Posted By Amy, MKB Marketing on Wednesday 18th Jul 2012
What could go wrong? Everything.
‘What could go wrong?’ Riley
Blackthorne muttered under her breath. That wasn’t the kind of question she
should ask while on a demon trapping run in one of Atlanta’s train stations.
What could go wrong? Everything.
and two other trappers were stalking a Pyro-Fiend, a Grade Two demon whose
Hellish job was to set fires. So far, it’d been having a grand time dropping
fireballs in front of the MARTA trains, setting alight trash containers and, in
one case, firing up a train car.
Riley was all about capturing demons. Her late father, Paul Blackthorne, had
been a legendary master trapper so it was in her blood. She should have been
jazzed about this trapping run.
Not so much. Not when she was working with two guys who didn’t want to
be anywhere near her.
were both in their early twenties, blond and handsome, but there the
similarities ended. The one to her right, her blue-eyed ex-boyfriend, wasn’t
quite as hostile as he’d once been. In fact, Simon Adler hadn’t tried to splash
her with Holy Water or accuse her of working for Hell during the twenty minutes
they’d been on site.
battle with a ravenous demon had left him mortally wounded, and if it hadn’t
been for the deal Riley had cut with Heaven he’d be in his grave. Then one of
Hell’s most deceptive archangels had played hockey with his mind and his deep
Catholic faith. When he’d finally found out who’d been pulling his strings and
about her deal with Heaven, Riley’s ex had gone into free fall. The result was
one confused guy who didn’t know what to believe or who to trust.
At least you’re not yelling at me anymore.
privilege belonged to the guy on her left: Denver Beck, the muscled ex-military
South Georgia dude who had served as trapping partner to Riley’s father until
her dad’s death. Beck was usually a cool guy to work with. Today he was opting
for total butthead.
glowered over at them. ‘So what are we waitin’ for?’ he snarled. ‘Think the
demon’s just gonna come up and introduce itself to y’all?’
show up soon enough. They always do,’ Riley replied, trying not to lose her
temper. Then Beck would win.
would you think that?’
I’m here,’ she said. ‘Demons can’t resist trying to kill me.’
earned her a sidelong glance from Simon.
it’s true. It’s not because I work for Hell, OK?’ Well, not entirely.
didn’t say a word,’ he murmured.
were thinking it.’
two done?’ Beck demanded.
shot the senior trapper a scathing glare and it came right back at her. Beck
had been this way ever since he’d tossed her out of his house in a fit of
self-martyrdom. Just when they’d grown so close, something in his past had
caused him to push her away. This time Riley wasn’t going quietly, not when she
knew she loved the guy.
ahead of the others, she worked her way through the crowd. It was a good time
to be down here – in a few days the trains would be packed with people headed
to or from the basketball games, all dressed in their favourite team’s colours.
Or in the case of Clemson University, orange and black tiger tails.
waiting for the next train gave her a concerned look. That wasn’t surprising
since her face had been all over CNN and the newspapers in the last few weeks.
It also might have had something to do with the small white sphere she was
guys trappers?’ someone called out.
are,’ Beck replied.
for me to take the bus,’ the guy said, turning on his heel and heading for an
sighed. Maybe it would have been better to evacuate the train station, but if
this turned out to be a false alarm there’d be hell to pay at City Hall. As she
continued down the platform, a train pulled in and passengers exited, including
one man carrying a giant stuffed panda wearing a football helmet.
it was best not to know the real story.
thin plume of white smoke curled out of a nearby trash container, catching
Riley’s notice. Could it be the Pyro-Fiend? She shot a glance towards Beck and
he shrugged in response.
trappers positioned themselves on either side of the container.
Beck asked. When they nodded, he kicked the can over and trash tumbled out,
along with a pile of burning napkins. Apparently someone had tossed a lit
cigarette inside and now they had a mess to clean up. Plus MARTA passengers
laughing at them.
stomped out the fire, then kicked the junk back into the can. As she worked,
Beck bitched under his breath about how this whole run had been a screw-up. As
she bent over to nudge an empty doughnut box into the container, she felt the
prickle of something touching her mind. Something demonic.
Blackthorne’s daughter, the voice called.
shot up into a standing position. ‘It’s close. It name-checked me.’ There was
the crackle of paper at her feet and a red demon crawled out of the trash. It
was about eight or so inches tall, with forked tail and sharp teeth. A flame
flickered on its right palm.
it cried, and lobbed a fireball directly at Simon. He dropped and kissed the
dirty concrete as the roaring flames shot over the top of his head.
dumbass!’ Beck shouted, but the demon ignored him. It generated another flame
to toss at Simon.
stepped in its way, heaved a white sphere heavenward and waited for the snow to
fall. Instead there was a cracking sound and then a shower of sleet: the magic
inside the sphere had misfired. Cold rain pelted down on them and it set the
demon to howling. Distracted, the fiend dropped its ball of flame and it rolled
across the platform like a fiery tennis ball, past a wooden bench and two
Demon or flame? Riley ran after the fire, fearing it would
spread throughout the station if she didn’t contain it. Above her another snow
globe cracked open and its contents swirled down like a North Dakota blizzard.
The falling snow made the concrete slippery and she slid, cracking her knee.
The flame ball kept rolling towards a train car and its open door.
she stripped off her jacket and threw herself on the ball of flames. Riley pounded
at it with her hands as the fabric began to smoulder from the intense heat. The
flames faltered and finally died.
all the drama, people walked around her, one clipping her elbow as they hurried
past to wherever they were headed. One couple laughed as she knelt there in the
snow, her hair a mess and her jacket smoking. Someone began lobbing snowballs.
After the train doors had closed, a small kid pressed his nose up against the
window, eyes wide, watching her intently. She winked at him and to her surprise
he shyly waved back as the train departed.
Maybe life doesn’t suck after all.
she regained her feet, she found Simon holding a bait box containing the
Pyro-Fiend and enough dry ice to keep it from playing firebug until they sold
it to a demon trafficker. True to form, the thing was painting the station blue
with its curse words.
quick check around proved the train platform was devoid of gawkers except for a
lone fellow with a cellphone busily recording their run. He’d probably have uploaded
the video to the Internet before they left the station.
was sloppy,’ Beck complained, hands on his hips. It was his ‘I’m gettin’ in yer
face and you’d best listen’ pose. ‘What’s up with y’all?’
would love to tell him exactly what was wrong if the guy with the cellphone
hadn’t been nearby.
managed a weak ‘Sorry.’
Beck glared over at her, expecting her to apologize, Riley shook her head. She
jammed her roasted jacket into his hands and whispered, ‘Bite me.’
Once they were on street level and
away from the phone dude, Riley flipped over her hands to check for burns.
to her, Simon took a sharp intake of breath. ‘Where did those come from?’ he
asked, eyes wide.
Oops. She’d forgot about the dark inscriptions on both her palms. At this point
she didn’t care if the other trappers knew what they meant. Riley raised her
left palm and pointed to the black crown. ‘This one’s from Heaven.’ She
switched hands. ‘And the flaming sword is from Hell,’ she explained. ‘Yeah, I
know, it’s wacked to have both.’
Simon frowned, she braced herself for another torrent of accusations about her
being Lucifer’s Minion of the Month.
his frown deepened. ‘Won’t they ever leave us alone?’ he asked, his voice
someday,’ she lied.
Riley really wasn’t paying attention
as she walked to her car, eager to get away from Beck and his attitude before
they got into a shouting match in front of her ex-boyfriend. That would be the
just reached her car when someone called out to her. When Riley turned, two
girls approached her. They were about her age, wearing modest dresses and coats
in deference to the February chill. Their hair was primly tucked into tight
buns. Even more telling, they were loaded down with a Bible, a big bottle of
Holy Water and a cross.
wasn’t the first time she’d been confronted by someone keen to save her soul.
the Vatican and their Demon Hunters had tried to keep the cemetery battle off
everyone’s radar, in particular the whole Hell vs. Heaven part, Atlanta’s
citizens knew something major had happened. Some citizens claimed to have seen
angels, which was probably the case. You couldn’t have a near miss with
Armageddon without a few well-armed Divines flying around. Coupled with the
recent demon attacks at the Tabernacle and the Terminus Market, all the blame
seemed to stick to the trappers for some reason. Since Riley was always in the
news for something or other, she’d become the focus of that wrath.
duo was probably part of the team of girl exorcists who had arrived in Atlanta
a couple days earlier. From what Riley had heard, they’d been trying to cast
out demons 24/7, including one supposed exorcism in the middle of a bowling
are consorting with Hell and your soul is peril,’ one of the girls said
solemnly, a petite brunette.
soul was already the property of a certain Fallen angel, at least if Ori was
still alive. She decided it was best not to mention that.
she didn’t reply, the girl tried again. ‘We have come to save you. We will
exorcise your devil and free you this very night.’
Riley began, ‘I appreciate what you’re doing, but I trapped four demons today.
People who work for Hell don’t do that, OK?’ Well, actually they can but .
Enemy is keeping you from God’s grace,’ the girl replied, raising her cross.
enemy was currently in Hell, Lucifer’s prisoner, but these girls weren’t going
to buy that. She didn’t begrudge them their job, but she didn’t want to get
caught up in it.
gotta go,’ she said.
chilly Holy Water hit her a moment later, drenching her. The cross was in her
face next, along with some words that made little sense. It certain wasn’t
These aren’t real exorcists.
Riley wiped the water out of her eyes, someone grabbed her left hand, the one
with Heaven’s mark and the cross was pressed against it. There was no reaction.
She didn’t want to find out what would have happen if they tried it on Hell’s
wrenched herself free and backed away. ‘Will you stop that!’
girls seemed bewildered. Apparently they’d figured the combo of Holy Water and
cross application would have caused her to cast out her devil like in some
late-night horror movie.
Beck called out as he and Simon hustled up to the scene. ‘What’s goin’ on?’
one of the girls tried to explain, Simon cut her off. ‘Just leave her alone.
You worry about your own souls.’
working for the devil. Don’t you know that?’ one of the girls called out.
‘No more than you are,’ Beck replied. ‘Now get out of
tormentors retreated, noticeably disappointed that they’d failed in their
slumped against her car, wiping her face free of mascara. If this kept
happening, she’d have to buy the waterproof kind.
Simon replied, as if he’d been responsible for the fray.
of the job, I guess,’ she replied.
cellphone rang and he stepped away to take the call. As he listened, his
expression darkened. ‘Understood. I’ll see she gets home safe.’
Riley could ask what that was all about, he offered Simon his keys. ‘Follow us
to Stewart’s house, will you?’
you don’t have to—’ Riley began.
I do,’ Beck retorted. ‘Just get in yer car and don’t bother to argue.’
took the keys and retreated.
Wish I could.
Beck drove, mostly because her eyes
were still stinging and watering.
gonna be OK?’ he asked.
I’m getting really tired of this crap.’
were the one who put herself in the middle of it.’
his ‘you’s’ became ‘ya’s’ he was upset. But then so was she.
glowered at him. ‘Why are you being a jerk?’
drivin’ you to Stewart’s, aren’t I?’ Then he fell silent and glowered at the
Here we go again. Riley knew exactly where their problem lay and
it wasn’t her: it was his ex-girlfriend, the reporter chick, and whatever dirt
she’d uncovered about his past.
don’t see Justine backing off,’ she retorted. ‘You know, if you hadn’t slept
with her, you wouldn’t be in this situation.’
knew it was a mistake the second after she let her jealousy off its leash. Beck
reacted instantly, his foot jamming hard on the brakes as they reached a stop
sign. Only the seatbelt kept her from launching into the dash.
just like her, always tryin’ to screw with my head,’ he said, the veins
sticking out on his neck. ‘I’m startin’ to regret the day I met ya.’
stung after all they’d been through. ‘You. Are. Lying. Tell me what Justine
knows that has you so scared. Come on, spill it.’
none of yer damned business,’ he said, surging through the intersection,
narrowly missing a slow-moving station wagon. ‘Give it a rest, will ya?’
stared out of the side window, surprised the glass didn’t melt from her fury.
One of these days I’ll know the truth.
Beck pulled into Stewart’s driveway,
then bailed out of the car though the engine was still running. Simon had
barely pulled up to the kerb when he was rousted from driver’s seat. A moment
later Beck turned his truck round in the street and drove away, without ever
looking back at Riley.
What a drama queen.
turned off the car and gave herself time to calm down. These sorts of
confrontations would continue until one of them cracked. If she was lucky, Beck
would break first.
gazed up at Master Stewart’s home while the car made funny tick-tick noises as the engine cooled down.
Not every window in the grand Victorian structure was illuminated, but those
that were gave off a welcoming glow. Her apartment seemed so empty now that her
dad was gone and, in stark contrast, this place was full of life. With its
fancy gable fretwork and the multi-storey turret, Riley swore this building had
been transported to Atlanta
from another century. Love felt real here, along with the promise that it could
be nurtured and protected from a violent world.
Demon Hunters said otherwise, she was to remain under Grand Master Stewart’s
wing. It wasn’t a bad thing: Stewart was a nice older Scottish guy, his house
was huge and his housekeeper was an awesome cook.
master was in his sixties with silver hair and penetrating dark eyes. A member
of the International Demon Trappers Guild, he’d lived in Atlanta
for a decade, spoke a number of languages and carried a lot of weight with both
the local trappers and the Vatican.
Behind the jovial smile was a clever mind and a ready wit. Her father had
apprenticed with Stewart and had always spoken of him with genuine affection.
Now she knew why.
locking the front door behind her, Riley kicked off her shoes and laid the
scorched jacket on top of them. She really didn’t know why she’d kept it.
a voice called out, a rich timbre overlaid with a muted Scottish accent.
was a habit now: when she arrived home in the evening, she would spend some
time with Stewart before she went to bed. He’d be in that big den of his,
sitting near the fire in the stone hearth. They’d talk about school, about
everything. It was something her father had done over breakfast every morning
and after he’d died, she missed that so much. Though this wasn’t her dad asking
the questions or gently guiding her through life’s mysteries, she looked
forward to this time.
with previous nights, she found the owner of the house in his favourite chair
with a copy of a Scottish newspaper in his lap and a glass of whisky at his
elbow. A pipe rested in a stand near a fat pouch of tobacco.
Riley was actually apprenticed to Master Harper, it was Stewart who had come to
her aid when the demon hunters had arrested her, using his rank with the
International Guild to plead her case. When the ‘Inquisition’ was over, an
agreement had been struck – Stewart was responsible for her behaviour and would
pay with his life if she strayed too far off the path.
settled into one of the overly comfortable chairs, placing her backpack at her
Stewart,’ she said politely. ‘Is there some reason you told Beck to drive me
The Guild received a death threat today.’
it’d been against the entire Atlanta Guild, Stewart wouldn’t have called Beck.
was for me, wasn’t it?’
could she say to that? Someone hated her enough to threaten to kill her, all
because she’d stood between the armies of Heaven and Hell and talked them out
of the Big War.
few folks have figured out what happened and they’re talkin’. Some still
believe ya helped those demons attack the Tabernacle. Yer just too high profile
won’t hide,’ Riley protested. ‘I have to work to pay my bills.’
We’ve passed the letter on ta the police and hopefully they’ll find whoever is
behind it.’ Stewart loaded his pipe with tobacco and then tamped it down. ‘Give
me the run report,’ he added. ‘Harper’s at an AA meeting, so I’ll pass it on ta
wouldn’t do her any good to freak out about the threat, so she delivered her
wasn’t a clean capture,’ she explained, ‘but we did trap that Pyro at the Five
Points MARTA station.’
did Simon do?’
He didn’t freeze up or anything.’
about Beck? Is he still bein’ a bear with a sore bum?’
totally pegged Backwoods Boy.
ya willin’ ta tell me what happened between the two of ya ta make him that
I swear this guy is psychic. ‘How’d you know it was about us?’ she asked,
good at readin’ people. It’s part of bein’ a Grand Master.’
could try to avoid the question, but that wouldn’t work as Stewart would get
the answer out of her eventually. Maybe he could help her figure out how to
break through Beck’s defences.
had a huge argument after the trappers’ wake. I thought everything was fine
between us after we . . .’ Riley’s cheeks warmed at the memory.
‘. . . kissed at the cemetery.’
they were both going to die, Beck had let down his guard, admitted he couldn’t
live without her and delivered a heart-melting kiss that had completely rocked
was the one who told him not ta let the moment pass,’ Stewart said. ‘I told him
he might not have that chance again.’
so that’s why he did it,’ she said, disappointment welling up inside her. ‘I
thought . . .’
took that bold step because he’s verra fond of ya, lass. That wasn’t a kiss
between friends and ya know it.’
‘Noooo . . .’
It had been epic. Everything she’d ever hoped for.
host was still waiting for an explanation.
morning after the wake, I went to see him. When I got to his house, that skank
of a reporter chick was just leaving. Whatever she said to him set him off. He
Justine Armando again. Do ya know why she was there?’
said she’s writing another article about him and he was really worried about
it.’ Riley shook her head in dismay. ‘Then suddenly he tells me to leave, says
that he doesn’t want to see me ever again. At first I thought it was something
I’d done. Then he said I deserved someone better than the bastard son of a
drunk who couldn’t read or wr—’
Oh crap. She’d let one of Beck’s biggest secrets loose in front of a master. That
was very bad. ‘Oh, man, you didn’t hear that.’
know he’s semi-literate, lass,’ Stewart replied. ‘Yer father told me.’
sighed in relief. ‘He’d be way mad if he knew I’d said anything to you.’ Then
she rolled her eyes. ‘Like it matters. He’s pissed off at me anyway.’
and that troubles me. There’s somethin’ else goin’ on or Beck wouldn’t be
treatin’ ya this way. Not when he was so keen with ya at the cemetery.’
it has something to do with his mom.’
sure he’s upset about her illness, but it’s more than that. Beck’s a warrior at
heart and he will always protect those around him. In your case, it’s even more
than that, which makes me think the reporter knows something he feels will harm
ya. Or change yer opinion of him. Either way, his protective instincts would
come inta play.’
was a shrewd analysis of the situation and a lot freer of emotion than Riley
won’t tell me anything about his life before he came to Atlanta. It’s like he’s
embarrassed or something.’
told me a bit, but even he never got the full story.’ Stewart flicked his
lighter and took a few puffs of the pipe. The sweet scent of caramel and lemon
filled the air. ‘Anythin’ else?’
told him about the near exorcism outside the MARTA station. He didn’t seem
want ya out of sight for the next little bit. Beck’s mother is much worse and
he’s leavin’ for his hometown tomorrow mornin’. Harper and I both agree –
we’d like ya ta go ta Sadlersville with him.’
shook her head. ‘I’m not the best choice. He’s so mad at me I’ll only make it
has confided in ya more than any other person I know. Though he might be actin’
like a total arse, he truly cares for ya.’ Stewart paused. ‘Even loves ya in
his own way.’
breath caught. Maybe it hadn’t been her imagination.
not real stable at present, and when his mother passes over it’ll be worse. He
needs ya at his side, Riley, even if he denies it.’
knew the master was right. ‘All right, I’ll go.’ Luckily her black funeral
dress was upstairs in the closet rather than at the apartment. There never
seemed to be an end to the mourning.
ya,’ Stewart exclaimed. ‘That’ll ease my worries a notch. Keep an eye on things
down south. I want to know more about Beck’s background and what’s causin’ him
so much anxiety.’
Now I’m a spy. ‘He’ll go ballistic when I tell him I’m coming
why I’ll be the one doin’ the tellin’.’
As he materialized in a pitch-black
alley in Demon Central, the angel wept in despair.
Ori cried, raising his fists in defiance. ‘Damn you, Lucifer! Why?’
was not supposed to be alive. He'd been
ready to journey into the nothingness that awaited a Fallen when they took
their last breath. He had even agreed to Riley Anora Blackthorne’s outrageous
terms for her soul simply because he was convinced he would die that day and
she would be free of Hell’s chains.
his master had denied him that solace. Though Lucifer could not create new
life, he could sustain those who were in his thrall and he had healed Ori even
as he’d begged to die. He could still hear . . .
‘You will die when I permit it and no sooner. Slay my
enemies. Do not think to cross me again, for the peace of death will not be
dare you?’ Ori cried, his fists tightening. He had willingly followed Lucifer
into exile, cut himself off from the Light and the love of Heaven, and now he
was being treated as if that sacrifice was nothing.
Ori’s eyes opened, he lowered his arms and ensured that his wings were hidden.
There were no mortals around to see him at present, but that would change. They
were far too curious for their own good. If he encountered one now, one who
challenged him, he may well kill it.
Ori strode down the alley until he reached one of Atlanta’s main streets where the city’s
populace flowed around him, unaware of what he was or who he served or the
growing darkness within him. As he walked, he passed a necromancer bristling
with magic, then a street preacher exhorting people to rid the city of devils.
no choice but to do his master’s bidding, hunting rogue demons who defied the
Prince’s rule. Ori would never find the respite death offered as long as
Lucifer reigned in Hell.