“What, are you going to insult wizards some more?” I attempted to joke.
“No,” the Paragon said. “If only the situation was so straightforward and innocent that hurt feelings were all we had to worry about.” He sighed and knit his fingers together.
Aphrodite hopped out of her bed and sauntered over to us, pushing her bald head into the Paragon’s robes and purring.
“Regarding the Night Court,” the Paragon began.
“Don’t tell us anything that will have political repercussions,” Killian slid in before the Paragon could continue.
The Paragon scooped his cat up and held her like a baby, patting her bare rump. “What we are about to discuss cannot leave the room. Not because others might retaliate, but because it’s dangerous knowledge, and if word gets out of what I do know, I’ll likely lose the trail I’ve been following for years.”
“What is it?” I asked.
The Paragon squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t believe the Night Court is acting entirely alone.”
“What?” Killian asked.
The Paragon winced. “Or perhaps, it would be better to say I suspect the Night Court has backers—and they are not fae.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Supernaturals don’t work together, typically. If anyone is supporting the Night Court they must be fae.”
“Not necessarily.” The Paragon leaned back in his chair and set Aphrodite down on his belly. “The Night Court has been bankrupt for years. They haven’t had a decent ruler in decades. Even before you revealed Queen Nyte had killed her husband, the Courts of this area were not overly fond of the Night Court, although they used to be considered one of the most powerful in the region. They had shaky alliances at best, and those relationships have only deteriorated since Queen Nyte and Consort Ira have proven to be idiots in their dogmatic pursuit of revenge against you.”
“No one likes them,” I interpreted.
“Precisely.” The Paragon rubbed Aphrodite on the top of her head. “And yet somehow they have come to possess countless elven magical items—artifacts considered priceless and precious. Artifacts that they have no way of being able to afford—indeed, there are only a handful of Courts and nobles who could afford such things, and somehow the Night Court came to possess them? Unlikely.”
Worriedly, I glanced at Killian. “Could it be another vampire Family who wants to destroy you?”
Killian shook his head. “No. It doesn’t follow the correct pattern. No vampire would buy elven artifacts—they are too dangerous for my kind, and we have no natural defense for them, unlike you wizards. It’s possible a Family could be giving them funds, and the elven items are merely how the Night Court chooses to act, but even that is extremely unlikely. The conflict has gone on too long, and before the Cloister attack the Night fae were a threat, but not a large enough one to actually be serious. If a vampire wanted me out, he’d be better off finding one of the few remaining vampire slayers, or hiring a werewolf and wizard team. Fae are too treacherous and naturally too dangerous to a vampire. Wizards technically are a bigger threat, but only if they train as Hazel has, which as we all know simply doesn’t happen. As such, fae are the natural enemy to a vampire.”
“Solene worked for the Night Court,” I pointed out.
“She was one Unclaimed vampire who was frightened and angry—which makes anyone easy to manipulate,” Killian said. “A vampire with the means and desire to kill me would not be so easy to manipulate.”
I winced at the casual way he mentioned his own death.
“I don’t believe a vampire is behind this either,” the Paragon said.
“Who could it be, then?” I asked.
The Paragon stared at his cat. “I don’t believe the important aspect of this question is who, but rather why.” He raised his eyes. “I don’t believe Killian was targeted, or that this backer has a real desire to get rid of him. I think the true target was the Night Court.”
“Wait.” I held up my hand to stop him. “I don’t think I’m following you. You think the people who backed the Night Court are actually after the Night Court?”
The Paragon fussed with his robe, pulling it partially over Aphrodite. “I cannot say their motive for certain. But I’ve been tracking them for some time during my search for…something. But they have a pattern.” His hands twitched. “They prey upon the weak and those who are in danger. Vampire, fae, wizard, shifter, it doesn’t matter what type of supernatural it is. They target the most desperate Courts, the lowest Families, the weakest Packs…which is why I believe this also involved Hazel.”
Every nerve in my body felt like it was on fire, but I made myself stay sitting as I listened to the Paragon. There was only one possible way that could hook me into all of this, and it made me grimace just to think of it. “You think they backed Mason.”
“Possibly. Have you had a chance to look over the statements and testimonies taken from the Telliers and Rothchilds?”
“Yes,” I said. “They all said Mason approached them about the leadership of House Medeis. He offered them funds and promised a stronger alliance if they helped him.” I hesitated. “I have no idea where he got the money. Great Aunt Marraine and I tried to follow a paper trail. In the end we assumed it was an inheritance from his parents—they died several years ago.”
“My theory is that these mysterious backers are attempting to pick off the weak, or use them to implode local politics,” the Paragon said. “Inciting a rebellion in a wizard House would match their general pattern as it could only bring destruction and ruin to the House once you were gone given the House’s close ties to its family line.”
The Paragon absently petted his cat. “Once Mason failed his backers, I suspect they doubled down on their investment in the Night Court. But since Queen Nyte attacked you in the Cloisters, I suspect the backers have packed up. The attack was too flashy and unavoidable. It’s no longer possible for the Night Court to implode from the inside since Killian will likely have the legal right to clean house so to speak. So the backers have moved on. Given that they don’t seem to be widespread—they pick up and move back and forth between single locations instead of spreading out like a large organization—I think they can’t afford to be involved in a fight with multiple front lines. Hazel joining you, and the wizards and werewolves politically backing you, put a strain on them. I suspect.”
“Who are they that they have the funds to cause all of this chaos?” Killian asked. “And how have I not heard of them before?”
The Paragon shrugged. “We haven’t been able to pinpoint the activity to any particular person or even a specific supernatural race. The Dominant, the Ancient, the Magister, and myself are keeping an eye on the situation,” he said, referring to the top werewolf, vampire, and wizard officials in America. “But thus far we don’t have much to go off—just whispers and traces of rumors. We’re trying to find supernaturals who could help us, but frankly it’s not a top priority.” He rubbed his chin, grumbling when he tangled his fingers in his long, drooping mustache. “We’re far more concerned with the inevitable death of magic than these backers. They are a grease fire compared to the raging wildfire that awaits us if magic collapses entirely.”
Killian drummed his fingers on the table. “So they are gone. What do you expect us to do, then?”
“Nothing. I’m not telling you because I wanted action, but because it seemed worthwhile to warn you.” The Paragon hesitated and hugged Aphrodite close. “And because…Hazel…there is a possibility your parents’ deaths were not an accident.”
My heart sputtered. “What do you mean?” I asked in a shaky voice. “They died in a car crash.”
“And within three weeks you had a coup on your hands?” The Paragon shook his head. “Mason was too well prepared for it to be a coincidence.”
My spit tasted metallic and bitter. “You think they were murdered…to kick off Mason’s coup?”
“It is a possibility.” The Paragon cowered a little, then hesitantly offered me his hairless cat.
I wanted to burst into sobs and scream—I’d thought it wasn’t fair my parents were taken from me when I was so young, but even just thinking that it might not have been an accident after all made their deaths that much crueler and more terrible.
“Mmert,” Aphrodite said.
I reached out and took her with shaking hands.
I wasn’t expecting to really feel comforted by her—even if she was a sweet cat, the hairless thing kinda freaked me out to be honest.
But Aphrodite climbed up my lap, planted her front paws on my chest, and leaned in, settling just over my heart. She purred, flooding me with warmth and assurance.
A moment later, Killian slid a hand across my shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he murmured in my ear.
It was hard to swallow, but I made myself do it. Aphrodite’s warmth gave me the courage to look up at the Paragon and meet his sad eyes. “Are you sure you don’t want us to help, at all?”
“I simply wanted you to be aware. I’ll tell the Elite and the Pre-Dominant eventually. But I believe the two of you deserve to know.” He hesitated. “But if you really wished to bar the way for whoever this shadowy enemy is so they are not tempted to return to Magiford…”
“Obviously we do.” Killian’s usual smokey smooth voice was rushed, and his barely noticeable British accent was just a little stronger.
The Paragon took in a deep gulp of air. “Then I’d try to foster a working relationship with the other supernaturals—at least, as much as possible.”
Killian stared at him. “You’re joking.”
“Not at all.”
“Then the Elite, or some other bleeding-heart leader put you up to this,” Killian said.