Riley was outdoors, Brennan holding tight to her arm. In his other hand was a knife, the one that had convinced her to not fight him, at least not yet.
It’d been her fault; she really hadn’t been paying attention when he’d had accosted her in the downstairs hall. Now she cursed herself for not sensing the danger before he’d pulled the knife and told her to keep silent.
As they climbed the hill behind the manor house her mind raced with questions. How she misread this guy all along?
Riley wasn’t wearing a coat or gloves and the crisp night air cut into her, her teeth chattering in response to the cold. There was a slight breeze as the clouds moved across the moon, alternately obscuring and then revealing its pale glow. It felt like snow was in the air.
She knew that calling out for help wasn’t an option – no one would hear her out here. “Why are you doing this?” Riley demanded.
“Because she’ll help me get what I want,” was the terse reply, the knife never wavering.
“Fayne,” he said, sounding as if the word tasted sour.
“You have to be kidding me.” The grand masters had dined with her kidnapper and never known it. Or had they? Was this one big scheme or . . . .
“Did MacTavish know she was behind this?”
Brennan gave her quick frown. “No, I don’t think so, but you never know with him. He’s a cagey old bird.”
As they climbed, shrubs tugging on her jeans, Riley felt magic build around them, the same dark magic that had been in the graveyard. Things began to come clear.
“She put a spell on me, didn’t she? That’s why I was so weird to Beck.”
“Yes. It was in the Holy Water I gave you.”
“What? Damn you!” she said, trying to pull herself out of his grip, but failing. “You ruined my life!”
“That wasn’t the intention,” he replied. “I just wanted . . . ”
She glared at him. “Wanted what?”
“Nobody was supposed to die,” he said, his voice trembling now. “It went all wrong.”
“Really. And Bess’s little girl? What about her?”
Her captor shook his head. “I didn’t know Fayne put a spell on the kid until later. I was just supposed to make sure Robbie picked you up at the airport instead of Beck.”
More pieces of the puzzle dropped in place. “You did something to make Beck sick, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I put some stuff in his oatmeal. It didn’t hurt him.”
They skirted around a broad patch of heather as their breath clouded the night air.
Riley snorted. “I guess throwing up for a few hours is no big deal in your world.”
Brennan’s hand tightened on her arm, digging into her flesh. “He’s okay now. It’s not like I wanted to hurt him. He’s been decent to me.”
“Then why do all this?”
“I want to be a grand master,” he replied, his eyes flashing at her. “Fayne will summon a Fallen and then I’ll kill it. They’ll have to let me become one of them.”
Riley came to abrupt halt, forcing Brennan to stop. “Are you crazy? Do you have any idea how evil those things are?”
“You’re just like MacTavish,” he snapped, frowning again. “He only wants his favorites to become a grand master.”
“What? It doesn’t . . . work that way. It’s not like some popularity contest,” she said, her teeth chattering harder now. He tugged her along and they resumed the climb. “Look, we can go back to the house, explain what happened to you and—”
“Just keep walking,” he said.
She wasn’t getting through to him.
“So why do the summoning in the graveyard? What did that buy you guys?”
“Fayne wanted to test the elements of the spell, make sure they were right before she tried to summon a Fallen. Robbie was all over that, eager to impress her, I guess.”
“Yeah, that really worked for him.”
When she crested the hill, out of breath and body quaking, Riley forced herself to look over her shoulder. To her relief, the manor house had more lights on now. Did they realize she was gone? Or was it nothing more than the others getting ready for bed?
Beck will find me. He’ll know something’s wrong.
But maybe she could give him a bit of help. If she could get back to the manor . . .
Riley swung around and kicked at Brennan’s closest knee, dropping him to the ground with a cry. Rather than try to wrestle the knife from him, she took off down the hill, veering around stones. She’d covered only a short distance when a voice boomed in her head, clamping onto her will with steel claws.
“Come to me!” the voice ordered, causing her to skid to a stop. Though she tried to fight the spell, Riley turned like a puppet and continued on, past Brennan, to the crown of the hill.
Her captor swore as he caught up with her, but made no attempt to restrain her. He didn’t need to — his “boss” was pulling her strings.
They walked along the crown of the ridge, the loch to their left, until a bonfire became visible along a flat stretch of ground dotted with heather and stones. Summoner Fayne stood by the fire, her dark brown robe nearly making her invisible in the darkness.
“Come closer,” the summoner said, beckoning.
Riley’s mind told to submit, that it was useless to resist such power. Her heart told her if she did, she was dead.
Brennan limped closer now, looking anxiously back and forth between Riley and the necromancer. “This damn well better work,” he muttered, shaking his head in dismay.
“All will go smoothly,” Fayne replied.
“It didn’t go smoothly for Robbie and the others,” Riley cut in. “They’re dead.”
“Their blood is on your hands, not mine,” the summoner retorted. “If you had not fought back, the demon would have been happy just to kill you, not them.”
“No, that’s not how it was,” Riley said, her memories conjuring up the horrific images of the dead summoners. Of Bess weeping in terror. “You knew Robbie couldn’t hold that Archfiend. He didn’t have enough power.”
Fayne ignored that. “Sit there,” the woman ordered, pointing toward a bare patch of ground. Riley moved to the spot she’d indicated, forced to comply so her head wouldn’t explode from the pressure. The instant her butt hit the hard ground she went into another long shivering session. It was so cold, she could barely feel the tips of her fingers.
Beck, where are you?
Fayne was closer now, the magic rolling off her in waves. She placed a ceremonial knife and a piece of paper on the ground within Riley’s reach.
Riley glared up at her. “MacTavish and Beck will figure out I’m missing and come looking for me.”
“Let them,” the necromancer replied, her eyes alight. “They pose no threat. A few dead grand masters won’t trouble me at all.”
“Hey!” Brennan said, limping closer now. “That’s not our deal. You are to summon the Fallen so I can kill it. You can’t hurt the masters or I’m screwed.”
The summoner laughed. “If they get in my way, they will be harmed. If you thought otherwise, you’re an idiot.”
“No! I won’t let you hurt them.”
“Then they’d best not challenge me.”
“The necro is hosing you over,” Riley said. “The only way she’ll summon a Fallen is to kill me. How else will she get one of Lucifer’s own this close to the grand master’s stronghold?”
“No, you’ll be fine,” Brennan insisted, but he sounded unsure now. “We agreed that she would wipe your memory once it was over. I’ll tell the masters I found you out here wandering around all confused. That I rescued you from the Fallen. I’ll be the hero.”
You are so naive.
With a bark of laughter, Fayne tossed a sword at his feet. As Brennan picked it up, his eyes met Riley’s. “It’ll be okay,” he said, shooting a quick glance toward the necromancer as she returned to the fire. He lowered his voice. “I’ll keep you safe, no matter what.”
Fayne invoked her magical circle and it snapped into place with a burst of dark grey light, destined to protect her from one of Hell’s most dangerous servants. Unlike Robbie’s, this circle thrummed with power. Fayne may not be at Mort’s level of magic, but she had enough expertise to do a lot of damage.
After a sharp intake of breath, as if realizing there was no going back, Brennan called out. “I’m ready.”
Riley tried to rise, but the effort proved futile. The buzzing her mind was at hornet nest level now, making it hard to think. She had to buy time.
“If you summon a Fallen it’s going to kill him,” she said, angling her head toward the grand master wannabe, “and take you as its own.”
Fayne sniffed in derision. “No Fallen will ever command me. It will be my servant.”
“Why? What’s does this buy you?”
“Respect. None of the others think I am capable of such a thing, but after tonight they will know I am the most powerful summoner in all the world.”
Now that’s a planet-sized ego. Which was all Hell needed to work their own special brand of chaos.
Knowing she was wasting her time trying to talk sense into Fayne or Brennan, Riley shifted her attention to escape. When she tried to rise again, nothing happened other than making sweat stand out on her forehead and her head pound in time with her heart.
There’s got to be a way to break free.
Fayne raised her head, almost like she was scenting the wind, and smiled. “The masters have realized you’re missing and are hurrying to join us. What a merry party we will have.”
That was good news. Or was it?
Maybe that had been Fayne’s plan — to lure Beck and the others out of the safety of their house and end their lives at the hands of a Fallen.
Is she that smart? Or has Hell been playing her all along?
Unaware of Riley’s inner dialog, Fayne began to chant, grayish-blue light swirling around her hands. Riley knew this spell — two months earlier she’d been with Mort on a summoning and this was similar. The deceased had been a young girl, just fourteen, and Mort had felt Riley’s presence might be a comfort when the deceased rose from her grave. The experience had left Riley heartbroken, vowing never to be involved in that kind of thing again, even though it had been to let the dead girl know they’d caught her killer.
And here I am again. . . .
As she picked through the Latin, recognizing certain phrases, she realized that Fayne’s summoning wasn’t specific to one person. It was a general cattle call: If you were buried nearby, come join the party.
What are you doing?
The earth to Riley’s right began to groan as if in labor and it soon split apart. A ghostly figure rose from the soil, his tartan in rags. His chiseled face was dirty and smeared with what had to be dried blood and he was armed with a sword in one hand and a dirk in the other.
Riley stared in astonishment. From the style of clothes, this warrior had to have been buried in the mid-seventeen hundreds. Next to him another body rose, then a third. Apparently this had been a battlefield at one time.
A total of nine spectral clansmen heeded the magical call, all armed and ready for war.
“You have no right to do this to them,” Riley said, wiggling around in an attempt to get free of the magic that held her in check. “Put them back in their graves!”
“She’s right, Fayne. Why are you doing this? The dead shouldn’t be disturbed,” Brennan insisted.
“They don’t care,” Fayne replied. “They’re only tools, like the two of you.”
The summoner was wrong — when the first ghost’s eyes met Riley’s, the sadness within them nearly made her weep.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserved