It took Riley a moment to figure out what the cop had said, his Scottish accent was so thick.
“Ah, yeah, but not bad.” At least she hoped that was the case since her back was screaming in agony and her arm as well. Still, she wasn’t dead and that counted for a lot when you went up against an Archfiend.
The cop’s concerned gaze went searching behind her and then his eyes widened. “What is that burnin’?”
“A demon,” she said, her eyes moving to the flames. It was better than looking down at her hands. She couldn’t feel them anyway so that meant they were probably charred little stumps now. “It touched holy ground.”
Edinburgh’s finest needed to know the rest. “There are three people dead,” Riley said. “The demon . . . tossed two of over the wall and one’s still in the graveyard . . . in . . . pieces.” She sucked in another breath. “There’s a woman named Bess over there,” she said, indicating the general direction. “I don’t think she’s hurt.”
“A demon, ya say?” The young cop muttered something under his breath she didn’t catch, most likely the Scottish version of “Why me?”
Standing, he keyed his radio and called for backup to the Old Calton Burial Ground. The verbal response came quickly and he gave her a nod of reassurance “We’ll have an ambulance here soon enough.”
“Thanks. How’d you find me?” she asked.
“Someone heard screams and called it in. But I never thought . . . ” he said, his eyes moving back to the roasting Hellspawn.
“One never does.”
When other cops arrived, the first one set off to help Bess. Riley’s wounds were starting to kick in now, letting her know that the toxins were moving through her system; a parting gift from the Archfiend, the opportunity to rot from the inside out if the wounds weren’t treated soon.
“Riley?” a panicked voice cried out.
It belonged to the one man she’d been praying would find her.
Denver Beck ran full tilt up the steps that led from the street, and then veered toward her, skidding to a halt in front of Lincoln’s monument, his backpack hanging loosely off a shoulder. He was in a heavy leather jacket and jeans, his face flushed, his blond hair disheveled. He stared down at her, as if not trusting his eyes, then fell to his knees. A shaking hand reached toward her as if he was trying to ensure she wasn’t a mirage.
“Oh, thank God, yer alive,” he said as his fingers gently touched her face, demon blood at all.
“Hey, Backwoods Boy,” Riley said, trying to lighten the moment with his special nickname. “Sorry things didn’t work out . . . like we planned.”
“Yer hurt,” he said simply.
“Just need some Holy Water.” She coughed deeply, the smoke from the fiend getting in her lungs.
“What the hell happened here?”
“Some necromancer just had to summon a demon.”
Beck checked out the flames over her shoulder. “What kind was it?”
He whistled under his breath. “Damn girl, yer awesome,” his voice resonating with pride. Beck carefully took hold of her and pulled her close. He smelled of aftershave and fear.
No matter what he said, Riley didn’t feel awesome. It could have easily gone the other way and then she would never have seen Beck again. Never felt him gently brush aside her tangled hair or carefully wipe the blood off her face with his rough finger.
Beck pulled back, a false smile in place. “And here I was worried about ya.”
Her heart did some little fluttery thing, and for a moment the pain diminished. But she knew he was faking it — Beck’s speech was heavy with “ya’s” instead of “you’s”, a verbal barometer of his high stress level.
Then his smile vanished and he glared around. “Where are the bastards that took ya? Are they here?”
“Mostly dead,” she said. “The demon got them.”
“Good,” he replied without hesitation. “Damned good, or they would have been dead when I got done with them.” His anger deflated. “Yer safe now, Riley. I promise. I won’t let anyone hurt ya.”
She really wanted to believe that.
“Miss Blackthorne?” She looked up into the grim face of a man in his early sixties. He wore a brown coat, black slacks and had silver at his temples, his hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Riley, this is Grand Master MacTavish,” Beck said, rising now.
From what Beck had told her, MacTavish was teaching him battle tactics and religious history. He was also one of the most respected members of the International Demon Trappers Guild. A big dog in a kennel full of them.
No matter his rank, Riley was too tired and scared to keep her mouth on a leash. “Hi,” she said wearily. “Nice to meet you, sir. Do you throw this kind of welcome for everyone who comes to Scotland, or am I just special?”
The faint hint of a smile curved up the corners of his mouth. “Yer just special, lass.” He studied the flames. “Archfiends do make a merry blaze, don’t they? How’d ya get it ta touch holy ground?”
How did you know it was an Archfiend?
She didn’t ask the question, but gave a quick report on the battle. That earned her a nod of respect.
“That’s the second one ya’ve killed.” MacTavish’s face stretched into a full smile. “Stewart told me ya were a formidable trapper, and by God, he’s right.”
Riley shrugged, though it made her shoulder hurt. “Sometimes I get lucky.” She started coughing again, and Beck handed over a bottle of water he’d dug out of his backpack. It promptly dropped out of her hands. Looking down, she was relieved to see all of her fingers were still there, and though they were numb, they appeared completely normal.
Beck took the hint and held the bottle for her. After a long drink, and at MacTavish’s urging, she told them what had gone down — how she’d been suckered away from the airport and how everyone but Robbie thought they were summoning an angel.
“I knew they weren’t,” she said. “It felt wrong. Robbie knew exactly what he was doing. The others were just trying to help Bess’s daughter.”
MacTavish was frowning now. “The summoner’s society has a lot ta answer for.”
A police officer led Bess down the path. When she saw Riley she stumbled to a halt. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice quavering with emotion. “I didn’t know he was going to do that.”
“Who gave Robbie the spell?” Riley asked.
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell us. He just said it’d help Mavis and I believed him. Now my daughter is going to . . . die and . . . ”
She lowered her head, weeping inconsolably, as the cop lead her out of the graveyard.
“We need to treat yer wounds,” Beck said. “We shouldn’t put that off much longer.”
While he rummaged in his backpack for the Holy water, Riley closed her eyes, ignoring the bustle around her.
She’d killed an Archfiend, fought Hell one more time and won. She felt no joy in that. Three people were dead, and whoever had put Robbie up to this disaster wasn’t one of them.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserved