Lost Souls - Chapter 3
Demon Trappers Series Book 8
Though she’d not wanted to act that needy, Katia had ordered a big bowl of oatmeal, two breakfast sandwiches, and the largest cup of coffee they offered. Then she’d wolfed down the food like it’d been the only meal she’d had in the last two days. Somehow Master Blackthorne had guessed this was the case. But how?
She wants me to call her Riley.
Katia wasn’t quite sure how to handle that degree of familiarity. She sure hadn’t had it back in Kansas, at least not with her second master. Besides, in the trapping world Riley Blackthorne was a freaking legend. Everyone knew about her and her dad.
Master Blackthorne’s hair was longer than in some of the videos, and more auburn than brown. She wore a pale blue T-shirt and bleached jeans. These weren’t the expensive kind, but what happened to denim after repeated encounters with Hellspawn. At least hers had fewer holes than Katia’s.
If she’d met Riley on the street, she’d guess her to be in college, the kind of girl who would hang with her friends in the evening, just having fun. That ended when you looked into Master Blackthorne’s eyes and knew she’d survived more than her share of Hell. Some might say the same of her.
“You okay over there?” Riley asked, after turning onto a side street. They were on their way to the office of some guy named Harper, the most senior trapper in Atlanta.
“Yeah. I’m just . . . digesting.” And not just the food.
Riley chuckled. “So now is when I give you my Master Harper speech, the one I deliver to every new apprentice.”
“I’m not an apprentice.”
“No, you’re not. You’re also not used to Harper, and that’s why you need to know what he’s like so he doesn’t roll right over you.”
“He does that?” Katia asked, eyeing her companion.
“He can. Master Harper is naturally gruff and has a wicked temper. He’s also had a lot of bad stuff happen in his life. You’ll see the evidence of one of those when you meet him. Harper is brutally blunt and takes crap from no one.”
“An abusive asshole then?” Katia asked, testing the waters.
Riley shrugged. “At one time, yes, but not so much now. No matter how much he growls, he will have your back if you’re straight with him. Not all the masters are like that.”
“Yeah, met a few of those. They’re fine if it’s you getting hurt.”
“Is that why you’re wearing long sleeves when it’s in the 90s?”
Katia couldn’t stop the full body tremor. She opened her mouth to answer, then closed it, unsure.
The master turned into a parking lot in front of what looked to be a car repair place. “I have scars myself. We all do. Some are even visible.”
Their eyes met and for a second Katia wondered if she’d found a kindred spirit. But that couldn’t be for real.
Riley pulled up next to a dusty red pickup truck with empty demon cages in the back, then turned off the engine. Katia undid her seatbelt, then just sat there. Maybe it would be good to tell the truth. At least a little of it.
“My arms are all . . . ripped up,” she admitted.
“Personally, I prefer the term ‘battle scarred’.”
“I’m proud of mine: They tell the world I’m faster and smarter than Hell’s hounds. Not everyone is.”
Maybe that was what she thought, but for Katia, her scars spoke of pain, and the debt she still owed.
Riley opened her car door. “Remember, no matter how bitchy Harper is just let it slide off you. If he asks for details about what went on in Kansas, tell him all of it. Leave nothing out.”
“Why would he want to know that?”
“Because he cares. Hard to see it sometimes, but he does.” As they headed for the door, Riley added, “And yes, this used to be a tire shop. There’s a personal reason why this is our office so don’t make fun of it, no matter what you do.”
A blast of cooler air hit Katia as they entered the structure, along with it the smell of old motor oil and the distinctive stink of demons. The latter were housed in cages where the cars had once been serviced. They immediately began an eerie chorus of “Blackthorne’s Daughter!” in their deep, rusty voices. Riley ignored them.
The actual office wasn’t fancy, just as you’d expect for a trapper, though the walls did appear to have received a coat of pale beige paint recently. There were a pair of bulletin boards which held the National Guild notices every trapping office was required to display, as well as the state and federal notices. Katia always thought that bunching them together made them easier to ignore.
The floor was dark-brown linoleum, shiny in places. There were only two desks, both of which had seen some use, and in the corner were filing cabinets and a cheap metal table with a computer, monitor and printer, just like any other office. On the back wall was a door that led to a kitchen, and in the opposite corner, one that led to a restroom.
Master Harper sat behind the larger desk, and he was not what she’d expected. Probably in his mid or late fifties with short hair and a thick white scar on the left side of his face that immediately drew attention.
“Getting a good look at it?” he asked, his eyes riveted on hers.
Before Katia could stop herself, she’d undone the button on her left cuff and pushed up the sleeve. The telltale ribbon of scars scored up her arm like some intricate tribal tattoo.
“Ouch,” Riley said, grimacing.
“Matching set on the other side?” Harper asked. Katia nodded. “Then you know how damned bad this job can be.” He set down his pen. “Blackthorne says you’ve been turfed here from Kansas. Tell me why.”
As she opened her mouth, he waved her off. “Not the official bullshit. Tell me what really happened.”
She sent Riley a panicked look.
“Lay it all out,” the master replied. “Now’s the time.”
Closing her eyes, Katia took a deep breath and when she reopened them, she found Harper watching her intently.
“Can I sit down?” she asked, her knees beginning to shake. What if he thought she wasn’t worth the hassle? What if he kicked her out of the Guild? Where would she go?
“You can stand on your head for all I care, just talk.”
“Here,” Riley said, dragging a chair over for her. Katia sank into it. To her surprise, the master brought another over and sat nearby, as if to lend her support.
So many words not to say.
“My brother was attacked by a demon. He and his buddies thought it’d be great to call one up; to see what happened. It actually worked.”
The two masters traded looks.
“Go on,” Harper said.
“He’s sixteen now. He’s in a coma. The doctors aren’t sure if he’ll ever wake up.” She swallowed, weighing her words. “I was an apprentice when it happened. My parents demanded I quit, but I wanted to . . . make those bastards pay. I trained with the Lawrence Demon Trappers Guild and my master was a good man.”
“Master Griffin died in a car accident a week before I took my journeyman’s exam. I barely passed.”
“They should have postponed it, given you time to deal with his death,” Riley said. She’d leaned back in her chair, arms folded over her chest, frowning now.
“Yeah, well, the master I ended up didn’t want me. Master Kelly wasn’t happy that I knew things other people didn’t.”
“Like what sorta things?” Harper demanded.
Riley jumped in. “When Katia arrived, I was talking to Ori at the coffee shop. She knew he was an angel just by looking at him.”
“Oh great, another one,” he muttered, shaking his head.
“What?” Katia said, not understanding.
“Anything else? Your soul still your own?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s still mine.”
“We’ll test you anyway.” Harper leaned back and abruptly shifted directions. “You have enough money to hold you until next payday?”
She had to be honest. “Ah, no. I have about five bucks. I haven’t been paid in the last few weeks.”
Riley muttered under her breath as she headed toward a computer in the corner of the room. “Your ID number?”
Katia rattled it off and watched the master access the National Guild’s database and her account. There was silence as Riley skimmed the recent history of her trapping runs, payments due and paid. A low whisper of Hellspeak swear words colored the air. In any other situation that would have been impressive.
“How bad?” Harper asked, without turning around.
“Bad. She was paid regularly until she passed her journeyman’s exam, probably because her first master was on the level. After that she’s getting only a third of what’s owed her.”
“What?” Katia blurted. “No, Master Kelly said it took time for the payments to go through once I was a journeyman.”
“That’s bullshit,” Harper said, thumping his fist in the middle of his desk, startling her. “The demon traffickers would have paid for each fiend when they were surrendered, and a portion of that money should have gone to you, weekly.”
“Damn it,” Katia muttered. She’d been starving, and couch surfing for nothing, because her parents refused to let her come home as long as she was a trapper. Worse, none of the other trappers had told her she was being screwed over, probably because they feared Kelly.
A printer kicked off somewhere in the room, and when it was done Riley retrieved the printout and placed it in front of the master. “You want me to call them?”
“No, I’ll deal with this,” Harper said, his eyes like flint.
“How . . . much?” Katia stammered.
“At least two thousand dollars, probably more,” Riley replied. “Since it’ll take time to get this straightened out, you’ll need a place to stay. I’d offer you crash space, but we just don’t have it now that Beck has to have an office at home.”
“Stewart’s?” Harper suggested.
“That was my thought. I’ll check with him,” she replied, and headed for the kitchen.
Katia tried to button her cuff, but her fingers were shaking too much. She gave up. Two thousand bucks was a fortune when you had nothing. She’d been there when the traffickers paid for the fiends, but just accepted Kelly’s word that it took time for her to get paid. Looking back, she’d been an idiot.
“I’m not a fan of weird shit, Breman,” the master said, his eyes meeting hers.
“If you don’t want me here, just tell me. I’ll figure out how to get back to—”
“I’m not fond of martyrs, either. Blackthorne,” he tilted his head in the direction Riley had gone, “showed me that sometimes weird gets the job done.” He leaned forward on the desk again. “This ain’t Kansas, Breman. You had demons there, but Hell plays big league ball here. The Prince believes this town is his, and we’re not going to let that happen.” He leaned back again. “Listen to Blackthorne, learn from her, and you might still be here in a couple weeks.”
Master Harper ignored her from that point on, reading through the documents on his desk, accompanied by the occasional ‘F’ word.
“What the hell are they doing?” he grumbled. He shuffled more papers. “Did you get a travel allowance?”
“Twenty bucks and a paid bus ticket.”
He stared at her. “That’s it?”
“My master said that’s all I was entitled to.” Now she felt like an idiot. Why hadn’t she done more research?
Because it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Blackthorne!” Harper shouted.
Riley ducked her head out the kitchen door. “You bellowed, Fearless Leader?”
Katia swore she saw the hint of a smile in the old master’s eyes. It quickly vanished.
“Those Kansas assholes screwed this kid over big time. I need you to audit her runs and see how much they pocketed. Once you get that done, type it up into some neat little report, the kind the pencil necks at National love.” Harper’s expression looked downright gleeful now. “Then I’m calling Kansas. I haven’t reamed anyone in a day or two. Way past time.”
At Katia’s stunned expression, Riley winked. “Told you. Come on in here and let’s get the Holy Water check out of the way.”
To her relief, the liquid felt cool against her palm, but did nothing else.
“Just as you said, your soul doesn’t have Hell’s brand on it. Always good news,” the master replied. “I have some money for you, and a place for you to stay for the time being.”
“At the Stewart guy’s place?”
“Yup. And no, he’s not creepy, either,” Riley said. “I stayed with him after my dad died. You’ll be fine there.”
After the master gave her an envelope of cash, a half dozen power bars and offered her a drink from the refrigerator—Katia chose a soda—they were back in the car, pulling out of the parking lot.
“How much money did you give me?” Katia asked, thinking it would be rude to count it in front of her.
“Two hundred dollars. Figured that will get you started. Once we have a full audit, you’ll get the rest.”
Two hundred dollars? It was like winning the lottery.
“Master Harper will really call the Lawrence Guild?”
“He’ll do more than call. When he gets done your former asshat of a master will be going to the closest burn center for the scorch marks. Harper hates people like that. Then he’ll call National and my nice, neat report will back up everything he’s going to tell them. Screwing a trapper out of their earnings and stiffing you for travel expenses is a big no-no. It’ll go nuclear from that point on.”
Katia stared at nothing for a time, then finally whispered, “Wow.”
“Yeah, wow. In case you haven’t noticed, we do things differently here. So . . . welcome to Atlanta, Journeyman Breman. It sure isn’t going to be boring.”
If the last hour or so was any indication, it was going to be unreal.
Demon Trappers® Series Book 8
Copyright ©2021 Jana Oliver
Angel Wing Graphic used with permission of Macmillan Children’s Books
Cover image courtesy of Yocla Designs
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means now known or hereinafter invented, electronic or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
Demon Trappers is a Registered Trademark of Jana G. Oliver
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