Chapter 4: Preparations for Danger on the Horizon
As the touch of Joanna’s thoughts had faded from his mind where she had clung to his thoughts in her need for contact-- and freedom from fear-- for several seconds after the vision had faded the day before her birthday-- and again the afternoon of her birthday-- Vlad knew that it was his responsibility to act the part of host after his mate had headed downstairs to enjoy herself again that day.
It was also his job to see to the comfort of their guests, as well as the comfort of various members of the extended family who filled the mansion that day; his own, hers, and the family they shared. As well as many of the members of the other Founding Families who were present as guests of his mate on her special day, he knew.
But she had passed on more in that mind touch than the vision that had so disturbed both of them; she had let him know that Amelia and Raven had seen it as well, and they were worried about what the Brotherhood had planned as well as what they might be able to do to prevent it.
And he knew that his plans for their own enjoyments would end up on hold for now, though he hoped they would be able to find the time to be together at some point in the course of the party. Though he knew now that it wouldn’t be until after he had assured himself of their continued safety.
And he knew in that instant, that the higher security would ensure that the level of comfort they had enjoyed before the vision would remain constant-- once he got the defensive walls up-- he knew. Perhaps, if he added several forms of mental attack to the abilities of the wall, that he was susceptible to, Vlad thought, though he wasn’t sure how he would goa bout doing that.
And he wondered even then if the walls would keep the Deformed at bay, but he knew that it would be something that he would have to build as strong as he could to be able to assure Joanna of enough protection. Then he recalled the spell that he held in abeyance, and he knew that he might still have to use it, though he knew if he didn’t have to, he didn’t plan to use it.
But at the same time, he also knew that some of the more Gifted of their guests would likely have seen the same disturbing vision that he, Joanna, Raven and Amelia had; and they would soon be demanding answers too.
And it crossed his mind to hope that Richard hadn’t had that experience as yet, though at the same time, Vlad knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer before his bond-brother came to him as well, demanding to know what was going on. After all, Richard had been involved in every step of the defenses for this party, and now Vlad was adding to them without letting Richard know in advance.
It behooved him to have something in place to be able to explain what the guests had seen, but not seem like he was making light of their fears, as well as being assured that they would be well protected while they were at the mansion. Though he was sure that he wasn’t sure how he would explain it to some of them.
But at the same time too, he also knew that he had to be sure that the protections also extended into their dreams, especially for the girls, because if Iollio had the ability to invade Joanna and Amelia’s dreams, then he could easily invade anyone else’s dreams. And that was a fate he wouldn’t wish on any member of their family, especially the youngest of them who couldn’t defend themselves as yet.
And he knew that protecting them was his responsibility; the whole family, not just Joanna or her siblings. Her children were also his responsibility, as were the few remaining elders of the generation before Joanna’s birth.
But at the same time, he was glad to have the help at hand that had offered to act as additional security for the party; many of the Bastela prides had spoken up to offer to help, as had the three nearest packs of welupos, and many families of the local Giant Insect populations had also volunteered to assist in whatever way he could use their gifts.
So, he gathered his thoughts and spoke the final syllables of the spells that he had set up earlier in the year to be the final level of guardian against attack while they were celebrating.
And as the magickal walls went up and faded into invisibility, even to his sight, he wondered how Amelia had known to have him set them up in the first place; she didn’t know yet about his studies of magick when he had been a child, did she, he wondered.
But, even though they were invisible, he knew they would do the job they had been set to do; protect the mansion, the grounds and all who were there with good intent, by redirecting all those who arrived with malign plans to places that would eliminate them for him.
And he hoped it—in conjunction with the other security measures that were already in place—would be enough to keep what he had seen—and he knew that Joanna had seen too—from coming true that night. Or even what Amelia had seen in her nightmares, Vlad knew.
Though, at the same time, he wasn’t sure how it would do with protecting the girls in their dreams, where they would be most vulnerable, and would need the most protection. But then he remembered the abilities of both the Fluttermoons and the race that was created between himself and his mate on the night of their Bonding; the Bloodmoons, cousins of the Fluttermoons.
The ability to protect those people of various kinds and kindreds whom the Fluttermoons called friends in their dreams was a very rare ability in nature, one that only the Bloodmoons were known to share. And since Vlad knew of the ability—and some of their surviving children from those long ago days had been invited to the party--he knew that if he stationed one of their guests in the nursery, it would protect the youngest members of the family both while they dreamed and while they were awake; Bloodmoons were very defensive of the young as well as shielding of their friends’ dreams.
And it helped that several of the Bloodmoons who had come to the party were amongst the many that had been birthed by his mate. When he asked them, they all expressed an interest in defending their younger siblings from the threat to their dreams, and many said they would also be willing to protect the adults who were at the house for the party as well for as long as they would need it, for which Vlad was very grateful.
The images of the vision flew through his thoughts again for a few seconds, and Vlad knew that he had to keep it from being one of the ones that came true. He remembered finding what he thought might have been Richard’s remains in the vision they had shared, wrapped around one body he could be sure had been Jayne, but so many of the guests hadn’t been identifiable in the vision, and he knew that Joanna wouldn’t take having to see what he had seen well at all. And he knew that he had to keep that section of the vision from reaching his mate and her first fledglings at all costs.
And he still wondered if Richard had seen the vision too; before he dismissed the notion, thinking, If Richard had seen it, he would have called for me to explain what I was doing to improve the security for the party a long time ago. And he hasn’t so far, so I have to presume that he hasn’t seen it as yet. But that could change at any point, so the defenses have to hold for as long as it will take me to strengthen them.
In fact, he had worried that seeing the vision through to its logical conclusion could have reduced Joanna to catatonic rocking once again, and that had been why he had broken the vision as soon as he had abruptly realized that Joanna was seeing it too. In the back of his thoughts, he hoped that she hadn’t found her Father, or her adoptive Mother in the vision, but he knew that there might not be any way he could have prevented that from happening.
And Vlad feared that finding either of them would have ended with Joanna catatonic once more, if she believed it to be true. Belief was so integral to many things; this he knew was one of them, and he knew that keeping her from believing any of it was integral to keeping her sane if any of it actually happened.
At the same time, Vlad knew that he had had quite enough of trying to reach her thoughts through rounds of catatonia for one lifetime, he thought as he wrapped his thoughts around hers in an attempt to remind her that she wasn’t alone.
And in many ways, he hoped that seeing this vision wouldn‘t ruin her birthday party, though he knew that it could if there was any possibility of it coming true. So, he knew that to prevent the Brotherhood from hitting the house in an all-out strike tonight, or any other time during the year, he had to assemble a larger force and hit them before they could gather their wits.
Then he recalled that he had been assembling strike teams for that very purpose before Amelia had enlisted his aid in accomplishing her plans for this party; they had been ready to go on their first runs by the first of the year, and Vlad had been tracking the destruction that his strike teams had been wreaking on the various pockets of the remaining branches of the Brotherhood in Shadow County all along the way. And so far, they had been almost entirely successful in their objectives, so far as he could tell.
As he thought about it, Vlad realized that he had been receiving reports of their activities since the party had begun; it was simply that the information had been buried under all the little details that had needed to be accomplished for all that Amelia had wanted this party to be, and the various deadlines those things had to be accomplished by to make them work.
Right now, he knew that the group that was originally to have been monitoring the activities at Lathom Manor had been eliminated, but there were still plenty of teams who were fully armed in enough ways to destroy everyone at Lathom Manor at least three times over. There had also been several reports of smaller groups massing into larger groups that would be fully capable of removing everyone at the party in one go, if he hadn’t been steadily chipping away at the defenses of the various groups of the Brotherhood in the Valley for many years.
And now he knew that he had done extremely well, so far, but every day things were happening that showed that more work remained to be done if he was going to be able to protect his mate and their family.
And he knew that the security was truly needful if his charges expected to stay alive for more than another day. In that instant, it crossed his mind to simply eliminate all the remaining members of the Brotherhood with the single spell that was at his disposal that he had been holding off on using; a corner of the back of his concentration holding the completed spell down to the final trigger word, but he knew that he was saving that for in case they actually were able to get themselves together enough to actually mount an attack of any serious size on the mansion tonight. Kind of a last-ditch defense, as it were, he thought, grimly, knowing that if he had to use it, the situation had to be dire indeed.
But he knew too that he would use it if it came down to that, even if it didn’t kill all of them. Though he did hope that it did more than only kill a few of them. It was designed to kill thousands, at the minimum if it was properly spoken, he knew.
The spell he had in mind to use was the one that he had seen his Father use in combat against the troops of the Daemala during one of their many assaults on the fortress in the fishhook of mountains that had sheltered their homeland for millennia at that point and it had shattered the formation at the lead before eliminating the rest of the assembled troops.
As a matter of fact, there was one of the strike teams due to report in very soon, he knew, one headed by one of his more readily trusted mortal lieutenants, Jesse Nateman Jr. And Vlad knew that it was Nateman’s team that had been stationed closest to the house; the vision could only come true if they absolutely failed in their mission. But he also still had access to the abilities of the younger man’s Father, Jesse Nateman sr. and Vlad knew that he would use every weapon at his disposal to defend the family he was sworn to protect.
And that decided him; there had to be further security measures in place, if only for Vlad’s peace of mind. That it would help with Joanna’s peace of mind was a consideration that he knew had helped him come to the decision, but it wasn’t the only reason.
And he hoped that the teams would report that their missions had all been successful. That would be the best way for everything to work out, Vlad knew.
The fastest way to reach Nateman Jr. and the other teamleaders that he could be sure was still secure was to send a runner to them directly, Vlad knew, and they would need notes to explain what was going on. After all, not all of them were able to accept telepathic contact, and Vlad knew that in particular, Jesse Nateman Sr. was headblind.
He had been since the murder of his first wife and their daughters. So, that meant that the notes were particularly needed in this situation. But at the same time, Nateman would be concerned for the safety of his own wife, children and grandchildren. But Vlad knew that the one thing that would help keep Nateman Sr. on task was the fact that his granddaughter, Petrova was visiting Joanna while Petrova was recovering from an attack by lieutenants of the Deformed. And though Vlad wasn’t sure that Jesse knew where she was at the minute, it was a situation that could be rectified by the simple expedient of sending a message to him by courier.
But that would mean getting some paper or parchment from Richard, and since he knew that since Richard was enjoying the party, there would be no impediment to Vlad borrowing some of his notepaper from his desk for what he needed to do.
He went to the desk in Richard’s office and quickly wrote several notes; each addressed to the heads of his security teams, then he quickly summoned several of the more readily trusted young men amongst the servants who had been assigned messenger duty that day, handing them each a note and explaining who they were to seek out, along with where he expected them to be found; handing each of them enough money to make it worth their time away from their other duties, and sent them on their way.
Then, he wrote another round of notes, this time slightly longer, explaining that someone had expressed concerns about the security at the party, and detailing what he had in mind for the extra measures, and sent them out to various others he knew of who would do what was needed to implement the new measures. And these notes he sent out with several members of the young welupo pack who had arrived on their doorstep about a week ago, and who both Joanna and Raven had greeted as family.
The same sort of thing had happened with the three red headed Giant Scorpions who had arrived the other day; Joanna had been very glad to see them and had instantly dropped almost everything she had been doing at that instant to make sure they were put up in some of the best rooms that were still available, especially since they were accompanied by five of their hatchmates who were Giant Centipedes by appearance, save for having deep red heads.
And Vlad knew that she had been very relieved when the largest of them had said that they were here to help with the security, because they didn’t like the rumors they had been hearing where they had been staying in town.
He was surprised until he realized that the young Giant Scorpion who was speaking was the same one who had come to warn him that Joanna had needed his help after trying to feed too many of her insectile children not long after they had closed their Bond. Then he was glad to have their active assistance in the security for the party.
Knowing that at least one of these notes would fall into enemy hands, he deliberately planted misinformation regarding his security measures that he had implemented months before, and the updates that he was bringing online tonight in the hopes that if there was an attack on the house, they would first try the areas where they thought he was weakest.
The individuals who would receive them would know to reach to him for the proper information when they received the false notes. Those who didn’t, well, he would know that that was where one of the holes in the security system was, and deal with it accordingly, later.
And at the same time, he knew that Joanna had her own security forces on the property for the party, so he knew that they too would have to be alerted to the potential for continued trouble, so he reached to Jerrica’s thoughts and showed her what they had seen, and told her what he had arranged to deal with the possibility of trouble from that quarter.
But he also suggested that she keep her forces alert for trouble originating within the manor as well; he had received word that the Brotherhood had planted spies amongst the servants who had been hired for this party, and given them instructions to allow the strike forces in when they arrived. And he knew too that Jerrica would willingly vouch for everyone on her security teams, though she knew that Joanna’s Father had hired a few new faces in for the big night. All the new hires had passed all their security checks, but they both knew that the possibility still existed, no matter how sure they were of the people they worked with.
He knew too that Joanna hadn’t heard that particular rumor as yet, and he would rather keep it that way, he told Jerrica, who agreed readily as she had completed her own preparations to add to the already complicated defenses with the help of some of the local pride of Bastela.
That the notes he sent out would also show up some more of the weak spots in their security measures and communications was also something he took into account, though there were only a few things he was doing about that right now. But at the same time, he knew that all his preparations were things that he would keep from Joanna’s notice if he could; knowing about them would only make her worry more, Vlad knew.
But at the same time, he knew that he wanted her to realize that he took the vision very seriously indeed. It had involved the death of all he cared about, after all; of course he was going to take it seriously! Take it seriously and do all in his considerable power to prevent it becoming reality, Vlad vowed.
But he wasn’t sure how he could show her without causing her greater fear than she had yet known. Frightening her was not something he was trying to do, though he knew that he might not be able to avoid it.
Meanwhile, in the ballroom, the dancing continued as the musicians switched moods, from slow dancing to quick ones and back again. And as the crowds shifted between the various forms of entertainment, the trays kept emptying from the snacking tables, until Steven and the rest of the male staff were abruptly circulating through the crowds to announce that dinner was being served at last, even though it was nearly midnight.
Joanna and the group who had gone downstairs had made their way back upstairs, and now they were getting ready to have dinner with the rest of her guests who hadn’t really eaten yet, making their way to the dining room, which had been made over while everyone had been dancing, to resemble a medieval hall with long trestle tables and trenchers, goblets and handmade flatware as the servants hustled around, making sure everyone was seated where they were supposed to be.
And Vlad escorted Joanna, Amelia, Raven, Jayne and Cordelia formally to the high table where they were seated and served as befit royalty. And at one point during the meal, a footman brought her state crown to her on a small pillow, and Vlad once more crowned her his Queen, as he had at her coronation to the Council as another footman knelt at her feet. And the room erupted into wild applause as she rose and curtsied in acknowledgement of the acclaim.
Other members of the Council were scattered through the hall for that meal, including Alyx and Petrova—though Pet was there as Alyx’s companion and Alyx technically wasn’t on the Council.
The footman had brought Joanna an overflowing trencher of her favorite dishes to sample from, and he held it—kneeling beside her to support it-- for her as she ate; while the musicians took their places in the alcoves and played softly while the guests ate their meals. And before she had taken a single bite, Vlad had murmured into her hair, “Don’t worry, dilectus.
The food is safe; I had samples tested to be sure before it left the kitchen.” Joanna sighed in relief; poisons likely wouldn’t affect her now, but they would certainly affect the others at her table, and she knew that she couldn’t eat all the food that had been brought to her.
And a few minutes later, Joanna rose and lifted her goblet, tapping another with a spoon to gain the attention of the rest of the room, and said, “M’Lords and Ladies, I give you the Lord of the Manor, your host, my Father.” as Richard rose and bowed to the assembled guests. And Joanna nodded, then continued, “A toast to his very good health. Let’s have a round of applause for him, shall we?”
As the audience obediently drank his health and clapped their approval of his duty as host that night, Vlad leaned over to Joanna and whispered, “Nicely handled, my love.” as she was seated again, gesturing to their guests to be seated as the food began to circulate amongst the tables.
A few seconds later, he added, “How did you know that he needed to know that he is appreciated for hosting the party?” as the servers began bringing out large platters of roasted meats for the guests to serve themselves from.
“It was what I would want, if I was the only one hosting a party this big, meum defensor.” Joanna whispered quietly, knowing that he wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t want to know the answer.
And Vlad smiled, glad to know that she was thinking ahead, though he hoped that it would extend to defending her family if it became needed for her to use what he had been teaching her. Though at the same time, he hoped it wouldn’t be needed.
(Don’t forget to have Joanna open her gifts in this chapter.)