August 6, 2010

The Prince of Chicago

I was nervous going to court that night. I didn't like not knowing what was about to happen... and there was also the small caveat that I had not been to court since Maxwell rescinded the kill on sight order. I had no desire to see the traitorous Prince again.. especially not in a place of his choosing. But my curiosity was my undoing.. I couldn't keep myself away, nerves aside. I had to know what was happening.

Once the sun went down, we all piled into my car and headed over to the Shedd Aquarium. I filled them in on the rules on the way over.

"So, no violence." Nobody said, a tad disappointed.
I nodded. "Right.. not only that, don't take any weapons in." I held up a hand to forestall any complaints or excuses. "They will be found. Trust me. These vampires didn't get to be as old as they are by having shitty security. Something else that should be noted, is that the acoustics of the place are weird. Be careful what you say. There are areas that you can stand that will allow you to hear conversations on the other side of the room. It'll be pretty easy to pick up on where these places are, but regardless, keep your mouths shut." I looked right at Gio when I said it. He ignored me. "Also.. don't mention the khaibit, or anything else we've been dealing with lately."

Giovanni took his sawed off shotgun out of his coat and proceeded to stash it in one of the secret compartments we'd found in the car. "You sure they'll let us in at all?"
I gave him an unpleasant smile. "They'll let you in. They won't like it.. but that will just make it more fun for me."

We pulled up to the Aquarium and piled out of the car. As we approached the front door, Loki's expression turned sour. I gave him a big smile that was all teeth, and not even slightly friendly. He narrowed his eyes at me, suspicious, then looked at the others behind me.

He crosed his arms and stood in our path. "What are you doing here?" He demanded of the others.
Gio started to explain. "We were invi.." I held up a hand to cut him off. He feel silent, and I dropped the smile, glaring at Loki, face set and determined.
"Because they have the right to be." I said firmly. My narrowed eyes dared him to fight me on it.

His jaw twitched in annoyance, and he sounded tired and irritated. He bit his thumb until it bleed. "Fine. Do you agree to honor the rules of Elysium?" He stepped forward, thumb outstretched to mark their foreheads, Ori first. Ori took a step back and looked at me. I gave a small nod, and he stood still as Loki rolled his eyes and smudged a bit of vitae on Ori's skin. He did this to each one of them, asking them the question, getting his affirmative answer, then marking their foreheads.

He paused when he got to Nadi. "Fuck.. I don't even know what to do about you."
It occurred to me that Loki, being Mekhet, could probably see her lack of aura as well.

"Nothing?" She suggested.

Loki scowled and made her take the same oath as the others, with a look on his face that said he knew it was completely pointless.

He seemed relieved to be rid of us as we walked into the Aquarium.

The usual people were present.. Birch stood off to one side talking with Sylvia Raines with a look of faux polite interest. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing when Nadi caught his eye, gave an overly cheerful smile and waved.. to which he responded by giving her the finger, then pretending it had been unintentional and waving with an expression that was half forced smile, half intentional sneer.

He wasn't the only one who noticed us. Eyes kept drifting in our directions, hushed conversations took a different direction, some outright stared... we mostly ignored them. Gio walked beside me, cane tapping the floor, muttering under his breath. " one.. two.. three.. four.."

I couldn't tell if he was aware of it or not.

Near the back center of the room stood a large dais. Maxwell was seating there, Norris stood next to him. When Norris spotted us, his face remained neutral and he spared us a nod. I watched his eyes linger a moment on the choker around my throat. He made no motion toward it, but it was an acknowledgment of my new station, nonetheless. Maxwell stood, and motioned us over. I was tempted, briefly, to ignore the summons.. but I decided to play nice.. for now. We approached the dais.

"Welcome to Elysium. What is it that I can do for you tonight?" Maxwell sounded like the gracious host. I expected to hear suppressed annoyance or anger in his voice.. but it wasn't there. Even his body language seemed relaxed and open.

I gave a small, one sided shrug. "Not a thing." I expected that to get a rise out of him, but outwardly, nothing changed. His aura, however was boiling with anger and frustration. He didn't like that we were here.. and I was completely okay with that.

He gestured to the aquarium glass, marine life swimming by, oblivious. "Well then.. please, enjoy the evening. I apologize for not having refreshments for those of you who partake in such things, is there anything I can get for you?"

"Well, yeah.. actu.." Ori started to say, but I cut him off midsentance. "They're fine. They are already accustomed to your version of 'hospitality'." I said, keeping my voice as neutral as possible, as though it was merely a statement of fact, and not a not-so-veiled insult.

"I could really go for a ham sandwich.." Giovanni said suddenly. I resisted the urge to glare daggers at him. The fact that Maxwell's eye twitched slightly was enough to keep me from being annoyed at Gio.

"How about a deli tray?" Maxwell said, blandly. His aura flared with annoyance and ire.

Giovanni just chuckled. "I'm just kidding.. we're fine." He smiled that ingratiating smile.

"This is a place where old grudges are forgotten," Maxwell began. I couldn't help but narrow my eyes at that, but said nothing. He continued, "At least physically. There are some here who might be rather sensitive, however.. so I would take care not to anger them.." His eyes wandered briefly to Solomon Birch, who was still talking to Raines.

I fought not to roll my eyes. I wasn't concerned with Birch attacking us here.

"Please, enjoy the Shedd. This will act as repayment of my debt to you." Maxwell nodded to us, and went back to doing his own shit. It took every ounce of restraint not to start screaming at him. Allowing the others into court was repayment for saving the city? For putting our lives on the line to prevent utter disaster? Not to mention the later betrayal and death warrant! For anyone watching, I'm sure my aura was positively blazing. But I didn't let it show.

Just another illustration of how the Prince of Chicago treated those who saved his precious city. Inwardly, I seethed. Outwardly, I feigned bored indifference.

Everyone stayed close, in a loose group, waiting for whatever it was that Rashida had been talking about. Giovanni tried to find the areas of the room that took advantage of the strange acoustics, but those spots were mostly taken. Finally, he resigned himself to talking with Deuce Carter. I was only half listening to their conversation. Deuce, one of the few vampires that wasn't annoyed at our presence, was giving him the run down of the 5 covenants and their role in the city.

He had just finished talking about the Carthians when the party really started. My sensitive hearing picked up the uncertain edge to Loki's voice as he questioned another new arrival.

"Do you swear to adhere by the rules of Elysium?"
Then an unfamiliar voice, speaking in Latin. "Haud."

I turned to look, finding it unusual that someone would answer Loki's question with "Not at all."

So I was the least surprised when Loki came flying through the room and slammed into the thick glass of the Aquarium.

There were a few startled exclamations, then the room went so quiet that the marching feet sounded thunderous. A literal phalanx of the odd looking men we'd seen on the boat pushed its way into the Shedd, and headed right for the dais.

We stood together and exchanged glances as they approached. We were close to the dais, but off to one side. But this group only had eyes for Prince Maxwell. What the hell was going on?

The phalanx stopped moving and parted down the middle, as though triggered by silent command. Amidst the huge guards, there was a man. He only stood about 5 fee tall, but had a distinct air of authority.

The man's guards fanned out to form a semi circle around the dais. Maxwell stood, aura flickering with rage and confusion.

The small man spoke with a deep, booming voice.. in Latin. I only knew a few words, so I couldn't follow. Giovanni began translating to us in a low voice.

"I hereby invoke the rite of Monomacy, I challenge Maxwell Clark, Prince of Chicago."

Maxwell stepped forward, body language no longer laid back and polite. He glared balefully at the newcomer. "Who are you? Whatever authority you think you have is not recognized here."

Maxwell looked at Norris expectantly. The Seneschal nodded slightly, and when the man began to speak again, Norris began to translate for the crowd.

"I am Gaius Marius, and as Sextus of the Invictus, I declare you unfit to rule this city."

A surprised murmur began to build within the vampires gathered.

"Under your rule, you have allowed rivals to make a mockery of your authority, foreign gods to invade this land, and enemies of your throne go unpunished. I am providing you with two courses of action. Stand down, and forfeit your crown to me, or accept my challenge, and prove yourself worthy to rule the city of Chicago."

I fought not to gawk. He was challenging Maxwell? Holy fuck.. I knew, before Maxwell even nodded, that he would accept. His folly was written all over his aura. He was boiling with anger and contempt towards the upstart. He didn't seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation. I knew that he didn't have to accept, he could have them all thrown out and continue ruling the city. But he would accept... because Gaius hadn't said anything that wasn't true.. and Maxwell felt the need to defend his honor and authority.

It was a ridiculously stupid thing to do.

Maxwell nodded to Norris, who disappeared briefly only to return with a broadsword. Maxwell removed his shirt and took the sword. Gaius disrobed all the way down to a a loincloth, and took the gladius that was offered to him by one of the weird looking body guards.

The crowd was completely silent. Maxwell stepped off the dais, and the two began to circle each other.

Maxwell darted froward and brought the large sword down in a diagonal slash. Gaius caught the blade on the edge of his own, and turned the sword aside with a jerk of his arm. Maxwell stumbled past him.

While Maxwell was recovering, Gaius turned to the room, arms raised, playing the crowd. And I had to admit, it seemed damned impressive. Nobody was so taken by the simple maneuver that he erupted into cheers. It was echoed by a smattering of excited applause that was quickly silenced.. as though those clapping hadn't meant to react. Only Nobody seemed unapologetic about his reaction. I saw a smile creep onto Gaius' face.

Maxwell's aura blazed with fury. "You will do me the honor of facing me!" Maxwell said in a loud voice. Gaius, instead, turned his back on him completely, arms still raised to the crowd.

Gio leaned forward and murmured in my ear. "Christmas came again!"
I kept my eyes on the duel and concentrated on entering Gio's mind. I had no desire to be overheard.

I have no love for Maxwell, but Ori's vision worries me. Will he be good for Chicago? or a worse devil?

Gio shrugged to the silent musing and responded in kind. We have no choice. Let's see the play, then decide how to avoid it jamming into our backs...

One.. two.. three.. four..

I gave him a sidelong glance. Yeah.. you're fucking nuts, by the way.

Maxwell practically roared with rage and charged the smaller man, infuriated that Gaius would disrespect him so. He should have known better to rise to the bait. It had been an obvious ploy. I watched Maxwell grimace and stumble backwards as Gaius struck, not even turning around, burying the gladius in the Prince's shoulder, just under the clavicle.

I was probably one of the few in the room who realized just how fucked Maxwell was now. I knew that, in that position, the sword would cut off the majority of his arm's range of motion. But if he pulled the sword out, he'd have to deal with a rather nasty wound.

Yet even still, Maxwell let his pride and anger get the better of him. He raised his broadsword as high as he could, and charged, yet again.

Because the first two charges worked so well for him.

It seemed to move in slow motion.. at the last moment, just as Maxwell started his swing, Gaius whirled, wrapped one hand around the hilt of the gladius, yanked it from Maxwell's shoulder, and cut the Prince of Chicago's head off in one deft swing.

His head made a hollow sound as it hit the floor, and a hissing noise followed as it, and his body, dissolved into nothing but ash.

The Aquarium was silent as a tomb... and that silence roared in my ears.

Gaius Marinas handed the sword to one of his guards and stood on the dais, somehow looking impressive and imposing, despite his small stature.

"I claim this city for the Julii!" He scanned the room slowly, taking it all in, or perhaps letting us take him in. I couldn't decide which.

"My Seneschal?" He said, and Norris gave him a deep bow, still translating for us. "The Prince of the Lance?"

Birch looked at him, utterly unconcerned, like the spectacle we all just witnessed wouldn't effect him at all. "Yes?"

"We have much to discuss." He stepped down off the dais and headed for the doors. He only paused briefly, when someone caught his eye. "Rowan.. it is good to see you again. You have not aged a day."

And he walked out amidst his guards. As the doors to the Aquarium swung closed, shadows wrapped around the entire group, and I caught site of a wolf skulking away from the building.

Loki broke the stunned silence. "Well who the hell is going clean this up?" He said with a scowl.

"I will." Gio piped up.

Loki turned and glared at us. "Get the fuck out."

It broke the spell of disbelief that held most of the other kindred rapt. Everyone started talking and slipping away, off to spread the news, more than likely.

We left. I didn't say anything to anyone. I still wasn't sure how to react to the situation. I hated Maxwell.. but he was at least a known variable. This guy.. god only knew what he'd do with the city.

And he had reason to pay very close attention to us. That didn't sit well with me.

In the car, everyone broke out cell phones. Nadi called Martindale, who already knew based on what he'd been hearing on peoples minds, Giovanni called his family and Michael Walsh, Ori called the Whispers, and Nobody called Mathias.

I sat in the front and watched Becca drive. I'd do my calling later.. but I only had two people I wanted to inform.. and neither of them could communicate with a voice message. The rest of my phone calls would be to gather information, and those I wanted to contact wouldn't be available right now.

But I could at least text Giuseppe.

To: G
From: H

Ever heard of Gaius Marius?


He responded almost immediately.

To: H
From: (Blocked)

He's in Chicago?


To: G
From: H

He just offed Maxwell.


I silently admitted that typing that out gave me more than a little satisfaction. There was a moment before the next text came through.


From: Blocked

War is coming to the windy city.


The sinking feeling in my stomach became a knot. I sat quietly for a few minutes, willing it away, dispensing with the useless fear, before I responded.


To: G
From: H

How are the Khaibit involved?


From: G
To: H

Their master has finally awoken. He has been asleep for a long time.


I inhaled and exhaled slowly and put the phone away. War wasn't anything we hadn't already seen. But we needed more information. We always needed more information. For now, I considered the implications for us. People would think we knew it was going to happen, why else would we have been there? And why did Rashida want us, all of us, to see it?

Giovanni finished his last phone call and tucked his phone into his coat pocket. he caught my eye in the rearview mirror and smirked.

"At least we got our favor before he was offed."

I blinked in surprise. "Jesus, Gio!" but I couldn't help but chuckle darkly. His favor had been more substantial than we'd originally thought.. or he'd originally intended. He'd effectively given us front row seats to his own execution. In retrospect, that was rather generous of him. "I suppose that is one way of looking at it."

We arrived back at the shop just as everyone finished up their phone calls. The city would be alive with gossip tonight, and we had plans to make.

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