Home > The Council (Darkness #5)

The Council (Darkness #5)
Author: K.F. Breene

Chapter 1

“Sasha, hurry up. They’ll leave without us!” Charles paced by the door, his knitting supplies in one hand and a horrible rendition of a quilt in the other. Scarves were something that the man could do. Blankets even came out decently, if he chose the colors correctly. An object half-crocheted and half-knitted, one square at a time, then strung together? Not attractive.

“Charles, they aren’t going to leave without us. If they were that close, Jonas would be—”

I cut off as Jonas’ burly shoulders appeared just beyond the doorway. The nasty puckers of skin from our battle with an extremely powerful demon were finally healing, three weeks after the event. Jonas had an attractive appearance, but his surly attitude and grim expression made a person stop taking notice and shuffle quickly out of his way.

“Were you under the impression that the schedule didn’t apply to you, human?” The timbre in Jonas’ deceptively calm voice hinted that if I didn’t hurry, he’d grab me by the scruff of the neck and drag me down the hallway.

“Mage, Jonas. I believe you are supposed to call me ma—”

Jonas took a step into the room.

A nervous chuckle sounded right before I said, “Sorry! I’m coming, I’m coming!”

“I would make a sexual joke, but we gotta go,” Charles said.

“Yes, leave talking and walking at the same time for the more experienced of us.” I snatched up my backpack filled with travel items and slipped out the door. Jonas followed me.

“So, motorhomes, huh?” I asked as we made our way to the front of the mansion from where we’d basically travel eight hundred miles to an undisclosed location like a pack of gypsies in a caravan. While those of us going to the Council could fly, the powers that be—Stefan and Dominicous—didn’t want all that human interaction if it could be helped. Since it was drivable, voilà.

“You guys get a motorhome. Most everyone else has to sit in a stuffy car. So thanks for not letting me ride with you guys,” Charles muttered as we descended stairs. “I have to ride with…” He flicked his head toward Jonas.

“You guys get along; what’s the problem?” I asked.

Charles shook his head, not bothering to answer because Jonas was so close. Didn’t matter—I was just poking the bear, anyway. Everyone in my crew got along with Jonas, but at the same time nobody did. He pretty much minded his own business (when he wasn’t minding my business). He wasn’t a wine–and-roses type of guy. I thought getting stabbed was more fun than trying to relax around him.

“Well, we’re headed into shark-infested waters,” I said as we descended another set of stairs. “I want as much time as possible beforehand to cuddle.”

“Don’t use ‘the Boss’ and ‘cuddling’ in the same sentence,” Jonas growled behind me. “It is not the image he needs around his clan.”

I rolled my eyes. “No one pays attention to me, anyway. Plus, what do they think he does: beat me over the head, grab my hair, and drag me to bed?”

“He should do that,” Charles muttered. “It’d teach you some manners.”

“God you guys are cranky today,” I replied.

“We’re headed to the snake pit,” Charles said quietly. “Toa has gone over all this—what to expect. How are you not cranky?”

I got a thrill as we stepped out the front door. The cool night air greeted me. Two large, deluxe motorhomes hummed by the curb. A small fleet of luxury cars waited nearby. Stefan stood patiently beside the smaller of the motorhomes, speaking quietly with Dominicous, his breathtakingly handsome face shut down into a stern leader’s mask. Toa stood by the other motorhome, which would transport a tied-up Trek and Andris, the prizes of battles past. Dominicous would claim ownership of the two since he was the reigning authoritative force. That sounded great to me. I had enough to worry about.

Toa had gone over the details of the Council. It was a collection of some of the oldest members of their race. They were intensely powerful men and women with hundreds of years of experience, limitless wealth, no end of creature comforts, and no real threat they cared to bother with. They were mostly high in power levels and attached to mages near the top of the power scheme. This snake pit was writhing with power plays, deceit, alliances and strategy, all greedy for power and bored with it at the same time.

It didn’t sound like a wonderful retreat.

What was worse was that as the only black mage to walk through their gilded doors, I would be target number one. I could expect constant advances to steal my heart away from Stefan, kidnappings in order to swap blood and tie me in a blood link, and a steady stream of challenges.

No, they wouldn’t be Parcheesi challenges. This was a warrior race and as the new kid on campus, a human, and sporting one of the highest power levels, I would draw the nay-sayers who wanted to prove I was a weak simpleton. How? By beating me senseless, of course.

Toa had stopped in his explanation at that point to pat me comfortingly on the back. They wouldn’t kill me, he reassured me, because one thing they would not waste was a top-level power. If someone killed me, they would be killed and probably tortured to boot. So rest assured, I would at least live. I might be forcibly tied to a dozen people via sucking blood, which would drive Stefan into a mindless killing spree, but I would be alive.

It took everything I had not to literally punch Toa in the face. The guy just didn’t have that social awareness that most people did.

“Oh look!” Charles exclaimed as we stepped down off the stoop.

Jen, witch-twin number one, and her three-year-old were weaving in and out of the monstrous warriors, making their way to me. As they passed by, all the fierce eyes and hard faces softened and smiles appeared. People bent down to get eye-level with little Aurora. The little girl preened, half-shy and half-excited to meet her towering playmates, any of which would drop what they were doing for a quick minute with a child.

I had never seen a group of people covet children so much as this group. It amazed me constantly. Even Stefan, an absolute hard-ass except behind closed doors, would get down low, put out his hands, and crack a smile if Aurora came to play. Jen might be human, and more than a little spacy and batty, but without exception if she brought her daughter, she was welcome anywhere in the mansion. She even had a whole mansion full of eager babysitters.

“Hi Aurora!” Charles exclaimed, bending down with his horribly ugly quilt. “Look what I made you.”

“What is that?” Jen asked as they stepped up.

“A blanket!” Aurora giggled as she patted Charles on the arm in greeting. Charles was a favorite. He was the only one she was never shy with.

He swung her up and jiggled her around in his arms. Aurora’s squeals of delight drew in everyone’s eyes and evoked smiles. Jonas put out his hands next, his stern face melting like hot wax when she reached out to him. He flew her through the air like Superman, his laughter matching hers.

“Anyway,” Jen said with a smile as she watched her daughter squealing in delight. “We just came to wish you farewell. The others couldn’t make it in time, but they say good luck and stay safe.”

I nodded, that thrill of danger raging through my stomach again. “Thanks. You guys going to keep coming to learn to use your magic?” I asked, digging my hands in my pockets.

“Yes. We’re doing so well that we don’t want to stop and lose traction. And the Boss said that Jameson will be running the mansion, so he’ll keep an eye on us. No one messes with us, though. After Delilah kicked that kid in the balls when he tried the pheromones, everyone kind of lost interest. And that stuff doesn’t really work now, anyway.”

I nodded as Jonas set Aurora down. The pheromones worked on most people right away, but the longer a human hung out with that ‘motivator’, the less it worked. Apparently this was already known by everybody except me. No one ever thought to mention it to the silly human, it seemed.

Such was my life.

“Well, we should probably go. I’m making everyone late,” I said to Jen.

Jen nodded at me and guided Aurora in front of her until Charles whisked her up again. “Are the shape-changer people going, too?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I answered as I made my way to Stefan. “They’re flying though. They have a truce with this clan, but everyone is so keyed up about this council meeting, and so eager to be the head dick, that—”

“Sasha!” Charles hissed, putting his big palms over Aurora’s ears. “Language!”

“Sorry. But, yeah, we don’t need people fighting before we even get to the Council. The two groups still don’t exist peacefully.”

“Okay, well… good luck! Stay safe!”

I nodded at Jen as I reached Stefan. The world melted away as his eyes delved into mine before glancing at Jonas and Charles. After a silent exchange, he took my hand and guided me into the motorhome. As soon as the door was shut, he settled into the dining area with a sigh.

“Tell me again why we need a vehicle big enough for a family of eight?” I asked, settling in beside him.

“Because I’m the Boss.”

“Didn’t answer my question.”

He smirked, moving his arm so I could lean against his rock-hard chest. After the motorhome waggled into the road, I asked, “How come you don’t have more kids at the mansion? It seems like people love them around.”

His fingers traced strands of my hair lightly. “When I was little, the mansion was attacked. It was more or less a routine situation—the neighboring clans often checked our defenses. Most of the kids were whisked away and sheltered, but two died. After that, we stopped allowing our children at the mansion unless in specific situations.”

“But can’t someone just attack the places where you do have children?”

“The only race interested in attacking us, at present, is our own. Since trouble reproducing is a species-wide trait, and losing even one child pushes us farther behind human populations, we don’t cross that line.”

“But—and I am just playing devil’s advocate here—wouldn’t that be a great way to thin down the opposing forces. The enemy?”

“Yes. And, in turn, a great way to thin down us, as a whole. It would soon be a contest of who could kill the others’ young. There is no faster way to end our species altogether.”

“Well, there is a faster way.”

He quirked an eyebrow at me.

“Tell the humans you are showing up to take over.”

A smile graced Stefan’s full lips. “That is true.”

We listened in silence to the rumble of the motor, the moving box swaying to one side or the other as we turned corners. After a while of quiet contemplation, Stefan still stroking my hair, he said, “When do you think you will conceive? Is that something we can try for soon?”

The spit got caught in my throat. “What was that?” I choked out.

His lips traced my ear lobe. His hot breath heated my skin as well as my body. “With you I would know it’s one of my own. I can be sure I’m the father. I’ve always wanted to be a father. To see what traits I passed over to my child.”

“Oh, you can be sure, can you? What if I’m waiting until you’re asleep and taking in the sights of the house, so to speak?”

The answering chuckle was deep and dark. “I would know. And someone would be dead.”

“Well, now is that fair?” I retorted in mock outrage. “What if I wanted to sow my wild oats?”

“Is there a point to this conversation?”

I threw him a glare.

He chuckled again. “What would you do if you heard I’d been with another woman? Tell me truly.”

My gut tightened and my fists curled of their own accord. Jealousy bubbling into rage would probably elicit something extreme.

“Exactly,” he whispered, trailing his lips down my neck. “We exist for each other, and are both too violent to suffer someone else touching what’s ours.”

“I don’t know that I’m violent,” I breathed, angling my head so he could kiss my collar bone. “I’m just a crazy bitch with a jealousy problem where you’re concerned.”

“However you define it.”

After another moment of quiet, I said, “Stefan.”

“Hmmm?”

“Is this council meeting going to be a shit show?”

With a small inhalation, Stefan leaned back against the seat and pulled me closer. “I’d be lying if I said no. You will be sought after. Someone will try to bend you to their will—and we have no idea who or how you will fit in their plans. Until we learn motives, it’ll be hard to know how the attack will come, or when. It’ll be harder to keep you protected.

“As for me, they’ll try to send me away, worried I’ll gain favor of one of the Council members. I have a high power level, I am excellent with a blade, smart and can be ruthless. Plus, I’m a good leader—I’ll draw notice. Some favorable, some not.”

“So, we’ll be in the fight of our lives.”

I got a squeeze. “Yes. From the first minute we step onto Council soil.”

The breath tumbled out of my mouth in a sigh. “Well, at least we have a few people we can trust.”

Stefan resumed stroking my hair. “And I hate to say it, but we have the shifters. They’re tied to you, and you to me. I don’t like your connection with them, but in this, I’ll take any help I can get.”

“Just say it—I was wrong. Three little words: I was wrong. Or go a step further—Tim and his crew stuck around and helped us defeat the demon instead of taking off like cowards. It’s not so hard…”

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