“You’re up, Northman!”
He’d waited until the terrified screams died – presumably along with the terrified screamer – before speaking. It was Day Fifty-Three of my captivity. I knew not from any clock or even the blessed relief of waking from my daytime death because no such thing happened here. I knew because I had catalogued every hellish moment.
Minute by excruciating minute.
I also knew there was no sense in trying to fight against my captors. At the moment I was bound by their magical wishes to do as they said and I would need every bit of my strength for what lie ahead. It was do or die time and I would be damned if I would let death take me here. The one place I’d once thought of as a vampire Candy Land.
The Fae Realm.
“So, do you think you’re going to win tonight?” my guard asked, as we made our way down the tunnels where we were kept caged.
I had yet to distinguish what made them call any part of the day, day or night, thanks to the ever present sun in their world. It had been a sight to behold once I’d become desensitized enough by the constant presence of their narcotizing scent to notice it and I’d sat in wonder underneath the skylight above my cell after I ascertained it would not burn me alive.
The one thing I’d missed seeing the most in my vampire life had become a taunting reminder to be careful what I wished for.
“Don’t I always?” I returned amiably, while allowing myself the pleasure of picturing my hands ripping his beautiful fairy head from his shoulders and wearing his body like a feedbag.
He chuckled like we were long lost friends and rattled the cage door we happened to be passing by as he said, “Do you hear that you giant oaf? Northman here says he’s going to best your brother.”
I didn’t need to look over to know the guard had rattled more than the cell’s door. Sigebert, one half of two of the most formidable fighters of our kind, snarled at us from the other side. Warriors in their human life, the fact they were brothers by both blood and of the same Maker made them even more dangerous.
Even without hearing his menacing growl directed my way, I would have already known he would not look kindly on me ending Wybert.
Too fucking bad.
Only one of us would be allowed to leave the ring alive and I would do everything in my power to make sure that one would be me. The rules were simplistic in nature. Fight until the death. The matches lasted until only one was left alive, in increments of two minute rounds, which by human standards wasn’t very long. But supernaturals moved much faster.
A lot of damage could be done in two minutes.
The first round was hand to hand combat. Any vampire gifts were fair game to be used, but my gift of flight was only as handy as my opponent’s ignorance of that fact and the amount of space allowed by the large silver cage surrounding the fighting ring. Twenty yards in length and twenty feet in height, the circular enclosure kept us from going too far, but allowed enough room for the spectators to not miss a single moment of our fight for survival.
The Fae’s version of Must-See-TV.
If both were still standing at the two minute mark, we were given our choice of weapons. Swords, daggers, silver-tipped stakes, and even a mace were available for us to choose from, but we could only choose one. My choice had been and would always be a sword.
And I wouldn’t be breaking from the norm on this night because I doubted I could end the Saxon barehanded in two minutes time. No match I had been a part of thus far had lasted more than two rounds. It was something else I hoped wouldn’t be breaking from tradition tonight.
Things weren’t always this bad. In fact, vampires had been on the verge of coming out of the coffin when the civil war amongst the Fae spilled over into our realm. When the Water Clan managed to overthrow the ruling Sky Clan, all hell broke loose. The rules we’d lived by since the Vampire-Fairy War ended hundreds of years earlier no longer held true and inherently sadistic – perhaps by their inbreeding, fueled by their hatred of interspecies couplings – meant we were now at the mercy of the psychopathic whims of their leader, Breandan.
He’d wasted no time in gathering the leaders of our kind first. Kings and queens literally disappeared from their beds during the daytime. Only the Ancient Oracle, with her gift of precognition, was able to elude them. But for the rest of us, no locks or magical wards could keep us safe when we would be at our most vulnerable, with the sun in the sky. The monarchs’ guards and enforcers were the next to disappear and it wasn’t until they’d moved onto kidnapping sheriffs that I’d known what had become of them all.
Because now I was one of them.
Without any organized leadership every state was thrown into disarray. My fellow sheriffs and I had tried to keep our state from falling apart, but now that we too were fairy fodder, I could only hope those under us had carried out their last order should we disappear.
I’d known something was wrong as soon as my own queen had disappeared. Her child Andre called me in a panic just as the sun had set. He said he couldn’t feel his Maker in his blood at all and it had woken him during the daylight hours. He’d even managed to drag himself to her quarters, believing she’d been attacked. Expecting to find her ashes surrounding a stake protruding from her silk linens, instead he found nothing but the imprint of her body where it had laid and no other scent save hers.
Andre and the Saxons had disappeared exactly one week later.
Pam had been in the midst of relocating to Louisiana from her home in Minnesota. I had wanted my child close when the Great Revelation revealed our existence to the humans, so I called her with a change in plans. I ordered her to flee instead to one of our safe houses in my homeland.
We were the only two who knew of its existence, so hopefully she would be safe there, even if it was a windy shithole as she’d so eloquently called it.
I could no longer feel her in my blood, but I was attributing that to the fact I was no longer on the same plane of existence with her. The fact I couldn’t feel her brought me some peace of mind that she hadn’t been captured as well.
However vampires weren’t the Fae’s only prey. Weres had been captured too. I knew not because I had been pitted against any of them, but because I could smell their stench at the opposite end of the prison-like structure where we were all housed. Pit fighting amongst Weres was nothing new and their matches seemed to be held on the nights the vampires weren’t. And from what I could hear on those nights, I would guess the majority were wolves, with a few bears and maybe even a tiger amongst them.
But my mind was soon refocused on the task at hand, hearing the loud cheers and jeers as we closed in on the arena. This would be my tenth match in my time here. So far I’d fought against vampires from other territories, never my own. Most were younger. Very few were older. And in my previous nine bouts I’d ended fellow sheriffs, enforcers, and even a king.
I never liked Felipe de Castro anyway. Insisting on wearing a cape in this day and age was ridiculous.
Had he been emulating Count Dracula or Zorro?
Thankfully, now we would never know.
The two large doors in front of us opened as soon as we approached, revealing the sight I had yet to become used to. Seated on bleachers, surrounding all sides, were the once elusive Fae.
Here a fairy. There a fairy. E-I-E-I-O.
Tales of their diminishing numbers had been greatly exaggerated, considering there were hundreds in attendance at each match I’d fought in. I’d always known them to be vicious creatures, but witnessing all that I had in my time there, I knew now I hadn’t been giving them enough credit.
They took bloodlust to a whole new level.
Wybert was already waiting on the opposite side of the ring, standing on the identical platform I was about to step on, where we would be slowly spun around for all to see.
Showcasing each of us like prized cattle at auction.
I had yet to spot any cameras, so I assumed fairy magic was the cause for our images to be displayed on large screens around the arena. But I channeled my rage at my captors, turning us into spectacles for their amusement, to use in the battle before me and I couldn’t stop my fangs from snapping down when their leader popped into the center of the ring.
The fairy-est of them all, Breandan.
“Welcome my fellow Fae!” he called out jovially to the crowd. “Tonight we are in for a treat! As you all know this semi-final bout will round out the number of our vampire contenders and the winner of tonight’s battle will move on to the championship event a week from tonight. Five vampires and five Weres will be left at various points within The Hunting Grounds where they will have no choice but to hunt one another until only one is left standing. And to give them incentive the sole survivor will gain their freedom.”
My muscles tensed hearing this new development. It wasn’t like they’d given us a program guide to know what was expected of us and I had assumed we would be expected to continue to fight against one another until there were none left to fight.
The decimation of our race to satisfy the wanton whims of a sociopath.
And while I’d known the Fae were both vicious and delicious, there was something else I knew about their kind.
They could not lie.
I could be out of there in one week’s time.
My eyes shot to Wybert who was staring back at me. His grasp of the English language was for shit, but he seemed to understand what had been said.
And gauging the forlorn look in his eyes I assumed he was now pondering another unspoken truth.
If he were to survive this battle, he would be forced to hunt his own brother a week from now if he wanted to survive. But if he threw the match then he would have to die with the knowledge I would be hunting his brother a week from now.
It was a conundrum I was grateful I didn’t have to face.
Breandan the Maleficent drew my attention once more when he pointed towards Wybert and said, “In this corner we have Wybert. A warrior in his human life and an ancient Saxon. Brother of Sigebert, who has already moved onto the championship round, will he be the victor tonight and forced to hunt his own kin for his freedom?”
The crowd laughed, cheered, and booed in tandem, all to the delight of their evil puppet master until they quieted down when he gestured towards me and said, “Or will the great Northman – ancient in his own right from the Viking Age – be the winner and then become the hunted by a vengeful Sigebert a week from now?”
More cheers and boos erupted around us and hearing a few catcalls, Breandan laughed and looked to me as he said, “Sounds like you’ve got a few admirers, Northman.”
My eyes narrowed as my smirk formed around my fangs when I replied, “Bring them to me and I will admire them as well.”
I’d even dance a fucking jig around their dead bodies.
The fury in his eyes belied the smile on his face when he shook his head and said, “Now, now. That’s no way to treat your fans.”
My brow arched and my smile only grew as I tilted my head and calmly offered, “Call my publicist and have them issue a statement. Eric Northman doesn’t give a fuck.”
His smile grew as well, hearing the resounding jeers and hisses, just before he sneered, “I do hope you win tonight. I would love to see how you fare against nine others who are all proven warriors.”
Tired of playing his game and with my rage needing an outlet only fighting would provide, I snarled, “Then quit jerking off to the sound of your own voice so we can get this show on the road.”
I knew I’d pissed him off, but again – see my publicist.
Besides, my show of defiance was only adding to his show, so I wasn’t surprised when he tipped his head and returned his attention to the crowd saying, “Let the games begin!”
He teleported from the center ring to his box seat high above everyone else, but my eyes were on Wybert. I’d had the occasion to see him in battle before and knew I couldn’t take my eyes off of him for a second. But only having roughly two hundred years on him in age – at our age – would do little in terms of making me stronger than him. However I only needed to be a little stronger and my speed and agility worked in my favor, while his bulky build only hindered his movements.
He charged at me like a bull, so I flew up and over him, making a grab for his head and hoped to pull it from his shoulders. But he ducked down and pivoted at the last second, bringing himself just out of my reach. I couldn’t allow myself to be pinned down where he could use his bulk to his advantage, so I flipped around and flew like a bullet, taking his legs out from underneath him.
We continued to come at one another, with the crowd erupting around us at every wound we managed to inflict on one another. With our strength evenly matched, we were both the worse for wear by the time the first round drew to a close. Blood trailed down our bodies, with Wybert now missing his left eye where I’d clawed it out of his skull and me missing large chunks of skin from my torso and left arm where he’d managed to sink his fangs into me.
Because our bodies didn’t tire in a traditional sense – even if we could become weary nonetheless from blood loss – we were only given a fifteen second reprieve in between rounds to choose our weapon of choice from the assortment that magically appeared on the platforms we’d been standing on at the start of the match. Already knowing exactly where to go and what I would be choosing cut the time needed in half, but the blood loss was slowing me down. I knew I needed to end him quick, so I flew towards the platform and pulled the sword from its sheath, but stopped short for a split second when I turned and saw Wybert thundering towards me with a mace outstretched in his hand.
He hadn’t lost as much blood as I had and was moving much faster, so I only had a split second to react. My eyes took in the Saxon warrior charging at me, while my mind calculated the most efficient move my body was still capable of making in its weakened state, and my feet carried me in his direction on autopilot. When he lifted the mace in his right hand, swinging it back to gain the momentum needed to bring it forward to deliver its blow, so too did I swing my weapon.
The weapons we were provided weren’t cared for in the manner they should have been, so the sword wasn’t as sharp as I had kept my own.
It was yet another way for the Fae to fuck with us.
So that meant it took me two swings to sever his arm at the shoulder and three more to chop his lower legs off at his knees, but he’d managed to inflict one final blow of his own before I could do so.
I dislodged the mace from left side of my neck and shoulder, tearing even more of my own flesh away as I did so, before coming to stand at his right side, with my sword raised to deliver him to his true death. But as our eyes met, I could see both the relief and resignation in them as he spoke to me in his ancient tongue saying, “It is better this way. Cannot kill my own brother.”
I wouldn’t have called the Berts my friends, but I did have respect for them. Their loyalty to each other and their Maker was a trait I valued above all else. And while I might have gotten some satisfaction from ending the likes of Felipe, I would find none in ending Wybert, other than ensuring my own survival for another night.
So I took a moment to nod my understanding and replied to him in his own language saying, “I hope you find peace in the afterlife. And if there is a way, I will see to it your brother survives whatever lies in store for us and seek justice against those who have held us captive here.”
His eyes closed and his lips formed into a small smile as he murmured his thanks, so I summoned what was left of my remaining strength and raised the sword high above my head.
Delivering him to his true death, with one merciful blow, as I severed his head from his body.
Above the crowd’s cheers, I could still hear the pained cry coming from the tunnels, but I had no doubt over whom it was coming from. I also had no doubt I would be the first one Sigebert chose to hunt in a week’s time, even if I had just spared him from being forced to hunt his own brother.
My body dropped to the floor, unable to stand for a moment longer after having sustained the most damage thus far in my time there, so my guards had to drag me back to my cell. Tossing me inside, I eventually managed to pull myself up against the cot and waited for my meal to arrive, while an angry Saxon serenaded me in all the ways he would seek his vengeance against me.
I fought against my eyes’ wants to close from the blood loss, knowing my meal could be arriving at any moment. Sometimes it was a few minutes. Sometimes it was more than an hour. But they always appeared through the door at the back of the cell.
You see, vampires and Weres weren’t the only foreign captives held in this world.
Humans were fair game as well.
And because the Fae liked to play more than one game, our meals always arrived with a stake in their shaky hands and surprised looks on their faces, suddenly finding themselves locked in a cell with monsters they only knew existed in folklore. So I couldn’t drop my guard until I was able to pull them under my glamour. Even if I didn’t need their blood to survive, I had already learned there was no sense in not draining them completely. At least their nightmare would come to a merciful end much quicker than my own, but I found out the hard way what would happen if I left them alive. When I only took a little blood from my first meal, certainly no more than she could have recovered from in a day’s time, when the guards found her alive – if not glamoured – in my cell later on, she was immediately thrown into the cell across from mine.
Victor Madden hadn’t wasted any time in raping and then draining her dry.
It was a mistake I wouldn’t be making again, so I needed to remain lucid.
I needed to remain vigilant because my battle wasn’t over with just yet.
And that was my last thought before I had no choice but to succumb to the darkness behind my eyes.