Home > Knights Magica (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #5)

Knights Magica (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #5)
Author: B.R. Kingsolver

Chapter 1

I survived.

That was the thought that ran through my mind as I stood in front of the floor-length mirror in my temporary bedroom in Sam’s apartment over the bar. I needed to hold on to that. Survival was the important thing. The thing I had been clinging to, fighting for, ever since I stepped off the bus in Westport.

The image in front of me looked a lot better than what Agatha, the healer, had confronted three days before—at least that’s what she told me. I didn’t know. I had been asleep for those three days.

I expected the bruising to be worse, and Agatha said it had been before she began treating me. Potions and salves, magical healing and antibiotics. Many parts of my body still hurt to move or touch. At least she had the infections under control.

She told me that a surgeon might be able to smooth out the worst burns with skin grafts, but no surgery or magic could restore feeling where nerves were damaged so badly. Perhaps a Fae healer might be able to do more, but the Fae had left the World Above.

Most of the damage was superficial, and I didn’t care about the cosmetics. The scars would remind me of the mistakes I had made that led to my capture, of the cruelty my captors were capable of, and of the moral depravity of those who cared for power above all else.

I had been missing—held captive by the Knights Magica—for thirty days. Held in total darkness, fed irregularly but no more than once a day, with barely enough water to maintain life, I had lost thirty pounds.

The Scorpion had been captured, beaten and tortured, subjected to exorcism and psychological manipulation. Promised paradise and repeatedly given a sample of hell. But she lived. Payment was due. I didn’t consider, for even an instant, turning the other cheek.

Michaela, who was captured with me, had killed one of our tormentors when she escaped. Sam told me that the Knights treated her worse than they did me, but since a dhampir didn’t have magic, they were careless with her. Michaela was far more bloody-minded than I was, and she made them pay. Staring at the scarecrow in the mirror, I knew the Knights hadn’t paid enough. I owed them a huge payment for Michaela, too.

Agatha came twice a day. The first morning that I was awake, I watched as she treated my injuries. The bruising was fading, but my breasts and ribs were still tender. The burns from a curling iron had become infected. Those areas were numb, and I could feel when they were touched, but they didn’t hurt.

Hesitantly, she asked, “There are other, different, burns.”

“Electrical burns. A cattle prod,” I answered, and saw shock in her eyes.

“Dear Goddess,” she whispered. “Inhuman.”

I nodded. “Savages. They say their religion is about love and peace. He shall answer to his God, but first he’ll answer to me.”

Her eyes widened. “Take care for your soul.”

With a shake of my head, I said, “I damned my soul long ago. What I do from this point forward is about redemption. If I burn in Hell because of fighting for others, for shouldering their sins for them, it will never be enough. My soul is black, Agatha. The best I can do is shade it with a little gray.”

Agatha was at least a hundred years old and a large woman—a few inches taller than I was, and in my current state, far stronger. She grabbed me by the upper arms, shook me a little until I met her eyes, and said, “Your soul is not beyond redemption. Fighting against the Dark is not evil. Taking pleasure in death and destruction is evil. As long as you don’t go down that path, as long as you embrace the Light and do things for the right reasons, your soul belongs to you and the Goddess. You know right and wrong. There are lines, and you know them. Don’t wallow in self-pity, and don’t try to bullshit those who see you for what you are.”

Her face became fierce. “An angel of retribution, you are not. Don’t flatter yourself. You’re just a young girl with a lot of power who has been hurt. And I don’t give a damn how many times you’ve been hurt, or how badly. That doesn’t give you the right to hurt others simply for the twisted pleasure of inflicting pain.”

Her face relaxed, and she pulled me into a hug. “But there’s nothing wrong with preventing the savages from hurting someone else. With protecting the innocent. With standing for the Light. Something inside of you is strong and fierce, and that is good. Right and Wrong, child. Don’t lose track of them, and don’t mistake what makes you feel powerful with the feeling you get when you’ve done something good.”

Tears spilled down my cheeks. “It’s so hard, sometimes.” I sobbed. “Sometimes, I just want to give up, but I don’t know how.”

“And Goddess willing, you never will. Some of us are given a harder path to follow. Your path is difficult, but the Goddess never gives us more than we can shoulder. The only way you can lose is to give in to the Dark. That is the easy way. To become one of the savages.”

A jolt of magic flowed from her into me. “Sleep, child. Sleep and heal.”

The world went dark.

When I woke next, I was alone. The light coming through the windows told me it was mid-morning, and some saint had left breakfast—still warm—on the table in the apartment’s dining room. I poured coffee and orange juice, then opened the folded piece of paper next to the plate. The handwriting was Sam’s.

Oriel wants to see you. Let me know if you’re ready for him.

My heart jumped in my chest, then, as I thought of him touching me, of any male touching me, a feeling of revulsion flowed through me. My skin crawled, I shivered, and I panicked. I almost vomited but choked it down.

Oriel, my lover, had rescued me. On the ride from the monastery where I was kept captive to Rosie’s, he held me close against his body. The first human warmth I’d had in thirty days. All the places he had touched me. All the places my body had met his. The Knights wanted my soul. What did Oriel want? Only weeks before, I wanted him, needed him—his touch, his smell, him deep inside me—as much as I needed oxygen. I had never wanted a man before I met him. Never desired or craved a man before. But now, the thought of his touch made me almost physically ill. My stomach churned, and nausea almost overwhelmed me.

By all the gods, had the Knights penetrated that deeply into my mind? Had they destroyed the one part of me that the Illuminati had never been able to take? That thought alone made me nauseous. I had taken men and women to bed and left them dead without the least remorse or concern. My body was just another tool.

Oriel had changed the way I felt about sex. About men. About people. As profoundly as Lizzy, Jolene, Michaela, and Sam had done—but in a different way. I got up from the table and went into the bedroom. Staring at my image in the mirror, I swore that if the Knights had destroyed my one chance at love, at normal feelings toward another human being, I would burn their entire world to ash.

Then I went back to my breakfast and wrote a single word on Sam’s note. Yes. I had to be ready for Oriel, or the Knights had won. After breakfast, I pushed the paper under the door and went back to bed.

Sometime—I wasn’t sure when—a familiar presence crawled into my bed and wrapped his arms around me. Oriel pulled me close and held me. He asked nothing of me that night, or the next, or the next. Just held me.

When I woke in the morning and turned to look him in the eyes, he gently kissed me, and I knew that I was loved. And that made me smile.

We lay there together, stroking each other and kissing and smiling. It wasn’t sexual, but it was the most intimate time I had ever spent with anyone.

Eventually, we got up and took a shower. Afterward, as I stood in front of the mirror combing out my hair, he came up behind me and clasped a chain around my neck. The star ruby and the silver filigree looked just like the necklace he had given me before. It even had the charm Jolene had made.

“Is this new?”

“No. When you went missing, Jolene tracked her charm, and we found the Knight who kidnapped you. Unfortunately, he didn’t know where you were taken after he delivered you and Michaela Gallagher to Seneschal Bonato.”

“And he gave you my pendant?”

Oriel’s grin was frightening. “Not exactly. I found it when I searched his body.”

Chapter 2

My condition gradually improved. A combination of decent food, magical treatments, and antibiotics, along with fresh air and exercise, worked wonders. After a week, Agatha told me that she could do no more for me and I talked Sam and Oriel into moving me back into my apartment.

I had missed the beginning of spring and my birthday while enjoying the Knights’ hospitality. I came home to discover the trees between my apartment and the jogging path by the stream celebrating spring with a wonderful display of white flowers.

I spoke over the phone with Michaela, then made plans for Oriel to drive me out to her estate the following week. She also insisted on sending David Cunningham and two shifters over to keep an eye on my place during the day time, and three vampires to keep watch at night.

And since Oriel was already playing my shadow twenty-four hours a day, I had a constant entourage any time I left the apartment. I had to admit it was comforting to know I wasn’t going to be surprised by a bunch of crazy Knights when I went out for a walk or took a trip to the grocery store.

As I recovered my strength, I allowed myself to think about the ordeal I had undergone. Of my three tormentors, Scarlatti, who in some ways was the most terrifying of the bunch, had been taken care of by Michaela. And although I swore that next time I faced Bonato, I would make sure he was dead, thoughts of Olivetti sent me into an absolute red rage. I realized that I had never hated anyone before, but he had won the honor.

Oriel was doing something on my computer while I sat on the balcony reading a funny romance novel. Since becoming involved in my own romance, I found that I enjoyed such novels even more than I had before. Especially the ones that didn’t take themselves too seriously. One of the things Oriel was teaching me was how to laugh at myself, at him, at us. It was a lot more fun when we were laughing.

“Oriel,” I said in my best come-hither flirty voice at the end of my first week at home, “please do me a favor.”

   
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