Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Riley Parra – Those Who Favor Fire

NOTE: This story takes place after the second season of the Tello webseries and follows the continuity of that series rather than the novels.

Riley had thought, or at least hoped, that the nightmares were done. She hadn’t one since Gillian started spending the night. And she expected that the revelations about her first encounter with Marchosias might have helped her turn a corner where her subconscious wouldn’t feel the need to continue sending out warning signs. But here she was again, just before two in the morning, waking up with the fading sound of laughter echoing in her ears and an overwhelming sense of dread. She looked over to see that she’d at least managed to not disturb Gillian, who was still sleeping peacefully beside her.

            She blamed the bunny. The stuffed rabbit currently sitting on the nightstand on what she was already calling Gillian’s side of the bed. It had been difficult to hide her shock, and even harder to allow the toy into her bedroom, but she couldn’t explain why she was so terrified by it without scaring Gillian. And it wasn’t the toy that frightened her, just the implication of seeing Marchosias with it.

            The demon had been in Gillian’s house. He’d taken something precious to her. Just to prove he could.

            Riley got out of bed as quietly as possible, checking to be sure she hadn’t disturbed Gillian, and walked out of the room on the balls of her feet. She eased the door shut behind her. The door was warm to the touch, even though it had been freezing when they went to bed. In fact, the entire apartment seemed warmer than usual. She checked the thermostat but it was set where it usually was. She wrapped her arms around herself and went to the kitchen. She would make herself some tea to help her sleep, and then put on a long-sleeved shirt before she got back in bed.

            The living room was empty when she passed through it. But as she entered the kitchen, the apartment was bathed in a wash of flickering red light. The temperature spiked so quickly that sweat immediately beaded on Riley’s forehead. Her hand went to her hip as she spun around, but of course her gun wasn’t there.

            The far wall of the apartment was engulfed in a curtain of flame which spread from floor to ceiling but didn’t seem to affect anything. And standing in the middle of the conflagration, arms extended to either side with globes of flame hovering above both hands, was a smiling woman wrapped in a black sheath. Riley saw the flames wrap around her arms, could see how they flipped up the ends of her red hair, but her skin remained unburnt.

            “I know you,” Riley said, cautiously moving forward.

            The woman’s smile widened. The fires behind her flared brighter.

            “You were in one of my nightmares. I saw you… and then I saw Marchosias. And you were at the castle. You were one of the demons who attacked me.”

            She lifted her chin and slowly lowered it, never taking her eyes off of Riley. It was almost a nod, but the move was done so slowly that it was difficult to tell if it had been an actual response.

            “Who are you?”

            The flame crackled and in the hiss of air that followed, the words Bella and Fire appeared at the back of Riley’s mind. She shuddered and shook her head.

            “Ugh. Is that how you speak? Gotta say, I’m not a fan.”

            Poor Riley Parra. This time the words were more deliberate, and Riley flinched. It felt like having cold water dripped down the back of her neck. Poor delusional mortal.

            “I only had to ask for Marchosias to leave and he did. Is that a rule for all of you? Get the hell out of my apartment.”

            There was laughter now, which was worse than speaking. Bella Fire brought her hands forward, and Riley’s attention was drawn to the way the flames spun and wrapped around themselves. The light threw shadows over the woman’s face, obscuring her eyes in growing pits of darkness. But her smile never wavered, never dimmed.

            You escaped the demon’s stronghold once at our mercy, Bella Fire said. You walked free because Marchosias allowed it.

            “I got out of that literal hellhole twice, actually.”

            Did you?

            A wave of cold washed over Riley at the question. So simple. Of course she got out. She was standing here, wasn’t she, in her apartment?

            A mortal, in a den of lions, with just a handful of bullets to protect her? Bullets she spent on an angel. She moved closer and the voice in Riley’s mind became louder and more insistent. You fired upon one of God’s perfect beings, and then you tried to get past me. Do you honestly believe you succeeded? You allowed yourself to believe you defeated me with your bare hands.

            “You actually went down pretty easy, bitch.”

            You punched a demon. You strolled back to safety. And then you went home with the woman of your dreams, a beautiful woman who is as smitten with you as you are with her. And you also met another angel. A nice angel. One that will protect you and keep you safe. Does this sound like reality to you, Detective? Or does it sound like the pathetic last attempt of a dying mind to escape an unimaginable torture?

            She flung her right hand out, and the ball of flame expanded and flew forward. Riley was rocked back on her heels and brought both arms up to protect her face. The fire hit her with a physical force like an ocean wave. She felt it burning her but she couldn’t scream because it was devouring all the oxygen from around her. When she realized that, she realized she also couldn’t breathe.

            I have been torturing you for weeks, Riley Parra. Marchosias allowed you free passage, but I made no such promise. This war has rules, but my side knows all the wonderful loopholes. You tried to leave our home. I stopped you. This fantasy amused me for a time, but now the time has come for you to truly suffer. Gillian Hunt is gone. Caitlin Priest doesn’t exist, and you don’t have a guardian angel. You loathed Gail Finney and so cast her as your nemesis. But the fantasy is over, and now you’re going to burn.

            Bella threw the other globe. Riley fell to her knees. The flames caught on the back of her shirt, spreading all the way down her spine and across her shoulders. She covered her face, but it was already burning. Her hands ignited. It was true. Every word of it was true. She’d made up this life. She fabricated a world where she won, where she got the girl, where her new partner…

            Riley opened her eyes and stared at the floor. “No.”

            Despite the flames all around her, Riley could still hear herself speak. That meant the fire wasn’t sucking up all the oxygen, which meant there was no fire. She looked at her hands and saw the feathers of flame recede until they were gone. She lifted her head and looked at the demon standing above her.

            “Caitlin Priest. Zerachiel. My guardian angel.” Riley got one foot under her and pushed herself up. It hurt at first, but the pain faded by the time she was standing. “You claim I made that up. You think I fabricated the idea that I had someone watching over me for my entire life? No. I would never make that up. That possibility would never have crossed my mind. Even in my perfect fantasy world, I would never add that. But I saw her with my own eyes. I believe in her. And if she’s real, that means you’re lying.”

            For the first time, Bella’s smile faded. You are weak.

            “I think you’re weak.” Riley advanced on the demon, who backed up a step. “You were in my Marchosias nightmare. Why? I think you opened the door for him. Whatever power you have, it’s all mental. That’s why I’m hearing your voice inside my head. That’s why this is all happening in the middle of the night when my mind is at rest. My mind…” She laughed. “My mind. Loopholes. You can’t touch me because of the tattoo, but you. You can get in my head and attack me from the inside out.”

            Bella sneered. More fire bloomed in her hands.

            “That’s why I was able to get past you in the castle. Because even though there’s a demon squatting in your skull, physically, you’re just a person.”

            I’ll watch you burn, Riley Parra.

            Riley was close enough to look into Bella’s eyes. “I don’t know if you can hear me. Or if it’s even possible to save someone who is a demon’s host. But you have my word that I’ll do everything in my power to get you free.”

            She thought she saw something, some flicker of hope, but it was gone before she could identify it. Bella parted her lips and screamed, and spear of flame shoved Riley back. She hit the wall hard enough to rattle her bones. When she opened her eyes, Bella Fire and the wall of flame had vanished, leaving the room as normal as it ever was. Riley examined her arms for any signs of the fire she had just passed through, but all she saw were goosebumps caused by the room returning to the right temperature. She could hear traffic outside. Sirens. The world felt real again.

            “Okay,” she whispered to herself. “Either that was an extremely vivid dream and I was sleepwalking. Or… I don’t even know what.” She pressed her hand against her eyes. “God, I wish I had Priest’s number.”

            “Riley?”

            Riley jumped sideways before she recognized her partner’s voice. Priest was already looking around the room with a concerned frown.

            “Don’t do that!” Riley whispered.

            “Was there a demon here?”

            “Yes. Or… maybe. I don’t know. Well, yes, one for sure, maybe two total.” Priest looked at her, confused. “It’s a long story. And keep your voice down. Gillian is asleep.”

            Priest grinned. “Aw…”

            “Stop doing that. Stop acting like we’re… cute.”

            “I can’t help it, Riley. I’m your guardian angel. I’ve seen you go through so much hell that when I see you as happy as you are with Gillian… it brings me joy.”

            Riley sighed. “Marchosias was here. A few days ago, he stopped by. He threatened Gillian. And just now, one of the demons I encountered in his stronghold tried to… I don’t know, burn my brain. Do you know a demon called Bella Fire?”

            Priest shook her head. “Not specifically. But there are demons who manipulate minds rather than attacking your physical body. Your tattoo should have protected you from that sort of attack.”

            “I don’t like ‘should have’.”

            “Neither do I. But I can put a protection on your apartment and on Gillian’s as well. No demon will be able to trespass, physically or otherwise.”

            Riley said, “Okay. Do that.”

            “I just did it.”

            “When?”

            “Just now. When I said I would do it, I… did it. It’s done.”

            Riley said, “I thought it would be a bit more theatrical.”

            Priest swept her hands out in a wide circle, clapped her hands together, and then wiggled her fingers to simulate rain falling. She finished the move by snapping her fingers and blinking her eyes.

            “Are all angels this obnoxious, or is it just you?”

            Priest grinned. “Just me. Goodnight, Riley.”

            “Goodnight, Cait.” She held up her hand before Priest could vanish. “Would you mind using the door? I’ve had enough freaky stuff for one night.”

            “Sure. I’ll see you in the morning.” She went to the door and turned back. “Oh, and my number is in your phone now. Just in case.”

            Once she was gone, Riley dropped down onto the couch. She put her head in her hands, trying to force the past few minutes to make sense. A demon had invaded her mind, and clearly it wasn’t the first time, but now it would stop because an angel had set up a perimeter around the apartment. She couldn’t help wondering if she had more nights like this waiting in the future. Was this going to be her life now? Demons haunting her dreams, nightmares that actually came to life, that made her question reality? How was she supposed to get through that with her sanity intact?

            “There’s something you should know about me.”

            Riley’s shoulders jumped. She hadn’t realized how close she’d been to falling asleep. She twisted to look over her shoulder and saw Gillian coming out of the bedroom. Her hair was mussed and her eyes were barely open, but she was smiling. She pushed off the door and swayed a little as she came out into the living room.

            “See, I just hate waking up alone when I didn’t go to bed that way. It’s unnerving. So if the person I happen to be with… that would be you.”

            “Gotcha.”

            Gillian sat next to her on the couch. “If they get up in the middle of the night to… say… sit alone in a cold living room, all I ask is maybe a kiss on the cheek or a shoulder squeeze. Maybe a little ‘I’ll be right back’ before you go.” She demonstrated by squeezing Riley’s thigh. “Okay?”

            “Mm-hmm.” Riley covered Gillian’s hand with hers.

            Gillian examined Riley’s face in the darkness. “Everything okay?”

            Riley started to give the standard response, the one that avoided further conversation. But that was an answer for casual relationships. It was meant to keep people at arm’s length so they didn’t get too tangled up with her business. She wanted more than that with Gillian. No. No, if she was honest, she was already well beyond that point with her. They’d already been through life and death together, Heaven and Hell. She owed Gillian complete honesty.

            “I have a lot to tell you,” Riley said. “Some of it might be scary.”

            “I can make tea.”

            “I don’t have tea.”

            “I bought some tea. It’s in there, trust me.”

            Riley smiled. “You bought tea for my house?”

            Gillian narrowed her eyes. “Don’t get cocky, Detective. Should I start making it?”

            “Yeah. Go ahead.”

            Gillian held up her hand, the little finger extended. Riley wrapped hers around it and squeezed. Gillian chuckled and went into the kitchen.

            Riley watched from the couch as Gillian retrieved the tea and began preparing it. Marchosias couldn’t get at them in their homes anymore, but who knew how many other tricks he had up his surprisingly stylish sleeve? It was anyone’s guess what he or Bella Fire or some other anonymous demon might try next. Whatever scheme they pulled, she knew that she wouldn’t have to face it alone.

            “Oh my god,” Gillian said from the kitchen, “how could you possibly not have teacups?”

            Riley grinned and got off the couch to help her.

Copyright © 2019 Geonn Cannon

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