Katelina pressed a hand to her bleeding arm as Jorick swept to his feet. The blur bounced around like a pinball, then zipped into Xandria’s bedroom. Verchiel shook his head, and disappeared after it. A loud snarling came floating back, then a pop, and the hiss of escaping air.
“So much for the air mattress,” Jorick muttered.
The streak zoomed back. As it passed, Jorick snatched it up. The thing screamed and howled, but fell still. Jorick turned to face Katelina. Dangling from his hand was a black cat, its fur ruffled and its stare malevolent.
A vampire with long copper hair and a freckled face appeared at the door. His cartoon t-shirt and slouched shoulders made him look young. She’d met him before. It was—
“Aine!” Verchiel sauntered out of the bedroom, straightening his hair. “What’s up?”
Jorick watched the kid through narrowed eyes, and Verchiel explained, “He’s one of the newer Executioners. He got assigned right before Malick’s big revolt.”
“I know who he is. I’m curious about what he wants.”
Aine cleared his throat and tapped the doorframe with the toe of his boot. “Um. I was looking for my cat.”
Katelina absently rubbed the claw marks on her arms. “You mean that monster?”
Aine sighed and shuffled inside. “Salem. What have you done now?”
Jorick pushed the animal into the young Executioner’s arms, and resumed his seat. “See it doesn’t happen again.”
“Y-Yes, of course.” Aine made a motion like a salute, the cat clutched tightly with his other arm. “I’m sorry.” He backed toward the door. “It won’t happen again.”
Jorick motioned him out. The Executioner bobbed and hurried away, closing the door behind him.
“And that’s why Eileifr wants rid of Jorick. You don’t see Aine cowering to anyone else, except Ark.”
Ark. The leader of the Executioners.
“Aine’s not a bad kid,” Verchiel added. “Though I don’t know where he got a vampire cat.”
Katelina’s eyes went wide. “The cat’s a vampire? Are you serious?”
“Why not? The dog in the office is. Don’t tell me you never noticed.”
Katelina brushed the information aside. “You can make your pets immortal?”
“Weren’t you listening? Of course, you have to have permission from The Guild, otherwise the animal can get confiscated. They can’t risk an unknown vampire pet getting loose.”
“What about passing on powers? If you turned a cat would it be super-fast?”
Verchiel frowned. “I don’t know. I’ve never tried it. Have you, Jorick?”
“No.” Jorick lifted his book and noisily turned a page. “You were leaving?”
“Right. Yes. Leaving. Have a good night and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Katelina and Xandria returned his wave, but Jorick only muttered, “I certainly hope not.”
The next morning, Katelina entered the living room where Jorick was on the phone. After a noise of agreement, he hung up.
“Who was that?” she asked.
He offered her a smile. “The trial is tonight.”
Katelina wasn’t sure she wanted to see Thomas or his evil sister again, but she wanted—no needed—to see it was really Joseff on trial and that it was all resolved. She was tired of being chased by phantoms from the past. “I’m going.”
Though Jorick threw up his hands, Katelina was pleased that instead of arguing he said, “You’ll have to do something with your human.”
“She has a name.” Katelina glanced uncomfortably at the closed door to Xandria’s room. “I guess we could see if Micah and Loren would watch her.” It felt wrong, like treating Xandria as a pet yorkie, but he was right. What if someone lured her away and did something horrible?
Katelina called Micah. Though he grumbled at the prospect, she could hear Loren’s enthusiasm in the background. She wondered that he could be over Ume so fast. Ume’d just left three weeks ago, too furious with Jorick to travel with them anymore. Her departure was a blow to her and Loren’s burgeoning relationship, maybe one Loren wasn’t willing to overlook. Though they were immortal, Loren had only been a vampire since the nineties. He might still have his human impatience.
After breakfast in the restaurant, Katelina and Jorick walked Xandria to Micah’s room. Katelina mumbled an uncomfortable apology, but Xandria waved it away. “It’s cool. The trial sounds horrifying.”
Her words echoed in Katelina’s head as she and Jorick took the elevator to the third floor. When they reached a set of double doors, a guard stationed outside nodded to the emblem around Jorick’s neck and hurriedly let them through.
The room was three stories tall, dotted with pillars and alcoves, and hung with tapestries. A long red rug went through the middle, a bright contrast to the parquet floor. Chairs were set up on each side in neat rows, a few of them inhabited. Still empty was a long table that Katelina knew would hold the Lesser Council, and a table and chairs for the defendant. At the end of the room was a raised dais with four empty thrones. Above them hung a silver dragon; the symbol of Eileifr, the new leader.
A couple of gray clad guards stood in strategic spots, wearing self-important expressions. Near the door stood Jamie, a shiny sword in his hand.
“Expecting trouble?” Jorick asked good-naturedly.
Jamie shook his head. “No. It’s the replacement. I got it today and I don’t know…” he trailed off and tested the weight. “Something’s off.”
“Why get a new sword?” Katelina asked.
“Malick.” The one word was icy and Katelina felt the sudden slap of Jamie’s anger. She remembered Malick stomping on Jamie’s blade and shattering it into pieces.
Three vampires came through the door and took seats. Jorick and Jamie exchanged nods, then he and Katelina did the same.
“I know we were here before,” she whispered. “But I don’t remember all of it.”
Jorick nodded patiently. “You were human then and Malick’s presence was overwhelming.” He pointed to the guards in gray. “Those are lesser guards. Their job is to remain at the Citadel and guard specific things like the chambers or the detention cells. Though I don’t see any right now, the guards in black and silver are greater guards who travel with the Executioners and also guard the High Council.
“The empty table is for the Lesser Council, eleven vampires who handle the day to day incidents. It’s rare for them to call a full council—meaning both the High Council and Lesser Council—especially for a kidnapping. I imagine it’s because of my involvement. Full councils are usually called to deal with Executioner transgressions.”
Katelina started. “You promised me you weren’t on trial.”
“I’m not, but since Anya’s complaint mentions me specifically…” He shrugged.
While Katelina tried to calm herself, vampires trailed inside and took seats. Among the newcomers was a pair she recognized. Saeed’s muscled physique was barely contained by his slacks and button-up shirt. The light gleamed on his ebony skin and the naked dome of his head. Next to his massive frame, Yaul looked small. His brown hair was messy and his shirt needed ironed. When his eyes met hers, Katelina expected to see fury. Instead he gave a nod of acknowledgement and moved on, as if Saeed’s quest for Zen had infected him, too.
Others continued to trickle in. Katelina saw a few more familiar faces. Des, a former ally who’d sided with Anya and Thomas. Next to him was a redheaded male Katelina thought was named Lennon, a past member of Claudius’ coven. The rest of what had been Anya’s coven showed up, though Katelina couldn’t remember their names.
A blonde vampiress shoved through the doors pushing a wheelchair. Her ponytail, tough pointed features, and sinewy build looked like an action movie heroine. It was Anya, and what she pushed in the wheelchair made Katelina look away. Thomas was little more than a torso. Though his arms and legs were gone, he was dressed in a crisp white shirt and slacks, the sleeves and legs left hanging empty. The top of his head was perfect, with a slender nose and large, haunted eyes. The horror started under his top lip. His upper teeth hung exposed, one fang busted, with nothing beneath them. Joseff had ripped his lower jaw away to stop him from using his mouth to dig his way out over the centuries, leaving him with a horrible overstretched smile that never ended.
Jorick squeezed her hand. “It isn’t pleasant, but I’ve seen worse.”
Anya noticed them and jerked to a stop. “Look at this, Jorick! Look at what you’ve done!”
The other vampires followed her gaze and fell into whispers.
Katelina tried to disappear into her seat, her eyes everywhere but the thing in the wheelchair.
Jorick shrugged. “I had nothing to do with it, though it’s no less than he deserved.”
She snarled. “Of course you’d say so. With your ridiculous claim that he spied on Oren’s war coven.”
Oren? Katelina gaped. Thomas and Anya were members of Oren’s war coven when they fought Kateesha. Someone turned traitor and worked both sides. Jorick was blamed first, because he and Kateesha shared a master and a history, but it wasn’t him.
Anya went on, “You planned to use my brother as a scapegoat. When it didn’t work—”
Jamie started toward the ruckus as Jorick replied, “The truth was in Kateesha’s papers, though they’ve disappeared. I imagine you took them when you left, to get rid of the evidence.”
Thomas made a gurgling sound that Anya hushed. “Me?”
Jamie came to a stop behind them, sword in hand. “Is there a problem?”
“No.” Jorick leaned back in his chair. “Anya was looking for her seat.”
“I’ll assist her.” Jamie motioned them forward and, with a final growl, Anya went.
Katelina leaned close to Jorick and whispered, “She thinks it’s over that? Doesn’t she know why Kale attacked them?”
“Probably not,” Jorick said. “It will all come out in the trial.”
Before Katelina could press further, the doors opened. Verchiel walked in leading Joseff. The prisoner’s naturally tan skin was paled by immortality and his long black hair was pulled back into a braid. An angry scar ran down his right cheek. When his gaze landed on them, his dark eyes flashed with hatred that made Katelina cringe.
Jorick gazed back unperturbed. Verchiel pulled his prisoner to one of the tables and pushed him down in the seat. He took the other chair and, though his air was casual, his posture was wary.
The murmured conversation swelled, then died. As it faded, a door-shaped portion of the back wall opened. Four guards walked out wearing black and silver uniforms. Behind them came the High Council.
Celandine was first, her head high and her dark brown hair in a braid. Katelina caught her silver eyes. The world wavered, but Celandine turned away and the effect disappeared.
Obi came next, his skin dark and his expression neutral. He wore long sand-colored robes and a heavy golden chain around his neck. Behind him was Heng. With dark hair worn in a top knot, delicately slanting eyes, high cheekbones, and long thin fingers, he looked elegant.
Last was Eileifr. Though he was short, his years made him seem tall. His long blonde hair fell down his back, mingled with thin braids. A beard sprouted from his chin. His Nordic features were frozen in immortal perfection; his skin like polished marble and his gray eyes gleaming.
The four sat in their chairs in perfect unison. Eileifr’s voice boomed, “This council has been called, based upon the complaint filed by Anya, fledgling of Josephus, previously of the old world.”
A member of the Lesser Council stood and read Anya’s official complaint. It detailed the raid on her den, the fight with her coven, and the kidnapping of Thomas. Though she didn’t name names, she mentioned that one of her coven allowed the attackers to take her brother. If Katelina remembered correctly it was Des. The complaint went on to list Jorick and say he was with “unknown vampires”, an interesting phrase, considering Joseff and Lennon were in Claudius’ coven together. Surely Lennon would have recognized Joseff.
“From what I understand, most of her coven abandoned her before she filed the complaint,” Jorick murmured. “No one wanted to war over Thomas.”
When the Council called Jorick first, Katelina shot him a horrified look. He gave her a soothing smile and made his way to the front.
Though Celandine could read minds, Eileifr obviously didn’t believe in using her talents. Jorick was forced to detail the attack and what provoked it.
“We now know it was Malick who had Kale kidnapped and given to humans for experimentation, but at the time Kale and his coven blamed Thomas. We took him as recompense for Kale’s injuries. Kale was killed by Thomas in the assault. Joseff took charge of the coven and pronounced the old punishment for Thomas. I and others objected, but it wasn’t my coven or my doing.”
After several questions for clarification, Jorick was released. He was barely in his chair before Katelina hissed, “I thought you weren’t on trial?”
“I’m not. They have to work through everyone listed in the complaint so they can officially charge Joseff. The process used to be much faster.”
Katelina remembered the last time they’d been before the councils. Malick sucked all the secrets from their minds ahead of time. Any conversation was merely to amuse the ancient master. “And it was much worse.”
Jorick’s reply was a noncommittal shrug.
Saeed and Yaul gave similar accounts of the kidnapping and punishment. When they finished Eileifr announced, “After review of the complaint, it has been determined that the suspected perpetrator is one Joseff, fledgling of Kale. Joseff will step forward while the charges are read.”
As Verchiel tugged Joseff to his feet, Katelina relaxed. They weren’t charging Jorick. It was about time something went their way.
The trial passed quickly. Anya testified about the attack and about her first attempt to file a complaint. “One of the Executioners told me as long as I blamed Jorick I’d never get a trial. Even now he’s escaping justice! He can say this is over Kale, but he’s really angry because Thomas wouldn’t take the fall for him. Jorick was the one who spied on our coven for Kateesha. Everyone knows they were lovers. What would Thomas have to gain?”
At the mention of Kateesha, Katelina growled low in her throat. Jorick and his sister-in-blood were many things, but lovers was not one of them.
Jorick shifted uncomfortably, and Katelina turned her glare on him. “You said she was too cruel for you.”
“Yes,” he murmured, and quickly looked back to the trial.
Eileifr motioned Anya’s tirade to silence. She scowled as she was forced to admit Kale and his coven “might” have helped take Thomas, and that Kale came to the door and asked her to turn her brother over. “He mentioned a kidnapping, but the request was so absurd I knew it was a distraction to allow the others to get into position.”
Eileifr dismissed her and called the other members of her coven. Des refused to look at her as he admitted that Kale led the charge, and that he’d let them go. “Sorry, but Thomas wasn’t worth fighting for. I’ve never believed the stuff Jorick said about him being the traitor, but I didn’t like him, either.”
Lennon and the others had similar stories. Finally, Thomas was called.
“How is he supposed to answer questions?” Anya cried. “They took his tongue!”
“Bring him forth,” Eileifr commanded.
Anya grumbled but pushed him to the front. Thomas huddled in his chair. His wild, terrified eyes shot around the room. Katelina felt a sudden wash of burning terror. It took all her willpower not to bolt. It’s not me, she told herself. I’m not scared. It’s Thomas. Thomas is scared, not me.
Celandine stood and moved in front of him. Her face held no emotion, but the horrified throbbing in Katelina’s head grew worse.
Jorick caught her hand and the feeling disappeared. Katelina met his eyes. He gave her a nod, as if to acknowledge he was using his mental shielding abilities. She was too grateful to chastise him.
Celandine announced in a clear voice, “I have seen his memories. The testimony given thus far is correct. It was Joseff, fledgling of Kale, who administered the punishment.”
“Of course you’d say that,” Anya snapped. “You aren’t going to admit it’s everyone’s favorite pet.”
Celandine turned cold gray eyes on her. “I speak what I see. I have witnessed your brother’s memories, both before and after he was taken from you. I have seen things even you have not. Do not press me.”
“Are you threatening me?” Anya demanded. “Go ahead. Give away his ‘secrets’. My brother has nothing to hide.”
Celandine looked down her nose and Katelina could feel the vampiress’ carefully controlled power breaking the bonds of its imprisonment to swirl around the room. “Does he not? His midnight meetings with Kateesha? I saw the promises she made him, and the loyalty he gave. How he lured others in your war coven to betray those they had sworn to fight beside, and how he tried to recruit still more. Your brother was the traitor he was so named. If I peer into your mind, I shall see you already know, though you wish not to.”
“I don’t have to listen to this!” Anya jerked the wheelchair back. Thomas tumbled out and hit the floor with an echoing plop. Celandine stepped back, as if afraid of letting even the hem of her dress touch him.
Anya scooped her brother up and stuffed him back in the chair. He slid sideways and she huffed as she righted him, her movements jerky and her face pinched.
“She’s afraid,” Jorick commented. “She’s never been before the Council before, or dealt with vampires as old as these.”
Katelina nodded. If she remembered correctly, Celandine was over a thousand years old.
As one, the High Council stood. “We will deliberate,” Eileifr announced. The council turned in unison and walked through the back door to their chambers, their movements even and graceful. Something about their long robes and the way they moved made Katelina think of a cult.
They were only gone a few minutes before they returned. After they took their seats, Eileifr raised his hands for quiet.
“Bring the prisoner forth.”
Verchiel prodded Joseff forward. He snarled and jerked away from the Executioner but, with nowhere to go, he made his way to the dais. He glared at the Council members as Eileifr said, “Joseff, fledgling of Kale, this council finds you guilty of unlawful kidnapping, as per the complaint filed by Anya, fledgling of Josephus. With further testimony and evidence, this council also finds you guilty of attempted unlawful murder, of improper implementation of illegal torture, and of unlawful maiming. The Laws give only one penalty for such misdeeds. Joseff, you are hereby sentenced to death by Executioner, to be carried out tomorrow at midnight in the execution chamber.”
Joseff’s face paled, then hardened. “Thomas deserved it and more. You sit on your thrones and pretend to deal justice, but your justice is blind. He killed my master!”
“Enough.” Though Eileifr didn’t stand, he seemed to grow taller. “Kale’s death was the result of battle, and so legal. In regard to you and yours, Thomas did nothing against the law.”
Joseff howled in rage and lunged forward. Verchiel grabbed him, but the scarred vampire spun around with a kick that caught him off guard. As the Executioner flew backwards, his sword fell from his coat. Joseff snatched up the fallen weapon and snapped it out of its scabbard. The threat was written on his face; a death sentence for anyone he could get his hands on.