Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1
I squeezed my eyes more tightly shut and snuggled back into my mate's warmth.
If I ignored him, maybe he'd go away. My rooms fast east, my windows always left clear to allow in the sun, and I wasn't warm enough for it to be after sunrise.
"Cat, come on, it's important."
If someone had died, I would have felt it and shared in the experience. If a threat was bearing down on us, I would have sensed it like church bells ringing in my head. If something had been destroyed, I very much doubt whatever it was needed to be replaced before morning.
Whatever it was could wait.
"This can't wait, Cat."
I buried my face in Khardeen's back. If I ignored him, he'd give up and go away. Sooner, hopefully, rather than later.
He groaned. "Guys? A little help? I'm not kidding here; this is important."
Dumitru sighed. Then sat up. "Lumina mea, your brother does not seem inclined to go away," he told me, his hand on my shoulder. "You will have to deal with his problem."
I groaned. I was positive if we'd all just ignored him a little longer, he'd have given up. My mate, bless him, was such a soft touch. Grumbling, I reached down to where Keeley's head rested on my hip and gently ran my fingers through his hair. He lifted his head, flashed me a grin, vanished, and reappeared fully clothed at the foot of the bed. Khardeen simply sighed and sat up.
I groaned again, more for emphasis this time than anything else. "What's so urgent, Rav?" I asked.
"The mortals," he began but I interrupted with another groan.
"You woke me up for mortals? Rav, whatever they've gotten themselves into, if it had anything to do with us, I'd already know about it. This is the first chance I've had to really sleep since...Keeley?"
"Five weeks ago," he supplied, "when you first came home but before your ascension."
I sat up and draped my arms around Khardeen's shoulders, pressing my cheek against his back. "Since then," I went on. "Let the mortals fend for themselves."
"Fionnuala, the mortals have accessed Babylon."
Something cold and hard gripped my heart and squeezed, turning my insides to ice. Babylon was a beautiful place. It was lush and green with hanging gardens shaped like hearts and diamonds and stars and clovers and rainbows. Fluffy, winged creatures slide gracefully through the air as men and women, their wings like shadows on their back, move about like shades through the candle-lit sky. It's...it's Poison Ivy's paradise inhabited by bird people.
Except for it being a hell dimension and its inhabitants being demons.
Not that the mortals would believe that. Lured by the beauty, the perfection, they would happily leave the door ajar between the realms, setting the demons free into the mortal realm. The mortal realm already had far too many demons running amok for my liking and those in Babylon weren't lower caste imps and devils; they were lords meant to conquer and rule. Once free, they'd kill and corrupt until there was nothing left but a world bent to their will and formed in their image.
And their image was really, really, really ugly, right down to the core.
"How many mortals passed through?" I asked.
"Six," Fiachra told me.
"How long ago?"
"Twenty-three minutes. They're a research team with three more back in the lab monitoring."
I tapped Khardeen's shoulder and he stood, offering me a hand to get to my own feet. I started pacing, thinking my options through.
"The mortals wouldn't go through a portal unless they had a way out. Rav? What is it?"
"They have remained in communication with their team in the lab. When the ones in Babylon are ready, the ones in the lab open the portal using trackers to isolate a location in Babylon."
"How many other labs are working on this? Have they pooled their research?"
"Seven labs total and they seem to have, yes."
Wonderful. "Right. Keeley, I need you and the others to go to the labs. I want every single piece of data destroyed; wipe every hard drive, burn every paper. I want every single employee from the janitorial staff up to the executives terminated. I want every family member, every friend, every contact to be located and their memories wiped so clean they'll need to relearn their own native tongues. Keeley, I want to go to the lab with the breach. Wait until the researchers come home and destroy them; rip their each and every molecule apart and then destroy those too. Do the same to all the equipment in that room. Be thorough, Keeley. I don't just want the door closed, I want it obliterated and any chance of a new one coming to be made beyond impossible."
I caught the look the men exchanged. It was deserved, but there was nothing I could do about it. Good of the many and all that.
Fiachra sighed. "What are you going to do, Cat?"
"Me? I'm going to go give the mortals a plausible excuse for why my people are about to destroy seven of their research labs, research and employees included. Should be easy. Come on; you get to help and play messenger. Tru?"
My mate shook his head. He was still in bed, the lucky lout, and had taken to leaning back against the pillows, tapping away at something on my tablet. "It will set the tone of your reign, lumina mea. This will be your first public action in the mortal realm. This will provide the mortals with the lens through which all your future words and actions will be seen."
"Are you saying not to do it?"
"No, a bad reputation is more easily overcome than demons. It is a sound plan which, if carried out correctly, will ensure the problem is remedied."
Keeley bristled. "If carried out correctly? If? In eight and a half centuries, have I yet to fail milady?"
Glancing up from the tablet, Dumitru quirked an eyebrow and gave Keeley a dry look. "You consider what happened after Lyr's death a success?"
Keeley growled. I went to him before he could lunge at my mate - he did have rather sharp claws, after all. Leaning my back against his chest, I took him by the wrists one at a time and crossed his arms over my hips. I gently stroked his forearms, calming him as one might an upset animal.
"Keeley, you know I've every confidence in you; I wouldn't trust you with this otherwise. Tru, leave Keeley be; you know he's more than excels in his duties. What exactly were you trying to say?"
Dumitru sighed. "What I was saying, lumina mea, was that whatever excuse you use had better be very, very good."
I choked back a laugh, a garbled half-cry escaping in spite of my efforts. I wasn't sure there was an excuse that good. Of course, the truth wasn't an option either; tell the mortals the truth and they would arrogantly think we exaggerated the danger.
Some days, getting out of bed just wasn't worth the hassle.
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