Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
The complaints and concerns from the monarchs and retinues of Zeus Summit continued. They lined up around Stan Davis to express their support for the idea of a centralized police force for vampires. There were those who spoke of the benefits of their law being above the fealties and jealousies of any one ruler. There were others who did not support the force. They spoke of the danger of having a group that was, for all intents and purposes, an unofficial army just waiting for the hand of a dictator to take control and wield it against them all.
Thierry turned to Thomas, “Do you care about this? Our King has already said he is bringing these police into our kingdom. What else is there to say?”
Thomas shook his head, “The benefits are obvious and this is something the humans already expect of us. To try and derail it now is a waste of time.”
“Good!” the French vampire laughed, “Let’s go get something to eat. Do you want take out or room service?”
“The donor area is fine for me,” Thomas replied, giving Thierry a sour look.
“Oh sure, now that you’re a bonded vampire… no wait, let me make sure I say it correctly, ‘Karin the Slaughterer is my bonded mate.’” Thierry precisely mimicked Thomas’ earlier words, and then laughing out loud, said, “Really? Could you have been any more of an ass? Why not get it made up into a sign, or a piece of jewelry and hang it around your neck! Or, if you are really determined to shove it in everyone’s face, you could have it tattooed across your forehead and have the ink refreshed every few weeks.”
Thomas shrugged, “Karin is mine. I am content and would have others know it.”
“And now that means what, exactly? You aren’t going to pretend you’re human and demand monogamy from each other, are you?” Thierry held his hand to his chest, looking horrified.
Thomas answered Thierry’s mocking words by cocking one eyebrow, and then, with slow, deliberate steps, he backed Thierry into the wall and leaned in for a long, lingering kiss. “We are still brothers. I would not wish to lose that,” Thomas whispered as his lips ghosted over the slight stubble that lined Thierry’s jawline. The slight rasping noise of lips and teeth against whisker was punctuated by a quick nip at the top of Thierry’s neck. “I won’t invite you into our bed without Karin’s permission, but what we do together on our own can continue if you wish.”
Thierry pressed his hand over the bulge in Thomas’ pants, “This is forever between us,” the French vampire growled before turning his head to recapture the other vampire’s lips. When he pulled back from the kiss, he chuckled, “It occurs to me that if we were both to become Kings someday, we could marry and keep Karin between us.”
“Karin will never be between us, Brother,” Thomas surprised Thierry by stepping back. His eyes calm, Thomas said, “Karin is mine. I am hers. And if she were to tell me to give you up, Brother, as much as it would pain me, I would.”
That brought Thierry up short. “I would not ask you to share your blood, Thomas. You have bonded and that is hers to offer.”
“She is greedy,” Thomas explained, “and she is possessive. She has given much to be with me and I honor that.”
“Well, then,” Thierry nodded, “It will be up to me to make certain your Karin welcomes me as eagerly as she welcomes you,” and with a sly smile, Thierry kissed Thomas again, demanding entrance to his mouth and eagerly plundering once access was granted. Thierry took Thomas’ hand and started moving them toward a service door. The thought of taking Thomas in his mouth distracted him enough to explain why he was startled when a familiar voice said, “I wondered where the both of you had gone.”
Thomas released his grip on Thierry’s hair and they stepped away from each other. It was Thomas who recovered first, automatically smiling and dropping into a bow, “Majesty!” he greeted Felipe de Castro.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” the King lisped through his exposed fangs. Thierry noticed the other vampire standing just behind De Castro, a broad-shouldered thug who could have been a bodyguard or a Second, or both. When Felipe noticed Thierry’s stare, he glanced back and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m being rude. This is Dieter. He is my new Second. I brought him to the Zeus Summit so he could meet the monarchs of our neighboring Clan.”
While Dieter inclined his head, De Castro gave both Thomas and Thierry a long, lingering look. “You’re sure I’m not interrupting?”
It was obvious the King was open to joining them, but Thierry considered that sharing a bed with De Castro under their present circumstances would not be wise. While they were business partners, De Castro was also being sued by their King, Eric Northman, who was accusing the Narayana Chief of orchestrating the recent takeover attempt. Thierry could see that De Castro was thinking similar thoughts, so he saved them all by saying, “Thomas and I were just headed to the donor’s area. Perhaps you would care to join us?”
Felipe chuckled and flipped back his cape, revealing how his cock was causing his pants to tent. “Perhaps it would be better to find some pleasure there first. Perhaps after we feed you would indulge me by discussing some business?”
Nodding, Thomas indicated that the King should precede them and soon they were all walking into the area that had been set up to service those attending the Summit. “You are certain you don’t wish me to select a few to be sent upstairs for you, Majesty?” the vampire named Dieter asked.
“No,” the King smiled, his eyes remaining on Thierry and Thomas, “Tempting as it is, I will take care of my immediate issue. There will be time for more interesting play when our work is concluded,” and he smiled specifically at Thomas, “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“It should be as you say, Majesty,” Thomas nodded.
“Did anyone ever tell you what a pretty mouth you have?” Felipe asked.
“I tell him frequently, Majesty,” Thierry replied, then looking around, said, “Registry or something with a little more talent?”
“After the tease you supplied, I will be looking for someone with talent,” Felipe nodded and walked toward a stunning blond who was reclining on a low couch surrounded by drapes. Dieter followed him, pulled the drapes, and stationed himself on guard.
“More bodyguard than business?” Thierry quipped, looking at the King’s Second.
“More boy toy than either,” Thomas replied. “De Castro makes a show of preferring females, but I think his true tastes lie elsewhere,” then looking around, said, “Registry for me. I won’t be long.” Sitting beside a young woman, Thomas dipped to her neck, licked, and bit. Thierry sat on the couch across from him. His choice was also Registry, but the young man was dark-haired and built like Thomas. Thierry kept his eyes on Thomas, smirking as he delicately nibbled before sliding his fangs home.
Thomas had paid his tip and was waiting in the hallway when Thierry joined him. “You are a tease.”
“The drapes are still drawn,” Thierry looked pointedly at the alcove where Dieter stood. “We could finish what we started.”
“Not likely,” Thomas laughed. “I have no particular desire to have that man’s mouth on me and I fear he would hog the bottom.”
“I fear you would be right,” and the two friends grinned.
When the King rejoined them, they agreed to head to the hotel’s smaller lounge. As a facility that catered to vampires, this particular area was set up with private booths at the back. There was nothing to indicate the spaces were soundproof, but the padding on the wall made that likely. As it turned out, there was little need for concern. The flow of emotions around the subject of the police force was enough to have pulled all but the employees into the main ballroom.
Once they were settled and had sent the waitress away with a large tip and a request not to return, Felipe settled against the cushions and said, “I wish to say yet again how relieved I am that the damage done in Louisiana was minimal. Had your King not filed suit so quickly, I would have offered some reasonable restitution. Now, my attorney counsels me to not make any offers until it is known whether the suit will move forward. I am sorry for your losses.” Felipe paused to look into the eyes of each of them. It was a fine, theatrical moment and Thierry wished he could see it as sincere in even the smallest measure. When Felipe judged enough time had passed he said, “I am missing my child. Had I only known she was considering this! Ah, but how could any rational person think such a thing should be attempted? If only she had still been mine, under my control! She would have asked for my advice. I could have told her the dangers she faced. Alas,” and Felipe rolled his eyes and flipped his hand for emphasis, “Angie never did learn the lesson of biting off only what she could chew. Now, that foolishness has cost her everything,” and Felipe looked toward the table, “Perhaps I was a poor Maker to her! I should have held onto her longer!”
Thomas was sure the King understood that neither he nor Thierry were fooled. Felipe was softening them up. He wanted them to be receptive to whatever it was he was willing to offer; so eliciting sympathy was his way of opening that door. “It is not my place to question the judgment of my King,” Thomas nodded, “I am sure that justice will prevail.” In other words, Thomas would remain neutral, but, if in doubt, support his King.
“Yes,” Felipe sighed, “Yes, of course.” There was an awkward moment as they all sat, vampire still, waiting. Finally, the King shifted, “In one regard, though, we are in agreement. The one who is truly responsible for this, your loss and mine, should be punished.”
“Angie is dead,” Thierry said reasonably.
“Yes,” Felipe sighed. “My poor, misguided progeny, so easily influenced! No, I meant the one who put the foolish idea in her head in the first place. I mean the King of New York, Mikhail!”
“You realize both Thierry and I both worked for New York at one time,” Thomas said carefully.
“Yes,” Felipe acknowledged, “Which is why I am sure you don’t doubt what I’m telling you.”
“You also realize that Misha is the acknowledged companion of my King’s progeny, Pam Ravenscroft. When news of the takeover became public, Pam and Misha were the first to call. Pam would have come right away and Misha made offers of support.” The Viking politely declined any offers, assuring his worried progeny and her companion that his own vampires and the Fae had things well in hand. Although he hadn’t said it, Thomas was certain his King didn’t trust Misha any more than he trusted the snake sitting across the table from them right now. “What possible motive could New York have for injuring my King when it would only serve to upset his domestic situation?”
“I believe that Misha prefers to be the only big dog in any field. For me, he is my business partner,” Felipe told them. “We share investments and our cooperation makes the difference in profits, but I believe he is jealous. He prefers to control all business in his Area, and pitting the Viking and me against each other would guarantee the true death of one of us. Whether it would allow him free rein over our mutual business concerns, or free rein over the beautiful Ms. Ravenscroft, I believe Misha felt he couldn’t lose.”
Thomas glanced at Thierry. Neither needed to say anything. What the Nevada King said rang all too true for both of them. The man Felipe was describing was Misha. “Do you have any proof of these allegations?” Thomas asked.
Felipe nodded toward Dieter. The bodyguard had positioned himself across the room, but at the King’s signal, he walked toward them, pulling papers from his breast pocket. They were copies of emails and texts between Angie and a single address. “I believe this is communication between Angie and Misha, or Misha’s agent. Look,” and the King pointed to the email addresses, “They all originate from the same address.”
Thierry examined them, “And you think this email address belongs to Misha?” he asked. “Have you tried to trace it back to its point of origin?”
“Yes, and my people are among the best.” Felipe didn’t notice the spark of interest in Thierry’s eye. “It was difficult to find this correspondence at all. My child had taken care to delete it and clean out her browser. She used a variety of phones and computers. It took many days for my people to sift through the temporary files and shadow clouds to find what is in front of you. But the masking on this IP address was unlike anything they had seen before. Simple… yet so complex. My people told me it is a marvel and must have cost this person,” and Felipe emphasized his point by tapping the paper, “a great deal of money. It’s not only the technology, you understand, it’s then in keeping the secret. The person or people who made that mask have not shared it with anyone else, and that’s almost unheard of. Something that good usually gets bragging rights. My people were very impressed.”
“So, why are you convinced it’s Misha?” Thomas asked.
“Look at the dates of the communications,” Felipe pointed. “They line up with trips Angie took to meet with him. She never stayed with the King in his residences, but she was nearby. The ways these messages are written suggest they are continuations of conversations she had during that time.”
“It could have been with someone else she knew there,” Thomas pointed out. “Just because the dates are right doesn’t mean the other party was the King.” Thomas nudged Thierry. He could see his brother leaning forward, becoming more interested. Thomas knew it would be better if they both remained uncommitted in this matter, but the look on Thierry’s face made that less likely.
“And then, there is the other correspondence my people found coming from this same IP address,” Felipe’s tone changed, and he looked specifically at Thierry. “This same signature was attached to several suspect transactions,” and then Felipe’s eyes narrowed, “including falsified financial statements that were sent to several newspapers in Charlotte, information that was used to hurt the then Queen of the Carolinas.” With a flourish worthy of the best carnival huckster, Felipe held up his hand and Dieter walked again from his post across the room. He pulled another sheaf of papers from his breast pocket and handed it to his King. Felipe waited for Dieter to retreat and then turned toward the French Sheriff. “Your interest in our former Clan Chief is widely known,” the King said with a slight smile. “Think of what it might mean to her if her name could be repaired?”
Felipe turned back to Thomas, “I’ll grant you, this is still not proof, but I ask you, who has stood to benefit from each of these actions? Who walked away with another kingdom? Who created confusion and suspicion between my kingdom and Northman’s, weakening us both in the process?” Felipe de Castro leaned forward, and pointed at the emails that lay on the table, “This is Misha! I know it! These dates are the dates my Angie met with him. There are things said that only they would know! I know this is New York and he is responsible!”
“We think he was involved in Rhodes as well,” Thierry said softly. Felipe turned quickly and Thomas’ eyes widened.
“Who thinks that?” Thomas asked. “Thierry, think Brother! These are the kinds of accusations that get vampires killed! Without real proof…”
“Unless we dig, there will never be real proof,” Thierry said hotly. Turning to De Castro, he said, “Are your computer people as good as you are saying?”
“I have spent thousands, perhaps millions, investing in my assets over the years,” De Castro nodded. “My surveillance is among the most sophisticated because I have wished it. As technology progressed, my investments kept pace. Even in years my money was thin, I continued to pay for the best. My livelihood is watching people spend money, my money! I need to know who returns to cheat me, who returns to pay me more, who is looking to rob from me. People try to hack my systems on a regular basis. They want game codes and security codes. They want access to my cameras and access to my rooms and I stay ahead of all of them!”
Felipe looked at the papers on the table, “Finding this in the spider web of cyberspace was not easy. If we knew what to look for, we might be even more successful.”
“What’s in this for us?” Thomas asked.
“Vindication,” Thierry answered and ignored Thomas’ firm, steady pressure on his foot under the table. “Thalia thinks this, too,” Thierry told Thomas. “She will be here tomorrow night. She is coming to hand the police force over to the Ancient Pythoness.” He looked at the Nevada King, “Would you meet with her?”
Felipe sat back “Yes,” he said. “As long as you guarantee my safety, I will tell Thalia what I’ve found.”
As they walked down the corridor toward the elevator, Thomas hissed, “You are a fool, Brother! De Castro doesn’t care about our King or you! He’s just looking to save his own hide!”
“What does it matter if it ends that bastard?” Thierry didn’t bother to hide the anger in his voice. “He has taken everything I care about and he has trampled it! Thalia and I were almost there! We were only days behind Carlo. If only we’d reached him first, we would have the proof we need to end Misha!”
“Do you hear yourself?” Thomas asked softly. “You sound tortured, irrational. Remember who you serve now! Leave the past in the past!”
“I try,” Thierry shook his head, “But the past dogs my steps. No, Brother, this is a past that I must lay to rest or I will find no future of my own.”
At the other end of the hotel, Felipe de Castro walked toward the elevators in the VIP tower, Dieter trailing him. “So, Dieter,” he said companionably, “Which of our young friends is the most dangerous?”
“The Frenchman,” Dieter answered without hesitation. “He is passionate and quick to figure things out.”
“I would say you’re wrong,” Felipe chided him. “It is Thomas. Thierry fights for what he wants. A man like that can always be tricked into wanting something else, but Thomas? Thomas fights for loyalty and honor. The only way to turn that is to have his leader betray him. That makes him more dangerous.” As the doors of the elevator closed, Felipe said, “Good thing it’s the Frenchman making our introduction to Thalia.”
Thierry rose the next evening and automatically looked over at the pillow next to him. In the same instant, he heard the water running and got out of bed to join Thomas under the water. On his way past the dresser, he saw his phone flashing. It was a message from Thalia.
“We are wanted,” Thierry said as he stepped under the water. “Thalia is here. She is staying in the suite our King reserved. She asks us to join her in an hour.”
“How long do you think she’s been up?” Thomas’ tone made it clear his question was mere curiosity.
“She’s old,” Thierry shrugged, taking the washcloth from Thomas’ hand and stroking the vampire’s long back with sure, steady strokes. “It could be an hour; it could be more. I never felt comfortable enough to ask.”
“You’re lucky she doesn’t have a sense of humor,” Thomas chuckled. “With all the traveling you did together you might have risen to some embarrassment.”
“Thalia has a sense of humor!” Thierry exclaimed. He didn’t understand why he felt the need to defend the small, dour vampire, but he found he didn’t want Thomas thinking ill of her.
Thomas turned, his eyebrow lifted, and a smirk on his face, “Of course, Brother, if that’s what you think!”
“She is funny,” Thierry persisted, “It’s just not everyone appreciates her wit…”
“Well, I suppose,” Thomas took the washcloth and then turned Thierry away from him so that he could trade favors in backwashing, “if you consider pulling the wings from small creatures amusing, or perhaps you like the sound things make when they’re struck with a hammer, or thrown from a building…”
“It’s not like that!” Thierry growled.
“If you say so,” Thomas chuckled and threw the washcloth into the air. When Thierry turned, Thomas grabbed his shoulders, “How long do we have?” he asked.
“Long enough,” Thierry growled, and it turned out, they did.
Thalia was not in the suite when they got there, but she had texted them the door code. They helped themselves to blood from the mini-fridge and settled back, but they didn’t wait long.
“Greetings,” she said on entering, her voice tight and clipped.
“Something wrong?” Thierry asked.
“I’ve come from the Ancient Pythoness, “Thalia told them. “Niall Brigant is here.”
“The Prince?” Thomas was surprised. “I saw Finn downstairs but no one said anything about the Fae coming. I’d think it would be risky. The last time anyone saw Fae at a Summit was for our King’s Pledging.”
“Niall doesn’t believe that rules apply to him,” Thalia seemed agitated.
“Something has bothered you,” Thierry pressed. “You are not yourself.”
Thalia growled, but after a few moments, abandoned it and sat down, “I am bothered by it,” she told them and reached over to take Thierry’s blood.
“Please,” the French vampire quipped, “Help yourself. I’ll go get another out of this lovely stocked mini-fridge. I hope the charges for the room go to your personal account.”
“I am transferring them to the Pythoness,” Thalia grumbled.
“Well, in that case, I’ll help myself to two,” Thierry laughed, and offered another to Thomas who shook it off.
“There is less talk about the Fae than I anticipated,” Thomas remarked. For several weeks following the foiled takeover in Louisiana, social media had been burning up with speculation. There were few who bought the explanation that the glowing creatures seen fighting with vampires in the streets of New Orleans were part of a movie set, but, within a short period of time, the YouTube and other video evidence began to disappear. Posted pictures were discounted and there was even a short documentary demonstrating how the special effects had been made. All those efforts were for the benefit of humans. No supernatural was fooled. They all knew what they’d seen and how it changed things.
“The more time passes with no statement, the sooner it will be forgotten,” Thierry shrugged.
“No one will forget that!” Thomas scolded his friend. “What they will remember is that our King commands the loyalty of the Fae. When he calls, they come to his aid.”
“That is the message,” Thalia nodded. “It should not be a secret to any. It was a condition written in the contract between them when the Viking pledged to the Queen. I am assured the contract is available online for any fool to read.”
“Those who are interested are not so foolish that they won’t make the connection between the Queen’s condition and the terms,” Thomas frowned. “It is risky.”
“As you said,” Thalia smiled, “Who will speak of it? Only the foolish, because it is clear that there are now forces that stand between the Viking and danger that only a fool would ignore, so it is good that talk of the Fae has lessened.”
“They are all too busy complaining about the police,” Thierry smirked. “I’m assuming that’s why you are here.”
Thalia nodded, “The Kings sent me. I thought to speak privately with the Pythoness earlier, but she had another use for me.” Thalia didn’t tell the two vampires about what she had heard in the Ancient One’s room. “Instead I will go to the meeting tonight and officially hand over the force to her. It will be public and when she accepts, that should end any more carping about it. Who would argue with a force governed by the Pythoness?”
“No one,” Thierry said, “Not even you!”
Thalia growled before saying, “I’ll be glad to have this errand completed. One more task in a long line of tasks, and not one step closer to uncovering the infection that threatens us all.”
“You still think it’s New York?” Thierry asked, more for Thomas’ benefit as to actually verify that nothing had changed.
“So do you,” Thalia sniffed. She glanced at Thomas and Thierry could see she’d read his true intent. “You don’t need to lead me by the nose to reveal what you wish your friend to know,” and turning more fully toward Thomas, she said, “I believe Misha is behind a series of plots and plans aimed at throwing many of the monarchs into difficulties. I believe he is a plotter who plants schemes and harvests the ones that bear fruit when he can gain the most advantage.”
“It’s a cynical view of a Clan Chief,” Thomas said mildly.
“It’s a realistic view of a master manipulator,” Thalia replied.
“Then you will be happy to hear that Felipe de Castro approached us last night. He wants us to broker a meeting with you to talk about joining forces against Misha,” Thomas told her.
Thalia turned to Thierry, “This is true?” When the French Sheriff nodded, Thalia bared her fangs and hissed. After a long moment, she took another sip of blood and settled back in a chair, “Why should we work with him?” she groused. “I’m sure he had his hand in the attack against the North Man and his mate. No one believes Angie would have moved forward without her Maker’s blessing.”
“De Castro argues Angie was jealous and anxious to prove herself. He says Misha used his time with her to give her dangerous ideas.” Thierry picked at the label of his bottle, “And he tells me he has access to some real talent in computers and would be willing to lend them to help.”
“Of course he’s being helpful!” Thalia snarled, “He’s been caught out. He would convince us we have a common cause and eliminate a rival in the process.”
“But what about Misha?” Thierry asked, “Who is the biggest threat? Felipe will have to lie low now. He has the lawsuit looming and he must appear innocent. He won’t risk another move for many years, but Misha? We know he had a hand in the bombing. We know he was behind the rogues. I know what he did to my Maker, and De Castro had papers that linked him to Nabila’s fall. As you said, he is a fisherman, throwing his bait on the water to cause chaos and he then reaps the rewards. Who is the bigger threat?”
“Stop pushing,” Thalia sniffed, “You’ve made your point.”
“What about Pam?” Thomas asked. “If we go against Misha, she could find herself in the crossfire. She brought me to Arkansas and promoted me. I have no desire to see her harmed.”
Thalia nodded, “I will travel to New Orleans once my work here is finished. Pam is supposed to travel there as well. I will speak with her. If what Thierry tells me is true, Misha may seek to use her to stop us. It would be better if Pam finished her dalliance and moved on to greener pastures.”
“You think Pamela will be so quick to throw him aside?” Thomas asked. “Karin spoke with her after the takeover attempt. Pam was packed and ready to come to us but there was nothing she could have done. It was finished. Karin told me Pam seems happy in her choice of home. She spoke of the King with affection. Even if she was convinced to step outside his reach, there is more than one way to injure a vampire.”
Thalia laughed, “You think Pamela is like your Karin? Your bonded may bristle and bark but she is a little girl, looking for her father. You have stepped into that role. You press her and force her to behave and she loves you for it. Pam? Pam is too changeable, too fickle for that kind of love. She has been with the King how long? Months? Soon her mood will change and she will be looking for her next lover, her next adventure. It will take more than a King to win her. In truth, I don’t believe she will ever allow anyone to truly touch that part of her.”
“That seems a sad fate for our Pamela,” Thomas replied.
“Perhaps you think my fate is sad as well,” Thalia told him. “Not all creatures are meant for common lives.”
“Well, no one would accuse you of being common,” Thierry poked. “In fact, some might say you could use a little more common!”
“Some could say that you would do well to shut your mouth, but that’s not likely to happen either,” Thalia hissed, but no one really thought she was angry.
“So, do we accept De Castro’s offer?” Thomas asked.
“Of course,” Thalia sighed.
“But we will need to devise the right plan,” Thierry leaned forward. “It must be swift and unexpected. If Misha suspects, he will reach out to harm all we hold dear. I have seen his vengeance and it is cruel and complete.”
“He will know the Viking’s place in your affections, Thalia,” Thomas nodded, “and he will strike there. He may think that our King is behind this.”
“Then we must plan well,” Thalia agreed. She glanced at her watch, “Now come. It’s time for me to hand over our new army to the Pythoness.” Together they rose and headed to the ballroom downstairs.
The ballroom was set up much as it had been last night. There were rows of chairs facing a raised dais, only now, instead of the podium, there was the Pythoness’ great, straight-backed chair. Thalia and Thomas headed for the first row on the right. It would place Thalia near the stairs. When her signal came, Thalia would walk over, fall to her knee, and make the small speech she’d rehearsed. It was annoying that the Pythoness had put off any discussion earlier this evening, but in view of what she’d overheard, Thalia wasn’t surprised.
It was a lot to consider. While Niall’s intentions didn’t sound dangerous, it still set Thalia’s teeth on edge. The Prince had used her to get his way and he intended to use the North Man and his mate as well. Thalia understood making sacrifices for the greater good just as well if not better than most, but what she heard sounded too much as if the greater good was to Niall’s benefit alone. Thalia made her promise to the Pythoness, but even had the Ancient One not asked it of her, Thalia’s decision to act against Niall would have been the same.
The room was almost full. There was a great deal of conversation, the sound around them like one continuous hiss. “They are angry,” Thierry joined them. “They have heard the Pythoness will make a decision about your police without hearing their concerns.” There were two vampires standing awkwardly on the other side of the stage. “Those are the spokespeople chosen,” Thierry pointed out. “They were here until close to dawn and they will urge the Pythoness to delay building the force any further. They feel the matter requires more study.”
“They can flap their gums all they wish,” Thalia glanced at the two who were looking nervously toward the stage. “There are times I think nothing more will surprise me, and then something like this happens. After all these years, how can they think she will truly listen to them? The Pythoness doesn’t love us; she loves her vision for us. If she feels having a standing army masquerading as a police force is best, she will keep it.”
“Then you don’t think she will listen to them?” Thomas asked.
Thalia shrugged, tired of the drama that surrounded her, “It will be to the Lady to decide.”
There was a quick rap of a staff and all rose as the Pythoness walked from a place behind the stage. Usually she had handmaidens on both sides, holding her arms and guiding her to her chair, but tonight she walked unaided. A single handmaiden was behind her and she positioned herself slightly behind the Lady’s chair.
Stan Davis walked onto the stage from the same general direction and when he reached a place before her, the Pythoness said, “King Davis, I understand there is a matter that is causing great concern in Zeus Clan.”
“It is a matter that is causing concern across all Clans, Lady,” Stan bowed. “I have two vampires who would speak for all here to explain their concerns.”
The Pythoness raised her hand in assent and Thierry leaned toward Thalia, “Seems you’re not always right!” he hissed triumphantly.
Thalia flicked her eyes at him, but then settled back to see what the Pythoness intended. King Davis motioned to the two spokespeople who walked onto the stage and bowed. “Speak!” the Pythoness ordered, her voice surprisingly strong.
Thalia found she respected the vampires. They didn’t quail; instead they stood proud. “We are concerned about the formation of this army,” the one said. “We have kingdoms and Sheriffs, borders and Clans. We have followed the guidelines you yourself set down for us. Now two Kings from another Clan form an army that they claim is above our kings. They place their own people in our borders and arrest those meant to enforce the wills of our monarchs. They would place themselves in your place, Lady! They would raise themselves above us all!” There was a low hiss from those in the auditorium and the Pythoness’ blind eyes scanned slowly, left to right as though she could see the many faces.
“Is this the opinion of your Clan?” the Pythoness asked Stan.
“It is, My Lady,” he bowed. “While many, including myself, feel there are benefits to be gained, the idea of a group of enforcers who owe their allegiance to foreign Kings, however well meaning, is troubling.”
“Leave it to Stan,” Thierry hissed into Thalia’s ear. “He could make a cactus look cuddly!”
“I thank you for telling me of your worries,” the Pythoness addressed the two vampires, dismissing them with a motion of her hand. “While my sight requires that I see all things, it does not allow me to hear the loyalty that lives in the voices and hearts of my people.” Thalia found herself sitting forward, drawn to the magic that was the Ancient Pythoness. She knew if she glanced around she would see that all the vampires were leaning forward to catch the crone’s next words.
“When we first came to this place there was no order,” the Pythoness started. “The land stretched before us, inhabited by the First Ones. There was magic here, but of a different kind and we soon moved across the land. In those days, our numbers were few and it was no sure thing to think we would take root here, but we did. Then the work of humans from across the water made our coming here easier. We were able to travel in great ships and blend into cities where food was everywhere and hiding was easy. We multiplied quickly, but without structure, we fought with each other, exposing ourselves to the fears and anger of humans. We became the stuff of their stories again, and those who were cruel, the zealots and the angry, they hunted us and killed us in great numbers.” There was a sigh from those around them. Most here were younger than the days the Pythoness described. Thalia remembered. She had come to this land to escape the humans armed with stakes and crosses, only to find more of the same on this side of the water, leading her to flee the cities. “It was then I realized that in order for us to survive, we needed to organize ourselves. I created the territories and the kingdoms. I selected from among the best of us to lead and I had each of our rulers create enforcers, Sheriffs who would make sure that we did not expose ourselves to humans foolishly. Many of our laws are from that time, and for over two hundred years, it has been a system that worked.”
“Now it comes,” Thierry hissed beside her.
“Many kingdoms, each with their own armies, made sense when passing information took hours or even days to accomplish. Territories needed to be small or rule would be impossible. Now, humans have changed the rules. We no longer need to travel on foot or on horseback to share news. We tweet it internationally with the tap of a button. Our computers allow us to meet across great distances, coordinating our efforts, and allowing us to band together in times of need.” The Pythoness paused, and then looked toward Stan Davis. “There are some Clans that have maintained their kingdoms, holding to the small holdings and defined borders,” and then her face turned until she was staring at Felipe de Castro who was seated in the front row, “And there are other Clans that are now a name only.” Felipe shifted, causing Thalia’s lip to lift.
“I have watched as the pressures of mainstreaming have forced change upon us. Our numbers have grown again, but never as quickly as the prey that surrounds us. Mainstreaming has been yet another pressure that has made us question how we live and how we choose to govern ourselves and what I have seen is that given the opportunity, we choose not to fight the danger that surrounds us, but our own kind.” The last words were said in a hiss and the crone’s lip lifted. “Who was our enemy in Rhodes this time? Who created an excuse for the humans to fear us and to wish us finally dead? Who killed those vampires, taking King and vassal alike? It was our own kind! Vampire against vampire! Not even enemies, but killing for some political purpose!” The Pythoness hissed again. “And in the days that have followed, what do we see? Do we see a return to leadership among the monarchs? Do we see a coming together of our race? No! We see the rise of many among us who would place us at war with humans, ruling humans. Have we learned nothing from our long existence! We are not farmers or shepherds to lead humans! They are herd animals and we are hunters! We succeed when we influence them to act as we wish. We win what we need when they are drawn to us!”
“And what of our blood, our sacred blood? There are those among us who have allowed it to be diluted.” The Pythoness shook her head. Thalia looked up with a start. For some reason, she thought of the Viking and Sookie. There were many vampires who still complained of their bonding. Those vampires felt that by mating and bonding with his Fae Queen, the North Man had ‘diluted’ vampire blood, but the Pythoness headed in another direction.
“For many of you there were strangers who invaded your lands creating more of our kind and leaving them behind. These new vampires struggle to become part of our people and they make more of us through their ignorance. Our numbers, though small, have increased beyond my imaginings, but not in the way I would have wished for us.” The Pythoness looked across the audience, “Educating these vampires and making them understand how to live as hunters, preying on humans but not turning them against us is all consuming. It requires all the time and strength of our kingdoms and our Sheriffs. In this new world that we have created for ourselves, finding ways to interact with humans without triggering their jealousy or fear requires both guile and intelligence from our monarchs, but are they all ready to face that challenge?” and the Pythoness glanced at the rows of Zeus Kings and Queens. “Things have changed, and I worry that our kind may not survive.”
“It is the petty goals of some which have led to many of our troubles. Small rivalries now become larger. We can fly from one end of the country to another to exact vengeance. Internet and computers allow ambition to rule us, taking kingdoms that we can rule from very far away. Because we ignore the basic truth of who we are and who our enemy is, we have dealt death among our own in a public, extravagant way. Our foolishness has exposed our positions to humans and reawakened the interest of old enemies.” There was a hiss. Everyone knew the Pythoness was referring to the Fae.
“These events have troubled me,” the Pythoness settled back in her chair. “I have thought for many years about what should be done to save my race from the growing threat of humans and from the growing threat we pose to ourselves. And now, the answer has been presented to me,” and the Pythoness looked toward Thalia. “What better way than to have those among us who are not blinded by ambition and the concerns of one kingdom? What better than to have a group trained in the rules and laws of our people who can see with clear eyes? These ‘police’ you fear will be my eyes and ears in the kingdoms. Their job will be to police the grey areas that are our interactions with humans. When it is the dispensing of justice and the work of the Assizes, they will have no place. But they will also keep me informed of your actions. They will allow me, through my agent, to judge whether you work in the best interests of our people or whether your actions will endanger us.”
There was a hiss, a loud one, but the Pythoness stunned them all when she said in an unexpectedly loud voice, “Silence!”
The handmaiden stepped forward and gestured to Thalia. When the small vampire stood before the crone, the Pythoness commanded, “Kneel before me!”
Thalia watched the Pythoness, but the Oracle looked over her head to aim her words toward those who were assembled, “You all know this vampire. You fear her with good reason. She is a warrior like no other. She is not pledged to any kingdom; she travels freely among all. Long has her path been her own and she lives the code of vampire. Many times has she proven she does not work for her own ambition, nor for money. She has no wish for territory or to possess.” The Pythoness turned her milky eyes to Thalia, “Thalia, I name you the head of my army, for army they are. I charge you with recruiting them, but take care that you keep their numbers small. You will see to their training, for who else would be best to teach what it means to be a vampire? You will be their Chief and it will be your role to work with the monarchs, but from this day forward, Thalia, you answer only to me!” The Pythoness leaned forward, “Do you accept?”
Thalia’s eyes narrowed. Before she could stop herself, she growled, but instead of being insulted or angry, the Pythoness chuckled. “You have me,” the small vampire mumbled, bowing her head to the inevitable.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” the Pythoness’ lips curled upward. “Rise and stand before me,” and the crone gestured to a place in front and to the side of her throne. Raising her voice, the Ancient One addressed the crowd, “When you see this vampire, know it is my right hand you see. Welcome her agents as you would welcome me. Know that what I do now I do for all of us. Ours is a proud heritage, a history of blood and pride, but there are things that are coming which will challenge us.”
“Our world is changing, my children. We must change with it if we are to remain in this world and not become as some others of our kin, nothing more than legends and stories told to children.”
The Pythoness stood and all those in the audience stood, too. “Bring De Castro tonight. We have more work to do,” she said to Stan Davis, then turning to Thalia, said, “And you will come with me now.”
Thalia followed the ancient who was now her boss toward the back of the stage. For some reason all she could think about was Thierry laughing.