Another seven are pushed before me. “Innocent,” I murmur as I look at a sobbing man. He lifts his tear-stained face as my mates help him from the circle and over to the side where a few more wait, shocked and pale from facing their own mortality.
They are even thankful.
“We are not cruel,” I call out to the rest. “We are simply doing what must be done.”
This is taking too long,Nathair murmurs.Eventually, someone will break through and get one of us. He hates to admit it, but it’s true.
We don’t like to prolong this process, but this is too much, not to mention all it would take is one of my mates dropping their guard for a second for the council to pounce. I see it in their eyes. They still think they are in control.
“Maybe . . .” I show them, and they all turn to me.
“You think you can?” Nathair asks.
I nod, my mark pulsing with comfort. Stepping down from the throne, I face the partygoers once more. “You will be released once you are judged, but do not fear, for we hold no prejudice, and the blood never lies.”
“You are crazy!” Someone tries to throw themselves at me, but Zale catches him by his throat and tosses him to his knees for the next judgement.
It’s now or never.
I am part god, after all, and I’m beginning to realise this is why. Maybe this was always my destiny. Maybe this was always what my mother foresaw. I’m a sinner, a killer, a reaper, a queen, a god, a judge, and a saviour. I am everything. I am good and bad. I am one of them and above them. There is no stopping this now. Either the guilty will pass on tonight or all will, including the innocent. They each made decisions in their lives, and now it is time to face the consequences.
Stepping back, I hold my arms out and close my eyes, reaching for that glowing part of me. It feels like sinking into a hug with a loved one, lazy Sundays in your pyjamas with the fire going, or the sound of rain hitting your window at night.
I fade into it, and it flows through me and out, combining with my rose and thorns until they both rush through my veins. Comfort and pain. Give and take. Power and pleasure.
When my eyes open, tendrils flow from me and move through the room, glowing gold like that spark within me. I feel it transform me into something much more, and I see some of them drop to their knees in awe, others in fear. I wait as the tendrils touch every person in the room. The gold glow fills them with the possibility of what we could be, while my vines slither across them, and when I command it, they cut into their skin.
Power slides up those tendrils and back into me until I am full and overflowing. My vines tighten, and petals begin to fall as candles flare and grow brighter. True vines grow from the cement floor and shoot up across the walls before hanging down.
More blood, more power, and their thoughts fill me, causing me to stagger.
Give them to us,draya. We are here, so use us.
My queen, give to your mates. We are one, share it. This is not just your burden. We are a family. We are one.
Let us help.
We are here.
Their voices flood my brain, pushing back the pain from taking in so many stimuli.
Yes, yes, that’s right. I channel it through me and to my mates. I become the funnel to the judges, the bridge between god and vampyr. One by one, each person is judged without being in the blood circle with us touching them.
I stand where I am, only I am not standing anymore. I am hovering in the air above them, lit from within. I glow like the flames surrounding me. My eyes are bright, illuminated orbs, and my hair floats with my power. I hear my god speaking through me to them, coming to collect their debts, their sins, and their souls to cleanse his race. They hear it too.
My men weave through the crowd, and justice is quickly served. Lives are swiftly taken and spared until all that’s left are the innocent and those who can change—the ones my god believes are worthy of a second chance. After all, we were given a choice, so they should be as well.
Sinclair is amongst them, as is my rejected mate. Despite my feelings towards him, he is not a terrible leader, and his court needs him. In the memories I saw, he was kind and good towards them, although aloof. The years got to him. I almost feel sorry for him because he’s been alone for so long, but he made his choice, and now I have made mine—to save the man who rejected me, disgraced me, and doomed me.
Slowly, the power recedes, flowing back into me. The light reabsorbs into my body, and my feet softly touch the ground as I blink and bring the ballroom into view. Over half of the guests who joined us this evening are still on their knees before us. Most are from the younger generation—unfortunately, time and immortality has a way of corrupting—but there are three council members left to guide them: Sinclair, my ex, and the older man who spoke to me from Elemental Court.
Balthasar, my powers whisper to me.
“You have been judged. You are free to go.” I open the doors then without even looking. “But remember, we will be here at all times, waiting and watching. We will not let the actions of a few doom our race. We will rebuild now and become better. We follow the laws, we support the youth, and we create a better future. We must.”
I turn away, heavy with exhaustion and the weight of the memories and lives we took. I know Azul and Osis feel them and are waiting to fulfil their duties, while Zale and the others start to carry the bodies to a pile to be burned.
I’m so focused on the next step, I do not notice the movement until there’s a noise behind me.