypt.
Only one out of four alive. I so blew this.
A car door slammed from somewhere outside the graveyard. Maybe it was Beck and he’d help her figure out who’d done this. Make them pay.
With a groan of pain, Riley looked upward at the stars, thankful for the opportunity to be able to do that one more time. Her sight cleared and the noble face of the statue above her made her smile. The daughter of a history teacher, she’d know this guy anywhere.
The solemn face of President Abraham Lincoln watched the Archfiend’s unholy bonfire, but offered no comment.
“Thanks, Abe,” she whispered. “I owe you one.”
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
Archfiend Illustration (c) 2013 Mark Helwig
All Rights Reserved