Adam and Eve ran into the meadow, barefoot, with Aset and Ausar right on their heels. Two young men were with them that neither Carlos nor Damali had seen before. Too disoriented to get up without assistance, the young couple allowed themselves to be pulled to their feet. Elder Neterus splashed into the water, creating a commotion, as Damali and Carlos just stared at them.
"Are you hurt, children?" Eve said, her hands touching their faces and then scanning them with panic in her eyes.
Aset was right beside her. "Please tell me you are all right?"
"No," Damali said. "We just got the wind knocked out of us."
"Are you unharmed, brother?" Adam asked, patting down Carlos's body like he was about to frisk him for weapons.
"Yeah, I'm cool-just like D said, just got blown away. I'm good."
Ausar let out a hard breath of relief, but from the command in his voice and the speed at which he delivered choppy sentences, Carlos could tell the man was shook.
"Good.Excellent.Battle stations are scrambling as we speak. We got the Word, lest you dash your foot against a stone, we are to hold you up." Ausar paced back and forth in the stream.
Carlos rubbed his palms down his face. "Tell me we didn't bust a seal, man."
"No," Ausar said, "but Heaven is going to war on your behalf."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Damali said, holding out her hands. "We asked for-"
"Protection," Aset said, cutting Damali off.
"After all they've done to you and the prayer you lobbed, child . . ." Eve shook her head. "I'm suiting up in armor, myself."
"The Law of Attraction," Ausar said to Carlos, not letting him finish. "You know what you focus on, you get?"
"Okay, okay, school us fast," Carlos said, glancing nervously at Damali. "We don't want any accidents, like setting off a nuke up here."
"If you have poison down in the deep recesses of your mind-toxic thoughts-and you keep thinking of those, focusing on those, thatis what you'll attract to you," Adam said flatly. "This is why one of the first things the darkside tries to do is co-opt your mind and make you turn your focus toward it and away from the Light. But if you think of good things, seeing people healed, seeing yourself in abundance, seeing yourself victorious, seeing your family safe and well-that is what you attract. This is why you have to focus on the Divine." He shrugged. "It is simple."
"It takes practice, man," Carlos countered, raking his wet hair back with his fingers. "If you grew up like me, you had toxic thoughts implanted in your head from the time you were a baby-parents screaming and yelling, nonsense going on in the neighborhood . . . all sorts of sh-stuff." He looked over at Damali. "If it wasn't for my lady, I'd still have some really bad toxin all up in my head. Regardless,I'm not understanding how battle stations got called?"
"You asked for protection at theHighest level." Ausar folded his arms over his chest. "Your wife wanted everyone on your team safe, people healed, the planet uplifted, anyone being attacked by demonic forces helped . . . believeme, that will take millions of angels working day and night. She called in the warrior squadrons. Her focus was justice and defeating the enemy by asking for love and good things to come to all people. She focused on the Light of victory, not on the Darkness. She called for this with all her heart and soul, in agreement with you, while standing in the river of life, under the tree of life, in the meadow which surpasses all understanding . . . need I go on? We got the Word, and the call was clear. Infantries are deploying as we speak. It may not be visible to the average human, but you were heard."
Carlos let out a long whistle. He and Damali shared a glance.
"Permit me to introduce you to my sons," Adam said proudly."Seth and Abel, your personal bodyguards and energy doubles. We will explain before you return."
Damali lifted her locks up off her neck and glanced at Carlos. "Wow . . ."
"One last request while we're up here," Carlos said, needing a moment to take it all in. "On the way home, can D and I just stop in to see Father Pat?"
Ausar walked over to Carlos, landing a firm, broad hand on his shoulder with a wide smile. The two men stared at each other for a moment, and after a few seconds Carlos felt the elder Neteru's request to open a private channel.
So, how's it feel?
Carlos frowned, not sure what Ausar meant.How's whatfeel?
Ausar pulled him into a hard embrace that almost knocked the wind out of Carlos. He held him back as Eve put her arm over Damali's shoulders and walked off a bit with her, talking to Aset. Adam came in closer with his sons, beaming.
Some things they're supposed to find out the old-fashioned way,Adam said, looking at Ausar, then laughed.
Confusion made Carlos's line of vision scan from one face to another.Going to war ain't no joke in a regular human body, man . . . you brothers need to get out more-because this ain't no laughing-
The Pharaoh's chamber, man?King's Ransom?
Carlos stared at Ausar and blinked twice. With everything that had just happened, last night had been shoved to the furthest region of his mind. "Oh . . . yeah," he said, caught so off guard that he answered verbally. Then, slow shock registered. Surely his elder brothers weren't asking about details regarding his wife-that was so out of order and up here?
"We would never, that's not what we were asking," Adam said, clearly taken aback.
Ausar looked five ways, drawing the huddle of men closer. "I was asking how it felt to know you'vesired? " He released a long, pleased breath as Carlos simply stared at him, shell-shocked. "I remember my New Pharaoh's chamber . . . I couldn't go back to my life, as sadly I had lost it on the treachery of the battlefield. But my Aset carried Heru away from that glorious night. There is no other joy quite so profound."
Adam cuffed his sons' shoulders. "Abel, Seth-this is my legacy. Find good, strong names that can resonate through history. Fruit of your loins will have a role, we are certain."
"I'ma, I'ma . . . you know for sure?" Carlos's voice came out in a rasp.
"Ausar, hold that man up before he passes out," Adam said, laughing. "Why do you think we called for war?"
"But, I'ma, I'ma . . . really, I'ma . . ."
"Didn't you feel it?" Ausar said, slapping Carlos's back hard. "If you don't know, then I most certainly cannot speculate. But we gave you all of the tools . . . Ransom, the pulseof life through the bed."
"Redirected from the living waters over there," Adam said, pointing. He looked at Ausar. "The living waters always work, yes, brother?"
Ausar and Adam extended their arms, opened their palms, and slapped the backs of their hands together in a loud crack that drew sparks.
"Yes!" Ausar said in a booming laugh.
"Every time!"Adam said, walking away, laughing hard.
"All I know," Seth said with a sly smile, "is that it was thundering and lightning so badly in chambers that my mother was walking the floors sending up intercessions."
"We do not know you well enough to tease you, young brother," Abel said, swallowing his laughter, "but our dear mother kept flipping a Kemetic coin saying, 'Heads, it's a boy, tails, it's a girl.' "
Adam playfully punched Abel in the arm. "Oh, she did not. Do not harass this man's sanity so badly."
Carlos hadn't heard half of what they were saying. His hand was over his chest as he slowly paced, dazed. "I'ma, I'ma . . . this time, I'ma . . ."
Ausar and Adam slung heavy biceps over Carlos's shoulders to get him to stop pacing.
"Yes, man," Adam said with a dazzling, white grin. "You're going to be a father."
Ausar folded his arms over his barrel chest. "Excellent. Now that that's settled, let's go to war."
Eve kissed Damali's cheek and Aset touched her lower belly. The women simply looked at one another, no words necessary. They knew.
"Now do you see why there is a bit of a commotion up here?" Evesaid, her voice like calm, clear waters.
"Surely you didn't think the child of two Neterus in the millennium, during the end of days, would be sent into the clutches of the darkside?"
A soft kiss met Damali's cheeks from both sides in unison.
"Daughter," Eve whispered in her ear, "the first one's body was corrupted,we had our reasons. This is different. But we saved its tiny soul. It will have a second chance to come back to you."
Damali's palm flattened against her heart. "This is still our first?"
"We cannot disclose the prophecy in total, which is why you never got wind of it before," Aset said in a gentle breeze against her ear. "Some things must unfold in fate and choice and we are not at liberty . . . but you need not worry. This child is shielded." She looked around and nodded to the question that Damali had asked and then clasped her hands together in excitement. "The living waters work every time, daughter. Wait till Nefertiti finds out! Nzinga will dance a jig!"
"Wait until your first trimester passes to inform your team, however," Eve said softly. "There are wounds on your team that must heal, and this could cause some of yoursisters pain, even though there will be the mixed emotion of joy . . . but you can tell Marlene the faithful.Just not the younger ones."
"Oh . . . no . . . Heather," Damali said, looking from Queen to Queen.
"But we are not finished with her yet," Eve said with a wink.
"Or some others," Aset murmured with a sly grin. "Timing is everything."
Then bothQueens hugged her tightly, kissing her, and then said three words in unison: "No foolish risks!"
"Why are you in my war room?"
Lilith stared at her husband for a moment, completely unprepared for his outburst. "You sent for me, said we were to go to theMiddle East together and-"
"Do not dispute me!" he thundered, whirling on her as he smashed a section of the globe. "Tornados, hurricanes, there!" he yelled, pointing at regions of the suspended sphere and sending a black jolt into it. "Why would I take you to theMiddle East with me?"
"To help ensure the safety of our precious cargo, Dark Lord."
"There is a war going on over there, you stupid bitch-or don't you watch the news! Why would I leave my son to incubate in a war zone? My mention of that region was to draw the Light's forces into chaos and destruction and to increase the human collateral damage on all sides. That's the potential epicenter for the world's big three religions to collide! You make me insane, sometimes!"
Lilith dropped to one knee and lowered her head as he passed. "Tell me your bidding, Your Eminence, and it is done."
He leaned back and roared with frustration, his angry form blistering through his human one to sprout the more terrifying version of himself. When she heard the clatter of his cloven hooves and smelled sulfur, she knew something had gone horribly wrong.
"What's happened?" she whispered. "Send me on your errand and I shall vanquish any inconvenience that has befallen you."
"The priest's brain is not imploding as it should have," he said between his teeth, causing her to look up. "Somehow, they got a prayer all the way up toRaphael for this man, and he'shealing! " He began to pace. "I so loathed Raphael when we used to work together-simpering, sycophant, healing son of a-"
"Lu, Lu," she said quickly with outstretched hands. "We don't want them to send redress before we're prepared . . . to call anArchangel 's mother out of her name, given they came from-you-know-who . . . uh . . . darling . . . let us be wise and strategic. The priest is not that important, given your overall objectives."
He rubbed his palms down his face snorting fire, spaded tail lashing the air as he paced. "The Neterus have gone off my dark radar. The priest is healing. A white-light charge hit the atmosphere and singed it. I don't like it, because I don't know what's going on."
"We have a councilman who is close to penetration of their hideouts," she said quickly. "I will send Yolando in, with our new councilwoman, Lucrezia, right behind him to poison the lot of them. The others can apply pressure, as planned, while you move the heir."
"Make this so," he snarled, flames curling at the edges of his nostrils. "We are too close to the end of times to have this bullshit going on. This is not the Genesis era in the least."
Carlos stood on one side of Father Patrick's bed, with Damali on the other holding his hand. Rabbi Zeitloff, Monk Lin, and Imam Asula were at the foot of it. Machines hissed and thudded, bringing liquids and oxygen into his frail body, sounding like straining sump pumps.
"How's he doing?" Carlos asked quietly, brushing back Father Patrick's white hair from his brow.
"He's resting easier," the rabbi said."Much easier than before. He'd been feverish and beginning to hallucinate, and then this morning, it was as though a storm had passed."
"Patmos," Father Patrick croaked and squeezed Damali's hand.
Carlos leaned in close. "Steady, steady, it's all good," he murmured.
The elderly man's eyes fluttered and he was becoming visibly agitated. "Patmos," he groaned again.
"He's asking for somebody," Carlos said, looking at the clerics for help. "Who isPatmos ?"
"Where isPatmos , is the question," Rabbi Zeitloff said.
"Greece," Imam Asula confirmed. "Where John penned Revelations during his exile.The Cave of the Apocalypse."
"The beast was in his mind," Monk Lin said calmly, coming to the side of the bed. "If it fled, it could have left important residue for this seer. Let us employ the standards ofThe Art of War ."
"No, man," Carlos said. "One beloved cleric down is enough."
Monk Lin stared at Carlos."No . . . son. We are old men; you have something to look forward to." His gaze went to Damali, and the other clerics nodded. "Have your wife stand back from this bed, you shield her body and stand back, as well." He glanced at the imam who unsheathed his machete. "We will reach our friend. He is in there."
Rabbi Zeitloff picked up a small dagger from a side tray that was ornately etched with gold and silver Hebrew words along the blood gutters. "From the House of David," he said, and stood at the ready.
Monk Lin gently cradled Father Patrick's skull and then closed his eyes. His smooth, unlined face became flaccid and increasingly serene as his breaths deepened. Soon the two men were breathing in the same rhythm, Father Pat's withered chest rising and falling in the same steady motions as the elderly monk's. Then Monk Lin's face unexpectedly contorted, and Carlos threw up a shield blocking him and Damali.
". . . The great prostitute sits on many waters . . . with her, the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries . . . I saw a woman riding the Beast's back that was covered with blasphemous names . . . she was dressed in scarlet and was glittering with gold and jewels . . . she held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries!"
"Lilith," Damali said through her teeth and her hands became fists.
Carlos nodded and put a hand on Damali's back."Tricking to the very end."
Monk Lin's voice became strained. Veins stood out on his temples as his body shook. His face turned red as he stuttered out the words, drooling and panting. Suddenly Father Patrick sat up and screamed with unseeing eyes.
"Mystery.Babylonthe great.Mother of prostitutes.Abominations of the earth."Father Patrick fell back, beginning to pull the tubes out of his arms as the other clerics tried to restrain him.
A black fog began to rise from the priest's chest, and Rabbi Zeitloff stabbed it. The force flung him back, but the imam caught him and hacked at it with his machete. The blade of Ausar was in Carlos's hand as fast as theIsis hit Damali's palm. Three blades sliced at the rising demon mist, severing it from its hold on Father Patrick's chest. Carlos quickly opened a small, black, translucent box lined with silver and captured the three angry serpent heads that were forming. Damali delivered the death blow to the headless body that continued to rise out of Father Patrick's chest.
"I'm keeping these heads," Carlos said, as he carefully set the box down on the floor. The creatures inside it snapped and hissed, and Damali gave him a quizzical look. "They'll home to their source, and if we're hunting the Unnamed One's heir, they might home to him. They black-tagged me, and I learned from the best of them how to do it. I'll just silver-tag these demon heads, so when they try to reincorporate with the host or similar energy, we can track 'em."
"Yeah, sounds logical, but-uh-what are you gonna do with them until then, you know?" Damali peered around the edge of the shield at the snarling box on the floor. "That's not exactly something you can bring home and put in the family room to use for later."
"I saw the woman," Monk Lin croaked in the unnatural voice of the near-possessed."She was drunk with the blood of the saints . . . the beast will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. Watch the seven hills-the seven heads, they are seven kings . . . five have fallen, the other has not yet come, but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast . . . who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction."
Monk Lin slumped on the bed, and Imam Asula and Rabbi Zeitloff rushed to his aid. Carlos and Damali helped the gasping Father Patrick, who waved them back.
"We wiped out the first five councilmen," Father Patrick wheezed. "Then they reinstalled a full council again-that's six, plus the beast, makes seven. The eighth is the one Lilith orchestrated by riding the beast's back . . . and the eighth one of them belongs to the seventh. If the seventh is the Darkness, the ultimate eclipse on Level Seven, then the thing that comes from him, the eighth, can only be his heir."
Carlos caught the old man around his back as Monk Lin slowly came to. "Easy, easy, just lie back."
"No," Father Patrick wheezed again. "I don't have time, son. The Light is purging all of it away, but I must tell you now-I saw the beast, and locked in on his ultimate plan so I could tell you."
"Oh, dear, God," Damali gasped."He mind-locked with Satan?"
"Keep her back!" Father Patrick said in a strangled rush. "Shield her."
"Talk to me, Father," Carlos said, putting up a shield in front of Damali again, even though she peered around it.
"The seven hills refer to oldRome ," Father Patrick gasped. "The focus is on theMiddle East , but the seven hills are where the old dark empire got its stronghold. Religious and economic sway will come from there, but right now, what you seek is hidden inPatmos -where John the Theologian was exiled. Go to the Monastery of St. John . . . there is a library there. The Greek Orthodox monks will help you and it is built like a citadel. But know that the beast is toying with us. The Greek islands, theDodecanese , are made up of twelve larger islands, plus one hundred and fifty smaller ones-which equals the number six. Twelve and six is the beast's number, eighteen, which divided evenly, becomes . . . six-six-six. His heir will be able to island hop in theMediterranean where there is peace, tiny communities with little technology, gorgeous landscape, balmy climate, and lightly populated villages where he caneat ."
The elderly priest's hand fluttered against Carlos's cheek. "I am losing what I knew, Carlos," he cried out, arching with tears streaming."I must remember, I have to remember!"
"It's all right, it's all right.Rest. We'll work with what we've got." Carlos looked over to Monk Lin and the other clerics. "How is he?"
Monk Lin waved his hand. "I am fine. We will all be fine, now. Next, we prepare for war."
"Glad you're back and looking healthy. I've been working on this all night, guys," J.L. said, walking with Carlos and Damali as everyone gathered in the living room. "Our tactical team members can use this while we're out in the field. It's based on the same principles that the Sandi National Laboratory inNew Mexico has under wraps. It's a generator where the initial burst of electricity creates a magnetic field that compresses charged particles. That compression and quick release is like an e-bomb, yo. It'll send out an electromagnetic pulse that will stun an invisible entity. The Sandi Lab's version is much weaker and real huge. But with our tactical guys essentially being walking batteries, theirs can pack a sweet punch."
"In English, J.L.," Marlene said, talking with her hands.
Damali and Carlos looked at each other.
"There'sfour of us.Me, Dan, 'Bazz, and Carlos have the zap juice, right. The handheld generators would compress charged particles-our noses always smell it before the entity appears, so we aim and hit 'em with a quick compressor jolt. Then a hard release zap, and whatever the handheld is aimed at will interrupt the entity's electromagnetic field-it's aura, essentially, knocking that mutha out."
J.L. looked around as though confused why everybody wasn't standing and cheering. "I also got a serious imaging schematic from G inNew York . He borrowed some of the process from the magnetic resonance imaging technology, MRI machines, you know . . . hydrogen atoms are highly magnetic, and entities move around, going from solid to vapor because of the volatile nature of hydrogen-and we can draw images from that, bit map it, and get an outline."
Carlos gave J.L. a fist pound. "You make it do what it do, man. We trust you on the details."
"I got you on this," J.L. said, his tone pleased as he sat down hard on the sofa and folded his arms over his chest.
"Everybody's good?" Damali asked, looking around the group.
"We had a good, restful night after the little home invasion drama died down.And a good morning. As things generally go around here, can't complain. Nobody's injured or dead, so that's a blessing," Marlene said, her gaze raking the team. "Val and Delores had the day one speech. Ayana had cereal-"
"Yup.Mr. Jack made it for me."
All eyes went to the three-year-old. Carlos and Damali shared a look. The room became eerily silent. The only sound that could be heard was Guardians nervously fidgeting.
How are we gonna talk about killing shit with a three-year-old in the war room?Carlos looked at the child and smiled a tense smile, but then began to pace.
Damali fought not to shrug, in answer to his mental question.I know . . . and we're gonna have to figure out how this is gonna work, long term, for us, too. You know?
"Rider was up early enough to make Yaya cereal?" Damali shook her head and tried to make light of things before the little girl became uncomfortable. "Oh, yeah, this is the end of days."
"To which Mike owes me," Rider said offhandedly with a smile, but he gave Damali a look.
"Forever indebted," Mike said with a sly chuckle, talking over Delores's head in subtle doublespeak.
Carlos and Damali looked at each other again and then focused on Val.
"How're you doing, sis?" Carlos said, walking forward.
Val stood, dropped to one knee, and crossed her chest with her forearm.
"No, no, no, I told you, we're family." Carlos helped her up and Damali came to her side.
Damali hugged Val. "No more of that, all right?Especially not in public. People can't know who we are while we're on the road."
"I just stepped to you because I'm concerned," Carlos said, tilting Val's chin from side to side. His eyes blazed silver for a moment as he studied her neck. "You look tired."
"I am ready for war," Val said, lifting her chin.
"She's not nicked, just up all night holding vigil,"Tara offered. She glanced at Val, whose expression bloomed with silent thanks."A private word in the kitchen, after the general update?"Tara 's expression was unreadable.
"Yeah," Damali said. "No problem."
Again, she and Carlos shared a look.
"Glad to see you hearty and hail, man," Shabazz said. "I ain't gonna lie, the way you went out of here on an angelic stretcher, didn't look good."
"Right," Berkfield said, and then all pandemonium broke lose.
The team rushed Carlos, passed around hugs, and it took a full ten minutes to restore order.
"Now, we can have a meeting," Marlene said."First things first."
"Ya mean?" Jose said, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked at Carlos. "We woulda all been f- . . . messed up if you hadn't come back."
Marlene smiled and looked at Delores and then Ayana. "Do you know howlong I've been telling these folks on this team about cussin'? And it took a baby in the house and her nana tofinally clean up their mouths. Heaven couldn't do it. Have mercy!"
"Yeah . . . well . . . after where we've been in the last twenty-four hours," Carlos said, "a whole lotta things are gonna change."
Damali shot him a look.
"But I'ma let D explain the mission."
"First off, after Carlos healed, we went to go check on Father Pat." Damali glanced at Marlene and a silent understanding passed between them.
"How is he?" Rider asked. "I love that old man, swear I do."
"Yeah, we all do," Berkfield said, nodding toward his son, Bobby, and then toward Jose.
"Tell me they got whatever attacked him," Marjorie said.
Krissy reached up and threaded her fingers between hermother's .
"We can keep vigil," Jasmine offered."Me, Heather, Krissy, 'Nita, andTara , while Marlene trains the new team members."
The women passed supportive glances between one another, but Damali shook her head and sat on the edge of an overstuffed chair.
"It's deeply appreciated but won't be necessary." Damali took her time describing what happened at the safe house inBrooklyn . "And, by the way, there's this real strange black box from it out in the driveway . . . uh, my suggestion is nobody go near it until Carlos figures out what to do with it."
The room went silent again, the only person saying anything was Ayana, who was humming a merry tune.
Finally Dan spoke up, breaking yet another strained silence. "Are Zeitloff, Asula, Imam, and Monk Lin all right?" Dan's eyes searched Damali and Carlos's faces.
"Rabbi believed in me," Heather said, twisting the edge of her shirt. "If anything hurt that old man . . . any of them . . ."
"They're all right and some bold old men. Gotta love 'em," Carlos said. "But we've gotta take the heat on the road."
Damali looked at Inez and then Mom Delores. "We have to go toGreece .Patmos, to be exact. And we've gotta go fast, with heavy artillery to meet the Greek team over there in a surprise attack of the Antichrist, while it's in chrysalis form. This means no airports this time, pure fold-away. Together, Carlos and I are strong enough to do the full team transport that far."
"Before the one-flesh rule kicked in, I mighta dropped us in the ocean, if I ran out of juice trying to go that far with so much weight, plus artillery . . . but with D able to work it with me, we're good tago ." Carlos folded his arms over his chest and ignored the horrified look Mom Delores shot him.
"The clerics have a word going to the monks over there to receive us," Damali said, not missing a beat. "I think Val can hang . . . but I would honestly feel better if Carlos dropped Mom Delores and Yaya to the safe house in Brooklyn, where seasoned spiritual warriors are, than to have them only day two on the team and in a firefight with the ultimate darkside. Your call, though."
"You're going where to do what?" Delores whispered.
"Take her to the safe house," Inez said, closing her eyes.
"Don't I have a choice?" Delores argued.
Carlos walked away to lean on the wall. "You want the politically correct answer or the truth?"