Authors: T. A. Grey
was a little shop squished between two other small buildings on a narrow brick street. On one side sat a coffee shop that always made
smell like freshly brewed coffee and on the other side sat an antique shop that always had a ‘closed’ sign in the window. Lily told the driver to wait for her and went into Medina's.
A bell that sounded like a wind chime rang as she entered. Bright chandeliers and wall sconces lit the shop. Old rugs, discolored from age, covered the floor and a variety of bookshelves and glass cabinets lined the room. Lily gingerly passed through the bookshelves and smelled a mixture of herbs and coffee. Soft instrumental music played from the back of the store. A soft voice hummed along to the tune and made Lily smile.
She passed the cases of books and came into the main room where an island sat with plastic drawers filled with fresh dried herbs, plants, and little bottles of oils plugged with a small cork.
“Rosa?” The humming stopped and then the dark-skinned beauty came through a beaded partition.
A smile lit up her face. “Lily! You're here!” They hugged, sharing a laugh. Rosa pulled away and looked her up and down. “And you're not wearing any shoes.”
Lily shrugged. “Long story. I was hoping to catch you here. I lost my backpack in a car accident and I need some supplies.”
Rosa shook her head and sighed. “You in a car accident? Why can I totally picture this?”
“Hey, I'm a great driver. The guy in front of me just slowed down too much.”
“Lily, I don't think that's how driving's supposed to work.”
She shrugged. “Whatever.” Picking up a brown paper bag, she began searching the shelves, grabbing essential oils, herbs, candles, and incense that got left in her pack.
Rosa took a seat in a wide but short chair that looked probably older than she was. “What happened to your nose?”
Lily told her about the car accident, the missing shoes, the door stamping her face, and then getting into Telal's.
By time she finished, Rosa was laughing so hard tears fell down her face. “You have such bad luck.”
Lily grunted. “Tell me about it.”
“So how long do you think he'll put up with you living there?”
“With my threat hanging over him—for as long as I want. He won't make it easy though. He's probably already ordered his men to keep me away from his precious office.”
“And him of course.”
“And him,” she agreed. “All right, let's get some of these brewing. My ribs are killing me.”
Together they went through the beaded curtain to a small kitchenette in the back. They began making the mixture together, one handing the herbs over, the other stirring them into a pot.
“You know this is a sign, Lily.” Rosa's voice held an edge to it.
“I don't care,” Lily said lightly, though her hand tightened around the wooden spoon.
“I'm sure you don't,” Rosa said gently, “but it's better to be cautious. Take things slow.”
Lily chuckled. “You know slow isn't my way.” She stirred the creamy substance until it came to a simmer then added crushed plant leaves, oils, and herbs.
“Patience is a great skill.”
“I bet it is. Unfortunately, I don't have any.”
“You could learn.”
“My party was great, huh?” she said, changing the subject.
Rosa didn't say anything for a moment. “Yes, I had a good time. Though that demon Rayn wouldn't stop hitting on me.”
Lily laughed, the sound forced. “Such a flirt. He's cute though. Maybe you should take him up on that date.”
Rosa looked away, a dark looking coming over her eyes. “No, I don't think so.”
Lily turned off the burner to let the remedy cool. Her ribs and abdomen ached by making even the slightest turn. This would help, though, at the very least it'd relax her nerves.
“Are you still having the nightmares?”
Lily lifted the pot over a cheesecloth covering a funnel that sat in a glass, and paused. “Not in the past few nights. Been going strong.” She gave Rosa a confident smile but Rosa's cocked eyebrow said she didn't buy it. “Okay, I didn't last night but that's all.”
“Their frequency shouldn't be ignored.”
Lily might have rolled her eyes but Rosa kept a close eye on her. “I know that.”
“Then what are you going to do about it?” said Rosa. She crossed her arms and in that green velvet dress she wore, she looked like a sorceress...or a monk.
Lily finished squeezing the liquid into the glass and tossed the cloth and funnel into the sink. “What do you think I should do?” She tried to keep the bite out of her voice but it didn't work.
“Be patient. Go slow and prepare.”
Her own patience, what little she had of it, quickly slid through the floor. “Prepare for what? I don't even know what or who it is. It's a dream about a dark man surrounded by evil sitting on a shadowy throne. Hell, it took me two months to even see that it was a throne he was sitting on. The dreams are too vague.” She grabbed the glass with the remedy and started chugging it in big gulps that hurt her throat when she swallowed.
“Are you wearing your charm bracelet at least?”
Lily pulled up the leg of her leather pants until the bracelet showed. Rosa nodded, her expression grim.
“I worry about you. You know it's out of love, right?”
Lily smiled for real this time and gave Rosa a one-armed hug. “I know. I love you, too.”
“Feeling better now?” Rosa grabbed her hand in her soft one. The touch was meant to be comforting, just a friend touching a friend, but then Rosa's pupil's dilated until the brown of her eyes disappeared completely leaving only black holes. She gasped, sucking in a breath of air, and then she stood there, staring but not seeing.
“Dammit, Rosa, are you okay?” Lily'd seen this before, but it'd never happened
her. She yanked on her hand but it was like trying to yank her hand out of an ogre's grip.
Rosa sucked in a sharp breath and her hand flexed open, fingers pointing straight. Her chest moved rapidly, then slowly her pupils receded back to small points. She blinked slowly before looking back at Lily. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Her cheeks were pale like she'd seen a ghost.
“What's wrong, Rosa? What did you see?”
“You. You’re dead.”
The shrill of an old time telephone tore through the moment like a chainsaw. After the sixth ring, Rosa jerked then slowly moved to the phone. She kept an antique phone, a vertical rotary one that hung on the wall. She answered it and her shaky voice almost sounded normal.
She hung up a minute later. “I'm sorry,” she said, her voice distant. “I have to go. A special meeting's been called. I'm required to be there.”
“What kind of special meeting?”
Rosa shook her head, her eyes faraway as she moved around the room putting supplies in a brown shoulder satchel. “I'm not sure. He just said I'm required to show up.”
Rosa paused in the motion of grabbing her keys. “Telal Demuzi.”
Lily's brows shot up. “My demon? I'm going with you.”
A brisk shake of her head. “No way. He said just me.”
Lily jammed her remedy into a bag and slung it around her shoulder. “You're taking me.” She stared at Rosa until she hesitantly met her gaze. The staring contest went on for a good two minutes before Rosa finally sighed.
“Fine, you win.”
“I always do.”
“It's time,” Kearnyn said.
Telal finished putting his documents into a briefcase and snapped it closed. He nodded to Kearnyn and laid his hand on his shoulder. With a thought, the room around them disappeared. A new room slowly appeared with a long oval desk surrounded by more than a dozen leather chairs. A single door was the only way in or out and on the opposite wall was a white dry-erase board. Influential figures were already coming into the room.
Telal started around the room, shaking hands with each of the members. For all that he knew, nothing like this had ever been done, and certainly what he wanted to accomplish, had never been done. Most of the members he was familiar with, others were only an acquaintance.
Tyrian en Kulev came to represent the Atal warriors, Alpha Lyonis Keelan of the shapeshifters, Jeremiah Caine of the succubus council, and Rosa Medina a witch of incredible power. Telal glared as a small woman with dark curling hair came out from behind Rosa.
Telal stalked to her before he thought twice about it. She smiled when she saw him. He snatched her by the elbow and dragged her to the corner of the room.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I was already hanging out with Rosa. I figured I'd come and see what this mysterious meeting was about.”
He looked away as if trying for patience. “If you do anything to destroy this meeting...” He left the threat at that.
She gave him a haughty look. “I'm not stupid. I just want to see what this is all about. Besides, I think I already know.”
“Your level of intelligence is debatable, Ms. Bellum. Just take a seat and keep your mouth shut.” He stalked away to welcome the newest guests before he transported her out of there himself.
Others started ambling in as well. Draven, Henry, and Rayn from Tyrian's staff. Jackie and Thane Vanner from Lyonis'. Spotting Kearnyn in the corner of the room, he went to him.
“Keep an eye on Lily Bellum. If she starts anything, I want her out of here and fast.”
Kearnyn nodded and Telal almost sighed. He trusted this man more than his own mother. Hell, that was no comparison; he trusted him more than he did Lily Bellum.
“Everyone take your seats and we'll get down to business.” Telal made his way to the front of the table. He set his briefcase on the table. “I think you all know why I've called you here.” An uncomfortable silence followed.
Tyrian spoke first. His eyes were cold and distant, body stiff in his chair. “You want to open the rift.”
“Yes. You've all known about my campaign to have the rift opened. I'm now officially ready to show you my proposal.”
A commotion started. Members turned in their seats, arguing with each other until they were nearly shouting back and forth.
Lily Bellum stood up and shouted, “Shut up! All of you! Listen to what he has to say.”
Telal clenched his jaw at the outburst. He looked to Kearnyn to give him the nod to get her out of here but his guard wasn't looking at him. He was watching the witch sitting next to Lily.
Jeremiah Caine threw back his chair as he came to a stand. “You do not speak to a man this way! Where are your manners?”
She narrowed her eyes on him. “Where are yours?”
He sputtered, cheeks reddening. “You are a succubus. Where is your man who speaks for you? I'll give him a good dressing down for this.”
Telal's spine went rigid. Though she surprised him with what she said. “I don't have one.”
Jeremiah’s mouth opened. “But you are a succubus. What is your name, girl?”
She sat back down and crossed her arms. She looked like she enjoyed this. “Lily Bellum.”
He smirked as if he'd guessed right. “Figures, the Bellums have always been a wild bunch. Now with your father gone and no male heir to keep you straight, you're as wild as a whore.”
Several people gasped at the insult. Telal felt a surge of feelings tear through him like a train. In a flash he saw himself jumping across the table and plowing his fist into the incubus’ face until bone cracked. Instead, he glanced at Lily, waiting for her to come back with one of her witty comments, but she didn't. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, her lips were clamped closed.
“Sit down, Jeremiah,” he said in a low voice.
Jeremiah opened his mouth to protest but Telal cut him a violent look that had him slamming his butt back down into his seat. He looked one last time at Lily to see her not meeting anyone's gaze, but he ignored it. He didn’t like the look of hurt and shame on her face, but now was not the time for her problems. Already she was on track to ruin his first official meeting.
“As I said, it is time for the rift to be opened. I have here a plan that we can implement that will allow demons like me to cross the rift once again and keep the
and other demons below the rift.”
Telal took copies of his proposal out of his briefcase and passed them along to each of the members. Since there was no governing body that resided over all, he had chosen select members of specific groups to meet with. Though, the one with the most leverage was Tyrian en Kulev. He and his Atal Warriors alone guarded and punished those who crossed the rift.
He waited until everyone read the proposal before continuing. “Tyrian, since you are the commander of the Atal Warriors I would hear what you think of this first.”
Tyrian neatly folded the proposal and pushed it away. “The
demons cannot be trusted. I don't see why we'd change something that doesn't need to be fixed. Also, it says here in your proposal that you'd recommend keeping the Atal Warriors under the rift to ensure that other demons do not cross to the top layer of the rift. That would mean my warriors are at risk of confrontation with the
Telal knew Tyrian would say that. He'd had years to plan his operation and he knew each of the downsides to it.
“I believe the
can be trusted again. They once were as we all remember. If the Atal Warriors act as an objective governing organization then they can keep the top level of the rift safe and focus solely on the
or, god forbid, the
. We are not violent people.”
Tyrian carefully chose his words. “I would consider this; however, I'd need unwavering certainty that the
will not start a war on the earthen-realm or with my warriors. I will not have another war.”
Jeremiah Caine slammed his hand on the table. “I can't believe you are even considering this. The world has been a better place since those demons have been locked up down there.”
“Oh, can it, Jeremy. We've all suspected for years that Tobius raged that war against the demons over a petty personal matter. I think that's exactly what happened.” Lyonis Keelan turned to look at Telal. “You have my full support, for whatever that's worth.”
Draven stood next. “It's about damn time we opened the rift again. Not that I'm looking forward to seeing any old faces.” Henry and Rayn slowly nodded too. Telal knew they were the ones in the most uncomfortable situation since they'd been fighting all these years to keep the demons who tried to escape in the rift. Being part-demon, that also made the matter more difficult for them. But they, like him, did what they felt was necessary for the times.
Rosa el Blanco spoke up, her soft, Spanish-accented voice sounding almost beautiful. “I agree. This has been a long time in the making. I fully support you, Telal.”
Jeremiah shook his head. “Well I don't agree. This is preposterous.”
Telal took a deep breath. He kept his face relaxed even while inside his guts churned like a machine in his gut. So far this meeting played out exactly as he thought it would. But that didn't mean the difficult part was over yet.
“Tyrian, this is ultimately up to you.”
Tyrian rested his chin in his hand, thinking for several minutes. Time seemed to slow as Telal waited for an answer. This one man held the key to his entire project, to his people, in his palm.
“This isn't something I'm prepared to answer right now,” Tyrian said.
“Of course.” Telal had expected as much.
“Right now I can say that I have one condition. A big one.” He leveled his cold blue eyes on Telal.
“What is it?”
“No one has been under the rift for nearly a thousand years. We have no idea what kind of leadership is in place right now. Whoever it is will need to be joining in on this conversation before anything else happens.”
Telal clenched his hand into a fist then opened it to scrub his hand over his face. He had not thought about
Tyrian continued. “Meanwhile, I'll consider it.”
Telal nodded but his entire body felt numb. Tyrian strode forward and clasped his hand, pulling him in close for a brief hug. “I do this for Chloe because she would want this. Not for you.”
Telal nodded. He didn't give a shit why he agreed, so long as he did. He ended the meeting but barely noticed people leaving as his mind ran through all the options. When he finally went through them all, he realized there was only one answer. He'd have to go into the rift—he'd have to see his family for the first time since he left them there.