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Fall to Grace

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A

Variation

 

 

By

Mark Wooden

© 2017 Mark Wooden. All Rights Reserved.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the copyright holder or the above publisher of this book except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

This publisher does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the written permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. The author’s creditors will thank you.

 

 

Published by Writer Geek Press

 

For information, contact us at www.shadowdancesaga.com

or

[email protected]

“SHADOWDANCE” SAGA CHRONOLOGY

“A Reason to Live: A Shadowdance Variation”

 

“By Virtue Fall: Shadowdance Saga Song One”

 

“For Her Sins: Shadowdance Saga Song Two”

 

“Order into Chaos: A Shadowdance Variation”

 

“Fall to Grace: A Shadowdance Variation”

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following story takes place in the missing six months of For Her Sins: Shadowdance Saga Song 2. As such, there are spoilers here. I recommend reading that book first.

 

If you do read this first, it’ll take away some surprise, like watching the “Star Wars” prequels before “The Empire Strikes Back.”

 

If you’re a hardcore purist and want the full story, read this story between Measures 23 and 24 of For Her Sins. Also read the short story “Order Into Chaos” before this story.

 

Either way, you’ve been warned.

 

You’ll also find several hyperlinks within this text. Follow these links to the “Shadowdance” saga website for more information about the Initiated of the Shadowdance.

 

Enjoy your dance.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

1799

 

[+ Adriana Dupré+] stood before the main house of a Louisiana plantation. The structure had several Greco-Roman columns along its front, enhanced by dual staircases that led up to the main entrance. Adriana imagined the interior: austere furniture, commissioned paintings, a room made especially for entertaining, complete with the best grand piano one could find in the colonies.

In its day, the house offered the opportunity for luxury — but the house had seen better days.

Moss and vines crawled from the ground, wrapping the columns and threatening to overtake them. As she walked up the stairs, Adriana avoided sections of rotting planks barely protecting her from a drop to the muddy ground below. The front doors, once strong and a warm brown, were now falling from their hinges, swinging open in the moist summer breeze.

The interior shared the entrance’s decay.

A carpet once plush and probably angelic to the bare foot was as rotten as the wooden stairs outside. Adriana was careful to avoid spots of mold as she moved from the foyer and deeper into the house.

She eventually found the entertainment room. A sofa and several couches were set with their focus a grand piano near the window. The sofa cushions were discolored and worn from use. The window’s curtains were torn, stained by sunlight and dirt.

Adriana moved to the piano, hoping it had survived the lack of attention. A layer of dust had turned its white keys to gray — what keys remained, anyway. Someone had smashed them, probably with a hammer. Touching one of the few undamaged keys, Adriana heard a chord so far out of tune, one would doubt it would ever sound proper again.

Looking to her finger, Adriana saw a layer of filth from the key obscuring the tip. She wiped it on the hem of her dress.

Turning back to the sofa, Adriana saw a young girl lying there. One leg hung over the sofa’s back; the other dangled off the bottom. The girl wore a soiled, blood red chemise that barely covered her inner thighs. If the lewdness of her display bothered the girl, she didn’t show it. She was so relaxed, it was as if she had always been there, but Adriana knew this was not the case.

Her head rested on the sofa’s arm. She absently held a few strands of her unkempt hair before her eyes, studying it as if it held some arcane secret.

That’s when Adriana noticed the girl’s eyes; or rather, the total lack of any life behind them.

She approached the girl slowly, as not to frighten her. The effort was for naught; the girl remained oblivious to Adriana’s presence.

“Dominique!” came a female voice from the hallway. The voice sounded like that of a child.

Adriana looked at the girl.

The name rattled something in Adriana’s memory. She knew the name, associated it with the girl on the sofa. But from when? And why here? Why now?

A shadow crept over the girl. It looked like the shape of another girl. Adriana looked to the window, then back at the shadow. The way the sunlight played the room, the shadow should not come from the direction it did.

It passed over Dominique like a shroud.

A moment later, a teenaged girl entered. This startled Adriana, as she was incongruous with the voice she’d heard. Unlike Dominique, this newcomer maintained the demeanor of someone worthy of the plantation’s former splendor. Her radiant, blonde hair fell just past her shoulders. Her dress, well pressed and vibrant, was the height of the era’s fashion, contrasting sharply with the dilapidated state of the mansion. She wore little makeup, as per the era trend, enhancing the paleness of her skin.

“We are to meet with the bank in less than an hour,” the newcomer with the child-like voice said. “I’ve already had the slaves hitch the horses —”

“You go,” Dominique said in a voice implying she agreed by necessity, rather than desire. “You run everything anyway.”

Both women spoke French, Adriana’s native tongue. She did not know if they did so for her benefit or if the language was native to them as well.

The newcomer moved into Dominique’s line of sight. “We also have to discuss the painting.”

Suddenly, Dominique’s dead eyes lit with fire. She sat up in an instant.

“No!” Dominique said. “That painting is not part of any deal. It stays with me!”

The other girl’s shoulders sagged. She took on a less confrontational tone. “That painting is the only thing of value you still possess.” Seeing this did not erode Dominique’s anger, the newcomer continued, “The profits from selling it are the only thing that will keep you alive.”

“Then I will have death!”

The newcomer remained silent. Dominique stood, getting into the other girl’s face. “You will not sell that painting!”

Dominique walked away, pressing through Adriana as if she were a ghost. Adriana blinked in surprise. She grabbed her own arms, making sure she still had substance. To her touch, she did. Adriana looked after Dominique.

The angered girl stood before the weathered piano, staring down at its keys. When she spoke next, her words dripped of remorse. “I will have nothing but what my sister left me.” Dominique reached out to one of the piano’s keys, gently pressing through the grime to elicit a sorrowfully out of tune note.

“Your sister left you with nothing,” the newcomer said in a tone containing a coldness that chilled even Adriana’s incorporeal form.

Dominque struck another off-tone key. She hit another. Another.

Adriana realized the blunt instrument that had destroyed the keys was not a hammer.

Moments later, Dominique’s rage subsided. Her head hung low, her long, disheveled hair obscuring her face. Adriana wanted to reach out to the disappointed girl, console her, but knew she could not even touch her.

“This is where it all went to shit, isn’t it?” the newcomer said.

Adriana turned. The newcomer’s pale green eyes locked with Adriana’s; the girl wore a sinister smile that exposed teeth.

Were those fangs?

“You can see me?” Adriana asked.

The blonde-haired newcomer laughed a mirthless laugh. “I’m always watching you, my little nightingale. One day you’ll remember that.”

Adriana stared at the girl, fighting to place her in her own forgotten history. “Who are you?” she demanded. “Who is Dominique?”

“Best figure out who you are first,” the girl replied, pointing her index finger at Adriana.

Adriana’s eyes narrowed, her arms crossing her chest.

The girl put a finger to her own lips, contemplating something. After a moment, she snapped her fingers, as if having conceived a brilliant idea.

“Okay. I don’t normally do this, but I’ll give you a hint,” she said. The girl held up her hand with her palm facing Adriana. She then pointed at Adriana’s hands.

Adriana followed the girl’s direction and looked down.

Blood and fur covered her hands.

 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

JANUARY 2014

A month ago, Adriana had returned from a spirit quest in Africa. The quest had stripped her of the demon bound to her soul that made her a vampire. The separation restored her mortality.

A sorcerer named Dwyer Strathan murdered Adriana minutes later.

Then a curious thing happened.

The demon returned to Adriana, restoring her unlife as a vampire.

The trauma of the demon bonding with her departing soul shattered Adriana’s psyche. She retained motor skills like talking, walking, fighting, but her memories were a jumble of visions.

Usually, the visions were simple, passive displays. Adriana had seen lush forests with European-style cottages. She’d been on a mountainside looking down at a village whose triangular roofs were decidedly not a European design. Adriana later researched the architecture and realized she’d seen a village in Japan circa the late Edo period.

In other visions, she saw the ravages of modern warfare, as men in uniforms defended a prison or concentration camp from other men in uniforms. Beasts that looked like wolves moved through the carnage and fire, striking down those in gray as if on a mission of vengeance.

Other visions showed what she believed to be a younger version of herself sitting in a grand parlor. Later research exposed the parlor’s design as the height of fashion in Paris circa the 1780s. Her younger self-played flawlessly upon a grand piano while people she presumed to be her parents and others of French royalty looked on approvingly.

As vivid as the visions were, she felt no emotional attachment to these memories.

Then the vision tonight — the nightmare.

The memory of Dominique.

Adriana brought her legs up and rested her head against her knees, wrapping her arms around her shins. She sat like this for a long while, ruminating on the nightmare of her un-life. Was this better or worse than her life before her original death that had led to becoming a vampire?

She’d never answer that from the mock safety of her bed.

Adriana looked at the nearby digital clock. It was well into the night, a time when normal people in Sydney were snug in bed. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed in preparation for standing but noticed small drops of red on her bare knees. Moving a hand to her eyes, Adriana realized she had cried tears of blood. She wiped her eyes, then wiped the blood onto the bottom of the camisole she wore to bed with a matching set of spandex shorts.

Adriana crossed from the bed to the closed door in just three strides. Along the way, she pulled her dark brown hair away from her face, tying it in a ponytail that fell just beyond her shoulders and down her back.

She opened the door and peered into a short hallway. There was a bathroom at one end and another bedroom across from Adriana’s. The door was open, but the light off inside.

A living room twice the size of the bedrooms combined lay at the other end of the hall. Adriana didn’t need her preternaturally heightened senses to hear two voices coming from that room.

“And the Knights have confirmed that Thorne is dead?”

That was Makeda Arsi, her voice authoritative even at this late hour.

“So says some low-level Order of Haroth mage named Voetberg,” said the other voice. It sounded clipped, far away. Adriana still recognized the voice as that of Michael Freeman, a companion to Makeda. Realizing this, Adriana realized the distortion was caused by communicating with Freeman over a computer.

Both Freeman and Makeda were warrior sorcerers, Knights of Vyntari. Makeda had led Adriana to the spirit quest that cost her her psyche. The quest was part of a mission to retrieve three lost relics known as the Vyntari shards.

After the demon had revived Adriana and she’d regained control of its murderous tendencies, Makeda insisted she could help Adriana find herself again. They’d been traveling companions ever since.

Makeda contacted Freeman weekly. He provided them with files from the Knights’ database that pertained to Adriana and her memories. He also kept the women up to date on the happenings of something called the Shadowdance.

From Makeda and Freeman’s stories, Adriana knew this Shadowdance was a struggle between the Knights and other supernatural creatures for control of the Vyntari shards. What the shards could do, Adriana had no idea. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, considering her pursuit of them had led to her death.

Freeman said, “As the story goes, two other high-up Los Angeles Order sorcerers also perished the same night. Now Thorne was, like, the second most powerful sorcerer in the Order next to its founder, but even he couldn’t survive getting his head hacked in two and severed from his body. Can he?”

He asked that question with more concern than curiosity.

“Let’s take advantage of his removal,” Makeda said. “It makes my maneuvers with the Vyntari shards seem effective.”

“True,” Freeman replied. “But try using that on the Concilium. Doubt they’d buy it, seeing as the three shards we tangled with are still at large.”

“You’ve been following Strathan, haven’t you?”

“As best I can, considering I’m also under new management.”

“Your new praetor, Al-Sadat. I hear he’s a good man, very efficient.”

“Too efficient. He’s as by the book as you were fast and loose. Looked him up. Did you know he tangled with our girl Adriana a few months after the Millennium Massacre?”

Hearing the reference to her, Adriana decided to make her presence known. She moved down the hall and into the living room.

Makeda sat on the sofa, her back to Adriana. Though she was lounging, Adriana could sense the tension in the woman. Now in her middle years, Makeda was every bit as fit as a woman half her age.

Makeda’s laptop was open on the coffee table in front of her, Freeman’s image prominent on the screen. She remembered his boyish features, which lay under an unwieldy mat of dark brown hair. He wore his sunglasses to hide, she knew, his lack of eyeballs.

Freeman had lost them to the Order of Haroth. Magic replaced his vision.

As Adriana walked around the sofa, Makeda looked up at her approach. “Another vision?” she asked.

“A nightmare,” Adriana replied in accented English.

Recognizing the voice, Freeman said, “And speak of the vampire! Sorry to wake you.” He tilted his head to one side. “What’s a vampire doing sleeping at night, anyway?”

“Barely sleeping,” Adriana corrected.

Makeda drew her legs underneath her to make room for Adriana, who took a seat. She looked to Makeda. The woman carried herself with a regal air, but her compassionate expression belayed any thoughts of her thinking herself above anyone else. Adriana figured she had developed this ability in her years growing up as a wielder of magic in an African tribe.

“What made this vision so harrowing?” Makeda asked.

Adriana rubbed her eyes with the bases of her palms. “There was a girl on a plantation.”

On the screen, Freeman cracked his knuckles. “Details! I can look it up, figure out who she was.”

“Her name is Dominique,” Adriana said.

Makeda looked away from both Adriana and the computer screen. Freeman leaned back in his chair.

“Heh. No need looking for that,” Freeman said. “That, my dear sorcerer slayer, is—”

“Not important,” Makeda cut in. Off Adriana’s dead stare, she added, “Not yet.”

Makeda’s expression was not a challenge, but her pursed lips would not part to discuss Dominique. Adriana turned to Freeman.

“If you know who she is —”

Freeman threw up his hands. “If the boss doesn’t want to tell you…”

Adriana issued an expectant glare as she looked back to Makeda.

“We’re here in Sydney to get away from the Shadowdance,” Makeda began, her resolve unwavering. “To give you time to—”

“All you have told me so far is how to control this demon within me,” Adriana said. “I am thankful for that, but you have told me little of my life, who these women in my dreams are, why I even became a vampire.”

Makeda started to speak but stopped. She turned away from Adriana. After a moment, she stood and paced in the small amount of room the furniture allowed.

Adriana looked to Freeman. He shrugged, motioning back to Makeda.

Finally, the female Knight of Vyntari spoke.

“You were born sometime in the late 18th century. Your father is a French businessman who married a princess of Austria. Your aunt is Marie Antoinette.”

Adriana’s jaw slackened, one eyebrow raising in disbelief. “I am… royalty?”

“Halfway,” Freeman said. “You don’t have a claim to anything, but when you were alive, you probably enjoyed the benefits, trapesing between Paris and Vienna. Rumor has it your auntie even pulled strings to get you piano and singing lessons with Mozart.”

Adriana’s memories didn’t register the name.

Freeman waved a hand dismissively. “He’s one of the greatest composers who ever lived. There’s even a movie about him. Maybe watching it will jar your memory. Then let me know if he’s really as crazy as he was in the movie.”

Adriana looked at the floor, allowing this knowledge to ferment in her mind. “I saw another woman tonight,” she eventually said, her voice distant, as if she were reliving her nightmare. “Green eyes, blonde. She was with Dominique and me.”

Makeda stopped pacing. She and Freeman looked expectantly at Adriana as she continued to chase the visions in her mind.

“They mentioned a painting,” she added.

Freeman shifted in his chair, leaning toward his computer. “Did they mention a name?”

“I don’t think that’s relevant,” Makeda began.

“It’s relevant if they’re talking about the ‘Two Sisters’ portrait!” Freeman said.

Makeda turned angrily on Freeman. Her next words came in a staccato burst. “We had decided it best —”

“She’s my sister?” Adriana asked.

Makeda’s eyes snapped to Adriana. Just as quickly, she turned away from both Freeman and Adriana, taking a few deep breaths. Eventually, she spoke, her tone even and deliberate.

“Both women play important roles in your history, Adriana. But you must first learn the context of your history.”

“But one of them is my sister.”

Makeda looked skyward before turning back to Adriana. “What else did you see in your nightmare?”

Adriana frowned, acknowledging Makeda’s change of topic. She thought it best to just go with it. “The first girl, Dominique,” Adriana said hesitantly. “Her depression was so great she had allowed everything around her fall to decay.” Turning to Freeman, she asked, “What happened to her?”

Freeman didn’t acknowledge her. Adriana looked to Makeda. The knight stewed for a moment. With a sigh, she said, “Michael, upload the info on the Daughters of Lilith to my computer.”

“You sure about that, boss?”

Makeda looked to Adriana. The vampire hoped her expression looked earnest and not needy. The elder woman sat back on the sofa and looked to the computer. “Do it. Everything pertinent to Adriana until the Millennium Massacre.”

Freeman reached down and started typing on an unseen keyboard in front of him. “On it. Um, there’s something else you should know.”

Makeda and Adriana looked expectantly at Freeman.

“Gabby’s been sent on a mission without me or al-Sadat,” he said.

“I’m aware,” Makeda replied. Off Freeman’s surprise, she looked at her watch. “I’m meeting her in an hour.”

Adriana turned quickly to Makeda. “And you were going to leave me?”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

Adriana stood and crossed her arms over her chest. “You are not going alone.”

Adriana had changed into dark jeans, a matching colored t-shirt, and a light leather jacket. The weather didn’t require one, and Adriana’s lower body temperature (a perk of being a creature effectively dead) didn’t either. She’d just become fond of the thing. She wondered if it had anything to do with her life as a vampire.

Makeda wore similar attire, sans a jacket. Adriana remembered Freeman teasing Makeda that her taste in clothes suited a 1970s Blaxploitation star. Adriana hadn’t understood the reference until she watched a movie Freeman sent them, “Foxy Brown.” Adriana agreed with Freeman’s assessment, save that Makeda favored a braided hairstyle instead of an Afro.

The women parked their modest sedan on Castlereagh Street near the Park Regis City Center. They walked from there down Park Street to [+ Hyde Park+].

This late in the evening, the area was devoid of people. Trees lined the path they walked. The tree’s branches formed a canopy over the wide cement path. A series of streetlights cast a somber white glow upon the path.

Seeing so much green in an urban area amazed Adriana. It reminded her of one of her nightmares, the wooded area near the cottage —

Adriana suddenly stopped. “I was at Versailles,” she thought aloud.

Makeda stopped a few steps ahead of Adriana. “What?”

“One of my memories, I saw a forest area with a cottage.” She looked to Makeda with an air of confidence. “I read something about Antoinette on the way over. The area I saw was the palace at Versailles.”

Makeda nodded. “Makes sense, your aunt being the queen who lived there.”

“In my vision, I was there with the Dominique girl from the decaying mansion. We were painting a portrait at the queen’s request, for our mother and father, who were away. Perhaps it was the ‘Two Sisters’ painting?” Adriana’s mind kept going. “Maybe… maybe Dominique—”

Makeda turned from Adriana and continued down the path. “We don’t want to be late.”

Adriana had hoped Makeda would be more supportive of her breakthrough. She really couldn’t figure the woman out. She moved ahead, catching up with her. They continued in silence.

As they neared the end of the canopy, Adriana saw a large fountain ahead. It had three statues spraying multiple arcs of water up, across, and back into the fountain’s base. An open area surrounded the fountain, with five other non-canopied paths branching off from this central location.

“I wonder if my absence destroyed Dominique… my sister,” Adriana said. She still felt odd saying the word sister. She knew it meant something to her, even felt the pull toward Dominique, but she didn’t quite connect emotionally with the girl.

Adriana also noticed that Makeda had failed to deny the tie between the two women.

As the women reached the fountain, Adriana said, “On the way over I was reading the files on the Daughters of Lilith.” She waited for Makeda’s reaction. None came. Adriana continued. “I see they have vampire abilities beyond my speed, fangs and feeding. They’re able to taste the blood of a target and cause the victim’s blood to —”

Makeda abruptly turned on Adriana and said, “You may wish to remain here.”

Adriana blinked. “Why? If Gabriella —”

Dizziness overwhelmed Adriana. She stumbled, squatting down to sit on the edge of the fountain’s knee-high outer wall. Makeda grabbed her shoulders so she didn’t fall in the water.

“Sure you can go further?” Makeda asked.

Adriana shook her head. “I do not understand. I was fine, and then I just felt… sick.”

Makeda looked to the east. “That may be your problem.”

Adriana followed Makeda’s gaze.

A little under a thousand feet away, Adriana saw a magnificent cathedral. Built in a Gothic style, it seemed anachronistic in the middle of the steel and concrete of downtown Sydney.

“I have seen a building like that before,” Adriana said, seemingly in a daze.

“This building is St. Mary’s Cathedral,” Makeda began. “You’re probably thinking of Notre Dame, in Paris. Being related to European royalty in the 18th century, you were probably Catholic and would have attended service in such a place.”

Adriana looked from the cathedral to the Knight of Vyntari at her side. “And being of the faith does not help me with this sickness I feel?”

“It’s the demon inside you,” Makeda explained. “The cathedral symbolizes faith in a higher power of goodness. This faith frightens the demon, repels it.”

Adriana looked back to the cathedral. Unfortunately, just looking at it turned knots in her stomach.

“You can fight it if you want,” came a new female voice with a bit of an Irish brogue. “But I really don’t think it necessary.”

Makeda and Adriana looked to the northern path and saw a woman in a light-colored pantsuit approaching. Her controlled stride alluded to an athletic prowess belayed by her conservative attire.

Adriana remembered the woman had been in Africa along with Makeda and Freeman when she underwent her resurrection. She hadn’t seen the woman since that time but remembered her fondly as Knight of Vyntari Gabriella Doran.

“Sorry to get you ladies out in the middle of the night,” Gabriella said as she approached.

“We’re used to the strange hours,” Makeda replied.

When Gabriella reached the other women, she and Makeda embraced. It was an embrace of love and respect.

“It’s good to see you, praetor,” Gabriella said.

“There’s no need for formality,” Makeda replied.

“I’m afraid this isn’t a social call.”

Makeda released Gabriella and stared at the younger woman. Gabriella did not meet her gaze. “I suspected as much, seeing as we made every effort to hide from you and the Knights.”

Gabriella moved forward and surprised Adriana with a hug.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” Gabriella said, “but if you need anything…”

Adriana found herself hugging the Knight back.

After a moment, Gabriella released Adriana but placed her hands on either of the girl’s shoulders. Adriana’s vampire nature locked her in the appearance of a twenty-two-year-old. Gabriella was nearly a decade older. That and Gabriella being half a foot taller than Adriana gave the appearance of an adult talking to a younger girl — even though Adriana was actually over two centuries old.

“I’m all for reunions,” Gabriella said, “but I need to talk to Makeda for a moment. I hope you don’t mind.”

Adriana shook her head. Gabriella smiled. Moving from Adriana, she looked to Makeda while motioning to the cathedral. “Shall we?”

Makeda nodded. “We won’t be long,” she said to Adriana.

Gabriella walked toward the cathedral. Makeda fell into step alongside her, leaving Adriana alone at the fountain.

Upon entering St. Mary’s, Makeda watched as Gabriella stared in awe at the interior. It was a sight to behold. Its designers had painted the vast space golden-brown, with a high, vaulted, red cedar roof. Majestic columns engraved with the heads of saints lined the inner worship area. Aisles on the exterior of the columns allowed easy passage to the clerestory.

“We’ve traveled to many exotic places together, praetor,” Gabriella said, slowly moving down the center aisle among the pews. “As a Catholic, St. Mary’s is just as much a holy site for me as the Cueva de la Duda in Argentina is for we followers of the One Goddess. I figured we could enjoy its splendor before any… unpleasantness.”

Makeda gave Gabriella time to admire the sights. Standing a few steps behind her discipuli, she eventually asked, “About that unpleasantness?”

Instead of answering or even acknowledging the statement, Gabriella walked further down the cathedral’s central aisle and toward the altar. Makeda remained at the cathedral’s center. She looked past the beautiful architecture, checking the shadows created by the moonlight through the clerestory’s stained-glass windows.

Makeda looked for any potential threat. She found nothing.

That worried her.

Adriana splashed water from Archibald Fountain onto her face. The action allowed her the conceit of doing something, but it didn’t alleviate the demon-inspired fear causing her very bones to shake.

Standing now, she set her hands on the edge of the wall retaining the fountain’s water and allowed her head to hang low. She wanted to run back to the safety of the canopy, away from the cathedral. She also didn’t want to abandon Makeda.

Adriana looked down to the water. Instead of her reflection, she saw the image of the malignant demon inside her. She’d gotten used to the image; the horror of knowing that thing was inside her no longer caused her grief.

The demon’s image was shattered by the impact of a poorly aimed crossbow bolt.

Adriana quickly looked in the direction from whence the bolt came. As she did, she forced blood to her eyes, making the whites turn red. The world shifted to shades of gray and black, with the circulatory systems of living objects pulsing in vivid red, exposing them.

Back among the trees, Adriana saw the blood forms of a man and a woman, each holding a black object that looked like a crossbow. The woman’s crossbow pointed downward, probably to reload.

The man prepared to fire.

Gabriella took a knee before the altar. She bowed her head, making the sign of the cross. Makeda remained further back down the center aisle. A moment later, Gabriella stood, but her back remained to her mentor.

“It doesn’t have to go down that way,” she said. “Unpleasant, I mean.”

Makeda walked forward, slowly closing the distance between her and her discipulus. “It doesn’t have to go down at all. We tried to keep you out of this.”

“The three members of the Concilium are direct links to the Word of the One Goddess.”

“They are mortals chosen by other mortals to lead.”

“They only want to do what’s right.”

“And what is right here, Gabriella?”

The younger Knight was silent. Makeda stopped a respectful distance behind her.

Gabriella looked over her shoulder at Makeda. A strand of her blonde hair fell across her face. “We should have brought Adriana to them from Berlin.”

“So they could destroy her?”

“Wasn’t that the mission?”

Though Gabriella said the words, her tone conveyed her lack of faith in them. Makeda seized on this.

“I remember your grief when you thought Adriana was dead,” she said. “Why would you mourn if her destruction was the mission?”

Gabriella’s lips parted, but she withheld an answer. Her head turned down and away from Makeda.

“The One Goddess will know what to do.”

“The Concilium is not the One Goddess.”

“They speak for her.” Gabriella turned on Makeda. “As you once did.”

As the male attacker released his crossbow bolt, Adriana charged at him. Using her preternatural speed (another vampiric gift), she crossed the distance to him in nearly an instant. The ability also sharpened her perception, allowing her to easily sidestep the man’s bolt.

The female attacker brought up her crossbow to fire, expecting Adriana to be several yards away from her. To her surprise, the vampire stood just to her side.

The attacker’s crossbow was aimed at space.

Acting on instinct, the female thrust the butt of her crossbow at Adriana. The vampire attempted to parry the blow but misjudged her attacker’s reflexes. The crossbow hit Adriana in the jaw, drawing blood.

Using her preternatural speed, Adriana snatched the crossbow from the female’s hands. Stunned by the sudden loss of her weapon, the woman was now exposed. Adriana brought her foot up, connecting with the female’s midsection. Adriana’s opponent stumbled backward, falling to one knee.

In her periphery, Adriana saw a chain made of white, ethereal light swing just past her side. Turning, she saw the male attacker stood just out of her range.

He wielded the ethereal chain. It whistled through the air, its target Adriana.

The vampire held up the confiscated crossbow, catching the chain around its middle. She pulled the weapon, drawing the man off balance and sending him stumbling toward her. Leaping, Adriana brought her knee up to catch the man’s chin. He flipped over onto his back, his head slamming on the ground.

He was stunned but remained conscious.

Adriana turned just as a second ethereal chain swung at her. Adriana ducked, the chain cutting through her dark hair. The female was up and wielding a second chain. The two squared off.

The female moved first, lashing out with the chain. She aimed to snare Adriana’s ankles. Adriana leaped toward her opponent just as the chain swept past where her feet would have been. She executed a dive roll, coming up with her foot slamming into the female’s leg. The female grunted as Adriana’s boot struck her. Her leg buckled, bringing her to her knees again.

Despite her agony, the female reached out to grab Adriana’s outstretched leg. Rolling on her back, Adriana swept her foot out of the way. Her other foot came around to strike the female in the face. The female spun backward, landing hard on her stomach.

Adriana dropped into a crouch.

And then she felt the cold of an ethereal chain around her neck.

Makeda stared at Gabriella’s back. The woman turned fully to face her, pity in her eyes as she continued.

“Let’s forget Adriana for the moment,” Gabriella began. “Your crusade in Berlin and Oromia was misguided, putting the sacred Vyntari shards into the hands of the enemy.”

“Are you questioning the One Goddess?” Makeda challenged.

Gabriella’s shoulder sank as the pity left her eyes. “We both know the One Goddess had nothing to do with your crusade.”

Makeda knew Gabriella had her suspicions, voiced in anger during the aftermath of their encounter in Grunewald Forest with Adriana. It was a testament to Gabriella and Freeman’s loyalty that neither of them outright rebelled against Makeda during their work in Berlin and Oromia.

But on this point, Gabriella was correct. All missions for the Knights came from the Concilium, who divined the missions from the One Goddess. Makeda had developed her plans for Adriana and the shards of her accord, just as she had taken it upon herself to leave Oromia with Adriana and go into seclusion.

“You’ve lost your way, praetor,” Gabriella said in a surprisingly sympathetic tone. “I want to help you back on the path. And to keep Adriana on hers.”

Makeda smiled. “That gives us common ground to start on.” She looked at her watch. “Do you think we’ve given Adriana enough time to defeat the Knights your superiors sent to subdue her?”

Attempting to strangle Adriana was an impractical move.

As a vampire, she had no need to breathe. All the male attacker could hope to do was restrain her long enough for his partner to recover and attack.

Adriana would not allow him that time.

From her crouch, she rolled backward. She wrapped one leg around the chain, drawing it closer. She did it again with her other leg. The rapid shortening of the chain pulled the man off balance. He fell forward as Adriana flipped to her feet.

As the man steadied himself, Adriana uncoiled herself from the chain. By the time he sat up, Adriana was ready and drove a punch into his solar plexus. Stunned by a shortness of breath, the man lost his grip on his chain. Adriana finished him with a blow to the back of his head. The man crashed down, unconscious.

She didn’t get time to enjoy her victory.

A crossbow bolt pierced her back.

To Adriana’s dismay, this bolt was a blessed weapon, damaging even her resilient vampire hide. Thankfully, the bolt missed her atrophied heart. Had it struck its mark, Adriana would be at her attacker’s mercy as she fell into a catatonic state.

While the vampire lamented the wound, the female attacker moved closer. She withdrew the bolt. Adriana gasped. She then felt the female attacker grab her shoulder and spin her around. The attacker held the bolt, ready to stab Adriana again.

As the bolt thrust toward her, the vampire parried the arm wielding the bolt. In nearly the same instant, she brought her other fist around. She smashed it into her attacker’s nose. The woman jerked back, releasing her grip on the bolt. Adriana brought her other fist crashing against the side of the female attacker’s head.

The attacker fought back with a fist of her own. It struck Adriana’s face with enough force to spin her. Adriana used the momentum of the spin to bring another strong punch back around at the woman.

This one sent her attacker down.

Adriana immediately looked about the area.

There were no witnesses to the attack.

Adriana closed her eyes, focusing her senses on the wound from the bolt. It was painful but not debilitating. Since the damage came from a blessed weapon, she couldn’t immediately use her blood magic to heal it; it would take time.

Looking to St. Mary’s, Adriana wondered if someone had also attacked Makeda. She might need her assistance; but how could the vampire enter such a holy site?

Adriana would have to try.

“Really, Gabriella?” Makeda asked, having to yell to be heard across the vast cathedral space. “Is this what you want?”

Makeda stood yards away from the cathedral’s exit.

Two men in civilian clothes blocked her path. They wore light jackets, unnecessary in this weather but perfect to hide a weapon. White ethereal flames covered their bodies like a sheath, a signature power of Knights of Vyntari.

Gabriella remained by the altar, looking back to Makeda and the other Knights. “No, it’s not,” she replied. “But if you won’t come willingly, you leave the Concilium no choice.”

“You have a choice,” Makeda shot back, looking over her shoulder at Gabriella. “You could have these men stand down.”

“That is not my decision. There is a chain of command, a chain you disrupted when you fled with Adriana.”

And there it was.

This was a power play by the Concilium to re-establish their dominance, with Gabriella caught in the middle.

Makeda should have expected it. Admittedly, she had inadvertently set up the scenario by thumbing them in the face with her actions. She’d hoped they’d see the positive from the ordeal and allow her to finish this.

Frowning, she turned to the two Knights at the entrance and said, “If you’re going to make a move, now is the time.”

The two Knights looked to one another. They turned their steely gazes toward Makeda.

Suddenly, the cathedral doors opened. The Knights turned to see Adriana at the entrance, barely able to stand. The vampire shook violently.

“Makeda,” she muttered. “Trap.”

The former praetor allowed herself a smile.

Adriana had proved more formidable than even she had anticipated. Now she just had to get her out of here before the faith-based energies assailing the demon within her turned the vampire into a vegetable.

Makeda threw up her hands, aiming at the two Knights. Dual waves of invisible force slammed into the men, propelling them backward. They hit the walls on either side of the double doors leading into the cathedral. The men slumped to the ground, groggy but not out thanks to their magical shields.

Gabriella stalked down the center aisle toward Makeda’s position. The vampire stood with both hands pressed to the cathedral door as if it was the only thing holding her up. Makeda also saw the wound just below Adriana’s heart.

She wouldn’t be any help in a fight.

Moving to Adriana’s side, Makeda caught the girl just as she lost her footing. “Think it’s time we left,” she said.

Adriana was in no position to argue.

“We can still fix this!” Gabriella called out, now halfway to Makeda and Adriana’s position. “Just come with me, praetor!”

“After such warming hospitality?” Makeda asked.

The two male Knights slowly got to their feet. They’d be a factor again in a few moments. Makeda steadied Adriana and headed out of the cathedral.

Gabriella watched Makeda leave with Adriana. Her fellow Knights were up; they looked to her for orders.

Instead of giving them, Gabriella slumped into the pew nearest her, cradling her face in her hands.

“Pursue them.”

This came not from Gabriella, but an authoritarian male voice with a Southern drawl.

The two Knights at the door exited the cathedral.

“We tried this your way,” the man said as he approached the remaining troubled Knight.

Not looking at the newcomer, Gabriella asked, “She’s defeated the Order, salvaged Adriana. Can we not let Makeda finish her play?”

“The Order may have lost their leader and a few lackeys, but they retain the shards. As for the blood bag, we can’t afford the chance she’ll revert to evil when she regains herself.”

Gabriella felt the man’s hand on her shoulder.

“I understand your regret, Doran,” he said, calling Gabriella by her last name, as he did all the Knights under his charge. He’d attempted to soften his tone, but it still played as condescending.

“Makeda operates outside of the Word. It falls to us who still believe the Word to bring her to heel.”

Gabriella looked at the man. He was tall, older, with hair dyed black but still gray at the temples. He wore a ponytail as a further attempt at a youthful visage. He kept himself in peak shape, muscles pressing against the sleeves of his maroon shirt.

Despite his attempt to sound sympathetic, his green eyes remained cold and uninviting. Gabriella had known no other way with Praetor Morton Shealey.

“Is there a chance, however slim, that Makeda is operating by the Word?” she dared ask.

Shealey smiled. “Come now, Doran. You know the procedure.”

“Yes, but if the Goddess spoke to her, gave her —”

“All Knight actions go through the Concilium. No exceptions.”

Shealey’s tone ended any hope of further conversation. He frowned, removing his hand from Gabriella’s shoulder. “I think your praetor’s influence on you may be too great.”

Gabriella shrugged. Reading her reaction, Shealey added, “Or perhaps it’s that Freeman character. I would never have admitted him into the Knights. He was an Order initiate, for the Goddess’s sake!”

Shealey’s comment set fire to Gabriella’s sullen mood. She’d served with Freeman going on seven years. She had trained with the man, shed blood with him. She would not let Shealey speak ill of him, no matter his rank. “They tried to kill him when he challenged their beliefs.” Gabriella turned fully to Shealey. “That’s the difference between the Order and us, isn’t it? We don’t kill those who challenge our beliefs?”

Shealey’s angered expression told Gabriella all she needed to know.

He suddenly grabbed her bicep and pulled her to her feet.

“I do believe we have a rogue Knight that needs disciplining,” he said while dragging Gabriella toward the cathedral exit.

Passing [+ Archibald Fountain+], Makeda noticed the two bodies lying unconscious under the canopy of trees. She guessed they were Adriana’s handiwork, two other Knights of Vyntari who had underestimated the vampire’s superior combat skills despite her proximity to the cathedral.

Adriana could barely stand on her own now; Makeda didn’t want to know what horrors besieged the girl as her soul fought the desire of the demon within her to get away from the holy place. She also didn’t want to know how the demon would flail at the world should Adriana lose her battle to control it.

With Adriana in this condition, there was no way Makeda could outrun the two other Knights who now pursued her. They got as far as the edge of the canopy before the two Knights from the cathedral got close enough to use their ethereal chains. The praetor set the vampire down, then turned to confront their pursuers.

To her surprise, the Knights hadn’t drawn their chains. She surmised her earlier rebuff had angered them. They wanted to make this personal. That would require proximity.

Reaching within the folds of their jackets, the men withdrew daggers. Makeda knew them to be blessed weapons. That the Knights drew lethal weaponry on her showed they were willing to take Makeda back in pieces.

“Sorry about that back in the cathedral,” Makeda said. “We can prevent any further embarrassment if you simply let us go on our way.”

The men answered by moving to attack.

Makeda lashed out with a kick that instantly knocked the first man unconscious. The second man lunged in for a slash. Makeda raised her arm to parry. The man sliced through the flesh of her forearm but struck nothing vital.

That didn’t make the wound any less painful.

Makeda retaliated with another kick. It knocked her attacker back far enough to put him out of striking range.

The man gritted his teeth. Moving back in, he slashed at Makeda. She deftly parried his blade arm aside with her uninjured arm. She then kicked the side of his leg. The man went down hard and stayed there, conscious but immobile.

And in great pain.

Makeda looked at the wound on her arm. It wouldn’t kill her but needed attention. Normally she would simply have Gabriella use her healing powers. Now, that wasn’t an option.

The Knight moved to Adriana. The vampire had steadied herself, distance from the holy site allowing her better control of the demon. Makeda offered her a hand to help her up. Adriana accepted it.

Glancing at the downed men, Adriana said, “I see you handled things.”

“Not quite,” came a male voice with a Southern accent.

Makeda and Adriana looked in the direction of the voice and saw a tall man in his early fifties. Despite his age, he was in peak physical shape. More pressingly, he stood over Gabriella, who was on her knees.

The man held a Knight’s dagger to Gabriella’s throat.

Adriana moved toward the man. Makeda grabbed the vampire’s arm, holding her back. Adriana glared at her. Makeda shook her head.

“I know this man,” she said.

Adriana lowered her eyes but stood her ground next to the Knight of Vyntari.

“Makeda Arsi,” the man began. “You and the vampire will stand down and come with me immediately.”

“Or what, Shealey?” Makeda replied.

“I believe you know what I’m willing to do to further Her Word.”

“You do not know what I would do to protect my friends,” Adriana said.

Shealey laughed. “You kill your enemies, blood bag. I killed my blood!”

Adriana raised an eyebrow and looked to Makeda. Without taking her eyes from Shealey, Makeda answered the unasked question.

“His brother was possessed by a demon. When it looked impossible to free him… Shealey murdered him.”

Adriana turned back to Shealey. “I search for blood I lost. And you murdered yours?”

Shealey’s grip tightened on the dagger.

“Gabriella has no demon within her,” Makeda said. She took a casual stance, crossing her arms as she added, “You’re bluffing.”

Makeda’s mind flashed back to Grunewald Forest. A month ago, she’d been there with Adriana and her fellow Knights. Makeda had made a challenge to the vampire now at her side after Adriana threatened Freeman in a similar manner. Things had not gone so well then. She prayed to the One Goddess they’d go better now.

Shealey drew back on Gabriella’s hair, further exposing her throat. Gabriella’s hands shot up and grabbed the arm holding the dagger. Before she could do anything further, Shealey kneed her in the back, knocking her off balance. She instinctively released his arm to save herself from falling.

Shealey’s hold on her hair kept her upright. Her arms flailed the air. He moved the dagger back to her throat.

Adriana used her speed to cross to Shealey. He met her with a burst of ethereal white flame from his eyes. The demon within Adriana recoiled. She lost her footing, falling to the ground near Shealey and Gabriella.

Shealey pulled Gabriella up in front of his body, wrapping his arm around her throat, he pinned her to him. Adriana would have to go through her to get to Shealey.

“Thanks to you, Makeda, Doran doubts her mission for the One Goddess,” Shealey said. Pointing his dagger at the senior Knight, he said, “You are a cancer among us. You will yield, or I will end Doran’s doubt. Then, I will end you and the blood bag!”

Makeda saw the anguish on her Gabriella’s face. She was a true believer. She also believed in the good of all, particularly those who followed the One Goddess. To see that trust betrayed by a high-ranking Knight destroyed Gabriella.

And there was nothing Makeda could do without forcing Shealey’s hand.

Under an hour later, Adriana found herself in the bathroom of an apartment in Sydney’s [+ World Tower+] building. Shealey and his recovering Knights had brought her and Makeda here, then separated the pair. She had no idea where Makeda was. She also knew she wouldn’t find out languishing in here.

Adriana tried the door, confirming that it was locked. Investigating further, she realized her captors had reversed the doorknob—the lock was now on the outside of the door.

At least her prison had facilities. Not that a vampire needed anything more than the occasional shower.

Adriana beat against the door.

“Keep it down!” a man’s voice shouted. “Trying to watch the telly!”

Adriana listened for a few more moments. She heard no other voice.

One guard. That made things simpler.

“I would be much more comfortable out there with you,” Adriana said.

Silence.

Then footsteps moved across a hardwood floor.

“Look, sister,” the guard said, his voice closer. “They told me about your reputation. No way am I letting you out of there. Especially after how you handled the other Knights.”

Adriana frowned. Turning, she looked about the bathroom. The bathroom was as large as the tiny bedroom in the apartment she had shared with Makeda. The fixtures were all contemporary and new, the marble countertops clean enough to cast reflections.

The one thing it did not have was a window.

She went to the sink and closed the drain. She then turned both hot and cold water on full blast. She did the same with the shower.

“Weird time for a shower,” the guard said, “but you’ve got the time.”

“Will you have the time to clean up the flood damage?” Adriana asked.

She then kicked the commode, knocking it from the toilet bowl. It smashed on the ground. Water shot up from the intake tube.

“What the hell are you doing?” the guard asked, desperation in his voice.

“Eventually there will be enough water to soak through the floor,” Adriana explained. “I do not think the neighbors will be happy. They will send someone to investigate.”

“Turn everything off!” the guard demanded.

Adriana moved to a position near the door. She looked back to the sink. It was full, more water coming in than the overflow hole could handle. Water poured over the counter edge and onto the floor. The tub also was filling. Water from the broken toilet covered the floor, creeping toward the bathroom door and escaping underneath.

“Dammit, woman!” the guard said. “Turn it off!”

Adriana remained silent, waiting.

“Okay, I’m coming in there! Get against the back wall!”

She heard the click of the lock. The knob turned. The door flew open, sloshing against the flow of water on the floor.

The guard was young, in his early twenties. He had a surfer look, something Adriana had seen a lot around Sydney. She couldn’t be sure if he were a Knight of Vyntari or just some college kid the Knights had left to babysit.

Either way, his handgun made him a threat.

He wisely stood just outside the bathroom in the hallway, said handgun pointed at Adriana’s head. “I said get back!” he demanded.

Adriana was on the man before he could finish his demand. She snatched the gun from his hands and pointed it at his head.

“Turn it off yourself,” Adriana said.

Then her hand started to burn.

Seeing the steam coming off her palm, the guard smiled. “Blessed gun, bitch,” he said.

Adriana fired the gun, shattering something back in the main room. With the gun going off so close to his head, the guard recoiled, grabbing his ears in pain. The vampire took advantage of the moment and grabbed the guard’s shirt. She spun him around, throwing him into the shower. He fell into the water, causing the tub to overflow.

Stepping outside the room, Adriana slammed the bathroom door shut, locking it. She then dropped the gun to the floor.

Looking at her hand, Adriana saw the imprint of the gun’s handle burnt into it. She flexed her fingers. She couldn’t use blood magic to accelerate the healing of a blessed wound; healing would take time, time she didn’t have. She looked to the front door.

The Knights knew her. They wouldn’t leave just one guard to watch her.

Surveying the rest of the room, Adriana saw a sliding glass door that led to a balcony.

As she stepped outside, Adriana saw Sydney at night from the vantage of sixty stories up. She went to the balcony and looked down over the edge. A series of identical balconies stretched down for another five levels. Beneath that, the balconies alternated to another side, making it impossible to find a hand hold of any kind.

Beneath that was the street.

Adriana climbed over the railing and dropped down, angling close to the building. She intended to grab the railing of the balcony below. Her hands made contact — but slipped on the wet balcony rail. She tumbled down, barely grabbing the next railing in time.

The vampire remained in place for a moment. She then pulled herself up on the balcony. It was identical from the one she had left. Looking in through the glass doors, she saw a darkened apartment. The balcony doors were unlocked. Who worry about a burglar coming in this way? Adriana reasoned. She slipped inside.

The apartment’s layout appeared the same as her prison room, save with less fancy furniture and appliances. Adriana made her way across the shadowy room.

And then she heard a crash as glass shattered on the hardwood floor.

Adriana turned to see a man in his boxers standing across in the entrance to the kitchen. His belly drooped over the top of his boxers. The hand that once held the glass remained in front of him, grasping thin air. She couldn’t tell if the look on his face was one of surprise or horror.

“I have no quarrel with you,” Adriana said. “Go back to bed and forget this.”

The man stood stock still. It was as if he didn’t even register Adriana’s words.

Adriana crossed the room and exited the apartment.

Traversing the hallway proved no issue. Adriana took the stairs up the two flights back to the prison room. She could have used the elevator, but elevators had security cameras. Her vampire magic would make her appear as a mere blur on the footage, but she didn’t want to chance some overzealous security guard locking the place down.

Once back on the desired floor, Adriana used her powers to draw the shadows around her, adding to her stealth. She carefully made her way back to the prison room, watchful for any guards possibly positioned there.

She found two of them just around a corner. The one closest to her was older, balding. The other was young, thin, more athletic. He’d be the problem. Before the guards even knew she was there, Adriana sucker punched the older guard. As he stumbled to the ground, the vampire launched an attack against the younger guard, striking him but not hurting him. Much.

She should have hit the older guard harder. He got back to his feet as his younger companion lashed out at Adriana. He hit her in the stomach. She didn’t need to breathe, so she lost no breath. The impervious nature of her body took care of the rest. The attack did little more than annoy her.

The guards would need their blessed handguns to overpower her. Adriana hoped they wouldn’t figure that out.

Adriana refocused on the older guard. He parried her blow and landed another ineffectual one of his own. She upped the stakes by snatching the older guard’s gun out of its holster. She moved to the younger guard and pressed the gun’s muzzle into the man’s stomach.

“Holy bullets will kill the righteous too,” she said.

The older guard played it smart and stopped his advance.

Having captured both men’s attention, Adriana said, “I was brought here with another woman. Where is she?”

The guards were distracted by the smell of burning flesh as the holy weapon seared Adriana’s hand. Now it was a waiting game between Adriana’s pain threshold and their sense of self-preservation.

“We were told to watch the door, that’s it,” the younger guard said.

Adriana put the gun under the younger guard’s chin. “You obviously know my reputation as a killer,” she said. It was partially a bluff; due to her memory loss, even she didn’t know her reputation. “Where is my companion?”

Squirming, the guard held at gunpoint said, “We don’t know! But you can check the security tapes!” Adriana further prodded him with the gun. Steam from her burning flesh wafted into the guard’s face. He recoiled at the smell.

“Where?” she asked.

“First floor! Just past the elevators!”

Adriana nodded. She stepped away from the younger guard, moving around both men while covering them with the gun. Smoke billowed from her palm. “Go into the room.”

“We can’t,” the older guard said. “Praetor Shealey magically sealed it.” This last he said as a challenge to Adriana, daring her to make the next move.

Adriana titled her head to one side. She then quickly pistol-whipped both guards, knocking them unconscious. When they were down, she snatched the shoe from one of the guards. She dropped the gun in the shoe and carried it with her toward the elevator. She’d get over the pain in her hand on her way to the first floor.

Once there, Adriana located the security room and knocked on the door. From the shuffling she heard inside, it sounded as if she’d caught the security team inside off guard. She surmised that, thankfully, the half-naked man had failed to report her.

When the door opened, Adriana slammed her fist into the face of the short man in the security officer uniform as soon as he appeared. He fell backward, crashing to the floor unconscious.

Another man sat in front of a bank of computer monitors. Most of the monitors displayed images from various parts of the building. The two closest to the seated guard displayed movies. A half-eaten donut fell from the guard’s hand and to the floor as he stared in surprise at Adriana.

“Find the footage that shows me entering the building,” she demanded.

“Just don’t hit me!” he whined.

Adriana put a hand on either of the arms of the man’s chair. She leaned into him, her steel gray eyes boring into the man’s soul.

If he could have fallen through the chair’s back, he would have.

“Then do as I ask,” Adriana said.

The vampire held the man’s gaze for a moment and then stepped away. The guard turned back to the monitors and began typing on the keyboard in front of them. “Check monitor two,” he said.

Adriana looked at the appropriately labeled monitor.

It displayed a wide shot of the building’s lobby. In a moment, the monitor flickered. An exterior shot of the building replaced the lobby. Adriana saw the four battered Knights of Vyntari and the man Makeda called Shealey ushering her and Makeda into the building. Adriana remembered that Gabriella had remained in the car, wanting out of Shealey’s presence.

Adriana noticed the guard staring curiously at the screen. Her figure in the video was blurred. No doubt the man was curious about it, but the vampire had neither the time nor the inclination to explain. Instead, she pointed to Shealey and Makeda. “Track these two,” she demanded.

The guard shook himself out of his confusion, then used his sleeve to wipe away sweat from his forehead. He continued typing furiously on the keyboard, looking from one monitor to another.

And then the landline phone rang.

The guard nearly jumped out of his skin. After catching his breath, he looked to Adriana for permission to answer. She nodded, rubbing her burnt hands all the while. He picked up the phone and listened. He handed the handset to Adriana. She looked at it as if it were infected.

“It’s for you,” the guard explained, trying to hand her the phone again.

“Put it on speaker,” Adriana said.

The guard punched the speaker button on the phone and returned the handset to its cradle.

“You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you?” came Freeman’s voice from the phone.

“It depends on your definition of trouble, Shealey,” Makeda said in a snarky tone she was sure would offend the man.

Shealey gnashed his teeth as he glared at Makeda. He’d taken her to one of the building’s upper floors. It was unfinished, left open in preparation for the construction of several more apartments. It had plenty of open space with a beautiful view of the city.

It was perfect for a tribunal.

Makeda sat in a high-backed chair, out of place in the otherwise unfurnished space. Her back was to the naked elevator shaft fifty feet away and in the middle of the wall-less floor. Shealey stood a few feet away from her, pacing so vigorously she was sure he’d leave a trench on the floor.

He wasn’t what concerned her.

Further toward the back of the space, somewhat obscured by the lack of lighting, were three human shapes. They looked, for lack of a better word, like ghosts. Makeda knew they were magical projections.

To her left floated the image of the man she knew as Thomas “Tommy” Negri. With a sharp three-piece suit wrapped around an average-sized frame, slicked back hair, and dark, penetrating eyes, Negri looked like an extra from a Scorsese mob movie. Having met him many times before, she knew he encouraged the impression.

In the center floated the image of Emily Downing.

From her meetings with Downing, Makeda knew the woman acted as if she were half her fifty some-odd years of age. She too was dressed impeccably, with a too-young-for-age pixie cut she nonetheless managed to pull off with aplomb. Downing was also in as good if not better shape than Gabriella, and mirrored the younger woman’s air of goodness.

The last image was that of Seth Cameron.

Whereas Negri was a street hood masquerading as a well-dressed man, Cameron was the man Negri strove to be. The tallest of the three (with Downing the shortest), Cameron wore his fifty-plus years like a fine Scotch: with elegance and warmth. The only real signs of his age were his balding head and the gray hair of his full beard and mustache.

These were the three members of the Knights of Vyntari ruling body, the Concilium. That Makeda now faced them implied, as Freeman would say, that she was in deep shit.

Shealey abruptly turned to face the members of the Concilium, waving an accusatory hand at Makeda behind him. “This is exactly what I mean!” he insisted. “Arsi’s flippant attitude toward matters of dire consequence —”

Downing’s image waved Shealey’s tantrum to silence. “Acknowledging that Praetor Shealey does have a flare for hyperbole,” she began, “you do have quite a bit to explain, Makeda.” Her tone was maternal but firm, compounded by the elegance of her British accent.

“And you allowed Shealey to threaten one of our own to get that explanation?” Makeda asked, fighting to hold back the anger she felt for Shealey’s actions against Gabriella.

Both Cameron and Downing’s images looked questioningly at Shealey. Word of what he had done at St. Mary’s must not have reached them. Being the bastard he was, Shealey had neither shame nor regret. Negri stepped in.

“Praetor Shealey’s actions are not in question here,” Negri said.

“Perhaps they should be,” Downing added, giving Shealey a sideways glare. She turned her focus back to Makeda. “But let’s stay on topic, shall we?”

“Let’s!” Negri cut in. “In the past few months, Arsi has stolen a Vyntari shard. With that shard, she manipulated Berlin’s entire Shadowdance community, resulting in a schism that destroyed their ‘Shadow Peace.’ She also got a pack of Berlin werewolves murdered by an Order of Haroth sorcerer. And if that wasn’t enough, Arsi has lost not one but three Vyntari shards — three! — to our mortal enemies in the Order. And for what, Arsi? Some…blood bag’s redemption?”

Makeda felt the weight of three sets of eyes upon her.

She dared not look at them.

“How did you find us?” Adriana asked.

“When Makeda said she was meeting Gabriella, I got suspicious,” Freeman said. “I did a quick search of Knight properties in the area, figuring if Gabby brought you in or, more likely, the Knights used her to bring you in, they’d have to take you somewhere. The World Tower, of which they own several floors, is a somewhere.”

“Can you help me find Makeda?”

“Sure! I took the liberty of hacking into the Tower’s network, but there are a few pesky passwords that block me from getting into the security systems. If that lovely guard with you would be so kind, it’d save us some time.”

A look from Adriana and the guard told Freeman everything he needed to know.

Moments later, Freeman had remote access to the system. He pulled up the records for the elevator Makeda and Adriana had entered. It had stopped once on the floor the Knights had imprisoned Adriana on. Then, it continued up, stopping at a floor listed as under construction.

“Best bet is they took Makeda there,” Freeman said. “I’d check camera footage to confirm, but the cameras installed there aren’t linked to this network.”

“I will chance it,” Adriana said.

As she headed for the door, Freeman warned, “You don’t know what’s up there, Adriana!”

The vampire stopped, looked back toward the phone. “Makeda has risked much for me. Freeing her is the least I can do.”

“Well, know this too: Makeda is probably in front of the Concilium. They’re deciding right now if they should sanction her.”

“And what would that entail?” Adriana asked.

“At best? A slap on the wrist, which would probably take her out of the field. At worst? Excommunication.”

“Which would mean?”

“Um… we’re kinda in mixed company,” Freeman said, reminding Adriana of the Uninitiated guard’s presence. “But let’s just say all that special stuff Makeda can do? They’d strip her of those abilities.”

Adriana’s eyes narrowed.

Freeman added, “As you’re the cause of all this misery, showing your face might make things worse.”

Adriana considered this. “If I am the cause of Makeda’s predicament, my words may be what saves her.”

Looking to the guard, she added, “And you will remain silent about all of this, or I will return and hit you. Hard.”

The guard cringed in his chair.

Adriana left the room.

Over the speakerphone, Freeman said, “Since we have the time, you a Marvel or DC man?”

The guard stared at the phone.

Makeda sat heavily in her chair, remaining silent for several uncomfortable minutes. She knew it might make her appear guilty, as if she was searching for some excuse, but she needed the time to devise a strategy.

She knew Cameron. He was one of the few people who had firsthand knowledge of Adriana Dupré and had lived to tell the tale. She’d discussed elements of her plan with him back in August of last year. Cameron had also provided transportation when needed, particularly during Makeda, Adriana and her fellow Knights’ escape from Berlin after their ruinous confrontation with that pack of werewolves Negri mentioned.

Cameron had acted of his own volition, trusting Makeda to keep his involvement and her plan secret. If the others became aware of his participation, it would put him in a worse position with the Concilium than Makeda.

Besides her Qaallu in Oromia and Chigmy at Mount Kanchenjunga, no one had shaped Makeda more as a Knight of Vyntari. Cameron trusted her; she would not betray that trust. That also meant she couldn’t play on his sympathies.

Downing was a wild card. She was a bon vivant known for her patronage of the arts, but that merely covered up her devotion to the cause. She believed the Knights should do as much good as possible for the largest amount of people. If you did right by the One Goddess, Downing loved you. Cross the One Goddess or her teachings, and Downing would be the first to condemn you.

Negri came from the same extremist camp as Shealey: defeat evil by any means necessary. Makeda had seemingly let evil win. This fact put her and Negri at odds.

Her only play was to coax Downing to her side, so Cameron could then agree with her. Then both members could overrule anything Negri said.

“I heard Malachi Thorne resurfaced and was killed,” Makeda said, finally looking at the Concilium’s images.

Makeda’s statement left the group silent. They must have figured that she’d been out of the loop.

Shealey was the first to cut through the silence. “I told you we should have brought in her discipulus as well! It’s the only way she could know such highly sensitive information.”

“Please,” Downing said. “The leader of the Order returns and is murdered. As much as they would try, the Order could never contain something like that. Makeda is nothing if not resourceful, as her escapades in Berlin and Oromia can attest.”

“And how many people did she jeopardize with her misguided crusade?” Negri added.

Makeda jumped in. “Yes, Berlin is a mess, and the shards are missing, but Thorne would never show his face for anything less. And now we’ve removed a major player from the Shadowdance.”

“We didn’t kill Thorne,” Cameron clarified in his Scottish brogue, finally choosing to be a part of the conversation.

“But he’s gone nonetheless,” Makeda said. Looking to Negri, she said, “I suppose you’re just upset you don’t get to claim his head.”

Before Negri could reply, Downing interjected, “Stoking animosity isn’t the right approach, Makeda.”

The chastised Knight looked away from the group. “We can find the shards,” she said in a respectful tone.

“And how exactly are you doing that?” Negri asked. “By playing hooky with a legendary killer blood bag?”

Makeda noticed Shealey turn away from the group, his head bowed as if listening to something. She guessed he’d performed a ritual like the Oromian Ibada ya Mawasiliano Kuimarishwa, allowing him telepathic communication with his discipuli. What could be so important that they’d interrupt him here?

“A killer she may be,” Cameron said. “But she did help us at Sachsenhausen during the Second Great War. And Adriana personally saved my life during the Millennium Massacre.”

Shealey turned back to the Concilium. “Forgive me, viceroys, but a situation has arisen that I must deal with.”

Makeda smiled.

Adriana.

Downing nodded and waved a hand, dismissing Shealey. He hurried for the elevator.

“So we should give the blood bag and her accomplice here a pass?” Negri asked, returning to the matter at hand.

“Our Goddess is all about forgiveness and redemption, is she not?” Cameron countered.

“But is Dupré, is Arsi, worth giving a cult of evil sorcerers the power to destroy Her world?”

“And that is the question at hand, isn’t it, gentlemen?” Downing said. “Is the redemption of Adriana Dupré and the seemingly related death of our greatest enemy worth the loss of three Vyntari shards to that enemy’s organization?”

“With respect, Viceroy Downing,” Negri began, “regardless of that question’s answer, can we allow Arsi to go unpunished for her unsanctioned actions?”

Not quite the turn Makeda had expected.

The elevator stopped abruptly.

Adriana looked up, checking the floor numbers. Two were lit up, meaning she must have stopped between floors. Regardless, she was far below the floor she wanted.

The vampire moved to the elevator doors, attempting to pry them open. Her burned hands made the task impossible. She then heard something land on the elevator car above her. Looking to the ceiling, Adriana saw the emergency entrance hatch open.

Shealey dropped into the car.

Adriana turned to face him.

“The only way you leave this car,” Shealey began. He pulled his ethereal chain from behind his back and let its end clank on the metal of the car floor. “Is in chains,” he finished.

The car began moving again.

It headed down.

“Why is it going back down?” Freeman asked over the phone line.

“I can’t answer that, sir,” the guard in the security room responded. “But I just saw the guy who brought your friends in here climb into the elevator shaft.”

“Ya know, despite liking Man of Steel, you’re good people,” Freeman said.

“Hey! I liked Chris Reeve too, but we live in a different world now. Our heroes can kill when it saves lives.”

“Where I come from, it takes a real hero to find the non-lethal solution.”

“In the meantime, I’d just kill ‘em.”

“Change of subject; how do I get into elevator control?” Freeman asked.

“Try the maintenance network.”

There was a silence on the line from Freeman. “Got it,” he finally said. “You know, you can get out of here, Angel. Promise Adriana won’t hit you if you go.”

Freeman couldn’t see Angel the guard’s shrug. “I’m getting paid either way. And it’s not cool to have kidnapped people in the building. Even if they knocked my buddy unconscious trying to escape.”

“Yet you haven’t called the cops,” Freeman said.

“I have a feeling they can get out of it themselves,” Angel responded.

“Heh. Yeah, Adriana and Makeda might just be a little Birds of Prey.”

“That show sucked.”

“The comic book version,” Freeman clarified. “Especially the Simone run. Now let’s see if we can’t get our version of Batgirl where she’s going.”

“She seems more like the Huntress to me.”

Silence from Freeman for a moment. “Yeah,” he eventually said. “You’re probably right.”

Adriana instinctively remembered how to fight larger opponents. She’d make a quick attack, then back away while her larger opponent struggled to catch up to her rapid movements.

The cramped space of the descending elevator prevented such an offensive. Instead, her style relied on feints and quick hits. He countered with brute force.

Looking to shift the momentum, Adriana tried grappling with Shealey.

At that exact moment, the elevator came to an abrupt halt.

The sudden stop threw Adriana off balance. Shealey, seemingly unaffected by the car’s movement, took advantage of Adriana’s weakened state and slammed a fist into her stomach. The Knight was stronger than the guards she’d encountered earlier.

The vampire stumbled to one knee.

Shealey raised his hand to hammer down on Adriana, but the vampire rolled to the side, slamming her back against the side of the car. While Shealey readjusted to his opponent’s new position, Adriana scrambled to her feet and crossed the car so she stood behind Shealey. He turned again, but the vampire’s speed was too much for him.

Adriana slammed her forearms down on both of Shealey’s shoulders while driving her knee into the back of his left leg. The Knight’s leg buckled. He stooped down to Adriana’s level. The vampire’s fangs extended. She grabbed the collar of his shirt, exposing the skin where his neck met his shoulder.

Adriana bit down hard, drawing blood.

Shealey grunted from the pain. He reached over his shoulders with both hands and grabbed the back of Adriana’s neck. He rolled forward, pulling Adriana with him. In the tumble, she lost her grip on the Knight.

Shealey scuttled away from Adriana, slamming his back against the elevator car wall. He looked back to her.

Blood — his blood — coated Adriana’s lips.

Shealey touched his wound. He glared at Adriana.

The vampire sat down with her legs crossed. She licked her lips and made no further move to resist.

The elevator abruptly started again, moving back up.

Adriana held up her hands, wrists together, in a sign of submission. “Take me to your leaders as a prisoner. I will not resist.” she said.

“You’re beaten,” he replied. “You don’t get to make demands.”

“I submitted. Now chain me and take me there” — Adriana’s submissive expression turned to one of cunning — “or I will get there myself.”

Makeda didn’t look to the Concilium, but she felt Downing’s gaze on her.

“What I’m missing from this, Makeda,” Downing said, “is your motive. You imply you did this to draw Thorne out, but you could never know for sure he’d appear. It’s more likely you were testing Adriana, trying to see if, as Viceroy Cameron suggests, you could persuade her to our side.”

Negri cut in. “I must insist that the murderous blood bag and a hunch that Thorne would reveal himself is not enough to justify —”

The ping of the elevator silenced those on the floor.

The Concilium members looked past Makeda and to the elevator. Makeda did not follow their gaze. She knew they expected Shealey to return, and so he did, stepping from the elevator like a Roman returning from sacking Carthage.

Shealey held a chain, swathed in ethereal white light, that stretched behind him. Tugging on it, he pulled Adriana from the elevator like a captured beast. She stumbled but kept her footing. The end of the chain bound her wrists. Shealey dragged her along as he approached the others.

“How did she get loose?” Negri asked, his tone incredulous.

“My apologies, Viceroy Negri, Concilium,” Shealey said. “But as you can see, I’ve contained the situation.”

Shealey stopped abruptly. He was just in Makeda’s line of sight. Shealey tilted his head, shaking his head as if woozy. Touching the skin beneath his nose, he found blood. He brought that same hand to his forehead, holding it there as if checking his temperature.

“Something the matter, Shealey?” Cameron asked.

Makeda detected sarcasm in Cameron’s tone.

Shealey looked to the Concilium. He blinked. Dropping the chain that bound Adriana, he rubbed his eyes and found his hands smeared with blood. His blood. Shealey looked to the other Knights as panic crept into his expression.

“That’s enough, Adriana,” Makeda said.

The Knight on trial turned her chair to look at Adriana. Though the Concilium members could not see her expression, Makeda still fought to conceal the smirk forming at the corner of her mouth. Adriana nodded slightly.

Shealey blinked again. His vision cleared. The bleeding stopped, but traces of the substance stained his clothing, his face. His mouth, once open in shock, closed. His fingers curled into fists. He glared to Adriana, murder in his expression.

“I remembered something from my time with the Daughters of Lilith on the way to the cathedral,” Adriana said.

Shealey strode to a position in front of Adriana. Looking down at the vampire, he prepared to shout at her when Downing cut in.

“As a patron of the arts,” she began, “I’m normally a fan of theatrics.” Downing waited until she had everyone’s attention. She then finished with, “This, however, is not the time.”

Adriana dipped her head as a sign of deferment. She then raised her bound hands.

“Shealey,” Downing said. “Release Mademoiselle Dupré. Then go clean yourself up. We’ll deal with your actions later.”

Shealey began to speak, but Downing’s insistent expression silenced him. He sighed, then walked to Adriana and uncoiled the ethereal chains from her wrists.

“That was for what you did to Gabriella,” Adriana whispered to Shealey. She then moved past the disgruntled, bloody Knight to Makeda’s side.

Shealey took his chain and walked to the elevator. Adriana watched him from over her shoulder. When he was gone, she faced the three members of the Concilium, her head held up in defiance.

“I do not know what you intend for Makeda Arsi,” Adriana began, “but you cannot excommunicate her.”

“And how do you even know of this, blood bag?” Negri shot back.

Ignoring him, Adriana said, “Her intentions were not evil. Removing her touch with magic would be too great a crime, despite the damage her actions may have caused your ridiculous Shadowdance.”

“It is not your place to say anything,” Negri said.

“She did make it this far,” Cameron countered.

Negri motioned to speak, but Downing raised a hand, silencing him. She waved this hand at Adriana. “Say your piece.”

The vampire looked down for a moment. When Adriana looked back to the Concilium, her eyes were full of passion. “After my resurrection in Oromia,” she began, “I returned with little memory of who I was. Makeda and Freeman have helped me put facts in place, but I still lack the emotional responses to those facts.

“I do understand, though, that I have done many horrible things.”

“To say the least!” Negri said, earning a glare from Downing. Shealey turned away from the Concilium as Adriana continued.

“I seek redemption for my past sins. I would not have come to this decision if not for Makeda’s intervention. If she can convince one person to turn from the darkness, who are any of you to cast her out of the light?”

“We were discussing something before your arrival,” Downing said. “Is saving your soul worth damning others?”

“How many souls might I save?”

“How many souls might you yet destroy?” Negri asked.

Adriana’s jaw tightened. “I did not kill your man here. Nor did I kill the guards at my room or the Knights you sent to ambush me at the cathedral.”

“Point taken,” Cameron said.

Adriana glared at Negri. He did not wilt under her hateful stare.

“Your change of heart does not erase the destruction of the Berlin Shadow Peace,” he said. “Nor has it found us the missing three Vyntari shards.”

“I will find them,” Adriana said without hesitation.

Her statement drew a laugh from Negri. “And how will you do that running around on holiday?” he asked.

Adriana addressed Negri directly. “If trying to reclaim pieces of your soul is what you call a holiday, I suggest you never take one.”

Makeda saw Cameron stifle a smile.

Adriana turned back to all three Concilium members. “The only loss for which I cannot atone is the deaths of Denson and his pack. Their loss means more to me than it will ever mean to you and yours.”

“How so?” Downing asked.

“It’s complicated,” Makeda answered for Adriana. “And highly personal.”

“As is this very tribunal,” Negri said.

“Adriana is not on trial here,” Downing said. Looking at the vampire, she asked, “Will you avenge Denson and his pack, Adriana?”

Adriana did not immediately answer. Her gaze drifted from those in the room. “In my past life, yes.” She looked directly at Negri. “Yes, I would have. I would avenge them with the same violence in which we lost them.”

The vampire’s gaze shifted to Downing. “But that directive of violence is a part of me I wish to leave in my past. I would seek not vengeance, but justice.”

“And what would this justice entail?” Downing asked.

“Finding the sorcerer who slaughtered them, bringing his darkness to the light by giving him to whatever authorities oversee your Shadowdance.” Adriana looked back to Negri. “I would imagine that would also bring me closer to your missing Vyntari shards.”

The room fell silent.

Downing eventually said, “You present an interesting angle to this tribunal, Mademoiselle Dupré. Makeda engineered the entire Berlin and Oromia debacles to gain your trust. To follow your plan would require a trust in you we have no reason to allow.”

She looked from Adriana to Makeda. “The question we must decide is, after your defiance of Knight code, can we trust you, Makeda?”

Back in the apartment, Adriana pushed the balcony door. It wouldn’t open. She locked and unlocked the door, but it still refused to move.

“Another trick some Knights learn is to seal doors magically,” Makeda said.

“They learned their lesson,” Adriana said. She joined Makeda on the sofa. “The security guards in the monitor room,” she began.

“The Knights own a few floors of this building,” Makeda explained.

“So Freeman said. He also said those guards were not Initiates to the Shadowdance.”

“Meaning they don’t know of it, nor the supernatural in general.”

“And what will the Knights do when they learn one of the guards assisted me?”

Makeda thought on this. “Nothing.” Off Adriana’s curious stare, she continued, “The Knights will use whatever resources necessary to make it as if this night never occurred. Should the guards get curious and investigate, they’ll find records showing the occupation of this room by some tenant for the past two months. No water damage, nor any damage, to the bathroom. Surveillance footage will mysteriously disappear.

“Should the guards persist, they’ll find sizeable increases in their savings or children’s college funds that will convince them to stand down and accepted the altered reality.”

Adriana relaxed. Makeda gave the vampire’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“You put in a great deal of effort to help me,” Makeda said.

Adriana looked to Makeda. “You could say, in a way, I died for you.”

Makeda was unsure if the usually sullen girl before her was making a joke or being sincere. As Adriana was not smiling, she decided to continue in seriousness. “That death was for you. So you could have a new life. One of your choosing, not the Daughters’.”

Adriana studied Makeda. “You could tell me everything. About my life, that is.”

“We’ve told you much. How has that helped so far?”

The girl thought on this. She shrugged. “Enough to drive me, but there are still unmade connections.”

“And together we will find those connections. But in time, so as not to overwhelm you.”

“That is, if the Concilium decides to give us the time.”

Makeda’s hand drifted from Adriana’s shoulder. She forced a smiled. “Well, there is that.”

A knock at the door broke a silence that had lasted nearly ten minutes. Makeda and Adriana looked to one another. On the other side of that door could wait the decision that would alter their lives forever.

Neither woman expected Gabriella as the herald of such news. She wore a pained expression. Makeda and Adriana stood to meet her.

“I want you to know that what I did I felt was the right thing to do, as per the Concilium,” Gabriella said.

“I know,” Makeda began, but the younger Knight waved her off.

“I felt that you cannot do what you want without the blessing of the One Goddess, and you get that through the Concilium. But today I understand more than ever what both you and Freeman tried to show me in Berlin.

“The Concilium, the Knights, all of us — we’re only human. As such, the visions of the One Goddess can become perverted by human frailty. That in mind, I would sooner put my faith in your vision of the One Goddess.”

Makeda approached Gabriella. “It is not my vision you should follow.”

The senior Knight took Gabriella’s hands in hers and then placed them over Gabriella’s heart. “Trust your vision of the One Goddess. Do what is right by Her in your mind. That is the true lesson.”

Gabriella bowed her head, thinking over Makeda’s words. She eventually nodded and looked back to Makeda. The younger Knight had tears in her eyes, but also the look of understanding. The senior Knight took her discipulus into her arms.

“I’m glad you two worked that out,” came Cameron’s voice from across the room.

The three ladies present looked in that direction and saw his image floating there.

“The Concilium figured it best that I deliver the news,” Cameron’s image said. “Since Shealey will be busy retraining with Chigmy.”

Makeda released Gabriella from their embrace. “Retraining?” she asked.

“Shealey has lost his way,” Cameron replied. “He’s become far too violent, far too obsessive. Worse, he believes the ends justify his means. Unfortunately for him, he never succeeds. Unlike you, Makeda.”

Adriana glanced at the African Knight, and then back at Cameron.

“You have created quite the mess, Makeda Arsi,” he continued, “but that’s what happens when things change. Before you get too pleased with yourself, though, we must reminded you that you are part of a team here with the Knights. You must act as such.”

Cameron paused to let the three women absorb his words.

“The Concilium will not excommunicate you, but you will no longer serve as a praetor with the Knights.”

Gabriella gasped.

“What does that mean?” Adriana asked.

Cameron answered, “Makeda will no longer serve in a leadership capacity.”

The chastised Knight lowered her head. Her next words came in a dull monotone. “It is a fair judgment.”

“We will reassign Michael and Gabriella,” Cameron continued.

Gabriella stepped forward to speak, but Makeda grasped her arm, stopping her. The blonde Knight inhaled, gathering herself. She then turned away from the others.

“In the meantime, you will be given, and accept, a special assignment.” Here Cameron looked to Adriana. “You and Adriana.”

“You will allow me to continue my work with Makeda?” Adriana asked.

Cameron got close to a smile. “Your little game with Shealey impressed Viceroy Downing. She never liked him or his methods; it was nice to see him taken down a peg. Downing is willing to give you leeway to pursue your redemption. Just know that should you fall from the path, Negri will have twenty Knights there to send you to Hell.”

“Again, a fair judgment,” Makeda said. “I hope this special assignment is as fair.”

“I wouldn’t concern myself with fair. Many secrets remain in the dark.” Cameron’s gaze focused on Adriana. “How far will you go to bring them to light?”

###

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Saga, Song Two

 

 

 

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[+ About the Author+]

 

The son of a sharecropper (not really), Mark Wooden has actively pursued the dream of being a Creative since his epic kindergarten work, “Ne-Ne the Vampire Panda.”

He draws inspiration from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Blade,” decades of “Batman” and “X-Men” comic books and conspiracy epics “24” and “The X-Files.” He’d be remiss if he didn’t mention the influence of a certain Frank Miller-created assassin named Elektra.

Mark mines his two decades of experiences in live entertainment to instill humanity into the vampires, demons, werewolves, sorcerers and other creatures of his “Shadowdance” urban fantasy saga. The novels allow readers to confront the evil that men and monsters do from the comfort of a book.

“By Virtue Fall: A Song of the Shadowdance” is the first novel in the “Shadowdance” saga.

Look into the shadows and see horror in action.

Catch author Mark’s pop culture musings on Facebook, his “Thinking Out Loud” blog and Twitter (@Shadowdancesaga). Become an Initiate of the “Shadowdance” saga for free ebooks and geek culture news.


Fall to Grace

Enter the "Shadowdance" action/ urban fantasy saga with this short story, "Fall to Grace." Vampire Adriana suffers from memory loss. She remembers a girl, possibly her sister, and a previous life as an assassin. Warrior sorcerer Makeda helps Adriana recover her memories -- but then the women are captured by Makeda's superiors, the Knights of Vyntari. They want Makeda to explain why she jeopardized three important artifacts during an operation in Berlin. Adriana must help Makeda prove her case to the Knights, or Makeda will be excommunicated from the organization and lose her ability to work with Adriana. There are forces within the Knights who want exactly that -- and for Adriana to meet her final death!

  • Author: Mark Wooden
  • Published: 2017-08-31 17:20:14
  • Words: 15514
Fall to Grace Fall to Grace