A new demon lord has crossed the Rift, and says his queen wants her statue back, the one I took from the previous demon lord. Then he proposes a trade. You can't trust demons. They lie, they cheat, they steal. They prey on humans. But unless I'm willing to walk away, it's the only game in town.
The exciting conclusion to The Rift Chronicles trilogy.
Release date: June 6, 2021
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The rumor was that a new demon lord had come across the Rift and taken control of the Metroplex. That, the rumors said, was why the demons had stopped fighting on the side of the Akiyama Family in the Magi’s civil war. The new lord was more interested in consolidating his rule than in sacrificing his minions to the machinations of human mages.
I had no ideas if the rumors were true. I heard three different versions of the story from three different vampires. I hadn’t tried to look up a demon to ask. In spite of most people’s opinions about me, I was in favor of self-preservation.
I was on my way over to Enchantments—my roommate Kirsten’s shop—when a demon stepped out of a doorway and confronted me. He was tall, even taller than an elf, and his face was dominated by horns that grew out of his forehead and swept to the side and back, curling like a mountain sheep’s. His skin was red, which often indicated a fire demon, but not always. He was dressed in a tailored purple suit, and his grin showed teeth that could easily tear the flesh from my bones.
“Danica James,” he said, his voice a rumbling growl. “I am Besevial. You have something that belongs to me.”
“I don’t think so, but what do you think I have?” I took a step back and placed my hand on my Raider, prepared to draw.
“An avatar of Akashrian.”
“I don’t know who or what that is.”
His eyes narrowed and he leaned closer. “Take care, daughter of Lucas James. You play with the fires of hell.”
And then he was gone. Besevial. That was the name of the rumored new demon lord of the Mid-Atlantic region. And I had a very bad feeling that I knew who Akashrian was as well.
I continued on to Enchantments and got there as Kirsten was showing her last customer out the door. Her likeness on the store’s sign—a painting of her wearing a pointed hat and riding a broomstick sidesaddle in a miniskirt—had been joined by Santa and his reindeer flying next to her. Colorful lights outlined the windows and the door, and the window displays showed cheerful winter scenes.
“Good day?” I asked.
“Business is picking up. The more they clean up the neighborhood, the more comfortable people feel coming down here. If you can just convince the Rifters to riot and pillage a little less frequently, all the merchants down here would be very grateful.”
After a short-lived war between factions of the Magi, life was, to a certain extent, getting back to normal. Construction crews—many of them including mages—were starting to clean up the debris and the wreckage. Stores and restaurants that hadn’t been destroyed were reopening and putting up Christmas decorations. Trucks delivered food to restaurants and grocery stores. Kids went back to school. And shoppers and tourists filtered back into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor neighborhoods.
“I’ll make sure that I mention it to the new demon lord next time I see him,” I said.
Her head snapped up from where she was totaling her day’s receipts. “You saw him?”
“On my way over here. He wants the avatar of Akashrian. Says it belongs to him.”
“The avatar of who?” Kirsten bit her lip as the import of what I said sunk in. “That little statue?”
“I guess so. That’s the only thing I have that I got from a demon, other than a few scars.”
“How does he know you have it?”
“Beats me, but it’s someplace he’ll never find it. I’m in the mood for oysters, and Jack’s has reopened. Hungry?”
Walking over to Jack’s, we passed an old church. I wasn’t sure if it was being used before our little war, but I didn’t remember the scorch marks around the windows and doors. Someone was obviously working on the place, however. Two large construction dumpsters sat outside partially filled with debris. I stopped and checked the city permit posted on the door.
“Harvesting Souls Church,” I read.
“Sounds creepy,” Kirsten said. “It had a different name before it was trashed during the Rifter riots last fall. I figured after it burned, they’d tear it down.”
“Nope. This permit is for demolition, but also renovation. Looks like they’re going to keep the shell and rebuild the inside.”
We continued on to Jack’s, where we gorged on oysters and steamed shrimp, drank a couple of beers, and then went home.
I didn’t think anything more about the old church until a couple of days later when I passed it again. My partner, Detective Sergeant Carmelita Domingo, and I were on our way to grab a quick lunch. Tiny Carmelita hadn’t been my partner very long. The granddaughter of the head of a top Ten Magi Family, she was sharp and fearless, and I enjoyed working with her.
“Pretty strange crew to have working on a church,” Carmelita said.
I glanced in that direction and stopped in my tracks. Every being I could see who was working around the church was a demon.
“Burn ‘em down so you can build ‘em up? I’m sure your family loves that business model,” I said.
“Oh, yeah. My father would have a stroke if he saw that.” Carmelita’s family was one of the largest financial conglomerates in the world, and had taken heavy losses on their insurance portfolio due to the recent fighting.
“Hey, at least they’re employed.”
“What do they need money for? Food? Most of them just hang around the bars late at night and eat drunken college students.”
“If it keeps the students from driving drunk, that might be considered a public service.”
Carmelita snorted. “You’re terrible.”
On our way back, I made a point to take a look inside the church. All the workmen were demons, and the building was practically gutted. It sort of made sense. Demons were far stronger than humans, or even vampires, and they were very good at destroying things. I wondered who would be doing the construction.
Kirsten had a date that night, and my boyfriend was out of town, so when I got off work, I took the opportunity to go Christmas shopping. Kirsten, of course, was a pagan, as were most witches. I had no idea about Aleks’s views on religion. I had slept at his apartment on Saturday nights, and he had never mentioned anything about church on Sunday mornings. Since I had been raised by my half-elf mother, practically all my knowledge of human religions was secondhand. My grandmother and most of my Findlay relatives went to church on Easter and Christmas but didn’t seem to spend much effort on their religion at other times.
That didn’t mean the pagans, elves, and almost everyone else in my life didn’t want presents. Some celebrated Christmas, others celebrated Solstice, and the Elves celebrated Yule—which was the same day as Solstice.
I knew that other people gave gifts at New Year. At least my list wasn’t terribly long—Mom, my grandfather Joren, my grandmother Olivia, Kirsten, and Aleks. I had bought gifts for my grandmother and Mom from Kirsten. But what do you buy for a four-hundred-year-old elf? And Kirsten? I knew what she really wanted was a marriage proposal from Mychal Novak, but I didn’t have enough money to buy that.
And then there was Aleks. It had been more than ten years since I had a boyfriend at Christmas. It had been never that I had a boyfriend who was the filthy rich scion of a Hundred Family. Kirsten had suggested buying a sexy elf costume, putting it on, and tying a bow in my hair. Then she laughed at the expression on my face. I let her live but still wasn’t happy that she didn’t have a better suggestion.
I had finally fallen back on making Aleks a present—a combination enhancer-converter magitek device for his car. He’d never have to plug it in or add fuel. It cost me about seventeen credits in materials and had a retail price of ten thousand, so I hoped he’d like it.
So, presents for my grandfather and Kirsten were still on my list.
I took a run up to my mom’s place at Loch Raven Reservoir to tell her and my grandfather about Besevial and his request for the statuette.
Several elves were hanging around, as Mom’s house was the center of the community Joren had established when he came to protect Mom and me during the war. They seemed to have set up some sort of marketplace, with little booths displaying things they had made and were willing to exchange or sell. I waved hello and parked my bike in Mom’s garage, plugging it in to recharge the battery.
“This is a surprise,” Mom said as I walked into her kitchen. As always, it smelled like heaven. She was baking elitriel—an elven pastry using eli¬—a grain from the elven home world—and filled with a mixture of apricots and raspberries. She told me that in the home world she would have used redfruit, but only a few of those bushes grew in our world.
“I could smell what you’re baking all the way downtown,” I lied, and received a laugh and a hug in return.
I told Mom about my gift dilemma.
“Can you afford one of those demon-killer pistols you carry?” she asked. A Raider .50 caliber fired magikally enhanced explosive-incendiary rounds. Cops often called it a hand cannon.
“Yeah, but why? Joren has enough magik to kill a demon in his little finger.”
“Because sometimes you don’t want to use magik. And your grandfather will love it because it came from you. Remember, he’s a warrior mage. He’d much rather have a weapon than a fishing pole.”
Especially since he could catch a whole boatload of fish with magik if he wanted to. I could get an employee’s discount on weaponry from Whittaker Arms, so I could take care of that the next time I went to work.
Mom didn’t have any good suggestions for a gift for Kirsten. What to get for the girl who has everything except a ring on her finger? We tossed ideas around for a while but didn’t hit on anything we both liked.
My grandfather came in a little later and gave me a hug, and the three of us sat down with tea and those lovely pastries.
I told them about my encounter with Besevial.
“An avatar?” Joren asked.
“That was what he said. He called it an avatar of Akashrian. Have you ever heard of her?” Mom and Joren had watched me stash the statuette in a cabinet in my workshop in the back of the house.
He shook his head. “No, but I can contact someone in Ireland who has spent far more time studying demons than I have. It could either be some sort of demon queen, or one of their pantheon. They do have a large number of gods and goddesses. To my knowledge, no one has ever been able to determine whether their gods are corporeal or not.”
“You mean a real god walking around?”
Joren shrugged. “What is a god? How long do demons live? We don’t know if the being symbolized by that figurine is two feet tall or two hundred feet tall. I’ve never seen a dragon, but our history says the largest of those who came through a rift into Alfenheim were a hundred feet from nose to tail. Maybe they have dragons in the demons’ world.”
“You should write fantasy novels,” Mom said. “You could make a fortune.”
He chuckled. “I know someone who’s doing that. Taking historical tales from Alfenheim and publishing them as fiction. But back to reality. You take care, Danica. The artifact is safely warded, but don’t trust that demon to act rationally. He might decide to eat you out of spite.”
We talked for a while longer, and then they accompanied me out to my car. I paused to take a longer look at the goods the elves were selling. One guy had a sort of display set up with what looked like wood carvings. Curious, I wandered over to see them.
Elves don’t use sharp tools to work. They use magik. I found myself looking at some incredible sculptures by a master artist.
“These are fabulous! Do you sell them?” I asked.
He preened. “Of course. You like them?”
One in particular caught my eye. It looked like an abstract sculpture of a woman. “What do you call this?”
“It’s a depiction of the Goddess,” he said. “I’m asking two hundred for it.”
“Sold. Can I bring the money for it later this week?”
“Sure. I’ll give it to Amelie to hold for you. Just give her the money when you come.” He picked it up and handed it to my mother.
Solstice present for Kristen solved with a day to spare. Life was good.
Mom walked me over to get my bike.
“Where do they get money?” I asked.
Mom grinned. “From people like you. I’ve introduced them to that farmers’ market in Baltimore on Sundays, and there’s a craft market in Towson and one in York on Saturdays. Some of the merchants who buy my wines have taken some things on consignment. Between themselves, they barter labor or services or food for money if they need it. Elves developed trade and capitalism while humans were still living in caves.
“They seem to be settling in here. Do they plan to go back to Iceland when this war is over?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. They like the trees. Joren brought two hundred warriors with him, but there are more than five hundred elves here now. I’ve spoken to your grandmother, and Olivia will help us bargain with the Council for the land surrounding the reservoir. By next winter, there will be a permanent town here.”
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