SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 10:30 p.m.
“It is good that you are punctual,” Appius said as he walked from the shadows of the plantation’s front porch to greet the queen’s errant child.
Andre recoiled a bit. Despite his fine-tuned senses, Appius was clearly stealthy enough to startle almost anyone.
The elder vampire took slow, deliberate steps toward Andre, who practically twitched due to the power radiating off of Appius.
“You disappointed me, Andre,” he said. “I thought you and I had an arrangement—that we were partners in this matter.”
“It was not my intention to disappoint you, Ocella,” Andre offered contritely—and with fear in his eyes.
“Tut, tut,” the elder chastised. “You have lost your right to address me as anything other than Master,” he emphasized, his expression cold.
“But I . . . ,” Andre began.
Appius smiled, though there was no positive feeling behind it. “You hesitate, for you do not wish for your maker to understand the level of commitment that I will now require from you.”
“Require?” Andre asked with uncertainty, even as he glanced toward the front door.
“Oh—do not mind the Stonebrooks. They have graciously offered us some privacy so that we can speak of our new arrangement.”
“And what is that going to entail?” Andre asked with trepidation.
Appius looked at him expectantly.
“What will that entail, Master?” the younger vampire corrected.
The elder nodded. “Likely, not much—beyond your cooperation and your aid in making sure that your queen is not an impediment to my plans while I sojourn in Louisiana.”
“That was what I had been planning to do already,” Andre said softly.
“Yes—but now I must be impolite and make clear to you what will happen if I am displeased with you.”
“What will happen,” Andre paused, “Master?”
“I’ll kill your maker, of course,” Appius responded casually. “But not before I decimate this state.”
Andre looked at him in horror.
“Please, do not worry! I do not want to do any of that,” Appius said with a smirk on his face. “All I want is to take possession of the telepath, taking advantage of the fact that she is in a territory that you control—so that you can be helpful to me. And I will be taking control of Eric tonight, too; he will be under my power for the next year or so. By the time I am done in Louisiana, he will be a weakened vampire in a weakened area. And you will influence your queen to do nothing to interfere with the plans I have for him. Then, you will make sure that Eric is allowed to stay Sheriff of Area 5 for the rest of his term, which is up in seven years—if I understand correctly.”
Andre nodded in affirmation.
“I think it will be fun to hear about how Eric must struggle to regain his standing—and his dignity—after the witch and I are done with him.”
“What is Hallow going to do with him?” Andre asked.
“Nothing pleasant—I assure you,” Appius winked. “Let us just say that it would do well for you to,” he paused, as if searching for a word, “cover for him for the next year with the queen. After the witch leaves him, I would like for you to insert a spy into whatever retinue my child has left at the end of the year. I want nightly reports about his struggles.”
Andre frowned. “Cover for him?”
“Yes—Eric will be quite unable to do much for the year to come. You will make sure that he keeps his job despite all of that. You will make sure he and I are left alone in Area 5.” Appius smiled.
“What if there is a threat to the state? Tribute from Area 5 and resources are required by the queen, Master.”
Appius shrugged. “If the boogie man dares to come to Louisiana while I am here, I will come and deal with him. How is that for security?”
“More than anyone could hope for, Master!” Andre enthused.
“After I leave, Eric will be available again—though it might take him a while to get back to top form. Oh well! I’m sure you can deal with that. And—after seven years—feel free to expel him from Louisiana. By then, your queen will be happy to see him go. In the meantime, you can enjoy the reports of his struggles as well.”
Andre nodded. “I will do as you wish, Master.” Indeed, nothing the elder was requiring thus far seemed bad at all to the younger vampire, and it was clear that Northman would be out of his hair for the foreseeable future—and then too weak to threaten the queen in any way! Yes—it would be ideal if the Viking were out of the state immediately, but watching Eric suffer would be amusing.
“While I am in the state, I will also require a steady supply of donors; you will send at least ten per week to William’s home in Bon Temps. I’m sure that you can arrange for such a thing,” Appius requested.
“If too many die, there will be questions, Master,” Andre responded tentatively.
“I’ll curb Alexei,” Appius smirked. “But—if there will be the occasional accident. I will require you to cover those up, of course. Mainstreaming is so,” he paused, “tedious.”
Andre nodded. “I’ll arrange for the donors.”
“Excellent! You will also ensure that things go smoothly tonight after I take Miss Stackhouse and Eric into my power. As you can see, I am dressed for a party, and will be glad to honor your maker’s little ball with my presence!”
Once again, Andre nodded. “I will find a way, Master.”
“Good! All that is left, then, is for us to talk over my new plan with the witches and to set things into motion for the evening!” Appius smiled.
“New plan?” Andre asked with unease.
“More adapted than new,” the elder said congenially. He patted Andre in a fatherly fashion on his back. “Come—I shall tell you all about it.”
“Yes, Master,” Andre relented.
Appius smiled. “You should still call me Ocella in your maker’s presence. We would not want for her to interfere at all with your service to me—would we?”
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 10:40 p.m.
Mark Stonebrook looked on with interest as Appius and Andre entered the old plantation house. The night before, Andre had fashioned himself to be in charge of the situation. He’d been the man with the plan—so to speak.
What a difference 24 hours had made!
Clearly, Appius now had Andre at the end of a leash.
A short one.
And Mark was wise enough to be all the more wary of the ancient vampire because of the change in the power structure. After all, at any minute, he might find himself at the bottom of Appius’s food chain.
“You said that the plans have changed,” Mark stated after Appius and Andre had sat down on one of the couches in the old living room. Hallow was on the other. Mark wasn’t about to get comfortable; instead, he’d positioned himself directly behind his sister so that he could erect a protective barrier between them and the vampires—if need be.
“Indeed, the plan has changed a bit,” Appius indicated with a nod.
“How so?” Hallow asked.
“For one, I no longer believe that Debbie’s appearance would cause the effect Andre speculated it would,” Appius stated.
Andre looked momentarily confused. “But,” he paused, “Master, Northman has spent much effort making sure that the guesthouse is safe for the telepath. He would send her there at the first sign of trouble.”
Appius gave Andre a patronizing look. “Oh course, he will. However, I do not believe that he will separate from her.”
“Begging your pardon, Master, but I have been around Northman a lot in the last decades. He is not one to leave a hunt to others.”
“You discount the power of love!” Appius said, though his words held pure sarcasm, rather than sincerity. “Anyway, William has told me tales to contradict your supposition—at least where Miss Stackhouse is concerned. I do not believe that Eric will leave her side if he feels that she is in danger.”
“Tales?” Hallow asked.
“Indeed. William told me of an attack in Dallas. The telepath alerted vampires inside of Stan Davis’s nest of the situation moments before the bullets began to fly. Not only did Eric take a bullet to protect Miss Stackhouse, but also he did not go after the attackers. Instead, he waited with the telepath—keeping watch over her—after she sucked a bullet out of him!” Appius laughed heartily. “So romantic! He played her white knight—protecting her from harm from other injured vampires who would have fed off of her—instead of following his instinct to eliminate his foes!”
“Perhaps, the bullet had injured him too severely,” Mark ventured, still surprised that Andre was now referring to the elder vampire as “Master.”
Appius dismissed his words. “No. According to William, the bullet was silver, but shouldn’t have been too debilitating; it would not have prevented my child from seeking revenge upon the attackers. Indeed, after its removal, he would have had no problem pursuing the humans. And—then—there are the rumors William heard about regarding Jackson, Mississippi!”
“Rumors?” Andre asked with interest.
“Yes. Eric and the telepath went to Jackson to rescue poor William from his inferior maker. Apparently, during the trip, Miss Stackhouse was staked in a bar for Supernaturals.” He motioned to his side. “Staked right here—as the story goes. Instead of finding and punishing her attacker, Eric stayed with Sookie again, even giving her some of his blood to complete a healing. So—you see—I don’t think Eric will let Sookie out of his sight if there is a threat to her. But that is fine. It will play right into my hands.”
“How so?” Mark asked.
“Well—we will still deploy Miss Pelt as planned. The stir will still cause Eric to endeavor to get the telepath to safety. However, I want the little tunnel to the guesthouse to be cut off.”
“You no longer want her to get trapped in there, Master?” Andre asked.
Appius shook his head. “When you were rattling on with William about your excuses earlier, Andre, I heard you mention that my child has a computer specialist in his retinue. Was she not manipulating camera feeds? Is it not possible that she will be able to see everything that I do and warn others?” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t want that to happen. Thus, you are going to kill her for me—before I go in,” he said to Andre.
“Kill her?” the younger vampire asked warily.
“Will that be an issue?” Appius said with warning in his tone.
“No, Master,” Andre answered, though it was clear that he was wondering how such a thing could be accomplished without his arousing suspicion.
“Excellent. Also—I believe Eric will have done everything possible to protect the guesthouse and the tunnels, perhaps even using magic.” He looked at Hallow. “You said there was magic in use around the telepath’s Bon Temps residence.”
“Yes,” Mark confirmed. “I scouted the area out myself. It is a protection spell of some kind.”
“Yes.” Appius looked at Andre. “Is Eric using magic to help protect the guesthouse and tunnel?”
Andre shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve not been able to get close to it since Northman arrived.”
“Not surprising. Is there a witch in Eric’s retinue?” Appius asked.
“I don’t know,” Andre answered honestly. “But Eric and Sookie have both been using potions to alter their scents.”
“Then we will assume there is a witch. Given all of this information, I want for my encounter with Eric and his telepath to take place in a more,” he paused, “neutral area.”
Andre looked concerned.
“Oh—do not worry. I don’t wish to interfere with the queen’s ball. There must be a good spot on the queen’s estate, however. Somewhere that would seem like a safe retreating place for my child if the guesthouse is cut off from him?” he asked Andre.
The younger vampire considered for a moment. “There is a large meeting room on the opposite side of the estate from the ballroom. If the tunnel is somehow cut off, then I believe Northman might go there. He knows that room well and would feel that he could keep his entire group together there.”
“That sounds adequate. And—as an added bonus—your queen would be nowhere near any possible fray. Tell me—can you make sure that Eric goes there once the ruckus begins?” Appius asked, an insane glint in his eyes.
“It’s where my queen would suggest in such a situation,” Andre said with surety. “And—if she doesn’t—I think I can influence the situation. But closing off the tunnel will be difficult.”
“Not if the computer girl’s sludgy remains are found at the entrance to the tunnel.” Appius smiled and leaned forward, scrutinizing Andre. “Make it appear as if Debbie has killed her. Leave her there, and then make sure that you have control of your cameras. In fact, shut them all down! Get Eric where I want him to be, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“How? I mean: How, Master?”
“That is for me to know,” Appius smiled. “I still don’t trust you. And—along those lines . . . .” He looked at Hallow and Mark. “Are you prepared to do as I asked when I got here?”
Hallow nodded and reached up to take her brother’s hand. In the next second, they were both chanting.
“What the fuck?!” Andre queried, popping out of his chair when he felt the magic influence him somehow.
“It is a simple binding spell,” Hallow said when she and Mark were done chanting.
“It will prevent you from mentioning me or any part of our plans together,” Appius smiled.
“But my maker is old. She’ll smell the magic,” Andre protested.
“Shower thoroughly with this; even wash your hair with it,” Mark said, tossing Andre a bar of soap.
The younger vampire lifted it to his nose. “Cedar.”
“Among other things. It will cover the magic—at least beyond the scenting ability of most vampires,” Mark added, glancing at Appius.
“Miss Pelt will be expecting to be let in at 12:30 a.m. sharp. I will expect for Eric’s computer expert’s remains to be where they need to be, for the cameras to be off, and for the alarm bells to be ringing fifteen minutes after that. Can you manage these simple tasks?” Appius asked.
Andre nodded. “Yes, Master.”
“Good. I want you—personally—to let me onto the estate’s grounds at 12:50 a.m., and make sure no one is there to see me. Then you will take me to where I can find my child and his telepath.”
“What then?” Andre asked with trepidation.
“Then return to the ball. Once I have Eric and the telepath in my power, I will come in the front entrance, you will introduce me to your queen, and we will all enjoy the rest of the evening. Your queen will be none the wiser.”
“What of Debbie?” Andre asked.
Appius looked at Hallow. “She is your creature. Do you want her to live?”
“Do with her what you wish,” the Hallow said with a shrug. “In fact, it would be better if she were killed since she’s outlived her usefulness.”
“Be the one to find and kill her in order to ingratiate yourself to your maker—if you wish,” Appius shrugged in Andre’s direction. “But make sure she’s served her purpose first.”
Andre nodded. “Yes, Master.”
“You are dismissed now, Andre,” Appius said almost sinisterly. “I will see you soon. And be sure to be a good boy—for the sake of your maker.”
Andre nodded, rose, and then left.
Mark studied him as he did. The vampire looked broken—embarrassed by his own powerlessness. If Mark and his sister were not even more vulnerable to Appius’s whims than the millennium-old vampire, he might have celebrated Andre’s fall.
As it was, it just concerned the hell out of him!
Andre felt the weight of Hallow’s spell inside of him as he rushed toward the safehouse he’d been using to bathe away his encounters with the witch.
He cursed in his native language.
He was filled with regret. There had been very few nights of his life when he felt that emotion, let alone powerlessness.
“Damn you, Bill Compton,” he growled—as his hurried his pace.
Andre felt strongly that everything had gone to hell because of the Antebellum asshole!
The queen’s child scoffed. He might have to placate Appius for the next year, but he vowed to himself that he would find a way to make sure that Bill Compton was finally dead by the end of it.
That thought gave him comfort.
What did not give him comfort were contemplations of the night ahead. How could he keep his knowledge of Appius’s plans from his maker? Already, Sophie-Anne was aware that he’d been operating behind her back.
A part of him truly wished to simply tell her all.
“Fuck!” he yelled out in pain as soon as he entertained that thought. Clearly, the witch’s magic was potent enough to punish him for even the deliberation of such a confession.
“I’ll find a way to make this right and to protect my queen,” Andre said as he built back up his speed following his momentary burst of pain. But that way clearly couldn’t involve telling his maker about Appius or his plans.
But he could help Appius to get into the mansion, secure Sookie, gain control over Eric, and then exit again. And, perhaps, he could convince the ancient to simply go back to the safehouse at that point.
The next night, the situation could be explained to the queen, who would have to defer to Appius’s rights over his child.
Andre nodded to himself, feeling hopeful. It wasn’t as if there would even need to be a problem for him! Eric’s dead vampire—Molly was her name—would be blamed on Debbie Pelt. Andre would kill Debbie. If Appius would behave to a certain extent, the situation in Area 5 would seem as usual; Andre would make sure his queen suspected nothing was amiss. And it would make sense that Eric would hand over Sookie’s “custody” to his maker.
“Appius isn’t unreasonable; he will surely even let Sophie-Anne borrow Sookie again,” Andre said to himself as he landed at his “clean” safehouse and inhaled deeply. As usual, the magic around the place acted like the strongest of detergents. Indeed, even being in the space would likely eliminate the scents of Appius and the witches. But Andre would take a shower to be sure.
“I just need to get through tonight unscathed,” he spoke into the night sky. “So I will—for my maker.”
A/N: Thank you so much for all the comments after the last chapter and for the support, despite my being MIA for a few weeks. I so appreciate you all!
Okay—so more of Appius’s machinations. Andre is sooo not in control of the situation anymore, not that he ever was. Anyone else feeling that sense of foreboding?
Please leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.
Oh—and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! If you celebrate another holiday, then I hope it is wonderful!