Authors: Linda Robertson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Contemporary, #Romance, #General
Goliath nodded. “I will consider your advice, Meroveus.”
At that moment, Menessos emerged from the rear chamber wearing a fresh, clean suit. His clothing had been soaked upon his return. The Offerling named Risqué had attended him initially, and she informed Goliath that Menessos claimed he’d helped the Erus Veneficus out of Lake Erie. Her grateful embrace, he’d explained, had drenched him.
“Much better.” Menessos glanced around. “Am I interrupting?”
“Not at all,” Goliath said. “The Advisor came to see the Erus Veneficus. I have said she must rest and will not be questioned until tomorrow evening.”
Menessos nodded thoughtfully.
“I have other business that concerns both of you,” Mero said.
Menessos walked toward the seating and motioned Mero to follow. “Tell us, then, of this other business.” His tone was light and he avoided the armchairs, taking a place beside Goliath.
Mero chose to sit on the leather couch opposite them. He breathed deep to fill his lungs, straightened his spine, and said, “The witch must be taken to the Excelsior.”
In the corner, the sisters giggled evilly. It made the nape of Goliath’s neck prickle.
Menessos scowled at the sisters and gestured at the door. “Out,” he said. Without a word they obeyed. When they were gone, Menessos faced Mero and his tone dropped. “No.”
“Considering that she has twice—”
“I said no!”
Goliath could not help facing Menessos. He had seen his Maker angry many times, but it was rare that rage claimed him so swiftly. The sharklike glare Menessos aimed at Mero did not wane in its potency as the moment wore on.
Mero squirmed under that gaze and resituated himself on the couch. “And you, Goliath?” Mero asked. “As she is your Erus Veneficus now, what do you say?”
“Presently, I agree with Menessos. I want my witch here.”
“Then, gentlemen, you must give me an alternative solution.”
Since Menessos had sat beside him, Goliath took that as an indication he wanted to present a united front to Mero
where the haven, and all the people included in it, were concerned. That meant Persephone as well. “Solution? Exactly what is the problem that you think requires my witch being taken to the Excelsior?” he asked.
Mero and Menessos shared a look, then Menessos answered. “The Advisor believes that she is a threat to vampires in general, as I am twice marked.”
Goliath laughed. “A threat to whom?”
Abruptly, Menessos sat straighter and glanced toward the door. A second later, there came a meek knock. Menessos rose to answer it. As he stepped out, Goliath caught sight of Persephone in a terry cloth robe.
He feels her presence and runs to her beckoning.
Mero lifted his chin. “The answer to your question, Goliath, is right there. If she can do such to
she might be able to do it to all of us. Therefore, she is a threat to VEIN in general, both on the local Cleveland level, and on a higher political level.”
Frowning, Goliath asked, “If that is true, what sense does it make to convey her to the Excelsior? Would that not be inviting her to attempt snarking him?”
“In a controlled environment that could not happen.”
Goliath smiled slightly at that. If Mero thought he could control the environment, he was underestimating the Lustrata.
“If she will accept the Excelsior’s marks upon her, then his power would trump any she would have over Menessos. It would ensure that she does not use her authority over him against the vampires.”
As second-in-command—Alter Imperator—to the Northeastern Quarterlord, Goliath had been told many of the secrets Menessos knew. Some concerned Mero. He
knew that Menessos had turned both Mero and, years later, the son Mero fathered in life. That son was now the Excelsior.
Goliath had to wonder if this course of action was meant to ensure no embarrassment befell the Excelsior’s reign, or if Mero could be seeking to strengthen his son’s position, giving him sway over Persephone because she was the Lustrata.
There were many prophesies concerning the Lustrata. The one that the vampires were most concerned with claimed she was incredibly valuable to them. Because of this, they could not dare to kill her. But they could do much without killing her. The question was: What would interfere with her destiny, and what wouldn’t?
Menessos would know the most about it, so Goliath resolved to follow his Maker’s lead. “Dabbling in the destiny that Menessos, the witch, and the Domn Lup share is a hazardous pastime, Mero. I strongly suggest you stay the hell out of their way.”
Mero opened his mouth to reply but the door opened and Menessos returned. He reclaimed his seat. He was calmer.
“What you suggest,” Menessos said, “cannot be, Mero.”
“It must be.” Mero quoted the prophesy:
unspoiled into the light.
Sickle in hand,
she stalks through the night
wearing naught but her mark and silver blade.
The moonchild of ruin, she becomes Wolfsbane.
“According to my interpretation,” Mero concluded, “she
Menessos breathed deep. Releasing it, he said, “Your interpretation is bullshit.”
Mero’s brows rose in surprise.
Goliath struggled to keep a laugh from getting out.
“The Witch Elders Council will not stand for their Lustrata to be marked by the Excelsior,” Menessos said. “Would you risk a war?”
Mero shook his head. “The witches are divided on whether or not they believe she is the Lustrata. Surely the intelligence you have gathered has not failed to inform you of this?”
Menessos waved him off. “Regardless, she is not without power and influence. The goddess favors her. That they cannot deny.”
“VEIN will not stand for
to be twice marked by a witch.”
“What does it matter? I have been stripped of all rank.”
“You are not without power and influence, either. The fact that one of those marks came at the direct interference of
goddess makes it worse.”
“She is also
Goliath had sat silently while they spoke, but when Menessos’s fingers began tapping lightly, he recognized it as a sign of his irritation. He hoped Mero recognized it as well.
“Are you saying that Deric is willing to risk
It surprised Goliath that Menessos used the Excelsior’s given name and followed it with emphasis on “Her”—meaning the goddess.
Mero said nothing.
“He does not know Her, does he, Mero?” There was accusation in Menessos’s tone.
Mero’s cheeks reddened. “He knows the tormentor.”
“Hecate is not our bane!” Menessos retorted.
“We are not all as fortunate as you. You lived on and escaped the suffering for eons,” he replied. “We have not all had the opportunity to ally ourselves with deities that might show us favor.”
Menessos stood. “In that you lie! You chose a path bearing the magic of Her ways, yet you have let Deric proceed into the highest rank our kind offers without spiritual guidance. Do not blame me for this and do not say you haven’t had the opportunity to know and ally with Her.”
He walked out.
• • •
The sisters had taken seats in the area outside the Haven Master’s suite, but when Menessos exited, Ailo touched Talto’s hand and thought to her sister,
Give me a few minutes before you leave here. I will meet you in the media room later.
She stood up. She rolled her shoulders and resettled her gown. Twitching her fingers, she made the magic that created the dove-gray silk remove all wrinkles.
Ailo walked speedily in the direction Menessos had gone. He was also moving fast. She wanted to speak to him privately, where no others would see, and he was on the stairs—catching him between floors was perfect for what she wanted to do.
She stopped suddenly. With all her will and magic
focused, she centered her meditative self into her core and touched the bond she now had to him, feeling of those the threads with ethereal spirit hands. One thread was for Talto. It felt like silk and resonated anger into her palm. One was for the witch, Persephone. It felt like velvet and crackled like static electricity in her hand. The final thread was for Menessos. It felt metallic, like barbed wire.
She stabbed her spirit-hand onto the sharp twist of metal and real physical pain gripped her body. But she felt Menessos stop. Squeezing that wire, she imagined her bleeding hand holding his and thought,
Please wait. I am following you.
Releasing the barbed wire, she pulled herself out of the semi-meditation and hurried on.
When she arrived at the stairway, Menessos stood at the bottom, waiting.
The hardness of his features expressed only displeasure.
Ailo descended the steps without rushing.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Mero bound my sister and me to him loosely. But you”—she tapped the chains at her throat—“you are more thorough.”
“Indeed. I know you.” He turned on his heel. “I trust you less.”
“I helped you long ago.”
“Even so,” she continued, “I bore an equal share in the Fate you designed for us.”
“You were all dangerous, Ailo. You remain so now.”
“You bound us away then. Will you do so again, at your first chance?”
Slowly he spun toward her. “Yes.” He studied her. “I want no part of monitoring you and your sister forever, Ailo. It would doom anyone.”
“I may share my sister’s treacherous past, but I have always been the more mindful of us three.” She paused, then deposited the seed she had come to plant in his mind: “I know when I am beaten.”
His eyes narrowed suspiciously, then he said, “Good.”
“They may deserve the stone again, but I do not. I aided you before and it was your deceit that put me into the statue. I will aid you again—wait and see, I will. And this time, I hope, you will reconsider my fate.”
When he walked away she let him, smiling as she watched him go.
en-year-old Beverley Kordell watched the world passing outside the car window. Her foster mom, Persephone Alcmedi, was out of town, so she was staying with close friends, Erik and Celia Randolph. Celia brought her to the bus stop every morning, but this morning they had come early. They needed to stop at Seph’s farmhouse and pick up some extra clothes for Beverley.
Usually, if Seph had to be away attending to her duties as court witch of the local vampire haven, Beverley stayed at the farmhouse and Seph’s grandmother, Demeter, took care of her. But Seph’s mom, Eris, had an accident and lost her arm. Demeter was with her in Pittsburgh helping Eris for now. Beverley hoped Demeter—Seph called her Nana—would be back soon. She missed her and the fantastic creatures that lived on the farm, especially a certain unicorn, Errol.
When they arrived at the farmhouse, Beverley slid out of the CX-7 and into the misty morning air, smiling up at the rural salt-box farmhouse before her. Ever since her mom, Lorrie, had died and her godmother disappeared, she had lived here with Persephone.
Though Seph wasn’t home, Beverley was glad to be back. She liked hanging out with Celia and Erik well enough; they played board games and watched movies with her. But they didn’t have anything around their home that would shimmer and flash when she squinted at
it. At Seph’s, almost everything would cast rainbowlike arcs of light if she looked at it long enough. Maybe it was because they were wærewolves and Seph was a witch.
She hadn’t noticed the glimmering and gleaming way things could look until she’d stopped wearing the silver necklace with the flint arrowhead and silver four-leaf-clover charms that Demeter had made for her. Seph had told her to always wear it, but the silver had started making her neck itch badly, so, while at Celia’s, she had taken it off and left it in her drawer in the guestroom.
“This should only take a few minutes,” Celia said as she walked toward the porch and looked through her keys to find the one for Seph’s front door. “We have to get you to the bus stop on time so you don’t miss school. It’s gonna be a short week. Only two days.”
Beverley followed her up onto the porch and squinted at the doorknob. The air around it wavered like it was the sun-kissed surface of a creek.
“Anything in particular you want to wear Thursday?”
“To what?” Beverley asked, blinking.
“Thanksgiving dinner.” Celia slid the key into the lock, turned. “Haven’t you been listening?”
Beverley smiled sheepishly.
“Daydreaming about unicorns again?”
For most little girls, dreaming would have been all there was to unicorns, but at Seph’s there were two new barns out back with real unicorns living in one. Errol, a yearling colt, had taken a fancy to her.
Beverley’s gaze dropped for an instant to the purple cast on her arm. She’d broken it at school last week, and when Seph had signed it she’d drawn a little unicorn, too. “Can I see Errol?”
“We don’t have time this morning, but after school you can, as always.”
When the door opened, she asked Celia, “Will you pick something for me to wear? My mom always picked for the holidays.”
Celia ran her hand over Beverley’s head. “Oh, honey. You’re growing up. Just had a birthday. Don’t you want to start choosing for yourself?”
Beverley did want to, but what she wanted more was to sneak into Seph’s room again before she had to go to school. Besides, all the grown-ups said Celia was “fashionable,” that she had “style.” She would pick something good.
“Maybe next year.” Beverley hurried up the steps and into the bathroom. After shutting the door, she stood behind it listening. When Celia had passed by, Beverley waited for a count of ten, then slowly opened it and peeked out. She made sure Celia was studying the clothes in her bedroom closet before tiptoeing into Seph’s room.
Opening the closet there, Beverley dug straight to the back where the item she wanted was stored. Her little hands grasped the cold sides of the rock-board and she pulled. It was heavy and the cast on her arm made the task more difficult. She lost her grip on the slate—the bottom edge dropped onto the top of her foot.