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: Sometimes you find yourself trying to sail into the wind. To make forward progress, you must make a repeated series of tacks where you sail first one way, and then another, tricking the wind to use its force to move you forward by playing vectors.
Thalia walked toward the cordon of vampires who were standing in a straggling line, fending off anyone who seemed too curious. Thalia knew the building was the Rhodes palace, even without a sign. She had received the email from Russell two days ago and it had taken more time than she thought to get here.
Russell’s email had followed a panicky text message Thalia received from Karin. That first message had demanded if Thalia knew where Eric was. Thalia had just been going to ground south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the message took her by surprise. She was picking up the phone to call Karin when the email came through from the Mississippi King, informing her of the explosion and asking her to come to Rhodes as quickly as possible.
For weeks she had been following winding paths and collecting disjointed stories, following the rogues’ trail upstream, each clue leading her slowly and inexorably north east. Initially, there had been more false starts and dead ends than progress, but lately she had the sure feeling she was gaining on it. Now she would have to step away from the trail and hope that while she was gone it didn’t go cold.
Calling a Were she knew near the capital, she was able to browbeat him into giving her a ride the next night as far at Pittsburgh. When he dropped her off, she was faced with the unattractive prospect of running through the mountains at night. Rather than take the risk, she dug deep into the ground and spent the remaining hours before sunrise assessing her options. Bus travel would be most convenient, but it would mean consorting with humans. Anubis had a terminal in this city and that was a possibility, but it was unlikely the airlines would fly into Rhodes under the circumstances. Finally she settled on renting a car. She should be able to reach her destination in one night’s time if she started early and didn’t stop.
While she stood in the rental office she found herself stepping away when the news bulletin flashed on the television. “Turn up the volume!” she ordered the clerk. When the woman gave Thalia a surly look, the small vampire dropped fang, stepped forward and said, “The volume,” in a tone of voice that promised many terrible things. The woman squeaked and fumbled with the remote. Had Thalia’s reflexes not been perfect, the remote would have hit the floor. The woman looked like she was trying to bolt so Thalia leaned closer and said, “I am much faster than you. If you run, I’ll catch you and that will really piss me off. Do your job, finish the paperwork and I’ll be on my way.”
The bulletin reporting Eric Northman as being finally dead had been a jolt. Thalia knew humans well enough to know they seldom had information about vampires right, and if the Viking was gone, Russell would have told her. Instead, the Mississippi King was asking her to come to Rhodes. It didn’t make sense, but these things rarely did. Thalia resisted the pull to head to Louisiana and instead had made her way west.
“Who are you?” a tall vampire in the palace cordon challenged her. A dozen smart ass answers came to mind. ‘I’m tired,’ Thalia realized. She was saved by one of those vampires she had mentored through their police training. He stepped forward from among the guards.
“Thalia! I knew you would come!” It was pleasant to watch the reaction of those around her when her name was mentioned. The one who initially challenged her bowed his head and the heads of other vampires and guards swiveled to face her, all going silent in that ultimate display of vampire respect. “Come with me, the Kings are waiting!” her acquaintance continued.
Thalia followed the vampire and another guard through the doors and into the palace. Like so many of these city dwellings vampires used, it was a former hotel. There was a lobby and some public rooms that were transformed into meeting areas. The upstairs was a series of resting chambers with the better ones being located on the upper floors. The elevator stopped on the floor just below the penthouse and Thalia found herself escorted down a short hallway and then bowed through a set of double doors.
The floor had been opened. Structural walls remained in place giving the space an odd angularity. There were only a few windows and those faced the walls of other buildings. Thalia was sure the glass was both bullet proof and light tight. This was a nesting area. She had heard James was more traditional and it appeared the rumors were true. His vampires assigned to this floor would rest together on the large, cushioned area that stretched along the far wall. The rest of the floor was taken up with seating areas, televisions and a small counter with a refrigerator and a microwave. ‘James must have been modernizing,’ she thought with a sardonic smile. Thalia doubted the refrigerator held True Blood or even Royalty. Most likely it was filled with blood bags purchased from the local hospital or taken from donors. It was amazing what money could do.
Russell Edgington was sitting with another vampire and they both rose and began walking toward her. “Thalia! I told William you would be here soon, and here you are! Welcome!” and then in a lower voice Russell told her, “I am so grateful you came. We need you!”
Once the formalities were over, Thalia sat down with her warmed blood in hand. It was pleasant that they were able to offer her her favorite flavor, AB negative. It wasn’t a common blood type and after the travel and stress of her weeks it was more welcome than she wished to acknowledge. “Is it true?” she asked, “About Northman?”
Russell shook his head, “No, I don’t believe so. I received a text from Sookie. I texted both she and the Viking when the news broke, and I heard from her on my next rising. She told me they are both in Shreveport.”
“Then they were here?” Thalia frowned. Why would the news be reporting the North Man dead if the Viking and his Queen were healthy enough to take a plane home?
Russell must have guessed at the direction her thoughts were taking because he gave her a slight smile, “It is a mystery. We have several videos showing our Clan Chief here in Rhodes. He was in front of the building and spoke with many vampires and humans. We also have a short clip that appears to have been taken just before the blast showing Northman talking with Bill,” and Russell bit his lip and breathed sharply through his nose. He flashed a tight smile, nodded and continued, “Talking with Bill Compton, anyway, our Eric turned around and you can see Sookie walking toward him. They both must have been right next to the blast.”
“So, how did they…” and Thalia’s eyes narrowed. This reeked of Fae magic. She glanced at the vampire sitting beside Russell, the one introduced as the new standing King of Illinois.
“You’re thinking Fairy magic,” Russell told her, “I’m thinking it too. I don’t know how she did it, but I think she managed to protect them both and transport them to Shreveport.”
The vampire, William, was looking as if he’d stepped into some bizarre conversation and she and Russell were speaking in tongues. Thalia gave him her ‘disapproving’ stare and said, “What? You’re a dead man walking and you think you’re the only magic in this world? The Fae existed long before you did and your Clan Chief is married into the most magical of the Fae families. If you’re the new King of Illinois you better bone up on your lore.”
Russell chuckled, “Thalia, be kind to William. He didn’t expect to find himself in this position and it’s been a trying few days.”
Thalia sipped her blood and then looked around, “Where’s your better half?” she asked.
Russell made an odd face as if settling something in his own head, “Bartlett’s downstairs, resting with his new child.”
Thalia’s hand stopped mid-motion. She focused on the King’s face and willed her mind to still. After a moment she said, “I expect congratulations are in order. I was not aware your mate was interested in creating progeny.”
“It was unexpected,” Russell replied. “The circumstances presented themselves and we both realized it was right. She will be a remarkable addition to our family. They are expected to make their first rising tomorrow.”
“She?” and Thalia’s eyebrows rose. “I would have assumed…”
“I believe you know her.” Thalia cocked her head. There was something about how Russell said it and the fierce vampire realized the Mississippi King was enjoying himself. Rather than give him the satisfaction of watching her guess, Thalia remained perfectly still. It was a power play and they both knew it. Both allowed the minutes to stretch between them and finally Russell sighed, “Twy, Pam’s friend, the woman who has been helping us with our work in Indiana.”
“Twy?” Thalia screeched, and then drew herself back, set down her glass and settled her hands in her lap. It seemed so unlikely. That unattractive, nasty-tempered woman as a vampire felt… and then Thalia considered it. The woman was a fighter. She moved to action rather than talking things to death. She carried herself with purpose and she had several talents. She was too thin and stork-like, but physical attributes were not a requirement. “Congratulations,” Thalia concluded and inclined her head in the appropriate gesture.
“You are a rare vampire,” Russell told her and laughed out loud.
“I take it Compton is finally dead,” Thalia said without any more preamble.
“Yes,” Russell’s face dropped. “He was standing right next to the Vampire First people. The police received an anonymous call. It seems that group has claimed responsibility.”
Thalia’s eyes narrowed, “Why would vampires choose to end themselves?”
William spoke up, “Vampire First was angry at the movie, at Compton’s work. They felt it was an insult to vampires, to suggest they should be in any kind of equal relationship with a human.”
“Angry enough to commit suicide?” Thalia scoffed.
“It does make a statement,” Russell shrugged. “They take the apologists with them. It shows the world that vampires are dangerous. I will tell you that the idea that vampires were responsible for this has been a setback to all the hard work Bartlett and I have done. There are humans protesting that for every good vampire there are a dozen blood-thirsty vampires waiting their chance to drain their children.”
“Children are tasty,” Thalia shrugged.
“Not helping,” Russell narrowed his eyes.
“Are there any other suspects?” Thalia asked, staring at William in a way that had the new King squirming.
“Based on what we’re seeing in the videos and clips that have been sent to the police, no, I can’t say there are. The direction of the blast, the burn marks. Everything points to the bomb being in the group where poor William was standing.” Thalia looked as if she was about to say something when Russell continued, “You can’t believe the outpouring of grief for Bill! The area is carpeted with flowers. William and I went there last night. I knew Bill’s books were popular but I had no idea he reached so many young humans! There were balloons and so many notes. I couldn’t read them all, but the messages were heartfelt. When Bartlett rises, I am going to suggest we host a memorial service here, honoring Bill and his contribution to human/vampire relations. When you take a step back and think about it, he has done so much. There was his computer directory that helped us to find other vampires and connect. There was the way he lived openly vampire in Bon Temps. You know the people there would call him ‘Vampire Bill’ and wave at him on the street? They really accepted him as one of their own! I heard from his human descendants. They called me. Bill left them both my number and Bartlett’s in case something happened to him. They were so distraught! I had no idea he stayed in such close touch with them. Their children called him Papaw. His one descendant, Portia, was particularly affecting in her devotion to him.” Russell glanced away and Thalia was appalled to see the King wipe away a tear.
Thalia knew Bill Compton too, but the vampire she knew didn’t resemble the paragon the Mississippi King was describing. The vampire she knew was a slimy weasel who bad-mouthed the Viking to try and slip into his Queen’s bed. The vampire she knew was a selfish human-abuser. The thought of him being cast in the role of honored martyr caused the taste of the blood in her mouth to sour. “Any chance that Bill was involved in this thing?” she asked, and she could see her mistake the minute the words left her mouth.
“How could you think that?” Russell challenged her. Thalia knew the King feared her, but his emotional reaction to her question was enough that he forgot that fear. He leaned forward and his fangs clicked down. “Bill was our friend! He lived in our house! He was a gentleman and a truly educated man!” Russell sat back, visibly shaken, “I can’t hear that kind of talk about him! I can’t!”
Thalia nodded, “I assume you would like my help investigating,” she said, making sure her voice was steady and level.
“Yes,” the King shifted in his chair, “Yes, we would. I’m sorry about my outburst, but the suggestion that this dear friend could be in any way responsible for this? It just isn’t possible!”
“I understand,” Thalia nodded, but she knew that there was more to this than met the eye, and every instinct was telling her that Bill Compton was the key. Russell did call the local police about getting Thalia access to Bill Compton’s hotel room. Since the arrival of the vampire Kings’ attorneys, the relationship between the vampire squad and the human police had gone from chilly to glacial, but now the FBI was involved too. The agents arrived during the day announcing they were taking jurisdiction and they were bringing in their own vampire consultants. This change made the human police more accommodating. Russell laughed about the enemy of my enemy being my friend. What Thalia knew was she felt better knowing that humans had just as many rivalries and petty feuds as vampires. It made humans more predictable.
When the local police sounded as if they would delay, Russell called the FBI agent in charge. “We already have control of the scene,” the King was told. “Our consultants will be giving the place a going over…”
“Tell them to ask the consultants whether they will grant Thalia a favor,” Thalia suggested.
Russell relayed the information and after another protest, the FBI agent told the King to hold. Within a minute there was a new voice on the phone, “We would be honored by Thalia’s presence,” Russell was told. “We will await her arrival so that we may examine the room together,” and arrangements were made to meet at the hotel the following night.
Thalia didn’t need to have Russell relay the message. She could hear the person on the other end of the line perfectly well. She turned to the new King of Illinois, “Can you arrange a lift?” and that was that.
When Thalia arrived at the hotel the FBI was already waiting. A human stepped forward. Thalia could tell he was about to deliver some sort of verbal dominance display. It was in the way he walked and the set of his jaw, but a vampire who was standing behind him rushed forward, placing himself between the human and the fierce vampire. He bowed, almost as low as would be appropriate for a King, “Thalia! It has long been a wish that I would have an opportunity to meet you. You are a legend among us and I am honored!”
Thalia glanced at the stormy expression of the FBI human agent. His mouth was twisted and Thalia was certain there would be words between these two later. Keeping her eye on the human, Thalia inclined her head saying, “I appreciate your help in arranging this. I consider this a favor,” and she flicked her eyes back to the vampire, “but I would know the name of the vampire to whom I am indebted.”
“John,” he answered her and bowed lower.
“And I’m Special Agent Robert Chance,” the agent stepped around the vampire and inserted himself so his back was to the vampire. “I want it on the record that I didn’t want you here. This is a high profile case and the last thing we need is to have some civilian screw up evidence!”
“Your objection is noted,” Thalia allowed her lips to curl just the slightest amount. It was hard to stand near these posturing humans and not consider how fragile they were with their puffing voices and strutting ways.
“We are ready to examine the room,” John’s eyes shifted nervously between the agent and Thalia. He didn’t move until she gave a brief nod and then he led the way into the hotel. It was satisfactory.
The room was a disappointment. Housekeeping had been through and everything was tidied and the room swept and dusted. “Mr. Compton was out shortly after sunset,” the hotel manager told them. “We like to get staff in at once. Vampires are very particular about cleanliness. It’s the odors…” and he had the courtesy to look slightly embarrassed.
“Would it be possible to speak with the staff?” Agent Chance was asking. Thalia walked slowly around the room. There was nothing to see, but faint odors still lingered.
Turning to John, she asked, “How are your scenting skills?”
“It is not a gift,” he replied. Thalia wished she had Heidi here. Heidi had one of the most acute noses she had met. The woman could track ants over rock. Thalia walked slowly around the room, taking the air in. She stopped near the dresser and opened the drawers. Bill’s clothes were in the top two, folded and organized in Compton’s usual fussy way, the socks folded and the underwear stacked with the edges precisely matched.
“Looks like the clothing matches the length of his stay,” John mentioned. Thalia glanced over to see the special agent had opened the doors of the closet. There was a suit and a pair of khaki pants hanging in a perfect line. On the floor was a pair of casual shoes lined up under the pants.
Thalia nodded, “It looks as if he wished it to appear he did not expect that night to be his last.”
“Why would you think that?” Agent Chance asked.
“No reason,” Thalia answered. It was her nature to be wary and the human had done nothing to gain her trust. As for John, he was in thrall to a human, a position that didn’t make Thalia think any better of him.
“This is the maid who cleaned the room,” the hotel manager announced.
The woman was worried and stammered through her answers. She confirmed she cleaned the room shortly after Bill Compton left for the evening. She told them it didn’t take her long because the room was almost pristine when she arrived. “What about the boxes?” Agent Chance asked.
“Boxes?” Thalia asked John.
“The front desk told us there were several boxes waiting for Mr. Compton when he arrived. They were marked as media.” Thalia’s lip curled. They had told her they would wait for her, but clearly they had not. Looking around, Thalia recognized the subtle signs that the room had already been examined at least once.
“There were no boxes in the room,” the housekeeper shook her head. He must have taken them with him. ‘Or taken care of them himself,’ Thalia thought.
“It appears Mr. Compton was a meticulous person,” Agent Chance glanced at the open drawer showing its carefully folded contents.
“Not even a hair in the sink,” the maid nodded. “Course, lots of vampires are like that.”
Agent Chance looked at John who nodded, “Old habits with older vampires. It’s how they were conditioned to avoid detection.”
Thalia glanced at the drawer. What John said was true, but most vampires were not obsessive compulsive in the same way Compton had been. “There were no notes? No lists?” she asked the housekeeper.
The woman shrugged, “No, none. I didn’t even have to change the wastebasket liner.”
Agent Chance made a noise, “Vampires!” he mumbled under his breath. John glanced at Thalia and she could see his discomfort.
“You prefer not to work with vampires?” she challenged the human.
“It wasn’t my choice, no,” the Agent shrugged. “I don’t need superpowers to solve crimes. I did fine on my own before this.” Thalia glanced at John. It could not be pleasant being tied to such a human.
“You seem to be a person interested in bringing justice,” she said carefully, “perhaps with the advantage of a vampire, you can help even more people than you did before.” Thalia could see a brief moment when the Agent considered the possibility, but his face shut down shortly afterward. This one would need a long time before he would welcome change. Thalia nodded to John, “Thank you again. I am done here.”
John was bowing, but Agent Chance took an aggressive step forward, “And what did you learn?” he challenged.
Thalia glanced around the room, “The same thing you did,” she said steadily, then stared at him until he stepped back. Thalia knew the room could have been staged by the FBI, but she thought it more likely that Bill had staged this room to be sterile. It was in the scent that lingered on his clothing. Bill did not want to reveal himself here, which meant he was hiding something. Boxes labeled media, but no record of his distributing anything? He would have interacted with his publicist on his arrival. It was time to return to the palace and await Twy’s rising.
Thalia considered whether she should share the information about the New York woman, that Twy was no longer among the living, but not among the dead either, and then decided against it. It was a matter of pride for the Agent to bring justice? Why ruin his mission by allowing him to connect pieces too quickly? He was interested in the hunt? Let him hunt!
On the way back to the palace Thalia made arrangements for a flight to Jackson tomorrow night. Compton would have spent his last days there. If he was preparing for something, it was more likely he would relax his discipline in the place he considered home. Thalia had never been close to Compton, although as the former Louisiana Queen’s procurer she crossed paths with him fairly often. He was precise then too, but not like this. Why was he so meticulous here? What was he hiding?
It was on her next rising that Thalia was shown back to the next to upper floor. Bartlett and Russell were sitting together. The Indiana King was freshly showered and recently fed. They were holding hands and Thalia found herself wondering again at the attraction of connecting yourself to another creature. It seemed so inconvenient to tie your own sense of well-being to the well-being of another. Russell looked up, “What did you learn?”
“Nothing beyond what we already know,” Thalia replied.
Russell filled Bartlett in on Thalia’s purpose this evening. Bartlett asked how the working relationship with the FBI appeared and Thalia shrugged, “These Agents are humans like all humans. They seem incapable of accepting help when they are intimidated.”
Bartlett nodded, “It will be a challenge. As they come to know us and our abilities, it will occur to them how much better we are at almost everything and that will create resentment.”
Russell shrugged, “We must remain courteous and pleasant about it. Eventually our superiority will naturally assert itself. You know these things are inevitable.”
“Still, humans do have their uses,” Bartlett shrugged. Thalia was certain he would mention blood, but he surprised her when instead he said, “They have a unique way of looking at things. They can be quite clever, I’d even say more innovative than vampires. It’s probably the immediacy of their lives.”
“I’d appreciate being able to speak with your child,” Thalia averted her eyes, making it the request it was.
Bartlett actually grinned, “She is with the attorneys. Come! I’ll take you to her!” The entire way from the hall to the elevator and then down another hall was filled with Bartlett singing Twy’s praises. She transitioned beautifully, she took to feeding right away, she demonstrated remarkable control; it would seem Bartlett had found the perfect child and he was delighted to bore Thalia with every detail. When they walked into the office Thalia had to admit, Twy did show well. She looked less brittle somehow, but since the publicist had always been cadaverously pale, it was hard to tell.
“Welcome to the night,” Thalia gave the customary first greeting.
“I just love that!” Twy purred. “It feels so… right!” She gave Thalia an appraising look, “Oh, I do see it now. You really are scary, aren’t you? When you’re human you don’t really see the nuance but with the combination of scent? You look like death walking!”
Thalia couldn’t help the quick laugh, “Your Maker was right. You were meant to be vampire.” Thalia walked around the desk. She nodded at the lawyer, letting him know she wanted his seat. When he scrambled to collect his things and leave, Thalia sat so she could face Twy. “I want to talk about Bill Compton.”
“I still can’t believe it!” Twy shook her head. “Stupid waste! I didn’t think much of Bill but he did what he was told and he made a lot of money, which meant I made a lot of money. I told him this was my last job for him. I was planning on working exclusively for the Kings. Guess that worked out!” and she sniffed dramatically and smirked at Bartlett who smiled back.
“When he arrived, did you see him the night of the event?” Thalia asked.
“I did, but not for long,” Twy told her. “I went up to his hotel room. He was breaking down cardboard. You know how he was! I gave him the run down and he told me he’d be where he was supposed to be.”
“Could you tell what had been in the boxes?” Thalia asked.
Twy frowned, “No. Nothing lying around at all, but that was typical of Bill. Always ‘Mr. Momma’s Boy,’ everything in its place. Brock loathed him,” and then Twy glanced away before saying, “I’m going to miss that little drag queen. He was more high maintenance than me, although,” and Twy glanced at Bartlett again, “I am assured I can hire a day man now as soon as I’d like. I have to say, this whole dead thing is better than I ever expected,” and Twy looked at her hands in satisfaction. It was a well-known fact that human hands were one of the first parts to age. Thalia hadn’t thought of the publicist as being obsessed about her appearance, but now, seeing her happiness with her current state, Thalia realized she had been mistaken.
Thalia thought about what she had heard and then she turned to Bartlett, “I have a favor to ask. May I speak with your child without you in the room? Your tie is new and I do not wish your feelings to color what your child recalls.”
“We are one!” Bartlett protested. “You know this! I don’t understand…”
“It is a great deal to ask,” Thalia bowed her head, knowing full well that her doing so would have an impact on Bartlett and it did. He stopped, his mouth open, and after a minute said, “Only for a minute,” and left. Thalia turned back to Twy, “Do you have any idea why Brock loathed him, as you say.”
“He thought there was something off about Bill,” Twy shrugged. “He was pretty sure Bill had a mean side. He told me one time that Bill reminded him of one of those crazy serial killers that all the neighbors like and then they find out he had human remains in his freezer.”
“Sounds like Bill,” Thalia shrugged. “Most around here don’t feel that way. What about you?”
Twy sniffed, “I make it a habit never to form personal opinions about clients,” she told Thalia, “but I wouldn’t have trusted him. He never did or said anything that I could tell. It’s just a feeling, but I make my living from reading people. I trust my instincts.”
‘So do I,’ Thalia thought. She stood up and opened the door to find Bartlett waiting in the hall. “Thank you again, Majesty,” she said courteously. “I will be leaving tomorrow and would like to stay in Jackson for a night, if that meets with your approval.” She didn’t tell the King she intended to search Bill’s rooms. It was clear to her that the Kings would protest, having decided Bill Compton was now a martyr to the cause.
“Of course!” Bartlett assured her. “You are always welcome in any of our homes!” He looked past her to Twy, “Isn’t she marvelous?” and then to Twy, “If you are up for it, Russell and I are hoping you will help us to plan a memorial service. We both think it would be a kindness to give Bill’s fans and admirers an opportunity to say goodbye.”
Twy was now standing beside her and Thalia could feel the publicist’s joy. This was a side-effect of the tie. When her Maker was pleased, Twy would be pleased. It would take her a while to differentiate her feelings, but for now she would be a mirror reflection of Bartlett Crowe whenever they were together. “I would love to!” Twy said with more enthusiasm and less bite than Thalia had ever heard the New Yorker use before. The small vampire couldn’t stop her lip from curling when she saw the publicist’s momentary surprise with her own reactions. Thalia nodded and walked away from them. There was much to do, and Thalia had been promised a progress report from Shreveport. Following Karin’s quick text message she had received a second from Pam informing her that it was necessary to bury the Viking and that Karin had gone into the ground with him. It spoke to a serious injury. Now three nights had passed and tonight the Viking would emerge.
Thalia thought back to a conversation she had with Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae over a year ago in Nebraska. The Viking had been joined with his Queen in the Fae traditions and they were preparing to travel back to Louisiana. Niall had pulled Thalia aside and taken her to a place within the great forest that stretched to the north of their lands. It was an odd forest, hand planted by people over the years. It was late and the sky stretched above them in a great blanket of stars and galaxies. There was a basin set in rock and Niall had gestured her forward, “I wish to show you something,” he told her.
In the still waters she had seen Eric and Sookie Northman sitting on matching thrones. There were many people surrounding them, people of all species, bowing and showing respect. A tall youth stood behind the Viking. His face was the image of the couple in front of him and a young woman who could have been his twin was saying something that made them both laugh. “This is what awaits them,” Niall told her. “But it is a time of crossroads. There are other possibilities,” and he waved his hand. The image changed and Thalia instead saw the Viking on his knees. Sookie was being restrained. The telepath had her arms wrapped around a young girl and they were both weeping. From the back it looked like Felipe de Castro raising the stake.
“The future is like a great river,” the Prince told her. “Sometimes it shows its secrets and sometimes it hides its hazards. I have viewed the future here many times, trying to understand what triggers will make the difference between one outcome and another. And you, Thalia, you are one of those triggers.”
The Prince told her that if she wished to save Eric Northman from the fate she had seen she needed to stay apart from him. “How long?” she asked.
“You will know,” he had told her in that arch, superior way that made her want to rip his head off. When she saw the report of the explosion and received word that Eric Northman was injured and in Shreveport, she knew. It was time to go home.
He could feel her beside him. The pain on his waking was overwhelming, so much so that he shivered and a sound came from him. He tried to say words, but he realized there was something wrong. He started to lift his hand to make sense of it, but his Sookie squeezed his hand harder. “You can’t speak just yet,” she said in her ‘talking to a child’ voice. “Do you remember the explosion? If you do, just squeeze my hand.”
He did remember. He remembered everything, the conversation with the King, the sly looks of the companions around Compton, Bill Compton telling him he’d see him in hell. He remembered the sound of Sookie’s voice and the panic he felt that he wouldn’t reach her in time, that what was coming would steal her from him. He squeezed his wife’s hand and he couldn’t miss the relief in her voice, “Oh thank goodness! If you didn’t remember, if you couldn’t hear me! Oh Eric,” and she was placing her lips on him. He could feel it in places. He was sure she was crying. Where she touched him felt wet but he couldn’t smell her tears. It was disorienting. He focused on his eyes. He could see blurry images and then he was able to see a little better. It was only from one side so he imagined his other eye was damaged or gone. He wanted to ask her what happened, but he couldn’t. He made a noise but it sounded like an animal.
Sookie sighed, “You probably have a lot of questions, Eric, and there is a lot to say before Karin and the others get here. You are in Shreveport.” She squeezed his hand again. “Don’t worry. You didn’t lose a lot of days. When the explosion happened, I don’t know how I did it but I got us both to Doctor Ludwig’s. I teleported us. You know Tamsin’s been trying to get me to do it, but somehow it kicked in and here we are!” Her voice was cheery but he could sense her tension. She was hiding things but he would be patient. If she didn’t tell him everything he would dip into her head and take the rest.
“You are probably wondering why you can’t speak. It’s because your beautiful face took a hell of a beating. Your jaw and your teeth are going to have to grow back. You already look a lot better than you did!” and he could hear her swallow. “It looks like you can see me,” and she brought her face a little closer on his ‘good’ side and she smiled. Her hair was pulled back and pinned on top of her head. She had a black eye and a bruise on the side of her face and he tried to frown. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “Guess your eyesight is doing just fine! Don’t you worry one little bit about my bumps and bruises. Doctor Ludwig has already checked me out and I’m right as rain. You saved me, Eric! If you hadn’t put yourself in front of me, I wouldn’t be here. But you did! And you’re going to be all right too.” She leaned over him and kissed his forehead again. He could see the tears, but still there was no smell. He couldn’t smell the sweet smell of her or the rich smell of their child. She sat back up and nodded a little, swiping at her cheek.
“When Pam and Karin and the rest get here, we’re going to take you to Bon Temps. Amy thinks if you go to ground there for three nights it will help your regeneration. You lost a lot of muscle. Karin’s blood helped with the missing skin but the bomb? Eric, it was filled with silver. It took us hours to get all of it out of you. You’re healing, but you know how this goes. Silver poisoning is bad and it’s making things go a little slower.”
Eric felt a creeping sense of panic. If he was incapacitated it wouldn’t take long for trouble to come looking. Their group of allies was thinner than it had been. The Kings were busy in the north. Maude could come in support, but she would have her own worries. Eric was sure James would be dead. He was so close to the blast and that meant an unstable neighbor to Maude’s south. Nabila would have been an ally, but she was now a beggar Queen, living off his charity and attracting her own set of enemies. He found himself thinking of Thierry’s words, that Misha would not tolerate interference with Pam, that he would find ways to make Eric pay through those he loved. There was so much he needed to say to Sookie, so many things she needed to understand and he had no way of telling her.
“I can feel you getting yourself all worked up,” his wife told him, her voice taking on a more business-like tone. “I know you think I don’t know how dangerous this is for us, but you’d be wrong, Eric. I totally understand what’s going on. This is how it started with Sophie-Ann. She was hurt and all the scavengers came looking. I’ve seen our balance sheets. Hell! I helped make the money and I know what an attractive target we are. It’s bad, too. The news channels have been reporting you dead. So let me tell you what I’ve done so far.” Sookie talked about sending the texts. She told Eric about Karin being there, and Pam arriving. “You see, it’s not like Sophie-Ann. We have our Andres right here beside us!” She told him about Mustapha and then she listed every person who knew that Eric was injured. “It is not a long list,” she assured him. “You know how I can make folks look different. In three nights when you rise, I’ll be heading to Fangtasia. I am taking Mustapha. He’s the easiest because he knows how you talk and how you move. Everyone will see you. Folks know you were in Rhodes so they won’t be surprised we’re keeping folks away. We’ll explain it’s because we’re in mourning.” Sookie thought briefly about the part of the cover story she wasn’t telling him. They would let it be known they had lost the child. It would make the story of the grieving, withdrawn couple more believable.
Eric felt it, the mental slight of hand, the shift in emotion and he reached for her mind and she released his hand and slapped it, “You stop right there, Buster!” she scolded him. “You think I didn’t know what you were doing before? I felt you every time you decided to take a little quickie in my head. You must have thought you were pretty slick, but you said it yourself. You married a clever woman!” Sookie took his hand in hers again and stroked his forehead, “I am hiding things, but not about this. Rhodes was bad, Eric, and there’s more to say, but right now I want you to focus on getting better fast. Worrying yourself about things we can’t change right now isn’t going to help either one of us. I promise you, when you rise I will open my mind to you and you can take a walk through it any time. Fact is, I like having you there. I wish I could do the same. It… I don’t know… it gives me comfort. But I can’t have you there just now. Promise me?”
Eric didn’t like it. He instinctively tried to grind his teeth and felt more frustration that he couldn’t. Instead, he squeezed her hand and he could feel her relief, “Thank you!” She seemed to shift and he could feel the presence of his children. “He’s awake,” Sookie told the others and he felt first Karin and then Pam lay their hands upon him.
Sookie rode with him in the van they were using to avoid attention. Amy had recited his list of injuries like they were a grocery list. None were things he hadn’t experienced before. Even the loss of his scrotum was not new. “Thought we’d lose the whole package,” Amy had been far too gleeful, “But I held that club of yours in place and it reattached!” He hoped the doctor was right and his soft tissue would heal at an accelerated rate. He could already feel the broken bones of his legs knitting. The ache was deep and when the bone fibers began to fuse the itching would start.
“Karin will be going into the ground with you,” Sookie told him. “You are doing well with her blood and she’s the fiercest fighter if anything should happen.” Initially he felt uncomfortable with the way Sookie had so obviously taken charge, but as she continued talking through each of their challenges, he felt his pride growing. She spoke with confidence and he felt oddly comforted. She had become what he knew her to be, a strong woman. “Charles and Owen are arriving tonight. I sent the rest of the guards away. We don’t need too many people too close, and I’m not planning for us to stay here long. We’ll be safer in New Orleans.”
When they stopped, the doors opened and the gurney he was strapped to was pulled from the back of the van. Sookie was helped down and he noticed she touched her belly. It gave him hope. He noticed he was surrounded by women. It was an odd moment. Karin had already dug the hole. It was near the house. The belts were taken from him and Karin lifted him in her arms. Sookie stepped forward and kissed him beside his eye. She touched him and he was in the ground. There was something about it, the feel of earth. It was a pleasant feeling, one a vampire instinctively craved. He felt Karin wrap herself around him and pull the blanket over them and then it started, the quick feeling of the weight of the earth, more comforting than a blanket, more welcoming than any mother’s arms. He heard Sookie’s voice catch. He knew she couldn’t understand this. All she would see was her husband being buried in the ground. ‘Soon,’ he thought, hoping she might hear him. ‘Soon I will emerge and I will be able to tell you how much I love you!’
Pam wrapped her arm around Sookie and turned her back toward the house when Bubba started shoveling in the dirt. “It’s not what you think,” she assured the telepath. “He is happy to be there. It’s like being reborn for us.”
“I know what you’re saying,” Sookie nodded, “But you know I can’t see it that way.” Amy Ludwig was waiting for them. She had sent Jane away with the van and now she sat alone on the wide porch. She had a glass of ice tea and there was another on the table next to her.
“Got that for you,” she said to Sookie, then to Pam, “Blood’s inside. Get it yourself!”
Sookie sat down and when Pam went inside, said, “Can I take that pill now?”
Amy held out her hand and Sookie took the pill from her. She stared at it a moment, then taking a deep breath, she placed it in her mouth and washed it down with the tea. Amy nodded, “I’ll stay here with you and we’ll drive into Shreveport in the morning. I wish you had someone to come with you, to hold your hand.”
“You know I can’t have vampires around,” Sookie shrugged. “I won’t be able to cover my scent and it wouldn’t be safe for any of us. And I can’t tell any of the folks here. It would get them too close. Someone could glamour them and this would all be over before it began. I’ve got to keep Eric’s condition limited to a small group and if I have too many people coming in and out it won’t keep for long. Tomorrow I’ll post the announcement about the miscarriage and that Eric and I are in mourning and ask folks to respect our privacy during this time. We get through the meeting with the Sheriffs. We allow the fans at Fangtasia to see us arrive. We get through an Assizes and we should be good. We take a few photos and post those and that should make anyone thinking about coming down here to take a look think twice.”
Pam joined them on the porch, and then Bubba walked up on the porch too. They started laying out the timing for things and sending invitations. Pam texted the Sheriffs using Karin’s phone, and then texted Maxwell Lee as herself. Indira confirmed she would close the club for the special meeting and soon they were being carbon copied on another series of announcements. After an hour a pair of headlights turned onto the road. Charles and Owen climbed out of the car carrying bags of groceries. The guards acknowledged Sookie before heading into the house and within a short period of time, Owen walked out on the porch with an omelet. He handed it to Sookie and asked Amy Ludwig if she’d like one too. Sookie headed inside and ate at the table. The atmosphere was subdued, but when Pam and Bubba started telling a story the conversation flowed more freely. Sookie found herself laying her hand on her belly. She excused herself and headed upstairs. She walked into their bedchamber and looked at that great, over-the-top bed. There, lying on the blankets was the bunny Eric had bought their daughter. Sookie climbed up onto the bed and taking the bunny in her hand, she curled up and around herself. She didn’t think she could possibly sleep, so she was startled when Amy’s hand shook her.
“It’s time, Breather,” Doctor Ludwig said in her growly voice. Sookie sat up, realizing she was still holding the bunny. She took it as far as the dresser and then set it down to pick up a carved wooden box. It was one that had come with Eric’s things, a dagger box, he had told her.
“I want you to put her in here,” Sookie told the Doctor. “When the time comes.”
Amy looked sympathetic, “We don’t usually…”
“I don’t care!” Sookie flared, “She’s my daughter and I’m bringing her home!” Sookie picked up the box and cradled it against her chest.
“I won’t be able to… I can’t embalm her, Sookie,” Amy told her. “If I put her in that box you are going to have to bury her right away. You can’t wait. You understand?”
Sookie nodded, “Yes, so you’ll do it?”
“Of course,” the Doctor assured her. Sookie walked to the bathroom. She took care of her human needs and brushed her hair. She brushed her teeth and thought she should probably change her clothes, but somehow that was too much.
“I’m ready,” she told Amy. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, Owen was waiting.
“I’ll be driving you,” he told her. Sookie looked at this Were guard who had been there with her during so many of her happiest and saddest moments. She looked at his quiet eyes and hesitated, but then he said, “My wife and I, we have two wonderful children but we lost two as well. They were almost as far along as yours is now. I remember how hard it was, all that promise cut off before it even started. I know what you’re going through and I’d be honored if you let me be there for you.” Sookie didn’t know what to think. She was numb and she was starting to feel a low ache that she had a feeling was going to get worse before it got better.
With a nod, they walked to the car, the three of them.
It was night when Sookie returned. Owen carried her up the stairs, all three flights and laid her on her bed and then left. Pam bit her wrist and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Within minutes, the pain was gone and Sookie felt her energy return. “Where is she?” she asked.
Pam walked from the room and returned with the box. Sookie held out her hands and Pam handed it to her. Sookie stroked the top of the wood, the inlay and pattern, and then closing her eyes, she held her hand over the box and a soft glow started. Pam watched in wonder as the edges of the lid sealed and seemed to grow together. The wood almost seemed alive again as it fused and melded into one solid block. When she finished, Sookie smiled sadly, “There! Now she’s all protected, safe and sound.”
“What can I do for you?” Pam asked the telepath.
“You can take me to the cemetery,” Sookie replied. “I’d like to bury her near Gran. Can you help me do that?”
It was an odd procession. Pam carried the box. Bubba insisted on carrying Sookie and Owen followed with a shovel. Sookie had taken the little bunny, the toy that had been their child’s, and brought it with them. Owen carefully turned back the carpet of daisies and then dug a hole, not exactly on Gran, just a little to the side. When it was deep enough, Pam lowered the box down into the ground. Bubba set Sookie on her feet and held her arm as she stepped forward. Sookie felt oddly hollow. Although the tears fell in a slow, never-ending stream from her eyes, she couldn’t weep. “Goodbye,” she whispered. She kissed the bunny and placed it on the box. “I’ll never forget you.” Sookie took a handful of the dirt and fisted it, as though the feel of it could make this moment less real. When Owen finished, he turned the daisies back over the small grave and pushed them down.
“Come on,” Pam told her, and turning Sookie, the sad parade walked back toward the house.
When they had gone and the crickets and night birds resumed their conversations, a light appeared, bouncing along the cemetery walk and then stopping at the grave. “At last!” Niall sighed, and plunging his hand into the ground, he extracted the bunny.
“It is a terrible price!” Dermot sighed.
“Not so terrible!” Niall scoffed, “You can feel it. It was never more than human! What use would it have been? But this,” and he smiled over the toy, “This carries the magic of both of them. We must hurry.”
In another moment they were in the bed chamber in the house. Dermot depressed several of the inlaid planets and a door popped open. Niall placed the bunny in the secret place and clicked shut the door. “Now it can begin,” he told his son and with a quick flare of light, they were gone.