Beck shivered involuntarily in the cold night air as he and MacTavish stood outside the manor house. Frantic with worry, he hadn’t bothered to grab a coat, and now the wind was playing havoc with the kilt and his thin dress jacket.
“All the cars are still here,” Kepler said as he joined them.
Which meant Brennan had taken Riley somewhere on the grounds.
“Up on the hill?” MacTavish asked.
“That would make sense,” the other grand master replied.
MacTavish’s phone rang. “What’d ya find?” He listened for moment, then ended the call. “I had our housekeeper go up ta the fourth floor and look toward the loch. She says there’s a bonfire up there. That’s where Fayne will be, and so will the other two.”
“How can ya be sure?” Beck said, his gut twisted so hard it was painful to breathe.
“Because it’s an old battlefield. Fayne’ll be pullin’ the dead free from their graves ta keep us busy while she does her spell.” At Beck’s puzzled expression, he added, “It’s what I’d do if I was a spell slinger.”
Kepler nodded his agreement. “I’ll stay here and keep the manor safe. And I’ll put a call into the police. One way or another, they’re going to have to be involved.”
MacTavish sighed and shook his head in regret. “Aye. Thanks, old friend. Hopefully we can share a wee dram once this hell is over.”
Grimly, they set off up the hill, leaving Kepler behind. Beck carried the sword he used in practice sessions, much like the claymore Master Stewart favored though this one wasn’t quite as heavy. MacTavish had opted for a similar weapon, but neither of these blades would be of value if the summoner was inside a protective circle.
“Now if she’s summoned the dead, the best we can do is keep from gettin’ dead ourselves,” MacTavish explained. “At least until we break the spell.”
“Which means we need to take down the necro,” Beck said, pushing forward at a punishing pace.
“Aye,” his superior replied. “In case yer wonderin’, however that comes ta pass will work for me. Ya ken?”
“Understood. What the hell was Brennan thinkin’?” he demanded.
MacTavish shook his head as they skirted around an outcropping. “I’m not sure. For him ta betray us like that . . . in another month or so he’d be workin’ directly with Grand Master Alvarez in Mexico. It’s an important position and it’s taken him nearly a year ta reach that goal.”
“Could the necro have put a spell on him?”
“Kepler said he didn’t sense one, but Brennan has been a bit odd as of late and I’ve had ta come down hard on him. I thought it was stress with his final exams comin’ up, but now we know different.”
Beck thought back through some of the conversations he’d had with Brennan. “Ya know, he said somethin’ about envyin’ me because I was gonna be a grand master. Didn’t make any sense at the time, not after what it took to get here.”
MacTavish frowned in through. “Maybe that’s it — he’s jealous of what we are.”
“Yeah,” Beck murmured. If he only knew what bein’ a grand master really means.
As they hiked up the hill, the wind whistling around Beck’s knees and the bushes snagging on his kilt, he cursed himself for leaving Riley so vulnerable. He’d promised to keep her safe and failed . . . again.
“We’ll get her back,” his superior insisted.
Beck knew when someone was telling you stuff that they didn’t necessarily believe.
“Riley will fight her,” he said. “She won’t give up.”
“She’ll have ta, because if she gives in she’s dead,” MacTavish replied. “I’m guessin’ that Fayne’s people did a test run at the graveyard with that demon. This time she’ll go for the real prize.”
“A Fallen angel,” Beck said, his heart sinking. He’d prayed he’d never have to fight one of things again, but it just might come to that. Anything to keep Riley from bein’ hurt. If he failed, and died, would he go to Hell again? Somehow he doubted his mother would show him the way out a second time.
“If she does summon a Fallen, what about the manor? The Archives?” Beck asked. The centuries of knowledge the grand masters had accumulated, often at the cost of their lives.
“Kepler will ensure the wards will hold.”
Beck sighed in relief.
Unfortunately those wards weren’t going to do a damned thing for either of them.
# # #
Though her panic continued to discover new thresholds with each passing minute, Riley forced herself to think through the situation. From what she could tell there didn’t appear to be too much to work with, at least something that allowed her to walk away from this alive. Allowed her to see Beck again and tell him she loved him, that she trusted him and really wished he’d ask that question one more time.
Riley turned her attention to the words written on the piece of paper in front of her, in the hope that they might be of assistance. When she reached out to pick up the paper, sharp magic nipped at her fingers like a hungry bird, forcing her hand back. Leaning closer, she tried to read the script, but the words blurred. Another one of Fayne’s tricks.
Riley guessed that once her blood touched that paper, the spell would direct dial one of Lucifier’s top menaces. If Fayne could bind it to her will, there was no way the necromancer was going to allow Brennan to kill it. If she didn’t, Fayne was inside a protective circle. No harm, no foul, at least from the summoner’s point of view.
As Riley’s despair deepened, a familiar warmth brushed her mind, her father’s spirit, who was never that far away, even on good days. She recalled his mussed brown hair, how he always had a kiss and a hug for her. How much he had loved her mother.
You’re stronger than you know, Paul Blackthorne whispered in that firm, yet loving tone he used to ensure she was listening.
How do I stop her?
Be yourself. Be stronger than she is.
The utter suckage of the situation made Riley’s anger burn. Who the hell was this woman anyway? If I could just get free . . . She wiggled again, like a toddler stuck in a highchair, and just as helpless. Around her, the dead warriors fanned out.
“Riley!” Beck called out as he and MacTavish came out of the darkness. Just as he began hurrying toward her, the grand master made a futile grab at his arm.
“Careful, lad,” MacTavish called out.
His warning came quick enough for Beck to evade one of the ghosts, who had surged forward, swinging its sword. The instant he backed off, the specter ceased its attack.
“If you remain in place, they won’t hurt you,” Fayne said, magic encircling her like a swarm of bees.
Beck ignored her. “Damn you, Brennan! What the hell are ya doin’?”
“Don’t worry, she’ll be safe,” Brennan said, but Riley could see sweat glistening on his face now.
“That’s a load and ya know it,” MacTavish replied, his voice dripping with acid. “Why have ya done this, lad? Why have ya betrayed one of our own?”
“To prove I’m as good as any of you,” the young man retorted. “Fayne will summon a Fallen and when I kill it, then I’ll be one of you. You’ll have to let me in, that’s the rules.”
“She’s been feedin’ ya this nonsense, hasn’t she?” MacTavish said, angling his head toward the necromancer.
“Of course I have,” Fayne said, without a hint of remorse. “He wants to be a grand master, I want to summon a Fallen. That’s synergy.”
“It’ll work, you’ll see,” Brennan said.
“No, it won’t. And God help ya, yer about to learn a very hard lesson, ya damned fool.”
Before Brennan could reply, the compulsion spell hit Riley like an arrow embedding itself deep in her forehead. On their own volition, her fingers reached out to grasp the knife, slowly turning the silver blade toward her. She tried to let go of the weapon, turn it away, but Fayne’s spell was too strong.
No, not like this.
“Riley, what are ya doin?” Beck called.
“It’s not me. It’s her. She’s making me do it.”
He hacked at one of the ghosts, cutting it in half, but it promptly reassembled, preventing him from reaching her.
“Fayne?” MacTavish growled. “There’ll be no goin’ back if the girl dies. Ya ken?”
The necromancer laughed, cold and sharp. “She is of no importance. If I command a Fallen, you can do nothing.”
Realization dawned in Brennan’s eyes. He whirled toward the necromancer. “You told me she wouldn’t be hurt!”
Fayne shrugged. “I might have lied about that.”
“You bitch! I don’t want this if she’s going to be hurt.”
“You have no choice now.”
Brennan swore and strode closer, ready to do battle, but found himself pushed away by a pair of the ghosts.
Riley’s were riveted on the blade now, her hands burning at the effort to keep it away from her. Even as she fought it, it slipped closer. If she gave in to the spell, it would be one hard thrust, a quick death.
“Let it go, child,” Fayne urged. “Don’t fight it. You know you want to. For once in your life you’ll have peace.”
Peace? No way.
Despite the spell, Riley’s mind delivered a clear image of the blade slashing into her neck, slicing across, severing the arteries. Her life blood pumping onto the ground while Beck watched her die in helpless fury.
“Quick or slow, it doesn’t matter to me,” Fayne said, her hands glowing like sparkling fireflies. “It will happen either way.”
“Riley, please. Don’t let her do this to ya,” Beck called out. He’d shifted to a position where she could see him out of the corner of her eye. As long as he didn’t move any closer, the nearest ghosts held their position. She could see the agony on his face, the realization that he had no way to prevent her death.
“I can’t . . . .” Riley said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “She’s too strong.”
The moment the words were out, the knife shot closer, within inches of her throat.
“Weakness will kill ya,” MacTavish called out. “Be stronger than her.”
“Ya were stronger than Hell. Ya outwitted Lucifer himself. This is only a damned necromancer, a pale imitation of that evil. Fight her!” MacTavish roared.
You can do this, her father’s voice said. You have too much to live for.
Tears were on Beck’s face now, coursing down his reddened cheeks, his body quaking. “Riley, I love ya. I need ya, girl. Don’t let her kill us both.”
The blade slid closer again, pausing only an inch from her skin. She swore she could feel her blood being lured toward the sharp edge as the spell kept urging her to give in, to accept her fate.
If you do, Beck and the others are dead, her father warned. She will leave no witnesses.
Her eyes sought Beck’s. I love you.
“Riley,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Please . . . ”
She locked onto his face, feeling the end was near. The muscles in her arms and neck were burning in agony now, her heart beating so fast she could barely catch her breath. Shadows began to form at the edges of her vision, the beginnings of a panic attack.
“Riley? Ya see that ring on yer right hand? My grandmamma’s ring? That’s our future, girl. That’s us together, havin’ our own home. Maybe, when yer older, someday havin’ kids.” He sucked in a deep breath. “We lose it all if ya let this bitch win.”
Fayne issued a throaty laugh. “You really can’t believe that will work, do you?”
Beck’s anger exploded and he took a few steps forward. “Nothin’ is worth her life. Use my blood, dammit. Hell wants a piece of me.”
“Or what, little grand master? You have no power here. Once I command a Fallen angel, I can do whatever I want.”
With a roar, Beck charged the closest ghost, hacking at it with his sword. Brennan engaged another one of the dead clansman, slicing at him, trying to break through. MacTavish joined them, but they were badly outnumbered.
In an instant, Beck was down, dazed by a blow. As he tried to regain his feet, Brennan stepped in front of him, holding the specter back. The ghost’s blade caught him high on the shoulder and he shrieked in pain and fell. Beck came to his feet, his fierce blows raining down the ghost, pushing it back to allow Brennan cover.
Riley felt the compulsion spell weaken as Fayne’s concentration lessened.
Now! her father called out.
Perspiration beading on her forehead, Riley gritted her teeth and pulled back on the blade. To her surprise, it retreated by an inch or so. Fortunately, Fayne didn’t notice, too busy savoring the battle.
A little more. I can do this. I will do this.
Sweating like it was mid-summer in Atlanta, her hands throbbing as if she was holding molten metal, Riley yanked the blade away from her throat. On instinct, she rammed the knife hilt deep into Scottish soil, grounding the magic before Fayne could react.
To Riley’s astonishment, the compulsion spell blew apart, the power released rolling across the open ground like a magical tsunami. It cracked against the protective circle and shattered it like fragile glass. Fayne shrieked as she rocketed backward in the air and landed in a tangled heap.
There were shouts from both Beck and MacTavish as the magic struck them as well. Then silence fell. Riley’s heart continued to pound and she forced herself to take one slow breath after another.
When she finally opened her eyes, her hands were still knotted around the handle of the blade, but none of her blood had been spilt.
Well done, her father murmured. I knew you could do it.
“Thanks, Dad,” she murmured.
Riley slowly raised her head. A quick glance proved that Beck and MacTavish were unhurt and slowly rising to their feet. Unnervingly, the nine warriors were ranged in a semi-circle around her now, all down on one knee, their heads bowed.
“What have you done?” Fayne cried. Magic burst from her fingers, but fizzled away. “They are mine!” she said and tried again, as her nose began to bleed.
The deep voice of the lead warrior broke the night, thick with an old Scottish brogue which should have been barely recognizable to Riley’s modern mind. Still she understood his words.
“What would ya have us do, mistress?” he asked.
“I would . . . ” Riley swallowed to a dry throat. “I would have you . . . go to your graves and rest in peace, never to rise again.”
The man inclined his head, and when he straightened up she saw gratitude in his eyes. “As ya command, mistress.”
One by one, the ghosts silently filed back to their individual graves and sank deep into the ground, sealing them into the earth like the day they’d been buried centuries before.
Fayne was moaning now, blood streaming from her nose, the spell’s rebound having taken its toll.
Riley blinked her eyes, trying to clear her vision, but it didn’t work. Through the fog she could see Beck and MacTavish regain their feet. Neither of them appeared hurt, though Brennan was, his side covered in blood.
That’s so cool. It reminded her of how her body had glowed after the cemetery battle in Atlanta, after she’d stood her ground between the forces of Heaven and Hell.
She placed her palms flat on the ground and let the magic course out of her. As it flowed away, like a river, her vision cleared. When it was done, she flopped on her back, staring up at the stars like when she was a kid. The night was clearer now, fewer clouds, and she swore she could see infinity.
“Now ya can go ta her,” MacTavish said.
Beck pounded across the open space and then fell at her side, heedless of the stones that dug into his bare knees.
“Riley?” he asked, peering down at her, a smear of blood on his cheek.
She pointed upward like a small child would, a faint remnant of magic playing along her knuckles. “The stars. They’re so big here. Too much light at home. Never see them that well.”
“Riley?” he said, again, more urgently now. “Are ya okay?”
A meteor shot across the black sky and she made a wish. If she was lucky, it just might come true. When it faded from view she looked over at Beck. “Wow. We’re still alive. How about that?” she said.
A grin slowly formed on his handsome face. “Yer awesome, girl. And yer mine. Always will be. And I will rain Hell on anyone who thinks different.”
Then my wish has already come true.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserved