"It's not black magic," I said.
"Well, it sure as hell isn't white."
"It's a psychic ability, not magic."
"Pronounce it tomato or tomahto; it's still a red, squishy vegetable."
"Actually, it's a fruit," Bram said.
We all looked at him.
He looked as close to being embarrassed as I'd ever seen him. "Well, it is a fruit."
"Okay," I said.
Rodina laughed. "Fruit or vegetable, it's still dark magic, and you are the first full-fledged necromancer in thousands of years, Anita. There are videos of you on YouTube raising an army of zombies in Colorado."
"The Lover of Death had raised an army of undead. I had to do something to stop them from killing more people."
"Your motives were good," Rodina said.
"You saved hundreds of lives, Anita," Micah said.
"I don't doubt that," Rodina said.
"Then what is your problem?" I asked.
She smiled that happily evil smile again. "I don't have a problem with the fact that you're the evil queen in this story; you have a problem with it."
"Anita is not evil," Micah said.
Rodina shrugged. "Necromancer, succubus, can feed off anger and suck the life force right out of someone. What on this list makes her not our evil queen?"
"She doesn't lash out with her power just to hurt us," Ru said, voice soft.
Rodina glanced back at her brother.
He looked uncomfortable, as if something in her face wasn't happy with him, but he spoke up in the face of his sister's disapproval. "It is not power that makes someone evil; it is what they do with that power."
"A pretty thought, Brother, but you know what they say about power corrupting."
"I do, but I was not as happy with our old queen as you and Rodrigo were. She was petty, ill-tempered, mad, and had enough power to destroy the world. We were all afraid of her, even you."
"Evil queens are meant to be feared."
"And that is my point, Sister. Anita works very hard to be fair and just, and not frightening."
"So you're saying that she's the good queen--the white queen and not the black?"
It was interesting watching them talk about me almost as if I wasn't there, but Ru seemed to be winning the argument, and I wanted him to win, so I just listened. We were all listening to them, and the siblings talked as if none of us mattered in that moment but the two of them. I wondered if they missed Rodrigo in these brother-sister moments.
"If you're evil, you can't just decide to be good," she said.
"If you're evil, no, of course not."
"If you decide day after day to make good, positive, moral choices, then you are not evil. In fact, you would be the definition of a good person."
"You're saying that she's not evil because she has decided to be good?"
"That is the only way any of us are ever good. We choose to do what is right instead of what is wrong," Ru said.
"That would be so boring," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Good isn't boring," I said.
She gave me a disdainful look.
"I'm in love with three of the men in this hallway, and that's a very good thing."
"But morally it makes you a whore," she said.
Micah stiffened and made a movement toward her, but I touched his arm. It made him look at me, and I let him know with a glance that I had this. He let me speak for myself, which was one of the things I loved about him.
"You think being good means that very narrow fundamentalist Christian or Muslim or Jewish definition, but it always comes down to fundamentalism of some kind. Is that what you think good is, Rodina?"
"That's what everyone thinks good is," she said, rolling her eyes again.
"No, that's not what everyone thinks good is; it's what the world tells us is the definition of good."
"I thought you were Christian; you even go to church, so by your own beliefs you are not a good person."
"My path of faith is between me and God, and He's
okay with it."
"You can't know that your god is okay with what you do."
"I know that when I pray, demons can't touch me. I know that my cross still shines with holy fire when I'm faced with a vampire. If I was damned like the Catholic Church said when it excommunicated all the people who could raise zombies, then my cross wouldn't work, my prayers wouldn't work, but they do."
Rodina stared at me. "You're joking."
I shook my head. "I would never joke about that."
"You cannot be good."
"Your faith cannot be that pure."
"Because you feed on sex and rage and raise armies of the dead."
"I was a little worried about all that, but apparently God is cool with it, and if He doesn't have a problem with it, then neither do I."
"No," she said, and she sounded angry, flustered even.
"Let it go, Sister."
"Why not let it go?" Bram asked her.
She looked at him and then back at me, hands in fists at her sides. "Because if she's not evil, then she won't let us do the things I want to do."
"What do you want to do?" I asked.
"You met my brother."
She just looked at me until I finally said, "Oh, sorry, but I'm not evil enough to let you do the kind of shit Rodrigo enjoyed."
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, let it out in a rush, and then settled like a bird shaking its feathers into place. She gave me calm eyes. She was still and silent and contained. It was scarier than the temper tantrum had been.
"I serve you because I must, but I hope you fall from grace just far enough to let me enjoy the rest of my eternity."
"I'll do my best to be just evil enough so that you won't be bored."
She bowed then, very formally, and I remembered Moroven complaining about that and forcing her to curtsy even though she was wearing pants. Moroven had left her in that low curtsy until her legs ached, because once you bow or curtsy in front of your queen you aren't supposed to rise again until they notice you.
"Nice bow; now let's go talk to the lamia between shows."
Rodina looked up at me, face still unreadable, but she stood up straight, military straight rather than her usual. She suddenly had the bearing of a soldier. "Thank you, my queen, for noticing."
Nathaniel came to hug me and said, "Let me talk to Melanie first."
"Because I'll sweet-talk her, and you and Micah will just interrogate her."