SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12 • 9:00 p.m.
Stepping from the van that Bill had driven from their safe house to the dwelling that Hallow was currently occupying, Appius took in the exterior of the old plantation manor with the eyes of a vampire who knew how to survive through a myriad of situations—as well as a connoisseur of architectural design.
“Ah—Greek revival style! A fine specimen!” he enthused to Bill. “And the selection of Doric columns, rather than Corinthian—as I believe was more common in this region at the time of the plantation’s building—was an excellent choice. Simple lines, William, are often needed to complement a masterpiece.” He looked at his young ward. “You have a plantation home as well, I believe?” he asked.
“Yes,” Bill returned. “It is, unfortunately, in worse shape than this one. However, I had begun the process of restoring it to its former glory before,” he paused, “Eric began to interfere with my business.”
Appius shook his head. “My first child never did have much appreciation for the finer things in life.” He sighed dramatically. “I have seen many glorious structures lost to time. Let us commit to restoring your estate as you train Miss Stackhouse to be a model pet and then child,” he determined. “And I shall have Eric pay for the restoration so that he will begin to understand the place of honor you will hold at my side.”
“That would be gratifying, Master,” Bill said with a nod.
“Both in terms of rebuilding your home and sticking it to my eldest child,” Appius smirked as his winked at Bill.
“Indeed,” he replied.
“Father, how long will this take? I wish to return to my game,” Alexei whined as he got out of the back seat.
“Not too long,” Appius returned, ruffling Alexei’s hair affectionately. “Ah—I see our hosts have stepped out to greet us!”
Andre moved from the large, creaky porch of the plantation house to the path leading to where Bill had parked on the long driveway. “Ocella, may I introduce you to the witches, Hallow and Mark Stonebrook.”
“Ah—I have heard of your talents, Hallow. And I can sense your strength,” Appius said appreciatively before momentarily regarding her brother. He turned his attention back to the stronger of the two.
“As I can sense yours, Appius Livius Ocella,” Hallow returned with a respectful nod of her head. “And, you must be Alexei,” she added—looking at the younger vampire.
Alexei did not acknowledge her.
“Shall we plan tomorrow night’s events inside?” Andre asked, stretching out his arm to gesture toward the home’s entrance.
“Certainly. Might I bring in a guest?” Appius asked. “Don’t worry. She’ll stay out of the way.”
Hallow lifted her eyebrow. “An ally we are not aware of?”
Appius merely laughed as he opened the back of the van, revealing a wooden crate. “She may very well turn out to be an asset; however, for now, let’s stow her someplace where she cannot hear us—shall we?”
“Who is it?” Andre asked curiously.
“A surprise for Eric,” Appius smiled sinisterly. “That’s all you need to know—for now,” he added, his voice icy.
Andre looked as if he were about to question his elder, but a stern gaze from Appius halted him. Instead, the queen’s child nodded in compliance.
Appius turned to the witch. “Can your brother arrange for my cargo to be transported to a place of safety for the duration of our meeting?”
“You know that he’s my brother?” Hallow asked, impressed by the elder’s senses. Her stronger power and the V she’d infused in their blood generally covered up the genetic kinship she had with her sibling.
Appius nodded. “Indeed. I can also sense that you have both had the blood of my kind recently; however, I ask—in the firmest of ways—that this crate not be opened to satisfy any of the appetites of those inside of this home. Perhaps, later, a donation might be made from the occupant—to you and your brother.”
Hallow nodded. “Such a gift would be welcome, for I too have honed senses, and the one in the box has well-aged blood, though not—of course—as powerful as your own.”
Appius smirked. “I doubt if you would find many with blood as potent as mine on this continent.”
“Perhaps, a sample could be arranged?” Hallow asked, her lips twitching a little as if hoping to catch a taste of the ancient’s blood just by being in his presence.
Appius said nothing to that request.
“Mark!” Hallow cried, getting her brother’s attention, which was fixed upon and studying Appius as if the elder vampire might attack at any moment; in contrast, his sister seemed almost relaxed with Appius. “See to the crate,” she ordered. “Put it in the cellar, and put one of your blocking spells around it so that no one can get in or out. And make sure the others in the coven and, especially, Miss Pelt, are given tasks that will keep them out of our way for the next few hours.”
Mark nodded and moved toward the crate.
“William, give Mr. Stonebrook a hand—will you?” Appius asked his young apprentice. “And then join us.”
“Of course, Master,” Bill agreed with a deferential nod, even as he easily picked up the crate with Karin the Slaughterer inside. The Civil War veteran had no idea what Appius’s plans were for her, but he was happy to do his master’s bidding.
FIFTY MINUTES LATER
“It all seems straightforward enough, and that is usually for the best.” Appius remarked.
Bill nodded. “Yes, Master. Over-complication can lead to mistakes.”
“Indeed,” the elder proclaimed. “So—to sum up—the ball is due to start at midnight. Not long after, the Pelt woman will be allowed to get close enough to the telepath to create the need for Miss Stackhouse to be hurried back to her guest quarters.”
When the elder paused, Andre picked up the plan’s narrative. “Yes. The guards loyal to me will ensure that Miss Pelt is able to enter the mansion and present herself as a sufficiently menacing threat.”
“Sookeh is not to be harmed,” Bill cried out, his passion causing him to revert to his thick, antiquated Southern accent.
Appius looked sharply at the younger vampire. “William, we have talked about your need for control several times—have we not?” he asked coldly. “Do we need to revisit the kinds of punishments you were required to endure during your first days with Alexei and me?”
Bill lowered his head quickly. “I am sorry, Master. If you feel that I deserve punishment, then I will gratefully accept.”
Pleased, the elder vampire smirked at his young ward. He knew that Bill would not only accept the punishment, but enjoy it—though he would feel guilty for that enjoyment. It was a pattern that Appius relished in recreating.
He reached out to pat Bill’s cheek affectionately. “We will deal with any punishments later. For now, reign in your passions. Otherwise, I may rethink your readiness to train Miss Stackhouse.”
Bill nodded somberly. “Yes, Master. I will stay in control.”
The elder smiled slightly before turning his attention back to Andre. “After the telepath and Eric have separated due to Miss Pelt’s antics, your people will be ready to signal our entrance?”
“Yes, Ocella,” Andre responded. “But beware as you go after Sookie.”
“Why?” Appius asked with a chuckle. “Based upon your descriptions, her personal guards do not seem to be much of a challenge.”
“Thalia is formidable,” Andre said, his tone almost apologetic.
Appius scoffed. “Just guarantee that the tunnel system will be open to us. The vampiress you speak of will be nothing to me, and—once she is eliminated—the others will fall quickly.”
“I don’t want the queen’s people harmed,” Andre said pensively.
“So we cannot expect them all to be cooperative?” Appius asked—clearly a little perturbed.
“The ones I will have at the northeast gate will—as I have told you—let, first, Debbie and, then, your group onto the estate without any problems, but after that, I cannot risk telling others, lest my maker or the telepath learns of the plan.”
“It would be easy enough to use confounding spells on your guards, should they get in our way,” Hallow suggested.
“How will you differentiate our people from Eric’s?” Andre asked.
“Email pictures of your people—if you truly want to preserve them,” Mark Stonebrook proposed. “You must have plenty of images from your surveillance systems.”
Andre nodded. “I can do that.”
“Good. So then it is all settled. A V-crazed Debbie will cause a stir, we will kill the guards Eric has arranged for his pet, and we will secure Miss Stackhouse,” Appius said with finality.
Andre nodded in deference to the elder.
“And, then, Eric will feel his bonded’s distress,” the elder vampire emphasized with a chuckle.
“Bonded?” Andre asked, even as Bill was visibly shaking, though he fought to hold back his reaction so that he did not incur his “master’s” wrath again—at least, not in public.
Appius nodded even as he studied William closely. He had previously told his young protégé of the bond he was almost certain had been formed between Eric and his telepathic pet. That knowledge had precipitated Appius’s first punishment of William weeks before. Such punishments had added a nice diversion on top of the energizing experience they’d had while in their private paradise in the Philippines.
The elder was pleased to see that William now knew better that to let out an outburst, though he’d still not achieved perfect control over his emotions.
That would take time—and a lot more training.
Andre’s brow creased. “But how will Bill bond with her—if she’s already bonded. You don’t intend to kill Eric—do you?”
Appius rolled his eyes at Andre and looked at Hallow. “I don’t suppose you could do anything about a bond—could you?” he asked with a smirk. “I have heard that there are magical remedies to such things—remedies which skilled witches can perform. You are that skilled—yes?” he finished, his voice clearly issuing Hallow a challenge.
“Of course! I know the magic,” the witch returned boastfully. “But the spell is a painful one for the bonded pair.”
Appius grinned. “All the better! Pain will help Eric to learn the lesson that such matters should always be discussed with one’s master—one’s better—before the pursuit of them. And, of course, Miss Stackhouse must begin to understand that there will be consequences for going against the wishes of the vampire who first claimed her,” he added, looking at Bill.
“We have not yet talked about what I am getting out of all of this,” Hallow inserted. “After all, Debbie is my creature. And I have offered my help in capturing Sookie Stackhouse. In addition, I am now tasked with protecting the queen’s people in all of this. And then breaking a blood bond.”
Appius smiled at her sinisterly. “I was told that you had a particular kind of magical spell you wished to,” he paused, “try out on my elder child?”
Hallow nodded hungrily.
The ancient smirked. “I have decided to help young William here to restore the estate of his human forebears. I do so enjoy Antebellum architecture. Thus, we will stay in Louisiana for a while. While I am here, I will, of course, want to share some,” he paused, “quality time with Eric in order to enjoy his company after so long apart. And, dear Alexei will want to meet his brother.”
Appius’s younger child scoffed, but said nothing. He was absorbed in a handheld video game device that Mark Stonebrook had offered the young vampire earlier—when the petulant youth seemed ready to throw a tantrum due to his boredom.
Appius continued. “That being said, there will be no need for me to spend more than a week or so in Eric’s direct company.” He leaned forward in his seat to look closely at Hallow. “After I am finished with him, I am inclined to allow you to use your spell on him with the caveat that I can,” he paused, “supervise to a certain extent and enjoy the show. William said that it was a love spell. Tell me—what will it accomplish?”
Hallow glanced at Bill and then looked back at Appius. “I have been working on the spell since early January—making many improvements upon the first version of it. Now there are two distinct potions that could be utilized.”
“Describe them,” Appius said with curiosity, even as he sat back in his chair.
“Excuse me,” Andre interrupted.
“What?!” Appius asked sharply, turning a deadly gaze onto the queen’s child.
“I apologize, Sir,” Andre said, his face suddenly a picture of fear. “It is just that I must go if I am to be back at the palace when required by the queen. I don’t want to raise any suspicions.”
“I am done with you for now,” Appius returned in an indifferent tone and with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Inform us of any changes to the plan. Otherwise, we will see you tomorrow—after midnight.”
The queen’s child quickly nodded and then left.
Appius rolled his eyes before turning them back to Hallow. “You were about to say—before we were so rudely interrupted?” he pushed.
Hallow nodded. “Yes. Um—the spell that I initially created to use on,” she paused, “your child is called the heart’s desire spell.”
“Yes,” Appius smiled. “William mentioned this one, though he did not have all of the details. ‘Heart’s desire’—an intriguing name! I would very much like to know all about it.”
“It is designed to influence the taker to do anything for his or her heart’s desire—to overcome any obstacle, even to the point of sacrificing his or her life,” Hallow explained. “Basically speaking, everything would be forgotten by the person upon whom the spell was used—except for the one thing desired above all.”
“Thus, young William’s desire that it would be given to his human,” Appius commented, glancing at the younger vampire—keeping close tabs on him.
Hallow nodded. “Yes. Bill believes Sookie Stackhouse desires him more than anything—that she is with Eric only because he has coerced her and/or used his blood to influence her.”
“You sound skeptical that this is the case. Do you believe that the telepath prefers my child—over William? That Eric—not William—is her heart’s desire?” Appius questioned tauntingly, still with an eye on Bill.
Hallow looked pensively at Bill, even as her brother tensed, ready to protect her if need be.
“I cannot see how a woman would prefer Bill to Eric,” she finally proclaimed.
As Bill’s fangs clicked into place, Appius roared with laughter. “What an amusing witch you have turned out to be—doubly surprising since you are also Were, and the combination would hardly lend itself to producing amusement!” He glanced at Bill, pleased that the young vampire had not moved against the witch for what he took—rightly—as an insult.
Of course, Appius knew that the witch’s words were simple honestly. Except in the aspect of unquestioned obedience to his master, William was Eric’s inferior in every way.
“Yet you intended to use the spell on Miss Stackhouse anyway—for William?” Appius asked.
Hallow nodded. “Yes. I thought that it might work; in fact, I was hopeful for Bill.”
“See?” Appius said, looking at William. “The witch was rooting for you all along.”
Bill still didn’t look any less pissed off.
“Sookie becoming obsessed with Bill would have made it easier for me to get Eric under my control,” she explained, still pensive about Appius’s reaction to her threat against his elder child.
“And if Sookie did not cooperate? If her heart’s desire was not young William here?” Appius asked—again, somewhat tauntingly.
Hallow shrugged. “I thought that the situation might create confusion—no matter the outcome, and I . . . .” She stopped short of completing her thought.
“And you?” Appius pushed.
“And I thought it would be amusing to see Bill flounder when—if—Sookie didn’t prefer him. I knew that getting Bill’s blood from him—or otherwise manipulating him—would be much easier that way.”
Bill lunged at the witch; however, Mark Stonebrook had already chanted into place a protective barrier around himself and his sister.
Bill growled and threw himself against the barrier twice more than he should have needed to in order to test its soundness. Meanwhile, Alexei cackled in amusement, even as he continued to play his game.
“Sit!” Appius yelled out, after giving his young protégé a bit more rope. The elder did so enjoy doling out punishments.
Immediately Bill sat where he’d been before, though he was still panting, and his fangs had yet to retract.
“Oh, William!” Appius sighed theatrically, getting up in order to go over to Bill and stroke his cheek for a moment. “Still so young and undisciplined. Still so driven by your emotions.”
Bill looked down. “I am sorry, Master.”
The elder smiled as he lifted up Bill’s chin. “Do not worry. I have a feeling that training Miss Stackhouse as I instruct will offer opportunities for your own continued training as well. However, if you persist in demonstrating this kind of lack of control, you know what must be done—correct?”
“You’ll turn her,” Bill said softly.
“I’ll drain her and give her my blood,” Appius corrected. “I’ll kill her humanity regardless, but whether or not the Fates decide she is worthy of being a vampire will not be a matter I have a great deal of preference on. So be good, William,” he finished with a patronizing warning.
Bill nodded dejectedly as Appius patted his hand and then turned his attention back onto the witches.
The elder vampire smiled at Hallow, who was still within the confines of her brother’s protective spell. “I had hoped that I would have an opportunity to see you showcase a bit of your magic this evening—so that I could better understand my assets for tomorrow’s events,” he remarked casually.
Hallow did not look overly concerned, though Mark was still extremely tense.
“May I?” Appius asked as he approached the magical barrier.
“Of course,” Hallow said politely.
Slowly, Appius reached out his fingers to test the barrier. His hand vibrated as it came into contract with the potent spell.
“Impressive,” he commented. “And unpleasant to the touch.”
“A specialty of my brother,” Hallow informed.
The vampire looked at Mark Stonebrook with a mixture of surprise and delight.
“A clear talent, given the fact that your level of strength is not as high as your sister’s,” he remarked as he backed away from the barrier.
“My brother is well-practiced,” Hallow said with some pride.
Appius nodded at the male Were-witch. “And clearly protective of you. That is good. Family is important.”
The elder vampire looked back at Bill before retaking his seat. “Of course, your heart’s desire spell need no longer be wasted on William’s behalf. It will not be a spell that compels Miss Stackhouse to return to her rightful place with her first vampire master. And it will not be a spell that engenders her devotion for him again. No—it will not be that easy for her. For either of them,” he ended in a cold tone that promised that horrors were in store for Bill, as well as for Sookie.
“Do you not agree that you must learn temperance the hard way? And that your human must as well?” Appius addressed Bill.
“Yes,” the vampire responded softly.
“Your outburst has vexed me,” Appius sighed. “And I wish to be away from you for a while.”
“I am sorry, Master. Please—don’t send me from your side,” Bill responded, looking downward, his face reflecting intense disappointment in himself.
“You must know that I was testing you here tonight,” the elder vampire said.
“You failed,” Alexei grinned.
Appius looked sharply at his younger child before returning his gaze to Bill. “You will drive Alexei back to the safehouse. I will follow soon.”
“Can we not stay with you, Papa?” Alexei asked, his tone having changed to one of a needy child.
“William will look after you,” Appius assured. “And you have your game to get back to—correct?”
“This one is okay,” Alexei said, holding up the handheld device. “I want to keep playing it.”
“Keep it,” Mark Stonebrook said flatly.
“A generous gift,” Appius said with a slight nod to the male Were-witch. “Alexei, you may continue to play your new game in the car. And—on the way home—William will find you some humans to play with.” He turned to Bill. “That will not be a problem—will it?”
“No,” Bill responded.
“Good. We will all want our energy to be at its zenith for tomorrow, and the two humans that Andre sent right after sundown did not sate us.”
“Do we have to let these new ones live, too?” Alexei asked with a scowl. He was still displeased that Andre had sent donors with the express request that they not be killed.
Appius looked at Bill inquisitively.
“I know New Orleans well, Master,” he said. “I will be able to find some humans that will not be missed.”
“Excellent. Then, take Alexei and secure our meal. I have a couple of things to finish up with the witches, and then I will join you.”
Bill looked a bit reluctant to go, but still rose and held out a hand for Alexei.
“Come, Brother,” he entreated.
Grudgingly, Alexei rose and went with Bill.
“I should not be but an hour or so behind you,” Appius said as the two were leaving the room. Once they were gone, he turned his attention back to the Were-witches. “Now for the fun part of the evening,” he said with a fangy smile.
A/N: Hi all! It seems like I’m always apologizing for being late with a chapter. The amazing Kleannhouse had this one sent back to me in plenty of time, and I’d intended to get it to you on Sunday, but migraines have been kicking my butt for a couple of days. Anyway, the good news is that I now have chapters enough drafted that I think we’ll have uninterrupted chapters each week for the next eight weeks (at least). I’m still not finished drafting the entire story yet, but I’m through Chapter 31 with drafting (and those are already back from Kleannhouse, so they need only final touches), and I’m still thinking 40 chapters max—so getting closer.
Again, sorry for the delay. I hope you have enjoyed this return to Appius. Our opposing forces are most certainly lining up!
All the best,