Enjoy this unedited excerpt of Ascending Darkness by Audrey Brice (me)! Slated for release early Spring 2016! To check out other books and novellas in the OTS series, go to THIS PAGE.
Friday, September 12
Instead of answering calls from everything on the other side, sometimes it’s just easier to follow the trail of blood. I should have known the dream was important since I woke up with a start, remembering the spirit’s words as if they’d been whispered in my ear. “Darkness ascends this day,” it said. I brushed the dream off and went about my day as if it had never happened.
The text message from the elder council came in at six p.m.. As instructed, I flipped to channel six-fifty-three. There he was. Lucien Groner, the evangelist of black magick who ran the QVC of the occult world. According to Lucien, you, too could become a powerful magus for only five easy payments of twenty-nine ninety-five. The segment on now was about learning to invoke Goetic Daemons for the low-low price of ninety-nine ninety-five in his six part course. Lucien had at one time been a member of The Order, but was ousted after he started BMN, the Black Magick Network. It was a cable channel where he, and other magicians, sold their books, classes, and other wares to the uninitiated, the lazy, the fix-it-with-a-spell crowd, and whoever was desperate enough for power, sex, love and/or money. If they had enough money, they could buy the Daemonic, the sacred, and the profound in the form of a course, download, book, CD, or DVD. My stomach turned. What was Lucien up to?
My phone rang. I answered.
“You know who this man is?” came the voice of Alan, one of the elders.
“Yeah. Everyone knows who this guy is. It’s Lucien Groner,” I said, offended that the Elder even had to ask. I kept up with who was who in the small occult world and people like Lucien were hard to miss. He was on every social networking and streaming video site and advertised rampantly throughout the online occult scene. He was a running joke through some circles of serious practitioners. Generally when Lucien was mentioned, snickers and snide comments followed, along with a great deal of eye-rolling.
“Just making sure. I thought you might, being that he’s in the same area as you.”
“I’m watching him right now, sir. What did he do now? Mass produce one of the family grimoires? Or is he offering to teach people how to have sex with Daemons?” I laughed a little, trying to lighten the mood. For some reason, watching Lucien set my teeth on edge. Probably because he was a sell-out. I wasn’t thrilled about having to babysit Lucien, but he was in Colorado and so was I. I was also the public relations officer for the Ordo Templi Serpentis, and putting out PR fires caused by people like Lucien was my job.
“Now change it to your local channel five news. It’s on again,” said the elder, not amused by my sarcasm.
I did as instructed, just in time to see a huge inverse pentagram on the screen behind the newscasters. The dark-eyed brunette with the sultry voice said, “Lucien Groner, the thirty-three-year-old self-proclaimed black magic practitioner and head of the controversial occult themed BMN cable network, was found murdered in his home in Parker in a bizarre satanic murder. He was found by a friend who said Mr. Groner didn’t show up at the golf course this morning for their nine o’clock tee time. This after Senator Steven Mitchell’s fiancée was murdered in another occult style murder earlier this year. Parker police are investigating and said they will be seeking assistance from the detectives and consultants who were key to solving the Chloe Brigid murder case.”
“Oh fuck.” It slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“It appears you’ll have to deal with this…” Elder Alan said.
“Yeah, considering the lead detective on the Chloe Brigid case was my significant other and I was the consultant.”
“There’s more to it than that.” Alan’s voice seemed to lower.
I cringed, afraid of what he was going to say. I took the bait. “How so?”
“He has a partner in BMN, as well as some top magicians working for him. None of them fans of OTS. None of them fans of Lucien. Do you see where I’m going with this?” The elder went silent.
Outside, I heard Mike pull up in the new Jeep. I racked my brain for a second, and then said, “You think one of his partners killed him to take over BMN?”
“There’s been a lot of talk in the private online forums about taking over BMN and turning it into an OTS network. This doesn’t bode well for us.” At this point, Elder Alan was whispering.
“Oh.” I fumbled for an answer. “I was out of town helping one of the L.A. covens last month with some stuff and just really got back into the swing of things here. I haven’t been to the forums.”
“Yes, Kylie Ramone sent us her glowing praise of you. You should watch these forums more closely.” Clearly the elder didn’t want excuses, he wanted action.
“I guess I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” I finally admitted. For whatever reason, Elder Alan was beating around the bush.
Mike walked in. There were two guys, probably co-workers, with him. I held up my hand so he knew I was on the phone.
“Really?” Alan was quickly losing his patience with me, I could tell. “As I see it, Miss Tanner, it was one of three things. It was Groner’s partner trying to remove him from the picture so they can take over. It’s a ploy to frame the OTS and get the police up in our business, or it really was one of our members or member groups who did this and we need to find out which one it is, quickly. I expect daily reports.”
“But what…? I started.
“Do your job Elizabeth.” The phone on the other end went dead.
The scowl on my face seemed to dissuade the two men with Mike from wanting to step further into the house.
“You guys want a soda? Coffee?” Mike pointed to me. “This is my girlfriend, Liz. She helped us solve the Chloe Brigid murder.”
“No,” said the taller man.
The shorter of the two men narrowed his dark eyes and smiled at me. “If I recall, wasn’t the killer actually after you?”
I let out a deep sigh. “You’re the detectives from Parker working the Lucien Groner case.”
“You already know?” the taller of the two asked. He seemed surprised.
“It was just on the news,” I said. I held up the phone. “Small world.”
“I’m Kale, this is Davies. What we’d really like is for the two of you to come with us and take a look at the crime scene. Body’s still there,” the taller guy said.
“Why is the body still there, didn’t it happen this morning?” I could feel my nose wrinkle in disgust.
Davies answered. “Our normal forensic investigator is on vacation and our stand in had two gang related murders before ours. The coroner is getting antsy. We’ve already talked to neighbors and been down to Mr. Groner’s place of business.”
The scent of baked chicken breasts and macaroni cheese casserole wafted from the kitchen. I had been working the seven to three shift at the print shop since we got back from vacation. Since I was home early, I’d been making dinner every night. The buzzer on the stove went off.
“Let me take dinner out of the oven and put it in the fridge.” I felt my teeth clench.
“We’ll grab something after the crime scene,” Mike whispered in a reassuring tone.
“Tell you what – we’ll even buy dinner,” Detective Kale said.
I disappeared into the kitchen and pulled the pans from the oven, absorbing myself in the task of moving hot food into cooler plastic containers, and into the fridge. Dinner was now leftovers.
Mike came up behind me and put his arms around my waist. “We’ll take it for lunch tomorrow.”
“You’re excited about this, aren’t you?” I asked scooping my famous, with Mike anyway, mac and cheese bake into a large bowl.
“It beats working with the drug task force or on theft ring cases. That’s mafia. At least this way it’s one murderer, one motive. The likelihood of that murderer trying to murder me is slim to none. When you’re investigating drug cartels, gangs, and mafia, you’re a target.”
He shrugged and then kissed my left temple.
“I already got a call from one of the Elders telling me to deal with it. He thinks it’s some plot to take down OTS. I’d be willing to bet it was Kirk Martin.” I involuntarily sneered.
“Who’s Kirk Martin?”
“The jerk-off who ran around with Lucien. He tried to get me to join the Black Magick Network a few years back when it was an online-only thing, and they were just planning the cable network. Even offered me my own show.” I pressed the lid onto the now full bowl and stuck it in the fridge alongside the chicken breasts.
“You never told me about that.” He seemed concerned I’d kept this information to myself.
“It was a long time ago and it’s something I’d rather forget,” I said with a hint of finality in my voice. I may have written a few occult books here and there, but I certainly wasn’t a sellout, and I most definitely didn’t believe that people who bought courses guaranteed to make one a powerful magus were looking for anything more than a quick fix to their dull, dreary, twenty-first century lives.
Mike and I emerged from the kitchen and the two detectives looked on with expectation.
“Let me grab my bag,” I said, snapping up my phone from the dining room table where I’d left it.
We arrived at Lucien Groner’s Parker McMansion after a half hour of following Davies, who didn’t use his turn signal, changed lanes constantly, and basically drove like a jackass. The police guarding the scene pulled back the line tape and let us pull into the house’s cobblestone driveway right behind Davies black sedan.
“Looks like Black Magick pays rather well,” Mike said.
I shook my head. “Well, if that’s what got him killed, maybe not.”
With a conciliatory nod, Mike got out of the car and I followed. Kale and Davies waited for us at the front door.
The first thing that hit me as we walked past the threshold was the smell. It had been particularly warm for September and it didn’t feel like the house had the air conditioning turned on. The scent was sickening, like rotting meat and perfume, and I immediately wanted to hurl, but maintained my composure. Kale offered me a small bottle of Vic’s Vapo-Rub and I gladly accepted, putting a healthy smear right under my nose. Then I followed the detectives into what appeared to be a living room turned temple.
On the floor a seal of Saturn, in blood, had been drawn. Behind it was the covered body of Lucien Groner.
It must have been the look of recognition that passed over my face because Davies asked, “What is it? Do you know what that means?”
I nodded. “It’s the seal of Saturn. The planet of death and change.”
“Are you comfortable with dead bodies?” Without waiting for an answer, Davies lifted the sheet off the corpse, revealing Lucien’s dead eyes looking into nothingness. His complexion appeared almost white and his throat had been cut. There was also an abdominal wound. Perhaps a bullet? There was blood spray on the wall behind him.
Davies pulled a pen from his pocket and pointed at the sliced jugular. “See this here?”
I nodded again, forcing myself to not look away.
“There’s not enough blood.” He pointed to the seal of Saturn, then at the abdominal wound. “Even with that, there’s some missing. There should be more blood with both of these wounds”
“You mean someone collected his blood?” I asked, knowing full well that’s what he meant.
“Yes. Perhaps for some kind of Satanic ritual?” He pointed to a circular blood pattern next to Lucien’s head, then at a part of the floor where it appeared as though blood had been scooped up into a container. “We think they used a jar and maybe a square plastic bowl.”
The idea of someone killing another person and bleeding them into mason jars and plastic bowls was both sickening and terrifying. The nausea still hadn’t gone away and that image in my mind wasn’t helping. I also knew what that meant. Could someone be making Blood of Saturn? Like old-school? It was fucked up, but it would certainly explain the whole Saturn-blood theme of the murder. I felt my lips turn downward into a frown, hoping I was wrong. Maybe I was. I was still sour on Necromancy.
I could tell Kale was getting anxious. He whispered something to Davies, and Davies said, “I’m getting to that.”
Mike looked at me and I looked back at him.
Davies directed my attention then to a few bottles next to the body. They had number tags next to them, and I realized we’d likely interrupted the crime scene investigators while they were photographing the evidence. I’d seen the van in front of the house and for the first time, I noticed three people standing off to the side of the room, patiently waiting for us to finish looking at everything. One of them held a camera. Everyone’s attention was on me.
“Lamont Catrell,” Davies started. He put on a latex glove and lifted one of the bottles, carrying it over to me to show me. Tincture of Mandrake was printed on the label along with the words, highly concentrated, toxic, do not ingest.
“What can you tell me about this guy?”
“Catrell?” I asked.
“He’s a well-known alchemist. They sell his tinctures on The Black Magick Network by the case I’m sure. Anyone can buy it if they have the cash.” I began resenting Davies’ aggressive tone.
“So what kind of ritual do you think it is and who are our suspects?” This time, Davies’ question was sincere and not so pushy.
I shrugged. “Well, mandrake is a Saturn plant, that’s the seal of Saturn, Saturn rules over death. It was likely a necromancy ritual of some type.” The energy of the room, vile and nasty, was beginning to wear on me.
“Suspects?” Davies prompted. Kale looked on with hope in his eyes. Perhaps hoping I could give them a name.
I couldn’t. I’d never been part of Groner’s crowd. Not directly. “Well, it was obviously someone who knows enough about the occult to stage a murder scene.”
“Stage? This is staged?” Davies looked surprised.
Kale lifted an eyebrow, but kept jotting notes on his notepad.
“A little too much if you ask me. Whoever did this wanted you to find the seal of Saturn, wanted you to see the mandrake tincture bottles, and wanted you to suspect a necromantic ritual. I am doubting the sincerity of the ritual though.” I was being honest.
“If it was about the magick they may have done the ritual someplace private, or easy to clean up, and hidden the body afterward. Either someone wanted Lucien dead, or they want the notoriety for having killed him. Or maybe both.” While my psychic senses told me I was on the right track, I knew I was missing something even more important, and sadly I knew I would end up finding out what that something was before this was finished.
“So someone who practices Satanism or something like that?” he asked.
“Something like that,” I parroted back. I hated how non-magickal folks always jumped to Satanism when some idiot did something stupid in the name of magick or occult practices.
“Anyplace these kinds of people congregate that we should know about?”
I laughed. Evidently Davies thought there was a club where everyone hung out. Or maybe he thought magicians who practiced the necromantic arts were a small crowd and everyone knew everyone. In recent years, necromancy had become a fashionable practice and the sheer number of possible necromancers had risen sharply.
“No.” I told him. “I think you’re going to have to start with people he knew and work your way out.”
“That’s not helpful,” Davies said.
“Well, at least you know the type of ritual it is and if you bring that up to possible suspects, you can gage their reaction and see if they seem guilty,” Mike said, interjecting common sense into the conversation. It was the first time he’d said anything since we got there.
“I can tell you this,” I started, leaning in. “Whoever did it knows something of ancient necromancy practices. This wasn’t a noob or someone pretending to pin this on someone into the occult. Whoever did this is practicing and they wanted to make a statement.”
Davies and Kale exchanged glances. Mike hung back.
Two guys with a gurney entered the front door, and one of them looked annoyed.
“Took you long enough,” he said to the detectives.
Davies motioned to the investigators. “Talk to them. It was a busy day for murder.”
Then he turned his attention to me. “Well, that’s all we really needed for now. You guys want to hang out outside while we finish here? Then we can hit The Hole.” Davies smiled hopefully at me. The Hole is what some of the cops called one of the local brewpubs they hung out at. They served burgers and fries, and beer, of course.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” I returned the smile and wondered if how grateful I felt to be getting out of that house translated in my facial expression. Mike escorted me past the officers and back outside. Once we were back out in the fresh air, I breathed in the scent of oncoming autumn, gagged and coughed. The smell of death had made its way deep into my sinuses.
Mike handed me a tissue. “You’ll need this.”
There, in front of the house we blew our noses in a rather undignified way, forcing the smell of death out.
“Ripe in there, isn’t it?” Kale came up behind us. “You never get used to that.”
He did the same and cleared out his nose. A few minutes later, Davies followed and we all got back in our cars and headed to The Hole.
The brewpub’s proper name was The Holedon Beer Company and it was far trendier than it sounded. All the televisions had no sound and were tuned into various sports. In the background, the speakers quietly played 70’s and 80’s punk. It really wasn’t the place you’d expect cops to hang out, but they did. When we walked in everyone knew Kale and Davies, and everyone knew Mike. Choruses of “Hey, guys!” finally drowned back into private conversations and we found our way back to a table in the far corner.
The guys kept the conversation light and no one brought up the occult, for which I was thankful. It was bad enough my home-cooked dinner had been interrupted. Of course, murder was never convenient.
Did you enjoy this excerpt? Be sure to check out the first three books in the series, and the novellas!