Tears of the Fallen Ch. 09byJazCullen©
Yes, I know this chapter is very tardy. My heartfelt apologies. Real life threw me a bit of a curve ball with bad health during the summer and I was also getting Scent of Fear edited for self-publishing soon.
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My thanks to Mistress of Shadows and Angel n Disguise for their amazing editing and all the time they give to me #hugs
I hope this chapter is worth the wait!
"Come on, this was the first time we could get all the Council members together," Demetri countered, reaching for Mara's hand and twining their fingers together as they walked up the steps into the huge glass building that hid the real purpose of its existence.
To the humans surrounding it, it looked like any other huge conglomerate building, full of glass and steel. Beneath the huge monolithic structure was the heart of the Northern American vampire nation, the Council chambers where decisions were made that impacted the entire vampire race. Their European counterparts didn't think any of these decisions related to them, but they would soon find out that, now they had the attention of the Council; change was coming whether they wanted it or not.
"Anyway, it wasn't my fault you bent over to pick up your shoes," Demetri laughed, holding the glass door open for his wife. "You know what happens when you bend over, woman."
Mara tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder, looking back to smile at him with a saucy wink. "Well, of course I do, lover. Why do you think I bent over?"
He threw his head back and bellowed out a laugh, before throwing an arm over her shoulder. His glance roamed over the reception area, and he discreetly nodded to the front desk staff, acknowledging the female vampire receptionist and four security guards close by.
"So, you're the reason why we're later than planned," he continued as they moved over to a door on the left hand wall and he waited for Mara to peer into the retinal scanner first, and then place her thumb on the print scanner. When she received two green lights, she tapped in a long code on the key panel and the door opened, permitting her entry.
Demetri waited for the door to close behind her; the enhanced security that was now in place only allowed one person to enter at a time. In the past, Caleb had circumvented the security surrounding the Council chamber to allow the Weres access, but it had proven so easy, that afterwards, newer, stricter measures had been implemented.
Even though Demetri was authorised to enter unchallenged, if he'd attempted to walk through the door after Mara, his body would have been impaled by over a hundred blades fitted sideways in the wall. They were placed strategically to ensure that no matter what height anyone was, a blade would pierce their neck and hold them immobile until released. Any attempt to continue forward or backwards would just about decapitate the intruder on the spot. Demetri liked his head just where it was.
Caleb had also ensured that no one person knew how to disable the security system. The password to shut it down was split into four segments; each part passed to an anonymous vampire, with Caleb and Annie being the only two who knew the hidden identities of the password keepers. As if that wasn't paranoid enough, Caleb had also tasked one of the subsidiary companies he owned with Demetri to develop a battery that outlasted anything the humans could manufacture. He had over a dozen backups in place, just in case someone managed to circumvent the security around the electricity supply and cut it off. No one could access the Council Chambers unless they passed through all of the security protocols in place.
Demetri quickly scanned his iris and thumbprint before typing in his personal code and stepping through the doorway. It was always a difficult choice for him when they entered the building. Either he allowed Mara to precede him and risk her safety from what may be waiting behind the door, or he went first and chanced that nothing dangerous followed them in from the street. He had a little more faith that his own people would be less inclined to harm his mate. They knew what the consequences of such an action would be.
He'd been apart from Mara for less than ten seconds, but he was still tense as he surveyed the corridor before them. They were alone though, and his wife's patient expression made his lips twitch. She didn't need to roll her eyes to show her exasperation with his over-protectiveness, she was quite capable of indicating it in spite of her neutral expression.
"Indulge me," he growled, gathering her to his side as they began the journey down the marble steps leading to the Council chambers.
"Oh, I do, husband," Mara responded dryly, her tone laced with amusement as she let him escort her. He was never going to change, and she didn't want him to. She'd have no one to pit her wits against if he suddenly rolled over and became a teddy bear. She did so enjoy having to stay one step ahead of her man.
The large, floor to ceiling double doors to the Council chambers stood open at the end of the wide corridor, waiting for the final member of the Council to arrive. As they walked down the passageway, Mara tried to anticipate who would be the one to object the loudest to Demetri's presence. She was sure one of the members would, but it would be to no avail. If her husband chose to be there, no one could stop him.
As they entered the huge room, the eleven members who stood around the dais at the far end all turned to look at them as the doors closed automatically behind them. Alexei and Andrei appeared unsurprised to see Demetri, but then, they were aware of what was to come at the meeting. Strangely, it was Stephan whose lips straightened in a line of displeasure as they approached. This was a closed meeting of the Council, and therefore the rows of dark wood benches shaped around the room in a wide semi-circle were devoid of any audience. Mara and Demetri's shoes echoed on the black and grey streaked white marble floor as they reached the dais.
"Demetri, this meeting is for Council members only," Stephan announced, his tone cool, his hazel eyes narrowed with his displeasure. His wavy black hair was slicked back for once, aptly styled with some gel to keep it from falling across his face.
"I am here to represent the Ancient Council by Caleb's command."
"Andrei and Alexei are Ancients too. They could perform that function if the remainder of the Council granted them leave in that capacity." Stephan's counterpoint was accurate, but Demetri's expression remained unchanged.
"I'm staying." His tone brooked no argument and caused a murmur of sound from most of the other council members.
"Demetri, no one will harm your wife here." Stephan tried once more to be the voice of reason, but to no avail.
"I'm staying." This time there was a hint of threat in Demetri's voice, enough that Mara raised an eyebrow at him.
"Fine, sit over there and try not to interfere," she laughed softly, deliberately couching her tone into that of a long-suffering female that often indulged her overprotective husband. The few who knew her well also knew that wasn't the case, but those vampires who still embraced the old ways would see a Youngling having to deal with her Ancient mate. They could relate to that, and would therefore be less inclined to object too strenuously.
Giving her a pointed look, Demetri strode over to the special seating area reserved for the Ancients, his gaze meeting Alexei and Andrei's briefly. They knew with that simple glance that he was placing Mara's safety firmly in their hands. He was a fraction of a second away from his wife, but they were closer and would be her first line of defence, if required. There were few he would cede that kind of control to; the twins ranked as two of those chosen few. Not that he expected any harm to come to Mara, but what was about to be revealed could ignite a spark no one might anticipate.
Mara stepped up to the dais and shook her head as Alexei and Andrei seated her between them. Alexei sat closest to Demetri with Andrei on her other side. Beside Andrei, Emily sat down, her brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. She shot Mara a quick smile, her green eyes laced with humour because she could relate to her frustration at being overprotected. Stephan sat down beside Emily, as was his usual place during Council meetings. She was as boxed in as Mara was by the males. It bordered on the ridiculous, yet both of them found it comforting, none-the less.
Cristoph took his seat next to Stephan and then there was a notable pause, as those still standing appeared unsure about how they wished to proceed. The more traditional Council members still clung to the old ways, where seating arrangements always set precedence and was a show of importance. Those who sat closely to the pack-aligned vampires could be viewed as declaring their allegiance to the Were treaty and Caleb.
Not all of them agreed with the treaty, but abided by it simply because it was now law. Demetri's stubborn refusal to leave insinuated that the current topic of discussion would likely, once again, centre around one of the packs. Those who adamantly opposed the treaty didn't wish to be close to the other side of the table.
As the pause lengthened, one of the males snorted loudly, casting a dirty look at the others. "Just sit down."
William snorted again, his muddy green eyes hard as he sat down beside Cristoph. Mara tried to keep her lips from twitching. She liked William, even though he didn't go out of his way to be particularly nice to her in any fashion. He was one of the younger Council members, though not the youngest. That honour fell to her, with Emily running a close second.
William was an Elder, around the two hundred years old mark. He was a bit of an enigma, with dark hair cut short in an approximation of a human Marine's style. He wasn't tall like the other males either, standing around about five foot ten; however, his lack of height did nothing to diminish the aura of danger that surrounded him. The only males Mara had seen with wider shoulders and thicker arms were Nors and Liam. William was built for power, pure and simple, and yet, there was an overt sexiness about him that most females noticed instantly.
As if on cue, Corinne sat beside William as Mara had expected. One couldn't help but notice her curves; her body was exquisitely rounded and womanly, as opposed to the slenderness of the other females sitting at the table. The buxom brunette was another mystery on the Council; she was clearly older than William, but chose always to follow his lead. It wasn't that she was weak or easily malleable, because she could be vicious when riled, but there was something about William that appeared to attract the other woman. Where he went, she followed and, he didn't seem to mind her presence. What man wouldn't love to have such a beautiful woman, small in height, with luxurious reddish-brown hair and light blue eyes as a companion?
That left only the final four more conventional vampires to take their places. Sasha sat next, her prematurely white hair a stark contrast against the bronze of her skin. It was plaited down her back, though loose strands had managed to escape and frame her face; a face that was austere in its beauty, with dark blue eyes that appeared almost black in some lights. Mara wasn't sure how old Sasha was, but she suspected the other woman had to be past her fifth century at least.
Piers moved to take his place beside Sasha, his tall frame making him seem even larger beside the smaller woman. His blond hair was just shy of being called light brown; his grey eyes were sharp as they scanned the room taking everything in. He was another Elder who was over the five century mark; rumour had it he was closer to seven hundred years old.
Lenore took her seat next, disapproval etched on her exquisite face as she tossed her blue-black hair over her shoulder with a flick of her wrist. She was another of the younger members of the Council, similar in age to William; however, it was surprising, given her age, that she chose to adopt such an orthodox stance. Cold blue eyes stared straight ahead, her body rigid with displeasure.
Finally, Claude completed the Council, sliding in beside Lenore with more grace than some of the females present. Mara liked Claude, despite the fact he was often on the opposing end of any issue requiring a vote. He was beautiful and elegant, harking back to days of old when males wanted their good looks to rival the beauty of females. His reddish-blond hair was always immaculate, his green eyes clear and sparkling, with perfect long thick lashes that a woman would die to have. Away from the Council chambers, Claude was fun and full of laughter; he was an outrageous flirt with both men and women. In chambers, he was one of the most dogmatic members, fierce in his opinions that any deviation from their time-honoured traditions was wrong and should be avoided
"Half an hour to sit down? It's a wonder the Council ever gets around to making any decisions." Demetri grumbled from the sidelines.
"Demetri..." Mara's tone was threaded with rebuke, but also held the tiniest of pleas, which only her husband and the twins would pick up.
"I'm just saying we don't have all day here."
"As you're not supposed to be here at all, please feel free to leave at any time you wish," Stephan countered in a neutral tone, drawing a pointed look from the Ancient. When Demetri held his peace, the Elder turned to Mara. "You called the meeting, Mara. Can you please enlighten the rest of us as to why we needed an emergency meeting? I presume the twins are already aware?" There was more than a hint at a dig in his tone, and a soft warning growl escaped Andrei's lips.
Feigning innocence, Stephan gave a small shrug of his shoulders. "Am I incorrect, Andrei?"
"No, Stephan, you are not, but there is no need to be an ass about it. This matter was initially pack related, however as it affects vampires too, it is being brought to the Council. I am more than certain that should important information come to certain members of the Council's attention, they would not be in a hurry to inform the pack unless they had no other option."
The other man conceded the point, knowing he couldn't deny the truth of his friend's words. "Mara, please continue."
"Is it Stephan's turn to be chairperson? He's sure doing all the leading here." Demetri grumbled, as Mara rose from her seat and moved over to him.
"Actually yes, we do alternate which vampire directs the meetings in an attempt retain some semblance of order, and you're not helping things with your little asides. Be quiet or I'll have you removed. The Council is in session, Demetri." She winked at him as she berated him, her stance preventing the others from seeing.
Demetri had agreed beforehand to help strengthen her personal position on the Council. Too many of them saw her only as the Youngling wife of a very powerful Ancient. A quarter of century hadn't changed that perception much, so they had agreed upon a strategy to amend that. Allowing the Council to witness Mara put Demetri in his place was the option they had chosen and now seemed as good a time as any.
Her husband played his part well, growling at her words, appearing as if to argue back before subsiding with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Trying not to laugh at his petulant expression, Mara schooled her features into a neutral expression and turned to face the Council.
"We are on the brink of a Civil War."
For a moment, there was stunned silence; then everyone started talking at once, with the exception of the twins who remained quiet, carefully monitoring everyone's reactions with their keen senses.
"Nonsense," Claude responded, frowning darkly at her.
"Preposterous," Sasha agreed, waving a hand in distain. "The new Council has done away with any attempt at civil war. We have the Ancient Council now to assist, should we become deadlocked. You are in error, Youngling."
There were more words of disagreement, upset voices tumbling over one another until Stephan held up a hand for silence. It took a moment for everyone to become quiet but eventually the room calmed down. "Explain, Mara."
She nodded her head to him in thanks and looked slowly at each Council member in turn, before speaking again. "Yes, Caleb set in place the tools to keep peace here in Northern America, but at the time we were so busy looking inward, we did not consider what was out there." She waved her hand in the air, indicating a distant horizon.
"The threat is not from our side of the pond, my colleagues. The threat is from Europe."
Again, the room erupted, William standing up and leaning on the table. "The Europeans are less than animals. What threat can they hold against us? We could march in there and take them out without even blinking." Thick muscles bulged in his upper arms, a slow build-up of rage in the depths of his eyes. His harsh words quieted the remaining vampires, as they waited for her response.
Mara wanted to reach out and shake them all. In their arrogance, they believed nothing could touch them. They really thought all they needed to do was march over to Europe in force, and everyone would capitulate to their superiority. She fervently hoped she never turned into them. "Those animals have a toxin, William, something so deadly that it breaks down the regenerative properties in our D.N.A. This poison can not only be ingested, it can be placed in projectiles such as bullets. It's fast acting and nothing short of a full bloodletting and transfusion will save the infected vampire's life."
"Impossible," Lenore breathed out into the stunned silence following Mara's words.
"No," Demetri said quietly, rising to come and stand beside his wife. "You all wanted to know why I insisted on being present. Well, this is the reason why; I have witnessed this toxin at work."
It was a testament to just how shocked the Council were that they remained silent, their pensive expressions locked with the Ancient.
"We will hear your witness," Stephan said formally and Mara moved back to her place at the dais.
"A quarter of a century ago there was an attack on the Armand-Hanlon pack by a handful of European vampires who, apparently, disagreed with the matings between vampires and Weres. It was averted; however, Caleb was concerned by the amount of open aggression on display so he sent one of our own vampires over to see what intelligence could be gathered about the attack and who might be behind it." Demetri paused and let his gaze slowly roam over each Council member to ensure he had their complete attention.
"We sent Pietro de la Rios, one we trusted above others, and he spent the last twenty-five years trying to determine the threat. He succeeded, but in doing so, he placed himself in direct danger, and his cover was blown. By the time I arrived, he had already been poisoned and tortured. I found him dying in a putrid mess of blackened, rotten skin. The only way to save his life was to remove all his blood and use humans to replenish him, along with Elder and my own Ancient blood. If I had been but a few minutes later..."
"Outrageous," Corrine whispered, fury dancing in her eyes.
"Yes, it is outrageous, Corrine," Demetri agreed, his eyes glacial. "It's outrageous that our European brethren would develop a poison that can kill us. It's outrageous that they have such little fear of us that they would try to murder one of our own. It's outrageous that they seek to harm those under our protection."
William's head swung to the left to look at the twins and Mara. The Romanovs expressions were hard and unyielding; Mara's expression echoed theirs. His keen mind rapidly filled in the blanks even as his head swung back to the Ancient. "They are targeting the offspring of the mixed matings?"