Although Markos had told her what to expect, Nika didn't feel prepared as she waited for her interview with the Ministry.

To quell her nerves, she gazed through the wall of glass separating the antechamber from the outside world. It was a murky night, blanketed with low clouds and light April showers.

Stretching out before her were the glittering lights of a mountain town. At the north end, the hilltop manors of Lirovin Square rose like Mount Olympus. Nika stood only a few blocks down the way, inside the Hall of Valentine—which had been named after a former Daemonstri king and now served as the formal courts and offices of the Ministry. In the southern sector, the square fortress of the Vigil's base dominated the scene.

This was headquarters, a nameless, unmarked location on a map, the capital of North America's Daemonstri populations. It was home to the Ministers, the High Keeper, and a few thousand Serafi and Nefili citizens, and all of it was hidden by human governments in accordance with a centuries-old treaty.

"Nika."

Jade's voice echoed through the marble foyer, ripping her away from the window. She found her roommate standing in the usual grungy attire, her tan skin looking a little pale.

"It's your turn."

Nika glanced toward Elliot, who sat on a bench near the grand doors to the assembly chamber. Both he and Jade had been questioned by the Ministry already.

"How was it?" Nika found herself asking.

Jade shrugged. "So easy I was yawning my way through it."

Nika rolled her eyes. Jade had been fidgeting like an addict before she'd been summoned.

"Wish me luck," she said, approaching the doors.

"I don't believe in luck."

It didn't matter if she had. No amount of luck would bring ease to this interview.

Nika entered, instinctively craning her head to admire enormous, vaulted ceilings with wooden beams that streaked like dark stars across a white sky. The Hall of Valentine was long and narrow, with towering heights and glass windows. Moonlight peaked through the clouds and illuminated every shaded corner of the room. Massive stone pillars lined the walls, curving along the shape of the roof, and a glass chandelier dangled from above, giving off a warm, orange light that clashed with the silvery glow of the moon.

As Nika's legs carried her forward, it felt like swimming through the throat of a giant fish.

The witness chair was positioned in a pit-like section at the center, surrounded by a dais with thirteen imperial seats—six on the left, six on the right, and one at the head. Each was occupied by a Serafi member of the Daemonstri's governing body.

On her left sat the purists, including Elliot's father, and on her right sat the equalist Ministers, including Nika's own father.

The purist faction believed in the supreme rule of Serafi over all populations, and advocated the blood status ideals that had marked Nika as a blight to society. They despised the idea of inter-racial breeding, and as the daughter of a Serafi father and Nefili mother, she was the opposite of what they deemed was pure.

Her father's side, however—known as the equalist faction—advocated mixing the races, both in private and in public. Whether it be government, security, marriage, and so on.

Markos Dimitrovich was less vocal than most equalists, though. Sometimes, he even sided with the purist cause. Nika had never understood why.

The only non-Ministers present were Nika herself and a small army of keepers. Some were stationed around the perimeter, others in balconies overhead.

High Keeper Kovac was placed at a fold-up table in front of the Prime Minister, and the sight made Nika's blood turn cold. While Ministers bathed in superiority on embroidered thrones, a Vigil leader was reduced to cheap plastic and metal.

Nika shouldn't have been surprised. The Vigil was constantly being undermined and unappreciated by the Ministry.

When she took a seat, Nika felt the Ministers' eyes hot upon her. Eyes flashing with bitterness and spite, malice and bigotry.

She cast a dire gaze to her father, but Markos paid no attention. Instead, he whispered into the ear of a fellow equalist, and when he leaned back in his seat, Nika pleaded with all higher powers that he'd help her through the following moments. But his face was blank and emotionless, and after a half-second of eye contact, he looked away.

Nika then found herself fixating on the balconies. Bracing the railing in the northeast corner was Romanovich, looking gargantuan even from far away.

She remembered their brief conversation earlier tonight, how he'd offered to conceal the fact that she'd been carrying a gun.

He caught her gaze and slowly nodded, as if to encourage her. It didn't help as much as Nika would have liked.

When she returned her attention to the platform, Prime Minister Rostova stood up. She was a witch of a woman, harsh and shrewd and bitter. Small eyes and puckering, thin lips, white hair that had been yanked back into a brutally tight bun near the nape of her neck.

"If you don't mind, Miss Dimitrovich," said the crone, her words laced with a Romanian accent, "I'm going to interview you myself."

And so the world's most infamous halfblood prepared to get devoured. 

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