Soundtrack from the Raven’s Wing Trailer
Tune – Cruiskeen Lawn (traditional). Original Arrangement by Otter Crossing Music. Performed by Mike and Julie Zamudio of Otter Crossing Music. Recorded and mixed by Mike Zamudio of Otter Crossing Music
In Ravensblood we saw Raven’s struggle to escape the world of dark magic he’d committed to as a bitter young man. In Raven’s Wing he has to come to terms with both his past and his ancestry and figure out his new place in the Three Communities and among the people who enter his life. The task becomes more difficult, of course, when he finds himself on the run, trying to find the stolen Ravensblood in order to protect the Three Communities and beyond from the dangers presented by this powerful artifact in the wrong hands, and at the same time prove himself innocent of the theft.
Raven finds support in unlooked-for places, but he faces an unknown enemy who is cunning, ruthless and powerful.
What people are saying about Raven’s Wing:
“While the Ravensblood is the device that powers each plot, both books’ greatest strength lies in the complex characters of their two protagonists. . .Bottom line? I’d give Raven’s Wing five stars and look forward to the rest of the series. If you like a dark, character-driven fantasy with a strong romantic theme, this series is for you.” —
Review by author Barb Taub
” I enjoyed the story a great deal. Reppert is a skilled writer with a great feel for dialog, emotional interactions . . . and worldbuilding. The world of the Three Communities and its people felt real for me, and I was disappointed when I had to leave it at the end of the book. I’m looking forward to the next one, which promises, based on the end of this one, to be big indeed. That, and I want to see more of Raven.”–Review by Amazon best-selling author R. L. King
“As one learns to expect from Ms. Reppert, this book abounds with entertaining characters, tight suspense, and enough steam to satisfy diehard Romance readers. ” — Review by book blogger Gordon A. Long
“Basically, the drama increases and the suspense with it. Lives are on the line, Raven’s and Cass’s specifically. Raven has to learn that he’s more than the bad guy with a conscience. He really grows into himself and becomes even more of an awesome hero to match his stubborn heroine.” –Review by book blogger Loren Weaver
“Stayed up late last night to finish this. Sequel to the excellent Ravensblood. I was a little surprised that two years have passed since the end of book one. Cass & Raven have had time to settle into a relationship and Cass into her new job at Guardian International–which makes things more painful when the Ravensblood is stolen and Raven quickly becomes the chief suspect. Raven’s character is a large part of why I’m enjoying this series so much: difficult childhood, past life as a dark mage, aristocratic upbringing. Raised to be rational, he is uncomfortable expressing his feelings–yet nonetheless cares deeply for Cass.
Fave scene: the pink rabbit of course.” –Review by author Nicole Luiken
Raven’s Wing— Teaser chapters
“So, Cass, did your sweetums figure out how the oriental cartel is getting the jaguar parts through the detection wards?” Chuckie asked her as she crossed the threshold into their shared office.
As always, Chuckie had folded his gangly scarecrow limbs into an odd arrangement in his wooden chair, and as was often the case, had tipped said chair back against the wall at a dangerous angle. Cass shook her head, as much for his casual disregard of physics, gravity, and workplace safety as for what she imagined Raven’s reaction would be should he ever hear himself referred to as anyone’s ‘sweetums.’
Chuckie’s pale brown hair hung over his forehead; he seldom bothered with it unless it obscured his view of his computer screen. Chuckie, with his too-thin build and his obsession with Mundane electronics, hardly presented the standard image of a Guardian International Investigations agent. Barely twenty-two, and looking much younger than that, still he was an internationally renowned expert in magical-cyber interfaces.
Before his recruitment to GII, he had been the youthful mastermind behind the magical hack of the Mundane central security computer, a hack that had caused days of nationwide panic and years of strained relationships between the Mundane, Art, and Craft communities. And he’d done it on a dare.
She crossed over to his desk and handed him the brown bag from which wafted warm scents of cinnamon and chocolate. The grease stains had just begun to render translucent the smiling sun of the Sunshine Bakery logo. Chuckie let the chair thump down to rest properly on all four legs and dug through the bag in search of the oversized chocolate chip cookie he preferred to the scones she’d bought for herself.
Though the white walls of the office could be glaring in strong sunlight, that was seldom an inconvenience in Oregon. Today the room seemed gray as the paint picked up the dreary colors outside the window. Chuckie’s framed posters of galaxies and nebulas and her own recently purchased print of a Mount Hood sunrise in rose and purple watercolor could do little to brighten the day.
She made an ineffective attempt to smooth the frizz the dampness always brought out in her hair, then hung her coat on the rack by the door of their shared office and finally answered his question. “He’s figured out where they’re unraveling the ward, but not how. Not yet.”
A hand fell on her shoulder, a small hand, but strong, smelling slightly of imported pipe tobacco. Cass turned to her supervisor, standing in the doorway behind her. Though the woman’s given name was Abigail Andrews, everyone in the unit called her Sherlock, as much for her Angla accent and her odd pipe habit as her admittedly impressive investigative ability. Some of the more senior members of the unit swore that Sherlock’s fondness for tweed was a later affectation, playing up to the moniker.
Word was, back in Angla, she had earned another nickname, one that had sent her to exile in the New World in order to escape her history.
“Perhaps if he finally took a position with us and worked on it full time.” Sherlock’s tone, though light, covered an edge of frustration.
Cass stepped further into the office to let her enter. “You’re welcome to ask him yourself.” She bit into her scone. “Though I can’t imagine his answer will change.”
When Cass had mentioned to Raven the possibility that GII might be interested in recruiting him, he had replied that he had tendered his application to the Guardian Academy once, when he was young, naïve, and still relatively innocent. Said application had been thrown back in his face on the basis of his name and his ancestry. Which she knew. Since neither of these facts had changed, he had added with perfect aristocratic chill, he saw no need to waste anyone’s time, not the least of all his own, with further inquiry.
“France sends its thanks for your work on that stolen antiquities case, by the way,” Sherlock said. “I imagine something more official will come through channels later for you and Chuckie both. But they’d like you to run a training program for some of their elite agents; teach them how to use that counterfeiting charm you used to fool the smuggler. And they want to talk to Chuckie about what he did with the computer trail.”
“I remember when someone official wanting to talk to me about what I did on a computer was my signal to start running.” Chuckie broke his second cookie into neat quarters before starting to eat it, part of his cookie-eating ritual.
Cass retrieved the bakery bag from Chuckie and offered it to Sherlock. Her boss had pronounced Sunshine Bakery’s attempt at the common English delicacy, the scone, to be ‘very nearly acceptable’, and so Cass had taken to picking up a couple of raspberry scones— Sherlock’s favorite— to go with her own preferred cinnamon scones and Chuckie’s cookies.
Cass picked a clean mug out of her mismatched collection of artisan pottery drinkware and poured her boss a cup of coffee. Like all her mugs, this one sported a raven— in this case, a stylized Celtic raven in cobalt blue. Cass was through apologizing for her past, and she had no shame in what she was now. If only Raven would learn to accept his own past with such equanimity.
But then, he had far more to regret.
Sherlock sipped at her coffee, grimacing. “You know, you really should pick up some Fortnum and Mason Earl Gray for your long-suffering superior next time you hit that specialty shop on Hawthorne.” She took a hurried bite of her scone. “I know I don’t have any standing to ask the man to hurry, since he’s not even on contract, but the Craft community has been complaining to Council that we’re not doing enough. You know how sensitive endangered species issues are, and two of the Craft council members have jaguar totems.”
“I understand.” Cass sighed again. “Though I’m not sure he can work any harder on it than he is already. He woke up in the middle of the night, said something about sub-ward sentry charms, and dashed down to the workroom to make notes. I’m not even sure what he was talking about, and I’ve worked with the man for years.”
Sherlock took another sip of coffee. “Do you have any sugar?”
Cass dug out the old jam jar that held the sugar, banged it against the desk a few times to loosen the clump, and handed it to Sherlock. Like most Pacific Northwesterners, Cass held that coffee wasn’t coffee if it didn’t put up a fight and sweetener was sacrilege, but Ana had raised her to respect others’ views, no matter how strange they might seem to her.
Sherlock looked dubiously at the sugar, and cautiously shook some into her mug. Cass handed her the spoon she kept in her pen cup. Sherlock raised an eyebrow at it, but took it and stirred.
“I suppose I should just be grateful that I have access to his talents without having to pay the man.” She contemplated her coffee for a moment. “I was just hoping to get him bound by a contract before he finds himself another hobby.”
Raven was far too in love with research and problem-solving for that to happen. Cass buried her smile in her own coffee. Though he never said so, he was amused by unraveling mysteries and undoing wards that stumped the organization that had once rejected him.
Sherlock took another dainty bite of scone, chewed, and swallowed. “Do try him again. Remind him that it was not Guardian International that rejected him. Though recruitment is generally through the local Guardians, you know that I do have some discretion.” She flashed Chuckie a look. “It’s not like he’d be the only one here with a dark past.”
Chuckie grinned and popped the final quarter of his cookie into his mouth.
GII boasted the most talented, powerful, and creative mages to ever take an interest in investigation and defensive magic. The profile was as likely to turn out troublemakers as stars, and when you added youthful impulsiveness and lack of judgment. . . well, as Sherlock often pointed out with a sigh, if they turned away everyone with a past, they’d be renting out an awful lot of empty cubicle space.
“Perhaps we haven’t had anyone yet with Raven’s level of notoriety,” Sherlock went on. “Still, he might find that—”
A knock on the jamb of the open office door announced Sherlock’s office assistant. “Excuse me, ma’am, but your message crystal is flashing red.”
Sherlock shared a look with Cass and Chuckie. Red meant ‘urgent’. And ‘urgent’ at GII was seldom good.
She excused herself. Cass exchanged worried glances with Chuckie. He shrugged, as if to say ‘we’ll find out soon enough’.
She tried to focus her attention on the case file she had been reviewing, but after finding herself reading the same sentence over and over without comprehension, she gave up and started fidgeting instead, straightening the mess on her desk, recycling outdated memos.
She still didn’t know which joker had added a second ‘inbox’ to her desk, one with a life-like plush raven stooped over it as though awaiting fresh carrion. (She also had never discovered where one could buy a lifelike plush raven. She wanted to get Raven one for Yule. He’d claim to hate it.) She had yet to prove that Chuckie was the one responsible for dressing the raven up for the holidays. It wore a Santa hat for Yule, and had had a rose crammed into its beak for Valentine’s Day. Paddy’s Day brought a little green bowler, and Eoster a ridiculous set of floppy pink bunny ears.
About fifteen minutes passed— but it seemed much longer— before Sherlock returned. Her face had drained of color.
“Cass.” Sherlock’s voice caught, and she cleared her throat. “Can you step into my office for a moment?”
Cass got up and followed Sherlock down the long, polished hallway. Ice balled in her gut. What could have so thrown the unflappable Sherlock?
Her supervisor had handled with aplomb the whole debacle last year, the one involving a senior council member’s youngest son and the international smuggling of rare and dangerous magical artifacts. That mess had very nearly ended in the literal disappearance of a small town in Nebraska. She had a feeling that this was going to be worse. Much worse.
Sherlock closed her office door behind her.
“The Ravensblood has been stolen.”
The words sank into her soul like a cannonball into icy water. Her mind refused to make sense of them, but her body, her body knew, and it started to shake.
Only the Ravensblood had allowed Raven to survive spying for the Council against the dark mage who had been his master, survive the final confrontation with William, and live to claim the amnesty for his own crimes that the Council had promised for his aid.
Raven should never have let them take it from him. He should never have let them keep it. But that was irrational; the Guardians had taken the magic-imbued stone from him when he was still unconscious. The Council had only begrudgingly released him from custody with the amnesty he earned, and that because her aunt Ana, on the Council, had insisted and Mother Crone had backed her up. They had still feared him, after all he had done for them. They would never have allowed one of the most powerful and infamous dark mages of their time loose with the single most powerful dark magic artifact ever created.
Never mind that Raven had been the one who created it. Well, Raven and his apprentice Daniel, who had died in the making.
“We’re assembling a team.” Sherlock spoke heavily. “I’ve been requested. As have you, as the Guardian International agent most familiar with the Ravensblood. And I’ve already secured clearance for Raven, if you can get him to come.”
“I’ll try. He might, for this.” She was surprised at how calm her voice sounded. “At least, he should know.”
Though Raven declined to discuss it, she knew he still felt some sort of link to the Ravensblood, a link that he himself did not fully understand.
She did not look forward to breaking the news to him, but she would not want him to hear it from anyone else.
Raven came in from his long walk refreshed and only slightly damp. It had been barely raining, not enough that a Northwest native need notice. He’d cleared his head with an afternoon of chess with Josiah, a Mundane bookseller eccentric enough to challenge the last scion of a notorious family of dark mages to a game. The subsequent walk back from the Nob Hill bookstore had given him a fresh perspective on the damned dead-jaguar problem.
When he entered the sitting room, the message crystal on the carved ebony mantel was flashing. Probably Cassandra, calling to tell him that she’d be late again and not to hold dinner. There weren’t many others who would message. He went to the bedroom, slipped out of his damp things and into warm, dry clothes. He straightened the collar of his velvet smoking jacket— Cass teased him for clinging to the elegant, traditional fashions favored by the old families, but he knew she secretly loved the way he dressed. After a formal night out in black tie and tails, his coat cut just so, she would pounce on him the moment they returned home.
Smiling at that thought, he went into the kitchen to pour himself a Scotch, paused to read the note held to the refrigerator by a tacky, comic raven magnet that Cassandra had brought home from the Oregon Country Fair. Ana’s. Dinner, Friday night? Just seeing the name of Cassandra’s aunt gave him a warm feeling, though he’d never admit to such sentimentality. When he was a child at General Academy, she was the only teacher who saw past the Ravenscroft name, the only one who supported his desire to become a Guardian, ill-fated though that desire had been. When his long-dormant conscience had wakened again, she had been the one to negotiate his pardon in return for his services as a spy, the one who had helped him stay on the path when the things he had to do in that role threatened to mire him deeper in the darkness.
Scotch in hand, he wandered back into the sitting room, where the message crystal still blinked next to a photo of him and Cassandra together. Ana had talked them into posing together last Yule, and the deep green velvet dress set off the near-black of her long corkscrew curls and brought out the green in her eyes, so unexpected against her coffee-and-cream complexion. Beautiful as she was in that photo, he liked better the one beside it. Some colleague of hers had snapped it; Cassandra at her desk at work, her hair struggling its way out of a loose ponytail as she glanced up from a file to see who had come into the room. That picture captured best the essence of who she was, and was the more beautiful for it.
He tapped on the message crystal to activate it.
“Raven, where are you? I’ve been trying to reach you since . . . oh, hell.”
Cass had not sounded so distraught, so frantic, since his spying days, since William’s fall. Raven’s smile fled.
“I hate to do this in a message but, damn it, I guess I have to.”
The cold he felt now had nothing to do with the damp autumn day.
“The Ravensblood has been stolen.” Cassandra’s words struck like a hammer blow over his heart.
The message continued. “Under the circumstances, I— we were hoping you’d work with us. More directly, that is. Listen, Sherlock has arranged clearance for you. Just come in to GII when you get this. Please. I, uh, I guess I’ll be here most of the night.”
His lover often worked long hours. Under the circumstances, she would likely be gone for days, catnapping in her office.
With the Ravensblood missing, an absent lover was the least of his worries.
Despite two years’ worth of research, Raven was no closer to understanding the bond that had developed between him and the stone. Even distant, under mundane lock and triple wards, he had a sense of its existence— a barely-there weight on his mind most of the time, a palpable presence if he focused on it.
He had read and re-read all the notes of Einion Ravenscroft, the distant ancestor on whose theory the Ravensblood had been created. Since Einion himself had been betrayed by a lover and killed by Guardians shortly after the first Ravensblood had been created, he might not have foreseen or experienced the connection. Family history being what it was, Einion might have known and yet withheld the information deliberately, even from the journal intended only for the eyes of his direct descendants.
Just as puzzling, the stone seemed imbued, not only with the power, but also with the personalities of those whose deaths were associated with it. When he had gone up against William, he had heard encouragement from Cass’s partner Zack, who had deliberately sacrificed himself to feed his life into the stone, from Daniel, who had died in the making of it, and even from Andy Burns, the Guardian he had killed to keep his cover.
Perhaps the voices had been the delusions of extreme stress. Perhaps not.
Being connected to an object held out of his custody left him entirely too vulnerable. He frowned, his Scotch forgotten in his hand. And it felt uncomfortable, as if he had left the ashes of dear friends in the hands of enemies. But he had reassured himself with the thought that the Ravensblood was locked up where it could come to no harm.
The rest of the Three Communities could have no idea of the grave danger they were in. Whoever had taken the Ravensblood surely intended no good by it. Its nature would make a mediocre mage powerful and a powerful mage almost unstoppable.
They had never found William’s body.
Cold crawled down his spine.
Simple enough to teleport to the sidewalk outside of GII headquarters. He’d waited there for Cassandra to get off of work often enough. Walking through the doors . . . well, he couldn’t say it was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but then, he’d lived six months as a spy in the haven of an unstable, paranoid sociopath who happened to be the most powerful dark mage of their time.
Working on cases that Cassandra brought to him in his own, comfortable study was one thing. The thought of being inside a Guardians’ headquarters put him in a cold sweat.
Nothing to fear, really. No cells here, no magic-dampening fields to keep him from the magic that was his life’s blood. Just men and women in business casual, with the odd outlier in denim, talking in clusters, faces pale and anxious. Cassandra’s colleagues. He was two years, a lifetime, away from the bleak despair of thinking that the Council would not honor its promise of amnesty and that he would never know magic or freedom again.
He still very nearly shivered.
The lobby had high ceilings with skylights. Clearly, the architect had been trying for a feeling of space, and yet Raven felt claustrophobic as he strode across the polished floor, carrying himself with more confidence than he felt at the moment. His boots echoed on the marble, drawing eyes to his passage.
He had his pardon, he reminded himself. Signed, however reluctantly, by the three heads of Council, even the Archmage, who would rather have seen him dead than free. The building might be teeming with Guardians, but they could not arrest him without warrant or cause.
He felt every eye on him as he walked to the front desk and announced himself to the young, blonde secretary who sat there staring at him.
“Mr. Ravenscroft, uh, yes. Sher— Ms. Andrews mentioned you might be coming. She said to send you to the Cascades conference room.”
Raven waited patiently for a moment. “And where might I find the Cascades conference room?”
She stared in silence a moment more before pulling herself together. “Yes, sorry. Up the stairs, to the right. First door on the left.
He smiled with ballroom charm. “Thank you.”
He followed her directions, and paused outside the door. He took the same deep breath as he had drawn when steeling himself for an audience with William, and went inside.
The room contained a long table strewn with computer printouts and the remains of a communal meal of Chinese take-out. All discussion around the table stopped as soon as those seated around it looked up.
“You asked for me?”
Even without his reputation, Cass knew that her lover would have captured attention with his looks, his presence. His build ran to the slim side of athletic, and he stood tall, with an aristocrat’s self-carriage and a ballroom dancer’s grace. Those chiseled, almost delicate cheekbones were offset by the lines of his long, hawkish nose and by his keen, nearly-black eyes.
His all-black clothing flattered him; wool and linen in old-fashioned lines, the sort of clothing that used to be favored by all of the Art, and lately more often favored by the old families, and by dark mages.
Cass’s colleagues had been slumped around the table, wearied by the long meeting and by the lack of progress; now an electric alertness ran through the room. Cass suspected that even her colleagues who had asked for Raven’s help second-hand were just a little frightened of him. From the tiny smile that barely lifted the corners of Raven’s mouth, he clearly knew this and was amused by it.
Sherlock crossed the room and held out her hand to him. “Mr. Ravenscroft, it is good of you to come. Or may I call you Corwyn?”
“Raven, if you please. It is how I’ve been known my entire adult life. Even Cassandra calls me Raven. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He took her hand and bowed low over it.
Was that a faint blush she saw rising on Sherlock’s cheek?
Then Raven’s gaze swept the room. “I understand you have managed to misplace the Ravensblood.”
The man seated to Cass’s left surged to his feet. “I refuse to be spoken to that way by a dark mage!”
Rafe Ramirez, the liaison from the local Guardian division, was in charge of the security of the Council building. Cass had gotten to know him a bit during the evening. He was an intelligent man, a powerful mage. A man with a rigid sense of right and wrong.
Raven answered the hot words with glacial calm. “It would seem that it takes a dark mage to fully understand the danger of a dark magic artifact loose in the world. Otherwise, you would have done better at keeping the Ravensblood secure.”
By the depth of that coolness and by his inclination to provoke, Cass knew he was very frightened indeed. But the others would only see the cold and the derision. She could almost feel the room turning against him.
“When you took the Ravensblood from me,” Raven continued. “You swore you would keep it safe. I put my faith in that pledge because I had no choice. Do you have any idea how dangerous a thing you’ve let slip through your hands?”
Ramirez leaned forward, resting clenched fists on the table. “We didn’t let it slip through our hands. It was stolen.”
Raven’s lip curled. “Obviously, then, your security was somewhat lacking.”
One of Ramirez’s colleagues slammed back his chair. “You have a lot of nerve, talking about how dangerous the Ravensblood is. If you had never created it—“
“Then William would have won,” Sherlock interrupted, her crisp accent slicing through the room like a saber made of ice.
Cass entertained a brief but satisfying fantasy involving Ramirez and magefire. Raven had his back up now. He would be defensive and deliberately difficult, and most of her colleagues did not know him well enough to see through the façade of fearsome dark mage that he adopted around people he neither liked nor trusted.
For that matter, she would dearly love to thump some sense into Raven. She understood his problem with Guardians, but he would only make things worse by playing to the darkest aspects of his reputation.
“Rafe, Alex, your department sent you here to cooperate,” Sherlock continued. “Raven, I took your presence as a signal that you were willing to do the same. All of you, either sit down and prepare to address the problem at hand, or leave.”
Cass held her breath, waiting to see how Raven would respond.
“My apologies.” Raven bowed his head graciously, and took the empty chair at the end of the table.
Damn. Cass didn’t let the smile show on her face. I wonder if she can teach me how to do that.
He smiled at the men who had challenged him. They could either follow suit, or be seen as less cooperative and less mannerly than the infamous Corwyn Ravenscroft.
Moments passed, and Cass thought they might, after all, walk out. But then Ramirez sat, followed by Alex, both scowling. Ramirez crossed his arms over his chest.
One of her colleagues slid a takeaway box in Raven’s general direction. “There’s some General Tso’s left, if you want it. Probably cold by now, but a quick warming charm will fix that. I’m Tony Jones, by the way. The Whitetree kidnapping?”
It had been one of the first files Cass had brought home to him, and Raven’s assistance meant they had found the little girl before she suffocated.
“Ah, yes.” Raven took the man’s extended hand and shook it. “I believe I heard that turned out satisfactorily, so much as such a thing can? And no,” he pushed the white carton away. “Thank you, but I’ve already eaten.”
Raven never had understood her passion for Chinese takeout, and when he stooped to eat it at all, he insisted on a real plate and silverware.
“Raven, you came in just as Cassandra was telling us about some connection you have with the Ravensblood?”
He stiffened, and cut his eyes toward her. She had had no choice but to give GII everything she knew on the Ravensblood. Raven, in time, could be made to understand that. But she’d rather not have that discussion here, and she wished the topic might have come up later, when Raven had had more chance to relax, in spite of the Guardians all around him.
She knew what it had cost him to come here.
He took a deep, steadying breath. None of them noticed it or knew what it meant. He was upset, but he was choosing to let it go.
“To be honest, I understand little enough about the connection myself,” Raven said with polished civility. “None of my ancestors’ writings on the first Ravensblood warned me of the bond. Perhaps there is some difference between this Ravensblood and the one that was destroyed. Perhaps, knowing my ancestors, they left it out deliberately. Although who knows what was in the papers that were stolen or destroyed when the Guardians ransacked my father’s home.”
“As if there was no cause,” Ramirez interrupted.
Raven smiled, showing teeth. “Have I said there was not? Although I do understand that there was no warrant. When information is stolen . . . well, one can always try to recover it.”
Raven had recovered some of it, illegally and, during her apprentice days, with her help. Not something her colleagues needed to know, especially not now.
“But to destroy knowledge,” Raven continued, “to take it beyond anyone’s reach, that is unforgivable.”
“Not when the knowledge is evil,” Ramirez said.
“Can any knowledge be evil?” Raven raised an eyebrow. “Is it not just a question of the use to which the knowledge is put?”
“Knowledge of dark magic is evil.”
Raven shook his head in exasperation and turned to Sherlock. “This is what you have to work with? I’m amazed you get anything done at all. How do you hope to fight things you know nothing about?”
“We do well enough.” Sherlock’s expression was severe. “Mr. Ravenscroft, I’ll thank you not to bait my people. Ramirez, he has a point and you well know it. Raven is indispensable in this matter. You are not. Let me know if you wish me to contact your supervisors and have you reassigned.”
Ramirez glared at her. Sherlock met his eyes, holding his gaze until he looked away.
“Right, then.” She turned to Raven. “This connection with the Ravensblood. Can you sense it now?”
“It feels like it’s been clamoring for my attention all day.”
Tony interrupted. “You make it sound like it was sentient.”
“Gods, I hope not,” Raven said.
“You don’t know?” Sherlock asked sharply.
“I think . . . it’s more like an echo of consciousness,” Raven said, slowly. “I thought I understood what I was creating. It turned out that there were things I didn’t know. None of this is relevant to theft, and I’d rather not relive a particularly difficult period of my life by discussing it further.”
Raven’s voice was cold, emotionless, yet Cass understood his underlying pain. Raven’s apprentice Daniel had died in the creation of the Ravensblood. Raven had pushed him to do the expected, and Daniel’s death ultimately drove him to his break with William, who had demanded the creation of the Ravensblood in the first place.
“This link,” Sherlock said. “Could you use it to find the Ravensblood?”
Raven shook his head. “I tried before I came here. But it isn’t like that. It’s not directional.”
“How convenient,” Ramirez sneered. “I find it interesting that this connection with the Ravensblood doesn’t appear in any of the files. If you failed to disclose it—“
Raven smiled silkily. “Is it my fault if your people didn’t know what questions to ask? I am a private citizen, not that one could tell it from the amount of work I have done, gratis, for Guardian International. I have no duty to volunteer information.”
Cass shared a glance with Sherlock. Testosterone.
“Do you have any other ideas?” Sherlock asked.
“What do we know of how the Ravensblood was taken?” Raven steepled his fingers.
“Whoever did it entered at night,” Sherlock said. “Got past the Mundane security system—“
“Infrared-based?” Raven asked.
Sherlock looked to Rafe, who nodded confirmation.
“That’s easy enough to do,” Raven said. “It just takes the Cool Hands charm we all used in General Academy, modified to cover the whole body. Damps down the body heat so the infrared won’t see you. I used it to get into the Council museum to steal the Mariner’s Crown.”
Even her GII colleagues shifted uncomfortably at that. Perhaps not the most politic topic of conversation, since the historic artifact hadn’t been recovered from the rubble of William’s sanctuary. She had not brought this up before for that reason; some of her old reticence about her past lingered despite her best will. But Raven was right to disclose the technique; it was information they needed.
“I suppose you’re a fountain of knowledge on criminal activity,” Ramirez muttered, not quite under his breath.
“Exactly.” Raven gave him a dark, cold smile.
Cass wished he were close enough that she could nudge him under the table, to warn him to knock it off. She hadn’t seen Bad Old Raven come to the fore in a long time, and he wasn’t going to help matters here.
“Wards?” he asked.
“I don’t think we should be revealing our security measures to a civilian,” Ramirez interrupted. “And certainly not to a civilian of questionable repute.”
Raven turned to Sherlock once more. “I came here because I was told that you wish to work with me. If this is not the case, then you are wasting my time. I had a rather pleasant evening planned involving Vivaldi and a particularly fine brandy. If you will excuse me?”
Sherlock pulled one of the open files toward her and began to read. “Standard commercial-grade wards on the door to the building itself.”
“I could have walked through those when I was twelve,” Raven said. “Please tell me that wasn’t all there was.”
“There was a lock on the door of the room in which the Ravensblood was kept. Mundane lock requiring a physical key. Only three people had a copy, the heads of the three branches of the Joint Council,” Sherlock continued.
“Mundane locks can be picked. I could teach you sometime.”
Sherlock smiled. “What makes you think I can’t, already?”
“Which just proves my point. There are at least three people in the room, possibly more, who have the skill.”
Cass sank down a little in her chair. It had made sense to let Raven teach her— you never knew when you might need the skill— but it wasn’t something she’d put on her resume.
“There is also an electronic alarm system. Each of the three heads of Council has their own code to it, known only to them.”
“Electronics are not my area, but I understand such things can be hacked,” Raven said.
“Inside the room, there’s a combination safe. Each of the three heads of Council knows only one part of the combination.”
“A mundane stethoscope, a good sense of hearing, a bit of precision.” Raven shrugged.
“But you’d have to get through the wards first.” Rafe had clearly realized that he wasn’t going to keep his precious security secrets from Raven and chose instead to defend their efficacy.
“More standard boilerplate wards?” Raven inquired.
“Custom,” Ramirez countered. “Two layers. One by Nick Carter—“
“He does good work,” Raven conceded. “I nearly didn’t get past his wards on the Council museum.”
Cass winced. She wished he’d stop referring to this. Although Raven’s part in the theft of the Mariner’s Crown was a matter of public record, and had been sanctioned by Ana in order to maintain his cover as a spy, this really was not the best time to keep reminding people of it.
“The second set was by one of the Lorde brothers,” Ramirez continued.
“Also a master, and from a completely different school. There are only a handful of mages that are good enough to break one or the other, given time and sufficient motivation. Even fewer are familiar enough with both schools to break wards from both.”
Raven could, and everyone in the room at least suspected as much, though no one made an issue of it. Yet.
“Who are the wards keyed to?” Raven asked.
“The three heads of the Joint Council,” Ramirez said.
“The same three that hold the keys to the outer door.” Raven smiled sardonically.
“You, of all people, dare to impugn the honor of—“
Tapping the file with her finger, Sherlock broke in. “The wards require the presence of at least two of the heads of Council. Even your suspicious nature must allow that it’s unlikely for two of the three to be involved.”
“Mother Crone, I would trust with my life,” Raven said. “As for the others, the Archmage has always been ambitious.”
“How dare you imply anything about the Archmage?” Ramirez said hotly. “You, who should be locked in prison the rest of your days!”
Cass saw Raven stiffen. The reaction might be imperceptible to others, but she knew him too well.
“As for the President,” he continued coolly, as though he had not been interrupted. “I do not know the man well enough to have an informed opinion. Besides, wards can be broken, sometimes so subtly that it’s impossible to tell how.”
“Our people have already checked out the scene, and could tell nothing from the residual magical signatures,” Sherlock said, frowning.
“I’d like to have a look, if I may?” Raven turned his back on Ramirez. “Tonight, before the signatures fade beyond detection.”
Ramirez started to protest, but Sherlock cut him off. “I was hoping you would offer.”
Cass called Chuckie on their way to the Council building. Mundane cell phones took some getting used to—they required charging as message crystals did not— but they had the advantage of portability, which was one of the reasons GII had started insisting its agents carry them.
“Chuckie here.” Any worries that she might be waking her partner were allayed by the electronic chirping of a video game in the background.
Briefly, she explained the situation to him. “We’re just about at the Council building now,” she said. “Can you meet us there? I need your expertise on the electronic alarm.”
No one had a feel for a magical hack like her partner.
“Sure!” She could hear his eager grin through the phone. “Be right there.”
“Do you need a teleport anchor?” Cass asked.
“Nah, know the place well enough, used to date a PA that worked there, ‘till I found out she was just using me for my technology. Left me for a guy with a bigger mainframe.”
The thing with Chuckie, you never knew when he was joking.
Raven frowned as she made the call, but didn’t comment. This was her investigation and her area of expertise, and he would respect that.
Cass had visited her aunt at the Council building often enough to teleport there easily. Once there, she allowed Raven to use her as his teleport anchor, closing her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see him materialize. Witnessing someone fade in still made her queasy.
“Cass!” Chuckie stood on the steps of the neo-classical building, waving his arms as though trying to catch her attention in a crowd at a distance, though he was maybe 10 yards away and, save for the night guard, they were the only ones there at this hour.
“Come on,” she said to Raven. “I’ll introduce you.”
Raven made a noise deep in his throat that meant both disapproval and reluctant agreement, and followed her up the stairs.
“Cass, hey.” Chuckie beamed. “Wow, is that Raven?”
“Indeed.” Raven bent his head fractionally, his tone cold and formal.
“Wow.” Chuckie’s beaming smile got, if anything, brighter. “This is such an honor.”
“Thank you.” He looked Chuckie up and down, taking his measure, and then glanced at Cass as if to say this is your partner?
She bristled on Chuckie’s behalf, even though her first reaction to meeting her partner had been very much the same. Until she had seen him work.
“Shall we?” Raven indicated the open council doors.
They slipped past the police scene— do not cross tape and up to the door. The Guardians at the entrance expected them and did not interfere, although from the looks they gave Raven, they badly wanted to. Raven paused to get a read on the door wards, which had been left open in anticipation of their arrival.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Not enough of a signature to identify,” he said. “But then, if we’re dealing with a mage of any real ability, he would have scarcely had to exert himself to get through these flimsy things.”
He put a hand just above the door lock. “I’m not sensing anything here at all. If he used magic to pick it, there should be at least a whisper of a signature. He must have either had a copy of the key, or picked it manually.”
Cass knelt to examine the surface of the lock for the tell-tale scratches of lock picks. “No marks. Either he’s really good, or he had a key.”
Raven’s mouth tightened. If the thief had a key, that only made more likely what they both already suspected. An inside job. Someone high-up had been working with William before his fall, and that person had never been identified.
Their footsteps echoed in the empty building, the dim light of the security lights casting their shadows across the polished floor. Though she had been to this building many times from childhood on with her aunt, the darkness and the silence transformed it into something alien and unnerving. Reminding herself that she had dealt with things in her career far worse than an after-hours building, she led the way up the long spiral staircase and to the outer door of the room where the Ravensblood had been kept.
Chuckie made a cursory examination of the alarm on the door. “I don’t find any of the tell-tale signs that the alarm’s been bypassed. The thief must have somehow got the codes.”
Raven made a low sound, almost a growl— the sound he made when a problem was proving particularly intractable. “Even I know Mother Crone would not betray her responsibilities so.”
“There are other ways to get a code. Trojan viruses, Trojan spells that copy keystrokes,” Chuckie said.
“Wouldn’t they leave some sort of sign?” Raven asked,
Cass hadn’t realized he knew even that much about technology magic. Even Raven had his blind spots, and usually they involved Mundane technology, even where it interfaced with magic.
“It could, but the magic versions are usually set to shut down after the information is acquired, and like anything else, the magical signatures fade with time. Or the Trojan could be on another device entirely. You wouldn’t believe how many people use the same password for everything. So I guess it’s your show now. You’re the master with wards. Can you tell how they’ve been bypassed?”
None of them wanted to voice the possibility that the wards had not been tampered with. Cass made a mental note to check the whereabouts last night of the three heads of the Joint Council.
Raven set to work. It would take a while. Chuckie took out his phone— he had paid for an upgrade that allowed him to play solitaire and other games that Cass always mangled the name of. He was on that thing so much she had more than once considered staging an intervention.
A sound from below drew her attention. Glancing down the spiral staircase, she saw the non-GII Guardians approaching. Some few of them she even knew, vaguely. They had not been on good terms, but she had not seen them since Raven had taken down William. Hopefully, her involvement in that incident would have won her some points, because if she couldn’t persuade them not to disturb Raven while he was working, things were going to get ugly.
Oh, hell. Ramirez was with them. No way this was going to end pleasantly.
Her former colleagues stopped at the base of the stairs. Good. They didn’t need to be here at all. A crime of this magnitude needed the special resources and training of the GII, though she supposed the local Guardians would make a bid for the investigation, based on the theft having occurred on their turf.
She took a few deep breaths and pushed away her irritation. Accommodation would have to be made, eventually, to keep them in the loop. But not here, not now, with the signatures still fresh to be read, and Raven still on edge. It would fall to her to play the voice of reason. Chuckie, bless his heart, lacked the social skills to negotiate with anything other than a computer.
She so did not need this right now, not with tension already boiling in her gut.
Her former colleagues arrayed themselves at the bottom of the stairs, a defensive formation she recognized well. Her problems were bigger than she imagined.
She hissed softly under her breath, and got Chuckie’s attention. Raven remained too absorbed in his work to notice.
“Oh, damn,” Chuckie said. “They’re not exactly here to watch and learn, are they?”
Cass shook her head.
“I vote we get him,” he jerked his head toward Raven, “someplace safe, and sort it all out from there.”
She would have hugged Chuckie, had there been time. She did not trust her former colleagues, not where a Ravenscroft was concerned, and not when there was so much he would not tell her about his last experience in custody. She could not be certain he would go quietly; was not certain she wanted him to go quietly. If William had survived and was behind the theft of the Ravensblood, then Raven would be his first target, both as a traitor to William and the top threat to his intentions. She couldn’t bear the thought of her lover helpless behind magic-dampening fields, not when William had demonstrated his ability to infiltrate the heart of their justice system and kill those supposedly safe in custody.
“Raven!” she called to get his attention.
Helping him elude the local Guardians would leave GII with a lot of ruffled feathers to soothe, but it remained the best alternative.
Just then the anti-teleportation ward came down. Trapped! Cass gasped at the shock of it. Rage blazed through her. For one Guardian to do this to others, and to a civilian working with the GII . . .
She looked up at her lover. He’d gone white, and the black-fire rage in his eyes made him look every bit the fearsome dark mage he’d once been.
“Corwyn Ravenscroft, I have a warrant for your arrest,” Ramirez said, the smile playing on his lips belying any effort he might make at pretending official detachment.
“Ridiculous,” Cass called back, stalling for time. “We’re here on order from GII. Stand down.”
“The Council itself swore out the warrant. That supersedes the authority of the GII.”
The man oozed smugness. The local Guardians’ resentment of the flashier, more powerful, and less by-the-book GII was the stuff of mystery-novel subplots. Sadly, fiction only mirrored the truth of the thing.
“What are the charges?”
“Burglary of a public building. Theft of a magical artifact.”
Had Ramirez gone to the Council, or had the Council gone to him? Quick work, either way. Or had this been in process even as they had invited Raven to work with them? If so, she had unwittingly lead her lover into a trap.
Sherlock would not have set them up, but she could have been kept out of the loop.
Raven joined the conversation. “If I had taken the Ravensblood, why on earth would I be here with GII?”
Controlled anger lay beneath her lover’s reasoning tone. Sadly, no matter what effort he put into remaining calm, any contribution of his to the conversation would only escalate the tension.
“To throw the investigation off track, of course.” Ramirez smirked.
Raven gave a dark, cold laugh that reminded Cass all too much of his former master.
“You have no concept of the power of the Ravensblood. Do you think if I had it once more that I would care about the results of your silly little investigation?”
She always feared that his tendency to play the dark mage to anyone who treated him as such would get him killed someday. Please, gods, let me not be proven right today.
She pulled him aside to confer. “You broke a magic-dampening field, once,” she whispered. “Can’t you break a teleportation barrier?”
“You forget, I had the Ravensblood then. You must appreciate the irony.” His tone was bitter. “Only because I am not guilty of their accusations, I must stand here and be subjected to them.”
“What’s the deal?” Chuckie interjected. “Cass can open a teleportation barrier.”
Raven looked down his long, elegant nose at the younger mage. “Blivy’s Paradox. Or don’t they teach that in Guardian Academy these days.”
Blivy’s Paradox said that a mage could not simultaneously hold open a teleportation barrier, and teleport himself.
“Raven, love, it’s okay. We need to get you out of here.”
He took her hands, stepped closer to her. “I will not leave you.”
Rarely did he show affection in public; it was not his way. For him to do so here, in front of his enemies, brought a lump to her throat. Despite that, because of that, she could not relent.
“It’s you they’re after. Were there a warrant out for me, our friend down there would already be rubbing my nose in it.”
“And after you help a fugitive escape? Oh, they’d love that, wouldn’t they? I won’t give them the satisfaction. I won’t give them you.”
Just in that moment, Cass really, really missed the old Raven, the one who cared for no one but himself. Only that Raven had never existed, not really, not deep-down. Which is how they had both ended up here.
“Hey, guys, not a problem,” Chuckie interjected. “Cass opens the barrier, you teleport, I confuse things.”
Raven looked at Chuckie as though he were insane. Cass understood the sentiment.
From down below, Ramirez called a five minute warning. They were afraid of him, still. Hoping he’d give up quietly. Good!
“Listen,” Chuckie said. “You both might be way more powerful than I will ever be, but I know more than the both of you about criminal, er, misdirection. Put it down to having entirely too much time on my hands as a kid.” He spoke directly to Raven, though he had to crane his neck to do so. “I promise, by the time I’m done, Asshole down there won’t know what happened, but he’ll be pretty sure it’s all your fault.”
Raven just stared at him.
“Hey,” Chuckie wheedled. “It’ll only enhance your mysterious reputation.”
Still Raven said nothing. Cass could feel the seconds tick by.
“Look,” Chuckie said. “I know I’m no Zack Maclean. But you trusted him. I’m asking you to trust me.”
Raven looked over at Cass. She nodded.
Raven embraced her, and then whispered in her ear.
“I’m going to Daniel. Meet me at midnight. I love you.”
Before she could decipher everything Raven had said, Ramirez called a one-minute warning. Raven stepped back, and Cass opened the teleportation barrier. There was a blinding flash and a swirl of purple and blue smoke, accompanied by dancing sparks like a Mundane fireworks sparkler, pyrotechnics that had to be Chuckie’s doing. In the midst of the confusion, Raven teleported away.
They called it a debriefing, but Cass had been through interrogations, on both sides, often enough to know it for what it was. She had been on this side of interrogations far oftener than she liked, although both Chuckie and Sherlock had assured her that she did not, in fact, hold the Guardian record.
It was not the same room where she’d been questioned after William’s fall, after it came to light that she’d been covertly working with Raven to bring him down. It didn’t have to be. They were all the same— small, windowless rooms with concrete floors, meant to induce a feeling of claustrophobia in even the most stable.
Her anger as much as her innocence kept any fear at bay.
Two men sat across the table from her. The one she did not know, a tall, well-built man with sandy-brown hair and an unremarkable blue suit, introduced himself as Lieutenant Becket from the local Guardian division, now assigned to the case. The other, a slender, gray-haired man with keen gray eyes and a tailored black suit, she knew only by name, Sergeant LaGrange of Guardian Internal Affairs. If she had been under any illusion that this were a routine debriefing, his presence, especially at this time of night, would have brought her back to reality.
The pitcher of water and the three cups stacked beside it said that they expected this to be a long interview. She fought the urge to look at her watch. Dangerous to let them know she had someplace to be.
Meet me at midnight.
“I suppose you know why you’re here,” said Becket.
She smiled with false sweetness. “I am here because I was ordered to be.”
LaGrange frowned. “This is not, at this stage, a disciplinary action.”
“Good,” she said. “Because I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Becket blew out his breath, clearly trying to keep his patience. “Would you like something to drink before we begin?”
“While it’s been a long day, I don’t indulge while I’m working.” Snarkiness wasn’t going to get her far, but neither, she suspected, would civility, and snarkiness was the least harmful way she could vent her anger.
Becket sighed, unstacked the glasses and turned them right-side up. He filled two, pushing one over to Cass, then looked at LaGrange, who shook his head.
Becket gave her what was no doubt intended to be a friendly smile. “Why don’t you tell me in your own words what happened?”
“What happened is that Raven came in, on the request of Guardian International, in order to help us investigate the theft of the Ravensblood.”
“This request, did it originate with Abigail Andrews?” LaGrange asked.
“Sherlock is the one who relayed the request to me. I didn’t ask if it came from higher up. I do know that she asked for, and received, all necessary security clearances.”
LaGrange leaned back in his chair, tapping a pen against the surface of the desk. “I understand that this was not the first time that Guardian International has consulted with Mr. Ravenscroft.”
“Given the nature of the cases that we work on, we often bring in outside experts. We have broken no regulations, and Raven has helped to save civilian lives more than once.”
LaGrange made a non-committal grunt.
“So, back to the events of the evening,” Becket said.
She banked the flames of her outrage and gave the report of their findings up to the point at which they were interrupted.
“And then Mr. Ravenscroft chose to resist arrest,” LaGrange said. “Did you have anything to do with that decision?”
Cass snorted. “Mr. Ravenscroft is fully capable of making such decisions without any input from me.”
Let them interpret that as they would.
“You made no attempt to dissuade him,” LaGrange said.
Even were she inclined to lie, there had been witnesses. Though they had been too far away to hear the whispered conversation, her attitude had not been one of someone attempting to assist in the apprehension of a suspect.
She shrugged. “Not my arrest.”
LaGrange leaned forward. “And you don’t think it’s within the scope of your duties to aid local Guardians in an arrest?”
“Not when the arrest is groundless and, in point of fact, interfering with a crucial investigation of my own.”
LaGrange sat back again in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“The Guardians attempting arrest said they’d never seen anything like the magic Raven used to break the teleportation barrier,” Becket said. “What can you tell me about that?”
Cass took a sip of the water before her. “No idea.”
Because she had opened the barrier, not Raven, and she had never seen anything like what Chuckie had done.
She managed a surreptitious glance at her watch. Less than half an hour to make her rendezvous with Raven. If she didn’t escape this meeting, she might miss him. Might not see him for a long time, might not know where he was or how he fared.
If things continued to go as badly as this night had, might never see him alive again.
“Can you tell me where Raven was at the time of the theft?” Becket asked.
“Isn’t it procedure to determine whether or not a suspect has an alibi before you make an arrest? For what it’s worth, he was home in bed.” She met his stare. “With me.”
“I see,” Becket said. “Can anyone corroborate that?”
“What? Do you think we invited someone over to watch? No matter what you’ve heard about dark mages, Raven really isn’t that kinky.”
Becket turned red all the way up to the roots of his hair. LaGrange coughed.
“Tell me,” she said. “Would you have attempted to arrest someone on such flimsy evidence if his surname hadn’t been Ravenscroft?”
Becket leaned forward, any trace of friendliness gone from his visage. “I want you to think over the answer to the next question very seriously. Do you know the current location of Corwyn Ravenscroft?”
She didn’t even need to lie, though she would have. But she had not yet puzzled out his parting words. She shook her head. If only these two would let her alone so she could think.
Becket sighed. “Fine. I think we’re done here.”
She tried not to seem in a hurry to reach a point outside the teleportation barrier, though her heart told her to sprint. Tears stung her eyes. From exhaustion, she told herself. Maybe anger. Because she wouldn’t give the Council the satisfaction by crying over their betrayal of Raven, and of her. Would not waste the salt of her tears over how quickly they had forgotten who had risked death and worse, to stop William.
Outside, she looked at her watch. Fifteen minutes before tomorrow. Meet me at midnight. But where? I’m going to Daniel, Raven had said.
Daniel was dead. Was Raven intending suicide? He’d tried to take his own life once. But that was only after he’d exhausted all other options available to him, and had been desperate to escape William’s service. Suicide really wasn’t his style.
An image came to mind, a high, high cliff overlooking the ocean, where it felt like the horizon was so distant and so wide that you could see the Earth curve. The place where Raven had scattered Daniel’s ashes. Raven had taken her there once, though not on the anniversary of Daniel’s death. Those visits were private, and Cass respected that.
But she remembered where it was.
Meet me at midnight. He wouldn’t have added that, if he meant to join Daniel in death. So he’d be at the overlook.
I love you. It wasn’t the first time he’d said the words, of course, but Raven was spare with verbal expressions of affection. It didn’t matter to Cass— she knew the depth of his feelings. But that he said it now only underscored the seriousness of the situation.