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?"