Authors: Connie Suttle
"This plan coincides with my own," Wlodek said. "Only I was unsure how to replace myself."
"It won't be a problem," I shrugged. "And there will be no disagreements," I pointed a finger at him and then at Weldon.
"Fox is coming with me," Weldon began.
"I beg your pardon?" Wlodek turned dark eyes on the former Grand Master of the Werewolves.
"You think the sudden appearance of a woman in your bed will reassure the Vampire Council?" Weldon growled.
Wlodek cursed in Greek before agreeing. I wanted to laugh. I didn't.
"I'll be back in an hour. Be ready to go." I bent time, heading toward Earth of the past.
* * *
"The agreement was that I and the others like me would stay hidden until such a time as the opposition was destroyed or contained. You also agreed that Acrimus would act as your liaison. As unfortunate as it is, Acrimus is no more. We have held to our bargain, yet now you wish to alter it."
"You are Acrimus' child, are you not?" The General studied Quislus intently.
"You know that well enough," Quislus snapped. "I'm sure Acrimus described our relationship in detail. I sacrificed my own child in deference to my parent's desires. I will do my duty as I have made a promise, but I refuse to revise our original agreement."
"You will revise it or I will see you destroyed. I brought down one of the Three, never forget that."
"I have no corporeal body, do not forget that," Quislus pointed out, his voice cold and harsh.
"Shall I make my first attempt at doing to you what the One did to your parent? Shall I hold you up as an example to the other Hidden? Be assured, should I not be able to destroy you, I will contain you. I certainly have enough power for that."
Quislus studied the General. He knew, as did the others, what Calhoun and the General's subordinates were plotting. He saw the beginning of it in the General's shrouded gaze. At that moment, he wished he'd never created the Sirenali or the Dark Elemaiya. The Ra'Ak had been useful tools for millennia, but these—he'd made them too clever. Too grasping. The General had come to depend upon them to assist in his war. For a moment, Quislus wished for time to reverse and to begin again.
"I will do as you say," Quislus said, defeat evident in his words. "I will contact the others. All will be revealed soon as the traitors they are."
"Good. When that happens, I will command a body and you will join me. Calhoun is effective but not powerful enough. You and the others who come to me are the foundation of my new army. All will bow or fall before us."
"As you will it, General."
"As I say, so it is," the General replied.
* * *
"Dee, you will bear my likeness," I said. "If anything happens to me, I know you can run this Alliance with no difficulty."
"I prefer to be what I am," he replied, his voice rough. He hated the spotlight and wanted to be exactly what he was—a powerful voice without the trappings of the media or the requirements or personal appearances to keep others happy. He hated official functions and refused to appear longer than a few moments at any of them.
"Please do this for me. Please," I pleaded. "You know everything there is to know already. We think alike. We act alike much of the time. Use that to protect us and the Alliance. I will pose with Reah and Kalia. When the assassin arrives, compulsion will be placed, he will believe me dead and take Kalia with him to Cayetes. It is up to you to remain here in my stead. I realize that Hordace may attempt to spread the rumor of my death, but that will be difficult to prove, as you will appear to be me in every way."
"Am I to understand that this may be used to further confuse Cayetes?"
"If necessary, yes. It may make him more than willing to question Kalia on her knowledge of me, and that will get us to him."
"Then make this expedition a swift one. I hate the media, I despise small talk, but most of all, I detest politicians."
"I feel the same, brother," I laughed. "I feel exactly the same."
* * *
Kiarra's private planet—present
"What the hell?" Trajan from the past looked about him as he and several others appeared inside the spacious beach house. If I hadn't been elevated to Pan'Warha, I'd never have understood the language of old Earth.
"Welcome." Corent's hair became a blue-green, reflecting the waters of the ocean below the massive house. "We have accommodations for the vampires among you," Corent added. "For the moment, I am shielding you so you will not be damaged by the light."
Wlodek, still the vampire he was in the past, gazed uncertainly at the waters beyond and the sun shining far to the west.
"I'll be damned." Russell, also a vampire, whistled as he stared at daylight for the first time in two centuries.
"We have rooms prepared for everyone, if you will follow me," Corent explained. "Each enclosed vampire suite holds a refrigeration unit with bagged blood or blood substitute available. For the others, Fes will provide meals. For any of you with cooking experience, I'm sure he will welcome any assistance while you are here."
"I will welcome assistance," I agreed, studying those who'd arrived. The Mouth had offered a mental description of likes and dislikes where food was concerned, and I was prepared to offer a variety of dishes they would appreciate during their stay.
"Where the hell are we?" Weldon Harper, the one who still held the position of Grand Master for the Werewolves, demanded.
"I can answer that," I said, waving a hand. Power is an amazing thing. A three-dimensional image of the universe appeared before me. I smiled as I began explaining the distance (and time) between where we currently were and where our guests used to be.
* * *
"Jett, you're in charge of these," I nodded toward Keith and Philip. "Philip is a shapeshifter who becomes a large mountain lion. Keith has experience in jungle conditions. He has worked the southern reaches of SouthStar, which borders the jungles there."
"We are to track Cayetes from the opposite side—through the worst of the jungles on Du'Ferias?" Jett asked.
"Yes," I said. "Cayetes may have shapeshifters, Sirenali or any number of nefarious creatures sprinkled throughout. Three others may accompany you, just in case."
"What about Macy, Luanne and Lizzy?" Keith asked.
"They will work with others," I said. "The rogue gates are still a problem, and Trevor, Kooper and Lendill may need their help."
"Who may be coming with us?" Philip said.
"Chazi, Roff and Bear Wright," I smiled. A lion snake shapeshifter, a winged vampire and a grizzly bear shapeshifter, all with power, might prove quite useful.
"When are you inviting the media to San Gerxon Palace?" Jett asked.
"Tomorrow afternoon. Be prepared to go anytime after that."
* * *
I wanted to laugh. I didn't. Dragon had just taken down his third High Demon swordsman. The High Demon army hadn't seen real action in nearly a century—not since Lissa had come to help dispatch a load of rogue Copper Ra'Ak. Dragon and his sons, all in dragon form, had taken down their share of Ra'Ak and a few rogue High Demons in Full Thifilathi during that battle.
Jayd and Garde stood nearby, blowing smoke as the former Falchani Warlord made a laughingstock of their best. For too long, High Demons had depended on their size and fierce looks to defeat what came against them. That time had passed.
"They have fallen, haven't they?" Kifirin appeared at my side.
"Long ago," I nodded.
"I failed to see it. I cannot say why."
"I think I may have an explanation, but it may not be easy for you to hear," I turned to him. For the first time, perhaps, I felt sympathy for him.
"I would prefer to hear it elsewhere," Kifirin sighed.
"I'd prefer that, too. I have taken Lord Nedevik and several of his household to Avendor. He and I agree on this, therefore, his safety is a concern."
"You think it might present a danger?"
"I have no idea how much danger, but yes, I believe that."
"When do you want to meet there?" Kifirin asked.
"Tomorrow morning. I'll be waiting outside the northern boundary."
"I'll be there," Kifirin agreed and disappeared.
Turning back to Dragon and his fourth opponent, I watched as Dragon blocked a blow with one blade and held the tip of the other at the High Demon captain's throat. "I had no idea we were so poorly prepared," Jayd muttered.
"I feel that undue influence has been present for a very long while," I said and folded away.
* * *
"What did he mean by that?" Garde asked.
"No idea," Jayd shook his head. "How did we get to this point? Not one of ours has made Dragon break a sweat, brother."
"We have a long way to go," Garde replied.
* * *
As it turned out, we didn't need to put up a new compound—Bill Jennings—the current Bill Jennings, offered the building Ashe had put together in the past.
He, Trajan, Jayson Rome and Opal Tadewi accompanied Adam, Kiarra, Merrill and me to Fresno of the past. Adam, Merrill and Kiarra would be staying at their old home in Fresno, to bait the trap. Saxom would come—he wanted Kiarra too badly.
"There's plenty of room," Bill set two comp-vids on the kitchen island. "I can cook if necessary."
"I'll help," I offered. "I haven't had much time in the kitchen lately."
"We'll be at the house if you need anything," Kiarra nodded to me. "And you can come over anytime. We're only four miles away."
"I will be staying with Kiarra," Pheligar announced almost before he appeared.
"And we'll be with Lissa," Connegar and Reemagar coalesced right behind Pheligar.
"You're guarding us, aren't you?" Kiarra looked up at Pheligar, who offered a lovely smile before lifting her in his arms and giving her a kiss.
"I love you," he said in answer, before disappearing with her, Adam and Merrill.
"Are you sure?" I turned to my Larentii.
"Very sure," Connegar replied.
* * *
"Just stand here, with your arms around both," the journalist's assistant posed me with Reah and Kay.
"When will the marriage take place?" the journalist tapped notes on a comp-vid.
"Six moon-turns," I replied. "My assistant is working out the details now."
"Yes, just like that," the assistant said as I pulled Reah and Kay closer. The cam-recorder dutifully reproduced our image, which would be broadcast across both Alliances before the day was over. Our part of the attack had been initiated.
* * *
"This is always the most difficult part," Charles sighed. "Separating." It was. I did and didn't recall that memory. He was the Mind; of course he'd remember.
"How many times?" Ashe lay naked on the tiled floor nearby, where his corporeal body had been left. The bodies in the Larentii Archives? Decoys.
"Will we get it right this time around?" Ashe heaved himself into a sitting position. As he was strength, obviously he'd rise first.
"I sure as hell hope so," Charles muttered. "Bree?" He turned his head in my direction. I drew a weary breath as I blinked into his gray eyes. He was himself instead of the Charles everyone else would recognize. It took power to assume a disguise. None of us had that at the moment—handing power to a new crop of godlings and coming back to a corporeal body exhausted all of us. I was the only one still too tired to speak, however.
"Where?" I croaked eventually.
"We're at your house. The one you asked for," Charles managed a grin. "It's huge, just as you wanted. Nobody knows where this is—I hid it on purpose. Are you cold, Love?" All of us were naked—it wasn't just Ashe. Likely, Charles had arranged for the clothing we'd worn before to be transferred to the decoys.
"I'm cold. Too tired to do anything about it."
"Hey, now," Charles scooted toward me. "None of that. We'll get warm together."
"What will people think?" I asked.
"Someday, maybe we'll tell them that we were Three in the beginning, instead of the One," he smiled before kissing me. "Maybe we'll tell them that we joined our energy to defeat other versions of the General in the past."
"Someday, maybe I won't care what they think." Raising a shaking hand, I rubbed my forehead. I'd forgotten what it was like to have a headache. I had one now, and it throbbed against my skull.