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Thalia woke in the palace of Sandy Seacrest. Thierry’s travel coffin was beside her own and it was closed but that wasn’t surprising. Thalia was older than most of the vampires she encountered which meant she rose earlier. The room was designed for vampires. While there was a bed, there were no windows. A small counter to one side held a refrigerator, a microwave and a small sink. Thalia stretched, enjoying the way her joints popped as they floated back into place. With a swift movement she was out of her coffin and striding out the door. When Eric had been here in Oklahoma City as Freyda’s consort, Thalia had avoided the place. It wasn’t that she was at odds with the Viking, but the thought of watching him boot licking and toadying for the former Queen was distasteful. His position as consort was respectable, even honored, but Thalia still found it difficult the see the vampire she was fond of in a position of service to one she despised.
Thalia found she could stomach Sandy Seacrest. The vampire carried the appearance of the older woman she was when she was turned but there was nothing worn out or tired about her. Sandy was smart even if she was a little dry. The Oklahoma Queen was most relaxed when she was talking about her businesses, a topic Thalia found boring in the extreme. Even the Viking could cause Thalia to look for the exit when he got started on facts and figures. Thalia supposed that was what formed the friendship between the North Man and Sandy; the light that would come to their eyes when they spoke of tangible assets and manipulating the margin. The accumulation of wealth was honorable, more than honorable for vampires, but it held only passing interest for Thalia. Money came. It sat in great stacks in vaults in Switzerland and the Caymans in her name. It was yet another thing that stole attention from the business of survival, which as far as Thalia was concerned was the only business that mattered.
The decision to come to Oklahoma City was made following a conversation Thalia had with the Kings. Russell told Thalia that of all the neighboring kingdoms, Sandy’s was most likely to have the type of computer spy she needed. “Sandy understands the benefits of corporate espionage,” the Mississippi King told her. “She’s spent more money on her systems than most of us put together at this point.”
Russell then went on to tell Thalia about decisions that were being made that would support the rapidly expanding vampire police force. “This will replace the Sheriffs?” Thalia was concerned.
“No,” Russell had assured her. “This will be another resource for kingdom Sheriffs. We want at least one of these task forces in every territory. They will be aligned with the human police force and will be available to them.”
“To help?” Thalia was skeptical and didn’t bother to hide it.
“To help in many ways,” Russell stated, confirming the purpose of the vampire police would be to control as much as to aid. “We need to be ahead of things. We can’t afford to be the last to know and then find ourselves being washed away with the garbage like we were in Rhodes. Humans need us and we should see that as the opportunity it is.”
“And who will these new enforcers report to?” Thalia asked the question that every vampire would ask. This was starting to sound like something that would supersede the Clan Chiefs and that would cause trouble. “There will be some that will say you are creating this force to set yourself above us,” Thalia challenged.
Russell laughed, “That is the last thing we intend,” the King told her. “Bartlett and I have had our fill of politics. It will be a long time before either of us wants to get back into the unpleasantness that’s required. In fact, our purpose in this is just the opposite. We intend to offer the force to the Ancient Pythoness,” Russell told her. They had talked of other things then, but Thalia couldn’t stop thinking about the Pythoness’ silence through the upheavals that had rocked their world. She seemed to have withdrawn from them. Who could say whether she would accept this newly-made army and if she didn’t, who would take control of them?
All these thoughts continued to swirl through Thalia’s head as she walked into the corridor of the Oklahoma palace. Thalia drew in a deep breath and she caught it, the faint whiff of humans. Following her nose, she soon found herself in the public area where there were humans and Weres moving through the rooms. “Donors?” Thalia asked, and a tall man led the way. There were two humans in the feeding room. Thalia thought they might be students. The female wore a bored expression but she was pretty and sweet smelling. The male was the more eager of the two but his face was oily and he had a faintly sour smell. Thinking of Thierry, Thalia chose the female, smiling as she anticipated the Sheriff’s reaction to his remaining meal choice.
Thalia quickly finished, healing the girl of the marks. The human had the slightly dreamy look they got after feeding and she fumbled while gathering her things. The male was picking at something in his ear when Thalia left, and the vampire couldn’t help grinning again.
Sandy had risen and was in her office. She formally greeted Thalia as she entered, “It is good to have you here! I was pleased to hear you would come to me and I hope I can be of service!”
“I am told you have the most complete computer network nearby. You know I am looking to trace someone. You said you have someone who is skilled with these things?”
Sandy smiled thinly, “How politely you put it! You don’t have a reputation for mincing words, Thalia, you can say it. Yes, I have an accomplished hacker who works for me. He’s here to make sure my systems are secure but he’s capable of doing what you need. He’ll join us shortly, but first, how are they?”
“They live,” Thalia shrugged.
When Thalia didn’t offer any more detail, Sandy allowed her polite face to slip, “I am more than happy to do you a favor, Thalia, and I haven’t asked for anything in return. I think you can indulge me with a little more detail. I am a friend to both of them.”
Thalia sniffed, “Thierry doesn’t know the particulars and it is better he doesn’t. The Viking was injured. Even I don’t know the extent. He appears to have made a miraculous recovery. Fae magic is involved.”
“Niall thinks well of him,” Sandy said slowly.
“Niall thinks well of Niall,” Thalia snarled. “It’s Sookie. She used her own abilities to repair him. Soon it will be clear to all that he is himself again and they will be out of danger.”
“You think someone would try to challenge him?” Sandy’s eyebrows drew together. “I haven’t heard anything…” and then her face became more thoughtful, “But I haven’t looked specifically. I will now.” There was a noise in the hallway and then an older human was at the door. “Ah! Sergei, this is Thalia. Thalia, this is my IT Security Chief. I have told him that you wish to find someone, a vampire. You will need to tell him whom you seek.”
Thalia walked forward with the photograph from Jackson and showed it to the human, “This is Carlo. He was most recently associated with New York,” and Sandy hissed, earning her an impatient glance from Thalia. “He may no longer be in the employ of his King. You may find that he has been branded a traitor.” Thalia didn’t know that for a fact, but it seemed the most likely cover story if there was one to be found. “He was last seen in Jackson, Mississippi. I believe he is traveling North. He would need a car. He will need blood. He will have used credit cards somewhere, his bank, a gas station.”
Sergei’s eyes never left the photo, “It is possible to trace him if he did those things.” He glanced at Sandy who nodded.
‘While you’re digging around, I’d like you to do something else for me, Sergei,” Sandy waited until her employee looked at her. “Check the traffic from my Sheriffs and border patrols. Let me know if there is any mention of foreign vampires, unidentified guests, traveling through the kingdom.”
Sergei was leaving as Thierry arrived. The French vampire was sipping blood from a bottle and Thalia found her lips curved up, “What is it, Sheriff? You decided to forego the donors?” she asked.
Thierry’s eyes flicked to Sandy and he bowed as became a Sheriff greeting a Queen, “I appreciate the offer of your hospitality, my Lady,” he said, his full courtly manners in evidence, “I find that I am trying to mainstream more.”
“The male human was a toad,” Thalia persisted, “which was why I chose the very appealing and lovely girl, but you know what they say. The early bird…”
Sandy laughed, “Why, Thalia, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you tease a vampire as you tease this one, not since the Viking.” She turned to Thierry, “It is delightful to see you again, Thierry. I am making a great deal of money thanks to you. My kingdom is most grateful.”
“I do as I may,” the French vampire answered, his words gentle while his eyes cut at Thalia. “It is always good to be reminded that there are gracious and kind females among our kind.”
Thalia made the short bark that functioned as her laugh, “Good try, little vampire!”
“There will be new donors in about an hour,” Sandy assured him. “Thalia is old. She won’t need to feed again until much later. I’m sure you’ll get your pick this time.”
Thalia flicked him a look that said, ‘don’t count on it,’ but Thierry smiled and nodded again, “I appreciate your consideration.’ He stood straighter and his expression sobered, “The man I saw? He is the expert?”
Sandy nodded, “He’s very good. If your target was on the grid in the past twenty-four hours, Sergei will find him.” Turning to Thalia, the Oklahoma Queen asked, “What really happened in Rhodes? And what does a New York spy in Jackson have to do with you?”
“I don’t know what happened in Rhodes,” Thalia shook her head. “What I am sure of is that Bill Compton was more involved than anyone knows. I think New York was involved as well. That vampire, Carlo, breached Russell Edgington’s palace and only went to Bill Compton’s rooms.”
“Misha does not allow his employees to indulge in pursuing personal business, and Carlo isn’t just his employee. Carlo is his Second and has been for over five years,” Thierry added. “If Carlo was in Jackson, it was because Misha ordered it.”
“So, what would happen if this Carlo was working on his own and was caught? Would Misha disavow him?” Sandy asked, working through the possibilities.
“Probably. It’s possible Carlo was sent because he is of no longer of use to the King,” Thierry told them. “There are many who wish to curry favor with New York. If Misha puts a target on Carlo’ back, there will be those who will seek that favor by bringing the King the fangs of his enemy. Misha has in past sent failing employees on missions from which they don’t return.”
“Why do you think we have so many unsavory vampires in positions of power?” Sandy asked, rolling her eyes.
Thalia shrugged, “Power is a great wheel. It will turn and those who stand above us will fall. All that truly survives is the desire to stand above others. Power is an illusion.”
“You are a philosopher, Thalia,” Thierry grinned. “I didn’t suspect it of you.”
“I am also a wielder of tooth and sword. You know that about me, so watch yourself,” Thalia hissed, as they followed Sandy into the large room that had served as Freyda’s throne room, and then Eric Northman’s after her.
“There was an announcement today from Rhodes. It came while we rested, so you may not have heard it yet,” Sandy told them as they walked. “This group, Vampire First, and one who was part of the Illinois Court, Matthias, were identified as those responsible for the bomb in Rhodes. The official announcement was made by a new combined vampire human task force.” Sandy glanced at Thalia, “If you believe there were others involved, like Bill Compton, it will require hard evidence now and maybe more.”
Thalia nodded, not surprised, “Truth will prevail,” she said briefly. “But first the Kings will issue a call for all vampires to purge their ranks of Vampire First. If they didn’t include it in today’s announcement, they will send it through channels. It’s a promise they’ve made to the humans and they will use it as a reason to station vampire police to every kingdom. These police will report to the ruling Monarch but they will truly answer to their own chief. Russell intends to give them to the Pythoness as a standing army.”
“Surely no one will agree to that,” Sandy’s eyebrows drew together.
“No one wishes to face another Rhodes,” Thalia replied shortly. “The Kings have influence. They have said they will not head this organization themselves. There is a weariness with our internal squabbling. It makes us vulnerable to the humans who hate us. There are many who are saying they will support it.”
There was something in the way Sandy reacted that prompted Thierry to ask, “Do you suspect there are Vampire First followers within your own borders, Majesty?”
“Not within mine,” Sandy shook her head, “But to the north…”
“Your husband consort,” Thalia growled.
Sandy nodded, “Rafe has not told me that he is a member, but I have my suspicions. He and Gus, the King of Wyoming, are friends and they have similar opinions.”
“You tell me you don’t wish a favor, but I sense you are going to ask for one anyway,” Thalia huffed. “What do you wish of me? Do you want him finally dead?”
“No!” Sandy protested, “No, nothing like that! It did occur to me, though, that we are a short drive from Kansas City. We could visit him. You could share your information from Russell. You could impress upon him the consequences of holding unpopular views…”
“You want him threatened?” Thalia fixed the Queen with her stare.
“Not exactly,” Sandy explained. “It’s just that he’s not always ready to hear the truth. Sometimes he needs to hear it many times, and it helps if he hears it from those who can make an impression…”
“She wants you to use your scary face,” Thierry laughed. “It is an easy favor! Your dear husband may be tempted by strong words but he doesn’t wish to meet his final death. If Thalia showed up on my doorstep and threatened me, I’d change my ways,” and he laughed.
“Exactly,” Sandy shrugged. “He doesn’t fear me, or Stan for that matter. But you?” and she fixed Thalia with a smirking smile. “You are his worst nightmare!”
Sergei was informed to send any information he learned to Kansas City and messages were sent, informing Sandy’s mate that she would be arriving with a special deputation the following evening.
On their next rising a car awaited them. A van carrying travel coffins followed and the three vampires along with a small contingent of guards and servants began the trip to Kansas City. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Thalia groused.
“Now, now,” Thierry grinned, “You’ve invested years of work in building your legend. You should be thrilled! All you have to do is show your face and grown Kings fall to their knees in terror. We could charge money,” and he turned toward Sandy. The two of them fell into a rolling, laughing conversation about the popularity of circuses and freak shows in general and the money-making potential of putting certain supernaturals on display. By the time they reached Kansas City it was well into the night and Thalia was in a foul mood. “That’s the look!” Thierry teased her as they walked toward the doors. “Show him that one and you won’t have to say another word!”
They were escorted to where Rafe awaited them in the public rooms. The King was wearing his lifts and his clothes were more cleverly cut than the last time Thalia had seen him. When he realized who had arrived with his Queen he looked alarmed and his eyes kept darting around him like a mouse looking for a handy hole. Thalia glanced at Sandy and it made her happy to see the Oklahoma Queen embarrassed for her husband. The fact that the Oklahoma Queen looked so uncomfortable told Thalia that Sandy’s instincts were right. Rafe’s reaction was as much fueled by guilt as it was by fear. Thalia began to formulate a plan.
After a minute or so of awkward silence, Rafe got a hold of himself and said, “I welcome you to my kingdom,” but he was still so tongue-tied it sounded more like, “I welyou my kingda.”
“We are grateful for your welcome, Majesty” Thierry acted as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. He swept into his best bow and said, “We were most pleased to be able to share our news with both you and your mate.”
“My lady Queen brings the most interesting guests,” the Kansas King replied. The tremor in his words was not as noticeable now. “Please tell me, what brings you to this part of the country?” and his eyes flicked over to Thalia again.
Thalia considered letting Rafe stew but then said. “I’m here to deliver news about the initiative against Vampire First,” and then she drilled Rafe with her beadiest stare. Thalia was certain that if he was capable of sweating, Rafe would be soaked.
“What makes you think those sort of vampire would be around here?” Rafe squeaked.
“Because I have heard the kind of proud talk those who hate humans make in this part of the country,” Thalia replied. “I’ve heard sentiments that vampires should be first among all species from you, yourself, Majesty. Of course, I don’t think you would align yourself with criminals like Vampire First, but there may be some, the weak ones, who could misinterpret your pride in your race,” and Thalia waited, rocking back on her heels.
“They are being called criminals?” Rafe asked.
“Branded criminals,” Thalia reinforced. “I anticipate the order to send the vampire police far and wide will come soon. We will be asked to demonstrate our loyalty and willingness to co-habit with humans by purging Vampire First from our ranks.”
“Purge?” Rafe was almost squeaking.
“Silver and stake,” Thalia said steadily, her stare never leaving him. “Of course, as our staunch ally you would be first in leading that effort here in Kansas,” and Thalia allowed the question that was couched within her words to linger.
“Of course, of course!” he stumbled in his enthusiasm to agree. “I am most willing! I would never wish to be seen as harboring criminals…”
“Dangerous criminals,” Thalis reinforced.
“Dangerous criminals,” he nodded, “not in my kingdom!”
“I told Thalia the Kings and humans had nothing to worry about here,” Sandy stood at Rafe’s side, linking her arm through his. “I told her you were both wise and strong. You understand the money and benefits in mainstreaming. You wouldn’t be lured by those who would have us go back into hiding.”
“No! No, indeed!” Rafe was smiling, but no one was fooled.
“So, you will continue your travels and assure the Kings that there is no need for them to send one of their task forces into this part of Zeus?” Sandy asked as though that had been discussed.
“I can see that would be a waste of resources,” Thierry shrugged, but Thalia continued to watch Rafe carefully.
“Since you are such a staunch supporter,” Thalia allowed her voice to moderate just a bit, as though now they could be friends, “I am sure you would be willing to volunteer to host a group, Majesty.” Thalia looked only at Rafe. She could feel Sandy’s sharp eyes on her but she refused to look away. “What could be a better demonstration of your commitment to mainstreaming than being the first in Zeus to ask for such a contingent?”
It took Rafe a moment before he nodded, “Yes,” he stammered. “Yes, if that is the wish of my Clan Chief I would be willing to host such a group.”
‘Good,’ Thalia thought. She was certain the Kings would applaud the offer which meant Stan Davis would agree as well. The more she watched Rafe, the more convinced Thalia became that this was the smart move.
As they walked down the corridors toward their resting chambers much later, Sandy pulled Thalia aside. “Who will pay for the upkeep of these new spies?” she hissed. Thalia had been aware of Sandy’s annoyance, but it didn’t bother her.
“Why, I would assume the hosting kingdom will pay for the privilege,” but when Sandy’s eye became flatter, Thalia added, “I suspect that these spies will be in a position to offer tithes to the kingdom, though. They are already being asked to serve as consultants to human law enforcement agencies and are charging for their skills. You have several federal agencies within the boundaries of your kingdoms. I suspect the contingent your husband hosts will be a money-maker for you.”
Sandy looked a little less angry, but she still said, “I just wanted you to persuade him, not plant people on top of him.”
“You asked for your husband to be changed into a more prudent vampire. He is incapable of that on his own,” Thalia observed. “By giving him the proper motivation and supervision, I have granted you the favor you requested. If you don’t like the method I used, you will have to be more specific about your requirements next time.”
Sandy opened her mouth and then closed it again. “I expect we’ll hear from Sergei by tomorrow,” Sandy said, not bothering to hide the chill in her voice, “I’m sure as soon as we have your information you will want to be on your way.”
Thalia almost laughed. ‘Be careful what you wish for little Queen,’ she thought as she moved down the corridor toward her resting place.
The reports of scouts escalated for almost a week and then, more ominously, they stopped. “It could mean that we’ve convinced whoever was watching us that we’re too strong to attack,” Nabila offered. The former Carolinas Queen had remained in Shreveport. She was helping at Fangtasia most evenings and she and Indira were getting along well.
“It is possible,” Sookie agreed, but her instincts were telling her otherwise. Eric had remained at the house in Bon Temps rather than make the trip to Fangtasia and Sookie decided against taking a decoy. The Viking was better but anyone seeing him would see the limp and his grey pallor. The Viking still tired easily, and his rate of recovery seemed to have slowed.
Jane was staying with Eric while Sookie visited the club. James had been brought up from the Palace and now they rotated so that Owen and Charles had the opportunity to go home to New Orleans and see their families. There were always two of the Were guards in residence at Bon Temps and they spent most of their daytime hours in wolf form, patrolling the grounds. While Sookie trusted the wards that enveloped the house, both she and Eric felt better checking anyway. Heidi patrolled the woods most nights and Bubba stayed in the guesthouse as backup.
Sookie didn’t hear back from her Grandfather but she still wasn’t surprised when Heidi told them she was pretty sure she’d scented at least one Fae in the woods that surrounded the house. Sookie left another voicemail for Niall, this time asking whether she should be worried, but somehow she knew. It was something within her that assured her that all was well. Sookie couldn’t explain it to Eric, but it gave her confidence. Eric came out onto the porch to meet her and although he was smiling, she could feel there was something troubling him. “What?” she asked.
“Maxwell called,” Eric said, the smile remaining on his face. Sookie ran lightly up the stairs and together they walked into the house. Sookie headed into the kitchen and grabbed a bag of blood, emptying it into a bottle. Eric had fed from her earlier. Sookie wasn’t sure if it was everything catching up with her but she found that over the past several days if Eric fed from her more than once a day she developed a headache. It had never happened before and she figured she’d ask Doctor Ludwig about it the next time she came out to check on Eric’s progress. They had also switched over to real blood rather than True Blood. Without Karin or Pam, the real blood made more of a difference.
Sookie took the bottle from the microwave and gave it a quick shake. When she turned to hand it to Eric she found he was standing almost on top of her. “Okay,” she said, “What’s up?” Eric leaned over her and sniffed. “Do I need a shower?” Sookie pushed against her husband’s chest to back him off her a little. He had an odd expression on his face.
“No,” he said and then he looked a little guilty, “No, you just smell like you brushed against a fairy.”
“Well, if I did they were hiding themselves pretty well,” Sookie shrugged. “What did Maxwell say?”
“It could be nothing,” Eric started, “but he has had two vampires from the palace leave and not return.”
Sookie’s face lost its smile, “When?”
“One last night. One tonight. The one last night is known to have a boyfriend in the City. When he didn’t return, they contacted the friend, but he hadn’t gone there. No one has heard from him. And the other was sent on an errand at first rising. He hasn’t returned and isn’t answering calls.”
“Someone must have seen something,” Sookie’s thoughts were racing. For weeks now the Palace had been closely watched. While there was a possibility there were hostile vampires involved, Sookie was sure the FBI was in the mix. She had considered heading down to New Orleans just so she could do some mind-reading and figure out what the agents knew, but Max and Emil warned against it. They were sure if either she or Eric were to enter the City they would be picked up for some kind of extended questioning. So far no one had shown up in Bon Temps and no official request for an interview had been received. In speaking with Mr. Cataliades, the attorney had counseled to let sleeping dogs lie and that they should stay where they were.
“Emil has his Pack canvassing the city. A request has been put out to our vampires as well,” and Eric sat down on the chair, his face looking drawn as he sipped the blood.
“Are you thinking this is a first attack?” Sookie asked. She didn’t really need to. She could feel his worry through their bond.
“It is a possibility,” he told her. He looked from under his eyebrows, “And if it is, we will be here together as we were in past. How is it that all my most interesting moments are with you?” and there was something in the teasing way he looked at her that headed off any fear Sookie felt.
“What should I do?” Sookie asked.
“I have already put out a warning to all the Sheriffs,” Eric told her. “You will be happy to know Karin offered to come here, but I told her to stay where she is.”
“But why?” Sookie asked.
“If an attack is coming,” Eric said in his reasonable voice, “Karin couldn’t make it here in time. Thomas would not be likely to survive any concentrated attack. They are better as a fighting team.”
“And if she survives, your blood survives too,” Sookie said sadly.
“You have a grim turn of mind, Lover,” Eric grinned at her. “I don’t believe any of us needs to worry about something like that.”
“What about Octavia?” Sookie asked. “She’s down in New Orleans. She could cast something. She might be able to tell us what’s going on.”
Eric’s smile broadened and for the first time, Sookie felt his worry lessen as well, “I always said I had a clever wife,” he told her. He picked his phone from his pocket and pushed the keys. Sookie couldn’t help feeling worried as she watched his movements. He was so much better, but the fluid, graceful Eric still seemed very far away. Eric spoke into the phone and then laid it on the island between them, touching the speaker button.
“Sookie? You there?” Octavia asked.
“I am,” Sookie replied. “How you doing?”
“Never mind about me,” the witch snorted, “How are you doing? I was so sorry to hear about how things went together. I just feel terrible for both of you.”
Eric laid his hand over hers and Sookie could feel it, the shared sorrow that formed its own bond tying them together, “Thank you,” the telepath said and she forced back the rush of feelings.
Eric must have felt it because he squeezed her hand before saying, “We could use your help. There is something happening in New Orleans…”
“Vampires are missing from the palace,” Sookie interrupted. “We don’t know what’s happening down there but it might be the start of a takeover.”
“It is possible that is not the case,” Eric said quickly. “It is possible this is tied to the actions of the FBI. They have been harassing the people at the Palace for weeks. There are questions about Meg, the woman from Silent Witnesses.”
“The one that was with Amelia that night,” Octavia confirmed.
“The Weres are looking for my missing people. With the bombing, it is a time of great uncertainty,” and Eric looked at Sookie.
“There’s been all kinds of stray talk in the City,” Octavia confirmed. “Folks thought for sure you’d be headed down here and I kind of held back, figuring we’d be talking face to face.”
“Mr. Cataliades suggested we stay away,” Sookie told her. “We didn’t want to find ourselves arrested or detained.”
“They’d do that?” Octavia huffed. “Some folks have no manners at all.” There was a sound as if the witch was shifting some things around. “You give me a couple hours and I should be able to get some information for you. Can I call Maxwell Lee and send someone over to get some personal item for each of the missing vampires? It makes what I’m going to do easier.”
“I’ll clear it,” Eric assured her, “And thank you.”
“Why you thanking me, Majesty?” Octavia snorted. “In case you don’t know, you have an alliance with us now. You stood up for us witches and stopped the killing. There isn’t one of us that wouldn’t go out of their way to support you.” Octavia promised to call soon and the phone disconnected.
“Well, seems you made one hell of an impression,” Sookie sniffed. “Eric Northman, King of the Witches!”
“I pronounce it differently,” he smiled, “And I can count them on one hand.”
Sookie swatted him on the arm saying, “Better watch yourself, Buster!” and she found she felt better. Still, as one hour turned into two, she found she was having trouble concentrating on the movie they were watching. Her eyes kept wandering to the windows. She wondered if even now there were vampires closing in on them.
“Stop it, Älskade,” Eric scolded her. “If there was to be an attack we would have received more reports by now, but it’s quiet.” Still, when Eric’s phone chimed, Sookie jumped.
It was Octavia, and like before, Eric put her on speaker. “Those pricks picked up my person!” Octavia growled. “Can you believe it? Those little pecker heads!”
“The FBI?” Eric asked.
“And whatever local law goons they have working with them, yes!” Octavia was clearly angry.
“So, not vampires?” Sookie asked.
“I’m not sure I would rule it out altogether,” Octavia told them. “I have a strong impression that something was provided to them, something that didn’t give them enough to go after you directly, but enough to get them digging pretty hard. So, somewhere you have yourself an enemy who has dirt on you, but I think you’re going to find that your worries are coming to an end.”
“Why?” Sookie was having a hard time not panicking. If someone had information about the donors, if someone could point the finger, there would be no place they could hide. It wouldn’t matter that this was how supernaturals had functioned since the beginning, it wasn’t acceptable now and Eric would be judged by today’s standards.
“Because they have pissed me off,” Octavia was practically cackling. “I send my gal over there and those goons scared her half to death. Now they’re going to find out what happens when you screw with me and mine, and by the way, that includes the two of you.”
“What are you going to do?” Sookie asked.
“Don’t you worry your little head about it,” Octavia told her, “But let’s just say that evidence that disappears ain’t evidence at all,” and she finished by saying, “I expect your folks will be back home in twenty-four hours.”
“I will owe you a great debt,” Eric told the witch.
“We can never repay the price of blood,” Octavia told him. “Ours is a life debt. It will follow you as long as you exist and there are witches in this world.”
When Octavia hung up, Sookie looked at the phone a long moment. “If that gets out, there are going to be some folks that aren’t going to be very happy.”
“I had not considered the consequences of my intervention on the witches’ behalf. It will cause some gossip,” but then his solemn face was replaced with a cheerful smile, “But now we know it is not as we feared and I believe that our worries with law enforcement are coming to an end.”
“You sure do land sunny-side up, Mr. Northman,” Sookie smirked.
“Perhaps we can find a way to help you do the same, Mrs. Northman,” Eric quipped, but they both knew they were too tired for bedroom exercise. It was everything they had just to make it to the top of the stairs and collapse in their large bed.
For several nights’ things seemed to be returning to a more normal relaxed state. Learning that the dust-up in New Orleans was associated with the FBI was annoying but in most ways it was a relief. Sookie found herself waking up later and later in the day, but at the same time she was feeling less stressed than she had in weeks. It was as though she had been holding her breath and now she could finally exhale.
When she waited for Eric to rise on that night of the takeover it was a night like any other. There was no advance warning that forces had entered the state in numbers but that was explained later when the trucks full of travel coffins were found.
The first indication that there was trouble came from Rubio Hermosa. They had only come downstairs when they received his call. Rubio told Eric that he and Palomino had been attacked outside of his home. There were several vampires involved and it was only the fact that Rubio had additional security to patrol his grounds following the last alarm that allowed them to overcome their attackers. Rubio didn’t recognize the vampires but their licenses said they were from Nevada.
Sookie and Eric started making calls and sending texts to the other Sheriffs. They called in the vampires and guards in their own guesthouse and briefed them. While Sookie was sure their wards would hold against any hostile invaders she didn’t want to take chances.
The next call came within the hour from Indira. Fangtasia was under siege. Mustapha and Warren were shooting attackers from outside, but it was impossible to tell how many vampires were there. Eric could hear the sounds of battle in the background. There was the sound of breaking glass and the connection ended.
Karin called almost immediately after Indira’s call ended. She and Thomas were fighting a running battle through the woods. The vampires had surrounded their home intent on killing them as they rose. These were older vampires and the party included several Were mercenaries. Had they been successful in breaking into the house, Karin told Eric both she and Thomas would have been finally dead already. “The doors held until we rose. It’s a good thing Thomas is so paranoid,” Karin laughed. “Can you believe he installed metal doors with bars that extend over four feet into the floor? I told him he was an idiot. Now I’m going to have to apologize.” Eric could hear the stress in her voice and he suspected she was injured. “Oops,” she said suddenly, “Have to go,” and Eric heard the sound of growling.
Beside him Sookie sat, her face increasingly grave. Heidi was patrolling outside along with the Were guards. It was Owen and Charles in Bon Temps tonight and Sookie found herself worrying about their families whom she realized she had never met. Bubba positioned himself near the back of the house promising he’d holler if he saw anything. “It will be all right,” Eric told her, and he smiled his bright, fighting smile, the one where his eyes burned with the light of battle. Sookie wondered how he could look so happy, but he did.
With a quick nod, Eric walked slowly into their family room and lifted his sword from the wall above the fireplace. It was in that moment that Sookie realized they could all die. For a minute Sookie just stood in the doorway, her mouth agape. She wondered what it would feel like to be run through with a sword, and then she grit her teeth, tilted her chin up and stretched her own lips upward. “I know it will be fine!” she told him, but she thought of the Fae sword, and it shimmered in her hand.
They stood around the family room, Sookie, Eric and Jane. Jane had a sword as well and she stepped away from the two of them into some open floor space so she could make some circular movements, loosening her arm and making her sword sing through the air. Eric watched the windows, his phone in his hand. Sookie wondered how he could be so calm but she realized he had gone into a form of downtime she hadn’t seen before. When she started to worry he snapped out of it and looked at her, “What is it Lover? Do you sense something?”
“Nope,” Sookie shrugged, “Just nervous, I guess.”
Eric nodded, checked his phone and then seemed to go into his meditative state again. Sookie tried to relax. She glanced at Eric and then sat down on the couch. She tilted the sword against the couch, then picked it up to make sure it hadn’t marked the floor. ‘Stupid,’ she thought. ‘You’re about to get yourself killed and you’re worrying about the floor.’
After a few minutes she got up and paced. Sookie checked her phone and just when she thought she’d have to say something, Eric moved. “They’re here,” he told her. Jane was immediately on alert and together they all moved toward the porch. There was a funny color out in the woods, like a weird glow and Sookie thought it must be some strong magic fighting the wards. As she looked around she saw movement first from one side and then from another. Vampires she didn’t recognize were stepping out of the woods and facing the house. There were at least five, and then there were ten, and then there were more. As she swept her eyes back and forth she saw one she did know.
“Hello, Angie,” Eric said conversationally. “Come to dance on my table?”
“You always thought you were a cut above, Eric; a little too good for the rest of us.” Angie was smiling in a cruel way as she kept walking forward and two large vampires fell in step behind her.
“Is Daddy bank-rolling your trip this time?” Eric asked.
Angie shrugged, “I consider this a permission/forgiveness situation. What Felipe doesn’t know won’t hurt him but once it’s done, I don’t think he’s going to be handing out punishment.”
“How did you get through the wards?” Sookie asked. She didn’t expect an answer so she was surprised when Angie answered her.
“Witch,” the Nevada vampire shrugged. “Remember when you pointed out the witches in our territory? Well, it wasn’t too hard to figure out who had real juice and then it was just a matter of time. I knew there’d be a reason I’d need to pick up a little talent on the way and there she was.”
“And she was willing?” Sookie asked, angling for more time. It seemed foolish because the longer she spoke the more pale faces seemed to appear along the woods edge. There were so many, twenty vampires at least. Sookie didn’t see Heidi or Bubba. She reached out searching for voids and there were more, but it was impossible to know if they were friends or not.
Angie stopped walking when she reached the bottom of the porch steps. “Sure,” she told Sookie. “When we took her kids she was very willing. It’s funny how quickly people become motivated when their young are on the line,” and then she gave Sookie a cruel smile. “Guess that bomb saved you from finding out, huh?”
Sookie felt the bile rise in her throat. She wanted to kill Angie and she felt her Fae features take over. Sookie couldn’t help but feel pleased to see the vampires behind Angie take a step back. Even Angie’s face tightened for a minute but then she hissed, “Sure, like that means anything. Might as well meet your end in your true form. Not human, not Fae. You are just a reject in the end and when your mate is dust we’ll leave your dead carcass for the dogs to gnaw.”
Beside her, Eric roared and then leaped down. Angie’s sword came up to meet his and the vampires on either side of Angie rushed forward. Jane leaped down into the yard as well, parrying the blade from the vampire on the right. Sookie ran down the stairs toward the vampire on the left. He was facing away from her, working his way around Eric to try and attack his back. Sookie didn’t hesitate. She sliced across his back and the blade made a sizzling sound as it ran through the vampire’s flesh, laying him open as easily as slicing through ripe melon. The vampire howled and spun and Eric’s sword whirled past Sookie’s face. The next thing she knew; the vampire’s head was rolling across the ground. Sookie looked up to see one of the vampires from the woods rushing toward them and she took the stance Tamsin had shown her. As she raised her blade to catch the one descending toward her she thought she could hear the sounds of more fighting. It seemed to be coming from all around her. There was the clang of metal and then Sookie heard the thin sound of a horn. Sookie fell and her sword rolled away from her. The vampire smiled as he stabbed his sword down, intending to pin her to the ground like a bug, but she managed to roll at the last minute. There was a broken blade on the ground and Sookie grabbed it and sat up as quickly as she could. She hadn’t meant to shove it into the vampire, but somehow she did and the vampire fell over, partially falling on her.
Sookie pushed him off and as she did, Jane fell to the ground beside her. Sookie could see Jane was dead. It was in the lifeless look in the vampire’s eyes. Gulping, Sookie thought of her Fae blade again and she felt the familiar hilt in her hand. Pushing herself up, she saw Angie and a vampire she didn’t know. They had Eric pinned against the house. They were both bleeding, but so was Eric. Her husband looked stronger than he had in weeks, but even as she watched, Eric stumbled. “No!” Sookie cried out and Angie’s head turned. It was enough and Eric finished the vampire to his left. Angie growled and launched herself at Eric, her blade running through his shoulder.
“You are mine!” Angie snarled.
“No he’s not!” Sookie snarled back and instead of sweeping her blade high, she ran at Angie and swept her blade low, slicing across Angie’s calves. The Nevada vampire screamed and collapsed to the ground. As Angie scrambled for her blade, Eric stood over her and with a last sweeping motion, sliced her head cleanly from her body.
Sookie scrambled to stand. Eric was swaying and Sookie positioned herself between Eric and the woods, her sword at the ready for whatever came next. What she didn’t expect was the glow of bodies bathed in moonlight walking toward her through her trees. The Fae surrounded her.