Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Nautical Note: When ships travel on convoy, whether for pleasure or for mutual protection, they coordinate their placement. It allows them to move in concert, each in its expected place, so that no unforeseen collisions occur.
Thierry planned to leave for Boston within the hour, a full night ahead of the movie premiere, two nights ahead of the official start of Moshup Summit. His plans were earning him sour looks from Thalia. She wouldn’t ask him outright why he was in such a hurry. That was beneath her dignity. No, instead she made her displeasure clear in other ways. She quizzed him on the status of his Area’s business. She questioned his dedication to his Sheriff duties. She pointed out the high cost of hotel rooms in Boston and suggested he consider his business versus his personal budget.
Finally, when his fierce houseguest sniffed once too often, he challenged, “If you’re so worried about what I’ll be doing in Boston, why not come with me?” and before she could give him an excuse, said, “Oh, that’s right! You’d have to see our King and you’re too busy hiding from him!” That remark earned Thierry a prolonged hiss, but Thalia didn’t attack, which as far as the French Sheriff was concerned, told him his suspicions were right.
Since he’d confessed his motivations when it came to the New York King, Thierry’s relationship with Thalia had improved. That wasn’t to say that they were trading secrets or swapping spit, but at least now when they were in the same room Thierry no long felt the need to make sure his spiritual state was in order.
Thalia’s call from Bartlett Crowe came the previous night. Placing her on speaker phone, the Kings outlined their plans to return to Indiana. They would launch a media campaign aimed at shaming humans into accepting their help. The initial press conference was scheduled in three night’s time. The publicist, Twy, had managed to arrange several prominent humans, known on a national level for their contributions to law enforcement and human rights groups. These recognized faces would stand on the podium beside the Kings, reinforcing the ‘All In’ message.
The Kings were hopeful that this would signal a turnaround that would help to stem rising resentment. “The reason we are calling you, Thalia, is to ask a favor. It won’t matter how many goodwill gestures we make, or how much we try to convince the humans to allow us to handle vampire justice. If we can’t get to the bottom of this and finally stop the flow of rogues, it won’t matter. As far as we’re concerned, the injury and death toll is already intolerable. It is the most vulnerable among the humans who continue to be taken. We are fortunate the rogues have slowed and the media has not pieced it all together yet.”
“I think the only thing that’s saved us so far,” the Kings repeated what Twy had told them, “is that the media doesn’t cover crime against the homeless. They are only interested in covering crime among the rich.”
It had been a long year and during that time some things had changed. The number of rogues ebbed and flowed, but part of that was due to what had been discovered. Rogues were insane. They seemed to have no conscious thought beyond traveling for some distance, sometimes with purpose, sometimes with no purpose, and creating nests. They would bury victims with one command and then leave them. Sometimes they would make multiple vampires in one night. Sometimes they would stay and work an area for several nights, creating more elaborate nesting sites. Often they worked in multiples, usually having started as nestmates. Many times, vampires had tried backtracking them, but tracking most often led to a nest in another territory. What seemed common was that once more vampires were incubating, the rogues became less stable. Many times they seemed to lose any drive to survive. There were reports of several sitting on a hillside, calmly awaiting the sun. Vampires now thought of them like an outbreak of insects. You missed one, you would have a temporary swarming, and then most would be caught and killed, the contagion contained until the next one slipped through the ever-loosening nets.
Most vampires, that was, except those in Indiana. True, the flow of rogues had slowed, but it was as if the rogues were monarch butterflies, and even across generations, eventually they would change direction to head toward the Crossroads of America. They arrived from all directions, sometimes simply stopping to meet the sun or sometimes moving with more stealth and purpose to find colonies of homeless or campers in the woods. When that happened, they created orphans who became rogues themselves.
“We know there is a vampire behind this,” Russell told Thalia. “We’ve known it for ages and we’re no closer to discovering the identity of this person than we were a year ago. At first, I didn’t think this was aimed at Bart and me, but lately, I know it is. We’ve racked our brains, searching for enemies and motives. We’ve sent spies and investigators. Neither of us has received a threat in the past fifty years from one of our own we can’t account for. There is nothing that we can remember that would account for the kind of money and time this must be taking. I thought it might be aimed at taking the kingdom, but what vampire would want this kind of mess? These rogues interfere with business and our ability to make profit. No vampire in their right mind would take the kingdom in its current state. This has to be personal.”
“When I think about the pain it must cause the Maker every time we end one of these vampires, I just cringe,” Bartlett added. Every vampire knew that the death of progeny caused a Maker pain, both physical and emotional. The tie of blood was strong. It was the part of this mystery that was most puzzling. When orphans were ended, there were reports that the rogues that had not already ended themselves reacted, the destruction of a nest prompting suicide.
Everything about the phenomena ran against conventional vampire lore. To make progeny was a sacred bond; it was to take on a responsibility that spanned the ages, recognizing the eternal nature of the blood ties created. These progeny made of rogues were blood squandered and their Makers nothing more than mindless robots. Whoever was behind this had no respect for vampire traditions, but it had to be someone with the kind of money necessary to buy secrecy, and that was a lot. While Russell and Bartlett wanted to find this vampire and prosecute him or her, there was a growing sentiment among others that perhaps it was simply better not to know. Their kingdoms were not playing Capistrano to these unholy swallows. If they handled the occasional inconvenience and didn’t look too closely, perhaps it would stay that way. Who wanted to anger someone with the kind of money and dedication it took to launch something this terrible?
“Thalia, you can go places among our kind that no one else can,” Russell made his request, “Who would dare challenge you? Will you help us?”
When she concluded the call, Thalia turned to Thierry and said, “If you are right, and these troubles are coming from New York, we could find ourselves becoming allies in this thing.”
“I’m surprised you agreed to help them,” Thierry frowned. It was the last thing he expected. Thalia had a reputation of going her own way, resisting any suggestion that she align herself with another vampire. That was, with the exception of Eric Northman.
The vampire shrugged and then smiled tightly. “I am always pleased to kill things that need killing,” then she dropped her scary smile, “The Kings did me a favor once. This is a chance to settle the score doing something I like.”
“This press conference they are holding will fall during the business sessions at Moshup,” Thierry observed. “Most of us won’t see it until the news recaps the following night. Perhaps there will be a way to maneuver things so I can see Misha’s reaction.”
“It is possible the human news channels won’t cover it at all,” Thalia said sourly.
“Don’t underestimate Twy,” Thierry sniffed. “She’s adept at getting what she wants. Something like this would enhance her reputation as someone who can manipulate the media. I don’t like how she panders and bullies the humans, but I do respect it. She could be a vampire.”
Thalia was about to say something, but she was interrupted by the chime on Thierry’s phone. He glanced to see an incoming text from Nabila, which was unusual. The Queen had texted him earlier, too, but Thierry hadn’t responded. He was reluctant to acknowledge, much less answer in front of Thalia. He believed the short vampire could decipher his message just by watching his finger placement and he didn’t need her any further into his business. Thierry would see his lovely Queen soon enough. Whatever message she had for him could wait until he was alone in the limo, on his way to the airport.
Thalia’s eyes flicked from his phone to his eyes, and he knew that not responding had been the right choice. “So, you know your former employer will be there,” Thalia said carefully.
Thierry nodded, “Boston is Misha’s territory now. He knows I’m coming ahead of my King,” and when Thalia’s eyes flared, Thierry said, “Not from me! He heard it through Nabila!” When Thalia rocked back a little, the Sheriff continued, “When I arrive he will expect me to pay court to him, jockeying for a place within his circle. Of course, once Eric arrives, Misha will expect me to transfer my ‘affections’ to my King.”
“So, he expects you to pay court to him?” Thalia said narrowly.
“It is hard to explain,” Thierry nodded. “It is the same for all of us who came through his kingdom. He takes credit for our success. He considers himself our mentor, our teacher. He expects us to show him respect, not through money or information but by…”
“He sees himself as your Maker,” Thalia finished.
Thierry was surprised how painful, yet how true Thalia’s words rang, “Yes.”
When Thalia nodded for him to continue, Thierry said, “If I do otherwise, he’ll be suspicious. I believe that what I need to know can only be found by being as close to him as I am to you now.” When Thalia hissed, he said, “I know my boundaries! I know how to play this game! If I can find this thing, this proof that he betrays all vampires by creating these rogues, there will be none who will dispute my right to give him his final death.”
“And if he gives that gift to you, instead?” Thalia smirked.
“Then, I’ll depend on you to make sure I’m avenged,” Thierry laughed, “After all, we are such good friends now, and what are good friends for?” and he raised his shoulder in that classic Gallic shrug.
When the Anubis shuttle pulled up at the door, Thalia walked him out, “Give my greetings to the Viking,” she told him.
Thierry nodded. He found he watched her as they pulled away. Fate made strange bedfellows, and forming an uneasy friendship with the legendary Thalia was proof. He pulled his phone from his pocket and scrolled to the oldest message from Nabila. It was a link to a newspaper item. It announced an investigation was being launched into allegations of corruption involving several national banks and a well-known female business person in the Charlotte area. The second text simply read, ‘Did you know?’
Thierry knew Nabila was already in the city, her place as Clan Chief requiring she come early so her people could conclude arrangements with the organizers before meetings started. Being first wasn’t all business. It also gave the Carolinas Queen her pick of spa services, entertainment venues, and hotel concierge staff.
Thierry no sooner tipped the bellhop and turned to his suitcase than there was a discreet knock at his door. He opened it to find a vampire guard wearing a familiar lapel pin. “I am at your Queen’s disposal,” Thierry bowed briefly, and then followed the vampire into the staircase and up several flights. These were the more exclusive floors of the Colonnade and the guard swiped a card to gain access. Almost every room on this floor had a guard or two. “Talk about Game of Thrones,” Thierry chuckled, earning him an eye roll from those he passed. At the end of the corridor, the double doors opened for him. The suite was beautifully decorated in blond wood and modern touches. Thierry stood in the meeting area, not moving toward one bedroom or the other, waiting for her.
“Did you know?” She walked toward him from the bedroom to the left. She was dressed in a pencil skirt, the pink silk of her blouse making her skin glow.
“I did not.” There had not been much more news available on the Internet, but seeing the stress on her face, he knew there was more, much more. “I am sorry I didn’t respond earlier. The great Thalia decided to become my houseguest and it was everything I could do to keep her contained.”
“Another cog in the great design of your ambition?” Nabila’s voice was light, but Thierry wasn’t fooled. She doubted him.
“It’s Thalia,” he smirked, thinking that should be enough to put Nabila’s suspicions to rest. He found he didn’t wish her thinking he was using her. He wished her to think well of him. “Tell me what I can do to help you,” he said, committing himself further, and not sure why he was.
“I think Misha is behind it,” Nabila sighed. She walked into the room now, and taking a bottle of blood from the warmer, sat down on the couch.
“What proof do you have?” Thierry sat down next to her, dreading the answer. When she looked away, he felt relieved and then guilty that he did.
“I don’t know for sure. I have this feeling that he wants to be Clan Chief. You know him. He’d never ask and he figures I’m too proud to just hand it to him, so he’ll destroy me to get it.” Nabila shook her head, “It’s not like this is new. It’s why I wanted the marriage with Northman. I figured Misha would think twice before going up against the Viking.” It was no secret that Nabila had almost succeeded in maneuvering Eric Northman into a royal marriage, but in the end Sookie Stackhouse had won out.
“I will remember those days with some fondness,” Thierry smiled, running his fingers over her fingertips. “It is how we met.” She smiled briefly, but he could see her worry. For a moment, Thierry wondered what he would have done had Nabila produced proof. It would have forced him to make a choice, and he realized he was not sure which way he would go. To side with Nabila felt right, but it would mean revealing himself to New York before he was ready. “It is easy to blame the usual suspects,” he said lightly. He continued his motion to drag his fingers up her arm, but even as he leaned in to follow fingers with lips, he felt he was betraying her.
She was tense, but Thierry knew he would be under similar circumstances. ‘This play is enjoyable for both of us. It is nothing more than that,’ he told himself, but somehow he wasn’t sure he believed it.
“If I really needed you,” she whispered, and he stilled, his lips positioned under her ear. He waited, but she didn’t continue her thought. Instead, she turned to him and he saw her resignation. She kissed him then, and her hands pulled at his shirt and then his pants. Thierry found he was more motivated, more determined than in past. He wished to give her comfort. He wished to give her protection. He wished to give her things he could not.
As dawn approached, he lifted his head to trail kisses over her small breasts. As he rubbed his cheek on her belly, he whispered, “Vous demandez si l’amour rend hereuse; Il le promet, croyez-le, fut-ce un jour.”
“My French is rusty,” she whispered. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a poem by a woman, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore. She asks if love can truly make her happy. Her lover promises her it will, if only for that day.” Thierry stroked her hip, laying his cheek against her. He thought about the rest of the poem. The poetess wonders if the sadness, the torture that comes during the moments she is not with him is worth the flash of happiness that comes only in moments.
“Do you love me?” Nabila asked. Thierry had no words. He moved back to cover her with his body, to place his mouth on hers and hoped that his actions told her what he wished he could say.
The human actors from A Viking’s Bond clustered around their producers, and then around Bill Compton. Photographers and television crews took pictures, the bright lights making the area look as if it was day. Bill was wearing a new tuxedo and Sonder, Twy’s former assistant, was standing at his side in a designer dress. Twy had gone out of her way to make sure the reporters understood that Sonder was a key organizer with the Silent Witnesses here in the Boston office. Bill sported a button supporting the group on his lapel and was busy spouting his well-rehearsed sound clip about common cause and collaboration.
“Is this the inspiration for Shanna?” one of the reporters shouted.
“She certainly could have been,” Bill made sure he used the smile he’d practiced in the mirror, the charming, courtly one. “But, sadly, I didn’t know Sonder when I was writing the original books. No, Shanna was inspired by another wonderful human woman, a true Southern belle.” He let the smile drop just a bit when he leaned forward, causing the reporters to lean forward too, “The strength of this story is in how it shows that two people can find true love if they are willing to look past their physical differences and just see the real people that are underneath.” The crowds that were following the interviews on the large screens positioned up and down the street sighed and cheered. There were hardly any protesters in sight, but then again, it has hard to protest when one of your leaders was standing next to a vampire in a sequined gown.
“But a Viking?” the reporter gushed.
Bill struggled to maintain his smile. He found he often conveniently forgot the way his story had been destroyed. In his heart, the real heroes, Shanna and Troy, found their way to each other, not Shanna and Leif. “I’ll grant you, it’s a pretty thick layer to peel back,” Bill said in what he hoped was an amusing way and then he winked.
The reporters moved on and Twy appeared at Bill’s elbow, “Don’t wink!” she hissed.
“What do you mean?” he said from the side of his mouth.
“It makes you look crazy,” the publicist hissed, then grabbed Sonder’s elbow and pushed her forward so she was standing closer to Bill. “Smile more!” she instructed.
From their vantage a short distance away, the New York vampires watched the action surrounding the celebrity guests for tonight’s function. “What do you make of that?” Misha asked Carlo, pointing at the interplay between the publicist, Compton and Sonder.
“The woman with Compton looks drugged,” Carlo whispered.
“Or glamoured,” Misha agreed. “You see the button Compton is wearing? I heard his escort is being introduced as an organizer for the Silent Witnesses. It is a curious choice for a vampire. You know Compton was Crowe’s houseguest in Jackson.”
“I do, Majesty,” Carlo was speaking through his professional smile, “And a neighbor to Miss Ravenscroft’s Maker.”
“I didn’t know that,” Misha turned, his eyes warmer. “You please me with your ability to find out interesting things.” Misha’s instincts sat up and took notice. “Do some digging.” Carlo nodded and then excused himself as Pam walked back toward them.
“I don’t think he likes me,” Pam arched her eyebrow, jerking her chin in the direction of Misha’s retreating second.
“Carlo likes Carlo,” Misha shrugged, “He worries you are too great a distraction for me.” When Pam said nothing, Misha held out his hand. Pam waited a long minute, forcing the King to meet her eyes before extending her own, “You are not a distraction,” the King told her. “You are a revelation.”
They turned to the sound of voices calling Pam’s name. Pam was being waved toward some reporters and a camera crew. A short woman with a clipboard approached them, explaining the reporter was interested in talking about Fangtasia and how the vampire fantasy club franchise had helped pave the way for the acceptance of a movie featuring a human/vampire love story.
Pam squeezed the King’s hand before turning to follow the woman. Misha followed her briefly with his eyes and then looked back at the other vampires who were standing in groups on the red carpet tonight.
When he and Pam arrived this evening, Misha had made a point of presenting himself to Nabila first. As his Clan Chief, his show of obedience to her was expected and he wished to be first in line, sending the remaining Moshup monarchs and others a not so subtle message. Nabila made the official introductions to Stan Davis and Felipe de Castro, though it wasn’t necessary. His Pam knew them both and soon they had moved away, chatting together, leaving Nabila standing apart from them. Luckily for her, the other Moshup monarchs took their places, filing one after the other to present themselves, saving Nabila from looking foolish.
When Pam finished up her interview, she walked back toward him, Felipe de Castro in tow. The Nevada monarch immediately began doing his best to be pleasant, “I hope you’ll be attending the business presentations tomorrow. I count myself fortunate to have Pamela as my business partner in my newest venture.” Felipe was wearing a tuxedo and an odd cape. It was over the top, but the reporters around them seemed to find it irresistible. As for his Pamela, she managed to look regal and at the same time polite. “Her style, her elegance, will be critical to making our newest line of clubs a success,” Felipe continued, bowing briefly in Pam’s direction.
De Castro’s progeny, Angie, was acting as her Sire’s escort. Misha noted with some satisfaction that while Angie looked presentable, there wasn’t one vampire or human on the red carpet tonight who matched Pam. While the others wore couture, his Pamela owned it. It was in the way she stood, the tilt of her head, every gesture showing a lifetime of lessons in posture and deportment. While others dressed the part, Pam simply was quality. He found his eyes drawn to her even while De Castro spoke about the potential for profits and his hope that Misha would be interested in hearing more.
Misha realized that Felipe was asking him a question when the familiar French accent interrupted, ”Misha! Surely you are not bored already? ”
Felipe stopped in mid-sentence, his face souring. Misha flicked his eyes to the Narayana Chief, then to Thierry, “You are impertinent, Thierry! Felipe was just making a most persuasive argument for my taking a share in his new venture!” Both Misha and Thierry knew that the French Sheriff had saved New York from making a potential blunder.
“I look forward to providing you details,” Felipe assured Misha, and then gave Thierry a cutting look as he took Angie’s arm and walked away.
“Tomorrow,” Misha bowed.
Thierry’s eyes widened as he looked at Pam, and then back at Misha. “Pamela! I didn’t expect to see you here!”
Pam gave the Sheriff a tight smile, then turned to Misha, “I have some business. I’ll see you later?”
“You have the number for the car,” the King smiled briefly, then taking her hand, kissed her palm. It was an intimate gesture, but he wished it known that his feelings for this woman were more than fleeting.
When she turned the corner, Misha wrapped the younger vampire in a bear’s hug. “Once more, you save me! Once more, I am in your debt!” Both of them knew there was no true debt, only a placeholder in the dance of favors between them.
“Her Maker is due to arrive here in two night’s time. He has been named Amun Clan Chief. Does she know?”
“She hasn’t mentioned it,” Misha shrugged. “So, Northman will not seek a reconciliation?”
“No, it is not likely,” Thierry shrugged in return. “He has moved most of his operations back toward Shreveport and seems very taken with his Fae Queen.”
“Sookie,” Misha smirked, “Rhymes with cookie.”
“It is an unusual name,” the French vampire agreed. He looked back in the direction Pam had taken. “You seem very taken with her.”
“I think if it’s true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”
“Tolstoy?” the French vampire smiled, but he didn’t find Misha’s sentiment amusing. He looked at this vampire who was so many things: his sponsor, his teacher, his mentor, his enemy. He knew with a certainty that he would drive the stake that would end Misha’s existence, but in this moment, he found himself captured by the way the New York King’s eyes shone as he spoke of Pam Ravenscroft. Almost unbidden, matching words found his lips, “When you love someone, you love the person as they are, not as you’d like them to be.”
“She is perfection,” Misha replied and Thierry realized the King hadn’t understood his words at all.
“I will consider what you are saying about wind turbines,” Felipe de Castro said smoothly.
“Stop playing with us,” Stan laughed. “The only way you’d be interested in wind turbines is if we dressed them up in pasties and had them do a high kick!”
“You seem to have an unfavorable impression of my business skills,” Felipe’s smile was in place, but there was a colder quality to his stare.
“Don’t take it the wrong way!” Stan laughed a little too loudly, “It’s just you are the King of Vegas. You show up here with a presentation for your sex club franchise. You’ve had miles of desert you could have carpeted in solar panels, but you haven’t. Just making an observation.”
“I will agree I have not truly considered it,” Felipe allowed some of the ice to thaw, “but neither have I had the opportunity to hear your compelling presentation until tonight. I will give it my full attention,” and he bowed slightly.
Stan turned to Thierry as soon as Felipe was reasonably out of earshot, “Maybe we should put on some stripper music in the background? Wouldn’t want him to zone out too early.”
Thierry tried to look as if he was amused by Stan’s joke. In reality, he found the Zeus Clan Chief crass, but he also realized that bawdy humor didn’t mean Stan wasn’t smart. Underestimating Stan Davis could be a fatal mistake. He looked at the doors again. The meetings would start soon and once they did, it would be hard to find a way to get Misha into the side room to see the television with its news feed. The seneschal who would signal the beginnings of the business presentations was just walking into the lobby when Misha and Pam appeared. She was wearing heels, which made her taller than him, but anyone seeing them could see they were together. It was still a jolt.
“Majesty!” Thierry rushed forward, “I am so pleased to see you are here. My presentation is first, and I would be pleased if you would do me the great favor of observing and providing me feedback.”
“Still fond of your first teacher?” Misha smiled indulgently. “For you, moya Thierry, of course!” Thierry smiled and made to turn, then stopped and stared, giving just the right amount of surprise. Misha’s face changed to slight curiosity and then he turned too, to see the television screen. The Kings Russell Edgington and Bartlett Crowe were standing on a podium side by side, flanked by several recognizable faces, one in uniform. The scroll on the bottom of the screen informed audiences that prominent vampires were forming a coalition to fight vampire crime in Indiana.
Thierry saw the fury flow over Misha’s face, the cold, dead look his eyes took on before he ordered someone’s final death. He must have made a gesture, because Carlo was standing next to them. Thierry hadn’t seen him walk in. “What is it?” Pam asked.
“Nothing, Zolotse,” Misha smiled up at her, the snake suddenly hidden. “I know you wish to meet your business partner before your presentation begins. Please, go on! I will be there in a minute!” Next, the King turned to Thierry, “You do not wish to be late. I will be there in a moment. I would not miss something so important to one who is important to me!” If Thierry hadn’t been watching closely, he wouldn’t have known anything was amiss.
The room with the television was one of a series of rooms made out of false walls. Thierry bowed and moved away as if to join his meeting, but instead of taking a right, he walked through the door that placed him in a staging room that was adjacent to the television room. He placed his ear against the thin wall and listened.
“How did they do this and you not know?” Misha hissed. “This ruins everything! How do I come in as the hero now if they have stolen my plans! I want to find out who told them what we were going to do! Find out! I will have their guts to dangle to the cats!”
“Calm yourself!” Carlo hissed back, “You’ll be heard! No one could have known. I’ll ask. I always do, but only you and I knew about this. The plans are in your personal computer. Only you and I have the codes. You know me, and I’ll give you my blood as often as you need. You would feel if I was guilty! It could be just coincidence. Good ideas can come to more than one person. Unless…” and the second hesitated.
“Unless?” Misha’s hiss was harsher.
“Would the Ravenscroft woman…”
“I told her nothing, you bastard!” Misha raved and Thierry was certain he heard the sound of someone being struck.
His suspicion was confirmed when he heard Carlo’s muffled voice saying, “I apologize. It was not my place.”
“You will make an excuse,” Misha hissed. “You know what I need and by the time I reach the house, I expect it to be arranged, and then you will get to the bottom of this. I want every detail. Who arranged this for Crowe and Edgington?” There was a scrabbling noise and then silence. Thierry knew all too well what would happen tonight in Misha’s house. He wondered if Pam knew about the ritual that allowed Misha to regain his self-control.
With a quick glance to make sure he wasn’t seen, he walked across the hall and then rushed to the front of the room. “Where were you?” Stan hissed.
“Blood break,” Thierry rolled his eyes, and then taking the remote, launched into his presentation on investment opportunities in solar technology.