My memories of the last several minutes—or was it hours?—of my life seemed beyond me as I opened my eyes.
However, I immediately recognized the space I was in by both sight and smell—the cubby in Sookie’s home. But I had no clue how I had gotten there.
What I did know was that I was wrapped in silver chains, though the substance was coated in leather. Still, the chains would likely be enough to weaken me to the point that I could not free myself.
Nonetheless, I struggled against my bindings to test them.
“Now—don’t you fret none, Mister Bill,” a familiar voice said from right above me. Likely—based on the volume of his voice—Bubba was sitting on or near the entrance to the cubby.
“Bubba!” I yelled. “What’s happened? Help me get out of here!” I insisted.
“Can’t do that,” Bubba drawled. “Miss Sookie explained everything to me. And Miss Thalia too! They was just waitin’ for you to call Mister Phillip.”
“You mean, King Felipe?” I asked after a moment’s confusion.
“Yep—that’s the one,” Bubba confirmed. “They said you helped ’em out real good by doin’ that, and Thalia made it a point to tell me to tell you ‘thank you’ for it,” he added, his voice sounding as sincere as it always did.
“I bet she did,” I muttered as the reality of what had occurred began to dawn upon me. Clearly, Thalia had been in league with Eric the whole time and had just pretended to be sympathetic to Sookie’s cause. The question was whether or not Sookie had been a willing participant in whatever schemes Eric had woven. I shook my head—sure that she had been forced to comply.
I frowned as I recalled the specifics of my phone call with the king. I had told Felipe about Sookie’s mental and physical state. I had told him that Eric was likely incapacitated—or at least much weaker than normal. I had assured him that I had Sookie and would soon be on my way to Fangtasia. I had warned him that Thalia was with me and had refused to give up guarding the telepath until she received an order from Eric or her king—though I’d added in that last part more out of wishful thinking than certainty.
After I had told him that Thalia would be cooperative, Felipe seemed unconcerned and simply ordered that I get my party to Fangtasia as soon as possible.
Of course, I had agreed.
But—as I had hung up—something had happened to make the world go black.
“Bubba!” I yelled again. “What happened?”
“Miss Sookie and Mister Eric were playin’ a pretend game,” Bubba chuckled. “Coulda fooled me. I mean—I knew that Sookie was pretendin’ to be a pet last night. Mister Eric didn’t want me to get upset when I saw her, so he told me not to make no never mind ’bout how he treated her.” He sighed. “Did you know that I used to be an actor, Mister Bill?”
“Yes!” I seethed.
He snorted. “You know—compared to Miss Sookie—I don’t think I was a very good one. I didn’t even know she was pretendin’ to be sick tonight! She sure had us both fooled—didn’t she?” Bubba chuckled.
“Pretending?” I faltered. “But—why?”
“Well—that part I’m not too sure on yet,” Bubba admitted. “I think it’s ’cause Mister Victor was a bad man and Mister King Phillip wants to take Sookie to Las Vegas. And Vegas ain’t a good place, Mister Bill,” the addled vampire added.
I could almost visualize Bubba cringing.
“Let me out of here, Bubba,” I entreated. “Whatever Sookie is doing is likely to get her killed! And we both know that Eric is just going to hurt her. He is surely forcing her to follow whatever plan he has!”
“Mister Bill, I think you ought to move on from Miss Sookie. I know you love her and all, but Miss Sookie just ain’t for you anymore,” Bubba said as if he were a fucking sage! “And Mister Eric—well he loves Miss Sookie something fierce! Took me a while to get used to them together too ’cause I really did think you and her’d make it. But I did get used to it. And you can too!” he rambled on.
“Eric does not love Sookeh,” I growled. “He is just using her, and he will hurt her!”
“Nah,” Bubba dismissed. “I know you’re sad and all that Miss Sookie picked Mister Eric and not you. But they’re crazy in love. Ain’t no power greater than love,” he added definitively before he began to hum “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”
That was absolutely not what I needed!
I yelled for Bubba to let me out again.
“This is for your own good,” the simpleton stated after he was done with the song. “Miss Sookie didn’t want you to be killed tonight in the battle. So she made sure you were safe.”
“Battle! What battle?” I demanded.
“Ain’t altogether sure ’bout that part neither.” He paused for a moment. “Guess Miss Sookie’s lookin’ out for me too!” he chuckled. “That’s probably why I’m here guardin’ ya when you don’t really need no guard ’cause of them chains Miss Thalia put you in,” he added before beginning to hum “Jailhouse Rock.”
I growled as I listened to Bubba’s tune and I contemplated my current situation. Obviously, I’d been used to provide Felipe with the information that Northman had wanted him to have. But—just as obvious—Sookie had made sure that I would be safe and live through the night. I found myself hoping—first and foremost—that my king would kill Northman. I also found myself once again wondering just how complicit Sookie was in whatever machinations Eric was spinning. But—again—I could not imagine her involved very much.
The evidence was in the fact that I was to be kept safe from the fray. I could imagine Sookie ardently insisting upon that. Yes—Eric was the source of my betrayal, and Bubba was following along only because he didn’t know better.
I frowned as I thought about the fact that it would not be I who presented Sookie to the king.
“No matter,” I muttered to myself. After all, I was valuable to the king in many ways, and Sookie clearly cared about my wellbeing. The chips would fall where they may in the battle that Bubba mentioned. If the king won, I’d be released and rejoin Sookie. And then I’d make sure that Thalia was punished—unless she died in the battle. However—even if Eric prevailed—I knew that I would still have my chances with Sookie.
“Bubba, please,” I tried again, “let me go. I can make sure Sookie stays safe.”
“Don’t worry none. Miss Thalia said that she and Mister Eric were gonna do that, and they’re pretty much the strongest vamps I know!” he gushed before beginning to hum “Heartbreak Hotel.”
I rolled my eyes and tested my chains once again. Of course, I was not able to break their hold upon me.
“Now, Mister Bill, you’re just gonna get yourself hurt if you keep doin’ that,” Bubba said with concern. “Anyhow, I got more chains up here, and they ain’t wrapped up in leather. I really don’t wanna have to use ’em—okay?”
I sighed. Knowing I would not be able to convince Bubba to free me, I decided to go into down-time—so that the effects of the silver would not be so great upon my body.
The thuds of falling bodies.
The excitement of surviving.
These things were what I recalled of battles from my human days.
As a vampire, my perspective had changed.
The speed that my body was capable of traveling.
The feeling of my fangs penetrating an enemy.
The sensation of blood drops hitting my body.
The taste of that blood—whether it be vampire, human, two-natured, or Fae.
All blood was delicious in battle!
And—after—I loved to fly above the wreckage, surveying the evidence of victory.
But the battle before me was different than any I’d encountered before.
Always did I try to imagine all outcomes of the conflicts I participated in, but my current prospect was new to me. For the first time, my success in battle would not assure my victory.
I might very well be killed for treason, after all.
However, I might also end the night as a king—with Sookie well on her way to being my queen.
I let the prospect of that possibility fuel me.
I felt emboldened as I embraced every ambition I’d ever stifled because of my maker.
I felt empowered by the thought of all the powerful allies who were risking themselves for me and mine.
I felt enlivened by the love that was—even then—filling Sookie and my bond.
I marshalled all of my motivations and said a prayer to Thor, who was still the go-to god in my book when it came to war.
And then I said a prayer Frigga—to watch over Sookie.
Finally, I prayed to Odin for wisdom and guidance in what was to come.
I considered all contingencies.
If I died in battle, Thalia would get Sookie out.
If Sookie was somehow captured, her Dae allies would get her back—even if they had to unleash hell upon Felipe. Literal hell.
If the worst happened and Sookie died during the fray, I would meet the sun in the morning.
If we won, but I was executed, Sookie had vowed that she would go on, and I knew that Thalia would see to her needs.
If we won and I was made king, Sookie and I were ready to begin that very night to make Louisiana strong once more. And we would plow down any who stood in the way of that goal!
But would I be made king? That question pressed upon me more than whether or not I would be able to kill my current king.
Monarchs did not answer to many creatures, and—ultimately—the Ancient Pythoness controlled the Vampire Council, which was the only body that could dictate to a king or queen. For the most part, I trusted that old crone. I’d existed far away from her bad opinion, and I had the feeling that she liked my bonded.
For those reasons, I was hopeful that she would support me in my claim for the throne if a tie-breaker was needed with the four-person Vampire Council.
I tuned into my bond with Sookie and found her both pensive and close. The plan would have her arriving at Fangtasia approximately 10 minutes after I did—with the demons arriving in between. My instinct was to speed to Sookie and place her by my side, but I stifled that thought. She would be where she belonged soon enough.
45 MINUTES AFTER SUNSET, NEAR THE RED RIVER, SHREVEPORT
As the van carrying me, Karin, Nargal, and a few other demons drew closer to our destination, I smiled at the thought of the upcoming night, even as I tuned into the conversation being had in front of me.
Before tonight, I had known my sister mostly from her reputation alone; as she constructed our plans for the night with the demon, Nargal, she lived up to that reputation in spades!
Since Karin and my appearance at Fangtasia would signal to Felipe that something was amiss, we would be working with the Dae to “contain” Freyda and her personal guard.
Preferably in ashtrays.
I closed my eyes and “felt” for my bond with my new child. Though not due to rise until the next night, I knew that Miriam’s transformation would be successful because I could already feel her.
It had hurt me physically to tear myself away from her side before she’d risen, but the move had been a necessary one. Though Eric would have forbidden me from coming if I’d asked, I’d decided that seeking forgiveness would be better than seeking permission in this case.
Unbeknownst to Eric, Padma—Indira’s sister and one of my closest confidants—had been keeping me abreast of the situation in Area 5, and, when I’d learned that Eric intended to take down Felipe, I’d felt that I needed to be with him. Padma had mentioned that the demon, Cataliades, would help me. I’d called Karin before calling the demon. The rest was—as I say—”herstory.”
As in Pam’s story.
I smirked at that thought, even as I sent love and devotion to Miriam. I had no idea if my child could feel my emotions for her, however. But I hoped that—come what may—she would always know that I loved her.
I’d written Miriam a long note, explaining why I’d left her side—should she rise without me there. In the end, it was because I loved her so much that I knew that I had to help my own maker. It was important for me to give my child a life of freedom. If Eric prevailed, we’d have that.
If he failed . . . .
Well, I wasn’t willing to entertain such a fucked-up notion!
I listened as Karin and Nargal finalized our plans for taking out Freyda’s contingency. After the guards were removed from the equation, Karin and I would babysit Freyda—with a couple of demon’s standing watch outside her hotel room—while Nargal and the others in his group would go to Fangtasia in case back-up was needed.
I hated not being among those who would directly fight the king, but I also knew that Eric would be furious if I were. Plus, in the unlikely event that my maker failed, there would be time and opportunity for Karin and me to escape and plan a revenge well-suited for the progeny of Eric Fucking Northman!
Nargal had already promised safe harbor for Karin, me, and my new daughter in the Dae realm if the worst happened. And—since Dae blood was unappetizing to vampires—Nargal had also promised that he’d get us human blood if we had to stay there for any length of time.
Karin had negotiated the arrangement, amidst a discussion over whether a machete was preferable to a katana.
Eventually, the two had discounted both and had agreed that the sledgehammer was a more elegant weapon that most thought.
And then my sister and the demon had launched into whether it was more satisfying to slay a fairy or a vampire, even as they’d finalized how to best approach Freyda’s hotel.
Indeed, both Nargal and Karin were “ninjas” when it came to planning. I was impressed!
Though I didn’t show it. Their heads were too big as it were.
Still—I listened carefully to both of them and learned a lot.
Not that I would ever admit that I didn’t know something to begin with.
I looked around at the five panthers I’d brought with me to fulfill the task Eric had required of my group.
Because Sookie would not have wanted her brother to be in danger, I had not selected him for the current mission, though he was—even as merely a bitten-panther—a good match for anyone in our group during the full moon.
Having learned that Sookie and Jason were part Fae, I figured it was Jason’s supernatural blood that had made his transformation to werepanther be a lot more than “partial.”
However, the full moon would not occur for a while; thus—though stronger than a regular human—Jason would not be able to shift into his more powerful form.
Plus, Sookie did not need the added stress of worrying for her brother, despite the worth I believed Jason brought to the Hotshot clan. I still regretted that he and Crystal had not had children before my niece’s death. The fact that she’d been slain when she’d been with child was even more tragic.
But tragedy was not what I wanted to focus upon as I looked upon the panthers I’d chosen for the night.
“Our task is quite simple,” Mustapha said from next to me, having taken the lead. “Felipe has brought with him only a few Weres, and—as long as he follows his normal patterns—he will not use them tonight as guards. Still, we will subdue them at the motel where he has placed them so that they do not become a variable.”
“Are we to kill ’em?” one of my people asked.
“No. We will kill only when needed,” I instructed my panthers.
“Northman believes that the Weres will stand down as soon as they know that Felipe is dead, for they owe him no particular allegiance,” Mustapha added.
My people nodded in understanding.
I gestured for Mustapha to follow me to a place where we could speak privately. “Your mate is in place?” I asked him.
Mustapha nodded. “Yes. From his position, Warren is targeting the entrance of Fangtasia. He’ll take the kill shot if things go south.”
I nodded. Warren—his rifle now full of wooden bullets would be trained upon the perfect spot to kill any exiting vampires. And—once Felipe’s limited Were contingency was secured—Mustapha and I would be going to Fangtasia to help guard Warren. Meanwhile, one of Northman’s trusted vampires, Padma, would be seeing to his safety. From what I knew, Padma was a competent vampire. The “sibling” of Indira, Padma had stayed under the radar, but she was old enough to protect Warren from most dangers.
Warren had one task only: to kill Felipe if he managed to exit Fangtasia. Eric had considered ordering the sniper to do the deed as the king entered the club. But—if Warren missed . . . . Well—that outcome would not be ideal.
“Your mate will be well,” I said to my new friend.
He nodded. “We will all be well,” he returned.
A/N: I hope you will comment if your enjoyed this chapter and have the time and inclination to do so.
Many thanks, as always, to the lovelies: Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!