And so the kindred died. Not many of them. There was never a slaughter like in Sceval. But enough. Many, many humans died. Mauled, half-eaten bodies would be transported to various cities in Little Terreille and left there as a message. But it didn't matter how many bodies were sent back, there were always more people willing to take their place. The coven did what they could, making their Offerings and refusing to give aid to anyone trespassing on the so-called unclaimed lands, but it wasn't enough. It would never be enough so long as Jorval and the Terreillian bitches who pulled his strings, saw the possibility for opportunity and gain.
Four days ago, Jaenelle had tried again. And this time, when they'd been turned down, Saetan had ventured that it was possible that there wasn't a legitimate way to stop the Dark Council. Both Karla and Lucivar had turned on him, overwrought and furious, demanding explanations, pointing out that he'd fought them before, snidely insinuating that maybe he thought the kindred weren't worth fighting over now. But it was Jaenelle who stopped them.
"Yes, there is," she said softly, leaning on Saetan as they walked. "There is a way."
"Witch-child?" Saetan asked, concerned.
Jaenelle shuddered. "I never wanted this. But it's the only want to help them."
"What's the only way, darling?" Karla asked, worried at how pale Jaenelle seemed. How fragile.
Trembling, Jaenelle stepped away from them. The haunted look in her eyes, etched there by long hours of research and tallying kindred deaths, would stay with them forever. "I'm going to make the Offering to the Darkness and set up my court."
Three days ago, Jaenelle had retreated to the Keep to do just that. Karla had contacted Saetan at sunrise the next day to hear the result, but she'd been tersely informed that they were still waiting for her to emerge from the Sanctuary. That, at least, was normal enough. It could take some time to get used to the feel of your new Jewels. Granted, Jaenelle already wore the Black, had been gifted with thirteen uncut Black Jewels at her Birthright Ceremony, but perhaps she'd been gotten even more. Either way, it was an exhausting process, starting at sunset and going until sunrise. No one would begrudge her a few more hours to adjust.
But when Saetan had contacted her that evening to let her know that Jaenelle still hadn't emerged, Karla had started getting nervous. By midnight of the second day with still no word, she was pacing the estate and snarling at everyone who came near. And when dawn of the third morning had passed, Karla had announced that she was going to the Keep and the first person to protest was going to be on cradle duty for the next month. Which was why shortly thereafter, Karla and an entourage had departed the estate for the Keep.
Draca had seemed completely unsurprised to see Karla, merely conducted everyone to the same sitting room that she had confined Saetan and Lucivar. Tersa was also there, making shapes out of puzzle pieces. "Any word?" she demanded of Saetan, who was pacing the room with the air of a man who'd been doing the same activity for far longer than his patience would have liked.
"Only that there's a shield over every corridor leading to the Dark Altar that even the Black can't penetrate," Saetan growled.
Lucivar abandoned his chair and stretched his back and shoulders. "Why is it that your pacing isn't supposed to annoy me, but when I start pacing I get chucked in the garden?"
"Because I'm older and I outrank you," Saetan snapped, pivoting and pacing back to the other side of the room.
Karla snarled at both of them. These little flashes of male temper--of Warlord Prince temper--were making her uneasy. "Stop your sniping! This isn't helping anyone!" Leaving everyone else to get comfortable, she settled at the table with Tersa. Thankfully, there was one person in the room who was sensible.
"Something's wrong," Saetan shot back. "It doesn't take this long. From sunset to sunrise. That's how long an Offering takes."
Tersa tilted her head, considering. "That was true for the Prince of the Darkness. But for the Queen?" she shrugged.
Cold slithered up Karla's spine and she brushed her fingers along Jono's scales to make sure he was still curving around her throat. What would Jaenelle be like as Queen of the Darkness? Would she recognize anything of the girl who'd befriended her so long ago? "Tersa. Do you know something? See something?"
Tersa's eyes glazed. "A voice in the Darkness. A howling, full of joy and pain, rage and celebration." Her eyes cleared and she looked at everyone in the room. "Leash your fear," she instructed. "It will do her more hard now than anything else. Leash it, or lose her."
Saetan's hand closed over Tersa's. "I'm not afraid of her, I'm afraid for her."
Tersa shook her head. "She will be too tired to sense the difference. Choose High Lord, and live with what you choose." She looked at the closed door. "She is coming."
For the rest of her life, Karla was convinced the Darkness had something to do with the timing. Perhaps it understood that they were only human and they had feared for Jaenelle too much in the past to let it go so easily. Because at that moment, Jono opened his tiny mouth for a little snakey yawn--
--and promptly turned back into his human form, all naked limbs and psionic fire tangled up with Karla on the floor. There was a moment of silence as everyone took in the scene in front of them. And at that moment, the door opened and Jaenelle stood on the threshold. "What did I miss?" she asked, fighting back a yawn.
[Open to anyone in Glacia who wanted to tag along. NFB. Text adapted from Heir to the Shadows.]