Sookie Northman had learned many things from her mate. One of them was that a battle should be likened to a dance.
So that is what she did.
She separated her mind from any horrors occurring around her, and she followed the steps that had been set for her. First, she ripped a piece of cloth from her bodice, exposing her pin to her allies. Then her impediments were dealt with: her elaborate skirt took no time at all to do away with, and her mask was discarded moments later.
She felt her magic rise within her like water at high-tide. It was ready and seemed limitless. She saw Leonie’s eyes glisten with pride. She felt her mate’s pride.
And in that moment, Sookie knew that she was right where she needed to be—right where she was destined to be.
Dances tended to begin somewhat slowly—with a “how-dee-do,” as Southerners might term it.
This dance began quickly. Mask off, Eric had yelled out a cry that bespoke of his Viking days, and all vampires—all beings—in the room turned toward him.
Eric, the Northman—Eirkr the Norseman—was not the oldest vampire in the room, but everyone feared him in that moment, save his bonded.
Sookie simply reveled in him, and she thanked God for him.
Even the air stood still after the first beat of Eric’s battle song. Bubba’s voice had been long forgotten.
“Northman!” Russell Edgington yelled, his Southern “genteel” accent gone and replaced by an accent so ancient that it sent a chill down Sookie’s spine.
Her reaction, however, was not to cower. It was to square her shoulders and stand next to her mate with as much strength as she had in her body.
There was but one thing she knew. She would be dying for Eric that night.
That—is what the Ancient Pythoness had told her would happen. Pythia had told her that the only way that Eric might live was if she died for him. She’d not had a moment of hesitation.
Her mate moved, and so did she—to complement him. The battle had begun.
Her final dance.
Russell was stunned by the sight of Eric Northman in the ballroom—and even more stunned by the sight of the lovely fairy by his side.
His fangs were already down, but they grew longer, drawing blood from his own lips. His distraction with Northman, however, necessitated Appius saving his life—as Roman flew at him, stake raised and ready.
Thankfully, Appius pushed Roman to the side at the last moment, or three thousand years would have been for naught. Russell nodded toward his brother only a moment before all hell broke loose in the room—and outside of it.
Eric and Sookie did not notice the various battles occurring around them, and, strangely, they didn’t have to try hard to avoid the other fighters. It was as if all the vampires in the large room intuited—even if they were not in “the know”—that the true battle of the night was between Russell Edgington and the Viking. And, of course, the woman by Eric’s side too.
In addition to “respecting the space” of the warriors, no one else would have wanted to fight the combatants. Russell Edgington was the oldest vampire in the room. Oh—there were many ancient vampires and vampiresses in the Pyramid of Gizeh; however, a vampire’s prowess grew exponentially as his years increased. Therefore, the difference in power between a vampire three thousand years old and one that was even 2,500 years old was similar to the difference between a lion and an alley cat. Of course, most of the vampires in the room were as kittens to the King of Mississippi and Louisiana.
In truth, Eric Northman—though he was a renowned warrior and strategist—should have been in the kitten category as far as Russell was concerned. And so he might have been had it not been for several variables that his foe could have never expected. The first was Eric’s Fae blood. Though he didn’t have the ability to shoot “light” from his hands and he lacked most other Fae gifts, his vampire bond with his mate had fully ignited the gift that he did have, which was an extra battery of sorts. His strength seemed doubled—still not quite up to Russell’s strength, but closer. His speed seemed impossibly faster and his body more fluid than ever before.
And these factors had thrown off the eldest combatant in the fray. However, what had thrown him off even more was Sookie Stackhouse’s presence. She was no longer a frightened redneck shooting off quaint little light bursts. No, indeed, her light now had potency—as had been discovered by the only vampire who had dared to enter their “personal” battle.
The overeager and insane Alexei had obviously heard the name Sookie Stackhouse from his maker, not surprising given the fact that Russell had once shared the knowledge of her with his trusted brother. Wanting the part-fairy with the senselessness of one who had lived an entitled life as both human and vampire, Alexei had launched himself toward her in the first moments of the battle.
Alexei’s recklessness had cost him his life. Even before the Viking could take Alexei’s head with his broadsword, Sookie had propelled light at the young vampire, sending him roughly into the wall. There, he’d been finished off quickly and unceremoniously by Northman’s child.
Having seen Sookie’s power and already knowing the battle prowess of the Viking and the ancient Carpathian, all others had given the three a wide berth. They’d soon “danced” to the center of the room. And—had the other vampires and Weres not had their own fights, they might have paused to witness the awful beauty of the clash of Titans in the heart of the dance floor.
The three foes were measuring each other, calculating the damage that would need to be inflicted to ensure victory. Of course, seeing Sookie’s increased powers had taught the eldest vampire in the room to avoid her light.
Sookie, like her mate, now had her sword—thanks to Duncan giving it to her right after she’d shot Alexei across the room. The sword, a Fae blade with a Fae name that Sookie couldn’t pronounce, was similar to a Katana and had been a gift from Leonie. Eric had not yet taught her all of the nuances of swordplay; there simply hadn’t been time. No, what they had focused upon was how to use their piercing weapons together—against a stronger foe.
Unsurprisingly, Russell quickly had his own sword, and the three weapons clashed—with Eric and Sookie both trying to attack the older, faster being. Of course, for every one clash made by Sookie’s sword onto Russell’s, Eric made multiple strikes—some too fast for Sookie’s eyes to catch. And Sookie had to work very hard to make sure that Russell’s weapon didn’t impact hers in such a way as to knock her down. However, she was no liability to her mate, for he had taught her well. Indeed, her strikes were all slashes—glances along Russell’s blade—all designed to distract him in order to keep him from getting the upper hand on her mate. Mainly, however, she was waiting for just the right time in the dance: the moment to use her light on Russell.
Her palms were already alit—and transferring some energy to her sword—a benefit that she and her mate hadn’t counted upon, but welcomed, nonetheless. But hitting Russell with a direct blow of her light had been impossible for Sookie as of yet. Thus, she was storing her force, for she knew that Russell was too quick for her to hit—for the time being. However, Sookie was, even then, learning the movement patterns of her and Eric’s foe—just as her mate had instructed her to do. And, soon, she would be able to anticipate him.
Meanwhile, Russell’s body was thrumming! The “boy” who’d tried to escape from him was now trying to out-duel him.
Though subduing the Viking was taking longer than he might have anticipated, Russell could have killed him three times already—at least. But he was too keen on toying with him, both in the “battle” and later in the torture room.
In fact, Russell did not want to kill Eric. No. He was planning to keep Eric alive for a long time. He couldn’t wait to inflict pain and anguish onto the Viking. He felt a little bad—now—that he’d doubted Compton about Sookie being alive. Oh—his minion would still receive more punishment for trying to think for himself and for being fooled. However, after William healed, Russell planned to let the Civil War “gent” fuck Sookie as much as he wanted—within sight of the Viking, of course. Hell, Russell might even fuck Eric at the same time—demeaning the mighty warrior even as he witnessed his mate being violated.
He licked his fangs, enjoying the taste of his own blood. Once more he had an opening to kill the Norseman, but he held back. Killing him too soon was the last thing the ancient vampire wanted to do.
EIGHTEEN NIGHTS EARLIER
“How do you fight a three-thousand-year-old vampire?” Eric asked. It had been the question the Viking had been puzzling over ever since he saw his father’s crown in Russell’s collection.
“Very carefully,” Duncan chuckled.
Eric glared at his brother. Duncan was in California again in order to see to a trial in Agnes’s territory. Given the many attempts on his life since he’d “come out” as Magister, the two-night stay with Eric and Sookie was a respite, one which had come at the suggestion of Klymene—after the Ancient Pythoness had informed her to make sure her mate was out of sight for a couple of nights.
Duncan was smart enough to do what his bonded told him to do in such matters.
“Seriously? You think I know how to defeat Russell? You’re supposed to be the smart one. I’m the better-looking one,” the Welshman added with a grin.
Eric rolled his eyes. “Come now—we both know that I’m both smarter and better looking.”
Duncan gave his brother an affectionate “pat,” which sent him backwards about twenty feet, and soon the brothers were wrestling on the ground. To anyone witnessing the fray, it likely looked as if the two were deadly foes, but the brothers had often enjoyed such battles.
“Do you remember the time we destroyed that sultan’s throne room?” Duncan asked as he launched himself at Eric.
“Of course,” the Norseman said, returning a blow offered by his brother. “I recall that I won the sultan’s harem that night. You should have never bet such stakes that you could beat me.”
Duncan chuckled. “Godric was so angry at us that night.”
Eric laughed as they continued their fray. At a certain point, he felt his bonded come outside. It was cold for her, of course, so he glanced over to see her—to make sure she was well. She was standing on the porch with their quilt from Slidell wrapped snuggly around her.
She had, most certainly, felt his merriment. Grinning as she shared in his delight, she sat on the porch and began munching from a bowl of popcorn she’d brought outside with her.
“It seems that we are to be your bonded’s entertainment for the night,” Duncan said, venturing a wink at Sookie.
“Hmm…Do you think yourself capable of giving me a good battle for once?” Eric teased. “I’d hate for her to become bored.”
“Oh—I’m up for the task if you are, Brother,” Duncan returned.
The two brothers continued their sparring for almost half an hour, eventually utilizing rocks and the pair of training swords that Eric and Sookie had practiced with earlier that night.
It hadn’t taken Sookie long to inhale her popcorn as she watched the entertaining match between the two brothers. They gave the term “eye-candy” new meaning. But she had eyes only for her mate.
Of course, Eric had felt her increasing lust as she fantasized about other supple movements his body could be making. Her temperature increased a little—despite the cold.
“My woman is anxious for the battle to be over,” Eric said quietly, not wanting to embarrass Sookie, who was still quick to blush when sex was the topic.
“You could always surrender,” Duncan taunted.
“Or I could stop playing around,” Eric returned. In truth, the Viking had been holding back. He always did with his younger brother. Of course, Duncan knew that, but the two still enjoyed sparring, and the Welshman would never stop trying to get the upper hand on the Viking during their “friendly” duels.
Like human brothers, they were loyal to one another—but they were also highly competitive.
“Wait!” the Viking said, even as he pinned Duncan to the earth and used his superior strength to hold him there.
Duncan stilled, knowing from Eric’s tone that he’d had an idea. Sookie had risen to standing, and her lust was quickly replaced by curiosity as she sensed Eric’s triumph in the bond.
“What is it?” Duncan asked as Eric stood and offered a hand to his brother.
“How could I have not thought of it before?” Eric asked.
“Thought of what?” Sookie asked.
“Russell! He will not be trying to kill us, min älskade!” Eric said in revelation. “HE will be holding back in battle, for he will want to capture us.”
Duncan nodded in understanding and agreement. “He will want to keep you alive in order to torture you.”
“Well isn’t that good news,” Sookie intoned sarcastically.
“It is good news,” Eric grinned. “Because he will hold back, we won’t have to worry about defending against death blows! We will train only to stop him from subduing us—capturing us.”
“But if he’s already riled up about the Bill thing—and about you being there—won’t he eventually lose patience?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Eric relented. “Let’s just hope that he doesn’t do so before you subdue him.”
“Me?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “You, min älskade.”
BACK TO THE NIGHT OF THE BATTLE
Mustapha Khan had not been “born” to be an Alpha, nor had he ever wanted the job. It was his lack of ambition, contrasted with his keen organizational skills, which had prompted Thalia to ask him to serve as the leader of her Weres, and—not one to half-ass things—he’d trained to be an even better fighter after that. He and the few who had been chosen as the best warriors in the Were groups had been tasked with eliminating Russell’s secondary Were group—the mercenaries pretending to be bomb squad members. Strong Weres, Brady, Maggie, Henry, and Tray, were to control the four entrances of the ballroom, but he was aligned with strong allies outside of them.
Werebears from New Mexico—Kuruk, Elina, and Onawa—flanked him. Other Weres from Henry’s group were also with them.
The battle was not neat, for the Weres serving Russell Edgington were clearly “enhanced” with V. However, there was something to be said for sober discipline over “enhanced” frenzy. And soon, only two of Russell’s advanced team were left—a bitch, so high on V that she felt no pain, and Russell’s Alpha.
Maggie had been aching for a “proper” fight since she’d defeated cancer—at least for the short-term. Oh—that disease had been her worst foe, and she would battle it to her dying breath. But there was something almost comforting in fighting an enemy she could see and touch.
Especially since she’d learned—only the week before—that the cancer was back.
Not that she’d told anyone about it yet. She would allow herself to be irradiated the next week; she’d already set up the appointment. But for now—she wanted to shift and to fight. It might be her last time feeling strong—after all.
In fact, she’d shifted as soon as Bubba had crooned his first lovely note. And she’s already killed three vampires, though all were relatively young. But they had begun to sate her bloodlust. And her pride had been bolstered. Cancer or not, she was still a fucking badass! And she planned to carry that thought with her no matter what!
Hell! Any vampire should have been a challenge for a Werewolf—even one with her experience. Yet she was working on number four! Her “best” kill thus far had been Sandy Sechrest, a high-ranking official in Felipe de Castro’s court. The vampiress had proven herself more bureaucrat than warrior, however. And Maggie’s sharp claws had ripped her fucking throat out!
Before Brady had called to ask for her help, Maggie Jones had felt the weighty number of her days—for a while. Her mate, Brady’s father, had died twenty years before. And Maggie had been ready to join him since them—ready, but stubborn for life.
When she saw the Were-bitch, Debbie Pelt, Maggie knew immediately that she was the Were’s superior—if all things were equal. But Pelt had been plied with vampire blood—a lot of it.
Always wise, the elder Werewolf knew as soon as the younger engaged that she would not survive the battle. But she aimed to take her foe with her.
Maggie swept a set of claws with deadly accuracy, just as Debbie swiped a haphazard, but lethal blow.
Moments later, Debbie Pelt was dead, but Maggie was bleeding out. Unable to hold onto her Were form, she shifted. After she did, there was a face hovering over hers that was not expected.
A/N: Ducking. Sorry to do this to Maggie, but she did get in some good kills before I injured her. And Debbie is no more! I’m sure some of you would have liked to have seen Sookie kill off Debbie, but she and Eric have their hands very full.
As always, many thanks to Sephrenia for all the art and Kleannhouse for the beta work!