Pages Navigation Menu

Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 32

cover-dark-lords-1

Chapter Thirty-Two

Dagmar Asked…

Castle Cor, New Oxford, Albion, Realm World

 

Johanna kissed her parents good bye. She felt both happy and sick that she was not going with them. She shivered. Mrs. Findley promptly put her arms around Johanna’s shoulders, while Mrs. Scott touched her forehead. She returned Mrs. Findley’s hug.

“Are you feeling okay, dear?” Mrs. Scott asked.

“Yes, just … I am happy that I am not going and I am ashamed of that.”

“Nonsense, we would not have allowed them to take you.” Mrs. Scott said in her usual no nonsense way. “Hallstat is not a planet for the sane.”

“They will be exhausted when they get back.” Mrs. Findley gave Johanna another hug. “How are you feeling? Hungry?”

“I am fine, thank you both.” Johanna went to her office. She had forgotten the Right Of Veto that the Servants had. She was the last member of the Family at Cor, the Servants could and by Law had every right to deny her leave and for that she was happy. Right now, breakfast was in order.

Six hours later, Johanna was at her desk. Across from her, Nancy Boxer, her personal secretary was at her own desk sorting papers. She was quite tanned from getting ready for her coming honeymoon in the tropical Emerald Islands. Owen, Johanna had to remember, was now her husband, though they had been exclusive lovers for at least three years. Johanna just always thought of them as together, it didn’t seem different now that they’d been legally joined.

Johanna still felt angry about what her grandfather had done to Owen. Her father’s chauffeur had spent a week in the hospital, putting off their leaving. Auntie Gwen had claimed that he should have simply stepped aside while his Lord talked to Grandfather. Johanna snorted, she did not know Owen. Grandfather had been impressed though, apparently it had taken two guards and a stunner to take Owen down. He had offered Owen a job, of course Owen’s reply had been shortened and not sent verbatim.

“Jo?” Nancy asked, as she stopped sorting folders. “I have the receipts for Cafe Morgana. Quite a bit of cutlery, plates and napkins either were broken or went missing.”

Johanna shook her head slightly, she needed a break.

“What?” Johanna walked over. The Cafe that she was part owner in, had been one of many that had given free, paid for by House De La Roche, meals to those attending the Conference and Symposium. “People took them?”

“Mostly, it appears they ended up in the street recyclers.” Nancy shook her head, handing over a folder of reports. “I found the missing expense reports from Frankly Franks, Sausage Mayhem, and More Than Beans Coffee Hut.”

Johanna looked at the list of missing items from Cafe Morgana. “Seven-hundred-and-ninety-three cloth napkins? Why, by the Black, were people dropping them in the street?”

“Apparently, many of the attendees thought they were photonic.”

“Napkins? Do they not wipe their hands for real?” Jo stared at Nancy. “You are telling me that Denise at Franks, picked up over one-hundred and fifty napkins dropped by people leaving Morgana’s? At the point when the bloody things did not vanish—Over three hundred salt shakers are missing?”

“Yes, just the salt shakers. Just. Not one pepper mill. As a matter of fact,” Nancy shuffled through some papers and pulled out a hand written note, “you have to read this to believe it.”

Jo took the paper and began reading out loud. “Many customers appear unable to operate the pepper mills. They talk to them, shake them, then call over the staff to state that the mills do not work. Even after being shown how to turn the top, the customers often seem confused. Many customers have also complained that the pepper is hot, this apparently came as a surprise to many of them.”

Nancy was shaking her head, her smile rueful. “They thought the pepper was hot, they should have tried the spicy chicken.”

“Ridiculous.” Johanna sat back in her chair. “Do you realize how many walked into doors? Stepped onto the road and were nearly hit by vehicles, not to mention stepped out in front of moving carriages to touch the horses?”

“At least they knew they were horses.” Nancy picked up an envelope. “I do not recognise this logo.”

Owen knocked on the door. Nancy turned, a smile lighting up her face at the sight of her bruised spouse. “My date is here. Still sure you do not want to join us?”

Johanna waved them away. “No, you two have fun. This is your last day before you leave. You know what, why not start early? I will see you both in four weeks.”

Nancy and Owen hugged Johanna. She held them with her arms and her heart, letting them share in her love for her friends and joy at their time of celebration. Nancy whispered into her ear, “When we get back, you must promise to tell me about your mystery man.”

Johanna laughed. “Fine. Now the two of you go practice for your honeymoon.”

They smiled, arms around each other. Johanna sighed and picked up the envelope. It was thick and rough, not like handmade paper, but like the magic paper her father used to write them all secret notes on. Father and his mysteries, if you want your birthday gift you must crack this riddle …

She tore open the letter. There was nothing in it. She unfolded the envelope. Nothing? She checked the stamp again. It was the outline of a shield with a knight’s helm in black ink. She did not recognize the logo. Johanna checked the desk. Nothing had fallen out.

A piece of the paper broke off and turned to dust. Damn! It was magic paper. It was already turning chalky. She quickly put in on the smart desk and changed the display to emit ultraviolet light.

She looked at it intently, her mind open, her consciousness suppressed. Johanna focused on the image, imprinting it in her mind in whole. Then the paper degraded. The ink flew out of the paper as it was burned up by the very light that allowed someone to see it. The paper had become a powder.

Johanna held her breath and quickly stood. She did not need to be sneezing for an hour. She sat back in her chair and pushed herself until she was sitting in the sun beam through the window. Again she cleared her mind, then she brought up the memory of the paper.

There had been pictures. The first was two poor images of the same ship taken from an awkward angle. The second was part of an invoice. Below, was a picture of a hand written note. It had read:

The light faded, but will return, traveller among the stars, carries the spark, in the darkness of the between places, the demons in Hell’s darkest halls howl, the key there will be found, will spread the Light Profound. Dominion, the crown will bring.

A very different hand wrote below it, directly onto the paper:

Light faded: lost territory

Among the stars: Star Roamer, registered to Angeles Shippers out of New Paradise, carrying loads of advanced medical equipment, weapons and the Pious.

Darkness of the between places: not in a major or minor system.

Demons: Vampires 

Hell’s darkest halls: we believe an underground base 

Key: defeat of the Dark Lords

Light Profound: unknown, we think it is a ship and or person

Dominion: bioengineering

Crown: Victory 

Eleven ships left the realm directly to neutral space, only nine ships entered the HFSS. 

It was signed, Archer.

Who was Archer? What was this about? Was it one of her father’s mysteries … no, he had not done that in years. On the desk, the powder blew away as air from the vent moved through the room, its contents irretrievable but for her memory.

The emergency summons sounded. Johanna’s heart started beating. When that particular sound came through Cor, day or night, the Lord must meet at the great hall at once with someone. Only twice before, in her fifty-two years had the alarm summons sounded when her parents had not been home, of course Daniella had dealt with it.

I am alone … Johanna blinked, even Abs was gone. What if they never come back? I am not the next Lord, my sister is … missing …

“My Lady?” Thomas stood in the doorway. “You must come, at once.”

Swallowing, Johanna walked quickly to the West elevator. She saw her reflection in the mirrored interior. Daniella had told her it was just like court duty, just sudden and to be thankful she did not have to deal with it.

Johanna had done her court duty many times, contract disputes mostly, but there had been a couple building disputes. Did she look right? Did she need robes?

Johanna realized she had never been in, or for that matter, near the Great Hall when a summons had come. Her Nanny or Dani or someone had always taken her off.

The doors opened and standing there was security. She could hear voices in the distance, loud and angry. The Armorum of Cor, Gregor Bowie had gone with her parents. Standing in front of her, looking harried, was Ben Winters, second in command.

“You tell them, if they do not calm down, we will not bring her in,” Winters said to someone on his throat mike. “This way, now.”

He turned and led them to the antechamber. Legal robes, dark red, were carefully arranged in the closet. Madeline and the Steward, Cynthia MacFerran, were disagreeing as they put on their black robes.

Madeline stepped forward, a red robe in hand, it was Daniella’s.

“This is not appropriate. You have never dealt with anything remotely like this.” Madeline glared at those present. “She is not ready.”

“I will do my duty, Madeline.” Johanna was starting to feel sick. She pulled off her shirt and put on the robe. Slipping her pants off, she sat to remove her shoes and socks. The bare foot thing always bugged her. Standing, she took Madeline’s arm. “Thank you, for being here.”

From the Hall the voices quieted.

Madeline nodded. “Keep your face neutral. You are not there to pass judgement, but to listen. We do not know—” A scream sounded from the Hall. Voices roared up.

“They found the body!” Ben said.

Body? Johanna’s breath caught, for a moment she had trouble breathing. Body?

“Sound the drums or we will have a lynching!” A voice said from the hall.

“The Guard can barely hold them!” another voice yelled.

Ben turned to her. “Your choice, My Lady, none shall pass while I stand at your door.”

Johanna heard the words, part of the oath of Security. Never before had those words meant so much to her. The noise from the Hall was deafening.

Johanna stood straight, I am Johanna Daisi De La Roche. “Sound the Drums.”

The drums sounded and the Hall quieted. They formed up around her, together they walked out. At the doorway, Johanna took a deep breath, the scent was not right. She could smell them in the great hall, men, women and even some children. Their scents were sharp and bitter and, and angry laced with sour fear. Johanna felt panic beginning. She reached out and touched the stone of the doorway. Cor was there, strong. The Servants, many now touched Cor, sending her their strength. They, each one of them, were with her. Those around her now were like Cor, strong and focused. Johanna cleared her mind. Neutral, you are neutral.

Johanna did not look at the crowd gathered, but she could feel each eye upon her. She walked toward the stone chair that would connect her to Cor. She shivered, she had only sat there in the past with her father present, acting as guide and filter. She turned to sit and hesitated. The hall was packed as she had never seen it. Slowly Johanna sank down to the hard stone seat.

Lying on the table in front of the dais was a very small body shape under a blanket. Water, smelling of marsh was dripping onto the floor. A woman was sobbing, she was half on the table, holding the too human form. A man stood over her, his hands on her back, but his eyes were not on the woman, nor the form. They were focused on the man to the right. He was about two metres from the table, handcuffed, his face black and blue. Four Guard Officers around him. At least thirty were in the Hall, between the crowd and him. At the edges, De La Roche Security stood.

The man, dark of hair and tanned of skin, looked up at her. He spit. A roar rose from the crowd.

“Prostitute! Bitch! Whore!” He screamed the words at her. Each word whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

The Steward raised her hand and the Castle Page brought down his staff three times.

Madeline, on her left, leaned in. “He is attempting to start a riot. He wishes chaos. He knows you will open him to all and wishes a death to leave doubt. I do not recommend you touch his mind, hand this to the courts.”

Fear filled Johanna. She gripped the arms, feeling her nails form. What was she to do? Every person in the Hall wanted justice! 

Then she was not alone. The Other, cold and knowing surrounded her. The Other was the memory, held in the crypts below of all past Lords of Cor and of each Steward. Her father had explained that their ‘impression’ had been left in Cor and was here to give counsel and strength so that the Moral Obligation would always come first in this Hall.

Johanna straightened in the seat. Four people entered through the side door led by security. A forensics team! Johanna felt relief wash through her. She stood straight. The Hall grew quiet. Johanna felt calm, she was in the Hall and she was the Hall. Everyone here was with her, in her, a part of her.

“The Moral Obligation is Upon Us All.” Though the voice that filled the hall, nearly causing windows to rattle, was hers, Johanna knew it was also not her.

The forensics team members looked up at her.

“Name the life lost.”

The man at the table, whose very soul begged her for justice, startled. He stood straight, but his voice broke as he spoke. “My daughter Kiku, Kiku Leah Bjorston. She went missing two days ago from the market in New Oxford Downs.”

“These finders of facts must be allowed their duty to bring us Knowledge, that we may exercise Wisdom.” Johanna walked down the top two steps. “If you wish, she shall be removed for their actions?”

“No,” the mother said, then stronger, “no! Let all see my baby!”

The man pulled her back, wrapping her in his arms. Johanna nodded to the three man, one woman team. They pulled back the blanket.

“Johanna, this is not wise,” Madeline whispered. Her words seemed to come from far away.

Johanna could feel her heart pounding. A privacy tent! She should have—Johanna looked down and froze. The little girl was smaller than she had been under the blanket and naked. Johanna closed her mouth as her gorge rose. The girl’s wrists were raw, weeds were in her hair. She lay so tiny upon the table and Johanna knew her …

Kiku had given Johanna a drawing of her pony, Puff. Kiku had laughed not three weeks ago in her pretty dress at her school as Johanna, Alex and Daniella had listened to the children’s songs. Kiku had been barely six years old, around seven in standard. Kiku was going to make boats with her grandfather this summer …

The crime scene officers had set up a scanner. They finished preliminary. Then moved in on her body.

Johanna looked away. Many were staring, most had their heads bowed. More than half were crying, but many had hard eyes as they stared at the man. Why would anyone want to drown a child?

She looked at him. The man was staring ahead at the stairs in front of him. He kept casting sideways glances at Kiku’s body. Lightly licking his lips. She could smell his excitement, his sexual excitement soaked in fear.

Do not throw up! The Steward’s mind hit her hard.

The head investigator came up the four steps and leaned in close.

“Lady, she is badly bruised. There is vaginal and anal tearing. Lake water in her lungs. Lady, we can not find gross DNA, her hands were dipped in a corrosive before she was drowned. There is evidence that she was washed with bleach. We will have to take her to the labs to find trace DNA.”

Johanna sat heavily on the stairs. She looked at the man. No! No, people did not do that to children! People did not do that in the Realm! People did not do that here! Not here!

She let the Other take her body. It was as if she was watching herself from outside.

“The bleaching and corrosive, before she was drowned or after?” Johanna’s voice filled the hall.

The investigator’s voice was hushed. “Before.”

Johanna’s body stood. She walked down the steps to the man. “Who is this?”

One of the officers surrounding the man stepped forward, a Captain, by his insignia, saluted her. “Frank Martin, from New Oxford South Downs. Dogs led us to his home. He was evasive upon questioning. His alibi failed upon inspection. We returned this afternoon and he attempted to flee. We received a warrant and found inappropriate pictures of young children from the local schools. With a focus on the victim.”

“We should hand him to the courts,” the Steward said.

The mob roared for justice. The officers were pushed back. All knew what had befallen the child. The mother leapt to her feet and was stopped by her husband and two officers.

“I demand Justice! It is my right! Lady! My Lady! Please!” The woman crumpled, sobs taking her words. “To know … the right to know …”

Johanna felt her body move to stand in front of the man. Frank was the name of a normal, sane person. The man before her, she could not think of that way. The Hall had quieted.

“We will not destroy the innocent. We must follow the Moral Obligation in this above all things. We must be led by Reason.”

He was shaking in front of her. Shame pouring from his skin. Johanna was the Hall and she was every mind in it. The mother and father’s anguish was an open wound, their need blind. Every parent was a stab of fear for their children’s safety. The officers were constrained anger, they had failed to protect an innocent. Several minds glowed with worry, was the man truly guilty? Others had known him, how could they not see what he was? Their shame consumed them. Still others wanted the man to be innocent, because such did not, could not happen here!

Johanna reached out and stepped into his mind. The shame came first. Then the lust. The memories …

She was standing on the stairs, water in her mouth as she prepared to spit into the ceremonial bowl. The young Bowl Holder’s face was white, but he stood straight. Johanna’s mouth ached, she had only emptied half her glands … oh, by the Blood!

The man in front of her staggered back. His shirt torn open. Two small punctures on his shoulder.

The Cup Bearer stepped forward. Trembling, Johanna took the cup. Her teeth sliding into the specially made and fitted rim. She bit down and released the pressure in her mouth, her glands emptied fully into the vacuum sealed interior. The Cup Bearer carried the delicate glass to the Steward who poured exactly fifty millilitres of water into the top of the Cup. She then pushed the special top that mixed the water and the venom. It was swirled three times then handed back to the Cup Bearer.

The young man walked down the stairs and dropped to one knee. Carefully he broke the seal. Then holding the cup in two hands offered it up. The father took the Cup and held it to his wife’s lips, she drank, then he finished the liquid.

Johanna was thankful that Kiku’s body had been covered.

The moan turned her head. The man had fallen. He lay shaking. People had moved away from him. One of the officers had removed the handcuffs. He began screaming. He was living through what he had done to Kiku, Johanna gasped. How could she have done that? She did not have the skill! No one here had that skill!

Around them Cor pushed. The Steward’s voice was a command. “Remove the unclean thing at once!”

The great doors swung open and the officers dragged the thing from the Hall. The crowd followed. Four House Guard and four Guard took their place around the small body. They would carry Kiku to the waiting coroner’s transport.

Johanna wished it was over, wished this to be the end of it. She was led out of the hall. She threw off the robe and ran to her rooms. Going straight to her shower. She scrubbed and scrubbed. His smell clung to her, though she knew it was the memory of him that she could not wash away.

“My Lady?” Nancy opened the shower door. She turned off the scalding water. “Jo, no.”

Then she was wrapping Johanna in a towel. Johanna stood, feeling childish, foolish, immature. Grow up, Johanna! You are an adult, a Vampyre, an Officer of the Realm.

“I should have been there.” Nancy was holding her, talking to someone. Johanna tried to focus on what Nancy was saying. “… Owen, stop it!”

Johanna looked up, she wiped away her tears. “You two are not supposed to be here. Nancy, your honeymoon is already overdue.”

Owen, muttering stepped aside as the Steward, Cynthia MacFerran, came into Johanna’s room.

“You did excellent today, Johanna.” Cynthia said. “Your actions were, unexpected, but traditional.”

“She was not prepared, Cor acted.” Madeline’s voice was firm. Johanna remembered her saying to remand the offence to the courts.

“I can not remember more than just brushing his mind.” Johanna shuddered, immediately feeling sick. Nancy hugged her.

“What happened? I bit him but I did not.”

“That is for the best.” Cynthia stood. “Your memories like ours are fading. It is part of the process. It is for the best. We, the People who live under the banner of De La Roche, have the right of Justice.”

“Justice? How long will it take him to die?” Johanna felt cold inside.

“At least three weeks, possibly longer. He has been chained to the black Oak outside the Courthouse.” Cynthia took a breath. “This is Justice, Johanna. That is what those trees are for, why they were planted. Tom and Lydia will have to live with Kiku’s death. They will feel that loss every day of the rest of their lives. Her older sister, had been feeling guilty, she thought it was her fault. Now she knows it was not. The people feel Justice. They know that thing will relive every hour until his death what he did to Kiku from her point of view. Even if he were to live, that would never end. He had the choice of seeking help. He knew he had a problem, had known for years. His mother and father thought his odd behaviour when younger had sorted itself out. After Service he began hiding his ever worsening condition. He was an illness we did not catch in time. You were the tool that was needed.”

“There will be fallout,” Ben Winters said from the doorway.

“There already is. By Dagmar you did your duty.” Cynthia sighed. “This business today was horrific.”

“Johanna, you were not yourself.” Madeline had come to sit by her. She reached out now and took Johanna’s hand. “What that was, what you felt, it is called Castle Justice. Remember, the chair keeps the memories of all who have sat in it. When you die you will be entombed here in Cor or at your own Castle.”

There was a shuffling in the room.

“Father and Mother, they explained it … it was not what I felt. I do not … I killed that man, yet I feel nothing about it?” What if there is a next time? 

“Of course not.” Cynthia shook her head. “We all sunk our teeth into him, you are the only one who did not. Your duty, sadly, is not finished.”

There was an immediate outcry from all present.

“Silence!” Cynthia’s word stopped them. “She invoked the old ways, she opened the door.”

“Steward.”

Cynthia turned to the doorway. Ben would not let the man enter, Owen was his backup. “There is a petition for the immediate return of our Lord and Lady.”

“Knew that was coming.” Cynthia turned back to Johanna. “Your duty is to be in the Receiving vestibule. Many will come and you need to be there for the next week at least, possibly two.”

“The Intervention was voted on. No one wants another Avalon.” Owen looked angry, not angry, Johanna realized, Owen was scared. For the first time in her life, Johanna felt the weight of Cor, of the two-thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven lives that called the Castle and grounds home. Not to mention the millions more who had inherited the right to call the De La Roches their Lords.

Johanna started to feel sick again. She held tight to Madeline’s hand to keep from showing her own were shaking.

“The fact that so many are gone is causing serious concern,” Owen said.

Ben snorted from the doorway.

“People are scared, Johanna.” Cynthia looked out the window as she spoke. “Never before have our skies been so empty nor our Castles.”

“Many just realized that you are the last adult Vampyre in New Oxford.” Madeline said.

“Not just New Oxford, the entire Western Continent.” Ben’s words seemed to chill the room.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *