A/N: The cast is huge for this chapter, so I’m going to be intermixing the chapter banners in with the text. Thanks Seph for all the visuals!!!!!! And thanks to Kleannhouse for the beta-work!
“You are a strong woman,” Pythia said to the she-wolf.
“Yes,” Maggie returned.
“Are you strong enough to ask to be a vampire?” the Ancient Pythoness asked, even as she dragged Maggie’s body out of the fray and into a supply closet.
The vampiress said nothing as the Were rattled agonized breaths.
“What do you see?” Maggie asked wearily.
“I good future for you—either way,” Pythia stated softly. “The afterlife would welcome you. And—so would I. If you allow me to make you my child.”
Maggie sighed, feeling a little stronger suddenly. Or maybe it was just hope she was feeling. “Does my husband await me? In the afterlife?”
“He does,” Pythia said. “He is,” she paused, “eager for you.”
The Werewolf breathed a shaky sigh. “Will Brady live through this?”
“He will go on,” Pythia responded somewhat enigmatically. “He was always meant to stay on this plain. You and your mate raised a strong young man.”
Maggie sighed again, and this time blood came forth from her mouth.
“I think that I am ready to go to Brady’s father,” she said.
Pythia looked at the woman and smiled a little. “I figured you would choose your mate—though I’ve now had two denials of offered immortality in less than a week.”
Maggie smiled through bloody lips. “Sorry.”
“I am not,” Pythia said, her back straightening. “Why would I be sorry to be with such a formidable lady as she passes from this world to the next?”
Maggie gripped the hand of the vampire who was now holding hers.
“Thank you for your offer, milady,” she whispered.
“You are most welcome. Enjoy reuniting with your mate,” Pythia said, even as the life of the Werewolf dwindled and was lost.
In truth, Pythia had always known what the woman’s answer would be—but, even amidst battle, some pauses were owed, and Pythia had always appreciated female warriors of Maggie’s strength. Even when her strong mate had been alive, Maggie had not been one to stay behind her husband.
Pythia closed the Were’s eyes and waited. Soon she knew that the one who she was really meant to make her child would come to her.
Neutral vampires or cowards had quickly left the ballroom as soon as all hell broke loose; the more generous of them had taken the human donors or pets out of the room with them.
Talbot was one of those exiting vampires. Of course, his King and lover had ordered him to leave as soon as the fighting began. However, Talbot hadn’t expected things to start so abruptly, nor had he expected that the harbinger of the battle would be a war-cry from Eric Northman.
Talbot licked a fang, even as he dragged Hadley with him into the elevator. Sophie-Anne was supposed to have left the ballroom with him, but she’d been engaged in battle before they could get out, and she’d pushed her pet at him to babysit. He sighed at the “duty,” though he agreed that it would be a pity to waste a tasty morsel.
“Sophie!” Hadley cried out, trying to struggle from his grip.
Talbot rolled his eyes. What did the idiotic human think—that she could “save” a vampire in the middle of a vampire battle?
“Shut up—or I’ll let you go,” the vampire warned gruffly, even as he thought about Russell’s amazing costume and how angry he’d be if it became spoiled. He was keen to have his lover take him in that outfit. Moreover, Talbot had spent hours working with a clothing designer to get things just right.
“I should have had the tailor make a spare,” the vampire muttered as the elevator doors opened to his suite with Russell. He would glamour Hadley to be quiet and wait for Sophie-Anne in their room. And then he’d engage the locks to his own and “hunker down” as Russell had instructed him to do. Only a single Were was guarding the door to the suite, though he was quick and efficient about letting Talbot and Hadley inside.
Soon, Talbot had followed through with his plans for Hadley, and she was—thankfully—silent as a church mouse. He truly hoped that Sophie-Anne survived; she was an amusing companion. Of course, he planned to keep the pet for culinary reasons if she didn’t, however.
Talbot went to the main room of the suite to get a few bottles of Royalty blended. And then he retired to his and Russell’s bedroom and engaged the locks.
Talbot never had a doubt that his lover would come to him soon, so he went about preparing himself so that he could best enjoy the fruits of Russell’s bloodlust—without the loss of his own costume.
Peter Threadgill had—unfortunately—given Jade Flower too quick of a death, though their battle had taken several minutes. It turned out that they were evenly matched—until the King of Arkansas used his Bowie knife to gut her. He’d finished her off with a stake to the heart as he’d spat in her face.
Happily, he’d been in time to join the Viking’s child in “battling” Sophie-Anne. The Queen of Louisiana relented quickly, like the coward she was.
“For our maker!” Isabel and Miguelito yelled as one—as they plowed a stake into Felipe de Castro’s chest.
Eric had kept his promise to let them see to the be-caped king who had orchestrated their maker’s death. Felipe was older and stronger than either Isabel or Miguelito. But they worked together well—beautifully in sync with one another.
Before their victory, Miguelito had suffered a deep gash to his side from Felipe’s sword, but he was already healing. Isabel had not been wounded, so—after making sure her brother was well enough to go on—she turned her attention to one of the many vampire soldiers that was fighting for Russell’s side.
Roman had become frustrated as minion after minion engaged him, obviously hoping to kill him and gain Russell’s favor.
Still, fighting such younger vampires was a relatively easy chore, so he was able to survey the battle.
The Viking and his mate were still engaged with Edgington in the center of the dance floor. Roman just hoped that the Norseman knew what he was doing, for it seemed as if Russell was merely toying with his prey.
The Guardian had seen two of his Councilors fall in battle. Rosalyn had not been up to the task of taking on the Georgia Queen, Lilah, despite the fact that Queen Lena had moved in to try to help her. Sadly, it had been too late, but Lena had quickly avenged her compatriot, and Georgia was now without monarch.
Isaiah, too, had met his final death. In fact, other than Alexei, he’d been the first one killed by Roman’s reckoning. King Barlett Crowe of Indiana had worked with King Sampson of Arizona to ensure that happened.
However, most of the Councilors had held their own. Peter succeeded in killing Jade Flower relatively quickly. Kibwe had taken out King Johnathan of Alabama—after a fierce battle—and though Kibwe had been hurt, he’d been dragged from the fray by one of the Werebears.
King Edwin and Queen Agnes had killed Barlett Crowe and King Sampson soon after the maker and child had killed Isaiah. Edwin and Agnes had certainly been helped by the fact that both of their enemies suffered the pain of losing a blood connection almost simultaneously as Felipe and Jade met their ends.
Dieter, like Roman, seemed stuck taking on one peon after another.
Roman sighed as he took out another of Russell’s people. The room had quickly flooded with the followers of kings and queens as soon as the melee had started, though most of the Were fighting seemed to be occurring in the corridors outside.
The Guardian did have something to smile about, however, when he saw Mirabel fighting nearby. Finally, she had shown her true stripes and was taking on one of the Authority guards, who was trying to aid Roman. She managed to deal a death blow to the guard just as Roman made his way through one of de Castro’s minions.
Mirabel spun around to face him, even as he swung his own sword. Her head was lopped off and landed on the floor with a satisfying plop.
Roman grinned as he turned to engage another foe. He couldn’t help but to wonder at the light show being put on by the fairies and the demons at the other end of the large room. Illuminated by a blast, he saw Nan Flanagan and licked his lips. He very much wanted to get to her. He called his child to his side, and Jacob appeared quickly.
“Help me get through this mess so that we can get to that mess,” Roman instructed, gesturing to the sea of nameless vampires that stood between him and his goal before pointing out Nan.
Jacob smiled and the two began to cut their way through enemies toward Nan.
As soon as Alcide had been given the potion to cover up his scent by Sookie, Henry and Tray had given him a larger role in the operation. He was heading the portion of Henry’s pack which aimed to take out Russell’s original pack.
Using the intelligence that Sookie had gathered, Alcide’s group was able to ambush their targets. Of course, as expected, Russell’s Weres were hyped up from fresh infusions of V. However, to help to counteract that, Eric had assigned two vampires, Chow and Rasul, to Alcide’s command. From what Alcide had picked up, both had been feigning loyalty to Russell, so neither wished to be part of the main fight in the ballroom—mostly for their own safety.
After all, friendly “fire” could be a bitch in battle—even if they were wearing the pins that everyone else on their side had on. Still, very few had known that Rasul had been Eric’s spy, and—in the heat of battle—someone might strike him before noticing the small pin. And Chow was a bit of a putz, so some random vampire might decide to take him out “just because.” However, both were helpful additions against the V-pack.
Alcide knew that his part of the battle was winding down even as he tore into the throat of the strongest wolf that was left in the corridor that he was fighting in. He let out a howl.
Pythia had not told Leonie why she wouldn’t be able to help Sookie by zapping Russell while he was busy fighting Eric. She’d said only that it would be impossible. Still, Leonie had tried once, but hadn’t succeeded in hitting the mark.
However, there was an impressive black mark on the wall at the far end of the room.
Indeed, Leonie had soon become way too busy to keep an eye upon Sookie as Russell’s army was joined by unexpected allies—a family of Dae who had been exiled to the human realm following an attempt on the life of Dae King’s son by the family’s patriarch. These demons, the Christopoulos clan, had settled in Europe and had worked for several of the vampire kings and queens there; however, instead of taking on law professions as many demons did, they were freelance assassins.
Apparently, Russell had paid for their allegiance.
Similar to fairies, many demons were telepaths, though—like fairies—they used the gift for communication rather than infiltration. Also similar to fairies was the fact that many demons could produce a “light” weapon from their hands—though theirs was based in fire. The fairies in the room—including Niall, whose presence greatly surprised her—soon joined with Desmond Cataliades in order to take on the demons in order to prevent them from lighting the “friendly” vampires on fire.
“We have not battled together for three centuries, my wife,” Niall said from next to Leonie.
It was at times like these when Leonie was reminded of how much she respected her husband.
“It is a welcome occurrence,” she said with a grin and a leer. In that moment, she might have even considered fucking him for old time’s sake—if her romantic attentions were not firmly focused upon Brady. Perhaps, the Were might consider a three-way?
Claude was proving himself strong and brave, and he’d already taken out one of the demons of the group—though the youngest of them. Leonie could sense the pride from her husband, and she felt pride of her grandson too. He reminded her of Dermot in many ways: he always undersold himself—but when push came to shove, he was a formidable battler.
Leonie finally understood why Pythia had insisted that she get Claude’s help that night. Only fairies would have been able to match up against the demons. And Russell had secured all ten remaining members of the Christopoulos clan. Their patriarch, Anatoli, was especially powerful.
And she and her comrades were still outnumbered: Nine to four.
Fire clashed with light, sending sparks toward the high ceiling as one of Leonie’s balls of energy hit one of Anatoli’s. She charged at him, sword raised, ready to defeat her enemy.
Though every muscle in his body was taunt and he longed for battle, Jasper Fant had one purpose only: to protect his wife and Amelia during the melee. Thus, he squelched his urge to join Desmond and the fairies in their fight against the Christopoulos clan.
He had positioned the witches in the northwest corner of the ballroom. Their goal? To produce a spell designed to bolster the strength of Sookie and Eric’s bonds—so that they could act even more as one.
Octavia had welcomed it, for she held a soft spot for both the Viking and the young fairy hybrid. Still, she’d found her assignment to be delightfully ironic. Once upon a time, Eric had hated the Fae bond, and now he was doing everything possible to strengthen it.
The trick was that the spell needed to be performed at just the “right” moment. Russell needed to become “used to” the strength of the bonded pair. The added oomph of the booster spell would then—hopefully—surprise him.
TWENTY NIGHTS EARLIER
“Will I get addicted to you?” Sookie asked dreamily.
Eric had just pleasured her in ways that she’d never imagined. And she’d lost count of her orgasms when he’d caused her to lose the ability to count.
He chuckled. “That’s the plan, min älskade.”
“Mmm. Good plan,” she returned, pressing herself upward just enough so that she could see her mate’s face and the smile on his lips.
“Seriously though,” she said. “Will I get addicted to your blood?”
She still tasted the sweet aftertaste of it on her tongue.
“Not in the same way as a V addict, but I would say that you already are addicted to it,” Eric responded, his tone contemplative. “Of course, I am addicted to your blood too. And I am compelled to exchange with you often.”
“I want that too,” Sookie whispered. “Every time we do, I think the bonds get stronger.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “and they seem to becoming more one than two now—though I can still tell which is which.” He chuckled. “I’m not sure that makes any sense.”
“No. I get it. I feel that too,” she agreed.
“So—tell me what you did today,” the vampire requested.
“Woke up late,” Sookie giggled. “Someone wore me out last night—between the training and the sex.”
Eric chuckled. “You must have eaten. Your stomach makes different noises when you haven’t.”
“It must be gross to hear all the parts of my digestion process,” Sookie commented with a blush.
“Not gross,” Eric returned. “Just a part of you. So did you do anything else other than eat?”
“I read The Art of War again,” she stated.
She’d read it many times during the last several days.
Having memorized the text long ago, Eric recited a quote from it: “The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”
“Do you think Russell is going to provide us with the opportunity to defeat him? I mean—he must know The Art of War too.”
The vampire contemplated for a moment. “Russell will be preparing for a different battle than the one he will get. Assuredly, there will be times when our forces will have to,” he paused, “improvise. That occurs in all battles, and I’m sure that Russell will leave nothing to chance and will make sure all of his allies are with him. But we will still have the better preparations. We can only hope that Sun Tzu was right about the general with the most preparations defeating his enemy. As for Russell giving us an opportunity to defeat him? I think he will underestimate us—what we are together—and that will be the moment we will win.”
A/N: Okay—so this is a very frenzied chapter! So here’s a sum-up. I wanted to try to create the effect that there are tons of “little” battles being fought simultaneously. Because of Roman’s narration, we find out how the Authority members have fared during the battle—with Peter, Lena, Agnes, Edwin, Kibwe, and Dieter surviving so far, while Rosalyn and Isaiah have been killed already. We also see what Alcide is up to—leading Henry’s Were force against the V-Weres (remember in the last chapter, we learned that Mustapha was leading a force of Were-Bears against the fake bomb squad). The fairies/demons on “our” side are now having to deal with some mercenary demons brought in to fight for Russell. And our witches are holed up in a corner. Meanwhile, imagine Eric, Sookie, and Russell still fighting in the middle of the “dance.”
Of course, it’s not surprising the Talbot got the heck out of Dodge with Hadley in tow.
And then there’s Maggie. I wanted to take her death away from the fighting in order to give her a peaceful end. I felt strongly that she deserved this, and I liked the idea of the A.P. both offering to turn her and also letting her know that she’d be “fine” either way. It’s not surprising that Maggie chose to move on to be with her deceased mate. Anyway, I liked the idea of these two strong women having this moment, since—in many ways—this story is about the strength of women.
Okay—I hoped that helped so solidify what had gone on in this chapter.