Raven’s Vow

Raven's Vow book coverWith his murderous former mentor dead, reformed dark mage Corwyn Ravenscroft is looking forward to a brighter future with Cassandra and their new son. But when a mysterious killer stalks their friends and associates, Raven realizes that he may not be the only one among their social circle with a dark past.

 

Latest in the award-winning urban fantasy series by an Amazon best-selling author!

Teaser

Raven took a sip of his coffee and grimaced. He’d never understood Cassandra’s love of the vile substance. It was, however, more effective than tea. He looked out the office window at the gray and drizzly day and longed to be back in bed with Cassandra sleeping warm beside him. Though this was Cassandra’s office, or at least Cassandra’s half of a shared office in the Guardian International Investigations headquarters, her only presence at the moment was in the bright watercolor of a Mount Hood sunrise done in oranges and purples and doubtless purchased from a local artist during one of her Saturday Market expeditions. Well, that and the embarrassing proliferation of mugs with various raven designs. When she’d told him after her promotion to GII that she was done apologizing for her association with the infamous Ravenscroft name, he hadn’t expected quite this level of enthusiasm or whimsy.

Ramirez leaned back in his desk chair and shook his head in mock-disapproval of Raven’s state. “It’s nearly noon. You still keeping a dark mage’s hours, my friend?”

“No. A new parent’s.” The coffee in Raven’s hand should have been enough to warn anyone familiar with his habits that he was not in a mood to be crossed. As his wife’s partner, Rafe Ramirez knew him well enough to know better, but apparently he liked to live dangerously. “At least William had the decency to let me sleep in after keeping me up all hours.”

Ramirez chuckled. “When he’s old enough to understand, Uncle Rafe will make sure little Ransley Zachary Ravenscroft knows that his father compared him unfavorably to the most notorious dark mage of our generation.”

“I’m sure you will,” Raven said into his coffee. Actually, he was fairly sure Ramirez wouldn’t. “Do you have any idea why we’re here?”

Cassandra was home on maternity leave. Raven, a GII consultant, had no official hours and therefore no official leave, but he was certain that GII wouldn’t have called him in for anything that could wait. It felt strange to be sitting here at Cassandra’s desk while Cassandra was home with a baby. Their son.

Ramirez shook his head. “Just that Sherlock said it was urgent. And that she sounded pretty shaken up.”

Raven took another sip of the gods-awful coffee. He’d received an identical message on his message crystal at home, and he agreed with Ramirez’ assessment. Anything bad enough to shake Sherlock had to be bad indeed. Cassandra’s boss was usually as unflappable as the literary figure from whom she’d derived her nickname.

Sherlock walked in through the open door wearing her impeccable tweeds, which always bore the faintly sweet smell of good pipe tobacco. Her hair was pulled up in a smooth, efficient up-do. He could almost believe that he’d imagined the fear in her voice over the message crystal—until he looked into her eyes.

“Raven, thank you for coming in. How’s Cass and the baby?” Sherlock’s tone was light, conversational, and entirely false, although he doubted that anyone who didn’t know her well could tell the difference.

“Good. Cassandra is a bit tired, and I think our son may have a place in opera when he gets older. He certainly has the projection, but only time will tell about the pitch and the range.”

Sherlock smiled, but it was clearly reflexive.

“What’s going on?” he asked her.

She took a deep breath. “There was a break in and vandalism. Someone wrote the past is not forgotten across the third-floor landing of the back stairwell. In blood.”

A chill ran down Raven’s spine. There were very few mages he knew of that could, with sufficient preparation and a whole lot of effort, conceivably breach the wards of the GII building. One he shared a bed with. Another he trusted with his life. One he’d killed and seen buried. An unknown talent with that level of ability presented an incalculable danger.

That particular stairwell led to the hall that ran past two of the smaller conference rooms, Sherlock’s office, and the one that Cassandra shared with Ramirez — the office he, too, frequented when he was consulting. It didn’t have to be one of his own enemies. It could be a cohort or relative of someone Cassandra had put away, or one of Sherlock’s old cases that had done his time and was out, looking for revenge. Even Ramirez, who had been with GII for a relatively short time, could have racked up his share of enemies in his work with the local Guardians.

“They tested the blood,” Sherlock said. “It was pig’s blood, not human, thank the gods. Treated with some sort of chemical to keep it liquid, so it might not have been a recent kill. I’m having Holly check around with the local slaughterhouses, even so.”

Strange. Most of his former comrades wouldn’t have scrupled. In fact, many of them would consider animal blood to be gauche. “The wards,” he said. “Did they smash though them, dismantle them, or—”

“They slipped through them and left them intact.” Sherlock said.

Ramirez gave a low whistle.

Their mystery mage had skill, training, and a level of patient determination that bordered on obsession. They might not, however, be facing someone with a lot of raw power, although it would be a mistake to take that as given. He himself preferred to finesse wards where he could. “I was wondering if you could check the wards, see if there’s any traces of the intruder’s magical signature,” she asked. “There’s probably too much time passed, but maybe with the—maybe you can find something anyway.”

Even with just the three of them in the room, none of them would mention the Ravensblood aloud in GII headquarters. Raven had, perforce, brought her into the little conspiracy of those who knew he had the artefact in his possession once more. He appreciated the trust and the risk it took for her to conceal that fact after the crisis had passed.

He nodded. “I can do that now, if I’m not going to startle anyone.”

The wards would be keyed to a few select mages whose job it was to monitor them for interference.

She smiled. “I’ve let them know to expect it. In fact, the head of security asked if you’d have a look at the wards themselves while you’re at it. See if you can spot any weaknesses.”

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “I’m no wardmaster.”

“Says the man whose wards kept the Guardians out of his house on the hill for the years that he was in hiding,” Ramirez said.

“Much of that protection was put in place by my ancestors,” Raven said. “I merely touched it up a bit.”

“Right,” Ramirez’s tone spoke eloquently of his disbelief.

No point in trying to convince him. Most of the time, Raven appreciated how much faith the Guardians and the GII put in his abilities, even though the time had long passed when he felt he needed them to be cautious of him for his own safety. But every now and then, he wished they had a little less confidence. One day, he might reach his limits and fail them spectacularly.

“Do we know where he came in?” Raven asked.

“Not for certain, but the back entrance is most likely.” Sherlock fingered her lapel pin as though checking its straightness.

It had taken him years to identify this as her tell. That pin, with a design that might have been a family emblem or the crest of a public school, almost always appeared somewhere on Sherlock’s clothes, either riding a lapel, adorning the neck of a mock turtle, or holding a scarf in place. He could tell how worried she was by how often she ran a finger over it, as if seeking reassurance from its presence.

“I’ll start with the wards there, then.”

On his way to the stairs, he passed the blood-scrawled wall. He paused a moment to stare at it, even though the scent of blood brought a torrent of unwanted memories. The past is not forgotten. No, but sometimes it was forgiven, and among those who had taught him that were the men and women who worked in this building. All were adept at protecting themselves, and still he felt not only rage at the profaning of this place but a fierce, wild protectiveness toward the people who worked here.

“Raven? Are you all right?” Sherlock asked from behind him.

He took a deep breath. “Yes, Fine.”

At the bottom of the stairs, he stopped and closed his eyes, reaching out his awareness to feel the invisible wards. Smooth and still, as though they had never been disturbed. It took a rare talent for a mage to cross wards not keyed to him without leaving a sign. He followed each intricate, twining thread of the ward, looking for any loose ends, slackness, inconsistencies. Nothing. Could their suspect be someone who worked here, someone the wards recognized and let past? It had happened once before, and the time both he and the GII had discounted the possibility had nearly cost both his life and the life of the opera singer Madeline Love. The strength of his desire that it not be a GII agent again surprised him. Since when had his faith in the institution become so important to him? Since when had he possessed any faith in the institution to begin with?

Still, it was with a ridiculous amount of relief that he found a single knot that had been retied in a slightly different style than the rest of the ward. He felt for a signature—on something like a ward, meant to be a permanent working, the signature could linger for days. There it was, and it was no one he recognized. Nor did it carry the subtle shadow of William that tainted the signatures of all of William’s students. It lingered in his own signature, a dark reminder of who and what he had once been.

Still, it carried a familiar feel. His mind flew back to the Love case, but this seemed different. Not as if he had encountered it recently, but as if it reminded him of another signature, the way another Anglan he met might remind him of Sherlock by the similarity in their accents.

He opened his eyes and took a deep breath to bring himself back to normal consciousness. Then he told Sherlock and Ramirez what he had discovered.

“Are you sure?” Sherlock asked. “Much as I hate to think that one of our people could have done this. . .”

It would be better than knowing that there was an unidentified mage out there with the skill to break in to GII headquarters. Raven shook his head. “The place that the ward was breached and re-closed was so small and subtle that I almost doubted what I saw, and the signature was barely there.”

Another problem with an enemy that relied on skill over power. The more power behind a work, the stronger the magical signature. Like the fingerprints that Mundane law enforcement obsessed over, the magical signature was only useful for positive identification if one had a match for comparison. But unlike fingerprints, the signature could tell an expert a little about the mage who had left it, where that mage had studied, and if their teacher had been particularly distinctive, whom they had studied under.

“The guy is good, no doubt about it,” Ramirez said. “But not all that ambitious, if that,” he nodded toward the stairs, “is all he can think to do with it. Maybe he won’t go any farther.”

“And maybe he’s just toying with us before he gets down to business,” Raven said.

From Sherlock’s frown, he could tell which she thought more likely.