Glossary –

The Balance – Struggle between vampires and witches. Also a reference to inner balance between good and evil.

Banishment – Punishment for breaking the Code. Usually the witch will be removed from coven and termed a warlock.

Blood Lust – Physical reaction to lack of blood or inadequate feeding. Vampires revert to an instinctual state and are very dangerous. An effort is made by vampire society to see that all vampires are well fed.

Book of Shadows – Sacred text used by High Council. Contains spells and prophecies.

Cardinal Element – Element that comprises the main focus of power for a witch. While this is the primary element some witches can control all four elements. Those witches are often recruited into the Covenant.

Chosen of the Blood – Vampire warriors bred to possess immense physical and mental strength. Selected by The Order and act as their representatives on earth. Personal guard to the King and the royal family. Operates apart from most vampire society but is not excluded from it.

The Change - Critical moment in a vampire's life when he or she reaches maturity. Occurs generally at puberty. Also refers to a human transformation after the exchange of blood.

The Chosen - Male or female vampires who are from elite families who formed an informal ruling class.

The Covenant – Groups of covens charged by the High Coven to ensure magikal order.

The Code – The laws by which all magikal persons operate.

High Council – Group of three Elders, The Maid, The Mother and The Crone, who issue orders, create laws, and settle disputes. Considered omnipresent.

Coven – A group of no less than four and no more than 16 people who practice the Craft.

Coven of the Elders – Coven of four who represent the four elements and are charged as the defenders of all magikal people.

The Crone – Old wise woman, the mother to The Mother.

The Craft – The worship of the Goddess and the God in all their many forms. The Craft embraces both good and evil and the goal of worship is to find balance and inner peace.

The Crypt – Sacred room where the King communes with the Sacred Virgin and the Order.

Elite Covens – Covens with eight or less members from long magikal bloodlines. The term is unofficial and the status of a coven as elite has more to do with social standing than actual power.

The God – Lord of Rebirth, protector of the warriors.

The Goddess – Mother Earth, the spirit of all creation, provider of all power.

Governors – Group of aristocratic pure blood vampires who meet once a month to bring issues before the King.

The Maid – Daughter of The Mother, a girl or young woman who has not given birth.

Maturity – Time when a young vampire requires regular blood feedings to survive. Is unable to withstand sunlight after this time. Vampires prior to maturity have average human strength and endurance. After maturity they gain super-human strength and endurance. Happens during or just after puberty.

The Mother – Leader of the High Council. Always a woman who has given birth to a child.

Old War – War conducted over 500 years ago. Vampires and Witches fought for supremacy on Earth. Battle ended when the High Coven and the Royal Family came to a truce. The fighting has, officially, ended but each side is prepared for that peace to end at any time.

Oracle – Witches who see the future. In ancient times were sequestered from society and kept drugged so they would be open to the visions. In modern times the Oracles are regarded as charlatans due to abuse of the term by those who do not truly see the future.

Outer Realm – Where the souls of witches and vampires go after death to await reincarnation.

The Order - Mystical beings who rule over all vampire society. Dispensers of rewards and punishments. Considered omnipresent. Referred to as males but gender of the members is indeterminate.

Solitary - A witch who operates out of the coven system but operates within the confines of the Code. Are welcome in magikal society, but are regarded with suspicion by members of elite covens.

Vampire - Member of a species separate from that of homo sapiens. Vampires must drink blood. Primarily they drink from humans but the killing of humans is discouraged because of the risk of discovery. Vampires may be created by the exchange of blood if the human is strong, but the change is considered too violent to survive by most. Most vampires are the offspring of two vampire parents, however vampires may mate with humans. The children may or may not be vampires. Life span is indefinite.

Warlock – A magikal person who has broken the code or refuses to acknowledge the code. May or may not have been banished from their coven. Literal translation is oath-breaker. Considered an outsider and a person not to be trusted.

Witch – A magikal person who operates within the code. May or may not be in a coven. Witches commune with one of the four elements, their cardinal element, and if in a coven they will represent that element. Weaker witches operate in larger covens so their power is strengthened.

Chapter 1

It had been tracking her for the last three miles. She had sensed it after the sun had set and her awareness told her it was vampire. She felt its hunger rolling toward her making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Blood lust made the creatures do stupid things, she thought, and tracking her for a meal was the worst idea it had ever had.

Alexis Weston was standing under the awning of an abandoned gas station, stopping for a moment to catch her breath and come up with a strategy. Behind her a fluorescent light buzzed and flickered. She looked out into the darkness, knowing she was an easy target in the light, waiting for it to make a move. If it were desperate enough to attack her she would defend herself. She was not eager to be any creature's dinner.

Although a treaty existed between witches and vampires it was not unheard of for a witch to end up dead at the fangs of a vampire. However, Alex was no ordinary civilian witch. She was the Daughter of Fire, an elite member of the High Covens personal guard, the Covenant, and sworn protector of her people. Attacking a member of the Covenant was in violation of the treaty and she was fully within her rights to defend herself.

She found it odd that this vampire had been allowed to go so long without feeding. It was the custom among the higher ranks of the vampire families to see that all members were fed regularly. One renegade hunger stricken member could expose them all and destroy everything they worked to protect. He was either an outcast or too ill from blood lust to stop himself. It made little difference to her. Vampires who were stricken with blood lust were the most dangerous.

Two eyes reflected back the flickering light, and she snapped to attention. Stepping out from under the awning she let her coat fall off her shoulders. She needed to be able to move quickly if the situation required it, and her coat would only hold her back. In a flash of motion the eyes cut left. She did not turn but watched, sending out a mental probe to determine the creature's motives. His mind was a maze, but at the heart she felt his desire for her blood, and she knew he would stop at nothing to get it. His feral nature had taken full control.

Whispering the words in the old language that she had known since her first breath she summoned her birthright. Around her neck hung the symbol of her rank, a golden pendant inscribed with the ancient language with a glittering diamond in the center. The diamond in her pendant pulsed with light. Before her a thread of light shimmered to life. She reached out and grasped the light. It pulsed in her hand then transformed into a smooth wooden staff topped with a large red stone imbedded in curling wood. The Staff of Fire.

She had been chosen by the High Coven to wield this weapon in the fight to maintain the Balance among her people, and to protect them from outside enemies. She was a warrior, born to fight for her people and for justice.

The vampire stopped and crouched down in the tall waving grass. Any moment its muscles would spring to life and he would attack her with speed and strength she could not match were she a normal human.

With a blessing she began to pull energy from around her, calling on the Four Corners to protect her against the evil waiting in the night. At once her body began to hum, her senses heightened, opening to the light as the Goddess touched her soul. The power coursed through her and she welcomed it, embraced it as it brought forth the elemental nature of her being. Her eyes glowed red and were ringed with fire.

She turned toward her opponent and whispered with a smile, "Last chance to walk away.". A low growl was her reply. "Fine then. Bring it." The creature, as if obeying her command, began to charge. Alexis pounded her staff on the ground and fire erupted and encircled her. It would not stop him, but she hoped it would scare him off or, at the very least, slow him down.

With her left hand raised she imagined a brick wall between them, then pushed the wall out toward the charging male. The creature shifted, avoiding her blocking move.

Breathing deep she concentrated and shifted her weight to the balls of her fee, listening for his approach. A dagger whizzed out of the dark toward her. Lifting her staff it erupted into flame and vanished. Sweeping the staff forward she summoned an arc of fire aimed in the path of the vampire. The creature could not counter in time and the flame hit him in the arm. It howled with an inhuman shriek of pain. She watched, hoping for retreat, but as his eyes met hers she saw the madness in them, felt the blood lust, and knew that the only way to stop him was to kill him. Goddess help her.

Alexis crouched and then vaulted into the air, hovering there as she gathered the power. She cast her eyes down, looking at the creature and felt pity. Lifting the staff high over her head she prayed to the Goddess that his soul would be at rest as she called to her cardinal element. Swirls of flames grew up from the earth and surrounded her, her eyes narrowed and jewel in her wand began to glow. The Earth shook and the sky was torn apart by lightening as the fire within her shot from the jewel and struck the vampire directly in the chest.

His body began to quake, his skin blackened and began to crack before he crumbled into a pile of ash.

Alexis, Alex for short, woke to a cold dog nose in the face. Groaning, she shifted away and said, "Come on, Lillith, just go back to sleep."

Lillith, her basset, was single minded in her tenaciousness. When she needed to go out she would grumble and moan until she got her way. At the end of the bed was Judith, her beagle, who looked up at Alex and with a long-suffering sigh leapt down to join the grumbling Lillith on the floor.

"Two against one, as always," she said as she got out of bed and went into the kitchen.

She opened the back door and let the dogs run out on to the sun lit yard. Turning she pressed the button on her coffee maker and sighed with pleasure as the rich aroma filled the air. Lillith and Judith scrambled back into the house and started to dance around their supper bowls.

"Coffee first, then food, ok?" she asked as the phone began to ring. For a moment she considered not taking the call but she had one of her feelings. With a sigh she lifted the receiver.

"It is too early," Alex mumbled, sounding grumpier than she felt.

"Alex … Oh honey are you ok?" Maggie, the one who was Earth and the most sensitive of the coven was one the phone. Alex called her the little mother and today she sounded very worried.

"Yeah, Maggie, I'm cool. It is too early to be so upset."

"Alex, the High Council has called for you." The words reverberated in Alex's ears and she felt pinpricks of uneasiness in her neck. "Alex, I said …"

"Yeah, I heard you. Did they say why?"

"They never say why, you know that." Maggie paused, and Alex heard her take a deep breath. "Did something happen last night?"

"Listen, I'll meet you in thirty minutes at your place, ok? Call Regina and your brother and let them know the Council has called me … I want to talk to you three before I go to them."

"So, something did happen," she said, her voice quiet with worry.

"Yes, but it isn't a big deal … honestly. I'll see you in thirty, ok?"

"Yeah, see you then. Blessed be."

The connection was broken and she hung up the receiver. Why was the council calling her? She had already planned to inform the High Council of what happened. The vampire she killed last night had attacked her and she knew the Treaty.

Absently she began to twirl a lock of curly red hair between her fingers as she went to her closet to pull out her dress robes required when visiting the High Council. Rather than slip it on she placed it by her bag and dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt emblazoned with a Dallas Stars Hockey logo across the front.

The robe was beautiful and feminine, made of red and orange silk with black embroidery up the neck and around the hem. It was worn tied at the waist with a black silk sash. It should have made her feel beautiful, but when she wore it she felt nothing but awkward. Dresses, even dress robes, were not her thing. Jeans and a t-shirt were always her first choice. Alex had been a tomboy until she hit puberty. That is when her body betrayed her.

She had cursed her figure as a teenager and now, looking in the mirror, she still wished for a little less roundness in her hips and bust, and little more leanness in her face and legs. She trained hard five days a week and still she had softness about her figure that belied her strength. Leaning in she looked her self over. Her eyes were dark smoky green, her long red hair was worn in curls down to her shoulder blades, and her skin that was pale and smooth without the usual freckles most redheads had. For that she had always been grateful. This was the face, she thought, of a killer now. She was the first of her coven to kill and the thought made her shudder.

Alex had lived in Virginia for the last six years, but she was born in Texas and carried a wisp of that accent in her voice. When she was selected by the High Council to become a member of the Coven of the Elders she moved, but she only truly felt at home on the ranch she maintained in the hill country. She missed that place dearly at the moment.

It was a great honor to be selected as a personal warrior for the Council. It was not a duty she took lightly. Over the last six years she had dealt with her homesickness and her loneliness because the work she was selected to do was so vital to the survival of her kind. It was true that she had her brother and sisters in her coven, but as a member of the Coven of Elders it was discouraged for her to form bonds with normal humans, and no witch, male of female, would have her because of her status.

Turning, she picked up her bag and robes with hands that were not as steady as she wished. The feeling that her life path was shifting gave her a moment of panic. Suppressing the unwelcome fear with brutality, she told the dogs to behave while she was gone and got in her car. "Time to face the music," she muttered as she drove off.

Maggie's apartment was the epitome of trendy urban contemporary. It was modern, airy with splashes of ocean blue and apple green. The furniture was a mix of pale woods in clean simple lines and functional cloth covered seating arranged in clusters for easy conversations. The windows were dressed simply in sheer curtains and the walls were all sparkling white. It would look almost clinical were it not for the treasures Maggie had placed throughout the room. Figures from China, ceramics from South America, art prints from Italy dotted the shelves and walls.

Maggie was standing in the kitchen, pouring orange juice into a highball glass and pouting. She was tall and willowy with closely cropped blond hair and eyes so blue they made your eyes ache to look in them. Dressed in black wool pants and a gray sweater she looked like a supermodel, and it made Alex feel clumsy and awkward.

"So, are you going to tell me what happened now?" Maggie looked up and took a sip from her glass. She looked hurt and angry and Alex felt somewhat ashamed.

"Not yet … not until everyone's here." She moved to the window just as the front door slammed shut followed by the staccato raps of high heels against the wood floors. In swept Regina. She fixed a scowl at Maggie.

"I will have you know you pulled me away from the sale of the season, so this had better be good."

Regina dumped two stuffed shopping bags on the nearest chair and unwrapped herself from her cashmere scarf. Her body was trim, but round in all the right places. Black ringlet curls rioted around Regina's heart shaped face and her dusky skin and honey brown eyes glowed in the midday light. Men were always attracted to her, but Regina was attracted to women. Alex took in her trim gray slacks and vibrant red turtleneck and felt in her jeans and t-shirt woefully inadequate.

"Oh," said Maggie looking directly at Alex, "I have a very good reason. Little miss over there is refusing to say what she did last night, and then this morning gets a summons from the High Council."

"Alex," Regina turned, worry in her eyes, "what happened?"

"Like I told Maggie, not until we're all here. I don't want to go over it more than once." Alex turned to look out the window once again.

Fall had arrived and the leaves in the trees were starting to burst into vibrant color. This was one thing she enjoyed about living in Virginia. In Texas there were two seasons: Hot and warm.

"Doesn't want to go over it more than once," Regina muttered, pouring a glass of juice. "Think if you got into trouble you would call your coven, but no …."

"Pouting hardly suits you, Reg, and Maggie is doing well enough on her own." Alex smirked at her sisters.

Maggie looked down at her juice and said, "I'm not pouting."

"Clearly," said Alex rolling her eyes. "Anyway, you'd know what happened by now if your brother would ever get here Maggie."

They waited an extra thirty minutes before James arrived. Maggie and James were twins and like his sister he was tall, lean and blond with the same heartbreaking blue eyes. Unlike his sister he was a comedian. Alex supposed it was due to his childhood. His father, a former military man, denied both his wife's and his children's gifts and James often felt the brunt of his father's anger. James would not discuss his family issues in anything more than a superficial way and Alex knew it was to protect his sister. James might be a joker, but he was also loyal.

"Hey sis," he said, pecking his sisters cheek, "and hey sexy!" He wrapped his arms around Regina and twirled her around the room in a mock waltz.

"Get off me, James," she said, pretending to be annoyed.

"You love it, admit it!" He released her and saw Alex standing by the window. "And good morning to you my little firecracker."

"It's about time you got here," she said with a smile despite the nerves that skittered in her belly. Now that they were all here she settled on the couch and waited for them to settle so she could catch them up about the previous night. She told them everything. As she explained that she was faced with the choice of killing the vampire or becoming a victim, she chose to kill. Maggie gasped and put her hands over her mouth.

"Why didn't you call me," demanded James, a scowl darkening his eyes.

"Because I saw no reason to. I did what I had to do, and any of you would have done the same."

"Yes," said Regina, "but if the tables were turned and we hadn't called you, how would you feel?"

"You're right," she conceded, "I did what I had to do, what I thought was right, and I planned to go to the High Council myself today and explain. I do not want there to be a question of my innocence."

"We are here for you, Alex," said Maggie. "You are not alone. Trust us to help you."

"I know. I do trust you," Alex said, rising. "I was alone so long it is difficult to accept that I have support. I should change. No point putting this off any longer."

Slipping into Maggie's bathroom she undressed and slid on her robe. As she slid the silk over her shoulders she took deep breaths to calm herself. Nerves began to churn in her stomach as she left the bathroom to join her coven. They waited outside a circle of unlit candles that alternated with bowls of water, wood reeds, and jars of earth.

"Ready?" she asked. They nodded and the ceremony began.

"We enter this circle free of heart, with trust, love and peace," they spoke in unison as the crossed over the barrier and into the circle. Maggie raised her hands and said, "I call to thee, guardians of Earth. Keepers of heart and healing. Hear me, aid our magick and protect our circle."

"I call to thee, guardians of the Water," called James, "Keepers of insight and intuition. Hear me, aid our magick and protect our circle."

"I call to thee," cried Regina, "guardians of the Air. Keepers of knowledge and wisdom. Hear me, aid our magick and protect our circle."

"I call to thee, guardians of the Fire," called Alex. "Keepers of strength and courage. Hear me, aid our magick and protect our circle."

As the last words left her lips the candles burst into flame, the water in the bowls began to bubble, the reeds began to hum as the air stirred around them, and the ground beneath their feet began to quiver. The ritual was for Alex so she could safely pass into the realm of the High Council fully protected. The Council did not exist on any earthly plane and astral projection was dangerous if you did not have an anchor back to your body. In her circle she had three anchors and felt more than confident leaving her earthly shell with the circle's protection.

"I ask the Goddess for safe passage to the realm of the High Elders." Alex laid on the ground as her sisters took herbs and stones and placed them around her as a barrier to negative energy. "I ask you give my soul the ability to fly free of my earthly body that I may answer their call."

It never was easy for Alex to lift from her body and into the space above, but as she rose she felt the sudden jolt of freedom and reveled in it. Then, as if pulled by a chord, she found herself rushing through the planes of existence until she was standing before a grand stone table. In the center was a large cauldron that was bubbling and smoking. Before her sat the Elders, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. All three looked at her with eyes so similar it was as if looking into one person.

"We are the three aspects," said the Maid, "and we have called you before us today to answer for your crime."

"My crime, Maiden," she said with her head bowed.

"Yes," said the Crone, her voice deep with age, "you violated the treaty. You killed a vampire and you were unprovoked."

She wanted to cry out, defend herself, but to do so would only anger them. They would tell her, in their time, when she could speak and so she held her tongue.

"Very good," said the Mother, "you have learned restraint. It is a pity you did not exercise it last night."

"Why," said the Maid, "daughter of the fire, did you kill the vampire?"

"The creature was tracking me, and when it felt I was venerable it attacked. I probed its mind and found it crippled by blood lust. I tried to scare him off with a simple spell, but it would not be deterred. I am innocent of any crime, Great Elders. I feel pity for the creature and remorse for causing death, but I did it in self defense."

Alex lowered her head in respect as they whispered to one another. At length the crone said, "There appears to be a problem, child. We have been approached by the vampires. The one you killed is the offspring of a Governor."

"We feel pressed to tell you," said the Mother, "that the Order has called for your blood as payment for the death." The Order was the governing body that ruled over the vampire domain in much the same was as the Elders. Unlike the Elders they were fickle and rumored to be cruel.

Alex felt dizzy. The Elders surely would not sacrifice her on a whim. She kept her head lowered and kept her breathing even. The spicy smell of the incense burned for the Elders was making her dizzy and she wanted so much to sink back to her body, but they did not release her and they did not speak.

"Daughter of Fire," said the Mother at length, "we shall not allow for your blood to be spilled. We see into your heart and see the truth." She looked to the Maid who said, "There is no stain of guilt on your soul. However, there will need to be restitution paid, as is called for in the treaty."

"Tomorrow is the full moon," said the crone, "and for the cycle of three moons shall you repay your debt as a servant of the Chosen of the Blood."

"Servant," she gasped before she could stop herself.

"Young one," said the Mother, her voice suddenly stern, "for every death, no matter the justification, there must be a penalty. The Order has reluctantly agreed to forego your execution but they asked you personally pay the restitution. To this we shall agree. It is far better to serve for three moons than to be dead before the end of this one."

With those final words her soul was released and she dropped into her body, leaving her gasping for air. Her sisters took her arms and helped her up, her brother handed her a tea of restorative herbs. She drank it with shaking hands.

"Tell us," said Regina. "What happened? What did they want?"

"The vampire I killed was the son of a Governor. They wanted my blood, but the Elders saw the truth of my story. The Order demands restitution, and I shall be the one to pay it. For three moons I shall be a servant to the Chosen of the Blood."

"You are not serious," said James, his eyes bright with anger, "there was a misunderstanding. They can't mean it!"

"They do mean it. I got cut a deal. It was either this or I admit to killing the vampire unprovoked, and the penalty for that would be my death."

Maggie pressed Alex into a hug, weeping softly, and Regina rubbed her shoulders. "It will be ok," Alex said as much to comfort Maggie as herself, "it is just three moons."

"Yes, three moons with those savage monsters," James said. "Why would they allow this? They had to know your innocence."

"Yes, they said as much, but still the treaty demands restitution and this is the only kind that would satisfy the Order. You know the stories, how they can be cruel and kind all in one breath. I suppose I'm lucky."

While her coven did not agree with the decision there was no choice. Once called down there was no escape from her punishment. She only hoped she would be strong enough to survive three months with the strongest and most violent of vampires.