The team landed on a small jewel in theAegean Sea that seemed to be lost somewhere in early biblical time. Balmy Mediterranean breezes blew light wildflower fragrances in all directions. From the top of the mountain where the monastery was perched, small, rolling hills of green dotted by white houses were surrounded by a gorgeous, azure sea.
"Oh, this is so beautiful, Damali," her pearl crooned from the platinum necklace she hadn't worn in months since her oracle's illness."Greece. . . where theTemple of the Goddess Diana was built-the ancient cities. Oh! Isn't it just breathtaking?"
"It is," Damali said quietly, "but no talking and scaring the monks. I'll take you to the sea, if there's time, okay,honey ?"
"Oh, I'd like that . . . bathing and joy is good for-"
"Shush," Damali whispered. "Remember our talk?"
"Yes, yes, just when it's you and Carlos around . . . but I amso excited ."
"No more outbursts, unless there's an emergency."
"I understand. Bye," the pearl cooed good-naturedly, then became dormant again.
Damali looked around, marveling with the team. Pretty rock-strewn beaches and coves too numerous to count fringed the island. They'd been told by Imam Asula that with only a tiny, highly religious population of three thousand residents, there would be no heavy traffic, no nightclubs, and the streets rolled up at night. The island had been invaded and changed hands since five hundredB.C. , from Romans to Turks to Ottomans and Persians; practically every force in the region had stopped by to beset this speck of land.
Therefore, just as the clerics had warned, the monastery atPatmos was indeed a fortress that looked more like a medieval castle than holy retreat.
Fifteen-foot-high stone walls enclosed the citadel from the outside world, and winding, narrow, intentionally confusing streets provided escape routes during hostile invasions. The open balconies were not victims of wood rot or neglect, but were floorless by design. This encampment of monks had a long history of sieges against pirate attacks, and the lack of flooring was to permit hot boiling oil to be poured down on invaders. Buildings annexed buildings as though the fortress had begun as a single cell and then split repeatedly within a predefined footprint. There was one door in and one door out to the huge network of structures.
Damali and Carlos glanced at each other. The seers in the group were scanning the premises, too, and were bouncing mental signals to those in the group without the gift. Yet despite the severity of the exterior, the interior was beautifully Byzantine with a bell tower and cells built around the chief nave. Ten chapels, the cave whereSt. John was exiled and received his visions for the last book in the New Testament, a massive library, a bakery, and a museum-a small city within a city had been created here. Pretty whitewashed stucco buildings, well-kept gardens with brilliantly colored flowers, and serenity that echoed from the stones made Damali sigh. Why here? Why would evil bring its vile carcass to this paradise?
They'd disturbed the monastery's serenity in the quiet town ofHora today for sure. This was a place where driving wasn't even allowed. A ring of Eastern Orthodox monks quickly rushed in to greet the team, profusely crossing themselves and welcoming them in an agitated linguistic flurry. Though clearly prepared by the Covenant for the team's arrival, their hosts still obviously found them a subject of awe.
"Greetings and blessings, welcome to theIsland of the Apocalypse," a tall, rotund friar said as he ambled forward. "I am Koustsanellos." He wore sandals and traditional monk's robes, and had a wide, friendly face and wiry salt-and-pepper hair that had receded in the middle into a shiny horseshoe. His eyes sparkled with excitement and there was a keen intelligence in them, too.
But the team simply gaped at his description of the island. Island of the Apocalypse didn't sound good at all. While the man might have been talking about a metaphorical apocalypse, as in whereSt. John wrote his apocalyptic vision, the Book of Revelations, the statement visibly worried the team.
"Father Koustsanellos, thank you for having us," Damali said, trying to restore civility throughout the unnerved team.
"We appreciate it, sir," Carlos said, and then went around the group making introductions.
"Our brothers can settle your things in your rooms," their gregarious host said, but then he hesitated. "Although you are married . . . the ladies must stay at the nunnery. I hope you understand?"
"Yeah, sure, Father," Carlos said slowly, reading the concern in everyone's eyes. Splitting up the group was not part of protocol.
"The Nunnery of the Annunciation is within the same town, only a fifteen-minute leisurely walk from our Monastery of St. John, and on the southwest side of Hora overlooking theBayofKypos ," the monk said, and he smiled as bodies relaxed all around him. "Then, we lunch!"
He waved the team forward, but Big Mike hung back. He cringed as two monks lifted a trunk and dropped one end.
"Uhmmm, not to be overly cautious, but some of this ammo should only be handled by folks who know what they're doing," Mike said quietly to Carlos. "That has the launcher and grenades in it. Don't needno incidents, feel me?"
"Uh, Father," Carlos said, stopping the man's long strides. "We have some pretty hazardous materials for the job we've gotta do. Any chance there's somewhere safe our guys can stash it, where no one will accidentally get hurt?"
Just as the large friar was about to object on the grounds of hospitality, two monks tried to lift a silver case, but dropped it and ran as it squealed and hissed. The case bumped up and down on the ground as though a Tasmanian devil were locked inside it. The monks made the sign of the cross over their chests, which only seemed to agitate the unseen thing in the case more.
"Itold you to leave that mess inBrooklyn or let me kill it, Carlos," Damali fussed in a low tone.
"Might need it for later, boo."Carlos looked at the case and then at the concerned monks. "We got it during an exorcism to use it like a hunting dog . . . and it's probably really agitated being cased in silver and sitting on hallowed ground right through here." He went over to the case and kicked it. "Serves your nasty little . . . serves you right, now shut up!"
For a moment the gathered monks said nothing. One whispered to the lead friar and pointed to a large clay pot that sat in the courtyard, filled with water.
"My brother friar suggests we dunk it in the holy water here, which should sufficiently subdue it," Koustsanellos offered.
Carlos kicked the case again. "You hear that? We're up here whereSt. John did his thing and these guys don't play. They're seriously talking about drowning you in holy water from wells that go back to Christ's time, so what's it gonna be?" He folded his arms over his chest as the silver case went still and released a little squeal of terror. "Yeah, I thought you'd see it my way." He turned to Father Koustsanellos. "You better let me move that case, but lunch sounds real good."
Damali rolled her eyes and then tried to allay the monks' fears as much as possible. "Fathers, we're only here to get some information, and have no intention of opening up a firefight here . . . in fact, if you just want to move our things to a safe place, temporarily, as soon as we tour the facilities and visit your library, we'll leave you wonderful gentlemen in peace . . . I'm sure there are rooms we can rent closer to the shore points."
"Yes, yes, we will accommodate your relocation for your comfort-this is a much better plan," Father Koustsanellos said, appearing totally relieved. His fellow friars' shoulders dropped by inches, and friendly smiles again replaced sheer-panic-laden expressions.
"Come. As is customary in our homeland, food shared with guests is a way to show our warmth. You will not have to eat at a local taverna, no. Here we have the freshest meats and vegetables. Our brothers have mademezedes of all flavors-as we were told some of your team are kosher, some are vegetarian, and that others eat meat in your group . . . we made fried meatballs, squash balls, octopus and squid, olives, cheese, stuffed vine leaves, and our famoustzatziki . . . this is, hmmm, garlic yogurt and cucumbers, yes? You will like.Eggplant dip with small sausages. They also made lamb kabobs, andpastitsio -macaroni pasta and tomatoes . . .stifado -braised beef with onions, and grilled lamb chops-paidakia. Our bakery is literally divine, and our breads-oh! The butter and cheeses will make you weep."
They followed behind the ecstatic friar who spoke with grand, sweeping waves of his hand. It was not lost on the group in the least that the man was practically jumping for joy that they wouldn't be staying atSt. John's , but who could blame him? After what happened to the joint inHarlem , there'd be no way to replace the level of religious antiquity here if a firefight broke out.
Hours passed as the meal was consumed in wave after wave of aromatic courses. The large group took their meal in the refectory, where the monks ate their meals together at two long, marble-covered tables. Beautiful frescoes and paintings dating back to the eleven hundreds covered the walls. Rushing the friars was not an option. Something embedded in their cultural DNA made the whole process of eating and breaking bread an experience, not just an act of nourishing the body. It was holistic, including the mind, body, as well as the spirit. The team gave in to the process without a struggle. They'd already been through the ringer the night before, and no one was too anxious to begin a new mission.
But between creamy yogurts made from the freshest ingredients and saut�ed vegetables seasoned like she'd never had in her life, Damali was able to glean basic information from the friar without giving the poor man acid indigestion.
They'd learned that Psili Ammos was the most beautiful beach, one that was also the most remote, exotic, and surrounded by wilderness. It was only a twenty-minute walk by way of the little footpath over the mountain. The friar also let on that if one were discreet, one could bathe in the skinny. That level of seclusion meant that said beach sounded like a good place to set up temporary camp and have a full team meeting without eavesdroppers. After the tour, that would be good. One thing for sure, they'd have to get moving before everyone fell asleep where they sat.
But first, she needed to see the library, even though she hadn't a clue to what she was looking for. Father Patrick had sent them on a mission toPatmos for a reason, even though he wasn't sure exactly why. Maybe he thought that at this particular citadel, if the Darknesscame calling, it was their best stronghold against it. Who knew?
"So, then we must go to fulfill your curiosity," Father Koustsanellos said to Carlos. He stood patting his belly, making the group smile, and everyone slowly got up and stretched, commenting on how fantastic the meal had been.
"This library," their host said with pride, "is today considered one of the foremost libraries of Christianity. Manuscripts, vellum codices, even books written on cotton . . . works include Xenofonta, Plato, the Great Philosophical School of Mystra, and the classic text, Aristotle'sAccuses . By the thirteenth century it was stocked full and kept on growing . . . it is called theSoulHospital ."
Damali's and Carlos's attention jerked toward each other at the mention of the place being a soul hospital. They entered the massive room that had every wall lined with grand, carved wooden bookshelves. The center was supported by stone columns, and plaster arches loomed high.
"We like to believe thatSt. John also blesses this library, as he is the patron saint of booksellers and the fine arts . . . remember his trials and burdens," the friar said, folding his hands over his barrel stomach. "He was arrested and thrown into a vat of burning oil, from which he emerged unhurt. Then he was exiled here in the company of an eagle, where he wrote Revelations . . . then upon his return to Ephesus eighteen month later, he survived yet another ordeal set up by the high priest of Ephesus-they poisoned the man," he whispered, drawing Guardians in close. "They offered the saint a golden chalice, but John blessed it, and the venom-in the form of a snake-was drawn from the liquid."
"This is what he must have been trying to warn us of," Val said excitedly and stepped back.
"Pardon?" the monk said, confused as his gaze roved the team.
"Yolando told me to be careful what I eat and bless it for everybody." Valkyrie walked over to Damali. "May I share with you?"
"Yeah, girl, c'mon-if you've got info, spit it out."
"Father, do you have docs that date back to that time we can see, so we can see what John actually said over the chalice?" Carlos was already scanning the walls as he asked the question.
"Absolutely," the monk said, rushing about the shelves as Damali stepped to the side to privately confer with Valkyrie.
"Talk to me, girl." Damali's gaze was unblinking.
"Some of this is very private," Val said and then looked away. "I should not like for the more intimate details to be shared with the male Neteru."
"I'll respect that-your source is Yonnie, right? I understand more than you know."
The two women shared a look.
"Yes," Val said quietly. "And at some point, if you deem it within your heart, I would appreciateany advice you would graciously share with me on how to manage these . . . feelings and my role as a warrior. I am so beset by conflict. You have balanced your role with dignity and grace. I aspire."
Damali hugged her. "We'll talk, lady-I promise. Let me in. I cast no judgment. But if there's something dangerous we need to know, we can't tap-dance around it."
Valkyrie immediately relaxed and the brief comment from Yonnie filled Damali's mind. She looked past the broiling scene and kept focusing on Yonnie's words. Then white arsenic surfaced from the passion haze that had buried it in Val's consciousness.
"Lucrezia!"Damali breathed. She dropped her hold on Val and all eyes turned toward her. "The queen of poison-white arsenic being her specialty, is a new councilwoman and Nuit's latest . . . wife." Damali looked around and blew a stray lock up off her forehead. "That means water, food, even toothpaste, gang, you've gotta say whateverSt. John did over your stuff until we get past this drama. But that's part of why we came here. They could have taken us out without even firing the first warning shot."
"You do not have to worry about anything you had here. There's a flour mill on the premises, we make our own wine,all of our food is made from here." Father Koustsanellos said, seeming nervous. His brow seemed feverish and Damali looked from him to Big Mike.
Carlos stepped away from the shelves."How you feeling, big guy?"
"Just a little dizzy, youknow, the hot air and eating like a champ . . . I'll be cool in a while," Mike said.
"Anybody know the reaction time of arsenic?" Damali said frantically, going to each team member as her mouth went dry.
"From my old cop days we had a murder case where a wife took out her husband-forensics said you start feeling sick anywhere between a half-hour after ingesting it to twenty-four, but it sneaks up on you." Berkfield looked at Damali and Carlos, then his wife and kids.
"Symptoms, Medic? What were the symptoms?" Carlos said, his voice escalating in the quiet, vaulted room.
"Nausea, vomiting," Berkfield said."Same things common to travel in a foreign country if you drink the local water." He wiped a palm over his now sweaty, bald scalp."Visual impairment, dizziness.Rashes, burning pains in the hands and feet."
"Everybody line up," Damali said, rushing to Jasmine who had a large red rash beginning to spread over her throat. "Carlos, you got that doc?"
"On it," he said, holding a fragile parchment.
"But I don't understand," the monk exclaimed. "How could evil cross here? We said a blessing on the food!"
"They didn't send supernatural forces, Father," Damali said, reading the words as she talked to the distressed monk. "That cannot cross into hallowed ground. All it takes is one kitchen staff member or one guy at the market to give you a bad batch of whatever food you ordered, and have it tainted. If it's a natural element, like arsenic, it can cross into theVatican , and we know popes in the past have been assassinated like that."
The monk crossed himself as Damali and Carlos studied the writings and began to speak in unison.
"We could sure use your help, Father," Carlos said, getting the monk to join in.
Within moments of completing the words, every member of the team, as well as the friar, dry heaved and belched up twisting, angry serpents. Blades drawn, Damali and Carlos made quick work of severing the snapping heads. Witnessing monks dashed to find holy water and returned, splashing the gore until it was thoroughly incinerated.
Team members leaned back against the bookshelves, breathing deeply and slowly recovering.
"Damn . . . that was so messed up," Inez said." 'Cause I really, really loved their bread."
The team trudged into the Cave of the Apocalypse, winded, but on a mission more than ever before. A dim stone grotto surrounded by a sanctuary and filled with priceless icons greeted them. Heather's and Jasmine's hands immediately went to the stone walls, pulling in impressions. Damali's gaze raked the interior. Why did Father Patrick mention this place, just to keep them from getting poisoned?
"Over there," the much-subdued friar said. "The three fissures in the wall are whereSt. John received his visions."
All was still . . . nothing penetrated their psyches. Disappointment loomed heavy, even as they entered the main chapel and stared at the breathtaking sculptures and glorious friezes. There were thrones with mother-of-pearl inlaid in rich mahogany wood, and the holy altar which was built from the ruins from theTempleofDiana had inlaid jewels of impossible-to-estimate value, but no additional clues leapt forward.
The question on everyone's mind remained-how did they get tracked here? Where was the leak, the weak link in the chain?
"The woman who left the house inBrooklyn and went to the store with the child," the pearl whispered into Damali's tortured mind. "Lucrezia is very shrewd. She knew the baby could not go on this mission but you were sheltered. This I learned after the snakes were released. Once you began to ingest the poison, I felt woozy, too, and my ability to know things was impacted. Had I known, Damali, I would have warned you."
Damali sent a hot glare to Inez and gave her the report from her pearl, then shot it to Carlos. The information ricocheted through the group via the seers within seconds.
"J.L., when we get to the main administration offices here,get on a prayer-secured line to the safe house inBrooklyn . I want 'Nez on the phone with her mother to let her know what just happened here and how she could be next if she doesn't follow what the clerics there tell her to do!" Carlos's voice bounced off the walls. "Then, I want you to give the rundown on what just happened to one of the clerics in charge while Damali and I move the ammo to the beach."
"Do you have a fax machine, Father?' Damali said, looking at the friar and then Inez. "Because we need to fax that prayer to the Covenant-who knows, they might have been poisoned, too."
"The Greek isles," Lilith said nervously. "That is dangerously close to where Lu has moved the chrysalis. Even with a hundred and fifty islands that could keep them searching for months, I don't like it."
"This is why I've poisoned the entire team, Your Majesty," Lucrezia cooed. "It was a simple matter of finding their weakest link and exploiting it. Once is enough. Human helpers are easy enough to bend to our will, and, let's face it: Humans need food to sustain them. A supernatural attack would be impossible against the citadel ofSt. John . . .however, a little tainted food is a whole different matter."
"She bided her time, Lilith, as a shrewd and brilliant murderess," Nuit said with pride. He handed Lucrezia a golden goblet filled with blood. "Now we wait."
"How long?"Lilith's gaze narrowed as she sat forward expectantly.
"I administered enough to givethem three hours before they would begin to experience discomfort."
"Why so long!" Lilith snapped and rose from her chair.
"To allow them to eat, take the normal Mediterranean midday nap, and die quietly before the Neterus could apply any healing techniques. They should go quietly in their sleep, or convulse while having a midday rendezvous . . . but if I were too heavy-handed, and allowed them to begin to have violent episodes right at the table, then our plan would be discovered and foiled."
Lilith sat back down and took a slow sip from her goblet. "Then we wait." She looked at Nuit and Lucrezia. "Together we wait."
"Am I required to be here?" Sebastian said. "Given this is not my strategy?"
Lilith's lip curled. "No . . . but where isElizabeth ?"
"Bathing in the blood of ten maidens I slaughtered for her this morning . . . milk carton runaways. I should like to attend her bath, if I might?"
Waving her hand, she dismissed him."And Yolando? What of his whereabouts?"
"The last I spied," Nuit said dryly, "he was inTijuana ."
Damali submerged her pearl in the sea and immediately Zehiradangra laughed like a small child, her gleeful shrieks an odd contrast to the morose team all around her. Carlos stalked back and forth and then punched one of the many tamarisk trees that gave the beach its exotic green fringe.
"Yo, yo, yo," Damali said, tossing her necklace to Val and rushing toward Carlos. "What did we learn about trees when we went to see the Neterus?" She was distressed that he was so distressed, and she was trying to keep pace with him as he worked the rage out. The comment, while true, was really meant to diffuse some of his anger, but it wasn't working.
They tried to poison my pregnant wife?Carlos shot her so hard mentally that she thought her nose would bleed."Oh, hell no!"
I know, baby, but I'm all right-besides, if you ingest a little of the substance you build immunity to it-so they played themselves.
Carlos just looked at her. Clearly he wasn't buying her attempt to mollify him.
"D, be serious. Maybe some other poisons work like that, but not arsenic."
"Sorry, tree," Damali said, rubbing it, and watching Carlos pace. She had to deflect this conversation.
The team's male members had the same looks on their faces. Everybody was sitting on crates and trunks-all except the silver one that had something alive inside it. But their expressions held a dangerous brand of repressed fury-the kind of thing that could make people jump up and go after the enemy buck wild without a plan.
"Listen," Heather said, glancing around. "Meand Jasmine have been talking . . . we're stone workers. At the risk of offending anybody, I think we have to say that there are two polarities working back at the monastery.The old Diana energies-because after all, she was Goddess of the hunt-and of courseSt. John ."
"Okay, I'm not trying to get in trouble here," Damali said, trying to figure out how to fuse two totally different cultures. She looked to Marlene for support, but her mother-seer just shrugged.
"Information is power, Damali," Jasmine said, glancing at Carlos and then Marlene. "Doesn't all the Diana information predate the other biblical text-so they don't overlap-but we definitely felt female energy rising in those stones . . . good energy, as though she were trying to help, too."
"We could use all the help we can get," Damali said with a hard sigh. "I also find it fascinating that they built the altar right over the temple altar of Diana . . . you would have thought they'd totally demolish it and clear it out."
"Maybe that's why we're supposed to be here,"Tara offered with a shrug and then looked at Marjorie and Krissy.
"It was the females that tried to kill us this time out. Last time, too, with Liz Bathory's army. And I don't even want to talk about that skank, Lilith." Damali looked at Carlos who had stopped pacing and was listening. The male Guardians sat up and focused.
Val came running up the beach from the water's edge, holding the pearl. "She's saying interesting things, Damali."
"Pearl, what's up?" Carlos said, making the pearl giggle.
"Hi, Carlos . . . you know theAegean Sea completely rejuvenates oracles, oh! This is where it all began . . . the Oracle atDelphi ; all of us have Greek and Roman histories. I was talking to Egeria, Diana's servant-she's a water nymph and midwife, but more on her later-we've always been friendly. Anywho . . . I told her what happened, and Diana is on the warpath in the cosmos. Damali is viewed as special, given she's a huntress, Diana is a huntress, blah, blah, blah-so Diana took this very personally."
Damali looked at Carlos. "You think it's possible we were supposed to get the antidote from the prayers ofSt. John -since he drew the venom of poison out of the chalice before-but the war strategy from Diana?"
Carlos walked away.
"Where are you going?" Damali ran behind him, peeved.
"To go apologize to Diana's trees . . . I know Greek and Roman history from my other life, boo. She loved her tree groves and would hunt a man down for messing with her environmentals, feel me?" He stroked the tree. "Hey, I'm sorry-tell Diana, peace. I was just mad because the bad guys poisoned my wife and family."
"Okay," Berkfield said to Marlene, "I want you to go in with me to try to get the rest of the poison out of this man. Rivera was sick yesterday, and it could have hurt his system worse than the rest of ours-the man istalking to trees, hallucinating."
"It's cool," Marlene said and then shot Shabazz a look. "It's the Tao of the tree, right?"
"Okay," Berkfield said, holding up his hands. "I'm just an old-fashioned Irish Catholic, and I'm waaay outta my league with all of this."
"Can you get word to Diana?" Damali asked the pearl, gently taking her from Val and staring down into the choker necklace in her hands.
"Already done, Damali . . . she advises that you pick off their weak links one by one.Elizabeth is bathing in blood right now as we speak. She killed maidens-and you know Diana is the protectress of virgins." The pearl clucked her tongue. "Diana will send emissaries, her warriors. They can lead you to her, and you, or they, could slip some silver nitrate intoElizabeth 's tub if it was mixed with blood. Plus, since she is working with Aset and Eve, I'm sure they can lift the silver scent taint just long enough . . . this is war, now, after all."
"Oooh . . ." Marlene said, squinting. "And add some holy water . . . we could bag it and tag it and then if Diana lifted the scent . . ."
"Uh-huh." Damali smiled. "Same deal with Lucrezia. Couldn't a sprite get to her goblet and dump a lil something-something in there?"
"I'd really prefer that we form an alliance with Diana, so you can fall back, D," Carlos said very carefully. "If they've got sprites and whatnot that can deliver poisons . . . I'm just saying." They shared a look and his gaze didn't waver. "We should save the big guns for the all-out offensive."
She accepted his position with a nod, knowing that he was trying to state his case in such a way that let her save face as a general while also not tipping off the team to her condition.
"I can assist," Val said. She lifted her chin. "I am a Valkyrie and a warrior. My blood may have a more exoticscent, given my parentage and that I have lived in Nod for so long. Plus, I am a virgin. This is what the she-devil craves. I have felt her ravenous impressions from my interactions with Yolando." Val held out her arm and unsheathed an invisible blade. "Bring a chalice and I shall give it to Diana's emissaries to taint. Serve this cold to both Lucrezia and that Bathory bitch!"
"You betta go, sis!" Juanita hollered, jumping up off a crate to slap five with Inez.
"The girl's been with us, what, a day or two-and she's straight gangsta," Inez said, laughing.
Val smiled. Carlos and Damali nodded. The rest of the team bristled and murmured with a new, more positive outlook.
"Just hold up and put your blade away till we make contact, Val," Damali said with a big grin. "But weareloving your style." She walked away, raking her locks. "This is what we needed: fresh ideas, new perspective, something to open up our heads to the possibilities . . . guerrilla."
"Then, if Seth and Abel body-double me and you, and we send extra life force pulses in a fold-away, we could make them think the team got so sick that we left here," Carlos said, finally calming down enough to strategize. "Themoment they realize their fellow councilwomen have been hit-Nuit and Sebastian will come looking for us wherever Seth and Abel are."
"They gonna get their asses kicked by those two brothers," Mike said, folding his arms.
"How about if their fathers come as backup, too? Dang," Damali said with a wink.
"Then, meanwhile, I let this monster out the box and we go find that sucker who's incubating. It's nearby, closer than his daddy in Hell, soit's gonna home to it-we do a drive-by, old-school." Carlos pounded Jose's fist.
"If the monster you caught eludes you, Carlos," the pearl said in a sweet voice, "you can always look to Damali's necklace. I'm voice guidance, but before you left Neteru Council chambers, Aset hadus all fine-tuned."
"Whoa . . ." Carlos said, going over to stand closer to the pearl; he stroked it with the pad of his thumb. "Baby, how do you work now?"
The pearl released a long, sexy sigh that made the guys on the squad chuckle. "Those entities you track are carbon-based like the diamond. That will light and warm her throat when one is near, but the other stones in Damali's necklace will light in depth or distance relationship to danger. . . . I'll say, 'Coming up from Level One,' and the first stone will light; or 'It's so many yards away.' Aset thought this was necessary now with there being a baby-" The pearl cut off her own statement, glowed pink, and went silent.
"That is so cool," Inez said. "They installed an Amber Alert formy boo ?"
The pearl cleared her throat, and Marlene looked at Damali. The muscle in Carlos's jaw pulsed.
"Sorry, Carlos," the pearl whispered. Then she made her voice a little louder so the rest of the team could hear her. "Yes, we have an Amber Alert embedded in us. If a child on the team is in jeopardy, especially if no Guardians are around, we will all light and flash wildly, and you can believe that I will be screaming my head off."
"Cool," Carlos said, and then wiped his brow.
"You didn't think the ancient Neterus would forsake you, did you Carlos?"
"Naw, Z," he said quietly, and then kissed Damali's necklace, causing the pearl in it to release another deep crimson glow and a breathy sigh. "Thanks, baby. Good looking out." He handed his wife the jewelry before he got in trouble.
"So let's go kick some demon ass," Mike said, standing and opening the case that had his shoulder launcher. "They messed with my food . . . you know I'ma hafta address that shit."
Damali smiled. "Uh-huh. Sounds like a plan.That's why we came here."