Between the Books: Volume Fifteen
|Volume Fifteen - The Ripple Effect|
|During||Just Before Arizona…|
|Between the Books Navigation|
Jose lay awake in the bed, staring up at the ceiling in the dark. He kept his fingers laced tightly behind his head. He hated this motel/hotel shit with a grand passion. The whole concept of partnering in a buddy-system, two-by-two detail was crazy. Marlene was insane, even if he had to admit in his heart of hearts that, she made a whole lotta sense.
It was the situation. Him bunking with J.L. with Juanita, Inez, and Krissy wedged into a room between them and Damali and Carlos—the newest and most vulnerable group, the female newbies, between two Neterus, the Berkfield’s and them… Mike with Rider at the end of the row near the doors where something could slither in. Then they’d put Dan and Bobby together on the other side of the Neterus, with Shabazz and Mar at the other end of the row of madness. The Neterus were always in the middle.
Sure, he understood the arrangement and the strategic positioning in case of an attack. But still, why couldn’t Mar just have relented and put him and J.L. waaaay down the hall!
Jose took in a slow breath and let it out quietly through his mouth. The first time he’d heard Carlos’s name called in a muffled moan back at the other hotel had killed him. But this… a second round of the bullshit, was murder. Yet, how was it possible that he’d heard all of that? The question made his mind race. He wasn’t an audio. Mar had been reasonable, had but a two room buffer between their rooms. The sensory overload didn’t make sense. He had to go to sleep, and could, if J.L. would just stop tossing and turning!
He took another meditative breath and tried to focus on counting backwards from one hundred. But with the erection he had, he could have begun counting backwards from at infinity and would still be awake in the morning.
Disgusted with his condition, he glanced down at the tent his body made in the covers—glad that J.L. had his back to him. This was beyond fucked up. Damali’s scent had wafted down the hall, past two rooms and was all in his nose. It was worse than before, back in the old compound days… this was raw, mature, female sex with a strong male carrier making it worse. Her sweet essence flowed like rain on a humid summer day and was lodged in his sinuses. Every breath made it cling to the back of his throat, and roll over his tongue until he could literally taste her in his mouth.
He swallowed hard, trying to banish the devastating awareness from his taste buds. But her scent was insistent, demanding. It slid down his throat and imploded in his stomach, then new set fire to his groin. Compasion, por favor.
Sweat was beginning to trickle down his temple as he shut his eyes tightly and clenched his laced fingers together harder behind his head. Rivera’s scent was unlocking the link between them. Although Carlos had become a living, human, Neteru… his sweat was the same, still owned a piece of DNA that registered male master vamp… same line… distant brethren. Oh, shit… that’s why he could hear it all like it was happening next door!
Jose sat up quickly and raked his hands through his hair. J.L. turned over and looked at him in the moonlit room.
“You cool, man?”
“Yeah, I’m all right.”
“You hear something?” J.L. said, pushing himself up in the bed, ready to turn on the light.
“Do not turn on the light,” Jose said between his teeth.
The two men stared at each other for a moment in the shadows.
“I’m not trying to be funny, but you got real sick before. If you—”
“I’m cool,” Jose said low in his throat.
“You ain’t cool. *bleep* all that,” J.L. said, slowly swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Look at you, man. Even in the dark, you’re sweatin’, breathing hard. You look like—”
Jose stood and walked to the far side of the room. “This bullshit going on down the hall with D is fucking me up, all right. I ain’t turning.”
J.L. sat quietly for a while, just watching him. “If it will make you feel any better, the vibe jumping off on this corridor is making me trip, too.”
Jose nodded, remembering that his Guardian brother was a tactical. “Yeah… all right. My bad. I just have to shake this Neteru affliction I’ve got.”
J.L. stood and went to stand by the door, and then began to pace. “I’m not talking about that,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
In the semi-darkness, Jose could make out J.L.’s silhouette, and his hair was practically standing on end, arcing small flickers of blue sparks through it.
“Shit, man… what are you talking about?” Jose said, becoming nervous. If something was on the move, then J.L. needed to spit it out.
“She’s right next door—her Pop is two seconds down the hall. Oh, shit, man… she ain’t gonna turn eighteen for months,” J.L. said in a quiet, urgent whisper. “She’s picking up vibe off that hot Neteru room as a brand new tactical and her wild energy is ricocheting to where it wants to be.” J.L. laced his fingers together on top of his head. “Brother, listen, if I do something stupid, like head down the hall—pull my dumb ass back before I get shot.” He waited a beat and then pointed at Jose. “Promise me, man. I ain’t never been jacked up like this.”
Stunned, Jose could only stare at J.L. for a moment. J.L.’s eyes were glazed as though tears had risen in them, and he watched him walk in a tight circle trying to take in deep, cleansing breaths.
“I got your back,” Jose finally said. “I ain’t gonna let you go out like that.”
“Cool. I got yours, too. I won’t let you—”
“I’m not crazy,” Jose said, indignant. “Vamp is further down in my line than that!”
J.L. chuckled, trying to release some tension. “You look like I need to put you down with a crossbow.”
Jose laughed quietly, and then suddenly leaned against the wall and hung his head—stone serious. He closed his eyes, tilted his head and took in a sharp breath. “Right between the eyes. Get a nine, a crossbow, whatever you got… my ass is suffering, man.”
“Yo, yo, yo… whatchu talkin’ about, dude?”
J.L. had begun to pace and Jose couldn’t even look at him.
“Remember when me and Padre did that link?” Jose whispered thickly.
“Yeah,” J.L. said, staring at him hard.
Jose slowly lifted his head to return J.L.’s gaze. “I can still feel it.”
“Holy shit.” J.L. wiped his brow.
“It’s the scent,” Jose said, going to the sliding glass door, yanking the drape back, and staring at the moon.
His tactical brother couldn’t even imagine… for a few, wondrous moments, he’d been linked with a master at wurk. He’d actually tasted Damali on a borrowed palate via a master mind-lock. The scent of her sweet pussy was such a visceral reality—now that the scent had summoned the memory, and he couldn’t shake it for money. Being inside her, feeling it through a host with no barrier… Madre d’ Dios. He clung to the glass, palms flat to keep breathing.
“Take deep breaths, man,” J.L. warned. “Easy, bro. Rivera will freak.”
“I ain’t got no control over this,” Jose whispered.
It was the naked truth. The higher Damali climbed in ecstasy and the closer Carlos teetered on the edge, the more pheromone rent the air, the more vivid the memory became… the more he felt it. And they had been at it all night… the third round was eating him up. Burning him alive.
“Either walk down the hall and stop at ‘Nita’s room,” J.L. said gently, “or go take a cold shower, man. I’m not trying to be funny. That’s the only viable options I see.”
Both men stared at each other. J.L. walked over to his bed and flopped down, his eyes on the ceiling.
“If you don’t hit the shower soon, I will,” J.L. added. “I wasn’t taking a pot shot at you, man. I’m just trying to be real.”
Without a word, and with his dignity in shreds, Jose crossed the room, slipped into the bathroom, and quietly shut the door. It felt like his t-shirt and nylon basketball shorts had been welded to him, and he painfully peeled them off his body like he was shedding skin.
Turning on the tap, he let the frigid spray hit his hand first, and immediately drew it back, then adjusted the temperature to a tepid level he could tolerate. But the moment he entered the shower and doused his hair, every droplet seemed to heighten the scent in his olfactory system… oh, shit… water… Rivera was a Scorp… memories of Damali’s scent in the compound during her ripening… every shower she took—sudden heat. His palms flattened against the cold tiles for relief to no avail. Memories scorched his mind and made him drop his head forward. Cool water didn’t stop the burn.
The scent of her carried in the shower moistened air, turning mental tumblers, unlocking sealed mind doors. Her with the water, the water with her. Wet female. Sex perfumed compound drain systems. In a lair. In the Caribbean. Rose petals and blood… sex scent pungent and dense like rainforest foliage. She felt like slick soap and Shea butter and everything woman. His hand became a sheath against the agony she’d presented.
God forgive him, he couldn’t help it… but he had to release this pain.
If he went down the hall, and Krissy opened the door in a nightgown—he was gonna break her father’s heart. If she would just chill… would stop throwing crazy, unspent energy, he could meditate, relax, shake it off, and go to sleep. But he could feel her skin ignite, her mouth hungering to be taken hard… like the rest of her. He looked at his arms as a current of blue tinged current swept along them.
J.L. licked his lips, trying to keep his mouth from going dry without success. Shame washed over him as he sat up, slowly beginning to rock in pain. There was no denying the inevitable… he was next in the shower… taking her in there with him mentally.
* * *
Juanita flung her covers back and walked to the sliding glass doors. Krissy glanced at her from across the room, and blotted the perspiration off her forehead.
“You okay?” Krissy asked in a whisper.
“No, her ass ain’t okay,” Inez practically snarled. “But her ass needs to get over it.”
“Don’t say shit to me,” Juanita snapped. “Not a fucking thing, hear?”
Inez was out of her bed and on her feet in seconds. Krissy jumped up and stood between them.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Krissy said, extending her arms. “What’s wrong with you guys!”
“She needs to stay out of my face,” Juanita said through her teeth.
“We can go right here, right now, girlfriend,” Inez said, hands on hips.
“Would you stop!” Krissy shouted, and then lowered her voice. She held her hands at both sides of her head. “Just quit it!”
Krissy’s impassioned outburst made the two older women in the room just stare at her for a moment as she walked across the room, began to pace, and then wrapped her arms around her waist.
“Later,” Inez said, pointing at Juanita.
“Any day or night,” Juanita said, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
“You all right, Kris?” Inez said, becoming concerned.
“Noooo,” Kris wailed in a hushed tone. “I’m… I’m….”
“You got blue static electricity all over your skin,” Juanita said, coming nearer.
When Juanita reached out to inspect the phenomena, Krissy yanked away. “Don’t touch me,” she whispered through her teeth and then hugged herself harder.
Juanita and Inez gave each other a quizzical look. Krissy inhaled sharply, shuddered, and then tears began to stream down her face.
“Want me to go get Marlene?” Inez said, growing more alarmed by the second.
“Oh, please, God, no—don’t call Miss Marlene. I don’t want her to see me like this. Promise me, promise me, don’t go get her or anyone else. Swear it!”
Inez and Juanita shared another glance.
“Well, what’s your problem then, chica?” Juanita said warily. “Because if you got bitten by some shit, I, for one, ain’t staying in this room with—”
“It’s J.L., all right? Satisfied?” Krissy turned away, swallowed hard, and shuddered again. “Oh, God…”
Both Juanita and Inez stared at each other for a moment and then mouthed the words, ‘oh shit.’
“You think you’re a tactical, like him?” Inez asked softly, keeping her voice quiet.
Krissy emphatically nodded.
“Oh… man…” Juanita said, running her fingers through her hair. “That ain’t good, hon.”
“Don’t let me walk out that door,” Krissy said in an urgent whisper. “My mom and dad and brother are right next door. I can’t… I just… ”
“We got you,” Inez said, body blocking the door. “I know how you feel. It’ll pass—”
“Not,” Juanita said, lifting her hair off her neck. “Tell the girl the truth, ‘Nez. Stop lying. As long as all that bullshit is going on that close to her, she’s gonna be lit up like a freakin’ Christmas tree—and if J.L. is in the same condition… hey.”
“Girl, don’t make her bug. Chill,” Inez demanded softly. “Listen… I get snatches of vision and can sometimes see Mike… and uh, it does get bad, at times… like tonight… but, uh, if you, uh…”
“Just tell her, Inez,” Juanita said, losing patience. “Just tell the girl to go take a shower and handle her business so she can get a good night’s sleep!”
“Aw, Lawd, ‘Nita… girl, you ain’t have to go there.”
Krissy covered her face as the heat of pure embarrassment made her cheeks burn.
“Hey, I ain’t throwing stones,” Juanita said in a huff, and then flopped down on the bed. “You all have no idea where I’m at in my head right now. So stop fucking with me.” A bitter sob choked off her words and made her stand again, and then begin walking in a dizzying circle.
“For your information, Inez,” Juanita said, pointing at her, every word gaining momentum, getting broken up into a more Spanglish coated harmony, rolling Rs faster without a breath. “This has nothing to do with your girlfriend. It has to do with me, what I know for fact, what I remember, and what sensing what I’m sensing is making come back into my brain—you ain’t neva been with no brother like Carlos, okaaay. You ain’t neva lived with one, or even… oh, shit, if his ass would just get done and go to fucking sleep I might be able to not lose my mind, okay. So don’t you get all up in my face and start talking about a beat down, because tonight, chica, if you wanna take this to the hall, go out in the parking lot, where eva, we can do dat shit real barrios style and I’m telling you right—”
“Girl…. It’s cool,” Inez said softly, as she and Krissy stared at Juanita. “You’re unraveling, sis. Chill. We’re all messed up. I can’t hear it, you can’t hear it, but Mike did, most likely… so… look. Let’s just all get back into bed, or take a shower, or I don’t know, but we need to be cool… or everybody is gonna make a break for the hall—and we cannot leave Krissy in here alone… ‘cause J.L. will be in here with the quickness, and then he’ll get shot, the cops will come, and—”
“All right, all right, all right,” Juanita said in a near hiss and then sat down hard on the bed. “Let’s play some cards till it’s over, then. I cannot lie down in no freakin’ bed while Rivera’s wurkin’.”
* * *
Rider passed a bottle of Jack Daniels to Big Mike as they both sat in the dark on their beds.
Mike took a healthy swig and handed it back to Rider.
“I know she’s grown,” Mike said in a far off tone. “But ya know, man… she’s still like my daughter. I can’t deal with hearing that shit. I have to keep remembering that I ain’t supposed to go get my shoulder cannon.”
“And you wonder why I smoke?” Rider picked up the pack of Marlboro Reds on the nightstand, slowly stood, crossed the room to go light it, and blew smoke out the sliding glass door.
“Second hand smoke will kill a brother, too,” Mike grumbled, taking another swig from the bottle.
“It blocks my sinuses, and D is like my daughter.” Rider took a deep drag off the butt until it glowed bright red. “I don’t wanna deal with it.”
Mike nodded and took a cigarette out of Riders pack and lit it. “Ain’t did this since Nam, smokin’. But my nerves is bad, bro.”
“Have at it. Knock yourself out.” Rider kept his back to Mike and inhaled again, also breathing in crisp night air.
“Thing is, if Inez came down here right now, I wouldn’t be no good to her. It’s like… that’s my baby girl, and I just ain’t even—”
“In the mood. Hearing your daughter in three part harmony is a real libido buster.” Rider sighed hard. “Before all that mayhem started, I was half ready to go take a long walk in the moonlight, hoping to get lucky by way of an accidental meeting in the dark… know a lovely lady that has gorgeous red eyes.” He flicked an ash out of the cracked-open sliding glass door and leaned on it.
“Man, you woulda had me walking point with a hollow point magazine. You know that lady you’re talking about has an old man now, who guards this territory like a pit bull.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… but if Tara ever rolls up on me at night, hey.” Rider shrugged. “But, after all this bull tonight, I might not be no good to her, either, for a while.” He shivered and took another long drag on his cigarette.
Mike stood, pulled in a long drag, and walked toward him with the bottle outstretched. “Well, if you had gone out, with me watching you back, then at least we would have missed the show.”
* * *
Berkfield kept the newspaper up in front of his face, intently reading the same paragraph over and over. Marjorie flipped channels on the remote, moving the selections faster and faster until Berkfield grabbed her hand.
“I’ve only got one thing to say,” he muttered.
“Richard, please don’t start. They’re young, and in love, and—”
“I’m just glad it’s not my daughter.”
They both looked at each other.
“Richard… one day—”
He held up his hand. “Do not say it. Never.”
She smiled. “It’s natural… and you want grand kids one day, don’t you?”
He dropped the paper onto his lap. “No. Not if I have to get them like that.”
She laughed hard. “How else are they made, honey?”
“Today, in this era, there’s technology. Test tubes.” He picked his paper back up and began rereading the same sentence all over again.
A deep male moan made him snatch a new page before him.
“Test tubes, you hear me Marj… and only after she’s forty-five and never, ever in the room next to me—then, maybe, Christ in heaven, I can accept that reality.”
* * *
“’Bazz… you okay?” Marlene asked, watching him sit on the floor in a yogi position. His eyes were closed, his breathing steady and even. “Baby, are you all right?”
“No,” he said evenly. “But I am a philosophical man. This too shall pass.”
Marlene chuckled and turned up the volume on the television set. “Oh. Just checking.
* * *
“Yo, Dan—you cool?” Bobby sat up in his bed in the dark and studied his mentor. “You’re hyperventilating, dude. Like—”
“Shut. Up. And go to sleep.”
“But like, dude… if you’re having some kinda demon alarm attack, and—”
“Shut. Up. And go to sleep.”
“But, like, what if this is the real McCoy—‘cause, clearly, those guys next door are not hearing squat, ya know, dude. And, if they’re—”
“Shut. Up. And go to sleep.”
Dan sat up in bed, wiped his hands down his face, and jerked his attention toward Krissy’s room.
“You feel something, don’t you? Like… something really serious. ‘Cause, you’ve got a cold sweat thing happening, and if it’s on the move toward the girls’ room, like, Krissy can’t—”
“Shut. The *bleep* up. And go to sleep.” Dan’s arm snapped away from his body in a hard point. “Not another word. Do not say her name around me right now.”
“Like, what did Kris do? You mad at her, or something? I thought you were nuts about her, dude—or am I reading the signals wrong? Like, I know she’s all scary and probably pacing the floors in there and not even dressed. Knowing her, if something were to attack, she’d just be screaming, half naked, not —”
“Oh, shit, please shut up,” Dan said, standing fast and crossing the room. He raked his hair and stared out the glass doors. “I’m not mad at her.”
“Well, dude, if you keep looking that way, and keep like, sensing or whatever in her direction, you think she’s in some kinda danger? Like, we should go down there, and—”
Dan spun around so fast and glared at Dan so hard that he’d stopped the teenager’s tumble of naïve words.
“I cannot go down the hall and have your sister open the door in her baby doll pajamas with your old man right next door. Got the *bleep* to sleep!”
“Oh… whoa… dude…” Bobby sat forward on the bed and clutched his head with his hands. “Wild… like… it hits you tactical guys like that?” He glanced at the adjacent wall where echoes of thunderous lovemaking resounded. He stood slowly and touched the wall and looked at Dan. “Crazy.”
Dan began pacing again. “Two seconds and I’ll punch your lights out. Go to bed.”
Bobby just stared at his hand. “How come I didn’t feel anything? Guess I’m not a tactical, and must not be an audio, either—not that anybody needs cool special powers to hear all that.” He sniffed. “Nada, bro. I don’t have a snooze, either. You think I’m gonna develop—”
“You’re gonna develop a black eye, for real, if you don’t quit it.”
“But what am I supposed to be feeling, when a special power comes in, dude? Like I get it now—intense vibes have a ripple effect on the team. Like, ‘Bazz and J.L. are tactical sensors, so you think they’re tapped into the ridiculous dealio going on next door?” Bobby laughed. “But I gotta give it to Rivera… dude. I mean… dude.”
Dan closed his eyes. “’Bazz is like her dad.” His statement began as quiet resignation but escalated with each word until his was almost yelling. “If anything, he’s having a mild heart attack or stroke, in which case, Marlene is healing him by pounding on his chest. That is, if she’s not down the hall putting a spoon on Mike’s tongue so he doesn’t swallow it in an epileptic fit of rage… or is tying Rider to a chair to keep him from cutting off his own nose to spite his face. Or is pulling a nine away from Jose’s skull… or—”
“Dude, my old man and my mom must be wigging. I don’t even know how we got here, because in all the years I’ve know ‘em, I don’t think—”
“But, J.L. is like you, dude, an eligible bachelor and—”
“Whoa. Raw nerve, dude,” Bobby said. “Your hair just did this blue arc of light thing and is standing up, man. No offense but it’s kinda creepy. Take some deep breaths bro. Your face is like beet red and you’ve got a vein standing up in your temple. That cannot be a good thing.” He stood and scratched his head, peering at Dan with intense curiosity.
Dan was breathing hard, swallowing dry spit with his eyes closed, t-shirt and boxers clinging to him. A hard shudder sent a white arc down his torso. His hands slowly balled into fists as his lashes fluttered. Bobby’s gaze followed the arc and then he looked away.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve got a killer case of wood, dude. Biz-zarre.”
“Please shut up, man,” Dan said in a quiet rush through his teeth.
“Is it the knocking boots next door or are you tapped into Kris, surreal, like that? I mean, seriously, dude. We’re best buds, and all, but that’s still my sister… like I can’t even fathom that—you know, her messing you up to that degree… Kris? I love her, but she’s a real pain in the ass. Look at you, dude. You’ve practically got the shakes, and shit. What’s up with that? You’d better take a cold shower and chill out.”
* * *
Damali sat in the diner across from Carlos in a small booth. No one on the team said a word. Only Marlene seemed chipper and was all smiles and conversation. Everyone else carefully studied their plates and ate slowly, looking haggard and fatigued. Carlos glimpsed up at her and offered her a sly smile. She wanted to die, but that wasn’t allowed for such a stupid reason.
Pancakes kept her attention and she poured syrup on them, nearly using the entire container. Carlos just looked at her with a deeply satisfied grin.
“Burned a lot of energy last night,” he muttered in a private tone with a dashing smile. “Guess your body is in sugar shock and looking for replacement therapy—”
“Don’t start,” she whispered between her teeth, slathering more butter on the already gooey mess on her plate. Truth was, she was starved. Sugar, fat, carbs, and plenty of them, were the quick-fix answer. “Now you see why it had been so long?”
“I guess I’ll go back to bed,” Juanita muttered to Krissy behind them. “Now that I can get some sleep.”
Inez looked up and held her forkful of eggs mid-air. Jose cut Juanita a glare. The older members of the team chewed their food slowly like cows chewing cuds, but didn’t dare glance in the direction of the brewing storm. Dan slid a glance toward Rider, who ignored it. The Berkfields carefully sipped their coffee. Carlos stopped chewing and looked at Damali when her back stiffened. But Bobby smirked. It was on.
The butter knife left Damali’s hand so fast, whirred past Krissy, and impaled the booth an inch next to Juanita at heart level that, Inez squealed and Juanita dropped her orange juice, splattering her clothes.
“Oh, shit!” Juanita shrieked.
“This morning, we need to work on reaction times to a potential threat. Training day begins after breakfast. Don’t even think about going back to bed—or anything else with said association.” Damali looked at Juanita with a glare that could cut metal.
“If I hadn’t been up all night, I would have caught it,” Juanita said, leaning forward in her seat, foolishly challenging Damali.
“Even when you’re tired,” Damali said with emphasis, toying with her fork in a very dangerous way, “even when you’ve been up all night… do not be slow… or think that I am. Test me on the mats when we do some Aikido exercises, hear? Or maybe you wanna go sharp shooting with me today.”
Carlos set his fork down slowly, and then reached across the table with care and stroked the back of Damali’s hand. The smile had left his face. “Baby… uh… why don’t you let me—”
“Do what?” Damali said, her eyes never leaving Juanita’s. She’d spoken so low that the words had come out in a near growl.
Inez grabbed a handful of napkins and began to furiously wipe up the spilled juice. “Girl… if you know like I know…”
Carlos coolly withdrew his hand from Damali’s and sat back, ready to grab her in case it got crazy. Krissy sat wide-eyes, not moving. Jose cocked his head to the side, a plea in his _expression, poised and ready to break up a lunge. Dan ran his fingers through his hair, muscles tensed at the ready. J.L. casually slid to the edge of the booth seat he occupied, flexing for a separation move. Bobby’s attention bounced between Juanita and Damali, and then he glanced at his father and mother who sat stock still. Shabazz and Marlene sipped their coffee, passing even glances over the rim of their mugs. Big Mike shook his head and kept eating.
Rider calmly got up, walked over to the booth that now had a butter knife firmly lodged into a plastic-covered cushion. He bent down and extracted the knife and spoke softly into Juanita’s ear. “You should have seen her when she had fangs, darlin’. Don’t take her there, especially not before a martial arts work out.” He straightened his spine and coolly walked over toward Damali, all eyes on him. “I believe this is yours,” he said with a smirk, studying the bent blade. “Good thing it wasn’t the Isis, ya think?”
“You’d better know it.”
Damali snatched the knife from Rider and kept her glare on Juanita, who suddenly began to busily wipe herself off as Inez and Krissy started to mop up the spill. Rider walked back to his seat, sat, and picked up where he left off, scoffing down the food on his plate. The older Guardians hadn’t even flinched, but resumed eating breakfast with detached resolve. Carlos brought his coffee mug up to his mouth to cover a smile.
“No more sugar for you,” Carlos said, his tone amused, as he slid the syrup far away from Damali’s reach.
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