Seeing the same markings on the Were’s skin, as the ones who had killed my parents and baby sister a thousand years earlier, I was quickly overcome by blind rage.
Blind, as I had been for a millennium, to the truth.
Godric and I had tracked the wolves on and off for years all across Europe, but every lead we followed had always come to a dead end. The fact these wolves worked for Edgington was the only proof I needed to know he had been the one behind my family’s murders.
There would be no trial.
Only an execution.
And knowing he was severely injured, I knew now was the time for me to go after him. But before I could launch into the sky to track him down, my body was no longer my own hearing Godric calmly say, “As your Maker, I command you to remain at my side.”
A furious hiss left through my lips, as my accusing eyes landed on the only man I had been able to call family for centuries. He had been my father, my brother, my son for much longer than I could call or be any one of those things to my human family.
But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t seek justice for their murders.
“You are allowing your emotions to overrule your better judgment,” he softly replied to my unspoken protestations. “By killing Russell now, you will be signing all of our death warrants.”
“There was a time when you joined me in the hunt for these killers,” I accused. “Are you telling me now if you had known then that Edgington was behind them that you would have backed off?”
Had I been thinking clearly, I would have heard the foolishness of my own words.
Russell was a thousand years older than him.
Godric would have been foolish to not have been wary of engaging him in a fight.
And Godric was no fool.
But I wasn’t thinking clearly. I couldn’t see anything beyond my need for vengeance.
However I had no choice but to take notice when he trained his steely gaze onto me and I felt the apprehension spike within me.
I knew a small bit of it was my own at challenging my Maker in a way that wasn’t just disrespectful, but completely uncalled for.
Godric had always been supportive of me. He’d gifted me with eternal life and then given me the necessary tools to ensure my survival.
He had taught me both the art of war and the art of peace.
Even now, a thousand years later, I knew he was still trying to teach me.
I only had to listen.
But the rest of my apprehension, I knew, was coming from Sookie.
At the time I’d taken her blood, I’d wanted it.
I had wanted her to have mine.
I wanted the connection it would form, giving me some insight into the woman who had puzzled me, from the moment I’d laid eyes on her.
Now I wasn’t so sure.
Feeling her conflicting emotions, while in the midst of battling my own, wasn’t a distraction I needed right now.
But my focus was soon solely on my Maker, when he took a step forward and warned, “Our actions have consequences now. We are held accountable to The Authority now. Russell Edgington isn’t just one of our kind. He is a king. Killing him without The Authority’s consent will have them hunting us.”
“Are you saying I have to stand down and allow him to go free?” I growled.
Before I even had the time to contemplate going against Godric’s wishes – something I had never contemplated in a thousand years – he relaxed his shoulders and said, “No, my Child. I am merely saying that we will need to plan first.”
Hearing his words, my mind automatically began moving the pieces on the invisible chess board within.
But it was hearing something else that brought it all to a standstill and caused my eyes to turn towards the sound of her voice, when I heard Sookie say, “He’s already weakened. If he’s as old as you say he is, shouldn’t we strike now, while the iron’s hot?”
Then fidgeting under our dual gazes, she closed her eyes and added in a soft whisper, “Pardon the pun.”
In spite of witnessing her fight off the wolves with the deadly precision only a vampire was capable of, I was too gobsmacked to respond. The fact Sookie was now a vampire hadn’t changed the fact that – in my mind – Sookie was still Sookie.
A wiser and less whiny version of the woman I remembered, but heartbeat or no, she was still very much the same.
So hearing her all but championing what she would normally consider murder, left me perplexed.
So when neither one of us said anything, she said in a questioning tone, “We could come up with some kind of story as to how he died or just claim ignorance. Playing dumb worked for my brother all the time.”
“There were witnesses,” Godric reminded her and then looked at both of us to add, “We must find Sophie-Anne before she can speak to the Magister.”
Gritting my teeth caused my fangs to slice into my lower lip, but I ignored it.
I was too angry at myself for ignoring the fact Leclerq had gotten away.
“But I thought the Magister was on our side,” Sookie all but asked, with her confusion lacing her tone.
“He is behind us in taking over the state,” Godric explained. “But Jorge enjoys toying with his subjects. She has no idea he has signed off on her death, so if Sophie-Anne manages to find him before we can find her, she will tell him what you are capable of.”
Seeing her eyes widen, I knew the words he had left unspoken had filled into the blanks in her mind.
Even without knowing of her telepathy or the ability to walk in the sun, Sookie’s gift of radiating sunlight from her pores and wielding fire from hands would be viewed as a danger to us all.
If they didn’t kill her on sight – if she couldn’t manage to conjure her powers in order to protect herself – they would imprison her – break her – until she became a weapon controlled by The Authority.
Thanks to her new state of being, they had an eternity in which to see their plans come to fruition.
Godric would never let that happen – something they would be cognizant of – which is why they would kill him first.
I was left feeling torn, with my need for avenging my human family’s murders battling against my urge to protect my vampire one.
Both had been forged in blood.
But I could only save one.
With that realization dawning on me, I was able to put Edgington on the back burner – my rage still simmering hot, but no longer boiling over – and wordlessly stalked back into the bar to see if the tracker had arrived.
I hadn’t been sitting at my desk but for a moment, when I heard her come to stand in the doorway and softly offer, “I’m sorry.”
I didn’t know what she was apologizing for.
I didn’t ask.
I didn’t want to know.
There were too many things she could be apologizing for. Too many things going through my mind she could have seen or heard. Giving voice to any of them would have given me the negligible push, which is all it would have taken for me to lose control.
So I ignored it.
Instead I focused on everything I knew about Sophie-Anne.
Neither one of those facts would be helpful in tracking her down.
But knowing her to be a childish and immature spoiled brat, I whipped out my cell phone and sent a text to Pam, telling her to return to New Orleans at her first opportunity.
I had sensed she’d been getting closer, likely traveling with the Magister on their way back to Shreveport, after discovering the queen wasn’t at the palace and Godric had left them behind. But knowing he would be able to hear any conversation taking place in his presence, I hadn’t dared to call her.
But I had no doubt that Sophie-Anne would return home to the palace now.
She would feel safe there, holed up in her gilded fortress and surrounded by her guards. She had seen Russell was in no shape to protect her and she knew she was no match for me, much less Godric.
She had no idea her monarchy was no longer her own.
I could only hope that she wouldn’t inform The Authority of everything that had transpired. But knowing she had been severely injured by Sookie’s unexpected impersonation of the Death Star, she would likely want to heal before putting herself in their spotlight.
Healing would take time thanks to putting herself in Sookie’s spotlight.
And needing to do something other than sitting still, I stood up with the intent to track down Ruben myself, but stopped short seeing Sookie was still standing in the doorway to my office.
“You were right,” she sadly offered, without any prompting. “I am greedy. But you left out selfish. All of this is my fault.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about.
But before I could even decide if I was going to respond, she added, “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. If I had known all of the trouble I would end up causing, I would have told Godric to just let me die in that basement.”
I could admit that I didn’t like seeing her so downtrodden – nor did I like feeling it through the bond we’d begun even more – but I wasn’t in the mood to play the sympathizer to her troubles.
Nothing in life was guaranteed. We played the cards we were dealt.
It was already done and there was no going back.
Never mind the fact – in spite of all that we now faced – I would rather face off against the entire world, than to face a world where Godric no longer existed.
Sookie was somewhere in there too, but I had enough to think on than to try and figure out when she had managed to become a priority to me.
I already knew it had happened some time before Dallas.
So I stalked towards her and only said, “Now isn’t the time for apologies, but I’ll clue you in to another fact. It is never the time for them, when it comes to your survival. So step out of the pity party you seem to have joined and step up into the fight we all now face.”
Her once sorrowful eyes narrowed, now tinged with anger at my dismissal of her feelings. But it eventually ebbed and gave way to both acknowledgement and acceptance of my words.
A small nod was her only response before she turned and walked away, but with her departure I could then see Godric, who had been standing just a few feet behind her.
And my own brief confusion gave way to both acknowledgement and acceptance, when he only smiled and said, “Perhaps you will heed your own advice.”
It had only taken a moment for me to realize he was right, of course. I’d been so consumed in my own despair – no matter the circumstance, I would never admit even to myself to being party to a pity party – at losing out on finally getting closure to a thousand year old vendetta, I’d been blinded both to and by the truth.
Because the fact of the matter was that by blindly killing Edgington I would be signing our own death warrants.
Dying in the act of avenging the deaths of my human family would be a noble cause.
Ensuring the deaths of my vampire family in the process would be the most dishonorable act I could have ever committed.
Like Godric would gladly die in defense of Sookie’s life, I knew he would do no less for me.
Neither one of their lives would be spared by The Authority.
Even Nora’s position within their ranks wouldn’t protect her.
No matter if they stayed out of the fray, their very existence would be considered a danger.
I was living proof the need for vengeance carried on beyond death.
They would be seen as unknown variables to The Authority.
The Authority didn’t like unknown variables.
They would do away with them the moment Godric and I were no more than puddles on the ground.
So I knew it would be wise to practice what I’d preached to Sookie a moment earlier. To step out of the darkness clouding my mind and step up into the fight that lay ahead.
But rather than say any of that – he would be able to feel my acceptance of his words through our bond – I merely mimicked my sister’s actions by acknowledging his words with a small nod and then gave voice to my suspicions.
“Sophie-Anne will return to the palace. I’ve ordered Pam to make her way back and keep watch, as soon as she’s away from the Magister.”
Nodding himself, he added, “We will need an explanation for what happened here tonight.”
He was right. There was no hiding the scent of burnt flesh still lingering in the air.
Never mind the foul stench of dead Weres in the back alley.
But Fangtasia was undoubtedly where the Magister would return. Given I could sense Pam’s presence getting closer by the moment, I knew they would be arriving within the hour.
That didn’t give us much time.
But no amount of Febreeze would be able to mask the scents before his arrival.
“We can burn the bar to the ground.”
The words fell through my lips before I even realized where my thoughts had led me to. Even an hour earlier I wouldn’t have imagined doing something so drastic.
Fangtasia was the storefront to my duties as sheriff.
It was my first business openly operated as a vampire.
It symbolized everything I’d once thought important and, once upon a time, I would have fought tooth and nail to keep it.
But now I had a much bigger battle to face.
Fangtasia was nothing more than a pawn and easily dispatched in the chess game we were now forced to play.
Godric only stared at me in silence, so I added, “It will destroy the security footage the Magister will demand to see. It will take care of the dead Weres when their bodies burn inside of it. It will explain the scent of burnt flesh already surrounding us. And it will give sound reasoning in any rebuttal for Leclerq’s injuries, should she make herself known before we can find her. As far as the Magister is concerned, she has already been caught in the lie of me dealing V. Her word will mean nothing.”
Pride flowed through Godric and into me.
As much as I appreciated his appreciation – be it for what I was willing to sacrifice or for finally regaining my rationality where Edgington was concerned, I didn’t know – now wasn’t the time for me to enjoy it.
We had a stage to set by burning the bar to the ground.
Starting in the storeroom where most of the paper supplies were kept, I set fire to the whole lot of it and waited for the smoke to reach the hallway to pull the fire alarm.
As the patrons and staff alike made their way out the front door, Godric, Sookie, and I carried the bodies of the dead Weres in through the back door. Leaving them in various spots throughout the building, their charred remains would leave little evidence for the human authorities to find.
The vampire Authority wouldn’t question our taking advantage of the fire – the one Sophie-Anne would get blamed for starting – to dispose of their bodies.
Having settled on using her well known petulance in our favor, the picture we decided to paint was that of a flustered queen whose lies to the Magister had come to light. She had returned to the bar to seek retribution against the sheriff she’d attempted to frame for her crimes and silence me by burning my bar to the ground with me still inside of it.
Of course, I managed to escape.
Upon freeing myself, I was faced with the Weres she’d brought with her and who had tried to keep me from getting out alive.
I killed them.
She escaped, although not unscathed.
The only variable in our concoction of lies and truths was Sookie and what – if any – part she played.
Neither Godric nor I wanted to reveal who she was to the Magister, but we both knew it was only a matter of time before he learned of Godric’s newest Child.
Standing across the street away from the other spectators to the blaze that was now engulfing the bar, his decision was finally made when he turned to her and said, “Your presence here tonight and your significance to me will be nothing more than coincidental to all that has transpired here. Do you understand?”
If I could feel how sorry she was at all that was being done to hide everything that had happened – and that she had put the misplaced blame squarely on herself – I knew Godric was feeling it tenfold.
While Sookie had undoubtedly changed over the last two months, she was still very much the same.
But even I knew that no amount of telling her otherwise would ease her conscience any time soon, so Godric hadn’t wasted any time in trying to ease her guilt.
At least, not verbally.
But she did need to understand that she needed to stand there, without showing the slightest trace of guilt in her features, when the Magister arrived.
He would be able to scent it like a shark in bloodied waters.
It was undoubtedly another gift of his.
Eventually she nodded and my thoughts returned to the present, as well as to the past and the future.
We needed to track down and end the queen.
I needed to track down and end Edgington.
But what happened next, none of us needed.
Because out of the assembled crowd – segregated by their beliefs, like a 1960’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina – a single voice carried above the rest.
I was certain it was only the name he’d called out that made two out of the three of us turn to face him.
But it was the name of the voice’s owner that caused her to gasp at our side.
One that she uttered in blind disbelief a second later.