My hand shook as I gripped the dinner knife from my last meal and carved a jagged line alongside its six sisters on the back of the wardrobe, which was standing upright once more, with all of my “new” clothes stored properly inside. Pasty white and baggy, they made me long for the bright, pretty clothes I’d bought hours before I was dragged here.
Once the line was deep enough, I threw the knife back onto the empty plate on the small table beside me. Claudine would disappear it when she came back and conjure a new one for breakfast. She wouldn’t even notice the splinters caught in the serrated blade before it vanished. She never did.
I reached up and traced the newest addition in the dark wood, feeling utterly miserable at its significance.
It marked the seventh day.
Seven days I’d been in this place. Seven days I’d been forced to sit in this breathable vacuum, listening to a deafening silence that I occasionally broke with my own scream. Sometimes it was Eric’s name. Mostly it was just an ugly, angry shriek. Sometimes I sang to Adam, trying to keep myself from falling into total despair. He deserved better than a clinically depressed mommy, so I hummed little lullabies that Gran used to sing. You Are My Sunshine, The Teddybear’s Picnic, Three Blind Mice, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, even though there weren’t any stars to sing about. Seven days with no night. No breeze. No birds. No life. Only Claudine’s visits broke the monotony, and those were always brief since she feared Mab would suspect something if she dillydallied in a place where the fairies couldn’t track her.
Nothing ever changed. I was only able to mark the days by my watch.
I was big now. Really big. Crazy, scary big. If Ludwig’s predictions and my belly were anything to go by, I was in my eighth month. Adam moved freely now, kicking and summersaulting the days away. I tried to remind myself that his situation and mine were identical, and he hadn’t complained. He was alone in a place where the scenery never changed, too. He seemed content to swim his laps and sleep. I envied him. He had a much higher tolerance for solitary confinement than I did.
Claudine came to me two or three times a day to make sure I was okay and make my meals. I was never civil to her, and considered going on a hunger strike. If it hadn’t been for Adam, no doubt I would have. But she was a bastion of patience, always cleaning up the mess I’d made of the furniture and other provisions without comment, then blinking me more food and water. She even erased the smoking holes I’d blasted into the grey grass, trying to Smite my way out of this shit hole. It hadn’t ripped this plane open like I’d hoped. It had merely made a small, black crater, no different than when Jason had thrown cherry bombs on Gran’s lawn. I gave up on it as a means of escape. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. I tried to keep my rage in the forefront of my brain when she was around. I didn’t want her to hear that the childish messes I made everyday were a ruse.
She’d be suspicious of what I did all day if I wasn’t stewing and knocking over the bed and cushioned chair she’d made me.
In truth, I was reading.
Whenever I wasn’t sleeping, I was knee-deep in her collection, skimming one giant leather-bound volume after the other. At first I just sat on the grass next to the mammoth, never-ending case, several books littered around me as I searched for the text that told me how to escape this place. But after a day or two, my belly grew too big for such an uncomfortable position. It started killing my back. I had to start bringing books to the center of the grass where my cozy chair was, hiding most of them under my mattress and the one I was reading under my ass when Claudine’s Light rippled and popped her out. When that happened, I shoved it behind me, bitched out big time until she left, then went right back to it. When I finished with that batch, I waddled back to the case, carefully put them back where I’d found them, then grabbed several more.
I deserved a damn medal.
Not for reading the actual words. Thanks to my new knack with languages, I could now read every single book as easily as if I were reading Magic for Dummies. No, I deserved a medal because I checked every single page, searching for a clue about how to get back to my Eric. I must have seen hundreds of thousands of them by now. And while I’m sure they were chock full of amazing entries about jaw-dropping displays of magic in history, I must admit that I didn’t absorb a single word of it.
I checked a book. I dumped it. I checked another one. I dumped it.
Every scholar on earth would kill me for wasting such an opportunity.
Screw those bookworms, I thought bitterly as I turned away from the wardrobe and shuffled back to my big chair. I sat down stiffly, stretching my neck and arms, trying to lessen the ache from leaning over for hours and hauling tomes to and fro. Eric would be so irritated at me for not taking better care of myself.
I winced and shut my eyes against his name. I’d been trying very hard not to think about him. Every book I checked brought me closer to finding a way back to him. Every tear did not. I’d sworn to myself and to Adam that I wouldn’t waste time crying for his father. Lord knows I wanted to. No minute away from him had been any easier than the first. The severed rope of our bond lay dead in my skull. My absent Radia continued to yank at me, even across our two planes. Eric’s blood in me howled nonstop for its master, a lone wolf baying at the moon. Nothing I did consoled it.
My only comfort was that I had yet to die, which meant wherever Eric was, in whatever condition, he was alive.
I didn’t want to think about his condition. He wasn’t feeding. That was all I needed to know. The separation anxiety I felt for him was miserable, but at least I got to eat. I couldn’t imagine him enduring the pain and starvation. I shoved the thought away. It didn’t help me focus.
When I’d asked Claudine about her visit with him, she’d been less than forthcoming. She’d simply said that she’d seen him and made him aware of the situation. The hardness in her eyes told me the conversation didn’t go so hot. But she had all her arms and legs, which meant it went as well as could be expected.
Pushing myself further back against the rest, I made myself comfortable and grabbed my latest read out from under the cushions. I flipped it open to my spot, taking bitchy delight that I’d dogeared her precious fucking text. Without correcting the crease, I began to read again.
I finished it in an hour and had just settled down with the next book from under the mattress when the air began to warp and swirl. It must be breakfast time. I jammed the book underneath me and crossed my arms over my chest, looking ready to spit nails when Claudine popped five feet away, right next to my always-messy bed.
“Sookie,” she greeted me like she always did. “How are you feeling?”
“Take me home. Now.” Like I always answered.
“Soon,” she seemed happier than usual, gazing at my tummy with her usual joy. “Your human genes have slowed your pregnancy, but you’re coming along beautifully. I can’t be more than a few more days now.”
“And what happens then? Are you going to blink a hospital for me? Maybe some mannequin doctors and nurses so it doesn’t feel so empty?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Fairies don’t whelp in hospitals. You and I will manage just fine on our own.”
I scrunched my face. “That a fact? Even though I’m half fairy and even though Adam is a quarter? I’m giving birth to the first fairy-human-vampire hybrid ever, but you’re sure that all we need is some boiled water and ripped-up sheets?”
“In the highly unlikely event that anything goes wrong, I’ll take us to Mab for help,” she answered calmly.
I hissed with anger and threw myself back into my chair. “Mab is the last person I want to see.”
“Would you rather risk dying here, should something unforeseen happen?”
“Clean out your fuckin’ ears and listen when I say that I’d. Rather. Go. Home! Not here. Not Mab. HOME!” I shouted.
I wasn’t planning on engaging her, not when the very sound of her voice made me want to kill her. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself. She already knew my wishes and vetoed them every time. I had made every argument. For seven days I’d been calm, and crazy, and rational, and emotional, and wellspoken, and abusive. Nothing swayed her. She would not be convinced and she would not be cowed. So I settled for Sookie the Poisonous Snake mode, hissing and spitting venom whenever she came near me. She took it all in stride.
As she did now. Ignoring my shout, she began her usual routine of cleaning up after me. The furniture was righted, the clothes and toiletries put away. The bed went from wadded up to made with military precision in an instant. A quarter wouldn’t only bounce, it would probably kill somebody. The dirty dishes vanished and were replaced with what I assumed were bacon, eggs, toast and fresh water. None of it tasted like anything, so appearance was the only clue I had.
I was starving, but I didn’t move. I never ate in front of her. She’d never have that satisfaction.
Once she was done, she turned back to me. “I’ll try to start coming more often, now that you’re so close to your delivery time.” She beamed wide. “I know you hate me, cousin, but are you not the slightest bit excited? Your child is coming! And soon everything will be right again. Better even.”
I looked away from her. “It would have been. But you’ve ruined it for me. And Eric. Being here has been the saddest experience of my life. Being taunted at school, being molested, being a lonely outcast in my town, losing Gran, none of them compare to this. And I have you to thank.”
I felt a vague wave of remorse from her.
“Please take it as proof of the precautions needed to protect the Scion, then. I am not your tormentor, Sookie. I take no pleasure in this. Once Adam is born and you’re with your man again, this pain will fade.”
“Get the fuck out of here. I hate the sight of you.” My usual goodbye.
She sighed heavily. “Be well, cousin. I’ll be back soon.” Her usual answer.
The moment she was gone, I fell on my breakfast. I noticed my portions were getting more generous, now that I was feeding two. Adam must have been an eater, because I couldn’t shovel it down fast enough. It had all of the flavor of chewy air, but it was better than ten of Gran’s pies. I scraped the plate with my finger, sucking the grease off before I turned and flung the plate as hard as I could against the wardrobe. It shattered. The sound of it breaking into tiny pieces made me warm. I picked up the glass of water, drained it, and let it join the plate across my open-air bedroom. The glass made an even better sound than the ceramic when it met its end.
That conversation, an exact copy of all our others, was the last damn straw.
With my ire tipping into white-hot rage, I turned on the room. I pulled the books out from under the mattress. I was done, done, done with this shit! It had been seven days and I was never going to find the answer in the few short days I had left. I’d made it through less than one percent of the tomes, and while I’d always known it was a long shot, my bad luck pissed me off.
I stared at the books on the bed. I hadn’t read them yet. I’d hidden them until I finished the one under my seat. Too fuckin’ bad.
I grabbed the first one on the stack, gripped it by each cover, and ripped.
The leather was old and the paper dry. It didn’t take much before the spine buckled and the book came apart in my hands. The pages lost their support and fluttered around my feet.
I grabbed the next text and did the same.
And to another.
Soon all eight books were laying in tatters on the ground. I laughed maliciously. Claudine couldn’t boast a pristine library anymore, now could she?
Just call me the fucking Sacker of Rome.
I looked out into the vast collection surrounding me. My hands grew hot with power. I felt my human senses dim as I surveyed this fairy stockpile with a fairy’s wrath.
I had tried to play fair and look for the text I needed the old fashioned way. Now? I was just mad.
“Hey!” I screamed at the library. “Now you listen here, dammit! I am done! Do you hear me? I’m done looking at you! I’m sicka bein’ here and I’m sicka your bitch author and I want to leave!”
My hands exploded with Light. Tiny little comets whipped around me and teased the hem of my boring white sack of a dress. It lifted the ends of my hair. I’d never seen my Light boil out like it did now. I barely noticed. I wasn’t finished.
I held my hands out like I was pulling a gun on the books. “Here’s the deal! One of you has the information I need and that book is going to make itself known RIGHT NOW! Get the fuck out here and let me look at you, or so help me Christ I will turn you all into the biggest pile of confetti the world’s ever seen! MOVE IT!”
My Light shot from my hands like a canon. The orbs were huge, bigger than I’d ever seen. Their blinding orange bodies sang across the colorless grass, arcing in a straight line before veering slightly to the left. At first, I thought I’d just carried out my threat prematurely. That my Light was doing my bidding and was heading for the first case it saw before it detonated.
I wouldn’t have cared if it had.
But it didn’t.
Once it changed direction, it sped up, aimed chest-high at a shelf about three hundred yards away, and exploded into a single tome. The impact was so violent that I assumed the book was going to burst into cinders.
But it didn’t.
Instead, the book glowed the same brilliant orange, then simply pulled itself from the shelf, hovered for a moment, then set down on the grass. Obliging as can be.
“Well, who woulda thought…” I muttered, squinting and open-mouthed as it faded back to grey. My hands died down. No other books moved. I could barely see it from my position on the other side of the field.
For a heavily-pregnant woman, I ran surprisingly fast.
With my hands under my belly for support, I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the hole in the endless stream of books with its occupant lying on the grass. It was closed. And it was grey. But its lack of color and blank cover didn’t stop me from recognizing it right away.
I dropped to my knees, trembling as I reached out and flipped it open, just to be sure.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
It was the tome. The original tome. The one that Bill had shown me. The one I’d stolen from Sophie Anne’s palace. The one I’d read several times over. The one Eric had read as well. The one Claudine had taken back, insisting it was never supposed to have bled into our world in the first place.
As my eyes scanned over the first few sentences with ease now, I could feel my rage rising up again.
I’d already seen this book. It made no mention of The Seam or how to move between worlds. My hands Lit up in warning again. Even I didn’t want to mess with them.
The growl I let loose would have put Eric to shame. “I’ve already looked at you,” I accused. “You don’t have what I need. Why the fuck did you step forward if you’re not the right book?”
My Light grew bigger, backing up my threat. I waited for the book to magically pop open to a page that I’d missed before, or turn to a bibliography that mentioned the book I needed.
It did nothing. It sat in front of me, cool as a cucumber.
“All right,” I sighed at it. “You asked for it.”
I let another angry orb build in my palm, ready to unchain it. The book took my warning stoically. It didn’t even ask for a blindfold and a cigarette.
It didn’t even occur to me to spare it. I didn’t care that in its pages was the prophesy of the Scion. It had angered me. In front of all its little book buddies. I wasn’t feeling forgiving.
I shot my Light right at it. Boom, fucker.
But to my surprise, my Light didn’t do my bidding and blast that stupid book to Hell. Even though I’d launched it with considerable force, it detached from my hand, and just hung gently in the air.
I’d never seen one of my orbs so close for so long. They always flew away so quickly, killing trees or heart-fucking Eric. I leaned it to admire how the warm colors swirled tightly within the ball.
“What are you doing, orby?”
It flashed at me, chastizing me almost. Then it floated up slowly over my head, until it was level with the gap the tome had left in the other books. It slid into the gap, flattening to fit, and disappeared.
I jumped to my feet and peered into the gap.
My Light was gone.
But the gap wasn’t dark.
A gust of breath left me, purely disbelieving.
Hesitantly, I reached into it, my fingers sliding all the way to the back of the case, where they brushed against slivers of light coming through from the other side. I’d never – never – seen any such light bleeding through the case with any of the books I’d taken out. With savage hands I clawed at the surrounding books, throwing them to the ground, digging out the source of that light.
What I saw had me laughing like a maniac.
Claudine. That wonderful, unthinking, shitty excuse for a carpenter. She’d said she didn’t know how her book had fallen into our world and into the hands of a vampire queen, but that the problem had been rectified and would never happen again.
I gazed at the back of the case, now clear of books. There was a hole. A tear in the plane, I guessed. About eighteen inches in diameter. Several slender pieces of wood had been boarded over it, but they were ill-fitted and didn’t completely cover the tear. I guess it was something she couldn’t simply blink to fix. Light escaped freely through the cracks. The boards were only meant to keep the books from falling back into the other world.
And while those boards were doing a bang-up job keeping books from escaping, they now had me to contend with.
I grabbed the top board and yanked. It snapped like a wooden ruler.
So did the second. And the third. And the fourth.
When I’d ripped all six boards away from the tear, I gripped the shelf below it and shoved my face through the hole.
Birds were chirping. The sun was shining like it was going out of style. I could smell trees and water and the wonderful, humid air of Louisiana that I’d know anywhere. I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. I wrapped my arms around my enormous belly and hugged Adam for all he was worth.
“We can cry now, baby,” I told him as I backhanded my face. “We can cry till the cows come home.”
I shoved my arm through the hole. I wouldn’t fit, being as big as I was, but I didn’t care. I immediately felt the difference on the skin exposed in my world. The moisture, the light, the vibration of a world filled with life.
Eric’s blood roared into my hand, finally finding a direction to answer his call. I could feel his pull, so strong that it nearly ripped me right out of my rabbit hole. His blood was beside itself and nearly wept through the tips of my fingers, beyond happy to feel his presence once again.
I splayed my fingers wide, willing him to feel it.
I knew he could. I only had to wait. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, he would come for me.
And I could not stop laughing.