"It will not disappear overnight," Graegar answered for his Larentii grandfather. "It could take months—or years, even—for all of it to subside."
"And in the meantime, we have to deal with the additional crime, mental illness, what have you," I moved away from Karzac and tossed up a hand in helpless resignation.
"We believe that all this is a concentrated effort to harm you and your planet," Garegar offered. "If you allow this to upset you, then your enemies are winning already."
There's nothing like stating the obvious. I already knew Zellar was involved with Gren and Gren's disappearance, now I knew the how. The Larentii hadn't told me what race this Ra'Ak had belonged to, and I wondered at that. There was more to the story here, but they didn't want to tell it. We didn't know how old this Ra'Ak was, anyway. He could have been turned before his race died out, and he was the only one left. That was what I hoped for, anyway.
"Looks like I have two jobs waiting, then," I huffed. "First, to repair Le-Ath Veronis' core, and then to hunt down Zellar, an unusual Ra'Ak and Gren." I watched as all nine Larentii breathed a group sigh of relief—I hadn't asked them about the former race of this Ra'Ak and they seemed mighty happy that I hadn't.
"Lissa, this will be the perfect time to return to Grey House. Trik will be going through the rite, and I hear that Toff would love to come for a visit." Shadow was good at wheedling, I'll give him that. "Besides," he added, "it will take you away from your worries here." Shadow had shown up, his dark hair cut and styled, dressed nicely in black and looking quite handsome. It was the arsenal he used in his attempt to lure me back to Grey House.
He knew, just as all the Inner Circle did—Le-Ath Veronis' core had been tapped, criminals were on the loose and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about any of it for at least six months. Those fool Larentii had gotten away without telling me who the baby's father was, too. Frankly, the question hadn't even entered my mind, I was so stunned at the other news they'd brought.
"Look, we'll have the monthly family dinner, just as we always do, and the rite comes after that. You didn't come for Nissa's rite. Trik needs as many familiar faces around him as he can get—being ousted from your family can be a trying experience, Karzac says so." Shadow was still pleading his case, his gray eyes begging. He was doing a damn fine job, too, of making me feel guilty. Yes, I felt guilty because I hadn't been there for Nissa. I'd feel guilty again for not being there for Trik.
"Shadow, I've had a headache since the tsunami, did you know that?" I blinked into his gray gaze, my fingers gripping the end of my braid. We were inside my study; I sat on my sofa there and Shadow knelt at my feet. I'd come to my study to try to get work done, but Shadow had shown up shortly after. I had to make a decision quickly, too; the rite was scheduled for the following day.
"Come on, baby. You can come. I'll be with you every second, and you can punch Grampa in the face if you want." Shadow's last statement was accompanied by a lopsided grin, so I knew he was teasing.
"I've considered punching him before, you know," I huffed.
"I know. I think Dad, Grampa and I all know that," he nodded and rose to slide onto the sofa beside me.
"Are they all going to talk and whisper when I come?" Yeah, the hormones were probably doing the talking, because I sure as hell felt paranoid about the whole thing.
"I'll turn them into toads." Shadow was grinning again.
"You will not," I attempted to brush away the arm he placed around my shoulders.
"I will," he ignored my attempts to push him away and leaned in for a kiss. "How many shall I tell them to expect?" He pulled away to smile gently at me.
"Trik, for sure," I sighed. "Tory, Ry, Toff, Roff. And me."
"Yes!" Shadow's answer said it all.
"We're all going?" Toff's eyes were wide as he stared at his father.
"We're going. Lissa, too," Roff chuckled at Toff's excitement. "When we finish checking these bottles, I'll take you to Casino City to pick out something to wear. Family dinners at Grey House are formal."
Toff grinned at his father—Roff's honey-brown eyes gleamed with excitement—he wanted to go just as badly as Toff did. "Child, not many are invited to Grey House. Their offices are located on another planet, and that's where their clients come. Very few outsiders are allowed on Grey Planet. For any reason. Normally it's family only who get to witness the rite, too. This is an honor." Roff ruffled Toff's dark hair.
"Can we sit with Nissa?" Toff asked in a shy voice.
"I think your mother will insist on it," Roff laughed.
"Trik, it's not a big deal," Ry attempted to calm his adopted brother. "Grampa Wylend did mine, but there are several other warlocks who do it, too. Sissy's right—you don't remember it and it isn't painful. Dad was right there with me and says it's no big deal."
"No big deal? I've never heard that phrase before," Trik blinked worried green eyes at Ry.
"Mom has a ton of unusual phrases. Just wait till you hear her say holy crap."
"I've never heard of that being sacred," Trik giggled nervously.
"Are you boys dressed?" Queen Lissa swept into the room. Trik stared—she was dressed in a royal blue, jeweled gown that likely cost a fortune.
"I have to wear the colors of the jewelry makers, since Shadow is a Master Wizard in that Division," Lissa held out the long skirt of her dress. "And I have to sit at the Master Wizard's table at the front. Because I like being in a fishbowl," she added with a snort.
"We're dressed, Mom. See?" Ry held out his arms. He and Trik were clothed in dark gray suits with white, high-collared shirts.
"Mom, I can't get this button done," Tory walked in, fumbling with the top button on his shirt. He was dressed identically to Trik and Ry.
"Here, I'll do it," Lissa reached up to button Tory's shirt. "There. All done," she patted his shoulder and smiled at him. "I'm sorry you have to sit in the back, but Shadow says your High Demon talent for neutralizing power has to be kept away from the rite."
"That's okay. Ry, Sissy, Toff and Roff will be with me," Tory grinned. "And nobody will have to crane their necks to see over my head."
"Will Uncle Shadow take us?"
"Uncle Shadow is definitely taking you," Shadow walked in wearing a huge grin and a long, royal blue dress robe over a white shirt and black slacks.
"You'd think it was Christmas, the way you're gloating," Lissa swatted his arm.
"What's Christmas?" Trik asked, his curiosity overcoming his nervousness.
"One of Mom's holidays. Every year, she gives everybody gifts for no apparent reason," Tory said. "We get the best stuff."
"When is Christmas?" Trik couldn't help but ask.
"In five months," Lissa said. "Karzac tells me the baby is due around that time. Don't worry," she held up a hand when Ry started to say something. "You'll get your presents, just like always. Kyler and Cleo are prepared to get everything done for me, if the baby comes around that time."
"The gift wrap is always red and green," Ry whispered to Trik. "And there's a tree. With lights. We don't know why." Lissa heard and laughed.
"We're ready," Roff and Toff walked in, Both dressed in dark suits.
"Toff, you look so handsome," Lissa hugged him.
"Kyler and I are coming," Flavio walked in with Kyler. "Cleo is already there with Harvel, waiting for us."
I wanted to hug Flavio. He didn't go to Grey House often with Kyler, although as one of her mates, he was welcome. As Glendes' Daughter, Kyler was required to attend the family dinners, but she usually took Rik or Pheran Tiger. Flavio's reason was understandable—he didn't appreciate the stares whenever he accompanied Kyler to Grey House. Yes, he was the handsomest male there when he went, but the attention from some of the female wizards was uncomfortable for him. He was going this time to show support for me. Sometimes, we vampires had to stick together.
The Grey family was huge, probably at least eight hundred members, and the cavernous dining hall used for the monthly family dinners held all of them. Thankfully, not all of them would attend the rite—Glendes limited that to immediate family and those closest to the children going through the rite—more than that terrified the child. Yes, the children were normally six years old and if they were like Nissa, they were already scared witless when Glendes put his hands on them. They didn't need a huge audience there, gawking.
"Trik, are you good to go?" I stood on tiptoe to kiss his forehead—he was as tall as Ry and looked ready to bolt if somebody said boo to him.
"I'm ready," he said, squaring his shoulders. I still saw the worry in his green eyes, however.
"It doesn't take long," Shadow came forward and patted Trik's shoulder. "And it doesn't hurt. It's just the waking of your power. I was scared witless when Grampa did it for me all those years ago, and when I woke afterward, I remember thinking that it wasn't an ordeal at all."
"Queen Lissa?" Trik said, his eyes meeting mine.
"What, honey?" I asked. Something big was coming, I could tell by his expression.
"I never got to call Melida Mom. She wouldn't allow it," he muttered, dropping his eyes. "Morwin showed me copies of the adoption papers. It says you're my adoptive mother, and Shadow is my adoptive father."
"That's right," I nodded, not sure where this was going. "If you want to change that when you're older, we can talk about it. Right now, those papers say that Shadow and I will take care of you and treat you as our own." My heart hurt for him—I'd known all along that Melida was a nasty piece of work. I hoped she hadn't abused Trik after his birth. She certainly had when he was still in the womb.