Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
Riga flushed angrily. “I was summoning on the fly, in a war zone. And that was an elemental, not a demon. There’s no comparison and you know it.”
“But you still carry that pain and the demon will use it.”
“You confuse pain with frustration,” Riga snapped. She took a deep breath and let the anger fade. “But you’re right to remind me. Thanks.”
“There is something else.”
Riga crossed her arms, waiting.
“Your alchemy. It has not escaped me that you have not progressed in ze work.”
“Brigitte, I haven’t had time! Between the TV crew and the murders and keeping watch over Pen, there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
“Murders? There has been more than one?”
Riga told her about the body she’d discovered, and the demon devouring Lynn’s ghost.
“This only makes matters worse.” The gargoyle clenched her claws. “Ze work has begun and you are still in ze negredo, ze dark stage. It is dangerous for you to face this demon now.”
“Brigitte, I haven’t gone farther than reading the Emerald Tablet. I haven’t started any alchemical work.”
“You recognized ze Prima Materia and that is enough! Only one who is ready can see it. And when you are ready, it begins! Don’t you see, Riga? Ze process has started whether you wish it or not. You must complete it and you must succeed. You know what happens to those who fail.”
“They try again?” Riga said. The early stages of the alchemical process were calcination – when the ego or soul or philosopher’s stone was burned to ash – and then dissolution, when the ash was dissolved in water. They were necessary parts of the process, but often painful and sometimes dangerous.
“If they are alive to try again, then they have not failed, they are still on ze path. But you, Riga, if you fail, with your power inside you, ze result could be catastrophic.”
“How vaguely ominous,” Riga said. “Thanks. Why not throw some foreboding into the mix too?”
“You would not make jokes if you’d witnessed the aftermath of a failed alchemical working.”
“Good thing I’m sticking to philosophy rather than lab work,” Riga said.
Riga rolled back one of the carpets and got a dry erase marker from a drawer in the kitchen. She knelt down upon the linoleum and began to draw, ignoring Brigitte’s increasingly loud movements behind her. When Riga had the sigillum drawn to her satisfaction, she looked up. “What do you think? Did I miss anything?”
“Your circle is shaped like Australia.”
Riga erased a corner, reshaped it. “Aside from that.”
Brigitte gripped the edge of the kitchen counter and a tile cracked beneath the pressure. “No,” she said grudgingly. “You have so many spells of protection and entrapment bound about your circle I would think you a frightened novice.”
“You told me to be prepared.”
“Are you frightened, Riga?”
Riga didn’t respond.
“Fear is both your friend and your enemy. A healthy fear makes you cautious, keeps you alert. But ze demon will try to exploit your fear, feed it, rule you with it. You remember what happened to—”
“I remember Lefebvre.”
Riga copied the sigil from the floor onto a sheet of white paper, which she placed on a table, weighting its four corners with dark-colored stones. Then she drew a second, protective circle on the floor for herself. Satisfied with her work, she took a hot shower, visualizing the day’s detritus of fear and anger washing off her and draining away. She hesitated at her closet, then shrugged and put on a silky blue caftan she’d picked up in Morocco. It slid across her bare skin; Riga was going commando. In the past, she’d never bothered with the trappings of ceremonial magic. She’d simply gathered the energies and directed them. But those days were gone. Riga would have to play by the rules, get herself into an altered state of mind, and if wearing a silk gown and nothing else helped put her there, so be it.
She looked at herself in the mirror.
It worked: she felt like an idiot.
Riga dabbed her forehead and the inside of her wrists with oil. It warmed her skin where it touched; the pungent scents of myrrh and cinnamon pricked at the insides of her nostrils, clearing her sinuses. Riga sneezed, briefly considered burning frankincense for atmosphere, then rejected the idea. Frankincense reminded her of ancient, sacred places but prolonged exposure gave her a headache and she didn’t know how long this would take.
When she returned to the living room, Brigitte looked up from her pacing. Her stone claws had driven scars into the floor.
Riga looked dolefully at the new gouges in the linoleum. “The owner’s not going to return my security deposit.”
“You are determined to do this?”
Riga stepped into a smaller circle she’d drawn for herself and sat down, cross legged. The floor was hard and cold. She got up, took a faded cushion from the couch, put that in the circle and resettled herself.
Brigitte snorted. “You never learned to meditate properly.”
“I never believed suffering was conducive to meditation.” Riga closed her eyes. “Now be quiet.”
She concentrated on her breathing, let her thoughts rise as they would and then let them fall away. It had been a long day, and some of the thoughts refused to go easily – Lynn’s head in the water, the scene outside the police station, Donovan. He was the hardest to let go of. Riga’s lower back began to ache. She acknowledged this, too, until finally everything dropped away.
Silently, Riga called to the ghost, Lynn Chen, envisioning her inside the sigil on the floor.
Her eyes opened.
The circle was empty.
Patience was a virtue Riga did not have. She called again.
Something flickered inside the circle, a mist that congealed into the outline of a young woman with flowing black hair. The figure shuddered, darkness rippling across it.
Riga smiled grimly. Normally, she’d need the demon’s name to call it into her circle. But she’d counted on its hunger for the ghost to keep the two attached. Once Lynn’s ghost had entered the magic circle, the demon had been pulled inside along with her. “Demon,” she said, “consider yourself trapped.”
The movement of the darkness halted. Black sludge dripped from the ghost, pooling onto the floor. It re-formed into a shadowy figure with horns and fangs and hooves and Riga regretted not burning the frankincense. The demon smelled awful.
The ghost reared away from the demon, and banged against the invisible wall created by the circle, unable to escape.
Riga lifted her Key of Solomon pendant from her chest with one hand, displaying it to the demon. The pendant demonstrated her authority over him, in case being trapped inside her magic circle didn’t make the point. “Tell me your name, demon.”
Its eyes glowed red. “I have many names, oh Terrible One. You knew me once as Lndmrak and I have been waiting since our destruction of Lefebvre for this meeting.”
“Our…?” Riga faltered. No, this couldn’t be the same demon as the one that had killed Lefebvre. Could it?
“Clever, clever,” it hissed. “Using me against him. Oh, you were a wicked one, letting me tear, slash, turning me upon my master. Lefebvre was weak but your power was darker.”
“No,” she said sharply. “That was self-defense. I had no choice.” But had she?
The demon cackled. “Yes, yes, tell yourself that. They all do. It’s not your fault, you had no choice, what were you to do? In the end, you will sacrifice all to achieve your ends.”
“No.” Riga’s voice broke.
“What’s happening?” Lynn said, gasping. “Where am I?”
Riga didn’t respond, couldn’t break her focus on the demon. It seemed to be growing, crowding Lynn against the edge of the circle. Fear gnawed at her gut.
“Once I have restored you, we shall do great things together, Terrible One.”
“Restore me? You can’t. You don’t have that kind of power,” she said uncertainly.
“Power? I have knowledge and your problem is easily solved. You were great once. Think how life would be if you had that again! The ones you love – protected. Your enemies – defeated.”
Beads of sweat popped out on her brow and she felt dampness above her upper lips. She wiped it with the back of her hand. “I don’t need your help.”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t have called me. But you can feel the noose tightening around your neck, your enemies closing upon you.”
Her throat tightened, her hand went involuntarily to it.
“This is what Lefebvre felt as you closed in upon him. I know. I was there. But unlike you, his ruthlessness was tainted by madness. You are his magical heir and with your powers restored, you will be greater than him again.”
The demon’s power pressed upon her and God, it might have knowledge but it had power too.
It could help her, she realized. It was telling the truth. She could be what she was again, be strong. And that was all that counted, now that people were depending on her – Pen, Lynn, and how many others?
Who did she think she was, trying to catch the man who’d killed Lynn and Sarah? With her magic in flames, she didn’t stand a chance. And using the demon’s powers wasn’t so different from summoning it to her, interrogating it, forcing it to release Lynn, was it? Just one more step, not so big. She’d never solve the case on her own.
She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t fill her lungs.
She’d never failed to solve a case. Yes, she was willing to make sacrifices to achieve her objectives. In the past, she’d done whatever it took to protect her family. She’d do it again. But that didn’t make her Lefebvre.
“No,” she said more firmly, but her hands trembled.
The demon shifted. Its red eyes blinked. It seemed to grow a little smaller.
Lynn flung herself against the invisible walls of the circle, a moth batting against a lampshade, making weak cries of distress. Riga steeled herself against the sight, blocked the sounds from reaching her mind, from breaking her concentration.
“If you were more adept,” the demon hissed, “this spirit wouldn’t be in pain. You cannot succeed without my aid.”
Riga’s lip curled in derision. Arguing with a demon was a mistake and she’d fallen into the trap. She wouldn’t again.
She picked up the pen beside her and wrote his name upon the replica paper circle she’d created. Riga pointed to the center of the paper circle with her finger. “Lndmrak, I summon you here.”
The demon evaporated from the circle on the floor with a soft, popping sound and reappeared on top of the paper circle Riga had drawn. It was now no bigger than a newborn Chihuahua.
“Stay,” Riga said to it. “And no talking.”
She uncurled from the cushion and folded the paper into quarters. With an indignant squawk, the demon flattened itself to a two dimensional figure.
Brigitte laughed merrily. “Imagine, trying to use a sense of inadequacy against you! Self-doubt has never been your problem. You could use a little more insecurity, Riga, then perhaps you would try harder at ze Great Work, no?”
Riga smiled weakly, relieved Brigitte hadn’t understood how tempting Lndmrak’s offer had been.
“Lynn, do you remember me from the beach?” Riga left the protection of her own circle and approached the ghost, still trapped in the other circle. “My name’s Riga. You’re at my cabin in Zephyr Cove.”
Lynn faced her, pressing her back against the invisible wall, fingers splayed against it.
“I’ll lower the barrier.” Riga knelt down and swiped the circle with one finger, breaking it. “You’re free now, Lynn,” she said.
Lynn took a hesitant step backward, crossing the circle. She looked around, her dark eyes flashing bewilderment, her silky hair swinging gently around her shoulders. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”
Lynn looked down at her shoes – ghostly, narrow-toed boots. “I trusted him.” She sounded hurt, baffled. “And then there was so much pain. Was I in hell?”
“No. You were attacked by a demon. But it’s gone and you’re okay now. Your spirit will heal, your soul is intact.”
The ghost’s face lit with wonder. “I know,” she said. “Grandma? Is that you?” She stretched out her hand to someone Riga couldn’t see.
“No, wait!” Riga said. “Who did you trust? Who killed you?”
The aura around Lynn glowed brilliant gold, and she vanished.
“Damn it!” Riga scowled.
“Well,” Brigitte said, her voice thick with sarcasm, “I think you have set a new speed record in passing a soul to ze light.” She hopped down from the kitchen counter with a thud. “A pity she did not have time to tell you about her killer.”
Riga got a drying cloth from the kitchen, and dampened it in the icy water from the faucet. She returned to the living room and beneath Brigitte’s critical gaze, erased the dry-erase circle on the floor. When Riga finished, she tossed the towel onto the nearby countertop.
“We learned she was killed by a man she trusted,” Riga said.
“Of course it was a man. How many women run about decapitating each other?”
“But it wasn’t a stranger, a random killer. It was someone she knew.”
“Oh, go talk to ze demon,” Brigitte huffed. “Maybe it will tell you something of value.”
The odds of that happening were low, Riga thought, cynical, but she had to try.
She took the paper from her pocket, unfolded it, and the demon sprang into three dimensional existence atop it like a figure in a pop-up book. Riga wrinkled her nose. Mini-demon or not, it still smelled like crap.
“Lndmrak. Who set you upon Lynn Chen?” Riga plucked the amulet from her chest and held it before the demon to remind it of her power over him.
It cringed away from the pendant. “The magus.”
Riga grimaced. “I know it was a magus. What was his name?”
“I do not know.”
“Give me a break. You were in my head; you were in his. What was his name?”
“Do you think you’re being funny?” She swung the amulet closer. “What’s his name?”
The demon threw itself against the invisible barrier that trapped him inside her paper circle. It scrabbled uselessly against it, thrashing, then collapsed, its scaly chest heaving.