The phone fell silent as my mind began to comprehend her words. Looking at the screen, I could see that the call had been dropped. But I couldn’t waste time trying to call her back.
I pushed at my bond with Sookie until it was nearly closed. Her grief and pain were too strong, battering at my own defenses; if I let them, I knew they would make me act rashly—make mistakes—with the life of my youngest potentially in danger, I knew there was no margin for error. My defenses needed to be in place, ensuring that I was again the cold, calculating vampire that kept his family safe.
Gathering my wits, I turned to the rest of our assembled family. The single glance that took in those gathered also made me painfully aware of the important two that were missing from my sight. “Rune, bring your sister. Pam, Jarl, follow as quickly as you can.” I gave my orders swiftly as I made my way to gather my sword.
The chances were more than probable that one supernatural group or another was responsible for the acts of this night. Humans would not have gotten past my guards.
Yet the question remained: How did anyone get past my guards?
Heads would roll—if they hadn’t already.
“Are you sure Rune and Astrid should leave the residence?” Jarl pressed as he too gathered armaments.
“Fader knows we’d never stay,” Astrid firmly answered, casting a glare my way. Her look was redundant. The twins’ steady resolve permeated the air. No bond was necessary to sense it.
“We have no idea what is going on, Jarl. I’d rather have them with us and in my sight then leave them here and risk an attack on the palace itself while we are away and distracted.”
Jarl’s brisk nod and impassive face were his only answers. But I couldn’t stop to wonder about whether or not my brother approved of my actions. Astrid was right. I knew they’d never stay put so long as their little sister was in trouble or missing. And if I was going to focus on finding one of my children, I needed to be sure that the others wouldn’t be left at risk for an ambush by remaining behind. One child had already been taken while we were separated.
I would keep the others at my side.
I would keep my remaining children safe.
My vampires and I quickly covered the distance separating me from my lover. Keen eyes quickly took in the sight of Sookie holding aloft a sword in one hand while the other was pressed tenderly to her side. Blood oozed between her fingers, spurring me onward.
I sped forward and easily left the others to trail behind me as I closed the distance and engulfed Sookie in my arms, wanting to hold her there forever and keep her from harm. Somehow, I had once again failed to protect her.
She embraced me back awkwardly. One arm still pressed to her side as the other pressed against my back—sword still in hand.
I gently pushed Sookie back from me and clumsily brought her hand and the sword up to my throat. The length of the blade made it difficult, but I managed to cut deep enough to open the vein.
There were no looks or words of protest from Sookie as she leaned into me and gladly took my blood. The height made it difficult for her to reach, but I wrapped my arms around her waist and raised her to a more comfortable elevation.
After she had taken her fill, I set her back on her feet and surveyed our surroundings. Jarl, Pam, Rune, Astrid and our other trusted guards had spread throughout the area and were searching amongst the injured and finally dead.
Jarl had pressed his wrist to Thalia’s mouth, helping to heal the wide cut that had nearly eviscerated her. But she was old—even older than I was—with his blood, she would recover quickly enough. Once she’d had her fill, she roughly shoved his hand and body away. By far her most subtle way yet of letting Jarl know that his advances were unwelcome.
Not that Jarl was ever likely to give up. He did like his women petite and feisty.
My eyes trailed back to my own feisty woman. “What happened?” I pressed.
Thalia stood before us and spoke before Sookie could answer. “We were ambushed, Sire. I take full responsibility,” she answered with a deep bow.
Sookie broke in while Thalia was still bent low, “No. It’s not Thalia’s fault. It was my insistence that we stop at the park so Emma and I could take a walk together and talk. I made Thalia pull over here. She didn’t want to.”
Thalia remained bent as she argued, “But I still went against His Majesty’s orders and allowed the detour instead of going to the Pythoness directly.”
Knowing both could continue to argue back and forth, I broke in. “We will deal with your actions later Thalia. Now, tell me exactly what happened.”
Thalia straightened again and looked me in the eye as she spoke, not allowing herself to be made a coward or cowed, simply because a mistake had been made. A trait I still admired in her—though she rarely made mistakes.
“They were waiting for us when we stopped at the park. Sookie and Emma had barely begun walking into the park when we were ambushed from all sides. It was a well-planned and executed attack. Flawless,” Thalia explained, admiration, embarrassment and frustration, all mixing together in her voice.
“You let Sookie and Emma walk alone into the park!” Thalia almost imperceptibly flinched, but held her ground as I continued. “How could the trap have been so carefully laid if you had just decided to stop at the park?”
“When Emma comes with me to see the A.P. we usually do stop here to walk and talk for a while before we go to her place,” Sookie quietly admitted. My eyes swung accusingly in her direction as she hurried to continue. “Now, don’t give me that look! You have no idea how hard it is to grow up relatively human in a household like ours. She’s the one who always feels different and left out. I know what it’s like to grow up like that. Sometimes we just walk and talk about things. Like normal humans.”
Though unintended, her words stung. But we couldn’t dwell on it here and now.
“Who else besides our guards, know of this habit of yours?”
Thalia caught on more quickly than Sookie, her eyes sweeping over our party and those who’d finally died, probing among them for possibilities. Though I would have been willing to bet Thalia hadn’t betrayed us, it eased my dead heart to see her suspicious eyes search through the others.
Sookie shrugged, “I guess the A.P. and some of her guards knew about it because sometimes I’d be a little late for our meetings.”
“So the only ones who could have known and helped set the trap are our own guards or the Ancient Pythoness’s guards.” Neither possibility was appealing but for different reasons.
Sookie gasped at my words but the rest of our family (Jarl, Pam, Run and Astrid) all cast distrustful glares at our remaining guards.
Thalia—now moving at almost normal speed—moved through the remains of the former guards that had been with Sookie and were now with their makers. She kicked at the piles of clothing and dust before she pronounced, “I don’t see Ivan anywhere.”
Her words sent an icy chill through me. I’d known Ivan for nearly half my existence. I’d known he wasn’t happy with the power Sookie wielded in the Supernatural realm—a mostly human woman. But still—I’d never dreamed he would betray me. We’d been through much together.
Thalia came back to stand before me. “It must have been Ivan who betrayed us. Most of the vampires who attacked us were unfamiliar to me. Muscle for hire would be my guess. Same for the Weres that were with them. But we can’t rule out yet that the Ancient One knew of Sookie’s habit as well.”
“No! She’d never have anything to do with this,” Sookie protested.
“I am so glad to hear you still defend me child,” the wizened voice called from behind me.
I struggled and managed not to jump at her voice, but only just. “And yet, here you show up,” I flatly replied.
She hobbled closer, lead towards us by her ever-present guards. She scowled at me and pointed a gnarled finger as she spoke. “Of course I have come. I came because of the child,” she said, gesturing towards Sookie.
Sookie’s eyes suddenly narrowed. “Just how is it that you knew to come? How’d you know we were in trouble?” She glanced at her wrist. “We’re not due to your place for another thirty minutes yet. What’s going on?”
The old vampire remained motionless for so long, I thought she would refuse to answer. But then she gave a wry smile. “I knew of course because I have had guards watching Emma discreetly for several months.”
I felt the cold anger flare within myself, but it was Sookie that tried to lunge forward. I stopped her, wrapping an arm around her waist and drawing her close. Attacking the old one would do neither of us any good.
“You had guards watching her, and they did nothing? They didn’t do anything to stop them from taking Emma! You knew, didn’t you? You knew something was going to happen; you saw it, that’s why you had your guards following us. Why didn’t they stop it? Why didn’t you stop it?” Sookie shouted.
The Ancient Pythoness gave an elegant dip of her head. “Yes. I did know it would happen, and I ordered my guards to watch but not interfere.” She looked directly up at me. “You know a vampire doesn’t interfere with the property of another or with its theft.” She looked back towards Sookie. “Yes. I know Emma is more than that indeed, she will be much more. You may not ever forgive me for what had to happen, but events have now been set in motion. Events I had to ensure would happen. Your mate will find her. You must trust in that.”
The old one started to turn and walk away, heedless of Sookie’s sputtering reply, but then she stopped and cast one last look at Sookie. “I had hoped in Rhodes when I saw you that you would be the one. I still hoped it for many years. An old blind woman is slow to see sometimes, but it was never meant to be you. You have filled your own important role, and now is time for Emma to begin hers.” She smiled almost to herself and I heard as she turned away, “Yes. Why didn’t I see that it would be Emma?”
She continued to walk away, surrounded by her guards. There was nothing I could do to stop the Pythoness.
“What the hell does she mean by all of that?” Sookie growled, looking half-tempted to chase after the old one herself.
“I honestly cannot say, Sookie. But we must trust that her sight was correct and that I will find her, because I shall not rest until I do. Trust in that.”
“Fine, then let’s go. I won’t be able to take a breath until I know she’s safe.”
I shook my head and grasped her by the shoulders, already knowing how well she would accept what I was about to say. “No, Sookie. You are too fragile. Too precious to me. I have come too near to losing you far too often. I cannot risk it again. You and the twins will stay at the palace with Thalia and some of our other most trusted guards. I will take Pam and Jarl and we will find her.”
She started to pull away but I held her firm. “No, Eric. She’s my daughter! I won’t just sit and wait and hope you find her.”
“Sookie, we promised to stop working against one another. We promised this long ago. No more secrets, and no more running off half-cocked trying to do something without the other’s knowledge. When it involves humans or even weres, I defer to your judgment. But when it is vampires, you must defer to mine.” She started to argue but I cut her rebuke off. “This has nothing to do with your position in the supernatural world. This was personal; that’s why they took our youngest and not one of our eldest. You must trust me to keep you all safe and get Emma back too. You have come too close to being killed in the past. I won’t accept it. Your luck cannot last forever.”
“He’s quite right,” Robert agreed, walking into our circle. I didn’t know when he had arrived, but the vampire was old and could move with uncanny ease and stealth.
Her face fell as she covered it with her hands. My resolve nearly broke at how heartbroken she looked. Finally, her resolve was back in place. “Fine. We agreed to trust each other more. No matter how hard it was. Just get Emma back.”
I nodded and turned to Thalia. “Redeem yourself of your error here by guarding your Mistress and our children with your very existence.”
She bowed again and swore, “It will be done.” I glanced at Robert and saw his nod. It was the only pledge either of us needed. I knew that for reasons I still could not quite fathom, the old king would still protect her with his life. Even from herself if necessary.
I turned to Rune but he spoke before I could. “I’m going with you Fader. Emma is my family too. Astrid will stay with Moder but I will go with you. I am a vampire.”
I could see the sadness in Sookie’s eyes and even a flash of it in Astrid’s. But I only nodded my acquiescence. We all knew the importance of this moment and this declaration. From here on, Rune would be counted among the vampires.
But Astrid never would.
She was like her mother. Too tender-hearted.
I turned to Thalia. “Get them back to the residence. Everything stays locked down until I say otherwise. We’ll start with the traitor Ivan and look from there.” I turned to Pam, Jarl, and Rune. “Let us hunt.”
A/N: I am so, so, so, and hundred times so sorry that this has been so delayed coming out and it’s kinda short. (And unbeta’d) I never intended it to go so long. I’ve sat down to work on it several times, and had it about two-thirds written several times, but just haven’t been able to find the time to finish it. Work with the company I own with my mother has been hectic and then me being me, I accept a side job for a friend of marketing/promoting/advertising and managing his family’s annual performance horse sale. (I gotta learn to say no) Along with that I had to totally revamp and maintain his ranch and horse sale website, so I had to give myself a crash course in building websites. Eekkk! That was scary.
But the sale went fantastically this fall, we sold more of his horses than he had one the sale the year before and for quite a bit more money too, so they were really happy as well.
Then I took a much deserved family/girls vacation to Montana and Yellowstone Park and the Tetons. That was fantastic. We were there for the first snow of the season and it was gorgeous!
When I finally got home again I was hoping for things to settle down for a while, but of course that was just when the shit hit the fans.
My father was diagnosed this fall with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) which is one of the incurables. And no, I’m not asking for sympathy because of it. I’m not close with my father and can’t much stand the man. Him having cancer is only making that worse. He’s one of those miserable people who has looked for reasons his entire life for people to feel sorry for him and now he’s hit the jackpot with cancer. He can be as mean, nasty and miserable as he wants because he’s dying of cancer.
My mother is having to take him periodically to Mayo for doctor visits so I have to kind of do both our jobs in the company she and I own, so life is getting a little hectic. I’m doing my best to help her with him as well, since no one should have to be solely saddled with his bitching and demands. And yes, maybe that makes me a bitch to think that about my father, but he’s been an insufferable demanding, mean asshole my whole life. I just don’t have any sympathy left for him when he gets mean and nasty over getting the hiccups for a half-hour.
Sorry, I know I’m rambling, but I can’t tell friends or family the truth. And I despise the looks of surprise I get when they ask how I’m doing and I say “alright”. Would they prefer the truth? “Great. I haven’t shot or smothered him yet?”
But anyway. I’ll write and update when I can, but I can’t make any guarantees any more. It’s been so long since I’ve written or even read any SVM, that I’ve been having trouble getting back in the groove. I actually had to download this to my smart phone and work on it there piecemeal just to finish it, lol.
I’ve actually been writing a little Lord of the Rings fanfiction under another pen name just trying to get my muses going again.
Oh well, hopefully it’s kinda revived now.
Again, I’m so sorry for the wait.