It was late in the morning when Riley finally roused. There hadn’t been much sleep, not with Beck eager to “welcome her to Scotland” more than once. There was no way she regretted the lost sleep. It was like she’d dreamed — the two of them together, loving.
Beck was in her shower, singing one of Carrie Underwood’s songs with that resonant voice of his. He sounded truly happy, and it filled her heart with so much joy she thought it would burst. This is what she wanted to hear every morning for the rest of her life. But would he be brave enough to ask her that question again?
She frowned. If he doesn’t, I’ll ask him. One way or another, we’re together.
The shower shut off and a short time later Beck appeared in the doorway, towel around his waist and his damp hair hanging loosely on his shoulders. With his sculpted muscles and drop-dead looks, he never failed to make her heart double beat.
“Hey you,” she said, sitting up, pulling the sheet up with her.
“Good mornin’,” he said, sitting next her. A kiss came next, tasting of minty toothpaste. Then Beck handed over his phone. “Sorry, but duty calls. Seems I got a text while I was showerin’. Guess MacTavish didn’t want to interrupt us or anythin’.”
SNR NECROS HERE @ 1. WANT TO MEET W/RILEY
She sighed. “Oh, crap.”
“If you don’t want to talk to them, just say so. MacTavish will understand,” Beck said, watching her closely. “Though I bet this’ll be more an interrogation than a talk, if you know what I mean.”
She did, but for some reason she wasn’t afraid of these guys.
“Yes, I want to chat with these people,” she said, a crooked smile edging in place. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it.”
Beck caught her tone and executed a whistle. “Ya’ve got that ‘I’m gonna kick some ass’ look. These guys are in trouble, aren’t they?”
Riley grinned. “Damned straight,” she said.
# # #
MacTavish had arranged for the meeting to be held in the room with the overstuffed chairs, the cozy fireplace and the cabinet well stocked with liquor. Riley was more interested in the contents of the elegant silver teapot. Somehow she’d become seriously addicted to Scottish Breakfast tea and she hoped that Stewart could find a supply for her back in Atlanta, or the withdrawal symptoms were going to be ugly.
With a steaming cup in hand, she chose a chair near Beck. He smiled over at her, touching her hand fondly where it sat on the armrest.
“This is yer show,” he said. “I’m just here to make sure no one tries to hurt you.”
Riley nodded back, nervous, but not panicking like she had before her interrogation by the Vatican’s Demon Hunters. She hadn’t told Beck, but there was something new in her blood now and it had begun the moment the knife had plunged deep into Scottish soil. Maybe it had something to do with the old magic in this place, or maybe it was the fierce pride of the Scots. The English had their own pride as well, and now it coursed through her veins like strong wine, making her keen to settle scores. Determined to ensure that her future was her own, not destroyed at the whim of others.
Riley finished the tea and set the cup aside just as MacTavish entered the room. He gave them both a nod, then chose the chair nearest the fire.
“How are the pair of ya this mornin?” he asked, an expected twinkle in his eyes.
“Fine. Right fine,” Beck replied.
“Yup,” Riley said. “It’s all good.”
“Thank God,” MacTavish replied.
“How much do these necros know about what happened last night?” Riley asked.
“I told the summoners pretty much everythin’, except I might have forgotten ta mention that Fayne was tryin’ ta summon a Fallen angel.”
“Did she tell them?”
He shook his head. “Fayne refuses to talk to them. Maybe ya’d like ta drop that little bomb on them yerself.”
Riley grinned in anticipation. “I’ll do just that.”
With a deep inhalation, she steeled herself as the door opened and Kepler joined them. He was followed by two summoners, one of each gender. The woman was about a decade younger than Kepler, with silver hair in a tidy bun, her robe deepest black which denoted her as a powerful necromancer. The man was probably in his fifties given the silver at his temples. His robe was darkest brown, which told Riley his skills were at Mort level or just below.
The visitors took chairs next to each other, their movements wary.
“This is Summoner Marian Enfield,” Kepler said as he indicated the woman, “and Summoner Thomas Minton,” as he shifted his hand toward the man. “They are the most senior necromancers in the United Kingdom. They wish to discuss what happened overnight.”
“Surprise,” Riley murmured.
“We are here, Miss Blackthorne,” Ms. Enfield began with a polished English accent, “to ascertain precisely what occurred between you and Summoner Fayne over the past week.”
“So ask your questions.”
Enfield shifted in her chair. “What is your relationship to Summoner Fayne?”
“None, other than the fact she tried to kill me, twice,” Riley replied.
“Certainly there had to be some involvement,” the woman countered. “Why else would she include you in her activities? What pact did you make between you?”
Riley leaned back in her chair, consciously relaxing her posture. If she acted as if she was spooked, that would give them the upper hand.
“There was no pact. I’d never met the woman before.”
“Do you usually let newbie necromancers loose with demonic summoning spells?” Riley asked. “Because Robbie certainly wasn’t skilled enough to try that kind of incantation. He couldn’t even create a solid ward.”
Enfield frowned. “No, we don’t allow our newer members to do such things.”
“Is that just a no-no for the newbies, or how about the rest of you? I’d think you’d not want anyone messing around with the demons.”
“None of this sort of behavior happened until you arrived in Scotland, Miss Blackthorne.” A tiny muscle at the corner of the woman’s right eye twitched. It was so slight, Riley might have missed it if she hadn’t been looking for it.
“I bet Fayne’s done this kind of thing before. So where’d she get the spell?” Riley asked.
“Perhaps you gave it to her,” Minton replied, jumping into the conversation.
Beck tensed. “Why would you think that?”
“What other conclusion may we draw?” Minton continued. He adjusted his robe thoughtfully. “Why else would one of our summoners attempt an advanced spell the moment this child arrives in Edinburgh?”
The “child” part rankled, but Riley let it pass. “Why would I want one of you guys to summon a demon for me? It’s not like we’re running low on them here or back home. What would be the point?”
“Is it not true that a trapper must slay an Archfiend before your National Guild allows you to become a master?” Ms. Enfield asked. “Perhaps that opportunity has eluded you in the past and you saw a way to rectify that problem.”
Beck huffed in disgust. “Riley killed an Archfiend last spring. She’s already met that requirement.”
Enfield hesitated for a moment — clearly she hadn’t known that bit of news. “And yet, she is not a Master Demon Trapper. How can that be?”
“Indeed, perhaps she felt that slaying another demon might hasten the process,” Minton added.
They were talking around her now. Curiously, the two grand masters were staying out this, watching it play out like a complex chess game.
“No, you’re wrong. Taking down another Archfiend will only made it harder for me,” Riley said. “The National Guild will think I did it to make them look like idiots.”
Which wasn’t that hard.
“So you claim,” Minton retorted.
“That’s the way it is,” she replied. “You’re just going to have to deal.”
“Your lack of respect is troubling,” Ms. Enfield replied, bristling.
Riley glanced at MacTavish again. No comment; he must have been good with how she was handling this so she pressed on.
“Respect goes both ways,” she said. “You screwed up and now you’re trying to drop this whole mess on my head. That’s not going to fly.”
“Aye, the lass is right,” MacTavish cut in. “It is yer responsibility ta keep yer people honest. Ya’ve been doin’ a damned poor job of it lately.”
Summoner Enfield glowered at him. “What we do is our own business, Grand Master. It’s not like your kind are all on the straight and narrow.”
MacTavish issued a solemn nod. “And those grand masters who strayed off the path are now in their graves. Can the same be said of yours?”
“We are not so barbaric,” was the acidic reply.
This pissing match wasn’t getting at the truth.
“You knew Fayne had the spell,” Riley began, “and you let her run with it. If she’d failed to summon a demon, no big deal. If she did, you’d know the spell worked and your hands wouldn’t have blood on them. You didn’t plan on her using someone else to do a test run, or that those folks would end up dead.”
Minton winced, which was as much of an admission of guilt as Riley would ever receive.
“Is that what happened?” Beck asked.
Enfield ignored him which only pushed Riley’s buttons. Beck deserved respect – he was a master trapper in his own right.
“Master Beck asked you a question. You should answer it. His life was on the line last night, just as much as mine was.”
The senior necromancer huffed. “After the unfortunate incident at the graveyard, we spoke to Fayne, told her back off,” Ms. Enfield admitted. “She promised she would. In fact, she offered to apologize to you, which is why she was here at the dinner last evening instead of us, as originally planned.”
“She certainly didn’t apologize,” Kepler said quietly.
“No, she was here to make sure I came to her little summoning party. You see, I wasn’t using the Holy Water she’d bespelled, so she had to be here in person to ensure Brennan got me up the hill.”
“It was a simple mistrust spell,” Kepler explained. “It makes the victim paranoid, distrustful. Prone to irrational decisions.”
Beck touched Riley’s hand and then clutched it, hard.
“Except my wounds healed too fast and I stopped using it.” Riley gently pulled her hand loose and moved to the fireplace, buying time as she thought through her next move. Kneeling, she picked up the poker and jabbed at a log, moving it back in place so the flames could consume it.
By the time she rose, she was ready. “Last night’s spell was different,” she said. “Fayne wasn’t summoning a demon.”
“Then what were you summoning?” Minton asked.
That pissed her off. “I wasn’t summoning anything. I was the one with the knife at my throat.”
“What is your point?” Ms. Enfield demanded. “Or is this all histrionics?”
Riley swung toward her. “My point? Last spring, in Atlanta, one of our necromancers decided to summon a demon. He got a Fallen angel instead, one named Sartael, who was really keen to take Lucifer’s throne. When it was all over, a lot of people died and we came very close to Armageddon.”
“Surely you are exaggerating,” Enfield replied.
“She’s not,” Beck replied. “Went down just like she said.”
“But what has that to do with us?” Minton asked, frowning now.
Riley returned to her chair. “What do you know about Lord Ozymandias?” she asked, hoping they weren’t aware he was the one who had summoned Sartael.
The summoners traded looks.
“His lordship is well regarded, a very powerful summoner,” the woman replied. “Some say one of the most powerful in America.”
“And compared to you?”
Ms. Enfield’s eyes narrowed. “His lordship is infinitely more skilled than I am. I hope one day to attain that level of magical competency.” She frowned. “But what does this have to do with this situation?”
“Lord Ozymandias was the necromancer who tried to summon a demon and got a Fallen angel instead. For all his power, Ozy became Sartael’s bitch. That’s how much power those things have. It took a major battle and . . . ” She looked over at Beck, “a few brave people before Sartael was defeated and Ozy was freed.”
Enfield gave MacTavish a dubious look, but he just nodded. She swallowed heavily. “Then, I’ll accept that this may . . . have happened as you said, but what has this to do with Fayne? Surely you can’t be saying that she was going to summon an angel.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Last night’s spell required a blood sacrifice. My blood. Because your necromancer was calling up a Fallen.”
The two summoners’ faces paled at exactly the same instant.
“No, not possible. Fayne doesn’t have kind the power,” Minton insisted.
“She was conducting the spell inside what used to be an old stone circle, a magical locus,” Kepler said. “If Fayne had succeeded in forcing Riley to cut her own throat, a Fallen angel would have appeared.”
“But surely —” Minton began, looking over at MacTavish now, “you would have been able to kill it.”
“There would have been no guarantee,” the grand master admitted. “If we hadn’t, the thing would have been free ta rain destruction throughout the country. Guess who would have been blamed for that?”
Enfield traded a horrified look with her companion.
Riley crossed her arms over her chest. It was time to lay out the terms.
“Here’s how it’s going to work: I will not go to the newspapers and tell them exactly what happened on that hill last night, or what happened at the graveyard. I won’t tell your countrymen that one of your people almost brought Hell to their doorsteps. If the reporters find out on their own, that’s your problem, not mine. If I’m called into court to testify, same thing.”
“But—” Enfield began.
Riley held up her hand for silence. “In exchange for my silence you will make sure that Fayne’s spell on Bess’s daughter is really gone. You will make sure that she never does magic again. And you will get Bess an attorney, and pay all her legal costs, because it was your summoner who blackmailed her into that graveyard in the first place.”
“I’m not done.” Riley pushed on. “You will ride herd on your people, and if one of them is working demonic magic, they will pay the price.”
“Umm . . . certainly we will talk to that person, and convince them to—” Minton began.
“No!” Riley said, slamming her hands down on the arms of the chair. “That’s not good enough! Do you know what Ozymandias does when one of his people summons a demon? He kills them. They’re just little bits of ash in the wind. There are no second chances, because he knows exactly how many innocent people can die when one of you guys gets stupid.”
Enfield’s mouth dropped open. “Surely you’re jesting. His lordship would never—”
“She’s not lyin’,” Beck said, his tone brittle. “Ozymandias learned the hard way, and he’s damned if anyone else is gonna make the same effin’ mistake.”
“We . . . shall have to take this under advisement,” Enfield said.
Riley remembered Callan and the others, the terror of their last few minutes alive. Furious at the summoners’ stalling, pulled her cell phone out of her jeans pocket. “How about I call Ozy and let him know what’s up over here? See what he thinks? It’s not a problem. He’s on speed dial.” Which was a total lie. But Mort was, and he was only one phone call away from the high lord himself.
At her outrageous offer, Enfield reared back in astonishment, panic in her eyes now. Clearly she hadn’t thought Riley was that plugged in.
“Ah . . . no. That won’t be necessary,” the woman sputtered. “We wouldn’t want to . . . inconvenience his lordship.”
You guys are so full of it.
“As I see it,” Beck began in that deceptively lazy drawl of his, “it depends on whether y’all have the balls to police yer own, or if yer just in this for the fancy robes.”
Minton actually snarled, but his superior put her hand on his arm.
“We’re done here,” she said.
In more ways than one.
The summoners had just reached the door before Enfield turned back toward her, expression grave.
“How did you reverse Fayne’s spell? Did Lord Ozymandias teach you how to do that?”
Riley shook her head. “I’m just a Journeyman Demon Trapper.”
“No trapper can do what you did last night,” the summoner shot back. “What the hell are you, girl?”
Curiously, Fayne had asked the same question. This time, Riley knew the answer. She rose and took a step closer to the pair, and was pleased to see them tense in response.
“What am I? I’m Paul Blackthorne’s daughter.”
“You’re more than that.”
Riley nodded in agreement. “You’re right. I’m also the girl who bargained with the Archangel Michael and prevented the end of the world. With the help of a friend, I even outsmarted Lucifer and got my soul back. I’ve been to Hell and hope to see Heaven. And even the demons know my name.” Riley raised an eyebrow, pitching her voice just right. “Now you do, too. Remember that, if you ever come after me or mine again.”
Enfield blinked and shot an astounded glance toward MacTavish, as if seeking confirmation of Riley’s outrageous claims.
“It’s the absolute truth,” he replied. “And her threat wasn’t an idle one, either. Best ya heed it.”
“My God,” Minton murmured, his face pale once again.
The tension held for a few seconds, vibrating in the air like right before a lightning strike, then the summoners swept out the door, stunned into submission.
“I’ll make sure they don’t lose their way,” Kepler said, following after them. Riley swore she heard him chuckling.
The moment the door shut behind them, Beck grabbed onto her and swung her around, awe stamped on his face. “Damn, Riley girl, that was kick ass.”
It had been. And though it had felt good to unload like that, she knew her warning was probably wasted effort. “They won’t listen,” she said, staring at the closed door as he’d set her down. “They think they’re too smart to get trapped. Just like Ozy.”
MacTavish nodded in agreement. “I’ll make sure ta keep the pressure on them.”
“Good luck with that,” she replied.
“Ya know I have to ask; how did ya reverse that spell?”
Riley spread her arms, grinning. “I have no freakin’ clue.”
“Really? And Lord Ozymandias’s phone number? Is he really on speed dial?”
“Nope, I might have lied about that.”
MacTavish’s hearty laughter filled the small room.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserve