The ambulance crawled to a stop in front of the estate gates. Godric scanned the area for media vans or protesters. Caleb came out of the guardhouse with a flashlight and signaled. All was quiet. The location of the nest had not been compromised. Godric did not feel relief. Hate was a Hydra-headed monster. No matter how quickly his clean-up team had moved or how many Fellowship members were glamoured this time, there would be more. There were always more.
Godric was on autopilot, balancing at the edge of a black hole that dared him to leap. He had not taken his hand off Amleth’s lifeless body since they had left the hospital. Dr. Ludwig accompanied him in the back of the ambulance. She was not one to offer meaningless platitudes. It was the only reason he allowed her to join him. She did not trouble him with false comfort and pointless banter.
At the house, Dr. Ludwig helped Godric transfer the stretcher inside. It clanked and squeaked into the echoing foyer. They might as well have returned with a casket. His retinue crowded the entryway. Costas barged forward. “He’s still unconscious! Why is he still unconscious?”
“Maker?” Eric said. He was holding Rosalyn’s hand. His wife was barefoot in leggings wearing one of his starched dress shirts. His progeny looked lost together. Everyone was waiting for him to explain.
“Amleth is incapacitated.” Godric’s voice sounded hollow in the garish hall. “Costas, you are acting Sheriff of London. Eva, assume Second -“
“No,” Costas said, furious. “No, no, no. Forget the Sheriffdom. What the fuck do you mean he’s ‘incapacitated’?” Eva began sobbing into her hands. Eric had frozen.
Godric leveled a deadly gaze at Costas. “Swear at me again, underling, and I will eat your filthy tongue.”
Dr. Ludwig stepped in. She had zero tolerance for vampire theatrics. “Stand down, Manetas. Godric’s been through hell trying to save your maker. Amleth is silver poisoned and brain dead. We’ve done all that we could do.”
Costas wavered on his feet momentarily, as if he was going to protest. As if he might strike out. Godric shifted his weight, ready to flatten him. It was unnecessary. Costas crumpled to his knees in a wail. Eva tried to throw herself over Amleth’s prone body. Godric caught her arms mid-air and flung her towards Stan. He caught her gracelessly and she crushed the cowboy hat he had pressed respectfully against his chest. Godric only half registered that Rosalyn had clasped his elbow and was pouring apologies at him. He and Ludwig were trying to push the stretcher through the hall. Everyone was shouting questions at him. Everyone, except Eric.
His child stared at him. Eric’s face betrayed nothing of the disgust and rage roiling beneath the surface. His steady torrent of emotions turned to crushing disappointment, then fell silent as Eric looked away. Eric had choked off what he could of their bond. It leaked and splattered all over the place – he could never hide himself from his maker truly – but the shape of his thoughts was gone. Godric heard nothing but Eric’s final thought, ringing in his mind: ‘You failed.’
Godric was not in a position to argue. He dropped his eyes and threatened his retinue with violence if they did not allow him to pass.
In Amleth’s suite, the staff shuttled furniture around to make room for the new bed. Godric waited with a hand on Amleth’s bandaged forearm. Dr. Ludwig had taken command of these details and saw that Amleth was comfortably set up. She retrofitted an insulin pump to forcibly inject him with fresh human blood at set intervals and gave Amleth’s children instructions about how to move his body and how often to fill the machine with their own blood. Ludwig’s services never came with such palliative frills.
“Why are you doing this? Did you owe Amleth a favor?” Godric said, feeling paranoid and suspicious of everyone.
“It’s you that owes the world, Death. Now get back to work. You’ve got a hell of a mess to sort out.” With that, she popped away to another client. Godric did not have time to puzzle over what she meant. She was right. There was too much to do. If he stopped, that chasm of darkness might swallow him whole.
He left as Eva was lighting candles around Amleth’s suite. He knew he should say something, but what could possibly be said under these circumstances? Whether Amleth’s murder was last night on the operating table or fifteen hundred years ago in Tarquin’s courtyard, he was the man’s killer. He had no place lingering at his wake. It served Godric right to be bonded to Amleth in his final days. He deserved every agony for failing his boy once again.
Godric went to change out of his bloodied scrubs. He found his bunker of a day chamber in disarray. Evidence of his children’s distress lay everywhere. Eric had left his ruined clothes on the bathroom floor where they had fallen off him, ostensibly before a shower. Rosalyn’s blood tears smeared her pillowcase. Eric had not wanted to leave her side – not even to shower upstairs where the shower stall actually accommodated his huge frame. Godric gathered Eric’s clothing and put it in the waste bin along with his own. His senses shocked yet again at the scent of Amleth’s blood in the air.
Nude, he sat on the edge of the bed before turning and burying his face in its nest of sheets and down. He inhaled his children’s scents. He wanted to burrow into them and hide away. Or scream and never stop screaming until he woke from this nightmare. He could practically taste his son’s frustration in the linens. Eric had stayed here and tried vainly to comfort Rosalyn. Rosalyn would have inevitably wanted words. Whatever he had said had not worked and Eric, coming off his favorite of poisons – battle and revenge – had resorted to his baser instincts. Not everyone was so easily distracted by Eric’s body as Eric himself was. Then again, there were no words for this abomination. Rosalyn should have taken Eric up on his offer. Instead, strife loomed large in the studio.
A wadded-up washcloth on the bedside table caught his eye. Godric reached over and inspected it. Eric had stayed awake through the day. A growl slipped past his lips. It bore more than the marks of the bleeds. In the silence of dawn, Eric’s tears had slipped against his will when he thought no one would know.
Godric changed into a black sweater and black pants, and readied himself for all-out war.
Godric paced the war room with his hands clasped behind his back as his people shared their updates. Eric had interrogated the Newlins and Prince Niall’s fool of a great-grandson with Costas’s help. Stan and his team had captured Hugo and successfully ferreted out Hugo’s military accomplice. It was solid work for such a small time-frame. Godric expected nothing less. The humans were parked in jail cells alongside Godric’s other long-suffering demon guest, Derek Ronwe.
Godric had a basement full of villains. What he did not have was answers. They had run into a serious problem. Hugo was not their leak. Hugo had not known who was going to be harmed in the incident, nor had he any idea that the house was connected to Isabelle’s nest. He wanted retribution for Isabelle’s refusal to turn him and had completely misunderstood why he had not been welcome at the estate lately. He had turned to the Fellowship for comfort and the Fellowship welcomed him with open arms, connecting him with the bomb-maker. The bomber’s radicalization was equally sad and ordinary. Vampires were convenient scapegoats for his own unhappy life.
Neither Hugo nor the bomb-maker had known how Amleth’s residential house had been identified as a target. They were not particularly concerned that the bombs were made to kill – and not to maim and capture as Newlin wanted. The Soldiers of the Sun were not in place when the devices were detonated to collect a victim and the conspirator who triggered the bombs remained at large. The entire plot smacked of inexperience – and something more. It felt off.
It was Steve Newlin who knew why the house had been selected – and Steve had proven remarkably unhelpful. He insisted he had been tipped off by an anonymous caller. He could not recall the exact day of the phone call or anything that might help them narrow down where to look in the Fellowship’s phone records. They received thousands of calls every month. Amleth was usually the one who handled big data problems. They would have to outsource the analysis, but to whom? Neither Eric nor Godric could detect a trace of glamour in Steve’s responses, but Godric was not taking chances.
Godric called the king and ordered the entire state to be put on martial law. Sheriffs were to take roll. Any vampire found out of place or caught trying to leave Texas was to be detained without exception. King Peter offered to review the Fellowship’s phone records himself. He was highly skilled at IT and had been the one who had helped keep Godric up to date on all matters technical. Still, Godric preferred to keep his cards close to his chest. Eric put the speakerphone on mute. “If someone was stupid enough to call on a traceable line, Maker, they are dumb enough for someone else to handle.”
“It was Peter’s people who let the Fellowship slip past them in the first place.”
“True, but his dogs aren’t going to crunch the numbers for us, he is. He has no earthly reason to mess with you.”
“Unless someone has gotten to him.”
Eric exhaled in frustration. Rosalyn tried to help. “You have to delegate some things, hon.”
Stan guffawed. “‘Have to’? Beggin’ yer pardon, Ros, but you’re new, sweetheart. ‘Have to’ and Sheriff Godric don’t belong in the same sentence.”
Godric gave his assassin an uncomfortably long stare. “I don’t like it, but I agree with my progeny. Isabelle, set up an encrypted line and send the raw data.”
They unmuted the call. Peter wanted to know what he was supposed to do about public relations. Nan Flannigan was already making wild accusations on live tv. She was calling for Godric’s resignation.
“How convenient,” Godric said joylessly. He had already planned on quitting – as much as anyone his age could actually quit. He leaned over the conference call speaker. “What would you like us to do?” he said.
“I say we use Eric to confuse the cornbread, ‘these colors don’t run’, asshole humans. If I go on tv, they won’t see past my skin color.”
“Or your pocket protector,” Eric said dryly.
“Exactly,” Peter said. “Isabelle’s a beautiful woman, and they won’t believe Godric’s our elder, no matter what anyone says. They won’t know how to vilify a big tall Viking man with good hair and a perfect American accent. Plus, Eric’s a bigger bitch than Nan any day.”
Eric snorted. “Kisses to you too, Pete.”
Godric frowned. “We will not give the media any more fodder to implicate our family in this disaster. It is the Fellowship who have committed this act. You may make a statement condemning their violence against our kind. Stress the need for adequate policing of extremist hate groups.” Pamela raised a hand. “My grand-progeny wishes to comment.”
The king allowed her to speak. “Keep the pocket protector and wear glasses, your majesty. It says ‘safe public intellectual and sexy nerd pundit’.”
“Duly noted.” Peter addressed Godric again. “What about Nan? Her fingering you as a leader risked exposing our government.”
“I object to her existence.” Godric went to hang up.
“I do too,” Rosalyn blurted out. “However…we might have other considerations.”
“Who is addressing me?” Peter said, his tone clipped.
“This is Dr. Rosalyn Murray, your majesty.” Godric watched his wife and realized what she was doing.
“Yes, forgive me, madame. We’ve not been introduced.”
“An error soon to be rectified,” Godric said. “Madame is correct. Have California arrest Flannigan for violation of statute 2.19. She is wanted for questioning in Texas.” Godric cut the call.
Eric cut his eyes at his sister. “You just saved that bitch’s life.”
Rosalyn looked at Eric coldly. “Now she owes me everything.” Eric raised an impressed eyebrow. Rosalyn stood and everyone at the war table quickly stood in deference. She was rapidly learning how to play this game. Godric took Rosalyn’s hand and snapped at Eric and Pamela to follow them.
Godric shut the doors of the library and rested his forehead against the wood. If he stopped to think, he would hear the seductive call of Death. Whispers that urged him to raze the Fellowship to the ground. Destroy the AVL media machine. Dismantle the Great Reveal for the fool’s errand it was. Commit unspeakable atrocities. He could do it and no one could stop him. The smell of fear and taste of organs danced just beyond his senses. ‘If I have to end Amleth’s life,’ it chanted. ‘If I have to, when I do…’
Rosalyn put a hand on his back. “Godric, what can we do?” she said. His family was waiting for his leadership. He swallowed and took her in his arms. He took a deep breath. Her hair smelled singed.
He sat down on the floor. The other three vampires joined him. He wanted to return to Rosalyn’s account. Her preternatural memory might hold some clue as to how Amleth’s property had been compromised. Costas knew nothing helpful. He had only retrieved the keys and title from a P.O. Box the previous night. He had not been involved in the purchase. Godric could not make sense of it.
“Unless someone claims otherwise, we operate as if Roman is ultimately behind this. We have many enemies and the Fellowship has fanned the flames of hate in every direction, but Roman remains Enemy Number One. What I want to know is how -” his voice cracked, ” – how in the name of everything undead did someone manage to track my Amleth? He lays these traps for others. He does not fall victim to them.” Godric pinched the bridge of his nose. “Tell me again, Rosalyn.”
“I’ve told you everything,” she said. There were dark hollows under her eyes. She kept flexing the healing fingers that had blown off her left hand. Godric had not found her ring. It was low on the list of things he needed his forensics team to uncover in the rubble.
He sighed. “Start from the beginning. Walk us through what happened. There must be something.”
She shook her head helplessly. “Amleth and I pulled up to the house. There wasn’t anyone around. We went in. He turned on the electricity and he told me about the design.”
“Mid-century Danish death trap?” Eric said contemptuously. Godric growled in agreement. It was madness to have a house so full of wood furniture. One shard to the heart was all it would have taken. Godric could not be moved to feel grateful. The chasm beckoned.
Rosalyn shrugged. “He said it wasn’t ready yet.”
“It hadn’t been modified with even the bare minimum security,” Godric said.
“A leak with the contractors?” Pam suggested.
Godric nodded in consideration. “Were there work permits posted on the door? A contractors’ board staked in the yard perhaps?”
“No,” Rosalyn said.
“How did you access the neighborhood again?”
“A tap card. There’s a guard house.”
“A fucking tap card?” Eric said. “Was the guard a were?”
Godric had already preempted Eric’s thinking. “Human. Our pack scoured the area. It’s clear. The other packs know not to get so close to our territory. Did the guard recognize Amleth?”
Rosalyn bit her lip. “I couldn’t say. The gate went up and he waved at us. He had a ball game playing on the radio.”
“Did you hear the score by any chance?”
“Uh.” She closed her eyes to retrace the memory. “Rangers were winning 5-4 at the top of the ninth.”
Godric nodded. “Good. So just around 10:45.”
“God, how long was yesterday?” she said.
“You said the house smelled like chemicals. Think about the smells carefully.” Rosalyn’s senses were so new she was proving as nearly unreliable a witness as a human.
“Amleth said it was new paint, carpeting, and upholstery.”
“But the house wasn’t done yet. In fact, nothing had been done to it. He didn’t indicate whether he had been there before?”
“No. He didn’t know that the spare bedrooms weren’t furnished, if that helps. Maybe he’d only seen pictures online?”
Eric doubted Amleth had been there. “The fresh repairs were likely done by the previous owners to put it on the market.”
Pamela spoke up. “Amleth said there was new upholstery? He would have noticed the fabric. What seller re-upholsters furniture to be included in a house sale? That is an expensive and completely stupid waste of money.”
Everyone agreed it was odd. Godric did not like it. He wished he had some un-detonated C-4 for Rosalyn to scent. “I don’t keep C-4 on the estate premises on the off chance I need to blow something up. Mainly because something might blow up. It reeked of it when we got there but it’s hard to say if that’s what you smelled.”
Eric gnashed his teeth. “How in all Nine fucking Realms did Amleth not detect it? Or at least the silver?”
Rosalyn objected. “I know what silver smells like. It wasn’t silver.”
“Not silver?” Eric said. “No, only a quarter ton of it blew you up and blew out my brother’s fucking brains, Ros.”
“Eric,” Godric warned. “It wasn’t nearly so much silver as that and you know it. They’ve found some way to mask the scents. We’ll wait for the mass spectroscopy reports from forensics. They’ll figure out what chemical was used.”
“Since when do we wait around for lab rats?” Eric retorted.
Godric’s lips pressed into a furious line. “I can’t get into Amleth’s head. Our blood bond is useless until we can get his brain activity going again.”
“If we can,” Pam said. Everyone gave her glacial stares. She scoffed. “What? If I pulled a stunt like this, you wouldn’t be trying to save me. You’d stake me outright for taking Ros somewhere without permission.”
“He did have – ” Godric froze. A shadow of cold horror crossed his features. His right eyelid fluttered.
Eric froze too, recognizing Godric’s tiniest of tells. “Don’t tell me he didn’t have permission.”
Godric swallowed. His lips had gone dry. “I gave him permission to take Rosalyn for a drive – not a destination.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Eric said. “After everything that happened when I was a yearling? Gods above and keep me, Rosalyn,” Eric was breathless. “Tell me you did not convince him to take you there without permission.”
“No! Jesus, no. I didn’t.”
“Oh, you’re gonna need the old gods to get you out of this one,” Eric said, fuming. “What did you do?!”
Rosalyn clutched her hands protectively over her chest. “I didn’t do anything!”
Godric licked his lips. His limbs were still frozen. “When did you know you were going somewhere with him, Ros?”
“When we were in the garden, before we got into the sauna. Amleth said there was someplace he wanted to show me.”
“He told you he’d bought you a house?” Godric said.
“You didn’t know where you were going and you didn’t think to ask? After I made it clear to you how absolutely critical our safety protocols are?” Godric stopped. He leaned back on his hands, dumbfounded. His mind raced. Amleth had sworn. He had sworn to keep her safe and Godric gave him his blood. “He spoke imprecisely to me and you didn’t correct him?”
“No?” She grew visibly upset, realizing she had done something very wrong. “I’m sorry.”
“When did you know where you were headed?”
“I was overstimulated and I fell into downtime trying to process everything that happened when you two bonded.” She looked at Eric, then back to Godric. “In the car, Am said it was a surprise for me, but I was distracted because he was driving like a madman. I was worried about him trashing the car. God, Eric, I’m sorry about the car too. I tried to be careful after we switched but -“
Eric held up a hand. “Wait. He was driving. You switched and you drove?”
“You’re seriously making this about the stupid car, Eric? Really?”
Godric gestured for Eric to be silent. Making Rosalyn defensive was not helping. “Why did you start driving?”
“Amleth was all strung out on your blood and driving like a maniac, slamming over speedbumps and being reckless. He said he was a terrible driver and that he wasn’t worried about messing up Eric’s stupid toy. He was pretty gleeful about it, to be honest. Didn’t you see the car got trashed?”
Eric was grossly offended. “What do you take me for? It wasn’t a priority in the middle of my family being blown up!”
Godric did not like this at all. “Amleth claimed to be a bad driver?”
“He said he never drives in London.”
Eric and Pam looked at each other. “Well he can’t fly and he sure as shit doesn’t take the Tube, Ros. How the hell do you think he gets around?” Eric said.
“Silence,” Godric said. “She does not think like us yet.”
“She doesn’t think period,” Pamela muttered. Eric snapped at her in warning.
Rosalyn had started breathing out of fear. “I thought maybe he had a driver or something. I don’t know!”
“When did you switch into the driver’s seat and where?” Godric said.
“Probably two or three minutes into the drive.”
“Two or three? Which is it?”
She inhaled and focused. “Two minutes, thirty-nine seconds. On the right shoulder of the road. He had me drive in a really big counter-clockwise circle. We chatted.”
“My dress. He really liked it.”
“A little about why he liked it, I guess.”
Godric felt the last of his patience begin to fracture. Eric’s controlled silence over their bond had slipped. His rage was tipping Godric towards his own. “Rosalyn, gods preserve me, you are vampire. You do not guess. Report exactly what you discussed. Use your powers!”
Rosalyn blinked several times at his outburst and tears began streaming down her face. “Loss. We spoke of loss. Mine and his. We…we were bonding.”
Godric shook his head. “I don’t care what you think you were doing. Something isn’t adding up. Tell me again about the phone ringing.”
Rosalyn sniffled. “Amleth was next to the fireplace.”
Eric put a piece of paper down and made a rough sketch of the living room. The double-sided fireplace acted as a dividing wall, splitting the space into a den and sitting room. The kitchen sat off the den, making it the deadliest place to have been. “Where,” Eric said.
Rosalyn sniffed and smeared her tears with the back of a hand. She took the pencil and marked out the spot at the front left edge of the sitting room side of the fireplace. Amleth had caught the blast from behind on the back right side of his body. She added several squares for chairs and tables, and then drew a rectangle for the couch where she had been next to the curtain glass wall facing the street. Caddy corner to the primary bomb, with the wall of brick between her and the explosion, it had been a relatively good spot, all things considered. The curtain glass had immediately failed behind her and sucked the couch backwards, shielding her. Rosalyn started weeping again.
“Tears are not answers. Stop crying,” Godric said with a command. She shivered and her tears ceased flowing. He spun the diagram around. Had Amleth moved a foot to his left and pressed against the fireplace, he would have been entirely shielded from the blast. “Why was he here?”
“He’d just washed his hands.”
“In the bathroom.” She expanded the drawing to include the hallway. “Here.”
“The kitchen was closer.”
Rosalyn shrugged. “I don’t remember there being soap in the kitchen.”
Godric shook his head again. “You didn’t see it there or you don’t know if there was any?”
“I didn’t look.”
Eric growled. “Stop fucking embroidering your memories with speculation and interpretation! Just report the facts, woman! The information is right there in your head!”
“You watch your mouth with me!” Rosalyn said.
“Eric is right,” Godric said. She was not going to like it if he had to start draining her to read her mind. It was a brutal way to be interrogated and he was exceptionally good at the technique. “What do you remember about the kitchen? What did Amla say about it?”
“He didn’t say anything. I just glanced at it. It had a microwave and a fridge – the usual appliances. There isn’t really much point to a kitchen for me anymore.”
“Except to hide a bomb,” Eric grumbled.
Godric looked at the drawing and set it back down. “Amleth comes back from the bathroom and a phone rang. A digital ring, correct?”
“Standard Android ring,” Eric clarified. “Techs are still combing for fragments.”
“Was Amleth already standing there or he paused there at the sound?”
“He had stopped there before it rang. He was, well, he was teasing me.”
“Teasing you how?”
Shame crept into her features. “About forging our bond. He…asked me to come to him.”
Godric already knew he had been trying to rile her up. That much was not interesting or news. His progeny were incorrigible and incredibly predictable. “You hear the digital ring. How many times did it pulse?”
“What did Amleth do?”
Rosalyn struggled to say. “He looked surprised? Stunned? I couldn’t read his expression. He had been so animated – really hyper – bouncing all over the house. Like I said. He was high.”
Godric chewed his cheek in thought. Had he not been flirting with a meal, he would have paid closer attention to the wild fluctuations coming from Amleth’s bond. “Or he was nervous.”
Eric balked. “Godric, you can’t possibly be suggesting that -“
“You will be silent,” he said in a deadly hiss. Everyone cowered. “Three rings. Then what?”
She sucked in a shaky breath. “It rang again. Three rings. I asked if he was going to answer it. He said it wasn’t his. The explosion happened right when it began to ring again. His silhouette against the flash is the last thing I remember before I came around.”
“He did not move?”
Her lip quivered, but his maker’s command held her tears at bay. “There wasn’t time.”
“When it first rang, where did Amleth look?”
Rosalyn bit her lip. “Down and to his right.”
“Not over his shoulder? Not towards the bomb?”
Rosalyn shook her head. “Down at the carpet.”
In his mind, Godric rewound the memory of them getting undressed and dressed the sauna. “Did he touch his pockets? Motion with his hands?”
“Did he have his phone on him? Take a moment and think carefully.”
“Yes. In his hakama pants, remember?”
“I do remember, but you tell me. When was the last time you saw him with the phone?”
“In the car. He touched it through his pants.”
“It rang in the car?”
“No. He just touched it. Out of reflex maybe?”
Godric’s face darkened. “Fifteen hundred year old vampires do not have impulsive human ticks, Ros. He was checking that he had it. It was important that he had it. Did you see him turn it back on after the sauna?”
“But he could he have.”
Godric bit his tongue, read to boil over. “He was alone in the garage and in the bathroom.”
“And to get wood.”
“He brought more wood into the house?” Pamela said, horrified.
“He made a fire.”
The fire was the least of Godric’s concerns. “What pocket did he have his phone in?” He already knew what she was going to say. The coldness in his limbs spread in anticipation.
“Right side. I’m certain of it. He had it in his right pocket before in the garden too. That’s where he put his phone after he took pictures of me and that’s where he put it back when he got dressed in the sauna.”
Godric balked. “He did what? He took pictures of you?”
“Yes, in the garden, as we were leaving. He took a picture of our outfits together for his Instagram and then a few more for himself.”
“He posted pictures of you online?” he said in disbelief. The cold horror that had taken up residence in Godric’s spine lurched forward into his throat. The pit beneath him stretched its maw and laughed.
“No, no! An abstract image. Nothing to identify me.”
Godric felt dizzy. He held out his palm for Eric’s phone. “Show me.”
“I don’t use it, Maker.” Eric’s eyes grew wide. “You always say it’s not secure. Peter advised us…”
“Oh shit,” Rosalyn said. Her brow knitted together. “Jesus. Amleth told me not to say anything about it!” She looked at Eric, mouth agape. He passed her his phone. She pulled up Amleth’s account on a web browser.
Godric stared at the image for the longest time. “Eric, secure Amleth’s body and arrest his children,” he said quietly.
A/N: WHAT!? Reviewers get one very protective Viking curled around them, offering his body as comfort. I also heard feedback helps the next chapter get posted faster ;F