Twenty-Four

When we make it back to Central House the fighting is still in full swing. The vampires are holding nothing back as they attack each other, fists flying. The only safety seems to be that no one brought weapons to the party, aside from the giant scythe which thankfully no one seems to have found.

I lead the witches, Theo, and Jack backstage. Jack seems uneasy about being back at the place where he nearly lost his head, but he says nothing. When we make it behind the curtain I turn to them.

"Okay, here's the plan—" I start, but Elizabeth holds up a hand to stop me.

"We don't need your plan," she says, and I'm grateful because I honestly have no idea what I was about to say. She pulls back the curtain and the three witches of Elithia step out onto the stage to face their crowd.

Theo, Jack, and I hang back to watch as Elizabeth lifts one hand into the air. Christa and Ada quickly follow, and I feel a sudden electricity to the air. Then, and I can't quite believe it at first, the crowd freezes. Literally freezes, everyone mid-strike.

The three of them slowly lower their hands. Elizabeth takes one step forward, to set herself apart from Christa and Ada. She lifts her chin as she addresses the crowd.

"Citizens of Eithia—We come to you from high above this city where we have watched in disgust as you've let our creation turn into ruin. We took great care and pride in cultivating Elithia, therefore we will not stand for such ignorance to exist within its borders. From this day forward there will be no forced-donor system in Elithia. You will return your humans to their homes above ground. You will stop fighting amongst each other like animals and be civilized. You will work together to bring this city back to its peaceful, honorable roots. If you can't abide by my instructions you will be removed from Elithia. That is final."

She takes a moment to sweep her eyes across the crowd before raising her hand once again, and Christa and Ada follow. At once the crowd unfreezes, but they all drop their fighting stands and turn to face the stage. Everything is quiet for a moment.

"Who the fuck are you to tell us what to do," someone cries out. I search the crowd and find the culprit—a male vampire whose arms are crossed in defiance. Those around him push to get away from him, which turns out to be a smart move.

Without a word Elizabeth points a finger at the vampire and he disintegrates into dust. She waits a beat for the rest of the crowd to take it in, before asking, "Any other questions?"

The crowd is silent.

Elizabeth turns to us and points a finger. For a moment my heart stops as I think she's going to turn us to dust as well, but then she curls her finger inward. I look over to Theo as I realize she's motioning for him.

Theo clears his throat and squeezes my shoulder once before stepping out onto the stage. He walks past Christa and Ada to join Elizabeth at the front. Elizabeth turns back to the crowd.

"We have been silent, but always watching. What we've seen is that one person, above all else, managed to keep his inhibitions in check despite being in a position of great power. That person stands before you today."

She places a hand on Theo's shoulder.

"To my great displeasure, this city runs on democracy. If I had it my way I would appoint Theodore as your high ruler this very second. However, I respect the way Elithia wishes to make its decisions and will allow this to go to a vote. If you are in favor of this ruling, say 'aye.'"

I realize I've stopped breathing and take a sudden, sharp intake of air. I wait for the ayes to pour in, but the crowd remains silent. Theo stands perfectly still in front of them, the most vulnerable I've ever seen him.

"Aye!"

The lone voice belongs to Neil. I know it even before I spot him, hand raised high. He stares up at Theo with pride.

"Aye!" comes another voice, then another. The spill after each other like rain, starting slow before building to a thundering cry. I place a hand to my mouth and look at Jack, who nods in acknowledgement of this wonderful, historic moment that we're witnessing.

The shouts of approval continue for a while, but eventually quiet down.

"If you are opposed to the ruling, say 'nay.'"

I take Jack's hand without even thinking about it. He gives it a reassuring squeeze as we wait for the opposed to speak up.

"Nay!"

I search the crowd for the owner of the voice, but can't find them before another couple of voices shout out their opposition. I feel myself start to sweat, but the crowd becomes quiet once more. There's no denying that those in favor are much more abundant.

Elizabeth turns to Theo. "Do you accept the responsibility?"

Without hesitation Theo nods. "I do."

I can't help it—I break into applause like an idiot at the end of a movie. Theo turns back to me with his crooked grin, but it only lasts long enough to make my heart stutter before the crowd in front of him starts cheering along with me, tearing Theo's attention away from me.

Elizabeth takes his hand and raises it high into the air. "I present to you: Theodore Faulker, high ruler of the great city of Elithia!"

The cheering grows louder, and I wonder about the few naysayers. Will this overwhelming display of approval force them to accept Theo as their ruler, or will they leave Elithia? I realize that it doesn't matter, because either way Elithia will be a better place for having this man as their leader.

Theo lets his hand drop and steps forward to address the crowd. "It is a great honor to lead, and to serve you. As Elizabeth has said—Elithia will no longer be a city of horrors. We will provide all humans with the utmost comfort and respect as we work to integrate them back into their homes above ground. Anyone who has a problem with that can get the fuck out of my city."

The crowd breaks into applause at this. Theo lets them get it all out before continuing. "It is my hope that the witches of Elithia will grace us with their presence more often," he says, turning back to Elizabeth. Then, more quietly, he adds, "This is all thanks to the three of you, after all."

I could be wrong, but all damn three of them seem to blush at this. Elizabeth crosses her arms and lifts her chin. "Lets see what you do with the city before we make any promises."

Theo grins, and my heart can barely take it. Before he turns back to the crowd he locks eyes with me just long enough for a quick wink that nearly undoes me completely. Facing the crowd once more he clasps his hands together. "I've got some work to do, but something tells me we've got some celebrating to look forward to!"

The crowd cheers again, but Theo doesn't wait before charging off the stage in my direction. I open my mouth to congratulate him, but he stops me with a hard kiss. When he pulls back he's breathing heavily and his cheeks are flushed.

"This never would have happened without you, Princess."

I smile up at him. "You're probably right."

Jack's amused chuckle brings me back to reality. "So, what's next?" I ask. I turn to look back at the crowd and notice that the witches are gone. I'm disappointed, but not surprised.

Theo takes my hand and leads me toward the exit, Jack following at enough distance to give us privacy. "Well, I guess I need to appoint my court before doing much else."

Magda is over the moon when we make it to her house. "Over a century I've lived here, and for once I'm finally proud to call Elithia my home." Theo appoints her as his highest consult.

We all head over to Theo's house where Magda brews a pot of tea while Theo calls Neil, then Jenna, and a few other vampires who refused to stay on Matthew's counsel after his big announcement. While Theo is making his calls I watch in bewilderment as Jack and Magda discover that they have a lot in common, including a few friends above ground.

After an hour or so Theo finally joins us in the dining room. No sooner than he's taken a seat the doorbell rings. He sighs and makes to get back up, but Magda holds up a hand.

"You've had a long enough day, sir. Let me."

She hops up and goes to answer the door. I pour Theo a cup of the tea and ask, "So, is that everyone?"

He gives me a slight smile. "Not quite." He leans forward in his chair and takes both of my hands in his. "I know what you gave up for me, Princess, and I can never hope to even begin to repay that debt—but the least I can do is offer you a place on my court."

I look back and forth between him and Jack, who is doing his best to pretend that he's anywhere else. "But I don't live here, Theo."

Theo nods. "I know, and I don't expect you to. You've got more Chicago running through your veins than blood."

Jack snickers and I kick him under the table.

"But," Theo continues, "if Elithia is going to be the city I envision, we have to make peace with other supernaturals and especially the humans. Word is going to spread once we return the donors to their homes above ground, so we need to come up with a plan to keep us hidden. We'll need a liaison. Who better to help me with that than you?"

I bite my lower lip as I mull it over. "Well, I guess being a supernatural detective is kind of out of the question considering that I don't have supernatural powers anymore."

"About that…"

We all turn to see Magda re-entering the room holding a small teacloth. My heart skips a beat. "Christa was at the door," she explains, holding the teacloth out to me. "She said this is for you."

I take the cloth from her and immediately catch a glimpse of a smokey colored crystal. I look up at my friends, fighting back tears.

"I guess my life just got a whole lot busier."