DISCLAIMER: see Chapter 1
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is probably going to end up being slightly longer than intended. Because of the courtroom scenes, I doubt I'll be able to cram everything into twenty chapters, but they'll be no more than twenty-five. I hope you enjoy Chapter 10- everything's starting to hot up now!
Vlad was the last of the group to enter the building. The heavy metal door swung shut behind him, its clang resonating dully around the hall. It was dark and gloomy, causing Vlad to squint despite his exceptional eyesight. The lack of natural light gave the hall a certain chill, and Vlad saw Erin shiver slightly ahead of him. She looked very pretty, if extremely nervous; whatever Ingrid had prepped her in, it had paid off. Vlad had noticed her walking a little taller and sitting a little straighter these past few weeks, and she had obviously made an effort with her appearance. The navy, knee-length dress she wore, with a wide band of baby-blue around its hem, was simple yet becoming, and the blazer and heels made her look almost business-like. Her blonde hair was freshly-washed and neat, and her make-up, though subtle, highlighted the striking blue of her eyes. In short- she looked devastatingly beautiful, in Vlad's opinion, anyway.
Vlad spun around. Jonno van Helsing was walking towards the party, looking unusually dapper in a suit and tie.
"You alright?" Vlad asked warily, holding out his hand to the slayer, who shook it briefly. "Nice suit," he added, gesturing to Jonno's attire.
"Thanks," Jonno replied stiffly, "It was my dad's."
Vlad swallowed. "So are you here to tell us what this is all about, then?" he asked quickly, in a valiant attempt at breeziness.
Jonno shook his head. "Sorry," he said, "I'm the expert witness. I'm on my way to the courtroom now, actually." He checked his watch. "You've made good time."
"I didn't want to be in a rush."
The pair lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, Vlad desperately trying to think of something to say that would diffuse the rising tension between them.
"How's your mum?"
"Not too good," Jonno admitted. He moved forward confidentially. "To tell you the truth, she's a bit shaken up by this whole espionage thing."
"She's not the only one," Vlad muttered darkly.
"Vladimir Dracula!" rang out a sharp voice. Vlad shot Jonno an apologetic look before turning to face the source of the noise.
"I am he," Vlad said confidently, ignoring Ingrid's snort of laughter. He strained to see who was walking towards them- it had been a voice he recognised.
"You and your party will follow me to our specially constructed gallery," the voice said.
"Can't we have some light in here?" Vlad suggested. He could barely make out the photographs on the stone walls, let alone the identity of their guide.
A click of a switch, and several light bulbs, swinging on cords above their heads, burst into life. There were no shades covering them, and the harsh light only served to wash out even Erin's complexion.
Now the hall was illuminated, Vlad could see that their escort was, in fact, Angela Byrne, the delegate who had been sent to Garside back in March. She was dressed to impress- even Vlad, who knew nothing about such things, could tell that the necklace she wore around her throat was made of real pearls.
"Good morning, Mr Count, Count Dracula," she said frostily, nodding at them both. She glared at Erin contemptuously, who, Vlad was pleased to see, scowled right back. "I am here to escort you to the specially constructed gallery." She suddenly rounded on Jonno. "What are you doing here, van Helsing?" she demanded.
"Having a chat," Jonno replied coolly. "Not against the law, is it?"
"If you've got time to loiter-"
"What's happening to Erin?" Vlad interrupted. He didn't have time for their bickering.
"My PA, Thomas Golding, who, you may remember, accompanied me on our visit to your place of residence, will be along shortly to escort her to the waiting chamber," Angela answered icily, shooting daggers at Jonno's retreating back.
Vlad was startled. "Doesn't she need to wait for a briefing from her lawyer?"
Angela clicked her teeth impatiently. "We are on a tight schedule, Mr Count-"
"Doesn't mean that you can cut corners," Vlad interjected angrily.
The slayer looked very much as if she had just swallowed a very sour lemon. "Mr Bryant will be sent to the waiting chamber as and when he arrives, but I'm afraid the barristers have a meeting to attend before the trial begins, so…" Angela left the sentence hanging, implying to Vlad that if the lawyer didn't turn up sharpish then Erin would be left to face the lions without receiving the customary last-minute pep talk.
"I'll wait with her until Bryant arrives," Vlad said firmly. It wasn't a request.
Angela sighed. "Now, really, Mr Count, we cannot allow-"
"Why not?" Vlad demanded, fast losing patience with the woman.
"Because it is not standard court practice!" she exploded, her face flushing an ugly shade of puce.
"Standard court practice? Don't make me laugh! None of this is standard court practice!"
"Vlad," Erin cut in sharply, "Leave it." Her eyes sought out his, and signalled plainly that he wasn't making the situation any easier. Vlad sighed. She seemed to almost be on the slayers' side.
"You sure?" he asked her softly.
"I'm a big girl," she replied acidly, "I'm sure I can handle being alone for half an hour."
Vlad stepped back slightly, her words stinging. He had only been trying to help.
Thomas Golding had arrived by this time, and was surveying the scene with a smugness reminiscent of a lion about to rip a frantic, struggling zebra limb from limb.
"If you'd like to come with me, Miss Noble," he said greasily. She looked disgusted, not missing the way the young man's eyes lingered on her chest, but took a few steps towards him all the same.
"Wait!" Vlad cried out desperately. She couldn't go, not like this. "Good luck," he said lamely.
"Thanks," she replied stiffly, avoiding his gaze. Vlad couldn't believe it- he knew they'd been going through a rough patch recently, but was she really going to walk into the lions' den without saying a proper goodbye?
"I love you," he called, not caring that his clan were there to hear. Erin looked at him properly for the first time since their arrival, tears suddenly sparkling in her eyes.
"I love you, too," she whispered. The moment was ruined by Ingrid making sick noises, and Thomas snorting in disbelief.
"See you later," Vlad said, ignoring them both. He couldn't think of anything else to say. Erin only smiled sadly, swiping at her eyes before turning her back on the clan and retreating down the corridor with Thomas, who shot Vlad a nasty look over his shoulder before being consumed by the darkness.
"Are we quite ready?" Angela enquired slightly hysterically; Vlad could sense that her stress levels were off the charts.
"I've been called for the prosecution," Ingrid said smoothly, tossing back her gleaming black hair proudly and stepping forward. "Where am I required?"
"Down the corridor, third door on the right," the slayer replied distractedly. "You'll find the barrister for the prosecution in there with the other witnesses."
"The other witnesses?" Ingrid repeated.
"Well, of course." Angela looked at her as if she were mad. "You didn't think you'd be the only one, did you?"
Ingrid stared at her for a moment, a low growl emanating from her throat, before swinging around dramatically and flouncing off down the corridor. Vlad grinned in spite of himself- it wasn't often that Ingrid was reminded that she wasn't the most important person on the planet by a slayer.
That left Vlad, Bertrand and the Count, the latter of whom had remained miraculously silent so far. Vlad was exceedingly glad of this; the last thing they needed was some of his father's wisecracks sending the Guild into uproar.
"Lead the way, madam," Bertrand said courteously to Angela, bowing slightly. She looked slightly mollified, and began to lead the trio down the corridor. As they walked, they passed scores of metal doors, all, Vlad could tell, plated with argentilium, and set deep into the grey stone of the walls. Each door had a keypad instead of a handle, and the ones marked 'High Security' had keypads in addition to voice-recognition intercoms. Vlad was impressed- he hadn't exactly considered the slayers to be behind the times, but they had a surprisingly acute grasp of technology. More so than the vampires, anyhow, if the Count's goggling was anything to go by. Vlad could just about work a computer, but even that was taxing.
"Any idea what time we're supposed to finish?" he asked Angela, falling in step beside her. She bristled slightly.
"One cannot put timings on these things, Mr Count," she said haughtily. "In any case, Miss Noble will remain in custody overnight-"
"She will not!" Vlad exploded. They were treating her like a prisoner before she'd even stood in the dock.
Angela ignored him- a new tactic, Vlad presumed. He fell back to walk next to Bertrand, fuming silently as they passed more doors, more photographs, more Fire Safety and First Aid signs. He checked his watch: it was almost eight thirty. The trial would begin promptly at nine o'clock. He felt a sick, twisting feeling in the pit of his stomach; nerves mingled with indignation, topped off with downright fear. While Erin had been with him, while he had been able to watch over her and offer his support, their situation hadn't seemed quite so serious. Now, however, now that she was alone somewhere in a waiting chamber, no doubt the recipient of scathing looks and snide remarks, conviction became a real possibility in Vlad's mind. Of course the slayers wouldn't play fair- they could play as dirty as the vampires if they so chose. They wanted their vengeance, and Vlad had no doubt that they would pull out all the stops in order to get it.
They mounted several flights of stairs, Angela wheezing unpleasantly the further up they climbed, before they reached yet another door. Angela inputted the code quickly, her back shielding it from Vlad's keen eyes, before pushing the door open and ushering the group inside frantically.
A dazzling light hit Vlad's eyes and he cringed, his retinas crying out in protest after the gloom of the rest of the building. As he walked out onto the gallery, the murmuring that had filled the room ceased abruptly. Vlad put his shoulders back and lifted his chin as he felt hundreds of pairs of eyes fix on him, scanning him for anything vaguely interesting or unusual. He stood there for a moment, motionless, before the eyes turned back to their friends and the buzz of chatter gradually resumed. Vlad felt his father's hand grasp his shoulder briefly, and he sighed, his entire body slumping. This was going to be a long day.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am going to shamelessly plug my recently uploaded one-shot (entitled 'Making Plans'). Take a look at it if you can, and let me know what you think- I'm hoping to write a couple more in the near future. Fingers crossed for another brilliant episode of YD tomorrow night! Can't wait to see Erin slap Vlad, whether it's a set-up or not...