Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 47
Vincent, Belizar’s servant, was waiting at the entranceway. The male was medium height, but compact muscle, his gray eyes steady. His brown hair was trimmed close, emphasizing the strong lines of his face. He’d revealed nothing as they approached, but Jacob knew Belizar wouldn’t have a servant who was any less of a cagey bastard than the Council head himself. “Council is in session,” Vincent said. “However, you will be summoned from your room when they are ready to address your issue.”
His tone was flat, obviously instructed in not only the message but the tenor they wanted to set for this visit. Jacob was reminded of Cayden deliberately withholding his assistance from Lyssa to mount a horse. Our welcomes have definitely been lacking in manners of late, my lady.
We shall fix that. “How long have you known me, Vincent?” Her voice was a soft purr.
“Quite some time, my lady.” Vincent had the intelligence to execute a deferential half bow, lowering his gaze, though Jacob saw the shrewd servant note how they were armed. He was certain a quick little mental text about that had gone ASAP to Belizar. When he registered Jacob was carrying steel arrows in the wrist gauntlets, he flicked his gaze up to Jacob’s face. Jacob met the subtly startled look with cool blue eyes. Vincent turned his full focus back to Lady Lyssa, attending her reply.
“Then you know it would be best if you advise your Master that we are on our way.”
“But—” Vincent shifted, as if he intended to courteously block her way. In that blink, he found himself staring down the line of one of those arrows as Jacob leveled the wrist gauntlet at his chest.
“Move out of my lady’s way, Vincent.” Glancing at Daegan, the vampire’s dark, unfathomable gaze unchanging at Jacob’s threat, Vincent swallowed. “Yes, my lady,” he said, stepping aside with another bow.
“You are a good servant, Vincent. Thank you.” She proceeded past him and into the front foyer, turning without hesitation toward a wide hal way.
Several second-marked human staff came to the doorway of their offices as they passed, retreating just as quickly when Jacob, Gideon and Daegan turned their targeted attention upon them, obviously assessing each for their threat level.
When they reached the large double doors of the Council chambers, they were closed. Jacob moved in front of his lady. At her nod, he turned the latch and pushed the doors open. Before she could step past him, he put himself in front of her. The Council members were seated and staring from behind their half crescent table. Their servants were standing and assembled in a similar shape across the room, none poised with a crossbow. It only took a second to establish the security of the room, and in that second, he’d stepped aside, bowing and gesturing her forward in an attitude of deference and respect that couldn’t be faulted. Except by her.
Very presumptuous, Sir Vagabond. If it weren’t for the fact I might have ruined this manicure, I would have knocked you out of my way and stomped you with my heels.
You don’t push me around when it comes to your safety, my lady. You never will. And from a practical standpoint, I can heal from most things with your blood. If you die, we’re both screwed.
She didn’t react to his words outwardly, but the current of dangerous warmth was both approval and promise of a Mistress’s retribution for the impertinence. He’d be happy to take anything she wanted to dish out after this was over. Now, all his concentration was on this. Warriors of like mind, he could tell Daegan and Gideon were focused on every move and reaction. Per the agreed plan, Daegan took the vampires and Gideon and Jacob divided the servants and entry points into two quadrants for surveillance.
Lord Belizar was in the center position as head of the Council, Lord Uthe to his right. Barbra, the only made vampire on the Council, was at the far end of the table. Mason, as the newest member of Council, held the other end. At the sight of them, a flicker went through the amber eyes, and something remarkably like a smile played around his serious mouth, but then it was gone and he appeared as dispassionate as Lyssa could be in her most guarded moments.
The other five members of the Council filled in the chairs leading up to Belizar’s head position. Council sessions often didn’t involve their servants, but they might be here for courier purposes, to step and fetch during the meeting.
Or, it could be a reinforcement of older, more restrictive ways, when servants had been required to stand and attend interminably long Council sessions to prove that suffering tedium was an expected part of their role. The servants’ positioning was opposite to their respective vampire, so Jessica was diagonally across the room from Mason. Like everyone else, she’d looked toward the door upon their entry, though otherwise she was still and attentive. She looked lovely and well put together, wearing soft slacks that clung to her hips and a thin blouse that accentuated the high curves of her breasts. Her chestnut hair was clipped back on her shoulders, curls soft around her face.
Only the paleness of her face hinted that her first visit to Council might be overloading her nerves, though Jacob expected a lot more was happening below the surface. She was probably a wreck, but determined not to show it. That assessment also took no more than a blink, and then he was back to his post, keeping a full eye on the other servants, a partial eye on the reaction of the Council.
Whatever admonition Belizar might have been about to make, about waiting until Lyssa was summoned, was bitten back. Jacob knew he was far from clueless, and probably realized in a blink that things weren’t going to go as they’d mapped them out. However, when he saw Daegan at her side, along with Gideon and Anwyn, a different sort of tension entered the Council chambers. Carefully, Belizar tented his fingers on the table before him.
“What is this?” he asked.
“I am answering your missive, my lord.” Lyssa locked gazes with him. “But I am not here as a cowering lackey hoping for your mercy, waiting for judgment. I am here as the Queen of the Far East Clan, the last royal line, the oldest vampire among our kind.”
“From what we have learned, Lady Lyssa, you may still have vampire blood, but all your power is Fae magic. You have no authority here. However, as we indicated in our letter, your son would still be considered vampire offspring. At least, we assume he is. He will need to be tested.”
He stepped to her side. Placing an elegant hand on his shoulder, she removed one shoe, then the other, and handed them both to him. “Hold these for me.”
Belizar’s brow creased. “My lady, this is—” The Council chamber erupted. Lyssa was no longer next to Jacob. In a movement too fast to follow, she’d cleared the table, seized Belizar by the front of his suit and slammed him up against the stone wall behind his chair. The impact was so hard the stone cracked like a gunshot. The head of the Council snarled. Lyssa dropped him with an answering show of fang and a deft leap that put her on top of the table, in front of his chair, her feet on the stack of papers there. Her jade eyes had gone completely crimson.
“If there’s a question about my vampire powers, I will prove them here and now.”
With the exception of Mason, the Council members had evacuated their chairs, experienced enough fighters to know that being hemmed in by that monolithic table wasn’t a good strategic position. Gideon, Jacob and Daegan shifted, closing in tighter on Anwyn and Kane, turning outward to provide coverage on all sides.
Though Jacob thought the servants should be celebrating the fact the tedium had been disrupted, he kept both wrist gauntlets leveled in their direction, bringing the few who’d started forward to an abrupt halt. Gideon matched his stance with his own weaponry.
Jessica slipped around the wall created by Gideon, Jacob and Daegan to go to Mason’s side, obviously at his mental direction. She stood at his chair, a hand on the ornately carved headrest.
Light as a cat, Lyssa pivoted and landed in the open area before the table again. She spread out her hands, an invitation. “You send me a passive-aggressive missive, suggesting I will have no choice but to turn my son over the tender care of t
Her expression changed, eyes becoming hard ruby glass. “I am not here to be judged. This structure is my creation, and since I brought it into the world, I have the right to remove it. I did not fight the Territory Wars and go through utter hell to establish this Council, only to see it destroy itself from within.” Belizar had straightened, his eyes narrowed upon her, rage simmering off him, but he’d not yet made his move. It was too early for Jacob to take that as a good sign.
“We are a species like no other,” she continued, sweeping her gaze over the Council members. “We cannot be democratic in nature. We are too brutal, too driven by our predator natures for that. However, the vision I had for this Council was one of fairness, one where prejudices and old fears and hatreds would not stagnate it. I thought things might change in light of what has occurred in the past few years, that you would realize our direction must be adjusted, but I was wrong. If I have to take hold of the helm once again to make sure the vision I had—and continue to have—for this Council, happens, I will do so. If, in order to do that, I must prove I’m still capable of staking every one of you where you stand, with my vampire powers alone, I’m happy to do that.”
“With your vampire powers alone?” Belizar took a step forward, crimson shimmering through his gaze as well. He scoffed. “You are too tainted by the Fae sludge in your veins.”
“And you are blinded by your prejudices, stumbling into walls such that you can’t move forward.” She shifted her glance to Uthe. “Lord Uthe, you have ever been a fair force on this Council. Would you say that, if I defeat Lord Belizar, strength to strength, with no evidence of Fae magic, that I will adequately prove my point? Or do I need to kill every vampire in this room?”
Uthe met Belizar’s gaze. Lyssa noted the Russian vampire’s eyes had gone full flame. He’d been council head for a while, his Cossack background making him a powerful and—up until now—justifiable figurehead. Uthe provided the balance of brains needed for leadership, when Belizar would listen to him, which had regrettably become less and less.
The rage swelling up in Belizar was beyond polite, icy missives, and she was fiercely glad to see it.
She’d fully intended to take this moment back to their bloody roots, brute strength against brute strength, and apparently she was going to succeed, at least in that.
Letting out another snarl, Belizar stripped out of his coat, providing Uthe’s answer. Rolling up his shirt sleeves, he yanked off his tie, an appropriate move since she would choke him with it. Though vampires didn’t need to breathe, extreme pressure on the windpipe was uncomfortable and distracting. He cocked a brow at her outfit. “That might be a little constricting, Lady Lyssa.”
“I appreciate your concern, my lord, but it’s become a world of amazing new fabrics. They stretch and cling at once. Do you want to fight or discuss personal fashion choice?”
He sneered. “I see you’ve co-opted our assassin for your own use.”
“Daegan is a free agent,” she retorted. “He chooses his own alliances. I’d say he chose well this time. But he will not interfere in this. This is might-is-right combat terms, what our kind respects above all others. I think there’s room for more enlightened thinking than that, but unfortunately the Council’s recent decisions seem to have forgotten that.
However, you are welcome to prove me wrong, and save yourself a beating. Simply admit defeat now and step down.”
Belizar had fought at her side in the Territory Wars, with great capability. They had a history. But he represented the pure traditionalist of the Old World vampires, and he’d not hesitated to want her dead when he found out about her Fae form. His narrow-mindedness and overbearing personality had overwhelmed many of the lesser
Council members, keeping the Council on its current path. In watching Rhoswen deal with the consequences of restrictions that had more to do with fear and control than true leadership, Lyssa had become even more convinced such an approach would fail.
As Belizar considered her, perhaps thinking of their shared history as well, she drew herself up, hardly five feet tall without her shoes. Cocking a hip, she tilted her head. “Come, Belizar. Not afraid of being beaten by a girl, are you?”
He gave her a show of fang, a flash of the dark red eyes. Reaching under his shirt, he yanked out two wooden stakes. A warrior like the men behind her, she wasn’t surprised he was armed. Mason rose with a scrape of his chair, and Jacob started forward, but Lyssa’s sharp voice was a queen’s command that reverberated through the room.
“This fight is between the two of us. If he overpowers me, he deserves the kill . That’s the whole point, isn’t it?” She cocked her head, eyes gleaming. “As it was from the beginning. You'll regret pulling those toys, my lord. You may find yourself on the wrong end of them.”
Belizar leaped. With third-mark senses, Jacob could keep up with most of their maneuvers, but some were even too fast for him to follow. At least his lady’s speed, while not the fastest he’d ever seen it, was enough to keep up with Belizar. The Council scattered further as they hit the crescent-shaped table, so hard it shattered down the middle, a startling symbolism. Mason joined Daegan in corralling their ranks as Jessica moved back into the knot of servants, the safest place for her now.
Jacob bit back an oath as he saw it was Lyssa who’d broken the table, when Belizar hurled her into the stone. She rolled back, made it to her feet. When he charged upon her, she cut under his guard and hit him hard in the solar plexus, seizing his arm to bend it back. It would have broken with a defining snap if he hadn’t twisted free with remarkable agility, turning around to plunge his fist squarely in her face.
He realized he was struggling, Gideon holding him back. Anwyn’s hand was on his shoulder as well, gripping hard, even as she held Kane on her hip. His son’s uncertain cry jerked his attention back. “Gotta be her fight,” his brother hissed. “Can’t watch all corners by myself. Get your shit together, bro.” Jacob shook himself free, tried to do just that as Anwyn pressed Kane’s head to her neck to hide his eyes, trying to calm him. He was having none of it.
His cries were stuttering to a higher level. In a moment it would be full fledged, ear splitting wails.
Lyssa and Belizar’s fight took them across the room, Belizar driving her back toward the knot of servants. As the Russian turned, he flung her toward that still group, as if he intended to knock them down with her body like bowling pins.
Too late, Jacob registered Vincent’s tense, waiting posture. Saw the gleam of the polished stake in his fist. As Lyssa stumbled, pivoting away from Belizar, Vincent lunged forward. As one, Jacob and Gideon discharged arrows for the impossible shot.
Lyssa fell back into Vincent, and he dropped behind her, providing a cushion as she rolled away unharmed. One of the arrows had pierced Vincent’s shoulder. However, that wasn’t what had him flailing now. A steel shaft punched through his chest from the back. Jessica had not hit the heart, but she’d hit the spine, immobilizing him. She’d fallen with him so she was on the ground, holding the shaft in place and him against her in a way that looked almost compassionate. Jacob even heard her murmur, “Uh-uh. Nice try. Just sit there for a bit.” Jacob snapped his gaze back to the combatants.
They were circling in the center of the room again.
His lady’s mouth was bleeding, as was her temple, and it looked like Belizar had broken a couple of her ribs. She was limping. Belizar was almost unmarked, but he was holding one arm gingerly, because she’d succeeded in snapping it. His eyes shone with the light of victory. “You may beg my mercy now, Lady Lyssa,” he said. “I will be more than willing to grant it. You know you will ever be useful to this Council.”
She came to a full stop. Her fangs had lengthened, a
“Of course.” He nodded magnanimously, though the effort cost him, his face tight.
“Are you done dicking around, or are you ready to fight?”
Jacob didn’t know if the street language or the message itself was what threw Belizar. Or if it even mattered. Because faster than Belizar or any vampire he’d ever seen could move, she’d closed the distance between them. He saw the brief flash as she stepped inside his armspan, a frightening moment as Belizar swiped one of the wooden stakes at her chest, narrowly missing her. She turned, her back pressing into his chest, and then she’d caught him by the skull and neck. It was like a lover reaching back to caress his jaw, but she brought him over her shoulder, a graceful choreography that arced him high in the air and then slammed him with brutal force down on the tile floor.
A web of cracks shot out from the impact point.
Bones and tile broke together. The male’s neck was at an angle that only happened when the neck was snapped. Jacob knew the tile landing would also break ribs, hips and further points on the spine, immobilizing him for however long it would take the bones to heal.
Belizar let out a strangled, agonized grunt, but Jacob saw there was no fear in his eyes. Only shock, anger and frustration, the realization he’d been soundly, clearly defeated. He was at the mercy of his opponent.
The wooden stakes had fallen free from his limp hands. Retrieving them, she laid them on his chest.
Squatting at his side, Lyssa lifted his arm and brought his wrist to her mouth. She drank, the ritual spoils of a victor, and though she sank in with a deep, painful clamp, she didn’t take long. She withdrew, delicately licking her lips, then took up the two stakes, angling one against his chest. She swept her gaze over the silent, assembled vampires, meeting Uthe’s gaze before she lowered her attention back to Belizar.