“It’s laminated,” I said. “Someone didn’t want the elements ruining their message.”
Erron nodded. “It stuck out for me because of this.” He pointed to a word on the first line: “Hekate.”
My pulse picked up pace as my eyes scanned the rest of the message for clues. “Shit, it’s all in Italian.”
Erron smirked. “Not anymore.” He clicked the mouse a couple of times and an English translation popped up on the screen. “Anyone recognize this?”
Adam gasped softly. “It’s the Hekatian Oracle prayer.”
I frowned at him. “What?”
“Back in the day, when the Hekate Council didn’t exist and the race was ruled by the Oracles, they began each reading of the prophecy with this prayer to the goddess.”
I squinted at the screen and read the prayer quickly:
Hekate, Queen of the Night, Goddess of the Crossroad, Goddess of Magic and Protector of Spirits, we your humble servants implore you to guide your faithful Oracle to the true light of knowledge. Light Bringer, guide your servant’s hands to do good deeds, guide her eyes to see the path, guide her tongue to speak the truth. Blessed is your name on our lips, blessed is your favor on our people, blessed is your power in our hearts. In your name, we give thee thanks.
“Huh,” I said. “I’ve never heard that.”
Adam shrugged. “These days it’s used only by priestesses and Oracles. It was a particular favorite of—” He stopped short.
I realized he’d been about to say Maisie’s name. She had been the only Oracle for the Hekate Council. And now there was none.
Giguhl, noticing the tension, cleared his throat. “So I guess it’s a good bet that Tristan left this assuming you’d be familiar with it.”
“I guess so. But it doesn’t really tell us much, does it?”
“Not so fast. I just showed you the translation of the prayer. There’s more.” He pointed to a series of numbers under the prayer.
My eyes widened. “What is that?”
Erron smiled. “A phone number. Local, judging by the code.”
“I assume it’s a different one than Abel gave you last time you talked.”
Erron nodded. My stomach dipped. “Did you call it?”
He shook his head. “I just figured it out before you arrived. Plus, I thought you’d want to do the honors.”
My palms were suddenly sweaty. I quickly wiped them on my jeans. It was one thing to talk about finding my father. It was something else to face the prospect of chatting with him on the phone.
“Hold on,” Adam said. “Dicky told us Tristan left that clue a couple weeks ago, right?”
“And I just don’t want you getting your hopes up in case the number doesn’t work or no one answers.”
“I think I can manage to not be destroyed if I get voice mail.” I shook my head at him and dialed. I knew he didn’t want me to be disappointed, but his patronizing tone put me on edge. Or maybe I was taking my nerves out on the mage. Either way, I hit the SEND button.
The phone rang once, twice, three times. My pulse hammered.
I frowned. “Hello?”
“Prego?” A male voice. Deep, unfamiliar.
“Tristan?” My voice shook a little.
A pause. “Depends. How did you get this number?”
“Pasquino gave it to me.”
The creak of a chair and the rustle of fabric reached me through the receiver. I had his attention now. “Spanish Steps tomorrow, eight p.m.”
“Come alone.” Click.
I pulled the phone away from my face and grimaced at it for a few moments. Finally, I hit the END button and turned to face the eager gazes of my three cohorts.
“Well?” Giguhl prompted.
“I’m meeting him tomorrow night.”
“Where?” Adam asked.
“The Spanish Steps.”
“Did he say anything else?” Erron asked.
I nodded, knowing this wouldn’t go over well. “He said to come alone.”
An explosion of raised, masculine voices.
“I’ll be damned if I’m allowing you to go alone!” Adam yelled.
“Bullshit!” Giguhl shouted.
They then continued to rant, stomping around like Alpha males, ready to shout until I conceded.
I stood by with my arms crossed, waiting for them to settle down. Arguing at that point was a waste of breath. Meanwhile, Erron sat calmly by with his hands behind his head, watching the display with his lips curled into a smile.
Finally, Adam threw up his hands. “I can’t believe you’d even consider going without us!”
He paused to take a deep breath; his face was red and a vein throbbed on his neck. Next to him, Giguhl was all puffed up like an adder looking for a fight.
“Are you finished?” I said in a very calm, rational tone.
Two sets of narrowed eyes glared at me, but they both nodded.
“I never said I planned on going alone.”
“But—” Giguhl started.
I shot him a look that shut him right up. “I simply said he wanted me to go alone. Jesus, guys, I’m not an idiot.”
Adam’s lips formed a shocked O and his cheeks got all hot and red. “Sorry, I just thought you’d—”
I waved away his apology. “With Cain out there”—I pointed toward the window to indicate the city beyond—“I’d have to be a fool to go anywhere without backup. So of course you’re all going. We’ll simply have to make sure he doesn’t see any of you.”
Erron sat forward. “I’ve been to the Spanish Steps. They’re huge and always crawling with tourists. It should be no problem to blend.”
“Okay,” Adam said. “We definitely need to check in with Rhea and the Queen.”
I nodded. “Get them on the horn.”
I would have preferred talking to Rhea and Queen Maeve in person, but even magical beings are slaves to the vagaries of time and space. Namely, Rhea was in New York and Queen Maeve was in North Carolina. And sometimes despite our access to spells and different dimensions, the Internet was just more convenient than magic.
The four of us gathered around the large desk in the alcove. The laptop sat open on the surface and two windows were open on the screen. On the left Queen Maeve frowned at us from the conference room in her treetop palace in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Because her quadruple nature was nearing the end of its Crone cycle, she looked older than Methuselah. Her hair was so thin the pink of her scalp shined through the white strands. Her parchment skin was nearly translucent and was wrinkled like a sharpei’s ass.