An Excerpt of Chapter One from Heart of the Raven:
Katelina stared at the sandwich as though it were an enemy. The limp tomato stared back from between layers of stale bread and suspicious lunchmeat. It was a clash of wills, and sadly the wilted lettuce won.
She tossed the sandwich on the coffee table and leaned back on the couch with a groan. It had been three days since the vampires’ underground Citadel had been attacked and the sixth floor, home to the handful of humans who lived there, had been decimated. Though many repairs had been made, the human amenities were still in shambles. Jorick had done the best he could, but the only available food was several crates of premade sandwiches.
Jorick. Boyfriend. Significant other. No label really fit the vampire but, for better or worse, she was in love with him – and she was supposed to meet him outside the audience chamber in a few minutes.
With a resigned sigh, she ate the limp sandwich in three bites, gave her long blonde hair a final pat, and charged out of the apartment and into the black carpeted corridor of the exclusive Executioners’ block. Like a private building, one had to have a special keycard to get in and out of the living area.
Outside was a public corridor. Largely undamaged, the hallway was bordered by hotel-like doors that gave way to mall style entertainment: a spa, an arcade and a movie theater. Vampires, already bored with the events of two days ago, lounged, and chatted as if it was just another day. Most ignored Katelina as she walked past.
The hair stood up on the back of her neck and Katelina hurried past them. Despite their indifference, any one of them could kill her without a second thought. Or maybe not. After all, she’d killed her share of vampires.
The thought squared her shoulders and she climbed in the elevator with a group of them. In the close quarters her courage waned. Luckily, the trip to the third floor was short. She exited quickly and turned for the audience chamber, a sense of dread in her stomach. She knew Jorick would be there, but it was little comfort. She still remembered the trial that had left Jorick sentenced to work as an Executioner, a member of The Guild’s “police squad”.
That had been Malick’s idea. Just thinking of his name was enough to make Katelina shiver. The former head of The Guild, the last time she’d seen him, he’d marched with his faithful underlings over a carpet of corpses. Worse than the sound of popping bones had been Malick’s face. Serene and gentle, like a loving father, even as he killed those he was supposed to protect.
The huge polished doors of the audience chamber loomed ahead of her, fronted by a gray suited guard, but no Jorick. She was only two minutes late. Surely he hadn’t left?
The guard eyed her with the general disdain most vampires showed. “Can I help you?”
Her first instinct was to ignore him, but she needed information. “I was sent for by Jorick, the Executioner.” It was a twist of the truth, and the title was unnecessary, but she enjoyed the way the guard’s face paled.
“They’re, uh, they’re still in session. I suppose you had better go in.”
It was her turn to falter. The last thing she wanted to do was face the remaining Executioners en masse, but it was that or pull up a bench across the hall and wither under the guard’s annoyingly superior gaze.
With a nod, she motioned to the door.
The guard opened it easily, though it weighed more than she could have moved. She swallowed her nervousness in a lump that tasted like the dried out sandwich, and marched inside.
The room was large and round, ringed by pillars and alcoves with tapestries. A crack in the vaulted ceiling hinted at the three day old battle, but everything else looked as it had the last time she’d been there. A red rug cut up the center of the room, bordered on either side by a haphazard arrangement of tables. A small cluster of chairs had been arranged to form three jagged rows. Vampires in black and silver uniforms, members of the greater guard, sat in them and stared with hopeful interest at the raised dais at the far end of the room.
Five thrones sat on the platform, meant for the members of the High Council. Above them, where the golden eye used to hang, a symbol of Malick’s power, a silver dragon winked and caught the light. No doubt it symbolized the new leadership of The Guild.
Beneath the new artwork sat the master himself, Eileifr, with long, braided blond hair and a bristling beard. Though his Nordic features were composed, the air around him seemed to crackle. Without Malick’s overwhelming presence it was suddenly obvious how terrifying Eileifr really was.
Before the platform was a table, and the remaining nine Executioners sat around it, dressed in black with silver medallions hanging around their necks; the symbol of their office. Katelina recognized them all, but only one held her attention. Jorick read a piece of paper, boredom on his face. His long black hair fell around his shoulders in a cascade of silky darkness and his pale skin gleamed like perfect marble in the light from the chandeliers. As if he sensed her scrutiny, he looked up, surprise in his dark eyes. Katelina met them; blue sky clashing with night. He cocked an eyebrow and then, as if he’d seen the answer in her mind, motioned her to wait out of the way.
He wasn’t the only one to notice her. An Executioner with crayon colored red hair also caught her attention. He offered her a fanged smile and a cheery wave. She gave him a scowl, then purposefully looked away and moved to an empty chair on the other side of the room.
Verchiel. How could he expect her to return his greeting? She and Jorick had fought over her almost-friendship with the crazy redhead, only for her to find out that he wasn’t her friend at all. He was only watching her on Malick’s orders. Why hadn’t Jorick warned her?
He did, her thoughts whispered back. But you didn’t listen.
Surrounded by vampires with various mental abilities, Katelina wasn’t sure if the thought was her own or one of theirs. It didn’t matter. It was right either way.
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