CHAPTER SIX

Violet light began to overtake Marlene's third eye. Damali was so shaken that she neither complied nor objected. The team had such wild looks in their eyes that each and every one of them seemed about ready to keel over at any second. But the moment Carlos synched up to the fact that Marlene was summoning the Neteru Queen Council pyramid energy, he opened his fist, had the blade of Ausar in his hand, and rammed it into the sand.

"Aw, hell no!"

Damali's time distortion broke. Curious but amiable beachgoers looked at their team in passing and went on their merry ways, none the wiser that they'd just stepped out of a dimensional fold.

"We just got played," Carlos said, walking in an agitated circle. "You know what..." Damali watched him, trying to remain calm as no one said a word. She could tell he was so pissed off that blue-white static was flickering at the edges of his nostrils. But it was good to see that - rather than the other way he'd been.

"Never again!" he shouted, walking a hot line back and forth in front of the team and drawing slight glances from the occasional passerby. "I'm never in my life again gonna be chased out of my own house or wherever I am," he said, talking with his hands and almost stuttering. "We take a stand, right here, right now - if this is the big one, so be it! We were chosen to be here to hang because somebody must have thought we could! I am so fucking pissed right now, you just don't know!"

Unblinking eyes stared at him. Nobody moved, nobody said a word, nobody breathed for what felt like very long seconds.

"Aw'ight, C, what's the plan, boss?" Shabazz said, the first to break the silence. "I'm down for whatever."

"It was a damned familiar," Carlos seethed and then spat. Confused glances passed between team members.

"Y'all wanted San Diego, all right, we're in San Diego -  just a little ahead of schedule, aw'ight?" Carlos walked away and headed for the surf.

"Is he okay, Damali?" Marjorie asked in a quiet tone after a moment. "This doesn't feel Carlos-normal, you get me?"

"He's under a lot of stress, Marj," Damali said hi a low murmur, giving her teammates the eye not to press for more right now. "Hold tight, I'll be back." She jogged down the pristine strip of beach to where Car los stood and watched him rake his hair with his fingers, drawing in slow breaths with his eyes closed and face tipped up to the sky, as though summoning calm with every fiber in him. Rather than interrupt him, she just stood as a soothing presence beside him - at the ready for when he was more able to talk about it.

Within her bubbled a very quiet prayer, one for peace and understanding, hope, and no casualties this time around. They were blessed, regardless of all the drama they'd endured. Carlos had brought them to a place that boasted of seventy miles of pristine beaches situated between the Laguna Mountains and the Anza-Borrego Desert where the northernmost point of La Jolla offered three-hundred-foot cliffs. As wild as the last fifteen minutes had been, not to mention the last twenty-four hours or so, a sudden peace claimed her soul as she stood next to her very agitated husband. Going inward, she sensed the land and drew its el ements of beauty to cloak her, sharing that vision with every seer in the group. Then she drew in the wondrous vibrations and scents of the nature around her, allowing that to pour as balm over the shattered nervous systems of her tactical and olfactory squad members, saving the gentle natural calls of the serene environment for her audio, Big Mike, for last.

Before long a certain knowing overtook her. Carlos had put them down within the oldest and most exclusive district of La Jolla. This place was an extension of Carlos's land homing pattern, where his regal spirit could claim residence amid his ancestral trails. It had Spanish and Indian vibra tions in the very sand. It was all him - high, majestic cliffs from his old existence of owning a lair, and would befit a warrior's sensibilities by being surrounded on three sides by the sea with the steep slopes of Mt. Soledad at its back. At high enough elevation, one could be alerted to anything coming before it approached. He was, after all, a Neteru.

But she tried not to think of that right now, the very real issue of war, choosing to focus on the Mediterranean-like balmy temperatures and the way she could sense that the streets rolled up by midnight, all residents indoors and relax ing at home. Peace. Yeah ... Upscale boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, good elementary schools set in turnof-the-century, stunning Spanish architecture and eclectic designs. University of Cali

fornia San Diego campus for all the newbies, and maybe even her, to get that chance to do something normal that they'd never done before. High-tech industries and state-of-the-art labs that would make J.L gasp, loaded with free-thinking geeks so prevalent that there'd be a supportive community for him and Krissy here, too.

Naturalists, herbalists, green-space folks who respected Mother Earth. Seabirds; Bird Rock. Protected marine sanctuaries and an idyllic crescent of sand sheltered from storms, a flang glider's paradise. Pure water, gleaming sand. Sandstone bluffs, natural kelp beds that drew gray whales and seals, with busy sea lion rookeries, a world-renowned zoo, beautiful family parks, museums, and an elegant presidio... oh, God, hi Heaven, she was

nesting, too - and her husband had found the perfect spot for everyone on the team, even shooting at it blind.

She understood his terror, because that's what he most wanted to do - nest, come in off the road of high stakes and high drama. To make it all just cease for a while, make it all go away.

Carlos took one look at her face then opened his arms not saying a word, and she filled them. He pressed his cheek against her hair and began to rock her gently to the pound of the surf. She understood, could feel it through his skin, his pores, his breath, why he'd been so angry with himself... why he'd gone after Lilith wild swinging - because of this. He wanted to preserve this. The peace. His right, more so than to bear arms, but also his right to a place where he and every other man he respected could raise a family in peace. He'd gone after Lilith swinging hard, swinging blind, and then realized that he might have actually drawn something worse than her his way ... then" way, jeopardizing more than his personal interests.

Damalie hoped that her gentle, steady caress at his back conveyed that she'd heard him, no words necessary. Her steady, calm breaths said that she trusted him, respected him, no matter what; he'd done what he felt he had to do. Finally she could hear his breath stabilize and he kissed her hair, slowly letting her go.

"I got us here ass out, no weapons, and no luggage... I guess I should go see if I can get everybody set up in a temporary hotel so Dan can work some real estate magic, and, uh, go back and get our gear from Tahiti."

He was looking down at the sand when he spoke, an embarrassed half-smile tugging at his mouth. She kissed him and tried not to smile too wide.

"I think I can get us set up in a hotel. We'll manage." Her insides were screaming with a thousand wife-worry questions that all began with 'Are you sure,' but that was the thing - in order for him to be sure it was cool, he had to get back his confidence at the scene of the crime. Of course he wasn't sure, but the only way for him to reverse that was to face the thing that had shook him head-on. So she fell back, trying to keep her vibe easy and confident. "I'll let everybody know what's up, and by the time you get back, we'll be somewhere busting a grub."

"You sure?" he said, watching her retreat toward the group.

"Yeah, we're good," she called over her shoulder. She forced her tone to be light and upbeat as her mind bleated a hundred prayers at once -  Lord, let this man be all right, don't let the Unnamed One snatch him when he goes back. From everything she'd learned from Marlene-the-wise, as well as her dear queen, Nefertiti, making the man lose face in front of the team by having to explain that he'd temporarily wigged was just as bad as putting a blade in his confidence. So she walked, glancing over her shoulder just once with a strained smile.

Concerned stares met her as she returned to the group several yards away, and she stood in front of Carlos's blade that had been rammed in the sand, body-shielding it from onlookers as it slowly dematerialized into nothing. The moment he was gone, team hysteria broke out, and they hit her with rapid-fire questions all at once.

"Okay, what's the deal with our boy, D?" Mike said. "He wigged. I ain't seen Rivera battle-freaked like that in my life."

"Took the words right outta my mouth, Mike - and probably just gave me a Bride of

Frankenstein streak of gray hair on my head," Rider fussed and then spat on the sand.

"Can't do that to us old dogs; our hearts can't take it. Sheesh!"

"I'm saying, D - sheeit, if there's something major going down at the hotel, we ride as a team. It can go down, you feel me?" Shabazz folded his arms and set his jaw hard.

"He blocked a transmission to Aset," Marlene said, her gaze firm. "What was that about?

The way he pulled us out was like a code - "

"No lie," J.L. said, unintentionally cutting Marlene off. "The hairs are still standing up on my neck from that shit."

"Ya mean?" Jose said, corning in closer. "What was it, D? What'd your boy track?" He looked around the group. "It had to be big - my boy wouldn't have - "

"We've gotta set up base camp, stat," Dan said, beginning to pace.

"Roger that," Berkfield said. "We've got how many hours of daylight left, folks?"

"Okay, okay, wait!" Damali said, outstretching her arms. "Everybody breathe. Chill for just one minute." When Dan looked like he was going to fire another question, she repeated the command. "Breathe." As the disgruntled team complied, she looked at Marlene. "We do this by the num bers. Seal this conversation with a prayer."

"I thought holmes said that's what freaked him out - that something was strong enough that a prayer didn't work," Jose said, outright terror starting to creep into his expres sion.

"All right, stop right there." Damali held up her hands with her gaze landing hard on each pair of eyes before her. "That is the last thing we want to get into our heads and spir its at a time like this." She allowed her gaze to travel around the semicircle again. "In the end of days, all you got is your faith - so you'd better water and feed it real good. We clear?" Nods of agreement came back as her answer.

"Seal this meeting with a prayer, Marlene."

Damali waited until Ashe had been said, and then she folded her arms over her chest. She drew a deep breath to bring additional confidence into her voice. Her brief re minder to the group was as much for their benefit as it was hers - because she'd actually seen the thing get up in her and Carlos's conversation.

"All right, we can stand down. Here's what happened. We were talking and a familiar made a side-out-the-neck comment that was a little too close for comfort and it freaked us out. Our bad."

When stunned expressions met her she pressed on. "All right, don't act like it couldn't happen to you guys. We're a little' jittery, after the thing that went down last night - all right." Damali let her breath out hard.

"But a Neteru duo ... D, be straight with us." Shabazz stepped in closer. "For real."

"I'm being real," she said, watching the team's shoulders relax. Every person had an expression on their face between relief and fatigue, as though the quick scare had taken ten years off their lives. "Look, as I calmed down, and Carlos and I talked and sensed for a tracer back there," she added, motioning toward the shoreline, "he and I realized that there were several variables that we had to consider, not the least of which was the fact that the familiar who'd spooked us could have been trolling the halls of the hotel, as they often did, targeting overly intoxicated guests."

"Yeah... they do that," Shabazz said, finally relaxing and getting a fist pound from Mike as he stepped back.

"Right," Damali said, gaining more confidence as her own logic ran full tilt. It had to be

that, God, please. "Or it could have been slinking around those unfortunate victims who were always out looking for action that they wouldn't realize, until too late, they'd probably never recover from. Hindsight being twenty-twenty, the little resort parasite was most likely just picking up on Carlos's tension while we were walking to go get the drinks, so saying anything related to that once we were deep ..." She rearranged her words to shelter the privacy of his guilt trip and their argument about it, but Marlene still gave her the eye.

"Once we were deep in convo about our next moves," Damali said, picking up where she left off, recovering on the fly. "We were talking under a seal when it slinked by us and said something smart - but because of where our heads were, we got hyped and processed it wrong. So the whole drama amounted to an old-fashioned, 'psyche your mind.'" For a moment, no one said a word. No wonder her husband was pissed off at himself and embarrassed... how many daggone hotels had they been in and seen that basic type of demon? But under the circumstances, she could definitely understand his knee-jerk reaction to err on the side of caution.

Slowly, smiles broke out on faces and team members began shaking then-heads, rubbing the backs of their necks, and running their fingers through their hair.

"Dayum," Jose said. "Aw'ight, I'm good now. But don't take a brother there."

"Whew." Berkfield just rubbed his face with both palms.

"I'm saying," Shabazz muttered, as the rest of the team muttered their relief. The only person who remained a little edgy and distant was Marlene, like she was only half-buying the story. Damali wasn't about to tell her that there hadn't been enough time for her and Carlos to discuss all of that, much less reason it out The team needed to feel like he was just erring on the side of caution, and that was it. Protecting his dignity was paramount right now.

"Okay, guys, here's what's up," Damali finally said, trying to wrest back cohesion and keep everybody cool, despite her own fears. "Just like old times. We find a hotel - base camp. Dan gets on the phone to do his thing, just like we had to do with the Beverly Hills mansion that got trashed; the old house and property gets donated to the Covenant as a tax write-off so we're open to buy a new joint. J.L. and Krissy set up the fax and Internet connection with the Covenant and bless the transmission in white light." Dan nodded. "I'm on it, D. We get settled in, handle oar business, and get the Covenant ready to do the purchase -  this time, with us in a blind limited liability partnership -  each couple with an equal percentage share and the Covenant with ten percent ownership."

"That's my brother," Damali said, hugging Dan. She knew he was always on point, but now more so than ever before, he had a purpose and would be on top of his game. Damali let him go with a kiss on his cheek and settled her gaze on the women on the team.

"You know the drill, ladies. All seers, you heard Carlos, start envisioning where there's an adequate property, and Dan can do his thing - cash. Wire transfer makes people stop haggling all the time. Carlos can bring in what you mentally shot him this morning, plus scavenge what we need from the old compound. So we dooo this. If I know Carlos, your bags will be at the hotel when we get there. Then we can all go find us a good restaurant to bust a grub."

"They've got a Ferrari dealership down on Prospect Street, I think," Jose said with a broad smile, looking at Dan. "Plus, down on Avenida de la Playa," he added, looking at Bobby,

"They got surfing shops, glider-port joints - it's all you, man." Damali just looked at him and didn't say a word. While she was glad that the team was starting to normalize, still, it was going to take a while getting used to all the newly hybrid team talents. She just shook her head as they trudged up the beach. A tracker... a nose ... that could see? Jose? Who'd gotten it from his wife? Yeah, these were some very strange days and times, indeed.

* * *

"They are both partial to the sea," Sebastian murmured as he stood over his poisonous batch deep within the Black Forest. Night creatures stirred, the moon was full, and he swept his arms over the top of the magic-charred kettle to increase the heat with a blueblack lightning bolt. "Call them to the water, Siren, where her oracle works best. They may still be in the Pacific." He stroked his familiar, and the gray tabby arched and hissed, then nipped his hand. "There, there, precious," he crooned. "You did very well." Siren leaned over the dark cauldron that was angrily frothing and gazed into the swirling morass of evil intent with opaque eyes and released her voice. Vicious tendrils of po tion shot up and wrapped around the airborne sound that turned sallow in their grip, strangling and grasping it to drag it down into the bubbling hot mixture.

"Excellent," Sebastian whispered. He looked at Medusa and for a moment she backed up.

"Give it to me!"

She stepped forward with a scowl and closed her eyes. "I'm sorry, my babies," she said quietly, and then yanked out a handful of squirming, hissing hair. She dumped it into the caldron and turned away as the baby serpents screamed for her, repeating "Mommy," in high-pitched wails. The slurry in the cauldron sent up a sulfuric stench and nearly bubbled over, and she waited until the nasty brew had calmed before she added her potion to the spell.

"Do your work," Medusa said, hugging herself. "Slither into guilt and past misdeeds, home to unreleased agony and pain and grief... and break her."

'There," Sebastian murmured, his voice thick and oily with triumph. "Was that so hard?" Medusa shot him a glare and hissed. Unfazed, Sebastian turned his attention toward Genghis, who unsheathed a blade, stepped up, and opened his palm over the batch.

"Yes, add your blood, General, that she will battle herself and her husband as though she were battling your hordes," Sebastian murmured, and he watched with dark fascination as Genghis slit his palm and a long, thick drizzle of oily-black blood made the contents in the cauldron sizzle and then flame up.

"Almost ready," Sebastian said in a low, pleased voice as he jerked his attention to Machiavelli. His gaze narrowed on him as he watched the competing warlock preen and straighten his clothes after having just left Lilith. "You're late."

"I was here as soon as I needed to be ... I'm sure you know why I was detained."

"Add your element!" Sebastian shouted, rounding on Machiavelli, who stood calmly, but with black-bolt charge dancing at his readied fingers.

As Sebastian swept up to him, Machiavelli spat. "Add it yourself, or have none. You want my disdain - there, you

have it."

Furious, but needing to quickly get the acidic saliva into the brew while fresh, Sebastian

hurried over to the cauldron and leaned close to the bubbling surface. Angry tendrils of blackish-green potion leapt up and licked his face, making him cry out as the scalding substance raced over his skin. When he pulled back, breathing hard, Machiavelli smiled.

"Surely, you didn't expect a gentleman to endure that." Machiavelli adjusted his billowing sleeves. "Will that be all?"

Sebastian lunged, but Genghis caught him.

"Complete the batch," Genghis ordered. "Or I'll kill you both."

"We don't have time for this," Medusa hissed. "We must deliver it now, under the current auspices. If one fails, we all fail. You know what Lilith told us. Her wrath is tied to the master's wrath, and surely none of you want to experience that." She looked around the small clearing, and slowly order was restored.

"Jezebel, your share is the final element I need. My sweat has been added to steal her focus, to make her work hard and invest sweat equity in all the wrong things. We have all lined the cauldron with our spells. But, you, my dear, are literally the cherry on top ... your element will drive her to insane lusts."

Jezebel smiled as she sauntered over to Sebastian. "Compliment accepted." She slid into his embrace and threw her head back as he slid his palm down her stomach until it slipped beneath the edge of her sheer pantaloons. A deep moan echoed in the clearing, making bats take flight as his gnarled fingers thrust into her canal and came away with green, translucent slime.

"Perfect," he whispered, bringing it under his nose for a shuddering whiff and then submerged his hand into the cauldron.

The mixture went still for a moment and immediately cooled. He laughed hysterically and began to withdraw his hand from the slurry, but just as soon as he did, thick, pas sionate tendrils whipped up his arm and tried to yank him down farther into the batch. Genghis immediately grabbed him around the waist and hauled him back. Machiavelli as sisted at arm's length, sending sharp black bolts to cut the tendrils at their base. The moment the last one was severed, Genghis and Sebastian fell away and hit the ground with a combined thud. The cauldron sputtered, flamed up red hot, and then cooled.

"Call Lilith," Sebastian said to Siren. 'Tell her to give it to the Harpies to dump in the Pacific Ocean - her potion is ready."

* * *

carlos walked back into the suite that they'd aban doned, sensing. It was definitely a familiar that had been the culprit. The nasty little thing had sniffed the door but couldn't get in because of the prayer barriers. He let out his breath hard, too frustrated for words. Dan could handle group check-out by phone. There was nothing left to do here but be gin the boring task of dragging everyone's belongings together in its purest, subparticular state to help make the load lighter and to white-light blast it clean before dumping it back on the team.

The only thing he wouldn't deconstruct was Damali's silver collar. Who knew what that could do to the delicate bal ance of her stones, and right now, they needed all the divination help they could get. Plus, with Zehiradangra still grieving so hard, who knew what his so-called helpfulness might cause. He sure as hell didn't want to find out. Crossing the room and double-checking again for any signs of incursion, Carlos picked up

Damali's silver and gemstone necklace and clasped it in his fist. He briefly closed his eyes and nodded.

Yeah, baby, that's a good choice, he mentally murmured to Damali. The Valencia ... Old World charm, plush suites, in the center of the shopping district - cool. Yeah, I'm on my way... miss you, too, boo.

What was he worried about? This run felt like he'd just gone to the corner store to pick up some milk and bread.

* * *

he hadn't said a word when J.L. stood close to the reservation desk next to Dan, and mysteriously the comput ers found reservations for nine VIP suites. The fellas just shrugged with too-wide grins, and she made a mental note to tell Dan to somehow make quiet restitution with the estab lishment so they could make their soon-to-be highly incon

venienced guests whole. She suspected that the mansion they were seeking might have similar results - people oh so willing to sell the ideal place that they might not have even been considering leaving, and at a reasonable price. Damali sighed as the concierge came over, eager to help, and began handing out keys. She'd beg forgiveness later. Yeah, but, D, think of it this way, Marlene said in a mental chuckle. We're saving the world, so some VIP benefits come with insane membership into this club ... a little courtesy, ya know?

Damali smiled and rolled her eyes good-naturedly. Just make sure Dan hooks those folks up some kinda way, please.

From the corner of her eye, she spied Carlos smoothly mind-stun guests and workers in the lobby for a second and then slip next to the bellman's area with two large luggage dollies filled with the team's gear. He held up her necklace to her with a sly smile and then tossed it to her as she neared him. Laughing, she caught it with one hand, glad that the old him was gradually coming back.

* * *

lilith walked into the midnight clearing, her long Vampire Chairwoman robes softly swishing over the dried grass and leaves in a light rustle. Pleased, she dipped her finger into Sebastian's deadly concoction and pulled out a dripping, oozing glob that she summarily popped into her mouth. The ecstasy spread over her face as she closed her eyes and murmured, "Excellent... Your best batch ever, I believe, Sebastian." With a cluck of her forked tongue, she called her pets to her robe hem. "Release it underground into the sea from Hell."

Bats in the barren trees squeaked in delight as barrel-chested Harpies opened a small cavern in the earth, grabbed the cauldron by its huge round handles, and dragged it into the pit.

Lilith looked at Sebastian and folded her arms. "I guess you've earned your keep, if this works." "It will - "

Sebastian's words caught in his throat as he ducked and an Amazon battle-ax whizzed through the air, narrowly missing him but beheading Medusa. Black blood spewed everywhere as Medusa's hands futilely clutched her head less throat. Her hair began to flame with screaming serpents while her head spun wildly on the ground like a top out of

control.

An Amazon war cry fused with screeches from demon bats, Harpies, and the assembled witches and warlocks to shatter the night. White-light arrows shot into the darkness, torching anything they connected with, and coming at the dark coven out of the unseen void. Black bolts whirred out into the nothingness like tracers, with witches and war

locks taking shelter behind trees and black charged shields, trying to get a directional bead on their attacker. Lilith had instantly transformed into her battle demon form, her huge leathery wings and spaded tail slicing at the darkness as her fangs lengthened and talons presented.

Lilith was off the ground, going airborne when another female warrior voice, an all-toofamiliar voice, made her rum to glimpse over her shoulder. Then her body jerked, and Lilith released a furious screech. Out of the void stepped Eve with two Isis daggers that she quickly stabbed onto Lilith's tail to create leverage and, using strength that was unexpected, yanked Lilith out of the air, swung her hard, and made her collide with a tree. The tree groaned, leaned, and snapped, forcing Siren and Jezebel to run in the opening. Nzinga was on Siren in a heartbeat, releasing a razor-edged boomerang that took Siren's head off before she could open her mouth to scream. "My son?" Eve hollered, advancing on Lilith, while Nzinga and Penthesileia kept the others at bay. Eve released a battle cry that made lightning whiten the sky for several seconds, blinding the coven. 'Tonight is our night to finish it!"

As Lilith flipped up, Eve opened her hand and Madame Isis filled it. Genghis sent a powerful black bolt into Eve's back, causing her to fall as he advanced on her with chain and mace. With a two-handed blow she severed his weapon, eyes wild, causing him to fall back. Lilith flew up for an aerial attack, drawing a funnel cloud of enraged Harpies and bats with her as she yanked the daggers from her tail and flung them at Nzinga and the Amazon Neteru.

The Amazon caught one of the blades and flung it side ways at Machiavelli, who was quickly advancing with a saber - catching him in the liver. He recoiled, holding the wound, stumbling back with electric charges sparking wildly from his right hand. But he stumbled into Nzinga's grasp - who had dropped to one knee, caught the other dag ger, and promptly grabbed his long wavy hair to yank his head back and slit his throat. Just as suddenly, Eve had Genghis on the ground, Isis dagger over his heart. He sent a black charge into the Isis to deflect it, only to see Eve's eyes go to black glowing slits for a moment as her sword drank in his dark current and then ejected as pure white light, exploding his body beneath her.

Lilith shrieked in the air at the sight of Eve walking out of Genghis's embers. Whirling on Jezebel and Sebastian as they tried to escape, both Nzinga and her Amazon sister chased them and cornered them in a stand of trees at the edge of a ravine, while Eve ran after Lilith, lobbing white-hot death bolts at her from the Isis.

Backing off the cliff, Sebastian tumbled into a free fall, while Jezebel used the diversion to open a slit in the dirt to disappear. Frustrated, both Neteru Queens turned on the aerial battle Eve was waging with Lilith, deflecting any bolts aimed at their sister and drawing the funnel cloud toward them.

Instantly swarmed, both Neteru Queens locked elbows to gether and ran in a circle of ever increasing speed, battle-ax and boomerang edge extended until they were a blue

white blur that collided with Harpies and bats. The collision be tween the funnel cloud and the Neteru energy whirl was bru tal, tossing out gray and black mutilated demon carcasses in sparking cinders, breaking the cloud's momentum. Injured and straggling Harpies attempted to get away, and seeing her self outnumbered, Lilith opened a yawning cavern in the ground and dove for the safety of the pit.

Eve's rage was white-hot, and the first Neteru summoned the natural trees to her advantage, lighting them with scream ing Neteru fury. She rammed the Isis into the earth and then opened her arms and threw back her head.

"What was mine had thrice been taken - my husband's peace, and two of my sons' lives. I demand recompense, Lilith! Fry, bitch!"

Fury made Eve's Kemetian braids rise from her shoul ders as her fingers spread, with arms outstretched, causing the huge ropes of underground roots to quickly grow and then knit together in what appeared to be a blue-white spi der web blocking the cavern. Lilith was moving too fast to stop, momentum had become her enemy. The massive tree roots lit just as she tumbled into their giant network to be come hopelessly snared. Screeching and twisting in agony as the white light elec trocuted her, Eve didn't miss a beat. Yanking the Isis from the ground as her sister Neterus joined her at the cavern's opening, Eve leapt over the edge onto the root network, scaling it with blade raised to get to Lilith.

Nzinga and Penthesileia guarded their sister as she per ilously advanced, a bleating war cry in their throats the mo ment Eve put her foot on Lilith's chest, raised the Isis, and plunged.

But something stronger and darker than Eve had ever felt ripped Lilith through the roots, forcing her to lose her balance tumble into the abyss behind her. Frantic, Nzinga and Penthesileia immediately put their hands together, drawing an energy line between them that Nzinga drew into her fist and hurled over the edge, yelling Eve's name. Swinging doubled-hand swipes blind, going down like a rocket, Eve sliced at unseen demons and scythe-bearers, backing them away from her hurling form. Lit tree roots held the slowly closing cavern open just enough for Eve to look up at the incoming Light beam. Demons that tried to grab it or attack it, fried. Still, she was hurtling too fast to catch onto it. But the intelligence within all Light dropped it down beneath her and then wrapped around her, slowing her descent so as not to snap her back, and then quickly pulled her up in the opposite direction.

She landed at the edge of the pit in the arms of her pan icked Neteru Queen sisters, but the frustration of nearly conquering Lilith had put blood in her eyes. Holding the Isis blade like a cannon, Eve shot power pulses of Light into the yawning pit behind Lilith, screaming invectives that made the moon shudder.

"You whore! I will rip out your womb myself, for all you've done! I will visit a plague of Light upon your filthy throne and hand-carve my name into the top of it, you bitch!" Silver tears of fury streamed down Eve's face as cin ders from exploding demons and sulfuric ash belched up from the earth.

But a slow, ominous rumbling made the Queens fall back, and within seconds the blackness that flowed over the edge of the open pit was so dense that the lit tree roots sizzled to charred black and fell away. Legions of scythe-bearers poured over the edge. Undaunted, Eve clasped Nzinga's hand and Nzinga clasped Penthesileia's hand, forming a

trinity around the Isis. Violet pyramids opened on their foreheads, a blue-white bolt of shared purpose connecting them that quickly ran through their bodies as though they were ground wires, hit the blade, entered the dark earth, and sent a fast-moving white carpet of nova-energy to fan out from them. Demons melted, dying screaming, only billow ing sulfur remaining. Then it went quiet, so still, that the Neteru Queens didn't move. A low, warning snarl echoed up as the ground snapped shut.

Eve's eyes narrowed as she looked at her sisters. "This time her husband came. We must warn Adam and the oth ers."

* * *

burning and shuddering from her injuries, Lilith clung to the huge leathery wings that surrounded her. A sin ister laugh filled the cavern.

"Eve seemed upset," the beast mocked as he dumped Lilith on the floor of her Vampire Council chambers. "That was expensive, resource-wise... but she's grown stronger. Rage is gorgeous on her." He looked down at Lilith as he opened a vein on his wrist for her to siphon. "Next time maybe I'll ask her if she's game for a three-way."

* * *

sebastian and jezebel made it to a cave, breathless. They stared at each other for a moment, listening hard for any signs of the Neteru Queens.

"Four of our coven," Jezebel whispered with a hiss. "A sneak attack from the Queens of old like I have never witnessed - and this wasn't even the whole of their num ber... Lilith unable to defend us," she said gulping air out of breath from then-flight. "What does this portend?"

Sebastian came to her side quickly. "Come nearer so that I might tell you," he said in a breathless whisper. He waited until she did, then immediately drew a poison-edged dagger and slit her throat.

Her stunned gaze met his sinister smile as she staggered back, gasping, the opening in her throat gurgling with blood. He watched her fall slowly to her knees, the shock of his at

tack still in her eyes.

"It means that the Queens helped narrow down the com petition," he said smugly as he watched Jezebel die. "Machi avelli taught me that."

* * ** * *

it had taken almost a full hour to get all the rooms properly prayer-barrier readied, and even longer for every body to settle in, check their weapons, and come to a con sensus about what to eat. Marjorie gave up refereeing and curled into a ball on the sofa while everyone finally decided to order in for the meeting.

In the remotest part of her mind she heard them talking. Yes, she agreed, it made sense to get something here, now, and then venture out a little later more rested. A lot had tran

spired. Rabbi was coming in tomorrow. Dan and Heather and Carlos would meet the Weinsteins. Shame they couldn't meet the whole team, she dreamily thought as consciousness ebbed. It was good for parents to know where their children were and who their friends were ...

She was back home at her parents' house. The swing set she remembered was brand-new.

She had on Mary Jane shoes and had long blond pigtails tied with blue ribbon; it was after Sunday school. Someone who made her smile was pushing her higher and higher. Gabrielle! Her mind screamed it in excitement, but in her strange dream, her mouth didn't move. Her sister was young again, and they were laughing. But then Gabrielle's eyes got sad as she touched her face.

"I have to go soon, Marjorie," Gabrielle said. "You be a good girl and run home and tell them adults everything, okay? Don't keep secrets."

Marjorie shook her head. She remembered the secrets of how Gabrielle was touched the way no one is supposed to touch a daughter. It was too terrible and she squeezed her eyes closed, her mind screaming: Don't leave me. You're my big sister and I love you!

"I love you, too," Gabrielle said, cradling her face. "Look at me - you must hurry," she said in an urgent tone that made the child within Marjorie open her eyes. "They made a spell. sent a fast-moving white carpet of nova-energy to fan out from them. Demons melted, dying screaming, only billow ing sulfur remaining. Then it went quiet, so still, that the Neteru Queens didn't move.

A low, warning snarl echoed up as the ground snapped shut.

Eve's eyes narrowed as she looked at her sisters. "This time her husband came. We must warn Adam and the oth ers."

* * *

burning and shuddering from her injuries, Lilith clung to the huge leathery wings that surrounded her. A sin ister laugh filled the cavern.

"Eve seemed upset," the beast mocked as he dumped Lilith on the floor of her Vampire Council chambers. "That was expensive, resource-wise... but she's grown stronger. Rage is gorgeous on her." He looked down at Lilith as he opened a vein on his wrist for her to siphon. "Next time maybe I'll ask her if she's game for a three-way."

* * *

sebastian and jezebel made it to a cave, breathless. They stared at each other for a moment, listening hard for any signs of the Neteru Queens.

"Four of our coven," Jezebel whispered with a hiss. "A sneak attack from the Queens of old like I have never witnessed - and this wasn't even the whole of their num ber... Lilith unable to defend us," she said gulping air out of breath from then-flight. "What does this portend?"

Sebastian came to her side quickly. "Come nearer so that I might tell you," he said in a breathless whisper. He waited until she did, then immediately drew a poison-edged dagger and slit her throat.

Her stunned gaze met his sinister smile as she staggered back, gasping, the opening in her throat gurgling with blood. He watched her fall slowly to her knees, the shock of his at

tack still in her eyes.

"It means that the Queens helped narrow down the com petition," he said smugly as he watched Jezebel die. "Machi avelli taught me that."

* * *

it had taken almost a full hour to get all the rooms properly prayer-barrier readied, and

even longer for every body to settle in, check their weapons, and come to a con sensus about what to eat. Marjorie gave up refereeing and curled into a ball on the sofa while everyone finally decided to order in for the meeting.

In the remotest part of her mind she heard them talking. Yes, she agreed, it made sense to get something here, now, and then venture out a little later more rested. A lot had tran

spired. Rabbi was coming in tomorrow. Dan and Heather and Carlos would meet the Weinsteins. Shame they couldn't meet the whole team, she dreamily thought as consciousness ebbed. It was good for parents to know where their children were and who their friends were ...

She was back home at her parents' house. The swing set she remembered was brand-new. She had on Mary Jane shoes and had long blond pigtails tied with blue ribbon; it was after Sunday school. Someone who made her smile was pushing her higher and higher. Gabrielle! Her mind screamed it in excitement, but in her strange dream, her mouth didn't move. Her sister was young again, and they were laughing. But then Gabrielle's eyes got sad as she touched her face.

"I have to go soon, Marjorie," Gabrielle said. "You be a good girl and run home and tell them adults everything, okay? Don't keep secrets."

Marjorie shook her head. She remembered the secrets of how Gabrielle was touched the way no one is supposed to touch a daughter. It was too terrible and she squeezed her eyes closed, her mind screaming: Don't leave me. You're my big sister and I love you!

"I love you, too," Gabrielle said, cradling her face. "Look at me - you must hurry," she said in an urgent tone that made the child within Marjorie open her eyes. "They made a spell. Dark covens. I could not hear it because of the barrier to darkness here in the Light. But tell the adults you live with that they must be careful. Tell them to get my ... to get Jasmine and Heather to touch the stones and to see if they can know what trouble is coming your way. I love you. I must go. Mommy and the rest of the family are here." Huge tears of disappointment filled Marjorie's eyes. Can I come, too?

"Not yet, little one," Gabrielle said.

But if Mommy's with you and all our sisters, where's Daddy? I don't want to be left with just Daddy all alone, Marjorie wailed inside her mind. Gabrielle kissed her on the center of her forehead. "Don't worry, sweet pea, he didn't make it up here. God bless him."

Marjorie Berkfield awakened with a gasp and a sob. The team stopped talking and planning to stare at her.

"I miss her so much," Marjorie sobbed, covering her face as Berkfield and Bobby raced to her side with Krissy. "Oh, God, she's gone!"

Berkfield pulled his wife into his arms. "It's all right, Marj, it'll be all right."

"No!" she shouted, twisting in his hold. "She said this time I have to tell the adults. They made a spell."

Not a sound beyond Marjorie's forlorn wails and the team's breathing could be heard in the room for several min utes. Then, one by one, people took their positions.

"Me, you, Tara," Heather said quietly. "To the beach near the stones." Dan shook his head. "Not in your condition... if there's a spiritual attachment or something, honey, please, no."

"I got your back," Juanita said, stepping in for Heather.

Damali stood. "My oracle's down, still grieving, but maybe if I get her some sea water and access Aset for a divination -  hey." Without alarming the group or Carlos, she knew she had to break away to get to the Neteru Queens Council. She'd felt a power surge within her that made her fingertips arc with static. It was going down, and it was big. She knew it.

"I'm with it," Inez said. "If the bitches are spell-casting and working roots, oh then it's on. I got people in my family in Brazil and in Haiti on Grandma's side that don't play that. They won't start it but will finish the shit, guaranteed. You know, like they say, 'Don't start none, won't be none.'"

"Now they done jumped into my yard, hard - conjuring heifers ... a dark coven, is that what Gabby said, Marj?" Indignant, Marlene tilted her head with her hands on her hips.

"Your sister came in an astral visit and specifically said that? Now they're sending warlocks and witches, because we've slain all their vamps, huh - is that it?" Marjorie nodded and sniffed hard, calming as she wiped her face. "Yes. But now I also know for sure she made it. I had hoped, but didn't know." Marlene went to her and hugged her tightly as Berkfield eased back. "I felt like this with Christine ... it hurts, but there's peace in knowing."

Marjorie nodded sadly and pressed her face against Mar lene's shoulder as Marlene rubbed her back. "Thank you."

Krissy left J.L.'s hold and went to her mother to create a three-way female hug. "I'm going, too. We all loved her and what happened to her just wasn't right." Damali glimpsed Carlos, but could tell he had gone somewhere very remote within. It was in the way the muscle in his jaw pulsed as he stared out the window in profile. But that was only right, given how Gabrielle had been tied to his best friend Yonnie ... a vampire still MIA and behind en emy lines. Now she thoroughly understood why Carlos had freaked. The man hadn't overreacted at all.


Tags: L.A. Banks Vampire Huntress Legend Vampires
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