The Unrepentant (Skharr DeathEater #6) by Michael Anderle

Oddly, however, they appeared to have the same greedy spirit to them as the old undercouncil had. While so dissimilar, it was all the same when it came to attitude and motivation.

She covered her grimace by sipping the goblet of pear juice that had been poured for her.

The count's council had been summoned, which included most of those who were involved in the running of the city. The Council of Verenvan had once been one of the most respected bodies of governance in the empire. Now, it had become little more than a cesspit of bureaucrats who were as willing to engage in criminal activity as their undercity counterparts. Those who were not were rotting in the swamps, far away from where curious eyes could find them—perhaps forever.

"What happened was an atrocity," one of the members stated and ran his fingers through his long, luxuriant golden locks. "There needs to be blame assigned to the responsible parties. Many in the city would cause a greater disturbance if heads do not roll."

The man's hair was a point of some pride for him, which was why he avoided touching it with his right hand—the one crammed full of rings. Viscount Benning had the looks of an angel and the cunning mind to match, but he lacked the kind of willpower that would have elevated him to a higher standing in the empire. He was content to be the largest fish in a tiny pond.

It was why she was sickened by merely looking at him.

"Heads must roll," Baron Versan agreed and tugged his thick, grizzled beard gently. "The barbarian is the catalyst of the dangers that have befallen our beloved city. If none of you three will accept the blame, it must be passed to him."

Micah turned to look at her sister on her right—who had stopped mid-bite into a pastry—and then her left, where the Lady Svana sat. She was the Viscount's cousin and there was a certain family resemblance, although the lady had inherited all the willpower and courage in the family.

"I can tell you here and now that would create more problems than it would solve," Svana stated calmly and tilted her head while she inspected her reflection in the goblet in her hand.

"And you should know the emperor considers him a weapon in his arsenal," Sera added and swallowed the food she'd been chewing on before she continued. "I was there when a request was sent by the emperor's Falcons."

"I thought those were simply self-aggrandizing stories spread by the man himself," the baron retorted.

"I can't speak for all the stories," the guard captain snapped in return. "Only what I was present for."

The council members all exchanged a quick, nervous look. None had been happy with how power had changed hands, but the fact that it had happened so quickly and that no ripples had spread to the rest of the empire was a relief. Not only that, none of them had any inclination to range themselves against one of the new emperor's favorites.

"Even so," Benning continued, leaned forward, and spread his fingers over the table between them, "the vacuum of power left by those who were killed is not a problem to be ignored. It could result in violence on the streets and even the first skirmishes in a war. The city guard is not prepared for it."

Micah didn't want to tell him that the city guard was as likely to join the skirmishes as anyone else.

"I have worked hard to keep the fighting as minimal as possible," she stated and drew a deep breath. "Any who are found with innocent blood on their blades have seen swift and overwhelming retribution. Those who fight know to keep the underground…underground."

"And we are thankful for your efforts."

She turned to look at the one man she didn't understand among the group. He was slim and lean, with thinning hair and no beard, and wore simple clothes. No rings flashed ostentatiously on his fingers. He was the count's financial advisor and had an excellent mind for coin—the kind that few could match. And, oddly enough, the counting of coin was all he had any interest in. He had a simple home on the count's estate, no mistresses, no friends of note, and nothing she could use against him.

That said, he had a unique mind and she appreciated that. Sefor was an oddity and one she continued to study out of sheer curiosity.

"Sera's friendship with the barbarian is something to note," he continued. "Your shared relation to the emperor does not appear to have any influence on that. We cannot act against the man himself but the point remains that he cannot remain in Verenvan while there is still a vacuum of power to be addressed.”