CHAPTER Two WOMEN
What’s the most precious thing in all the dimensions and in-between realms of the World?
No. Not the ones who give me fuel.
The ones who give me life.
My daughter Litha, and my granddaughter Rosie.
I hadn’t begun to live until they came into my life. As I remember, it was a happy accident. I may have been misbehaving when Litha found me. - Deliverance
Of course Litha knew nothing about her unusual heritage or the source of her extraordinary gifts. She could not know that she had her father's hair and a light kiss of his bronze-tinted skin that gave her color even through a long Scotia winter. She could not know that she had her mother's deep green eyes, rosy cheeks, and luscious lips so naturally red they never needed artificial color.
What she did know was that she was different. The monks had gone to great lengths to teach her from infancy that those differences must be carefully hidden from most of the people most of the time. There were some things that not even The Order knew. For instance, she had a miraculous resistance to the dangers of fire. In other words, she couldn't be burned.
Though she’d known that all her life, she hadn’t learned that she could also generate spontaneous fire with her hands, given sufficient emotional turmoil. She hadn’t known that because, prior to meeting Sir Engel Storm, she’d never been vexed to a degree that would express itself as fire starting. He’d been the catalyst that spiked a jealous reaction, something she’d not previously had occasion to experience.
At first she was afraid that if others found out, she might be reclassified as dangerous. After all, she had accidentally started a fire in a public place that endangered people and property. At that time she had no idea why she would share traits commonly manifested among Abraxas demons.
As fate would have it, she was assigned the task of tracking Kay’s fiancée, Katrina. Sir Storm was also assigned to escort her on the journey to locate his partner’s bride-to-be, as the berserker himself was being kept in a forced coma until she could be found.
Using formal and informal magics, Litha followed Katrina’s energy trail to an ancient narrow street in Sienna, Italy.
One minute Litha was in Sienna preparing for a kiss that would last her a lifetime if needs be. The next minute she was in the ‘no place’ that she would later call ‘the passes’, the corridors that separate realities.
Her senses informed that she was in a place without geography, a grayness where nothing was solid, where direction wasn't concrete and therefore didn't exist. It took her mind a few seconds to adjust to the shock, but she’d been trained to keep her wits about her even when circumstances defied conventional reference points.
When consulted as a psychic, Aelsong had indicated that it was an incubus demon who had taken Katrina to another dimension. So Litha was prepared, when she embarked on the assignment, for unusual occurrences.
She decided the most logical course of action would be to begin by asking for what she wanted. She took the housing off her pendulum and without removing it from her neck, said simply, "Katrina."
A whirring, rushing sensation filled her ears and she sensed movement even though she wasn’t entirely sure she was walking. Suddenly she landed unceremoniously on her rear end on the sand floor of a limestone room with torches on the walls and randomly placed dark puddles of some viscous substance that was on fire. Fortunately the sand had absorbed the sound of her entry. She quickly took in the scene.
She’d come to the right place.
Katrina sat in a cane and rope chair staring straight ahead. She looked no worse for wear physically, but she did look scared and disoriented. And her wrists were bound. When she saw Litha, she opened her mouth to say something, but the witch put a finger to her lips and then turned to assess the figure, whom she assumed must be the incubus in question, who now had his back to her.
As Aelsong had correctly related, his hair was black as night and hanging to his waist. He was shirtless, wearing loose, tan-colored pants that draped his form like fine, soft suede.
Litha got to her feet as quietly as she could and had risen to her full height before the demon turned and saw her standing there. It would be a gross understatement to say that he was shocked. In nearly a thousand years no one had ever found their way into his private lair. Without entertaining whether there might be merit in asking questions first, he gathered an impressive fireball into his perfectly formed hand, drew back and launched it at the intruder.
The fireball was aimed right at Litha's torso. Out of pure reflex, she raised both hands and caught it in front of her midsection using exactly the same movements one would use to catch a basketball. For a moment she held still, staring at the fiery orb with surprise and fascination in equal parts. Then, as if she knew what to do instinctively, she clapped her hands together. The fire vanished as if it had never been.
Lowering her hands to her sides, she calmly raised her eyes to the demon, and waited passively to see what he would do next. There was a part of her mind that was questioning her bravado, admonishing that it might be more appropriate for her to be, at least, a little afraid. And yet she wasn’t.
In fact it was the demon who was afraid. Just as he’d released the missile, he was struck by the fact that the creature standing before him was the very image of Rosie Pottinger. He was terrified that he might have reacted too quickly and hurt her.
He cursed himself and wished, a millisecond too late, that he could recall the flame to his hand. But whether he deserved it or not, the gods had been merciful. He was granted a reprieve for acting without thinking because, evidently and miraculously, the fire had done no harm. And so it happened that Deliverance found himself staring into the eyes of the witch he loved. Eyes that were the same dark green as the lava pools of Ovelgoth Alla.
"Rosie?" he whispered.
"No. My name is Litha. And you are?" she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
The demon cocked his head to the side as if he could study her better from that angle. Her manner was decidedly more assertive than Rosie's, but she spoke with Rosie's voice. Just as he was about to ask, “What are you?” he saw that her hair was not brown like Rosie’s. It was black. Like his. Her lips were red like Rosie's. So much so that the reminder made his heart hurt to look at her, but the creature’s skin was also not so fair as Rosie’s. It was tinted with fire. Like his. Last, but not least, she was a firestarter. Like Abraxas demons.
Reaching out with his senses, he was struck with the knowledge that the woman who’d found her way into his lair, this woman who was not susceptible to fire, was the baby he’d forgotten about once he knew that Rosie had flown beyond the veil and was no longer within reach of the living. The woman, the baby grown up to be magnificent in every respect, had not been invited to the demon’s private lair, but she was oh so welcome.
As Deliverance continued to study her, Litha was likewise assessing the male who was every bit as remarkably formed as incubus demons are purported to be. When the stunning creature before her began to smile, his appeal increased exponentially. Just seconds before, she would have thought that impossible. Her previous conceptions about ideals of beauty were being revised minute to minute.
"Deliverance." He gave the impression of enjoying his own name and said it with a little bow. "In these days of fashionable informality people sometimes call me Del, but I think you should call me..." He smiled even broader, "...Dad."
Litha didn't react to that visibly. She was calculating whether to proceed as if he was insane or allow him to make the case for his claim of paternity. She decided there was enough of a chance to allow a little exploration into the possibility.
As surprising as it might be, even to her, she took this information in stride. After all, she knew she had been fathered by someone. She also knew she had abilities that were unusual and, in light of the disturbing fire starting incident, growing more unusual lately. Truthfully, being fathered by a demon could explain a lot.
"You believe you're my father."
"I do. It’s true. No doubt," he said.
"What proof do you have of that?"
"Well, first, there's the fact that you're standing here." He swiveled from the waist and gestured around him. "In my lair. How many witches do you imagine have ever managed that?"
“You’re funny. I like that.” He shook his gorgeous mane of hair and smiled indulgently. "You’re the only uninvited guest to ever make an appearance here."
"Okay. I’m a tracker. Not everybody is. So what else have you got?"
"Daughter, except for the fact that you grow my hair and wear my skin, you are the image of your very comely mum." He turned away and then back again. "Whom I loved, by the way."
Litha frowned. "An incubus demon in love?"
He shrugged. "Happens."
"Not that I've heard about."
He waved his hand and the fires burned lower. "Not often, I grant you. But she was very special. Sweet, delicious Rosie." The last three words were said in a lowered voice, almost to himself. "Your family has been passing demon blood for generations. None of them had as much concentration as you of course. But enough to make babies."
As much as she didn’t want to believe him, things were falling into place. "The Pendle Hill witches."
"Indeed.” He grinned. “You're quick. And powerful for a halfwitch.”
"Please don't call me that. It sounds way too much like halfwit."
He tilted his chin up and scrutinized her until she began to feel uncomfortable. “I can see I made a mistake missing out on your childhood, but I just turned the fire down because you look a little warm."
“Well. That should make up for it then,” she said sarcastically. “How did I get here?"
"You don't know?"
"Were you looking for me?"
"Of course not." As soon as the denial left her lips she knew a retraction was in order. “Well, in a manner of speaking. I was looking for her abductor.” She waved toward Katrina.
The demon glanced at his captive. "You were looking for her?"
"Well, there you go. Now that you're here, what can I do for you?"
"Let the woman go."
"What is it to you?"
"What is it to you?" As if someone had pressed replay, he asked it again in the exact same way without missing a beat. Litha didn't respond. "If you will not tell the truth, we have nothing else to discuss."
"She is someone's everything."
"I'm aware. That’s why she’s here. How does that involve you?"
"It's important to the one that I love."
"Ah.” He paused and looked away for a moment before saying, “And how badly do you want this?" She didn't answer. "You're not going to cry, are you?"
Litha was insulted. "No. I'm not going to cry. I don't cry. I stopped crying when I stopped getting skinned knees."
"Hmmm. It's just as well I missed the young times then. I don't like crying."
"What's your proposition?"
He smiled. "That's my girl. What I have in mind is a win, win. If you agree to stay with me, I will return the woman. Then I will tell you what you need to know about your demon side, about manipulating fire, about your heritage, about riding the passes."
"Riding the passes?"
"It's how you came here from Loti Dimension." She looked puzzled so he clarified. "The dimension the Terr... humans think of as the only reality." He rolled his eyes as if to say, 'How stupid can they be?'
"For how long?"
"How long have humans been clueless? Since they were single cell organisms that crawled from the muck. Although that's secondhand information. I'm not quite that old."
"No. How. Long. Me. Stay. With. You?” She made hand signals like she was trying to communicate with someone who spoke a different language.
"That is so precious! You're acting out because I abandoned you, aren't you?" He smirked. "Well, you need to stay long enough for us to get past the juvenile snits." He crossed his muscular arms in front of his muscular chest and considered that. "A year."
"Done. Doesn't really matter. I could stretch time and pack a year into a week."
He laughed. "What did you expect? Dad's a demon."
"I heard that was just bad press."
"Clever girl. And rightly said because public sentiment could have gone either way. It's a P.R. matter that we've never cared to correct because it's more trouble than it's worth. And really. Why should we care what Terr... humans think of us?" Then, as if he was enjoying a private joke, he laughed. "But wait until you find out how far the Nephilim will go to get their way."
"They prefer we use their own language to describe them. But why should we care what they prefer? By and large, what have they ever done for us? I say fuck 'em. Angels it is!"
"Has anyone ever suggested that you might be mentally disturbed?"
"Have some respect. I'm your father."
She ignored that. "Have you hurt the woman?"
"Certainly not." He sounded offended. "My beef is not with her. She's a tool."
"I assume you mean that in the conventional way? Not in the slang sense?" He looked blank. "Never mind. If I stay with you, your, um, ‘beef’ will be considered satisfied." After thinking better of it, she appended the demand. "That means the debt will be voided by you."
"No new conditions. The deal is already struck."
"I'm half demon. I don't have to keep my word, do I?"
Deliverance threw his head back and laughed with his whole essence. It was mesmerizing. "You learn fast."
"Very well. My revenge against the lover will be satisfied if you voluntarily stay until midnight, Beltane Eve."
"And how can I be sure I can trust you to honor your agreement? Dad."
"If we make a pact of fire, it can't be undone without dire consequences to the breaching party."
"Dire consequences, huh," she repeated drily.
"Yes." He looked sincere, but she suspected that sex demons were especially good at looking sincere.
"That is if you’re telling the truth.” He did his best to look innocent. “Leaving that alone for now, what's a pact of fire?"
"Generate fire in your hand. I'll do the same and we'll clasp hands."
"I don't know how to do that."
"It's just like shaking hands. I put mine out..."
"I know how to shake hands! I don't know how to make fire!" He grinned at her. "You were being deliberately obtuse, weren't you?" She didn't know herself if that was rhetorical. “You think you have a sense of humor.”
He wiggled his head. "You don’t appreciate my humor? Don’t worry. It’ll grow on you. You really don't know how to gather fire?"
"I did it once. Recently. It was an accident."
"Hmmm. I guess you're wanting me to release her soon?"
"Well, you need to make fire so we can conclude this transaction. Let me see you try."
Litha held up her right hand, stared at it, and imagined fire. Nothing.
Deliverance walked over to Katrina and pinched her on the upper arm until she wailed. "How about now?"
"What the hel?"
"Exactly. Do it." He pinched Katrina again harder. She screamed and Litha could tell it really hurt. It made Litha so mad both hands burst into flame. Deliverance grabbed one of them with his and said, "Congratulations. You just sealed the deal." He made an air whistle sound and the fire went out. "You're now the proud owner of one damsel in distress."
"You know, I was just starting to think I might learn to like you. But you really are evil, aren't you?"
He scrunched his face up like he was thinking about it then sort of wiggled his head back and forth. Again. The aggravating thing was that she recognized that stupid head wiggle. She did that! And not even scrunching his face made him unattractive. That was super annoying.
"Not really," he said while he was pulling on a long-sleeved tee shirt and tying his hair back at the nape of his neck. "I'll just drop her off where I found her and be right back."
"I'm starved. Get me a hamburger on the way back, okay? Well done with everything including onions. No ketchup."
"A hamburger from London?”
“Yes. And put the woman back where you found her.”
“Okay, but about the hamburger. I don't eat food and even I know that's a terrible idea."
Deliverance returned a few minutes after he'd left. Litha had barely had time to look around. Not that there was much to see.
The demon nodded toward a section of wall. She turned to see why he'd gestured toward it and part of the wall slid open to reveal a large room beyond that was quite contemporary, if not futuristic. Unlike much of contemporary style, there was plush, comfortable furniture set in a minimalist context with a white shag rug on a terrazzo floor and a glass coffee table. What caught Litha’s interest was the view of a dark blue lake with pink gravel beach. Nope. Not in Kansas anymore.
He handed her a white paper sack wafting a heavenly aroma that smelled like hamburger and made her salivate, then gestured for her to enter the adjacent room with the hand that was holding the glass longneck of IBC root beer, also meant for her.
Litha took a quick look around at the surroundings and sat down on a divan. One entire wall of the room was glass looking out at the lake which featured large bowls of fire above the water line and near the shore. One entire wall was made up of a grid of dozens of monitors simultaneously playing TV shows, movies and news. Most of them seemed to originate in her reality... the, uh, Loti Dimension. A third wall could only be described as an altar to fire and the fourth was smooth, rectangular stones, bare except for an enormous oil painting of a woman who looked a lot like Litha except for her fair skin and light brown hair.
Deliverance slouched on the divan facing hers and tracked her every movement. Until that moment he hadn’t realized that it was strange for a demon who certainly never planned to entertain guests, to have furnished his living space with a pair of matching divans that faced each other as if inviting dialogue.
She pointed at the monitors. "Bored much?"
He lifted a bare shoulder. "I like to keep up." He had removed his shirt and shoes after handing over the food.
"I thought you said no hamburgers from London."
He snorted. "That didn't come from London. It came from a 6th Street bar in Austin. Casino el Camino." He casually threw an index finger toward the burger. "Well done with everything including onions and jalapenos."
"Not dignifying that with an answer." He chuckled to himself, looking mischievous. "Right now I’ll bet there's some irate fool standing at the counter yelling, 'Hey. Where's my burger?'"
"Where did you leave the woman?"
"As agreed... " He inclined his head toward her, "...she was deposited where I took her. The lobby of the Hyde Park Hotel, London, Angland, United Queendom of Great Britannia, Loti Dimension, Gods Save The Queen." Litha opened her mouth to say something else, but he went on. "And! She was in absolutely perfect condition, sound of body and mind, at least to the limited extent of her potential."
Litha took a bite and chewed. "Condescending. Don't you have, uh, sex with humans?"
"Sure. Among others. I'm an Abraxas. I'm nourished by emotion. In my particular case, being a subspecies called Incubus, I can only be sustained by sexual excitement. Don't misunderstand me. I like them. But bottom line, they are food.”
"Excuse me, but, ew. Trying to eat here."
Deliverance looked unrepentant and amused. “Have you ever seen a biogram of a woman’s brain when she orgasms? It lights up with an array of kaleidoscope colors like she’s powering up the universe." He looked out the window toward the lake and shook his head a little. “It's amazing.”
He turned to watch Litha eat. “I’m sure it ‘tastes’ better to me than that hamburger does to you.”
“No way.” She chomped down on a bigger bite.
He smiled. “Glad you like it.”
"I get why you don't have a kitchen, but, as you can see, I do eat actual food. Are you going to fetch all my meals? I’m a grazer. That means I like to eat little meals. Often."
He snorted. "Little meals like the third pound burger you just devoured in six minutes?”
“I was hungry.”
“The answer is no. You're going to earn your food."
Litha stopped chewing. "How?"
"You will dine anywhere you wish, eat anything you wish, anytime you wish, but you have to successfully navigate a pass to get us there."
"Is that hard to do?"
"Not for me." He seemed as perky as if it was all a game.
Litha glanced at the wall where the portrait hung. "What about her? Was she food?"
The demon's face fell and for the first time, she saw something other than variations on smugness. It might have been a flicker of guilt or remorse or any one of a hundred emotions. Maybe just plain old sadness.
"No," he said quietly. "I loved her. I still do."
So began a most unlikely family that would form the nucleus of a Black Swan dynasty that would play epic parts in the story of The Order’s success. But much more important were the relationships they had with each other.
To Deliverance, Litha was the star that crowned every marvelous thing in the universe, a miracle without bounds. From the moment she’d arrived in his lair, bent on rescuing the damn damsel, he’d been putty in her hands.
He couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way about anyone else, until the birth of Elora Rose Storm. Rosie. In his eyes, the two witch demons were goddesses, perfect in every way. Beautiful as sun reflecting on water. Smart as whips. And, because of the way the threads of DNA twisted together like lovers permanently entangled, they were more powerful than either demons or witches.