Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters in True Blood or the Southern Vampire Mysteries. So neither copyright infringement nor offense is meant. I simply want to make the characters do what I wanted them to do for a while. I am especially “unownerly” when it comes to this story. You will recognize a lot of the dialogue throughout as being quoted from Season 5 of True Blood, though I’ve tried to use Eric’s thoughts to make this story “different” from its source. That said, I claim no ownership to the quoted material and have placed it in bold so that it is set apart from my own words.
A thousand years had taught me many things about interrogation by torture. I’d been on both ends of the spectrum—the torturer and the tortured. I’d also observed others performing torture. By watching Godric’s work, I’d literally learned from the best—so to speak.
There were six rules when it came to effective torture—or “enhanced interrogation techniques” as George W. Bush had so amusingly called them.
Rule one about torture was that the torturer always hurt the torture-ee. Always. Even if the one being tortured started singing like a canary before the first infliction of pain, there was no way to avoid what was coming.
Simply put, if you talked too soon, your captor would think you knew more or were lying. Moreover, once someone bothered to set up a scene like the one I found myself in right then—tied down to a chair with a tube attached to my arm and a purposely menacing-looking machine holding some kind of liquid silver—the torturer was going to use it.
Plus, premature squealers were such a disappointment that they deserved a little pain—even in the unlikely event that they’d already spilled their whole story.
Rule two was that the torture would never kill you—not unless your torturers were inept or inexperienced. And as Salome got herself comfortable and gave me a look that bounced back and forth between compassion and intrigue, I knew that I was working with a torturer who was very, very practiced. There were many kinds of torturers; the best always threw a little seductiveness into the process. Indeed, if I had to be tortured, having it done by Salome would at least make it tolerable. It would be a story for the grandkids—so to speak.
Though it wasn’t as much comfort as one might think, I knew that Salome was not there to kill me; that option wouldn’t be on the table unless the Authority members felt that I had nothing more to tell them—and nothing of value to offer them. Torture was designed to break a person—not to kill him or her. If the Guardian truly wanted me dead, I would already be that way. Hell—there had been garbage bags full of Nan in plain sight when Bill and I were apprehended! And why kill the others on the dock, but not Nora, Bill, and myself? The answer was clear: The Guardian didn’t want us dead—not yet at least. No—Roman still felt there was information to be gotten, and he’d sent his best asset—the vampiress who had been his consort for approximately 700 years—to get that information from me.
Rule three about torture was that once a person began to talk, he or she would end up saying everything. Most thought that they could give a little snippet of information—just enough to get them off the hook or to stop the pain. But that was a misconception. That little piece of information was the opening that every good torturer looked for. The trick—then—to not giving away any information was to think about the worst thing that could be betrayed. In my case, that was easy. I was currently checking on that “worst” thing—Sookie—even as I studied Salome.
I knew what would happen to my once-bonded if the Authority learned about her. And it wasn’t “pretty” knowledge. No. If I said one thing—just one—it would eventually lead to my saying all, and I would literally spill my guts about Sookie. And that could not happen—would not happen.
No—there was never an “in between” with torture. Once a person broke, there was no going back.
Rule four about torture was that the information one got during physical coercion was often fabrication, and every torturer worth his or her mettle knew this. That’s why—over the years—I had discovered that there were other ways, better ways, to go about getting information. Psychological torture was much more effective than physical—if one had the time to set it up properly.
Take Lafayette Reynolds, for instance. When I had caught Sookie’s friend red-handed selling V, I’d initially had two options. I could have glamoured the man so that he would never sell V or take V again, or I could have simply killed him. Most sheriffs would have chosen the latter option—an option that was “encouraged” by the Authority. But the appearance and attitude of Mr. Reynolds had amused me from the start. One didn’t often find flamboyant openly gay black men in backwoods Louisiana, so I had planned to simply glamour the man.
That is—until I smelled that the blood in Lafayette’s possession belonged to a missing vampire in my area. The blood was from a useless, sniveling vampire who should never have been made, but it was still my responsibility to find out what had happened to him.
Glamour produced no clear answers from Lafayette, and since the man worked with Sookie, I knew that I could not use her gift to get the information I needed—though I would have asked for her assistance otherwise. I had to fight to hold back a little smile. My Sookie—okay, not mine—was like an anti-torture device. She could find out information using her gift, and that negated the need for physical interrogation. But she would have never betrayed her friend—even if that had meant lying to me. So I’d had to use more “conventional” methods—at least conventional for me.
However, I’d not wanted to torture Lafayette physically. No—I’d done far worse than to break his body. Leaving him chained up in the dank basement for days had been well on its way to breaking his spirit. Then, once I had allowed Lafayette to witness me literally ripping apart one of the arsonists who had burned Malcolm’s nest, he had truly become terrified. A few love-bites from Pam, Chow, and me had sealed the deal—so to speak—and I had learned that Lafayette had been trying to protect Jason Stackhouse, whom Lafayette suspected had been involved in the vampire’s disappearance. Lafayette’s being shot was because of Ginger’s ineptitude. But things had turned out well enough in the end. Yes—I was glad that I’d not killed Lafayette. He had been useful and amusing.
A great argument for his continued existence.
I once more hoped that it had been Lafayette whom Pam had turned.
I sighed and looked over at Salome. She’d been staring at me for a good five minutes―saying nothing, doing nothing, barely moving. I’d used this technique before, and I couldn’t help but to wish that she’d just get a move on. It wasn’t as if a thousand-year-old Viking vampire was going to cave from a stare-down!
In fact, her behavior bordered on insulting, which—come to think of it—was her likely purpose for it.
I used the continued silence to check Sookie through our bond again. She was apprehensive, but otherwise okay. I steeled myself. Bonded only once, she would not feel the pain I was about to endure, and that was a blessing—for us both.
“It’s wonderful to be a vampire, isn’t it?” Salome finally spoke.
I almost rolled my eyes. Ah—Salome was going to try to be a “good cop” as she worked.
“Generally, yes,” I intoned. “Right now? Not so much.”
She spoke, “If you give me your full cooperation, not only will we not need the silver, but you—you’ll leave here a free man. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for your—um—your accomplice,” she paused, “Nora.”
I had been right. Salome would be trying to use Nora to get to me. I knew that my sister would also be facing pain, but there was nothing I could do for her other than to keep my mouth shut. My talking would only hurt her and lead to worse things for us all.
I smirked, “She won’t leave here ‘a free man?'”
I realized in that moment that “sarcastic, smartass Eric” would be the perfect part of myself to stick with during my session with Salome, for it obviously flustered her to a certain extent. Her frustration only became clearer with her next words.
I thought of many things in the split second that followed. Rule number five of torture was that the torturer never told the truth, so I knew that Nora was not dead. However, I also knew something else. Someone being tortured could have an active role—rather than just be a passive participant—in the process.
And I’d always preferred to be active.
I was certain that Salome had seen my flinch the previous night when she’d slapped Nora. Of course, she couldn’t have known that my reaction was coincidental; I’d felt a strong jolt of fear from my bonded at that moment. If that had not been the case, then I would have been able to hold my countenance steady.
I intuited that it was now time to use Salome’s misconception to my advantage. Even though it was likely “wrong,” I determined that I would pretend that Nora was the most important being in my un-dead life. That would keep Salome from trying to find something or someone that she could use to get a real reaction out of me.
That decision made, I “reacted” subtly to the mention of Nora’s supposed death—in order to pull some strings of my own. If I was lucky, Salome would assume that Nora and I were merely lovers. If I was very lucky, Salome might somehow already know that Nora and I were related through Godric. That connection would explain Nora’s motivation for helping me better than anything else. And it might even get Nora off the hook. She’d be expelled from the Authority—no doubt—but she’d likely be able to keep her undead life. But, of course, I couldn’t be the source of that information.
Salome was waiting for her opening, and she was certain she’d just found it—in my “agitation” over Nora being “dead.” She moved closer. The compassion was back in her eyes and in her voice. “I know this must pain you.” She paused. “I’m sorry.” Another pause. “But you must understand that noncooperation will not be tolerated.”
I figured that Salome would strike while she thought I was vulnerable with emotion, so I knew what was coming next: a question I wouldn’t answer and then the beginning of the physical pain. One had to admire Salome’s grace in going through the choreography, however.
“Now,” she asked, “was it you or Mr. Compton who murdered Nan Flanagan?”
There were so many things that I could have said in that moment. I could have reminded Salome that the Authority was most likely ecstatic that Nan had been eliminated. Nan’s feeding habits did not work well with the image she was trying to portray, and she was too visible. A scandal involving Nan would have been very damaging to the AVL, which was Roman’s brainchild and pet-project. Plus, Nan was a bitch. She wouldn’t be missed.
I could have told Salome that I’d wished to hell it would have been me who had killed Nan. I could have said that I’d been relegated to storm trooper duty while the king got the honor. I could have said a great many things, but I decided to go back to the sarcasm.
“Nan Flanagan is dead?” I asked, making sure I added a twinkle to my eye, just to increase Salome’s consternation. Indeed―I thought―torture didn’t have to be all bad. Salome’s reaction was amusing.
Of course, the silver hurt like hell. Injecting it into the blood was certainly more painful than having it applied to the body, but pain was all relative. Godric had taught me long ago to have my distraction ready—ready before the first pain was inflicted. The moment I’d seen that it was silver to be used, I’d known what my distraction was going to be.
Even as the silver jetted into my arm and burned my blood, I thought of Sookie placing silver over my body because she loved me—because she wanted to protect me from the necromancer. That too had hurt, maybe not quite as bad as what I was facing now, but it had hurt. Significantly, Sookie had stayed with me all day and had even helped to hold me down when the witch had begun her spell. She’d cared for me. She’d spent that day in the cubby just talking to me and holding me. She’d reminded me that she’d seen me under silver before—when I was willing to give up my life for Godric and her. After a while, the pain of the silver had been nothing compared to the sound of Sookie’s soothing voice and the feeling of her body lying against mine.
But the best part of the day had been when Sookie had drifted off into a nap for about fifteen minutes. Her breathing had evened out and her heartbeat had slowed and strengthened. In her sleep, she had snuggled into my cold body like it was the most comfortable pillow in the world. She had sighed in contentment and then drooled onto my shirt.
It had been beautiful.
A memory could be a powerful thing, and my memory of that day—and that silver—was the perfect distraction to my current pain.
About an hour later, I had received about half of the silver in the canister. The questioning had continued, and Salome was really quite gifted in the way she combined compassion, seduction, righteous indignation, understanding, and anger into the session. I had learned a few tricks by watching her. She wasn’t up to snuff compared to Godric in his heyday, but she was certainly above average. I would give her an A-, no a B+.
Of course, I had continued to play the smartass whenever I wanted to fluster her. And I’d looked adequately “upset” every time Salome had told me that Nora was dead or dying or in pain. I was putting on a lovely performance—if I did say so myself. The pain had sucked—certainly—but my body was holding up nicely.
Unexpectedly, Salome’s questions had quickly moved from Nan to the Sanguinistas, a group which I knew was trying to undermine the Guardian and reinstate the Vampire Bible as the ultimate Authoritative Law for vampires. In short, they wanted to supplant the Authority and go back to the “good old days” when humans were seen as mere cattle. They literally wanted to “rule the world” and to turn humans into slaves, breeding the best of them for blood. It was a barbaric idea, and even though I had little time for humans for the most part, I had even less time for radical fanatics, who had probably watched The Matrix as if it were a field-guide for controlling humanity.
No—I had very little tolerance for radicals. I’d learned during my long life that balance was key. Humanity and vampires needed to negotiate a balance of power that would work for both groups. And then Weres could be brought in, and a new balance would be established in time. I knew that one group having all the control would lead to unacceptable unrest for the others. And that would make war inevitable, and war was bad for business. Oh—it was fun to pull out the ol’ sword every once in a while and play, but true war was no fun at all.
The “Viking Way” had stuck with me over the years; it was based on sound logic, after all. Raid when you had to in order to take what you needed or eliminate enemies before they could mount an attack against you. After raiding, get the fuck out and disappear into the night. Use the resources you’d taken from the raid to bolster your own defenses so that no one could get the upper hand on you. And, most importantly of all, don’t get fucking greedy!
Greed for territory stretched one’s resources too thin. Greed for materials made one forget that family and honor were paramount. Greed for pleasure made one get sloppy and slow. Greed for power led to having a bigger target put on your own back.
By my estimation, the Sanguinistas were too fucking greedy, and—clearly—the Guardian was legitimately worried about them. But why would he think Bill and I were a part of that? He had to suspect that Nora was a Sanguinista, but unless my sister had changed much over the years, I didn’t think she could be. Sure—she hated anything she viewed as unjust; however, she’d never been particularly radical. Plus, she’d taken her concern for humanity even into her undead life.
However, it was possible, that Nora was sympathetic to some of the Sanguinistas’ ideas. I knew that she believed in Lilith and saw the supposed-first vampire as a figure to try to emulate in many ways. She also believed that the creator—God—was a vampire. And she was quite spiritual in her own way; Godric had been the same way.
There was something else to consider, too. In her grief following Godric’s death, could have an adrift Nora been manipulated into becoming a radical Sanguinista? Keeping my personal feelings about my sister out of the equation, I let my mind examine that possibility from all angles.
Unlike her and Godric, I had never been one to dwell on the mystical. I was too practical for that. Plus, even after a thousand years, I still liked the Viking version of things best. Yes—I thought—if there was a god, he or she was sure to be a Viking. And I was still holding out a little hope for Valhalla, too. Indeed, that version of the afterlife had always sounded fucking amazing to me!
I closed my eyes as Salome paced the room. Yes. Valhalla would be splendid. Only men and women of honor would end up there. I pictured Sookie before me in a white, flowing gown—with the light of the sun and purple flowers in her hair. If there was a god who was benevolent enough to provide an afterlife, I hoped this would be mine.
As Salome resettled herself on top of the little table and tried another stare-down, I once more checked on the object of my fantasy. Her emotions had returned to sorrow, but she was steady and calm. I was relieved.
I examined my torturer. She had not covered her own worries as well as she may have wanted to. She had let on that Roman was concerned about the rise of the Sanguinista movement, and I knew that I could use that, for I had an ace in the hole: Russell Edgington.
Russell could become the Sanguinista poster boy, after all. And he was older than any member of the Authority as far as I knew. The threat of a crazed Russell running around might just get Bill and me out of this mess if we played our cards right. Bill and I would make excellent bait to draw Russell out, and then, if the Authority didn’t fuck things up, we could kill Russell once he came out into the open—hopefully before he was back at full strength.
Killing Russell would accomplish two positive things in my eyes. First, it would ingratiate Bill and me to the Authority; they would owe us one. Hopefully, that “one” would be our lives—if we survived Russell, that is. But, more importantly, if Russell were dead, then that would mean he couldn’t harm Sookie.
Salome broke the silence she’d been holding for the last few minutes—ever since she’d asked me a question about the Sanguinistas, and I’d asked her if that was a new Latin boy-band. Salome had not taken that comment so well, so I had gotten the silent treatment for a while.
Her voice dripped with false concern. “I’m afraid Mr. Compton doesn’t have your backbone. He’s been freed. And in return for his cooperation, he’ll be reinstated as king. In light of that, is there—is there anything you’d like to say?”
Again, there was a lot I could say. I could say that if Bill really had told them everything he knew and had compromised Sookie, hell itself wouldn’t stop my sword from taking Bill’s head. I could say that the color Salome was wearing was not that flattering, but that her breasts looked nice nonetheless. I could say that the new silver technique they were using was the best I’d ever experienced, and I could ask for its “recipe.”
But I settled for something classic and classy. “Long live the king.”
Before the pain even hit my body, I was already back into my distraction. The silver still stung like a son of a bitch, of course, but the memory of Sookie’s tender touch easily negated that pain.
Sadly for Salome, she seemed to know only the first five rules.