TWENTY MINUTES EARLIER
“Our forces are in place?” Felipe asked, his Spanish accent thick.
“Yes,” Russell responded, sitting back in his chair and grabbing a cigar. Vampires could still enjoy the taste of such things. In fact, moving the smoke through their dead lungs was pleasurable for many vampires.
“The Weres?” Bartlett Crowe asked.
“Ready. But they will need to be fed vampire blood tomorrow evening,” Russell noted. “We’ll want them primed and ready,” he added with a grin.
“Jade and I can take our people to the motel and get the group there ready at first dark tomorrow—if you wish,” Bartlett offered.
“Good. I don’t want to waste the time—or the blood—on that lot,” the ancient vampire chuckled. “I will feed my Alpha and Hallow personally, and I’ll have William feed the other guards stationed here. I’ve some other people nearby, and they will feed the group that will infiltrate the building posing the bomb squad team.”
The other monarchs nodded.
“So we will move against the Authority as soon as they all name themselves?” Felipe asked.
“No,” Russell said with a smirk.
“Why has the plan changed?” Felipe asked with a hint of challenge in his tone.
Russell glared at his co-conspirator. “I know you are not questioning me,” he growled, putting the younger king into his place.
“No,” Felipe said, clearly a little scared.
Russell smiled. It was good to have his minions retain a healthy fear of him. “We will delay our attack only until the Ancient Pythoness arrives to endorse the Authority.”
“So it is a certainty? She will truly be here?” Felipe asked.
Russell glared at Felipe for this questioning. He was losing patience with the be-caped king! But he still needed him. With a long-suffering sigh, he looked at Bartlett and indicated for him to respond to Felipe’s question.
“Pythia’s a sneaky bitch, but I have traced her to the area—though she’s not staying in this hotel. It seems certain that she will stay hidden until right after the announcement.”
“The cunt wants to make a dramatic entry,” Russell sneered. “To make us all quake in our boots at her pomp and circumstance,” he added dramatically as he swung his cigar as if he were conducting an orchestra.
“So you truly will have no opposition left,” Felipe said with awe.
“None that will matter,” Russell said arrogantly, “not in this half of the world, at least.”
Just then, Dane led Nan into the room.
Not yet ready to let on to even his closest confederates that Nan was his child, Russell simply nodded at her.
“Do you have information for me?” he asked.
“Yes. Mirabel has been able to ascertain the identities of six of the eight Authority members, master,” she relayed.
Russell’s eyes lit up. “Tell me!”
“In addition to Rosalyn Harris and King Kibwe of Illinois, whom you already knew about, she has confirmed that King Peter of Arkansas is Authority. And last night, she learned of others: King Edwin of Oregon and Washington, Queen Agnes of California, and Dieter Braun.”
“It figures that Agnes and Edwin would be Councilors,” Felipe said with ire. His distaste of the united monarchs in the West was well-known.
“But Dieter is a surprise,” Russell mused.
“That leaves only two of whom we are unaware,” Nan smiled.
“Well done. Make sure little Mirabel is rewarded,” Russell commented. He contemplated for a few moments and then looked at Felipe and Bartlett. “Those two unknown vampires will be your responsibilities. You will take on the older of them,” Russell said to Felipe.
“But I want to deal with Edwin and Agnes,” Felipe practically pouted. “They’ve literally been a thorn in my side for decades.”
Russell tilted his head and growled. “You can feel free to help with their destruction after you perform the task I have set for you!”
Again, Felipe cowed to the more powerful vampire. “Of course, master. I meant no disrespect.”
Russell contemplated for a moment, planning which of his people he would use to target Agnes and Edwin. Dieter’s assassin would be much easier to arrange for. Russell already had someone in particular in mind for the job.
“So—we strike when the old hag comes into the room,” Felipe commented, deflecting the conversation from his master’s earlier anger.
Russell allowed this change of mood.
“Yes,” he responded. “Hallow will perform a spell that will ensure that our vampires and Weres can get through the hotel’s security and into the ballroom on my signal. And then all hell will break loose,” he chuckled. “And I intend to be the King of that Hell,” he added somewhat madly.
“Will you set your sights on the Old World after this one?” Bartlett asked.
“Not quite,” Russell responded with a smirk. “I have someone else in mind for that,” he added, even as he heard a knock on the door. “Ah—and that someone has perfect timing!”
Eric gave Maggie a look that indicated that he wasn’t keen on playing guessing games. “Who the fuck just entered Russell’s suite?” he growled.
“Sorry,” the Were said conciliatorily. “Appius Livius Ocella and his child, Alexei.”
“Fuck!” Eric and Roman said at the same time.
“Duncan!” Eric said with realization.
Everyone looked at the Viking in question.
“Eighty years ago, Duncan tried to kill Alexei after the boy went on a rampage in Germany—when Dieter was king,” Eric explained.
“Yes. I remember that. Appius spirited the boy away to South America,” Roman added.
“Yes. Where they’ve killed countless innocents together in the lawlessness of that continent. Appius has held a grudge against Dieter and especially Duncan ever since then,” Eric said, immediately rearranging the chess pieces in his mind.
“Well—there’s one of Russell’s wildcards,” Pam said resignedly. “Appius is almost as old as his vampire brother!”
Everyone nodded in agreement, hoping that there wouldn’t be many more jokers up Russell’s sleeves.
After a few silent moments, Roman asked Eric a question that they’d all been avoiding asking. “What if you are killed, Eric? All of this is a moot point if Russell survives, and according to my maker, none but you can take him out.”
“If I fall,” Eric returned, “you need to get the fuck out.”
“I won’t run away with my tail between my legs. I’ll deal with Russell myself if you fail,” Roman snarled.
“No!” Eric returned sharply.
Roman rolled his eyes. “All due respect, Viking, but my maker has made it clear to me that if you fail, I’m dead tomorrow night—no matter what. And I won’t die running. If Edgington is to build his empire on the ashes of the Authority—as my maker has foreseen may occur—I’ll be damned if I make it easy for him!”
Eric went to speak again, but Roman continued before he could. “Listen—I’ve had to accept the fact that it’s you making all the plans here, although the last thing I want to be is a fucking foot soldier in my own fucking war! But on the rare occasions that my maker tells me to jump, I don’t bother to ask how high because I’m already in the fucking air!”
Eric chuckled as he looked at the older vampire—a vampire who had deferred to him, a criminal wanted by the very Authority that he ran.
When they’d first spoken about the ensuing battle weeks before, Roman had accepted that Eric hadn’t killed the old Magister without needing an explanation. Moreover, he’d made it clear that it didn’t matter one way or another. If Russell wasn’t killed, facing punishment for the ex-Magister’s death would be the last of Eric’s worries.
And everyone knew it.
Despite Roman’s closeness to Duncan, Eric had never met the Guardian until thirty minutes before. Eric was—despite his position as sheriff—not an ambitious politician. And when Roman had had his people sniff around Eric before—in order to offer him higher positions—Eric had simply not returned their texts. Or emails. Or calls. Or letters. Hell—Roman had even sent a carrier pigeon once.
Eric had killed the bird.
And then he’d moved to a different home.
At that moment, Eric’s musings were put to an end when his bonds with his mate throbbed. Clearly, Sookie and Leonie had just teleported back to the bedroom. Not two seconds later, they walked into the room.
The eyes of the mates locked together, inventorying each other—looking for signs of injury. Sookie sighed with relief to see her husband well, even as Eric’s eyes stopped at the bite marks on her neck—the marks he had made. His ensuing growl was deep and low, and everyone in the room—save Eric’s mate—trembled.
And, finally, Roman understood why his maker thought Northman was the only one who could best Russell Edgington. In the moment, the Viking was fucking terrifying—even to him!
MEANWHILE, IN RUSSELL’S SUITE
Dane led Appius Livius Ocella and his child Alexei into the suite’s luxurious living room. Russell rose and exchanged a bow with the other ancient.
Appius was the only being who was afforded such respect by Russell Edgington.
“I am sure no introductions are needed,” Russell commented to the others, who had also stood.
“None,” Bartlett said, bowing low. “It is an honor, my lord.”
Appius nodded in the Indiana King’s direction, appreciative that the younger vampire knew how to address him properly. Very few had earned the right to call him by name, and the only one whom he allowed to address him by his first name was Russell—his older vampire brother.
“My lord,” Felipe echoed, though his bow was a little less deep. Appius, of course, noted that.
Nan Flanagan bowed more deeply than either of the monarchs had. “My lord, are your accommodations acceptable.”
“Very,” Appius said curtly. “Though Alexei and I will require more donors tonight. The three you provided were spent quickly, for my child has a very strong thirst.”
“A true vampire!” Russell smirked, looking at his “nephew.” “It is nice to see you again, lad.”
Alexei grinned. His fangs were down and still stained from his feeding. “You as well, Uncle,” he said with a deep bow.
Nan bowed toward both Russell and then Appius again. “I will make the arrangements for additional donors now. Do you have a favorite type?” she asked.
“Tied up and struggling,” Alexei said morbidly.
“As you like. They will be waiting in your room,” Nan said evenly as she left the room.
“Your arrival time was fortuitous, Appius,” Russell smiled. “Felipe here was just asking me if I had designs on Europe next. I was about to tell my allies that you had agreed to help me to solidify my control over this continent. And then, in turn, we would help you secure the Old World,” he chuckled.
“It will be a good night, indeed, when the mainstreaming movement is put to an end throughout the world,” Appius smiled.
“And with you in control of the Old World and me ruling the New, it soon will be,” Russell grinned deviously.
A/N: Hello all! I hope that you enjoyed this chapter as the plot thickens. (Hopefully, it’s not too muddy—LOL.) Since Eric’s maker in the UN-iverse is Godric, I’ve classified this as a TB story; however, as you know, most of my stories are actually “cross-overs” in that I love to bring in characters from the show and books and let them coexist. In this story, I didn’t want Appius to be in Eric’s “family,” but I did want to bring him into the story. So making him Russell’s vampire sibling seemed to make sense. Hope everyone’s cool w/ that; I know I take a lot of liberties w/ these characters at times.
As always, I want to thank my “team”–Sephrenia and Kleannhouse. Y’all make my work so much better! I particularly loved the chapter banner for this one that Seph made!!! And–of course–all the characters banners! 🙂