What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a coffee shop trades the Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans', which cause a massive ash tree to grow overnight inside the shop. Following this miraculous weekend, Andrew leaves work in the company of a fatally attractive woman who turns out to be a succubus, a demon which steals human life force through sexual contact. Rescued by Lara and Blackout, Andrew returns to work in a weakened state, with the demon still at large...
Lara lay there, holding her breath. Had the tree just talked to her?
She wanted to ask another question, hopefully solicit another response. But before she could open her lips, she heard the sound of the tumblers in the lock of the door to the shop.
Someone is coming.
She rolled over quickly, and spread apart the leaves and branches beneath her enough to see down into the shop. Her high vantage point afforded her a view of the front door, and most of the floor--the coffee bar was out of sight, as was the storage room. In the shadows of the entry way, the door swung open, and two figures stepped inside.
It was Andrew, and the new girl--Julie.
"You really think you're strong enough to do this already?" Julie asked Andrew.
"Absolutely," Andrew replied.
Do what? Lara wondered.
Andrew crossed the room directly beneath Lara's vantage point, and then out of her view. She wanted desperately to get up and climb down the Tree do demand to know what was going on, but fear of being discovered kept her hidden. The the utter lack of expression on Andrew's face had sent a shiver of fear down her spine.
Get a grip! she told herself. It's just Andrew!
But who was Andrew, really? How much did she know about him? She assumed he was a good person, but what if he wasn't? He had obviously lied about several things. He wasn't as sick as he'd let on earlier today - the stood was gone, the circles around the eyes less pronounced--although Lara would have preferred sunken eyes to that soulless gaze. And he obviously knew Julie better than he'd made out as well...but why the act? Did he think Lara would have been upset that he wanted to hire a friend? If that was what Julie was...
This is ridiculous! Just go down and talk to him and find out what's going on! What was the worst that would happen? He'd fire her? There was a boom going on in Alberta - jobs like this were available everywhere! And then she'd be free of this whole mess...free of worrying about Andrew...free of taking care of...the Tree.
She couldn't leave the Tree. The Fates said she was one of them...it was her job to safeguard the Tree, to watch over it. The awareness of her charge filled her with resolve, and she tensed to move, to get up, to climb down and demand to know what the hell was going on.
Even as she started to shift her position, her headache came back with a vengeance. The pain shot into her with bright, stabbing pain, and it was all she could do not to cry out. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood. Visions flickered in her mind as though viewed under a strobe light...she could see Andrew's face...he was reaching down, touching her...no, not her...the Tree. And she could see his lips moving...saying something, chanting, but she couldn't make out the words. Julie, looking over his shoulder, but Julie's face was shifting with each flash of the strobe...
Flash...a demure girl with mouse brown hair dressed in prudish clothing that made her look like she would be voted most-likely-to-become-a-librarian...
Flash...the blonde-tressed porn-star lookalike Andrew had left the coffee shop with...
Flash...a dark form, a feline silhouette with yellow glowing eyes...
The pain was nearly overwhelming her, if only she could reach out to that life-giving sap, drink it in and feel its healing rush through her...and then she felt the connection.
The sap...no, the honey...what the Greeks had called meli in ancient times, the soma of the Tree...and something was wrong with it...it wasn't just that Andrew was taking energy from it...he was trying to taint it.
Her fury was instantaneous. Kneeling, prostrate, gripping the sides of the branch, her head placed against the great limb, she raged through her pain, and caught a glimpse of Andrew being thrown back, away from the Tree to crash into the coffee bar. His lower back struck, painfully, and he crumpled to the ground.
The pain stopped abruptly, as did her connection to the Tree. She collapsed, panting.
"Something's opposing me," she heard Andrew say.
"I said you weren't ready," Julie replied. "The Tree is still too strong...and now it knows. Dammit! We should have waited!"
"You were the one who was in such a hurry!" Andrew replied. "If I'd had more time to absorb his aura, perhaps the Tree wouldn't have retaliated!"
His aura? Lara wondered.
"It couldn't know!" Julie shouted. "The spell was perfect! You are perfect! Made from the same clay all humans are! Mixed with the shit and cum of that meat puppet and given life by that inscription on your head!"
What inscription? Lara wondered...she hadn't seen any inscription...
"Keep your voice down!" Andrew said...but was it really Andrew? "What if it hears us?"
"It doesn't speak human," Julie replied. "It can sense them and feel their presence, but it does not speak as they do."
Then who spoke to me?
"We need more power," Julie said. "We need to wait. In three days the Ice Moon will wane, and in the deepest darkness of its passing, our strength will be greatest."
"Saturday then," Andrew said.
"Saturday," Julie replied.
Lara pressed her face to the opening in the foliage just in time to see the pair walk to the door and exit the shop. She waited until she heard the lock click, and then looked at her watch, waiting a full five minutes before rising to a crouch. She monkeyed her way back down the Tree, and hopped down from the branch to the coffee bar, and then down onto the tile floor, cool beneath her bare feet.
She raced through the staff room, and down the stairs into the basement, grabbing the flashlight as she ran down.
We really need to put a bulb in down here, she thought as she flipped the light on and peered through the darkness.
"Ima? Terry? Hatima?" she called.
"We're here child," Terry said, emerging from the shadows.
"Then why the hell didn't you do anything?" she shouted. She was still infuriated by the invasive quality of the Andrew-thing's attempt to taint the Tree. It had felt like rape.
"We only just returned," Ima said. "We were...away."
"Away? Since when do you get vacations?"
"We go out from time to time," Terry said, a mild pique in her voice. "We're the Tree's guardians, not its nursemaids."
"And what was so important that it took precedence over being near the Tree, only a week after what happened to Andrew?"
"Saffire were in Banff," Ima said. "It wasn't but a short distance to go, and it's been a while since we've seen them."
"Saffire...what's that?" Lara said. "Some council, or special order of mystical beings?"
"It's the actual name of the Uppity Blues Women," Terry replied. "We haven't seen them play in a long while."
"Well, the next time you plan on going out to a concert, you let me know!" Lara said through gritted teeth.
"Why are you so upset?" Terry asked. "We sensed the attack and came as quick as we could. We knew you were here and that you would guard the Tree, which you did."
Lara suddenly had a problem remaining quite as upset as she'd been to that moment. "Well...that's not the point."
"Yes it is," Hatima said. Lara's anger subsided against a tide of wild surprise. Hatima had actually spoken. Hatima continued in a thick Jamaican accent. "You're speaking like a child. Which you are not. The Tree has endured in all the worlds through countless ages, and it will endure beyond the plots and plans of the lilitu. That does not mean we should not be vigilant. But vigilance does not mean staring at the Tree all day. It means making provision. We made provision. You are our provision. Our sister. And you were here to do exactly what we would have done."
There was a poignant silence following Hatima's speech.
"I'm done talkin' now," she said.
"There's been enough talk already," Terry said. "We need to act, immediately. We will stay here to guard the Tree Lara. You need to find that young man of yours and seek out a rabbi, as soon as you can."
"A rabbi?" Lara asked. And who did they mean by 'that young man of yours'? Andrew? No...they meant Mark.
"Yes, a rabbi," Ima replied. "I now understand why 'Andrew' had a lingering stench of evil upon him. That thing that appears to be Andrew? It's a golem."