I had known I would have to deal with Sigebert at one point or another, but I hadn’t counted on having to deal with him so soon. Until I knew for certain there was no way for all of us to survive this hellish experience, I didn’t want to deal with him at all.
Least of all, right fucking now…
But feeling Sookie’s rising fear as she wisely climbed down and put herself behind me, I already knew I would end him without hesitation if provoked, to keep her safe. The fact he ignored her presence – or more so, her scent – spoke volumes more about his state of mind and his intentions than anything he could have said.
And knowing he had a command of the English language, just as well as a gorilla understood how to construct a Rube Goldberg Machine, I explained to him in the same dead language I’d last spoken to his just-as-dead brother, “You know the rules. It was kill or be killed.”
“Same rule now,” he grunted in return and sped towards me like a freight train.
I was the only thing standing between him and Sookie, so I did the only thing I could do.
Without my ability to fly, I ran forward, closing the distance between us that much sooner, and angled my body so that when we hit one another our trajectory shot us both to the right. Together we tumbled through the woods, with his throat gripped in my hand and my right arm locked, holding him at arm’s length, while he continued to try to rip into my flesh with his snapping fangs.
Just like with his brother, our strength was near evenly matched, but our momentum helped him to dislodge himself from my grip, with me breaking my hand in the process. But with his rage so focused on me, I ignored the pain shooting up my arm and continued to lead him away from Sookie by taking to the trees. I was much more agile than the ancient Saxon, so I channeled my inner Tarzan and swung through the limbs high above the ground back towards our starting point.
I barely even noticed the now glowing fruit dangling from the limbs.
Not having been fed for a week slowed down my body’s ability to heal itself, so I wasn’t moving as fast as I’d wanted, with only the use of one hand to help me. But I hoped the scent of blood, growing thicker in the air as we got closer, would be enough to call to the primal side of him. I suspected I hadn’t been the only one not fed for the last week because – if anything – our hunger would only make for more entertainment for Breandan.
But I soon learned I hadn’t given the ancient Saxon enough credit.
I knew it when he managed to reach the tree I had propelled myself towards, ripping the trunk from the ground just as I flung my body at its limbs, with him throwing the both of us like a spear towards the lake that had separated me from Sookie at the start of the night.
I had just barely managed to avoid being impaled in the chest by one of its limbs when Sigebert was suddenly on me, but my feet caught his chest, with my legs kicking his body away.
I’d given no thought to his trajectory.
I had barely spared a glance at the lake. I hadn’t noticed anything odd about the shimmering pool of liquid that had appeared no different than any other body of water that could be found in our realm.
But I soon learned I hadn’t given the fucked up fairies enough credit.
The splash he’d made upon his landing was drowned out by his anguished cries and not long after the unmistakable scent of burning flesh reached my nostrils. Turning towards the sound, I could see his flailing limbs slowly being eaten away by the molten fluid that could only have one explanation.
Magically enhanced to have the appearance of water, it was slowly melting his body like acid. I could only assume the leather he wore helped to protect most of his extremities, but the uncovered parts of him weren’t fairing as well.
While our only allegiance to one another had ended with our queen’s demise, the thought of Breandan and his followers getting any entertainment from any more of our deaths wasn’t an option I was willing to entertain.
Not yet, at least.
Besides, I had given Wybert my word.
And I would keep it, so long as I was able to.
With that thought in mind, I stood up and tore the sturdiest branch from the tree that would reach him. Moving to the liquid’s edge, I held out the opposite end towards him as best I could using only my uninjured hand, while I waited for the other to mend back together.
Either unable to see the makeshift life raft or believing I was attempting to push him further down into the toxic lagoon, when he only avoided the wooden limb, I yelled out to him. Calling him every derogatory word I could think of in his dead language, it had been necessary when my assurances to do him no further harm had failed.
My Maker had taught me long ago that rage was a much more formidable motivator than fear.
Finally reaching for the branch, I managed to pull him to the shore line, but hesitated to make any more effort than that.
Sookie was still out there, her only protection at the moment was whatever powers she’d manifested in her short time on this realm, and that wasn’t good enough for me.
Sigebert would need time and blood to heal.
He had neither.
But at least with his body out of the literal death pool – although, not yet out of the figurative one – he had a chance at survival.
However, his chances of surviving the night would be slim to none if any others happened to find him, so I made a spur of the moment decision to aid him further by quickly digging a hole in the ground and dragging his limp form into it. My hand had healed enough for me to use it by then, but I burned both of them in the process from the moisture still covering his body. But even up close I still couldn’t detect anything from its appearance or scent that would give it away as anything but water.
It made me wonder what else in the hunting grounds wasn’t what it appeared to be.
I knew I would have access to Sookie’s blood in order to heal, but unwilling to share any part of her with anyone else, my eyes searched for the source of the blood that I had scented in the air on our way there.
I found it in the form of a dead human lying on the ground near the pedestals the humans had been standing on at the start.
His throat had been ripped out, but he hadn’t been drained, so I threw his body into the hole on top of Sigebert for him to feed on before covering them both with the displaced dirt. Angling the uppermost part of the tree over the makeshift grave to hide his location, I knew there was nothing more I could do for him.
It would have to be enough.
Just as I refocused on my tie with Sookie, I felt her fear spike, echoing her distress back to me like a homing beacon. With my blood as my only guide, I sped back to her as fast as I could.
But as I closed in on her location, my eyes caught sight of a tiger pacing back and forth, like a caged animal in no cage I could see, with his nose scenting the air.
There was something else I couldn’t see either.
And I may have panicked over that fact, if it wasn’t a dance we’d already done once before. Her physical appearance was a mystery.
Sight. Sound. Scent.
None of them gave her away and while my eyes couldn’t see her when she cloaked herself, my blood told me she there.
However, the tiger soon regained my full attention. Frothing at the mouth, his gaze was in the midst of locking onto me as soon as my scent reached him, but not before my eyes locked onto the young girl cowering behind the tiger. The fear in her eyes seemed to be directed at me, instead of the feline predator who was now roaring at the sight of me, so I halted my steps and held up my hands, saying, “I mean you no harm.”
More was always better in battle. Allies could watch your back and aid you defeating the enemy. My mindset was already resolute as to who the enemy was in this insipid game.
But I would need to convince the others of the same and the tiger wasn’t ready to hear me out.
I knew because, in spite of the oddity of the situation, everything about his reaction and hers told me he was protecting the girl.
It was a trait I knew a little something about.
But the tiger was exhibiting other signs, warning me of yet another trait I knew a little something about.
Ask questions later.
I had a split second to decide how to meet his attack, but I quickly learned I wasn’t the only one who could make a split second decision.
I learned that when I felt what could only be Sookie’s hand press against the small of my back, just as the sensation of my stomach dropping rocked through my body. In that same split second the tiger and his charge disappeared, as did our surroundings, now replaced with a similar yet different backdrop.
“She was his sister.”
Sookie’s voice managed to filter into my mind more quickly than my equilibrium was returning to me and she moved into my line of sight, adding, “She’s not the only one.”
It was the only word I could form, with my senses still scrambled from my first teleportation and my mind picking apart her words to imagine an entire litter of tiger cubs wandering around the forest.
But she either didn’t notice or overlooked it, answering, “I caught the thoughts of another human further into the woods, when I was waiting for you before they showed up. It was a woman and her brother was with her, only he was a wolf. I don’t remember either girl from when I was locked up, but I wasn’t really paying attention to any of them.”
Again, I hadn’t given the Fae enough credit.
So I hypothesized out loud, saying, “They took humans who meant something to one of the supernatural participants and added them to their game. Not only will they have to protect themselves, but they will be compelled to protect their human. Even if both are left standing at the end, only one would be allowed to go free.”
I wasn’t surprised there had only been five human players. Vampire generally didn’t become attached to humans, so in theory they all should have belonged to a Were.
Nor was I blind to the fact, had I not met Sookie, there would only be four humans at the start of this game.
But now guessing their purpose, I momentarily wondered over the human who had already lost their life and was currently in the ground with Sigebert.
Had the Fae misjudged their importance to whichever Supe they’d known?
Had the Supe of the pairing been the one to end the human, either to spare them from participating in the games or to spare him or herself from having to figure their human counterpart into their strategy for survival?
Or was that same Supe out there at this very moment, seeking to avenge their human’s death?
“That’s horrible!” Sookie gasped, making me wonder if her telepathic powers had grown to encompass vampire now.
But she unwittingly answered my unasked question by staring up at me and questioned hesitantly, “Uh…is one of the other humans here…yours?”
She’d squeaked out the last word, but that could have been due to my attempts to quickly put her fears at ease, by snatching her back into my arms, while I affirmed, “Yes. She’s right here.”
“Boy, you sure move fast,” she chuckled.
I couldn’t be sure if she was speaking of my physical speed or my claim on her, but all traces of her amusement disappeared when she noticed the burns on my hands and asked, “Didn’t your momma teach you not to play with fire?”
“Several times,” I nodded and then added, “Using a broom to aid in her lessons. But these didn’t come from any fire.”
“My gran used a wooden spoon,” she said with a soft smile and then added, “She’d tell my brother, ‘I’ll smack you so hard, your kids’ll come out behavin’.”
I could tell a part of her had gone back to that time. A time when fairies were just fairytales. But a part of her was still here with me because she had yet to stop running her gentle touch over my palm.
Her eyes met mine then, but just when I’d conceded to allow myself to willingly become lost in them a roar in the distance broke the comforting silence between us.
We both turned towards the sound and when I looked back at Sookie, I could tell she was concentrating on something. It only took her seconds before she said, “Another Were…a bear.”
Her eyes widened then, while she mumbled out, “Jesus help us…” and just as quickly moved to the opposite end of the spectrum, adding, “Sick fucks.”
Finally looking back at me, she explained, “He’s got his daughter here with him. She can’t be but twelve or thirteen.”
Sick fucks, indeed.
“You need to heal,” she stated much more confidently. Not that she’d been wilting with despair before, but now she was standing tall, with her spine straightened.
Looking every bit like a warrior prepared for battle.
Moving closer to me, she offered me her neck and rambled out, “You eat and then we’ll figure out a way to go kick some fairy asses. This is bullshit! Using children…children! Must be from drinking the water around here. Making them all nuttier than a five pound fruitcake.”
I was glad she was of the same mindset. It was all of us against the Fae. But I wasn’t really surprised.
After all, she was the same woman who had walked into my cell with a stake in her hand and chose to heal me instead of saving herself.
Hopefully her instincts towards self-preservation would always be as perceptive.
When I’d made no move to take her offered meal, her eyes finally met mine again. And seeing the smirk on my face, she huffed out, “What?”
“Nothing,” I smiled. “I’m just waiting for your blood to come down from boiling, so I don’t burn my tongue.”
She huffed again, but her small smile gave her away right before she chided, “Oh hush, you. You don’t have a drop of blood on you, so I know you didn’t kill that other vampire. I’m not the only one standing here who knows who our real enemies are.”
She may have been snatched from her home – kept prisoner on another realm – and forced to join me in their fatal games, but I couldn’t ask for a better ally.
Not only was she perceptive…
Sookie was strong-willed.
She would need to be if we had any chance of surviving.
Taking her offered blood, I didn’t take as much as I might have on any other night. But she would need her strength and I didn’t want to weaken her, knowing the opportunities to rest would be few and far between.
While she definitely wasn’t completely human, she was still mostly human, but we at least had the advantage of me not being a slave to the sun.
However I still wanted to find us shelter. A safe place where she could sleep, while I kept watch. We began walking, with her using her gift to try and locate any others, while I used my preternatural senses to do the same. Everyone would likely still be in flight or fight mode, so soon after entering the hunting grounds and I knew it would be unlikely we would stumble upon anyone else who would be made to see reason.
We just had to bide our time and wait.
For now my thoughts were on obtaining the basics to ensure Sookie’s survival. I only needed her blood, but she needed food and water.
And recalling how the lake ‘water’ had eaten away at Sigebert’s skin made me wonder if it would have just as deadly an effect if Sookie were to consume it.
Or would it be harmless to her and yet poisonous to me when I fed from her?
I hadn’t taken the time to explain to her what had happened to Sigebert or how my hands had been burned. So I paused on the path we’d been walking on to tell her of my suspicions about the water here, but before I could say anything, my earlier assumptive thoughts about not being a slave to the sun came back to bite me in the ass.
My eyes barely had the time to register the rapidly lightening sky when my legs gave out where I stood. Sookie’s panicked voice calling out my name only just broke through the dark cloud fogging over my consciousness, but I didn’t have the strength to respond.
However, I did realize my perception was off because it wasn’t an imagined fog I was seeing.
It was the smoke rising from my body.
The last thing my mind could register was the searing pain before everything went black.