C arlos sat on the deserted beach, his intense gaze focused on the stars in the sky. Where did she go? The darker it had gotten, and the later it had become, the more his resolve to just wait for Damali to return ebbed away. He really didn't want to know the answer to the question of where she'd been, but at the same time, he did.

Initially it had been easy to lie to himself, to tell himself that she'd just secreted herself away to get some head space. Then he'd nursed the concept that perhaps she'd been abducted and was in some type of danger. That, he told himself, was the valiant reason he needed to go on a search-and-definitely-destroy mission to find her, even though his gut never registered any pending threat. But with the surf pounding before him, a sound and motion too reminiscent of what might really be going on, it was hard to shield his mind from the probable--she was with Cain.

Complete knowledge was a terrible thing; half-knowing a brutal horror. Fuse that with a true understanding of just how hurt and angry his woman had a right to be, and the recipe created devastation. Carlos closed his eyes, remembering all he'd forgotten.

"I never had anybody to show me the way," he admitted in a whisper, hoping Damali would hear him. The fact that she wasn't responding to a mind lock increased his sense of quiet panic.

It was the truth, the rawest version of it, and he hoped she'd key in on the honesty of the vibration in his whisper and simply come home. There hadn't been any male role models for him, dead or alive. Every male had shown him violence, power lust, how to hustle, game, but no one other than Father Pat had given him anything to really teach him how to run a household like Marlene expected of him. Plus, he reasoned, Father Pat was a priest--and that definitely wasn't him. So how was he supposed to fix this, rebuild?

"D," he said softly, just putting the quiet truth out on the evening breeze for her to catch, "I never had any guides, not like you did. No real Neteru team just for me... no male version of your rites of passage. They left me hanging. I had to figure it out on my own and made a lot of mistakes. I'm so sorry, baby."

He drew a ragged breath and kept his line of vision on the stars. "The old kings... they made me and left me, D. I was free-falling." He chuckled sadly. "They gave me the tattoo on my throat to seal the turn wound, gave me another one as birth control, told me not to mess up and not to make no babies, and then threw me back on the old block-- no instructions, no serious insight, just basically said 'Be a man,' and rolled." Carlos sighed. "I know this ain't making no sense to you, and I'm not making excuses for any way that I hurt you or the family... but... Damali, with all my heart and soul, what I wouldn't give to have had the lessons that might have avoided all of that."

His peripheral vision caught a glimpse of gold in the corner of his eye and he immediately stood and turned toward it, anticipation rushing through him. The splinter of radiance on the beach quickly became a twelve-foot-long golden obelisk the width of a door, and he held his breath as he waited for Damali to walk through it. But the entity that came out of the light made him instantly bulk and snarl. It was male. "Where is she?" Carlos demanded, not caring at this point that his cool game was in shambles. He wanted his woman back. Period.

The entity gave him a weary sigh, and leaned against the frame of the lit door. Carlos studied him with a razor scan. The illumination around him made it impossible to immediately make out a face, so Carlos assessed what he could see and prepared to lunge. Six- six or seven in height. Dark ebony skin. Braided goatee. Shoulder-length locks. Square jaw set hard and possibly containing significant fang length. But the brother was cool... all relaxed and unarmed. Had the nerve to be sipping a drink from a crystal glass. Feet bare. Gold linen robe tied at the waist by a sash. Hadn't battle bulked, but was so muscular he didn't have to.

Damn... he'd put his heart out there on the beach for Damali, had bled all over the sand, and she now disrespected him so much that she'd let Cain answer the call and come to the door? Had actually let his competitor get up out of bed with her to calmly tell him what? There was nothing to say. He didn't want to see this brother's smug victory expression.

Carlos turned and began walking back toward the house. Respect for Marlene was the only reason he'd let the family know that he was leaving for good, but he was out.

"Knowledge is power, but without wisdom it is sheer stupidity." the entity said in a low, mellow rumble behind Carlos.

Carlos kept walking. Fight him? About what? The battle was won. Even if he killed the bastard, at this point there'd be little satisfaction in that. Damali was gone. Had taken to another man's bed. If Cain became the new Chairman, he and the team would deal with that when it happened.

Mild heat entered Carlos's back, slowing his retreat.

"I would advise you to drop the energy line," Carlos whispered, his voice low and lethal. "Don't think about fucking with me right through here."

Carlos waited as the energy receded and resumed walking.

"You finally asked for my help, and I'm going to give you that--if you can get past your ignorance."

Again, Carlos stopped walking, tilted his head to the side, and felt new sinew growing around each disc in his back. He would slaughter this SOB.

He turned slowly as the entity pushed off the lit frame.

"Me and you over a drink, man to man," it said, changing into a loosely constructed ivory linen suit and brown, slip-on alligator shoes. Seeming distracted, he looked back at the door, slammed it shut with a wave of his hand, and then let his breath out hard. "Your timing, young brother, is trying my patience. But I do suppose this conversation is long overdue."

The aggressor folded his arms and waited. Carlos simply stared. This was the brother with the hooked blade that had marked him. One of Cain's boys, or what?

"Hardly," the entity said. "I am Ausar, an archon of the King's Roundtable." He smiled a half-smile. "And you just interrupted a very delicate negotiation. So, let us have a very brief discussion tonight, brother."

Still unsure, Carlos hesitated, but also normalized. Pure curiosity made him stare, trying to sense for game.

Ausar raked his locks at the crown of his head and glanced back to where the obelisk had disappeared on the beach. "Man, name your bar, or wherever you feel safe to hold this conversation. But do so with haste."

"How do I know who--"

Ausar pointed to his Adam's apple which owned the symbol of authority. "Remember this?"

"I remember that you cut the bullshit out of me, and--" "We had to work quickly as you were being pulled from the pit. That was for your own good, and I numbed it until it healed. Your problem is what, exactly?"

Carlos folded his arms and sent his angry gaze toward the surf. He was not about to admit just how wigged out he'd been by the action, and the numbing process had almost made him lose his mind thinking the worst. Rather than rehash that, he deflected the route of the conversation. "How I know you ain't helping him? He has your blade; all I got was a damned pocket--"

"Jealousy has no place in a king's psyche. It will make you weak," Ausar rumbled. He let his breath out hard again. "I knew this was going to take longer than anticipated. I told her that, but she would not relent once you said her queen daughter's name with pure Light." He walked toward Carlos. "Do you know how gorgeous Aset is?"

Ausar chuckled when a slight, peevish smile came out of hiding on Carlos's face. "Have you any idea how convincing a queen of her age can be when she wants something? You do not have to worry about which side I am on at the moment." He paused to allow the import of what he was stating to sink into Carlos's mind. "Young brother, I do not feel like arguing, battling, or anything else. You called for answers; I am here to deliver those. Speak. Fast."

Carlos relaxed, but was too embarrassed to immediately open a dialogue with this older male. This was not what a man was supposed to call in reinforcements about. "I know this little bar over in La Paz, on the main--"

"Let us find one closer," Ausar said, and instantly they were sitting at the rail in an establishment Carlos had never seen.

Ausar stood and rounded the bar and sat across from Carlos. "Name your poison," he said, seeming perturbed.

Carlos shot his gaze around the private enclave to get his bearings.

The bar was thick-etched crystal seemingly held up by pure white mist, the stools solid gold, the walls shimmering and covered with silver hieroglyphics that told a very long story. "Remy. Neat."

Ausar nodded and complied, materializing two rocks glasses in his hand, shoving one toward Carlos. "Women are very complex," he said taking a sip of his drink, wincing, and setting down his glass. "A mystery of the universe."

Carlos nodded and took a sip of his drink. "Tell me about it."

"My wife brought your case to me in chambers," Ausar said with a wry grin. "I knew the moment she walked into the room trailing essence of Hathor that she was working me, but as you get older, you'll learn to let them do that... the benefits are astounding." Ausar took a healthy swig of his drink and studied the color of it in the light. "You young brothers do not know the subtle art of losing the battle to win the war. Sometimes when she is clearly in the right, I pose challenges that I have already decided in her favor, just to allow her to work hard to change my mind."

"Glad that something I did has some benefits." Carlos couldn't help but smile as he took another sip of his drink and watched the older Neteru, growing less suspicious.

"Yeah," Ausar said, and then presented his fist for Carlos to pound. "But then you called me, and she said so sweetly, Ausar... go to him, my darling. Talk to him. He needs you. Just as we need your shields. He is your newest made.' My response?" Ausar said with a chuckle as he took a generous sip from his rocks glass. "'Tomorrow, my weakness. Can it not wait until the morning?' But she would not hear of it and could not relax." He set down his glass with precision. "So. We talk."

Carlos chuckled. "Damn, man, I'm sorry... uh, what can I say?"

"I did not catch all of the prayer... I admit to being distracted. But you wanted to know how to fix things, I take it, from what portions I heard of your plea." Ausar absently stroked the braid on his chin. "Basic. Realign her chakras. I do not know why you called me for this?"

When Carlos just stared at him with his drink midair, Ausar held his head in his hands.

"Oh, man . . ." Ausar sighed. "The vampire experience and the relapse to a dark throne have indeed blocked some of your knowing. All right. Now I understand her concerns. Remind me, before I go, to tap you into the Akashic Records so you can get true knowledge from the Book of Tehuti. Damn, brother I need to school you hard."

Carlos set his drink down carefully. "Am I still messed up or something, man? Like--"

"No. Just a little slower to adapt to wisdom contained within your Light knowledge base."

"Like a learning disability?" Incredulous, Carlos stood and began to pace.

"Something like that, but I can rectify your unknowing. Sit and let us talk." Ausar waited until Carlos had calmed down enough to take a stool again. "Remember, you did not eagerly and willingly accept this new transition."

"Yeah, I know, man, but--"

"An unwilling spirit. That was the first blockage to true understanding," Ausar said, cutting him off. "Then you did not have the humility to ask the Roundtable of Kings directly for assistance. Therefore, until you were ready to ask for guidance, none would be offered. That is how it is."

"All right," Carlos said. "I'm asking, because knowledge is power, and I definitely gotta get my house in order."

"Good," Ausar said with a wide smile, his regal posture tall as he sat across from Carlos. "Then let me explain. Vampires have knowledge, but the wisdom aspect comes from the Light. The dark side, thus, uses power in heinous ways--no wisdom. You know of chakra alignment from your old experiences and have worked with this energy to imprint her only to you. But you did it from the wrong base."

The visible question in Carlos's eyes made Ausar laugh in a deep, resounding thunder. The tone wasn't malicious, just thoroughly amused.

"Young brother, you began at her base chakra, the one that glows red, the one that rules reproduction... the one between her legs." Ausar shook his head as Carlos lowered his gaze and took a sip of his drink. "Foolish. That only binds as long as you are there to keep it glowing."

"Yeah, so I've learned," Carlos muttered.

"You should have stared at her crown chakra, the one that opens to divine insight. Then, my brother, you work your way down to her inner vision of you--her third eye... then down to her throat chakra--"

"Naw, man, I worked da throat, okay?"

Ausar shook his head. "Her throat chakra. Her voice."

"Like I said," Carlos muttered, "I--"

"Never heard a thing the woman was saying to you."

Both men stared at each other.

"I have no doubt you could open her voice to glass-shattering deci-bels," Ausar said, pushing away from the bar to fold his arms. "You are one of us--a male Neteru," he said, sounding so indignant that it made Carlos sit up taller and nod. "There is no question of this capacity. We would have been ashamed otherwise."

"That's what I'm saying," Carlos said, pounding Ausar's fist.

"But," Ausar replied calmly, his tone low and controlled, "did you capture her voice, the things she has told you over the years, understand it, and hold the important energy of it such that you could articulate it back to her?" Again, Carlos couldn't answer the charge and the older male simply nodded.

"Her link to divine inspiration and insight comes through her voice, what she says... and if you truly hear what she says, you enter her heart chakra--the bridge. You guard that bridge with your life, not what's between her legs. Because once you have the bridge won, my brother, you have her mind, her dreams, her voice always speaking well of you, defending you to the world... then you have conquered any gall that may erupt in. the fifth chakra... did you feed her and work on her stomach?"

"Feed her?" Carlos pushed back and folded his arms over his chest. "I fed her as a vamp, I took her to dinner, I--"

"Did you feed her with spiritual food?"

Carlos stared at Ausar, unblinking.

"You have never taken that woman to dinner, then."

All facade crumbled as Carlos leaned forward eagerly trying to learn. "Aw'ight, aw'ight, like... I don't--"

Ausar closed his eyes and ran his palms down his face, annoyed. "No wonder Cain walked into your home and plundered it!" Ausar spoke with his head hung back. "Brother, brother, brother... did you feed her truth and honesty... a genuine appreciation for her gifts? Did you drizzle her mouth with the succulent fruit of a lover's pride in everything new that she learned, every achievement, every single win that she won all by herself?"

Ausar lifted his head and stared at Carlos when he looked away. "The woman was starving, brother. Just as in your old vampiric incarnation, your job as her man is to feed her!"

The statement was so basic and profound that Carlos was on his feet again, pacing. This time Ausar was up and following suit behind the bar, raking his locks.

"I cannot believe that you let a woman of this magnitude practically starve to death in your care because you resented her gifts. Now I am ashamed," Ausar said, shaking his head. He pointed at Carlos's back. "Have you ever made her dinner?"

"Yeah, man, plenty of times I brought in whatever she wanted to the lair, and--"

"No," Ausar said in a rumble so low that it made Carlos turn and face him. "Without magic. Without powers. Have you ever taken the time to bring her whatever her favorite fruit is to your bed, and feed her while you told her of your pride for her... ever allow pineapple and mango juice to dribble down her chin as you looked into her eyes and told her, 'Baby I am so proud of you'? Something so simple, something that required you to work with your hands to uncover the sweet meat inside the fruit you were preparing for her, while she watched your hands pare the skin away. Have you?" Before Carlos could speak, Ausar shouted, "Read the Song of Solomon, then! It is in the Holy Book! You call yourself her husband?"

Ausar snatched off his suit jacket and flung it to the floor. Carlos stood very still, thoroughly expecting the old king to mop the bar with him.

"That is how you bind her forever at the primal chakra! Once you have slowly conquered each Zone, one through six, the seventh one is a given!"

Pure humiliation held Carlos rooted where he stood.

"It is obvious to me now that you worked your way through her system from the bottom up. Primal first, fed her not, stoked her gall, broke her heart, ignored her voice, bludgeoned her third eye with things no woman should ever see, and made her lose faith in you at the divine level! Are you mad? Did you think you could lay enough rod between her legs to rectify that? I should just leave your young, stupid ass here in this bar and go home to my queen! The only thing keeping me here is the fact that I cannot go home to her failed!"

"Man... I didn't know all that going in," Carlos said, unable to look Ausar in the eyes. "She is a child of Light," Ausar grumbled and finally sat, pouring them both another drink. "You can only temporarily hold her like that.

So let us repair the damage," he said begrudgingly, clinking Carlos's glass as he came back to the bar, accepted it, and sat with a thud.

"Maybe she is better off with Cain, if I did all that to her." Carlos stared into his drink. It was bad enough what Marlene had shown him. now to really understand it in male Neteru terms, all he could do was hang his head.

"Oh, brother . . ." Ausar said, tossing back his drink hard. "Don't give up the battle so quickly."

"Now I know why you were about to cut off my shit," Carlos muttered.

"Why would I do that to another man?" Ausar said. "Especially when it was done to me."

Again, both men's eyes met.

Ausar nodded. "Set, also known as Satan, desecrated my body after I fell in battle. Aset, my heart, searched for every limb torn apart, bound me back together, and literally prayed me back to life."

Carlos nodded fervently. "Yeah, man. That's love, for real."

"As you know from the Akashic records, she was a virgin. I never got the chance to be with her before I died."

Carlos raked his hair. "Been there."

Ausar smiled. "So have I, so why would I not assist a younger man walking down the same road?"

"But you were always, you know, in the Light. I wasn't."

Ausar scoffed. "I was focused upon battle, war, empire building. Let us just say that I had my wilder days, too. I was no saint." He chuckled sadly and tossed his drink down hard. "However, you recall, there was one thing she could never find."

Carlos looked toward the door and then down at the brown liquid in his glass. That level of honesty between men made him uneasy. Ausar was no joke, had come raw clean, even as a king with pride, and what he'd said was almost too much information. "Man... I don't how you lived after that."

"I could live with it because she made a replacement, an obelisk of granite, healed me with the Caduceus so I could feel it and so could she, and all is very well in my world. Had my son after that--Heru. What I can I say?"

Carlos chuckled and pounded Ausar's fist. "Sheeit... I guess all is right in your world, maaan... granite. Damn." He laughed hard, needing the tension release. "Every major monument in the world has a replica--scary."

"I am not boasting or attempting to instill insecurity in my brother regarding who has a stronger staff No. It is just you and me here speak-ng as men. The point of this information being," Ausar said, still chucking as he sipped more of his drink, "that I had not already bedded her when tragedy struck. But I had all but the seventh chakra conquered."

"Now that's deep," Carlos murmured with genuine reverence.

"Do not be so hard on yourself. You did, too--before you undid your own good work."

Carlos stared at Ausar. "But you said--"

"Hear me out," Ausar said gently. "Young brother, you were magnificent. With no guidance or training or mentoring you had inspired her most divine hope by showing her your vast potential." Ausar motioned to his crown chakra. "Then you opened her third eye to allow her to see the selfless sacrifice you were willing to make just for her... you stood valiantly before all--just for her."

When Carlos looked away Ausar landed a firm grip on his shoulder.

"Then you told her how right she had been, how much you loved her, and meant every word of it." He extracted his hand from Carlos's shoulder and touched his throat. "Then you pierced her heart so much that she shared her heartbeat with you to give you one. You gave her a reason to be galled at even Heaven for not giving you a second chance," he added quietly. "And you fed her hope... until she could not resist, which allowed a virgin Neteru to sleep with you, in whatever manifestation you were in, until she wept. That, my brother, was awesome." Ausar chuckled. "You undoubtedly have skills... just need to remember them."

"But what do I do now that I've messed up and reversed all of that?" Carlos's gaze sought understanding as he stared into Ausar's wise eyes. Yonnie had said the same thing, in so many words--everybody couldn't be wrong, as the saying went. Yeah, this older hombre was definitely a friend.

"If she transgresses, you must forgive her." Ausar sat back and folded his arms. "Each of us has one wife... me, Adam, Akhenaton, the entire brotherhood of archons. But none has suffered more than Adam, and yet he was able to forgive."

Carlos nodded, although what Ausar said wasn't something he wanted to hear.

"Think of it," Ausar said flatly. "Who knows what was going on between them when a youthful mistake created a child within his woman's womb, one that ultimately killed his firstborn. Yet they repaired the rift and went on to sire another together, one that became the foundation for generations after him. They got over it."

"Yeah," Carlos said, still unconvinced he could do it, "but Eve was the only woman on the planet at the time. So after awhile, I would guess Adam would just have to suck it up and deal or become a monk."

Ausar laughed and tipped his glass to Carlos, making him stare at him. "True. You have a valid point. However, if this is the only woman in your heart, one that has tethered every one of your chakras to her, is there any other female on the planet that you desire?" He waited as Carlos's gaze slid from his. "Is it not as though Damali is the only woman in the world for you? I fail to see the difference in your dilemmas."

"Philosophically speaking," Carlos muttered, becoming tense again. "But, if she's rhetorically my wife, whatever happened to love, honor, and obey?" Carlos threw his drink back hard.

"Ahhhh . . ." Ausar said, refilling Carlos's glass. "Misinterpretation through many translations in the texts, the word obey."

"So I've gathered," Carlos said, too disgusted to say more.

"No. You do not understand." Ausar let out a patient breath. "If you love her and cherish her, she will love you and honor you, if you forsake all others, she will listen to what you have to say with respect--but I do not know any woman who just blindly follows the lead of a man who has left her with questions." He sighed. "In fact, they never obey." Ausar chuckled. "It is a matter of trust. If she trusts you to truly have your mind on the right path, and her best interests always at heart, and trusts you... even if you make decisions that give her pause, she will confer with you about it first--and if your response is logical, she will go with your strategy. Following your lead is a form of obedience, but I have problems with the interpretation of the word. The semantics are wrong, loaded."

"But I'm always debating--"

"That's your problem," Ausar said, his smile knowing. "Do you debate with your male comrades, or hash it out, discuss many options, and then come to a mutually agreeable plan of action?"

Carlos couldn't answer him, but held his gaze, thinking of the way he and Yonnie rolled, how he and his brothers used to roll, and even the way the male Guardians in the house brainstormed solutions. "Deep."

"Very. Does your queen not deserve the same level of respect, if not more, since she is more heavily invested in your welfare than your friends?"

"I never thought about it that way, truth be told." Carlos sipped his drink carefully. "But females have a different approach to things, sometimes their methods aren't as decisive a strike. You know what I mean? Sometimes--"

"A man has to go to war," Ausar said plainly. "Yes. This is true. But it is the method and reason."

"How do you know when you're right?" Carlos stared at him unblinking.

"When I was desecrated and came back, for me the transgression called for nothing short of war."

"I can dig it," Carlos said, sitting up taller and pounding Ausar's fist again hard.

"I had bloodlust in my eyes. Pure silver rimmed in gold. I was after that bastard like a -locust plague, and would not be denied." "Sho' you right!" Carlos nodded and folded his arms. "But I heard her out." Both men stared at each other.

"I had just died, and she had just brought me back." Ausar waited until Carlos unfolded his arms and sought his drink. "She was frightened for my safety, wanted me to just love her... and I did. Then, once she saw how deep the scar to my spirit had been, she mounted up with me in strategy as my primary general. My gem of the cosmos was ruthless in her plotting. She was out for blood against that which had so injured her king. She cared not that she could be harmed, so much so that she inspired fear for her safety in me."

"Whoa... I've seen Damali get hke that."

Ausar nodded. "A strong household cannot be defeated. Trust is the cornerstone of the marital alliance, which generates respect-- the obey part, if we should call it that. But she will follow your lead, if you set the right example. Nothing can come between man and wife once they have aligned against outside forces. Not even children can split that asunder, hence how Adam regained control of his home."

Carlos just shook his head and sipped the rest of his drink. "That brother was the one."

"Yes," Ausar said flatly. "But he did not do it by force. Rule your home, my brother, but you must set the tone from a righteous place and stellar behavior as head of household. To try to take control otherwise is not only foolish and impossible, but devolves into internal power struggles that fracture the fortress at the seams. Anything can get in, then-- demon or mere mortal. Take brutal command, and you are not a king, but a dictator. And we know from history that dictators always inspire rebellions, coups, assassinations. Martial law is then required. Resources become strained. Conversely, magnanimous, generous kings inspire loy-alty love, near worship, and an entire nation--your household--will be ready to go to war to protect their sovereign's rule. Basic principles of a long-term leadership, son."

"You droppin' science, man, that's so profound I don't know what to say."

"Any man can be redeemed if his heart and spirit is right," Ausar said, raising his glass. "King David set up his best friend to be killed in order to take his woman, had an illegitimate heir, and totally shattered the foundation of a nation--not just his household. Remember!" Ausar said, his voice rising with conviction. "He brought plagues to a nation--do not whine about the temporary virus you carried into your household. Be a man and correct it. But seeing his error, he went into deep, complete contrition and begged mercy, made amends, and then went on to rule an empire that began generations of glory. He is only one recent example: though I could begin at Adam and take you forward throughout history... but I do need to get back to my queen. The hour draws long.''

Ausar stood and looked at the door. "You have shown her that you are valiant in battle and can protect the fortress of humanity. You have demonstrated your ability to provide. You have excelled, physically, as her lover, and thus have shown her all the exterior things that a man can show any woman. That is'the issue. The cornerstone to putting your household aright. You have shown her what could be given to any woman... what have you shown her that is only hers to keep?"

"I--" "You would serve and protect any female on the planet. That is in your nature, as a male Neteru. In fact, your job is to protect humanity, period."

"That's what I've been trying to do, man--"

"If there was an incoming threat to your compound," Ausar pressed on, undaunted, "you would body-shield any female in the house, and any weaker male. Honorable. But that is not an attribute of you given to her alone--nor should that one be. You have provided safe haven for all, would feed, clothe, and shelter all. Honorable. But not that's not hers alone, nor should it be. You have given others your friendship, loyalty, and trust, as you should." Ausar's gaze went silver around the edges of gold. "Your excellence as a lover, she knows has not been hers alone-- recently." He folded his arms over his broad chest. "Therefore, what can you give her that no others can share?"

"The alignment?" Carlos's gaze furtively sought Ausar's wisdom, while feeling so totally foolish for not knowing the answer.

"Yes. Words, loving whispers, mean nothing to a woman after time and again they are not backed up by granite actions. Trust is the mortar between each brick that fell in your home until the relationship crumbled. Before every major action that could jeopardize your home, your co-unit of sanctuary, you owed your queen the respect to discuss it with her, and she would have returned the favor... if she thought you would listen and not discard her wisdom out of hand just because you are male, and thus believe yourself to always be inherently right." Ausar shook his head. "She is not your lapdog to obey your every command with her tail wagging for you. If your ego requires that, I suggest a puppy that you can train. Never your woman--especially not a queen."

Carlos raked his hair and stood.

"This is why the original archons had only one wife. Later the younger kings thought they could improve upon Adam's model because so many men had died in battles that it was expedient to bring more women into their households for safe haven, presenting damnable temptations, and they sought a logical way to be able to replenish the sons that war had wiped out--so they invented polygamy... much to their chagrin."

Ausar closed his eyes. "Problems that you cannot begin to fathom erupted thereafter. The only way to bring peace into homes was to close off the voices of their wives, deny their higher minds, and to ignore the damage to their hearts, leaving gall and malnourished spirits in their wake with foolish laws that made a woman's every attempt to elevate herself an offense. Half the population of spiritual warriors, wasted behind the silent walls of blind obedience."

Outrage made Ausar's aura become cloudy and dark as shards of silver swept through it while he attempted to regain his composure. Carlos remained mute, knowing that was probably the best thing to do until the older king chilled out again.

"Thus, on the earth plane," Ausar railed in a booming voice, "in many regions, the only connection between man and wife was the one you attempted to rule your queen by and failed. Some of our brothers have completely lost their original vision and have even taken pleasure from their flower by actions more drastic than the mere marking I gave you."

Ausar held Carlos in a hot, glowing gaze. "Imagine being so confused that you would take away the delicate bud of pleasure from the lotus between your wife's legs with a knife. Insanity. But the tragedy remains that even if you have not stooped to physical female circumcision, as the man she loves in her soul, you can still cut away her pleasure with harsh words, hurtful actions, lies, deceit, mistrust, until she feels nothing that would allow her valley to flood and become fertile for you. This is serious, man."

"Oh, shit.. ."

Ausar smiled. "Now you understand. It is old law that a man can only take a second wife and beyond if he can give each wife the same level of attention, creature comfort, and alignment." He laughed softly. "One wife is more than enough to handle for me, even with granite between my legs. If they think it is all right because their wives have been brainwashed to believe it is acceptable to do otherwise, and all laws have been conveniently levied against her stolen voice, then they are only lying to themselves. This is why said kings have been excellent providers, materially--but they could never align with each wife to the core as I have advised you is best."

"No doubt," Carlos said. blowing his breath out hard in agreement, imagining more than one Damali on his hands. If he'd just understood all this before and had the gifts Cain possessed... plus the wisdom of dealing with more than one wife before, too, he might have done things very differently.

"I did not give you my sword, before, because you were not ready." "Clearly," Carlos said, no argument or offense in his tone.

"Since you know that you weren't and have accepted this fact means that you are." Ausar smiled.

"Cain got that, and the one thing that meant the most to me. He was the better man, so, hey, and I fucked up." Carlos looked out the door. 'Thanks, man. You should go home, I guess."

"Until you were ready, I could not give you that blade. I knew you had to relapse at least one more time; your spirit was headed in that direction. But I also needed to watch how you handled your recovery. Very well done, under the circumstances of no guidance."

"Yeah, well, thanks... but little good did coming back from the ashes do me, given the situation now."

"The blade can only be passed to a living Neteru."

Carlos shrugged, and still kept his gaze fastened to the door. "After a throat nick and a siphon, the brother is all flesh. So . . ."

"He has a very good copy."

Carlos jerked his attention over his shoulder to now stare at Ausar.

"He needed it to keep his household in Nod in order. I provided him that out of respect for the brotherhood, and to also see what he would do with his opportunity." Ausar leisurely brought his hands up over his head and drew them forward, a glistening blade in his palms.

"His is silver-coated steel with gold inlays. Mine is titanium with silver, platinum, and gold alloy. Each blood gutter along the four blades that come to one is marked and etched for the instant demon burn." He tossed the blade to Carlos with pride, and Carlos caught it with one deft grab. "Feel the weight."

Carlos gaped at the fine weapon as he turned it from side to side. The handle was studded with diamonds, but with rings of chakra- colored precious stones that allowed his hand a perfect fit. "It's light as a feather."

"Ma'at worthy. Test it on the bar," Ausar said with a sly smile. "Eight inches of pure cosmic crystal."

Carlos bulked for the challenge. Ausar shook his head, staying the premature swing.

"You don't need that extra muscle to get the job done--like making love, do it smooth," the older king said calmly. "Finesse the cut, find your point and focus, one stroke, and go through the barrier with authority."

Carlos normalized, rolled his shoulders and stared at the thick bar, and swung. A high-pitched chime rent the air. The blade went through the structure like a hot knife through butter, and seconds later both halves of the cut crystal slowly fell away from each other with a thunderous boom to the floor.

"Whoo, man, she's sweet," Carlos said, marveling at the weapon. Then with a sigh, he handed it back to Ausar handle first. "You could definitely take any head with that, even the Devil's, brother."

"The universe didn't take anything away from you that was yours, young brother. Every obstacle was helping you build the strength of character and spirit, since your body was already built. You would not have been able to wield my blade to go through the crystal otherwise. The bones in your arm would have shattered instead. If you use the lessons correctly, you can be king in your household and build an empire in the Light."

"She don't want kids," Carlos said, staring at the halved bar on the floor. "Not from me." "Not yet," Ausar said with a gentle voice. "Repair first, and then build. But this time, build on bedrock, not sand like the beach I found you on, and where I will return you."

Again both men stared at each other.

"When she's ready, her symbol will glow gold." Ausar smiled. "Yours will, too, trust me... you'll know, brother, and there will not be a thing you can do about it when it hits you like that. You will sweat gold, not silver, and will practically find yourself in another dimension."

Both men laughed.

"So," Ausar said, studying the blade, "I'll hold on to this for you until you really need it. First, you must repair the damage at home--even I do not have the power to rectify that."

"I appreciate all this, man, especially your steppin' away from your queen to school a brother.... I don't know if I would have been able to do that... like, you mighta seen me in the morning, feel me," Carlos said, chuckling sadly.

Ausar smiled and sheathed his blade. "I do feel you, as you say, but when you have sons... you will step away, especially if your queen has tears in her eyes for them. But it was not easy, I assure you--do not let it happen again."

Carlos laughed and raked his hair. "Say no more, I hear you. But I swear to you, man, even though I'm learning all this science, and appreciate it... there's still a part of me that wants to kick that motherfucker's ass soooo bad, I can't even tell you how much--since we're being honest."

"You do not have to explain, because we are both men." They stared at each other.

"I have been waiting a very, very long time to do that, myself." Carlos didn't blink. "I thought Cain was--"

"The bane of my brother, Adam's, existence." Ausar paced. "And he had the mark... so we all had to let it rest. However, if he transgresses once, and you hold your line, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to confer my sword upon you."

They held each other with steely respect in their silver glowing eyes.

"Set your household aright, young brother. Do not allow him to take your woman."

"Done!" A sense of complete outrage nearly made Carlos drop fang.

"Let 'em drop," Ausar roared. "If I had them, mine would, too! I am glad that you still have that capacity--you will need to match this challenger at every skill level, at every turn, at every potential advantage. That is why the Light allowed you to keep them!"

"They knew--"

"The All knows all."

Stunned, Carlos didn't reply, but watched rage on his behalf throttle the wise king brother before him.

"If Cain disintegrates your household against her will, I shall mount up Hannibal with Akhenaton and we will ride winged stallions into Nod so quickly to slaughter that half-demon bastard with you, if he . . ." Ausar began to pace as Carlos's fangs dropped to battle length. "Noooo... I do not care what Aset says about Eve's sensibilities on this issue." He stopped and wiped his hands down his face, unsuccessfully attempting to garner control. "Adam cannot be involved in this, but me? Oh, my brother, my brother, my brother, you just do not know. Learn from what he has shown you; quickly gather it into your arsenal."

Although totally ready for a posse assault, the thing that most shocked Carlos was the fact that the kings, plural, had his back. Now this was squad.

"Do you know how long it has been since I have been to war?" Ausar asked, slowly unsheathing his blade and gazing at it with unvarnished affection. "Do you know how badly we have wanted to go into Nod and just be done with it? How many warriors we could resurrect from all our armies of old, simply by sowing the dragon's teeth?" He shuddered and put the blade away and stared at Carlos. "When the gates of Hell opened briefly, I thought Aset might have to chain me to the wall, the temptation to call to arms was so great."

"Next time, man," Carlos said, breathing hard from the sudden testosterone rush. He extended his fist for Ausar to pound, but Ausar grabbed his forearm in a warrior's handshake and brought him into a hard embrace.

"Get her back the old-fashioned way," Ausar said and let him go without breaking eye contact. "Handle your affairs so that we do not have to step in and do so, thereby creating havoc within each one of our palaces, or defying a direct command from On High. But should he come for her, or you, violating her choice . . ." Ausar shook his head. "We go to war."

"We go to war," Carlos repeated. "Thanks for having my back."

"We cover your back, your front, and your flank," Ausar rumbled. "But the ultimate choice remains hers."

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