Simon's hand was cool and comforting in Brenda's own. She stood a bit behind him, hoping it wasn't entirely obvious that she was hiding behind him. There were so many faces she didn't know, and they all frightened her. They'd come from all around the Denver Metro area, from Boulder, and perhaps further north. She wasn't sure. She was surrounded by predators, and every last one of them felt stronger than her. Because among them, she was a babe. She was prey. Of course, she always had been. She'd just been unaware of it before.
She felt small and weak and vulnerable. But Simon's hand in her own promised a future. She was weak now, but she would grow strong. She was afraid, but she would relearn bravery. She was devastated now, but she would heal. Because that's what people do. Unlike Grace, she had the time to do this.
They had come, gathered at Matt's summon, mainly. They would choose a new leader, there in the back room of Liz's club. Brenda's eyes scanned the room. They'd always been sharp, but not like this. She could spot every familiar face. Morgan, not far away, a reassuring presence. Sanji with his student, Sasha. The other Sasha, the one with the claws, she wasn't there. Matt and Liz, surrounded by strangers. His men, his revolutionaries, she guessed. Bethany smiled and talked emptily with Matt's associates. Sycophantic. That was how it struck Brenda. What was the color of sycophantic? Now wasn't the time to ask Simon.
Color swirled around them. Bethany was surrounded by pale blue, Matt with yellow. Brenda knew yellow. Idealism. Weird for an illegal arms dealer. But Matt was pretty weird. Hard to figure out. He'd given her a job, working as a receptionist in his studio. It was an easy job, and the people she worked with were interesting and fun. But there was no reward in it like her old job. Other than helping to pay Simon's rent. Not having to wear his Sire's old clothes. With the small advance Matt had given her when she began, she'd bought her own underwear. It was amazing how much value that had to her now that she'd had to go without. Besides, she didn't want to be a freeloader. She might be a babe among vampires, but she was still an adult, and she would earn her own way.
The important thing, the reason Brenda was able to be there, clinging to Simon while peering around his scrawny form, was that there were no Nosferatu in the room. And, Matt had promised her, there were no Invictus. Simon had gently mentioned something about not all Nosferatu behaving like the monsters they looked like, and not all Invictus completely lacking a shred of humanity. And in the abstract, Brenda could accept this. But it was going to be a long time before she could be around either of those without wanting to run and hide. She wasn't sure she'd ever be able to trust either.
"I think everyone's here who's gonna be here," said Liz, raising her voice. She stood at Matt's side, close enough that she was touching, but he wasn't looking at her. He hardly seemed to notice her. His gaze swept the room, making eye contact with everyone there individually. The chatter died down, and then Liz continued. "The tyranny we endured under Prince Rex is at an end. And it's time to do this right. This time, we'll elect a new Prince, and every one of us gets a voice for a change. Most of you know by now that Matt Redmond stands for Prince. Is there anyone else?"
"I do." The voice was clear, feminine and confident.
Brenda turned, wide-eyed, to see Morgan step into the middle of the room, her stature one of defiance, not unlike the way she had approached the late Prince Rex.
Matt nodded politely, and Brenda imagined he'd just assessed his opponent and dismissed her.
"Is there anyone else? Any nominations, maybe?" Liz looked around.
"Sanji." Brenda didn't know why she had spoken up. Perhaps it was because she feared to vote for either Matt or Morgan, because she feared neither would forgive her. Matt who'd given her a job and risked his life for her cause, and Morgan who'd promised to teach her the Crone's secrets. Sanji was a safe, inoffensive choice. And he was wise, probably wiser than anyone else in there.
Simon's hand squeezed her own gently, and there were soft chuckles around the room. Matt's face twisted oddly, as if he were trying to suppress a smirk he just couldn't hold back. Yes, that was amusement in his aura. And everyone else's.
Sanji silently lowered his head and shook it slowly.
Brenda resisted the urge to slip completely behind Simon. She couldn't let them see her cower.
"Anyone else?" Liz called.
People looked at one another, and that was all.
"All right." Liz smiled. They looked like rock stars, she and Matt, surrounded by adoring fans. "All in favor of Morgan."
Apparently vampiric democracy didn't include secret ballots.
Simon's voice, along with a couple of others, rang out strong. "Aye." It wasn't enough. Unless the majority of the others abstained.
"And for Matt Redmond?"
"Aye." It was definitely most of the room that spoke for him. Brenda had remained silent, watching the process. She had to admit she felt a bit relieved. Matt would be a good Prince. The Carthian ideals made sense to Brenda, and she thought he'd be a fair and just leader. She wasn't so sure about Morgan.
"Aye," Brenda said stubbornly, the sole voice in the room. She offered an embarrassed half-smile beneath a lowered gaze. She was surprised Liz had even bothered with that one.
"Well, the clear majority is for Matt," said Liz. "Citizens of Denver, I present your new Prince, Matt Redmond."
There were several hoots and cheers, from the Boulder folk mostly, Brenda thought. She allowed herself to smile.
"For my first order," Matt said without delay, "I'd like to declare this building an official Elysium, and name Liz my Keeper. Things are going to be different here, I promise you that."
Morgan took a step toward Matt, and to Brenda she seemed full of malevolence. "You make your changes. Realize your Carthian utopian dream. But remember, to be a truly good prince, you must also possess the strength to defend and keep your position."
The room went silent. Matt stood with a smile frozen on his face, discomfort obvious in his features. Everyone watched as Morgan turned around and slowly walked out of the room. Her eyes met Brenda's just once, and when they did, the High Priestess smiled.