“Yes. It seems most Families sent between two to four reps each. Eleven Families only sent representatives. For everyone else, the Family Elder is in attendance.”
“Those are pretty good numbers, right?” I asked. “Considering you said it can sometimes be hard to get the Elders to start moving.”
“You make them sound like large boulders that merely need enough momentum to build up speed.” His left eyebrow twitched in irritation. “If only that were so.”
Killian had previously explained to me that one of the biggest dangers for a vampire Elder—the upper crust of an already dangerously superior species—was the tendency to grow apathetic in their old age. He said he thought it was caused by the weariness of life—of seeing kingdoms rise and fall, and history repeat itself again and again while they were forced to lose everyone they loved—but it usually amounted to the Elder never leaving their home, or possibly even falling asleep and never waking.
This dangerously left the younger vampires without proper leadership, and meant that those making the decisions weren’t always vested or thinking clearly.
“More Elders attended today because even in their feeble stupidity, they dare not miss this meeting as there is a possibility it will become a war council,” Killian said.
“What?” I nearly rocketed out of my over-sized chair. “What happened to leaving them out of it and a war being the worst-case scenario?”
“I never said I planned for it to become a war council,” Killian said. “Obviously, I’ll be aiming to redirect them, and that was why I spoke with my kitchen staff and learned of your blood-pack rearranging habits.”
“Are you thinking of throwing a party or something?”
“Given the seriousness of the topic, there will need to be a follow up meeting. However, I can communicate that I am unworried about a war and keep their nerves down if I pose the meeting as more of an informal dinner party at Drake Hall.”
I thought for a moment or two. “I think I understand. When Solene-the-murderous-Unclaimed-vampire was on the loose you kept things formal and tight by having meetings here at the Cloisters. Now you want to convey the opposite, hence the party at Drake Hall.”
Appeased, I leaned back and took a sip of the warm drink—some kind of green tea with a faint blueberry flavor.
The assembly hall doors swung shut, and Celestina took up her position in front of the dais, then bowed to Killian.
He gave her a nod and leaned back in his chair, looking almost royal as a small smirk twitched on his lips.
Celestina squared her shoulders and faced the gathered vampires. “I, Celestina Drake, First Knight of the Drake Family, call this meeting of local Families into session, under the judgment of His Eminence Killian Drake.”
“So it will be,” the vampire attendees chorused together.
“As it was stated on the invitation,” Celestina continued, “we are here to discuss the actions of the Night Court after they attacked His Eminence here in the neutral territory of the Curia Cloisters, on the night of…”
I inclined my head slightly in Killian’s direction and hid my mouth behind my mug. “Why is Celestina doing all the talking? Don’t you have to run this thing?”
“Why should I when I have a charismatic First Knight who can do the work for me?” Unlike me, Killian didn’t try to hide that we were talking. His voice was hushed, but he openly swiveled his head to look at me and ignored Celestina’s review of the attack.
I set my mug down—there was no sense hiding if he wasn’t going to. “It has to be literally part of your job description.”
“The best part about being Eminence is that no one can actually tell me what my job description is,” Killian said. “That’s the point of doing all the work to climb to this position.”
I scoffed. “You did not do all of the work of getting this spot because you were sick of people telling you what to do.”
“No, but it is an added bonus.” Killian’s smirk turned mischievous before his expression cleared all together. “I have Celestina run the meetings because it’s the easiest way to gauge their reaction. When I don’t speak and remind them I am present, they’re more likely to run their mouths and say what they’re really thinking. I want that because if they’re really that stupid they may say something I can use against them, and at the very least it lets me see what they really think rather than only seeing them react in fear of me. For a leader, listening is far more important than shows of power.”
I frowned so deeply I could feel my forehead wrinkle. “You did that the night I burst in on the vampire meeting.”
“I did,” Killian confirmed.
“I didn’t even notice you were there. I nearly died when you spoke.”
“It is a very effective tool.”
I grudgingly nodded, and returned my attention to Celestina’s run-down.
The vampires listened patiently to her recount of the Curia Cloisters attack, but I could see signs of anger swirl by the time she moved on to describing the fight at Leila’s place.
Some of the younger-looking vampires—and by ‘younger-looking’ I mean they wore clothes that appeared to come from historical periods after 1910 given that all vampires had that waxy ageless look to them—fidgeted and started to get squirrelly, while the more middle aged vampires—those dressed in clothes from early AD centuries—pursed their lips and began to mutter to one another.
I studied the vampires that I thought were Elders—the male vampire in a toga was obviously one, as was the vampire dressed in black and white robes that looked Chinese to my uncultured eye, and a vampire that resembled a Viking. They were more guarded in their reactions, but they couldn’t stop the red of their eyes from glowing in anger.
Regardless how he got his position, it was clear Killian was respected enough that the vampires were deeply offended by the attack.
“The instances have been recounted.” Celestina wove her long fingers together and folded them in front of her. “What, then, do you have to say?”
There was silence for about two moments before a female vampire wearing a ruffled blue dress that made her look like a model from the 50s leaped to her feet. “We ought to attack them!” She shouted. “How dare they accost our Eminence in neutral territory! Let us storm their castle in the fae realm and slaughter them all!”
“You said it, kid!” A vampire with a thick black mustache and equally thick eyebrows leaped to his feet, his polka dot tie askew. “We oughtta smack some sense into those no-good fae—give ’em a good pop!”
Killian watched for a moment more, then leaned in close to me. “It is worth noting,” he whispered, his breath tickling my ear, “that the Elders for these outspoken, young vampires are absent.”
“You mean they wouldn’t say this if their Family Elder was around to rein them in?” I asked.
Killian nodded slightly, then returned to lounging in his chair.
A woman in a Japanese kimono snapped a fan shut. “What has been the reaction from the other fae Courts?”
“They are unhappy,” Celestina reported. “There are political ramifications for breaking Cloister law, of course. It is believed that they are putting pressure on the Night Court, but we cannot say to what extent.”
“A war, then,” a vampire shouted. “Against all the fae in the Midwest!”
As Killian had predicted, it looked like the most excited vampires were all younger. Only about ten or fifteen percent of the vampires present seemed eager to fight. The rest sat back with narrowed expressions.
Killian let it carry on for a few minutes before he spoke. “There will be no war between fae and vampires.”
Instant silence—it was almost like magic.
Killian slowly dragged his gaze across the room, his dark eyes slicing through the attendees with the finesse of a sword.
The only noise I could hear was my own breathing. Everyone was absolutely still.
“If we declare open war on all fae Courts it will lead to an unnecessary, large-scale conflict that will only waste resources and lives.” His voice was pitched extra low, but I’m pretty sure even the vampires tucked in the farthest corners of the room could hear him as if he stood next to them. “It is possible the Night Court may elect for a certamen or a duel of one degree or another,” he continued. “But any physical conflict will be contained—only involving the Night Court, the Drake Family…and House Medeis.”
Whispers rolled through the room, and more than one jaw dropped.
“Wizards, Y-your Eminence?” the vampire in the toga said in a strangled voice. “You’re trusting wizards to join the fight?
“Of course,” Killian said. “Adept Medeis protected my First and Second Knight in the Cloisters. She and her kinsmen sheltered my underlings when they had no way to defend themselves. I am gratified by their help, and I know they will be key players in the coming conflict.”
“What about us?” a vampire somewhere in the back demanded. “The Stewarts have served you loyally, yet you will not allow us to join the fight?”
“The Beckets have served even longer than the Stewarts!”
“As have the Romeros!”
Killian barely narrowed his eyes, but I felt waves of power explode from him. His eyes heated like coals, and all the vampires were slammed back against their chairs, seemingly by his raw presence. “Enough.”
Again, there was silence.
Killian held them there, his immense powers hovering over us. I’d never met a fully transformed dragon shifter, but I had a feeling this was what it felt like—the impression of teeth and an icy death that pressed down on you from above.
He finally spoke. “I said no other Families would be involved in the war. I did not say I had no use for you.”
Collectively, the vampires leaned forward.