MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14 • 12:29 a.m.
Russell Edgington was edgy; of course, there was a good reason for that! After all, he’d promised one of his oldest associates—and quasi-friend—Niall Brigant that he would do his best to fight Appius Livius Ocella!
Fucking! Appius! Livius! Ocella!
Oh—and he had to wait until the “time was right to instigate the fight!” As if he were some kind of fucking future teller!
Damned favors to fairies!
When Sookie Stackhouse, great-granddaughter of the Fae prince, had practically pulled Sophie-Anne to a small meeting room, located just outside of the ballroom, Russell had followed like a damned lemming! He was too intrigued by the telepath’s obvious distress to let his curiosity go unquenched, given his own situation and secret task from Niall. Appius’s impending arrival into their night, as well as the Ancient Pythoness’s involvement, were secrets that were gnawing on the King of Mississippi to tell as it was. Yet he didn’t dare say a word, given Niall’s stern warning and the source of that warning, Pythia herself.
And Russell knew enough not to fuck with that old seer!
Also following Sookie and the queen into the modest room were Wybert and Peter Threadgill, who had been signaled by Sophie-Anne to join them. Sigebert and Peter’s guard, Jacob, stood right outside of the door.
Russell sighed. Yes—he had a right to be edgy! But he wasn’t the edgiest person in the room. No—that honor belonged to Sookie Stackhouse.
As the door of the small room closed, Russell could feel magic descend around him and figured that the room was heavily warded for privacy.
“What is wrong, Sookie?” the queen asked the telepath.
Sookie remained silent—though she looked as if she might burst into two at any moment from the words that she so clearly was wanting to say. In a very human-like move, Russell bit his lip a bit in anticipation, though he didn’t draw blood.
The King of Mississippi had to stifle a chuckle at himself. Likely, Appius would kill him very soon! But, at least, he was having an exciting and completely unpredictable night—despite being placed into his current situation by a future-seer! The irony was not lost upon him.
And Russell did so love irony and surprise!
“Eric?” Sophie-Anne asked when Sookie continued to be too overwhelmed to speak.
“I have been experiencing sporadic feelings of,” the Viking paused, “dread since we arrived in New Orleans. I thought it might be unrest about Sookie’s safety, but . . . .” His voice trailed off, and he looked toward the door of the room as if a ghost—or an army of them—were waiting on the other side of it.
“But it’s more,” Sookie picked up, though her voice was shaky.
“What’s more?” Sophie-Anne probed.
“Eric and I are bonded,” the telepath said—as if such a proclamation might explain all.
“Yes. I know,” the queen acknowledged with a slight smirk.
Sookie continued, “Maybe it’s something to do with my telepathy, but our bond is really strong. We can feel each other’s feelings, just like any bonded pair, but I also get a sense of where his feelings come from.”
“Okay,” Peter interrupted with a frown, “that’s real interestin’, Missy. But why does that have you lookin’ like you’ve seen the devil himself?”
“Because I think I’ve just felt him,” Sookie whispered, even as she took the Viking’s hand. “I should have picked up on it sooner,” she added, looking up at her mate with contrition in her eyes. “I mean—it’s not surprising that he’s been on your mind more than usual.”
“Who?” Wybert asked.
“Appius,” Sookie whispered. She looked back at Sophie-Anne. “I can sense it when one of Eric’s feelings is coming more from Pam than from himself—like when she’s amused and her amusement makes him amused. It comes across as an echo.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I just felt an echo. I think—I’m almost sure—it means that Eric’s maker is nearby.”
Sophie-Anne frowned deeply. “Doesn’t your maker keep to Europe and Asia?” she asked her sheriff.
“He generally does,” Eric responded quietly, his anxiety filtering into his expression a little. “I don’t feel that he is near, but he can block our bond. If Sookie believes that she is sensing an origin of my dread, however, I believe her,” he added.
“Forgive me,” Peter said, “but I don’t know your maker.”
“Appius Livius Ocella. He’s a sadistic bastard,” Russell contributed. “I met him a few times in the Old World.”
“Appius’s continued existence almost made me pass on offering Eric a sheriff’s position,” Sophie-Anne added in a hushed tone.
“If he is here, then it is to hurt me. Worse, he will try to use me to harm Sookie,” Eric conveyed, speaking aloud his greatest fear. “That cannot happen.”
Sophie-Anne’s eyes widened. “You think he’s involved with the witches? With Andre and Bill Compton?”
“I don’t know,” Eric replied. “Appius likes his games though—his fucked-up intrigues. God help us if he has a witch like Hallow as his confederate!” He looked at Sookie. “Perhaps it would be best if I was put under silver and Sookie was taken immediately back to Area 5—to her home.”
Sookie grasped her beloved’s other hand so that both of his hands were locked in hers. “Do you really think that us separating is the best thing?” she asked skeptically.
Again, Russell bit his lip. He didn’t know the outcome of the night before them. But he did know that a confrontation needed to happen, and he instinctively knew that Eric Northman and Sookie Stackhouse were both necessary participants in whatever battle was to come. Again, the King of Mississippi was frustrated because he could not tell everyone in the room what he’d been told by Niall.
But he could speak up about his distaste for Eric’s maker! “If Appius is here—especially to do harm to his own child,” Russell practically growled, “then it is about time that he was eradicated from this earth and sent to what I hope will be a very hot and uncomfortable hell!”
Eric’s eyes widened at Russell’s words.
“What?” the king asked. “Appius Livius Ocella has been a bane on the world for too long, Eric. And,” he rolled his eyes, “I like you—even though you never took me up on my offer to make you my consort.”
“What offer?” Sophie-Anne gasped.
“Before he was your sheriff,” Russell winked at her.
Eric shook his head. “Be that as it may, my maker is not one who could be killed easily. And he will try to make me his weapon.”
Everyone in the room was silent for a few moments as they absorbed Eric’s words.
“Louisiana’s monarch is ready to defend her greatest sheriff,” Sophie-Anne said quietly—though definitively.
“Appius will cut right through you, My Queen,” Eric responded starkly.
“He will try,” Sophie-Anne said, her chin held high. “And, to take you, he will have to succeed.”
“I’m in,” Peter Threadgill said with a grin, “as are the assets of Arkansas that are still in New Orleans.”
Eric shook his head a little. “You are young, Peter. You’ve no idea what a vampire like Appius is capable of.”
Sookie squeezed her vampire’s hand. “Quit tryin’ to talk everyone out of helping you.” She moved so that she was in front of her mate, looking him squarely in his eyes. “If Appius is here—especially with Bill Compton and Hallow in tow—it is to destroy you. And we’re all takin’ a side, Eric. It’s yours!”
Eric frowned deeply. “You could die, min kära.”
“You are worth the fight,” she said softly.
The room was silent for a moment as they all witnessed the emotion between the bonded pair. Despite the collective age of those gathered, they’d never seen such a palpable love.
“Good!” Russell said, interrupting the moment. “Now that we have decided that we are going to take out one of the oldest, meanest, fucked-up vampires of all time, we need a plan. Anyone got any ideas?”
Eric tore his eyes away from Sookie and looked at everyone else in the room in turn. “If he commands me to harm Sookie, I want your oath that you will end me.”
“No, Eric!” Sookie cried out insistently.
The Viking continued to look at the others. “Your oaths!” he demanded.
“If there is no other way,” Sophie-Anne relented.
“Thank you,” Eric said, his relief clear. “And the rest of you?”
“If there is no other way,” most echoed.
Eric looked at the lone hold-out. “Russell?”
The King of Mississippi shook his head a little as he intuited that he would be needed to try to fight off Appius if that “no other way” scenario happened. No—when it happened.
“I agree,” he sighed.
Debbie Pelt licked her lips with longing as she saw the vial of V being dangled before her—between the fingers of her most gracious supplier, Hallow. The werefox craved the V! She coveted the V! But she knew better than to move for it until her benefactor offered it.
For the last several weeks, Debbie had been basking in her addiction in a way she’d never been able to do before. After being kidnapped by Mark Stonebrook, she’d worried that she was about to be ended—that somehow Eric Northman’s people had discovered her! However, that end had not come to pass.
Instead—she’d been given a new beginning!
It was not the fresh start that Debbie had been contemplating either. No—she’d been hoping to kill Sookie Stackhouse as her swan song in the South before moving to the North to become a breeding female for a welcoming group of two-natured beings.
Instead, she’d been taken in by a unique coven of witches, two of whom were also Weres! Mark Stonebrook had told her that she’d been chosen specifically to become a member of their coven. Mark and Hallow saw promise in her, and she was to be trained as a witch—trained to become more powerful than she’d ever thought was possible!
No longer would she have to count on men—like Alcide Herveaux or Charles Clausen—for companionship or self-worth. No longer would she have to be fearful of beings like Eric Northman!
No! As a two-natured witch, she would learn to have dominion over Northman and other vampires. And—most significantly—her new caretakers had taught her that she needn’t be ashamed of her craving for V. On the contrary, her desire for V was an indication of her potential strength, and her addiction was nothing to try to overcome.
It was something to feed!
Debbie’s eyes flashed yellow. She had—quite literally—seen the light because of Hallow and Mark’s instruction. She now thought correctly about V. It was to be her gateway to a higher kind of existence, and Hallow had given Debbie all that she needed to prepare her body to become magical in a new way.
“Do you understand the opportunity before you?” Hallow asked Debbie, bringing her out of her thoughts about her future evolution.
“I do,” the werefox assured.
“Tell me so that I am certain of you. After all, tonight is your first test,” Hallow returned.
“With the power of the V, I will go into the compound of the vampire queen. There, I will follow the guidance of Andre, the queen’s child. First, I will kill all who stand in the way of Andre cutting the power to the surveillance feeds. And then . . . .” Debbie stopped as her excitement overwhelmed her for a moment.
“And then?” Hallow pushed.
“Then, you are giving me the most wonderful gift!” Debbie gushed, licking her lips. “You are allowing me to find and kill my nemesis, Sookie Stackhouse!”
“Yes,” Hallow nodded.
“You are most gracious,” Debbie returned, lowering her head in reverent supplication.
“This night is all for you, Debbie,” Hallow assured softly. “Tonight is for you to kill the telepath—to take your revenge for all of the ill that she has caused you. After you have done this, your aura will be cleansed of all unfinished business, and you will be ready for your training to become a witch.”
“Like you,” Debbie said worshipfully.
“Well,” Hallow chuckled, “not quite like me. But you will be a valuable member of the coven.”
Debbie nodded vigorously. “That is what I meant—of course!”
Hallow brought one of her hands up to stroke Debbie’s cheek; the touch was tender—as a mother’s might be—even though the two women were close to each other in age. Debbie leaned into her touch. “I know what is in your heart—what you desire, child,” the witch said soothingly. “You will be my apprentice very soon. But—for tonight—you will claim your reward for all that you have already done to prepare yourself to receive my instruction. Now,” she said, pulling the stopper out of the vial of V, “drink this and become stronger. Drink this and become unstoppable as you accomplish your goals for the night. Drink this and be closer to me!”
Gratefully, Debbie accepted the vial and brought it to her lips. And then she drank.
Amused by Hallow’s interaction with the pathetic werefox, Appius kept one ear on them, even as he watched Andre approaching the estate’s northeast gate stealthily. Appius inhaled deeply and caught the scents of many vampires, yet none were close enough to Andre to cause the elder vampire any kind of concern.
“Ah—dear boy!” Appius greeted in a belittling way, as Andre reached the gate. “I am pleased to see that you are on time! 12:30 a.m. on the dot!”
Andre bowed his head a little. “Yes, Master.”
At that moment, Hallow approached with Debbie Pelt.
“This is Andre,” the witch informed the werefox, who was now teeming with energy due to her latest infusion of V.
With erratic movements, Debbie nodded in Andre’s direction.
“You understand what you have to do?” Appius asked Andre.
“Yes, Master,” the queen’s child said obediently, even as he opened the gate for Debbie to progress through.
“Complete your task, and be back to accompany me in at 12:50 a.m.,” the elder vampire ordered the younger.
“Do not keep me waiting!” Appius warned. “I am anxious to see my child, and you are to ensure that I am not seen as I make my way to him. I have plans that I wish to see fulfilled tonight.” He grinned wickedly. “And I have a plot which I am quite anxious to see occur—just as I wish it to! I do not want to be disappointed,” he added threateningly.
“I will do all that I can to do all that you require,” Andre bowed, looking a little pained, even as Debbie seemed ready to run off into the night. However, she obediently waited by Andre’s side—just as her own master had instructed her to do.
“Dear Andre, I recognize that it is difficult for you to split your allegiances,” Appius said, though his voice was teeming with amusement, rather than compassion. “But—after tonight—things will settle into place, and all will be well.”
“After tonight,” Andre echoed, even as he bowed his head to his elder and led the addled werefox toward one of the many entrances to the great estate.
“Shall we amuse ourselves together for the next twenty minutes—as we wait for him?” Hallow purred suggestively.
Appius couldn’t hold in his chuckle. “Oh, dear witch! I am certain that you would be an amusing companion, but my preferences lie beyond your ability to serve. Perhaps, your brother would be willing to make the same offer?” he asked, looking over Hallow’s shoulder and leering at an obviously uncomfortable Mark Stonebrook.
“Alas, Marky has no taste for carnal relations with men. He is just no fun when it comes to such experimentation,” she grinned.
“Pity,” Appius leered at the male Were-witch, even as he took Hallow’s arm. “Perhaps, we can find another sort of amusement. How about you and I make a circuit around this estate while we wait for Andre to complete his task?”
“A little walk sounds lovely,” Hallow smiled.
“Sister?” Mark asked, clearly anxious about her going off with Appius alone.
“We will be fine,” Hallow assured. “After all, we are all partners for the next year—are we not?”
“Indeed,” Appius grinned back. “Indeed.”
Thalia had a gift—one that had just begun developing during the last century of her long life. Beyond the use of her five traditional senses, she was able to detect when a vampire more powerful than herself was in the vicinity. In the past, this “extra” sense had always been signaled by a tingling of her cold flesh—an enlivening of it.
Geek that she was, Molly would have called it a “spidey sense”—if Thalia had ever actually told anyone about her newish gift.
Which she hadn’t.
Needless to say—given her age and particular skill set—Thalia had rarely experienced the feeling, for she seldom encountered vampires stronger than herself. Indeed, when she first experienced it, she was not even sure what the feeling was—or why it had occurred. It had taken her time—and a bit of experimentation—to figure out its origins.
But ultimately, the full nature of her new ability had become clear. Most significantly, because of her “new” gift, she would experience her tingling sensation right before she was within the range of the more powerful vampire. Such a sense was, Thalia posited, both a warning and a defense mechanism. It allowed her to be on alert—if she decided to progress toward the more powerful vampire and put herself into his or her range. Or she could simply choose to withdraw—before the vampire ever sensed her. The range, therefore, of her “new” gift was determined by the strength of the vampire she faced.
Thalia had no way of knowing if this “extra-sensory” gift was from her maker, or if it was something that other older vampires developed too—an aspect of the magic that kept them animated as centuries turned into millennia. So little was known about “mature” vampire gifts because the ancients tended to covet information about themselves. Thus, she wasn’t surprised that she’d never heard about a gift like her “new” one. Indeed, if anyone asked her how her own skills had evolved over her many years—not that many would dare to—she would tell them to go fuck themselves!
Not even the Norseman knew about the “extra-sensory” sense she’d developed, though he had been part of her “experimentation” with the gift. During the decade before she’d settled in Area 5, she’d traveled extensively—to try to understand the “new” gift. She would purposely pass through regions where she knew that vampires older than herself dwelled, for always, power was an aspect of age. To her amusement, she learned that some older vampires were not—as a matter of fact—stronger than she was, for her gift remained dormant around them. However, especially in the Old World, she’d encountered enough ancients to be confident about how her gift worked. And then she’d come to the New World. And once she arrived, she “mapped” out who was stronger than herself—for practical reasons. However, in a more profound way, she had been searching for something that she couldn’t quite name.
She’d learned what that “something” was when she’d come into Area 5 of Louisiana. Of course, she’d encountered Eric Northman before during their long existences; however, she’d not had her “new” gift when they’d previously met. She was curious, given all of Eric’s good-natured swagger during their past encounters, whether he would be more powerful than she was. And she knew that her gift would tell her that.
From what Thalia knew, she was a bit older than the Viking. However, they would be considered near-contemporaries by vampire standards. However, he had been a warrior as a human, while Thalia—though having a warrior’s mentality—had not been able to reach her potential as a human.
Yes—she’d been curious to know if her “extra-sensory” gift would activate around Eric Northman.
It had. And it hadn’t.
Uniquely, her “new” gift had alerted her to Eric’s presence; however, that alert would always happen at exactly the same time as she would scent him or hear him. From this information, Thalia determined that Eric and she were of equal power—exactly equal. They were true peers. And, importantly, Eric had treated her as such during every encounter they’d ever had.
In Area 5—the Viking’s territory—Thalia found that “something” she’d been searching for, a home in the territory of a vampire who not only treated her as an equal, but also truly was her equal. Such equalness of footing was a pleasing feeling for Thalia. She’d even endured having to display herself at Fangtasia! Of course, she very much preferred her current assignment—as guard to the telepath who managed to endear herself to almost everyone around her.
As for other vampires in the state of Louisiana, none had activated Thalia’s “extra” sense: not Sophie-Anne, not Andre, and not the “Berts”—though Thalia had true respect for the Saxons and begrudging admiration for the queen. From her previous experimentation, Thalia had already known that King Russell Edgington would activate her “extra” sense. Of course, she knew that Russell was not a threat to the one she guarded.
However, right as she tracked Andre to a hall which would take him to the northeast corner of the sprawling royal estate, Thalia stopped in her tracks, her body suddenly frozen—almost as if she’d been captured in a powerful witch’s net. However, she could smell no magic.
No—the thing that had stopped her body from moving another step forward was her “extra-sensory” gift—activated in a way that it had never been before!
It was as if every pore in her dead flesh had impossibly awoken. She looked down at her arm, almost expecting to see a sheen of sweat there, though her mind told her that would be impossible.
She’d never been so glad to have her “new” gift as she was in that very moment—both for her own sake and for the sakes of the sheriff that she so admired and the telepath that she so . . . liked.
For there was a monster nearby!
However—because of that monster—Thalia was going to lose track of Andre!
A/N: Hi everyone! Thanks again to everyone who has stayed with me and this story! I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. The pieces are moving into place.
Please leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.
All the best until next time—and stay safe out there!