FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11 • 8:00 p.m.
Jade Flower was as expert at hiding her contempt. She always had been.
It had been her human mother who had taught her the skill.
Most people—including almost all of the vampires and all of the humans that she’d ever interacted with since she’d moved to the United States the century before—believed that she’d been a 芸者, a geisha, before being turned. She scoffed at the idea. Most had no idea what being a geisha even entailed! Contrary to popular belief, geishas were not prostitutes. In fact, Jade had been a 花魁—an oiran. Like geishas, they were well-known for their performing—their mastery of artistic skill. However, unlike their tamer counterparts, oirans were certainly also well-known—and well-trained—as sexual performers as well.
Jade had been so much more than that, however. She’d been trained—by her mother and her revered grandmother—to be a spy and an assassin. It was a family legacy—passed to Jade from eight generations of women. With each generation, a new skill was added. Jade had chosen to become an expert in the use of the yubi-bo, an easily concealable short staff weapon of approximately 8-inches long. Thicker in the middle than at the ends, the yubi-bo could be used to defend against other weapons. Or—in the hands of an expert—it could become a tool of death. Even at that moment, she was carrying a yubi-bo, hidden below the folds of her dress. Oh course—her current model had been modified to have sharpened ends.
She could stake a vampire with her weapon of choice before he or she knew what was coming.
Jade’s maker had hoped that she would add her skills to his own repertoire. But the young oiran had been raised to believe that her skills were her own to use as she best saw fit. And—up to the night of her turning—she’d always chosen those for whom she worked carefully—thoughtfully.
Her maker took away her power.
But only for a little while.
He had been unwise to believe her compliant. Of course, he had no way of understanding how well her grandmother had taught her to maintain serenity and calm amidst great animosity. Because of her childhood lessons, she’d had no problem simply “not feeling” her contempt for her maker until she could eliminate his hold over her.
With her yubi-bo.
And—once free—she had made her way up the ladders of the vampire power structure. She enjoyed—especially—working as a second-in-command to vampires who were new to power positions, as Peter Threadgill had been when he’d taken over Arkansas in the 1980s. Jade had chosen Peter for the promise she’d felt he had. She’d liked his blatant aggressiveness. Peter had been turned in 1836—when his maker spotted him near death in the carnage of the Alamo. Peter claimed that he’d been shot in the gut and had still fought on—next to the corpse of his fallen comrade Jim Bowie, whose famous knife Peter still sported.
Having seen the king fight, Jade did not doubt his tales of valor.
Jade had liked the brashness of the “young” king. He was—for lack of a better word—so damned “American.” So she’d offered her services to him after completing a contract with the King of Kentucky.
Sadly, Peter had let her down—disappointed her. After becoming the King of Arkansas, it was as if a light had been turned on within the king; however, it was not a light of ambition. I was a philanthropic one. He used most of the State’s available funds to invest in the businesses and lives of the vampires of Arkansas, rather than increasing his own personal holdings. In truth, Jade did not understand such behavior. However, she was not one to go against a contract she had signed—a commitment she had made.
However, that contract was near up, and she was ready to move on—unless Peter’s ambitions grew to what Jade deemed appropriate for a vampire.
Following her counsel, her king was pursuing a marriage with Queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq of Louisiana. The queen’s child, Andre, had—at one point—shown disrespect for Jade and her king. And the deadly vampiress could not abide such an insult. So she’d set her—and, therefore, Peter’s—sights on Louisiana.
Not knowing her ultimate motives, the king believed that a marriage and an alliance with Queen Sophie-Anne would be a good thing for Arkansas. He did not know that Jade planned to engineer the queen’s death—right after the signing of the marriage alliance contract—so that Peter would be king of two states.
The vampiress hoped that tripling Peter’s power would put her king on a better path, for Jade still saw much potential in him. Unlike Arkansas right after Peter took over, Louisiana was already very prosperous, so she hoped that the king would not succumb to his more charitable inclinations.
Jade balked at the idea that a monarch she worked for not exceeding the expectations of all in wealth and power!
She had a reputation to maintain, after all.
Of course, if Peter didn’t do as she advised after she basically handed him Louisiana on a golden platter, Jade had already decided upon the next monarch she would serve, the Oklahoma Queen. Unlike Peter, Freyda had no qualms about increasing her power through unscrupulous means. And she had much ambition.
Jade had only one question left to answer: Would Peter—by remaining weak in her eyes—push her to the point that she had only contempt for him? If he did, then she was already putting into place assets that would ensure the king would have an unfortunate “accident”—on the very day her contract with him ended.
Which would just so happen to correspond to the very day that Peter would wed Freyda.
Jade figured that Freyda would take the gifts of Louisiana and Arkansas as ample evidence of the kind of usefulness that only someone like Jade (and there were not many like her) could provide.
“So, Jade. How does security look?” Peter asked as he came into the sitting room from his bedroom in the large, opulent suite the highest-ranking Arkansas vampires had been given for the negotiations.
“I have found nothing amiss, Majesty,” she said with a slight bow of her head. No matter how many years she’d spent with him, she always greeted him with the same deferential gesture.
“Have our people picked up on any gossip?” he asked, a twinkle in his greenish-brown eyes.
“The Queen seems serious about the marriage negotiations,” Jade responded.
“Good. I’d worried that she was yanking my chain,” Peter declared in a Southern drawl that distinguished him as a Tennessean by birth. “After all, Arkansas isn’t the richest of states, so her motives in aligning with me could be almost anything.”
“Have you considered my proposal to raise tributes beginning in the next quarter?”
“Still considerin’,” the king responded. “You’re right that our sheriffs and subjects can afford more, but we keep our population up by keeping our tributes down. I’d hate to lose subjects.”
“I think you underestimate the loyalty you have among your subjects,” Jade observed. “You have—after all—done much to help them. Most would not have thriving businesses if it weren’t for your initial investments.”
“That might be the case,” Peter returned, “but I learned—even as a human—that loyalty is a thing that is difficult to get, but easy to lose.”
Jade knew to let the matter lie for the moment. “Our werebadger told me one more thing of note,” she said after a moment’s silence had passed between the monarch and his second-in-command.
Peter chuckled. “What did ol’ Harley find out? I swear that bastard has the nose of a hound!”
“Harley learned that Quinn and his group have been paid an additional fee by the queen—to function as back-up security during the marriage negotiations and ball.”
Peter frowned momentarily, but then shrugged. “Perhaps, Sophie-Anne is simply being extra cautious. We have no reason to suspect that she might be up to something—do we?”
“Any monarch entering into a marriage negotiation is as likely to be planning a takeover as to be hoping for an ally,” Jade responded generally. At this point, she simply wanted to stir up her king’s thoughts.
Peter contemplated for a moment. “Contact the sheriffs at home and instruct them to be more vigilant. And let’s get Jennifer and more daytime security here ASAP.”
Jade nodded and began to do as the king had bid her. As always, she hid her contempt. Few in her night-to-night life had rubbed her the wrong way as much as Jennifer Cater did. Oh—the vampiress was perfectly capable, but she had been a driving force behind Peter’s more charitable inclinations and was forever butting heads with Jade about policy. Worse, Peter had made Jennifer his Second Lieutenant—right under Jade—so the Japanese vampiress had to work with the “bleeding-heart vampiress” on many projects.
Jade comforted herself by vowing that Jennifer Cater’s nights were numbered—that she might even be removed during the takeover of Louisiana, which Jade hoped would occur on the night of February 14.
Just three nights away.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12 • 3:00 a.m.
“It will do,” Appius said as he looked around the living room of the modest-sized dwelling that had been secured for Alexei, Bill, and himself.
“I’m afraid that letting you use one of the more finely appointed dwellings owned by the queen would draw my maker’s attention. This home is one of my personal properties,” Andre informed. “And it has been heavily warded to ensure the privacy of all who are within it.”
“Of course, our stay will not need to remain a secret after the night of the 14th,” Bill said quickly.
“And you can—then—immediately move into a dwelling more worthy of someone of your,” Andre paused, “power.”
Appius inclined his head in a slight nod of acknowledgment. “And the witch? She is unaware of this place—correct? It wouldn’t do to have someone of her,” he paused, a look of disdain on his face, “variety knowing where we are to rest.”
“I am the only one who knows where you are staying, Sir,” Andre assured.
“You may address me as Ocella,” Appius said, looking down at the queen’s child. In truth, he didn’t really impress the ancient.
“Thank you,” Andre said with a deferential nod.
“I look forward to meeting the queen. Meanwhile, we will require sustenance,” Appius stated.
“Neither bottled nor bagged will do,” Bill indicated quickly.
Andre nodded. “I will see to it that several donors are glamoured and sent here each night.”
“Beginning as soon as possible tonight,” Appius clarified.
Andre nodded in agreement.
“I crave A negative,” Alexei piped up from the position he’d taken on the couch. He’d already discovered Andre’s gaming system and had seemed oblivious to the conversation.
Of course, Alexei always had an opportunistic ear tuned in to everything around him. His maker had taught him that.
“I will do what I can,” Andre assured.
“If more or better foodstuff is required, Master, I will procure it,” Bill assured.
Appius nodded in the direction of his new apprentice. “Very well. Now—when will we get to meet this witch of yours?” he asked first Bill and then Andre—since both seemed to be sharing “custody” of said creature.
“Tomorrow night—if that is convenient,” Andre responded. We will make our plans for the Valentine’s Night Ball then as well.”
“Ah—yes. Excellent. I believe the ball begins at the stroke of midnight on February 14?” the ancient asked.
“Yes, Ocella,” Andre responded.
“It will be nice to interact with my eldest child again,” he remarked.
Alexei scoffed from his position on the couch.
“You may find that you enjoy your brother’s company too, young one,” Appius said with a smile in his younger child’s direction.
“I like William as my brother,” the youngest vampire in the room sullenly stated.
“Thank you, Alexei,” Bill preened.
“Well—it is important that you meet all of your blood kin, child,” Appius said with a roll of his eyes and a knowing look toward Andre. “Tell me—have you ever made a child?”
“No,” Andre responded. “I have never felt the pull.”
“Ah, yes. It is important to listen to our instincts when it comes to making a new vampire. I think it is the difference, too—between whether the drained human rises a child or the fates deem him or her as being unworthy of the ultimate gift of immortality. Perhaps, I am biased. However, I believe that my own two surviving children are remarkable specimens—each in his own way.”
Appius ignored when Alexei rolled his eyes at that comment; however, he did not overlook the look of skepticism in Andre’s eyes.
The elder’s fangs clicked down, and Andre seemed to wither under Appius’s sudden glare and aggression.
“I beg your pardon, Sir,” Andre said quickly. “I certainly wasn’t denigrating Alexei. It is Eric’s,” he paused, “attitude that I take issue with. He is obsessed with his human—when he rightly should have offered her to the queen.”
“Sookie is mine—by right,” Bill said evenly, his voice completely devoid of emotion.
“That she is,” Appius stated in agreement. “And I am very proud that you can now speak of her with such calm.” He looked at Andre. “William, here, was once of a mind that he loved the woman. What is her name again?”
“Sookie Stackhouse,” Andre responded.
“Ah—yes. Ridiculous name, but—then again—I continue to be partial to the stately nomenclatures of my birth culture. ‘Livius Ocella’ sounds so much more graceful than ‘Stackhouse’—do you not think?”
“Yes, Master,” Bill agreed. “Your name is but one sign of the noble status of your human life—made even nobler by your continued existence as a vampire.”
“Sir, surely you understand that the telepath ought to belong to the queen,” Andre said to Appius cautiously, pulling the conversation back to the ownership of Sookie Stackhouse, as opposed to her name.
Appius was silent for a moment. “I suppose we could be talked into lending Miss Stackhouse to Queen Sophie-Anne every now and then; however, she will belong to William here.”
Andre cowered at the stern power within the ancient’s voice—and at the fact that his fangs were still elongated. He’d been hoping to bind the telepath to himself—a desire heightened when he caught his first look at her earlier that night. He wanted to offer her as a tribute to his queen and maker. However, he was wise enough to know that he would not be able to withstand the wrath of Appius Livius Ocella. And he did not wish to endanger his queen either.
“You are ready to subdue Eric so that he cannot defend Miss Stackhouse against abduction—as well as to ensure that he better understands his place in Louisiana’s pecking order?” Andre asked—his voice almost apologetic.
Appius’s fangs clicked away as he nodded. “I will command him to never go against you or your queen,” he said in a low voice. “And I also intend to command him to expel Pamela from his life.”
Andre looked surprised at that last remark, but it was clear that he was pleased by it. An Eric Northman without his trusted and crafty child as a lieutenant would be a diminished vampire.
“In that case, I see no issue with the telepath coming to your,” Andre paused as he looked at Bill, “nest.”
“Excellent. Make sure that William has the address for the witch. And the time of our meeting—tomorrow evening?”
“9:00 p.m. I will need to be back at the queen’s estate for an 11:00 p.m. negotiation meeting. Indeed, I need to get back soon and must still go by another of my safe houses to arrange for your meal delivery—and to shower.”
“Ah—yes. It would not do to have my child smell me—not when I have put such an effort into covering up our maker-child connection from him so that he continues to believe that I am on the other side of the earth.” Appius chuckled. “You are dismissed,” he said abruptly to the queen’s child.
Quickly, Andre bowed and left.
“He was unimpressive,” Appius sighed. “I fear that he and others like him are the byproducts of the ease that the Great Revelation brought with it—not that the word ‘great’ ought to be used as a descriptor for that historical event.”
Bill nodded in reverent agreement.
“Well—keep Alexei occupied. I wish to have a private visit with our guest for a bit,” Appius said enthusiastically.
Again, Bill nodded—this time in obedience.
“Ah—dearest Karin!” Appius greeted with false enthusiasm as he pried open the lid of the large wooden crate where he’d stowed his captive. He pulled her roughly to her feet and then slung her onto the floor in the empty attic room, where he’d taken the crate upon their arrival at Andre’s promised lodgings.
The vampiress’s arms were tied tightly behind her back—both at the elbows and at the wrists—with silver twine. Her ankles, too, were tied together—as were her knees. Appius quickly moved her to sit against a wall and then removed the ball-gag that had kept her quiet during Andre’s visit.
“You have looked better, my dear,” he said with a grin as Karin opened and then closed her mouth like a fish gasping for air. The sound of her jaw moving back into place from where it had been dislodged due to his rough insertion of the ball-gag was incredibly satisfying to the ancient vampire.
Indeed, his torture of Karin on the plane—during the night hours, of course—had been satisfying, overall.
And—during their second night in the air after a stopover in Los Angeles the day before—it had been quite enlightening as the magic which had covered her true scent and the secrets of her blood had finally worn off.
“Tell me. Have you called your maker to you yet? Can’t he feel your distress?” he taunted.
Karin looked at Appius defiantly.
“You don’t want him to fly in here and be harmed—do you?”
She said nothing.
“Or,” he grinned, “is it that your maker-child bond has been so damaged by Eric that you can no longer call him as a child ought to be able to call a maker?”
Still, Karin was silent.
“You know—I am quite vexed that Eric deceived me about you. It seems he was worried about what I might have made him do to you. Or maybe he was simply ashamed of you and wanted to hide the fact that he’d made you at all,” the ancient sneered, even as he took a switchblade from his pocket. He sliced into Karin’s left cheekbone and then leaned down to lick the blood she lost.
Appius sighed deeply. “I can barely taste him. Barely smell him in you. Barely feel him. But as soon as your ingenious potions wore off, there was no mistaking who your maker was. Eric was wise—I think—to hide you from me. For that is what he told you he was doing—isn’t it? Isn’t that why he so thoroughly severed your maker-child bond so that even I—with my heightened senses—would not be able to sense the connection until I was right next to you?”
Karin said nothing, though her glare at her maker’s maker was consistent.
“I understand, of course,” Appius said evenly. “It was a difficult time for me. I’d just made a child who did not survive the turning—a young man with such beauty that a sculptor could have made him his only muse. However, the fates did not deem the young man worthy to be a vampire.”
Appius walked over to the lone window in the attic. “It is painful when a child does not rise. And I was—rightfully—quite disconcerted by the fact that Eric had successfully turned a child—you—not long before I made my attempt. I felt that I would find,” he paused, “distraction with family, but my child kept some of that familial connection from me.” His eyes trained to the night, he slowly licked the switchblade before putting it back into his pocket.
“Oh—I would have had such fun with you! I think it would have helped to salve my loss. And Eric owed me for the life I gave him—for the lessons I taught him. For the sweet companionship I provided for the first two hundred years of his life.”
“There was nothing sweet about the companionship he had to endure with you!” Karin said venomously.
Appius smirked. “Ah—so you do speak!”
Karin closed her lips firmly, her eyes defiant.
“Did he try to convince you that he did not enjoy me?” Appius asked. “Oh—how that boy could deceive even himself! Certainly, there were some nights when he begged for mercy, but there were others when he begged for more.”
“You twisted bastard!” Karin seethed.
“You defend your maker even though he clearly didn’t want you enough to keep you by his side—as he has Pamela.”
Karin flinched. “He was protecting me from you.”
“Ah—I wouldn’t have toyed with you or him perpetually. You both could have weathered the storm of my grief.” Appius moved from the window to stand next to where Karin sat and then squatted down to look more closely at the vampiress for a moment. She did not blink under his gaze.
The stare-down ended with Appius’s laughter. “You love him—don’t you? Yet he has always preferred others. Has he sent Pamela away as he sent you away? No. He keeps her by his side. Has he irreparably broken the maker-child bond between himself and her? No. He holds to that tie.
His lips moved into a sinister sneer. “Has he ever felt for you even a fraction of what he now feels for the telepath at his side? No!”
“You were—you are—in love with him. I imagine that you despise Sookie Stackhouse.”
Karin flinched at the telepath’s name.
“I am right. You hate her. You envy her, for Eric has given to her all that he has withheld from you! He has bonded with her; I can feel that much. I felt it happening from the other side of the globe! Surely, even with the pittance of a connection you still have with him, you felt it as well. By contrast, he broke the bond he had with you, leaving only enough of a link with him to remind you of the emptiness that remains.”
He smiled. “I have finally figured out the use that I will have for you, grandchild.” He rose to stand at his full height. “Yes. You have offered me all the information that I need to,” he paused, “help you to get that which your heart desires the most.”
He moved quickly to open the door of a small closet in the attic; there was only a ratty old blanket inside of it. “Perfect,” he said with satisfaction before swooping up the vampiress and then tossing her inside of the closet. He then put the blanket over her before shutting the closet door.
“So perfect!” he laughed evilly before leaving Eric’s child to stew upon his words to her.
A/N: Hello all! Likely, it was difficult to enjoy this chapter—because it had Appius in it—but I hope you liked it nonetheless. So—what do you think of Jade? I always thought she was a potentially interesting character, though I hated that she killed Gladiola in the books. Anyway, this story allows me to develop her a bit. I always love a good female badass villain. And—of course—there is Appius. Have I left enough clues for you to sort of figure out what kind of thing he is planning for poor Karin?
Let me know what you think.
Speaking of thinking, I have a STORY RECOMMENDATION for you. If you have been reading in this fandom for a while, you probably know about ficlet78 and her incredible stories for our fandom. In my top five EVER fics (by someone else—lol) is her Five, As Agreed Upon. It’s mid-sized, sexy, and perfectly paced for me. Also among my faves is her incomparable Pretty Kitty. Hands down, that is the sexiest Eric/Sookie fic out there for my money. Anyway, she’s back to writing. Some of you will be disappointed that she’s not writing for Eric & Sookie. However, she has begun a story for the North & South fandom (the BBC miniseries version is great; the novel is by Elizabeth Gaskell). Anyway, if you are familiar with that work and love ficlit78 like I do, you have to check out her story called Nary a Thought for England. And make sure you have a cold shower available. Reading the first chapter inspired me to watch North & South again. It’s free on Netflix now—if you have that. Anyway, I know that she would love to see some of the ol’ SVM/TB readers commenting on her new story. I still have hopes that she’ll get another Eric/Sookie story into her head, though her life is now a lot busier than it was when she had time to write more. Still—here’s to hoping! Click HERE to try out her story (after you review–of course). 😉
Until next week,