Blood and War (Version 2)

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The sun would shine upon her bloodied, burned, aching body for the last time in less than thirty beats of Catherine’s thundering heart, and there would be no reprieve... this time, she would burn.

She would roast slowly, an inch at a time, until nothing remained but ashes that no one would keep in remembrance of her, as tradition dictated.

Eduardo would scatter her remains to the four winds with her memory, and it would be as if she never existed or mattered. As if her life had no meaning and no impact on this world.

She would cease to be, and they would forget about her, erasing all evidence of her existence, even darkening out the record of her birth.

Her knee still smoldered, blackening to charcoal, where red and raised skin did not steam.

Pus flowed freely from her flesh, birthing unbearable anguish.

The skin had burned down to the raw nerves, sending shudders of reaction through her body.

Shock settled coldly into her abdomen, and with a massive effort of will, she regained control of her sobbing and the animal sounds of her suffering.

This loss of control served as the ultimate humiliation, a show of weakness that Eduardo watched with intense disappointment, extreme dissatisfaction, and fury.

The Drake would have remained stoically in control of himself under the same circumstances, and she hated him for it.

Catherine steadfastly refused to plead for the quick death her father would not grant, especially not if she asked or broke down and begged, dragging their hallowed family name through the mud.

None of their people would petition for her life or ask for mercy on her behalf; they feared and respected her father too much to insult him in such a manner.

In this time of need, she was utterly alone, abandoned, and lost.

Eduardo refused to see how Hellenic coerced both her and the facts.

The two-faced traitor caught her in his trap and humiliated her on purpose, but her father denied the truth, refusing to see Hellenic for the monster he was.

His unwillingness led to him having no choice but to administer the ultimate punishment for the crime of betrayal.

With everything she experienced at Eduardo’s side and all she did for him during her lifetime, he should appreciate that she would never deceive him.

How did he not understand this?

Catherine struggled uselessly against the unbreakable shackles.

With each violent movement, her efforts cut the metal deeper into her skin, and the bleeding wounds increased her discomfort.

Although the silver burned her raw wrists, the fighter in her would not submit and accept defeat.

“Enough, Eduardo!”

The commanding, authoritative voice of the head chancellor, Aldrich, rang out across the courtyard.

This vampire always made her uncomfortable, and his intercession at this point was more unexpected than a sudden eclipse.

His watchful gaze over the years had created the impression that he awaited something.

What exactly, she did not understand.

Perhaps this day?

The counselor was difficult to read, only speaking when he had something to say.

His cold nature was legendary, and his presence overshadowed all but her father.

That voice was both satin and steel, but beneath it lay a threat... a promise of something dangerous, and the hair on the back of her neck rose.

His tone demanded respect from even Eduardo, who had a secret but healthy disrespect for most of the Elder Council.

“Is there not one among you who will stand for this woman?” Aldrich asked, nay demanded, with his thick Spanish accent.

The distinct tone of impatience-laden disgust laced every word.

His eyes roamed to those that surrounded her since childhood, and they shrunk from that gaze like guilty, cowardly dogs.

Her caretakers and friends, the men sworn to protect her, stood before him with eyes downcast.

None of them met his steely gaze or spoke a single word in her defense.

His cold stare narrowed upon them with an unreadable expression and unmistakable contempt.

Aldrich was more handsome than most vampires, strong and wiry of build, and although not as tall as Eduardo, he seemed larger than life.

He was the type of man that inspired legends and fed nightmares, depending on whether he was your friend or enemy.

The onlookers remained immovable like statues before him, their eyes guarded and expressions cold. Yet not one could keep from cringing as his glare became sterner.

They were caught between him and Eduardo, damned if they spoke and condemned if they kept their own counsel.

The silence stretched, and the sun inexorably moved along its ascending path. Soon enough, no need for an answer would remain.

Aldrich’s almost palpable anger tinged the air, and his manner revealed disgust.

Being the overseer, a neutral party in this matter, he should not speak on her behalf and overstepped his bounds by interfering in the first place.

Why had he spoken?

She had no idea, but he made enemies today.

“Then, I shall speak for this woman,” a firm voice stated firmly.

Catherine’s head jerked involuntarily toward him as a low gasp escaped the startled crowd.

Before then, she would have staked her life on the fact that the silence could not be any more complete or any more substantial. It had become a wall that surrounded and isolated her, but the barrier opened up to include one more.

The spectators recognized that sultry baritone and identified its owner.

A ripple of unease passed through the crowd in a restless wave, followed by outrage at his arrogance.

Aldrich had not been the only one driven to overstep.

“Human, you do not know this creature, and what would you say that might save her life?” Eduardo spoke of her like a stray animal, as if she were one of his horses or human pets. Nay, he would not speak so of his dogs.

With his voice dripping mocking disdain, the starkness of his expression, the faint glow of blue to his eyes, his fisted hands, and the tightness of his frame shouted his displeasure.

The Drake hated being thwarted, which might not end well for the mortal.

“Sometimes mercy can be crueler than punishment.”

The human’s words echoed in the quiet as he straightened his shoulders, squared his chin, and stood his ground—obstinately refusing to be cowed.

Although it was no plea for her life, none of them expected anyone to have the guts to stand for her, nor that a human would have such unequaled arrogance.

In their minds, the die was cast, and her fate settled; she was already dead and did not yet know it.

The crowd’s lack of response was reaction enough and spoke volumes of their sneering scorn.

Eduardo did not immediately reply. Instead, his gaze narrowed on the human, and the calculation in his eyes didn’t bode well for her.

Catherine recognized that expression. She saw it on his face a million times, and it never benefited his opponents.

“What brought you to that conclusion?” Hellenic asked with all the aplomb of innocence, but she no longer bought his act.

The bastard didn’t bother to hide the snide disrespect reserved for humans and anyone he viewed as “lesser” than himself.

Mortals were a tool to use and discard at his whim, nothing more.

How had he deceived her for so long?

“Speak up; we’re runni—”

The Lord Chancellor halted mid-word.

Eduardo had silenced him imperiously, cutting him off with that arrogant wave of his hand, a gesture she knew well.

Aldrich frowned, and a brief flash of irritated anger glinted in his eyes, but he quickly mastered and masked the emotion.

Concentrating on the words they spoke became harder as a tremor of weakness started in her insides.

She could not fight anymore.

“You are right, Lord Dillon. Mercy can be crueler,” the chill in Eduardo’s words overrode her fear of the sun even as the threat of its destructive light progressed.

There was no way to escape it this time.

She’d run out of chain and leverage and was a mere hair’s breadth from her destruction.

(Version 3)

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