(banner by the awesome Sephrenia)
It was two hours before dawn when Thalia showed up at the house with Isabel. By then, everyone―except the vampires and Batanya―was sleeping or had gone home.
Ludwig had taken Quinn with her to her little hospital for Supes—complaining about her ruined vacation the whole way. Eric had arranged for a trustworthy vampire named Clancy to watch/guard him during the night and had hired Alcide to monitor him during the day. Eric was 90% certain that the Weretiger would not do anything stupid before he knew his family was safe, but he would always rather be safe than sorry.
As soon as the queen of Louisiana emerged from the tree line, Bubba walked right up to her purposely and laid a big kiss on her lips, which she accepted with equal fervor. Thalia actually smiled at him for a moment before composing her features and addressing Eric and Pam.
“This will all stop tonight. I do not wish to deal with bullshit, so I won’t be doing it any longer,” she said simply.
She looked at Eric. “I will need you to come to the mansion for a while. I need my general by my side.”
Without question, Eric nodded and looked at Pam. “Stay inside with Hunter until I return. I’m sure that Bubba will want to go with us to the mansion. And perhaps having tomorrow off would be welcome too?”
Bubba grinned widely. “That’d be real nice, Mister Eric. Thank ya.” He grabbed Thalia’s hand and the pair—the queen and her king—led Eric and Isabel across the cemetery.
Eric couldn’t help his own smile. Two years ago, he would have bet a good deal of the fortune that he’d accumulated over the years that he would never see Thalia show any affection to anyone—let alone do it in public.
Yet the petite warrior he’d known for almost a millennium seemed content to stroll slowly through the cold night air, holding the hand of her beloved. Eric could hear Bubba telling her how much he’d missed her and how glad he was to have her back. Thalia didn’t speak, but Eric could discern that she walked a little closer to Bubba. When Bubba began to hum a little and put his arm around Thalia, she sighed loudly—contentedly.
Eric knew that Thalia was a badass—better at stalking and striking her prey than even he was. He knew that she was anti-social. Hell—that was putting it lightly. She would rather kill most people than have to be in the same room with them. He knew that she had always preferred isolation and had not been a part of a nest since her maker released her. But he also knew what her contented sigh meant—how significant it truly was.
After all, he’d made that sound many times since he had met Sookie. It was the sound of coming home—finding a true home—after a millennium of not believing that one could exist. It was a good fucking sound—Eric thought—and Thalia deserved to make it.
Isabel, who’d been keeping pace with Eric, smiled as she took in the same sight he did.
She spoke in a low whisper, “I think there must be something in the air here, Eric. It seems that everyone—no matter how unlikely—ends up happily paired.”
Eric nodded. “No matter how unlikely,” he agreed with a sigh.
Thalia hadn’t bothered to tell Eric or Isabel why she needed them or what she wanted them to do; however, they were both smart enough to trust her and to follow her lead when she gestured for them to stand behind her in her office, which―Eric was glad to see―had been redecorated since Bill’s tenure. The space was much sleeker and had minimal, uncomfortable-looking furnishings. Eric smirked as he thought of how it suited Thalia to a “T.”
Thalia sat at her desk and quickly powered up her laptop. Eric was somewhat surprised to see a panel open to reveal a large screen television on the opposite side of the room. With a few strokes of the keyboard, Talia turned on the screen, and Eric could see that his queen was dialing someone for a video conference. Eric recognized the vampire who came up on half of the large screen in front of them as an employee of the Authority—their current “switchboard operator” of sorts.
Thalia spoke to the vampire on the screen calmly. “They will take my call in five minutes. Arrange it.” She hung up before the other vampire could say a word.
Eric chuckled behind her. “I was not aware that you had this much technology, my queen,” he said. He was, however, aware that she had this much moxie. Who else would have demanded an audience with the Authority like that? It was probably why many of them disliked her, but it was why Eric fucking loved having her as his monarch.
Thalia scoffed. “I do not like meeting with people, yet sometimes it is required.” The look on her face could only be described as full of distaste. “I refuse to host endless ‘delegations’ of would-be suitors and interlopers. I refuse to do business in person with humans who wear too much aftershave or vampires who demand that I provide them with a ready-supply of donors. So if I must appear,” Thalia continued with disgust, “then this makes it more palatable.”
Eric chuckled again as another call was made. The image of Sandy Seacrest, a vampire high in Felipe de Castro’s court, appeared. Sandy looked a bit surprised. Again, Thalia spoke few words. “I will expect de Castro to be calling me in four minutes.” She hung up and looked at Bubba. Her expression softened. “I would like for you to join them behind me.”
Bubba smiled and stepped between Eric and Isabel.
Exactly four minutes later, Felipe de Castro was calling. Thalia let the phone ring for thirty seconds before connecting the call.
Felipe’s image popped up on half of the screen. His face looked as composed and calm as ever, though Eric imagined that, on the inside, the king of Nevada and Mississippi was trying to figure out the status of his forces—especially the whereabouts of Quinn and Madden. He was likely wondering where one of his most trusted guards had disappeared to as well.
Felipe smiled slickly and smoothed his black hair. “Ah, Thalia. ¡Qué maravilla! It is always a pleasure to hear from you.” His Spanish accent was especially pronounced. “It has been too long, and I cannot help but hope that this call means that you have reconsidered my marriage proposal.”
Eric could feel Bubba tense next to him and reached out a hand to calm the ex-singer.
“No,” Thalia said simply. Just then, the call from the Authority came in. Thalia connected it immediately. Eric could see several vampires in the image, though their faces—as always—were obscured.
Eric rolled his eyes at the attempt of the Authority members to remain anonymous—mysterious. The Authority had always been about smoke and mirrors. Most older vampires knew exactly who the members were, however. In fact, from just their postures, Eric could recognize many of the vampires there. He was especially glad to see that Kibwe Akinjide was among the members presented. Kibwe was an honorable warrior whom Eric had met in Istanbul roughly four hundred years before.
The employee from before spoke up. “These vampires represent the Authority this evening.”
Thalia nodded a curt greeting and then tapped a few more keys on her computer. She began speaking. “Just so you all know—I am speaking to representatives of the Authority and to Felipe de Castro, king of Nevada. You can speak to and hear each other, but you cannot see each other.”
Eric saw de Castro bristle a bit. It had not escaped Eric’s notice that Thalia had not mentioned that de Castro was king of Mississippi too.
“Thalia, mi queridísima,” Felipe said smoothly, “you seem to be forgetting one of my states.” He laughed, trying to sound casual.
Thalia ignored him and spoke. “For some time, Felipe de Castro―most likely with the help with some members of the Authority and certainly with the aid of a faction of the AVL―has been plotting to take my state. This morning, his forces conducted four coordinated attacks against my territory. All of them have been put down.”
Felipe began to protest, but a growl from Thalia silenced him. She pushed a few more buttons on the keyboard, and an image of Madden confessing everything—under great duress—was seen on the screen of her laptop. Eric could tell from the reactions of the vampires on the large screen that they were seeing the same image. He smirked.
“So your idiocy and your denials aside,” Thalia said coldly as the image ended, “clearly my state has been attacked. Forces of Weres and humans assailed my home and the nests of my sheriffs today.” She scoffed, “They came in the day to try to kill us all as we were in our death. I have witnessed many acts of cowardice by vampires in my many years of life, but this one has made me very angry.”
Despite the fact that Thalia’s back was turned to him, Eric could sense the rage in his queen. He could also see the terror on de Castro’s face―as well as the movements of nervous Authority members.
Thalia reached into her pocket and pulled out two fangs. She slammed them onto the desk in front of her. “These belonged to Madden. The rest of him and the other vampires sent to overrun my state tonight are in puddles, and I claim Mississippi as my own in retribution for this attack.”
“You cannot do that!” de Castro said insistently. “Mississippi is mine!”
“It’s already done,” Thalia returned icily. “I will have sheriffs in place by tomorrow night. I will not allow you,” she spoke directly to de Castro, “to come within five hundred miles of my territories. If you do, I will have your fangs on my desk as well.”
De Castro stood up. “You cannot make demands of me. The Authority will not stand for it. I was given Mississippi,” he insisted. “You cannot do this!”
“Sit down, miscreant,” Thalia said, the edge clear in her voice, “and let’s all see what I am capable of doing.”
She looked at the other side of the screen. “Authority, is Mississippi mine or de Castro’s?”
After a minute, during which the vampires of the Authority could be seen conferring―but could not be heard―the sound was put back on.
Kibwe leaned forward so that he could be seen. His rich African accent, which Eric recalled was from the region that was now Ghana, commanded attention. “The attack by de Castro has been officially renounced by this body. Mississippi has been declared to be the retribution for this attack, and Thalia’s domain of that state is endorsed by the Authority.”
Thalia smirked at de Castro. “Now,” she said, her voice sounding more dangerous than Eric had ever heard it before, “listen to me very carefully Nevada King. My paramour here quite likes your one remaining state. He has spoken of having good memories of being there, and he has even hummed a tune or two about the town you are in right now.” De Castro’s eyes rose to look at Bubba, who was staring back at him as menacingly as he’d stared down Bill Compton the night of Sookie and Eric’s pledging.
Thalia continued, “If you ever cross me again, I will have Nevada too. I will gift it to my beloved with a nice little bow made from your remains on top.”
De Castro snarled. “Do not threaten me! You do not have the numbers I do. You do not have the power!”
Thalia laughed. “You don’t have the intelligence to understand that the numbers and the power you claim are illusions. You are an infant, Nevada King, and tonight—and every other night after this one—you live because I decide that you live. Why don’t you reach under that God awfully gaudy chair you are sitting in and find out the limits of your power?”
De Castro looked at Thalia with surprise but did as she said. He could be seen lifting a small device from under the chair. Eric smirked as he recognized the nature of that device.
Thalia spoke, “In your hands, you hold a little bomb full of silver nitrate as well as TNT. At any moment over the last several weeks as your ass was touching that chair, I could have blown it up, and you would have been no more.”
De Castro carefully put the device onto his desk and backed away a few steps.
Thalia continued. “Now, if that little bomb is moved out of your office, which is—I have come to find out—very, very secure compared to the rest of the building you are now in―as well as your resting place―it will blow up. If it is tampered with, it will blow up. I’d like for you to think of it as a little reminder—a kind of knickknack, if you will. I want you to look at it and remember that I can get to you anytime and anywhere I choose. I want you to look at it and wonder if there are any other similar devices concealed in your businesses, in your homes, and in your supposedly secret resting places. I want you to look at it and remember that I am not a vampire to be trifled with, and if I should happen to meet my true death in an untimely fashion, I want you to know that yours will soon follow because even then, you will not be free of my touch.”
She looked toward the other side of the screen and leveled the same cold stare at the Authority members. “I pay my required tribute to both the Authority and the AVL. And I have more than doubled the profits of Louisiana in less than a year, which has increased the amount of money in your coffers. Yet I have come to understand that certain factions would like to see me removed. You may think you are safe with your heads hidden in the dark, but you are not. You should also be vigilant about checking under your chairs as well.”
“You will not threaten us,” one of the still-concealed Authority members said angrily.
“I do not threaten,” Thalia said coldly—evenly. “I warn. And if you allow me simply to conduct the business of my states without any kind of interference on your part, I will leave it at a mere warning, but make no mistake—you have been warned, and I only give one of those.”
There was more muted discussion from the Authority members. Finally Kibwe’s voice was heard again. Since Eric knew the vampire, he was able to detect the amusement in his eyes. “Queen Thalia, the Authority has never officially condoned an act that would threaten the dominion of any king or queen in good standing, and you have shown yourself to be an effective ruler. No members of this body will be of further threat to you. You have my word. And if that word is broken, my sword will join yours in revenge.”
Knowing that very few would risk angering Kibwe and understanding the significance of the distinguished vampire’s words, Eric nodded at the screen.
Thalia nodded as well and abruptly turned off the call with Felipe.
She spoke with finality to the Authority members. “One last thing—I will officially be taking Bubba as my vampire consort or husband or whatever it’s called in these times—if he agrees. Consider yourselves informed.”
Kibwe gave them an amused smile. “We are informed, Queen Thalia,” he said with a nod of his own.
She hung up that line too.
Needless to say―considering the grin spread across Bubba’s handsome face―he would definitely be agreeing.