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(Contains: strong language)
Chapter 18

The first glance of the enemy did not bode well. He had controlled his rage, hiding under the mask of cold aloofness and watched as Ashton poured liquid into the punch. He waited until the vampire was out of sight.

Before anyone could go near the drink, he headed toward it with the cart and picked it up, putting the entire bowl onto it. He felt eyes on his back, but ignored it. He returned to the elevator that would take him to the kitchen. Some of the other servants looked confused, but he didn't say anything to them. He grabbed the bowl, went to the back door and tossed the entire thing – bowl and all into the trash.

He came back, grabbed a new elaborate punch bowl, refilled it, and took it back upstairs. He hadn't known what was in that punch. But it had been nothing good.

He lingered at the table as he set up the punch again, and hoped none of the enemy had noticed it was missing.

Will and Evey arrived at the table just after the new bowl of punch had been set out. The hunter looked at it as critically as he could without looking too silly, and shrugged.

"They replaced the whole damn thing. Guess the bowl didn't match the rest of the decor."

Leave it to Will to try and insert humor wherever he could.

"Hmmm..."

Evey shook her head.

"Well, if poison was put in there, it would have been less conspicuous to just dump it in and walk away, not take the whole thing. So maybe... Maybe there was already poison in it, and that's why there's a new bowl too? No guarantee after washing that the poison wouldn't linger."

"I'm still not drinking any," Will said. "Although it is becoming a little harder the later it gets. I really am starting to get thirsty with all this dancing we've been doing."

Suddenly, Jared came rushing towards them, pushing his way through the crowd with no regard for how a blind man should do it. He reached them and quickly explained.

"Cei's in hysterics. She said she senses him. We can't get her to calm down..."

Evey hiked up her skirt and pelted forward, rushing toward Amelie and Cei. Amelie tried to calm the cruenta, whispering soothing words. Evey grabbed onto Cei's arms, forcing her to look at Evey.

"You're safe, Cei. Will and I are here and he can't get into your mind. Relax. Remember Brendan. Remember what he always told us. They want us to be afraid because it gives them power. Lios is a coward, Cei. He can do nothing to you. Nothing."

Cei was shaking, unable to get a hold of herself.

"I've known he was going to be here, but he's so close... Evey, he's in this ballroom..."

"Evey's right though," Will said, kneeling beside her. "You need to try to calm yourself. You're going to be..."

But a scream cut him off. Guests were hurriedly backing away from the center of the ballroom, pushing the group even further off to the side. It was impossible to see what had happened from where they were, but Jared was able to tell them.

"Someone was killed."

"Jesse..." Evey breathed, knowing exactly what had happened and who had done it. Cei was no longer prone to psychic influences thanks to the potion, but Evey still pressed close and hugged the other woman tightly.

"Cei, please. Think of Brendan. Be strong for Brendan. For Jon. You have to be strong."

Still holding onto Cei, Evey turned to the crowd. She glanced at Jared, Will and Amelie and then took a deep breath.

Amelie took hold of Cei for Evey the moment Evey released her. She began to walk forward, terrified, and knowing exactly who she would see standing over the corpse of Jesse Taylor.

His mother and hers.

It was surprisingly easy to making her way to the front of the circle, most of the guests there shocked by the scene. Jesse had been the oldest cruentus in the city. No one had been able to overpower him before.

Evey was almost to the front when another cruentus pushed passed her, marching up towards the one standing at the circle's center. The woman's back was to him, and he seemed to have no fear as he growled at her.

"You have some gall committing such a crime at a Council sponsored event!" he accused. "It's one thing to have killed the eldest cruentus in the city, but by Rosa Nigra? We have laws here, and..."

"You should really wait until you know who you are dealing with before you accuse me of breaking any laws."

The woman's voice was as rich and smooth as poured molasses, and she turned slowly to face the elder.

"Giving of the Black Rose is only acceptable under two conditions," she informed him, as if he didn't already know. "If permission is granted by the parent or if it is given by the parent herself."

She idly glanced down at Jesse's body. The elder grew more agitated.

"Then you should have known better..."

"I am his mater, you fool!"

She snarled at him, eyes glowing in anger, but these were not the eyes of a noctis. Every time Evey had seen Cei grow angry, her eyes had shown crimson red.

But her eyes shown gold.

Evey's body trembled, her heart pounded. But she's my mother, she said to herself. Carmilla had loved her when she was a child, unless she could fake love. Evey steeled herself.

Despite everything you know, she said to herself, she is still your mother. You can use that to your advantage.

Evey made her way through and stood beside the Elder that had spoken and made Carmilla angry. She put a hand on his arm for a moment and then looked at Carmilla. Her heart ached. She had searched for years for her mother, hoping she was still alive, hoping there was a reason why she'd left that Evey could understand. Instead she'd found out her sweet mother was a monster in disguise.

"Hello, Mama." Evey clasped her hands. To all who watched Evey and woman who had just killed the oldest vampire in the city, the resemblance was unmistakable.
Carmilla straightened, but her shoulders relaxed and the angry glow in her eyes faded.
She lifted her hand and removed her mask, tilting her head to one side as she regarded the young woman before her. It took a moment, but a smile began to spread across the cruenta's lips.

"Evey?" she asked, all traces of anger gone from her voice. "Is that really my little sweetling under that mask?"

Evey's heart twisted and ached. She just killed Jesse, Evey reminded herself. She was evil. Brendan, Jon, everyone at the precinct and who knew how many others were dead because of her or by her own hand. This was the kind of monster Evey dedicated her life to stopping.

She lifted her hands and pulled off the mask. If the resemblance was obvious before, it was poignant now.

"Yes. I've been looking for you for years, Mama. I needed to know what happened. Why you left."

Evey's eyebrows arched.

"Imagine my surprise when I found out what you were, and that you had already killed one of your other children."

She glanced at Jesse. Evey's expression was sad.

"Why did you kill Jesse and Luke, Mama? They loved you, like I do. What did they do?"

Carmilla looked back at the corpse, her smile quickly turning into a frown.

"They abandoned me: took everything I had given them and left me alone in the middle of Prague to go off on their own. Not so much as a good bye! I go looking for them and learn they have told everyone that I am dead. They held no love for me, only the gift I gave them!"

For a moment, she looked like she was going to be angry again, but her features soften as she turned back to Evey.

"I never intended to leave you and your father. I was surprised enough when I found I was able to bare children; there was no way I was going to leave the first child I ever gave birth to, not after what my sons did! But something in this state of vampirism... I don't know. I just woke up one morning and was somewhere else. It took me years to figure out how to get back, but by then you were gone. I thought you had left me too."

That was something to look up, in case Carmilla was lying. Was it an accident that she left? Or wasn't it?

"Daddy put up signs, called the police. You were labeled a missing person for years. Eventually, he gave up. He died not long after that. So I became a detective to find out what happened to you."

Evey's hands clenched.

"I never gave up. Never stopped believing that you did love me."

Tears streamed down Evey's cheeks.

"Now my partner is dead, because of yours. So are so many of my friends. I'm one of those pesky mortals that have been ruining your plans. I just don't understand these horrible plans of yours. Why are you doing all of this? What do you want? I just wanted to find my mother. I just wanted to know if you really loved me, or if you didn't."

Carmilla rolled her eyes, shaking her head while she folded her arms.

"Sweetling, I never forgot about you, even when I thought you were gone for good. I still love you as much as ever, Evey. I'm sorry that I left, and I'm sorry my plans have clashed with the ideals of your friends. Had I known, I'm sure much of what you have suffered could have been avoided."

The cruenta's eyes drifted to one side of the ballroom, as if to glare at someone lingering over there.

"No doubt it was that idiot child of Crudelis who's been doing most of the damage..."

Evey arched an eyebrow.

"I hoping to kill Ashton myself after all he's done to me and all the friends of mine he's killed. Really, Mama, I'm surprised you allied yourself with slime like Lios and Ashton. They're just... foul."

Evey met her mother's eyes.

"Why did you? What is it that you want?"

Without batting an eyelash, Carmilla told her plainly: "I want what I've been searching for since I lived, and to acquire it, I will ally with whomever benefits my cause the most."

Evey double checked her mental shields, making them stronger. The scythe, she thought. It was the best guess, and even though she hadn't heard about it directly, she believed that Brendan's deduction was probably right. Her shoulders sagged a little and a small smile fell on her lips. Her mother – who was probably very evil – wanted Jared's scythe. If only Carmilla, in all her years of life, had found something else that would move her soul. Like her children.

"I would ask what that is, but I don't think you'll tell me, will you, Mama?"

Evey straightened. She wasn't going to mention Will. She didn't know what her nightmares meant, but she wasn't going to be stupid and bring him up and draw Carmilla's attention to him.

"So what now? You've killed Jesse in front of everyone. Now what?"

Evey's unspoken question hung thick in the air.

Am I next?

Carmilla clapped her hands together, a playful smile dancing across her face.

"Now, I think the Council of Elders and I need to have a little chat about their leadership. Crudelis and I have been rather out of the loop lately, and as we are likely now the oldest two cruenti in the city..."

The elder who had reprimanded her shrank back into the crowd. Carmilla laughed.

"Ah, but in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the rest of the party. And yourself?"

"I'm going to make sure Lios and Ashton stay the fuck away from Cei. So if possible, could Cei be excused from the meeting with the Council of Elders?"

Evey smiled back.

"You might have to ally yourself with slime to get what you want, Mama, but I see no reason to let a creature as vile and loathsome as Lios near my friend. I thank you for the party. It was very nice of Jesse to have a charity ball for the place you – or was it Ashton or Lios? – burned to the ground."

Evey smiled ruefully.

"Of course, I was supposed to be in it, but..."

She shrugged.

"I expect the charity ball is off now? Since the man running it is now dead?"

The cruenta's smile quickly vanished, and she raised one eyebrow with an identical expression to the sort Evey made when she was confused.

"Oh really?" she asked. "So you were the target of that little arson of theirs? I suppose it is fortunate that you survived, otherwise there'd be two more bodies lying dead tonight."

Carmilla turned towards the crowd.

"And as it was my filius who sponsored the event, I will continue that sponsorship. A charity is a charity, no matter who hosts it."

The smile returned as she looked back at Evey.

"Ah, you remind me of myself when I was your age. You are most certainly my daughter. Now, if you will excuse me, my escort and I have a few little matters to discuss."

Evey nodded and gave a little bow before turning and heading into the crowd. She arched an eyebrow – as Carmilla just had – when the crowd parted for her.

The mater of Jesse Taylor, the oldest (now also dead) cruentus in the city, was this woman's mother, she could almost hear them whisper. It made them all the more afraid of Carmilla, as some deduced what level of vampirism she truly was, but it also made them afraid of her.

After all, she was the mortal child of the oldest cruenta in the city.

They didn't know that she was half angel.

Evey, despite appearing very relaxed, was shaking by the time she got back to Will, Cei, Amelie and Jared.

"I think... we should go," she breathed. Cei was the first to nod eagerly in agreement.

"Fuck the Council. I resign if Lios is going to be there. I'll email them tomorrow."

The others weren't going to argue, although Jared seemed hesitant.

"I think Amelie and I should stay," he said. "To keep tabs on anything else that might happen. I know Ju has his sight, but..."

"Whatever you think would be best, Jared," Will interrupted, wrapping his arms around Evey. "I'll take these two home."

Amelie nodded and moved close to Jared.

"We will stay. Take care o' yerselves. Be safe."

Evey relaxed in Will's arms, feeling better with his arms around her. She wouldn't let Carmilla take him. She wouldn't let Lios hurt Cei. She would have to be Brendan. She would do what she could to fill his shoes.

She took Cei's hand when Will released her and, keeping both close, headed to the door.

Just as they were leaving, Evey could see Carmilla off to the side giving an earful to another guest. He was tall, thin, and despite the browbeating the cruenta was giving him, held himself with a great deal of pride. His long black hair was reed straight, and completely covered the right side of his face, really making his mask almost unnecessary. He turned to watch as the trio left, particularly eying Cei before they were finally out the door.

Evey realized who it was and felt a deep, cold anger inside her. That foul creature would never get near Cei again if she could help it. Evey wanted to rip him apart, but kept her emotions restrained and focused on getting Cei out as quickly as possible.

They got into Will's car, and Evey stayed beside Cei making sure that she was all right.

"Just take me home," she sighed. "I can spend the rest of my evening working on an antidote to that drug of theirs. I'm sure I'm close..."

"At least a large batch of it has been off the streets for a while," Will said as he started up the car, but Cei shook her head.

"With them on the Council, it'll just pick right back up again. God, and now Carmilla will own the Ally Kat too. So much for easy meals."

Evey shook her head.

"We need to get rid of them somehow. Everything we've managed to gain in this war has been suddenly stripped from us. The drug will be back on the street, there'll be no safe place to go, they'll have more people everywhere than they ever did watching us..."

She looked up to Will and Cei.

"We can't wait. We have to come up with a plan to stop them. We can't just sit back and react when they do something to us. We have to strike first."

"But how?" Cei asked as they headed out. "Making an antidote is one thing. Getting it into to everyone who is infected with this drug is an entirely different story. Add on top of that that they'll now be protected by the Council (though arguably, they were completely useless on that account)."

Will shrugged, but seemed to have an inkling of an idea.

"Maybe we could use that in our favor."

"Shoot," Evey said. "I'm just about here. I'm just trying to think of a way to take away their most powerful weapon, but I have no idea how to get those contract pieces away from them. So please, Will, if you've got something, do tell."

"Well," he began. "You saw how concerned she was that everything was in order with the charity ball. Carmilla seems to be very concerned with bureaucracy; she wants to make sure everything is smoothed over first, which means (given all of the problems Crudelis and Ashton have caused) we may have a little more time to get things worked out, especially if she can't keep the prick on a tight leash."

"Like the destruction of the precinct? Every cop in the county is looking into who did that and then picked off Brendan afterward. I've been talking with some of the cop at other stations," Evey said quietly. "Malone is thought to be dead too. But the way Brendan was killed... They've questioned me, because they believe Brendan was the target from the beginning. I've given them everything I could without mentioning cruenti. I told them it was Ashton that did it. I told him about his 'mentor', Lios, and that he was the mastermind behind the drugs. There is a county-wide hunt for Ashton going on right now, and investigations and searches for Lios. Both have warrants out for their arrest. Carmilla is going to have her hands full trying to keep every cop in the county away from those two. The more cops they kill, the more cops will spring up with determination to bring them down. I heard that the Feds are coming too. The annihilation of the 63rd precinct did not go unnoticed. There's a real risk that cruenti will be exposed as existing because of what they've done."

Will started to turn to stare, completely shocked by this unusually good news, but quickly snapped his attention back to the road when an oncoming car warned him he was drifting into the wrong lane. Cei leaned over from the backseat.

"Please try not to get us killed, Will," she said, half-laughing because of the strange way things had gone in their favor. "If any of them know what's good for them, they are going to be having one hell of a time staying hidden. We were almost exposed during the Spanish Inquisition. I think this comes in at a close second for dumbest massacre ever committed by a single vampire."

"Oh, there is one other thing. A lot of the drug they've been using were sent to labs for analysis, they weren't destroyed in the fire. Modern science may not believe in vampires, but the deeper the scientists dig into that drug, the more uncomfortable questions will start to come up."

Evey shook her head.

"Even if they start up the drug ring again, every drug addict, dopehead and dealer in Caligo is being picked up and questioned, trying to find Ashton and Lios. They went from being rumors to being the most hunted men in the state. I've been warned I'm probably going to get a visit from the Feds since I worked closest with Brendan, but unless there's a way to make the cops and Feds believe that they're dealing with vampires, there isn't much help they can do us. Other than making sure they keep laying low. It gives us time to come up with a plan, but I still think we need one sooner rather than later."

They arrived at Cei's apartment, and the vampire began to get out of the car.

"I think that if I increase the potency of my Gracilis, I can turn it into an antidote... maybe even a vaccine, if I get the right concentration."

She paused, waiting just outside of the car.

"Would either of you mind staying to help me?"

Evey looked at Will, smiled and then back at Cei.

"Of course, we wouldn't mind. We'll both stay. We have to stick together. It's not safe for any of us to be alone."

Evey realized how sharply Brendan's presence was missed. They could always divide into groups of two and be able to protect each other. Now it was just the three of them... Either they all stayed together or one was alone. Never good.

Will parked the car and they all headed inside. Cei popped her fingers and started straight for her attic, but stopped right before the stairs and turned around towards the others.

"Either of you hungry? Maybe we should just sit and enjoy a snack before we get to work. We were there for a few hours, and I know you two didn't eat anything, even with all the dancing you did."

Evey's stomach promptly rumbled. And quite loudly. She flushed.

"I think I'm a little hungry, yes."

Cei laughed and went into the kitchen.

"I'll cook up something. I haven't done that in a while, and I'm in the mood. Oh, and if you want to put on something more comfortable, feel free to raid my closet. Sorry Will, but I don't keep men's clothes here anymore..."

"No worries," he assured her, trying to ignore the tinge of sadness in her voice. "I'm quite comfortable as is, thank you."

Evey sat beside Will.

"I'm pretty comfortable in these clothes too, so no worries."

Besides, Will was so handsome in his clothes. She wanted to feel properly attired with him. Fanciful and silly, but it gave her comfort. Like he was hers.

"I guess we can have our own little party right here," Cei said cheerfully. "Seeing as the ball was... well..."

Will laughed.

"We get the idea. So what's for dinner?"

"Whatever I can make with leftover Chinese, chicken, and whatever else might be in my fridge."

Evey smiled.

"That already sounds fantastic. Do you want me to help? With the cooking or with setting up the table?" she asked.

"Absolutely! With the cooking or the set up. I'm still trying to figure out what to make."

Cei started pulling things out of the fridge to see what she had to concoct a meal with. For someone who didn't need to eat, she certainly had a lot of food!

Evey got up and began to help Cei, offering ideas of what to blend together and what to make. A stir fry using the remaining Chinese food, adding some extra rice and the chicken and tossing in some left over veggies would be nice. She even offered to make garlic bread with the French bread Cei still had.

While the ladies were cooking, Will had taken it upon himself to take a nap. He was fast asleep on the sofa before the oven was even preheated for the garlic bread. Cei just laughed.

"He needs to rest more," she giggled. "Between hunting, watching us, and the play, he's exhausting himself. Hopefully he'll wake up in time for food."

Evey smiled as she looked at him. Then she glanced at Cei, her smile gone.

"I'm worried about him," she whispered. "My dreams haven't been good lately. I wake up feeling anxious and frightened, even though most of the time I can't remember them. The two I remember most clearly was when Carmilla was there looking as if she wanted him herself, and then the other where he was Hyde and he... he killed me."

Evey shivered.

"I'm so scared I won't be able to protect him."

Cei touched her arm, glancing back at Will too.

"We all have to watch out for one another," she sighed. "I don't think Will believes he's in any sort of danger – outside of the usual danger a vampire hunter of his caliber experiences, that is. We know Lios is after me, and that you're a target simply because you're an obstacle to him, but this... this is all everyday stuff for Will."

She looked back at Evey, eyebrows raised.

"Did you tell him that you think she wants him?"

"Yes, but he tends to shrug it off because it's a dream. I didn't want to bring any attention to him at the masque so didn't talk about him to Carmilla."

Talking to her mother again had been the strangest experience of her life. The child inside wanted to run to her, be told that everything would be all right and that she wasn't as evil as they all suspected, that what she was doing wasn't evil, they just didn't know what she was really planning. But the adult had held the child back, knowing that Carmilla wasn't the woamn who had raised her for six years. That woman was a sham.

"Carmilla said that she hadn't wanted to leave me and Dad, but that she'd been whisked away because of being a caelstis. Is that true? I don't know much about the mythology around them."

"Well," Cei began, drawing out the word as if she was a little skeptical herself. "According to the myths, the caelestis are not capable of existing on the material plane for long periods of time unless they regularly digest mortal blood. That is the only reason they need to continue to feed: their powers aren't run by blood, and they don't need it to stay alive. Only to stay on this plane. A little weird, don't you think?"

Evey nodded.

"That makes sense. I would imagine after going to caelstis – she said she hadn't been in the form long when she married Dad – she wasn't drinking as much blood because she didn't have to. Her powers were in tact. I guess that's why she did suddenly vanish after all."

Evey shook her head.

"I wonder what would've happened to me if Carmilla had raised me after all."

Cei shrugged, cutting up the chicken.

"I think it would have only made you more headstrong and independent. It doesn't matter who raises you; your personality comes from everything around you, not just parents. My mother used to tell me I was more like my great aunt than anyone else, and I never met the woman."

"Yes, but Carmilla could've controlled and manipulated me..."

Evey shook her head.

"I guess there's no way to tell. I may never have been a detective, since I became one in the hope to one day find her. I didn't think this is what she would be."

Evey leaned against the counter.

"I just can't help but wish she wasn't evil..."

Cei didn't know what to say to this. It had been so long since she was human... she could only imagine how out of touch Carmilla was with her emotions. Jesse barely had any himself, so being his mater meant she was much, much older...

"Vampires lose their humanity as they age," she finally said. "The older we are, the less and less we are able to empathize. I can only imagine..."

She decided not to say the rest. The subject was growing uncomfortable, so Cei opted to change it.

"Well, you'll have your office back soon. Excited?"

Evey shrugged.

"I still think it's silly. I'd rather have the money and set up shop elsewhere than have them rebuild it. I kind of get this worry that it could happen again because they know where I'll be."

She gave Cei a rueful smile.

"Not that I don't appreciate it. Davidson got the money from the insurance and skipped town, so I was going to need funds if I was going to open up a new office anywhere. The real estate is good, albeit burned to the ground. I'm sure the city would've eventually rebuilt it for other people who wanted the property, but... I can't shake the feeling that if it gets rebuilt, and I go back in there I'm going to owe the cruenti community something I don't want to owe."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Cei said, starting to mix in all the food. "A charity means they expect nothing back in return. You already do them a service by dealing with cases they don't want to. Anyway, let's get this meal finished up. I'm actually wanting to eat some myself."

Evey smiled and helped Cei finish off the food. She was getting hungrier by the minute.

Once the food was ready, Evey crouched by Will and gave him a soft kiss on the lips to wake him.

"Hello, lover. Time for some food," she whispered.

Will opened one eye slowly, not entirely ready to wake up. He yawned and began to roll over, but stopped himself when he almost fell off of the couch. Stretching, he adjusted to sit upright, popping his back as he did.

"What's on the menu?" he asked, unable to hold back another yawn. "Hopefully more kisses."

"Well, aren't you the one who said that kissing makes you hungry?" Evey smiled and kissed him softly again. "So I'm making sure you're fed before I work you too hard," she said against his lips before giving him another kiss.

Will smirked and offered her one more before Cei coughed to get their attention.

"It won't be any good cold," she said, moving to sit at the counter. She was happy for them, yes, but couldn't help but be a little jealous of the couple.

Evey straightened, glanced at Will, and then headed for the table where the food was set up. She saw Cei's expression and felt bad. She and Will should probably be more careful. She didn't want to hurt Cei anymore.

She sat. It just... It didn't make sense that Brendan was dead. Even now, she couldn't believe it. She knew it was true, she'd seen it happen, but... she felt like at any moment the unbeatable werewolf cop would appear and tell her that it had all been a sham. She didn't dare bring him up now, but she missed him. It wasn't the same without Brendan.

The meal began in awkward silence, but a few forkfuls of food later, Will was awake and more eager to chat.

"So what's on the agenda for after dinner?" he asked. "Lab work?"

"I was planning on it," Cei answered. "It'll give me something to focus on instead of the masque."

Evey nodded.

"Yeah, I can try to help with the lab, but I don't know what I can do to help. I'm going to try to go over all our information and try to piece together this mess. We all get different information at different times. It's time to compile it all and try to make sense of it. I'll call Amelie, Jared and Ju to see if there's anything they haven't told me that I need to know to do just that."

"I actually need to run home," Will said. "I forgot, I need to feed Reggie again. You wouldn't believe how much that panther puts away. I took him to the vet the other day and was surprised to learn he was underweight."

Cei raised an eyebrow.

"He?"

"Yeah, the vet told me that, sure enough, Reggie is male."

Evey smiled.

"Pity. The mystery was kind of intriguing."

She nodded.

"Okay, but I don't like any of us being alone for any period of time. So feed Reggie and come back right away? Call me if you even sense anything suspicious or bad?"

"Duly noted," Will declared. "I must say, it's been quite an adventure having a pet. Reggie's very friendly, to say the least."

"He's a problem if he gets you killed," Cei grumbled, not keen on Will leaving. The hunter shrugged.

"I can't let him starve, Cei."

Evey bit her bottom lip.

"I'd suggest we all go and we all come back, but it sounds so silly."

Her hands twisted and clenched.

"I'm worried about all of us..."

Cei nodded, rubbing her forehead.

"All this worrying is giving me a headache."

As far as the rest of the evening went, Will got back to his apartment to feed Reggie and returned without incident, the girls made little progress with an antidote to the drug (although they did stumble upon an interesting concoction that made anything it came in contact with glow like a lantern for a few hours), and Jared and Amelie reported back that nothing of interest happened for the rest of the charity ball, except for several arguments that Carmilla and Crudelis got into throughout the evening.

"You'd have thought they had been married for years," Jared told them over the phone the next evening, trying desperately not to laugh. "How two persons with such differing ideals could have ever worked together is absolutely remarkable."

"Lios is vile. Carmilla has to be evil to even consider working with him," Evey said, sitting by Will in his apartment. Cei was there too, petting Reggie.

"Jared, I need to know everything that you and Amelie know. Any little piece of information could be vital. Will and Ju said that Brendan suspected Carmilla wants your scythe. Any information other than what Ashton leaked about it?"

"Sadly not much, although during one of her more spirited arguments with Cei's pater, she did speak in an Egyptian tongue that has long since died out. I didn't understand it, but Amelie said it was just a slew of curses. This does, however, connect her to the person Amelie knows wants my scythe: an Egyptian queen named Keket. It was the same dialect used during that time period."

Evey stilled. Her mind raced.

"What's the story of this woman, Keket? Why does she want your scythe? Is it possible that Carmilla and this woman are the same?"

There was a pause on Jared's end of the line before he spoke.

"Hey, sorry Evey, but I have a patient here for an appointment. I'll have Amelie call you and explain the rest. I have to go."

"Okay. Talk to you soon, Jared."

Evey hung up the phone and looked at Will.

"I have a sneaking suspicion that this ancient, immortal Egyptian woman who wants Jared's scythe is my mother."

"It's always the Egyptians, isn't it?" Will sighed, laughing a little. "I thought that was just a horror movie cliche... I guess not."

He got up and started to put his shoes on.

"Dress rehersal tonight. I got permission from the director to let you both come with, but we need to get going. Cei, you ready?"

She was off in her own little world with the cat, holding and cuddling Reggie like he was a stuffed toy.

"Who's a good little kitty? You are, aren't you?"

Reggie's purr was like a motor as he blinked and stretched with pleasure. He rubbed up against Cei like she was meant to be his and his alone.

Evey smiled at the two and then looked at Will.

"I'm glad you kept Reggie..."

Will rubbed the back of his head and walked to the kitchen to fix Reggie's dinner.

"Well, you never know when one might need a panther to keep you company. Maybe I can train him to be an attack kitty."

"Nah," Cei cooed, scratching the cat behind his ears. "He's too much of a sweetie to attack anyone."

Reggie rubbed her face in appreciation, his whole body shaking with the strength of his purr.

"And cats are too snooty to attack," Evey said with a smile. "They just don't care unless you're petting them."

She got up and petted Reggie a moment before leaning against the wall.

Evey was feeling anxious. She felt powerless to stop what was going on around them, and half the time they were acting as if Carmilla hadn't just taken over the Council. She wanted to do something. But she didn't know what.

Will poured Reggie his bowl of kitty-kibble and gave him a can of wet cat food as a special treat.

"Oh well. At least he's good company. He makes the apartment feel less empty."

Tucking the rest of the cat food back in the cabinet, he turned towards the two women.

"Ready?"

Evey nodded. Will's apartment was empty without Jon. Brendan's apartment... well, she hadn't gotten the guts to go there. She couldn't bear it.

"Come on," Evey said to Cei quietly.

The three of them left the apartment and headed straight for the Black Box. They went in the main entrance (because backstage was too crowded for them to get through) and Will went straight to the director. When he saw the women, he gestured towards the seats they could take, making a point to remind them that "this is only a dress rehearsal; the actual production will be much better!" Will ran off to get ready, and Cei couldn't keep herself from giggling at the director's anxiousness.

"We're still going to opening night, sir. We promised Will we'd be there."

Evey waved at the director, since she'd already met him a couple of times. She led Cei to the seats she chose, which were all the way to the back against the wall in the center. She made herself comfortable.

"This place has started giving me the creeps since my last nightmare. I feel more comfortable sitting back here, the wall at my back and being able to see the whole theatre," Evey whispered.

"Relax," Cei tried to soothe. "Will's onstage, and you're off. Let's just enjoy the show, alright? We need to drop by Ju's afterwards and see if he has any more info for us."

Evey crossed her fingers and gave Cei a hopeful (but at the same time we-have-no-luck) kind of look. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the play.

"The more I see this, the less I like it. It's too... black and white. There is no such thing. Everything is a shade of gray. I just like watching Will."

Cei gave her a peculiar glance, but didn't discuss it further. She knew Evey was on edge. They all were.

The scene was just starting into Alive when the director cut them off.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!" he said, waving his arms. "This is no good. The entire front row can tell the needle is fake!"

"It isn't like he can really inject himself, Sid," the young woman who was playing Lucy snorted, but the director continued to shake his head.

"It looks too fake! We need to do it again. We'll need to get it done another way! Ah! I've got it! Jekyll can drink his formula! There we go!"

"You know, for a doctor, that seems highly impractical," Will protested. "And we'll need to rework the blocking to make it more convincing..."

"Don't care; it has to be done that way, otherwise the whole thing will look silly. Go grab a glass from the green room. We'll use that until we get the proper props."

Evey slumped deeper into her chair as she watched. Potion drinking. This play was becoming more and more ominous. There were enough potions out there that made slaves of people. Why a damn potion? This play had too many similarities to what was going right now. Her dream came to mind again and a chill ran down her spine.

"Sir," Will called from the stage. "Can I take five? I need a moment to rethink what I'm doing for this scene."

The director nodded and waved him off the stage, going off to badger the props master about what they now needed. Will climbed down the front steps and headed straight towards the back row, moving in beside Evey.

"I know you're probably thinking the same thing we all are..."

"You think?" Cei interjected bitterly. "I wonder how much of their drug Sid unwittingly has in his system..."

"Listen," Will said, cutting her off. "I'm responsible for handling that prop. Glass or needle, I'm the one who prepares what goes in it. Nothing is going to happen."

Evey looked at him worriedly.

"Is there any way to defend against it if the worst should happen? This is way too coincidental for me. It smells like a set up. And I am so not happy about it."

Will frowned, shaking his head.

"I don't know... I'm sure we'll think of something before opening night. Cei could have her antidote finalized by then."

"Shit, you what I just realized?" the cruenta suddenly gasped. "Carmilla owns the fucking theater! It used to belong to Jesse!"

Evey groaned. She ran her hands through her hair, making it even more erratic than usual. Her mind raced for a solution, but she came up empty.

"Will..."

She looked up at him. Her expression terrified.

"I'm scared. The dreams... Carmilla wants you for some reason..."

Will reached over and wrapped his arms around her, clasping her head gently against his shoulder.

"Everything is going to be fine," he told her. "I promise, Evey, I won't let anything bad happen to any of us while the play is in production. Carmilla isn't going to get me, and she can't make me hurt you. I promise."

Cei kept her mouth shut. She could think of a dozen reasons why he was wrong, but she didn't want to make things any worse than they already were. Will kissed Evey's forehead.

"I need to get back up on stage. Will you be alright?"

Evey nodded. She motioned for him to go after giving him a quick squeeze. When Will was gone, Evey looked to Cei.

"He knows he can't keep that promise. But he'll still try," she said softly. She wrapped her arms around herself as she stared at the stage.

"I'm going to lose him."

"If that happens," Cei said just as the rehearsal was picking up again. "I promise that we will get him back. I'm not going to just let these bastards take everyone who's near and dear to me. We've already lost Jon and Brendan, and Jesse was my friend. I won't let them take Will too."

Evey's expression hardened. Jon, Brendan. She wouldn't let Carmilla take Will too. She would fight till her dying breath to keep him.

"We have to find a way to stop them. We have to."

The rehearsal ended early that night, and Will was thankful to finally sit down after being made to repeat Confrontation five times in a row. He almost forgot to change out of his costume before they left and headed towards Ju's. When they got there, the cruentus was in an unusually cheerful mood and was (to everyone's utter shock) actually smiling when they entered.

"Jezz made cookies," he announced, holding up the tray. "Want some?"

Evey blinked. She smiled. Well, at least someone was in a good mood.

"Sure," Evey said and took one. Anything to ease the stress of worrying about the future. Jezz beamed from behind Ju, but also looked a tad bashful.

"I hope everyone likes them. Ju was telling me what was going on... so I hoped that maybe cookies would at least make everyone feel a little better. I think we should have an all night brainstorm to think up a plan!"

"You make it sound like so much fun!" Cei couldn't stop herself from drawling, clearly being sarcastic. "I see we aren't the only guests tonight."

Jared waved from his corner of the room, already enjoying one of the cookies. From behind the couch bounded out Sarah, who immediately ran up to Evey and latched on.

"Sis! You're here! You're here!"

Evey softened.

"Hi, Sarah."

She crouched down by the child and gave her a hug.

"How are you doing, sweetness? It's been a while."

Amelie appeared from another room and moved over to Jared, waving at Evey, Cei and Will. Evey waved back. She looked around for Brendan and then suddenly, painfully, realized... he was not going to be there. Evey hugged Sarah tight for a moment. Brendan, she thought.

"Don't worry, Sis," Sarah whispered, as if she knew. "He's always there protecting you, even if you can't see him..."

"So," Will began, clapping his hands together. "Where shall we begin to tonight? Monomaniacal Egyptian queens, anyone?"

He took a cookie from the tray and walked over towards the kitchen to get himself some coffee (Ju had all the mugs lined up on the counter for them). The cruentus rolled his eyes, following to set the tray on the counter.

"Monomaniacal implies only one focus, you know."

Evey's eyes instantly watered, and she hugged Sarah again, overwhelmed by emotion for a moment. Then she finally released the girl and straightened. She took Sarah's hand and followed Will to the kitchen.

"Ju is right. She may be after the scythe – and has been for millenniums, but that's not the only thing she wants."

She looked at Will and her dreams came vividly back to haunt her.

Jezz served the coffee for Will and Evey and then served everyone else before going out to give each person their mugs.

"Well, we can't take them all on at the same time," Jezz murmured as she handed Jared his mug. "Maybe we can take care of them one at a time?"

"The most logical option, I agree," the demon said before taking a sip of his coffee. "It's getting them to go at it alone that's hard. None of them ever seem to strike solo. Every instance you've dealt with Ashton, for example."

"Except for that first time at the restaurant," Cei corrected. "That time he was alone, but I don't think he'll be foolish enough to do that again."

"Unless we can convince him that it's safe to do so."

The idea had come from Ju, who had inexplicably returned to his usual demeanor. He had his hands folded in front of him, watching the others carefully for their response. Cei, for one, looked appalled.

"No! We are not taking that risk!"

Evey looked confused.

"I don't know what you're talking about, but risk-taking is not an option until we've gained ground. I think I know what our priority is."

Evey's expression became firm.

"Lios. He's he weakest of the three. Even Ashton is more powerful than him. He must not be happy with Carmilla lecturing him at the masque. Lios is a coward and full of himself."

She looked to Cei.

"Maybe we can set a trap for him. Lure him out someway, and keep Ashton busy elsewhere. If we get rid of Crudelis first, then we also have a piece of Charon's contract we can destroy. I don't want anyone else to die."

"That's what I was trying to say," Ju sighed. "Ashton has been essentially 'grounded' for all of the chaos he has caused. Because Crudelis has remained largely invisible during the entire raid on the drug ring, he's still free to go out and about. Ashton's phone contained a great deal of information, but not his pater's name or image. Lios has already forced him to get a new phone because of this."

"So, in a roundabout sort of way," Will concluded. "You're saying we need to act now, while Ashton is being punished for his stupidity."

"Precisely."

Evey relaxed a little.

"Okay, but we still need a plan for how to trap Lios without risking anyone's life. Divide and conquer. They've been picking us off one by one. We need to do the same in return."

Jezz stood by Ju.

"But how? All Lios wants is Cei. Are we going to use her as bait?"

She bit her bottom lip.

"I don't like that..."

"You don't like it?" Cei repeated, shaking her head. "You've never had to face the man..."

"It may be our only option, Cei," Ju insisted. "It isn't like you'll actually be alone."

"I still don't like it."

Jared walked over to the cruenta and sat down beside her.

"I'm afraid I have to agree with him. We're making no progress trying to avoid them."

"But we can't leave her unprotected," Evey said. "We have to make sure our plan is full-proof before we even attempt it. I don't want to risk Cei unless we can guarantee that there is no risk." She moved to the couch and sat down. "So, the question is, other than having Cei be the bait, what's the plan?"

Ju pushed up his glasses.

"I guess that's the main topic for tonight."

They spent the rest of the evening hashing out ideas for the trap. It boiled down to them needing a fully controllable environment to spring it in, and that was proving to be the most difficult to come up with. Cei was fully against using her home as the location, but the more they discussed it, the more it seemed like there was the best option.

"Even if we use Cei's house, how are we going to keep it under our control? Seal off the windows? Hide in the shadows?" Evey asked. "Even if I can make myself invisible to Lios and be inside with Cei, how are the rest of you going to get in and be of any help?"

"We can assist there," Sarah told her, gesturing towards Amelie and Jared. "We can travel through the space between space, and we can take others with us, so getting into and out of the house in mere seconds should be a snap."

"And with Ju's near perfect surveillance," Will added. "We'd just need to be near him to know when to arrive."

Cei frowned, shivering a little.

"I still don't like this. I don't like it at all."

Evey moved by Cei and wrapped her arms around her.

"Only you have the right to face him, Cei. You can't let him have anymore power over you. You live in terror of him, but you shouldn't. You're still going to be mentally protected. Only you can strip his power from him by showing him that he is worthless and that you are not afraid of him. He holds power over you only because you fear him. You're stronger than he is, and you already defeated him once when you escaped. You have no reason to be afraid of him. And once you no longer are, he has no power anymore."

"That's so easy for you to say, but blood runs deep, Evey. Bloodlines are very potent in cruenti society. Shared blood means..."

"Cei, your formula blocks the psychic connection from your bloodline," Will reminded her. "I understand you're nervous, but it has to be done."

There was no use for her to argue, and Cei had made it very clear she wasn't keen on the plan. But they had to do it.

"Your potion protects you, Cei..."

Evey shook her head and straightened.

"Is there a way to make me appear like Cei? Or make Lios believe I'm her? I could try to work with some of my abilities. If I can make myself disappear, maybe I can do this? We just have to lure him into the trap. We don't have to drag it out. He just needs to believe I'm Cei long enough to get him there and sealed in."

Ju shook his head.

"No, it has to be Cei. The formula blocks the psychic abilities, but he'll still be able to tell whether or not it's her. That's one power of the bloodline that can't be severed."

"How do you know this?" Will questioned, but Ju just looked away. This didn't satisfy the hunter, and he looked to the others for an answer.

Evey rolled her eyes. She loved Will, but sometimes he was doof.

"He knows because he has the same situation with Cei. I'm sure Jesse and Carmilla had it too."

She looked at Ju.

"But Ju, if Cei doesn't want to do it, we're going to fail. She's too frightened. There has to be something we can do... maybe inject me with enough of Cei's blood so it'll throw him off?"

There was a brief moment of silence before Cei softly spoke up.

"When did you figure it out?" she asked, shaking her head. "In any case, that won't work either. I have to do it..."

Evey turned to look at her.

"Cei, first off, please. I'm not dumb. It was obvious from the first moment you sent me over here. And second, you can't do it, Cei. You have to be ready to fight him. To diminish him. To treat him like the worthless thing he is. And he can't change your mind or your opinion or force you to love him, because you'll be protected. You'll be able to spit venom at him without repercussion. But if you can't do that because his hold is so great on you, then we're going to fail, and I'm not going to put you at risk if that's the case. If you can't look Lios in the eye and tell him you're not afraid, that he has no power over you, and that he is a sniveling coward, then."

She turned to Ju.

"It's not going to work."

She gave Cei's shoulder a squeeze.

"I would tell you let Brendan be your strength and remember everything he said. I would tell you to let his spirit, that die hard, no-one-can-take-me-down attitude be your courage when you face Lios. I would tell you to imagine Brendan behind you, whispering in your ear... But I can't ask you to do something you can't, Cei. And I won't risk your life if we can't win."

Evey headed toward the kitchen.

"We need another plan," she called out as she grabbed her mug. Coffee. Need more coffee.

Cei got up about the same time Evey did, walking towards the back of the warehouse. Ju followed her, but neither of them said anything to the others. Jared turned towards those who were left, raising his eyebrows.

"How long do you think we can wait? If Cei really is the only one who could lure Lios out, then we'll have to wait until she's ready."

Amelie shook her head.

"I don' think we'll be able ta wait tha' long..."

Jezz twisted her hands nervously.

"I wish Detective Brendan or Mr. Jon were here. They'd be able to help, I'm sure..."

"No point wishing for the impossible, Jezz," Evey said, coming back to the group with her new coffee mug. Her voice was stiff. "It'll only hurt more. We just have to make do without them somehow."

"We at least have to wait until she and Ju get back," Will sighed. "Right? I mean, even if Cei can't do it, she should still know what's going on."

Evey nodded. "True enough, but we need to come with an alternative plan. Some other way to lure Lios out... Well, we know what he wants. So what does he hate? Maybe that's a way to get him out of his hole?"

Ju rejoined the grouping, sitting where Cei had been before.

"She wanted to take a nap," he explained. "Said her head hurts too much to be dealing with this right now."

"Figures," Will grumbled. "Anyway, Ju, any thoughts on what Crudelis might fear?"

The cruentus cocked his head to one side, raising an eyebrow.

"I only know things if they are shown, and as far as I have been able to tell, Crudelis is very guarded about his feelings, even in private. He certainly fears Carmilla, but I think that is because she is so much more powerful than him. He doesn't like being someone else's boot-lick."

"Is there anything he hates? Despises enough that he would come to destroy it if he had the chance?" Evey asked. There were only two ways to draw out a coward. Desire and hate.

"As far as he has shown, no," Ju said with a shake of his head. "All of the persons he's hated have already been... well, you know."

Evey stiffened. Brendan and Jon. They're the ones who stood in his way. Both are gone. She slumped to the ground, feeling the loss of them even more.

"Maybe we can trick him into believing Jon or Brendan is still alive?" she said weakly. She was grasping at air now.

"I don't think that would work," Will said almost as soon as the suggestion left her lips. Jared nodded his agreement with him.

"Though it's theoretically plausible that Brendan could have somehow survived the explosion, it would do us more harm than good. Imagine if they believed he was still a threat and came prepared for that: we'd be putting ourselves at a serious disadvantage."

Ju took off his glasses to clean them while the others spoke, waiting until Jared finished his remarks before giving his own.

"I hate to say it," he began. "But I'm afraid using Cei as bait for him is just one risk we'll have to take. If we need more time, I can cause a stir in the Council of Elders. I can tell them enough to slow down Carmilla's progress, but there isn't much we can do until Lios is out of the way."

"Don't worry, sis," Sarah told Evey, hugging her arm. "We'll all make sure Cei will be alright."

"I know we'll be there for Cei. I'm just worried about her," Evey said, looking up at Sarah and then the rest of them. "If she's not ready to face him, if she doesn't have the strength, nothing we do will help her. She has to be prepared. But how do we convince her? None of us here are Brendan or Jon. They were the only ones who were able to give her courage to face her demons."

There was a long, awkward silence before Ju finally spoke up, mumbling softly, "I lied."
Also available on :icondulcis-absinthe:'s page, as we format it a little differently.

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