Home > Knights Magica (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #5)(12)

Knights Magica (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #5)(12)
Author: B.R. Kingsolver

Chapter 9

The conference was held at a resort in Virginia owned by a group of paranormals. I’d never been to a conference of any type, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

After we returned to our hotel from meeting with the congressional delegation, Frankie called us together in her suite.

“The latest information I have is that there are about six hundred people registered for the event,” she said as she passed out the conference schedule. “There are four tracks—security, government, public relations, and one called ‘know thy enemy’—each with presentations and panel discussions. We want to make sure we have someone in every session. Jolene has prepared recording charms for each of you. After each session, find her, give her the charm you carried, and get a fresh charm for your next session.”

Jolene held up a couple of charms dangling from chains to show us what they looked like.

“Also,” Frankie continued, “identify people you think we should establish contact with, as well as those you think might cause problems of any sort.”

“Such as?” Josh asked.

“Extremely belligerent, Knight or Church sympathizers, possible Knight spies—you know, that sort of thing. One of the things a lot of us are worried about are those who want a war, for whatever reason.”

Langermann spoke up. “There are always those with a romanticized idea of war, who think it will be fun. Other people think they will be able to profit from it. And there are always those who revel in bloodshed and death.”

Frankie nodded. “Something we don’t have to worry about are humans crashing the party. I’ve been assured that the wards will keep them out.”

“What is ‘know thy enemy’?” I asked.

“History and current intelligence concerning the Universal Church and the Knights Magica, with a few sessions concerning witch hunters and anti-magic religious zealots, such as the Apostles. There’s one presentation specifically about current witch hunts and other campaigns against paranormals and supernaturals.”

“You’re one of the speakers?” McGregor asked, looking at the schedule.

Frankie nodded again. “I’ve been asked to give a presentation on what we’ve done in Westport as part of the security track. The amount of cooperation we have between paranormals and the various supernatural species seems to be unique. Other places are curious as to how we manage it. I’ll be asking Michaela and Erin to sit in that one to help me answer questions.”

“Who put this thing together?” I asked.

“My dad and Sam presented the idea to the Otherworld Council a couple of months ago. They had been talking to their contacts around the country and thought there was a need to coordinate on a larger scale. The Potomac Discussion Society, a group similar to our council, took on the task of actually staging the conference. Dad flew out here two weeks ago to help them.”

For the first time, I was uneasy. My last assignment with the Hunters’ Guild involved assassinating the leadership of the Potomac Discussion Society. I knew that none of the surviving members should recognize me, but William Strickland, the head of the group, had a daughter who could. I had been ordered to kill her, too, but I hadn’t done it. That was my first act of disobedience to the Illuminati.

“And who will be attending?” I asked.

“There will be mages and witches from all over North America,” Frankie said, “with a few from Europe and Mexico. There’s a conclave of shifters in Wyoming in June, and we’ll be sending a delegation to meet with them. But for this event, only paranormals.”

“I’ll be meeting with other clergy,” Reverend White said. “We expect about fifty witches from non-Universal churches.”

I glanced at Michaela.

“I’m sort of slipping in,” she said. “Sam said I would be able to cross the wards, but we aren’t sure about Oriel.”

He grinned. “I’m half witch. But don’t worry about me. I’ll use the time to take care of other business. I think I’ll be more useful contacting some of the Fae resistance here in the city.”

We drove in the early-morning darkness through rush-hour traffic to Alexandria, then out into the country southwest of the city. The road passed through forest and pastures dotted with large houses surrounded by huge lawns, horse fences, and stables, with the occasional plantation-style mansion. Flowers bloomed everywhere, and it was difficult to imagine, gazing at such tranquil beauty, that people were dying in the nighttime alleys of the city behind us.

Shortly after the sun rose above the trees, we slowed and pulled into a paved driveway. A sign said, “Fountainhead Resort.” The road made a bend, and then a little later, there was a tall wrought-iron gate with guards in uniform. Four cars were stopped ahead of us, and when I looked back, I saw more cars behind our party.

After checking our credentials and making sure each of us was registered for the conference, they let us through the gates. We drove another ten minutes, and then the forest opened up.

The main hotel building was pentagonal, about a hundred yards across and five stories tall. To one side, I could see a swimming pool, and horse stables and corrals beyond that. We drove past the building to a large parking lot on the other side.

I cast wards on our vehicles, then we headed inside. The wards around the building felt very similar to those at Rosie’s, and I wondered if Sam had advised the mages who cast them. I picked up my badge, a canvas tote bag, and a bunch of papers with schedules, maps, and information about the resort. I was also directed to read a large sign posted over the registration table.

Please refrain from using magic during the conference.

NO violence.

Attacks on another conference attendee will be subject to summary execution.

I thought that was a little blunt, but it didn’t leave any room for interpretation. Considering the wide variety of people in attendance, and the long lives of magic users, I could imagine the organizers wanted to prevent the settling of grudges or feuds.

Jolene and I had just finished loading up our plates at the buffet and getting coffee when someone touched me on the arm. I turned and saw a young girl with strawberry-blonde hair. Susanna Strickland. A ley line mage as strong as I had been at her age of fifteen.

“I didn’t think any Illuminati would be here,” she said.

“The Illuminati are no more. I read the book.”

“And the artifact?”

“I took it to them, and they destroyed it. Your father’s booby-trap worked far better than I could ever have imagined.”

She bit her lip, and I saw tears cloud her green eyes.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” I said.

She nodded, then turned and walked away.

I followed Jolene, and we found a seat away from the crowd.

“Someone you know?” she asked.

“I killed her father. I was supposed to kill her but let her go.”

The shock on Jolene’s face was all I needed to complete the feeling of dissociation that had started when I saw Susanna. I put down my plate, got up, and stumbled through the throng to get outside. Bursting through the doorway, I walked away from the building, sucking in gulps of fresh air until my head began to clear.

I found a small gazebo beyond the swimming pool and sat down on a bench there, staring out at the forest and feeling numb, remembering the pain in Susanna’s eyes the year before when she asked, “Have you already killed him? He said you would come, and you would kill him.”

William Strickland’s face and the faces of so many men and women floated before me. People I hadn’t known and those in the City of the Illuminati that I had known. So many deaths. Gabriel Laurent had once told me, “You are incredibly good at killing.”

I hated Master Benedict and the Illuminati for what they had done to me. Once I had hunted down the Illuminati’s enemies. Now I killed Knights, fresh-faced recruits no older than I was, and never felt any twinge of shame or regret. It was just business. Kill or be killed. My trade. I wondered, not for the first time, if there was a Hell. If there was, I had no doubt a special place in the flames awaited me.

“Do you know what she is?” I heard a voice from the direction of the swimming pool. Susanna’s voice. “What she’s done?”

“I can take a guess. She’s not that person anymore,” Jolene replied. “People can change.”

I turned to look. They stood close to each other, light red and dark red hair, Jolene half a head shorter and twice as old, both faces red with emotion.

My feelings boiled over, and I felt tears run down my cheeks. I stood and walked over to them.

“She’s right, Jo. I’m a monster.”

They turned toward me.

“No, you’re not,” Jolene said. “You’re my friend. I can’t believe that you ever did anything you thought was wrong. You never do, and people don’t change that much.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Susanna asked. “She did what she thought was right? My father is dead, and she killed him.”

“And you can hate her forever, and it won’t bring him back,” Jo answered. “You’ll be consumed by hate, and it will ruin your life. Let it go. Mourn him, yes, but you can’t let hate define you.”

Susanna stared at her, then turned and almost ran back toward the hotel entrance.

“Are you okay?” Jolene asked me.

“Not really. I don’t blame her.”

“I don’t either, but I stand by what I said, and I’ll tell you the same thing.” She pulled me into a hug. “Let it go. You can’t do anything about the past.”

We went back inside and found seats in the largest room in time to hear the welcome speeches by Franklin Jones, a guy from Washington, and a woman from Toronto. After that, we met with our group in the atrium and decided who would attend each of the presentations.

But as I gathered my things and headed to the room where the first panel discussion of the security track was scheduled, I saw Susanna staring at me from across the atrium.

   
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