Veritas had Kira by the collar of her shirt, her sea-blue eyes boring into hers.
"Perhaps Mencheres acted without your knowledge. Perhaps he forced you to participate. In this moment only I am offering you the chance to admit to the truth without fear of persecution. You have the word of a Guardian that you will not be charged. Did Mencheres do these things? Or did he ever leave your side during the evening of the fire, or after the Enforcers chased you, to be able to commit these crimes?"
"No to all the above," Kira answered steadily. "It wasn't him."
Veritas's gaze still pinned hers. "Are you willing to swear by your blood that he is innocent? To forfeit your own life if he is found guilty of committing even one of these acts?"
"Yes," Kira said, even as Mencheres burst, "She has been accused of nothing, you cannot expect her to forfeit her life based on the council's decision on me!"
"I can," Veritas said, releasing Kira. "And I will repeat her vow to the council once I return, so if you have guilt to confess, Mencheres, and you want to spare her, do it now." Mencheres gave Kira such a tormented look that fear slid up her spine. He wouldn't confess to something he hadn't done, would he? Of course not. He'd be condemning himself to death just on the mere chance that the other Guardians would rule against him . . .
"Don't," she gasped, clutching his arms. "I know you think you're going to die anyway, but your visions are wrong, Mencheres! They're stalled and twisted from the guilt you felt over things that weren't even your fault. This is not the only way you can save me. Come on, if Veritas didn't in some way suspect more was going on, she wouldn't have shown up here. You didn't do any of this! Don't you dare say you did!" Tears spilled out of her eyes, and her grip tightened until Kira heard bones snap in his arms, but fear made her unable to let up. Mencheres was about to slip away from her forever, she could feel it.
"Don't trust what those damned visions say," she whispered. "Trust me. We can beat Radje another way, I know it. Let me prove it to you."
His eyes, so dark and fathomless, stared into hers. Very gently, he captured her hands and pulled them off his arms with a flex of his power. Then he brought them to his lips.
"I love you," he breathed against her skin.
"Don't, please," she begged, panic rising in her while tears continued to course down her cheeks.
Mencheres looked past Kira to Veritas. "I had nothing to do with the arson, the deaths of those people, or the Enforcer's death," he said in a clear tone. "The same person who accuses me is the one responsible. Radjedef."
Relief flooded Kira so strongly she thought her knees would give out. All her instincts screamed that Mencheres had been moments away from taking all the blame. Part of her wanted to throw her arms around him while the other part wanted to slap him for almost doing something so nobly, lethally stupid.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again," she ordered in a shaking voice.
His mouth curved in a grim smile. "Instead, I've terrified myself." Kira knew what he meant, but she believed everything she said about finding a way to beat Radjedef. Veritas's expression when she looked at her only confirmed it. The Law Guardian appeared wary but thoughtful, that initial angry accusing light gone from her gaze.
"Mencheres, if you keep trying to throw your life away, I'll kill you myself," Vlad muttered. "You might not be needed by your people as much with Bones sharing your rule, but you are needed by your friends. Remember that the next time you hear the siren song of the grave."
"Most of the Guardians believe you killed those vampires and set fire to the club," Veritas said, speaking for the first time in several moments. "There was, however, a troubling find with Josephus's body. His head was taken off, but closer inspection revealed he might have also been stabbed in the back."
"Wouldn't it be obvious if he was?" Kira asked, frowning.
"No," Mencheres replied. "When a vampire is killed, the body decomposes back to its true age. Josephus was several hundred years old. There would have been little left of him except withered skin and bones."
Not a pretty mental image, but dead bodies seldom were. Kira still didn't understand the significance of the knife wound as being suspicious, unless the other Enforcers revealed that Mencheres left all their knives back at the park. Though Josephus could have grabbed his own blade before he chased them and later been killed with that . . .
"There you have it," Vlad said, sounding satisfied. "Vampire or ghoul, Mencheres doesn't use knives to kill. He simply tears someone's head off with his power. Radje would've needed a knife against an Enforcer, and the element of surprise, too. Explains why Josephus's wound was in the back. Poor bastard probably never saw it coming." A flash of that day at the warehouse skittered across Kira's memory, and she grimaced. Mencheres had decapitated all of the ghouls with a mere thought, faster than it would have taken for him to gather up one of their knives. Why would Mencheres ever use knives when his telekinesis was a far faster and deadlier weapon?
"Radje must have taken Josephus's head off after he was dead to make it appear as if I'd done it," Mencheres mused. "Clever. He must not have thought anyone would look for a knife wound, or that evidence of one would remain. With an Enforcer's death blamed on me, most of my all ies would fall away. He already knows I sought death before. This would leave me in a far more desperate position to give him what he wants first."
"What does he want, aside from your being dead?" Kira grumbled.
"My power. Cain was the father of our race, cursed by his god forever to roam the land as a fugitive in punishment for murdering Abel. But Cain pleaded that his sentence was too great, and his god took pity, marking Cain so none could kill him. Cain thus became the first vampire, dependent on blood for sustenance but beyond mortal death and possessing incredible power. Cain then made his own race to replace the family he'd been driven away from, but to only one of his offspring did he will out a portion of his incredible power. Enoch was that first recipient, and many centuries later, Enoch passed on Cain's legacy of power to his heir, Tenoch, who then passed it to me." Veritas's blond brows rose. "How could Radjedef get that from you now? You gave that power legacy to Bones when you merged lines with him."
"So I did, and Bones cannot will the power to anyone else until he masters it completely. It took me several hundred years to do that. Radje has no intention of waiting that long. He wants me to will out all the power left in me. It's the only way he can be assured of finally possessing Cain's legacy."