Originally published on January 27, 2024. Unbeta'd.

I own nothing of the Black Jewels Trilogy or any of the following novels. All rights go to Anne Bishop. Thanks for Reading!

BJT:ANW

Chapter 22: Offering to the Darkness

December 30th, one week later, The Keep of Ebon Askavi.

It did end up being a little over a solid week later before Arina was able to declare her Court and take official rule. She had spent individual time with every soon to be member of her Court while she was recovering, while also having meetings with Draca (and, presumably, Lorn, but no one could say for sure and Arina certainly wasn't telling) and Saetan and Jaenelle mixed in. The end results of that were that everyone was as prepared as they could be for the official ceremony of Arina choosing her court males, and there was already a statement drawn up to be signed and sent out for delivery as soon as everything was done, before anyone even started to celebrate the formation, and notices had already been sent out as to the final date of the naming so that no one was to be caught unaware across the Realm…the Realms…of what was about to occur.

Of course, there were several members of Arina's to be court that felt strongly that if someone was taken by surprise by this, then they absolutely deserved everything that would come after for them, because they had to be an idiot.

So as the sun began to set on the appointed day, people started to gather in the atrium above what the younger generation were assured was the Dark Thone, and waited with various levels of anxiety for the gong to sound. Everyone was dressed up, however uncomfortable some of them felt about it, but the room still felt quiet. The size of the room was part of that, the massive ceilings and pillars dwarfing every single being in the room, despite the fact that there were some very much not small Kindred in the gathering room, and everyone had perhaps too much space to brood and wait.

The High Lord was holding a glass of Yarbarah and staring at the massive doors with a strange but intent look on his face, with Lucivar Yaslana standing next to him, looking a little sad, or just like he felt that something was missing. The older occupants of the room were, subtly and not so subtly, looking around the room with nostalgic gazes—which was interesting to Quinn, who was standing by a pillar and watching everyone intently, as the room was very bare.

It was fascinating to see the gathering of the original Dark Court in the Keep, and Quinn found that he almost couldn't look away. He had met some of them individually, but it felt like a very different thing to meet them as a whole, to see Prince Chaosti of the Dea al Mon interacting so naturally with Lady Kalush of Nharkhava, though they should not by any other standards be comfortable with each other. And all of it in view of massive blackwood doors that lead to the Dark Throne, which was a level of intimidating pressure that Quinn almost didn't know how to handle.

Not for the first time and not for the last, Quinn sent a silent thank you to the Darkness for the lessons that Prince Saetan had been giving him for the past two years on how to properly Steward the Dark Court, because it was about to really begin.

The sounding of the gong echoed through the entire Keep, and this atrium room was likely the only place where people were at the time, so that wasn't entirely necessary. Of course, there could still be other Guardians and members of the Keep's staff that were not here, but for the most part, there wasn't much need for that kind of mountain wide summon…at least not now.

The massive doors creaked open, and there was a long moment where everyone stared at the dark opening in the wall, and Quinn realized that there was nothing in any of the books of Protocol that he knew, or what he had been taught, that covered this moment.

Who was supposed to go first?

Then there was a shifting as Saetan turned to look directly at Quinn, and Farostel stepped up to Lucien's side, and the both of them also looked at Quinn.

The Queen's triangle was the one meant to lead the way, then. Quinn slipped away from the pillar he had been leaning against and tried to project at least a little confidence as he went up to them. It wasn't the easiest thing when surrounded by living legends, but no one said anything so he felt that he couldn't have done that bad of a job.

Walking down the stairs to the Dark Throne was a surreal experience that was only compounded by the presence behind him of the High Lord of Hell and the Consort and lover of the Queen of the Darkness, for all that Jaenelle hadn't been seen in the atrium before the call came, so she had to be ahead of them—which did make it worse.

Once in the throne room, with the hall lighting up slowly around them as the crowd moved slowly forward, illuminating a space far more massive than it felt like should be possible. Of course, then the light hit the far wall, and a bas-relief started to light up, which drew everyone's attention, with how deeply evocative it was. Quinn didn't know where to look on it, eyes flickering from figure to figure.

Witch, throughout the history of the Blood.

And a dragon head on the right of the throne, eyes open and steady as Prince Lorn, last remaining true Dragon, waited for the throne to be filled.

Quinn made a strangled sound, and a heartbeat later, he wished the ground would open up beneath him and swallow him entirely when huge, glittering eyes flicked to his. It was only a moment, but it was both the most glorious and terrifying moment of his life and also very, very embarrassing that he had drawn it by squeaking like a crushed mouse. Lucien's hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed hard, which was honestly something of a relief—he wasn't the only one feeling the pressure.

When the shadows behind the throne room rippled, the bas-relief looking like it was twisting in place, the room's attention sharpened to a knife point, and then were surprised when Jaenelle was the one to emerge from nothing—or more accurately, to look like she had melted out of the relief, and pause next to the throne. Then all she did was nod a slow incline to show respect to the room, then stepped down and walked over to join her husband by the wall.

While everyone had been distracted by that, Arina materialized, having passed through the bas-relief while everyone watched her predecessor. She wasn't hiding anything, and the older crowd could compare to when Jaenelle formed her court while looking human, Arina wasn't even pretending to hide anything. Her gown was black cobwebs and widow's weeds, just like Jaenelle's Witch gown, but Arina also had silver threads woven throughout to match her eyes. The gown was only just not completely sheer, but had patches of sheer sections that exposed a good chunk of her stomach and legs, while tightening to be opaque over her breasts and groin areas, leaving everything else for view. Her scales glimmered in the darkness, setting off her eyes and drawing attention down her face and neck. Her wings were enormous shadows in the dark, when she spread them briefly before tucking them away again.

On her head was a circlet crown of intertwined silver and black, and set in the center of it was what could only be an Ebony jewel. It was flanked by Black pieces, and then by her Birthright Red. She also held in her hands the famed scepter of Jaenelle Angelline, with the unicorn horn and all. No one would ever know what had passed between the two women for Jaenelle to relinquish the tool to her successor, but it had a very loud and frightening presence.

She stepped forward, until she was standing next to the throne, and rested her fingers on the arm before looking at everyone gathered in the room. "I am Witch, and I am here to claim my seat as Ruler of the Black Mountain," she announced, and then sat down as a full hush hit the room. "The time has come for me to take up my duties, and choose my court."

The silence in the room was positively charged now. Jaenelle's court backed up so that they were against the far walls, closer to the stairs, leaving the others to spread out a little more and get slightly closer to the throne.

"Prince Daemonar, will you serve in the First Circle?"

Daemonar knelt and placed a fist over his heart, his expression too intense to be joy but couldn't quite be anything else. "I will serve."

"Prince Yaslana, will you serve in the First Circle?"

"I will serve."

And so it went through the Coterie: Prince Andulvar, Prince Jasper, Lord Morton, Lord Leon, Prince Dmitri, Lord Jonathon, Prince KaeAvaski, Prince Jaal, (second circle) Prince Aiden of the Unicorns, and Prince Janos from the children of the Dark Court, and wasn't that just a lot of Warlord Princes. Then on top of that Prince Raleigh, Lord Jace, and Prince Hunter, adding another one to the pile.

Quinn, Farostel and Lucien had been warned by Lucivar and Saetan to expect Arina to move onto the females of the court before calling her Triangle, so none of them were shocked when next Arina turned to Rose.

"Lady Rose, will you serve in the First Circle?"

"I will serve."

Lillian, but not her older sister Rillian per agreements, Titian, Emerald, Lauranna, Astira, Augustine, Alexandra, Reyna, Jasmine, and Mirabelle, it left Arina's court mildly imbalanced on the male side, but that was going to be Arina's problem, and would likely even out after the court settled a bit.

Turning to the three males still uncalled at the front of the room, Arina studied them for a single heart-stopping moment before rising and stepping towards them. She used one of her claws to slit her wrist open, and more than a few eyes were instantly fixated on the dripping blood.

"Prince Farostel, will you serve as my Master of the Guard?"

"I will serve," He said, voice very low and husky. He knelt and pressed his lips to the cut before rising and stepping back.

"Prince Quinn, will you serve as my Steward?"

"I will serve," Quinn only barely didn't choke up—he was so very young, for this position and the implicit trust with it, but if Prince Saetan thought he could do it, then he would be proud to do so. He also knelt to take blood from her wrist before stepping away and allowing her to turn her full attention on Lucien.

"Prince Lucien, will you serve as my Consort?"

There was a pause as they stared at each other very intensely. There weren't even any psychic threads that anyone in the room could sense, just them staring very hard at each other like they were trying to learn something new just from looking. Or, alternatively, like one of them was hiding something and the other was trying to find it.

Or maybe it was just a very love-struck pause as Lucien would be certain that she wasn't ever planning to get rid of him, not with the blood offering.

"I will serve."

And so rose the Black Court of Arina Julianne Valini, Witch and Dreams Made Flesh, Kaeleer's Hope Returned.

BJT:ANW

The party that resulted from the naming of the Court was unquestionably the most intense thing to have happened since Jaenelle's court formed, at least celebration wise. For one thing, while the Keep held a celebration that was open to all members of the former Dark Court, and therefore representatives from almost everywhere in Kaeleer, including a number of Kindred that hadn't been seen since the days of the Dark Court by anyone outside their Territories other than Jaenelle herself, there were also celebrations happening in individual Territories as massive amounts of people celebrated a stabilizing influence re-established over the Realm. After all, the Dark Council had never gotten back up off the ground after they had been wiped out in Jaenelle's Purge almost three decades back, and while some might say that was a good thing, others disagreed. Prince Saetan was one of those who disagreed, despite not exactly having fond memories of the last round of the Council members.

Having a ruler at the Black Mountain who didn't rule any Territory but the direct area around the Keep, but who also connections across the Realm almost everywhere but Little Terrielle, which had not yet even really started to recover from what had been done to it, was a desperate relief to those who had seen nothing good about the way that the Territories were starting to close up after Jaenelle stepped down.

Shalador Nehele and even Dena Nehele were holding celebrations in Terrielle, with their connections to the Keep and the Dark Court letting them know what was happening far better than anyone else in the Light Realm could, and their connections across that Realm meant that there were also a number of smaller celebrations there, though those ones were far more desperate and needy than the ones in the Shadow Realm.

The Shadow Realm could safely say that they only needed the stability of the kind that the Mountain could offer, to hold on and let the wounds, almost scars, of the Realm safely heal under a steady and strong hand, but the Light Realm was still desperately bleeding out, even several decades after the Purge. They needed the Mountain to help them, and with the word of a new Queen at the Black Mountain, and knowing that the previous Queen (Court? rumors unclear) had already helped stabilize a Territory in their Realm gave them a hope that there could be something better.

Even if that help did split a Territory in half. It was still better than dying, better than wasting away from the rotting would that just would not heal.

So celebrations were happening across two Realms, and a massive throw down party at the Keep. Thankfully no one was expected to actually get anything official done at the party, which was a relief given how much alcohol was going around, and some of it was well known to have been strong enough to put Jaenelle on the heavily tipsy side even at the height of her power.

Arina was definitely headed that way, given how many drinks had been pressed on her in the past two hours. After everyone had been pointedly herded out of the throne room by Draca, who stayed behind with Prince Saetan to presumably discuss further with Lorn, Arina and her Triangle had been handed glasses of the strongest drink in the house and from there on they hadn't been left with an empty glass for more than a moment. Lucien had started switching the drink in his hand for water every couple of drinks, desperately needed because by the time those two hours had passed, his support was one of the main reasons that Arina hadn't tipped over sideways at all, though there had been several times when she had to adjust her crown, which had started to tip at various points. The scepter had vanished after leaving the throne room, but the crown remained, a stark and glittering reminder of her power that no one could quite stop looking at.

The sheer lightness of having it done, no matter what tomorrow might bring, had almost made her giddy on it's own, before the alcohol got involved. And there were people constantly coming up to congratulate her and wish her all luck and such in her rule, that even Lucien was having a hard time keeping them all straight, and these were people and beings that he had known his entire life, as Jaenelle's oldest child.

Still, it was all worth the buzz of Arina's blood on his lips and in his veins, the feel of her in his arms and her ring on his finger. Anything was worth it to have gotten here.

There were a number of toasts from everyone, or at least it felt like it. A number of the Kindred representatives made toasts to their hope for the future, but Arina murmured on a psychic thread that really they just wanted a promise of safety and to be left alone more than anything else. If most of the wilder kindred ever saw another human it would be far too soon, with the mild exceptions of Arina and always Jaenelle.

And who could blame them, really, after the devastation that had been wrought over their Territories every single time that they opened their borders.

But the Dark Court made toasts, and the High Lord of Hell made a toast, and Jaenelle, before the younger generation started making much more ridiculous toasts and promises.

It was a new start, and all across the living Realms, hope was in the air. All they could do was try not to let it fail, and the future would sort itself out.

BJT:ANW

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