Killian waited a few moments. “I want the fae to feel our displeasure. The other Midwest Courts have let the Night Court run amok for too long. But we must express our anger in a controlled effort. If we push too hard they’ll feel backed into a corner and lash out. We want them angry with the Night Court, not half-convinced we are heading to war.”
Some heads nodded, and a few smug looks conveyed Killian was getting across to his listeners.
“Do not avoid fae businesses or places commonly occupied by them. Rather, go there and discuss your disappointment with the attack and what it may mean. If you have any fae Court allies, invite them to a meeting where you happen to mention how shamed the fae must be by the Night Court’s criminal and brash actions. Subtly needle them. Make them feel uncomfortable.”
His words stirred the vampires. They exchanged thoughtful glances with one another, and a few even leaned in to whisper to one another, nodding with excitement as they started hatching their plans.
Killian waited for a few moments, tilting his head at the soft hush of whispers. “When you go out, keep watch and listen. Learn as much as you can, not just about the actions of the Night Court, but the fae in general. If there is a fight I want you there. A disagreement in public? I expect a report on it. I want eyes and ears on the fae, watching their every move.
“Because there is great value in information, we will hold a meeting again,” Killian continued. “But I intend for it to be more informal—a party, of sorts.”
Weirdly, it seemed the promise of a party satisfied the few vampires that had been holding out. Some of them straightened with interest, and soon all the red eyes in the room gleamed with interest more than bloodlust.
“Details concerning the matter will be emailed to you,” Killian said in a very final tone. He leaned back, and whatever hold he had over them released.
Family representatives clumped together, exchanging hushed observations. An energy in the room that had been absent when they first arrived pulsed through the air.
I wanted to shake my head, but I was pretty sure that wouldn’t look great since I was sitting next to Killian, so I sipped my tea and ate another chocolate. I couldn’t believe how he was manipulating the vampires—and they had to know it!
Once the buzz of discussion grew loud enough, I leaned closer to Killian and whispered, “That was impressive. You practically have them eating out of your hand with the promise of a single party, and by inviting them into social warfare.”
“They aren’t that loyal to me, really.” Killian shrugged. “But they respect power, and the majority of them—excluding the Elders who have their heads in the clouds—are aware I’ve solidified our grasp of power, and kept back the steady erasure of our kind. Many of them personally hate me, but they’ll still help out of a sense of duty and sheer understanding.”
“But you’re using this as a way to energize them and fortify their connections with one another,” I said.
Killian settled his forearms on the arm rests of his chair. “Vampires are a conniving bunch. If I leave them to their own devices they’ll either get themselves killed, or start killing off one another. It’s better to give them an objective they can mutually work toward, that won’t turn into a double-edged sword. It would be a disaster if the fae and vampires all went to war, and in the upset I’m certain at least two Elders would attempt to kill me for my position.”
I rubbed my eyes. “I’m really starting to understand why you have trust issues.”
“Does that mean you’ll expect less from me?”
“No. It just means I understand how you got to be this way.” I shot him a glare.
He offered me a smirk. “How very sweet of you.” He reached out and snagged my hand, raising it to his lips to kiss it—though I was pretty sure it was all just a cover to smell my blood.
“Are you sure it’s really wise to act like this in front of all these Families?” I asked.
Killian shrugged. “I don’t care what they think of my private life,” he bluntly said. “And they all know better than to voice whatever objections they might have.”
My cheeks heated when he kissed the inside of my wrist—because of course he would.
I awkwardly cleared my throat, but I didn’t yank my hand away from Killian even though I weirdly itched to. “Do you think the Night Court will really challenge you to a certamen?”
I felt Killian’s lips morph into a smile as they were still pressed against my wrist. “Oh yes,” he purred. “I’m counting on it.”
I felt a breeze at my back.
I strengthened my shield and morphed the field of blue flames that surrounded me into hissing bolts of lightning, making them as big as I dared in hopes that I’d fry my attacker’s guts.
An infuriating chuckle, and something slammed into my stomach.
I wheezed and folded over the wooden staff that was still pressed into my gut—of course he’d thought to use wood instead of metal!
I fumbled, but grabbed the pole and incinerated it with flames so hot they turned it into ash.
“Temper, temper,” Killian taunted.
I created a veritable ice rink around his feet, then shoved some magic into the ground, making the flooring pop and creak.
It was supposed to make him slide into the ice and fall. Instead he jumped, becoming a blur and disappearing.
“Not again.” I dropped my lightning field and swapped it out for thick sheets of ice that were so cold they groaned.
“Tsk, tsk. You still have so many openings.”
I followed Killian’s voice up to the ceiling, where he casually dangled off a hanging light.
He was in that predator mode again—the one that made my instincts scream and gave me goosebumps.
I felt my hair rise on the back of my neck as he laughed, his fangs flashing.
He let go, dropping down on me.
I released a jet of boiling water off over my head and scuttled to the side, but he was already there.
I locked my legs and tried to turn, but I slammed into his chest.
Before I knew it, he had me on my back, his thumb pressed down on my throat. Just a little bit of pressure in the right place, and he could kill me.
His grin was wild and a touch savage, and his eyes were bright red as he leaned over me. “Too slow.”
He froze and was off me about two seconds later.
He stood on the other side of the mats, rolling his shoulders as he watched me, all signs of his wildness gone. Instead his black eyebrows were furrowed slightly, and his eyes were once again almost a ruby obsidian shade in their darkness.
I stayed where I was.
Not because I was scared, but because I was so mad!
Since we’d made up, I had been coming here three times a week, and I still wasn’t seeing any improvement!
My stamina wasn’t a problem—I never had the chance to be pushed into magical exhaustion because he could beat me so quickly. And it didn’t seem like sword techniques or refined martial arts skills were really going to help me either because it was my goal to keep him away from me.
It’s strategy. He’s seen everything, so he’s prepared for every bit of magic I throw at him.
I wanted to pound my fists on the mats, but that seemed pretty childish. So I made myself take what Great Aunt Marraine liked to call—and preach endlessly about—calming breaths.
I don’t think there’s a strategy I’ll be able to find in a book that can defeat him—he’s so old he’s most likely seen it. It’s not just that he’s good at strategy, but that he’s had a lot of experience. How could I use that to my advantage? What could I do that could throw him off balance because of all that experience?
“If I frightened you that much, I can ask Celestina to finish practice with you.” Killian’s tone was flat and expressionless, as was his face when I peeled my back off the ground to peer up at him.
“Huh?” I said.
“If facing me in a match scares you that much, you can have a different partner for the remainder of the day.” His words were a veneer of politeness I hadn’t heard from him in ages.
“It’s fine.” I scrambled to my feet and brushed off my workout pants. “I was just…thinking.”
“Hm.” Killian eyed me, then paused and turned in the direction of the door with a curious expression.
As usual for our training sessions, the gym was empty, but someone must be on their way if Killian’s reaction was anything to go by.
“Is someone out in the hallway?” I asked.
He blinked. “Yes.”
Celestina burst through the door, slammed it shut behind her, and leaned on it. “Your Eminence, Adept Medeis,” she wheezed. She tried for a smile, but the door buckled, nearly bowling her over. “There is an unexpected…guest who is demanding to see you both.”
I frowned and took a few cautious steps closer to Killian. “A guest?”
“Indeed!” Although Celestina kept her tone pleasant, it was obvious she—the Drake Family First Knight—was struggling desperately to keep the door shut as someone pounded on the other side.
“Let him in,” Killian said. “And then you may go.”
“Him?” I echoed.
“Yes, Your Eminence.” Celestina stepped back from the door, which blew open with such force I think it might have made a dent in the wall.
In stormed the Paragon, his white mustache drooping past his chin, his long, silvery hair wild and disheveled, and his robes—an impressive silk brocade with embroidered feathers that I swear moved across the fabric—were wrinkled.
He drew himself up, sticking his craggy nose high in the air like a pouting kid. “You two are so mean!”
I blinked, internally replaying the Paragon’s words because they were so random and weird that I had to be mistaken.
Nope. I didn’t think I was.
I furrowed my brow and looked up at Killian, who had a similar expression and was looking down at me.