The din of voices in the courtyard hushed when Sophie-Anne’s willowy frame appeared amidst the crowd of attendees. She gave a short speech welcoming her guests and the cackle of laughter and clinking of blood-filled glasses once again filled the air. Eric and Pam kept their distance and stood at the back next to an oversized marble fountain topped by a tinkling cherub. Light poured onto the grass through the tall French doors that surrounded the garden nestled inside Sophie-Anne’s French Creole mansion. Emissaries, dignitaries, representatives and officials of every sort milled about, greeting each other with guarded bows and curtsies. One such character cornered Eric, wanting to know all about his business model for Fangtasia. Bored by their banter, Pam began plucking the petals off a potted gardenia topiary and flitting them spitefully into the little statue’s watery stream.
“Dammit Pamela, cut it out,” Eric grumbled under his breath. He turned back to the dignitary of something such and continued pretending to listen, all the while keeping a hawk eye on the regent chatting across the courtyard. Pamela snapped an entire blossom off the shrub and wistfully stuck it into the elegant coils of her coif. She then snatched a champagne flute of blood from a waiter. In the groups of guests she spotted the long, curling blond locks and violet eyes of one particularly infamous New Orleans vampire. He was surrounded by young admirers. She raised her glass to him and he nodded, similarly toasting her from afar.
Using his perfect peripheral vision, Eric saw that Sophie-Anne had been similarly cornered by an exceptionally dull vampire. It was the perfect opportunity to make his move.
“Begging your pardon, sir, I believe Lady Leclerq has just summoned me,” he said, escaping his own interlocutor.
Eric strutted confidently across the garden towards his target, Pamela in tow. The guests whispered in recognition and a few even bowed – not a particularly clever thing to do in someone else’s court.
Putting on a megawatt smile, he purred, “Sophie-Anne, how lovely to see you!” They gave each other air kisses on the cheek. He turned to her underling guest and waved him away. “Sssssk. Run along now.” The vampire stumbled backwards, speechless.
The porcelain skinned redhead tossed her hair, clearly aware of her beauty. “Now you’ve been terribly naughty, Eric, not telling me you were coming. I didn’t get to announce your presence properly!”
“Surely you mean ‘show me off properly’?” he said flirtatiously. Sophie-Anne just loved to demonstrate her power. Being seen with high-profile company, especially that of a regent who had 4 times been voted as “America’s Sexiest Vampire Lord,” was one of her favorite hobbies.
“Ah well, that too,” she feigned a sigh. “Is this a courtesy visit or shall we take this little party into the conference room?”
“Conference room, I’m afraid.”
“I suspected as much. You never come see your Sophie-Annie boo just for fun,” she said in a pouty, almost babyish voice. Eric hated babytalk. He especially despised it in women, never mind that he thought it incredibly undignified behavior for a ruler.
Once they were situated around a large oval conference table, Sophie-Anne called her second in command, Andre, over the intercom. The swarthy vampire joined them moments later. He had been turned young and had the devastating good looks of a telenovela soap star.
“What can we do for you, Mr. Northman?” Sophie inquired.
“I have reason to believe a certain Longshadow has defected my territory and may be in New Orleans. He has committed offenses against me and mine and has not served out his punishment in its entirety. I have come to seek his extradition.”
“I see,” she said in a bored voice. “It is unfortunately the case that many of our kind abandon…how shall I say…less vibrant areas for our fair city. What do you think failed to keep his interest in yours, Eric?”
Eric’s face was a mask. He refused to engage in her baited comment. He had made the mistake of sleeping with this wretched woman once and ever since she took every opportunity to make it seem as though it had been her choice not to continue the relationship. As if! Through the bond Pam was sending him a gagging sensation. He kicked her under the table.
“We also have received information that suggests the New Orleans Children’s Hospital may have been robbed of blood. As you know, it is not part of our blood bank system and such an anomalous theft will not go unnoticed by humans. It is unclear if the two incidents are connected.”
“And how have you come by this intelligence?”
“I am not at liberty to disclose that.”
“Hmm…you know I don’t care much for secrets, Northman. So. You can’t control your own people and they are now running amok on my land. It’s funny you should choose this particular moment to come visit me.” She turned to Andre. “Bring in our guest, dear.”
When Andre returned with none other than Daniel Greysolon, Eric struggled to keep his mask of indifference.
“Now here’s one I didn’t expect to see again so soon.” Greysolon said, taking a seat across the table from Eric. “Of course, your company, ma belle, is always away too long,” he fawned at Pam. She sent another gag reflex to Eric, but only once, fearing he’d punish her later and realizing the situation had just become thorny.
“Sophie, what are we to make of such a coincidence?” the Lord from Minnesota asked.
“I was just going to ask the same,” she replied viciously.
“My child! My beautiful child was killed last night!” Greysolon wailed dramatically.
“Condolences, Greysolon. This is unhappy news,” Eric said.
“I felt his life blink out in my soul like a shattered star! I dwell in darkness! I demand restitution, Eric!”
“You want to be paid? I myself only just arrived to search for him. And funnily enough, your accountant has not wired the amount you owe me. Perhaps you should fire him since he is not following orders.”
“Longshadow was one of my first progeny. I cherished him!” he continued to wail. No blood tears, however, leaked from his eyes.
“Oh save your lies!” Eric pounded his fist in the table, denting the wood, “You’ve sired more fucking children than a rabbit!”
“You mean before or after you pay me for what he’s stolen from me?” Eric’s fangs slid down threateningly.
“Did you not already resolve this matter weeks ago, Eric?” Sophie-Anne asked. “You’ve aired your grievances, the both of you. Certainly this money business can be sorted. What we are talking about presently is the fact that Longshadow has met his true death. And in my backyard.” She tapped a single fingernail pointedly on the table at each word. She then pretended to act confused. “Now…who could have motivation to do that?”
“I swear to God I will make you pay for this, Northman. Your pretty boy ways and hoity toity bloodline will only get you so far.”
Eric rose slowly to all 6’4″ of his staggering height, his razor sharp fangs fully extended. In a flash he was in Greysolon’s face, grabbing him by the shirt and half dragging him over the table.
“Are. You. THREATENING ME?” Eric hissed.
Greysolon swallowed in fear. Funny how such a human reflex – to seek comfort in nursing like an infant – could last even into immortality. Eric tossed him back and, smoothing his coat, sat down.
“If I had wanted to kill Longshadow, I would have. I certainly was well within my right. But I chose not to, because a free rat always runs to its nest. And I’m more interested in figuring out what the Rat King is up to.” He glared at Greysolon.
Sophie-Anne jumped in. “Eric, we were apprised of the hospital theft some days ago. There is evidence of vampire involvement, but Longshadow is not a suspect.”
She smiled like a viper. “Why, you are, my dear. Your hair was found on the scene.”
Eric scoffed. “You must be fucking kidding me! I’ve been seen in my club by the human public every night this week.”
“Lord Northman, may I please remind you of your language in front of her Ladyship,” Andre said.
Eric set his gaze slowly on the regent’s second. He looked him up and down with a deadly stare. He wouldn’t dignify the slime with a response – even Pam knew to keep her mouth shut at a meeting of regents. He turned back to her “highness.” “How dare you two accuse me of such a base crime. I come here as a courtesy and you toss these fabrications at me? Sophie, I suggest we now discuss what I really came to talk about. Lord Greysolon, the lady and I have a matter to broach.”
“We haven’t resolved this! I expect restitution for this grievance!”
“Yes, you would, wouldn’t you. Now leave.” For a split second, Greysolon appeared undecided about what to do before a low rumbling growl from Eric sent him packing.
Eric rested his forehead on the steeple-point of his fingers. He was no fool. Sophie-Anne was obnoxious, true, but she was as cunning as they come and they needed all the help they could get.
“I have had just about enough of Daniel-fucking-Greysolon. Sophie, he’s up to something. He’s turning vampires left and right. He had Longshadow steal my money and he can’t repay even this measly amount because he’s flat broke. But where the real concern lies is that he ordered Longshadow to retrieve Greysolon’s maker down here, in your backyard, as you say. I suspect the blood theft is related. To rouse Greysolon’s maker or feed him or some such. Hell, maybe he ate Longshadow, too.”
“How convenient for you. I suppose you are going to tell me Longshadow planted evidence at the hospital to incriminate you? Do continue, I find this all very amusing, Viking.”
“Do you have any fucking idea who his maker is?” He looked at Andre, daring him to correct his language again. Andre cast his eyes elsewhere.
“Well, of course there were always the rumors…”
“They’re true. Worse than true. He’s a true ancient of the old world and he’s gone feral. What in the name of Odin does this fool want with this mad dog of a maker and an army of vampire weaklings?”
All the ostentation had drained from Sophie-Anne’s demeanor.
“You are positive?”
“Sophie, I could not be more dead serious. I have heard this ancient was the sole force behind the fall of Babylon.”
“War?” she all but whispered. “But that is madness. Greysolon must be greatly weakened from having made so many younglings…”
A lightbulb suddenly went on. “That’s it. Jävla helvetes…Det är det! He needs his maker to re-strengthen him! It’s been right in front on me this whole time.” [Fucking hell…That is it!]
Eric leaned back in his chair. The implications hit him. All along he’d conflated the theft of his money with Longshadow’s attempt to trap him, thinking the two were related, when in fact these were entirely separate issues. Longshadow had meant to incapacitate Eric and pass him along to Greysolon so that he could feed off of his powerful old blood!
Not far from Sophie-Anne’s court, Lillian had fallen asleep on Godric’s shoulder in the safehouse. He had turned off the television program and clicked off the table lamp to let the human woman sleep more comfortably. Enjoying her warmth and sweet scent, he had stretched out and relaxed into downtime when suddenly he went rigid with Eric’s white-hot fury. Whatever had him going couldn’t be good news. Godric monitored the emotions coming through their bond, carefully trying to distinguish the tenor of situation. Eric’s anger built and built. He wouldn’t intervene with a maker’s command unless absolutely necessary. Best not allow him to slaughter the whole court. He chuckled to himself and shook his head. His child loved nothing more than a good fight.
Eric sat up and bellowed, “GREYSOLON! In the name of Freya I shall send you to your true death!” Surely the entire compound heard his roar, if not the whole block.
Pam grabbed his shirtsleeve, “Eric. No! We still don’t know if he’s found Marduk or who they mean to fight! Please, master!”
Eric jerked his arm away from Pam and tore off down the hall.
“Well fuck,” she muttered.
His fangs hung glistening and his lips were parted, inhaling and tasting the scent of his prey. He tracked the scent to a room and using only a fraction of his strength, kicked the wooden door clear off the doorframe. Greysolon had been in the midst of feeding from a glamoured human, and he tossed the girl away and screamed at the furious blond warrior charging at him.
“Northman, stop! Stop!” Eric grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and dragged him out of the room and back down the hall to the conference room. He slammed the smaller vampire on the table and he held him, pinned there, by the neck. Greysolon struggled to free himself.
Boring his glacial eyes into Greysolon’s, he thrust every bit of his glamouring energy into him. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t end you this very instant! Quit thrashing about!”
Greysolon went limp. Sophie-Anne cocked her head to the side, unclear about what magic Eric was working on the Lord of Minnesota.
“Tell me,” Eric commanded.
“The wolves are moving in on us. They’ve been streaming in from Canada by the hundreds. I needed more vampires to keep our community safe.”
“We have no beef with the weres. Why would you fear them? Why would you hide this from your fellow regents? We could have brokered a favorable peace.”
“I have an age old blood debt with the weres. They will never settle. Nor will I.”
“And your master?”
Greysolon started laughing. Eric gritted his teeth and poured his force into his glamour.
“Marduk has arisen. Our bond opened the moment Longshadow’s snuffed out. He is coming.”
Eric looked at Sophie-Anne.
“Kill him,” Sophie-Anne spat. He turned back to his enemy and was suddenly punched in the gut by his maker’s call.
Eric paused, taking a deep, measured breath.
He blinked several times, regaining his composure. “We might need him.”
“Fucking kill him, Viking!” Sophie-Anne screamed. Eric’s prey drives were dampening. He was thinking more clearly through his blood lust.
Thank you, he sent, silent as a prayer, to Godric. He was just about to do something foolish.
“No, we must keep him alive for now. We can use him. Greysolon’s the only one who can locate Marduk now that he once again senses him through their bond.”
Greysolon began once more to pointlessly resist Eric’s hold.
” But, upon my word, I will run him through with my blade when this is finished,” he hissed.
“Indeed.” Sophie-Anne pressed her intercom and called for the guards to come silver Greysolon and place him in custody.
Once the guards dragged him off, Andre spoke up, “Lord Northman, what did you do to him? He squealed like a pig! You didn’t even need to torture him.”
“Ah. Children, children.” Eric took Andre by the hand and stared at him deeply, then beckoned Sophie-Anne to him as though he were about to divulge a great secret. He stroked Sophie-Anne’s face with his thumb, causing her give a genuine smile – the first of the evening. He gazed at her, and again at Andre, with every fiber of his preternatural being.
“Greysolon is a coward. He told us everything without prodding. You will remember nothing peculiar about how I extracted information from him, except that my powerful physique overwhelmed him entirely.” He couldn’t help throwing that last bit in.
Eric dropped their hands and spun quickly around to Pamela, his hand covering his mouth. Her eyes registered her maker in shock, but she made no motion to betray it. He threw his arm around her and marched out, quipping loudly over his shoulder, “So like I was saying, I’m famished after this business. We’ll see you tomorrow, Sophie-kins. Ta-ta, my beauty.”
They sped down the hall, Eric keeping his head down all the while.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Eric!” A trickle of blood was streaming out his nose and he was furiously trying to wipe it away and lick the evidence off his fingers.
“Are you okay?” Pam said with slight panic in her voice, handing him a handkerchief.
“Yes, let’s just get the hell out of here.” They took the front entrance out of the house and walked quickly – but at human speed – down the throngs of humans partying on the sidewalks. They rounded the corner to their safehouse condo. Garnering the notice of the security guard in the lobby, he shrugged and stumbled slightly like a drunken goon, holding the bloodied, lacey fabric to his nose. Pamela punched the elevator button about 10 times more than necessary. To normal eyes, Eric was just a handsome guy who’d probably gotten knocked in the nose in a bar fight defending the pretty blond woman with him. Once inside the elevator, Eric sighed in relief and gave back Pam her hanky.
“Why thank you master, for this…gift,” she tucked the soiled kerchief in her purse. “Now would you kindly mind telling me what the fuck is going on?”
“Glamouring all of them was too much. This fucking gift isn’t developed enough yet. I thought I was going to break into a sweat! Can you imagine? Gods, let’s just hope it sticks.”
“It will,” she said confidently. She touched his arm and looked with great respect into his eyes. “It will, Eric.” He nodded, and the elevator doors opened onto the third floor.