Books: Volume Three
After The Bitten, Before The Forbidden
Rider hung back from the small circle of younger Guardians who had gathered
around Damali and Carlos. He and the old heads on the team took a wait
and see approach. Just because Carlos had come back from the ashes, didn’t
mean everything was necessarily jakey.
that reality just added another ten ton weight to Rider’s shoulders.
He fought back tears of frustration as his jaw muscle worked on the potential
problem. When he looked at Damali, he almost had to close his eyes to
keep the hot moisture that had built within them from running down his
cheeks. She was like his daughter, his baby-girl, no matter what. He shared
fatherhood and a deep sense of love and loyalty for her with Shabazz and
his way of looking at things, they were the three dads on the team. He
was ‘fun dad,’ the off the wall one, who’d allow her
to express her wild side and take risks. Shabazz was ‘discipline
dad,’ the one who dispensed wisdom and pulled her back when she
became too wild. Mike, well… he was Mike… her big teddy bear
and tall tree to lean on, ‘huggy dad,’ who was there when
the shit just got to be too much… and each one of them had lived
through something that had put their hearts in their mouths.
Rider glanced at the old soldiers who had been to Hell and back with their
daughter, feeling every ache and pain and heartbreak up close and personal
with his comrades. Each one of them was so weary they looked like they’d
drop where they were standing, and yet he knew in his soul that he’d
so it all again just to see her happy like she was now.
Shabazz neared him and spoke low and confidentially in his ear with a
nod. “That was some heroic shit, man. Taking on harpies all by yourself.”
Both men set their sightline on Carlos and Damali without looking at each
Rider shrugged. “You woulda done the same.” He motioned toward
Carlos with a nod. “The other kid we gotta deal with now ain’t
too bad, either.”
Shabazz let his breath out hard. “Yeah, but you put your body on
the line, man. Big props.”
“My heart was on the line, dude. Would have given my right arm to
see them like they are now.”
“Shit, man, you almost did,” Shabazz muttered. “Harpies
and no weapon? Man, don’t go do no crazy bull like that again. We
the rock on the team and go way back—me, you, and Mike. Wouldn’t
be the same if you or Mike was gone.”
“What can I say,” Rider said quietly. “Look at ‘em.”
He swallowed hard and steadied his voice. “All I wanted was for
these two kids to have the chance I never had. Been where that girl went…
been standing over a body, wishing I could just have the angels hear my
prayer. They didn’t listen to me, but they listened to her. So,
like you always tell me, it’s all good.” He looked away as
the memory of Tara filled him up. “The one I loved like that came
back, but not in the sunshine.”
“I feel you, brother,” Shabazz said softly, landing a supportive
hand on Rider’s shoulder. “All us old heads just wanted the
kids to have a chance, and to not have to deal with the losses we’ve
dealt with. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?”
Rider nodded and sighed. “We gonna have to watch Jose, though. He’s
pretty jacked around now. You and I both know that.”
For the first time since they’d been standing together, Rider and
Shabazz locked gazes.
“Yeah,” Shabazz said flatly. “He’ll be all right,
though, once the dust settles.”
Rider stared at Shabazz hard. “No. He won’t.”
For a moment, neither man spoke.
“Listen to me, ‘Bazz. You don’t know what this is like,
‘cause you ain’t dealt with it like I have,” Rider said
with no anger in his tone. It was just a fact. “After Tara didn’t
come back right… I reconnected with my ole’ pal Jack Daniels.
I tried to blot out her memory with a string of pole dancers. I can’t
even count ‘em all. I was about his age when it happened.”
Rider stared at Shabazz as he spoke, trying to be sure his comrade in
arms didn’t just blow off the fragile nature of what was about to
go down. “I’m twice that kid’s age, and there are still
times when I want to play Russian roulette with my revolver.”
He allowed his gaze to briefly go towards Padre Lopez, dragging Shabazz’s
with it. “He ain’t right, either. Just seeing a love like
that, after whatever images Rivera blasted him with in the clerics’
safe house, that’s another man on the edge, and he’s a
priest. How long you think Jose’s gonna last in the same household
with Rivera knockin’ boots with Damali before he bugs?”
Rider fell silent for a moment as Shabazz looked away. “You’re
the head philosopher on the team, so get to this, oh Zen master, and dig
it. The kid’s a nose like me, ‘Bazz. All he’s gotta
do is pass her in the hallways of the compound to know when she and Carlos
have been at it, and he’s so damned linked to Rivera from that vamp
blood line that could be still resident—since we don’t know
what The Light burned out or not, that poor kid will feel it through his
freakin’ skin, ‘Bazz, when the man touches her. You hearing
me, Guardian brother? God forbid her voice shatters glass in that compound
with Jose in earshot, and the next sound we’ll be hearing is a gunshot
through Jose’s temple.”
Both men stared at each other.
“Let’s be real, Shabazz. Could you deal with it if Kamal was
suddenly living in our compound for some bizarre reason, and you knew
when he and Mar both disappeared what was going on? Or you felt it?
Or you heard it? Or you caught the scent of raw sex when she
walked by? Or, lemme play devil’s advocate, my man, and take it
to the next level… could ya deal with hearing deep bass line satisfaction
coming from her room? Or put up with seeing them all giggly and happy
in the freakin’ morning, passing love looks over the kitchen table
at breakfast?” Rider spit and raked his sweat matted hair. “None
of us have had to deal with what that kid is gonna have to go through—even
us old heads. Not even me, you, nor Mike got constitutions strong enough
for that shit. So, Jose, to my mind, is on suicide watch. That’s
what I’m talking about.”
“Yeah. I hear you,” Shabazz murmured, his gaze leaving Rider’s
to settle on Jose. “We’ll keep an eye on him.” He let
his breath out hard again. “I ain’t got no wisdom for the
young priest, though. Father Pat gotta handle that.” Shabazz raked
his locks as his gaze filled with compassion and landed back on Jose.
“We gotta move his room to the other side of the compound, maybe
put a damned soundproof barrier around hers… set some rules…
maaaan… tell her and Rivera to, uh, try to be discrete when we get
home. I’ll talk to him, you talk to him, Mar gotta talk to her,
‘cause you’re right. I was just tryin’ to get us all
home so we could live. I hadn’t even tripped into the future. Aw,
shit, Rider. Man… I don’t what else to do.”
“If it ain’t one thing it’s another,” Rider muttered
in a weary tone, “and like they say, ‘Houston, we got a problem.’
This one is kickin’ my ass.”
“Mine, too. Now that you brought it up.”
Both men watched the team’s gentle giant quietly move to stand with
them. Big Mike pounded their fists as his gaze scanned the rest of the
team from a sideline glance.
“Y’all know I can’t help but overhear things,”
Mike said carefully, eyeing Rider and Shabazz and keeping his voice low.
“We gonna hafta watch the other young bucks, too.” He motioned
with his chin toward JL and Dan. “JL is wigged, battle-freaked.
He and Jose are thick as thieves, tight. Him seeing Jose like this is
making him wonder about his own chances of ever having his own woman and
a normal life. That kid has been damned near celibate since we all came
together as one unit. Watch how he keeps looking at Lopez with that deer
in the headlights expression, then over to his boy, Jose.”
“Know the look well,” Rider said with an appreciative scowl.
“The, ‘please God, not me,’ look.”
“Yup,” Shabazz muttered. “Just like in the joint. You
watching somebody get messed over and made into somebody’s bitch,
you can’t do nothing about it, and all you pray as you try to be
cool and not listen or hear, even if it’s your boy, is…
please God, not me. Human reaction, man.”
“Yeah but it’s also the kinda reaction that’ll make
a man wig, and try to bolt. We gotta lock down this unit before we get
back home,” Mike said in a private, tense whisper. “Plus,
Carlos is like Dan’s idol… if something ain’t right
with our boy, Rivera, Dan will be the weak link. Dan thinks the brother
walks on water, which ain’t a good thing if Rivera ain’t come
back from the ashes without a problem.”
Rider, Shabazz, and Big Mike pounded fists in unison.
Shabazz lifted his chin, motioning discretely toward Carlos. “Something
ain’t right with the brother, though. That’s the
thing that’s eatin’ out my guts. I don’t care what we
just saw with our eyes. I’m feeling some type-a way. My gut ain’t
“That’s why we’re having this conversation, dude.”
Rider folded his arms over his chest and looked at the ground. “It’s
all in his eyes.”
Mike swallowed hard. “Whatever it is, is gonna kill baby-girl, ya
know.” His huge shoulders slumped. “All of us who been to
war, or been soldiers know that, it ain’t just about getting home
in one piece. That’s the first priority, true, but maybe the easiest
part of going to war is dodging a bullet or a land mine. The hard part
is coming back with your head and your spirit straight. That’s what
be looking funny in a man’s eyes, and be sounding a little off in
his voice. Rivera don’t sound right to me, neither. Tone
of voice is off, brothers. He don’t sound like the Carlos I been
listenin’ to before this.”
“Then, let’s get this brother to hallowed ground and do what
we gotta do,” Shabazz said flatly. But his eyes held a deep sadness
that each of the three men in the small huddle could identify with.
“Say a prayer,” Rider replied quietly, running his palms down
his face as they dispersed. “If I’m tellin’ ya that,
then you know I’m outta options.”
stood a few feet away from Damali, gazing at her back and roving a quiet
scan across Carlos’s body. Intermittently she glanced up toward
the heavens. Everything about his energy was scrambled, and they only
had a few more minutes before they’d have to break camp, get to
the cathedral, and try to find safe haven on hallowed ground. She put
an added ring of protection around the group, layering in her heartfelt
prayers with that of the clerics. God help Damali’s sanity if Carlos
was back, but not whole.
Her daughter-charge had been through so much… her womb had been
desecrated… her body beaten and in pain. Marlene hugged herself.
Her arms ached to hold Damali and take it all away from her. Yet, that
wasn’t possible until Damali left Carlos’s side and came to
her for that. All she could do was watch helplessly as her girl-child
quietly wept against a dead man who’d come back to life. Damali’s
clenched fists felt like they were squeezing her heart, sections of it
oozing through her daughter’s fingers as she thought about the possibilities.
Marlene looked at Shabazz, then Rider, and then Mike and a silent understanding
passed between her and the older Guardians. It was time to move out. She
calmly approached Damali and Carlos, but didn’t fully enter their
private space. What she wanted was a good look into his eyes. What she
saw in the depths of them through her veteran second sight horrified her.
* * *
Patrick finally looked up from the fervent prayers that he and his fellow
clerics had been silently levying to seal the group from any outside detection.
Father Lopez troubled him to the core of his soul. When the young cleric
looked up, Father Patrick gave Imam Asula and Monk Lin a knowing stare.
“If you gentlemen would be so kind to keep vigil while the team
prepares to get into the Jeeps, I’d like to take a short walk with
The other’s nodded and pulled back, and allowed the senior cleric
and go to Father Lopez without even a glance. They knew, too.
“Walk with me, son,” Father Patrick said, moving Lopez out
of earshot of the teams. “Even a priest needs confession without
Father Lopez glanced around nervously.
“We’ve temporarily prayer-sealed the area to demon encroachment.
This mission is so sensitive that, even other Guardian teams can’t
sense us, let alone hear us,” Father Patrick said quietly as he
draped an arm over Lopez’s shoulders and walked him several yards
away from everyone else. When they’d stopped walking, he turned
the young priest to face him. “Talk to me, son. It’s all in
your eyes… a pain so deep, conflict so visceral that it hangs in
the air like a razor that’s cutting your to shreds.” He let
out his breath on a slow, patient exhale. “I was a man before I
was a priest. I, of all people, will not judge you. Just talk to me.”
The tears that had welled up in Lopez’s stunned brown eyes spilled
down his cheeks. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.”
Father Patrick put a finger to his lips, breathed in slowly, willing himself
not to panic and cut off the junior cleric’s brimming hysteria.
The pain that wafted from Padre Lopez raised the hair on his neck.
“When the image was first put into my mind, then the connection
that was so…” The young cleric stopped speaking, took in a
shuddering breath, and allowed his gaze to drift off toward the distance.
“Something within sent me down the side of the mountain to collect
a vampire’s ashes. I still feel connected to him, like his passions
are my passions, his urges mine. I don’t understand what is happening
to me. All I know is I can’t forget her. The woman Carlos taunted
me with lives in my mind.”
Padre Lopez glanced down at his mud caked shoes. “Then to see Carlos
and Damali… what they have is pure, and that makes it enviable.
It survived the grave, survived the fire, Father—and now it lives
full bloom in The Light. Everything I’ve been taught is in question
and I’m failing my vows in my mind.” His hunted gaze frantically
searched the elder cleric’s eyes. “I’m going quietly
mad. I keep asking to be set free, to be sent into The Light, if that
would make the struggle go away. But I’m so conflicted,” he
said in a desperate whisper through his teeth, “because how can
a love like that be wrong? How can one not want that for one’s self?
Why should a man of flesh not be able to…” Lopez’s voice
trailed off and he raked his hair as a crimson tinge spread over his flushed
Father Patrick’s grip tightened on the younger man’s shoulders.
His voice was gentle, but his tone firm. “I know that the image
of being with the young woman that Carlos sent into your mind was…
it was difficult. However, that was done when he was at a different place
in his mind, his development, therefore, Padre it will pass and—”
“No,” Lopez said in an urgent whisper of quick, jagged sentences.
“It was more than an image. I felt her. It will not
pass. Months… and it had not passed! The moment I held his
ashes, it worsened. Right now she’s all I can think about, even
with potential doom before us. Her voice still haunts me. I also felt
her spirit. I can’t get her spirit out of my spirit. Can’t
get the sense of needing to protect her and be with her out of my mind.”
Father Patrick looked at the young cleric that had near madness in his
eyes, and nodded, knowing that to argue now while Lopez was on the brink
of mental collapse would not be wise. So, he opted for calm psychology,
anything to get the young cleric on the Vatican plane, and onto hallowed
ground. Right now, Lopez was so emotionally vulnerable that a breeze could
blow him away.
“Son, my fellow clergyman, I understand your pain. It is not your
fault. You are human. What we must endeavor to do is to get us all to
safe ground. Try to hold on, till we get to safety. Do not make any permanent
decisions about your vows, or your status as a priest, until then. Do
not defect. We need a unified team, a strong prayer barrier to
make it to safety. Ultimately, you cannot help the young woman who came
into your mind unless our fortifications against evil are strong. You
are a member of The Covenant, and must hold the line.” He landed
a supportive hand on each of Lopez’s shoulders and held him firm
while looking him directly in the eyes. “Can you do that, at least
for me? For the team. One spirit. If only until we get back home.”
Lopez weakly nodded as his eyes flooded again tears. “But once I
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, it’s
theoretical. She’s not here among us. So, I’ll ask you again,
can you make this conflicted decision only after we get back home?”
Lopez let out an agonized sigh, closed his eyes, and let the tears he’d
been holding back fall.
“Good,” Father Patrick said, releasing his breath as his pulled
the young cleric into a bear hug. “Then I grant you absolution,