Josef fought to keep himself upright, but his body was fighting against him. It just wouldn't do for him to be seen in such a bad way. There was never a good time for that for a man with his reputation, but this was the worst possible time to give in to any malady. He stood to lose much more than his reputation in the current situation.
As the trio approached, his attention was pulled away from what would surely have been heartfelt last words from Mick, and for a moment he was almost grateful for the interruption. Josef just didn't have the strength to deal with an angst-filled last goodbye. Besides, that would mean admitting defeat, and Josef had no intention of ever doing that until the very moment his eyes closed forever.
He focused on the other vampires instead, and fury welled up inside of him at the betrayal of his misplaced trust. Malcolm was exuding authority, his powerful presence flanked on either side by Rake and Nigel, each of the two carrying a thin, spear-like weapon taller than himself. The ends of the spears were sharpened to almost pinpoints, and Josef knew the lethal looking spearheads would be made of silver. They would gleam if there were any light in the room.
Rake and Nigel held their own stances of commanding confidence, but it was easy to see that they were less than Malcolm's equal partners.
Josef bored his eyes into Rake, daring the vampire to look at him. He didn't trust easily, but he'd been unable to resist liking or trusting Rake. Now Josef wondered if perhaps that was a part of Rake's power. How better to use a person to your own advantage than to get into their head? To make them think you had their best interests at heart?
The Elders stopped short of reaching Sylvia and Gerod and stood silent, presumably waiting for Sylvia's report on the proceedings.
Rake returned Josef's stare for a few, spare moments, his dark eyes intense and direct, the message unreadable. Then his attention returned to Sylvia.
It was a strange tableau: Josef and Mick chained to the wall; Sylvia and Gerod several feet away with their backs to them; Malcolm, Rake, and Nigel by turns regarding the prisoners over the shoulders of the less powerful pair of Elders.
“Malcolm,” Sylvia said finally. “Rake,” she greeted her sire next. She simply gave a nod to Nigel.
“We've secured St. John,” Gerod informed them needlessly.
Josef couldn't help but roll his eyes.
He also couldn't help but wonder, as Mick had, why they had gone to such lengths to obtain them both when they could have simply walked in and overpowered them one by one. It just didn't make sense. Especially since it was really only Mick they wanted anyway.
“So I see,” Malcolm answered impassively.
“And you have done this.....why?” Nigel asked in his stiffly British manner that had irritated Josef from the very moment he'd met him.
“For the Council, of course,” Gerod answered him.
“Yes,” Rake said, with a look at Sylvia. “We were warned that there were traitors to the Council.”
Josef detected something in Rake's eyes as he gazed at his vampire childe. Something like sadness.
He spared a glance at Mick, who was watching the scene play out as raptly as Josef had been, but said nothing. He didn't want to bring anyone's attention to them as long as he could help it. But there was something going on under the surface that didn't quite mesh. It seemed as if the two parties were having two separate but parallel conversations.
“Yes,” Sylvia said quickly to her sire. “We have them, Rake. The traitors. Mick St. John and his newest sire are traitors to the Council and to all of our kind. And we have secured them for punishment.”
“Which is death, of course,” Gerod said.
“We haven't betrayed anyone,” Mick butted in.
Josef gave a small grumble of irritation at Mick's comment and glared daggers at his friend when Mick turned to him in response. Josef had been just on the point of an epiphany about the situation, and the untimely and attention-getting interruption had sent the thought from his pain-addled mind.
Mick looked at Josef with a 'what did I do?' expression which Josef ignored as he tried to re-grasp the last thought that had begun to manifest- but he couldn't.
Josef was so tired suddenly and the silver began to make its presence known more adamantly. His very blood burned in his veins... He wondered if feeding would be enough to fix him now. His wound wasn't fatal, but even the small amount of silver that had bled into him through the tears on his wrist could be.
Silver in the flesh could be removed, but it was harder when it was in the blood. The fact that it was such a small amount was fortunate, but even that would depend on something being done eventually, which wasn't possible at the moment.
Sylvia threw a disgusted glare at Mick for his protest, but no one else responded to it. In fact, other than the few references indicating them, the two prisoners had been virtually ignored since the entrance of Malcolm, Rake and Nigel.
“My daughter, what have you done?” Rake asked Sylvia softly.
That evading thought Josef had almost grasped seconds ago began to work its way back into his head.
“Not all is as it seems,” he muttered almost inaudibly, recalling the words Rake had spoken to him in his lounge.
Mick looked over at him curiously, but Josef didn't explain. Instead, he just whispered, “Be ready for anything. And remember what I said. Beth needs you. I can manage on my own.”
Mick's brow furrowed but he didn't respond. This wasn't the time to go into explanations.
“We've caught the traitors,” Sylvia was explaining. “We did it for the Council. For all of our kind. They'll commend us for it.”
“We knew you'd stop us, Malcolm,” Gerod entreated. “But we knew that if we got rid of the traitors, the Council would see that it's for the best.”
“They must be executed,” Sylvia insisted urgently. “Traitors to the Council do not live. We all know that.” Her gaze played back and forth between Malcolm, Rake and Nigel. She finally settled on Rake, her sire's opinion being more important to her than that of even the more powerful Malcolm, regardless that Malcolm was obviously the one in charge.
“Josef,” Mick hissed next to Josef, but Josef shushed him. Mick frowned at him but quieted. Josef had no doubt that Mick's quick mind was putting it together much quicker than Josef's weakened one was.
“You are right in one matter, Sylvia,” Malcolm said coldly. “Traitors to the Council do not live, no matter how small the betrayal. Aim.”
The last word was spoken in the same mild tone as the rest of the sentence, but the order prompted a reaction.
Rake and Nigel, on either side of Malcolm, lifted their silver-tipped spears in the universal 'throwing' position- over their shoulders and parallel to the ground, their stances widened for leverage.
Next to Josef, Mick stiffened.
Sylvia smiled in satisfaction.
Gerod looked to Sylvia with a frown, an unspoken question on his lips. There was alarm in his eyes.
Josef watched Rake- who was the one opposite him, just as Nigel wielded the spear opposite Mick- tense in preparation for the act of execution he was about to commit.
Josef did not look at Mick, and Mick was not looking at him. Both sets of eyes were on the lethal weapons that were to be hurled, waiting for that moment.
The door on the far side of the room opened once more, banging against the wall with urgency this time.
“No!” a voice screamed, but the frozen tableau of vampires stayed silent and still, not a one of them diverting their attentions from the proceedings.
Beth stumbled and tripped her way through the dark cellar, only her small circle of light from the hurricane lamp showing the way.
“Beth?” Mick said in surprise from next to Josef.
“Jackson,” Malcolm snarled from between the weapon-wielding vampires on either side of him.
“Mick!” Beth screamed as she drew closer to the group, then came to a sliding stop upon reaching them. She threw a cautious look toward Malcolm, and an enraged look at the chains holding Mick to the wall.
The young vampire who had followed Beth into the room- Jackson, Josef remembered- threw a sheepish glance toward Malcolm and mumbled an apology in a pitch that only a vampire could hear.
Sylvia's arm came up and pointed a finger at Beth.
“She needs to die too! She is a human who knows too much!”
Josef wondered if Sylvia was the only one of the vampires who hadn't realized what was about to happen.
“Now,” Malcolm said, and the next three things happened almost at once and simultaneously.
Rake and Nigel pulled their arms back for the spear throw, Gerod snarled and leaped at Nigel in attack, and Beth flung her lamp toward Malcolm and the vampires flanking him.
The lantern fell short of her target, hit the dusty floor, and shattered, sending a spray of lamp fuel arcing through the air and splattering onto the floor and the nearby wooden wine rack. The sparks followed and ignited the fuel. Some of it promptly extinguished itself for lack of anything to burn.