Rises The Night (Page 59)

"Why?"

Now he looked at her in an odd way. "She wants him as her concubine, is my understanding. I am certain he would do anything to be released from that position. To be a Venator yet tied to the vampire queen is a burden heavier than I could ken."

He offered his arm and she slid her fingers around the bulge of muscle that seemed to be flexed at all times, even when at rest. "Here is another of our lady Venators. Lady Rosamund, meant to take holy vows, but instead she left the abbey when she learned of her calling, and went on crusade to the Holy Lands."

Victoria stood before the picture of the young woman. Dressed simply, in a sapphire-colored gown similar to Wayren’s long, loose garments, with pointed sleeves that brushed the ground, Lady Rosamund looked serene and calm—very different from the mischievous Catherine Gardella. Long honey-colored hair fell from a simple headdress of pearls. She held a stake in one hand and a rope of prayer beads in another.

"She was a mystic, and during her time in the abbey, before she knew she was called, she wrote many manuscripts about the revelations she received during her meditation and prayer. Many of her works have become known as our prophecies, and Wayren studies them a great deal. Aye, she is the one to whom was revealed the whole story of how Judas, beloved of Jesus, came to betray him and turn to Lucifer, and was thus turned into the first vampire."

"There are some who say Jesus asked him to turn him over to the Jews in order to set all of the following events in motion," Victoria commented, looking at the portrait of the serene woman whose calm gray eyes reminded her of Wayren’s.

Zavier laughed, a low, rolling laugh that fit his bearlike physique. "Och, that is what Lucifer would like us to believe. If ye study Rosamund’s writings, as I have, ye will learn that for whatever reason, Judas indeed sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, and even today the presence of that particular metal is cause for a vampire to shrink back. Perhaps Judas knew what would happen because of his betrayal; perhaps he did not. But the truth is, after Jesus was crucified, Judas dinna believe he would be forgiven for his role in the betrayal, and Lucifer was easily able to convince him to turn to him for protection."

"You are quite a historian. Do you remember such detail for all of the Venators?"

He grinned back at her. "Ye ken, it is the female Venators’ stories I am the most fond of, because men are expected to be warriors and hunters. When a woman is called to do so, she has more hurdles to leap than the men ever do. It is hard enough for a man to be chosen and called as a Venator. I have the greatest respect for a woman who answers the call."

Victoria thought of Melly, her own mother, who had been chosen to be a Venator, but who had ultimately decided not to take on the responsibility because she had just met the man who was to be Victoria’s father. Because of that, Melly’s mind had been wiped clean of any memory related to vampires and Venators, and any innate skill that she would have had had been passed to her daughter. In that way, and because Melly’s father—who was Aunt Eustacia’s brother—had also chosen not to accept the Venator call, Victoria had inherited the skills and sense of two previous generations of Venators.

Zavier was clearly pleased to be in the presence of a female Venator, and had no hesitation in showing it. Victoria decided to be flattered and to enjoy his acceptance. "And where is Aunt Eustacia’s portrait?" she asked.

"There is no portrait yet. The paintings are not made until the Venator’s work is done. The biggest question regarding your aunt will be how to portray her—as the young, fierce Venator of legend, or the older, elegant matriarch."

Before Victoria was able to ask about the next portrait, they were interrupted.

"Pardon me, Zavier, Signorina Victoria, but the Consilium is drawing to order." The man gestured toward the door with a great flourish, torchlight glinting off his round spectacles.

"Grazie, Miro," Zavier replied, and led Victoria out of the room. "He is one of our weapon masters," he explained to her. "A Comitator who has a finesse for creating new ways to fight vampires and protect ourselves. We will have to see if he can create a special, more ladylike stake for ye. Perhaps one that will fit in your reticule, or down a stocking. Or some formfitting leather armor?" He winked.

The Consilium, which was both the name of the governing body and also the name of the chambers through which they walked, met in a different room. This one had a circle of chairs arranged in a half-moon shape about a semicircular dais.

Most of the twenty seats were taken; Victoria selected one near the back and noticed that her aunt and Wayren had been seated on the dais behind a table.

They did not waste any time. Wayren spoke, referring to the sheaf of notes in front of her.

"Nedas has Akvan’s Obelisk, and it is clear he intends to activate it; in fact, has already begun the necessary steps to do so. My research indicates that the Day of the Dead, All Souls’ Day, is the optimal time for such an event. This is the day on which the souls of the departed are released from their bodies, making it a perfect time for Nedas and the immortals to attempt to capture them and use them for their purposes. It is, of course, November the second, which is two days from now."

She shuffled the curling papers into a pile and looked at Aunt Eustacia, who continued. "As many of you know, I was present the last time the Tutela gained vast power and unleashed it upon the mortals. It was the Battle of Praga, where twenty thousand people were massacred by vampires and the members of the Tutela, in the name of the immortals. Although we were ultimately able to stop them, it was only after great devastation. With the power of Akvan’s Obelisk controlling the souls of our departed, Nedas will be impossible to beat back and we expect the damage to be even greater, should he succeed." She paused and looked around the room. "I believe it will be the end of our battle with them, for their power will overmatch ours."

"So how do we stop it?" asked Zavier. His face was expressionless. "How do we destroy the obelisk? And where does he keep it?"

"Last night there was a fire at the Blendimo Opera Theater," Wayren said, with a glance at Victoria. "It has not been completely destroyed, by some odd happenstance, but it has been closed to the public and will not reopen for months, if at all. And there were some reported vampire attacks at that location as well. I do not believe it is a coincidence, for several reasons. First, my research indicates that Nedas will need a very large space in which to complete his activation of the obelisk, and the theater is one of the largest and tallest chambers in the city—other than cathedrals, of course, which would not be a welcoming place for a group of vampires bent on calling an evil power to life. Second, the theater, as you well know, is perched on a small hill near the city’s largest cemetery. This makes sense, for it will be much easier for him to draw the dead souls from the nearby cemetery; although I do not believe he would be restricted to only those that are close to him. I am certain that this is where Nedas plans to activate the obelisk. However, there is no known way to destroy the object, so we must consider other alternatives."



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