I disliked the smell of this place. I always had.
Stale. Dank. The stench of vampire blood so pervasive that one could almost hear the screaming in the scent. Some of it had been spilt by weapons, but most of it had been burned out of its owner. Sadly, they had yet to invent a solvent that completely destroyed the odor, hence the cleaning staff could not carry the brunt of the blame. It was better than human blood, but then what wasn’t? For the last few hundred years, I’d ceased to see mortal men and women, watching instead fleshy jars of pennies jiggling about, with their mostly distasteful copper blood swilling inside them.
Such a pedestrian liquid.
I walked down a metal staircase, deep in the bowels of the Authority, far away from the shiny reception area and oddly normal-looking offices of her vampire employees. I was late for a meeting. One that required a rather… unorthodox boardroom.
I came to the door leading to a very long corridor. Taking out my elaborate set of keys, I selected the correct one and unlocked it. The rusty inner workings of the lock squeaked in protest as they turned.
Once on the other side, I closed it again.
Vampire Confinement, Sublevel 3, Row 2, Cells 15-30
Not that it read so anywhere. We were not in the habit of announcing to our guests where they were being kept.
Fourteen empty cells greeted me as I moved past them. Their overhead UV bulbs were dark. Their silver bars and linings had tarnished into a gunmetal grey. They would need to be polished soon. Nothing burned like freshly polished silver. And yet, their neglect was understandable. The Authority rarely had more than four “guests” at any given time. Overflow was unusual. It usually involved hostile takeover attempts, corporate disputes, or organized malcontents, like those who had objected to our revelation a few years ago. They came around. We brought them around.
Number thirty sat at the end of my stroll. Solid concrete, eleven feet thick, met me at the far side. If by some miracle someone escaped their cell, they would require four sticks of dynamite to leave this hallway.
Keys still in hand, I carefully opened the silver door to thirty. Despite the ghost of blood in the air, the cell itself was clean. The cement floor rose to incorporate a rectangle meant for sitting or sleeping at the back. Regular furniture could not be risked, as inmates of all species were prone to fashioning any material to hand into weapons. Because of that, there was nothing else in the cell.
I walked inside.
I set to work.
I removed my black suit jacket and laid it out on the cement bed. I loosened my tie. I unhooked my cufflinks. I unbuttoned and removed my shirt. I unhooked my belt. I kicked off my wingtips. I placed everything out, making sure nothing wrinkled unnecessarily.
I touched absolutely nothing else. The walls were poison and the other surfaces were just as offensive.
I walked out nude.
The key hung in the door, its many sisters dangling from the ring. I closed the door and turned it. The click was loud with nothing to buffer it. I removed them from the lock. I tossed the entire set into the cell. They landed on my suit, seven feet behind locked silver bars.
I stood patiently and waited. Neither cold nor modesty occurred to me.
I was kept waiting several minutes. I expected this, though I knew there was no innocence behind the tardiness. It was deliberate.
After I had been kept standing for a pointmaking period of time, my party arrived.
A flash of light.
A glimpse of purple.
The smell of sunlight laced with… sage?
A beautiful Fae woman looked at me from deep within the cell, her pale eyes and golden skin glowing in the dim. She lilac dress was lovely, though out of place in such industrial scenery. She scanned my body for any residual clothing I might utilize as mittens to grab the silver bars and rend them open to get to her. She looked over her shoulder at my suit and keys, set out to the letter of her instructions, in a place I was unable to reach them. She sniffed delicately. Our surrounding air confirmed that I was alone.
I continued to wait. This was a ritual she was never willing to forgo.
Finally, she met my gaze. “Magister.”
“Chloe.” I did not move to greet her or cover myself. “One day I would like to simply sit at a table and buy you a drink.”
Her stiff posture told me she did not agree. “You may comport yourself better than most, vampire, but-,”
“And yet you insist on this level of protection from me.”
She gave a light lift of her shoulders. “We are endangered for a reason.”
“I can only claim a small number for myself, many years ago, and I doubt they were anyone you knew.”
Her lips twisted. “We can meet at noon tomorrow, if you’d prefer. There’s a café I’m particularly fond of. Excellent macchiatos.”
“Then you’ll simply have to endure my paranoia. I wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for-,” she stopped speaking and looked away.
Her petulant expression brought out a sigh in me. She was only a few hundred years old. A child. Her behaviour was unsurprising. Still, it wearied me. Perhaps she was right to fear my fangs, though she would misunderstand my motives. I wouldn’t eat her for her delicious blood. I’d eat her because she was irritating. She may have thought highly of herself, but Fae blood, in my opinion, was only marginally less boring that all other blood. Even humans didn’t gorge on chocolate all the time. They too become harder and harder to delight as they aged.
Chocolate and Fae blood weren’t persuasive enough to thrill old men.
“Then I suggest we get on with your meeting.”
She nodded, grateful. “I’ve approached Mab. She was… unreceptive.”
“What exactly did you tell her?”
“Nothing overt. I simply tested the waters; you weren’t mentioned. I pointed out that Claudine was in the severe minority in her belief that the Coming should be embraced. Mab has taken council with her almost daily now, referring to texts and reselling the same points over and over. I wouldn’t say she is winning the queen over, but she’s pushing hard enough that Her Majesty is wrestling with her own conscience. To consider the execution of a Half Child is a serious matter, but to execute a possible saviour…” her sentence petered out as her expression hardened.
I had seen this look darken her pretty face many times. It usually took just one phrase for that look to twist into hatred.
“Sookie Stackhouse,” I said.
Ah. There it was. Chloe’s features turned ugly as the Half Child’s name echoed in our tight chambers.
“You said you could take care of her.”
“You neglected to inform me that Claudine was capable of hiding her so expertly.”
“I didn’t know! She’s the Custos of Magic! How was I to guess that she could step through any looking glass she liked and disappear from our world? And to take a Half Child with her, no less?”
“Perhaps you could have anticipated better, knowing she was the Custos of Magic. Did you think her talent ended with card tricks? Flowers up her sleeve and a rabbit in her hat? That she could hide Sookie nowhere safer than a child’s birthday party?”
The fairy made a noise of derision and flung herself backwards against the side bars, crossing her arms in defence. “I’m a Godmother, not a witch. My duty lies in protecting Hadley and her child, until he comes of age and is designated his own guardian. I am not Claudine’s keeper. You,” she looked at me pointedly, “were supposed to handle Sookie. Now I hear even your vampire king is proving slippery. Honestly, Magister, you should look to your own house before impugning mine. If you’d killed him, she would be dead already. Coming averted. Problem solved.”
I adjusted my stance slightly. I was not uncomfortable. The motion simply expelled the whisper of bloodlust she was unwisely injecting into my patience.
“To attack Northman is to liquify myself, or any vampire stupid enough to challenge a Radia. You would have better luck, not that there is luck to be had. The man is protected from any attempt at killing him to injure his mate. You annoy me by having to explain what you already know about your own Fae bonds. Sookie is the only vulnerability. She can be killed, provided her death isn’t meant to take her from Northman.” I paused. “What did he say when he came to you?”
She pursed her lips. “He ran me down, rabid dog that he is. He demanded to know where Claudine had taken Sookie. He asked if she was in Faery. I would have been summoned by Mab if she had been, so I knew then that Claudine had done something rash. She has always taken her wardship of Sookie very seriously.”
I gave a small gust of laughter. “You clearly do not share it, even though she is related to your own ward. Tell me, is treachery common amongst the Godmothers? Do you often plot against each other’s child?”
At that, she strode forward, moving into the light, her eyes glittering with disgust. “Sookie is not Fae. She is half mutt and pure evil. Her womb will bear the abomination that is a fairy-vampire spawn. It will be an afront to the natural world. It will unravel the fabric of life and replace it with poison and smoke. Claudine may favor the odds, but any odds at all are unacceptable.” She shuddered. “The supernatural world is getting along just fine without a savior. It will not get on at all if the child is Death. The choice is clear.”
I did not like this woman.
But we shared an opinion.
“Northman is aware of my station,” I spoke, once her scathing words had settled. “He’s watching me. I’ve tossed him a few red herrings so that his people feel useful. But I haven’t dealt with him, as your wealth of tactical knowledge insists that I do, because you’ve proven so fucking incompetent at controlling Claudine that I must leave him free. He is the only one who can find her now. He won’t rest until he does. We must simply be patient.”
“We can’t!” she hissed, smacking the bars between us. “Claudine is no fool! She’s taken the Half Child into seclusion! She will not risk emerging until after the birth!”
My gaze flickered briefly at her elegant hands on the silver. “True. But I’d place my money on two bonded lovers desperate to find each other over the solitary vigil of one guardian. Miss Stackhouse will fight. Northman searches even now.”
“More odds,” she snorted disdainfully. “And the sun doesn’t set for an hour.”
I opened my hands entreatingly. “Let us not pretend we’re ignorant of his day walking. You believe you’re brimming with secrets, but I promise you know nothing that I am not aware of. A fairy Choosing a vampire, of all things? I am a Custos. I’ve read the tomes. Sookie Stackhouse has given Eric Northman the sun.”
Her eyes rounded slightly, but she quickly recovered. “You can’t know that for certain.”
“You’re wasting my time. Have you anything new to tell me, or are you simply here to pitch a bitch?”
“The Fae are now looking for Claudine and… Sookie,” the name slithered through her teeth like a disgusting taste. “Mab is furious. She dithered for too long and now she is overcompensating. She’ll imprison Claudine. She’ll sequester Sookie and try to contain the Coming in Faery, as if the end of the world will recognize our borders and respect them.”
This was telling. It meant the queen believed Claudine enough to risk the Coming in her own land. If she truly thought it spelled doom, she would eliminate the girl, or banish her to a corner of this world so horrible that Apocalypse would go unnoticed.
She looked at me plaintively. “Can the other Custos do nothing? Surely they know of some way to retrieve their sister, even if you do not. Some are Fae! Others are demon! Perhaps they know where-,”
I lifted a hand and cut her off. “You would summon bookworms to track a magician? Souls who swore their non-interference with history?”
Her eyelids lowered, smug. “You’re here, aren’t you?”
“For my own reasons. I assure you, they do not share them. In any case, my brothers and sisters who enshrine literature, music, medicine and all the rest to the ages would do well to avoid a showdown between war and magic.”
“Then we’re left with nothing but the cunning of your vampire king to guide us,” she sighed. “Magister, we are running out of time.”
I watched her retreat to the back of the cell again. The shadows all but ate her.
“If she is found by your people, come to me. You will give me your blood, I will breach your world, and I will kill the girl myself.”
She shook her head in the darkness. “It is defilement to surrounder our blood to vampires. And you would never survive an attack against our people. Even if you suceeded in killing Sookie, the guards would execute you on sight.”
I chuckled. “Your concern for me is baffling. No matter. Once I’ve killed her, my objective will be complete. What happens to me afterward is immaterial.”
She shifted uncomfortably. “And what if we don’t find her? What if Claudine is successful? What if…” she looked frightened for the first time, “…What if the Scion is born?”
I shook my head slowly at her ignorance. “My dear Chloe, if the Scion is born, then my death, as well as everyone’s death, will come for us.”
“Would that we are spared,” she whispered.
My phone vibrated in the pocket of my shed suit. I had no means of answering it, so I ignored it.
She looked over at it, then back at me. She gave my nudity a skeptical once-over. “You really are different from other vampires, aren’t you?”
“I’m simply old.”
She shook her head. “It’s more than that. You are very… poised.”
“I’m very, very old.”
“You’d make an excellent Fae. Perhaps even a king. You understand what needs to be done and are not afraid to act.”
“And you’d make an excellent vampire. You are bloodthirsty and tend to blow your stack.”
She made a face. “Perhaps when I give you my blood to enter Faery, you’ll get your chance to turn me. Then we’ll see what kind of vampire I’d be.”
I smiled blandly. “I no longer Make. Nothing personal.” I bowed, then held out my hand expectantly. “Until next time.”
She looked at my hand. Her anxiety ratcheted up as she turned and walked back to my things and picked up my keys. “Soon, Magister. And not soon enough.”
She popped away, throwing my keys into the air. By the time I caught them on the other side of the bars, she was gone. I opened the cell and redressed. The room smelled much more pleasant than it had ten minutes before. The next vampire occupant was in for a treat, despite his capture. I exited and relocked the door. As I walked quickly down the dark corridor, I checked my phone.
The message was from one of my shifter spies. He had a useful preference for birds. Unusual in shifters, as flight was hard to master. But he was clever and had no interest in shifting into swallows or robins, with their constant need to flap and short-range capability. He was drawn to the endless hours and minimal energy needed to glide as an eagle.
At my command, he’d been circling Northman’s home for days.
A smile grew on my lips as I read.
NORTHMAN FLEW OUT IN DAYTIME. TOO FAST TO FOLLOW. RETURNED WITH GIRL. HEAVILY PREGNANT. LEFT FEW HOURS LATER IN CAR. FOLLOWED. SENDING COORDINATES. REMOTE HOUSE. HEAVY SECURITY. BOTH INSIDE. INSTRUCTIONS?
I left the lower floors and made my way to my private office.
GIRL TELEPATHIC. VAMPIRE OLD. DO NOT APPROACH. AVOID DETECTION AT ALL COSTS. SURVEY PROPERTY. WATCH FOR OTHERS. I WILL ARRIVE SHORTLY.
I also texted my people watching Pam, Jason Stackhouse, the human doctor, the red-headed infant vampire, and the telepathic child. If Northman contacted any of the adults for help, they would be followed and possibly taken or killed, depending on the situation. If Mab proved to be difficult and procured Sookie before I could, I would take the boy child as a hostage and/or a key to Faery.
The Coming would never come.
If I had to murder this entire town and burn out all of Faery, then so be it. I may have had my fill of killing, but it would be done without hesitation. The end of the world as we knew it was a powerful deterrent.
I simply hoped that the only death required to prevent it was Sookie’s.