20


The next night, Maisie found me in the library. After another grueling workout with Rhea—who’d spent the entire session wearing a helmet—I’d gone there in search of books on Chthonic magic. I’m not much for book learning, but I was determined to do whatever it took to understand my new powers and how I could use them to my benefit.

“Am I interrupting?” Maisie asked from the threshold, her posture hesitant.

I looked up from the book I’d been reading. I’d been excited when I found a book titled Blood, Sex, and Death: Chthonic Magic and the Modern Mage. However, the dense writing and patronizing, academic tone didn’t match the intriguing title at all. I put it down and shot Maisie a relieved smile. “Nope.”

She took a seat in the armchair next to me. Her movements were slow, as if her limbs weighed her down. Dark circles shadowed the areas under her blue eyes. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. All these meetings suck the life right out of me.”

I set the book on the table between us and gave her my full attention. “I take it things aren’t going well with the council?”

She grimaced. “Not just the council. Queen Maeve’s emissary insists on daily briefings.”

I frowned. “Why?”

She sighed and slid down a bit in her chair. “The queen isn’t sold on the idea of war. The council is getting closer to a vote every day, and, with the exception of a couple of holdouts, it’s looking like war is inevitable. But we need the queen’s support if we’re going to pull off a victory.”

“But I thought faeries and mages were allies. I’d have thought her support was a foregone conclusion.”

“We are allies. And in the past we could always count on the faeries to fight with us. But times have changed. Centuries ago, the human population was smaller and more spread out. But now they’re everywhere and have the ability to communicate with each other quickly. If a battle breaks out and humans get injured or witness something, the entire world could know about it within minutes. Imagine what would happen if the humans’ governments turned their weapons on us.”

I hadn’t thought about that angle. Not a surprise, since I never gave humans a second thought in general. But now that I thought about it, I understood the danger. Humans outnumbered all the dark races. If they found out we existed, infighting would be the least of our worries. During times of peace, all the dark races managed to stay under the humans’ radar through various means. Since vamps were nocturnal, it was fairly simple to go unnoticed through subterfuge and careful leadership by the Dominae. Any vamps that got out of line were taken out of the picture. Mages and faeries had magic and human-friendly lifestyles on their sides. But war would mean the gloves were off, and the potential for total anarchy was huge.

“And you agree with her?” I asked.

Maisie nodded. “Like most of the council, I don’t believe the Dominae should be allowed to get away with killing our own without repercussion. But I am worried about the bigger picture. The council is, too. That’s what’s held up the vote. We want to be sure we can contain the collateral damage if we go to war. And it’s my job to convince the queen we’ll be able to do that.”

“How?”

“We have a few ideas. These days, it’s possible to wage a war without two armies meeting on a battlefield. There’s guerilla tactics and financial strategies that can cripple an opponent.”

I nodded. “Go after the Dominae’s business interests, destroy their resources.”

She smiled. “Exactly. But the problem is we also have to ensure we’re prepared for anything from the Dominae. They could use the same strategies against us. Or they could do it the old-fashioned way and attack us with everything they’ve got. That’s the rub here. There’s no way we can promise Queen Maeve that the Dominae won’t expose us all.”

“But why would they do that?”

She shrugged. “Who knows what they have planned? After all, they kidnapped dozens of mages to drain their blood. They obviously had a plan for it.”

I sat back and digested all this. My gut clenched, thinking about all the angles and variables. I could only imagine the stress Maisie and the rest of the council were under right now. “With Adam working on her at court and you working on the envoy here, surely the queen will relent soon.”

The skin around Maisie’s eyes tightened. “Yeah, I’m just worried. I’ll support whatever the council decides to do, but I’m not excited about the prospect of war.”

I didn’t say anything. What could I say? Sure, if the mages declared war on the Dominae, it suited my purposes. But there were other ways to get revenge against the Dominae. Ways that didn’t threaten the destruction of both races.

Maisie shook herself and waved a hand in the air. “Anyway, I didn’t come here to unload on you about all this. How are things with you? Rhea said lessons are going really well.”

I shrugged. “I guess so. I’m just impatient.”

She smiled. “She said that, too.”

“I know you’ve been busy, but is there any word from the Pythian Guard on the attack?”

“Not yet. Unfortunately, the council’s priority is having the Pythian Guard focus on shoring up our security. We’ve called in Guards from across the country, so we should have more manpower soon. But rest assured, we’re committed to finding who sent the demon after you.”

I tamped down my frustration over this news. It wasn’t Maisie’s fault the council had other priorities. “Any word from Adam?”

Maisie smiled. “That’s one of the reasons I came to find you. Orpheus called him back from his assignment. He’s expected back in time for the Blood Moon Festival.”

My stomach gave a little jump. Rhea had told me the mages always had a big celebration for the full Blood Moon, which was happening in four nights. Four nights until Adam returned to distract me.

“That’s nice.” I tried to make my tone sound nothing more than politely interested, but Maisie saw through it.

“The festival will be the perfect setting for your reunion, I think.” She winked at me.

My cheeks heated. “I doubt it. He’ll be busy with Pythian Guard stuff. Plus, Rhea mentioned something about me taking part in the rites since I’m the High Priestess of the Blood Moon.” Whatever that meant. Thus far, all the title entailed was me wearing the necklace they’d given me when I arrived. I toyed with it now, looking down into the moonstone to avoid Maisie’s shrewd gaze.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com