and Conflict (Cult of the Butterfly 4)
By Paul Smith.
Tea and Conquest (Cult of
the Butterfly 4)
Copyright 2017 Paul Smith
is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people, places or events is
purely coincidental, and bears no malicious intent.
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was setting, spilling egg yoke fire across the distant skyline and
painting Raina’s backyard in shades of ochre and dragon fire red.
Her fig trees were starting to flower, the bottom of the garden a
riot of insect life in the fading twilight. There’d be bats later,
taking advantage of the killing ground her open lawn offered.
in his palm brought Sebastian’s attention back to his screen, where
battle reports were coming in from the other R4s. They’d been
coordinating with a rival tribe to take down a third who’d come
storming into their territory, wreaking havoc in the glens. The
enemy of my enemy is my friend,
and all that. And from the looks of the numbers on his screen, it
would appear the sting went well. It was part of the reason for his
lingering presence this evening. True, Raina’s mother usually took
one look at him and announced he needed feeding up, but shift
patterns and study commitments didn’t always allow for him to stay
much beyond the return of either household matriarch from their day
jobs. So he’d been treated to a bowl of Madam J’s infamous gumbo,
sopped up with hunks of crusty bread slathered in cream cheese and
washed down with pint pots of Kaid’s homemade lemonade. This last
was part of a school project Kaid’s class were doing that required
the serious five year old to then gather feedback from his guinea
Personally, Seb thought this was a subtle ploy on the teacher’s
part to give everyone else a taste of what her working day was like
but he schooled his features, receiving a nod of approval from Maisey
afterwards. Raina’s eldest was incredibly protective of her younger
siblings, a trait brought on at least in part by the weight of
responsibility she’d been forced to shoulder after her father
walked out on them. Certainly Kaid and Lucy looked up to her like a
The creak of the screen door made him turn, and he smiled as Raina
stepped out onto the veranda, tray in hand. It bore a pair of
citronella candles and a brimming jug of mojito.
teacher should get them to make this in class,” Seb suggested,
smiling as she laid the tray carefully between them before taking a
seat on the step.
sure whether the mixing of alcohol would go down so well with the
board of governors,” Raina replied, chuckling.
suppose your average room of five year old is hyper enough without
I don’t know, you should see them at story time. Mr Bear has a real
talent for getting them to settle.”
I still think it’s creepy they let the school janitor read to
Raina rolled her eyes. “Only because you have a warped mind. He’s
a harmless old man. Used to be an actor you know. Why he’s so good
at story time.”
bah! Bunch of degenerates if you ask me. All after something.” But
he was grinning as he said it.
you witches aren’t?”
He placed a palm solemnly against his chest. “We users follow a
your case, one that seems to be dictated by your dick.”
Kaid’s just settled down and Mum’s reading to Lucy so she’ll
nod off too.”
He gestured at the glasses. “Shall I pour?”
He served up for them both while she checked her own screen, swiping
through the various chat threads.
She accepted her glass with a nod of thanks. “So, it went well.”
He nodded, fingering his own screen. “Think we’ve got them pretty
much running for the hills with their kilts pulled up about their
chins in dismay.”
Raina raised an eyebrow. “Surely that’d leave certain other areas
shrugged. “Perhaps. But you’ve gotta have something to clutch in
fright.” He took a swig of his drink, lips smacking appreciatively.
“Suppose it could be their arses, seeing as how they have
just been handed them on a plate.”
an unnecessarily gory image.”
He rolled his eyes. “You know, for a fearless warrior queen you
really don’t have a very strong stomach.”
Well, not all of us spend time dismembering flying rodents in their
already told you it’s toe of bat. Toe. Not
spleen, or liver, or any other internal organ for that matter...”
A cleared throat sounded behind them. Both turned to find a pair of
stern faces and crossed arms regarding them.
you two don’t mind, might you keep the noise down?” the older
ruining Tod and the Fire Giants,”
Lucy explained, delicate features screwed up in censure. The mass of
her unruly red curls did not help Seb in his efforts not to laugh.
sorry sweetheart. Mummy and Uncle Seb promise to be quieter with
their victory celebrations.”
Lucy considered this for a moment, glancing up at her Grandmother.
Mrs Johnson senior gave the slightest of nods, gesturing minutely
with a finger. Lucy stepped forwards, accepting Seb’s quiet apology
and good night kiss, and the hug her mother proffered before
returning to her Grandmother’s embrace.
be turning in myself directly afterwards,” the old woman announced.
“Maeve and I have an early start tomorrow.”
Raina stood to give her mother a quick embrace. “We’ll keep it
J nodded, smiling at Seb over her daughter’s shoulder as she kissed
her forehead. “Don’t stay up too late you two.” She stepped
back inside. “Peace be with you young Wicca,
we’ll see you again at the weekend.”
raised a hand as the old woman and her charge walked back up the hall
into the house. He always found it unsettling when Raina’s mother
invoked his craft. It left him with the disconcerting impression she
could see what he was,
what he harboured.
you know she doesn’t mean any harm, right?”
He turned to Raina, smiling. “I know. Just gives me the heebie
jeebies is all.”
Raina laughed quietly. “Seriously? You?”
He shrugged. “Everyone’s freaked out by something. Can just
imagine her knelt before that little alter of hers, praying to all
those little saints to save my soul.”
you’re just stereotyping.”
Sebastian topped up their glasses, chin raised with eyes wide.
“Perhaps. But she does have an alter.”
Raina stuck her tongue out. Slipped a hand down the front of her top
to produce a couple of blunts.
he exclaimed sotto voce.
“The victory dance.”
She nodded. “Quite.” Passed him one and leant in to light her own
off the flame he clicked into being above his thumb. They both took a
drag together, holding the smoke in their lungs. Seb caved first,
sputtering quietly as he cleared the dregs. Grinning as Raina
released hers in a practised plume.
tomorrow’s the big night.”
She eyed him shrewdly. “You seem… nervous?”
He flashed a smile. “It’s… difficult, I don’t know. Been
planning this for so long, and now here we are. Can’t shake the
feeling it’s all going to go horribly wrong.”
She sipped her mojito. “Hmm, that’s good if I do say so myself.”
don’t know. I’d not really factored in any of the interpersonal
stuff. Like Merran, or Devan’s relationship with Carlton and Drew.
I feel like I’m stepping onto a minefield without knowing where the
charges were laid.”
that’s why you decided to take your time. Gives you the opportunity
to unpick all of that, at least to the point where you can understand
most of the likely outcomes.”
suppose.” He shrugged. “It’s just cold feet I guess. Like
anyone about to make a big commitment.”
Just count yourself lucky yours doesn’t involve a white veil and a
scumbag with Mummy issues.”
He raised his glass to chink it against hers. “I do indeed count
myself so blessed. Besides, we both know white would be a terrible
colour for me.”
yours would need to be harlot red.”
possibly jade… See what I did there?”
very funny.” He sighed. “Anyway, back to shop talk. What are we
going to do about Cod?”
Her brow furrowed. “I dunno. Wait to see whether they honour the
accord first, I guess. If they don’t move we know we’ve got a
problem on our hands.”
a problem that includes three high level castles and a sacred
can only use that thing twice during an event. It’s their skin
changers I’m more worried about.”
Brings a whole new meaning to the ‘surprise’ in the nursery
rhyme: that the bears involved might end up picnicking on you.”
She laughed. “Well, if you spent a little less time gathering
skymetal for those ridiculously phallic swords you might have more
resources to spare for your own band of teddies.” She took a drag
on the blunt. “Always thought that’d be cool, being able to shape
change. Haven’t you?”
no?!” Besides, what I do isn’t technically
shape changing... “Can you
imagine how painful it’d be?” Seb shuddered. “All those
breaking bones and stuff...”
surely if it was magic it wouldn’t hurt?”
patted her on the arm. “Sister, magic always hurts
if that’s an option. Trust me, I speak from experience.”
She eyed him through the haze of smoke between them. “I’m not
entirely sure I want to know, Mr Laikee.”
He shook his head, grinning. “No, to be fair you probably don’t.”
He took swig of his drink. “Let’s talk about something else.
She blushed. “Busy with a niece’s birthday party. Said he’ll be
I did wonder why he was being so quiet. Quite aside from it being mid
morning over there.”
sister’s talking about coming this way in the summer...”
he might just decide to join them? Raina that’s fantastic news!”
hasn’t said anything yet...”
that man it’s more about what he doesn’t say.”
well. Just you keep it to yourself, you hear? Mum doesn’t know...”
Seb gave her a wide eyed look.
she knows about him,” Raina reassured him. “I was surprised
actually at the progressive attitude she took, but then she does have
friends she cams with up in Neppon. I just haven’t told her he
might come this way.”
to introduce him on the doorstep are we? ‘Hi Mum, this is the long
distance lover I’ve been telling you about. Might want to buy some
ear plugs for the next week or so. And don’t worry, Seb’s having
of all, I would never do that to my mother. It’d just be weird.”
She shivered. “Secondly, who says I’d trust you with my kids?”
I trust Maisey with them. You’re just there in case some jumped up
neighbour decides to start bawling about minors left unattended...”
she reached over to squeeze his arm at her expression “...I’m
joking! I’m joking… though we’d have to do some serious
childproofing before we let Kaid loose in your apartment.”
I will concede.” He chugged the last of his glass. “Right Mrs.
Time for me to hit the hay I think.”
She nodded. “I won’t be far behind you. Couch is all made up for
you. And apologies if young man disturbs you first thing.”
Seb shook his head, grinning. “It’s cool. Think I’d miss it if
he didn’t. You staying up for a bit?”
She waved her half finished blunt, which had gone out. “Thought I’d
finish this, soak up the moment.”
He nodded. “Bit of well earned solitude.” Standing, he leant
across to offer her a peck on the cheek. “Night Raina.”