Marilyn took Lizzie’s hand and smiled pleasantly her way, urging her to follow the crowd of spirits downstairs. Dane and Fletcher were leading the procession, followed closely by Monty and his subordinates, who were all very silent considering the circumstances. Marilyn, Lizzie, Gabby, and the rest of the tribe followed.
When they reached the first landing, Dane gave an order to his brother: “Go get Kent and the Carr brothers. I want everyone at this meeting.”
So formal! Lizzie thought, impressed. I’ve never heard the angels call Monty by his title. Is it just a tribal thing?
As the group entered the living room space–the largest section of the first floor’s wide, open floor plan, separated from the kitchen and dining areas by its two long, curved sofas–Lizzie was startled at the sudden appearance of a fire at the center of the living room. The sixth teenager from the upstairs bedroom emerged from the flames, and Lizzie marveled as they were snuffed out beneath his socks.
Whoa! Is he their teleporter? Alexa glanced over her shoulder at Lizzie and nodded, confirming her suspicion.
“Show off,” Kaine muttered to the Phebean porter as their group divided into two; Lizzie and the angels claimed the sofa with a straight shot to the front door, and Dane and most of the tribe occupied the other. Gabby, Benji, and Gavin found seats on the shag wool rug, while the tribe’s teleporter stood behind their couch, stationed directly behind Dane’s seat.
“So,” Dane huffed, sinking into the sofa. He appeared so relaxed with his arm draped around Marilyn’s shoulders and one leg crossed over the other. “To what circumstance do we owe this fine honor?”
Monty locked eyes with the chief. “I think you already know what’s going on, Dane. The bandit gangs are moving in on Savannah. They’ve taken out Fayetteville and Washington, and now they’re trying to eliminate our trade routes. We’re dealing with an influx of people and a shortage of medicine and other supplies.”
Benji raised their hand.
“Ask the prince your question, Ben,” Dane permitted. Lizzie fought the urge to frown. Ben?
Benji lowered their hand and addressed the prince. “Monty, can you elaborate on what you mean when you say ‘other supplies’?”
“Well, we need fabric for making clothing, blankets, towels, and so on,” Monty began as he ran his right hand through his hair. “We need metal and various different ores in order to make weapons and fix machinery… And we need fuel for certain cars and machines to run. These were all things we previously obtained through trading with other colonies.”
Benji nodded and muttered thanks. “Anyone else?” Dane asked. When none of the other demons spoke up, he gestured back to Monty. “Please, continue.”
“Thanks,” Monty nodded, his movements stiff. “I’m not telling you guys all of this and expecting you to fix our problems. We can figure out how to trade with other colonies that haven’t been destroyed. Our main issue is dealing with the bandits, and we’d like the tribe’s help in doing so.”
A tense silence fell over the room. A couple of the demons swapped indecipherable glances, while all the angels kept their eyes trained straight ahead at the tribe. The prince and the chief continued staring one another down.
Then Lizzie stood from her place beside Monty and strode over to the center of the living room, cutting through the tension.
“I think what Monty means to say is that our colony can help your tribe if you can help us,” she began, her russet eyes traveling over the tribe. “We can provide you with food and weapons–the weapons you can use to hunt and fight with, and the food will sustain you better than stale warehouse food and expired canned goods. We’re not asking that you help us fight off the bandits; we just need help with reconnaissance. I know your tribe has been fighting the Jesup gang on a daily basis, and we can work together to eliminate this problem.”
Dane pulled his arm from around Marilyn and stood, his eyes on Lizzie’s face as he met her at the center of the room. He was almost as tall as Monty, if not level with the prince, but Lizzie was not intimidated. She kept her hands at her sides and simply glared back at him, urging him to give in.
Then the chief finally spoke up. “We don’t want your food or your weapons. Even though our tribe is smaller than your court, we have many talented fighters–and we have plans to start our own farm after we relocate.”
What? “You’re leaving?” Lizzie asked, her confident mask cracking. “When? Where?”
“That all depends on the court,” he proclaimed, before peering over Lizzie’s head and addressing the prince directly: “We want Florida.”
Monty shot out of his seat. “What the hell are you playing at, Dane? Florida’s entirely underwater. We’re as south as you get.”
“Now, you and I both know that that isn’t true,” chuckled Dane. “The southern tip is what’s flooded. Everything north of Okeechobee has remained dry, for the most part.”
Lizzie studied the chief’s energy; his aura was almost entirely royal blue. He’s telling the truth!
“There’s a reason we call everything south of us ‘no man’s land’,” Monty explained. “It’s overrun with bandits and wild animals–there’s no way a group as small as yours will be able to outgun that many enemies.”
Dane’s eyebrows shot up just as a knowing smile erupted on his face. “Then it seems we do need the court for something. I will lend you some of my demons for your reconnaissance missions, and in the meantime you will lend me some of your angels for scouting expeditions into Florida. You can keep your food and weapons. Do we have a deal?”
Lizzie watched as Monty’s jaw tensed. C’mon, Monty. Take the deal–we won’t get much better than this.
The prince let out a soft sigh and held his hand out to the chief. “It’s a deal.”
The two men shook hands, and before they let go Dane called out over his shoulder, “Tawni, Benji, Koji, and Gabby; pack your bags. You’re leaving with the prince.”
“Wait, what?” Lizzie spurted. “But they’re–they’re just kids!”
Dane looked her right in the eye. “They’re not kids anymore, Lizzie. They’re warriors–and those four have the abilities you need in order to carry out successful reconnaissance missions. Trust me.”
I don’t, she realized, still studying his aura. Even with my aura vision telling me that you’re being honest, I still don’t trust you.
Tawni and the others stood from their seats. “What? You don’t trust us to get the job done?” she challenged.
“It’s not that,” Lizzie insisted sincerely. “I care about all of you, and I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Gabby closed the distance between them and took the human’s hands in hers. “Lizzie, we can do this. You and Mona always talked about how we’ll have to figure out a way to contribute to the colony when the time was right. It’s time–this is our contribution.”
Though hesitant, Lizzie offered her friends a contrite smile. “You’re right. I do trust you.”
The four demons packed while the leaders hashed out the last of the details. Lizzie took the time to catch up with her friends; all the while, in the back of her mind, she couldn’t help but wonder what lay on the road ahead.