SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 3:09 a.m. (this chapter begins a bit earlier than the ending of the last chapter)
Noelle opened the door to a side entrance of the building in which her mistress had chosen to reside during her stay in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Handmaiden had been excited to make the trip with her mistress. It was the first time she’d ever been able to travel so far from the Ancient Pythoness’s permanent residence—a magically enhanced island not far from the Greek coast.
The Ancient Pythoness—Pythia to her Handmaidens—had taken Noelle in after she’d been left for dead by Neave and Lochlan, two thugs employed by Prince Niall’s enemies, Rogan and Breandan.
One of Noelle’s grandparents had been human, making her three-quarters fairy. That—apparently—was not pure enough for Rogan’s faction.
Noelle had been only five human years old when she’d been found by the fearsome twins near the woods of her father’s mother’s home, which was about thirty kilometers away from Dublin. Noelle had gone to live with her human relative when her parents, who had been allies of Niall’s, had died during the first major battle between Niall’s and Rogan’s factions.
Her human grandmother had been slain by Neave and Lochlan. As for herself, Noelle had been told that her arms and legs had been broken—as had each of her fingers and toes. Thankfully, her fragmented memories—coming to her in the occasional nightmare—allowed her to recall only a fraction of the pain she’d felt.
Pythia and some of her handmaidens had come to save Noelle approximately two days after Neave and Lochlan had left her locked in her grandmother’s home, incapacitated next to the dead woman’s body. Pythia had seen Noelle in a vision that very night and had come immediately.
The five-year-old had been near death.
Pythia had taken in Noelle and had kept her safe. She’d placed her in the care of one of her handmaidens—another fairy. Now at thirty-years-old by human standards, though looking much younger because she was mostly Fae, she was ready to use her powers in her mistress’s service.
Her first task had been to meet with the part-Dae, Desmond Cataliades. Pythia had scolded her a little—though Noelle could tell that she wasn’t really cross with her—when the fairy had reported all that she’d told the part-demon.
Pythia had given Noelle permission to tell Desmond only that Sookie and he would eventually enjoy a good relationship. Admittedly, Noelle had not limited herself to telling just that. The demon had seemed so hopeful—so happy to be hearing news that warmed his heart! Noelle, who was a strong empath, had not been able to resist telling him just a bit more.
Thankfully, Pythia had never faulted Noelle for the impulses her empathy had led her to follow. Indeed, she’d encouraged her to strengthen her skills over the years.
It was these skills that allowed her to “feel” the presence of the Britlingen when none of her sister Handmaidens, not even the telepaths in the groups, could.
More importantly, she could feel her mood.
“Hello,” Noelle said into the seemingly empty alleyway.
A warrior materialized before her. Noelle couldn’t help but to gasp a bit as she witnessed and felt—for the first time—the power that emanated from a Britlingen, the species of warrior who had been the inspiration for the human myth of the Amazons. Noelle had learned about Britlingens, of course. But she had never had the chance to meet one.
“You are Batanya,” Noelle greeted, stating the obvious. “I am Noelle, Handmaiden to the Ancient Pythoness. You are well-met,” she added with a respectful nod.
The Britlingen looked at her expectantly.
“Will you follow?” Noelle asked, even as she turned to go inside the building. The Britlingen did as requested.
“You felt my presence,” Batanya observed as the two turned left down a hallway.
“Barely,” Noelle shared. “I wouldn’t have at all—if you weren’t curious. And a little annoyed,” she added in a whisper. She turned to offer Batanya a smile, but noted that the warrior was not looking at her.
Instead, Batanya was looking at their surroundings with the eyes of one gauging the space for all of its hidden recesses.
“There is magic around this place,” Noelle shared. “But I’m sure you feel that.”
“Yes,” the Britlingen stated.
“My lady does not wish for any to know that she is here,” the fairy commented—again stating the obvious. Noelle tended to do that when she was nervous, and she couldn’t help but to be a little nervous around the warrior.
Batanya followed the red-headed fairy, staying exactly three-feet behind her, the perfect distance if the woman turned out to be a foe. The Britlingen knew that she could have her sword out and into the body of the fairy in less than half a second—if need be.
Oh—it wasn’t that Batanya thought the fairy, Noelle, was a threat to her. It was just that she liked to be prepared for anything.
The Britlingen could sense half a dozen other beings, in addition to Noelle, in the building: one other fairy, one demon, and four vampires. Likely, all but the oldest vampire were other Handmaidens.
The oldest, of course, was the one who had summoned her.
“Go up,” Noelle said good-naturedly, as they came to a staircase. “My mistress is waiting.”
Batanya did as requested and then followed her sense of smell to the end of a long corridor and into a large room, which held the most powerful being in the building—one even more powerful than the Britlingen herself.
“You are annoyed to have been called here, but curious,” came a somewhat amused-sounding female voice from behind a column of opaque fabric hanging from the ceiling to the floor in order to create a smaller chamber in the center of the room.
The magic was the thickest there.
“I am not inclined to be away from the one I have sworn to protect,” Batanya said stiffly as she passed through the fabric in order to face the shrouded figure of the Ancient Pythoness.
“Yes. That is why I sent Noelle to collect you. She would have known immediately if you were enraged about being summoned here—rather than simply annoyed. If angry, that might have led to some,” she paused, “trouble.”
“Trouble,” Batanya said evenly. “As a seer, wouldn’t you know my intentions better than your empath?”
The Ancient Pythoness cackled. “You’d think so. But my visions often tell of so many possible futures that it is difficult to keep them straight. Indeed, in one of them, you came here bent upon killing me, thinking that I intended ill-will to the one under your protection. Of course, I do not. And—thankfully—that vision was offset by many others, making the chance of inviting you here well-taken.”
“I did consider the possibility that you meant to harm my charge,” Batanya stated.
“That is why I had several of my Handmaidens at the ready,” the vampiress returned matter-of-factly. “However, it would have been difficult to subdue someone such as yourself—without doing you permanent harm.”
The Britlingen’s eyebrow lifted. “You think the ones you brought would have been enough?”
Again, the vampiress cackled. “Along with me—yes. But only just enough.”
The room was quiet for a moment as the two contemplated what could have been before settling back into the much calmer moment that had come to pass.
“Why did you have Cataliades arrange for this meeting?” Batanya asked, cutting to the chase.
“Tomorrow night, Sookie Stackhouse will find herself in danger—several times,” the vampiress informed, sitting forward. “And—in three instances—she will be very close to death.”
“When? From whom?” Batanya snarled.
“I will freely tell you all that I have seen as well as the differences in what may come to pass,” the Ancient Pythoness responded. “And then I will ask you to do something which will go against all that you are.”
“What will you ask?” the Britlingen asked.
“I will ask you to hold back from protecting Sookie Stackhouse from the one who would harm her the most, especially when it seems as if the one who loves her the most is about to kill her.”
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 4:45 a.m.
The privacy spell around this dwelling is extremely thick,” Rasul said to Jude Hensley, the Were who’d been sent to take over surveillance of Andre’s safehouse.
“I can sense that,” Jude said.
Rasul looked at the Were. Though unassuming in stature compared to many on Queen Sophie-Anne’s security force, Jude was the best two-natured tracker in Area 1. And Rasul had seen him take on Weres much larger than himself—and hold up well, even if he could not outright defeat them. More importantly, Jude had an eye for detail; simply put, he noticed things others did not, which made him perfect for surveillance.
Most importantly, Rasul trusted him. And—as a bonus—he was familiar with Bill Compton—and his scent.
“Are you sure that there are vampires inside?” the Were asked.
“Not 100%, though I believe so,” Rasul responded honestly. “I was making a report at the palace when three vampires returned here, based on the freshness of their scents outside of the residence. I am not sure if they are currently inside or if they came and left again.”
“One of them is Compton?” Jude asked with distaste.
Rasul nodded. “The magic surrounding the home has prevented me from seeing or hearing anything.” The vampire shook his head with frustration. “Right down to whether the lights are on or if the pipes have been in use, I sense nothing!”
“Andre’s concealment techniques have gotten better,” Jude commented.
“Yes,” Rasul agreed sullenly.
Jude smirked at one of the only vampires he actually considered a friend. “Do not worry. I’m sure your failure to sense anything is no reflection upon you.”
“Thanks,” the vampire scoffed, though he knew the Were was joking. “You know who to call if there is anything to report?” Rasul half-stated and half-asked. “I will be back as quickly after sundown as I can. If Bill leaves before I get here, you are to track him.”
“And the others?” Jude asked.
Jude nodded in understanding. “I have Lance on my speed dial if I sense that help is needed.”
“Then I will see you tomorrow night,” Rasul said before speeding away.
The vampire arrived at the queen’s palace within five minutes and then quickly made his way inside and to the corridor where he’d already arranged to meet Wybert. The Saxon was waiting for him.
“Any activity?” Wybert asked.
“No,” Rasul reported. “I do believe that Compton is still inside though. And I will return to Andre’s safehouse tomorrow night to follow him if he goes anywhere.”
Wybert considered for a moment. “The queen hopes that Compton will lead us to Hallow. However, if he does, it will all but prove that Andre has been working with her as well.”
“Yes,” Rasul agreed. “But even if they are not in league with Hallow, it is clear that Bill and Andre are up to something.”
Wybert nodded. “My maker is ready to do what is needed. In the meantime, we have discovered a plot involving Arkansas, specifically Jade Flower, who has been working with Margeaux.”
Rasul’s eyebrow lifted meaningfully.
Wybert chuckled. “Yes. I recall that you warned us against trusting her, and for that reason, she was never involved in anything too vital, but she has monitored the video feeds in the palace from time to time, so she is aware of the gaps in the video feeds as well as some of the queen’s routines. The telepath learned of Jade’s plot, however.”
“Her plot to do what?” Rasul asked.
“Assassinate the queen,” Wybert growled.
Rasul’s fangs clicked downward automatically.
“Your loyalty is heartening to see,” the Saxon commented. “However, we are not planning to kill her and her confederates tonight, so you can put those away.”
Rasul nodded; the sound of his fangs retracting soon followed. “What can I do?”
“Nothing in regards to Jade. The queen wants you to surveil Compton tomorrow night as planned. Before dawn, however, she desires that you coordinate with Northman’s subject, Molly. She wants for Molly to be able to manipulate or shut down various camera feeds—if need be—by tomorrow night.”
“And she doesn’t trust Andre to do that if required?”
“She doesn’t,” Wybert said flatly. “Disrupting the feeds might not be needed, but my maker wants the capability. She also wants to make sure that Margeaux does not have the ability to fuck with the feeds.”
Rasul nodded, and a smile brushed his lips.
Wybert chuckled. “You were tasked with this because—other than Andre—you know the most about the system. So set aside your crush on the little computer geek, Romeo.”
Rasul smirked. “I’ll make sure we get the job done. But—remember—Andre kept much of the system’s inner workings from me.”
“I know,” Wybert commented. “And that was by the queen’s design. But now that she knows Andre has created back doors into the system that she’d not been aware of, she has instructed me to tell you to circumvent him—however is needed. Understand?”
Rasul nodded. “I do. With Molly working on it, I am certain it will not take long. She is,” he paused, “very good at what she does.”
Wybert nodded. “Help her until dawn, but be out of here right at sundown to track Compton.”
“Understood,” Rasul said, jetting away toward the tunnel leading to the Queen’s guesthouse, which the Area 5 group was using, even as he texted Molly. She was waiting for him at the door of the tunnel, which led into a large living room area, which then branched off to other rooms and hallways. Immediately, he could smell the scent of thick protective magic.
“Hi,” Molly said a little shyly. “Uh—good morning.”
Rasul smiled at her. Her youth in vampirism was clear from the fact that she still called the a.m. hours of darkness “morning.” Most vampires, when not addressing humans, generally called the hours right before sun-up “late night” hours.
“Hello, Molly Jolly,” he said with a charming smile.
She grinned as if both embarrassed and pleased by his greeting.
He, in turn, was pleased by her reaction.
“I am here to speak with you about a task the queen would like for you to accomplish by dawn.”
Molly looked toward the door that led to the master bedroom suite in the guesthouse. She wondered if she should get Eric before listening to what Rasul had to say.
“Do not contemplate it,” Thalia said from where she sat in the living room. Ostensibly, she was watching the 24-hour news. In actuality, she was guarding the room where the one under her protection was sleeping with their boss. Of course, Molly was not naïve enough to believe that sleeping was all that Eric and Sookie had been doing.
“What does the queen want of Molly?” Thalia asked with authority—and just enough threat to compel Rasul to respond immediately, even though Thalia already knew that his ultimate loyalties lay with Eric.
“She wants me to work with Molly on the palace’s surveillance. She wants to be able to loop feeds—or simply cut them—if a need arises for it.”
Molly giggled cutely even as Thalia snorted, rolled her eyes, and began to seemingly watch television again.
“What?” Rasul asked.
“I can already do all that!” Molly responded. “That stuff’s easy peasy.”
Rasul chuckled. “Oh.”
“Wanna see?” Molly asked coyly, biting her lower lip. “Um—my main computer system is set up in my room. The laptops out here just monitor everything.”
“Well—Wybert might need a thorough report,” Rasul said with a glint in his eyes. “And I was instructed to help—if needed—until dawn.”
“Thalia? Do you—uh—need me to stay out here? To help with the guarding? Or—uh—to monitor the—uh—tunnel monitor?” Molly asked, clearly a little flustered.
“No,” the elder vampiress stated. “You may go fuck Rasul under the guise of showing him your computers.”
“Thalia!” Molly gasped, even as Rasul chuckled.
The younger vampiress looked horrified, but then seemed to make a decision. She looked squarely at Rasul. “Fine! Are you in?”
The dashing Middle Eastern vampire smirked. “Not yet, but I would like to be, Molly Jolly,” he said suggestively.
Thalia snorted—yet again.
“Well, then!” Molly said, ignoring Thalia and grabbing Rasul’s hand. “Let me show you my system!”
A/N: So this is a much more light-hearted chapter. It acts as a sort of “breather” as nighttime in the story comes to an end. Noelle and Jude are new creations for me; I hope you like them. The other characters in this chapter—Batanya, the A.P., Rasul, Thalia, and Molly—represent some of my favorite books/show characters that never got utilized enough (IMO). It was fun to write this chapter—and to give Molly and Rasul a little fun time.
I hope that you will comment if you have the time and inclination.