The small aluminum skiff sunk into the thick mud when Longshadow roughly tossed the bound and gagged girl inside. He had found her outside a dive bar on a seedier corner in the French Quarter, and it hadn’t been difficult to lure her away. He pushed at the bow and it freed itself from the embankment with a scraping, slurping sound. The girl struggled against her bindings and made muffled sounds, and he threatened to kick her with a heavily booted foot. She cowered, tears streaming from her eyes, and hid her face in the bottom of the boat. He laughed at his bleach blonde captive, and the engine sputtered as they set off into the swamp. Apart from the hum of the small motor, it was eerily quiet. The night was punctuated only by the indifferent buzzing of cicadas and the lapping sound of the waves against the banks that dotted the waterway here and there. Deeper and deeper they slipped through the inky darkness. Longshadow occasionally slowed the boat to navigate around particularly tricky bends and crooks in the channel.
Nearly an hour later, Longshadow cut the engine and let the shallow boat drift slowly through the dark waters. He pulled a large cooler stowed beneath his seat at the stern and opened it, revealing its contents. It was filled to the brim with blood bags. Fishing out a pocket knife from his vest, he stabbed the blade over and over through the bags, popping them and releasing their contents into the cooler. The girl looked up and could just barely make out the glint of a blade covered in a glossy fluid. She was going to die out here. Her mother warned her not to go to New Orleans for spring break, but did she listen? Now this stringy-haired, tattooed man was going to kill her. She sobbed into the rag tied around her mouth. Longshadow squeezed the blood out of the bags and carelessly tossed them into the swamp. Licking his fingers clean, he started the engine and trawled the boat forward. As they glided along, he slowly poured the grizzly liquid into the water.
“Marduk!” he called out to the ancient vampire. His voice echoed through the cypress trees and the stands of alligator flag. He called again. Moving the boat to a different section of swamp, he dumped more of the blood into the water. He was chumming for a predator.
Eric, Pam, and Godric were sitting out on the balcony of Trädkojan in the sticky summer heat. Presently they were bickering over how to interpret Lillian’s prophecy. They had, in fact, been arguing over its various possible meanings for days now. Lillian had, for her part, grown entirely sick of listening to them and was enjoying a pint of sorbet (and the refreshing A/C) in front of the television. She was sure her fainting spells and anything she might mumble involuntarily during or after them only related to the fact that she had recently started ingesting the blood of a 1000 year old supernatural being. And now, if that didn’t seem crazy enough, she was partially bonded to him. Eric’s expectations, she reasoned, must be influencing her subconsciously and she was unwittingly acting out his desires. It seemed that in all likelihood, if she had been talking about wolves and dragons, it was only because she’d just been holding Godric’s wolf pelt with dragon clasps in her hands only moments before she fainted. No one accepted her view on things and she was happy to let them squabble about it so long as they left her out of it.
Outside, Eric propped his long legs on the balcony railing and leaned back in thought. Despite the humid heat, he dressed in a thin black v-neck cashmere sweater and dress pants. Godric was hashing through the information they knew yet again, hoping that through repetition he might stumble upon something new. “It’s obvious that the dragon and the stormbringer are Marduk. He was often depicted with a snake or dragon in or near water, and as his followers believed he could wield the destructive forces of the weather against his enemies, particularly floods and rain. But this business with wolves? I can only hope it is a metaphor and not actual bloody weres.”
Pam snickered. “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” she said, mimicking some internet meme she had seen.
Godric went on. “Where the waters run red? I am at a loss. This is the problem with prophetic language, it’s so damn obtuse if she can’t tell us more about the images that should be accompanying the information. I haven’t the first notion of who could help teach her to fall into trance without passing out, to stay aware while she was connecting with her powers of vision,” Godric bemoaned.
“There’s a tarot lady next to the dry cleaners on 3rd Street,” Pam said snarkily.
The slightest of smiles traced its way across Godric’s face. He enjoyed Pam’s sense of humor, and he appreciated how her uppity nature pleased Eric and kept him on his toes. He continued, but Eric was no longer listening. He’d fallen into downtime.
Inside the house Lillian tossed her sorbet container in the trash. Realizing it was getting full, she wrestled the heavy bag out of the canister. As she did, one side ripped, sending smelly food cartons and empty blood bags onto the floor. She swore. Thankfully she kept a large box of latex gloves under the counter. Even though she knew that the blood the vampires drank was carefully screened and safe, it still had to be unsanitary to handle them if they’d been opened. She would have preferred it if her roommates would keep a biohazard container, but she felt she didn’t have a right to tell Godric how to run his own household. Snapping the gloves on, she squatted down and started gathering up the garbage. She went to toss a handful of the flat plastic pouches back into the trashbag when suddenly she froze. A wave of heat flushed through her. She closed her eyes and gripped the edge of the counter trying to steady herself. An image flashed in her mind. Unlike her usual imagination, this mental picture felt constricted, as though she were looking through a telescope and was being squeezed through the tube towards the vision on the far end. Swirling water, black and red. Plastic blood bags floating on the churning surface of a wake.
Her heart started pounding and a thick sense of fear coursed through her. She dashed out onto the balcony. The vampires were all looking at her like she was a madwoman.
“Something’s happening,” she said with a wild look in her eyes.
“What is it, little one?” Godric asked.
“I…I think I saw something.” She couldn’t ignore the fact that something was happening to her, not now that she experienced this.
Eric could feel her panic and all of them could hear the rapid thunder of her pulse. “You’re safe. Tell us.” He pulled her onto his lap and gently tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
“I was picking up the garbage – some of your blood bags fell out of the trashcan.” She quickly recounted what she’d seen in her mind.
A look of concern shadowed Godric’s face.
“Where the waters run red,” she said, recalling her earlier statement. “It’s blood, Godric. There’s blood in the water. It was the same swamp from my dream. Wait, I need a pen.” Lillian ran back inside and quickly sketched a small design on a notepad.
“This was on the corner of each of the bags. They were blue, I think. Does that mean anything to you?” She held it up.
Pam took the scrap sheet of paper. Lillian had drawn two blocky figures, a girl and boy, with circle heads and smiley faces, holding hands.
“That’s the New Orleans Children’s Hospital logo.” She showed it to Eric and he nodded in agreement.
“What else? Did you hear anything or feel any particular way?” asked Godric.
She thought about it momentarily and then shook her head in the negative. “Just afraid, panicky. What do we do now?”
“We go to New Orleans,” Eric said resolutely.
The cooler was completely empty. Longshadow continued to call out, periodically punctuating the night with his gruff voice. He’d been at it for hours now. He was just about to put the motor back in the water and head back inland when he caught a distinct ripple across the surface of the water.
He grabbed the girl off the floor of the boat. Terror gleamed in her eyes and she trembled all over.
“Great lord, I bring you an offering!” Longshadow listened, but heard no response.
“Marduk!” Something moved beneath the water. Had he finally found him?
Suddenly an oily, grey arm grabbed the side of the boat, tipping it violently to one side.
“Jesus!” Longshadow pushed the girl forward and she splashed into the water with substantial force. He flailed his arms, trying to recover has balance, and just barely managed to keep himself from overchecking and falling off the other side of the boat. He was still substantially weakened from being tortured by Eric and Pam, and the unexpected motion sent him careening into the bottom of the skiff, arms and legs akimbo. The water thrashed violently and he heard the sound of bones crunching. Longshadow cursed his maker for ever sending him on this mission. He was contemplating how to best convince the ancient to get into the boat with him, when the ashen claw suddenly wrapped its powerful fingers around his ankle, instantly crushing the bone through the flesh. Before he could react, he was flying into the water. The last thing he saw was the flash of white teeth and yellow eyes.
“We’ll leave tomorrow as soon as possible,” Eric said.
“Where exactly are you going?”
“To Sophie-Anne’s court. We need to find out if she knows anything – about Greysolon, about this blood bank theft. And at the very least, I want to give her a heads up that something is going down in her area.”
“I presume she runs New Orleans?”
“Yes, and all of southern Louisiana.”
“Can’t you just give her a phone call? It seems like running towards the danger is the last thing you should be doing.”
“Sophie-Anne is quite young to run such an important territory,” Pam explained, “but she does because she’s a highly skilled politician and the older residents there are happy with her ‘management style’. Which means she’s one tricky bitch. It’s hard enough to tell if she’s lying to your face, let alone over the phone.”
“I wish you didn’t have to leave again so soon,” Lillian lamented.
“Why? You are coming with us.”
“Eric…” Godric interrupted sharply. His child responded with a cold stare. Godric spun on his heel and walked silently out of the room. Eric stalked after him.
Clearly there was something about Eric’s decision to take her along that bore a certain gravity, however no one seemed willing to explain a thing to her at present.
“Well, poo,” Pam said. “And here I was hoping we could have a little girl shopping time, but Eric will no doubt have us leaving at sundown…” She sighed in annoyance.
“Pam, mind clueing me into what that what about?”
“You should ask them.”
She sighed and headed into the library. Down the length of the secret passageway, she could hear Eric and Godric quarreling in heated, low tones. As if the rumbling feeling she had over the bond didn’t already tip her off. They quieted hearing her footsteps.
“Hey. Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, lover. Godric and I were just discussing our plans.” Eric held out a hand. She hopped onto the bed next to him.
“And by discussing, you mean arguing?”
Godric laughed softly from his armchair. “Just debating. I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring you to New Orleans.”
“And I say it’s better to keep her close, before any more shit hits the fan.”
Godric growled in anger. She was missing something. By their heated stares she could tell they were firing off thoughts through their bond, leaving her clueless.
“Do I have a say in this?” she asked.
“Folly!” Godric shouted, ignoring Lillian’s question. “Eric, you are acting like a newborn vampire, letting your emotions rule you! You cannot risk being seen as a weak regent…and you absolutely must protect her as an asset, bonded or not.”
“What would you have me do? Send you in my stead? How does having my sire do my dirty work make me look?” he hissed.
Lillian could have sworn Godric flushed pink in anger. He said nothing, however, and instead merely crossed his legs and traced the curve on the chair’s armrest with a single, pale finger.
“Guys, please. Stop yelling and tell me what’s going on!”
“Lillian, there are too many of our kind milling about Nola. It’s a mecca for North American vampire. There’s too great a risk that someone might scent you.”
“It is only a matter of time before someone scents her!” Eric growled.
Lillian suddenly picked up on their meaning. She hadn’t thought of this before, but of course it made sense. How silly of her! The second she starts wandering around at night, any vampire who crossed her path might pick up on the fact that she had vampire blood in her. And that would make her an object of curiosity.
Godric sat quietly and contemplated. Finally, he spoke. “Let her come then. No one needs to know I am stateside just yet. I will stay with her in the evenings. Perhaps we can find someone to help develop her sight. You and Pam can ferret out what, if anything, Sophie-Anne knows. If push comes to shove, we’ll make our next move from there.” Eric’s face visibly relaxed and he nodded.
The following evening, the four of them piled into the Audi with a few garment bags and headed out to the small airstrip on the edge of town. On Pam’s request, Lillian had helped her pack. It seems Sophie-Anne kept a very formal court and expected her guests to dress in their finest. She suspected that Pam secretly wanted to show off her very spendy wardrobe. Tonight she and Eric looked as though they were headed out to attend the Oscars. Pam’s hair was swept up and she had practically poured herself into a black velvet gown. A shockingly large square emerald hung around her neck. Eric, on the other hand, made her weak in the knees went he appeared sporting a grey, three piece summer-weight wool suit. And even though Godric was on babysitting duty, he’d put on dark slacks and a light blue dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. She felt underdressed in jeans and flats.
Eric drove at his usual breakneck speeds and soon they were ascending the stairs of a shiny Gulfstream jet. Godric began grilling the man waiting for them on the tarmac. The mechanic nodded and nervously showed him a clipboard. Much to her surprise, Godric didn’t join them in the plush leather chairs, but headed to the cockpit, winking at Lillian as he disappeared through the doorway.
“Wouldn’t trust anyone else,” Eric said, pulling out a newspaper. “It’s funny. He never took to driving really, but you can’t keep him out of the skies.”
Lillian took the opportunity to wander the cabin as soon as they were off the ground. It was still hard for her to believe anyone lived in such extravagant luxury or –gasp – owned things like planes. There was an actual bedroom on board! Eric caught her peeking in it and with a wily grin, bemoaned that with such a short flight there wouldn’t be any time to christen it properly. The flight took less than 20 minutes. She wondered how many other women might have enjoyed Eric’s services in there. But alas, now was not the time to start worrying about that.
Godric’s landing was silky smooth – the plane barely bumped as it touched down. A limo awaited them and she was startled to see that Jeremy, her daemon bodyguard, was their driver. They sped silently along the twinkling city streets. Tourists were everywhere, strolling along the sidewalk in rowdy groups, laughing and shouting. Lillian wondered if she’d be able to explore the city at all, or if it would be too risky. The car pulled up to a condominium just off Jackson Square and Pam led the way to a third floor apartment. Like the safehouse in Shreveport, it too was fairly nondescript, although more furnished and upscale given the posh address. It also was entirely unprepared for a human occupant. Eric tossed two coolers into the fridge – one for Lillian, the other theirs.
“Jeremy will be back shortly with supplies for you. Other than him, let no one in. We will be gone most of the night, and may be forced to stay at the Queen’s residence. Just stick with Godric and use your good sense.”
“Be safe,” she said, and he touched the Nordic compass he wore under his suit with a smile. Then, kissing her lovingly, he headed out with Pam.
“Will they be okay?” she asked nervously.
“Of course,” Godric replied.
He kicked off his shoes and settled on the couch with his laptop while Lillian curled into an armchair and flipped mindlessly through the many channels on tv. There was nothing on and she felt restless.
She sighed. “What are you doing?” She’d noticed that he seemed entirely absorbed in his work and was scribbling notes as he clicked around on the internet.
“I’m making a list of possible contacts who might be able help us develop your vision.”
“A few,” he said in a clipped tone.
“For example?” she pressed.
“This Octavia Fant seems like the real deal.”
They lapsed once again into silence. Time seemed to tick slowly by at a painful pace. She wished she knew what was happening with Eric. Jeremy returned briefly to drop off her human “extras” – plates and silverware, toilet paper, etc. Godric took them with little more than a grunt and sent him away.
Out of the blue, she asked, “Have you heard from your chef friend?”
“Yes.” Godric looked up quizzically, unsure of her sudden interest in his human business partner back in Lunsen, Sweden.
She got up and plopped next to him on the couch. “Magnus is well? Anything new going on at the restaurant?” she pressed.
“He is fine. All seems normal there.”
“Do you miss him?”
“Miss him? No. I’ve no reason to think he won’t be there when I return.”
“Are you looooo-vers?” she teased.
“No. I do not keep glamoured humans around me, and lovers must be…this has already been explained to you, Lillian. What is the meaning of…”
“Were you and Eric ever?” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
Godric gave her a hard stare. “I take it you are bored?”
“Yes. C’mon, tell me a story about fighting Picts or Romans or something.”
“I didn’t realize I was here to be your entertainment.” His mouth was set in a hard line, but his almond shaped eyes were playful and glittering.
“Of course you’re not, I’m sorry.” She slumped against the couch’s armrest. He was here to protect his family…and she was right in the middle of it. Where she didn’t belong. “You’ll wipe my memory when this is all over, won’t you? You must be furious that Eric’s let it even get this far.”
“You presume far too much,” he replied, setting the computer to the side. “You’re like him, you know. You take your duties seriously and you’re fiercely loyal. You worry about protecting those under your wing. Eric came to me the night I arrived with the very same concern. Every rule has an exception.”
“Why do I qualify as one? Is it my blood or because you mean to use me as an ‘asset’?” she said the latter bit with a little more bite than she’d intended. It was something that had been bitterly stewing over since the previous night.
“What?” she sat up, unsure what he was about to do. She was suddenly afraid he might bite her.
Come, he commanded silently. Unable to resist the call, she slid over next to him. He put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her into the crook of his shoulder. Inhaling the heady vampire scent of her bonded’s maker and feeling the cool satin of his firm arm, she sighed in relief. The vampire blood coursing through her veins immediately felt contented by proximity to its origins.
“You have been fidgeting nervously all night. Stop worrying about Eric and stop fixating on all your fears. I have no intention of sending you away and you don’t know what I meant when I referred to you as an asset.”
“I know. Tell me now?”
“We were just going over contingency plans for the various possible outcomes we might be faced with. One includes formally claiming you as part of Eric’s retinue, but that’s a last ditch option and one I’m especially not keen on. The risks outweigh the benefits.”
“Wait, like going to the vampire public and saying I’m part of his court? How could you pull that off? Isn’t it a capital offense to reveal yourselves to a human?”
“It’s complicated. Let’s not worry about that now.” He kissed the top of her head and flipped the tv to a rerun of Arrested Development.
“This? Really?” she asked. “I’d have thought you’d prefer something else. Pam likes horror films.”
“That’s because she didn’t live through the Crusades or the Inquisition. There’s been plenty of horror in my life. I like comedy.” He mussed her hair and Lillian giggled.
“I would so give a dollar to see you do a chicken dance!”
[For those of you who aren’t Arrested Development fans, the chicken dance is worth a google…]