this absurd proposal demonstrated only panic. Mero swiveled his chair toward the back of the theater and made a steeple with his fingertips. “Heldridge is of Menessos’s line,” he offered, “yet the young master has not spoken the name of his Maker. It suggests disassociation between them. Menessos allowed Heldridge to leave him and become his own master, but recently Menessos transferred his haven from Chicago to Cleveland—”

“A matter he told this court of only after the fact,” Giovanni interjected.

“He is now based only a few miles from the location of Heldridge’s haven,” Mero continued. “Perhaps Heldridge seeks distance, as many sons seek from their fathers. It seems a matter between the two of them. I suggest you remove the bounty on Heldridge, set him free, and let Menessos deal with him.”

“Ha!” Giovanni barked. “It was Menessos’s Erus Veneficus that was the target. He will not be impartial if he is to judge Heldridge!”

“Heldridge has admitted his crime. What need of impartiality is there?”

Giovanni cleared his throat, a sound like gravel in a blender. “It has been centuries since anyone has dared invoke the name of the shabbubitum to this court, and according to the old accounts, over two millennia since they walked the earth.” His eyes flicked downward and he frowned thoughtfully.

Mero knew the dramatics were a bad sign. He started to interrupt, but on-screen Heldridge was screaming and waving his arms. The Excelsior had obviously turned the volume down.

“Their truth-finding abilities are legendary,” Giovanni said. “Perhaps we need the rectitude attributed to those three bitches. Perhaps it is time we recover the precision our justice had in antiquity.” He lifted his gaze. “I say send for them.”

“You’re mad,” Mero whispered.

Giovanni spoke, but not to Mero. “Give Heldridge what he wants. Unshackle the shabbubitum. Subject him to their methods, then, if he’s honest, send them to Menessos.”

Mero shifted, uncomfortable in his chair. “Your eagerness gives me caution, Giovanni. The shabbubitum were bound for a reason.”

“This young fool has requested it!”

“It seems overindulgence to exploit their unique skills upon a task such as this.” Mero had to regain the advantage. Nothing good would come of the Excelsior consenting to this ludicrous idea. “Heavy-handed wastefulness would not reflect well upon our Lord.”

Giovanni tilted his head. “This is an opportunity. Heldridge has opened the door, Mero, and I long to see what the great Menessos has hidden behind it.” Giovanni leaned forward. “Don’t you?”

“I do not wish to tread where the shabbubitum run free.” Eager to drive his point home, Mero sat straighter and said, “They are dangerous, sentient beings, not domesticated animals that can be made to perform tricks. Treating them as such would be very unwise. Better to leave them where they are.”

Guistini stood, facing the darkness surrounding the Excelsior. “For long decades Menessos has puzzled us all. He refused the very position you fill so well, Excelsior.” The vampire maneuvered his thin frame between the seats one section closer to his lord. “Do you not want to know why? Do you not want to know if he regrets that decision?”

“You reveal your true motive: revenge against the one who tore your throat.” At that, Mero expected Giovanni would explode in anger, but he did not.

Giovanni mounted another step. “Revenge? No. I am merely thinking of the Excelsior’s safety. If Menessos believes his witch is the Lustrata, he will bond with her in order to unite their power. If he’s found her, the Domn Lup won’t be far behind. A triumvirate of power merging the Wolf King, the Witches’ Messiah, and the vampire who could have been Excelsior . . . what will they seek, once they are united, my lord?”

Mero tried once more to stop the madness. “Your manner suggests guilt, yet you have only minimal facts.” He glanced at the screen again; Heldridge was pounding on the door.

“They could not have yet recognized their full potential.” Giovanni made a fist as he said, “This trio is yet within your grasp, Excelsior. The shabbubitum are at your beck and call. Do you dare keep your hand at your side?”

The Excelsior’s eyes gleamed in the darkness.

Giovanni had won this time. The danger of inaction outweighed the danger of action.

Bowing low before the Excelsior, Giovanni whispered, “Summon the shabbubitum. Let us have all the secrets Menessos would hide.”


The day’s meager light was nearly gone as I stood enshrouded in fog at Point State Park in Pittsburgh and yanked the white sheath dress over my head. Nana placed a circlet of ivy on my head.

“The bell sleeves are nice,” said my mother, Eris, as she smoothed my dark hair. “You’re going to make a beautiful bride.”

Those words furrowed my brows. “Someday,” I retorted, envisioning Johnny standing before an altar. Then, in my imaginary scene, Menessos stepped up on the other side. What would I do if I had to choose between them? “Maybe.”

Besides, it wasn’t like I was wearing a silk gown. My attire was simply meant to be symbolic of the maiden aspect of the triple-goddess. This was a plain cotton chemise I bought on eBay from a seamstress who could have independently costumed a Renaissance fair.

Having always been more tomboy than prom queen, I’d always had an extremely low tolerance for dresses. However, this plain gown was reminiscent of those worn by the women in the art of John William Waterhouse, and for that reason alone, I was thrilled to be wearing it. At least until Eris’s romantic notion spoiled the mood with implied lifetime commitments.

Shoes were another story. I’d not thought of them when ordering, and by the time I realized my error, it was too late for even overnight shipping.

My mother supplied me with a close imitation of the appropriate footwear: ladies’ slippers from Isotoner.

“You’ll be a bride someday soon, I’d bet. I’ve seen how Johnny looks at you.”

Words like “mom” and “mother” didn’t yet roll off my tongue with any ease, so my reprimand was blatant name-calling. “Eris.”

“What? Mother said he’s been sharing your bedroom at the farmhouse.”

Disapproval for Nana’s gossip-mongering darkened my expression. As she presented me with the silver belt I whispered, “Traitor.”

“And who was it that told her I was trying to quit smoking?” Nana shot back.

“She has you there,” Eris quipped. “And she’s hoping for great-grandchildren, though she doesn’t want you to . . . how did you say it, Mother?”

“Don’t put the cart before the horse,” Nana answered.

“Wæres can’t breed,” I reminded them.

Nana smiled optimistically. “Yeah, yeah, but with him being the Domn Lup, a lot of those wære rules don’t apply to him.”

That hadn’t even occurred to me. Fear must have shown in my expression, because they both giggled.

Irritably, I wrapped the belt around my waist, my glare snapping back and forth between Eris and Nana. “I’m certain the molecular science behind the ‘non-viability’ of wære reproduction is something not even the Domn Lup can defy.”

My anger, however, was all for Eris. She knew that a calm mind-set was essential pre-ritual, but she’d had to get that crack in. She couldn’t resist exerting some type of control over me.

I bit my tongue to keep from saying anything else. I’d gone to a lot of effort for this ritual, and I wasn’t going to let her mess it up.

Part of that effort included drawing a pentacle with black chalk earlier on the concrete near the fountain. Because of the dark powder, Nana had brought the dress with her to keep it from getting dirty, but that meant my wardrobe change had to be done on-site. Though the park was seasonably abandoned, I had expected to have to

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