The air left my lungs in one giant swoosh. While I’d been expecting it, I hadn’t quite been prepared for it.
“You’re not even trying!”
He was right. I’d done nothing to try and block the blow that had sent me flying across the room and into the far wall, but at least it was a way to feel something.
Pain was a feeling, right?
With my glare firmly affixed to his face, I rose up off of the ground and dusted myself off, while grumbling, “I don’t even know why we’re doing this in the first place.”
“You know why.”
His ominous tone spoke volumes more than those three little words.
Of course I knew why.
It had been drilled into my head since before I could hold it up on my own. For my entire life – twenty-one years long today – I had known exactly what my purpose for being was.
With my birth, the centuries’ old pendulum had finally swung forward and tonight my kinds’ obligation would be paid in full.
Our debt settled.
Our supernatural books would be balanced for the first time in nearly eight hundred years.
With my life being traded for saving my great-grandfather’s long before I’d ever been born.
I’d known for my whole life what would become of mine and I adored my great-grandfather, so I didn’t feel it was much of a hardship. He’d always doted on me. His pride in my accomplishments had been the fuel for my soul. His exasperation at my hijinks…
Well…they were pretty sweet too.
Besides, I had never really fit in here anyway. I had been both revered and abhorred for my life’s purpose. Thanks to my prized possessions – the books my great-grandfather had given me from the human world – I felt a lot like the boy wizard, Harry Potter.
Only instead of being the boy who lived, I was the one-eighth fairy freak whose adult life would be spent in the servitude of a vampire king.
Admittedly, a part of me was looking forward to it.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a freak for nothing.
I knew our kind were predisposed to despise vampires. It was something else that had been drilled into my head from birth, albeit in a way that was more bittersweet than bitter. But owing one in the way we did, it was to be expected, I supposed. It wasn’t until I had gotten older that I’d begun to suspect it was why I was treated so differently.
I was a reminder they couldn’t wait to be rid of.
The feelings were pretty much mutual on that front.
I’d been educated in the ways of both the human and supernatural world I’d had yet to see in anything more than just books, so I wouldn’t be caught unaware of their customs.
And I was fascinated by all of it.
It was impossible to not know I was more human than fairy – thanks to the whispered taunts I’d been inundated with as a child – but I often wondered if I would feel a kinship with any of them, like I did with some of my own kin.
Growing up with the knowledge of what my role would be, while other little girls got to play with dolls and the like, my first and only toy had been a sword. By the time I turned ten I was proficient enough that I could best most of great-grandfather’s Royal Guard.
It was a fact that pissed them off and delighted me to no end.
I’d been trained in every form of combat known, both ancient and modern, and now I was just as deadly with a sword as I was with a Sig Sauer.
Never mind my natural abilities.
But since I’d long ago come to terms with my fate, I kept my eyes on my trainer and sometimes friend, Preston Pardloe, and explained, “I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about the absurdity of training now when I’ll be leaving just as soon as great-grandfather comes for me.”
Before he could answer, a smile appeared on my lips and the idiom from one of my text books came to mind, seeing my great-grandfather appear in the doorway.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
But in my eyes my great-grandfather was more angel than devil – and with Claudine’s aspiration, she’d better hope so too – and my feet automatically carried me forward, with my knees bending into the curtsy that was just as spontaneous as breathing was to me.
“Rise great-granddaughter,” he ordered in his warm rich tone that had always had the uncanny ability to put me at ease. “You look lovely this evening.”
My great-grandfather could also be – shall we say – good at backhanded compliments.
I’d turned a blind eye to the ridiculous gown left on my bed by one of the house servants – it had ‘Claudine’ written all over it though – in favor of what I felt was more appropriate attire for someone with duties the likes of mine.
Fitted black leather covered me from head to toe, with my naturally light blond hair standing out as a stark contrast, pulled to the side and bound just under my right ear by a leather cord. Silver cuffs circled my wrists and a matching lattice styled choker fit snuggly around my neck.
The whole outfit screamed, ‘Don’t bite!’
Besides the dual swords that crisscrossed my back and the Sig Sauer P220 strapped to my outer thigh, the only other adornment I’d worn was a small broach on my collar.
The Brigant Family Crest.
Since he didn’t appear he would making a fuss about my choice in clothes – I could fight in a gown, but who would want to – I merely smiled and replied, “No thanks to Preston.”
Truthfully, he hadn’t done any damage to me at all. And we both knew who would win if it came down to a real fight between the two of us.
He’d get double tapped by my twin enforcers, Brutal and Merciless, which conveniently also doubled as my hands. If anything, he could consider himself lucky if he remembered his own name when he woke up.
If he woke up.
Great-grandfather returned my small smile, but I noticed it didn’t reach his eyes. I could always feel twinges of sadness within him whenever he spoke or thought of my fate, but not wanting him to feel any unnecessary remorse or guilt, I took his hand in my own and said, “All will be well. I am ready to fulfill my destiny.”
“I know you are,” he softly smiled back. “I had known you were the one when I first laid eyes on you. Your essential spark was incredibly strong for someone with so little of my blood, but I’d had no idea of just how truly special you are Susannah.”
Great-grandfather was the only one who ever called me Susannah. Everyone else had always called me Sookie.
Although my cousin Claude called me Sucky up until I turned twelve and knocked one of his teeth out.
“You know you are under no other obligation than to protect the King. If he attempts to force you into doing or allowing anything else…”
“I know. I know,” I interrupted, before he could progress into a full-blown version of ‘The Talk’.
The only condition to their deal was that I be loyal to the King – to protect him at all costs, above even my own life – and I was prepared to do just that. Feeding and sex hadn’t been a part of their negotiation, but I hadn’t been born yet. They’d had no idea if ‘The One’ would be a male or a female. No idea it would take so long for me to finally be born and while the times had decidedly changed in the human world over those eight hundred years, some ancient traditions still held true for our kind.
However, it wasn’t the only reason I was a virgin.
But ever since Claudette had returned home from a secret and somewhat scandalous trip into the human world with a picture of my future Master, all of her talk of blood sharing and other sharing had nearly set my cheeks aflame.
And set our great-grandfather’s blood to boiling.
But his attempts at speaking to me about such things were a thousand times worse on the embarrassment scale and the last thing I needed was for my blood to be pooling near every visible surface of skin on my body, when I was about to walk into an enclosed room full of vampires.
“Truly, great-grandfather,” I huffed out. “If he attempts to stick anything of his into me, he’ll lose it.”
While vampires were natural enemies of the Fae and were faster and stronger than humans, my hybrid status had given me the advantages necessary in order to fulfill our obligation. The human in me kept my blood from tempting any of them into draining me. The fairy in me gave me powerful abilities when dealing with any foe.
Something His Majesty would learn very quickly if I was provoked.
I was there to be his protector. Not his prostitute.
“He will be surprised to see you,” great-grandfather mused as he took my hand to lead me outside and down the path towards the portal connecting the two worlds.
“You’ve given him no warning?” I asked, with my amusement evident in my voice.
“I have not spoken to him since the night of your birth. I only informed him The One had been born and would be delivered on the night of your twenty-first birthday. But have no doubt, he has not forgotten. I am certain we are expected.”
“Then let’s not keep him waiting,” I smiled.
When we reached the portal I could see all of my things had been packed to be transported with me. But seeing what amounted to my life packed away inside of two trunks, I couldn’t help but feel a fleeting stab of homesickness knowing I would likely never step foot into our world again. So before he could open the portal, I threw my arms around the only parent I had ever known and felt the sting of tears in my eyes while I whispered truthfully, “I love you great-grandfather and I am honored to trade my life for yours.”
“I fear you have more honor than me, my dear,” he whispered in return. The pain in his voice was visible on his face as well, but he was Niall Brigant, Prince of the Sky Fae. He had given his word when their deal was struck and we both knew there would be no going back on it.
Without another word we stepped through the portal together and the first thing I noticed was the lack of the sun in the sky. While there was night in our world, there was no darkness, with the sun instead hovering low along the horizon. But it was something I had been prepared for, so I didn’t take any time to gawk at the similar foliage surrounding us and as the portal closed in on itself, I vowed then and there I would leave Sookie – the sometimes stubborn and mischievous girl – behind, with Susannah forever taking her place.
Susannah was lethally serious about the job she was there to do.
Susannah would not fail her people by failing her new Master.
Susannah would mourn nothing.
Not lingering around, great-grandfather held onto my arm and teleported us to another location. Walking through the door now in front of us, we ended up in a small office where I came face to face with my very first vampire.
There were plenty of ways to tell. One of them being the way her fangs snapped out of her gums when she smiled at me and purred, “Can I help you?”
Feeling great-grandfather’s grip tighten on my arm, I could only guess at what he was thinking and returned her smile, while I whispered to him, “She’ll lose them.”
Both his grip and the tension in his body relaxed a little and I watched – always fascinated by the transformation – when he changed before my very eyes. His presence always commanded attention, but the stature of my great-grandfather was nothing compared to the authority the Prince of the Sky Fae, Niall Brigant innately demanded.
One I could hug. The other one I always felt like I should salute or something.
“Please inform His Majesty that Niall Brigant is here,” he said. His tone was authoritative, but kind.
You’d know it if he wasn’t feeling kind.
You’d know it for all of about three seconds until he lopped your head off.
I stood a little taller, proud to be the kin of this man, and watched the woman’s eyes widen just a tick as she seemed to put two and two together. Without lifting a finger – much less a phone, intercom, or big rig CB radio – she licked her lips and smiled, saying, “My Master is expecting you. You may enter.”
I’d already known she was his child, Pam. I had learned as much about him as I was able to, but vampires were generally secretive to begin with.
Vampire Kings may as well have been one of those Yetis I’d read about, for all of the information they put out.
Sure, there were plenty of press releases. Statements to their adoring public, feeding little scraps of finely tuned information to the humans and supernaturals alike they oversaw in their little – or in his case big – fiefdoms. A charity benefit here. A royal decree there.
But none of it was what I needed to know.
I needed to know who his real threats were. What his weaknesses and vulnerabilities were so I could fill those holes in his security.
He may have been expecting us, but I hoped he was prepared for his new fairy hybrid shadow that was literally on his doorstep.
From the files I’d studied, I’d known he had Were guards for his daytime security and he could keep them employed for all I cared. My only concern – my only reason for being – was to keep the King of the Amun Clan safe.
The King – Eric Northman – who was the much-better-looking-in-person vampire now in front of me.