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   Chapter 41 40.

On Her Knees By Chyna McCartney Characters: 22868

Updated: 2018-12-16 08:55

More than I could hear it, I could feel Giovanni's frame shaking with laughter behind me. His chuckling was low and the sound reverberated down the length of his broad, sculpted chest.

The court's officiant seemed less than amused by my antics, however.

"You would be wise to view this event as a matter of paramount importance; view this encounter with the utmost seriousness, " he warned, his palms pressed and spread flat against the cold surface of the desk as he leaned forward.

"Oh, I am taking this seriously, " I assured the blonde authoritarian. "But our motivations are in no way aligned. I can keep my smart comments to myself if you dial it back on the grandstanding. I was commissioned for a single purpose and I will fulfill that purpose to the best of my ability and nothing more. The 'nothing more' includes kissing your powdered ass, of course."

In response he ignored me, like older kids pretend to not be entertained by clowns at the county fair. It seemed to be the least he could do to not make a fool of himself in the presence of his adoring fan club and it pleased me to know that I had managed to wiggle my way under his paper-thin skin.

Generally addressing the audience, he declared, "Let it be known that I, Matthias Drake, High Chancellor 448th, now preside over this meeting of the High Court of In Umbrā."

As a collective voice, the other members of the council and the surrounding audience responded, "Intrābit, Matthias Drake."

The fact that they were speaking in Latin wasn't the eeriest part however, but, it was the way it was spoken. In every breath and on the tip of every tongue, an uncanny sense of reverence was liberated in response to their cult leader. It lingered in the air, poisoning the amicable surroundings Matthias Drake's open arms attempted to create and it raised the hairs on the back of my neck and every exposed skin on my body. My skin was suddenly crawling and itchy in the lace dress now.

"State your name, witness, " Matthias commanded.

Giovanni placed a hand on my shoulder from behind, still protective as ever.

"Teryn Gardiner, " I replied. There was no acknowledgment of my response, not even any hissing or growling from the bloodthirsty audience.

Matthias was drunk with the power that his cult following fed him. The arrogance it afforded him glistened in his deep blue eyes.

"Teryn Gardiner stands before you as witness, " he declared to the waiting crowd and they responded this time.

It was as if they hadn't heard a thing I had said or they simply refused to accept it unless it came from the lips of their beloved prophet.

"Subeō, Teryn Gardiner, " the collective muttered in response.

Matthias was gloating like a villain in a children's movie, yet, he tried his best to remain composed. This was his element—his playground and I'd be lying if I said he didn't look at home in his role as a beloved dictator.

He presided over them as if he were their god. "Prostrate yourself before the Court, " Matthias ordered. "Kneel on your left knee with your hands clasped behind your back in complete submission."

The word 'submission' rolled off his tongue in an almost sexually suggestive manner. "Honor this righteous assembly with your candor."

I suppose he was used to this—looking down at the world from his throne on high, but his words held very little sway over me. He wasn't at all intimidating and his arrogance was more pathetic than admirable, but the crowd seemed to just drink it all in. They hung onto his every word.

"And to whom do I swear to be honest?" I asked him. I might have even been addressing the entire room with that question.

"To you? Is there a bible that I can swear upon and grovel over? Must I swear to God or do people like you not believe in such a concept? I imagine you would care even less for the idea of a deity than all the individuals gathered here in this assembly, Matthias. You obviously imagine yourself to be an equal with God himself."

"Mind your tongue, child, " Matthias bellowed. He was immediately irate and his stony face was frozen in angry lines.

"You did ask for candor, " I shrugged. I didn't look behind me at Giovanni, for fear that I wouldn't be able to contain my laughter. I was willing to be snarky—a little sarcastic even but, I was certain that spontaneous outbursts of laughter were grounds for being found in contempt of court. If my experience with being in captivity was sufficient to provide any form of chastening where my actions were concerned, I was willing to bet that I would be less than thrilled to have to spend a few hours in this realm's version of a prison cell.

"And be assured that sarcasm shall never be tolerated in this assembly, " Matthias countered. "You are but a guest in our midst; you are here only by the grace and mercy of the Court. It would be truly unfortunate if you had to be reminded of that."

I waved the proverbial white flag not out of fear but because I was genuinely bored with all the showboating. If he could be made to believe that he was in control once more then we could finally get this whole which hunt on more persuasive evidentiary footing. All this attention was exhausting for me.

So, bending at the waist, I spread my arms out in a semicircular motion in front of me. It was a sweeping gesture aimed at Matthias in a sort of faux pas offering of submission—as if to say to the High Chancellor: "You have the floor now."

His response was more dismissive and instead of addressing me directly, he turned to Giovanni who now stood beside me.

"You would be wise to inform your human of the relevant protocol for the occasion, Lord Moretti."

The vampire in question shrugged, a graceful movement of his broad shoulders. The fine muscles in his face moved ever so delicately as he spoke. "She is not my property. She can be held accountable for her own words and as such, I see no reason why I should be charged with policing her speech. Even in that regard, I have yet to hear a word or phrase with which I object."

I scoffed, "And if I had said something you were offended by, what would you have done then? Would that have been the suitable time for you to chastise me?"

The confusion was spread clearly across his gorgeous face when he turned to me. "No Teryn, " he spoke plainly. "I am not here to belittle you, I support you—I stand with you."

In that moment, I felt the strength of our connection more strongly than I had before. It was wrapped around us like thick, steel cables, pulling us closer to each other than we physically were.

It shown brighter than even the golden sunlight filtering in from the enormous windows above. It was all consuming and for a moment, I forgot where I was and didn't care to remember.

My only compulsion; the weight keeping me tethered to

their interaction with me kind, had still made them so detached.

"It goes beyond the blurred lines of inferiority or superiority of opposing races. This tug of war between the humans and the vampires has nothing to do with the argument behind this case. This is about what is right and decent.

I was maimed brutally. My back is thick with healing scars for protesting my wrongful imprisonment. I was locked in a room for weeks, enduring systematic physical and psychological torture using fire because accusations were brought against me without due process or proof. While I cannot claim to be innocent in all of this, innocent young women lost their lives because one of your kind wanted to spite me, a human: someone presumed to be so insignificant in your stratification of the world around you.

This institution of violence and sex is simply heinous and sadistic and if you cannot fathom that then, the real argument for this witnessing hearing goes beyond whether or not these brothels need to be dismantled. This is about moral accountability and as men and women responsible for the reputation and legacy of this empire, you must see why it is imperative to eliminate any practice or institution which might pose a threat to that."

The silence that followed was deafening, Hundreds of frozen porcelain statues stared forward at the spectacle that was before the. In my head, the 'it-was-like-I-sprouted-a-second-head" analogy seemed rather inappropriate for this situation. I doubted that a scenario like that would be as surprising for a race of monsters such as those in this glorified bunch.

They just seemed truly perplexed that I would dare to challenge not only their ancient, societal structure, but the amoral fabric that every institution and every pillar of strength and authority was woven into across the entire realm. I had obviously over stepped my boundaries, but nothing would make me swallow my words.

"That's enough, " Matthias all but screamed out, finally breaking the silence in the enormous courtroom. "This Court has heard enough, and this hearing is officially adjourned." His fists hitting the surface of the table was like the proverbial judge's gavel.

"You have presented insufficient evidence to warrant a formal investigation and prompt legal arrests of the parties you accuse of behaving so heinously."

"You cowards, " I spat back, lurching forward without thinking.

Images of Maple's lifeless eyes and her blonde hair sprawled across the oak floor of the hull of the boat flashed through my mind. I saw Cassidy and Bailey's naked, bloodied and broken bodies strewn across cold concrete.

I remembered the way her fragile frame shuttered on the edge of the bed in the room we once shared in brothel. And in the crowd, I saw Melanie's face, her grey eyes the color of molten steel and it was reminder of the things I stood to lose without the justice Giovanni and I were fighting to attain. I could imagine how terrible the outcome might have been had our joint efforts not been successful in freeing her.

The bottom line was that I knew for who and for what I stood, and nothing would make me back down.

Luckily, Giovanni caught me before I was able to take another step toward the waiting ambush. "It is not worth it, my love, " he whispered close to my ear and his arms encircled my waist.

From several feet away, Matthias Drake wore a knowing grin, like a man aware of his own strength and influence and confident that he knew that an encounter between us would not end in my favor. He closed the folder dramatically, "Indeed, it is not worth it, Ms. Gardiner. You must produce more significant evidence of crimes committed. Deliver the names and images of victims. Documented histories of captivity and abuse. Logs detailing the dates and manner of death of those who you claim to have lost their lives. Only then will the Court be in a better position to deliver an affirmative decision."

"Understood, High Chancellor, " Giovanni replied as he turned my body toward the exit. Guards appeared from the shadowy, unlit corners of the room to open the gigantic doors and allow us amicable passage.

I was being hauled from the room against my will but the rational part of my brain that still managed to remain active, knew not to protest.

To my back, Matthias called out to me: "Name your assailants, Teryn Gardiner."

That stopped me in my tracks and without turning to face him, I replied: "Marcus Tilé. He who reports to Armand Cesaré. I am certain that you have heard of them."

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