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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR
Wednesday early morning — 4 a.m.
“Fairy corps!” Abi yelled and the fairies surrounded her.
They had spent the last few hours containing the serpent dust. After cleaning the hallway, they had to capture all of the dust and take it to the containment units on the Isle of Man. Every team on the entire corps joined in to help Abi’s team. The work was hard, detailed, and exhausting. But the fairy corps practiced every day for a serpent outbreak. In some ways, it was an honor to finally have a chance to use their skills.
Leaders of the other fairy teams gathered around Abi. The rest of the fairy corps surrounded them. They were equally tired and exhilarated. It wasn’t every day that four serpent-men were destroyed. Abi scanned the crowd. She caught sight of one of the fairies who was supposed to watch Tanesha.
Then Abi realized — she hadn’t seen Tanesha in a long time.
“Where is Tanesha?” Abi asked.
The leaders of the other fairy corps teams looked confused. Abi called to the five fairies who were watching Tanesha.
“Where is Tanesha?” Abi asked again.
The fairies glanced at each other and then at Abi.
“Sir, we went to fight the serpents,” a fairy said.
“So, where’s Tanesha?” Abi asked.
The five fairies looked at each other.
“We…” another fairy started.
“You lost my great-granddaughter! Prince Finegal’s great-granddaughter?” Abi asked. “The woman he says is the best friend he’s ever had?”
“Um…” another one of the five fairies started. “Celeste said …”
Abi felt her blood pressure rise. She was furious and panicked at the same moment.
“What?” Abi asked. “Celeste said what?”
“Celeste told us that she’d …” another fairy started to say.
She stopped talking when the fairy next to her nudged her shoulder. Abi shook her head at their nonsense.
“Where did you see her last?” Abi asked.
“She got stuck in that woman’s hair,” one of the fairies said.
“And you didn’t free her?” Abi asked.
“We tried but…” the fairy looked at the other four fairies.
“The serpent came and…” another fairy offered.
The fairies fell silent. Abi stared at them.
“I can’t believe this,” Abi said. “I gave you one thing to do and…”
“But, sir, there were serpents!” the fairy said. “And Celeste was really clear that losing this human was a good thing.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Queen Fand that her great-great-grandchild, Prince Finegal’s progeny, was lost because there were serpents!” Abi said.
“Why not just run a trace on her?” one of the five fairies offered.
“You can’t trace her,” Abi said. “Something to do with her father. Magic doesn’t work on her.”
“So she’s lost?” another fairies voice rose with something that might have been panic. The way the other fairies looked at her, Abi was certain she was happy that Tanesha was gone.
“She’s lost,” Abi said.
The entire fairy corps became still.
“We can…” a leader of another team started to say.
“We can’t,” Abi said. “All we can do is go home and hope she turns up.”
Abi stared at the ground and the fairies stared at her.
“Go!” Abi ordered. “Get out of my sight before I show you what I do to traitors like you.”
The fairies started to slowly disappear.
“Really, sir, I feel just awful,” one of the other fairy corps leaders said.
“Not enough to tell me that Celeste was offering a reward to the fairy who injures my child,” Abi said.
“She’s of the court, Abi, and you’re …” the other leader said.
Abi gave her a hard look.
“You’re a courtesan, Abi. That’s all,” the other leader said. “You couldn’t have thought that this thing with Prince Finegal would last.”
“Go,” Abi said.
The other fairy lifted a shoulder in a shrug and disappeared. Soon, Abi was alone in the hallway. She converted to human size and walked out of the building. Outside, she caught a cab to Luke Air Force Base. She announced herself at the gate, and as she expected, she was allowed into the base. A young man came to take her to her destination.
They drove in a Jeep for a few minutes and got out at a nondescript building. Abi followed her guide through the maze of the building and up an elevator. They went down a long hallway and into a room. There she found a group of men and women working on computers. She saw Alex Hargreaves talking on the phone near the front of the room. Alex nodded her head toward some cots set up along the wall. Tanesha was lying a cot. Prince Finegal sat on the edge of her cot. The children, Paddie and Katy, were sharing a cot next to Tanesha.
Abi opened her mouth to say something. Fin got up to greet her.
“We wanted to let them sleep for a while,” her young man guide said.
“Why?” Abi asked.
“We have time,” the young man shrugged.
“We don’t time!” Abi said.
“They need to rest,” Fin said. “As do you.”
He took her hand and led her to the open cot near the rest.
“But Celeste and …” Abi said.
“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Fin said. “It won’t happen again.”
“They were happy that Tanesha was lost!” Abi said.
Abi took a fast breath to keep from crying. Fin hugged her.
“General Zeli told me flat out that Celeste was of the court and me … and I’m just your whore.” Abi started to cry into his shoulder.
“You sent them home?” Fin asked.
Abi nodded against his shoulder. Over Fin’s shoulder, Alex Hargreaves caught Abi’s eye. Alex smiled and rolled her eyes at the phone caller. She hanged up the phone and came over. Alex pointed to a free cot.
“Please rest,” Alex said.
“But…” Abi started.
“You won’t miss a thing,” Alex said. “But you will if you’re not rested. I can’t afford any screw ups.”
“My team is not immortal. Their lives are on the line,” Alex said. “My team and my family are in danger. And we are coming after the serpents and they hold grudges. If this isn’t done well, we will make enemies.”
Alex gave Abi a curt nod and turned to go.
“How did you get involved in all of this?” Abi asked.
“Serpents natural enemies are …” Alex said.
“Dragons,” Abi said.
She stepped back from Fin and looked at him. He nodded.
“There’s an answer,” Alex said. “Another would be that we respond in kind to threatens on the lives of our families and team.
“Come, my love,” Fin said to Abi.
He took her hand and led her to the open cot. He lay down and she lay next to him. Magically, the small cot fit them. Abi was so upset that she was sure she’d never rest. She closed her eyes and in a moment she was out. The next thing she knew, it was daylight and the humans around them were getting ready for war.
Jill swallowed hard and stepped onto the boat. The craft seemed to be made out of some kind of sturdy wood with animal skin stretched to create the hull. A wooden mast shot up from the center of the small boat, but there was no sail. Wooden seating was situated around the edge of the boat. Jill took special care to step only on the wood flooring. Sandy and Perses followed her onto the boat.
Somehow, the small boat expanded to fit all of them. Sandy sat down on the wooden bench, and Jill took the seat next to her near the back of the boat. Perses’s bulk took up the entire stern of the boat. Heather and the woman she was with stood near the front of the boat. Perses pushed the boat off the dock.
They floated along the placid burnt-orange water. There was no discernable wind or current. Somehow, the craft moved across the amber sea. After a few moments, the shore they’d been standing on sank into the gelatinous water with a quiet “plop.” Otherwise, the only sounds were the sea of amber lapping against the boat and the gentle sound of their breath going in and out.
“How are we moving?” Sandy whispered to Jill.
Jill shrugged and looked at her father. His gaze was fixed on the horizon. She followed his gaze and saw only the sea of amber meeting the cloudless orange sky. Jill shivered.
“Are you cold?” Sandy asked.
“Creeped out,” Jill said under her breath.
She glanced at the woman Heather was standing next to. While she watched, the woman’s body shifted from one female form to another. At one point, Jill was sure the woman looked like the Virgin Mary from her Catholic school days with a white head covering and blue robe. A few minutes later, the woman took on the image of the pagan goddess, Bridhid. Jill blinked and the woman had long, kinky grey hair that stood out from her head and white, sightless eyes. Her skin turned to the deepest black with bright dark eyes and dreadlocks that looked like snakes as they came off her head. Every once in a while, Jill saw the woman’s visage settled into some version of a beautiful woman with regal bearing and golden brown skin.
“Is she …” Sandy leaned closer, “ …changing?”
Jill nodded. Sandy cleared her throat.
“Heather?” Sandy asked.
Heather turned to look at Sandy for the first time. For a moment, Heather’s eyes scanned Sandy’s body. It was clear that she didn’t recognize her friend.
“Heather?” Sandy repeated. Heather’s face broke into a warm smile.
“Sandy,” Heather nodded. She glanced at Jill, “And Jill. Yes.”
Heather looked like she would run to hug them. She glanced at the ever-changing woman and decided against that.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Heather said.
“Where is here?” Jill asked.
“This is the sea of amber,” Heather said.
“Obviously,” Sandy said.
“Yeah, I guess that is obvious,” Heather nodded.
“Trust nothing you see,” the woman standing next to Heather said in the visage of an African warrior princess. “Everything is a fabrication of the serpent. Even this boat.”
“They want us here?” Sandy asked.
The woman changed into a Chinese woman who looked like Ng Mui, one of the five elders of the Shaolin Dynasty.
“It appears that way,” the woman said. “They are trying to capture someone, some thing.”
As the woman nodded, she transformed into an alabaster white woman with shocking blue eyes and jet black hair.
“Your friend,” the woman said.
“Tanesha?” Heather said in a whisper.
“And Perses’ granddaughter, the one protected by the Sword of Truth,” the woman said.
“Katy?” Jill asked.
“Wait,” Sandy said. “What are we talking about?”
“Serpents!” the woman said as she transformed into a disheveled woman with bushy-eyebrows and an inch of grey roots on a bad black haired dye job. Her clothing looked as if she was homeless.
“We’ve killed serpents before,” Sandy said. “Why would they want Katy or Tanesha?”
“Or Keenan, Jake, and Delphie?” Jill asked.
“Blane,” Heather said.
“Blane, too?” Sandy asked.
Heather gave a sad nod.
“What do you know, Perses?” the woman asked, as she transformed into a pirate-captain complete with a big black hat, a purple feather, and a parrot on her shoulder.
“I know that you are driving me crazy, Hera,” Perses said. “Stop changing.”
“Sorry.” The woman looked embarrassed. “I do that when I’m nervous.”
“Well, knock it off,” Perses said.
“Yes, my dear.” Hera sounded like she was talking to a beloved child. She transformed into a medium brown skinned woman with curly brown hair in a long white dress. “Sorry girls. I wondered why you were looking at me so oddly.”
“It’s not usual for us to see someone …” Jill said.
“Yes, I imagine that’s true and also not true,” Hera said. “As women, we transform into whoever our loved ones need us to be.”
“Be a role model,” Perses said. “Stop doing it.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right,” Hera said with a smile. “I imagine your daughters don’t do that.”
Jill cleared her throat as to not answer the question. Hera gave Perses a kind of “I knew it” look and he groaned. They clearly knew each other well. There was a kind of caring that passed between them, like a beloved Aunt to nephew or an old friends who’d seen good and awful times.
“What are we doing here?” Jill asked.
“We’re saving them,” Heather said.
“Who?” Sandy asked.
“Jake, Blane, Keenan, and Delphie,” Hera said. She smiled at them. “Rodney, too.”
“Why are you here?” Sandy asked Hera. “In the last few years, I’ve met fairies and goddesses and all kinds of creatures. I’ve learned that no one helps unless they have something to gain. So what is it you want?”
“Hera has an issue with the serpents,” Heather said. “She’s been bugging me to help her ever since we killed that pair of serpents.”
“Why us?” Jill asked.
“That’s what I asked myself,” Hera said. “Why you?”
“And?” Jill asked.
“I don’t know,” Hera said. “Perses?”
He gave her a vague look and a shrug.
“Wait,” Sandy said. “What does the great Hera need help with?”
The woman looked at Sandy and then looked away. Sandy looked at Jill’s father. He was giving Hera a hard look, which she ignored. Heather scowled and looked at the floor of the boat.
“Oh, look,” Hera turned back to look at Sandy, “We’re here.”
“Where is here?” Jill asked.
Without warning, a serpent erupted from the sea of amber and flew at the boat.
Wednesday morning — 11:34 a.m.
“Right, but why is Katy here?” Paddie asked his father, Colin Hargreaves.
Colin was on his knees while he dressed Paddie in the protective gear Alex had made for Katy and him. Katy was already dressed and snuggled up against Tanesha on the cot a foot away. Her dark eyes followed Colin’s movements as he dressed Paddie.
“Because she may be in danger,” Colin said.
“But Katy’s safer at her home,” Paddie said.
“Not this time,” Colin said.
“But …” Paddie leaned into his father. “I didn’t bring my shiny sword.”
“I did,” Colin said. “Well, Auntie Alex did.”
“Where is it?” Paddie asked. “I can’t protect Katy without my sword!”
“Lucky for you, we’re all here to protect Katy,” Colin said.
“What about my mother?” Tanesha asked.
“Yvonne?” Colin’s eyes looked up while his hands zippered Paddie into a protective jacket.
“That would be my mother,” Tanesha said.
“She’s safe,” Colin said.
“According to whom?” Tanesha asked.
“According to the FBI and the Phoenix police,” Colin said.
“We’re talking serpents, not robbers,” Tanesha said.
“As you know,” Colin said. He held out a pair of pants and Paddie stepped into them. “She was never the target.”
“Oh yeah?” Tanesha asked.
Colin gave her a mild look.
“You were, Auntie Tanesha,” Katy said in a loud whisper.
“I know that, but how did he …?” Tanesha started. She stopped talking when Fin appeared next to Colin. “Fin?”
“What class do we have first period on Monday?” Tanesha asked.
“We’re just finishing the Human Body Block,” Fin said.
Tanesha popped to her feet to hug Fin. Abi came up behind Fin. Tanesha hugged her, too.
“What are we doing here?” Tanesha asked.
“The serpents want you and Katy,” Abi said.
“They made a deal with Stupid Celeste,” Tanesha said. “I know. We talked about it.”
“They get revenge for you and your friends killing the breeding pair,” Fin said. “And Celeste gets control in the fairy world.”
“What are we going to do?” Katy asked.
“We have a way to fight them and get our friends back,” Fin said.
“They have my dad,” Tanesha said.
“We’ve got that covered,” Colin nodded.
“How?” Tanesha asked.
“You’ll see,” Alex Hargreaves said as she walked over to them. “Are you ready?”
“Katy and Paddie are ready,” Colin said.
“Abi?” Alex said.
Abi waved her hands and Tanesha shrank to fairy corps size. In a blink of an eye, Fin was wearing full military grade modern body armor.
“We’re ready,” Fin said.
“Let’s go,” Alex said.
“Hang on!” Perses yelled.
The boat rocked and liquid amber sprayed into the air.
“Don’t let it get into your eyes!” Hera yelled.
“If it isn’t Jillian Roper,” Jill heard a slimy man’s voice inside her head. She sprung to her feet and looked around. “Killer. Adulterer.”
“Jill?” Sandy grabbed onto Jill to keep her from falling overboard.
“Hedone, the lesser child of an inferior wife.” A woman’s voice whispered inside Heather’s head. “Killed another man didn’t you?”
Heather’s mind filled with the image of Blane in his hospital bed. The nurse was just pulling the covers over his head. She closed her eyes to block out the image.
“And Slut Sandra.” A voice started in Sandy’s head. “Exactly how many men have you had sex with? Whore. Imagine all those men …”
Sandy jumped to her feet.
“Fuck you,” Sandy said. “You think you can talk to me about anything? I’ve heard it all!”
The voice in her head laughed.
“Close your ears!” Sandy said. She grabbed Jill. She looked up at Sandy with a veiled eyes. Sandy shook Jill.
“What’s happening?” Perses asked.
“They are filling our minds with despair,” Sandy said.
“Yours as well?” Hera asked.
“I’m immune,” Sandy said.
The serpent dove into the water next to the boat. The boat rocked back and forth. Perses grabbed Jill to keep her from falling overboard. Sandy grabbed Heather and shook her. When Heather didn’t respond, Sandy slapped her across the face.
“Don’t you dare,” Sandy said. She grabbed Heather’s hand and put it on her pregnant belly. “For him.”
Heather woke with a gasp. Weak from the effort, she weaved back and forth. The voice continued.
“Jacob left you, murderer,” the voice said in Jill’s head. She gasped. “He hates you. He hates you.”
“You have to fight it!” Sandy yelled to her friends.
The serpent’s tail came around the bow of the boat. Perses slashed at it with his sword, but the tail knocked Jill to the side.
“They’re coming after you because you can kill them!” Hera yelled. “Hedone!”
“You are the master of evil,” the voice said inside Heather’s head. “How many children have grown up alone because of you? How many hearts have you broken? Throw yourself over!”
Heather leaned over the boat. Sandy grabbed her arms to keep her in the boat. The boat rocked almost onto its side. And the voice continued.
“Jump in the sea!” the voice said. “Go on. Do it! No one will miss you. Do it.”
For a moment, Sandy’s mind was lost. She shook herself head to toe.
“I know you voice!” Sandy said. “You will not get another moment of my time!”
The serpent hit the side of the boat. Heather began to fall toward the sea.
“Hedone!” Hera yelled.
She snatched at Heather but only caught her tunic. Sandy grabbed onto the fabric. Heather hung a foot above the sea of amber. Jill shook off her father and went to the side.
“No one loves you, Jillian Roper! Jump in! No one will miss you. You are hopeless.”
Jill moved to throw herself overboard. Heather slipped toward the sea taking Sandy with her.
“Ting!” a clear sound came from somewhere above them.
Jill stopped moving and looked up.
“Slut! Whore! Jacob couldn’t stand to look at your ugly face!” Jill heard and was lost again. Perses grabbed her arm to keep her from jumping over.
“Ting!” The sound was louder and closer than before. Jill and Heather stopped moving.
“What is it?” Sandy asked.
“It’s the song of Sword of Truth,” Perses said.
“Ting!” came from right above them.
Jill turned to look up at the sound.
“Mommy!” Katy yelled.
The serpent hit the boat hard enough to capsize the boat. They fell toward the sea of amber.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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