“Fuck!” Andre growled as he turned down another corridor. His path would eventually lead him and Debbie Pelt to the surveillance center, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stall much longer. A part of him wondered why he was stalling at all—why he was risking Appius’s wrath.
Of course, he knew why. It was for his dear maker; all was for her.
Imagining himself as a rat in the maze of hallways of his queen’s vast estate, Andre had never felt so trapped.
At Appius’s—his new “master’s—direction, Hallow had placed a spell on him that prevented him from speaking with anyone about Appius, Bill Compton, the witches, Debbie Pelt, or anything else having to do with their plot!
Even after the witches’ spell had been set, however, Andre had thought that he could control the situation. For a millennium, he’d controlled all situations involving his beloved maker. He’d talked himself into believing that this one would be no different.
He’d planned to—very quietly—do what Appius required, helping the elder vampire secure the telepath and Eric into his power.
Sookie Stackhouse—Andre would have regretted giving up. But—Eric Northman? Andre had been chomping at the bit to get rid of him for decades!
All could have been well! All could have been simple!
“But Northman got to my maker—convinced her to send me away!” he said under his breath.
“What?” the rabid Debbie Pelt asked from next to him.
Andre rolled his eyes at the pathetic creature, who was barely holding herself together since she was so fucking high! He couldn’t wait to kill her!
But first, he had been tasked by Appius to kill Eric’s little computer expert and to take over the cameras for the estate so that Appius’s presence would be a surprise to his child! And—in a cruel, ironic turn—his own maker had commanded him to proceed through the very plan that he couldn’t tell her about! Oh—and Thalia was now his shadow—a witness to all that he was doing!
And, though he didn’t give a flying fuck about whether or not any of Northman’s minions met their final death, Thalia’s eyewitness testimony of his attempt on the computer geek’s life would be a final nail in his coffin when it came to Sophie-Anne’s remaining love for him.
He shook his head a little as he thought about the minutes ahead of him.
It didn’t help that those minutes would likely be his last—and would be spent in the company of Debbie Pelt!
Andre couldn’t imagine getting into the surveillance room to kill Molly fucking Jolly without Thalia stopping him!
Indeed, as soon as his maker had taken him into custody and put him in silver earlier that night, Andre had known that the whole game he’d been playing was already lost! It had become very clear to him as he’d looked into Sophie-Anne’s pained, though determined, eyes that she was done with him—that she had reached her limit in tolerating his secrecy. Unfortunately, she’d reached that limit on the same fucking night that Hallow had ensured that he could not share his remaining secrets with her! Even worse, his last-ditch hope that he could keep the situation with Appius under control had unraveled more than Debbie Pelt’s mind!
Regardless, Andre knew—as he made another turn down another hallway, choosing again to take the longest, least direct route to the surveillance room—that he would not be able to succeed in the task Appius had set out for him. Given the events earlier that night with Jade Flower, there was no fucking way that Molly Jolly—or anyone else—would be left vulnerable in the surveillance room by the time he and Debbie Pelt got there. And because all who served the queen had been informed that Andre was no longer to be obeyed—or trusted—there was no way that he would be able to simply circumvent the security guards by guile, which had been his intention—earlier that night.
Sure—he may have been forced to kill a few of Sophie-Anne’s loyal servants to succeed in killing Molly, but he’d been ready to pay that price for his maker’s safety.
However, now, he would not succeed in doing what Appius wanted! Andre knew that. Hell—he was ensuring that by taking the longest route possible in order to guarantee that whoever was guarding the surveillance room would have plenty of fucking time to see him coming!
And because he would fail, he knew that Appius would kill him.
Unless Thalia or Northman—or even Wybert—had that honor first.
What concerned Andre was not that he would likely die, however. What haunted him like a ghost chasing him through the hallways he knew so well was what Appius would do once Andre did fail. Would Appius—then—go after Sophie-Anne?!
In that moment, the sociopathic elder vampire was expecting an easy night for himself—a figurative red carpet laid out for him so that he could enter the queen’s estate without interference. Without surveillance capturing any of his actions, Appius was anticipating that he could do whatever he wanted to Northman and his telepath. And then the ancient expected to make a “triumphant” entrance at the ball—as if he were simply paying a social call and had not just been toying with the queen’s sheriff and asset!
Andre’s mind spun around in circles, going over again and again the cluster-fuck he found himself in.
Appius expected that Andre would be able to influence Sophie-Anne to simply go along with everything that was happening. And—for a brief moment earlier that night—Andre had imagined a path for that happening.
An idealized path where both he and his maker would come out unscathed—actually even better off—due to Appius’s presence in Louisiana!
But—much to Andre’s chagrin—his maker clearly intended to be on Northman’s side!
Come what may.
And there was so much coming!
But the spell preventing him from speaking about Appius’s plans was also preventing him from warning his maker that one of the most powerful—and probably the most sadistic—vampires in existence was at her gates! Literally!
“If she only knew,” he muttered to himself. He wondered if Sophie-Anne would hand over Northman to his sire without dissent—if she knew about the looming danger? Would she accept Appius’s claim upon the telepath?
Would she have been able to recognize—if Andre had just been able to tell her everything—that those would have been the only moves that would have guaranteed her safety?
Honestly, Andre could not be sure. Sophie-Anne was peculiar when it came to situations like the one Appius wanted to subject Northman to. Her own maker had been horribly cruel, and she’d always advocated against such ill-usage by a sire.
No—the queen wouldn’t have just sat back and let Appius do whatever he wanted to Northman. That’s why Andre had been prepared to shield her from any specific knowledge of the situation. He would have protected her from the unpleasantness—as he always tried to do.
But how could he shield her from Appius’s wrath now?
And—if by some miracle Sophie-Anne and he did survive the night—how could he survive the nights that would follow? How could he stand his perpetual expulsion from his maker’s orbit?
Since his turning, he’d not lived more than a week out of the sun that was his maker. And even during those rare weeks—when one of them would be traveling apart from the other—he always missed her.
Before he could sink into despair, however, Andre shook himself internally. Yes—he was trapped. He was compelled to do as Appius wished him to do because his own queen had ordered it!
Meanwhile, his maker was counting on Thalia to stop him from causing any real harm!
Andre paused as he and Debbie neared a final turn that would take them to the surveillance center. He used the moment to take out his two long knives—which had been concealed inside of his suit. Though he preferred a sword in a fight, he’d trained many centuries with more easily hidden weapons. And—of course—his greatest weapons—the speed that came with his age and his fangs—were at the ready as well.
As Debbie growled in anticipation beside him, Andre prayed to the Catholic God—whom his maker so admired. He prayed that he would fail in what he was about to attempt! He prayed that Thalia or someone else would be more than his match—that someone would stop him before he could do any damage that would further alienate him from Sophie-Anne! He prayed that his very failure would alert those around his queen to the massive level of danger she faced! He prayed that Eric fucking Northman would protect his queen with his life because that was what was needed! He prayed that—when the time came—Northman would give himself and his telepath up to Appius, sacrificing himself and his human for the greater good of the Kingdom!
And—selfishly—Andre prayed for his own final death, for he could not face the years ahead without being by the side of his maker.
Appius loved it when a challenge seemed to materialize out of thin air—as if fate itself was guiding him in his pursuit of an amusing diversion.
Or maybe the witch had created the opportunity with her magic.
Indeed, he’d been enjoying his little stroll with Hallow—around the perimeter of Sophie Anne’s sprawling estate. His excuse for the walkabout was to “confirm” what Andre had already told them about the queen’s limited security around her estate; like many older vampire monarchs, she trusted too much in magic for her security. Of course, magic generally worked just fine—unless an enemy had a stronger witch.
In truth, Appius’s real reason for his walk with the witch was to burn off some of his pent-up energy; he was so anxious for the night to truly start that he was a little stir-crazy! Yet waiting for Andre to disable the cameras really was his best play—unless he wanted to decimate the queen.
And—to be frank—Appius wanted nothing of the sort! No—he would prefer living in a territory with a stable regime while he enjoyed his “visit” with Eric and helped William restore his estate and train the telepath. Oh—and he hoped to have much amusement with the witch—as well as with her delectable brother.
A monarch-free state would be such an interference to his plans!
Often, such territories were besieged by wannabe kings and queens vying for power. And if they found out Appius was in the region? Well—invariably, they would come to his doorstep, trying to convince him to be on their side—to fight for their silly little power-grabs.
Appius shook his head. The sad, pathetic creatures would, of course, want to “borrow” his strength and strategic prowess. Rarely did Appius find any of his petitioners worthy. No—he would accept their gifts (and they always brought a lot of those to him), give them a vague assurance that he would think about the matter, and then move on. Especially with Alexei in tow, dealing with the uncertainty of a queen-less Louisiana would be more toiling than Appius desired.
Oh—there had been a time when Appius had found ruler-less territories to be very fun places, indeed, for a vampire could run rabid without worry of any interference in such regions. But Alexei needed—at the very least—some limitations. And—given the freedoms and excesses of their previous vacation in the Philippines—Appius knew that Alexei would need to be re-civilized to a certain extent. Otherwise, his younger child might become too feral! In addition, Appius needed a safe area to begin teaching William how to handle Alexei for the inevitable time when the American Civil War-era vampire would have to take over guardianship of the little Tsarevich.
So—indeed—he had no desire to throw Louisiana into turmoil, which was why he’d determined on a clandestine taking of Eric and his telepath. And that was why Andre was still somewhat useful.
That being said, Andre had already used up almost ten minutes. Surely, that would have given him ample time to accomplish the murder of one little computer technician and shut down the surveillance system.
So that meant that Appius could begin playing. And he already saw some potential playmates, slowly coming toward him from the west side of the estate.
“What has you so intrigued?” Hallow asked in a hushed voice as she looked toward the estate grounds. The two had just passed an area on the west side of the property where a large dwelling stood. From the information Andre had provided several days before, that was where Eric and his telepath were staying. However, Appius’s attention seemed to be trained on something in a tree more than 100 yards away.
“A bit of entertainment,” the elder vampire said with a shrug.
Hallow squinted and saw what seemed to be a man in the tree.
“What if that is one of the queen’s guards?” Hallow asked with caution in her tone. “The plan was to avoid killing those.”
“Oh—I have a feeling that he is not among the queen’s people. But I have seen the video files provided by Andre, just like you have. I know which beings to avoid killing.” He smiled sinisterly. “And—even if he is the queen’s, it would be fun to see if I could frighten him to the point that he shit himself.”
Hallow shook her head and chuckled a little at the sadistic vampire.
“Tell me. What magic do you sense here?” he asked her.
The witch inhaled deeply in order to get a better sense of the enchantments in the air. “The whole estate has a ring of magic around it—just a basic protective spell.”
“How basic?” Appius asked.
“It would keep out the bullets that humans would fire,” Hallow responded. “I’m sure that you can tell that the magic makes it difficult to smell the beings on the estate.”
The vampire nodded. “Anything else?”
“It would prevent beings from entering onto the estate by going over the fences,” she added before gesturing back toward the north a bit. “There was a more substantial spell in the area we just passed.”
Appius nodded. “I felt that one. It was an Ill-Intent spell?”
“Yes. And an effective one too,” the witch explained.
“Around the little cottage where my child is staying with his wench,” Appius said in an amused tone.
“And a bit out from that—I’d say twenty feet or so from the dwelling’s perimeter is where that one starts.”
“Could you eliminate that spell? Counteract it?” Appius asked.
Hallow shook her head. “Not immediately. I’d need Mark’s help, and it would take us at least a day.” She closed her eyes. “The witches that enacted the Ill-Intent barrier were clever, too. There is an alarm of sorts.”
Appius smiled as if amused. “So if you tried to eliminate the spell, the witches would be warned of your attempt?”
“How about the spell keeping me from jumping or flying over this fence?” Appius asked with a smirk.
“Aren’t we waiting for Andre?” Hallow inquired. “What happened to simply going through the northeast gate with him as planned? The Prevention spell is not raised there—or at the other main entrances—according to Andre.”
“I think I might like to flex my muscles a bit before the real fun begins,” Appius grinned, even as he nodded his head slightly toward the immense dark yard of the estate.
Hallow inhaled deeply and now scented a couple of two-natured beings in the vicinity—about fifty yards away. They seemed to be moving toward her and Appius—but slowly so that they would be undetected. Likely, they were trying to ascertain if the duo was a threat—or simply a couple taking a nighttime stroll around one of the landmarks of New Orleans. Hallow had noticed others doing the same—mostly humans who seemed to be using the sidewalks around the queen’s ample estate, which took up the greater part of four city blocks of space altogether, as a kind of walking trail.
As the witch looked from one of the shadowy figures slowly approaching to the vampire in front of her, she was glad that she’d used spells to cover the scents of everyone in their group. If she and Appius left the area right away, the two-natured figures would have nothing of consequence to report about the two individuals who had paused along the western fence.
But seeing the look in Appius’s eyes, she knew that they would not be leaving the area in that moment.
She closed her eyes and used the magic within her to ascertain the exact nature of the spell between them and the estate’s grounds. Indeed, it was basic, but effective for the goals the queen clearly had for it. Humans were nuisances with their long rifles, and the Protective Spell would make their projectiles (even those of the larger varieties—if Hallow was reading the barrier correctly) bounce right off. Without opening her eyes, the witch moved her head upward. The spell extended at least 100 feet upward, and she imagined that it covered the top of the estate too. Things like smoke and oxygen could pass in and out of the spell’s barrier, but beings and solid objects could not. And that meant that the two-natured creatures could not come out to them either. They would need to go to one of the gates.
“Can you make it possible for me to pass onto the grounds? Here and now?” Appius asked more insistently, though at a lower volume than before.
Hallow lifted her finger in a sign that she was still trying to arrive at the answer Appius craved. She used her own magic to push slightly against the spell and smiled a little when she recognized that the barrier was like a patchwork. This was how there could be gaps in it for the flow of traffic in and out of the gates of the estate. Better still, a spell of this type could have no “alarm.”
The witch opened her eyes. “I can open up a ten by ten-foot passage right there,” she said, looking toward the area right above the fence.
Appius smiled sinisterly.
A/N: Hello all! Sorry for the slight delay to posting this week. I had work commitments that had to take priority and then WiFi issues that mucked up everything! Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed the latest chapter of this work! The bad guys are circling. And—sadly—the next chapter begins the carnage. I hope your favorite people make it through!
A note on the story—in case you were confused: Although we know that Thalia is no longer following Andre, Andre believes that she is still following. (You might remember that Thalia returned to Sookie and Eric after she sensed a being of greater power than her own and wanted to avoid his detecting her following Andre.)
Please leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.
All the best to you and your loved ones during the holiday season. Please stay as safe as you can in these troubling times. I will “see” you for the next chapter after Christmas.
Next up: Will Molly make it—given that she is Andre’s direct target? What about the guards that Appius had in his crosshairs?
Finally, I want to leave a very special message and thanks to a very special person: Sephrenia. As many of you know, Sephrenia is responsible for the lion’s share of the amazing artwork that has accompanied my stories for years. Her work has augmented and inspired my own in countless ways, bringing it more to life. Unfortunately, Sephrenia’s days as banner-maker extraordinaire are over–due to eye issues. However, her work will live on in the pages of this blog–as will my gratitude for that work. But my gratitude for her friendship will go on even longer. If you enjoy her work as much as I do, feel free to leave her a message in the comments.
Thank You, Seph! I love you!