When my maker arrived so unexpectedly that early morning, I had no choice but to let him stay for the day. Sookie had been asleep and I had felt Appius’ presence right outside the main door to our home. He had done the unthinkable, and had brought the unthinkable with him. He had turned one of the Romanov children, Alexei, the sick one, and had kept him all these years. The length of time should not have surprised me. He hadn’t tired of me for a whole century. But Alexei was merely a child, and his poor constitution made him seem younger than the thirteen years of age he had when he was turned. I had heard the rumors of what Appius had done, but I had dismissed them, only to be confronted by them at my front door.
I had shown Appius and Alexei to the basement, claiming the only room that was light tight upstairs was mine and my wife’s, who was already sleeping. Appius was from the old school anyway. He would not have liked to spend his night in an upstairs bedroom. I rejoined Sookie feeling an awful dread. Appius had refused to go into the details for his visit, but I knew no good could come of it. I felt Sookie stir in her sleep, so I closed the bond as best I could, to afford her some peaceful rest.
Thankfully Sookie had not arrived back from her endeavors with her cousin when I awoke for the night. I immediately made my way to my maker. I needed to know the purpose for his visit. Appius was already awake and was investigating the contents of our dryer, which apparently consisted of some forgotten undergarments that did not belong to my wife. They were probably Glad’s or Diantha’s.
“Good evening, Master,” I said and tried a smile I didn’t feel.
“Eric, my child,” Appius walked to me with his arms open. I knew I had to embrace him or he would make me. I’d rather he wouldn’t make me. He hugged me and then smelled my neck, planting a soft kiss that made me remember all our nights together. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but I did feel a bit of nostalgia at having my maker near. It didn’t last long.
“Please, tell me, what brings you here?” I asked, already hearing a car in our driveway. Sookie was home.
“I am to be married to your Queen! Isn’t that wonderful?” Appius said and I was rightfully surprised.
“That is quite wonderful. How did this come about?” I asked, smelling a rat. Sookie always said she smelled rats wherever vampire dealings were concerned. I hadn’t quite gotten her meaning until now.
“Your Queen had a dilemma: that oaf Felipe De Castro in Nevada has been messing around, sticking his nose in the Queen’s business, sending his lackeys to harm your blood bonded, so she called me to assist. You are the best fighter I know. You’re going to Vegas tomorrow, take out De Castro for her, become King of Nevada, and in return I get to marry a Queen. Delightful, really!”
“I do not wish to become king of anything,” I said, already feeling his influence upon me. This was not open for negotiation.
“It’s not a matter of not wishing it to be, my darling. You will be King of Nevada and make your Master and Mistress proud,” he said. A smile played on his lips as he watched me balk at his statement. So many things could go wrong, and I could be killed. Had I been alone I would have gone without a blink. But I wasn’t alone. I had a family and they needed me. I needed them. I called to Pam immediately, feeling as if my head was about to explode and thanking my goddess I’d had the wherewithal to close my bond with Sookie as soon as Appius appeared. The pain was excruciating as I began to defy my master’s order, trying in vain to lift it or otherwise cancel it.
“Honey?” I heard Sookie call as she made her way downstairs. She tried the door but I had locked it. I heard her run upstairs and tell Glad and Diantha that whoever was down here was not good.
“Show yourself!” Glad shouted. I had to go and calm them, or I bet Diantha would have burned us all to a crisp trying to protect Sookie.
As soon as Glad shouted Alexei awoke looking perturbed. Appius was by his side immediately, calming him, even though there was no real threat. The boy looked scared out of his mind and was shaking uncontrollably. What the hell?
I opened the door to show myself to Glad and Diantha. I told them we were fine and to please wait for me in the den, hoping I could make heads or tails of what was happening before I had to speak to Sookie. She would not take the news calmly, and at any rate, neither had I.
I saw Sookie’s worried face and I tried to open the bond a little bit to send her some calm, but instead I sent the searing pain I was feeling. Once I’d opened the bond it became extremely difficult to close it again. Again I called to my child. We would need her help, though I wasn’t sure in what capacity yet. I just needed her here. Finally and with a lot of effort I closed my bond with Sookie and with Pam. My pain was mine alone again. I did not want them suffering along with me.
Glad’s sword appeared in her hand out of thin air, and she was getting ready to use it. I heard Sookie’s voice cry out my name, and I had to reassure her with only my voice, and to almost plead for her to go to the den and wait for me there. They finally obeyed and I turned back to my maker and sibling.
“Why do you resist, Eric? It’s obvious that it’s hurting you,” Appius tried to appeal to me.
“My wife needs me. I have a family that needs me. My fiefdom needs its sheriff. I cannot go wage war or stage a coup d’état when I am needed elsewhere. I could meet my final death and then my family would be left alone, and who would take care of my people. I cannot do that to them.” Every time I said the word “cannot” I felt another wrenching pang of pain shoot through me. I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t cry out in pain, breaking the skin and swallowing my own blood. When that didn’t work, I chewed on my cheek.
“I need you,” Appius countered. “This deal will give me the rest I need. The Queen promised she would have someone watch Alexei. He needs constant care, Eric. Don’t you think you should help your master in this task?”
I shook my head unable to speak. I couldn’t stop pushing against his command. I felt like crying or screaming or killing something. That something would be Alexei. I started to make a move towards the boy but Appius saw my intention and stopped me. His eyes were wide with shock that I would think to kill the child.
“He’s just a little boy,” Appius said, caressing Alexei’s face.
“He’s almost a century old. He should be able to fend for himself,” I said, feeling the pain double.
“Aww… Eric, show some compassion. I didn’t throw you out into the world until you were well over a century old. I couldn’t treat Alexei any differently.”
“I wish you would have let me go much sooner,” I said, voicing my opinion on that particular subject for the first time ever. I called to Pam again, unable to ascertain whether she was on her way.
“I will overlook what you just said in deference to the fact that you don’t seem to be yourself at this moment. Now, Alexei needs to feed tonight, and I was hoping that a sip from you would settle his frayed nerves,” Appius said, walking closer to me with the boy in tow.
Unable to stand any more pain, I decided the best course of action would be to simply give the boy my blood willingly before Appius made me. I offered the boy my wrist but he shook his head. Fine! Spoiled brat! I knelt in front of him and offered him my neck. When Appius couldn’t see the boy’s expression, Alexei took the opportunity to show his true colors. There was evil in that grin, and when he bit he did so hard, sinking more than his fangs into my skin. He drank greedily and Appius had to stop him. I had no doubt in my mind that the child would have drained me. Appius approached me and sealed the wound so it wouldn’t stain my shirt. It was disgusting to see both of them aroused by the whole exchange. I couldn’t, not with a child in the room.
“Come, Eric. I want to meet your wife,” Appius said, waiting for me to lead the way.
I climbed the stairs slowly. I felt dizzy with pain, something that I hadn’t felt since that bitch vampire got me with her nails in front of Sookie’s house. Back then I passed out from blood loss and pain. I couldn’t do that now. Sookie had healed me that night. I couldn’t take that much blood from her anymore, not when she needed it for our baby. Goddess Freyja, please! Hear your humble servant!
Appius made me make the introductions and then I had to tell Sookie that I was going to leave her, and that she had to be in charge of our affairs. I said it all in just a few sentences, but she understood everything perfectly, judging by the sudden fear that barreled into me, even with the bond closed off.
At the same time that Sookie started shaking her head like she would not allow it, Pam burst into the house, making absolutely no noise. She hadn’t even parked her car near the house. One moment she wasn’t there, the next she was there and baring her fangs at Appius and Alexei.
“Pam, meet my maker Appius and his child Alexei. Appius this is my child Pamela Ravenscroft,” I said, damning the rules of etiquette. Pam was more important to me than Appius anyway. So was Sookie and so were the sisters, for that matter, but I was already too far gone into the pain to mind my manners anymore. Damn Appius to hell!
Just as I thought that, I started feeling like my body wasn’t my own. I knew I’d been waiting for Pam to arrive to succumb. She would keep Sookie safe. I knew I was seizing. I was shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t control my movements. I could feel Sookie’s arms around me, trying to keep me from falling on the floor. And then she did something that showed me just how pissed off my smart girl really was.
“Ocella and Alexei: get out of my house,” she said in a low voice, cold as ice and with so much venom that she sounded like a snake. I smiled as I slipped into oblivion.
“That’s it, just a little more,” Pam whispered.
“I could have given him some too, you know,” I heard Sookie say. She didn’t sound mad or put out. She sounded scared.
“No, ma’am. He could have taken too much and right now you need every drop. Let me do this. I can replenish easier than you can, and certainly easier than him,” Pam said. I guessed they were talking about me.
“Are they still out there?” Sookie asked, and I wondered who she was talking about.
“No, theyleftafter I talkedto’em. I told’emhow taget to Raven’s Den,” Diantha said.
I stopped drinking the blood that had been seeping into my mouth, finally realizing that it was Pam’s. I hadn’t had her blood in a very long time. I was immediately thankful that she’d answered my call so quickly. I also noticed that the pain I’d felt from trying to defy my maker’s command had subsided significantly. Obviously I had made up my mind to follow through and kill Felipe De Castro. He deserved to meet a stake wielded by my hand, of that I had no doubt. But to go after him was a suicidal mission if not carried out properly. I needed time to plan. Tomorrow was too soon.
“Uncle is coming,” I heard Glad said. I knew I was a little out of it still, because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Mr. Cataliades would be on his way here. Glad came into my line of vision. I was still in the den, lying on the sofa. Sookie was sitting on the floor holding my hand, Pam was by my head, and now Glad was towering above me, making sure I was paying attention. She even slowed her speech. “He wantsus at Raven’s Den by eleven,” she said and handed me a True Blood.
Pam pushed me up to sit, and Sookie ended up between my legs, holding on to one of them and putting her head on my thigh. I caressed her hair. When would I stop hurting her? I wasn’t sure why I was taking on the blame for this, but it was obvious that if she was married to a regular man she wouldn’t be going through this heartache.
“Is the Queen coming with him?” I asked, trying to figure out why we were being summoned. Probably to talk strategy.
“I think so. Not sure,” Glad answered, again talking slowly for her.
I looked down again at Sookie. She looked defeated, and I had to admit I felt the same way. I gulped the True Blood quickly so I could take her hands and lead her to our bedroom. If this would be our last night together, then I would make love to my wife one last time. I would say my prayers for her and for my daughter one last time. I would ask for her forgiveness one last time. I would cry with her one last time.
Raven’s Den was busy, and thankfully Maxwell Lee was running things. We’d made him one of the managers with great success. The other manager was Thalia, who had not mellowed with age but at least knew when to make the right decisions. The DJ was spinning Marilyn Manson’s “You and Me and the Devil Makes 3,” which was appropriate, I thought.
“Eric,” Maxwell pointed towards the back. “They’re all waiting in the conference room. The Queen’s lawyer told me we were expecting a VIP to arrive any moment.”
I thanked the man and we all headed to the small conference room that Sookie suggested we should have. It had begun as a larger office for me, but I saw the wisdom of her suggestion. What would I do without her?
We reached the conference room and I was surprised to see the attendees. Queen Sophie Anne was there with Andre-the-shadow standing behind her. Appius was seated to her right, and Alexei was standing behind him. Niall was there, looking up with a raised eyebrow. He had one of his children standing behind him, but I didn’t know his name. I believe it was the triplets’ father. Fintan was seated to Niall’s left, and Mr. Cataliades had taken the bottom of the table, leaving chairs open for Sookie and me at either side of the table. I made sure Sookie sat next to her grandfather, and I took my seat next to Appius. The head of the table was empty.
“Are we expecting more company?” I asked. I know Maxwell had already said we were, but I was wondering who else was coming and was hoping one of these people would enlighten me.
“Yes we are, Sheriff,” Mr. Cataliades answered. He looked up at Niall. “Prince Niall, I thank you for coming on such short notice and bringing Sookie’s family. This affects her too, since she has been the target of the King of Nevada for a while now. As you can understand I could not let that happen, so I sent my nieces to guard her safety.”
Niall nodded politely, acknowledging and probably thanking Mr. Cataliades. We heard a knock on the back door and Pam went to get it. When she returned her face was not in her usual stoic expression. She was in shock.
Mr. Cataliades turned to us. “Please rise for the Ancient Pythoness.”