If she could just rest... if he would just relent so she could regenerate... Lilith clawed at the thick ropes of sinew before her, barely able to lift her head to strike at his black nipples with her fangs. She'd wailed so hard and long with pleasure that her voice was now only a weak rasp. Twelve days, and he'd promised her a month alone ... she couldn't stand it. He had to call in Jezebel and Delilah to take some of the abuse be fore she lost consciousness.
"No," he said in a wash of impassioned heat against her hair. "You're my favorite, and what you've done in this throne behind my back absolutely scorches me senseless." He sucked in a hissing breath. "Had I known the extent of your treachery, I would have come up here years ago... most certainly days ago." His voice dipped to a caressing whisper.
"But I just didn't know."
Lilith's head dropped back as she pleaded with him through another blinding orgasm.
"First it was the topside desert near the beginning of all history..." she gasped in an elongated wail, "I could barely take it - then near the burial tombs of the pharaohs that Rome overran... now this. I am vapor!"
"Yessss.... Now thiissss," he hissed, promising a huge serpent-shift in the offing that made her shriek.
Black tears of pleasure coursed down her face. He'd promised her his best and damn if he wasn't delivering. His huge spaded tail was wrapped around her and what had once been Cain and Dante's old throne. In his passion, her ecstasy-crazed husband had actually ripped it up out of the floor anchors, using his tail to repeatedly bring her into his every thrust while holding on to the Vampire Council's pentagram-shaped table for leverage. Never in her existence...most assuredly never by a vampire that championed this throne ... only the power that belonged to this entity could produce such near-fatal delirium. Ruby blood splashed everywhere as his massive talons dug into the table's veins, causing the center fanged crest to close its eyes and shudder with need. Hot drool splattered the table, the floor, her hair, and shoulders. When she peered up, he was foaming at the mouth with his eyes shut tightly, images fluttering beneath his lids from all that his deceased heirs had carnally committed to that throne.
That her husband, the ultimate Dark Lord, had actually consummated a deal in the Chairman's throne, giving her co-rulership of it to prevent any further coups, had literally made her pass out when he'd generously offered it on a cumming gasp in Dananu. Bats were limp on the floor, spent, unfed, so frenzied for twelve unending days and nights of mating that they couldn't whirl themselves into a transport if they'd wanted to. Scythe-bearing messengers were prostrate in the hall, exhausted and weak from the spectacle that created copulation frenzy in the corridors. The Unnamed One had never graced the council like this, not as long as Dante ruled it, and never during Cain's short reign. He'd brought a lover to chambers, here, as though it were his Level Seven lair, and marked territory, one level up closer to the surface? It was so incredible that Lilith's pleasure sob became bleating hiccup wails.
"Strike me, Lilith!" he thundered, beginning to shift. Couriers and messengers swooned and passed out in the cavern just beyond the chamber doors. Four exterminator guards flatlined, the energy that rippled pleasure across the marble floor was so great. Tortured voices rose to a piteous crescendo in the Sea of Perpetual Agony, begging to be able to feel just a fraction of that ecstasy just one more time. Fren zied rats ran around in circles, humping any surface they could find, including exhausted bats. Mating calls from the upper levels wafted down the dark corridor, coaxing the twisted sensual energy up to their realms.
"Do it now!" came the urgent command that made Lilith lift her head, yank back, and deliver a cobra-quick strike against his throat as he bent down for it. The wail he released as they hit the floor and his coils swiftly wrapped her into a pulsing squeeze, crushing the throne with it against her back, caused her scream to bring down stalactites. Convulsing in a rhythmic pulse, the huge cobra head lolled from side to side, hissing, eyes sealed, then struck her jugular.
When she came to, he was lying on his side, propped up on his elbow, looking at her, but normalized in his gorgeous human male form. He stretched out a massive, black feath
ered wing and covered her with it, caressing her cheek. She turned her face into his rough palm and kissed it.
"It has truly been a long time since anybody has taken me there, Lilith," he said with a satisfied smile, still slightly breathing hard.
She snuggled closer to him and chuckled. "Wow."
"Better than Dante or Cain?"
Her eyes were wide with disbelief. "Of course - are you mad? Their throne is in splinters." He chuckled an easy, satisfied laugh and then slowly rolled over to flop on his back, his wings spread-eagle on the battered floor. "I think I killed some of your messengers and a few Harpies. I'll do a body count later and replace them ... I was simply overcome." She slid up onto his chest, vastly flattered, and kissed him slowly, then licked the site of his oozing mate mark until he shivered. "Do not concern yourself with such trivial matters. I'm just grateful that you visited me like this after all these years." He nodded, winded still. "It's been too long, Lilith ... I don't even remember what came between us."
"Good," she whispered petting his huge, granite-cut chest. "Neither do I." Without looking over at it, he began gathering splinters of the destroyed throne together, absently mending it with one hand outstretched and petting her with the other.
"Pitiful," he said with a smile. "I can't even think it back together right now without using my hands."
She sighed, but then tensed as she felt his body become rigid. "What is it?" Lilith sat up quickly, her gaze studying his as he looked up to the ceiling. Her husband was on his feet in one lithe move, toppling her to the floor. His black feathered wings were wrapped around him and beginning to transform into leathery batwing membrane. His tail ripped through his back and he bellowed up to the ceiling, eyes beginning to glow. "Not fucking now!"
It took a second for the image to form in her mind's eye, and then she was on her feet with a screech. "My lair? They desecrated my lair with white light!" Horrified, she covered her mouth as she saw her familiar's multiple beheading. "My baby! My sweet, sweet baby -
oh, Lu, they killed my hydra!"
"It's all right," he shouted. "I'll, I'll... don't worry - I'm so enraged and fucking energydepleted, I can't even think, woman. Give me space! I need to eat, goddamn it - bring me some bodies, now!" He paced back and forth, leaving black plumes of sulfur in his wake.
"My wife's lair? Never in all of history - this is unacceptable! It is a slap in my face; the gauntlet has been thrown down."
Transport bats attempted to stir but failed. Messengers crawled forward, unable to stand. Lilith backed up, her eyes widened.
"Adam was with them," she whispered.
"What!" The Unnamed One's voice blew out wall torches as his size began to rapidly increase in height and bulk. Fis sures began to open in the walls and floor from the fury emanating from him like mini-earthquakes.
"How would Adam find your lair?" he seethed, his voice now deadly and his eyes slits of potential violence trained on her.
"He rode a white war horse," she shrieked, backing up, "and tracked the Guardian team. Adam would have never been there if the Guardians weren't at my door to retaliate for Cain's attack on their homestead in Mexico. Adam followed the male Neteru's energy tracer!" She quickly put the table between them as his gaze narrowed. "In all my treachery, I have never, ever, ever had a liaison with Adam; even I have a limit," she cried.
"You're exhausted, husband, irrational - think. If Adam rode a white - "
"The first seal..." he said quietly, stunned and going to the righted Chairman's throne to sit down heavily in it. "I cannot believe they began the Armageddon without me, like this," he added in a tense, bewildered whisper. "I was sure that we had years after my mark had been upon the popula tions for a time ..."
"The National ID Card mark that spread through Europe to the U.S. - they cannot buy or sell without it - was bril liant, beloved." Thoroughly undone, Lilith wrung her hands trying to console him. "It will take years for it to proliferate, and surely they cannot start the war without the mark of the beast? That will happen."
"In due time. It hasn't taken root yet, hasn't hit other continents!" He leaned back in the throne and closed his eyes. "While I was for once experiencing a sense of utter peace . .. and fucking my wife nearly to death .. . they do this? Low. Just foul, and so unlike Adam, but I must give him credit for that move. It was more like something our kind would do. If they ever catch on and battle like us, then we shall indeed have a long-term problem." She stood watching her husband, frozen by the table, holding her breath lest his slowmoving wrath take a sudden turn to claim her.
"Lilith, darling," he murmured, causing her to back away farther as his tone dipped to a sensuous purr. "Raise the dark covens - dark witches and warlocks worldwide. Raise any vampire not slaughtered by an Isis or holy instrument. We need numbers, quickly. Bring Nuit's pathetic ass up from my torture chambers and put him in a chair - pick one. He knows this team best, regardless of what I think of him ... and in stall two females at your helm. You must see that our heir in Nod survives. Midwives, make them strong and reliable."
Her husband stood slowly, rubbing both palms down his face and breathing out fire behind them. "I must strengthen all the realms above yours to the surface myself - just like the old days. I know I owe you eighteen more days of mind-melting ecstasy, but we will have to
defer given the circum stances."
Absolute horror gripped her as she stared at her husband. This particular Neteru team had confounded even the Devil? Oh, yes, this was indeed the end of days. She watched, incredulous, as her husband began walking toward the chamber doors, shaking his head and talking out loud to himself.
"I always envisioned Dante or my heir at my side when this time fell upon us - or initiating it myself, Lilith," he said in a tone that contained charged, repressed fury. "I must repair all the damage the Neterus have caused.... Always busy, al ways more work to do; when do I rest? Do you know what it takes to keep what I've built for us going, have you a clue?" He let out a roaring bellow that made rocks fall. "Kiss my ass! I never believed the Light would be so hasty! The realms above were always so methodical in the days gone by." He shrugged, eerily collecting himself to his former control. "Go figure - new millennium, new era."
"What else will you have me do?" she whispered, now deeply concerned for his state of mind.
He began walking, then turned and glanced at her over his shoulder. "I haven't decided yet. But I will tell you this - eventually I want to meet this Carlos Rivera Neteru and his lovely, Powers angel-Neteru hybrid wife. They absolutely fascinate me ... and I may need a bargaining chip."
* * *
They walked through the folds of nothingness into Carlos and Damali's suite. Father Pat was shouting on the speakerphone when the pandemonium broke out. Dirty, demon-gooksplattered warriors were covered in ash and smoke, eyelashes crusted with black-blood cinders. They stood weary in the middle of the floor now that the adrenaline rush was ebbing. Shrieks made Mike and Inez cringe as battle-weary arms opened and bodies slammed against chests, forcing embraces to lock. Then just as suddenly, female Guardians tore away, pulled back, and began examining for nicks and demon-incursion skin rips.
"Anyone injured?" Father Pat yelled into the din.
"Every man in here is nicked up bad, Father," Marlene shouted, holding Shabazz's hand for a moment and then looking at Big Mike's fist.
"Douse everything," Damali said. "Father Pat, we're gonna have to get back to the Covenant on the phone in a bit, after our healers work. Every one of these guys needs a full system purge, given where they went. Any opening, down in Lilith's foul lair, could have them dragging home who knows what."
"Good, good, you do that," Father Patrick said.
"We will keep the vigil in prayer," Imam Asula assured the group.
"We must come to you," Rabbi Zeitloff said, his tone strident. "You cannot fly here; we must meet somewhere neutral to decide how and when you can make it into Jerusalem." The men on the team shared concerned glances.
"That is the wisest alternative," Monk Lin said. "Call us the moment you rise in the morning and your full team is assembled. We will send prayers your way that your purges are not painful and your healings swift."
"Bless you," Father Patrick murmured. "We shall close with a prayer just as we opened
this transmission, for these are dangerous days."
As the group quieted and settled down to listen to Father Patrick, his mental voice entered Carlos and Damali.
I saw this coming, the elderly cleric murmured into their minds. This is why, no matter how disillusioned I became on that airplane when we were all together before, I also knew the time was so close. Near death will bring clarity for a man of my years, and I wanted to be a part of this final battle... if I walked away, I would not be able to assist with resources that my organization, for better or worse, can assist you with. You have no idea how much I would have given to be with you at that historic battle against Cain. But I had to go with God's will, not my own, and put my ego and disillusionment behind me for those who will carry on beyond me. Do you understand?
Yes, Damali murmured, closing her eyes. We finally get it... and when you come, there's, uh, something I have to show you.
I've missed you, Father...seriously , Carlos said, releasing a hard sigh. Will be good to have you back with us, side by side again.
I've missed you both, too, and wished I could have been there to anoint the dead and dying on the battlefield... there is so much team healing to be done. I have prayed over your spirits that they may be given respite and never broken. If just for a little while. Both Neterus nodded as though Father Patrick could see through the phone. When he said
"Good, now let us go in prayer," Carlos and Damali smiled as their eyes slid shut.
"Bless you, Father, Imam, Rabbi, revered Monk," Marlene said as the prayer ended.
Collective "good-byes" rang out and once the room was quiet, Damali clicked off the speakerphone, her gaze going around the beat-down team. She surveyed their ragged condition as did every woman in the room.
"We kicked their asses," Carlos said with a slow-dawning, lopsided smile. Shabazz and Rider pounded his fist, and then Mike did, too, with his left, uninjured hand.
"We stomped dey asses good, y'all," Mike said, a sheep ish grin peeking out on his dirty face.
"Shot the shit out of 'em," Rider said, shaking his head and raking his fingers through his hair. "But one of 'em was sweet on our boy - was a shame to kill him; he was kinda cute." The male Guardians burst out laughing as Carlos play fully shoved Rider in the arm.
"This old warhorse did a vamp snatch on an incoming that was so freakin' lovely, I had to laugh - just gripped her up by the throat," Carlos said, miming the incident, and then glanced at Tara. "Slammed her ass down on the bar, and said, 'Not in the throat, bitch.' I thought I would lose it up in that piece, just bust out laughing and break character from that shit. Rider, man, where you learn that, holmes? You saw her coming like you had three-sixty!"
"No, you the one who's crazy, man," Shabazz said, taking center stage with a wide-legged stance. "This insane brother goes running - by himself - a half-mile into pitch blackness. My locks are standing up and shit because I can feel sure death slithering down the walls, bats inching along deciding to attack or not, 'cause they figure, his bold ass must have been called by Lilith."
Shabazz held the room for ransom, reliving the tale like a camp counselor telling spooky campfire stories. "So, I'm like lighting wall torches for dude from where I'm at, hitting it
with tactical blue charge and making shit back up 'til we can get some brothers in there and cover him. Me and J.L. are hauling ass trying to catch up with him, when we skid to a halt because this huge-ass hydra, head the size of a VW, uncoils from under Lilith's bed."
"Her regular lay," Carlos said, shaking his head. 'The bitch is twisted. Literally." Shabazz and J.L. slapped him five, then pounded his fist, and burst out laughing, ignoring the stunned female faces in the room.
"Nasty," Carlos stated with a shudder and making a face. "Snakes all in girlfriend's bed. I don't know how Dante or Cain dealt." He shivered and shook it off, causing another round of raucous male jeers and laughter.
"But C-los blew they asses up, yo. It was too crazy!" Jose slapped J.L. five.
"What about the damned dogs - shit..." J.L. said, beginning to walk in a circle.
"She had pit bulls?" Damali asked, her voice awed as she watched the post-battle, comedown hype sweep the male members of the team.
"Lord have mercy," Marlene murmured, glancing at the younger women's shell-shocked expressions.
Tara was standing stone still with her hand pressed over her heart, while Krissy and Jasmine hugged each other. Marjorie's hands were clasped tightly before her, as her focus ricocheted from one storyteller to the next, then she suddenly began folding and unfolding her hands. Juanita was pacing, and she would stop every few seconds to gape, and then start pacing again. Inez was leaning against the table, one leg jumping like she had to pee. Heather stood still, slack-jawed, hugging herself. Damali could feel the pressure in the room building like a thick barometric shift. These brothers had no idea...
"Aw, man, yeah, they had Hell dogs, boo," Carlos said, laughing, oblivious to the growing distress in the room. "But my man, J.L. his ass was on fire - dayum that brother was flykicking bullshit out of the air, stunning it dead aim. You go, boy!" Carlos play-boxed with J.L., who did quick dips and pivots, not allowing him to land a blow.
"No, Mike was the crazy one - strongest mofo on the planet," J.L. said, laughing and shaking his head. "I've never seen nothing like it! Just hurled a hay-maker, all the way up from Mississippi into a Harpies funnel, and stunned the little bastards so the brothers could pop 'em on the ground. That was insane, dude!"
"Hey ... I tries," Mike said, grinning and flexing his fist, which was cut to the bone. "Just need a few stitches, or Berkfield's juice, and I'm good."
"Everybody lost it - on fire, I'll tell you what was on fire," Berkfield said, shaking his head. "Was when Jose and Dan were up on casino tables, blowing away vamps like lunatics, chips flipping from bullets. It was beautiful. You shoulda been there," he added with wide-eyed wonder. "The place was like a whole golden idol freakfest - absolutely outrageous - and that was just her bedroom. Can you imagine what it was like, for real, back in those days with whole cities teeming with demons 'til the Almighty just nuked entire areas?"
"It was over the top, D," Carlos said, agreeing with Berkfield. "Even for vamps." Berkfield rubbed a hand over his bald scalp and shivered with disgust. "I now understand the biblical flood concept." He looked at Bobby with pride. "Thanks for pulling your old man up out of a canine lunge. You shoulda seen it. This old man is proud." Then he looked at Dan. "I gotta hand it to you, too, Danny boy. You can kick demon ass with the best of 'em. My respect - damn, you shoulda seen these two work with Jose."
"Naw, dad," Bobby said, slightly embarrassed from the compliment. "None of the ladies needed to see any of that. Man!"
"True dat," Shabazz said. "I need a mind purge, after that."
"You might need a little more than that," Carlos said with a half-grin, worry just starting to take root in his gut, now that immediate danger had passed. Nervous chuckles passed around the male team members.
"Yeah, well," Shabazz said, running a palm over his locks. "A white bath, a strong purge, I'll be good in the morning."
"What happened?" Marlene asked, no nonsense in her tone as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Baby, later, we can - "
"Oh, hell no," Marlene said, swiftly walking up to Shabazz and standing in front of him.
"Everything. I wanna know what bit every one of you guys."
"Mar ain't said a mumblin' word." Damali argued and moved to stand in the center of the group. "We're glad you're back - you went, you conquered, and God bless your dumb asses, you came home." She wiped her brow in a theatrical display. "But now that you're home, the fun begins - like, trying to keep a retaliatory threat from nuking this resort. Purging everything out of your systems, and - "
"We're black-boxed at the Ausar level," Carlos countered, lifting his chin, indignant.
"Really?" Damali said, stalking him in a circle, causing him to turn with her. "That means it was so bad and so ill-timed that the Neteru Council of Kings had to give us the ultimate protection - something we've never had to have before, just so we can live somewhere to fight another day." When Carlos opened his mouth to speak, she held up her hand. "Never before."
"We had to send a message, D!" Carlos folded his arms.
"What if you guys couldn't get out of there and your energy dipped, huh?"
"Adam came for us on a fly-ass white war steed, toting a megadeath crossbow, crown tipped to the side, 'cause brother was hard ridin' and ready to die with us, aw'ight - my brother had our backs .. . him, Hannibal, Akhen - "
"The white horse ... oh shit!" Damali bent over and covered her mouth. The room went still.
"Baby ..." Carlos said after a minute. "What's up with the white horse?"
"Try Revelations, verses one and two - the first seal is broken, the big war is on, my brother, and y'all were AWOL on a black-ops mission ... no communication, us having mild coronaries ... yeah, did I mention that's why we had the Covenant on the phone -
after Inez's vision?" Marlene folded her arms.
Damali stood up slowly as male jaws went slack, and placed her hands on her hips. "You kicked off the Armageddon, Carlos Rivera ... Oh ... my ... God. And, do you know whose wife you are jacking with? Oh ... my ... God. And do you understand that part of this whole Armageddon thing is linked to the - "
"Oh my God..." Carlos closed his eyes and began to pace, raking his hair.
"Yeah," Damali said flatly. "Me and the girlz," she pressed on sarcastically, making little quote marks around the words "the girlz" with her fingers in the air, "have been discussing this the whole time y'all were gone. But did ya think to ask us about it... ? Oh, noooo ..
.'cause you guys got a fight rush that made your dicks hard and you rolled out of here
"That's ain't fair, D," Carlos muttered. "And you know it." Damali swept away from Carlos, walking a hot path back and forth. Marjorie picked up where she left off.
"I want to know everything that bit anyone, especially what bit my son." Marjorie folded her arms over her chest.
"That's right, Jack Rider," Tara said, her gaze deadly as she held her body tight with a hug.
"A vamp snatch, three-sixty sight. Uh-uh. You're nicked and nicked bad."
"But that happened before we even started the brawl, baby . .." Rider opened his arms.
"Oh, for the love of Pete, Would you tell the lady?"
"Yeah, T," Carlos said, trying to deflect the argument "He was on it way before the first clip emptied."
"Oh, I feel so much better knowing that just the vamp energy in there could open up his old wounds," Tara spat, her eyes narrowing.
"Look at this," Inez said, going up to Big Mike and yanking his wrist to stare at his wound. "Harpies, baby? Cut down to the bone by those nasty little critters? Didn't we just get werewolf outta your system? I swear, Michael Roberts, if you turn into one of those gray little things with bat wings, even temporarily, you sleep by yourself, forever" She dropped his wrist. "A sister don't play that."
"Oh, naw, suga, for real, that can't happen," Mike said in a panicked tone, trying to talk to her as she gave him her back. "Can it, Mar? Tell the girl, please, Marlene, that - "
"I don't know what it can do," Marlene said, flatly, giving Mike the eye. "We've never had to purge a Harpie nick on the team, because up until Australia, we didn't see funnel clouds
... but one of our fearless leaders, who will remain nameless, seems to always piss off Level Seven. So - "
"Oh, shit," Mike said, rubbing his palms down his face. "Look, 'Nez, I'll get cleaned out real good, but don't go there on a brother."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Inez fussed, sucking her teeth.
"So, Jose," Juanita said from across the room, her tone icy. "What rolled up on you, when you was out there, brother? Anything I should know about - or maybe I should take a stake with me to bed?"
Jose closed his eyes and groaned.
"That's right, Bobby, you betta get it right in your head, boss man husband who doesn't have to listen to his wife," Jasmine snapped, talking so fast that everyone stared at her.
"I'm not getting no freaky germie that came up out of Lilith's bedroom jumping on me like mites and - "
"Honey - "
"Don't you 'honey' me!" Jasmine shouted, pushing Bobby. "I'm scared to death, could kick your butt myself!"
"Daniel, I cannot believe you, of all people, the team's voice of reason, would do something like this," Heather whispered, tears rising.
Dan groaned. "Aw, baby, not the guilt trip, c'mon, I - " Heather had crossed the room so quickly and struck him so fast that she rivaled a female vamp. "Guilt trip, guilt trip," Heather shrieked, grabbing his shirt. "My period's late and I didn't know where my husband was and I find out he went somewhere that might take
Damali's Caduceus - if they give it to her - to get whatever's in him purged! Daniel Weinstein, Jr., are you completely mad?" She dropped her hold on Dan, whirled around, and began sobbing.
"Oh ... shit..." Jose murmured, echoing the entire team's sentiments. Dan pulled Heather into an embrace and kissed her hair. "It'll be all right," he said, rocking her. "I promise." But his words only seemed to make her cry harder, and his gaze sought Carlos's.
Carlos nodded, despite the bad feeling he had in his gut, and then he closed his eyes. "Oh, shit, man ..."
"And this is why we move out as a unit!" Damali shouted, her arm snapping toward Heather and Dan. "This is why we don't do any more solo missions. Ohmigod, Carlos," she said, suddenly breathing into her palms. "Baby ... just tell me, why? What was it that took you guys over the edge?"
"I felt a jolt off the throne," Carlos said quietly, his gaze locked to Damali's. "I knew if I said that, it would freak you out ... but I knew it like I knew my name. Lilith had taken a permanent seat after Cain." He drew a shaky breath and walked across the room with all eyes on him. "Once you sit in that chair, baby, it has you for life - you can feel things from it, even if you're severed from it. That's our secret weapon. Me and Cain were linked by the chair and his hit of your blood. So, impressions off it are real fresh for me." Carlos gave the group his back and put his hands on top of his head. "I knew she was... ascending, getting her power on - you know?" He let his breath out slowly. "Could tell she'd been distracted ... had even been topside ... but preoccupied. I could also feel something release Fallen Nuit ... but it wasn't until we got there that I realized what had preoccupied Lilith enough that we could just walk into her joint like we did." Damali walked toward him, her voice quiet. "Oh, shit, baby, what was it? How bad? Fallen being stronger, legions she's raising ... what?"
Carlos turned and stared at Damali. "Her husband." Damali backed up ten paces as a collective gasp cut through the room. "What?" she squeaked.
Carlos nodded. "It was now or never. Dude who shall re main nameless never rolled through Level Six like that. So while he had her in his clutches, we flat blasted her joint and took out a lot of her players. While she was vulnerable - and you don't catch girlfriend like that too often, trust me."
"Wait, go back to the husband part," Marlene said in a tight, quiet voice. Her gaze bore into Carlos as he glanced around at the stricken faces on the team.
"He never christened Dante's throne while Dante was in it, or while Cain was in it. But when Lilith sat in it - hey."
"What?" Damali wheezed, bending over and grabbing her chest, then she sat on the floor.
"Yeah ... uh ... that's why we had a window. I just didn't know that going in, just felt her power dip for a minute," Carlos said, leaning against the wall with a thud. He spoke slowly with his eyes closed, remembering being impaled on the Chairman's torture wall not so long ago. "Her husband came up to chambers and power-fucked her in the chair - I thought it was Nuit, at first, but I could feel girlfriend's energy dip in a way no throne ascension is supposed to go ... like, I don't know what was going on before, but last night, there was a shift in the realms. So ... I thought, maybe somehow there was a double-cross,
or maybe she'd been dredged for allowing Cain to get smoked. If she'd been flung topside for her offenses, I knew she'd go to her lair and lick her wounds - the goal was to smoke that foul bitch in her own house, old-school payback served ice cold."
"I'm calling for the Caduceus," Damali said quietly. "That's why Adam came and got y'all..."
"Yeah," Carlos said, hanging his head.
"Hey, it was gonna happen sooner or later," Rider said in an upbeat tone. "It's not like we didn't know, folks. Right?" He looked around at the group. "It's in all the books, not a big secret, the end of days are here."
"Yeah, look at the news," Mike said with a philosophical shrug. "Whole region's gonna blow, and the way I sees it, best be getting ahead of the firefight than be behind it"
"Sho' you right, brother," Shabazz said, giving Mike a fist pound. "That's why I got to a real cool place in my head, did my prayers, faced east and bowed to Mecca. Then I did my Aikido meditation and I asked all the earthly spirits that I had been at war with to accept my olive branch of peace ... asked the ancestors to roll with me, and then I was ready, good to go. Ride or die. Can't do no more than that."
" 'Bazz, man," Carlos said calmly, pushing off the wall. "Not to be in your business, but ... the shape-shift. You wouldn't have happened to - "
"Shape-shift?" Marlene went up to Shabazz and touched his cheek. He looked away and spoke quietly. "Yeah ... I talked to the brother on the astral plane. He was haunting my dreams, so enough was enough - and the way the Brazilian team went out was fucked up, but righteous." Shabazz brought his gaze to Marlene and began to stroke her locks. "We needed to have a conversation as men. Said he'd ride or die with me, because if I crossed over before my time, you couldn't take it." The look in his eyes became distant as he searched Mar lene's face. "I'm cool with it. Understand how much that brother loves you, Mar. He still does, his spirit is bound to protect you ... he asked if he could give me a fusion when I needed it in a firefight. We came to terms." Marlene stepped closer, shut her eyes, and wrapped her arms around Shabazz as two huge tears ran down the bridge of her nose.
Tara walked over and cupped Rider's face. "Maybe you got what I was before when my spirit couldn't leave yours?"
Rider nodded and pulled his wife into a slow hug and kissed her hair.
"I'm so glad you're all right," Marjorie said, her tone gentle and sad as she kissed her son's cheek but went to her husband.
"We did it for you and Kris, and everyone else," Berkfield said, caressing Marjorie's back.
"If anything was to happen to you all... after what we saw at the casa in central Mexico ... watching Hidalgo and Duke, Esmeralda, and everybody bury their men and women. The whole frickin' Brazilian team... My heart couldn't take it, Marj. I'd rather go out swinging."
"You know that, suga," Mike said, gathering up Inez and showing her his badly cut fist.
"Swinging for you, baby girl. Don'tcha know that by now, for you and little Ayana, this team... and any more we make."
Inez turned her face into his chest and grabbed his T-shirt with her fists. Dan was rocking Heather gently, his battle-splattered palm caressing the silk at her back. Juanita swallowed hard, went to Jose, and put her head on his shoulder. Jasmine threw her arms around Bobby's neck and almost knocked him off his feet and began sobbing. Krissy
turned to J.L., and he pulled her to him and kissed her long and slow before she could start crying.
Damali stared at Carlos until his gaze met hers.
I understand, she mentally said, her voice tender.
He nodded. I wanted to kill her so bad, D... wanted to cripple their side without putting you or anybody's wife in immediate jeopardy, so it would take a long time before they could slaughter ours like they did in Morales. Every day I spent with you, every night, all I could think of was what if something crazy happened again and my wife ... and what if a baby you were carrying got... D, you talk about how you can't take it, shit... my heart can't take none of that ever again.
She swallowed hard as she looked at his handsome, dirty face and then stared into his liquid brown eyes that were beginning to flicker silver at the edges. I love you, too. Girl... you know how much I love you, right?
The exchange was too intense, and she had to look away. Let's get everybody cleaned up and take advantage of Adam and Ausar's black-box cover to rest, heal, and recover. Yeah... I'm starting to feel every blow now. Carlos rolled his shoulders and rubbed the back of his neck with a wince. In a minute, the rest of the brothers are gonna be feel ing it, too, now that the battle hype is draining away.
I'm sorry, she whispered in her mind. You brothers kicked ass the way it's supposed to be done.
Naw, you were right. Can't go on impulse like that again. He stared at her. D, I really fucked up this time, didn't I? I started the big one. I swear I didn't know who was doing her in that throne - I'm crazy but I ain't stupid. Damali shook her head. Maybe it was fate, Carlos? Maybe that's what you were supposed to do, who knows? Like Marlene said, you 're the only one, alive, who ever sat in that chair... what are the chances of a Neteru doing that, huh? The Almighty wouldn't have let you start what wasn't supposed to be started.
You think so?
She just nodded, and prayed she was right.
"Okay," Damali said quietly. "Everybody just sit down, chill out, and let me get the Caduceus ... then everybody take a white bath." She blew a stray lock up off her forehead.
"Now I see why Adam black-boxed us in here. We're gonna need it." Damali stood to go to the bedroom to collect her silver necklace containing the seven stones so that she could privately commune with her queens. But a noise and a quick flash of golden light made everyone turn to stare at the coffee table. Just as suddenly as the light glinted away, the Caduceus staff clattered against the table's glass surface. She closed her eyes. "Oh, yeah, we're definitely gonna need it."