Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(7)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(7)
Author: Chloe Neill

“Vampires, evidently.” I looked around. “Does everybody understand their roles?”

“Standing by and not exacerbating the situation?” Petra asked.

“Yes,” Theo said and looked at me. “Officially, we’re here as observers, to intervene only if necessary. To protect the public, and our Sups.” His smile was thin. “We’ll also keep a line to Roger. The CPD’s Sup liaison has a couple of cars about two miles down the road. Close enough to intervene if necessary. Not so close as to be visible.”

“Good,” I said. “Thanks for arranging it.”

“You’re welcome.”

We all went quiet, preparing to wait for the stroke of midnight. And when the hour struck, two dozen black-clad vamps, looking stern and severe and thoroughly righteous, moved through the verge in silence, with nary a whisper of grass to mark their arrival. There were no trim and tailored suits for tonight’s event. Just dark fatigues and katanas in lacquered scabbards. Vampire workwear. Work intended to be bloody. Were they intimidated by me, or just afraid I’d slip their net? The gear made me worry the five of us wouldn’t be enough—and that I’d put my friends in harm’s way.

Their magic slunk forward like fog, glamour intended to soften, to soothe. And to lure me into submission, I assumed. It wasn’t subtle, which made it easy to counter. I used my own glamour as a shield, wrapped around me like a cloak. I schooled my features into bland and arrogant dismissal, and the fog dissipated. They’d made their first move, and I wasn’t impressed.

I recognized the three vamps who’d come to my door, but not the man who led them, who’d positioned himself at the front of a tidy triangle. (Seriously—did they practice formations?) This must be Clive—the Bureau’s head. He was thickly built, more like a defensive tackle than a katana-swinging vampire, despite the black and gold scabbard gleaming at his waist. His skin was pale, his hair short, dark, and tidy, and he had high, round cheekbones and deep-set eyes. He was older than me in vampire terms, at least fifty or sixty, judging by the weight of his magic, but his face looked considerably younger. He’d been in his twenties when he’d been turned, I guessed.

Time to play my part, I thought, and lifted my chin, hands at my sides. A hand on my katana would have comforted, but it also threatened—and signaled I was worried, on the defensive.

“Clive,” I said, getting in the first word. “I’m Elisa Sullivan. I have, at your request, agreed to meet you to discuss the AAM’s concerns about my saving Carlie’s life.” I gestured to the X on my clavicle. “As I have arrived as promised, please remove this.”

He didn’t appear to appreciate my opening demand, however politely phrased, and looked at a vampire behind him, nodded. The vampire entered something into a small screen. After a moment, I felt a bright pinch and the mark disappeared.

I inclined my head. “Thank you.”

Clive looked perturbed by my taking the lead, then glanced at Connor and the others. “I’m not sure why you felt it necessary to bring Pack with you. I see no need to involve them in vampire affairs.”

“I see a need,” Connor said. “The incident happened in Pack territory, and Elisa saved a friend of the Pack.”

“Given you’ve brought twenty vampires,” I said, “you can hardly complain about the five of us.”

“Your tone does you no credit.” Temper crossed his face then, hot and sharp. He wasn’t just enforcing rules; he was actively angry at me. Because of Carlie?

“Being accused of vampiric treason tends to make me irritable. Now, please get to the point. What do you want?”

Clive gritted his teeth, but maintained his control. “Elisa Sullivan. You are accused of making a vampire without the authority to do so, either by permission or position. You had no legal right to so act.”

“She was going to die.”

“Not relevant. There are rules for a reason, and you violated those rules. You threaten all of us by your recklessness.”

“She was going to die,” I repeated.

“Then she would have been one of many humans. All mortals die; it is their nature. Is her life worth all of ours?”

I narrowed my gaze. “Has your life been threatened in any way because Carlie is alive? Because I saved her? And do you show up at the home of every Rogue vampire who makes a new one without your permission?”

Rogues were vampires who were unHoused, who eschewed Houses but had banded together under a common name and leader. Carlie lived with a coven of vampires in Minnesota who were technically Rogues; they’d affiliated with one another. That defeated the point of being “Rogue,” to my mind, but to each his own. Whatever the reason, the rules were different.

“Rogues are rarely strong enough to make vampires, and rarely do so. Regardless, the AAM has no information suggesting you’ve deemed yourself a Rogue vampire, or affiliated with Chicago’s Rogues. Have you done so?”

“No,” I said after a moment.

“And you’ve refused to commit even to your parents’ House. Interesting.”

How did the AAM know I didn’t consider myself a member of Cadogan House? Had my parents told Nicole? Didn’t matter, I told myself. I could deal with that later, talk to my parents. Right now, I had to stay focused, because his anger kept growing, pushing hot and prickling magic toward us.

“And what,” Clive continued, “of the next human you change? Or the next human changed—successfully or not—by someone else who believed it was allowed?”

For this first time, it occurred to me that maybe this wasn’t just about me having changed Carlie. Something bigger was going on here. Something more. What did they think I was going to do?

“Since this apparently needs to be said aloud,” I offered, “I have no interest in building a coven or a vampire army, nor do I plan to make any more vampires.”

“Your word is worth little.”

“My word is all I have,” I said, keeping my voice calm. “Word and intention. I’ve told you my intention. So what’s yours, Clive?”

“You are a risk, and you are unrepentant, so you will be dealt with accordingly. Elisa Sullivan,” he said, voice booming across the darkness, “you will agree to be Commended into a recognized House. You will submit to the authority of its Master. And you will undertake formal Testing of your Strengths. If you fail to agree to these demands, your freedom is forfeit.”

FOUR

My blood went cold, ice slipping through my veins.

Testing was the process would-be Masters went through to ensure they were physically and mentally strong enough for the position. It was a measurement of the Strengths vampires valued: physical prowess, psychic ability, and strategic thinking.

There was no way in hell I’d agree to that. I didn’t want to be a Master, and I wouldn’t be able to hide the monster during that kind of ordeal. They’d see. They’d know. And if they wanted to control me now, wait until they found the monster.

I couldn’t see Connor, but I felt a wave of magic, the flash of his concern. It was a reminder that I wasn’t here alone, that I had the support to handle whatever the AAM threw at me—vampire to vampire.

“Are you afraid of me, Clive?” I kept my eyes hard, my voice cold. “Because I can’t think of any other reason you’d demand Testing of a vampire who doesn’t want to be a Master.”

“You cannot flout our rules, our law, with impunity.”

“I saved a human from a monster. I made vampires look like heroes.” I cocked my head at him, forced arrogance into my eyes. “Does Nicole know that you’re here? That you’ve threatened me?”

His face was a study in raw fury, his eyes swirling quicksilver with hatred, his knuckles white as he gripped his katana in its scabbard. “We act with the authority of the AAM,” he said, which sounded like evasion, but I had no basis to counter it.

“Your parents should have controlled you,” he continued. “Should have taught you how to behave. How to obey. But they didn’t, did they? They allowed you to run wild, to ignore the rules because of the manner of your making.”

“You don’t know how wrong you are.”

“You made your choice,” he said, ignoring that. “You’ll pay the consequences.” His eyes fired again, and his hand crept toward his katana.

“I would be very careful,” I said, “what you do with that sword.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No. It’s a reminder that I have witnesses.”

“He takes one step forward,” Connor said, voice low and threatening, “and he is mine.”

I heard rustling, impatient and ready. But I kept my eyes on Clive.

“A fight won’t benefit any of us,” I said. “That’s the kind of behavior that humans don’t like to see. And as for Carlie, I will break whatever rules are necessary to save an innocent life.”

“You will obey,” Clive said. “Or you will be taken into custody and placed into seclusion until you submit to the AAM’s demands.”

“No,” I said, simply. “I don’t agree to your demands, and I won’t go with you. So I suggest you leave Chicago, report back to Nicole, and tell her what I’ve just told you. And if she has questions, she can talk to me directly.”

“Wrong answer,” Clive said. His eyes had gone diamond-bright with magic and satisfaction at my refusal. Unsurprisingly, this meeting had nothing to do with telling my story; the outcome was preordained. And so, I guessed, was what came next.

Something whistled through the air above us—something sleek and fast. Knife or arrow or shuriken, but not just that. It was a first shot from the AAM. It was a dare.

It was provocation.

“Hold!” I called out, but an instant too late. Another missile moving, even before the last had landed. I looked back, saw Alexei’s hand extended . . . and heard the pop of flesh.

   
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