Chapter 26: Be the Change
The sounds of my own heavy breathing and that of the Weres in the room were the only sounds I could hear.
My uncle stiffened beside me and hissed in my ear, “What have you done?”
Taking a deep breath, I pushed away from my uncle and pushed my way between Eric and Robert who had turned along with everyone else to see the new arrivals. Giving a bob of the head I said, “Thank you for coming. I’m glad you finally arrived.” I was able to keep my voice steady and respectful with some effort.
The Pythoness looked just as she had the last time I had seen her in Rhodes, and just like in Rhodes, she turned her sightless eyes towards me and I had the distinct feeling that she was “seeing” me in another way.
She had been led forward by several of her handmaidens and surrounded by guards. She raised a gnarled hand to point at me. “You are the human who spoke at the trial in Rhodes.” She paused but continued when I didn’t say anything. “You have requested my presence here in the name of my child, lacing your request with threats of grave repercussions if I did not come. What is it you want from me, girl?” the ancient oracle asked. Robert’s head whipped around to look at me, conveying his clear shock that I had called the oracle here. One of her handmaidens suddenly appeared with a large, ornate pillow and the Ancient Pythoness was lowered onto it, as though she often sat down in the middle of battlefields.
I stepped slightly closer to stand more directly in front of the AP and felt both Eric and Robert move to stand behind me. I could feel that they were both still shocked by the appearance of the oracle but they were making it clear that they were standing with me. “I would like you to settle this without bloodshed,” I said quietly.
“You would like me to interfere in something that is not my place,” the Pythoness laughed. She leaned forward and pointed a bony finger at me. “Ever have vampires taken the territories of others through force. Why would I put myself in the middle of this fight now? Not even for the life of my child can I interfere,” she said with a gesture of the hand towards Robert. Eric and most of the other vampires looked at him in shock. Robert told no one who his maker was, not even me. I had seen the glimpse of an image in his mind when he told me the story of how he was made. It hadn’t been easy to get in touch with his maker and had taken asking a lot of vampires how I could reach her before the Queen of Minnesota was able to put me in touch with her directly. It had taken even more effort to use veiled threats to convince the AP to make the journey.
“Things have changed. Times have changed,” I said, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice. “Vampires can’t keep doing things in the old ways.”
Felipe stepped closer to the Pythoness as well. He was visibly trying to restrain his anger. “The strong rule the weak. That is how it has always been.” He flicked his wrist towards my vampires saying, “They were weak so I will take their kingdoms as my own.”
Eric snarled and started to step closer to Felipe but I grasped his arm and yelled, “Wisdom and cunning make you strong! Not brute force and ambition alone. You can’t bully and scare everyone into your rule.”
Felipe smiled cruelly. “You will make a wonderful addition to my retinue. I will have the famed telepath in my service. I am cunning. I am wise. And yes, I am ambitious. It serves me well. You would do well to realize your place and serve me willingly. It would be better for you and your young.”
I tried to gather my thoughts but Felipe made a gesture for me to come to him, like he thought I might heel like a dog and he continued when I remained where I was. “I would prefer you serve me willingly. I would not be a poor master to you. The life of your pledged is forfeit. Save the life of your young and I will protect you both. Be wise.”
I shook out of Eric’s ever-tightening grip and took a step towards Felipe, pointing at him as I did. I saw the ancient oracle sitting on her pillow out of the corner of my eye listening to the scene unfold with her head tilted. “Give Louisiana and Arkansas to Eric. Go back to Nevada and you can have peace with these kings provided a truce can be formed. You do those things and you and I can come up with an agreement for me to work for you on a limited, contractual basis. Take it or leave it,” I said, sounding stronger than I felt. I could feel my body slightly trembling and I struggled to control it.
My hands had unconsciously drifted to the lower swell of my belly in an effort to sooth my children. My emotions were all over the place and they could feel that and everyone else’s tumultuous emotions. I wasn’t sure why Eric had wanted Arkansas from Felipe, but I figured it was best to go along with it. In the end, I just wanted to make sure Eric got Louisiana. It had taken me time to come to terms with, but I had realized the only measure of safety (and even then it might be limited) would be if Eric ruled the kingdom and answered to no one else.
“I will have you working for me as often as I please. It would be in the best interest of your offspring to cooperate. Your child could so easily be damaged,” he said, emphasizing the word easily.
Eric stepped in front of me again and Robert stepped beside me to wrap an arm around my shoulders as Eric spoke. “This is not finished. You cannot have her. I will fight you to my final death to keep her from you,” he hissed as he crouched slightly.
Felipe’s men seemed to press even closer around us, and I knew an all-out fight would only benefit the Nevada vampires. Felipe had come with superior numbers while we had been trying to rely more on smaller numbers and stealth. Between my two large vampires pressing me between them and the vast number of Nevada vampires, I felt even smaller than I normally did. And I hated that feeling.
I was pressed so close to Eric that he had kept one hand behind himself pressed against my stomach. I leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss to his back. “I won’t let you kill Eric. I just won’t. Or anyone else that came here and fought with us. And you’re right. My children could be very easily damaged. So could I. But what would the world think if you hurt or killed a pregnant woman? What would humans think?” I pressed, speaking loudly and looking towards the Ancient Pythoness as well while I spoke. She had started to look bored with what was happening, but straightened slightly at my words.
I kept one arm wrapped around Robert’s waist for support as I stepped beside Eric again and took his hand in mine. I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to remain on my feet for my frayed nerves and emotions, but somehow I found strength in their support. “We stand or fall together,” I said in a clear voice.
Felipe’s anger began to flare at my words. “No vampire would stop me if I hurt or killed you and no human would discover if I did. Why should I fear humans?,” he spit, trying to step further forward as one of his vampires carefully tried to hold him back.
“You should fear humans. They handle so much of your lives now,” I said, looking around the room and addressing all of the vampires. “They handle all of your daytime business and often times know where your homes are. Where you sleep. And for sure where you do business. Humans do more and more things for you and know more and more about you. It’s the price you pay for coming out to the world. You don’t want to believe it, but that makes you vulnerable to them now. In the past, your greatest safety was in human ignorance. But now, they know you exist. And every day, they learn more of your weaknesses.”
I let it sink in for a few moments and looked back at the seething Nevada King to continue. “You think you could get away with killing a human woman. A pregnant human woman—but you can’t. If I die, or anything happens to me, packages will be delivered to news media throughout the world by humans, vampires and Weres who I trust and owe me. Information detailing weaknesses of vampires as a whole, as well as your more than shady personal business dealing—including human trafficking—will be exposed to the world. You think you have problems with a few vampire drainers here and there trafficking V, wait and see what happens if you kill a pregnant woman. You’ll start battle with the humans that you can’t win anymore. You may be stronger, but we’re a pretty determined species. And we don’t have many of your weaknesses. And we make new advances in science every day. You start a war and we might start firing nuclear weapons. Yeah, it would probably kill us all, but it would kill you too. You need us to survive. But humans don’t need vampires.”
I could feel nearly every vampire bristling at my threats, which I had expected. I knew the threat of public exposure of their weaknesses and secrets would make all of them upset, but it also gave me power. I turned toward the Ancient Pythoness, who was looking curiously intrigued, more like she was watching a great movie unfold in front of her. Having her here had been part of my gamble. If I was going to make my threat truly effective and have any hope of forming a truce between kingdoms, I would need her. “What about you?” I asked her. “Can you allow this to continue now? Can you allow Felipe’s greed and ambition to put all vampires in danger?”
“You would blackmail me with threats against all vampires!” Felipe thundered as he threw his arms out towards all of the vampires around us.
“It’s not blackmail. I’m bargaining. Except for the human trafficking, which you will stop immediately, and your ambition to take too much power, you are not a bad ruler from the accounts I’ve heard. This can only end badly if you don’t cooperate,” I said, squeezing Eric’s hand with all of my might, pleading with myself that this might work.
“My wife speaks truly,” Eric said, taking over and looking down at me with an almost indulgent smile. “You are a cunning king. Just too overreaching. Form an alliance with those gathered here. We would be a reckoning force to other kingdoms. No other kingdom would dare invade one of our states if we formed an alliance. You could continue here now, but we will fight you to the end rather than submit to final death. How many of your gathered forces are you willing to lose? How willing are you to start a war with the humans? Sookie is right. The old ways cannot continue on as they have. We knew this when we made out existence known to the humans, but we have been loath to truly accept it and change our ways.”
“One way or another, you will lose Louisiana and Arkansas. If you start a war with the humans, we shall all be doomed to lose more than our kingdoms. Wisdom is learning to change and adapt,” Robert said, addressing Felipe as he stood beside me, one arm still wrapped around my shoulders.
“We are on the precipice of great change. The choices made here will affect the continuation of many species. Choose poorly and it all could fall to ruin. Choose wisely and a new era may begin,” the Ancient Pythoness called out in a strong voice. Her gaze fell on the Nevada king. “What is your choice King Felipe de Castro? Will you change and adapt? Or will you resist and push us over the abyss?”
Felipe made an effort to control his facial responses before he spoke. “Long have I ruled by my strength and force, but I have also ruled and survived through wisdom.” He looked up at Eric and I with resolve in his eyes. “You may have Louisiana and Arkansas. They have been drains on my kingdom in this economy anyway. But you may have them provided an alliance between kingdoms is formed here and that I am allowed the use of Miss Stackhouse’s services.” His eyes drifted to mine. “You have played your cards cunningly Miss Stackhouse. Threat of media exposure to the public is too great, so you shall have your bargain,” he said with a nod.
I could tell Eric wanted to object to me working for Felipe, but I spoke before he could, knowing it would be a huge step to solidify any kind of peace. “We’ll work out a contract between us for my services and the Ancient Pythoness can hold it to ensure that both parties follow the contract. My husband of course will have ultimate say of how security is to be run concerning me,” I answered. Eric looked down at me with pleasant surprise.
“Kings Northman, Caras, Davis, and de Castro, come sit before me,” the Pythoness said, gesturing to the space in front of her. “If an alliance is to be formed between your kingdoms it will be discussed and determined now.”
Eric looked down at me and pressed a kiss to my forehead before whispering in my ear, “You continually surprise me, lover.” He looked up and gestured for Pam and my uncle to step closer. “Take your Queen back to our hotel and see to it that she gets cleaned up and gets some rest. I will join you when our business is done,” he commanded.
I wanted to argue that I should stay, but for once, I was too exhausted physically and emotionally to fight. I watched as the kings stepped forward and in an almost synchronized motion, lowered themselves to the floor in front of the withered looking vampire.
“What just happened?” I whispered to myself as I looked at the group of kings, still trying to take in the fact that Eric was now one of them.
The Ancient Pythoness’ head snapped up to “look” at me. “A new era has been born,” she answered. Her blind eyes seemed to travel down to my belly. Her hollowed cheeks seemed to intensify as she smiled. “They have been the catalyst of changes great and small, but not even I can fully see where they will lead us.” She paused before finishing with, “we will speak again before I depart.”
I let Dermot and Pam start leading me out of the room, nodding to some of the Weres and vampires that I knew as we went. Barry fell in with us as we made our way out of the banquet room. It wasn’t until we were in the now deserted lobby of the hotel that I was able to find my voice again. “What just happened?” I asked, still in shock that things appeared to have worked, even better than I had planned.
Pam laughed beside me and whispered in my ear, “Save for the blood spilled killing Victor and his men, you and my master somehow pulled off a bloodless coup. True, vampires prefer to spill blood when we can, but it was almost worth it to see that shocked look on de Castro’s face when he gave over Louisiana.” Pam walked out the front doors calling over her shoulder that she would get the car.
Barry took her place beside me. “I guess your kids will be about as safe as you can make them with your vampire as king now,” Barry said reassuringly.
I shook my head. “They’re safer by some. But I’m afraid being what they are, they’ll never really be safe.”
Dermot let me head fall against his shoulder as I sagged into him. “Being a Queen will afford you more safety than hiding in solitude did,” he assured. He saw my surprise and continued, “The Northman has made it quite clear that you will be his queen, vampire or not. The visibility that being a Queen in both vampire’s and human’s eyes will provide will give you a greater measure of safety.”
“Yeah, until everyone starts figuring out what my children are,” I said quietly as what little strength I had left began to leave me. Dermot scooped me up and carried me towards car that Pam pulled up in.
“Only so many worries and concerns can be dealt with in one day. Let us get you cleaned up and put to rest before your mate is finished with his business,” Dermot whispered as he set me in the backseat of the car.
My last conscious thought before sleep pulled me under was to wonder where Pam had found the car we were in.
A/N: Sorry that one was a while coming out. I was trying to shoot for a chapter a week at the very least, but work, friends and family kind of got in the way.
Let me know what you thought.
Also, check out the music video I finally got around to making for my short story The Funeral of Hearts. There’s a link to the video on that story’s page.
Here’s a link as well: The Funeral of Hearts
Thanks to every one for their reviews!