“What’s your worst memory as a vampire?” Sookie asked as she ate her midnight meal of a chicken Caesar salad, which Amelia had left in the refrigerator for her. Octavia was due the next afternoon, and—with any luck—she would pronounce Sookie recovered enough from the effects of the severing spell to travel. She and Eric were planning to leave the morning after that.
Sookie sighed. That would mean only two more nights for them in their little safe haven. She couldn’t help but to wish that it could be more and wondered if she and Eric would continue to be as free with each other as they had become.
She hoped so.
Eric looked up from his book. “I have two.”
“What’s the first?”
“Godric’s death,” he answered.
Sookie nodded. She should have guessed. “And the second?” she asked at a quieter volume.
“It would be unpleasant for you to hear, little one.”
“Oh,” she said quickly. “You don’t have to tell me.”
He smiled a little and pulled the chair he was sitting in toward the bed so that he could prop up his feet on the bed. “I would tell you; however, it’s just not really a conversation for dinner.”
She put her empty salad bowl on her nightstand. “Well—I’m done now.”
On autopilot, she placed one of her hands onto his bare foot that was closest to her. It was one of the new habits that had grown between them when his hand was not “in range” of hers. She would sometimes lightly stroke his foot with her nails, which he loved; however, when they were talking seriously, she would simply rest her hand on his foot—a sign of support and unity.
Eric shook his head a little. “You asked for it. Do you remember when I told you about Godric’s first lesson to me?”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah—the danger of the sun.”
He nodded. “And you asked me about why Godric and Bill burned so differently?”
She nodded again. “Yeah—you said that vampires could choose to activate their magic to attempt to slow down the effects of the sun on their bodies. Or they could choose,” she paused, “to do nothing.”
“Yes. Up until about 1500 years ago, there was a common test given to vampires by their makers. This test was used to weed out those who were not worthy and was given to most new vampires—somewhere between their tenth and two hundredth year as a vampire. Give or take,” he added with a little smile.
“Why such a huge difference in time?”
“A vampire had to be deemed ready for the test before he or she was subjected to it,” he answered. “Even though the test was no longer common by the time I was made, Godric decided to give it to me.”
“How old were you when you had it?”
“Twenty-two in vampire years.”
“And what made you ready for it?”
Eric sighed. “I had witnessed both ways a vampire could die, so Godric decided I was ready.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He gave her a smile, but his melancholy was evident. “You have seen both already. However, Godric and I traveled apart from other vampires during my early days, so it took me a while.”
She looked at him with curiosity, still not quite understanding what he was talking about.
He sighed. “Older vampires—such as myself—have seen the remains of their kind many, many times. If staked or beheaded or overwhelmed with silver poisoning, vampires turn to sludge.”
“Longshadow. Lorena,” Sookie said distastefully.
“Yes. I am sorry I didn’t see Lorena die at your hands,” he added, smirking a little.
“It was disgusting,” Sookie said with a frown.
He chuckled. “Then I am really sorry I didn’t see it.”
She popped his arm even as she, too, chuckled a little.
After a few moments, he continued, “The magic that holds vampires together is centered in our un-beating hearts. But that magic is a testament to the fact that there is still ‘life’ in the heart. It has just transformed—into what we call ‘un-death.’ That is why a stake to the heart will kill us faster than anything else.”
Sookie motioned for him to continue.
“Well,” he said, “as you can imagine, seeing the sludge of a dead vampire’s remains is a rude awakening for a young vampire—almost like a rite of passage. The first time a youngling sees the muck, he or she quickly begins to guard his or her life even more carefully. I know I did! The human body remains relatively intact after death—unless the human has been the victim of a catastrophic trauma. But the vampire body does not. All trace of the person—of the individual—is eliminated in an instant. Except for the scent. But even that is tempered with a putrid odor. It is humbling to be aware of what our bodies become. And—though we will not admit it—it is also frightening.”
“I can only imagine.”
Eric nodded in agreement. “But the other way a vampire can die is even worse to most of us.”
“The sun,” Sookie said as she began to grasp where Eric was going with the conversation.
“Yes. The sun will burn a vampire until there is virtually nothing left. Nothing but fine grains of dust that will be picked up and taken away by even the slightest of breezes. It does not matter how old we are or how strong—when the sun kills, it leaves behind no trace, except—perhaps—a black spot on the ground.”
Sookie squeezed Eric’s foot a little—just as she might squeeze his hand in comfort. “I’m sorry.”
He intuited that she was sorry for something specific. “What for?”
“Godric,” she said quietly. “I had always thought that the quickness of his death would comfort you. I always thought that the fact that he didn’t suffer would be better.”
Eric turned away from her for a moment. When he turned back, his eyes were rimmed in red.
“It is not a comfort to know that Godric did not fight. It is not a comfort to know that two thousand years was ended with nothing left behind.” Eric closed his eyes tightly. “I went to the roof the night after he died. I looked for any trace of him, but I could not even find a small black spot to mourn over. I did not know where he’d been—where he’d stood—where he’d looked upon the sun—where he’d burned.”
Sookie sighed deeply. “We could go back there sometime,” she said. “I could show you where he was.”
“I would like that,” he said softly. “I got the shirt. Thank you for that,” he added. “It helped.”
She smiled a little. “I hated leaving it at the front desk of the hotel like that, but we left while it was still day.”
“Your note was welcome and certainly more than I expected then.”
“It wasn’t much.”
“You told me that you were sorry. You said that he didn’t suffer long.”
“But now I know that him fightin’ would have been better.”
“For me—yes. For him—no,” Eric said softly. “In your note, you also said that you had recently lost your grandmother and that you would be willing to talk with me. I thought your gesture to be,” he paused, “kind. However, I could not talk about my grief—not then.”
She smiled a little. “Me neither. Not really. I didn’t know Gran for a thousand years, but she was more important to me than any other person has ever been.”
“Then we do understand each other,” Eric said thoughtfully.
“I think he took off his shirt so that he would leave something behind,” Sookie offered, even as she gently squeezed his foot again.
He sighed. “Yes.” He closed his eyes. “And, perhaps he didn’t want to leave anything else behind. Seeing the site where one has been burned in the sun is even more startling for a vampire than seeing the sludgy remains of one who had been killed in another way. As I said, there is little left—often nothing but a black spot on the ground. Or perhaps there is a bit of ash trapped inside clothing if it dropped from a vampire’s body before the burning was complete. The sun leaves behind nothing else, not even the scent of the vampire. Such a long life and then nothing,” he said, his voice trailing off.
She squeezed his foot again, wishing that he was closer. He was silent for a while, and she began to stroke his skin softly, soothingly.
“I was going to tell you about the test,” Eric said, seeming to shake himself out of a daze a few minutes later.
She nodded. “Only if you want to.”
He gave her a little smile. “It was an odd test.”
“Godric knew that my chances of passing it—of surviving it—were only one in three.”
“What?” Sookie cried.
Eric shrugged. “As I said, it was used to root out the unworthy. And only about a third of the vampires who underwent it survived.”
“Tell me about it?” Sookie requested, her frown etched deeply into her face.
“Well,” Eric responded in a somewhat detached voice, “as I’ve told you many times—the first lesson learned by a vampire is that his or her greatest enemy is the sun, and it greedily wants to take a vampire’s body and leave only its black calling card behind. Throughout the many years of vampire history, various practices have been picked up, such as the test I had to endure. Godric’s own maker, Κλυμένη, or Klymene as she was known to me, used this test on each of the three children that she made. Godric was the first and only one who passed it. Her other children perished during the test.”
“Yes,” Eric said. “She was an ancient Greek, probably six hundred years older than Godric. I met her only once.”
“She’s still alive?” Sookie asked.
“I am unsure,” Eric responded. “Though I could feel his affection for her, Godric did not speak of her much. I met her when I was about 100 years old.”
“After the test,” Sookie commented.
Eric nodded. “The test was simple, but—as I said—it required that the vampire had seen the two possible outcomes of his body should he die: the sludge or the nothingness.”
“What was the test?” Sookie asked, her fingers now gripped firmly around his ankle as if to hold him to her.
“It was painful,” Eric said, “and terrifying. I woke up blind-folded and bound in silver one night. I could smell that Godric was nearby, but he would not speak to me. All night, I asked for him to explain, but he said nothing. Finally, when it was only an hour before dawn, I was moved into a box. My instincts told me the box would not protect me, but even as I yelled for Godric, he left me alone.”
“Oh my God,” Sookie exclaimed. “That’s horrible! What happened?”
“My instincts were right,” Eric said sourly. “As dawn came, I realized that I had been left so that one of my hands was exposed to the sun, and it began to burn.”
“What did you do?” Sookie asked, pulling his leg a little. After a moment, he moved to sit next to her on the bed. Immediately after he had, they leaned against each other.
“Why does this help me so much?” he asked as he wrapped his long arms around her and she sank into him.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s weird.”
“Weird indeed,” he sighed.
“What did you do?” she asked again.
“I figured out the test,” he intoned.
“What was it?” she asked.
“To live and turn to dust. Or to die and turn to sludge.”
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“When the sun first began to burn through my hand, what do you think I did?”
“Fought,” she said. “You would have fought.”
He smiled and kissed her forehead. “Yes. But I soon realized that I could not fight the sun—not for long.”
“You would have spent up all your magic?” she asked perceptively.
“Yes,” Eric said. “And Godric would have found the sludge when he awoke that night.”
“So you had to give up your hand?” Sookie asked in horror.
“Yes,” Eric answered. “Literally. And it hurt like a motherfucker to grow back.”
“Why did Godric do that to you?” she asked.
“He cared for me,” Eric said simply. “He wanted to teach me.”
“What did you learn from Godric’s test?” she asked, burrowing into him even more.
“That survival is sometimes pain,” he responded thoughtfully. “That sometimes giving up something that can be grown back in time is better than fighting for the sludge.”
“You could have died,” she remarked. “If Godric were still here, I would smack him!”
Eric chuckled. “I would have bought a front row seat to witness that.”
“No wonder that test was one of your worst memories.”
“Yes. But later—much later, mind you—I felt proud too. I had survived. But to be tested like that by my maker was to,” he paused, “lose something.”
“Trust?” she asked.
“A type of it. Blind trust.” He sighed. “Perhaps that was the true purpose of test.”
They were silent for a while.
“What is your worst memory, Sookie?” Eric asked.
“Gran,” she whispered. “Cleaning up her blood.”
Eric pulled her closer, almost to the point that she was sitting on his lap. “You spoke of that in my presence once—in your delirium after the Maenad scratched you. I wanted to put Bill under silver for not taking care of that.”
“I told him and Sam to leave me alone,” Sookie said. “I felt that I should do it alone.”
Eric sighed. “There are some things, Sookie Stackhouse, that I would not listen to you about—no matter how stubborn you can be. That would have been one of them.”
“Was that your worst human memory too?” she asked perceptively.
“Cleaning up my family’s blood? Performing funeral rites for them?”
“Yes,” she clarified.
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“You did it alone too?” she asked.
“I cleaned up their blood alone. Others—who had hidden from Russell’s Weres or who were away from the village that night—were with me as I sent my family to our gods.”
They were silent for a few moments.
“Bath time?” she suggested.
“Yes,” he agreed and got up to begin drawing the water.
Also, she won’t be around personally for a while, but here’s Klymene (banner courtesy of–you guessed it!–Seph).