Author's Note: So. I know that the idea of a resurgence of superstition and the slaughter of fae-workers isn't exactly new - but, this is a different take. I've concocted a neat little twist whereby the Church is just as hard-hit as the rest of them. I don't want to spoiler my own work, so I'll just say this: the Patriarch's having a very bad day.

A.N.2: A word of warning, to all who dare read here. This is not a happy fic. It will be pretty damn grim. The sole tendency toward a happy ending at present, in fact, is that no matter what twists and turns the plot may hold, I can't stand the thought of ever killing Damien or Gerald (outside of that one tragedy fic that I wrote in a fit of depression). That said, I have a disturbing propensity for working sort-of happy endings out of the most dead depressing fics, so you never know.

Warnings: Slash, violence, smut, general unfairness of the universe, probable character death excluding my favorite slash pair. Some het between my OCs.

Disclaimer: I have no claim to the Coldfire Trilogy, I simply like to play with the characters. I also do not own the British Treason Act, obviously, since it dates from the time of King Edward III who lived hundreds of years ago.

A.N.3: Fic title is a line from the song White Wolf by Kivimetsän Druidi. All future chapter titles will be from this song as well, with the sole exception of this prologue's title, which is Latin for "In Absence Convicted". I know I should wait to finish my other WIPs before I start this, but... I just can't! I have too many ideas in my head and I just have to get them out there! Besides, I'm just about finished Crimes of Passion, so I'll soon have a slot free. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. (And call me overeager, but I wanted to be the one to post the 100th Coldfire Fic!) Obviously, don't hold your breath for updates, though as always I'll do my best.

...

Prologue: In Absentia Convictus

The words were inscribed in letters harsh and bold above the judge's podium, on a panel of brass, in graven lines one foot high.

THE TREASON ACT

"When a man do levy war against our Lord the King in his realm...or be adherent to the King's enemies in his realm, giving them aid and comfort in the realm and elsewhere, and thereof be provably attainted of open deed by the people of their condition...this shall be one ground upon which the party accused of the offence and legally proved to have committed the offence, shall be held to be guilty of the crime of high treason."

The many citizens who lined the hard-backed wooden benches of the Royal Courtroom sat very still, their faces frozen into unreadable masks. The verdict being handed down here today had the power to change many of their lives, for it would set the tone of months and years to come, possibly even determining the future of all fae-Workers on Erna. Though all officials sources were adamant that this trial would determine the fate of one man, and one man only, all present knew that those words were hollow. In the trial for this man's life, would be decided the course of their own.

The judge sat solemn and stern, his hands resting upon the aged wood as though they carried the weight of the world within them. His voice boomed forth, deep and slow, uttering sentences which had the power to utterly reshape the world about them.

"Gentlemen of the jury, what are your findings?"

A juror rose, pale and stiff, to deliver the grave verdict. "In the matter of Reverend Damien Kilcannon Vryce vs. The Crown, heard in absentia for reasons of extreme urgency, and tried with prejudice, we find the following. On the count of Aiding and Abetting his Majesty's Known Enemies, we find the defendant: Guilty."

Though no audible gasps were heard, the air of the courtroom seemed to ripple as soft, despairing breaths escaped the throats of many of those present. The juror continued, his own mien indecipherable, yet stiff with restrained emotion.

"On the count of Consorting with Powers of Evil, we find the defendant: Guilty. On the charge of Aiding and Abetting Known Fae-Workers, three counts, we find the defendant: Guilty."

The juror paused, blinking slowly as though he wished dearly to close his eyes, then read the last charge.

"On the count of High Treason Against his Rightful Majesty the King, we find the defendant, Damien Kilcannon Vryce: Guilty."

Somewhere in the crowd, a young woman began to cry silently, tears streaking down her cheeks as the fate of Erna was inscribed in stone. The judge nodded slowly, never breaking his grave mask.

"And what are the jury's recommendations?"

This time the juror did close his eyes, but only for a moment, before he restored his mask and responded. "The jury recommends that sentencing be carried out immediately, your Honor, and-" his voice faltered, a quaver barely perceptible to the unwary ear, but in the oppressively silent courtroom it had the crispness and power of a clarion call. "-and without mercy."

The judge was immobile, a statue of unalterable fate. "Thank you, you may be seated." The juror sank down into his seat as though his legs would no longer support him, and the judge raised his gavel, intoning the words that would seal Damien Vryce's fate.

"Damien Kilcannon Vryce, Knight of the Flame, Priest of the Church of Human Unification on Erna, is hereby sentenced death, under the laws and provisions of this Holy Monarchy and the blessings of his Majesty the King."

Like the Grim Reaper's scythe, the gavel fell.

~CF~CF~CF~CF~CF~

The messenger spoke with his eyes on the floor, his face and voice alike void of any trace of inflection as he delivered the news. "A verdict has been reached. The priest was convicted on all counts."

King Steafán nodded, never taking his gaze from the window which overlooked his gardens - and beyond the marble palace wall, the bustling, teeming capital city of Paxtarrani. "And the sentence?"

"Death, your Majesty."

"Excellent." The King of the United Human Lands, ruler of the Blessed Kingdom of Éireanon, clasped his hands together behind his back as though deep in thought. "You are dismissed."

"Yes, your Majesty." The messenger bowed deeply and departed from the royal study, shutting the door soundlessly behind himself. Steafán turned from the window and nodded slightly to the shadows of the far wall, where a series of wall hangings cast pools of shadow between the decorative numarble columns.

"I do not understand your newfound obsession with this lowly priest." A woman's voice, low and throaty, came from the shadows. The owner of the voice glided forward: she was slim yet curvaceous, her pleasing figure highlighted by a deep crimson sheath dress and a luxurious fur stole. Her pale skin was offset by jet-black hair that tumbled in loose ringlets over her shoulders and long-lashed sapphire eyes. A black velvet choker, set with a silver clasp holding a faceted ruby, nestled around her elegant throat, the jewel gleaming in the light as she moved to settle herself on a plush divan near the fireplace. Her lovely, aristocratic face was one that any citizen of Paxtarrani would recognize: she was Alwyne Lalatheí, the King's semi-official mistress. She trailed her long, manicured fingernails along the silk of the cushions, tilting her head curiously at her King and lover. "What makes him so important?"

"It is not the priest himself, my dear, but what he represents." Steafán said, striding across the room to sit down in an armchair across from her. "He is a symbol of all the corrupt fae-Workers in my kingdom - and living proof of how even those with the noblest of intentions can be polluted by the taint of the fae. Besides, by seeking him, I intend to capture the one who travels with him."

Alwyne lifted one shapely eyebrow, her blue eyes wide and innocent. "Who might that be, my love?"

"There is an adept traveling with him." Steafán said darkly. "I cannot prove it yet, or by God I would lay charges against him that would make a Patriarch quail... but I am certain that he serves the Forest, and thus the Hunter."

Alwyne's eyes narrowed to blazing slits, and her fingers clenched suddenly, her talon-like nails digging into the soft pillows. "The Hunter?" she hissed, a terrifying light springing forth in her deep blue eyes. "A priest of the One God travels with a servant of that hell-spawned monster?"

Steafán nodded gravely. "Indeed. That is why they must both be captured, and brought here to the Palace. I must discover their intent - and, if possible, break the Forest's servant to obtain knowledge of its master."

The fires in Alwyne's eyes cooled slightly, and she leaned forward, her rich voice dropping into a seductive purr. "When you catch him, love, bring him to me." Her nails raked over the pillow again, cutting faint, almost-invisible lines into the fine silk. "I will have him spilling his secrets in no time at all."

Steafán paled slightly. This was why his mistress was legendary throughout the city's capital: Alwyne was ruthless and shockingly bloodthirsty, yet beautiful enough that men who came face-to-face with her forgot all the tales of sadistic cruelty. Such were her seductive powers that many swore she was not human: that she was a Siren, or a sidhe, or even a succubus - something powerful and enchanting, somehow more than human. Sometimes the King forgot how vicious she could be: she always reminded him soon enough.

"As you wish, my love."

Alwyne smiled, her blue eyes glinting coldly. "You always do invent the very best strategies, my love." she murmured, turning her glittering gaze back onto the dancing flames in the numarble fireplace. Inside, she was singing in victory, laughing her triumph in the silence of her dark soul.

Very soon, she would finally achieve her long sought-after vengeance.