CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The energy that pushed them through the veil was so sub tle that it felt as though an autumn breeze had kissed their backs. Both Damali and Carlos looked around. The en tire aura of the environment had changed. The dual discs of one radiant solar sun and one opalescent one fueled by an unseen source still loomed high in the sky, but a thin layer of gray seemed to darken everything like impregnable soot.

"It's almost like the heavy density of the earth plane is seeping in here," Damali said quietly, drawing her Isis into her hand as she glanced around the main square. Carlos nodded. "It's too damned quiet for me, too," he said, drawing the blade of Ausar into his grip. "The hair is standing up on the back of my neck."

"Get down!" a disembodied voice yelled from behind a monument. Both Neterus looked up just in time to see a large, dark orb break through the sky like a mortar round, its streaking approach whistling as it hurdled toward them. They dove in opposite directions and flattened themselves on the ground at either side of the wide boulevard. The hit was instanta neous and tore through the street, dragging several buildings down into the gaping hole behind it. Unable to do much else but hang on for dear life, they watched in sheer awe, holding on to the paved stones by digging their blades in and grabbing on tight as the buildings that got sucked into the abyss seemed to melt over the edge of the hole and disappear.

As soon as there was nothing else substantial to draw into the energy bend, a hard suction force literally lifted their bod ies up off the ground while they gripped their blades with eyes closed and as gale-force winds beat against them. Then as though someone had suddenly turned off a giant tap, the noise, wind, and suction abruptly stopped, dropping them hard with an umphf - and the opening in the ground resealed. They both looked up quickly at each other, breathing hard and sweating.

"What the hell was that?" Damali said, pulling herself to stand.

"Humans, take cover! Your sweat draws them!" a voice called out. "Raid!" Carlos immediately looked up. The sky was going black. The sound of leather wings beating against the atmosphere created a slow Doppler effect in the air. He yanked his blade out of the pavement at the same time Damali extracted hers, and began running with Damali, trying to get them behind any building that remained. A flaming black arrow whizzed by Damali's thigh, and just as quickly as it landed, a sixfoot-tall, female angel hy brid, dressed in ancient Viking armor with a startlingly beautiful contrast of long, platinum dreadlocks, amber eyes, and ebony skin, somersaulted out from behind a huge palm that lined the boulevard, dropped to one knee, took aim with a massive crossbow, and fired.

Damali and Carlos glanced at each other, the same men tal thought stabbing into each other's brains -  Valkyrie.

Whatever the warrior had shot at, she apparently hit, be cause the cloud stopped approaching, turned on what had begun to fall out of the sky, to rip it apart to consume it.

"Go, go, go!" the angel hybrid shouted, pointing to a cluster of monuments in the distance, then began running after Carlos and Damali, turning occasionally to fire in the air. But the targets she hit were eaten quickly and it only gave the huge flock of beasts momentary pause.

"Go without me - seek shelter with the others in the old palace!" The angel hybrid turned to run back toward the ap proaching cloud to draw the fanged entities away from Damali and Carlos. "Run now, humans!"

Damali and Carlos took one look at each other. "Aw, hell no!" Damali shouted. "We go out swinging!" Carlos yelled. "No!" their would-be protector shouted. "You do not un

derstand. They'll eat you! They've been driven to frenzy. This is unlike any battle you've ever known! Most humans come through in bits, not whole like you, already mutilated

flesh in the bombardment from earth plane. Go, humans!" she shouted, her voice strident as she began running again.

"No - you don't understand!" Damali shouted, running behind her and then past her. She spread her wings quickly and held up her blade. "Neteru, not straight human," she said, her breaths coming in bursts. "And a little something else called crazy."

"Damned straight!" Carlos said, jogging to Damali's side, eyes lit silver, battle-bulked, fangs fully dropped to bat tle length with blade raised. "Let's do this." The entity before them slammed her forearm across her chest and swiftly bowed. "I am Valkyrie, sworn like my kind, to follow the carriers of the sacred blades." Her big, beautiful amber eyes shimmered with unshed tears. "My honor is to die beside you!"

"Ain't trying to die today, sis," Carlos said. "But we are gonna clean out a nest. Fall back; hold the line for the refugees. Let us draw the fire as bait." Damali glanced up at the quickly approaching darkness that covered the sky then looked at Carlos and shot him a mental image of the two Neteru battles that had taken place in the Black Forest glen. All it took was a nod to let her know he got it. Both Neterus began running, increasing in speed as Damali pulled her wings in close to her body, then both leapt up off the ground, locked left arms at the elbow, blades out, and spun. Like a gleaming silver tornado of fury energy they went headlong into the airborne mass of leather-winged predators creating blood-splatter carnage in a horrific aerial display. Body parts began dropping from the sky as demon-hybrid blood streamed in ribbons. The chaotic dark flock soon broke into disorganized clusters of entities diving and bobbing in screeching clouds to attack what had been maimed. Like sharks cannibalizing their own in a feeding frenzy, they began to fall. But the Neteru whirl of white light outrage then sent strobe pulses of blue-white charge from the ends of their blades, the bursts made almost nuclear by the combined force of their locked bodies. Demon-hybrids incinerated on impact as though na palmed. Bits of bat wings, thick portions of spaded tails, limbs, and entrails rained down on the square in a gory del uge. Those hybrids that made it safely to the ground ran amuck greedily gathering the spoils of war in their claws and blood-slicked arms, eyes glowing and nearly drunk off the feeding. But the more aggressive of the airborne backed up, and dropped low to try to bring the fight to the ground.

Carlos let Damali go and both brought their blades into a vertical hold until their speed decreased. He went into an in stant energy fold and came out on the ground behind a fifteen-entity squad of Darkness. She opened her wings and rushed against six huge predators still in the air, dodging black flaming arrows, using her dagger like a boomerang to fling as a death-blade to be called back into her hand. Isis outstretched, anything within range lost a body part until the last of the airborne retreated. Damali headed for the firefight on the ground. Carlos had a shield in one fist, using it to bash in demon skulls and break jaws while his deadly blade sheared heads off at the neck. The disc of Heru was hardly a protector; the way Carlos was using it was like it were another weapon. Blind rage had him in a chokehold, personal safety an after thought. She could see it from the air as she dove toward the battle. At one point he was so lost to the conquest that he'd grabbed two retreating hybrids by their tails, drove his blade into the ground, flung his disc away to shear off two more heads, just so he could round the screaming entities that were struggling to get away, and personally rip out their hearts.

By the time she'd reached him, Carlos had demon organs in his raised fists and he'd thrown back his head and released a Neteru battle roar of sure victory that echoed in the deci

mated square.

When she touched down, he spun on her for a second, slightly disoriented, then spat. They looked around. Eerie si lence and sulfur fumes made the day overcast. Only their ragged breaths could be heard. Carlos flung the gore away from him and wiped down his arms. He was bloody to the el bows. She smiled. Sick as it was, she'd always liked to see him that way.

Both Neterus leaned on their swords, slowly beginning to feel the battle as the adrenaline receded. The light rustle of feathers, however, made them both jump back and take fighters' stances.

"Friend, not foe!" Valkyrie called out. "Come seek shel ter and replenish yourselves." They looked at Valkyrie and began to jog in the direction she'd motioned toward. As Damali passed what had been their downtown area, she was mortified. No matter how odd it seemed, just remembering the gorgeous, white alabaster pavements and beautifully mosaic tiled streets and gleaming buildings that had now gone to ruin put an ache in her chest that she didn't expect.

She remembered how a then-dignified Cain had walked her down beautiful palm-lined promenades, showing off wondrous feats of architectural creativity that were now ei ther bombed out or missing or merely a heap of rubble. Trees had been incinerated in previous battles. Evidence of blood splatter and carnage was everywhere, along with threatening graffiti taunting survivors. Gone was the serene and sparkling light. Now all was gray and a dense fog permeated the streets knee deep so that it was hard to see one's feet. The only thing she could think of as they made their way to what had been Cain's main palace and court - what a waste.

* * *

"Have you influenced human minds and thoroughly shut down their concert opportunities, as I have instructed Lorelei?" Lilith murmured, lifting her head from Sebastian's throat, her fangs dripping with his blood.

"Yes," he whispered with a thick groan and then twined his fingers deeper into her hair. He arched to bring more of himself into her, grasping her dark tendrils tighter as Fallen blanketed her with a kiss.

She leaned into his kisses along her spine as he pressed his perspiration-damped cheek to her back, suffering for entry.

"And you had the scientists send bodies with the veil bombings... to increase the demonhybrids' strength and their drive to slaughter?" she cooed, not mentioning the importance of feeding one hybrid above all others. "I want any force that could come to the Neterus aid destroyed."

" Oui," Fallen breathed urgently against her throat, his body shuddering and undulating with hers and Sebastian's. "I have had them send so much flesh that they should be gorged by now." He dragged a fang slowly up her jugular, testing for her acceptance.

"Excellent..." she murmured and slid her eyes shut as his hands captured her breasts.

"Then you may join us."

His sudden vicious strike and violent bodily entry caused Lilith and Sebastian to gasp in

tandem. The sensation of Nuit's member slowly sliding against his, separated only by the thin barriers of Lilith's canal and anal flesh lifted Sebastian's shoulders from the crimson silk and put tears in his eyes.

Nuit peered over Lilith's shoulder as he slowed their previously demanding pace to a crawl, then reached out to run a thumb over Sebastian's quivering jaw. "This," he mur

mured with a bloody smile as his eyes slid shut, "is one of my specialties, mon ami. Menage a trois, as only the French can do."

* * *

she couldn't believe her eyes. Damali stood at the in ner entrance to the once grand palace and stared down the steep flight of white marble steps that led to the huge pool facing what had been Cain's parliamentary court. What had once been pristine dignity was a cross between a dirty triage unit and rebel hybrid headquarters. Her gaze sought Carlos's, and his was harder than she'd expected. It only took her a moment to figure out why.

"That was one stupid motherfucker," Carlos muttered and spat as they followed Valkyrie down the steps. "He had all of this, a whole kingdom in check - gorgeous options, too," he said, passing huddled female hybrids attending the wounded. "And he had to have more

... had to step into my yard. Look at this shit!"

Damali touched Carlos's arm. "Look at all the wounded," she said, her tone shocked but gentle. It was imperative that she keep Carlos focused on the present, and not allow him to dangerously let his mind to get trapped in the past.

"There are only three hundred of us left," Valkyrie said, lifting her chin and steeling herself to the whimpers and moans. "Not all of them will make it, however. Some are badly eaten

... it is only a matter of time."

"Eaten ..." Damali briefly closed her eyes as a horrified shudder passed through her.

"The gray zone seepage around the edges of the shields pollutes what had already been a fragile balance," Valkyrie said bitterly. "The taste of flesh, the scent of it, and the experiments that send whole morsels for them to fight over ... incite roving bands, and once their appetites have been whetted, they go on pillaging missions. The veiled distortions allow us to bleed and be more than energy. We are now flesh." Valkyrie looked toward the angel hybrids, hiding behind floor vases with vacant stares, who'd wrapped broken wings around their desecrated bodies. Swallowing hard, she tearfully glanced toward several leather-winged demon hybrids by the soiled pool, who hid their faces against their forearms as they gathered their bodies into fetal positions on the floor. "It's the same with the rapes. But those are the lucky ones." Carlos shook his head, so upset over the injustice that he Was trembling. "How many of Cain's forces are left?" He glanced at Damali. "Let's clean up this sewer once and for all."

"We can never tell," Valkyrie admitted. "Their numbers are always double ... maybe triple ours in any battle. We started off guarding the shields to keep them contained within our realm, as the Heavenly edict dictated. But as the leaks became worse, so did their aggression. We were closest to the shields, thus the toxic gray zone leaks. This is how we became flesh, came to bleed - which puts us at such risk as you can never fathom. The ones that came back from the campaign with Cain ... the ones who'd fought by his side were the worst. They became the generals, and have taken up a position high on the ridge where Cain's cliffside lair used to be."

"I know the location well," Carlos muttered, fangs beginning to lower again.

"We can't go up there without a strategy, baby," Damali said, placing a hand on his chest.

"This is about them, right now - not the past." She turned to Valkyrie. "The way they die, now, is different - the same with your injuries. Is this also because of the gray zone pollution?"

"Yes. It is the only variable, the only change to the energy here that makes sense." Valkyrie paused, gathering her words with care. "Hence the physical abuse." She looked away as she spoke. "Before this was a sensationless realm. Only human blood, which rarely crossed over into our world, could be tasted, fulfill blood hungers ... and only human flesh could fulfill the baser hungers. But once the leaks became significant, no entity was safe. They'll even eat their own, as you saw."

"We need to go over that ridge," Carlos said through his teeth. "Right now I really don't care how many of them are over there, D."

"Will healings work here, you think? Those not mortally wounded - maybe I could relieve some of their pain?" Damali held out her hand for Valkyrie to grasp in a warrior's embrace. "Starting with your heart," she murmured. Valkyrie nodded as she clasped Damali's forearm and slowly entered her embrace. "My Neteru Queen, it has been broken into a thousand pieces," she whispered against Damali's hair. "I can't save them ... I fought as hard as I could, but I couldn't save them all and those left..."

Damali dug the Isis into the floor and rubbed Valkyrie's back. Wings wrapped around wings and Damali held her sister warrior until the quiet sobs abated. "Let me see your injured. Maybe the Caduceus could help?"

Valkyrie nodded and began to lead Damali and Carlos through what had become a makeshift ward. Every few paces they stopped, stooped down, and placed their hands on a maimed or injured hybrid until both Neterus were drenched with silver healing sweat and panting.

"Call for the Caduceus," Carlos said. "We aren't even a third of the way through, and you'll burn yourself out, D. I will, too, and we might have to fight our way home." They joined hands and called out with a singular urgent prayer, and were rewarded by the warmth of heated metal soon entering Damali's palm. Walking the ward together with the healing staff, Carlos held agonized hybrid bodies in place as Damali administered the golden light of healing peace to all those who'd been torn and battered. However, those too far gone simply slipped away with a smile on their faces, and before long, Damali had tears streaming down her cheeks as so many called out to her, "Powers angel, hear my cry and take me home - send me beyond here. Don't let me live." At one point, Carlos had to make her stop as sobs over came her. Damali buried her face in Carlos's chest, heaving in shuddering breaths when she came upon one border-raid victim who had been so badly molested he had gone psycho logically blind. The huge demon hybrid reminded them both of Hubert. His wings had been ripped away, leaving bloody gristle and exposed sockets. Deep claw gashes filleted his back and hips and thighs. He simply stared at Carlos with blind eyes and asked in a quiet, dignified voice that they let him die. When Damali had neared him with the Caduceus, he held up his hand.

"No, please," the unknown soldier said in a soft, broken voice, and then turned toward Carlos's energy. "Like a war rior ... not defiled and then healed and left to remember."

Carlos nodded, lifted his blade before Damali could scream no, and removed the hybrid's head from his shoulders. "It was his choice. His right," Carlos said. "I felt what they did to him through every fiber in me." He walked away and drew in several steadying breaths.

"I would have wanted the same thing - to go like that"

"I, too," Valkyrie said and swallowed hard, landing a firm grip on Damali's shoulder. "He was a good warrior. Rest his soul now in peace."

Resigned, Damali picked up both the Caduceus and the Isis, one in each grip, feeling more like an angel of death than a Powers angel hybrid of healing, or even a Neteru. Oddly, the ones that had been badly injured in battle, their wounds physical and seemingly worse, cried out for the Ca duceus, whereas those who'd been violated quietly stared at her Isis and spoke in a whisper. The moment the choice flowed from their lips, Carlos ceased their misery, refusing to allow her to have their blood on her conscience.

"You heal, I'll deliver mercy," he said, holding her arm. "Because when this is done, we're gonna both need to heal our minds."

She didn't resist, as she felt hunger and pain and fear and regret enter his system. Rage, humiliation, thirst, conflict, and inner screams filled her as her hands touched broken bodies and splintered souls, tried to knit back together frac tured minds until she openly wept as she touched the next hybrid. She pulled her hands back, feeling dormant life waiting within a violated cherubic-looking hybrid, and she covered her mouth with her hand and turned away.

"Oh, God ..." Damali whispered behind her hand.

"I want to live anyway," the fragile being said, as she clung to the hem of Damali's jeans.

"My father was a carrion angel and he couldn't drag my dark coven mother down into the pit, even after all she'd done. He had mercy at the end. My choice is to survive with whatever outcome the violation brings."

Damali turned back to her and touched her amber wings as she covered her half-nude, dirty body while shivering on the floor. "I pray that you survive," Damali murmured, plac

ing her hand over the victim's forehead and then made the Caduceus glow. "And may you know peace."

The moment the hybrid opened her eyes, Damali quickly stood, suddenly feeling nauseous. She needed air, had to get away - felt like she needed to flee from this dirty place. Filth and carnage seemed to be clinging to her to the point where she was nearly ready to shriek. Carlos sensed her alarm and pulled her away from her last patient, walking her quickly to the next.

"I got this, D. We're almost done. Take some breaths. I know - c'mon, breathe." She tossed him the Caduceus and wrapped her arms and wings around herself, panting, hyperventilating, gulping air, then turned, heaved, and vomited on the floor. In the back of her mind she saw Carlos working to restore the injured, and Valkyrie led her away to stand where a breeze blew in through the open arches.

"Physician, heal thyself," Valkyrie said in a mercifully private tone. Damali nodded quickly, feeling acute thirst. "You all are going to need supplies, if earth plane energies are here -  water, food, blankets ... soon your bodies will start requir ing those things. I just felt a hybrid rape victim with a dor mant pregnancy." Valkyrie closed her eyes. "Nooo ... then it has started."

"What's started?" Damali said, her gaze frantic.

"The time of all times in our prophecies here, where the veil will rip open and those of us who are worthy shall be freed." Valkyrie looked at Damali without blinking. "This is why we've fought so hard. We always thought Cain would lead us out, lead us home, in the ultimate battle against evil to take our places On High..." Her voice faltered. "It is such a bitter disappointment." Valkyrie spun and pointed at the broken huddles being healed by Carlos on the floor. "Look at us!" she shouted. "Do we seem like the great cav alry of the sky led by our Neteru?" She covered her face with her forearm and sobbed. "I am so ashamed of who we've become!"

Damali went to her and took her by the shoulders. "Valkyrie, you are great - great that you've been general here, have held the line, even when all seemed lost. Your forces will be replenished; we'll get food and supplies in. Keep the faith, and call us back if you're attacked again -  use the oracle, the conduit to me is Zehiradangra, my pearl." Valkyrie clutched her briefly and then let her go. "At your service, until forever, my Queen. Bless you."

Both female warriors wiped their dirty faces and looked out over the small band of restored troops.

"I'll start a funeral pyre," Valkyrie said, beginning to walk away. "They shan't have them even in death."

"How are you keeping them off you here, in the central palace?" Damali asked, panic rising as insanity slowly brewed within her husband.

She glanced at all the openings, which were too many to cover and monitored Carlos's inner turbulence as he knelt beside victim after victim, absorbing their pain and humilia

tion until he stood abruptly with eyes gleaming silver and fangs lowered, ready to roar. Valkyrie laughed a sad and exhausted laugh, her crossbow dangling at her side. "His sphinxes." She nodded. "The irony is compelling. Cain slaughtered his own pets at his cliffside palace, but the main palace guard lions attack anything that sieges the entrances -

and even his loyalists beware." She motioned with her chin toward the huge marble sentries that flanked each open doorway. "His pets mourn for his return. they don't understand. They cannot conceive that he went dark and attack anything hostile that encroaches what had been the place of peace and justice, Cain's court. If it seems that it is not of their former King, they dispense swift justice, thinking these palace swarmers might have made off with their master and harmed him, too."

"Damn, that is some crazy shit," Carlos said as he came near them. He rolled his shoulders and rubbed his neck. "We going up on the ridge, D, or what?"

"Yeah," she muttered. "We're going up on the ridge."

* * *

the fact that they both knew the way to Cain's cliffside lair was something they didn't speak on. It just stood be tween them like an invisible land mine of demarcation that they'd both secretly vowed never again to cross. The Cad uceus went back to the Queens by Damali's hand as Carlos drew supplies into the main palace as a gift of mercy from the Kings.

You know this is what the clerics were probably worried about, but didn't tell the team, Damali said mentally.

Yeah, Carlos replied flatly as he watched thirsty hybrids guzzle water and tear off bread

hunks and eagerly consume fruit. They must have gotten word from On High that these refugees would soon be coming over the edges. He looked at Damali dead on. Let's just make sure nothing from up on that ridge gets out, too.

"I'm going with you," Valkyrie announced as she re loaded her crossbow and filled her quiver with arrows, checking her blade at her bare thigh.

Both Damali and Carlos nodded. "Three is always a good number," Damali said.

* * *

When they got to the edge, the threesome fanned out, peeping over the edge of the precipice. Night shadows were beginning to fall in the realm that was always supposed to experience perpetual Light. The three moons struggled to stay lit. Carlos motioned with two fingers for Valkyrie to sneak up to a higher position on the cliffs where she could take aim and be sheltered. As soon as she was in position, Damali and Carlos glimpsed each other.

About a thousand, Carlos said.

A thousand may fall at my right hand, Damali said, quoting a section of Psalm 91 as her gaze narrowed and she readied her Isis.

Ground pulse, then over the ridge swinging.

On three.

Holding onto the edge of the cliff, the Neterus swung hard, blades coming together with a clang to suddenly pene trate the earth. Demon hybrid and fallen angel hybrid heads lifted from their gruesome meals of raw and charred flesh. They stared at the ground, momentarily confused as a rum bling pulse of white light suddenly rolled over the edge of the ravine, burning out withered grass, making them fall off rock perches. They settled and unsettled, trying to regain their footing like occupied buzzards, screeching in com plaint. But the food was so tempting that they were initially unwilling to part with the human appendage they clutched. Then all of a sudden they understood the danger too late as the heat wafted from the rapidly moving white carpet to fry them where they sat. Hybrid bodies exploded on impact, screeches echoed from inside Cain's old lair. Smoldering ashes were everywhere, and within seconds the entryway to Cain's cliffside palace filled with flying, swarming bodies trying to get out. The hole in the vaulted ceiling erupted in a plume of darkness. Valkyrie began felling fast-moving aerial attackers with dead-aim crossbow hits and flaming white light arrows. Carlos and Damali were over the ridge in seconds, too, wildly swinging, connecting with anything that moved, rage and outrage blending as one Demon heads on pikes was not out of the question. Expending her ammunition, Valkyrie took flight, rage making her reckless as she dove into a cluster, dagger in one hand, spent crossbow in the other. She knocked an aerial ag

gressor back with the bow, and stabbed him in the heart as his head tipped back, and then spun on a raven-winged fe male who brandished a machete. The moment her attacker swung, Valkyrie ducked, ripped down her arm with the dag ger, and stripped her of her own machete to lop off her head. The cluster that surrounded her retreated, but she flew after them with a vengeance, burning wings with a flung arrow torch that she lit with the pure fury of righteous indignation.

Damali was directly under her on the ground, ready to slaughter anything that Valkyrie felled. As soon as they be gan an uncontrolled spiral, Damali was up, blade swinging.

Carlos saw half the loyalists begin to retreat down into the ravine and the threesome gave chase, Neterus firing unre lenting power pulses, further thinning the numbers down to less than one hundred before they got away.

"The seeking wall," Valkyrie said, breathing hard through her mouth and leaning on her knees with both hands. "We have to stop them before they get to Lilith." Damali didn't wait to hear anything else. She nosedived over the edge of the ravine, sweeping her blade with crackling light coming off it before her, claiming some hybrids in the air, and then somersaulted in front of the dank place Cain had once brought her, the place that almost made her lose her mind. She opened her wings in a challenge, taking a fighter's stance to block them entry to the rubbery surface that would allow them to whisper to Lilith for backup. Car los landed with Valkyrie behind the trapped loyalists.

"You'll never take us alive!" one demon hybrid leader shouted as his exhausted troops turned about in circles, not sure where to attack first.

Carlos smiled. 'That was never my intention, holmes."

He rushed forward and slit the leader's throat so fast that so me of the remaining hybrids held up their hands.

Valkyrie rushed forward, her machete raised before Damali or Carlos could protest, and swung. The moment of the loyalists raised a weapon, it was on  -  and over in thirty seconds. Valkyrie grabbed the leg of one mortally wounded survivor who still tried to crawl into the alley as a last-ditch effort. She looked up with defiant eyes. "You haven't gotten all of us," she said, just before Valkyrie took off her head. Carlos wiped his nose with the back of his hand, breath ing hard. He looked at Valkyrie and then Damali. "Feel bet ter? 'Cause I damned sure do."

* * *

they sort of half-fell, half-landed in the living room where the team and clerics were drinking coffee and tea and beginning to enjoy some of Inez's many fantastic desserts. Bloody, ripped, dirty, but vastly satisfied, the Neterus stag gered to lean on the wall, then looked at the pristine new fur niture, and finally decided to just hold each other up.

"Okay, it's cool," Carlos said, barely able to lift his blade.

"Yeah," Damali said, weaving against Carlos and speaking in bursts of breath, gulping air. She lifted her necklace, which was clutched in her hand. "It's all good." The team and the clerics just looked at them for a moment, coffee mugs and tea cups suspended midair, forks poised over plates.

"Then I guess you guys want me to call everything off for the night and call Duke back to cancel the concert?" Rider said, glancing from Carlos to Damali. "If you don't mind me saying, you look like hell."

Carlos and Damali looked at each other, closed their eyes, and groaned.

"Want me to send back the bikes and the Hummers, man?" Jose asked.

"No, it's cool," Carlos said, walking away from Damali stiff -legged. "I just need to get a shower."

"D, you gonna be able to perform?" Marlene asked, con cerned.

"Yeah, I'm good," she said, waving Marlene off and walking away, stiffly rubbing her back with one hand. "Just give me some Epsom salts, tea, and about two hours to crash and bum."

she was still sore when the team mounted up. She didn't even half-remember the impromptu lyrics she and Carlos had spit while just playing around. She knew her old standards like the back of her hand - but dang this shit was crazy! What was crazier as she walked out the front door was seeing a gleaming silver Bugatti Veyron in the driveway. Sore as her body was, that made her run across the expanse and grab her husband's arm. She spun him around so fast that he laughed.

"Hey, watch it, baby - that's my blade arm. Gonna need it tonight." Damali thrust her chin up, double sealed the channel around them when curious stares met them. "A word. Briefly, Mr. Rivera."

Quiet chuckles followed them as she strode over to the shining silver car, but everyone kept loading equipment and ammunition, trying to pretend to be minding their own busi

ness.

You stole a car with clerics in the house? You crazy, Car los! She folded her arms over her chest and glimpsed over her shoulder. We can't be rolling like that no more. I did 't steal it, I borrowed it - plus I had a four-hundred-thousand-dollar deposit down on it, and -

Oh, my God, I'm not hearing this  -  take it back.

But, baby, I paid for it in full... wire transfer. It's all legal. You doctored the paperwork, tell me I'm lying. She got in his face, her eyes hard and her mouth in a tight line. This was their only floor model in the region from the car show and you jacked it right off the showroom floor and changed all the mess on the papers, didn't you?

He touched her face and began to stroke her cheek. I did it for you, baby . . . after the way I saw you fight over there in Nod, and all the healings, all the -

You did not do that for me, she said, pointing at his chest hard with every word.

"Ow ... dang ... well, the car is in your name." He cocked his head to the side with a chuckle and shrugged.

"My what!"

"If you don't want it..." His smile widened. "But that pretty, red, sassy, Saleen S7 parked behind the cleric's limo is mine."

"Take it back." Damali grabbed her locks with both fists. "Take them both back. We're going to jail."

"Now how would that seem? We ain't got time, it would raise all sorts of legal questions, and - "

"Carlos Rivera, I swear to you - "

He kissed her quickly and held her face . I did too do it for you. You 're exhausted and can't fly - now this time you tell me if I'm lying.

When she didn't answer he nodded and kissed her eyelids until all resistance left her. This is the closest thing to a rocket on the ground that I can give you to get you out of harm's way. I'm exhausted, too. My foldaway needs about eight hours and a dog gone bowl of Wheaties, ya know? So I want my wife to put her key in the car, crank the engine, and get out of Dodge with the team, if something crazy jumps off. That's all I'm saying. Is that so wrong?

" How come when I argue with you, I always feel like I'm the one who's crazy?" she said, finally hugging him.

Carlos smiled as Rider called out, ribbing him. "Hey, D, I love the new ride!"


Tags: L.A. Banks Vampire Huntress Legend Vampires
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