The Discord Trilogy

 
 

High Queen Sabine

High Queen Sabine of the Noricum - From Chapters 19-22 of The Golden Apple of Discord


Utilizing all of our investigative resources in Boulogne has brought us no closer to revealing the renegade vampires. Alton is still dead and Ismet still grieves. Lucius wisely counseled my husband, the King, to obtain more information before we confront them. It has been weeks since one of their slovenly kills has been reported, which is why I and nearly a dozen other Noricum are here at their cabin.


Through the memory of Duncan's ring, this place is familiar. Uprooted trees line the clearing, no doubt caused by the two pushers we now pursue. So many abilities concentrated in so few people. If this Dacian craft, our old conflict may not remain a stalemate much longer.


"Majesty?" Duncan asks as he motions towards the door of the shack these women call home. I nod, and brush the doorknob. Images flood my mind containing the history this door has seen. The repeated of the rising and setting sun is dumped into my mind; time is the only thing with more permanence than vampires. Sifting back through time, the first image of our quarry is four red-headed women packing suitcases and turning off the light. They have been gone for some time.


Days and nights pass with these four coming and going, never another soul in the picture. There are only four, without a known Dacian in sight. There is an absence of deference. No one bows and they enter the cottage in a different order every time. Their physical mannerisms do not reveal a leader among them. They walk casually and laugh a great deal. No one who serves Cothelas is this happy.


There is the confrontation with the premier detachment that cost Alton his life. After the detachment withdrew they laughed! Taralie looked over Alton's body like a physician, but breaking off Alton’s finger in the process. Her, along with the others inspect and keep his Noricum ring. We must be watchful for any reports of the renegades posing as one of us.

They are so inept it takes multiple attempts to burn Alton.


Before the detachment arrived, a span of months elapsed with little change. Taralie and the one they call Coralia rip up trees by their roots with a simple glance. Such great power, but in the hands of infants. At one point, Coralia pulled the ghost maker off the ground by her undergarments.


Further back, Taralie reads leather bound books, but her long hair drapes over the sides, making it impossible to see what is on the pages. Coralia imitates a circus juggler without moving and the one who wore a crown braid in her hair did so for no other reason than amusement. In Boulogne after Alton was killed, I had put such importance on her hair style when trying to determine who the leader was. It was of no consequence.


Just after they arrived with their suitcases, Taralie knelt and vomited blood into the snow. Never before, in all my years or object memories have I seen this.


Moving on to the wall, another layer of images is absorbed as a silent movie.


Taralie was the only vampire when they arrived, she turned the others. That was when she vomited the blood. Taralie wears the mark of Cothelas, but he is nowhere to be seen.


Opening my eyes, Duncan has waited patiently for me. “They are no longer here.”


Duncan asks, “What do you mean?”


 “I cannot hear them, but they have taken their possessions. They do not mean to return.”


"Do you know where to find them?"


"Take me to their last kill. I need to see them hunt."


Verus, Marian, Duncan, and I ride in one large vehicle while Novak drives. The others follow in various cars.


Duncan asks, "What have you seen?"


Verus leans forward ever so slightly, coveting my sight. "The only, and I mean only proof I see of Dacian involvement is the mark of Cothelas on Taralie's wrist. Neither him, nor any other Dacian is ever present."


Duncan asks, "Could it be a random bite as opposed to the Dacian king?"


Verus says, "He has two distinctive teeth patterns and no one would try to impersonate being marked by the Socious killer. They are even more hated among vampires than animal drinkers."


"They do not act as Dacians. Their accommodations reek of poverty or desperation. Perhaps they are in hiding?" I ask, mostly to myself.


Novak says from the driver's seat, "Dacians do not hide, but rather give us a wide berth. Why would they hide?"


He raises a good question. Why would Cothelas have creations in hiding, especially ones so powerful? An idea flits across my mind and if correct, would shake the foundations of the Dacian armistices. "What if Cothelas is building his own detachment? One loyal to him only."


Verus replies, "It has been decades since we had news from inside the castle, much less need of it."


"But why do they hide? She may be some protégé of Cothelas. They all share the same red hair and he was known to turn relatives to ensure a loyal army."


Verus outright laughs. "Cothelas attempting to reign supreme over the Dacians? He fights for scraps."


I smile gently, "Tell that to Ides."


The car's occupants along with Verus go completely silent.


At length Duncan asks, "How are so many abilities in one extended family?"


I reply, "It is known to happen. Ismet and Alton were human brothers. Perhaps there is some sort of fracture between the Dacians. Taralie clearly knows Cothelas, well enough for him to change her. Perhaps he trained her to elude Draco and the reason we do not know of her is because not even Draco does."


"You forget your history, Sabine." Verus gloats. "Cothelas and Draco reigned with Priam, they know his command. The Socius killers have huddled together all these centuries for protection against us. That need has not changed."


"Of course, Prince Verus. But, one with the wisdom and depth of memories such as yourself should remember people change and with that, what they are willing to endure. I sense a sea change and do not know which of the Dacians will live to see the end of it."


That should silence him for awhile.


*


The Toronto city street is a nest of filth and ignorance. The humans go about their day, as if it has some meaning. Their weakness is delicious.


An ordinary apartment building is where the fugitives last fed. I read a storefront opposite the main entry way but dislike reading objects where only a small slice of its history is needed. At least it is a stationary point of view. When Verus reads memories, it is ever changing.


Scrolling back through weeks of traffic, I eventually see the Dacian offshoot. They huddle in an alley a few dozen meters to the right, watching and waiting. The man they are about to kill strolls into the building, not aware of his surroundings. They wait only a few seconds before following.


They planned this, and were waiting specifically for him.


I motion for Ismet and Novak to enter the building with me.


"Majesty?"


"Yes, Novak?"


"What is it you hope to find here?"


"I know they take pleasure in killing Noricum. I want to know if that extends to their human targets as well."


"Why?"


"If I can find what they want, it will help us discover for what purpose they were built."


My bodyguard opens the door. Immediately the stench of harsh chemicals from the police investigation assault my senses. Ismet takes his position by the only window while I proceed to the corner of the cramped room.


Suddenly, a crack of air cracks whips through the room. I have only ever heard Draco’s arrival described.


Whipping around I find my error. It is not Draco, but three of the women we hunt standing in this very room. Taralie, Coralia, the ghost maker, and a man I have never before seen.


THEY HAVE DRACO'S RELOCATION POWER!


Their invisible force throws Novak and I against the wall. Unseen shackles completely paralyze me. Neither of us can move; we can only watch while Ismet is dragged by invisible chains towards the them.


"This is how you reach out and touch someone," Coralia mocks. Her voice is higher than I expected.


Dozens of footsteps pound up the stairs, my detachment reinforcements. If Marian can hold the criminals under her spell, we may yet live.


Taralie hugs Ismet tightly, but he does not struggle. He must be as debilitated as I. Precious seconds pass before Taralie shouts, "GO!"


As quickly as they arrived, the criminals vanish. Novak and I tumble to the floor as Duncan kicks the apartment door in.


"We are leaving. Now!" I shout as the stairway passes in a blur.


"Where to, Majesty?" Novak asks as we rush from the scene.


"The airport. We need to get back to Boulogne."


Marian asks, "Why?"


"Draco has not struck in Boulogne and with this potential new threat of whatever Cothelas has created, he will not start now."


"Draco?!" Novak yells, while making an illegal U-turn.


Verus gasps. "Ismet is switching sight with me. His head keeps drooping; I can only see glimpses of the criminals."


I shout to Marian behind me, "Give me a piece of paper!" We cannot miss this chance.


Duncan is quicker about it, offering what looks to be the car's registration and a pen. On the back I write "Look up and around" and place it in front of Verus so Ismet can see it.


Verus says, "Along with the four women, there are two men I have never seen before. Something has happened to Taralie. She looks to be in pain. Coralia has Ismet by his throat."


"Do you know where-"


Verus cuts me off. "Another man just rushed forward from the forest nearby. He has ripped Ismet down from the tree and is holding his face in the dirt."


I ask, "What can Ismet see?"


Verus is quiet for a few seconds, the screams.


"WHAT?"


He takes a couple of shallow breaths, and then refocuses on me.


"Ismet is dead."


-*-


The jet wheels leaving the earth provide some comfort, but not enough. We are woefully ill prepared and dangerously ignorant. Every time we have seen these criminals, one of us has died. DIED!


I intentionally delay calling Priam until after we leave Toronto air space. It will do no good to have my Socious to simmer in paranoia while hours pass from a trans-Atlantic flight. At any rate, the shock has not settled among any of us. The cabin is silent as we travel towards New York where we will refuel before proceeding to France.


Pouring over the images from their hovel cabin is no use, they never demonstrated Draco’s ability to relocate while there. But, missing from the cabin is the man with them in the apartment and the men Verus described in the forest with Ismet. Now there are seven unknown vampires with abilities that have proven detrimental to us.


During the plane refueling in New York, I take Duncan aside while his assistant gathers their things. "Are you all right, Majesty?"


"I need your honest assessment. Have the criminals forsaken Toronto as their feeding grounds?"


"The last information from the tracker I had placed on their vehicle was from the night they killed in that apartment. It put them on a Toronto freeway but stopped transmitting suddenly. Subtlety does not seem to be an aptitude they possess and since that night, Toronto has been quiet. My opinion is they have moved on."


"Then you need to find where to. Start questioning vampires during permit updates but discreetly. Do not alert the proletariat to this threat."


He nods, "Majesty."


"And make sure you stay away from them."


From my window seat Duncan and his assistant’s car fades from view. I am beyond relieved it is not Duncan's death I must report to Priam. His friendship was a bright star in Boulogne, but he was suffocating there. He appears much happier in North America, despite the circumstances.


During the flight, Verus and I make the call to Priam and Lucius to update them; given our ignorance, it doesn’t take long. The telephone connection does not do Priam's rage justice.


"Why was the queen so unprotected, Novak!"


"My apologies, Majesty. We were guarding all entrances to the building and did not anticipate Draco’s ability." My body guard takes his censure from the corner of the cabin well.


"Priam," I reply to the speaker phone, "Novak was immobilized just as I was. Both Verus and I have seen these criminals defeat our premier detachment. Novak was not at fault."


"I want double the guards on you, Sabine, and a spy sent to the Dacians. Our oblivion of this new threat must end and I want accurate intelligence before issuing a conscription order."


I say, "I ordered Duncan to start questioning vampires about any unusual meetings with renegades but to do so prudently. A conscription order will hinder his ability to do that."


Lucius, who has yet to speak so far, says, “If I may, Majesties." Verus rolls his eyes, a small sigh with a long stare towards him reminds him of the need for manners; now is not the time for his competitive nature. "I would urge patience. A conscription order may not be required, but it shall be as Priam commands."


Verus says, "Patience? They kill with the patience of a human toddler; it is a virtue wholly absent from this situation."


"You are still alive so they must have the patience of a saint," Lucius returns. Verus stiffens, properly chastised.


"What patience do you speak of?" I ask our general.


"Any action requires three items, means, motive and opportunity. They had means and opportunity. Your majesty is a much more desirable target, yet they took a simple soldier? We are missing information and a standing army will only give our current lack of knowledge an audience. There is patience about this enemy and I want to know why."


Verus says, "Perhaps their motivation has changed with the arrival of three men I have no knowledge of."


Priam asks, "Is there a tactical advantage to killing Ismet and not the queen?"


Verus replies, "They did not want to be seen. Before his execution, a man with dirty blond hair pressed Ismet's face in the mud, rendering our advantage moot. He knew about Ismet’s ability, just as the one who ordered Alton's execution knew about mine. She told Duncan to watch Coralia kill Alton because I wanted to see-"


Priam cuts him off. "How did the criminals know when you would be in that apartment?"


The question chills me to the bone. It was such precise timing! The trip was not planned and we were there mere minutes. The only way they could have known is someone in my entourage alerting them covertly. Duncan's assistant is beyond my reach but everyone else is on the plane with me.


Quickly writing on a nearby pad, I fold the note and pass it to Verus.


"Read everyone on this plane, now."


He moves as silent as he is quick. First Novak, then Edson, Marian, and Francisco who flies the jet. None even resist. However, Aleric's ability to negate powers is constantly active and makes him immune to Verus. He is Lucius's personal bodyguard, loaned to me for this trip. The prince is like a father to him but if I let this suspicion fester, it will distract us from a more likely threat.


"Aleric, give me your ring." He looks puzzled but hands it to Novak who brings it to me. With one touch, everything this ring has seen now belongs to me. I search the images for whispered conversations in dark corners, or a time where the ring is left in his quarters for extended periods of time.


I find none.


Verus returns to the seat next to mine and sifts through the memories of everyone on board. Through the speaker, Priam's voice says, "Verus?"


"I can see no memory of deception or plotting against us."


"Then how did they know?" I ask.


Priam replies, "We will find out. Duncan can question his assistant. The Prime Minister of Canada has a sick daughter we could offer to turn in exchange for mobilizing their police force to find the renegades."


I reply, "Duncan believes they have moved on from Toronto and with an amplified version of Draco's relocation power at their disposal, they could be anywhere in the world, even in Brasov itself."


Verus says, "I would advise against going public with a conscription order. Word will spread of another rebellion and give them a public stage for their insurrection. If we could capture, at least one, any information that goes public can be neutralized by our possession and lordship over their coven mate."


"And," I say, "hinder Duncan's ability to do this quietly."


Priam says, "Then we are agreed on more surveillance of the Dacians and covert investigation in North America."


The line clicks. Priam will need soothing when I return.


*-*


The entourage's footsteps echo through the castle. I tell the approaching servant, "Draw a bath in my quarters, this meeting should not take long."


The detachment disperses but Aleric, Marian, Verus, and Novak remain with me. Light floods the hall as Novak opens the wooden door leading to the sun turret. The tension in my shoulders melts away upon seeing Priam. He takes my hand in his."You have returned safely."


"Not all of us."


"But you have."


He guides us towards the far side of the table with Verus and Lucius occuping the other. Marian closes the door as Priam makes me comfortable. He begins, "Neither Alton nor Ismet had a socius but-"


The dreadful crack of air echoes off our stone walls and Marian screams. She’s hurling through the air, along with Aleric, slamming face first into the wall. Priam yanks me from my chair while backing towards the opposite wall.


Taralie, Coralia, the ghost maker, and the man stand by the window.


Verus holds his ground, shouting, "You!"


Their arrival didn’t go unnoticed; before they can reply, servants close to the turret break through the door and charge their group. Taralie breaks off from the rest, moving towards Verus while Coralia motions her arms as if they are hauling a weight. I hear the stone crack before I see it. The ceiling collapses in large chunks, scattering our rescue.


Lucius squeezes Priam's shoulder for a moment, saying “Stay here,” before moving towards Taralie, who is lunging towards Verus.


Lucius tackles her from the side, only to vanish with her a second later. Half a moment later, the other three vanish as well.


Taralie and the unidentified man have Draco's power? How can that be!


"Secure the castle!" Verus bellows as he picks up a large wooden chair and throws it, destroying a suit of armor. How he plans to do that with a gaping ceiling hole is a mystery. He is no Lucius.


Lucius is gone. My dear friend, gone. All others taken by these renegades have been executed and quickly. How can I face Melise? Priam pulls me out of the room. All I keep thinking is my friend...my friend.


"Novak!" Priam calls once we're in our chambers.


"Majesty?"


"The civil authorities will be arriving soon. Get Chloé Gilleron here at once to handle them. Our explanation will be a small earthquake damaging the building. Make sure she mentions a public health warning concerning the debris. Tell the media there are materials used in ancient construction that can be harmful, then quarantine the area in a manner that supports the story."


Novak bows and retreats, then Priam kneels before me. "Darling, I must phone the Prime Minister of France and ensure he directs the geologists to create evidence supporting my story. Will you be alright?"


"They have Lucius."


"Open war is no longer just an option, it is required."


"But Lucius said-"


"Sabine, we cannot let the Dacians run rampant like this."


"I understand, but they have Lucius!"


"Focus!"


He is correct. Lucius needs me now and he would be appalled at my preoccupation with his demise.


"Sabine, you know their mannerisms. What do they want with Lucius?"


"I don't know! Cothelas created the leader but kept her in hiding. Now there are three more men I know nothing about. Taralie seemed to have Draco's relocation power along with the new male. It does not make sense for she can also push with her mind!"


"It has come time to raise an army against the Dacians. I see no other way."


"But Lucius said that would only give our ignorance an audience."


"If they have already killed him, we cannot conceal that fact. An audience is assured."


"These deaths could be casualties of a Dacian civil skirmish. Sending an army against them headed by Marian's power is a risk, one we can avoid if the Dacians are on the brink of tearing themselves apart."


"Lucius is well liked and always has been. An army could amass itself without our order once news spreads. This way we have control of the mob."


I trust Priam in this and all things. Cothelas needs his power of verbal control to achieve what Priam can by his kingly demeanor. Even in his human life, kingdoms praised Priam’s rule.


"I will tell Melise, then she and I will do as you command." He kisses my hand, then swiftly departs to put affairs in order.


Walking towards Lucius and Melise's quarters is a death march. Her Socius may well be dead, and I must ask her to put aside her grief in our time of war. When I enter, Aleric stands and bows. Melise rushes over.


"Where is he!"


"We do not know. There is a good possibility the Dacians have taken him."


"Why? He has no power for Cothelas to corrupt with his voice!"


Her question sticks in my throat. Lucius talked about means, motive, and opportunity. This group has means and opportunity, but what could be their motive? They took for a prince who has no direct tie to the Dacians or the war that broke them in two.


"We believe there may be a civil conflict brewing between the kings."


Aleric steps forward. "Majesty?"


"Yes?"


"I have spent many hours conversing with Prince Lucius on this matter and have a theory."


I motion for him to proceed.


"What if taking Lucius was bait? If the Draco and Cothelas are truly at war with each other, it would be beneficial for one side to provoke, let us march on Romania, and leave while Noricum might is brought to bear on their opponent."


Lucius, my friend, always a step ahead. "But which of the Dacian kings would take Lucius?"


"It seems Cothelas is the one building detachments. Draco would have more need of us."


Melise says, "And if Draco wants Noricum help-"


Aleric cuts her off. "Then killing Lucius would ensure we hunted him instead."


His observation gives a sliver of hope, but it is large enough for me to gamble on. I have two with me who will take that chance as well.


"What I propose is dangerous and entails postponing the conscription order Priam wants me to issue."


Aleric replies, "Whatever you need, Majesty."


"Get a car and meet us by the east tunnel outside the walls, then phone the airfield to refuel the jet and make a flight plan to Brasov."


He leaves immediately. Grabbing a sheet of paper, I write a note telling where I have gone, why Melise and Alaric are with me, when I will return, fold it, seal it, and give it to Melise. "You will give this to your most trusted servant who will give it to Priam in twenty-four hours if we do not return before then." She nods, taking what may be the last communication with my Socious.


It takes Aleric little time to secure the car. Although going against Priam puts coals in my soul, if I can save Lucius and avoid a war, it is worth the risk.


"What do you plan to do when we get there?" Melise asks.


"Offer a mutual de-escalation pact in return for Lucius."


Aleric looks at Melise and I through the rear view mirror. "And what if Cothelas takes your mind with his voice?"


"If he is waiting for a Noricum Army to come down on Draco, he will likely be absent. But, if when we enter the throne room he is there, position yourself closer to Cothelas than me. If he commands me, close the gap between you to paralyze his power."


"And if he is not there?"


"Then perhaps offering Draco knowledge of what Cothelas has created can purchase Lucius's life."


*-*


Walking up to the gates of Bran Castle is the last thing I ever thought I would do, yet here I am, trying to bargain for the life of my friend. Knocking on the front door I am greeted by a human servant. He nearly faints from shock when he glances down to my ring.


"Tell your kings the Noricum high queen Sabine requires an audience, accompanied by Princess Melise and Aleric." He invites us in but cannot control his racing heart. While we wait in the lobby, I move far enough from Aleric to read a wall. An area this public does not yield anything of value.


A male vampire I have never seen before enters the vast reception lobby. "King Draco will see you now."


Only Draco? Aleric may be right.


Aleric keeps his distance as I motion for Melise to keep close.


Entering the throne room I discreetly swipe my finger on the door knob. Melise guides me as my vision is more occupied with what the door has seen.


Cothelas's throne has been empty for some time. I see Draco conducting business, but no sign of Cothelas. Then something reveals itself that almost makes me trip. Taralie as a ghost standing in this very room! Draco already knows of her, and shows deferment!


My actions have placed us in more danger than we know.


Several vampires recently gave Draco a briefing. It’s unusual because Cothelas' socious, Jola, is crying while the others speak.


I wish I had more time to pick through these images. The sea change I sensed is already here, and do not know which of us will survive it.


“Speak, Socious of Priam.” His voice and presence is deep, commanding. I can see why Priam liked him so, even if he cannot bring himself to address a woman by name.


“We come to petition for the release of Lucius. Your quarrel has never been with him.”


The look of confusion on Draco's face tells me in an instant we were wrong. “I cannot release what I do not have.”


Melise starts to sob. “You’ve killed him already?” I wish she would not show weakness in our situation. We may not survive it.


“I do not understand. He is not in my possession. I have never had him. He is of no use to me.”


Perhaps Cothelas took him as bait, and I can think of only one way to find out.


“The ones who took him have your gift and many others. Where is Cothelas?”


Draco's temper flares. “Who told you? Did Priam send you?”


He sounds as uninformed as I feel. “Priam is unaware but will be told if I do not return within the day. Did who tell me what?”


“The Noricum’s newest additions."


“Speak sense, Draco.”


“The Severins. They are with you now.”


“Who are the Severins?”


What was malcontent is replaced with a smile I would expect to see on Verus. “Taralie lied.”


He does know her.
“Who is Taralie?” I ask.


“A halfling witch turned vampire with power you cannot begin to imagine. She is one of four who have recently joined this life.”


He knows of four, not seven, and what is this witch he speaks of? The Dacians for the first time in centuries are better informed than us.


“Four stole Lucius,” Melise begs. “One was called Coralia. Are they the same? Do you know where they are?”


“And if I do?”


“Save him and all is forgiven!” Melise pleads.


He looks to be honestly considering the offer. “Does this come from the quorum, or the Socious of Lucius?”


I will overlook his misogyny if it saves Lucius. “This comes from the Noricum queen. You know Priam will honor it.”


Draco nods. “Yes, I do.”


He simply stands up from this throne and vanishes with the same crack of air the Severins create.


So many questions course through my mind; Draco may be open to answering them. If he is willing to rescue a Noricum, that says a great deal about the state of the Dacians.


A long minute later, Draco returns with a very dirty and disoriented, but alive Noricum prince.


"Lucius!" Melise cries out, then rushes over to him. He draws her to him but glances to me. "Are you here by choice?"


I give him a small nod which he returns as he walks closer to me with Melise at his side. Lucius mocks the Dacian king. "Well well, Draco. Cothelas has been busy."


Draco replies, "You are mistaken. Cothelas is dead."


I suspected his death, but to hear Draco admit it out loud is surprising. Lucius chokes a little. "Two of them wore his mark."


"I only know Taralie, although the other seemed familiar."


I say, "Did you finally do what should have been done centuries ago?"


He flinches the smallest bit. "Cothelas created Taralie, who then killed him seconds after her conversion was complete."


I was right about a separation between the kings, just not the nature of it. "How did she manage to accomplish that?"


Draco replies, "Of this we are still ignorant. I was led to believe she and her sisters joined the Noricum when she informed me of Jola's execution."


Lucius says, "So they have killed two of yours as well?"


Draco gapes, then explodes in laughter. "They have executed Noricum? Is it too much to hope one of them was Verus?"


"Not for lack of trying," Lucius says, "He was their intended target, not me."


Aleric clears his throat. "Majesties, we should return to Boulogne."


We have an opportunity and this is the only chance we will get. "Draco, as I said, with the rescue of Lucius, all would be forgiven. The offer is genuine. We have need of each other and with Cothelas no longer alive, the reminder of what drove you and Priam apart is gone. Would you consider returning to Boulogne alongside me, and help us understand a threat that kills no matter whose seal they carry?"


Lucius adds, "Your coven would be welcome as well."


I look to the others in the room; they seem as confused as they are afraid. I reply, "You need not fear us. You have my word you will be free to choose as your King does. If he rejects our offer in France, you will not be penalized."


They are all nervous until Draco extends his hand to Lucius, not I. Priam must teach Draco some manners if he plans on staying.


*-*


Our jet is nearly standing room only with two dozen vampires making our way to France. Aleric flies the plane while Melise, Lucius, Draco, and I sit in the front of the cabin. The rest of the Dacians are aft.


I ask, "Draco, you mentioned Taralie was a half witch. What did you mean by that?"


He nods, knowing the question was coming. "There is a global organization of hereditary witches known as the Milunfra. Consisting of thousands of witches, they are charged with the protection of humanity."


"I am over a thousand years old and have seen the history of many objects. How is it I am ignorant of any other supernatural creature besides vampires?"


Lucius adds, "And if their job is to protect humanity, why have they never attacked vampires?"


Draco says, "The Milunfra are governed by a body of twelve who act as liaisons to a triune of beings you would call Gods. It is this triune who have kept the knowledge of witches and other creatures from you. Milunfran blood is toxic to vampires; we are naturally repelled, not enticed by their blood. But, witches are mortal and though they are the keepers of ancient powers, they pale in comparison to our strength. To preserve their anointed, this triune has not sought to destroy vampires with their Milunfra."


"Is that why Taralie vomited the blood of the others when she changed them?"


His eyes glint. "You saw Taralie change her sisters?"


"Sisters? We thought them related, but not sisters. Yes, I have read the cabin wall where she changed the others and killed Alton."


"And where does Taralie fit into these Milunfra?" Lucius asks.


"Taralie is one I have watched since she was a child. She is only half Milunfran which is why she could be changed at all, yet the triune favors her and her sisters. She was an earth witch with a blood power of mimicry and-"


"I am sorry, what?" I cut him off.


"Mimic. Taralie has an ability to detect and replicate any ability in her range, which, after her transformation is as vast as Lunet's ability to sense powers." He motions to a surly looking blond woman.


"Mimic," I say. "That is how she was a pusher, a ghost in your throne room, and had your power as well."


Draco mocks me, "Being so far away, that is impossible."


Lunet says from the back, "I have felt all the sister's powers. They do not possess such an ability."


Lucius says, "That is how they kidnapped me."


"And killed Ismet.” I add. “One of the men with them must possess your ability. But, if not even Verus has knowledge of these Milunfra, how did you come to know?"


"I have witnessed more than Priam or Verus ever has. You forget, Sabine, that I predate your Socius."


"Insulting, but true. Are you now prepared to share this knowledge with one you once called friend?"


"Understand I had Cothelas create Taralie thinking he could control her and out of my presence, she could not flee. She was made for the purpose of destroying the Noricum. Her power is beyond anything you can imagine. If the Severins are as renegade as we both believe them to be, then we do not have a choice."


"The high king may still want you dead," Lucius chides.


Draco waves it off. "He would not be the first, nor will he be the last."


*-*


Everyone we pass en route to the throne room gaps, giving us a wide berth. I wish Priam had time to prepare for what he is about to see, but the Dacians are already teetering on paranoia. As we approach the far side of the room, Priam is on the dais. He looks up just in time to see me ascend the stairs, then his eyes shift to Draco.


“What is the meaning of this!”


Lucius moves towards his throne. “Peace, Priam. Draco is responsible for my return.”


Priam hollers, “Edson, Marian!”


I take his hand, whispering in his ear. "I have given my word they would be safe in coming here and was willing to stake my life on what Draco has to say. Please hear him."


 When he motions for the guards to hold, I have bought the time Draco will need.


“Sabine has bargained for your safety and that of your coven. You reclaimed Lucius from the insurrection in North America. Is this true?”


Draco answers with a humility I have not seen before now. “It is true.”


“Then be gone with you. Our debt to you is paid with your life.”


Now, this agreement's viability is up to Draco. “We have great need of each other, old friend.”


Priam bolts towards Draco's face, screaming, “Our friendship died with Ides!”


“Dear Priam, you know as well as I Cothelas’s power. I took Ides while under his spell. I knew not his design on her life until it was too late. I also knew you would seek my life in retribution. Verus can know I speak the truth; Lucius already does.”


Lucius offers his hand to Verus. “You see?”


Priam looks to Verus, and then to Draco. “You would let Verus touch you?”


“I trust in you to keep me safe. You know me well, but the knowledge I offer is more than you could have possibly imagined. It is my sincere hope we can again be the friends we were when the Grecians waxed strong.”


To my amazement, Draco kneels in front of my socious. It appears Priam has the same response as I. “Verus, simulacrum only.”


Our prince greedily swipes a finger down Draco's cheek.


Priam says, “Verus,” but he does not move.


Although still kneeling, Draco asks Verus, “Do you see?”


Never in all my years, has Verus looked as shocked and overwhelmed as he does now.


“Verus!”


The prince is utterly discombobulated. “There are…How is this possible?”


“Verus, is he truthful?”


He finally answers. “The one with whom your quarrel was is no more. Cothelas is dead at the hands of his creation. Julian, step forward."


One of the Dacians emerges out of the crowd. Verus grabs his chin harshly, taking another lifetime of memories.


Verus turns to Draco. “You had Cothelas create your golden apple of discord, a prize so desirable it was destined to destroy our feast," then tells Priam, “Taralie was the first.”


He proceeds to read every Dacian but halts at Lunet, savoring her memories. “A halfling witch from a Milunfran coven. I never knew such a thing existed. Lunet, your power is similar to that of Taralie, but you cannot use the talents you sense, as she can. Interesting. We shall have great use of you in the coming hunt.”


She sneers at Verus, “Do not underestimate her as my Socious did.”


Verus replies, "We have underestimated all of them."


Suddenly, Taralie's voice rings out through the throne chamber. “Yes, her Socious did underestimate me.”


The Severins, all four of the sisters stand before us as ghosts. Taralie says, “You would be wise to not follow in Cothelas’s footsteps.”


“Taralie, it’s good to see you so soon, "Lucius chuckles from his throne.


The one they call Coralia walks up to the thrones, haughtier than Verus ever did. The others stay near their creator.


“Wish I could say the same for you, Lucius,” Taralie taunts.


Verus asks, “And how is young Alexander? Doing well for a former spy, I see.”


I am confused but Draco asks the question I want to. “She knows Alexander? I thought you razed his mind.”


Verus answers, “He was holding Lucius. A telepath spy. Impressive plan Draco.”


The look of realization on Draco is obvious.


Addressing Taralie directly, Verus says, “Tell me, golden apple, who are the other two men in your coven?”


Coralia quickly runs down the dais to the prince’s side. She whispers in his ear, “If I tell you, I get to kill you.”


Verus replies, “Ah, the one they call Coralia. How I would pay dearly to see you entombed in never ending thirst.”


 “Funny that, I’d kill you for free.”


Priam puts a stop to both theatrical performances. “Enough! Have you business with us, or shall I send Draco to finish you off?”


Taralie barks in return, “No, you shall not. Draco.”


He says nothing but rather nods. “Do you like your life?” He does not answer. She asks, “Wanna keep it?”


Priam treats them as a common threat and mocks. “Your threat is vain."


Taralie ignores Priam’s reply, but moves towards Draco. Her ghostly hand, brushes his face. “One little touch and all you are is lost. Because of you, Verus’s power is mine, and Priam doesn’t hold my leash.”


Draco is correct. Everything we have amassed can be used by her!


She turns from a stunned Draco to address the King. “Your pursuit of us ends today and Blake Severin is under our protection. He is free, as are we, to go about life unmolested. Any attempt on us, and Draco won’t even remember his own name, much less ours. After that, Coralia will decide the order in which you die.” Then she speaks directly to the others in the hall. “Know this: even thinking about pursuing us will result in your personal, immediate execution.”


Priam replies, “You reach too high, young one. Such a threat is unattainable.”


Draco says, “Their prescient knows many things.”


“Prescient,” Priam whispers and I agree with him. Draco said we could not imagine their power, he was correct. So many things make sense now. We never had a spy among us; they knew where we were going to be all along. “You killed two of us. There must be payment for that.”


“Our debt to you is paid with your life," Taralie barks.


Priam just said this not a few minutes ago. Can the prescient see and hear the future?


Coralia drapes across our thrones like the irreverent infant on display at their cabin in the woods. “Dude, she killed Cothelas. You should be thanking her.”


She is not entirely wrong.


Lucius asks, “What are your terms?”


“Very simple. You have my word if you leave us and our father in peace, you’ll live. Refuse, and die.”


“And if we refuse?”


Coralia rushes toward me. Translucent fingers caress the ring on my finger. “If you don’t want your ring on my finger, you best take it off now—”


Priam speaks before she can finish her sentence. “We accept your terms.”


The demon called Coralia coos, “Pleasure doing business with you.”


Lucius asks, “What guarantee do we have you will abide by your word?”


Taralie replies, “You’re a good judge of character, I’m sure you can figure it out.”


Taralie vanishes, and the other three do the same a second later. The throne hall is quiet but our world will never be the same. In one day we exchanged one powerful enemy for another. The sea change has come.


How long will it be until the Severins do not survive it?