“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”-Mahatma Gandhi
Russell was incredibly angry. Where had his plans gone so horribly wrong?! His allies were losing the fucking battle! Of that he was certain! Even as he’d been fighting Northman and his fairy, he’d been able to follow all the events in the room. Felipe de Castro and Bartlett Crowe had proven useless, falling quite quickly. The demons hadn’t been able to help any of his vampires because they were too busy fighting more fucking fairies! And Appius had been focused mostly on a very powerful vampire, whom Russell thought he recognized as Godric’s maker.
Roman was dead—at least. Thus, there was still a chance for Russell to take control of the situation. And he had several kings and queens “in reserve” so to speak. They were safe and sound in their own territories, waiting for his orders.
But there was a choice to be made, and he had to make it immediately. He could either continue his little cat-and-mouse fight with the remarkably “slippery” duo—and, perhaps, lose his chance to turn the tide of the battle—or just kill Northman immediately and then tear through his enemies like locusts through a field. He had already catalogued all of his foes in the room. And he was much more powerful than them all—put together!
However, he didn’t want to give up the opportunity of torturing Northman—or breaking him!
And his “not-dead” fairy.
But how much more work would he have installing himself as emperor if his didn’t “clean up” the current situation?
Eric could feel Sookie’s triumph in the bond, and he knew that she’d begun to anticipate Russell’s moves. As soon as it was her “turn” to take one of Russell’s blows, he gave the signal.
“Now!” Jasper called out when he saw the signal from Northman. Amelia and Octavia began to chant.
Nan took a stake from Roman’s sludgy remains and moved to kill Pam, who was distracted—along with the King of Arkansas, Peter Threadgill—as they toyed with their captive, Sophie-Anne.
Thalia and Bubba had killed many, but their main goal during the fight was to keep Pam safe, for they all knew that if she fell, then Eric would be momentarily incapacitated.
And Nan Flanagan was anything but subtle.
Thalia raised her sword.
Victor Madden had been vigilantly avoiding death since the battle had started—just as he’d been avoiding it for all of his years as a vampire.
He knew that—since Felipe was now dead—Russell would make him the King of Nevada.
Oh, he’d already avenged his king. After all, it would have been bad form not to. He’d killed both Isabel and her annoying brother, Miguel. “Miguelito,” he muttered with derision.
But, other than Isabel, he’d avoided fighting any vampire who was any kind of match for him.
Instead, he had fought weaker vampires and the Weres that “belonged” to Northman. He’d managed to kill many, and he’d taken the arm of a female Werebear. His “fight” had been satisfying and “safe.” Of course, he’d also been keeping track of Russell in the center of the room. It seemed as if he was about to take down his prey.
Victor readied himself to go to his “emperor” and offer his services as soon as he was required. Perhaps Russell might even want him to secure the girl once he’d killed Northman. It was obvious that she had been weakened, for she’d not been able to produce any of her light weapons after the one she’d used to kill Alexei.
Victor licked a fang. He would knock Miss Stackhouse unconscious and then taste her—as he “kept her safe” for his master.
FIVE NIGHTS EARLIER
Sookie sighed as she leaned back into her mate’s arms. They’d been in the natural hot springs long enough for her skin to wrinkle, but she wasn’t anxious to leave the bath. The next day they would travel to Rhodes, and she wanted to enjoy their final moments at Mammoth Lakes—at least as much as she could.
She was nervous, and—though Eric had begun sending her more and more calm and comfort during the previous days—she’d had a difficult time getting control of her nerves.
“You will do well,” Eric whispered in her ear. “Leave your nerves here,” he added, rubbing her back.
She sighed. “I’m afraid.”
“So am I.”
“What if I fuck up?”
“You won’t,” he assured.
“But what if I do?”
“Then we die,” he returned, “but we go on together nonetheless.”
She sighed and turned in his arms. “I believe that too.”
He gave her a little smile. “Good. All that we can do is our best, min kära. And that is what we will do. In battle, we may be defeated, but we will not lose. We will not waver.”
“Until it’s time to waver,” she said.
He nodded. “Yes. Until it is time for you to play opossum—as you put it.”
She chuckled. “How did Sun Tzu say it?”
“Pretend inferiority and encourage [your enemy’s] arrogance,” the vampire smirked.
Sookie felt the increase in power from the witches right when she knew she would. Russell struck her sword, and she purposely let it fall before falling to her knees. Her husband made a move to keep Russell from striking at her now “defenseless” body. But she was not defenseless, nor were she and Eric on the defensive.
Appius smiled as he heard the fairy’s sword drop. “About time,” he muttered to himself. In his opinion, Russell had spent too long playing with Northman and his woman. He looked toward his brother, ready to witness him taking down the pair.
Duncan was finally healed enough to return to the main battle. As a bonus, all of Russell’s Weres were dead. He reentered the ballroom just in time to see his bonded kill the Were-tiger and look around the room—probably for Appius. The Welshman didn’t see him, but he did see Victor Madden keeping himself back from the main fight like the cowardly worm he was. Duncan moved towards his new target with glee.
Amelia and Octavia continued their chant, mustering all of their power.
Niall hit Anatoli with a fierce burst of energy, giving Leonie the chance to take the demon’s head.
Thalia swung her blade just before Nan reached Pam.
Two severed heads hit the floor almost simultaneously.
Sookie channeled every ounce of power and magic that was inside of her.
Russell cringed from the pain of his lost bond with his child.
Eric dropped his sword and flew straight upward.
From her knees, Sookie shot her light at Russell, hitting him square in the chest.
Eric landed behind Russell, having already pulled a stake from his breastplate.
Sookie’s light flung Russell right into Eric—right into the perfectly-angled stake in his hands.
The ancient vampire and would-be emperor burst into pieces of sludge.
Victor Madden grabbed at a clearly spent Sookie from behind, distracting Eric’s attention.
Duncan staked Victor from behind.
Letting out a wail of grief for his brother, Appius raised a stake and rushed at Eric, who had no sword for defense.
But the Viking didn’t need one.
He had his mate.
The first time Sookie had ever teleported had been when she thought Eric was in danger.
As she watched the situation in the middle of the ballroom unfold as if it were happening in slow motion, Leonie could already sense what was coming even before it did.
But she could do nothing to get to Sookie or to Eric in order to prevent it.
From their weeks of training, Leonie knew that Sookie’s teleportation gift was the one she was least accomplished at, especially after she’d been working with her light and was weakened. And—certainly—Sookie was weakened in that moment.
But that didn’t matter. Nothing would have.
There was no hesitation—no weakness shown—as Sookie “popped” between Eric and Appius.
Leonie had never been more proud of a being, and she immediately began to pray to her ancestors—especially to Ione—that the power of love would be enough to save Sookie.
Sookie thought of two things as she “popped” between her mate and the stake that would have killed him.
That would kill her.
“For him to live, you will have to die,” Pythia had said.
“I love you,” was her other thought as she sent that emotion to her mate.
Appius was able to adjust the position of the wood in his hands the moment before it stuck the fairy’s heart. He pulled it out even before the girl could fall, aiming to kill Eric with the same projectile.
The Viking screamed as Sookie dropped to the ground. Immediately, he fell to the ground next to her, writhing in agony.
A ball of fairy light whizzed across the room as Niall shot Appius before he could finish off Eric.
Klymene “met” Appius’s hurled body—specifically the spot between his head and his shoulders—with her sword raised like a baseball bat, and the cruel ancient was no more.
Sookie’s eyes were wide open and full of love. The expression was fixed. She had been dead from the moment the stake decimated her heart.
The witches were chanting again—this time, however, with different words. Words that they didn’t understand but chanted nonetheless. After all, one didn’t deny the Ancient Pythoness.
In a car across town, that ancient vampiress smiled a little.
“Well, maybe I can give them a little more help—and time.”
In the ballroom, Pam, Klymene, and Duncan all fell to their knees—yelling out in pain.
The Viking couldn’t move, couldn’t think. The bonds inside of him were being torn apart and so was he.
He was dying.
And then suddenly the pain was just a little less. It was still killing him, but a coherent thought registered in his mind.
The wedding ring on his finger warmed, and—in a flash—he saw a glimpse the future. A gift from the Ancient Pythoness herself.
And the hope that that glimpse offered gave him the strength he’d been lacking.
He moved his fingers to Sookie’s grandfather’s pocket watch—the cluviel dor—which he’d concealed in his costume.
The inscription in the watch filled his mind: Always remember—if I could love you for all time, I would.
The rest of the Viking’s energy was used to break the object over his mate’s bloody chest.
His body collapsed, his head falling onto his mate’s chest.
His eyes locked onto the cluviel dor.
The blood from his tears mixed with the blood of the wound that had killed his mate.
Even for supernaturals, the kind of magic unleashed by the cluviel dor was enough to make everyone stop what they’d been doing.
Weres, shifters, witches, demons, and fairies held their breaths as all looked at the Viking and his fallen beloved.
The vampires were completely still—as if their day-deaths had already taken them.
Pam, Duncan, and Klymene had recovered and were also unmoving—looking at Eric and Sookie with awe.
Not a single noise could be heard, except for a single word from the Viking.
A single word—a request made for pure love—ignited the magic that had gathered in the room. And no one was left on his or her feet as all of the air in the room seemed to rush to the center, impacting the pocket watch.
The cluviel dor.
Adele’s legacy to her part-Fae granddaughter.
Ione’s legacy to her Viking great-grandson.
A legacy which had waited generations to be fulfilled.
Now too weak to hold onto Sookie, Eric fell away from his wife’s body as she was taken up into the air, raised higher and higher toward the ceiling. From his back, the Viking kept his eyes on his beloved as sparks began to emanate from her. Blue and gold flashes—like colored lightning—struck her from all sides, igniting the sparks.
He gasped as she was seemingly encased within a fire that didn’t burn her.
The agony he’d felt only moments before stopped, and the vampire could feel his bonds with his beloved healing even as his wife’s body was hit with more colored light.
And then, suddenly, the fire and the light stopped and Sookie was no longer in the air. She was lying next to him. Her red bodice was still stained with even darker red blood, but there was no gaping hole inside of her perfect heart. It was beating, and her eyes were closed.
She was breathing. She was asleep.
The vampire sighed.
And he slept, too.
A/N: Okay—I hope that was “followable.” And I really hope you liked it. Writing battles isn’t my strongest skill, and I worked on this scene for a very long time. (In fact, I just reworked some of it, so—if you see remaining errors—be sure to blame me since I made changes after Kleannhouse looked it over.)
→Many thanks to both Sephrenia and Kleannhouse!