For reasons that Ludwig had never been able to unearth, I now healed quickly. Just like a vampire.
Ever since we first noticed it that night in Eric’s office, I no longer bruised during sex and his bites zipped up like magic. I hadn’t been injured more seriously, other than those little owies. Until now, of course.
I assumed that was why I was able to bear up under the pain of being separated from Eric after about an hour. Not that it was easy. Not that it had gone away. I was simply getting used to the agony of my Radia’s call going unanswered. Just like I was getting used to Eric’s blood spinning like a top in my bloodstream, looking for my true north without any luck. I could feel its needle swirling wildly as it searched, desperate to locate its master and compel me to find him once it had a direction, but the leap into The Seam had broken it. Like a panicked animal, it paced just under my skin. Another hour and it might decide to just pour through my sweat glands and continue its search without me, if I was just going to sit here and be sick.
I couldn’t bear the thought. I silently begged it to calm down.
I continued to breathe through my nose, trying not to puke again. I looked around my colorless prison, trying to memorize every detail. I wasn’t completely sure why I felt the need. Nothing about this library from Hell struck me as useful. Maybe it’s what I thought Eric would do. Thinking about him, I asked myself to consider what exactly he would do in my situation.
Simple. If Eric were a telepathic fairy captive, he’d rip into the brain of his captor and steal every thought he found in the hopes of learning what the hell they wanted from him and how to escape.
Claudine was sitting at my side, waiting for the sickness of my separation from my Chosen to pass. Looking into her wan expression, I threw myself into her head, desperately hoping that I’d catch her thinking about the exit.
I needed out of here. I wouldn’t last a long weekend without Eric.
But of course, she felt my intrusion. I plunged into the endless museum of her thoughts, seeing flashes of memory and color in every direction. With a sad little smile, Claudine simply wiped them clean. A world of white took the museum’s place. I fell into a paint bucket of the stuff. Thick, soupy, completely blank, the white pressed back into my head, filling my nose and making me feel claustrophobic. I tried to swim through it, looking for the little handfuls of thoughts I’d seen seconds before, but they were gone.
There was nothing. And it stayed that way.
Even people who knew about my ability and tried to think of nothing couldn’t elude me this effectively. They always cracked and thought of something, their brain too undisciplined to stop itself. But of course, Claudine wasn’t people. Claudine was fairy. She’d been raised for thousands of years amongst others with the same ability. She knew how to mask her mind. She knew how to thwart trespassers. She was a ninja of the brain.
I was twenty-six years old, raised around plain old humans who had no idea I’d crept into their minds and stolen their thoughts. I’d never had to pit myself against another telepath, let alone an ancient Custos.
To a gun party, I didn’t even have the wherewithal to bring a knife. I’d brought a spork.
She patted my shoulder. My pathetic attempts at espionage were being excused. Bitch.
I extracted myself from her. I was too weak to do much else.
On the gray grass under the gray sky, I looked at my warden and finally felt ready to talk.
“Do you have the power to see the real world from here? Is he okay?” I asked calmly.
She sat straighter, her eyes losing focus as she presumably looked somewhere else.
“Yes,” she answered. “I can see him. He’s in pain. His people are helping him.” Her expression hardened, her lip curling up. “Massawa is near. The others want to take Eric somewhere safe while they try to figure out what is wrong.”
“You’re telling me that Massawa wants me dead, then you cripple my Chosen and leave him in his path like a hobbled sheep? What the fuck, Claudine?” My voice was still hoarse.
Her eyes didn’t focus on me. “There was no time, Sookie. Massawa is too dangerous. I couldn’t leave your safety in the hands of a vampire a fourth of his age. Nor could I take you to Mab. She’s still wary of the prophesy and its repercussions. Besides, vampires can breach our land if they drink Fae blood.”
“But not here?”
She shook her head. “Not here. Not even fairies know of The Seam. I found it, many years ago, and began using it to house my tomes. It was the perfect place. Almost every ancient library in the world has been sacked, burned, pillaged. Even the other Custos have lost some of their volumes. Not mine. Mine are pristine. I’ve even tried to bring other species of people here to see what this world would do to them, so I could plan for any possible invasion.”
“After the leap, they perished. This world cannot support non-Fae.”
She looked at me and answered without words.
Fuck. That meant Eric couldn’t break onto this plane, nor could Claudine simply bring him over. I was on my own.
Trying not to think too loudly and risk her hearing my plotting, I gazed out at the pointlessness of a library no one would ever see. “What about Sophie Anne? She had one of your books. Not only that, she could read it. Ludwig said no one could read Custos texts unless the magic in the book allowed them to. Why the hell would a Fae book let not one but THREE vampires read it?”
The atmosphere went sheepish around her as she looked at the ground, her face reddening. “A mistake. I have no idea how she stole one of my books. She’s certainly never been in The Seam. That tome must have slipped through this dimension somehow and ended up in her hands. I don’t know. But no others are missing, that I can vouch. As for the vampires reading it, my books only need to detect Fae blood in the reader and the text will appear. Sophie Anne had Hadley’s. Bill and Eric had yours. It was enough to let them see.”
“You might want to add another layer of security to them, Napoleon. I think I’ve spotted a loophole.”
“It was never a problem until the Stackhouse women started spreading their legs for every pair of fangs they met,” she replied.
“Fuck you. My romantic relationships and your shitty defense system should have nothing to do with each other. Maybe you should ask the Custos of War for tips on how to protect your stupid books better.”
We pointedly looked away from each other, pissed off.
I didn’t speak until I felt calm again.
“You can’t just keep me here, Claudine,” I insisted quietly. “I need Eric. I need Ludwig. I need food and a bed and a toilet and my new clothes. Too much could go wrong. What happens when Eric dies of starvation? Or if Massawa kills him and my Radia is snuffed out? Eric dies, Sookie dies, remember? Or what happens when something goes wrong with my pregnancy? If you can’t bring me a doctor, I could die then too. And Adam, my son. What’s the point of all this if you’re risking the Scion’s death anyway?”
“I will help your Chosen as much as I can. He won’t die from starvation. A vampire his age can abstain from blood for a long time. Months, if necessary. Anything you need, I can conjure for you. I’m the Custos of Magic. They gave me this job for a reason.”
She blinked intently, twice. Suddenly there was a glass of water and sandwich on a plate next to my hand. Without thinking, I snatched the glass and drained it before cramming half of the sandwich into my mouth. I felt ravenous. The throb in my body that wanted Eric more than anything wasn’t fooled. It accepted the food, but didn’t lessen the pain.
I swallowed, then grimaced. “It tastes funny.”
“I told you, The Seam barely exists. There are no people aside from us. The plants never grow. No color. No weather. Food will still nourish you, but flavor is a luxury that doesn’t translate.”
“What else can you make?”
Another three deliberate blinks.
A nicely made bed. A toilet. A wooden wardrobe. They popped into place right beside us, in the middle of our massive book audience.
“You expect me to pee outside?”
“Would you like me to blink a house for you?”
“No. I want you to take me home. To my actual house.”
“And I will. With Adam safely tucked in your arms.”
The image stung. I saw myself popping back into our bedroom, our baby soon fussing in my arms. Eric was on the bed, bleeding from every orifice, too weak to do anything but lift his head and stare at me with disbelief and anger in his eyes. I’d left him. I’d taken away his child. His heart. And I would work for the next hundred years trying to earn his forgiveness for abandoning him.
A tear slid down my face.
“You have to go back,” I broke and cried a little. “If you can’t take me, and you can’t bring him, then you have to go back and tell him what’s happening. He doesn’t have a clue. Hell, he might think I’m dead. Go to him and tell him I love him and I’m safe.”
I took off my ruby ring and held it out to her. “Tell him I want this back next time I see him.”
She hesitated, then reached out and took it from me, slipping it on her own ring finger. “He will kill me, cousin.”
“I’ll die here if he does. I’ll be alone and scared until thirst or hunger take me out. Adam too. Tell him that. He won’t touch you.”
She nodded, fear prickling her mind so loudly that I could hear it without trying to read her. But she was going to do it. I could hear that too. In my tornado of hatred for her, there was a grain of gratitude.
Grunting, I shifted positions, trying to ease the boiling ache in my chest. It was starting to pressure cook my organs. The pain left me breathless. “You need to tell me about Massawa. I thought the Custos were supposed to just write everything down that happened in history. Why does he want to pitch in the ninth inning all of a sudden? Doesn’t that go against the Keep’s Prime Directive?”
“Yes,” she answered. “We were engaged only to watch our respective genres. I’ve seen countless displays of magic. People risen from the dead. Dried weeds turned to lush crops, and vice versa. Enemies made lovers. Lovers made stone.” She looked at me. “Vampires gifted with daylight and fathering children. I suspect I will write several volumes about you, Sookie. You’re excellent job security.”
“Glad I can help. The economy being what it is and all.” I coughed against the bile clinging to my throat. “You didn’t answer me. Why has he – and you – decided to intervene?”
“Massawa is the oldest among us. He was tasked with observing war five hundred years before I was born. Can you imagine the horrors he’s seen? The blood, the cruelty, the wanton disregard for life? Even an undead soul who subsists on blood would have his limits.”
“Are you saying he’s gone crazy?”
She fanned out her long fingers, brushing them lightly against that grass that never grew. “No. I’m saying he’s had enough. The atrocities and the bloodshed, followed by stalemate and peace, followed by misunderstandings and tension, followed over again by atrocities and bloodshed. Mortals have no historical memory. They commit the same stupidities as their grandfathers while we immortals are forced to watch. I was lucky. I was assigned to observe the miracles of life. Massawa was a warrior. He was cursed with watching the ugliness that humans never outgrow. Before this century, it was restricted the damage one man could inflict on another. Now…”
She lifted her hand in defeat.
“Now…?” I prodded.
“Now, science has overtaken even magic’s power. Weapons do not mean war. They mean an extinction event. For all of us. Massawa nearly went mad during the Cold War, missiles pointed every way but down. They had enough power to destroy the earth eight times over. Can you imagine? And you’ve been asked by a council that originated in the Bronze Age not to interfere? How Massawa must have wrestled with himself and their antiquated notions of killing. If it wouldn’t have sparked a nuclear volley, I’m convinced Massawa would have murdered the Communist and Western leaders within hours of each other, just to end the standoff.”
She looked over at me. “How are you feeling?”
“Sawn in half. You?”
She actually chuckled a bit. “Not great, but I’ll concede it’s nothing compare to you.”
I blew out another shaky breath. “I’ll never forgive you for this, you know.”
“So what? You’re saying Massawa believes the Coming is the end of the world and Adam is the first domino? He wants to kill me to stop the ultimate atrocity?”
“And how do you know that? Was there a staff email where he made his plans known?”
“The Custos have been circling the same world for an age. We see each other in our peripherals. Trip over each other as we gather information. We know each other’s methods, our thought processes, our perspectives. Massawa’s frustration is no secret. He’s made it clear that if the Coming were ever to manifest, he would do everything in his power to stop it.”
“Kill the Scion, save the world.”
“But you don’t agree.”
“Massawa’s view has been tainted by thousands of gallons of blood. He sees only the death in every great moment in history. The Coming may bring death to some, I will not lie, but I have seen the same great events as Massawa, and very often, their birthing pains are outweighed by their glory. There is magic in this world, Sookie. Like nothing I can describe, though I’ve tried in every book. And the Scion will put all of it to shame. His birth will be magnificent. The prophesy promises this. Somehow, he will create a better world for our kind. Perhaps all kinds.”
Somewhere in our conversation, I’d wrapped my arms around my belly. For all her excitement, I did not want this glory for my son. I didn’t want him to be a great historical event. I didn’t want her to write reams of magical praise about him. I didn’t want him to better the world.
I wanted him to have a swing set. I wanted him to like vegetables. I wanted him to enjoy the aquarium in Monroe. I wanted him to put away his toys when I asked him to. I wanted his first word to be ‘daddy’.
And I wanted his daddy. Here. With me. Now.
I sniffled again, wiping my cheeks.
“Will you go to him now, please? I’m tired. I need to rest.”
“Are you agreeing to your stay here until the birth?”
“No. I’m going to fight you every day until the pain makes me throw up again. But there’s not much I can do about it, so I guess I’ll sit tight for now.”
I blinked back more tears and tried to look collected. “You might be right, okay? Maybe Massawa wants to kill me and you’re doing me a favor. Maybe two weeks away from Eric is a small price to pay for keeping Adam safe. I don’t know. All I know is that Eric needs to know I’m okay. So please… go tell him.”
Claudine chewed her lip nervously, then nodded slowly. “To keep him sane, to protect your Light, I’ll tell him what I’ve done.”
A relieved burst of air left me. “Thank you,” I said. “Please. Hurry.”
She rose from her seat, looking down at me with endless kindness. “I’ll be back soon. Rest, cousin. When I return, I’ll conjure whatever you need to be comfortable during your stay.”
“Sounds good.” I tried to smile.
She lit up, then popped away.
With my last reserve of energy, I staggered to my feet, stuffing the last of her tastless sandwich into my mouth. Gritting my teeth, I tore the bedsheets off the mattress and hurled them to the ground. I lurched against the wardrobe, sobbing with rage until I’d pushed the fucking thing over and it clattered to the ground, plain clothing jumping out of the drawers like popcorn.
Backhanding my tears, I started my slow, determined march to the books.
Claudine had better have some sort of fucking Dewey Decimal System because I didn’t have much time to browse through fifty thousand books. I needed the one she wrote about The Seam. More specifically, the one she wrote about how to fucking leave The Seam.
Her hopes and fears about Adam be damned.
I was getting the hell outta Dodge and going home.