The Darkness PROLOGUE

Several months after the battle at Masada

Eve squatted down and touched thedirt, her elbow extended away from her body, and lifted her forearm to allow a steely-eyed falcon to perch on it. Using every Neteru sensory gift she owned, she followed the nearly imperceptible patterns in the earth, and then she stood in one graceful move that didn't unsettle her winged hunter.

"Fly!" Eve commanded. "It is in the form of a man now. The beast is no longer in its pupa stage." She threw the falcon away from her arm, and it took flight with an angry screech.

"How can this be? I brought you its slain carcass!"Hannibal shouted. His question and eyes were pained as he tried to steady his red battle stallion that pranced in agitation.

The other Kings grunted their assent as they waited for Eve's reply, arms at the ready. Adam's tortured gaze met his wife's.

"We rode hard from Masada through the Judean Desert . . . we missed no trail all the way to Tel Jericho through to the old biblical lands of Amman and Moab, which they now call Jordan, and we circled back to slaughter it here on Mount Temptation." Adam's voice was laden with tension and fatigue as he dismounted from a gleaming white steed.

"Eve . . . my Queen," Adam pressed on when she didn't immediately reply but kept her gaze to the horizon. "I know the mere thought that her progeny has survived is like a barb in your heart for all that Lilith has robbed from you. You must accept thatHannibal has conquered it. The nightmares will be slow to cease for both of us . . . given all that we have endured." He went to her and landed a hand on her shoulder. "Please . . . let your spirit rest."

She shook her head and turned to the group of Neteru warriors, her eyes glistening with tears of frustration. She cupped Adam's cheek for a moment and then allowed her palm to slide away.

"I am the earth mother. Nothing touches my soil that I do not feel in my womb, which has given birth to every nation. Why would you doubt my inner sense now, after all these years?" Hurt filled Eve's voice as Aset stepped to her side, the Queen resolute.

"Show us the carcass again, Ausar," Aset said.

He dismounted and brought over the blue-white energy containment sphere that had been in his saddlebag. Without a word he kinetically sent it into his wife's hands, one palm up, one palm down, and she received it that way, as had been shown on the great walls of the pyramids atGiza since time immemorial.

"This," Aset said, "is a husk-only the pupa's shell." She jettisoned the orb back to Ausar.

Nzinga tightened her grip on her battle-ax. "Then we ride till we find it, no matter the fatigue."

"How can you be sure? This could very well just be a diversion to keep us expending energy resources to grind us down to the point of exhaustion. That could make us vulnerable! They need evasive tactics like that now that they've lost so many demon legions-and whenHannibal first brought what you call a husk to ourCouncil, we all breathed a sigh of relief." Ausar glanced around at the assembled warriors and found agreement in all eyes except those of the Queen.

"All but Eve breathed such relief, dear husband," Aset said, her gaze holding his. "With all due respect, now she has added reason to believe that her theory was correct. I can feel it bubbling beneath the surface of my Queen Sister's skin."

Eve called over the top three generals from the King and Queen Neteru Councils with a wave of her graceful hand, and then stooped down to point at minute changes in the earth.

"It took my falcon a long time to find this, but here is where it dropped from the sky from your first energy bolt,Hannibal ." Like a forensic scholar, Eve drew an invisible trajectory with her finger and then allowed her energy to light the way just above the dirt without disturbing it. "It skidded and left charred grasses, then got up on three legs, not four, in its normal, immature Harpie form."

"It was injured,"Hannibal stated firmly, satisfaction resonant in his deep voice.

"Yes. Severely," Eve affirmed, showing them where splashed acid had eaten away vegetation. "Look at the wide, flat sweep against the dirt," she added. "That's where it also dragged its damaged wing."

"That matches the carcass we have contained," Ausar said, lifting his chin and glancing at Adam and Hannibal.

"True," Eve said quietly, lost in thought. "But look at this strange, uneven dark charge," she murmured and stood again as her falcon cried. Eve shielded her eyes from the glaring sun and began to walk toward where her distressed bird circled.

"It just looks like the carnage after a fatal injury,"Hannibal said, leaning closer to inspect.

"What is the dark energy signature of the pattern?" Adam asked quickly as the elite squad of ancestral warriors began to follow Eve.

"Lucifer's," Eve said, bringing the group to a halt. "I would know the foundation of Cain's DNA anywhere, even a generation or two removed." She looked away. "He made this abomination with both Lilith and her Chairman . . . my son, Cain." Eve closed her eyes and hugged herself as Adam's arms enfolded her. "With assistance from that unspeakable source, it stood right up from its own blood splatter in a new form.Guaranteed my falcon has found the footprints of a man."

Lilith stood at the edge of her husband's bedchambers, studying his unreadable expression and mood. He had allowed several months to pass without comment about the total devastation of eight demon legions, an insidious spell that had backfired into the Dark Realms, and a network Light virus sent into their caverns and brain centers by the human Neteru team. Now he'd finally sent for her, and the Harpies had escorted her here-not to his torture chamber, not to his war room-but here.

Knowing that his mood could shift to horrific wrath in the blink of an eye, she remained very still, waiting. She was old and wise enough, had been with him long enough, to know that one of his greatest pleasures was luring his victims into a false sense of security before he struck. That made the shock and terror all the more palpable, the betrayal more visceral, the tears and their cries more bittersweet. Therefore, she would not allow herself to be fooled by his exquisitely handsome smile or his calm repose on the heavy Baroque-style furnishings.

He absently stroked the feathers of one of his glistening black wings and tilted his head as he studied her reluctance to fully enter his domain. "No warm welcome from my mate after these many months?"

She allowed her eyes to travel along the perfect symmetry of his nude, muscular form, and swallowed hard as he spoke to her in a deep, sensual tone inDananu .

"Come to me, Lilith. I know I have had my moments of rage . . . but not today." He uncovered his flawless, sculpted body by moving a massive wing, and held out his manicured hand. "No claws this dawn . . . no leather wings of fury or cloven hooves to stomp you. Look," he said with a droll smile. "Even my tail is retracted, darling, I am deeply pleased . . . beyond your comprehension. You broke the code."

Somewhat startled by his approach, she hesitated. "But we lost his trail when the second seal broke. They released the red stallion . . . there was nothing more we could do."

"I know," he said with a deep, slow chuckle, and then let out a long sigh. "Don't make me repeat my request. Come to me, Lilith. I've waited a very long time for this."

Her voice caught in her throat as she braced for her final extermination. Lilith's gaze slid from her husband's sensual smile and lush mouth that crested a hint of fang down to his stone-carved chest to witness his calm breaths. His sinewy abdomen was rigid with want, and her gaze briefly considered the massive erection he owned. Just seeing that made herfight the impulse to back away quickly. Whatever torture he'd planned this time in exchange for her failure had turned him on so much that her extinction was imminent.

"Just make it swift," she murmured inDananu , tears rising in her eyes as she finally approached the edge of the huge chamber bed. Her thighs came to a rest against black silk and gold brocade. "While you have every right to prolong my torture . . . I beseech you, for old time's sake . . . as your first . . . the only one who stood with you against Adam and even the Unnamed at the beginning of days . . . be swift."

"Be swift?" Her husband smiled and raised an eyebrow. His dark eyes hunted her. "Why, Lilith, I am completely offended."

Lilith's voice fractured as her breath left her body. His power snatch was so quick and severe that she didn't even have time to gasp.

He smiled and kissed her slowly as he brought her beneath him and extended his onyx-hued wings to blanket them both. "You asked me to be swift and I complied. But I had never considered my giving you pleasure a torturous thing. . . . Should that be swift, too?"

She looked up into his intense black irises that held the depths of all darkness. Unable to helpherself , she touched the side of his face, confused when she witnessed raw passion and appreciation in his eyes-something she'd never seen to this degree in them before.

"You did it," he said quietly, nuzzling her throat and beginning to call her jugular vein to the surface of her skin. "You made him. The males who took the lead throne of evil on my most cherished Vampire Council couldn't produce him, but you, my wife, you did." His voice dropped to a sensual whisper. "My own son, Dante, couldn't even do it, but you did."

Relief washed through her and her body relaxed in his hold, but she didn't say a word for fear of ruining the moment. She allowed him to lead the negotiation for now. Dark energy began to enter her pores, infusing her with a slow, inner-leaking pleasure that caused her to writhe beneath him with a feral moan.

"He is not lost, Lilith," her husband crooned as his hands lavished her body, leaving her so sensation-drunk from his touch that she could barely move. "He homed to my energies. . . . Millennia ago I had been there to challenge the one who we never name, and now, my heir has gone to Mount Temptation and slipped out of his birth skin to find the dark chrysalis of transformation. Forty thousand demon troops as a cannon-fodder diversion . . . what you did up onMasada was epic, Lilith," he said, his breaths becoming ragged. "I will give you what I wanted to give our son, Dante-what he was never demon enough to have earned as a reward."

She arched with a shriek as he entered her and bit her simultaneously in one deft move. It felt as though her heart would explode as temporal colors and scents and sounds from the earth plane erupted inside her. She dug her nails into his shoulders, her talons growing as he sent power into her throbbing vein while he moved against her, causing climatic bursts. When he lifted his head from the infusion, fangs dripping with her black blood, she was barely conscious.

"Give this to your councilmen, and surprise them with the gift. They cannot pass it yet, only my heir will have that right. But you have pleased me, Lilith. . . . This time you have outdone yourself." He kissed her, making her taste her own power-infused blood on his mouth. "Stay with me this morning of your own accord . . . and let me take my time to do this with agonizingly slow precision. Tomorrow, you can share this with them. Is that fair exchange?"

All she could do was nod.

"It's too close to dawn," Sebastian said, looking at his fellow councilmen. His gaze ricocheted between them, the chamber doors, and the goblet of blood he was afraid to touch for fear of being poisoned. "A meeting now, after months of trying to rebuild all the damage . . . what do you think this could mean?"

Fallon Nuit kept his eyes on the huge black marble doors of the Vampire Council Chambers as he spoke in a resigned, philosophical tone. "The caverns murmur that she was called by her husband. After the fledgling from Nod was lost, and given the heavy losses atMasada where the Arc of the Covenant was actually unleashed against us . . . I would say that this is a fond farewell gathering, a prelude to sure assassination." Fallon made a tent with his fingers before his mouth and closed his eyes. "When the Harpies come, do not struggle,mon ami . They will delight in it, and that will be added to your torture terrors. Rest assured, I know."

Yonnie leaned forward and filled a goblet of blood from the pentagram-shaped table, his gaze fixed on the golden-fanged crest that revealed all evil machinations beneath it. He absently took a sip. "Then, why worry, Sebastian. If you're poisoned, that's fucked-up, but a better way to go than the wall."

"Because you won't die if poisoned!" Sebastian hissed. "You will writhe and suffer the effects as it eats your insides out, but you will not perish!"

"Aw'ight, so my bad."Yonnie flopped back against his throne. "There were so many things I wanted to do before this bullshit went down."

Fallon reached for a goblet and then knocked his against Yonnie's."Strange that we are only now coming to a strained peace accord, you and I, when it is so near our end.Ironic,n'estce pas? "

Yonnie nodded, his gaze holding Nuit's."Oui. But don't get it twisted. I ain't done hatin' your foul ass yet. But given the circumstances, at the moment, we cool."

Nuit smiled. "That is what I most admire in you, Yolando. Rare, that quality of steadfastness and blunt honesty . . . has a ring of the old Councilman Rivera to it. If there was anything I wanted to accomplish before being terminated from office, it would have been settling the score with that impossible-to-kill bastard." Nuit sighed. "Alas, but we are still on a sinking ship together, gentlemen."

"Maybe if we all . . ." Sebastian's words trailed off as the floor began to rumble.

Sebastian foolishly tried to transport out by gathering a dark energy funnel around himself, but the bats refused to respond to the command so close to dawn. They desperately flew counter-clockwise to his funnel directive in an attempt to get him back to his throne for safety. But as he fought to go in the opposite direction, the floor cracked, splattering blood from the rich veins in the marble. The conflict left the bats winded and they simply dropped Sebastian to sprawl in the middle of the floor.

Yonnie just shook his head and took a deep sip from his goblet.

Nuit coolly regarded Sebastian's shriek as Harpies poured out of the floor fissure, their little gray-green gargoyle bodies moving like a swift, demonic tide to cover Sebastian.

"Stop fighting them," Nuit said, resigned. "There is nowhere to run."

Yonnie stood as Sebastian's screams became piteous begging to be released. Poised to begin fighting, he battle bulked and took aim to blow away anything that approached with a black charge.

"There aremillions of them," Nuit said, standing to walk right into the skittering, screeching Harpie swarm."Adieu, mon ami," he said with a petulant nod. "It has been, as you say, real."

Yonnie watched in pure disbelief as the forms of both councilmen were overrun by gray-green creatures until they couldn't be distinguished from the thicket of screeching, scrambling bodies that dragged them into the fissure. Cold sweat made Yonnie's suit beneath his council robe cling to his body. He lifted his chin as Lilith's voluptuous silhouette caught his peripheral vision. She sashayed forward as her Harpies began to climb up Yonnie's body.

"You bitch," Yonnie murmured. "One day, me and you . . ."

She laughed and made the crowd of Harpies remove their squirming bodies from his face so he could see."How about this morning, then?Me and you, topside, lover?" She blew him a kiss and then turned and walked away.

Her laugh collided with Yonnie's echoing yell. "No!"

Carlos propped himself up on one elbow and stared down at Damali. He traced her arm, watching the perspiration he'd left there glisten in the new dawn light. Speckles of radiant white Light energy still danced in her velvety locks and made her cinnamon-hued skin shimmer. Her kiss-punished mouth made his own hunger to taste her lips just one more time, but he would wait.

There was something so absolutely peaceful and yet surreal about watching the colors in her aura float over her soft, beautiful skin while she slept . . . and although he had very pressing, selfish reasons to wake her, he couldn't. Not when she was so sated and unburdened by worry. That was a gift he'd never take from her. The sleep of the innocent was something to treasure.

His wife had rebuilt the team, had gotten everyone to envision a real home in order that it could manifest-and not just a barracks-type compound like before. A real home was what they now shared inSan Diego . His baby had even brought back their music after the insane battle atMasada . The healings she'd done on the emotional and spiritual level were so profound that he simply kissed her shoulder and laid his cheek against it for a moment. This woman deserved her rest, he told himself. They'd been at it all night.

Snuggling down next to Damali, he kissed her hair and drew her tighter into their spoon with a slight wince. Her body pressed against his erection, a perfect fit that increased the throb. It was going to take serious concentration and willpower unreal to not move against her warm, butter-soft behind. She stirred slightly and released a peaceful sigh, her hand curling around his the way a baby would unconsciously grip a finger.

Carlos's mind blurted a spontaneous prayer . . . if God would just let there be enough time, let the clock on the scoreboard not run out, maybe he could grow old like Father Pat . . . old enough for both him and Damali to have kids and see them grow up.

In his soul he knew that, fifty years from now, he'd still feel the same way about D. So, yeah, he could let her get some rest. He chuckled to himself-it was ridiculous between them sometimes. Carlos let his head slowly sink down onto the pillows, and he closed his eyes, willing his body to relax. The sun from the skylight was warm against his face. Again, she'd been right to put the bed under it to catch the morning rays and to display the spectacular star carpet at night. Yeah, they were blessed. It was all good.

He drifted off with that thought in mind and pulled the covers up a little higher on his wife's nude body to shield her from the coolness of the air-conditioning.

A sudden thud made Carlos and Damali open their eyes at the same time and sit up. They both started up simultaneously. Carlos was out of the bed, and she was right behind him with a sheet wrapped aroundherself . The gasp she released could have cut metal. Carlos was in his pants in seconds, tears in his eyes. Blinded by tears and grabbing at anything she could quickly put on, Damali dressed in a flash.

"I gotta go get him!" Carlossaid, his breathing erratic as he looked up at the skylight. "That's my fucking boy-I've been there, those bastards . . . oh shit . . ."

"Baby," she said, trying to hold him, as he snatched away from her attempts. "By the time you get there . . . I also remember trying to save you like that. You can't beat the sun. He'll be ash."

"Then I'll go get Yonnie's ashes! That's the least I owe him."

Carlos looked up, the flood of tears winning out as they leaked from the corners of his eyes. Another blood brother had died on his watch. Flashes of Alejandro, Julio, Juan, and Miguel stabbed into his conscience. Thinking of Father Lopez, and then Gabrielle, made him stop breathing. Yonnie's disheveled appearance made it seem like he'd been assaulted by Harpies-his suit was in shreds, and his normally immaculate Afro looked like he'd been fighting wild. Blood leaked from his jugular due to a sloppy vein hit, oozing down the skylight glass to paint it crimson. His body was beginning to smolder, but there was a look of pure bliss on his face. If it had been any other vamp, the fallen would have combusted on impact from Marlene's prayer barriers, but Yonnie was exempt.

"Don't look, baby," Carlos said, defeated, turning away to wipe his face with both palms. "He's two hundred years old. I'm going up to get him before maggots start crawling over the glass."

Damali touched his arm. "Let me go with you, Carlos. I can say a prayer with you over his remains . . . when two or more are gathered . . . remember?"

Carlos nodded, pulled her and the sheet she'd been wearing into an embrace, and folded them away to the roof. He didn't say a word as they stepped out of the nothingness to roll Yonnie over, trying to shield him with the bed linen. But Yonnie kept waving it away.

Carlos called his blade into his grip. "He's in so much pain, D, he's delirious . . . I gotta," Carlos whispered thickly."Can't wait for ash."

Damali knelt down, trying to get the sheet over Yonnie's head. "Then only like this," she said quietly. "That's one less pair of eyes, one less face to remember having to do this to."

"It feels so good, man," Yonnie murmured. "Don't."

Carlos sat back on his haunches, and Damali stared from where she squatted. Carlos slowly dropped his blade.

Yonnie opened his eyes slowly and squinted, fangs glistening in the sun, and then he laughed like a drunk while crying at the same time. "I haven't felt or seen sunlight in over two hundred years, man." He looked at Carlos, his eyes seeming blind and disoriented as he spoke.

"He's not burning, Carlos," Damali said, jumping up. "Something's wrong." She called theIsis blade into her palm and stepped back.

Carlos was on his feet in an instant and squared off with her, holding a protective shield of Heru over Yonnie."You crazy? This is family!"

Damali steadied her voice, tears streaming as she shook her head. What she said next came out in a near whisper. "They finally made a daywalker, Carlos. This isn't a resurrection or second chance."

Carlos slowly turned away to stare at Yonnie; the tears that glimmered in Damali's eyes shone with truth. He stooped down next to his best friend of too many years and battles to count. "Talk to me, man."

Yonnie closed his eyes and dropped his head back, smiling. "She bit me, man. I thought the Harpies were dragging us to our deaths by sunlight."

Carlos exchanged a look with Damali.

"Who bit you, brother?" Carlos asked carefully.

"Lilith . . . It wasso sweet, " Yonnie breathed out. "Better than hump-in-your-back sex." He shook his head and kept his eyes closed with his face tilted toward the sun. "Sebastian practically shit himself when they tied us down-but she had to, man. We were wiggin' so bad, it would have been on to the death. We would've tried to ice her. Nuit tried. He lost his cool and bugged at the last minute.Took about fifty of those little bastards to hold him down, too. By the time she got to me, hey, I was philosophical."

Yonnie opened his eyes with a wide grin and then demonstrated for Carlos, calmly reenacting the scene. "Just turned my head to the side and pointed to the vein. Figured, fuck it. Flat-line me so I don't feel the sunburn, you know." He chuckled and shook his head. "I woke up sun-stupid, brother. Came right here to let my homeboy know I made it." Yonnie grabbed Carlos's hand in an old-fashioned finger grip handshake, and then banged his knuckles. "But I ain't gonna lie, I gotta eat soon . . . gotta come down . . . I'm buzzed like a motherfucker." He wiped both his palms down his face."Tarahome? She gotta see this."

Damali's telepathy stabbed into Carlos's brain.Say a prayer over him and do him now, baby-send him into the Light proper.There's three of them! Daywalkers!Councilmen. You know what this means!

No! I can't . . . he deserves the same chance I got. Besides, we learned a lot-don't make me do this, D. I'm asking you as your husband-fall back.

"Everything cool, man?"Yonnie said when Carlos didn't respond to the question fast enough. He sat up slowly, monitoring the tension between Carlos and Damali.

Carlos glimpsed Damali and watched her lower her blade. "Yeah, man, everything's peace."

Yonnie stood, making Carlos stand. "Then, uh, why's your lady clutching anIsis ? I didn't come this far to get smoked in broad daylight over bullshit."

"When you hit our skylight," Carlos said tensely, his gaze boring into Damali's, "we didn't know you were gonna make it."

Yonnie nodded and then swallowed hard after a moment, slowly pulling Carlos into a brotherly embrace. "Thanks, man . . . I owe you.Always got my back, no matter what. Woulda took my head clean like I'd asked you to, if I woke up burning and screaming. Damn . . . that's a helluva friend."

Carlos slapped Yonnie's back, staring at Damali over Yonnie's shoulder until she glanced away."Yeah, if it came to that, but it didn't." He withdrew and looked Yonnie dead in the eyes. "Last thing I want, man, is to see you suffer."
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