Chapter 6: She’s Not There (Reprise)
The terror jolted me out of my day-time sleep, if only for a few seconds.
Whatever had frightened Sookie, it was short-lived because the sensation died right away and while I paused for a few moments to see if it came back, it wasn’t long before I slipped back into unconsciousness for the rest of the day.
When I finally awoke that evening, I remembered that brief rush of panic and immediately felt for Sookie through our bond. She was definitely angry about something and there was still some fear, but it lacked the intensity of whatever had made me stir earlier. I relaxed a little; whatever the crisis had been, it seemed to be over.
I was still lying on my bed, debating whether I should stop by and check in on her (and perhaps to see what she thought of my little gifts) when my cellphone beeped. It was a text from Bill ordering me to meet him at his mansion as soon as I was available. “Before you do ANYTHING else, Eric.”
The decision about stopping at Sookie’s – my house – was made for me. After all, I was going to be in the neighborhood.
As I flew towards Bon Temps, I was irritated to realize I was apparently moving further away from Sookie, not closer. I wondered if she had gone to Shreveport for some reason, maybe to Fangtasia. I was tempted to turn back, but conscious of Bill’s command, continued on towards the royal mansion.
Pompous little prick.
I cheated when I got to Bon Temps; I quickly popped into the house just to see if I could pick up any clues about what had happened to upset Sookie. Bill could wait the extra minute or two it would take.
I didn’t see anything that would have frightened her, but it didn’t take much to figure out the probable cause of the anger: the door to my safe room was standing open.
A quick check of the kitchen showed that the back door was fixed as I had requested but the decanter of blood had been emptied down the sink. Sookie hadn’t even rinsed the bottle, but left the coagulated mess sitting in the sideboard.
So much for my offer to drink bottled blood for her sake.
The feeling I was experiencing was one I couldn’t even remember well from my human life, much less my vampire one. I think I was…hurt. There was an actual physical sensation, like a sting in my chest that crept towards my throat.
Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods when I appeared in Bill’s study a few minutes later.
Bill was seated behind his desk, studying paperwork when I arrived. He glanced up and said with a transparently false geniality, “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course,” I said with equally faked politeness through a clenched jaw. I strolled in and stood between the guest chairs and his desk so that I loomed over him.
Despite my irritable mood, I kept my expression carefully impassive. One didn’t survive to my age by being anything less than cautious.
I suspected we were about to discuss my new property. He was within his rights as my king to order me to give up the house, but I hoped he realized I would fight him all the way to the Authority on this matter. Not only did I have backing there, but neither of us would want to bring Sookie to the Authority’s attention unnecessarily. Or so I was hoping.
“I understand you bought Sookie’s house.” Bill’s tone was light and cordial, as if he was discussing an amusing prank I had pulled. He asked brightly, “Any chance I could convince you to sell it back to her?”
“No.” I bit the word out, wanting to make it clear from the beginning that this would not be a negotiation. If he wanted me to give up Sookie’s house, he was going to have to find an ugly way to force me. I wasn’t going to lay down for him like some bitch in heat.
“To me then?” Bill Compton actually leaned forward and winked at me.
“No.“ Had Bill really expected this approach to work? I was not one of his human acolytes whose panties could be expected to drop at a charming smile.
My king chuckled to himself as if I had just made a predictable move. I wasn’t sure what game he was playing, but as far as I was concerned, it was over. Game, set, match.
“All right? So we’re good.” I turned to walk away. I was anxious to get back to my house. I wanted to talk to Sookie, to at least explain what I had meant by the decanter of blood.
“There’s a new coven in town—” Bill said loudly just before I reached the door.
“Oooooh, nooooo, witches,” I said in mock horror. With the increased interest in paganism in the last thirty years, there were more so-called “witches” in America than ever before, but most of them were harmless nature-worshippers. They generally had little interest in vampires between their “live and let live” (so to speak) beliefs and our lack of the “life energy” on which their magical practices drew.
“— based out of a Wicca shop not far from here,” Bill continued. “Called Moon Goddess Emporium.”
Oh, for Goddess’s sake. I had a pissed off fairy tenant to talk to. “I’ll put Pam on it,” I said dismissively, turning again towards the door.
“You will do it yourself,” Bill said sharply. I stopped in the doorway, frustrated and annoyed that my valuable time was being wasted on what was most likely hippy-dippy bullshit.
“They are necromancers, Eric.”
Okay, that deserved my attention. Necromancy was the practice of death magic. I turned to look at Bill warily.
“They brought a bird back from the dead,” Bill’s said gravely.
A bird was a small creature, but it was definitely a step in the wrong direction. If these witches’ experiments continued to escalate, vampires could be in serious trouble.
“Are you certain of this?” Perhaps it was just a rumor. It was getting close to Halloween; maybe it was the anxious imagination of neighbors fearful of an unfamiliar religion.
“I had someone on the inside,” Bill said matter-of-factly. Just as I was taking him seriously (for a change), he ruined the mood by adding superciliously, “I hope I don’t have to impress upon you the implications of this.”
Having someone less than a fifth my age speak to me as if I were ignorant of history I had actually lived irked me.
“You do not,” I responded sharply.
Bill belabored the point. “If they can control the dead, then they can control us.”
Well, yes, you fucking idiot, that is what necromancy means since vampires are, technically speaking, dead. The danger of necromancers was 400-year-old news to me.
“You remember the Inquisition? I was around back then,” I said pointedly.
I had not been present at the massacre at Logroño, but it was notorious among our kind. A 17th century necromancer in Spain had compelled all the vampires within a 20 miles radius to walk into the sunlight on their own via a spell. My fellow Sheriff, Luis of Area 3, had told me tales of how his maker had burned in the sun and how he would have as well if he had not been in Granada at the time. I had actually thought of Logroño at one point while I was lying burning in Fangtasia’s parking lot with Russell Edgington, thinking of the ironies in my voluntarily meeting the sun without being forced to by either that insane human church group or a sorcerer’s spell.
“Excellent.” Bill stood and then demanded sarcastically, “Now will you deal with this yourself or is it still beneath you?”
Dealing with this could potentially lead to a human death if the necromancy was serious. And killing humans without Authority permission was a sure way to earn myself an official execution. I didn’t have a crown to hide behind and I didn’t for a moment trust Bill to back a decision to use lethal force with higher ups.
I stepped back and folded my hands together in front of me. “Has the AVL signed off on this?” I asked rather acerbically.
Bill spat his response at me. “I am the King of Louisiana! I don’t have to ask anyone for permission.”
Somehow I didn’t think Nan Flanagan would agree with that. That Bill was so vehement made me think he didn’t really believe it, either.
I weighed my risk vs. my obligation and found that my duties as Sheriff won out. If the Authority was unhappy and Bill would not vouch for me, I still had act in the best interests of all my area. However big a fool I found my king to be, necromancers were a serious threat that I needed to address quickly. “I will go tonight,” I finally agreed. Bill was an ass, but the risk was a real one.
In keeping with Bill’s self-importance, I bowed to my king with an elaborately obsequious flourish of my hand. “My king.”
Bill snorted at my mockery and his own tone was just as flippant. “Thank you, Sheriff.”
As I started out the door, I shook my head bitterly at the idea that I had to dance attendance on this vapid little politician.
In the hallway outside Bill’s office, the redheaded security team member from the previous winter stood holding a small slip of paper. “Sheriff Northman, his majesty said you would want the address for Moon Goddess Emporium and the name of the coven leader, which is Marnie. They should be meeting even as we speak.”
I nodded my thanks, distracted by the smell of Bill on the woman, the strength of which told me they had fucked very recently – definitely after Sookie had returned. While it was in my best interests to be certain Bill had moved on, I failed to understand his motivation. Now that Sookie was back, the supposed love of his life, how could he even get it up for some other human? It just proved to me how very unworthy he was of Sookie.
I took one last flight around Sookie’s home before starting toward the Wicca shop, but she was still not there. It was probably just as well since I had to deal with the witches first. But as soon as I was done, I hoped to come to Sookie again and have another talk about what I could offer her. Strangely, leaving the house, even without Sookie inside, made me feel as if I was leaving the place where I most wanted to be.
It had rained while I was at Bill’s and the streets of the city were shining and wet. I found the store easily enough and ignored a dark figure that stood outside talking on the phone as I vamp sped to the alley behind the building.
As I was approaching the back room where the group had gathered, trying to decipher a strange little tingle I felt, I heard a voice say in disbelief, ”Where the fuck y’all going to get a dead body?”
From raising a bird to considering raising a dead human in 24 hours? These were ambitious witches. Not a good sign. I was going to have to impress upon them how very unwise their latest idea was.
I decided I needed to make an intimidating entrance, so I drew on one of my gifts. Using only my will, I blew the double set of doors to their meeting room wide open, dropping my head in concentration and throwing my arms out dramatically in emphasis as the heavy panels slammed to either side of the door frame. The sound alone would have startled anyone, but I like to think the sight of all 6’4” of me, clad in black leather, added visual trepidation.
“Excuse me,” I said with false civility before striding into the room. A group of about a dozen men and women were gathered in a circle on a variety of low stools, cushions and mats. At the edges of the room, clusters of candles provided the only light. The so-called witches looked very docile for a group dabbling in death magic and I began to feel more comfortable that they were still in the early stages of whatever exploration they had been doing. Frightening them into behaving should be easy-peasy, as my Sookie would say.
I put my hands together primly in front of me like a supplicant and leaned forward, ducking my head in what I thought of as a human way. It would keep them off center for a few seconds more. “Y’all looking for a dead body?” I inquired in my most down-home Louisiana accent.
You wanted a dead body, you got a dead body, bitches. I popped my fangs and snarled, causing a breathless gasp from the entire group. The gasp made me relax a little – it was the reaction of a group of startled does, not hardened sorcerers.
To my right, a dark-skinned man with a bandana on his head had jumped up, cursing, when I flashed my fangs, and I recognized Sookie’s friend Lafayette. His presence explained the mild little tingle of I had felt before entering the room, as he had had my blood the year before. Our connection had considerably weakened, but I could still feel it as his fear of me was reactivated. His right hand rested for reassurance on the shoulder of a dark-haired man who remained on the floor and I could tell by their scents that this was the former V-dealer’s lover.
“Oh, Lafayette,” I purred. “I didn’t know you were a witch.” Very intriguing, indeed. Something to file away for future use, but not until the entire coven understood that necromancy was not a form of witchcraft to be tolerated in my area.
I ambled further into the circle, pausing to put out a red-glass votive candle with my boot. Time to get down to business. I wanted to track down Sookie for our little tête-à-tête and I was beginning to hope this might not take as long as I had originally feared. With any luck, I’d be done and out of here in just a few minutes. Flown away like a bird, so to speak.
“I’m told your leader’s name is Marnie,” I said by way of an opening gambit. The name had struck me because I knew its meaning: by the sea. Fleetingly, I pictured a long-ago beach where I had played as a child, my bare feet running along wet sand and the wind off the ocean pushing against my back. I had always loved the water and I suddenly wondered if Sookie had ever seen the ocean.
I’d ask her eventually, but first I had to sort out this mystical mess.
A blonde witch with long hair spoke up while a plump, older redhead looked on anxiously from behind her. “Really? Who told you that?” The witch sounded defiant and perhaps a little suspicious. I wondered who Bill’s inside source had been and if the witches were now thinking of who among their group was conveniently missing tonight. I knew what vampires did to traitors; I wondered what witches did to theirs.
“Oh, let’s just say – uh –” I grinned as I thought of a relevant pun, “A little bird did.”
There were a couple of uncomfortable tics among the witches, and the dark-haired man beside Lafayette looked angry, which told me that however innocuous the bird story might have seemed, It was true. I still couldn’t imagine how they had planned to jump from a bird to something as complex as a human, but perhaps that lofty aspiration came from their leader, whoever she was.
“So, which one of you, uh, lovely ladies is Marnie?” Not a single of the women looked like someone familiar with the power necromancy would allow her to wield, so I was genuinely curious.
A mousey older woman with chestnut hair and wearing a frumpy blouse and denim skirt ensemble answered with a strangled croak, “I am.” She stepped forward and stuttered out more loudly, “I-I-I am Marnie,” as she gestured at herself.
I was pleased; her willingness to step forward would expedite things since I would not have to waste time forcing the information out of the group. I wanted this done since I had personal business waiting. “Excellent. Thank you for coming forward.”
The witch nodded in acknowledgement and stood more confidently, perhaps buoyed by my polite tone.
I delivered my ultimatum authoritatively. “Now here’s the deal, Marnie. This is the last time your coven convenes.”
Marnie’s dark eyes narrowed, and I could see I had pissed her off. Everyone else in the room appeared startled and incredulous as I continued, “And before you even think about agreeing and then meeting behind my back, know this –“ I smiled rather cockily. “There IS no behind my back. I. Am. Everywhere.”
I had seen the rage growing on the coven leader’s face as I spoke, but I was still surprised when she finally spoke. “Wh-what’s in it for me?” she demanded, speaking as if she were genuinely confused by the lack of a counter offer from me. That she would push back was apparently as unexpected to her followers as it was to me; I saw a wave of shock and anxiety ripple around the circle of faces.
I did not have time for this shit. Clenching my jaw, I snarled out in my most commanding tone, “I said it was a deal, not a negotiation. Lafayette –” I glared at the fry cook as I ground out, “Do. I. Negotiate?”
I could feel the little shiver of terror as Lafayette jumped to agree with me. “I’d listen to him, Marnie. He tends to get his way.”
“What the fuck now?” A voice muttered from the front of the store. A familiar-looking dark-skinned woman was creeping cautiously towards us, obviously aware she had walked in on some kind of standoff.
For several seconds, Marnie and I stared at each other challengingly. When her eyes flicked briefly away, I thought she was finally about to back down, but I had misinterpreted the decision. Her eyes rose to meet mine again as she lifted her chin defiantly and issued an order with surprising authority: “Join hands.”
Fuck. They could not be allowed to cast a spell. I didn’t think they could be terribly powerful or they would already have acted against me with magic, but I didn’t want to drag this out any longer.
At vamp speed, I rocketed across the room, grabbed Marnie by the throat and snatched her body close to mine. “Why couldn’t you just take the deal?” I growled into her ear in a frustrated whisper. As willing as I was to make threats, I had been hoping to avoid actual violence. Now, thanks to her obstinacy, I was going to have to make the point that I was not to be trifled with. In a flash, I sank my fangs into her neck ferociously and the witch shrieked in pain.
Around us, the other coven members gasped in horror and terror and I heard the dark-skinned woman curse.
As I drew blood from Marnie, I heard one of the other witches began to chant forcefully, “Elements of the night, elements of the dead, come this way, we call upon ye, we summon ye!” Wherever they were in the room, the other members of the circle began to join hands in clusters and join the chant. The prickle of magic from the group was so faint as to be negligible, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about what the elements of the night and the elements of the dead might do to me.
The stake snatched up from a basket of display goods by the woman latecomer was a different matter.
Spotting the motion out of the corner of my eye, I threw Marnie towards the other side of the circle and grabbed the woman with the weapon, quickly disarming her and holding her at arm’s length, half-sprawled on the floor. Now that I was close enough to her, I recognized her as Lafayette’s cousin, Tara, last known to be living in New Orleans under the name Toni or Terri or something like that.
“What have we here?” I inquired silkily, my fangs still prominent. At this rate, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Sookie’s shifter boss and Alcide Herveaux pop out from behind the store’s beaded curtains. Was my Sookie surrounded by would-be-witch friends?
“Oh, shit!” From behind me, I heard Lafayette curse and then his deep baritone joined the chanting, inspired no doubt by the grasp I had on his cousin. Just as I leaned in threateningly, my fangs no doubt looming large in ‘Tessa’s’ sight, I felt something strange.
For just a few seconds, I was no longer in control of my actions. One instant, I was about to sink my fangs into her and the next, I felt myself jerk upwards and away from her. Or rather, felt whatever – whoever – was in my body jerk upwards and away from her. I – my mind, my consciousness – was just along for the ride, passively watching as my body did what someone else’s will pleased.
From inside me.
Just as quickly, the alien presence was gone and I found myself stunned to be back in control of my physical self.
What the fuck was that?
As I looked up in confusion, I realized a dark gloom had filled the room and a storm-like wind (Inside? What the hell?) had begun to flutter a string of colorful prayer flags overhead. As the currents of air grew stronger and the air blacker, I was vaguely aware that Marnie (ofthesea ofthesea) had risen from the floor where I had thrown her and that the chanting of the other witches had fallen silent as they, too, stared, gaping at the thickening atmosphere.
I dropped Lafayette’s cousin to the floor as the turbulence gathered overhead and the wind began to lick at my clothes and hair, the outward manifestation of a roiling, powerful magic greater than any I had seen in centuries.
Somehow the little group of Wiccans had gone from nearly non-existent mystical power to a motherfucking magical super cell in moments.
I. Was. So. Fucked.
Marnie’s back suddenly stiffened and the mousy woman began to chant in a strangely clear and compelling Latin. “Iam tibi impero et praecipio maligne spiritus!” The other circle members were being affected by the rising energy and I was vaguely aware of expressions of awe and ecstasy as the magical currents continued to swirl around us all. “Ut confestim hinc a me et summa allata et circulo discedas –”
I could feel myself losing focus, lost in Marnie’s eyes, which were as cold and empty as the Hel of my Viking forefathers. As her voice grew stronger, I almost thought I saw a younger, lovelier face superimposed on the middle-aged witch’s and different dark eyes, alight with flames.
“Absque omni strepito, terrore, clamoreet foetore, absque cine omni damno mei tam animae quam corporis!” the voice continued relentlessly. And as it thundered on, I felt myself – everything I had known for more than 1,000 years, everything I felt, everything I was – slip out of me, as unstoppable as the sand that had once upon a time slipped between my childish fingers on a distant Scandinavian beach.
A/N: I know it is a strange place to end the story, but I plan to write a sequel titled, naturally enough, He’s Not There, that picks up right at the point where our bespelled Sheriff!Eric leaves off and Amnesia!Eric begins. Thanks for reading!