The feel of the sun lingered on my skin as Mr. Cataliades escorted me back to my room. I wanted more, more of the light and more of the warmth. During the past several months, I’d tried not to think about how much I missed the sun, but it was hard to do for a descendant of sky fairies such as me. For the most part, I didn’t resent being turned, at least not as much as I thought I would. I didn’t hate Eric. I had even asked him to do it! But I did miss the light.
Being able to walk in the sunlight was more than just a “cool” thing that I could do. My memories returned me to the very real possibility that I might have to save Eric and Pam from injuries they could suffer during the day. We were leaving the Pyramid of Gizeh before anything could happen to us, but who knew what other threats we would come across? My lifetime would no longer be measured in decades, but in centuries – even millennia! – and anything could happen in the hereafter.
My darling Eric had fallen asleep near the door at an odd angle, as if he’d fallen where he stood. I felt a pang of guilt then picked him up awkwardly. My increased strength was one thing, but knowing how to carry a much larger body than my own didn’t quite translate as easily. Nevertheless, I was able to tuck him into bed and lay beside him, feeling sleepy myself but not enough to close my eyes and succumb completely, not yet.
“I saw the sun,” I whispered and caressed his face, smiling to myself as the 90’s anthem “I Saw the Sign” popped into my mind and began playing on a loop.
After more than a thousand years of not seeing the sun, I was sure Eric had resigned himself to never seeing it again. He never said anything about missing the day. Usually he waxed poetic about the night, the moon and the stars, and how he missed the sky from before the industrial revolution.
“Sookie,” he whispered and tried to open his eyes.
“I’m here and I’m safe,” I assured him and hugged him tightly. He didn’t say anything else and soon I was asleep as well.
Eric woke me up when he sat up straight in bed in a panic. As soon as the sun was low enough to allow him to wake up, he did so. Since he was scared, so was I, until I understood that the fear from the morning still lingered. He grabbed me and hugged me so tight that I was happy that I didn’t need to breathe.
“Tell me everything,” he commanded, even though I was about to offer up the information on my own.
“It was beautiful, Eric. I wish you could have been there! I saw the sunrise over the lake and it hurt my eyes a little but I felt it warm my skin and my heart beat and everything!” My excitement refused to wane, even after a whole day resting. How does one get over that?
“You don’t fall asleep when I do?”
“No, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier but it was just a little thing. I fall asleep soon after you do, though, so I’m not as strong as you think I am.”
“You’re right. You’re stronger.” He held me at arms’ length, his eyes roaming over every inch of me. I was still wearing my dress from the night before, but I imagined my makeup was smudged and my hair was a mess. Still, the way he looked at me made me feel like I was the most beautiful being he’d ever set eyes on. Then a look of grim determination took over his expression.
“What happened yesterday won’t happen again, I swear it, Sookie.” My eyebrows asked the question all on their own. So Eric explained. “The crippling fear I felt thinking that I might lose you or that you’d be lost without me to protect you; none of that will happen. I see that now. I was a fool for thinking otherwise. You, Sookie, you will save us all.”
“I’m no savior, Eric.”
“Think back on all the times you did save us, up to and including the time you used the cluviel dor. Yes, Sookie. There is always a reason for everything and everyone that comes into our lives. I’ve always believed it, but now more than ever I know you are…” he fumbled for words, scrunching his face until he found the right one. “Our salvation.”
“For whom? I can’t stop deaths, I tried. So who am I saving and from what?”
“Everyone. From everything.”
I shook my head but he just nodded. “Now you have time on your side. Use it wisely. I will help.”
Pam burst into our room and jumped on our bed, looking more than ever like a teenager. Her hair was loose, her face was clean of makeup, and she had gone to bed in a long flowery nightgown, complete with ruffles on the cuffs. You could take the girl out of the eighteenth century, but…
“So? Can you walk in the sun?” she asked, bouncing on our bed. She simply couldn’t contain her excitement.
When I nodded she stopped jumping and sank to her knees beside me, grabbed my arm and smelled it. “You smell of sunshine,” she said in a dreamy voice, but quickly returned to Pam-regular. “This will help a lot with our plan.”
“My wish is to stay awake long enough to be of use,” I mumbled, but then announced, “Mr. Cataliades said as I get stronger I’ll be able to stay awake during the day for longer.”
Pam was astounded. “How long can you stay awake now?”
“About an hour. Longer if it’s cloudy; less if I don’t feed enough.”
Eric and Pam looked at me in that way they had sometimes when they were thinking but not exactly about me.
“We won’t need a day person,” Pam said, ever practical.
“We can kill our enemies where they rest,” Eric said, ever the pragmatist.
I rolled my eyes. It was time to join the world below and I looked like I’d tossed and turned all day while sleeping. Not that it was impossible for me to do that, but it was improbable. Either way, tonight would be Russell and Bart’s wedding, and a whole bunch of Arkansas’ vampires would die, and the idiot guy who ran the hotel – what was his name? – would try to find a way to court Sophie-Anne… Ah, yes: Christian Baruch, from Switzerland but with the heavy English accent. He was tall and handsome, I remembered, but Sophie-Anne couldn’t have cared less about marrying a hotel magnate. Because she was an idiot too.
“If only she had entertained the idea,” I mumbled to myself as I bathed.
“Dear one, you’re talking to yourself?” Eric asked while sticking his head in the shower and eyeing me hungrily.
“Christian Baruch,” I began, “runs a bunch of hotels, including this one. He had the hots for Sophie-Anne at one point and I think it would have been smart for her to ally herself to him, even though she had no way of knowing she would lose Andre. But I don’t know if Baruch liked her looks or her power.”
“She looks like a child,” Eric observed and joined me. For him, there was a fine line between a child and an adult. I sometimes chalked it up to the fact that he, himself, had married his human wife when they were both teenagers, which was the way of things, but neither of them had been so young that they were considered children. Apparently Sophie-Anne, since she had suffered much during her early years and had been turned when she’d been (maybe) fifteen, still looked like a child to him.
To me she still looked like a mall rat.
The problem with her young looks, of course, was that Baruch had been turned not five years before – less than that, in fact. So for a modern, grown man to like small teenagers, it was quite disgusting and a little unnerving. What made the most sense would be for Baruch to be after Sophie-Anne’s power, not her feminine charms.
“I don’t know if Baruch still wants to pursue her now that she has little power,” I shrugged the shoulder that Eric wasn’t kissing.
Indeed, when we made our way to the convention hall, Baruch was actually much more interested in another. Pam became his new target, which made sense insofar as she had some power and was relatively famous. He approached our trio and tried his best to start a conversation with her, but was himself interrupted several times by employees and guests that knew who he was. Meanwhile, Pam was enjoying the attention, but not as much as she liked messing with his ego. She would feed it with a careful compliment (“What lovely hotel!”) and then crush it (“Pity there’s a smell coming from the lake!”).
Eric’s amusement with his errant child was warring with his annoyance at how many more people had arrived at the hotel. The guards were much more prominent, there were many more humans and vampires than the night before, therefore many more eyes watching our every move. It was the reason why Baruch was following us so closely. He wanted to be seen tending to us.
“Excuse me, Mr. Northman,” the deep voice of none other than Quinn intruded into my mind-reading. Once again, I wasn’t allowed to speak, so I had been passing the time by focusing on random thoughts. “May I speak with you privately.”
“You need someone to officiate at a wedding?” Eric asked, not wanting to be anywhere “privately” with Quinn. He knew our history and didn’t like it, even though there was no history, not really.
“Indeed,” Quinn nodded deeply.
Eric looked down at me and I asked the question with my eyes. Did he want to do it? I didn’t mind one way or another, and he’d be doing Russell a favor, who had actually been a nice person to me in another life. Eric lifted his eyebrows; should he do it? I nodded lightly.
Loud as a shout, Quinn came to the realization that I could still read minds. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t read Eric’s mind at all. The exchange between us looked as if we had. Quinn didn’t say anything and his face remained impassive, but I could read perfectly well that he wanted to tell this news to the King of Nevada. Several expletives rifled in quick succession through my mind as we followed Quinn to where Eric could don the black cloak he would need to do his duty.
As soon as we were alone, only Eric, Quinn, and myself, I took hold of Quinn’s mind. Unlike a human’s, or even a vampire’s, it was slippery. I tried to plant the new memory, or at least steal away his realization, but it seemed to pop back up somehow.
Eric was occupied changing while I tried every mental trick I’d perfected, which weren’t very many.
“What are you doing?” he asked from behind me when he saw me looking at Quinn intently, and Quinn standing paralyzed in front of me.
Once again, I let go of the pent up lungfull that I’d been holding in a show of exasperation. “Quinn thinks he saw us communicating telepathically, even though we didn’t. I can’t seem to dispel the memory. The thing is inside his brain like a slippery eel.” I screwed up my face and tried again.
Out of nowhere, Eric landed a right hook to Quinn’s temple that made him crumple completely to the ground. “Try now.”
“Cheese and crackers, Eric! What you do that for?!”
“I don’t like him.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” I said sarcastically.
“The mere thought that he touched you…”
“Ugh! That was years ago to me, and not even in this lifetime,” I whispered angrily.
Eric pretended not to listen. “Try it now, Sookie,” he said.
I did and was able to replace the realization of my telepathy with something far less meaningful, but I simply could not erase it altogether. “I wonder why…”
“He got knocked on the head several times while in the pits,” was Eric’s quick response, knowing exactly what I was wondering. “It has nothing to do with him being a tiger. He simply has a bit of brain damage.”
Finally I looked at Eric in his cloak, while he put the hood over his blond head. “I remember the first time I saw you wearing it. I was in love with you, but mad at you too.”
“That isn’t new.” He smiled under the hood then opened it regally, looking bigger than ever. “Come. Let’s marry the lovebirds. You can introduce me, can’t you?”
“I think so. I remember what Quinn said.”
Eric smiled wider, mischief on his mind. “Is there any way I can persuade you to wear those genie pants and no shirt?”
I raised an eyebrow, not at all amused.
“Lighten up, darling wife of mine. You will grow older faster if you can’t laugh at my jokes.”
“Ha, ha,” I said with nary a shred of mirth.
Rasul, who I hadn’t yet seen and who hadn’t yet met me, suddenly entered the small private room where Eric had been changing into the cloak. He almost stumbled on Quinn’s body, but didn’t otherwise pay him any mind before announcing, “Jennifer Cater is dead, just as you said.”
Eric nodded in understanding. Obviously he had recruited Rasul as a spy for us, just as I’d suggested.
“Do you know who did it?” asked Eric in a low whisper. We didn’t know exactly who could hear.
Rasul just shook his head but opened his eyes wide, suggesting that he couldn’t say anything with me there.
Eric just pointed at me with an open hand. “Who do you think told me everything I’ve told you?”
Rasul turned to me and I waved with a smile. It was okay that he distrusted me, as long as he was willing to change his mind. “Hi, I’m Sookie Stackhouse.”
“I am Rasul,” he answered and bowed deeply, like he always did. “My apologies.”
“It’s all right.”
“You should know they have brought the Ancient Pythoness early,” he said after standing up straight.
“Why?” Eric asked.
“Honestly, I think she wanted to meet you.”
Eric and I exchanged a glance. The Ancient Pythoness was not just a curious onlooker. She had not been scheduled to be at the summit for any purpose. Sophie-Anne did not stand accused of murdering Peter Threadgill, because Jade Flower had done that and had already met her death as punishment. Actually, there was no trial scheduled at the summit at all.
“We’re leaving after the wedding,” Eric announced.
“I’ll make sure Pam knows,” Rasul said and left.
“What’s on your mind?” I found myself asking my husband for the first time in several months.
He said with disdain, “Fairies, the ones we killed.”
“You think they’re going to charge us with their murder. Are you kidding me?! Why would… how would… I don’t even know what to ask.”
“I hope I’m wrong,” Eric said with finality. It was time for the wedding, but this conversation was far from over.
During the whole wedding I couldn’t concentrate on anything, not even others’ thoughts, barely even my own, except for the fact that we might actually get in trouble for killing the fairies. Had Breandan, or even Niall, contacted the Ancient Pythoness? If that was the case, how did we not know that it could happen? Or had Eric known we could get in trouble and did it anyway? I found that hard to believe.
When the wedding was over, instead of ducking into the service corridor, we exited regally through the front of the room. All eyes were on us, every mind wondering why the Oracle wanted to meet us. Was it because of our celebrity status? Had she seen the article? She was blind, as far as I knew, so she certainly hadn’t read it or seen our faces.
Eric’s plan to leave immediately came to a crashing halt when the Oracle simply appeared in the middle of the convention hall. Every vampire, human, or “other” in the hall fell silent as the old lady shuffled forward flanked by her handmaidens. She looked as I remembered: wrinkled, with skin like onion paper, and white unseeing eyes. Something about her always gave me the impression that she could see me anyway.
“Have we met before?” she asked without any preamble, looking at me. Sort of.
Since I’d used up all my air, I tightened my hold on Eric’s hand and he on mine before taking a breath to answer her. “No, milady,” I said in my most proper voice and curtsied as if she were a monarch. Meanwhile, the smells of so many people had me reeling for the wrong reasons. How did vampires stand to be inside such a crowded place with so many perfumes vying for equal amounts of attention? I suppose it’s like anything: after a while you just don’t notice.
“No, no, no,” protested the Ancient Pythoness. “I am sure we have. You told me what happened the night Peter Threadgill was murdered.”
Everyone in the room gasped collectively. Why? Why did they do that?
“My apologies, but I was in Europe when Arkansas met the true death.”
The Oracle didn’t say anything but continued looking in my direction, so I did what I usually do: I looked into her mind. She remembered me, all right, but she was classifying it as a dream. As soon as I dipped into her mind she realized what I was doing, and faster than she could call me on it, I seized every mind in the hall and all fell deathly quiet.
Beside me, Eric let go of my hand and crouched a little. Pam joined us soon thereafter, ready to fight as well. Mr. Cataliades and Diantha started coming closer to us, since they were demons and I could not control them, along with one other person: Barry Bellboy.
If my heart could beat it would be doing so at double-time. My realization that I could not control the Oracle’s mind had me almost panicking.
“What are you doing? Where are my maidens?” asked the old gal looking this way and that.
“They are still beside you. We are leaving now and will not inconvenience you any longer,” Eric said in as calm a voice as he could muster.
The Ancient Pythoness rose to her full height, which wasn’t very tall at all, and walked a step closer to us. “Beware, Northman. You have unleashed something you cannot control and love has blinded you. Within our world there is no punishment for killing fairies; therefore, I shall not rule against you, though you are culpable. But I warn you: these fairies seek revenge. You think you acted fairly, but what happened in another life cannot color your actions in this one.” She paused for several seconds, maybe waiting for us to speak, but we were all just too confused and astonished to offer anything relevant. “Begone,” she said in a patient, low voice.
Before we left the hall I told Barry, telepathically, to please keep what had just happened to himself, for his own good. I felt him agree and I hoped he would follow through. He didn’t know me from Eve, but I was hoping he still had the same strong sense of self-preservation. Revealing what he knew about me would make him a prime target for turning. All of this, as fast as I broadcasted it, he seemed to understand and internalize.
We didn’t bother packing things neatly, simply dumped our things inside our coffins, keeping the important stuff, and left the hotel and Rhodes. Mr. Cataliades would stay behind with his employer and would keep in touch with us, as well as ship our coffins home for us.
“Back to Louisiana?” I asked when we were alone once again. We were staying one day at a hotel near the airport, as there were no more flights available that night, and we had already reserved a room anyway. We’d checked in slightly earlier than we thought, is all.
“Yes. With Sophie-Anne getting injured, there will be no more danger from her,” Eric answered.
“There’s no guarantee that she’ll be injured, though,” I pointed out.
Pam interjected. “With Andre gone, as he will be, she will be injured, if not physically then at least figuratively.”
“I’m more worried about the fairies and their revenge,” Eric mumbled as he paced. “I’ll have to call the prince.”
Before he could do such a thing, I tried to reason with him. “If Niall knows where I am or what our plans are, then Neave and Lochlan can find us.” A sudden wave of guilt brought on by hindsight assaulted me. “We should have steered clear of fairies altogether.”
Eric dialed the phone number he had for Niall anyway. “He owes you his help,” he explained to me before the line picked up.