Gavino, Julianne, Manjeet, and Josh all sat with us—they were why I had pushed so hard for our selected spot. I wanted the extra security they would provide—though I wasn’t worried about a vampire trying to drag one of my wizards off as a snack. (Our blood would repel them better than a can of mace.)
Since we still had plenty of time, I ventured off to make a pest of myself in the Wizard Council offices for a few minutes.
I got a very satisfying reaction—lots of moans, and a secretary on the verge of tears promised she would make a Wizard Council member review the laws I was suggesting they consider—so I left there in a pretty good mood with a hop in my step and a smirk on my lips as I moseyed my way through the Cloisters, heading back to the assembly hall.
Surprised, I swung around. “Elite Bellus, hello.”
Elite Bellus smiled warmly. “Here for the vampire meeting, are you?”
“Yes. I assume you heard about my alliance with the Drakes?”
“Adept, everyone in the Midwest knows about it.”
I laughed nervously. “Yeah, I should have expected as much. How have you been since the attack? I only saw you briefly when we had to come in to give our official statements about everything that happened.”
Elite Bellus gestured for me to keep walking—since I was so much shorter than him my normal paced walk was practically a stroll for him—then clasped his hands behind his back. “I’m quite well. Please allow me to thank you again for getting me out of the building safely. Once things have calmed down some, I mean to lodge an official request that you display your shield technique for House Bellus.”
“I’m glad we could help,” I honestly said. “It’s the reason why we train so hard.”
“Yes,” he acknowledged. “I did want to talk to you a little about the attack. The Night Court is facing some pretty hefty accusations.”
“I imagine Cloister officials were not happy that they breached the neutral territory agreement.”
“Absolutely. They’ve been smacked with the worst fine I’ve ever seen in my career as the Elite. But they’re actually getting the most grief from other fae Courts.”
Puzzled, I peered up at Elite Bellus, scrutinizing the twinkle in his eyes. “Seriously? Why is that?”
“Because their actions were so inexcusable and indefensible, it immediately pitted werewolves and wizards against them,” Elite Bellus said. “Normally it’s us versus Killian so we can try to keep him from overpowering us all. But breaking the Curia Cloisters’ safe haven law is inexcusable. If we let them get off without feeling much pain, our careful balancing act in supernatural government might collapse. We can’t afford that, so we must make it obvious we won’t allow this to happen in the future.”
“Which means you’re siding with Killian,” I said.
“Exactly.” He smoothed his goatee, and a quirk of a smile made it slant oddly. “Already one law and two motions that were set to slightly benefit fae were struck done. The entire fae community is feeling our displeasure, and as such they’re going to mete justice out on the Night Court even if it means backstabbing their distant brethren.”
“What can they do?” I asked.
“More than any of us.” Elite Bellus chuckled. “Several of the Courts have broken trade agreements and various treaties with the Night Court. But I believe the biggest positive impact will be on the Night Court’s plans for war.”
I furrowed my brow. “I’m sorry…what? In what case can a war ever be considered a positive thing?”
“It’s not,” he assured me. “Rather, it’s a positive thing because I believe the other Courts might have stomped out that notion. If the Night Court chose to declare a full war on the Drakes it would be a PR nightmare for the fae—the criminal Court attacking the noble vampire Family, that sort of thing. Killian would have a field day with the spins he could put on it, and the Courts know that.”
“I don’t think Queen Nyte is going to give up just because of the bad publicity,” I said.
“She wouldn’t,” Elite Bellus agreed. “But the other Courts are basically holding a sword to Queen Nyte and Consort Ira. My sources tell me they’ve delivered an ultimatum—challenge the Drakes to a certamen, or swear to stop attacking. The Winter Queen nearly killed Consort Ira when you and the others were attacked just outside Drake land. Truthfully I think the only reason the other fae didn’t kill him is because they’re not sure yet if they mean to let Queen Nyte live.”
I whistled lowly. “Wow. That is big. And based on your wording, I assume if Queen Nyte does challenge Killian to a certamen, the other Courts won’t help?”
I tugged on the sleeve of my crisp, Medeis-blue jacket. “I can’t say I’m thrilled with the idea of fighting in a certamen against the Night Court, but that will really limit the casualties, and it’s by far the best outcome we could hope for.”
Don’t misunderstand, certamen were still dangerous. (Magic duels are still duels, after all.) But certamen were more about short-term strategy, and were very, very final. If the Night Court lost, they’d have to leave us alone. For good.
“You think Queen Nyte will decide on a certamen?” Elite Bellus asked.
“Well, yeah.” I blinked as we turned up a different hallway. “She’s a fae. They can’t lie. If she swears she won’t attack the Drakes anymore, it means she’ll have to stick to her word. And Queen Nyte doesn’t strike me as the type to just give up.”
“Indeed.” Elite Bellus sighed. “It would be better for her Court if she did. But the Night Court was troubled long before she was crowned and killed her husband.”
I didn’t know what to say to this—I was in no position to talk politics. Even if House Medeis had recovered a lot of the respect we’d lost over the years, I was pretty set against the fae queen. So I settled for awkwardly nodding.
“I assume the Eminence knows all of this,” Elite Bellus abruptly said. “His spies are far better than mine, and most everyone owes him in one way or another. But would you please pass along my observations, and tell him what I’ve said?”
This reeked of politics. It went against my better judgment to get involved in this kind of thing—plus it sounded like more work. I had enough on my plate, I didn’t need extra. “That sounds like triangulation,” I said. “It’s against my policy to act as a go between and let both sides use me for their benefit.” I thought for a moment then added, “Unless I get something for my troubles.”
“You want House Medeis to rank higher?”
“No.” I scoffed at the Elite. “I want what I’ve always wanted. A law about House—”
“—inheritance,” Elite Bellus finished for me. “I should have seen that one coming. But I’m afraid that’s beyond my reach, though I will try to use my influence.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I swatted my hand at him. “I’m still not playing messenger-girl. If you want to play politics with Killian you should go do that yourself.”
“I’m not actually playing politics,” Elite Bellus said.
I sourly stared up at him.
“At least not the way you think I am,” he quickly amended.
We had reached one of the side entryways to the assembly hall. If we followed the hall as it turned, it would lead us around to the front. I could hear the wispy voices of a few vampires—their tones dry and brittle like old paper—but I couldn’t make out any words. Feeling reasonably safe, I stopped, tucked myself against the wall, and peered up at the Elite. “Then please, enlighten me.”
“This is an attempt to reach out to the Eminence,” he said. “And I am not afraid to admit I am using you. If you deliver the news he’ll be likely to recall my connection to you, and perhaps look more favorably upon what I intend to eventually offer.”
“Uh-huh. You’re not winning any points right now…”
“But I want him to look favorably upon me not for the sake of my political career, but for the relationship wizards have with vampires.” The Elite cocked his head as he studied me. “I saw a recording of you fighting the fae at the Cloisters—the way you shielded the vampires and then struck at the fae was genius. But I am more interested in the verbal statements that were submitted about your encounter with the fae just outside Drake lands.”
I relaxed a little—I’d half feared he was just buttering me up because he heard Killian and I were once again…whatever. It seemed that wasn’t the case. But I didn’t know exactly where this was headed, so I kept my eyes narrowed.
“I heard how you worked well with the vampires—covering them and flushing out your opponents, whom they were then able to capture.” The Elite smoothed his goatee some more. “It—and the talk we heard that promoted supernatural intermingling—got me thinking. Perhaps we’ve been coming at this from the wrong angle.”
“You mean survival?”
“Yes,” the Elite said. “What if helping each other is the best option, rather than fortifying our own individual races?”
I shifted, weirdly feeling challenged by the idea. “I guess it’s obvious that our current efforts aren’t really yielding anything—magic is dying off faster than ever.”
“Exactly,” the Elite said. “I wonder if it’s because we lost something in our separation. If you hadn’t been trained by the Drakes, you never would have bended your magic in such unique ways.”
“That isn’t wholly right,” I confessed—I didn’t want to mislead my leader. “Technically, I learned the shield you so admired and my other techniques from a book the Paragon lent me.”
“That even furthers my point,” Elite Bellus said. “You learned about magic from the fae because you were staying at Drake Hall, being taught methods of physical defense by vampires. You are a product of intermingling supernaturals—or at least your magic is. House Medeis has returned to its proper bloodline because they gave you the necessary teaching so you could take your House back.”