A significant fraction of people were not at the second night of the Council of the Goddess. Nearly half of those who had been on the council were dead. Some symbionts were now without their Ina, and some Ina no longer had the symbionts who came with them. The eastern and southern wings of the Davescu mansion were destroyed.
Oscar Silk once again explained how his former youngersons contacted his brother Russell and tried to incite them to attack our community. Momma, Aidan, and Ciaran confirmed the five Silk sons who had been adopted away were dead.
“I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened,” Elizabeth Ahkmatova said quietly. Those who remained chose her to proceed over the broken Council, and she sat pensively for a time as the rest of us sat silently, mournfully. Then, she stood with Jakob’s microphone. “We know now the reason the Bassanos were killed, and who attacked the Matthews family and their community. As the murderers have been disposed of, I think it is best that those of us left on this council move to close the issue.” Each family left at the tables accepted the motion, and Elizabeth nodded. “Many families now need to return home, alert symbionts, brothers, sisters, and mothers and fathers of who among us is no longer here.” Some symbionts were still crying over their lost bonded and friends. “I, for one, am grateful to Shori and Ruby Matthews, and to Aidan and Ciaran Sullivan for their bravery against this rogue group of sons who tried to destroy us all in their rage and hatred. We cannot forget, however, that it is the Sullivans who are also on trial here. The sons’ gallantry cannot erase the crimes of their fathers. So, the ruling.
“I am oddly grateful to know that these two incidents are isolated, that war has not bled out into other families around you,” Elizabeth said to both the Vetrovs and Sullivans. She looked to her family with stern eyes. “Though we are of a relation, I must remain neutral and have done so in my vote. We, the Council of the Goddess, order the Vetrov family and the Sullivan family to cease fighting. You are to return to your main properties following this Council. For the next three hundred years, you are not allowed within fifty miles of each other’s main or remote properties, these being in England, Ireland, the United States, France, Belgium, Russia, and the Ukraine; or within 1,000 feet of each other’s immediate families, these being the Ahkmatovas, Jelineks, Rosricus, and the Guions, and mated families of the youngerchildren, presently including the Matthews. After the three hundred years, if the Vetrovs and the Sullivans seek a treaty of peace, they may engage each other with a neutral party as witness. Violating this sentence will result in immediate execution.” Elizabeth turned to the Sullivans. “Antaine, Ailin, Evan, do you accept this sentence?”
Antaine looked at his sons, and a weight of sadness washed over his face as he looked at the empty seat beside him. He stood with his microphone. “Kean was my eldest child. His brothers looked up to him. His sons and daughters loved him dearly.” One of the Guion daughters whimpered, and the sister beside her pulled her close. “I thought there was no worse pain than losing my brothers and my fathers…but to lose a son…” His voice was whisked away into a whisper as he lowered his head. “If I could take back what happened to Artem and his sons, I would, knowing now what that pain feels like. I accept the sentence.”
Ailin stood and cleared his throat the way men who fight crying do. “I accept the sentence.”
Evan followed. “I accept the sentence.”
Elizabeth nodded solemnly, then turned to the Vetrovs on the opposite end. “Nicolai, Vanya, Pascha, Alexei, do you accept the sentence?”
Nicolai stood and nodded. “I accept the sentence.”
Vanya stood, and for a moment he looked down at the table pensively. His brow furrowed. He began to shake his head and whispered, “I cannot accept the sentence.” Everyone turned to look at him. The sad silence in the room resigned to tension and anxiety.
Nicolai stammered briefly before he looked to Elizabeth. “Vanya needs time to think about…”
“I need no time. I cannot accept this sentence.”
“They killed our son and our three youngersons. They will not be punished for that?”
“Do remember, Vanya, that had your plans succeeded, they would have met the same fate,” Andrew Westfall said firmly. “Despite the outcomes, the intent to kill was the same, and that is what we measure per our system.”
“So their youngersons get lauded as heroes while we mourn the murder of ours? We lost four sons! How dare you try to compare your pain to ours,” he said towards Antaine, whose pale eyes still filled with anger towards Vanya, but he said nothing. “You still have two sons and your two youngersons.”
“Many of us lost sons tonight, Vanya,” Ana Moriariu said. Her entire male family was now dead.
“And now their murderers are dead while the murderers of mine still stand.”
“Please give us a moment to discuss this,” Nicolai said to those on the council. He didn’t wait for leave as he pulled Vanya towards the nearest exit.
Elizabeth looked to everyone around her, who nodded their consent. “We will have a ten minute recess so that—”
Vanya pushed Nicolai into the wall and punched through the fire glass to grab the axe inside. The symbionts near him screamed and scattered as he ran through the seats, towards my mates. Despite his wild speed, everything happened before my eyes slowly. Aidan moved to parry Vanya’s swing, but Vanya dodged him and hacked into his side. He cried out and doubled over. Vanya removed it, raised it to strike Aidan again, but Ciaran jumped in the way. It only took one shift of Vanya’s arm. I felt myself screaming but could only hear the crunch of the blade meeting Ciaran’s spine. Antaine cried out, and Ailin and Evan, their daughters. Ciaran’s head fell from his shoulders as Nicolai and many other Ina males tackled Vanya to the ground. My father-Daniel had a tight grip on my waist. I had been trying to run forward, but he caught me. A symbiont fainted, and my legs stopped working beneath me. Poppa stayed his grip to keep me from hitting the floor. I was still screaming. He cupped a hand over my mouth and shushed me as he rocked me. I wailed into his hand, squeezed my eyes shut in the hopes it was a nightmare that only felt horribly real.
There was another smack of the blade hitting bone, then Nicolai almost shouting. “Accept the sentence, dammit! This ends now.”
Besides my wailing and the moans of the Guions, all had gone silent. Pascha and Alexei accepted the sentence. Momma kissed my cheeks and hair and tried to shush me, too. The sound of gurgled fluid arose as I finally lost the will to utter any sounds of my own.
“We can still get him to a doctor,” Margaret said. “Tim. Stacia, is he home?”
“Yes, I’ll call Marta.”
Poppa steadied me as I turned to see what was happening. Antaine and Ailin were lifting and taking Aidan away. His side, chin, and mouth were stained with his blood. He looked like he was flailing, but after a moment, I realized he was trying to reach for Evan, kneeling over Ciaran’s body rocking and gasping. Sadé Guion came to kneel with him, mourning my mate. Nicolai had the axe now, and he stood over his brother’s body, trembling as he shook his head.
The Sullivans took a helicopter to our community, where Dr. Corbray and his assistants awaited them. We flew home after the conclusion of the Council. Dr. Corbray had sewn and stitched Aidan’s side shut. Ailin, who had given his blood for transfusion, was eating a raw slab of beef in the guest house when we arrived there. He still came to me with a hug that I fell into eagerly.
“I’m so sorry we brought this upon you,” he said, his voice weak. “You shouldn’t have to endure this pain.”
I couldn’t speak. I felt so numb. I was very aware of being without a mate, that I would never see one of them ever again. The child inside of me would be without one of its fathers, would never meet the one who conceived him. I thought of Ciaran’s touches, his dark eyes, his soft voice. They were all gone. He was gone.
Grief constricted my lungs and my throat, and I took a dizzy step away from Ailin. Stacia put a hand on my shoulder to steady me. “You need to go rest.”
“Come on,” Clint said softly. He swept me up, and I buried my face into his shoulder as he took me home.
Antaine sent me two of Kean’s symbionts and one of Ciaran’s. Momma warned us the transition would not be pleasant for them, and I imagined the last thing they wanted on top of their sadness was to not feel the pleasure of their bonded’s bites, but without a new Ina they would die. I went to each of them in their new rooms and let them cry against me after I drank from them once a day, adding them into my feeding cycle. I was with Rebekah on the fourth evening since we’d been back when Momma came to tell me Aidan was healed and asking for me.
When I went down to the guest house to see him, Jay’s brother Gary was taking away a plate. I kissed his cheek as he left the room and then gave Aidan a weak smile. I hadn’t smiled for days. I wasn’t sure if I remembered how.
“You look better,” I said. He had been near torpor the second day, but since his stomach wasn’t injured like mine had been, he was able to eat and heal at a regular interval.
“I feel better,” he said. He moved his arm back to show me the dotted stitch marks and the grayish surface where the axe had hit him. I touched his side. He was missing a rib, but it would grow back. “I’ll have a nice battle scar for another day.”
Aidan lifted me into his lap, and I kissed his jawline. He craned his neck to peck my lips, then let me rest against him, rubbing my hip as I played with a lock of his hair. We sat there silently. I felt his sadness. He had called for his father-Kean and Ciaran many times in his sleep. I knew his dreams were haunted.
“There was so much about Ciaran you’ll never get to see,” he said lowly. “He was so serious almost all of the time, like our father-Kean, controlling everything and making sure even the littlest things were in order. I often had to remind him that I was the eldest. I think he was born an old man.” I chuckled. Aidan smoothed down my hair and kissed the top of my head. “I only ever saw him act his age after we met you. He was lovesick for you.”
I closed my eyes as that now familiar feeling of grief washed over me. “I loved him.”
Aidan sat silently again, and I ran my thumb along his scar. I sensed something else from him and was confused by it. He seemed sad, but in a different way, and anxious. He trembled as he spoke again. “If you need me to…I’ll do what I can to live up to…to what he was to you.”
I frowned and sat up to meet his eyes. He lowered his gaze. He didn’t think I loved him.
I knelt over his lap and lifted his chin. “I loved Ciaran, but I love you just as much. I didn’t choose you because I chose him. I chose the both of you because I wanted both of you. You don’t have to do anything else to make me love you, Aidan Sullivan, and I don’t ever want to hear you talk like this again.”
His eyes shined in a way I hadn’t seen an Ina’s shine before. I kissed his lips softly but assuredly, and he cupped my jaw to kiss me back. Then, I pulled his head to my chest and held him to me. As he clung desperately to my body, I felt a tiny drop of water splash down onto my arm. Aidan brought his hand to his face and pulled it away. We stared at his wet fingertips, I with a confused, furrowed brow. Soon after, his lids started to flutter closed, and then, he was asleep.
I crept away to call Martin, a symbiont of my elderfather William Gordon, to ask what it meant. Martin knew all there was to know of Ina history. “It’s rare, but it happens,” he told me. “Just when you think you understand how you guys work, you go and do that.” I smiled warmly as he chuckled. “From what I’ve read, the Ina body handles emotions almost like a human body. An Ina’s threshold for emotions, of course, is much higher and a little more complicated. You all can handle one emotion at a time very well, but like us, strong emotions can get overwhelming. Too many intense feelings affecting the brain, the heart, blood pressure, and the body needs to relieve that stress or it gets sick. For Ina, once you reach your threshold, tears come, and then the body shuts down. It happened much more frequently during your feudal times. Anger, despair, grief, adrenaline, all at their peak: that’s what Aidan is going through right now. When he wakes up, he will be okay.”
Aidan slept through the next evening, and after he awoke the following night, he said his goodbyes to us, thanked us for all of our help, and flew home without his fathers.