There comes a time when the tears will not fall. A time when you're just too numb to cry. That's how I felt.
Breanne had wasted her life, defending two who didn't deserve her sacrifice. Yes, I recognized Ashe easily enough, but the Mighty Mind was unfamiliar to me. He, Ashe and the dark-haired god knelt beside Breanne's body, likely discussing her death in mindspeech.
I blinked in confusion when the Five Larentii Wise Ones and their Protectors appeared. I was afraid to hope. My confusion only increased when another Larentii appeared. Taller than the others, he was like no Larentii I'd ever seen. Dressed in a leather jacket, dark denim pants and boots, he had deep, red hair worn long and loose about his shoulders.
If he'd been human, I'd have expected a Harley to be parked nearby. Ashe, the dark-haired god and the Mighty Mind stepped back to allow the Wise Ones to approach Breanne's body. The Wise Ones weren't the ones to act first, however.
The red-haired Larentii stepped forward and formed light about him. The others followed his example and began trilling. They were quickly joined by their Protectors.
Suddenly, the massive building was filled with Larentii. So many of them I knew—Pheligar. Renegar. Lenigar. Nefrigar. My Reemagar and Connegar had come. All joined their voices to that of the five Wise Ones and the red-haired Larentii. The air became thick with their song and their brightness, blinding me.
Throwing an arm over my eyes to block the light, I dropped to the floor and sleep descended.
* * *
"Boss, do you think she'll make it?"
Trajan wanted to hold Breanne's body. His wolf wanted to howl to the moon outside, pleading for the safety of his mate.
"I don't know." Ashe shook his head. "They managed to heal the breaks and torn blood vessels. Most of the bruises are gone, too, but we don't know what kind of emotional damage happened or whether her mind might recover from that."
"My memory was modified in the past," he growled. "I don't remember that Lissa is alive or that I saw her then."
"Traje, that's for the best, don't you think?"
"I don't know what to think, except to be mad that somebody fucked with my memories."
"I understand," Ashe raked fingers through his hair. "Who's with Breanne now?"
"Lissa and Karzac," Trajan muttered. "It's been four days. Karzac stuck that stupid feeding tube in yesterday. I don't like that one bit."
"It's necessary to preserve her body," Ashe sighed.
"Bill just sits out on the deck—when he isn't with Bree or doesn't have to feed Kay," Trajan pointed out. "He's kinda pissed that his memory was tampered with, too, and he's really upset that Bree is like she is."
"You think we're not all worried?" Ashe blinked at Trajan. "If she doesn't come back from this," he shook his head in frustration. "Traje, I'm still trying to work out who the Mighty Mind is," Ashe flopped onto a padded chair in his den and blew out a breath. "Once the Larentii managed to bring the body back to life, Wisdom took off like a shot."
"You think maybe Breanne is somewhere else, now, deciding whether it's worth it to come back?"
"It's possible," Ashe said, rubbing his forehead. He hadn't had a headache this bad in almost a decade. He'd had this one for four days.
"She may not want to stay here if she wakes up," Trajan sounded troubled.
"I know. Sometimes I want to kick my own ass over that."
"I'll do it for you."
"Look, you're still the better fighter, so no, thanks," Ashe held up a hand.
* * *
"Charles, this saddens me." Wlodek shook his head as Charles and Gavin finished their reports to the Head of the Council.
"And we are no closer to solving this mystery," Gavin muttered. "The church was destroyed not long after Breanne died, but I cannot say how that was accomplished."
"I want you to investigate this—I hear from Bill Jennings that vampire rogues were involved in many deaths in the destroyed churches. This is unacceptable, and places all of us in danger. Find the ones responsible and ensure they are dispatched."
"With pleasure, Honored One," Gavin inclined his head to Wlodek. "Charles and I discussed this with Director Jennings before our return," Gavin added. "He feels the same, and requests that either I or another be sent back to help him and his agents track these rogues."
"Honored One, please allow me to accompany Gavin," Charles pleaded.
"Are you sure, Charles? Will has been effective as a temporary assistant, but this could place your life in danger."
"I want to do this, Honored One. I cared for Breanne."
"Then I will allow this," Wlodek agreed. "Tell Will everything he needs to know. I expect you to begin this assignment as quickly as possible."
* * *
"Reah, how nice to see you," I greeted her as she stepped timidly inside my study. Yes, it was my study, now, and that hadn't fully settled in. Reah was accompanied by Aurelius and Edward, who walked in behind her.
"How is the baby?" I asked. She had no idea how much I adored children. The fact that I'd only had one child in my previous life always troubled me, although she was eventually made Queen of Le-Ath Veronis.
"Lexsi is doing fine," Reah nodded to me and accepted the chair I indicated with a sigh. Aurelius and Edward took the other seats available and once they'd settled, I returned to the chair behind the desk, waiting for them to ask their questions.
"I think we should allow things to remain as they are between us—between Teeg and me," Reah began. I watched as her fingers twisted together in her lap. I wanted to reach out and tell her that her fears were unfounded—that I would never harm her. She seemed overly troubled to me, and there was no need for that.
"If that is your wish," I inclined my head to her. She was a Queen, after all, in addition to being High Demon enough to turn Thifilatha. That wasn't all she was, and I wondered—yet again—how anyone might fail to see the faint glow of power about her.
"How old are—were you?"
"I was thirty-seven thousand years a vampire when I fell in the destruction of Le-Ath Veronis," I replied. I had no reason to hide anything from these present. "I was near death after an accident when I was comesula, at barely sixty-three years of age. I only had one child at that time, and she was ten when I was turned. My vampire sire allowed me to continue with her rearing and education. He also helped with that, and she grew in wisdom quickly."
"Amazing," Aurelius shook his head slightly. Like any good vampire, his emotions were tightly controlled. This one, though, allowed them through if he were with those he trusted. I was not trusted. I would have to earn that.
I seemed to have all of Gavril's talents, and if my suspicions were correct, Breanne may have left me with a few extra. She realized I might need them, I suspect, to maintain my masquerade. Without any trouble, I could tell by scent that Aurelius was Gavin's sire. I already knew that through Gavril's memories, but without them, I'd still have known.
Edward glowed with a power similar to Reah's, so I knew they were the same. Aurelius' power was lesser and different, but he had it, nonetheless.
"I will be available for any events, should you require it," Reah said.
"My dear," I said gently, "I will only require it if you stop trembling in my presence." Reah jerked her head up in surprise.
* * *
"Karzac, what will we do if she doesn't wake?" I'd been at SouthStar for four days and the only signs that life might still be present were Breanne's chest rising and falling and the heartbeat, faint as it was, in her chest.
Even the Larentii couldn't detect brain activity, and that terrified me. Were we keeping her body alive just to leave our hopes intact?
"Lissa," Karzac scolded gently, "We do not know what may happen. Please do not upset yourself. There is more than enough distress as it is."
"I need to get back to Le-Ath Veronis, but I don't want to leave her here like this," I was close to tears and struggled to hold them back. I'd sent mindspeech to Griffin, but he wasn't answering. That was no surprise. I held back from attempting to locate Wylend—if anybody might know where Griffin was, it would be him.
"My love, she is safer here than anywhere else while this condition persists," Karzac soothed. "And you need a break. Tell me this is not so."
"Yeah. I need to go home and get work done," I muttered, hugging myself. "At least we know who the dark-haired god is," I added. Ashe had informed me that it was Li'Neruh Rath, Kifirin's overseer. Karzac and I discussed that briefly over dinner the night before. Kifirin likely had his work cut out for him with a Ko'Ahmari for a supervisor.
"Ashe will alert you if anything changes," Karzac said, glancing at Breanne's body. "Kevis is coming, too. He is taking time away from Sea Winds, and plans to devote his full attention to Kay—and to Breanne's care."
"Then ask Kevis to send mindspeech if there is any change at all," I said. "We'll have to get Ashe or Trajan to take us out of here," I added.
"I know. I just sent mindspeech. Trajan is on the way," Karzac said.
* * *
"How is she?" Gavin rose from a chair inside my study the moment I landed there.
"No change." I hunched my shoulders.
"Cara, it has been such a short time. Even a vampire might not recover for many days from something such as this."
"I know. Karzac inserted a feeding tube. He's worried; he just won't say so."
"We are all worried," Gavin shook his head. "Breanne is the only child I have left, and she may leave me, too."
"Gavin?" I stared at him in shock. This was such a turnabout from his original feelings, mind cloud or not.
"Lissa, I cannot begin to describe how things are for me, now. As if the blindfold has been removed and I see clearly for the first time." Gavin turned away—something troubled him greatly and he found it difficult to put in words.
"Things changed when she sent Love to you, didn't they?" I blinked at him. His dark eyes fastened on my face and he breathed a sigh.
"Yes. Gavril's death—I doubted I would survive it. Yet here I am. I realize all the mistakes I have made, and hope that I may not repeat them in the future."
"I hear Tybus has not only survived his ordeal, but is thriving and handling his duties easily. Tell me that would be if Breanne hadn't done something for him."
"I believe the old Gavin would not have reacted well to someone else in my son's place. Now, I am merely grateful that Tybus was able to assume that role as easily as he has."
"Yeah. And he seems to be a decent person, on top of that."
"I might have persecuted him—as I did in the past with Breanne, had things not changed for me."
"Gavin, it's the same soul. Conner says so, and she'd know. We didn't give birth to him, but the important part is the same. We need to support him in any way we can."
"And I will, cara. I promise. Just as I will support Breanne in any way I can, should she survive."
"Gavin, I'm so worried." I went to him. He pulled me into his embrace and kissed the top of my head. "What would hold the universes together, if Love didn't exist?" I said.
Gavin pulled away and stared at me. "Lissa, that is the most frightening thing I've heard in a very long time," he whispered.
"Yeah," I agreed.
* * *
"Mr. President, we lost that round," Bill sighed. "I don't know where all the rats went after the church went down, but I'm certain they're out there somewhere, waiting to spread their plague again."
"This doesn't sound good at all," the President shook his head at Bill. "I realize you don't have a better chance at nailing those responsible than the ones I have in other agencies, but I have to tell you, you're the only one who managed to get any information on what we're facing. You say the woman's dead?"
"Yes." Bill lowered his gaze to the floor.
"I realize she was important to you and I'm sorry for your loss. Keep me posted, Director Jennings, and if you need help from anyone else—anyone—let me know. I'll make sure they're available to you."
"Thank you, Mr. President." Bill nodded respectfully and turned to leave the Oval Office.
* * *
"We need to track Vernon Clark," Bill said the moment he arrived at his office. He'd asked Opal, Hank and Jayson (whom everyone else called Matt) to wait there for him after the meeting with the President.
"The conspiracy nutcase?" Jayson asked.
"Yeah. I think he's up to his hairline in this," Bill replied before taking a seat behind his desk. "And since he's human—or was the last I heard, he may be easier to track. Maybe we can get information from him on some of the others. We don't need more death and destruction, and I'm grasping at flimsy straws as it is. Vernon Clark may be the first step in a long battle."
"We may not get anything useful out of him, if he's carrying an obsession," Hank pointed out.
"That's all right—I wouldn't mind watching him die like the Sirenali you killed in San Francisco. The fact that he targeted Breanne and Jayson with that idiotic website he runs is enough for me to want him questioned and dead. If he's obsessed, then dead only will do."
"I think I can handle that," Hank agreed, his eyes turning dark and feral.
"You haven't heard anything—have you?" Bill watched Hank carefully. He knew Breanne's body had been moved and was no longer on Earth. He had no idea if she'd been taken for burial or some other purpose. Regardless of the reason, he grieved for her.
"No, Director. There is no news." Hank's eyes regained their normal appearance as he shook his head.
"This sucks," Jayson muttered.
"I agree completely," Bill said. "But we have a job to do, now, and we have to get on it. The last reliable sighting of Vernon was in New Mexico. Are you packed and ready to go? If not, get that way. Hank, can you transport?"
* * *
"This is Lexsi?" Jayd watched as the baby's hand curled around his finger. "She's so precious," he smiled at the tiny girl in Tory's arms. Reah, Edward and Zendeval stood nearby, trying not to appear impatient as Jayd and Glinda played with the baby.
"This one you will not command," a newcomer appeared, with Kifirin beside him.
Jayd blinked at the new arrivals. Yes, he'd seen Li'Neruh Rath once before and the meeting had been particularly one-sided. Li'Neruh pointed out Jayd's shortcomings, and Jayd had bowed to Kifirin's superior. One of the things Li'Neruh had changed for the High Demon race—dramatically—was the tradition of placing claiming marks.
No longer would the female become ill. The bulk of the responsibility fell on the male, who was now required to care for his mate by rendering her unconscious with their first kiss, then healing the bite marks afterward, so she wouldn't suffer.
Jayd didn't know what to think of the changes. Yes, it would be much better for the female, but he felt it reduced the male's show of strength and virility. It didn't matter; Li'Neruh had decreed the change, therefore it was law.
"Dark Lords," Jayd bowed to the new arrivals.
"You would be wise to conceal your contempt," Li'Neruh snapped at Jayd. "Only Kifirin promised not to interfere. I have not made that promise, and I will not. The Dark Realm required a steady hand upon it, by its very nature. That hand will fall heavy in the future, should it be required." Li'Neruh's eyes were completely black and stars fell and burst in their depths. Jayd was learning that it meant Li'Neruh was angry.
"My apologies, Dark Lord," Jayd lowered his eyes.
"Do not anger me again over such inconsequential nonsense," Li'Neruh breathed smoke with his displeasure. "Strength and virility? There are other, more effective ways to display those. There is no need to harm an already frightened female." Li'Neruh crossed well-muscled arms over his chest.
"You call it harm?" Jayd asked.
"Yes. It is harm. As you have never been ill, you have no idea how your mate suffered when you claimed her. I can rectify that, if you'd like." Li'Neruh uncrossed his arms and lifted a hand.
"No—no, there is no need," Jayd backed away. "I was merely reflecting on tradition."
"At times, traditions are not only harmful; they are ill-conceived from the beginning." More smoke escaped Li'Neruh's nostrils.
Jayd's eyes turned to Kifirin, who glowered. He resented his overlord—a great deal indeed.
* * *
"It was a mistake, building only one to start," Acrimus observed. "Don't these humans have a saying—about not putting all your eggs in one basket?"
"I agree," Calhoun nodded. "Actually, why build at all, when there are so many throughout this planet? We can target those most amenable to our agenda, and take over from within."
"That may be the best idea I've heard from you," Acrimus' grimace barely resembled the smile intended. "Why stop with only this planet? Are there not religious establishments throughout the worlds?"
"There are," Calhoun's nod became more animated.
"Excellent. Bring a list of targets, and we will devise our plans."
* * *
"Here's your first target," Vernon Clark pointed to the website he'd pulled up on his laptop.
"I see," Calhoun nodded. "I had them on my list as well. There's no need to instill hate when it's there already."
"One less task for ours to accomplish," Vernon agreed. "These already picket funerals for the dead and hospitals for the wounded, claiming they're all going to hell."
"Hell. Such a delicious concept," Calhoun chuckled. "How easy it is to dupe or mislead these; they so readily believe anything fed to them. Such apt pupils they are."
"You don't believe in hell?" Vernon turned muddy green eyes on Calhoun.
"Oh, my dear, dear, misguided human," Calhoun patted Vernon's shoulder affectionately.
* * *
"Hey, Frank." Bill sighed as Franklin chose a lounge chair next to his. Bill had taken to sitting on the wide, back deck outside his bedroom. He'd almost stopped cooking altogether, allowing Sharon O'Neill, Adele Evans and Lavonna Anderson to cook. They usually prepared meals in their homes for the big house, as they called it, and Trace or Trajan picked up the food and brought it in.
The only thing Bill did was take Kay's meals to her, and Franklin currently alternated days tending Kay so Bill could have time alone or with Breanne.
"I looked in on Breanne," Franklin said, making himself more comfortable on the deck chair.
"Yeah." Bill's shoulders drooped.
"Hey, none of us have treated one of her kind before—except Karzac, that is, and he only healed superficial stuff. None of us know what any of this means." Franklin stared across miles of gishi fruit trees below the house. He knew the trees would soon flower and grow tiny knobs of green fruit, heralding another harvesting season on Avendor.
"It doesn't matter whether I'm in there or not. Whether I'm talking to her or not. She's not there," Bill whispered.
"Bill, I'm asking you not to give up hope," Frank leaned over and rubbed Bill's back.
"Nine days, Frank. It's been nine days, and no sign. Nothing. Yeah, she's breathing on her own, and her heart is still beating, but—that's it."
"If she weren't breathing on her own, I'd be more worried than I am," Frank said, giving Bill's back a final pat before pulling away. "For me, that spells hope. If she needed help to breathe, then I'd worry. Her vitals are strong for someone in her condition."
"I thought the Larentii had a hand in that," Bill said.
"Up to a point," Franklin agreed. "But you see they're not here sustaining that, don't you?"
"This is so confusing," Bill covered his face with both hands.
"And wearying, I know," Franklin sympathized. "If that were one of my mates in there, I'd be freaked out, too. Bill, she'll get the best of care, and if there's any way," Franklin left the sentence hanging.
"Yeah. I know that. Ashe says that he won't attempt to call her back, because of their history. He's worried that he'll just drive her farther away, and that will make it worse."
"Not good," Franklin sighed. "Look, Kay ate her lunch, and I'll be back to take dinner to her. She still has that permanent blank look on her face, but that's nothing new."
"Yeah." Bill dropped his hands and blinked to adjust to the light again. "Both of them—wandering who knows where, and we can't get to either one."
* * *
Kevis changed the bag of liquid sustenance attached to Breanne's feeding tube. His father inserted the tube five days earlier, so Breanne's body might be kept healthy. Kevis knew, just as his father did, that there was no brain activity. That might mean something to most people. He knew his father was waiting to make a judgment on one of the Mighty, however.
"You'd make a lot of people feel better if you'd just wake," Kevis hung the new bag on the pole beside Breanne's bed. "You're safe where you are, I promise. I talked with Graegar—he came to see me. He says that he loves you. Barrigar does, too. You've never really talked with Barrigar. He's one of the best Larentii I know. Doesn't say much, but he sees everything around him." Kevis took a chair beside the bed with a sigh.
"I think Barry's talent for noticing everything around him makes him a really good Protector. I know Conner loves him a lot—just like she loves Graegar. Connegar is Barrigar's son, you know. Barrigar is a wonderful parent. Connegar was Conner's first Larentii child, so he was named after her. Garegar is Graegar's child with Conner, and since he was second-born, he took a variation of his father's name for himself. Are you cold?" Kevis leaned forward and pulled the blanket up a little, covering Breanne's body up to her chin.
"Now," he said, "Pheligar is Renegar's father. Kiarra is Renegar's mother. Renegar is Graegar's father; Grace is Graegar's mother. Graegar is Garegar's father, Conner is Garegar's mother."
"If you don't shut up with Larentii lineage, I may punch you," Breanne's cobalt-blue eyes opened and she blinked in the light filtering through a nearby window. Even Bill heard Kevis' whoop of joy and popped out of his deck chair at a run.