Watchers Council – Slayer Command Courtroom – Afternoon
Katherine sat nervously at the defendant’s table in the Slayer Command Courtroom. She glanced at her attorney, who patted her hand reassuringly. Katherine turned around and looked behind her where Jocasta sat with Giles in the front row. Jocasta gave Katherine an encouraging smile and a nod.
Then the bailiff entered and commanded, “All rise!”
Katherine turned back around and stood with her attorney as Velika Petrova and two other senior commanders came into the courtroom and took their places at the judges’ bench. Velika nodded toward the crowd, and everyone sat down except for Katherine and her attorney. Velika punched a button on the data pad in front of her and then looked sternly at the defendant’s table.
“Slayer Katherine Allison, you have been charged and tried for the offense of ‘Cowardice in Battle’ as described in Article 99 of the Revised Code of Military Justice,” Velika said. “The tribunal has heard both sides of the case, and we are ready to render our judgment.”
Katherine shut her eyes for a moment and swallowed noticeably. Then she opened her eyes again.
“It is our opinion,” Velika continued, “that Slayer Allison was under the influence of a dangerous spell at the time of her offense. Therefore, we conclude that she was not responsible for her actions. We find the defendant not guilty.”
Katherine’s legs nearly gave out when she heard the news. She put her hands on the table to catch herself. When she looked up, tears were in her eyes, but she was smiling.
Velika grinned and gave the gavel a firm rap. “Court is adjourned.”
Katherine shook her attorney’s hand gratefully, then immediately turned around. Jocasta was already past the bar. She ran to Katherine and wrapped her arms around the blonde slayer. A tiny sob of relief escaped Katherine’s lips as Jocasta embraced her.
“I knew it, I knew it!” Jocasta said excitedly as she gave Katherine a twirl. When she set Katherine down, she gave her arms a squeeze. “I told you,” she said. “I told you they wouldn’t find you guilty.”
Giles came up to the happy duo. “Congratulations, Katie,” the chairman said with a smile.
“Thank you, both of you,” Katherine replied sincerely.
After allowing the slayer a moment to catch her breath, Jocasta linked her arm in Katherine’s. “Ready to face the mob?” she asked.
Katherine rolled her eyes and groaned.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Night
Travers stood with his arms crossed as he showed a video to Giles. On the large screen on the wall, the video showed the exterior of Slayer Command, where Katherine, flanked by Giles and Jocasta, hurried out of the front entrance toward a waiting skimmer. Before they could get there, Lisa Lance jumped in front of them and thrust a microphone in Katherine’s face.
“Miss Allison, how do you feel about being found not guilty for a crime you know you committed?”
Katherine didn’t have the chance to answer because Jocasta stepped in front of her and confronted the rude reporter, pointing an angry finger in her direction.
“Listen up, you little—” Jocasta began before being stopped by Giles.
“Jo,” Giles interrupted, “just get Katie to the skimmer.”
Jocasta glared at Lance then ushered Katherine towards the waiting vehicle. Lance was undeterred. She thrust the microphone towards Giles.
“What’s your opinion, Mr. Chairman? Has justice been served?”
“I cannot comment on what is an internal matter of the Watchers Council,” Giles replied firmly as he began to follow after Jocasta and Katherine.
“How can it be an ‘internal matter’ when our lives are in your hands? Are we really safe from the demonic menace when your slayers run from battle?” Lance called after Giles.
Giles punched a button on his console and ended the video. He shook his head but didn’t say anything.
“Well?” Travers prompted.
“What?” Giles inquired.
“The High Command demands to know what you intend to do about this problem! This-this Lance woman—and her compatriots on the other news nets—have essentially declared a media war against the Council, blasting us every chance they get. Our public approval rating is at the lowest it’s ever been since we received the contract for the Human Defense Treaty. So what are you going to do about it?!”
Hubris, Inc. – Eris Pantelles’s Office – Later That Night
“Well, Lance has certainly run with the ball, hasn’t she?” Eris Pantelles commented as she stood beside the large wall monitor in her office.
Then she pressed a button on the wall, turning off the large screen. With a smile, she glanced over to where Tyrell and Rayne lounged in her office chairs.
“Congratulations,” Eris said to Tyrell. “Your plan is working. The Council is seriously hurting for good PR.”
While Tyrell simply gave a smug smile, Rayne flashed a wink in Eris’s direction and said, “This is only the beginning.”
Tyrell nodded. “The first steps have already been taken. Soon the Council won’t have a leg to stand on. We’ll have them on their knees, begging to keep their jobs before they know what hit them.” He laced his fingers together and then regarded Eris with a patronizing glare. “Where do we stand with Congress?”
“I’m meeting with Senator Townsend tomorrow to discuss the Human Defense Treaty. I’m certain that he can be persuaded to see things our way,” she said with confidence. “What’s next?”
Tyrell’s mouth pulled into a tight line. “Let’s just say that the Watchers Council is about to experience a major setback.”
As Tyrell got to his feet and moved toward the door, Eris and Rayne exchanged a cryptic look.
Cemetery in Ireland – Near Dawn
A middle-aged but already gray-haired woman sitting on a bench looked up from her note-taking as her young charge cursed again and tumbled to the ground. Though the woman rolled her eyes, a smile twitched the corner of her mouth. She leaned forward so that she could see around a row of gravestones.
“Need a little help, lamb?” Mrs. Blair asked with amusement while adjusting the scarf wrapped around her neck.
The “lamb” looked up briefly to give her watcher a disgusted glare. The girl was tall and lanky, with a short mop of red hair. Although she appeared to be in her late teens, the swear words that emanated from her mouth were those of old sailors.
“If I thought you could get up off your arse without winding yourself, I might ask,” the girl shot back.
A deafening roar interrupted the exchange. The red-headed youth jumped to her feet, dusting her muddy hands off on her jeans. Moving forward quickly, she threw a series of punches at the large, reptilian creature that ambled toward her. She dodged as it swiped at her with its sharp claws. When it snapped its pointed jaws at her, she dropped to the ground and tried to sweep its feet out from under it. Surprise registered on the girl’s face when the creature anticipated her move and jumped over her legs.
The demon dove forward, trying to pin her to the ground, but the girl rolled to avoid him. She bounced back to her feet and lifted her leg, bringing her boot down on the back of the creature’s neck. The demon grunted in pain before rolling over and grabbing hold of the girl’s ankle.
After being tossed to the ground, the slayer chuckled as she jumped to her feet.
“Bastún! That the best you got, then?”
She grinned and posed in front of her opponent. A green-tinted substance dribbled out of the demon’s mouth and onto the ground, leaving singed circles in the grass. The slayer cocked an eyebrow.
“Tasty,” she quipped, waggling her tongue at the demon. It growled at her.
Observing from the sidelines, the watcher rolled her eyes and closed her notebook.
“Are you going to kill the bloody thing or just taunt it all night, Finola? Should we be changing your title from Slayer to Taunter?”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. We’ll be home in time for your talk show,” Finola replied.
The slayer took a deep breath and started forward again. After only a few steps, however, she swayed on her feet and put a hand to her forehead.
“Whoa. Head rush.” She shook off the lingering feeling and rushed the demon.
The beast reared up to its full height as Finola feigned to the left. It shifted slightly to the right, and the slayer took the clear shot at its soft mid-section. Her fist swung through the air, connected hard with the demon’s fleshy underside, and…bounced right off. Finola could hear the crunch of her bones as she stumbled backward.
“Ow, gawd!” she screamed and cradled her limp hand.
Mrs. Blair was instantly on her feet and staring in astonishment. Finola swallowed her pain and looked up at the demon looming above her. If the beast had a mouth capable of an evil grin, the look it was giving her would probably have included one. The slayer’s eyes widened as she realized how screwed she truly was.
“Oh, cac,” she muttered, just before the demon backhanded her, sending her flying through the air.
Watchers Council – Slayer Training Room – Morning
Livia glanced up from her stretching as a strawberry-blonde slayer hit the mat in front of her, hard. The girl groaned and put a hand to her head as she fixed her opponent with a harsh glare. Livia chuckled, and the girl turned her attention to the grinning slayer.
“Something funny, Commander?” she asked snidely, a distinctly Southern twang in her voice.
“Oh no, Jenn. Just remembering the last time I got beat like that.” Livia paused for effect. “When I was called!”
A couple of the girls who were standing nearby laughed. Jenn gave a disgusted grunt and allowed her sparring partner to help her to her feet.
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t be falling all over the place if I wasn’t so tired. But with all the bad press we’re getting, we’ve been working our asses off to keep up appearances.” Jenn glanced around then lowered her voice when she spotted Brianna hitting a punching bag across the room. “Which we wouldn’t need to be doing if some people hadn’t been out there making us look bad.”
Livia looked across the room at the slayer who was Katherine’s closest friend. She shook her head and stood up, stretching her arms over her head. Jenn continued to speak, and a few other slayers gathered around them and leaned in conspiratorially.
“You’re in with the brass, Livia. What’s the word from the high-ups? How long are we gonna have to put up with this crap?”
“I don’t know,” Livia said disgustedly. “Ya see, this is what happens when you get mixed up in magic. People get hurt, slayers get scared and run away like little girls, watchers look like idiots—” Livia turned around and trailed off when she noticed that Brianna had crossed the room and was standing there with her hands on her hips.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Brianna said calmly.
Livia crossed her arms. “Didn’t say it was.”
“You certainly implied that it was.”
Livia rolled her eyes and turned away. She picked up a set of large weights and stood in front of the mirrored wall. Brianna watched quietly for a moment, fists clenched at her sides, as Livia started her bicep curls. The rest of the girls began drifting back to their workouts, getting out of the line of fire.
“Look, none of this is going to get any better if we keep fighting among ourselves,” Brianna practically whispered. “So why don’t you just lay off, huh? You’re supposed to be setting an example.”
“I’m supposed to?” Livia huffed and set down the weights. She bit her lip, as if holding back a curse. She took a deep breath and reached for a heavier weight. “Hey, it’s not like I’m the one who—” Her hand closed around the weight, and she gave a tug to lift it. Nothing happened.
Confusion spread across Livia’s face, and she turned slightly so that Brianna’s view was blocked. Again, Livia tried to lift the weight, and still, it refused to budge.
“Livia!” a sharp voice called from the doorway. Livia glanced over to see Velika standing at the entrance to the training room with her arms crossed.
“My office,” Velika ordered. “Now.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Livia said with a nod. She waited until Velika left, then gave Brianna a stern glare. “We’re done here,” she told her.
Brianna said nothing and just went back to her punching bag.
Livia looked down at the offending weight. With a quick glance around, Livia wrapped her hand around the weight and lifted it easily. She exhaled and shook her head.
“I’m gettin’ too old for this,” she muttered before heading off to the showers.
End of Teaser