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This story is No. 2 in the series "Strategic Defense Worldwide". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: "The final chair to the right of center held the glorious beauty of Belle Morte, one of the oldest and most powerful of the members." The Vampire Council decides to make life interesting for Buffy and company.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > GeneralProCannonFodderFR182358,518210232,83430 Dec 0819 Feb 09Yes

The Forum

Order Of

Thanks to lckbyr for the great Manip...

Standard Disclaimer: You know the one where I own nothing and will make nothing from the wonderful characters (BTVS/ABVH) owned by those wonderful writers (Joss Whedon/Laurell K.Hamilton). What a wonderful world... BTW, you shouldn't really need to read the first story to follow this one, but hey what else are you doing? Go read it already!

Advocate Trask was not a happy vampire. First, when he had risen for the evening his Pomme de Sang had been in one of her moods. If she wasn't a gift from the council he would have killed the ungrateful whelp himself. Then Thierry, his human servant, hadn't picked up the dry-cleaning, so he had to dress in a suit that he usually reserved for more formal occasions. And now getting out of the limousine he had stepped in a puddle. Couldn't these damn mortals maintain simple roads. Was it too much to expect of the city's leaders. The lord knew how much he had to pay in for taxes to maintain his small but rather debonair chalet in a fine part of Paris, but did he have to repair the parking lots also. At least, thank the Sweet Mother, one of the council members hadn't ruined their seven hundred dollar Italian loafers. He just knew it would be his fault somehow if one had.

Walking along the corridor in a isolated part of the underground labyrinths, known as the Empire of the Dead because of it being used to entomb millions of plague victims in the middle ages, he scowled when one of the pole-axe wielding black armored men-at-arms didn't clear out of his way quick enough. Courtiers, soldiers, and blood cattle humans littered the hallways, but thankfully they parted for him. Anyone who worked in front of the council and who had such constant access to the praetor maximus was not a vampire one lightly annoyed. Slowing his pace to study the new cow that Councilor Morte D'Amour had brought with him here yesterday, his unhappiness was renewed. She was tall, a creamy dark complexion and she was perfect. She was his exact favorite type of cattle. If only she belonged to any other vampire than a council member he could have enjoyed her, heard her scream, savored her hot blood...STOP THIS, he scolded himself. Must not think such things. The praetor had given him one warning centuries ago. One warning is all that he would ever be given by the vampire that, while not a councilor, was the absolute ruler of the Council Forum and the soldiers it employed. The title Praetor Maximus translated to English literally meant tyrant and even the councilors tread lightly around the man that kept everything running so smoothly in the chaotic world of vampire politics.

Regretfully moving past the enticing woman, he continued further along the hallway. The men-at-arms becoming more numerous as he walked past the halls leading to the Councilor's Quarters and the private suites used for those unfortunates who found themselves having to testify before the council.

Finally coming to the main Conference Hall, he had to stop before the sargent-at-arms and submit to the undignified rituals all except the councilors, the guards and the praetor had to undergo to gain entrance. Using the gilt-edged black oaken table to hold his possessions, he undressed and submitted himself for the cursory examination. Then the praetor's sorcerer asked his silly questions gauging his intent towards the council itself. Passing that as he had every day for twelve centuries he then redressed, a young healthy cow there to aid in his efforts. Back-handing the cow just to make himself feel a little better and to enjoy the sergeant-at-arms's anger over the treatment of his little pet, he finally was allowed to approach the outer chamber.

A young human page was dispatched with a note to the praetor stating his arrival. As he waited for the permission to make it's way back, he fortified himself by taking a deep breath, his first of the day. They would not be amused by the fool that he had to report to them about. Why don't people understand the rule of law? Is it that hard to follow the rules, especially when your very existence is on the line? It would never cross his mind to break any of the council's mandates...ridiculous, some vampires would never learn. Oh well, the Praetor Maximus Cicero had a special room just for fools like that. The page, a little boy of nine or ten, finally deigned to return and the massive iron-clad doors were opened to him at last.

Following the proscribed path between the two ranks of men-at-arms, he knelt at the correct place, between the two naked female wooden statues, an angel on the left and a demon on the right. The council was currently listening to Praetor Cicero instructing them on proper protocol for probably the millionth time. Councilors Padma and Belle Morte truly disliked each other and would often use the rules of the council to jab at one another. The sessions would degenerate into chaos if the praetor wasn't always holding the leash to keep it in check and temper any emotions that could lead to duels or bloodshed, both strictly prohibited by the rules of the forum.

The Sweet Mother's throne as always, was empty. Though if one looked at it too hard a presence could be felt; certainly not a presence that one wanted to feel. The chair itself matched the table in the hall and had silver trimmed crushed black velvet cushions on it.

The next seat to the right was also empty, having been Mr.Oliver's. How Jean-Claude or the human servant that had so terrorized Padma had managed to kill the Earthmover is beyond imagination. The similarly styled chair would remain empty til some claimant found the nerve to step forward. Any could have it, but defending it, that was another question altogether.

Next in line came Morte D'amour. A perfectly French aristocrat with a waxed moustache and a penchant for renaissance clothing. He nearly always had a slight smile and what could easily be mistaken for kindness in his eyes. More than one doomed testifier had pleaded to him in hopes of mercy, mercy that had yet to be discovered. Out of all of the councilors he also had the largest staff, aides, advisers, lawyers and technicians crowded his area, all busily working on whatever he desired.

The final chair to the right of center held the glorious beauty of Belle Morte, one of the oldest and most powerful of the members. The small woman in stature with long dark hair was a vision of sin itself, she rarely ever raised her voice. A whisper from her held the weight of nations, and no one dared to miss anything she might say. Today's ensemble looked to be some sort of riding outfit. A form-fitting white split-leg dress that covered knee-high black leather boots with a flowing ruffled white top and a riding crop currently being tapped onto her thigh in annoyance for the praetor having stopped her fun at Padma's expense. Her favorite companion Musette, clad in her own matching outfit complete with a cute little white lace cap, sat at her side, making faces at Padma's servants.

To the left of the Great Throne sat The Dragon. Said to be a Roman noblewoman in life, she had still enjoyed that style in death. She was wearing a crimson embroidered toga in white silk, but without the female tunic underneath so that it left her right breast exposed. The dark swirling tattoos on the breast extended up her arm and danced their way to her very forehead. All of her attendants were clearly warriors, skirting the forum rules a bit, but the Praetor Cicero hadn't called her on it yet.

Next to her came the Traveler, a fearsome power he possessed. His current horse was a tall Asian man with scars on his forearms and a tattooed Dragon covering his chest. The Greek Toga was a light blue in color and he had an actual wreath woven into his hair. Balthazar, the tall human servant, stood behind his master as he always did, running his hands over the borrowed body. Trask shuddered knowing the feel of those hands; he would never...NEVER play with the truth around the Traveler again. The horse could see and feel everything that happened when Traveler rode them.

Finally at the end came Padma, the Master of Beasts. His servant, Captain Thomas Carswell was behind him in full British uniform, complete with saber and pistol. The Beast to Call, Gideon was at his other side in his normal white loin cloth, a golden collar on his neck with a leash leading to the councilor in the resplendent Indian garb. Various broken pets lolled around the chair, with today's menagerie including two leopards, a wolf, a fox, and two Irish Wolfhounds. He didn't bring very many cats as Belle's power called to them.

On a raised dais at the far side of the forum room, sat the praetor maximus's gold and silver trimmed Magistrate's Desk. Marcus Tullius Cicero was a legendary orator, philosopher and senator of Rome. No one knew exactly how he had faked his death, as he supposedly was beheaded by Marc Antony's legionnaires, and no one was absolutely certain who had been his sire. The belief was that the Sweet Mother must have done it as he appeared in his current role at his formidable power level almost immediately after his famous murder. He didn't wear the ancient styles, preferring modern Italian silk suits and expensive watches. He also wasn't a very tall man but anyone looking into his eyes knew instantly that he was a giant intellectually. His wit could almost flay the meat off of the bones of anyone who dared to break the forum rules of decorum. Even the council members found no difficulty in apologizing to him for a misstep, such was his standing in the forum.

Every task the council ordered fell to Cicero to accomplish. His right arm, the Captain of the Forum Guard, Maruk al Bandi stood at his post directly in front of the Magistrate's Desk. The captain was a severe man of great renown on the battlefields of the Crusades, many of the christians having the sight of his long black hair and sharp goatee being their last view on earth. He was attired as usual in his Arabian armor, silver chain mail over black leather and adorned with a black cape and a black turban ring around the pointed silver helmet he always wore. His wicked and legendary silvered scimitar secured in his sash.

"If it would please the masters, Advocate Trask will read into order a report on new business before the council...No objections being heard, Advocate Trask, please stand and deliver," Cicero recited as he amended the official notes to display the undertones between the respective members.

"Masters, I Advocate Trask, was approached by a vampire outlaw to the council." Well, that got their attention, Trask thought as all of the small side conversations ceased. "Vladimir of Romania, who has taken the prohibited name of Dracula, contacted me at my office here in the city. He...I find this difficult to even say..He would like to negotiate a deal with the council. He would like to be pardoned for his transgressions, made Master of the City somewhere in America, specifically in the state of California and he would like to be greatly rewarded for what he has to offer." Stopping to allow the inevitable laughs and protests, Trask then continued after Padma's colorful description of what the reward was likely to be. "Masters, he claims to have uncovered something called the Shadow Roads. These would be passageways....through this dimension and into another one. He claims to have visited this other land many times, and states that it is a near copy of our own with a few enormous differences. Knowing that I would dismiss these preposterous claims he brought me proof. Masters as you all know, Praetor Maximus Cicero's gavel is the very gavel used by William the Conqueror in his governance of England." Unwrapping the package in his hands he lifted a gavel up to be seen. "This masters, is that very same gavel from the other dimension."

"Captain, receive the exhibit and display it to the members before bringing it to me," Cicero commanded, his interest, and that obviously of all the members piqued.

Maruk showed the exact copy of his lord's gavel to each of the councilors to inspect before giving it to the praetor.

"I find that somehow this is indeed the same gavel," Cicero stated as he compared the two items. "If it is a forgery, it is an amazing one."

"Masters, if I may continue? In this other land there are areas of great power called Hellmouths. These are supposed to be places where the separation between the mortal world and the dimensions of Hell are the thinnest. These mouths are focuses for the creatures of that world. Vladimir states that after extensive exploration he has found only one breed of vampire, a bestial breed that doesn't need to sleep during the day, though it must stay out of the sunlight. These vampires look normal until the moment of feeding and then their faces are deformed into a demon's visage. They have the comparable strength, speed, and senses to a lycanthrope and they have little to no actual power. Vladimir is not convinced that these mongrels can even roll a human's mind. Therefore their feedings almost always end in death for the cattle. Also these Hellmouths discharge demons of similar stature and power to the vampires but of many varied and different body structures. Finally, masters, he testifies that in ancient days three wizards created a guardian for the people, one girl a generation was selected and received the power to fight and destroy these creatures. The slayers as they are known, are legendary and feared by the night walkers. Recently a great battle occurred and to win this battle, the chief slayer named...Buffy."

Snorts of laughter sounded until the praetor used his new backup gavel.

"Please continue, Advocate." Cicero was enthralled as the council appeared to be also.

"Slayer Buffy somehow empowered hundreds if not a thousand or more other young women and transformed them into slayers." Stopping as Belle Morte had signaled to Cicero that she had a question, she leaned forward and spoke.

"How would Vladimir of Romania have garnered this knowledge? I do not remember him to be a very stout warrior to have battled these fearsome girls."

"Master, he reported to me that these slayers except for the very powerful and experienced ones, of which there are only two, can not sense him as they do other vampires and the young ones have little protection from his gaze. In his encounters with these champions and their followers he managed to give two marks to the chief slayer's best friend, a man named Xander. From that he was able to learn all of their history, the existence of a council of humans that was purported to have guided these warriors, though that council in it's previous form was destroyed in that same battle, Of course he also learned their tactics and the power of their witches, who do seem to be extraordinarily powerful. In return for his complete aid, Vladimir requests the servant Xander to be brought here to full servitude, he would also request two of the newest slayers to be given in total to him, one of them to be groomed as a Pomme de Sang and the other to be made into a wolf to become his Beast to Call if it is possible that these slayers could become shapeshifters." Having concluded, Trask returned to his kneeling position and watched as the councilors spoke among themselves.

Traveler called for the floor. "I think, Advocate Trask, that you should contact Dracula and tell him to report here before us with full immunity."

"If it would be allowed, I would ask the council for one of these slayers for my own service," Trask asked with a hopeful look on his face.

"Do not worry, advocate," the Traveler responded with a hungry smile. "If it is as he says, then the slayers, I think, will be quite common around these chambers."
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