Authors: Connie Suttle
"Avilepha? Will we live through this?" Kifirin gathered me closer to him. His warmth enveloped me as the air became cooler and raindrops fell.
"I don't know," I replied. "I just don't know."
"Many will be at the Desh restaurant in Tulgalan's capital tonight, waiting for those terrible women to arrive for dinner," Kal informed me when I woke.
"How long have I been out?" I rasped, rubbing my eyes to clear them of sleep.
"Nearly a day," he replied. "Graegar and Barrigar are nearby—they have taken turns watching you when I wasn't available."
"That's nice," I said. "Is there anything to drink?"
"We have anything you might want," he smiled.
"You have a nice smile," I said.
"You give me a compliment?"
"I'd give you a lot more if you weren't so grumpy most of the time."
"I'll work on that."
"I sure hope so. I might tell you how handsome you are—when you're not being an ass."
"You're calling me a member of the Equidae family?"
"Okay, you're being an ass again."
"I cannot be again what I already am."
"So you're saying once an ass, always an ass?"
"Please, no convoluted logic," he pleaded. "Come with me, I'll offer you food. I won't even place caterpillars in it."
"Didn't you have a childhood?" I asked as he lifted and carried me toward a very tall doorway. "That's what kids do."
"I had a very strict and public upbringing," Kal declared.
"Oh. The preacher's kid. I get it now."
"I fail to understand the ref—ah. Never mind."
"Just don't put caterpillars in my food. I like caterpillars. Just not to eat."
"I understand that. I was merely teasing."
"How feeling?" Chazi, Bekzi and Perzi appeared inside what looked to be an enormous kitchen. The room had been sized for humanoids, too, and I was grateful as Kal settled me on a barstool at the island.
"I feel better," I said. "What do we have to eat?"
"All things," Bekzi grinned. "We make guacamole. It good."
"You made guacamole? Do we have chips?"
"We do," Perzi smiled shyly. "That why we make guacamole. We have cheese. Fruit. Pasta. All things."
"You are amazing. I love you."
"That good. We want love from you. We give love back. It work."
"Eat first," Chazi ordered with a grin.
"Yeah. Eat first," I confirmed with an answering smile.
* * *
"I'm worried about tonight."
"Cara, it will go as it will. Stop second-guessing yourself." Gavin's arms went around me, settling me against his chest. We were still in Fresno, but planned to leave for Le-Ath Veronis in less than an hour. Everyone going to Tulgalan would gather in my library, and several Larentii would fold us to Desh's in Targis. Adam, Merrill and Kiarra intended to go, leaving Martin, Mack and Justin behind to watch things in Fresno. Bill, Trajan, Jayson, Opal and Terry would keep an eye on the Bay area while all of us remained loosely connected by mindspeech—everybody was spooked about the upcoming raid and its potential consequences.
I knew where Bree and Ashe were—Ashe intended to help at Desh's. Nobody knew where Charles was and I didn't want to disturb him with mindspeech—I had no idea what he might be doing and if he wanted me to know, I figured he'd tell me.
* * *
"Those locations you gave me were quite productive," I said. Kaldill and I shared a glass of wine inside his private study.
"I have several more, if you're interested," he smiled.
"Of course. That's why I dropped by. For information and the wine." I held up my glass. "This is excellent."
"A thousand-year vintage," Kaldill informed me. "As the future seems somewhat uncertain, we may as well drink it."
"A good enough reason," I agreed. Kaldill sent information as we sat in companionable silence and drank.
* * *
"Stop fretting. We'll be with you," Tory soothed.
I was going through lists on my comp-vid, making sure everything was in place for the dinner menu. We were scheduled to arrive two clicks before the dinner rush, send the regular employees home via Larentii and take over the restaurant.
"I have to make sure everything is right. We can't make them suspicious for any reason," I mumbled. The High Demons we'd trained to wait tables stood nearby, talking quietly. Mostly, I worried about them and their ability to show deference to wealthy clientele.
"We're here." Grace and Devin appeared, accompanied by Renegar. Lissa folded in with Connegar and Reemagar, and was accompanied by Adam, Gavin, Merrill and Kiarra.
"Kay and I are ready," Ashe folded in with Kay. I studied her briefly—she was pale, but her hands were steady.
"Then let's go," I sighed.
* * *
Desh's kitchen was a hive of activity when we arrived. As planned, Connegar and Reemagar folded the employees away from the restaurant. They'd been given the night off—with pay—at Fes' direction.
The rest of us went to work—the doors would open shortly and diners would come in for the evening meal at one of the two best restaurants in Targis. I tasted and studied what had already been prepared—the fish would be last on the list to get ready.
"Things will go as they will," Aurelius leaned in to kiss my cheek.
"I know," I nodded, tossing spices into a saucepan and stirring vigorously. "That doesn't keep me from worrying about it anyway."
"I know. Tybus is quite concerned about you, but won't approach as he doesn't want to distract you more than you are already."
"I love him," I said simply.
"I know. He is a patient man. That is a good thing."
"Auri," I mumbled softly.
"Reah, we love you. That's all that matters."
"That, and getting through the night unscathed," I replied.
* * *
I knew what was happening on Tulgalan. Everybody was treading softly, worried that the General was keeping tabs on Song and Serenade, after the debacle with Hordace Cayetes. After all—those women had a Sirenali with them, and likely power wielders as well. Those power wielders might be rogue gods—one of those had been with Cayetes.
Oddly enough, Kevis had seen that one shrivel, much like the one we'd found at Adam's home in Fresno. I had no explanation for that, and the Larentii hadn't revealed any findings after examining the body. The truth might be that they had no better idea than the rest of us, and were still attempting to solve the puzzle.
The sending came from Fes, who was working at the restaurant.
We may have a hit,
I can't say for sure, but the reservation seems suspicious
What is it?
A reservation for Bayar and Rayab.
A name reversed? Like Saxom and Moxas?
When are they scheduled to arrive?
At eight tonight. I looked over the reservations list yesterday, and these names weren't there.
, I agreed.
I'll inform Trajan, Jayson and Opal. We'll be there, shielded if necessary.
Perhaps a Larentii escort?
Probably a good idea. I'll see who's available.
"Just what we need," I muttered after Fes ended our communication. "Two hits at the same time."
* * *
"I have sent two Larentii to San Francisco," Kal informed me. "To transport and shield Bill and the others."
"Something happening?" I sat up—with help from Chazi. I'd been lounging lazily on Kal's wide veranda in the afternoon sunlight.
"Fes' gamble may pay off—there is a suspicious reservation at the restaurant where he works."
"And the one at Desh's happening at the same time?" I was on my feet quickly, my weariness forgotten.
"If you count two timelines as the same time, then yes."
"You know what I meant—that this is happening and dividing our resources," I said.
"We ready to take you. You want?" Chazi asked. He was willing, but his frown expressed concern—for me.
"Honey, I don't know," I moaned. "I'm not very strong, right now."
"It may only be coincidence," Kal pointed out. "I can transport you, should the need arise."
"I really hate not being able to help much," I grumped.
"You should wait," Kal advised. "I will take you and your lion snakes, should it prove necessary."
* * *
Kay stood beside me as we watched Song and Serenade walk into the restaurant, accompanied by two men.
That one's Sirenali—the one on the left
, I sent.
What about the other one?
. The word filtered into my mind and I knew that voice—Charles.
I'll take care of that one, you worry about the others
, I responded.
You gonna tell us when?
I'm sending Ashe and Kay to San Francisco
, he added.
Because they're needed there. Things are going down in both places
You know Kay won't like that
. I studied Kay, who still stood beside me.
We'll let her see what's left, if we're successful.
Now I'm really worried.
When one of the Mighty says if, I'll definitely worry
I am prepared to transport
, Connegar's hands gripped my shoulders for just a moment before he disappeared with Kay. I heard her mental squeal as she was taken away.
Ashe will be forced to explain
, Charles said with a mental shrug as he appeared at my side.
I wasn't sure she was prepared for this anyway
, I replied as I watched a High Demon waiter seat our targets.
* * *
"Just remember, they may be disguised," Trajan pointed out. "Especially if they have a rogue with them."
"Can anyone see through that?" I asked.
"Bree can," Jayson said. "We just don't have her with us."
"Ask." Chazi, Bekzi and Perzi appeared, followed by Kalenegar, who held Breanne in his arms.
"I deemed it prudent," Kalenegar announced as he set Breanne on her feet. I could see that she was still tired and likely didn't have much power as a result.
"I can see through any disguise," Bree said as I pulled her into a tight embrace. "They can't fool me."
"I know, sweetheart," I murmured against her hair. "I'm concerned about you."
"Don't worry," she rubbed my back gently. "I just need to identify these people for you, and then Kal can whoosh me out of there if it becomes necessary. If you need Chazi and the others, they can stay."
"We'll see. I'm hoping this won't be a difficult takedown, if it is Moxas and Saxom."
"It's probably a good thing Kiarra isn't here," she said. "She looks green every time somebody mentions Saxom to her."
"We're here," Ashe arrived with Kay and Connegar.
"But," I stared at Ashe. Kay seemed angry, but I wasn't willing to delve into the source of her irritation.
* * *
Charles thought it would be better for Kay
, Ashe sent.
I agree. Those women
, I shook my head.
I'm not sure Kay could deal with that emotionally
I understand. We have to convince her to help us here, instead
You know, I have an idea
, I returned.
* * *
They ordered Yaris fish
, Tory sent. He'd taken their order, while Aurelius and Tybus watched discreetly from a distance. I'd already gotten a message from Tybus, saying that all was well so far. Our guests suspected nothing.
I'm working on it now
, Reah reported.
Along with four other orders for the same thing.
Make it come out at the right time
, Tory replied to Reah's statement.
We shouldn't make the other customers angry by serving our target first