BACK TO THE BATTLE
Appius Livius Ocella had suffered the loss of children before. Sometimes, he’d killed them himself if they were too “unwilling” to fulfill his desires. He hated ungratefulness more than anything else.
However, Alexei had pleased Appius during their time together. Oh—the child could be a brat, and he certainly had the tendency to take what he wanted—consequences be damned. However, Appius actually thought that was an under-appreciated trait in vampires in the “civilized” era they were living in.
The ancient vampire had recognized Northman immediately. And he’d also understood the new situation—even before the Viking’s battle cry had ended. The game pieces had changed.
Immediately, Appius had known that his main goal needed to be to take out Eric’s strongest allies—not Roman’s—and that suited him just fine. Of course, some of them were the same. For example, he’d always wanted to eliminate Duncan—Eric’s brother and Roman’s lackey. And, as soon as the masks had come off, he’d recognized Klymene, too.
He’d thought that she was dead; however, she was obviously very much alive.
Appius had smiled with anticipation. She was as old as he.
Never one to fight “fair” when a sudden strike could be achieved, however, Appius had taken one of his specially-made “throwing stakes” from his inside jacket pocket. However, just as he was aiming the stake at Klymene’s chest, his own child had launched himself at the woman next to Northman—obviously Sookie Stackhouse.
Without hesitation, Sookie had shot a ball of energy at his child, and—through his bond with his child—Appius had felt a strong bolt of pain. However, not one to be stopped, he’d raised this stake again. But in trying to kill Klymene, he hadn’t noticed that Northman’s child had rushed to kill Alexei.
The pain from the loss of the bond had caused Appius’s stake to miss. And it had also caused him to be less effective as the battle began. But he’d been strong enough to protect himself from the younger vampires who’d initially tried to take him down.
Now recovered from the loss of the bond, he—again—targeted Klymene and Duncan. There would be time later to deal with the Norseman’s child—if she lived.
He took the sword he’d concealed in his costume and launched over the crowd of fighters to get to his prey.
“Appius,” Duncan said in his annoying Welsh accent, “how lovely of you to come.”
“I do not remember giving you permission to call me that,” Appius responded, his tone cold steel. He looked at the vampiress next to Duncan. Like Duncan, she also had a sword in hand. “Klymene, I thought that you’d died years ago. I’m disappointed that so many of your bloodline are still living—though I was very glad to hear about Godric’s suicide.”
Klymene and Duncan both growled at that.
“Of course, with you as my mommy, I might have killed myself too,” Appius laughed.
Those words elicited the response that Appius had wanted as Duncan attacked him haphazardly. Appius sliced through the younger vampire’s side, creating a large wound.
Duncan cried out in pain, and Klymene looked at him with concern; however, like the ancient she was, she did not allow her emotions to rule her own response.
“Go!” she yelled to Duncan even as she stepped between him and Appius.
Appius grinned maniacally. It was clear that there was love between the two of them—affection that went beyond bloodline affiliation—which would make it so much more rewarding to kill them.
“No!” Duncan snarled out, though obviously in pain.
Klymene kept her eyes on Appius. “My love, if you don’t stop distracting me and get your pretty ass somewhere to heal, I will be very angry with you.”
Rethinking his previous course, Duncan relented, “Well—we couldn’t have that.”
“Elina!” Klymene yelled over her shoulder, though she kept her stance strong. Otherwise, Appius would have taken advantage.
A black Werebear almost immediately came up behind Duncan and practically dragged him away.
“I must say that this room is turning into quite the collection of Supernaturals,” Appius smirked as he began to circle his prey. She moved to counter his own movements.
As the demons and fairies seemed to create lightning at the other side of the room, she nodded in agreement. “Indeed.”
“Ah, Anatoli and his kin are quite handy in a fight,” Appius smiled. “Their service was a surprise gift for Russell.”
“Mercenaries for hire,” Klymene said with derision.
“Actually—no—Anatoli owed me a favor.”
“Then once I kill you, they will have no reason to fight,” Klymene grinned.
Ready to get things going, Appius lunged, and she met his blow with her sword before turning in a tight circle and lunging back.
Appius licked his lips. “You are strong. It will be a pleasure to kill you,” he taunted. “Then I will finish off your beloved.”
Klymene would not be bated to anger, however, and each of Appius’s thrusts was met and countered. Indeed, she was very skilled.
And she’d been itching to fight Russell, though her mistress had convinced her that it would be folly. Appius would be a good substitute, however.
As happens in war, other skirmishers tried to interrupt their duel, and—at times—they were forced to fight others. But they always found their way back to their own duel—wanting very much to finish it by finishing the other off.
At least they could agree about that.
Duncan was pissed off—embarrassed even. Letting his emotions drive him, he’d made a newborn mistake, and if his bonded had not been with him, Appius would have easily killed him.
Klymene had been correct in her assessment that he needed to get off the battlefield—before he cost his allies their lives. Having dragged him to the corridor, Elina gave him a look that seemed to communicate that he should wait a moment.
He knew what that look was about as soon as the pack of wolves who’d been pretending to be bomb squad members charged. Duncan smiled.
“Fresh blood,” he grinned, knowing that he would soon be drinking deeply. He saw that Henry, Tray, Mustapha, Kuruk, and Onawa were behind Elina. They had all shifted as well, and—as one—they charged the pack.
Yes. Duncan planned to drink deeply of a few Weres and then rejoin his mate.
Brady had howled as he saw his mother fall. He knew that she was hurt badly, for he could smell her blood—even from across the room. He had tried to get to her, but he had been headed off by Russell’s Alpha, Dane.
Brady had seen a vampiress—the Ancient Pythoness herself—collect his mother into her arms and zip out of the room. Knowing that he couldn’t be distracted if he was going to defeat the larger wolf who had made him his quarry, Brady had turned his focus completely onto Dane.
The wolves had lunged at each other several times—trying to land blows with their deadly claws. However, while Dane was stronger, Brady was faster and was able to avoid all but a few superficial blows.
The battle had lasted for a while, but Brady finally had an opportunity to scratch at his opponent’s throat. Dane cried out, and without mercy, Brady followed his claws with his fangs, tearing a huge hole into his opponent’s neck. Not giving up, despite the fact that he was lost, Dane slashed at Brady’s side—right before the smaller Were ripped out his throat.
Bleeding badly and in intense pain, Brady felt the magic that was keeping him a wolf draining from him. But he didn’t let go of it. He limped off in the direction that his mother had been taken.
DILLON ROTH POV
Dillon Roth had been orphaned, and—like many Weres in his position—his first shift had been unexpected and troubling. Luckily for him, it had not occurred where it could be witnessed by his foster parents.
Always incredibly clever, Dillon had soon figured out that he needed to shift at the full moon, but he didn’t know that there were others like him until he was eighteen and joined the army. One of the recruiters had given him a knowing look and had made sure that he was in a unit “well-suited” to his skill-set. That unit had turned out to be made up entirely of Weres.
And from them, Dillon learned about his kind and the other Supernaturals of the world.
After ten years in the Army, Dillon had decided to pursue more lucrative employment, becoming a private soldier—a mercenary. For the greater part of a decade, various agencies and individuals overseas had paid him very well to protect their interests without asking questions or “developing scruples.”
Dillon had had absolutely no problems with performing his duties.
What he had problems with was the listlessness he’d faced after returning to the States two years before. He’d formed lose ties with other unaffiliated Weres in Arizona. And he’d even done a little private security work for the Vampire King of that state, but Dillon didn’t feel as though he had a home.
And he could not find a pack that would accept him.
It was from a couple of King Sampson’s full-time Were guards that he heard about Russell Edgington’s pack. The Weres, though loyal to Sampson, had criticized Russell’s Weres for being too tied to their vampire king.
But—the more Dillon had heard about the pack—the more he’d liked what he heard. Russell’s pack was tight-knit. And it didn’t require a shared history with the pack to become a member; hell—Dillon had been denied membership into several packs throughout his life because of two main reasons. First of all, the packs didn’t generally take “outsiders.” And, secondly, even if they did, the Alphas of the packs were worried that Dillon would challenge them.
Truth be known, Dillon didn’t want to be a fucking Alpha! He was a soldier and a good one. And he didn’t mind taking and following orders. What he wanted was to put down some roots—and maybe even start a family.
The one thing that he didn’t like regarding Russell’s pack was the rumors of excess V-usage. However, after he spoke to Russell for the first time, his fears were allayed. After that, Dillon had contacted many of the lone wolves that he knew. Being in the military and—especially—being a mercenary for hire had helped him to meet quite a few. The promise of money, security, and a place to settle down—not to mention a pack to join—had enticed many of them to form ranks around Dillon. Best of all, the Alpha of Russell’s pack, Dane, hadn’t been intimated by their joining. On the contrary, he seemed to appreciate the fact that strong Weres would be added to his pack. And he’d made clear the day before that if anyone in Dillon’s group wanted to challenge him for Alpha after Russell’s battle was won, he’d welcome the fucking contest!
Dillon had liked Dane immediately. Respected him immediately.
But Dillon wondered, now, about some of his choices. Though his hand-picked crew were all strong and well-trained, the ones they faced in battle were not as Russell had indicated they would be. Russell had made clear that his main pack would provide the fucking cannon fodder and that Dillon’s group would provide only the finishing touches. However, Russell’s main pack had been stopped by another group of Weres before they could even get near the fucking ballroom!
Meanwhile, Dillon’s group was left to face quite a few strong Weres.
And several fucking Werebears!
Oh—and a strong motherfucking vampire too!
Though he’d fought well, Dillon had watched as his group was slain one by one, many of them feeding the thirsts of the vampire. However, it was a Werebear that he faced off against for his own final battle.
Dillon yelled as the beast got the upper hand, put him on his back, and ripped a gash along his sternum. And then—after staring at him for a moment as if to taunt him—the Werebear pushed a claw into his heart. And Dillon left the world without ever finding the home he craved.
Unable to help it any longer, Brady turned back into his human form right before he reached the door where his mother’s scent had led him.
The smell of her blood was overpowering. But—then again—so was the scent of his own blood.
He opened to door to see the Ancient Pythoness kneeling beside his mother’s dead body. Brady fell to his knees on the other side of her, weeping.
“I was always going to be gifted with a new child on this day. I offered your mother that gift, but she sought out your father instead. And Sookie turned me down as well.”
“What?” Brady asked, looking up into the glossy eyes of the ancient vampiress. However, clearly overwrought from both grief and pain, the Were had a difficult time focusing on her.
“Your body is in shock, and your wounds are mortal,” she said bluntly. “Not even my blood will heal you—unless I take the rest of yours first and make you my child,” she added.
“What?” Brady asked again, obviously having a hard time following her words as more blood flowed from his deep wounds.
“Russell only needed the promise of my attendance to hold off his attack. And that gave Eric’s force the chance to strike first and control the battle. And control it—they are,” she said with a smirk. “I came here this night not to help anyone in that ballroom, for my help would have become hindrance,” she said knowingly. “That is a fact that I saw every time the future presented itself to me.”
Brady slumped onto his mother’s body.
“She was fierce in battle—just as you were. She killed many before she—herself—was mortally wounded. She would have been a worthy child, but she wished to join her beloved.”
Brady sobbed, blood coming from his mouth.
“I came to this place tonight to make a child,” she smiled a little. “I’m glad it will be you. We will have fun together. I have seen this. But—of course—the ultimate choice is yours.”
Brady gasped even as realization hit him.
His mother was dead.
He was dying.
The most revered vampire on the planet was offering to be his maker.
“Leonie will be pleased if you have a longer life,” the vampiress said knowingly. “But make up your mind for yourself.”
“But I’m a Were,” he choked out.
“You will face prejudice from some, but from no one that matters,” Pythia said. “And your gift will be that you will still shift, though only on the nights of the full moon. It is more than most transformed Weres get,” she added with sadness in her tone.
Brady coughed, more blood coming from his lips.
“You must decide,” Pythia said gently. “Soon.”
“You want this?” he coughed.
“Yes,” the vampiress said quickly.
“Then my answer is yes,” Brady said.
Immediately, Pythia’s fangs snapped down, and she moved to take the young man’s blood. There was not a lot of it left to take. As soon as she knew that his body was almost empty—ready to be filled with her own blood and magic—she bit into her wrist.
Her child swallowed without hesitation or instruction—always a good sign. He would cling to his new life and would live a long one.
Yes—she was glad for him.
She felt the spark of her new bond with her new child just as she felt a sharp stab of pain.
Tears of blood fell from her eyes. Roman had fallen.
As one child-maker bond grew and flourished, the other died and withered away.
Her pain was excruciating.
Her joy was profound.
This moment, like so many others in her life, was a paradox. She’d seen this possible future centuries before, but she was still unready for it in many ways. She could have tried to save Roman, but she would have failed, ultimately buying him only a few more minutes of life before another foe cut him down. Her continued presence would have also caused the Viking’s cause to fail.
Still—the choice had been a difficult one. The mother could have been by Roman’s side as he’d been slain, and she could have avenged his killer. But she would have lost the chance to make her new child, whom she knew would be a tremendous vampire.
And Jacob would have been lost too—not something Roman would have wanted.
“You are not a replacement for Roman,” she said sadly, though she knew her child couldn’t yet hear her. “No one could be. Just as I cannot replace your loss,” she added, glancing down at Maggie’s corpse. Pythia covered the female Were’s body with a blanket; she did the same with her new child.
She sighed and picked him up before quickly moving out of the room and down a corridor that had been ravaged with fighting. No foes were left alive in it, however. She progressed to an entrance that she knew would be open to her and into a car that she knew would be waiting for her.
The fight in the ballroom was not over, but her role in the situation was—mostly. She said a prayer to gods even more ancient than herself that the Viking would prevail, but she could give him no more aid—at least not directly.
FIVE MINUTES EARLIER
If Roman Zimojic had one flaw during battle, it was that he tended to get a little myopic, and once he’d decided that Nan was going to die by his sword, he was not to be swayed.
She’d betrayed him, after all, and that betrayal couldn’t go unpunished. With his child by his side, Roman made it to within five feet of her. He was within seconds of raising his sword to take her head.
However, seconds in a battle often meant life and death.
Only sixty seconds before, a stray blast from a demon had, ironically enough, hit Appius, causing him to be hurtled into a wall well away from Klymene. Instead of being able to pursue him, however, the elder vampiress had been engaged by the Weretiger, Quinn.
It took Appius forty seconds to rise and find another target: King Mitchell, who had proven turn-coat. However, unfortunately, the king zipped out of Appius’s line of sight in pursuit of Freyda, who had just badly injured Queen Dulcina of Texas.
Appius needed only five more seconds, however, to locate an even better target.
He reached into his now somewhat tattered jacket and pulled out a stake.
It made impact with Roman’s heart not a second later.
There was a lull in the battle around her, and Nan was able to take a look around. Her maker’s allies had suffered more casualties than their enemies. Some strong allies, including Appius remained, but most of the monarchs that had given their allegiance to Russell were gone.
And her maker was still fighting Northman and his little Tinker Bell! Nan was a realist. She knew that if Russell didn’t finish off his current foes quickly—and start taking out the others—then he would have no minions left to oversee. Of course, it was also likely that Russell was hoping to capture the Viking and his fairy, which was why he’d yet to kill them. In either case, she wondered how she might help him. She glanced toward the corner of the room closest to where she was.
She smiled at her luck.
“Perfect,” she muttered, seeing the Northman’s annoying child taunting Sophie-Anne. Nan knew that if she could kill the brat, Northman would be at least momentarily affected by the pain. Then her maker could do as he needed to do.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed today’s portion of the battle. Were you surprised about whom the AP made her new child? I was as I was writing. Early on, Brady was on my list of casualties for “our” side; I guess that when it all came down to it, I just couldn’t kill him. It was fun imagining the battle between Klymene and Appius. And poor Duncan; he is strong, but Appius really would have kicked his ass. Significantly, both major Weres on Russell’s side are now gone, so it is clear that, at least, on the two-natured front, Eric’s side is winning. However, Roman is now gone. I have to say that I feel bad for the AP, having to choose between a few more minutes with Roman–and even being their with him as he died–and making a new child. I wanted to make clear that–even though she can see portions of the future–sometimes she can do nothing to stop even those she loves the most from perishing. It had to be torture for her.
Many thanks as always to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!