Authors: Connie Suttle
Ashe might never know it, but I cried every night for him. And for Breanne. I wanted to curse the one responsible for this, too. Trajan explained that it was a powerful rogue god who'd made the mistake of killing a Larentii.
At least the rogue god had been destroyed. I heard Trajan and Trace talking about other rogues, though. That frightened me. "I'll eat," I said and followed Kathleen and Casimir into the house.
* * *
"Sweetheart, I don't know what is going on." I carried Kiarra into the house while Joey watched. Pheligar had already healed the break in her leg, but the hospital stay was mandatory as we were doing our best to fit into the local population.
"How did the Director know your name?" Kiarra's blue eyes were worried as I seated her on a chair at the kitchen island.
"No idea, and he had a Larentii with him. Called him Connegar. Do we know why the Larentii might be working with the Director of the Joint NSA and Homeland Security Department?"
"Adam," Pheligar appeared beside Joey, dwarfing our healer, "It involves events in the future, which are now having an impact on the past. At the time you are now, Connegar hasn't been born. Actually, I am Pheligar from the future, and not the one with whom you are familiar. I cannot give more information without confusing everything, so you will have to trust me—us."
I'd never seen Pheligar with something resembling confusion on his face. "Kiarra, how are you feeling?" he turned to her, now.
"Better, now that I'm out of that ridiculous hospital. Thanks for healing the leg."
"You are most welcome." He actually smiled at her, and I wasn't sure I'd seen that much warmth from him, even when he was standing in full sun on a hot July day.
"You can't tell us anything?" I asked.
"Only that Kiarra was in danger, yesterday, and the child who died was no child. It would be prudent for you to travel to Kiarra's home offworld; Justin can be tutored there and time can be bent when it is safe to return."
"What the fuck?" Joey joined the conversation, then.
"I did not want to be forced to do this," Pheligar sighed impatiently. "Saxom has been resurrected and has renewed his obsession with you." Pheligar shook his head at Kiarra. "This time, he has more powerful allies than the Ra'Ak to help him."
"Yeah. We'll go. Right now." My wife turned green and looked ready to vomit.
"I will move your belongings," Pheligar said. "Go. Now."
* * *
"Lara'Kayan, I think we should hold off on our search for these criminals," Nefrigar said.
"Honey blue, you look sad." I went to him and stroked his face with my fingers. He sat on a glider outside my suite while we talked. I understood his sadness—the Larentii race was still in mourning for Ferrigar, although his son, Kalenegar, had taken his father's position as Head of the Larentii Council and according to accounts, was doing very well.
"We are all saddened by recent events, and my sons and I must place records in the archives, detailing the God Wars and Ferrigar's death."
Nefrigar didn't add that he'd be forced to record that the Mighty had been taken out of the fight early, because of Ferrigar's death at the hands of Acrimus. Few of us understood Acrimus' role in the God Wars, other than he seemed to be the General's right hand in all things related to wrongdoing and death. Nefrigar also didn't add that many Larentii felt the God Wars were lost and that their race would be the last standing, as it was the first to be created.
"Honey blue," I placed both hands on his face, then. "Even though things look their dimmest now, there are children who need to be rescued. The time for the mortal may be over, but they deserve an easier life—and death—in the meantime. Besides, Breanne asked this of me. How can I refuse that last request?"
"You were uncomfortable around her," Nefrigar pointed out gently.
"I know," I agreed and hunched my shoulders before turning away. "I'd heard that she could read anyone—that's why Teeg wanted her help. I didn't want her to see everything about me if she looked. Some of it makes me ashamed for anyone to know."
"My love, those things are not your fault. Do you think she wouldn't see that as well? Don't you think she might have given you what she gave to others—
"I hear that it's a comfort and a joy," I muttered. I felt as if I'd missed a chance at something wonderful, because my insecurities stood in the way.
"That is what I hear as well, and it is a shame that Kalenegar cannot receive it, as he grieves in private—for her and for his parent."
"I think I'll go hunting in two days," I said and turned back to Nefrigar. "I know you worry about me," I held up a hand. "I'll take Farzi and Nenzi with me, plus anyone else who wants to help. I'm planning to fold to Campiaa tomorrow, to talk with Tybus."
"Yes. Talk with Tybus. He is wise," Nefrigar conceded. "Ask him what he thinks of this errand."
"You know, I'll do that." I nodded stubbornly at Nefrigar. I had no idea what Tybus might say about the hunt for Hordace Cayetes and his crowd, but my mind was already made up. Edward had offered to come with me, so I hoped a High Demon and the Elemaiyan War Eagle, plus two deadly lion snake shapeshifters might be enough for this mission.
"Please do not place yourself in danger. I hear that some of the remaining rogues outrank you."
"I know. Lissa and I had this discussion already."
"There is something else," Nefrigar said.
"I have been instructed to bring you to a meeting. In the Archives. Edward, Tybus and your reptanoids must come as well."
* * *
"We're on Kiarra's planet in the past," I handed a glass of wine to Merrill. He preferred wine—I was having a Jameson's on the rocks.
"We have a meeting with Conner, and then we can go into the past if you want," Merrill held up his wineglass in a silent toast. "Pheligar says Belen has given all of us carte-blanche on tracking and destroying the enemy."
"I'm interested in this meeting with Conner," I muttered. "She came for Kiarra earlier, and I'd be worried except that Pheligar, Renegar, Graegar and Barrigar went with them. Pheligar said that Connegar and Reemagar went to collect Lissa, who didn't know about the meeting."
"Nefrigar and his sons have been sent to collect Reah, Edward and several others," Kalenegar appeared inside my study. "Are you ready? It is time to go."
"You're escorting us?" Merrill asked.
"I am. Bring your drinks. You may need them."
* * *
"What's this about?" I studied my surroundings—we were in the Larentii Archives. I'd never been there. Reah, who was mated to Nefrigar, had been several times, but she always said she'd only seen parts of it.
All the ceilings were clear and the building—if you could call it that—stood far in the north on the Larentii homeworld. Calling it huge would belittle what it was. Calling it huge to the hundredth power might come close.
Everything inside was in stasis, and some might consider it a museum as it held books, recordings, drawings, valuable sculptures and works of art. I stared at a Caspar David Friedrich painting that was supposedly destroyed in World War II. The piece was beautiful, haunting, and I'd only seen black and white photographs of it in the past. Here was the stunning reality.
"That is the original,
away before the building housing it was bombed," Nefrigar and his sons appeared, accompanied by Reah, Edward, all eight reptanoids and Tybus.
"Lissa, how nice to see you again," Tybus came forward, took my hand and leaned in to kiss my cheek.
"Hey," I put my arms around him and hugged him tightly.
"Daughter, it is wonderful to hold you again," he whispered against my ear. I felt like sniffling against his crisp, white shirt. I had a father, but he and I were estranged. This man was offering something I'd never experienced—a father's unconditional love.
"Come," Nefrigar smiled as Tybus and I drew apart. "It is time."
"Time for what?" Reah whispered to me as we followed Nefrigar farther into the Archives, past storage systems I didn't recognize and shelves of items that defied explanation.
"No idea," I muttered as we walked. Reah and I gasped as we passed through a wide, marble entrance into what appeared to be a grand hall, where tables were lined up in neat rows.
I imagined so many Larentii young had studied at those tables at one time or another; every Larentii had a parent and a surrogate, along with others as they matured, who taught them what they should know and how to use their power properly.
"Choose your seats—all are open," Nefrigar smiled as he held out a hand, inviting us to sit. "Others will arrive quickly."
They did. The Saa Thalarr, Spawn Hunters and all their healers began arriving in groups. All were accompanied by Larentii.
Others I didn't expect appeared, including Erland, Gavin, Winkler, Rigo, Drake, Drew, Roff, Toff, Nissa, Ry and Trik. Ildevar Wyyld appeared, accompanied by two Larentii. The Starr brothers—all four of them, came with Garegar and his Protector, Lanigar.
Trevor appeared, accompanied by Lenigar. I blinked—Lanigar and Lenigar were brothers, with Lanigar being the eldest. He'd been a Protector for the previous Wise One, who'd separated his particles after a very long life. Garegar had taken his place and convinced Lanigar to remain as his Protector.
Merrill, Adam and Kiarra came to join Tybus and me at the long table I'd chosen. Ry, Nissa, Toff and Trik came next, followed by Karzac, Grace, Devin, Dragon and Crane.
Trajan and Trace appeared last of all, with Bill Jennings, Kevis Halivar, Bear Wright, Amos and Flossie Thompson, Kay, Opal Tadewi and Jayson Rome. Yes, I was shocked when Jayson appeared—in the past he'd given up that identity and assumed that of Matt Michaels, who'd eventually take Bill's place as Director of the Joint NSA and Homeland Security Department. Here he was, however—no longer in disguise, and that defied logic.
Everyone talked quietly—this was a library and an Archive, after all, which lent itself to quiet study and contemplation. "May I have your attention?" Conner spoke. Silence fell on the crowd.
"I have several announcements to make, but first, the others of my kind will join us."
The others of her kind?
Gavin, who'd moved others aside so he could sit beside me, sent mindspeech.
, I returned. I knew she could transfer the dead to the other side, or call back some to deliver messages to those left behind, but it was the first time I'd heard her make an announcement like this.
Conner, Kiarra's half-sister, was just as beautiful as Kiarra, but her hair was a honey-blonde instead of platinum, and she had a lovely Southern accent.
"We are here."
I stared—two more had come. There was no mistaking The Ear—I'd seen him once before. The Eye—I wasn't sure anyone in the crowd had seen him. "I am The Mouth," Conner announced to dead silence. These were the Shining Ones—those who spoke and acted on behalf of the One. I think my breath caught—I can't recall.
"Before Wisdom, Strength and Love were reunited, a task was assigned to us," Conner went on. She was the only one of the Shining ones who maintained her appearance—the other two glowed softly in the Archives. Larentii dotted the large space, as if they were guarding those present.
"That task," Conner said, "was simple—we were instructed to form an army. For the One—who is also the Three."
"As you know," The Ear began, "many rogue gods were eliminated by Love—whom you know as the Mighty Heart. She has chosen one-third of those present."
"I was instructed by Strength to approach another third of those present—to replace what was lost with those better, stronger and more resolved," The Eye added.
"And I was directed by Wisdom to choose the final third," Conner—The Mouth, said. "That is why you are here. If you choose to decline the invitation you are about to receive, there will be understanding and no recrimination. The choice is yours to accept or not. Should you choose to accept, then you agree to hunt the enemy in all its forms and destroy what you hold the strength to destroy."
"You are held to the normal requirements—no killing of the innocent," The Eye said. "No unnecessary interference. No intentional tampering with timelines."
"Here are the invitations." The Ear held out a glowing hand. Envelopes appeared and plopped onto tables before all of us. They were cream linen—exactly like the one I'd gotten recently that held the bracelet and the note.
With shaking fingers, I lifted my envelope. It wasn't sealed—perhaps there was no need. I pulled out the enclosed card.
Should you choose to accept,
the title—and honor—of being a member of the Al'Riyu is yours
My breath caught again.
* * *
All around me, envelopes were opened. Farzi and Nenzi showed me their invitations—they'd been selected as Nameless Ones. I hugged both of them. Their brothers, with the exception of Chazi, received the same. Chazi turned his invitation around so I might read it, his eyes huge in surprise—he'd been selected as Pan'Warha, a level above the Nameless Ones.
In most instances, the one singled out as a superior might have been outcast because of jealousy. Not this time, or with these—Chazi—perhaps the quietest of all of them, had been given an honor and they were all happy.
"Sweetheart, open it," Ry pointed to my envelope. I saw that he hadn't opened his, either.
"Open yours at the same time—I'm afraid," I muttered.
"Yeah. I get that," he nodded in agreement. Both of us lifted the flaps at the same moment.
Should you choose to accept,
the title—and honor—of being a member of the Al'Riyu is yours
I turned the card to show Ry, who did the same for me. His said En'Nurifi, a level below mine. Edward's was the same—En'Nurifi.
* * *
Gavin was a Nameless One. Rigo and Aurelius had been given invitations to join the Mil'Karha. Drake and Drew—Ba'Mirha. Their father, Dragon, was chosen as Al'Riyu, joining Reah, Adam, Merrill and me.
"Look." Winkler handed his card to me—he joined my Falchani twins in the Ba'Mirha.
"What should I do?" Corent approached me with a heavy sigh, a card in his hand. Until then, I hadn't known he'd come. Fes, shockingly enough, was right behind Corent.
"Honey, I don't believe you would have gotten that if they didn't think you might be able to do something," I said, lifting the card from his fingers. En'Nurifi was printed on it. Fes' said Pan'Warha. A master cook was going to war. Well, it wouldn't be the first time.
"Will we know what to do?" Fes sounded worried.
"Fes, I've always gotten the message, one way or another," I nodded to him.
"Then I will accept," Corent seemed determined, suddenly. "I will find a way," he added.
"Maybe a little peace is what some of them need," I suggested.
"I hope so," he replied.
"Lissa, I have received a promotion," Belen sounded nearly breathless as he joined the growing crowd around me.
"Belen?" I blinked at him.
"I am Ghi'Yisi—with Kiarra," he said. "She was offered a place with the Nameless Ones long ago—and kept refusing to take it in order to stay with the Saa Thalarr. Her long wait has been rewarded."
* * *
Yeah, I used to be a sportswriter—before Winkler made me his Second. Then Ashe came along, changing the game called my life. I became his Second. I stared at the card in my hand. Only one other had received the same offer on his card, and he was just as surprised as I was. So many others I imagined would be in line for this, rather than me.
My card—and Karzac's, offered a position with the Ko'Ahmari.
"What shall we do first?" Karzac dropped his card on the table where I sat, stunned and immobile.
"I think we ought to track down Hank, I guess. Maybe he has some ideas."
"Sounds as good as any other suggestion," Karzac pulled out a chair and sat beside me. He'd been a physician and healer for the Saa Thalarr for nearly sixteen thousand years. He and I were about to join one of the highest echelons of gods. Would I refuse this offer?
Too many things needed doing, and I'd watched Hank carefully, ever since he'd wiped the dojo floor with my body. He didn't hurt me—he only showed me what he was capable of doing. That impressed me greatly.
"Mine isn't nearly that impressive," Winkler dropped his card on the table on my other side. His card said Ba'Mirha. Still very impressive and not as shocking as my elevation.
"There must be a reason," Karzac said.
"Healer?" Winkler turned a puzzled gaze to Karzac, who handed his card over. "Well, it makes sense, I think," Winkler began. "We have humanoid bodies, and we're going to war. Who's gonna fix us if we're injured? Face it—if we lose this," he tapped his chest, "we're energy after that, unless we form or find a new body. I hear that's next to impossible, unless you're Al'Riyu or above. Somebody on the other side was finding bodies for their rogues. Whether it was Acrimus or someone else, who knows?" Winkler shrugged.
"I may be in the business of reforming bodies?" Karzac studied his card with renewed interest. "That is more than fascinating."
"I think it's your calling," Winkler agreed. "You can do alone what it took most of the Larentii race to accomplish for Breanne."
"I miss her," Karzac sighed. "Kevis misses her more. I cannot sufficiently convey my sorrow, werewolf, for your loss." He turned green-gold eyes filled with sympathy toward me.
"Yeah." I nodded. "Nothing may heal that."
In truth, my heart felt empty at the best of times, and there was no concrete entity to blame or hold accountable. Ashe's absence also created a void within me—we'd worked together for centuries. Kay cried herself to sleep most nights, and I had little comfort to give her; I was so desperately in need of it myself. The only good thing, perhaps, to come of Ashe's disappearance was that Aedan and Adele had begun to lean on one another in their grief.
"May I have your attention, please?" Conner spoke again. The room went quiet and our attention turned to her and the other two once more.
* * *
"Is there anyone here who does not accept?" Conner asked. "There is no stigma attached to a refusal, and your honesty will be appreciated."
"Good. By dawn tomorrow on your respective worlds, the transformation will be complete. Now, Nefrigar has something to show all of us." We watched as Conner, The Ear and The Eye stepped aside. Nefrigar came forward and lifted his hand. A wide, rectangular section of the floor beside him opened and a platform rose. Yes, I gasped, right along with everyone else.
"They are in stasis," Nefrigar sighed. "But this is only their corporeal forms." The bodies of Ashe, Charles and Breanne lay on individual blocks of marble, dressed just as they were when their energy combined to reform the One.
"How?" Kiarra spoke first.
"They appeared here immediately after," Nefrigar replied. "This is the Archive. Dead races, books, languages and many other things are here. It is fitting, is it not, that these are also here?"
"I guess." I watched as Bill Jennings rose from his seat and walked toward the bodies.
"Do not touch," Nefrigar warned. That's when Bill wept.
* * *
"Meanwhile, back at the ranch," I muttered to myself. I sat in the arboretum at the top of my palace, staring at the pinpoints of light marking homes and businesses throughout Lissia.
"Cara?" Gavin sat beside me with a sigh. The glider swing was comfortable and rocked both of us gently as we contemplated the city beyond the palace.
"Gavin, I don't know what to say," I began. One of my sons—Rylend—would become En'Nurifi. Nissa, Toff and Trik would be Pan'Warha. Travis and Trent were still too young for consideration. My remaining son had been left out completely. Yes, he deserved some punishment, but there were many at the meeting who'd done the same or worse than my High Demon child. I'd said those things aloud without really meaning to.
"Perhaps you should consult Kifirin—or Li'Neruh Rath. Neither were at the Archives," Gavin pointed out.
"Do you think Li'Neruh Rath will just drop everything and come if I call?" I blinked at Gavin in disbelief.
"I will if it is important enough," Li'Neruh, whom my sister always called Hank, appeared before us, arms thick with muscle crossed tightly over his chest. "You ask why Torevik was not included in the meeting," he nodded to me, his eyes darkening while curls of smoke escaped his nostrils. "I have plans for the High Demon race, and I asked that no High Demon be allowed at the meeting."
"You did this?"
"Yes. The High Demons must prove their worth—since they failed so miserably in the past. Had they been vigilant as instructed, many things could have been prevented. You know better than anyone how that turned out."
"Yeah," I sighed. "I know how that turned out." Races had been exterminated, while others were allowed to run amok. The shield between the Light and Dark halves of the universes had come down. Gavin reached for my hand and stroked it as I hunched my shoulders.
"The Larentii were asked to lower the shield," Li'Neruh said. Somehow, he'd read my thoughts easily.
"By whom?" I stared—I was hearing this for the first time. Until now, I didn't know that the Larentii held the shield between Light and Dark.
"Wisdom. You may as well know, since you will join the Al'Riyu in a few of your hours—as you currently measure time."
"You knew who he was all along."
"He made himself known to me, yes. I cannot say that it was all along."
"How long did he know who he was? When he was born as human?" I demanded. It probably wasn't wise to demand answers from a superior, but if Charles stood in front of me I'd do exactly the same, even knowing he was Wisdom.
"The Ear was instructed to carry a message to him when he reached his sixteenth year," Li'Neruh dropped gracefully to the floor, his legs crossed elegantly. I had no idea what training he'd endured, but the Falchani warriors did the same—to perfection. Drake and Drew often did it when we had tea inside my suite. I usually joined them, although my sitting wasn't nearly as graceful.
"So he knew—when the others didn't."
"Ashe became aware when he was sixteen, as should have been. Breanne," he shook his head. "So many things went wrong with Breanne."
"Thorsten and Griffin," I muttered angrily. "I have a question, though. Who placed the mind cloud on Gavin, Cheedas and my son?"
"I have a theory," Li'Neruh said. "And it will bear investigation. If my suspicions are correct, many of our troubles did not die with Acrimus."
"That doesn't sound good," I stared at Li'Neruh in alarm.
"It is not good, sister," Li'Neruh agreed. "It is my desire to get to the bottom of this, as humans often say."
"What are we going to do? Without Bree?" The tears began to fall, then.
"I do not know." Li'Neruh rose just as gracefully as he'd sat. "My heart is empty," he said and disappeared.
* * *
"It was a request from the Mighty Heart," I said.
"Then we will wait until our power manifests and hunt this filth," Tybus said, his voice firm, his decision final.
"I agree," Edward nodded.
"We go," Farzi and Nenzi declared.
"You're going with us?" I blinked at Tybus in surprise.
"My dear," Tybus approached me carefully and touched my face with a gentle hand, "I have been given a great gift. Do you suggest I sit behind a desk and ignore it when there is a need for my talents elsewhere? I adore children. It burns my soul to know so many suffer."