Excerpt for A Demonworld Solstice by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


A Demonworld Solstice



By Severine Wolfe



Demonworld Novella (Book 6.5)





Imprint: Fantasy Paranormal Romance

A Demonworld Solstice

Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2017 by Severine Wolfe

First E-Book Published 2017



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental.







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Dedication



This is to every author out there who has written Christmas stories that I have enjoyed through my life. I love catching up with series characters at the holiday. Each of you have brought me happiness and cheer, and I re-read your books every holiday. Thank you.





From The Author



I started this last year, actually, but it didn’t feel right, so I didn’t put it out there. I wanted it to be a gift to my readers, who are the very BEST! As it happened, a story popped up in my mind and New Reality Paradox was borne when I had no idea of even writing another Demonworld book. After that was done I took another look at my story and thought, You know… And thus, I added and brought a few things into focus that I had been hedging on for a while.

I hope you like this slice of life tale from the Demonworld. We get to check in on our old friends and meet their growing families and answer the question of whether Seth ever leaves his mate alone. Ever.

The series numbering may be off because where I am publishing this doesn’t allow for the “in-between) numbering.



It’s NOT Christmas!

 

Cassie is tasked by a curious pantheon to create a Winter holiday. The witch in her loves celebrating at the Solstice, but the humans keep calling it Christmas, when it’s really not. Even if you can give gifts… if you want. And, there is feasting and merriment and a time to reflect until the Spring Equinox arrives.

But, it’s not Christmas. It’s really not. Fir trees? Decorative!



CHAPTER ONE

“Honey, why is Arminius at our door?” Bax Clancy said, looking back into his house where his wife was entertaining their twins.

Cassie looked up as Bax led in a Demon who looked fierce and dour. Ariadne, her daughter lifted up her hands to her favorite “uncle” and the large Demon bent down and picked her up to toss her into his other arm, causing her to laugh and chortle as only delighted babies can. Both of her parents smiled with glee.

“She is happy here,” Arminius said, handing the small one off to her father and looking down at her mother. “I would like to do this as quickly as possible so I can get back to Aliera.”

Cassie stood up and placed the twins in a playpen she’d brought from Earth, and smiled. “Great! Once I see what I want I can place an anchor and take myself.”

“What are you two doing?” Bax asked blandly as if he had no say in the matter.

“It’s a surprise, I can’t tell you,” said his wife who was putting on her ski parka, then kissed his cheek and went outside where Arminius would take them someplace Cassie didn’t know about.

He looked down at the two children she’d given him and realized that it didn’t really matter because he loved surprises. Cassie having been the best one of his life.

*****

Cassie opened her eyes and saw a forested region on a world she did not yet know well enough to arrive at the thing she wanted with the pinpoint accuracy she prided herself in.

“Oh, Arminius,” she whispered. “This perfect.” Cassie felt almost like she was in a church.

“It is not far from Gareth’s holding, you should have asked him,” he said looking around.

“Oh, no, the baby is teething and Krys was called home late last night.” She looked over at her companion and smiled. “I’ve put an anchor down, Arminius. Return to your mate and child.”

“Are you certain you will be safe alone here?”

Cassie raised an eyebrow and smirked.

“I’m pretty sure I’m safe.”

He smiled, knowing she was the most powerful witch any of them had seen in too long.

As soon as Arminius had stepped to the gate closest to his home, she let herself relax and looked up at the huge, coniferous trees that grew in this region. They looked much like the pines and firs of Earth. This was exactly what she had been looking for.

She was damned if she would give up Christmas. She’d had to go without Thanksgiving. Her dear baby, Ariadne simply could not go to Earth, even for a few hours with no control over her need to consume magic. Even with all of her magic relatives around, it would drain them dry in Earth’s still diminished magical levels.

Hopefully, according to the books that her brother-in-law, Glenn had found for her and Bax, Ariadne should be able to begin learning to control her feeding on magic in a couple more years, with short trips to Earth to help her learn in between. Cassie lived with the real fear that she’d never be able to return to her homeworld and live a normal life, or as normal as it would ever be for her.

“I used to be an actuary…” she muttered as she began walking through the forest scoping out trees, looking for the perfect specimen for her own home. She had popped to her home realm the week before and hit all the Dollar Stores for decorations. It wasn’t prudent to have anything fragile or expensive with so many babies around.

Cassie smiled at that thought. They had begun a huge Baby Boom on the Demonworld since they’d all come back. In this world that had not seen a happy birth in so long, having so many babies being born in so short a time, had placed a layer of love that was almost tactile. A layer of happiness and hope that perhaps the Demon race would not die out entirely.

It was insanity to believe that Pure Demons would be able to repopulate the world again. Humans and Half-elves were finding Demon mates and thus would the new world be born of other worlds. It made her happy that there was a chance that everything bad about the Demon race may have been eradicated. A fresh start was exactly what everyone was needing.

There were so many firs and conifers to look at and judge. Deeming which were worthy of putting in the house was not a decision to be made lightly. She also had to make sure the trunk would fit into the tree stand she’d brought over. As she spotted an animal that looked suspiciously like a squirrel in one of the trees, she made a note to check for squatters. She had seen movies…

Walking into a small copse she turned in a circle, taking in the forest and the snow and begun humming Winter Wonderland. And then she started giggling. This was like some kind of Christmas card. It was so hard to believe she was on the Demonworld.

Nothing on this world recommended itself to her. It was a learned bias that was based on her knowledge of how she had come into being. Knowing you were a child of rape was never an easy thing to accept. Knowing that your genetic donor was a murdering rapist, was even harder. Faisal was not her father. Her father was Jacob Lester. She was so happy to have him back, and knew that she was still his little girl. It kept her grounded.

Cassie stopped turning in circles and looked at her feet. The thought of her brother, Seth, and his daughter, Letha came to mind. If Seth was typical of the new fathers on this world, every daughter would feel valued and worthy of all excellence. According to her brother, Letha hung the moon and the stars twinkled just for her. He held her more often than not, even to the point that his mate, Brigid had begun making noises of Letha being a spoiled baby.

She knew it was also true of Gramish, the leader of the Demons, who had been exiled to the Elf homeworld of Era until they were brought back not long ago. He had twin daughters and gods forbid anyone even looked crossways in their presence. She’d heard from his mate, Ayalah, that he had bodily removed a petitioner who had sneered at the babies in his lap during a hearing. Evidently, his petition to be heard would not be considered until he recognized that females of any age had the right to be present anywhere they were desired to be.

She looked up at the sky as she felt snow falling from somewhere. It was a sunny day, so it wasn’t sky snow. Movement in the tree next to her showed movement. A squirrel-like animal was taking berries or nuts into its nest. Cassie had to smile. Perhaps the squirrel was getting gifts ready for Christmas as well.

They do not know of this holiday on this world, Cassie,” she heard and turned around.

Her mouth dropped open and then she smiled.

“Siletha,” she said and dropped to her knees.

The tinkling of small bells that was the laughter of a goddess, caressed Cassie until she felt like she’d been drinking champagne.

Rise, my daughter,” the goddess told her as she looked around the forest. “This is a very scenic spot,” she looked back at Cassie. “I have seen the images and memories of your Christmas in your mind and I must admit I am intrigued. Even though it is a religious holiday for your people, but I see ways in which we might tailor it to fit this world as well. Between this holiday and your Thanksgiving, I think we might have a new feast day.”

Cassie’s smile brightened her already beautiful face. “I would love that.”

Siletha looked around at the trees, the snow and smiled again. “I especially like the idea of the trees inside the houses, all lit up. It is a celebration of life that we all might benefit from.”

“I miss home,” Cassie said, her smile finally faltering.

Looking over at her chosen champion, Siletha gave her a small smile and reached out and put her palm to Cassie’s cold cheek.

You forgot your air spell to keep yourself warm,” Siletha chided in her typical good nature.

“I wanted to feel the cold, the wet of the snow… I wanted to feel winter again.”

You are afraid that if you stay here that you will cease to feel?

“I am afraid that if I stay, I will become as corrupt at Faisal,” Cassie admitted for the first time to herself or anybody else. She took a step back at the shock of that knowledge. She suddenly felt herself pulled into a tight hug.

You and Jyseth are the best things that ever came of this once-rotten world, and you are renewing it with your love and your energy… your determination to set things to rights.”

“I feel guilty that I can’t seem to find a way to be happy here with my family. I don’t want to end up resenting Ari because I have to be here for her.”

Siletha looked her over for a moment then nodded. “You must find your own answer to this problem, dearest Cassie,” she finally said. “It is not that you are unhappy but that you feel that you should not feel happiness in a place that you feel has held such horrors and degradation for your friends and your own mother. Look to them, most beloved of all of my people. You will see that they are finding happiness here themselves and feeling no guilt over it.”

“Bax says it’s useless feeling guilt for actions that weren’t mine, and yet I do. I’m still horrified by the things that went on here,” she looked up at Siletha. “Every time we find an old, grown-over temple that was defiled I want to scream. When I hear the women speak of what they suffered here I want to go back and kill my father all over again…”

But, you did not kill him, Cassie,” Siletha explained quietly. “I did that through you. That sin is not on your soul, but his.”

“I know that, in here,” Cassie pointed her fingers at her own head. “But, in here,” she pointed to her heart, “I don’t feel it.”

Siletha closed her hands over Cassie’s fingers, sending her love and warmth.

You need a penance for a crime which is not your own,” she pointed out. “So, I will give you one. Get this holiday setup, the celebration, the feasting, everything. And, you will coordinate everything with Ayalah and the priests and priestesses that are now on this world.”

“But…”

You will do this not only for you, my daughter, but for everyone here, so that they may also get rid of any feelings of guilt they may have for surviving when so many others did not. This is survivor’s guilt, and it does none of you any good at all.

“Others feel the same way?” Cassie didn’t know what to think of that. She’d been carrying this around for several years and not comfortably. No one had told her they were feeling bad about being here, being back. In fact, most of the women she had saved had not come back to the realm. Dozens had returned to find work and some semblance of peace, but most of the women had chosen to find their families or their own way on Earth, with a few dozen asking for passage to the Technomage World. They had grown used to a world heavy with magic and knew their fortunes lay in using it.

I will think of this as renewal festival, but not like the one we already have in Spring,” the goddess shook her head. “This is for personal renewal. I don’t think it should be religious in nature. I believe your people chose the Winter Solstice to hold this holiday because the season is a reflective time. It is needed.”

The thought of that made Cassie smile. Bax would probably wax poetic about the history of the Winter holidays and how they had come into being.

Now, return to your family. Speak to those you love and get this holiday started.”

With that proclamation, Siletha popped out of Cassie’s existence.

“Wow!” Cassie exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, then a gigantic smile broke over her face. “Let’s get this show on the road!”

Then she, too, blinked out of existence.

*****

Cassie went home and began sending a message out to everyone to meet at Gramish’s hall the next morning to discuss establishing a new holiday.

“Have fun explaining Christianity to them all, babe,” was all Bax had said when she told him about her visit to the forest.

“It’s about renewal, Bax,” she had countered.

“Springtime,” he said quietly as she sat and opened a history of this world.

“Personal renewal, was what Siletha said.”

Bax looked up from his book for a moment, his look contemplative, then he slowly nodded. “It fits.”

Cassie didn’t ask him what it was or what it fit. No, that way lay madness and boring lectures about Earth history what would have her crossing her eyes in three seconds flat. Even though she had to admit, Bax was dead sexy when he went into professorial mode. She looked at the ceiling of her kitchen where she sat her the table, making lists, and wondered how long the twins would nap, then smiled.

“Cassie!” Bax sputtered as she ripped the book out of his hands and jumped on his lap.

“Shhh,” she said, laying her lips on his to quiet him further. “They’re asleep…”

Bax let himself be led into their bedroom and sighed as he gave thanks, once again, for his beautiful, brilliant wife.




CHAPTER TWO

A message had come from Cassie that intrigued Krys. She knew of the Christmas holiday, of course. Her mother had been a human witch from Earth, and she had spent some years on the world waiting for a fire witch to show up. But, to celebrate it here on a world that did not know the religious symbolism of Christianity? She wasn’t sure how that was going to play here on the Demonworld.

“Gareth?” She called out to her mate who was playing with their son on a huge carpet in the middle of the floor of the palace she used for the Elven embassy. “Do you have a renewal celebration here? For any of your still existing gods?”

Gareth looked up at her and his brows knit together in thought. “In the Spring we have a Renewal celebration and give honor to Klenit our god of Agriculture and growing things, but I don’t know of any other holiday, no.”

“Hmmm,” she hummed to herself as she thought about it. “We are being summoned to Gramish’s tomorrow morning for the coordination of a renewal festival for the winter solstice.”

Gareth looked up from his son, Gladus, who was drooling all over the small, wooden sword his father had given him to chew on. “Winter Solstice? We’ve never had such a thing.”

“Looks like you will now,” Krys smiled at the two males who held her heart.

Gladus noticed his mother looking at him and smiling and gave her a delighted chortle and drooling smile while waving his wooden sword in the air.

Krys threw her head back and laughed, just as delighted with her son as he was with her. “A new holiday, my love.”

*****

“What is my sister up to now?” Seth said and rubbed his chin that his daughter was determined to chew on.

“Letha, no, little one, chew on this,” he said, handing her a teething branch that Demon children had been cutting their teeth on since forever. The small twig didn’t splinter and cleaned the baby’s existing teeth while helping alleviate that pain that came from newly erupting teeth.

“She thinks her Papa tastes better,” Brigid said as she brought a tray of refreshments into the room. The room had once been the receiving room for Seth’s father, Faisal. She had turned it into a place of warmth and welcome. They received all their visitors there and she had taken to calling it a parlor as soon as she’d taken over the house when she’d mated Seth. Today it was just their small family and it was snack time for Letha before her baby went down for a much-needed nap.

“Cassie wants to have a renewal festival at the Winter Solstice,” Seth said, grabbing a cookie and giving it to Letha to chew on instead of his chin. Perhaps he should grow a beard?

“She misses Christmas,” Brigid said, grabbing a cup of tea and a cookie from the tray.

Seth set Letha down on the blanket on the floor and grabbed his own tea and cookies.

“They celebrated that while I was on Earth, but I didn’t understand the significance of it,” he looked perplexed as he considered his memory. “Something about a baby?” He shook his head. “Many babies are born there and yet they are not celebrated as that one.”

Brigid giggled into her cup and sent her mate a smile. “It’s a Christian holiday, not everyone on Earth celebrates it, however, many do celebrate the holiday for the presents, even non-Christians.”

Seth sent her a very confused look.

“I think Cassie is looking for a holiday that may be a mix between her Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

“I loved Thanksgiving!” Seth said brightening. “The food was delicious. I ate myself into what Bax called a ‘food coma’.”

Brigid nodded. “I think it is a good thing,” she finally said. “It lifts the spirit during the winter season on this hemisphere.”

Seth bent down and kissed his mate breathless. “I know my spirits are already lifted.”

“I don’t think that’s your spirits, love,” Brigid laughed against his mouth.

“Can we put her down for a nap now?”

“Oh yes…” Brigid said as he pulled her out of the chair.

“Have one of the servants put her down,” he breathed against her mouth.

Brigid managed to call one of the half-elf maids that Seth had hired so that Brigid basically had nothing to do, before he silenced her again with his mouth. It always amazed her how crazed he still became when it came to loving her. She would never tire of it or him.

*****

“I do not like it,” Arminius frowned as he brought in wood for the fire to warm his home. He saw Aliera sitting in the big chair, nursing his son and smirking at him. “Celebrations! Bah! What for?” He continued to stack the wood so that Aliera would not have to go out into the cold and gather her own.

“We used to do it to break up the monotony of winter,” Aliera informed him and she smoothed the hair along Hudar’s scalp, and breathing his scent into her lungs. “It’s a good time before the really harsh months settle in, and after the harvest.

Arminius stood, staring at Aliera, feeding their son and wondered that this was not some fever dream he was suffering in his cage on Era where he waited to be tortured anew by Elves. His babe suckled at her magnificent breasts, a babe that he had created with her in a miracle of sorts, since the Elves has done their best to make sure he was infertile. It had taken more Elven intervention and a lust spell to get him fertile again. He had nearly plowed Aliera into the ground, and blessed mate that she was, she did not hold it against him. He was so blessed by the gods of his world for he did not deserve a blessing such as she.

“You’ve got that look on your face again,” Aliera chuckled.

“What look?” His brow wrinkled, confused.

“That look that tells me your thoughts have been ambushed by memories.”

He grinned at her.

“I miss you,” was all he said, and he saw Aliera’s features slacken as she understood what he was telling her.

“He will go to sleep after he finishes feeding,” Aliera told her mate with a twinkle in her eye.

Arminius just grinned at her and rubbed his hands together.

*****

Tal looked up at his wife, busying herself around their kitchen in their cottage while their young slept. His young… the thought still stopped him in his tracks. Small, incredibly fragile females who looked at him and Ava like they were their entire world and he wanted to give the entire world to them. He treasured them as much as his mate.

“Cassie wants to have a Winter Celebration,” Ava said to him from the kitchen where she stirred a soup. She looked up from her pot and smiled at him. “I had quite forgotten about Christmas.”

“What is that? A human celebration?”

“It’s a religious holiday on earth for one of our religions,” she looked up from her cooking again, and smiled. “But it sounds like what she is suggesting is a Solstice event, like the magic folk on Earth used to celebrate. Aliera would know far more about it than I do.”

“I can’t imagine that Cassie would suggest something that would offend our Gods,” Tal sat up straighter as he thought about it. “She’s Siletha’s chosen…”

“Settle yourself, Mlegnan’s chosen. I’m sure she would do nothing blasphemous,” Ava assured him with her teasing chuckle. “But the thought of a Winter celebration is nice, something to break up the monotony.” She looked around their cozy cottage on their farm. “It gets a little boring.”

“You are bored with me already, hringa?” Tal snapped his head up and pinned her with a stare.

Ava laughed and walked over to him, sitting down on his lap. She rubbed her hand on his cheek.

“As if I could ever become bored with you, but it’s not like we can love each other an entire season,” and just as she said it there came wails from the room Ava had set up as their nursery. The both stood and walked back into the room where a small magelight hovered over the bed of Sentnay and Meher who refused to sleep in separate cradles.

“I’ll get Sentnay, you get Meher,” Ava said quietly. Their daughter, Meher, was a Daddy’s Girl, according to Cassie. She was never content unless her father was holding her, cooing to her quietly. She got the feeling that if Tal could feed her, he would take that duty as well. She sighed as her Snuggle Bug, another Cassie term, Sentnay, rubbed her sweet face on her shoulder.

Tal had wanted to name the girls after females in his family to show they were remembered. Ava couldn’t have said no to him even if she’d wanted to.

“They are a miracle,” Tal whispered as he calmed Meher back into sleep.

“I think it would be good to create new traditions for our children in this new world we’re building,” Ava said, laying a now sleeping Sentnay back down. She watched as Tal carefully placed Meher next to her sister. Both girls settled back into sleep.

“Perhaps our children’s parents can celebrate some old traditions?” Tal whispered to her as they left the nursery.

Ava looked back at him and winked. “Traditions are important.” She got a saucy grin in response and she practically ran to their bedroom.

*****

“Don’t put that into your mouth,” Lauren said for the thousandth time as she pulled a dried leaf from the mouth of her son, Severin. She rolled her eyes. Anything, ANYTHING, was fair game to her boys. And sure enough, she looked over and Hrosh was putting a small twig in his mouth.

“Merl, I need the cage,” she called out as she bent over to pick up her miscreants. Now that they were crawling they were into everything. Lauren found it hard to believe she’d ever wished for them to be mobile.

Her mate walked into the main part of their cottage with a wooden contraption that formed a pen to place their perpetually moving sons. He placed it on top of the pile of blankets where they had been placed initially, and quickly left as soon as their mother began tidying her home.

“My sons are very mischievous,” Merl said with no small amount of pride. Lauren glared at him.

“They were putting leaves and twigs in their mouths that you dragged inside!”

Merl smiled and took Severin from her and held him up in the air. “You’re just cutting more teeth, aren’t you my son?” Severin gave his father a very wet grin and began to chortle to encourage his father to toss him in the air. Merl pulled his son back to him and placed him in the pen and then took Hrosh from Lauren. “They are being intrepid, hringa.”

“They are dancing on the last bit of my patience,” Lauren laughed as her boys grinned up at her, waving their toys at her. “But they are so adorable I cannot even get angry at all the disruption.”

When the boys began fretting because they could not get out of the pen, Lauren set up a hologram of a dancing bear in the middle, which her boys delighted in.

Merl wrapped his arms around his small mate and breathed her in. She was his world, everything. He had nearly lost her during the birth of their children. The moment she had awakened from her travails, he had made her rebind her fertility to the earth and to never unbind it. He had two young and his mate and that was more blessing than any Demon could even wish for.

“What do you think of this Winter Celebration idea?” She asked quietly as they watched their boys begin to test the limits of their prison.

“It sounds like a nice diversion during our cold months, at least on this hemisphere,” he said, nuzzling her nape. She kept her beautiful, silky hair bunched on her head to keep the strands out of the hands of their children who found nothing more fun than getting it tangled in their hands.

“It will be like the Noel celebrations when I was a girl,” She turned her head and smiled at him. “But, I am sure it won’t be religious, like it is on Earth.”

Lauren watched as her boys pulled themselves up on the sides of their play area and grinned up at their parents.

“It will be a nice, new tradition for our young,” Merl said, reading her clearly.

They both sighed and reached down for a child as they began crying for their parents’ attention.

*****

“I’m not sure about this Winter Celebration,” Gramish said as his daughter, Langi, tried to pull herself up from his lap by his nose and horns. It was her favorite game with her favorite toy.

Ayalah looked over from where she was holding the hands of Mondi, showing her how to spin in a circle. “I think it’s a good idea, and Siletha likes it as well since most of us live in this hemisphere.”

“I spoke to Bax about it and he said on Earth it’s a religious celebration for their Christians,” he grimaced as Langi lightly slapped his cheeks with her sticky hands, having just chewed on some dried fruit. “Siletha sees no problem with this?”

“Cassie is determined that it be a secular holiday here since there are so many from so many other worlds and faiths,” Ayalah looked down where Mondi was turning in circles, not yet noticing that her mother was only barely touching her fingers to her small hands. “Siletha likes the idea of celebrating during the sleeping season.”

Gramish nodded as he remembered what they called Winter on his world.

“We shall find out tomorrow,” Gramish said and lifted his daughter to blow raspberries on her belly, loving the sound of her laughter. Bax had shown him how to do this and he had been so grateful. He adored his young females and would do anything to see them smile and hear them laugh.

Once again, he was forced to look at the stark contrast of now compared to the Demonworld that had been when he had left it for millennia. Daughters were cherished for themselves and not what they could bring to the family through the value of their wombs.

Ayalah pulled Mondi up into her arms and held her tightly, listening to her coos against her throat. “I am looking forward to this.”

*****

The Demon Council was at their table on a dais while the leaders of the communities gathered to hear Cassie’s plan. There was a tangible excitement in the room. This was the most people that Cassie had seen in the room since Tal had petitioned the Council to go to Earth and get Ava.

Gramish clapped his hands and the room became silent. He had only recently given up using a gavel to bring order to the Council Chamber. That tool now belonged to a new priesthood.

“Cassie, I give you the floor,” he began. “Please tell us about your plans for a Winter Celebration.”

Cassie stood and straightened her gown. When she was on Demonworld she copied their dress as she didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable around her because she thought she needed to make a point. She respected them and their traditions. Most of them had no idea that around her house she wore blue jeans and ratty old t-shirts.

Her eyes shot to her mate and he nodded at her and it bolstered her courage. Who would think the most powerful magical being in the known universe would need a shot of courage? She who had faced elves, faeries and shadows? It took a monumental force of will not to break out in laughter at that thought. No one needed to know the many times she’d nearly peed all over herself in fear.

“I would like to start a new tradition on our rebuilding world,” she said calmly, yet loudly, since there were so many packed into the chamber. “It will be secular, so no priests or priestesses will need to prepare any rites. There will be feasting,” she paused as many cheered. Demons loved nothing more than a hearty feast. There were so many religious feasts during the year that Cassie was sure that they would someday all run into a perpetual feast celebration.

“I would like to do this on the Winter Solstice, as some of our people did back on Earth, but without any religiosity attached to it,” she continued. “It will be a celebration of our lives and our new focus on building a better world. It will also be a time of self-reflection.” She then sat and watched at the nodding Demons, half-elves and humans out in the crowded hall.

Gramish stood and the hall became quiet again. “Siletha’s High Priestess, Ayalah, will now speak for The Goddess.”

He nodded to his mate who sat in the seats reserved for the high priests of their pantheon that was also rebuilding. She stood and bowed her regal head, and all the Demons in the room did so as well. He watched as the High Priests of Himsu sat at their glowing table, away from the others, faces neutral as they always were when seated in council.

“Siletha is happy with the idea of a celebration during the sleeping months as it will be something to look forward to and a time for fellowship, reflection, and unity on our world. She is also happy that it is not a celebration of the Gods, but a celebration of us, that we are important to ourselves, for as we love ourselves, we love others and our lives.” She then sat down quietly and looked back at her mate.

Ayalah missed her children. She took them everywhere with her, even though they had hired a half-elf caregiver, who was a wonderful female, but Ayalah had waited so long for children, that she was unable to give up one moment of their time. There was no promise of more, so she was one of the lucky ones who had been fertile as soon as she’d touched her home soil. She thought of her young, on the other side of their holding, with their caregiver, Elanil Farrona, who were probably getting into play and learning new things.

Elanil had confessed some months ago that she felt her wages were too much, as she rarely did much because Ayalah and Gramish did everything for their young. Gramish had informed her that they paid her for the peace of mind in knowing that someone they could trust with their young was there when they had to go off and solve problems at a moment’s notice and Gramish was not sure it was safe to take the young. The young half-elf had shaken her head and laughed and said she was always on hand if needed.

It was something that was noticed by all of the people hired to look after young on the rebuilding world. Everyone had hired help, but if it was to do with the care of the young, those people were left with almost nothing to do. Ayalah knew that Elanil spent most of her time learning to read, since that was a skill denied her on her homeworld of Era because of the severe bias held by elves of their half-blood.

She couldn’t pretend that Demons had treated theirs much better, holding most of them as slaves and battle fodder, when they had still gone to war, but that had changed. With so many Demons finding human and half-elf mates, all their young were Demis. Even the two original Demis had taken human mates and had beautiful young.

She looked at the two of them, upon the dais next to her mate. She was so thankful to them for having fought so hard to get them all back here, and sent up a silent prayer of thanks to Siletha for them. Cassie and Seth were the true blessings of their pantheon and neither held one idea of their import to their world.

Gramish stood again. “Are there any who would wish to ask questions or speak at this time?”

A short queue began at the lectern that Cassie had installed for speakers to the Council. She said that it provided a barrier of some sort in the speaker’s mind so that they might speak more freely and therefore, honestly, to the Council, without having to pull out a truth stone or spell each time.

Gramish nodded at the Demon who had gotten to the podium first. “Delig, you may speak.”

“Would this be held every Winter Solstice?” Delig looked up to Cassie who nodded.

“That is the goal, yes.”

“What do you do on Earth for your Solstice celebrations?” Delig then followed up. Cassie could see he was genuinely curious, not being combative to the idea.

“It has changed over the centuries on my world, but I am told that it was started as a way to break up the monotony of the cold months by religious people, giving the people something to look forward to in the hard months after the harvest but before Spring. In one religion it was made into a religious holiday with the exchange of gifts as a symbol of that religion.”

“But this won’t be religious?” Delig pushed.

Cassie shook her head. “I see no reason why it should be, Delig. There are so many here with different religious beliefs that this should be one holiday where everyone has something to celebrate, regardless of their belief.”

Delig nodded. “Will there be the exchange of gifts?”

The Councilors, all of them looked to Cassie who looked surprised.

“I don’t see that it should be mandatory, no,” she shook her head vigorously. “It should only be done if you feel like giving someone a gift.”

“Why do Humans do it?”

Cassie looked blank. She had not been raised in any of the Earth religions, so her knowledge of them was lacking. She looked desperately at her husband, who was standing up. She was so relieved that she almost let it show.

“Delig,” Bax began in his professorial voice. “On Earth, even those not of the Christian religion exchange gifts on this holiday, in fact, even atheists and agnostics celebrate the holiday. It’s become less religious as time passes.”

Gasps were heard all over the room when Bax mentioned atheists and agnostics. These were concepts that were so foreign to them as to be considered heretical. On their worlds, their Gods were not only known, but seen and heard, if not by the entire populace, then at least by their priests and at their temples.

Bax took a breath and began speaking again, taking on the tone that turned his wife on so much, and out of the corner of his eye he saw her smile.

“You have to realize that the Gods of Earth do not make themselves known to the people any longer, and in fact, most of them consider them to be a myth made up by our ancients to explains acts of nature and weather patterns. They also believe that they were created by ancient civilizations in order to keep the people moral and behaving. Humans do not experience the Deity as others do. In fact, their God believes in free will, that those who follow him do so because they choose to believe, not because they have to. There is a difference between knowing gods exist and having faith.”

“But would their faith not be stronger if they knew?” Gramish had to ask this because it made no sense to him whatsoever.

Bax looked at him and shook his head. “I would imagine the faith of someone who doesn’t know, but chooses to believe, is stronger.”

Several of the people in the queue had taken their seats, their questions being answered by Delig’s questions.

“So, this will be a secular holiday with gifts being exchanged by those who want to do so?” Delig looked up at Gramish who was mulling over what Baxter Clancy had said.

“Yes,” Cassie said. “It is a celebration of life during the dead part of the world, reflecting upon own lives and actions of the past year, and looking forward to the Spring with the renewal of life.”

“So, this is about life?” Delig continued.

“Can you think of a more important reason to celebrate during this time of year?” Seth responded quietly from his seat. He had spent the time quietly listening to everyone and taking it all in, his usual modus operandi. “We celebrate bringing in the crops we grow after the harvest. There is nothing else, except for a few holidays of the dead gods until the Spring Rites for our Gods to celebrate the renewal of the year.” The Demon year began at the Spring equinox, and was celebrated by all the temples, all of the gods and there were three days of feasting.

Everyone nodded at Seth’s good point and the motion passed unanimously, even with Delig frowning, but nodding.



CHAPTER THREE

“So, it’s Christmas,” Helen stated as she slowly drank the tea she’d made and tried to swallow the crackers that Brigid made for all the pregnant women on the Demonworld. It really only alleviated the worst of the symptoms, but it helped her get through her day, so she kept on swallowing them down. It would not do to show any weakness to her mate, Vadch, or she would be tied to a bed until she delivered.

Cassie shook her head. “Not, not Christmas at all, because there are no religious connotations. It’s a completely secular holiday to help pass the winter months.

“But there will be gift giving?” Helen raised a brow, hoping that alone would carry her point.

Cassie fidgeted and ate a cookie she’d brought for the twins, but she nodded.

“So… Christmas.” Helen’s tone indicated that this was the consensus.

Cassie sighed and gave up.

“Happy Holidays, you harpie,” she groused, then laughed as Helen turned green and ran to the bathing chamber.

“You and Vadch sure didn’t waste any time after you went off birth control,” Cassie called down the hallway.

Helen came back into her kitchen, softly wiping her face with a cloth and sitting back down, feeling completely devoid of energy.

“Sunny took the girls to Ava and Tal’s for a couple of days, we had plenty of time,” she reminded her supposed best friend. She then pointed a finger at Cassie. “And, don’t think I haven’t heard about your ‘disappearances’ during important meetings so that you and Bax could get it on like rabbits.”

Having the grace to blush, Cassie concentrated intently on her cup of tea.

“I admit, that my sex drive was a bit… increased… During my pregnancy.”

Helen laughed at that and felt better. The morning sickness was passing, thank all the gods. “You still do it, Cassie. You’re just as bad as your brother.”

Cassie nearly spit her tea across the table, swallowed and then laughed until tears ran down her face. She waved her hand and the mess disappeared. “No wonder Brigid makes so many healing and rejuvenation potions. She’s got to be eternally chafed. I can’t imagine getting that turned on that many times a day.”

“They’re making up for lost time. They have over one hundred years of suppressed desire to work out.” A happy, dreamy look came over Helen’s face.

Cassie rolled her eyes. “He should just wrap up his cock and present it to her.”

“Dick in a box?”

Both women burst out laughing, which was how Vadch found them when he walked in from his workroom to check on his mate. He took Bax’s advice and didn’t try to figure it out, just enjoyed the mirth and his mate obviously feeling better than when he’d started working earlier that morning. His Helen lifted her face up to him for a kiss when he walked in and he could do nothing other than give her one.

“Ugh, you two,” Cassie laughed harder. “Find a room.”

“Says the woman who stopped a trade meeting with the Dragons to drag her mate off and was caught by her own brother in a guest room at Gramish’s holding?”

“Hey!” Cassie cried indignantly. “He was looking to do some mating of his own once I took off with Bax,” Cassie defended her actions. “Speaking of Bax,” she grinned and popped out of their kitchen.

Vadch leaned down to Helen and deepened their kiss.

“Where are our girls? He asked, nuzzling her lips.

“Sunny took them to their witch lessons.” Helen told him in between light bites on his lips. “Why?”

“Speaking of mating…”

*****

Bax pulled himself off his wife and lay back on his pillow, still breathing like he’d just run a marathon. Cassie had come home all hot and bothered and pulled him out of his office while he was studying some Demon tomes for information and stepped him up to their room, immediately vanishing their clothes and practically ravishing him.

He grinned when he remembered that he had always discounting the allure to the married state when his friends got leg shackled. Because the greatest wailing against the state was that as soon as the ring was on the finger, the soonest the sex stopped. He liked sex, couldn’t think of a time when he didn’t want to have sex. Especially sex with his wife who, to him at least, was the most beautiful being in all the universe. How she had kept herself a virgin before they met was a constant mystery to him, even though she readily admitted, she never wanted it before she met him, then ever since, it was an almost constant draw. When she had been pregnant and enormous with the twins, they had been extremely creative.

“I’m getting blisters, Cass,” he joked as he listened to her breathing settle. He had to admit, this was the only cardio they got every day with the exception of chasing toddlers away from their attempts to kill themselves.

“Awww, poor baby,” Cassie teased. “I’ll have to get some healing potions from Brigid.”

“Make your own, I don’t want Seth smirking at me for even needing them,” Bax groaned, knowing his brother-in-law would not be able to resist the urge to tease Bax. The great prat was infamous on the planet for how often he needed to take his mate. It had to be familial as Cassie would get the same look on her face that Seth got just before he would disappear with his mate.

Cassie just giggled and Bax grinned. He was incredibly satisfied in his marriage. He loved his wife and kids. He was able to research to his heart’s content and he was more in demand as a guest lecturer than ever before, earning himself and Cassie a very nice living on Earth, as well as having more access to relics to sell to the remaining magical community and collectors there. They were set, except for Cassie’s insistence on going back to do taxes each season.

“I was working on the research for creating the relic to charge with magic so that we can take Ari to Earth for extended periods,” he finally said to his wife as his pulse settled and the afterglow warmed him.

Beside him, Cassie sighed a happy sigh. “It would be great to visit for more than a few hours before we’re all worn out.”

“What time are we going over to your parents’ house?”

Cassie sighed next to him and he could hear her smile. “We have a couple of hours.”

“A couple of hours?” Bax smiled, finding himself at half-mast already. “Whatever shall we do?”

“I thought you were the experienced one,” Cassie laughed as she pounced.

*****

Jake Lester sat in an armchair, reading a book his son-in-law, Bax, had recommended, and surreptitiously watched his wife clean up around the house. Lucky had stayed in amazing shape. He was a lucky man. For twenty-five years he’d been taken from her, and she’d never turned to another man, never wanted another. She had thought he was dead. No one would have blamed her for getting married again. But, she never had.

Their reunion had not been sunshine and unicorns as his daughter, Cassie, would say. It had been a very tough row to hoe, but luckily, he’d had previous experience in handling Lucky post-Faisal. Granted, this time had been much worse and had taken much longer. It didn’t help that he’d been held on the Demonworld and had not aged a day since he’d been taken. Lucky, had aged naturally on Earth, but she looked nowhere near her actual age. In fact, if he knew anything about his wife, with their time on the Demonworld, she was… how could he put it? Firming up?

“Lucky?” He queried, watching as she straightened up from the dusting she was doing. His beautiful wife stood up, her dark hair falling into place around her beautiful face, her olive-green eyes shining brightly. She’d been humming.

“What is it?” She looked at him. Even after all of these years, she still hadn’t lost her Greek accent when speaking English.

“I’ve been thinking…” he wasn’t sure how he should couch his suspicion, because Lucky was still pretty fragile at times when it came to her experiences on this world.

Lucky Lester squinted at her husband. Was he trying to get her to make more lemon snap cookies? Surely, she had explained that Cassie had forgotten to bring lemons home on her last visit home. Jake was impossible at times.

Jake put his book aside on the end table, stood up, to his very tall height, and walked over to his little wife, smiling as she stood looking up at him, but her eyes held questions.

“I cannot make more of the cookies until the next time Cassie goes to Earth,” she told him, shaking one of her delicate fingers at him.

Jake gently grabbed the finger and sucked it into his mouth. Lucky’s eyes widened and her pupils dilated. Her eyes went from teasing to seductive in an instant, and Jake wanted to yell in triumph. Fear didn’t even make an appearance. Shame hadn’t either.

He took her finger out of his mouth and licked the end. He looked at her, a wry grin on his face.

“I’ve been thinking… It’s been hours since I’d had you.”

“Jake,” Lucky breathed before he covered her mouth with his own.

Deepening the kiss, he picked her up, carrying her into the kitchen. His guess was that she didn’t even notice when he set her on the table and began unbuttoning her shirt, and was rewarded with her braless state. He filled both of his hands with her soft flesh and she groaned, turning their kiss openly carnal. Her hands came up and began to madly pull at his t-shirt. He was undoing his own belt and jeans fly. It was Jake’s turn to moan when her clever hand dived into his pants, taking control of his erection.

As she tugged and pulled on his cock, Jake pulled her bottom to the edge of the table, and saw she was wearing one of her thongs. God, he loved the way they looked on her body, but, sadly, this one had to go. He quickly ripped it off her, and pushed her back, while his cock lined up to her warm, moist center, knowing it was home. He gently entered her, knowing that she always needed that so the fear wouldn’t come, and leaned down to take one turgid nipple into his mouth. She cried out and he felt her juices flow over his cock even more as her channel tightened around him. She would kill him, but what a way to go.

He slowly stroked into her until she urged him for more. Lucky was not a passive partner, not at all.

“Dammit Jake, faster,” she demanded. “More!” Then she pushed her hips into his and he ground his pelvis down on her clit. She came apart, screaming her release. Jake was not far behind, calling out to her as he lost himself completely in his wife.

They lay on their kitchen table, panting, trying to find feeling in their limbs and clearly basking in the afterglow of excellent sex.

“You’re pregnant, Lucky,” Jake finally said and carefully watched her sated eyes clear, and then yes, there was the fear.

“Wha…” Lucky tried to sit up but Jake had her pinned. He was ready to leap away if she struggled, but wanted to help her come to terms with their news. When she didn’t struggle, but only looked up at him, confusion filling her eyes. He bent down and gently kissed her, and his stupid cock began hardening inside her, ready for another round. God, he loved this world.

“You,” Jake kissed her top lip. “Are,” kissed her lower lip. “Pregnant,” and then he kissed her softly but firmly and she opened for him, as she always had, and moaned into his mouth. He was rewarded when she began moving her hips up to him, taking him completely, fucking herself on him. Jake’s eyes rolled back into his head.

“You’re pregnant, baby,” he whispered as he nibbled on her earlobe. Then he got back to gently loving his wife who was mindless in her passion. This time it took longer for the flame to build into an inferno, but neither cared, it felt too good to not appreciate it. Jake kept whispering his love to his wife and she was crying, until finally she could hold back no more and urged him to a faster pace. When Jake came, she let go and milked him dry.

He knew he was laying on top of her, weight on his elbows, but he was damned if he could get his legs to hold his weight. She’d totally sucked him dry, he was a husk of a man. The luckiest husk of a man ever born.

“A baby?” Lucky finally whispered in wonder. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried after Cassie was born, they just hadn’t not tried, and Lucky had never gotten pregnant again. Jake had finally gotten her to agree to see a medical doctor when he returned from his mission with Morris. That had never come to pass. His friends and family had believed him killed in a cave-in where they had been looking for relics. The cave-in had been caused by him trying to take out the Demon who had captured him just before stepping him out of the falling tunnel.

“Our baby,” he breathed and kissed her cheek, which was all he had the energy to do at the moment.

“It’s what we’ve always wanted,” Lucky said, still in shock. “How did you know when I didn’t?”

Jake managed a weak chuckle. “Brigid is a blabbermouth.”

Lucky laughed for both of them. “I’ll murder our daughter-in-law.”

Jake smiled, so happy that she could accept Seth and Brigid, in fact, any part of this world considering the horrors she had experienced here. It showed him what a beautiful soul his wife had. Lucky, for him, was perfect. He kissed his way up her cheek, until he was staring her in the face. “What were you saying about the cookies?” His eyes twinkled as he saw a spark in Lucky’s eye before she reached back and lightly slapped his naked ass, just before she squeezed it.

“You keep that up, lovely Lucky, and Cassie and Bax and our grandkids will walk in here to find us in a completely compromised position,” he chuckled and managed to pull himself gently out of her body, his entire being bemoaning the loss of her warmth.

“And then we’ll have to listen to how they can never eat at our table again, just like Rory and Drina have to listen to.”

“And Morris and Seph,” Jake laughed, helping his wife up, noticing she was not steady on her pins at all. Pride swelled in his chest. Yes, he could still make his wife weak-kneed.

“And Nestra and Glenn,” Lucky tried to pull her shirt together.

“And Bax and Cassie…”

“We need to shower before they get here,” Lucky said.

“Together. Save the planet,” Jake laughed and dragged her into the bathing chamber.

A couple of hours later when they both emerged from their bedroom, a short nap was needed after their activities in and out of the bathroom, to find Bax and Cassie, with Ari and Jacob in tow, in their kitchen.

“Is that an ass print on the table?” Bax was stage whispering.

“Ew, Bax, no!” Cassie said. “Here’s a rag, wipe it off.”

“I’m not touching it,” Bax balked, throwing the cloth back at her.

“Give me the damned dishtowel,” Jake growled as he entered the kitchen and proceeded to clean the entire kitchen table.

“You two are such hypocrites,” Lucky admonished as she walked in looking perfectly put together.


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