When the time came, Riley and Beck’s farewell at the airport was bittersweet. She really wanted to stay with the guy she loved, but she needed to go home where there were apprentices to train, Latin classes to attend, friends missing her. That push-pull meant one moment there were tears, the next, homesickness.
Right before Riley entered the security line, she hesitated. “I wish you were coming home with me.”
“Only a few more weeks,” Beck said, brushing a strand of hair off her face. “Then we’ll have more time together. Well, until I have come back here again. But soon I’ll be home full time, you’ll see.”
Not soon enough.
That had been the other surprise he’d been holding back; he wasn’t going to finish the grand master training by the end of the year. The fact that he read slower than most meant he was going to have to return after the holidays and stay until the end of February. Riley had tried hard not to cry, and had barely succeeded. At least she’d see him at Christmas, he’d said.
They shared one last fervent kiss, and then she reluctantly made her way through the security checkpoint. A secondary screening of her backpack took more time, but she didn’t mind. It let her spend a bit more time with Beck, even if he wasn’t right next to her.
After she’d been deemed “not a threat to aviation” Riley turned and waved at her guy. Beck waved back, his face so sad her heart clenched. She kept looking over her shoulder as she walked down the concourse and wasn’t surprised he was watching her the entire time.
Just as she reached her gate, a text came through from Beck.
NEVER DOUBT I LOVE U.
Sinking into a seat near the window, Riley gave in and let the tears fall.
Four days after Riley returned to Atlanta she found herself headed down an alley in Little Five Points. On either side of her were doors of various colors, each home to either a witch or a summoner. This time she was visiting one of the latter, her dear friend Mortimer.
The young guy who answered the door had short brown hair and was dressed in worn jeans and a red tee-shirt. Unlike Mort’s usual domestic help, he wasn’t a reanimate.
“Oh, hi,” he said, checking her out while leaning in the doorway. “You’re Riley, right? Uncle Mort said you’d be coming by.”
Before she could reply, he continued. “I’m Alex,” the boy said and waved her in. “I’m staying here for a while, taking time off before I start college.”
That meant he was about her age, though he appeared older. “What’s your major?”
“Okay, that’s hardcore. I’m just taking a Latin course and that’s totally kicking my butt.”
“Latin, huh?” he said, smiling now. “No wonder my uncle thinks you’re cool.” Alex gestured down the hallway. “He’s in his office. You know the way, right?”
Riley nodded and set off, recalling the first time she’d come here, how nervous she’d been. How during one visit she’d found her reanimated father waiting for her.
It seemed like decades ago.
The house wasn’t any different — the same tasteful pictures on the walls — only she had changed.
When she entered Mort’s office, a curiously circular room, he looked up from the picnic table that served as his desk.
“There you are,” he said, beaming. Mort rose and they exchanged hugs. He was a short and wide fellow, but a good friend and the kind of dude you wanted watching your back.
“Beck sends his best,” she said.
“Master Stewart says he’s doing really well.”
“He is. He’ll make a fine grand master.” She smiled at the thought.
“Good, this world needs people like him.” Mort pointed at the ring at her hand. “I hear you two made it official.”
Riley grinned, holding the ring up for closer scrutiny. “No complaints. It’s all really good right now.”
“And you want to ensure it stays that way,” Mort hedged.
She sobered. “Yeah, that’s exactly why I’m here.”
They sat across from each other at the picnic table.
“You see, I have no real choice,” she began. “The only way people are going to leave us alone is if we’re so badass they won’t touch us. Beck is doing his part by becoming a grand master, but I have to be just as strong or they’ll keep messing with us. Someday . . . we might not make it.”
Mort nodded sagely. “I was wondering when you were going to come to that conclusion.”
“It wasn’t easy,” Riley admitted, then nervously cleared her throat. “I can’t spend the rest of my life having people dropping spells on my head, trying to use me as bait to summon angels, demons or the monster of the month. I need to learn . . . ” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I need to learn defensive magic.”
Mort leaned forward on his elbows. “This is hard for you, isn’t it? You never wanted to go down this path.”
“No, I don’t. I’m a trapper, not a summoner.”
“Okay, then I won’t teach you how to raise the dead, though you would be good at it.”
“No way. Don’t want to go there. Not after what happened to my dad.”
He nodded his understanding. “Stewart told me you broke a compulsion spell while you were in Scotland. Put the summoner right on her butt. That means you know how to channel magic.”
“Yes, but I don’t know how I did it.”
“You have an incredibly strong will,” Mort replied, “and that’s very important.”
She wasn’t sure about that.
“It seems that Lord Ozymandias had a very terse conversation with a summoner named Enfield. Her report of what happened over there has intrigued his lordship, to say the least.”
That wasn’t good news. “Did she tell them I threatened them?”
He chuckled. “Yes. His lordship found that very amusing. Oh, and word is that you won’t be returning to Scotland for a trial.”
“What? Why not?”
“Summoner Faye is dead. They placed a restraining spell on her. As long as she didn’t try to do any magic, she was fine. Of course, she ignored their warning and tried to bespell her way out of jail. That was a very fatal mistake.”
“Wow,” Riley murmured. She’s dead.
Which meant it was all over, since Bess had pled guilty to a lesser charge than kidnapping. Her lawyer had wisely pushed the “mitigating circumstances” defense, like the fact she thought her only daughter was dying. It had worked.
Riley pulled herself back to the present. “So how do we do this?” she asked, her palms suddenly sweaty. She wiped them on her jeans, but it didn’t seem to help.
“I’ll teach you the basics,” Mort said. “Then Ozymandias will teach you the stronger protection spells.”
“What? Oh no, I couldn’t—” Not him.
“He’s the best,” Mort insisted. “I know you don’t like him because of what he did to your father, but if you want to keep you and Beck safe, it’s the smartest way. Besides the new Ozy isn’t like the old one. I think you’ll be surprised. He actually has a sense of humor, believe it or not.”
It was the first time she’d ever heard Mort shorten the high lord’s name. Apparently her friend was loosening up. Or Ozy was.
“I’m not sure about him,” she admitted.
“Then we’ll tackle that problem when we get to it. You ready to dig in today, or do you want to wait?”
Riley thought of Beck in Scotland. Of his smile, of his unconditional love. How she wanted all that for the rest of her life, no matter what it cost.
“Today works for me,” she announced.
“Okay then, we’ll start with the basics. Put your palms flat on the table.”
Riley did as she was told, nervous, as Mort collected a candle, lit it and then placed it in front of her. He settled back on the bench seat.
“Focus on the candle flame. Let it fill you.”
As she let the light enter her mind and her heart, she heard her father’s soft voice. I am so proud of you.
She smiled to herself and focused harder.
This is for you, Den. For us. For our future.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserved