Authors: Ivy Sinclair
By Ivy Sinclair
Copyright 2015 Smith Sinclair Books
Cover Design by Mihaela Voicu
ebook Edition, License Notes
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PART ONE: THE DARKNESS
CHAPTER ONE –
Dark omens. Strange weather. Unexplained disappearances. A surge of reports on phenomena that was too fantastical to be true. Corruption. Madness. Murder.
When one sets about tracking the path of a dark angel through the world, these were the signs that you looked for. The signs that, in that small corner of the world, everything had been turned upside down.
These were the guideposts of what we were using to try to find Riley. Unfortunately for us, we had only succeeded so far in tracing where he’d been, but not where he presently was or planned to go next.
It took a few seconds for Klein’s words to sink in. “What?”
I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Klein’s attention was fully on me. He was frowning and had a considering look on his face. Amazing how untrustworthy you became when people thought that you were dead.
“Nebraska,” he repeated. He pointed at the computer screen. “It’s a suburb of Omaha.”
I looked back at the road. The state of the art passenger van that we rode in was Riley’s. He used it as part of his private investigation business, and with the two computer terminals set up in the rear, Klein had access to just about any data he needed on the web. There was also a shelving unit across the other side that housed weapons and other materials that Riley might need through the course of his travels. The reason I had insisted on taking the van was because of its other use, though. It had a protection spell around it that kept it from being attacked directly by magic, and no one could eavesdrop on it from the outside.
“If he’s going to Calamata, he seems to be taking the scenic route,” I said. It had been our best guess as to his destination, but it seemed more likely with each passing day that we were wrong.
“Pull up the map again,” Viho said, sliding out of the passenger seat and heading toward the back. I forgot that the man was even there. He and I had barely spoken since I arrived back at Slinky Pete’s to find everything had gone to hell.
Riley took hold of the cursed power inside the relic, but that wasn’t what turned him dark. That was after he watched Adam kill Eva, and he thought I was dead. He went dark and took off after Adam for revenge. But as the days passed, and we witnessed the wake of his travels, I wasn’t so sure that was his end game anymore.
I glanced in the rearview mirror again at the two men huddled over the computer screen. They didn’t trust me, and I couldn’t say that I blamed them. I had an invisible leash around my neck, and although we all wanted to find Riley, his fate could be sealed for the worse once again because of me.
When I was returned to my corporeal form, Benjamin had only been willing to take me back to Slinky Pete’s after I agreed to stay out of the archangel’s way when it came to how he would deal with Riley. I was alive but only human. The magic I had access to as the vessel of Eva seemed to have dissipated with her death.
Riley had been on the other side of the veil the last time I saw him. To move between the worlds of shadow and light, I needed Benjamin to help me, and he knew it. He also knew that if Riley found out I was alive, he’d come for me. It was a neat trap, and I was the bait.
Instead, I found Viho and Klein at Slinky Pete’s plotting how they were going to find Riley. Benjamin allowed us to return to our world and set us on our way to track Riley. But if we found him first, Benjamin would know. He would come with his brothers, and I had no idea how much destruction there would be at the end of that confrontation. It could be what ended our world altogether.
I saw Viho point to the screen and murmur something to Klein. “What is it?” They didn’t have to trust me. Finding Riley was my number one priority. It was my fault that he had turned dark. I would find a way to bring him back. Benjamin wouldn’t hurt him if he was no longer a threat. At least, that’s what I hoped.
“The pattern is entirely random,” Viho said. “At least, that’s what it appears at face value. Clever.”
“So you can’t tell where he’s going?” I asked. It reminded me that without my magic, I wasn’t nearly as helpful or useful to the two men. It was the reason I was doing the driving.
“I have an educated guess. I should have thought of it before,” Viho said. The tone of his voice was ominous. “Where is the one place that Riley sought comfort and refuge whenever he was in a time of need?”
“The convent,” I said. “But why would he go there now? It doesn’t seem as if he’s looking for comfort.” I felt a pit of dread in my stomach. I couldn’t think about all of the things that Riley had been doing since he turned dark. It was a conversation to have when he was back on the right side of the line. I wondered if he’d be able to deal with it. I’d help him, though.
“If Riley is on the path to madness and power, then he will take it out on those he most cares about. He will try to destroy everything that could change the course of his destiny,” Viho said.
“Speak English, please,” Klein said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does,” I replied. “If the darkness inside Riley wants to ensure it takes hold forever, there can’t be anyone left who would have influence over how Riley used to be. Someone who could sway him back to the light.”
“Exactly,” Viho said. He made his way back to the front of the van and sat down heavily. “Alice represents Riley’s past in a significant way. She cared for him and did everything in her power to keep him on the path of the light.”
“I’m going to say, no offense old man, that you and Alice aren’t going to be up for any parent of the year awards,” Klein said as he stretched. He had been hunched over the terminal for hours. No matter how casual he appeared to be, I knew that he was as concerned about Riley as we were.
“We did what we had to do,” Viho said. He grabbed the GPS from the dashboard and reprogrammed the address. “We can’t leave Alice to face him on her own. He will kill her.”
His words were spoken with such finality that they sent shivers down my spine. “Seeing her might help,” I said, trying to look at it as a positive thing. “We can hope for the best.”
“But we need to plan for the worst,” Viho finished. “And that includes the agreement that you have with Benjamin.”
As if I needed to be reminded about that. “I can help. Riley and I have a history, short as it might be, and if he just sees that I am alive, that could turn the tide. As long as he comes back from the darkness, Benjamin and his brothers would have no reason to fear him.”
“You are naïve if you believe that,” Viho countered. “Even if there was a miraculous turn of events, and Riley’s darkness was banished, the potential for it in him remains. The archangels won’t let a threat like that roam free.”
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it,” I said. “First, we have to find him. If you’re wrong, and he isn’t going to Kansas City, then Alice might have some ideas about where to look for him.”
“If Riley doesn’t appear, then we will continue on. There’s no sense in bringing Alice into this mess unless absolutely necessary,” Viho said as he looked out the window.
In all the chaos of what had happened, I had completely forgotten about what it would mean for Viho to see Alice again. “Don’t you think it’s about time that Alice learns the truth about you?”
“We have been on two separate paths for twenty-eight years,” Viho said softly. “I don’t want to cause her any more pain or heartache than I already have.”
“Well, finding out that my dead husband isn’t dead and still doesn’t want to see me would piss me off,” I said honestly. “It’s bound to get out sooner or later. You don’t think that would hurt more?”
“Alice has her life now, and she is quite settled from what I’ve heard,” Viho said. “She helps those in need and tries to keep the world on the right path to the best of her abilities. In her own way, she has given the world far more than I ever could have.”
“Her whole life has been dictated by what she is and who she became because of you,” I argued. “You’ve both suffered and sacrificed. But she deserves to know the truth.” I didn’t even like Alice all that much, but someone had to make Viho see that his plan was shoddy and wrong. “When you love someone, you don’t stop trying to help them just because it’s hard or because you’re afraid. You keep going, and you never give up hope.”
I felt Viho’s gaze settle on me, and I shifted in my seat. I wasn’t just talking about Viho, and we both knew it.
“You love him very much,” Viho said quietly.
“You know that I do,” I replied. I stared straight at the windshield. “He sacrificed for me. He’s what he is now because of me. I know that Riley wouldn’t give up on me. I won’t give up on him. His goodness is still inside of him. I will find him, and I will help him come back.”
“Let’s hope that when the time comes, he wants to come back.” With that, Viho leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
I knew that even when we stopped for the night, there wouldn’t be any sleep for me. Not until I saw Riley again, and he knew the truth.
CHAPTER TWO –
Viho insisted we stop about fifty miles outside of Kansas City to regroup. He wanted us to be fresh and on our toes in case we did find Riley at the Sisters of St. Joseph. I knew he was stalling for time. I wanted to get there as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t deny he was right. Fatigue had started to set in, and I felt it in every limb of my body.
A shady roadside motel was where we holed up for the night. I laid on the bed fully dressed and stared at the ceiling of my room. Sleep was proving to be as elusive as it had been when I was haunted by Eva in my nightmares. Perhaps it was because I was still adjusting to my new place in life.
I questioned Benjamin several times about how I could be alive. He gave me nothing but some mumbo jumbo about God working in mysterious ways. Either he didn’t know, or he wouldn’t tell me. The result was the same. I was as in the dark now as I was a week ago when I became corporeal again. Seven days we had been tracking Riley. Seven days since he had gone dark.
Viho said that the bond that linked me and Eva together had been broken with her death, and since my spirit had been removed from my body, I was free to live again as a normal person once she perished. I guessed it was as good an explanation as any for the time being. The only part that I wished was different was my ability to access magic.
Occasionally, I still felt the flicker of something inside of me that was almost like an echo of it. I hadn’t been aware that I had magical abilities until after Riley saved me from the demon bounty hunter in the graveyard. That seemed like a lifetime ago. I had learned how to use it and control it in record time, and I didn’t realize until it was gone how much I had already come to depend on it. When I had magic, I had an advantage. Now I had only my wits and my experience to lean on.
There was another thought that refused to be silent in my mind. With the bond to Eva broken, would things be the same between me and Riley? Our relationship had blossomed out of an age old legend. I was Eva reincarnated, and he had been Eva’s Protecter reincarnated. We had been linked by fate and destiny. Now that link was gone. Was what we shared gone as well? Had it been nothing but a byproduct of what threw us together to begin with?
I hadn’t shared that fear with Viho and Klein. As confident as I made myself out to be with them about my ability to bring Riley back, that fear was growing with each passing hour. My feelings for him hadn’t diminished one iota, but there was no way that I could be certain that it would be the same for him. Especially as I learned what he had been doing since he embraced his dark side.
There was a knock on my door, and I got up with a sigh. I figured that Klein had something new to tell me that he had come across in his news scans. I wasn’t sure I could stomach any more of it, though. I opened the door. The figure on the other side wasn’t Klein.
“What are you doing here?”
Benjamin’s face was grim. “I’m checking on all of my assets in the field who are tracking the dark angel.”
The way that he said “dark angel’ sounded hollow and callous. “His name is Riley,” I said. “And my name is Paige in case you’ve forgotten. I’m not in the mood for a visit. Go away.” I started to close the door when Benjamin put his hand up to stop it. It wasn’t as if I could force it. Benjamin could reappear inside my room if he chose.
“We’re going to talk. I want to know everything that you and your motley crew have discovered. I can only assume you are on the outskirts of Kansas City because you intend to see Sister Alice.”
I didn’t want to tell Benjamin anything. It was bad enough knowing that he was tracking our every move. This was the reason that I insisted we take the van instead of relying on any other mode of transportation. We had to use what small advantages we could against the archangels.
As that thought crossed my mind, I realized that I had started to define the world in terms of ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’ No matter what Benjamin tried to say, he and the other archangels were most certainly falling into the latter category.
“We’re following up some leads,” I said evasively. “Can you leave now?”
Instead of listening to me, he pushed his way into my room. I left the door open and turned to face him with my arms crossed. “Barging into my room. That’s new.” It was a somewhat low blow, but it was important to me that Benjamin recognized how far our relationship had come from where it used to be.
He frowned. “I took you back to your friends. I’m allowing you all to move about the world freely. I could have taken you to Purgatory until we figured out what happened to you. You shouldn’t be alive, Paige. As soon as my brothers find out you are still alive, they will consider you no less a threat than Riley.”
It was my turn to frown. “You haven’t told them about me yet? Why?”
He sighed. “Regardless of what you think about me, I am still your friend. I want to protect you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Remind me of that the next time you try sticking a knife in my gut.”
“I apologized for my actions in that situation. Believe me, I wish the whole thing had never happened,” Benjamin said.
“I’m guessing that is another small, fun fact you changed or modified in telling your brothers,” I said with a smirk. “After all, it’s your fault that Riley was made into a dark angel to begin with. The way I see it, this entire situation can be laid at your feet. If the archangels are feeling a little need for vengeance, they should start looking in their own ranks.”
“I am aware of my part in this story,” Benjamin said stiffly. “My brothers know that the important thing now is taking care of Riley.”
I shivered at his words. I had little doubt of what ‘taking care of’ meant in the archangel world. But Riley was a fighter and survivor. Who knew the collateral damage that would be done during that confrontation?
“When this is all complete, we will discuss the matters of any oversight of judgment on my part,” he finished. I was surprised. It was almost as if he had admitted weakness, and that was one thing that Benjamin did not do. He was the most powerful archangel in existence.
“Well, that isn’t my concern,” I said. I hated that there was a small part of me that did care, though. Benjamin needed to be judged for what he had done, but I hoped that whatever punishment he faced would be fair. If nothing else, because he had been kind to me for the three years I spent on Calamata Island. He had made poor decisions, but I didn’t think he was a bad man. Or angel.
“I need to be sure you are keeping me in the loop,” Benjamin said. “I can’t keep my brothers from finding out you are alive if you hide things from me until it is too late.”
“That’s the reason you let me go,” I said. “It wasn’t out of the kindness of your heart. You knew you’d be able to use me as bait, and you wanted to get to Riley before your brothers did. You can use that as a way to keep a lid on what they want to do to you.” I wanted to smack myself against the forehead. Of course, Benjamin was only interested in saving his own skin.
“There is no reason that I can’t achieve all of that while keeping you safe. Your assumption that your dark angel would want to see you at all could be a great overestimation on your part,” Benjamin said.
“He will want to see me once he knows I’m alive,” I said.
“You know what he’s been doing. You’ve seen the aftermath of his adventures so far, haven’t you?”
“I have,” I said. Images blinked in my mind. The one thing in common in all of them was the blood. So much blood. I felt my stomach churn. “What of it?”
“You think that now that Riley has a taste of the kind of power he can wield over man and demon alike, he will want to give that up?”
“That isn’t who he is,” I said. I gulped at the intensity of his stare. “Riley is a good man. He’s made some bad decisions in the past, but he can atone for those.”
It was slightly ironic. Benjamin and I had had the same argument about the potential for good and evil in people for years. I could see that he remembered this too as he shook his head with a sigh. “Evil is evil, Paige. I am concerned that when you discover that truth for yourself, it will devastate you.”
I lifted my chin. “I’ve seen evil in the world. You forget who I was and what I went through before I came to Calamata Island. I’ve seen the darkness and the world’s dark underbelly. I know the lengths that men will go to achieve and hold onto their deepest, darkest desires. That is why I know Riley isn’t like them. He’s confused. Lost. And right now, he’s alone.”
“Not alone,” Benjamin said ruefully. A folder appeared in his hand. He dropped it onto the bed. “I have my sources even as you have yours. I think you’ll find this bit of information…illuminating.”
He moved toward me, and I stepped aside from the open door. He stopped as he reached the threshold and turned his cheek over his shoulder. “This is bigger than Riley, Paige, and I think you know that. This is about saving lives. I need your help. I know the feeling isn’t mutual, but I trust you more than I trust anyone on this sorry plane of existence. We can help each other. Think about what I’ve said. Don’t hide what you know from me.”
I blinked, and he was gone. I jumped when Viho emerged from the other side of the door. I could tell by the look on his face that he had overheard at least a portion of the conversation.
“You keep powerful company,” he said, but his tone of voice told me that he was less than impressed.
“I can’t afford to let him get in the way,” I said as I stormed to the bed. I stared down at the folder that sat there. It wasn’t thick, but I knew that what I’d find inside was going to upset me. “You heard what he said? That Riley isn’t working alone?”
Viho nodded. He motioned toward the door, and I gestured for him to come inside. It was nice to know at least some people in the world still had manners. He closed the door behind him and sat down in a chair at the small table under the room’s window that looked over the front of the motel.
I picked up the folder and moved to the table. I sat across from him as I set the folder down between us. “He said he’s helping us, but he’s really just helping himself.”
“The archangels have survived for a millennia by being crafty and playing dangerous games of politics to jockey for their position in Heaven’s hierarchy. No one played the game better than Benjamin,” Viho said. “I was their prisoner for twenty-eight years. I listened to the rumors. I watched the inner workings of those that led them all. You think demons are scary in their conniving. Very few have the same talents as the archangels.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” I said with a heavy sigh. I leaned back in my chair. I wasn’t ready to open the folder yet.
“May I?” Viho asked, pointing at it.
“Be my guest,” I said.
Viho slid the folder closer to him and flipped the cover open. I saw there were pictures inside, but I averted my gaze and let Viho flip through them. A few minutes of silence later, and he closed the folder again.
“So?” I asked. Viho’s face was pale. I sat up straighter alarmed. “What is it?”
“What do you know of the demon official hierarchy?” Viho asked.
I wrinkled my nose. “Not much. Bruno Proctor was as bad as they came, and he was second only to Lucifer. I’m not sure who else would compare.”
Viho slid the folder over to me. “I think you need to look at this.”
I steeled myself as I opened it. The face that stared back at me wasn’t the one I expected, and a bubble of laughter escaped my lips. I saw Viho’s incredulous look. I wheezed as I felt the air trying to escape from my lungs. “Oh, it’s not funny. Not funny at all. But, I mean, the irony, right?”
Bruno Proctor’s face stared back at me. Standing beside Riley. In front of hundreds of faces that burned with blood red eyes.