Chapter 60 – Brawl at the Ball
August 14, 2004
The week after the fealty ceremony held several surprises for Sookie: Somehow Ludwig had convinced Felipe that if his main goal was pregnancy, overly invading her privacy and having her in court for the entire night every night was a potential threat to their success. As a result of Ludwig’s recommendations, the camera in the bathroom was removed immediately, and Sookie had Quinn confirm it was truly gone before she trusted it. Her first full shower was heavenly. As for court, Felipe compromised: She would still enter at the beginning of court each night, do her bow and then be given any assignments for human reading that night. From there, she was dragged by Bill to do her work. Ludwig pushed Felipe hard for this and was pleased with the results. Getting her away from the mental games was Ludwig’s goal for the removal of her time in court. It wasn’t perfect since when Felipe informed Sookie her court duty was being eased, he also told her on nights when he special guests; she would be leashed to his chair on display. Most evenings though, he said, she would work in a meeting room or she could have the night off and return to her own room after a brief appearance in court. Lastly, Felipe had listened about the food and it had improved somewhat, though Sookie still ate significantly fewer calories than she should. Sookie appreciated Ludwig’s efforts and enjoyed her brief respites.
This weekend was the beginning of the Sheriff’s ball, a grand multi-day event that Felipe and his entourage were attending. The timing of their departure from the palace on the Friday before the ball was used with other factors to begin their setup for the fake insemination. Since the territory monarchs and most of the higher vampires would be at the ball, court was canceled and Finard and Sookie used the timing to fake her period. Finard sent a note to Felipe that he read before court started on Wednesday asking that Sookie be confined to her quarters for the duration of her cycle. Only Finard and Frannie should be permitted near Sookie. Felipe was so excited that her cycle was beginning he approved the seclusion happily. He figured he would only miss her presence for two nights before he left for Boston and she would be able to resume her appearance when he returned. While he would miss the time each night when she was on the floor in submission to him; the start of her bleeding was worth that sacrifice for the two nights.
Sookie looked at the calendar she’d been given to track her cycle. Only comments related to her ‘time of the month’ were written on it, but she’d memorized the key dates she’d heard from Frannie and Quinn about the battle. The actual battle date was not yet divulged but knowing other dates, like the Boston trip helped Sookie mentally. Her fake period was just the beginning of a countdown for the battle and she grew excited as she counted the days in her head. It bothered her AND Eric that they were basing dates off the Ancient Pythoness’ plans since they no longer trusted her unconditionally. The determining factor in sticking with the seer’s plan was that Niall’s fighters were needed for the grand finale, and he needed time to gather as many as possible. Yes, the spy network combined with her telepathy was working well: Quinn had updates on a regular basis. What wasn’t working was her chance to get information that she heard OUT, but per Quinn, they were working on that.
In addition to the Sheriff’s ball, this weekend would be the beginning of the end for Appius’ children since she knew from Quinn that Felipe’s brother, King Carlos, would meet his end at Russell’s hand. While that made Sookie happy, it also had her worried. She sent a prayer to God that Eric and her friends in Boston would all survive and that the reason Russell needed to take revenge on King Carlos Huerta wasn’t to avenge a death of someone they held close. She had no doubt that the Ancient Pythoness would keep that from everyone to further her own agenda.
In Boston, Eric and Russell were making a show of starting a fake business meeting as planned. King Benito, they determined, was in the best position to provide secret meeting rooms. He’d asked his human companion’s family for help: The family planned a vacation to Boston and rented three suites in a hotel down the street from King Carlos’ hotel. All the vampires working with Eric still had hotel reservations in Carlos’ hotel, and they were checked in by day staff – even going so far as having empty coffins delivered while the sun was up. They were working hard to minimize their risks. To ensure they had privacy wards, Amelia traveled under very uncomfortable circumstances in Pam’s coffin. Since they traveled via a private plane with Stan and his team, Amelia could get out of the coffin for the flight, but the transport to and from the airport was cramped.
As soon as they were all present in the room, Russell led Eric into an adjoining room for a meeting with the VIA as they now dubbed themselves.
With everyone already present, since their real coffins had been delivered earlier in the day, the meeting started. Eric welcomed Quinn to the group, even shaking the tiger’s hand for his help with Sookie. He couldn’t stay long at the meeting since his company was running the event so he quickly provided his input and left.
After Quinn’s update and departure, they needed to review the situation in Boston: Who was attending and what they would be up against the night after the ball, the day the Ancient Pythoness had for her vision. They were shooting in the dark though. Her Grace had left out the reason for Russell’s justified revenge, why he would be weak, and who besides Eric would participate. They did what they could and moved onto the floor plans, knowing they would be better able to plan after the pre-ball party the next night.
“Gods,” Eric exclaimed, “When did being a vampire mean the need to attend balls with pre and post parties? I have no problem with a good time, but we all get together, not trusting one another, faking smiles, posturing against each other. There must be another way.”
“Here here.” Godric added. “Maybe after we eliminate . . . “ He stopped his words, suddenly realizing what he was about to say. “That is why.”
“Why what Father?”
“Why she did it. We are to eliminate, at least in the States, the last of the monarchs that still live as savages in fancy clothes. She wants us to do something broader than the monarchies after they are gone, I am sure of it.”
“While I’m eager to eliminate those that threaten us as a species, I’m not convinced it was worth Roo.”
“No, I am not saying it was. But I do like where perhaps this is headed, and we get to keep Roo.”
“I just want this whole thing to be over.”
“Here here again Eric.”
Sookie was in her room when she heard a familiar voice in her head. ‘Sookie, can you hear me? It’s Barry.’
‘BARRY! Where are you?’
‘Driving in the area.’
‘WOW, you’ve gotten strong. I wasn’t even listening and you broke through.’
‘Thanks to you. First Sookie, I owe you an apology. I should’ve told Stan.’
‘It wouldn’t change anything.’
There was a moment of silence before he continued. ‘How are you Sookie?’
‘Things are much better this week. I have some better food, a bit of privacy, less time in court. Right now, I have my fake period so I’m sequestered to my room and I couldn’t be happier.’
‘And your baby? Roo, right?’
‘Yeah, we call the baby Roo. So far, so good. I get to hear the heartbeat when Ludwig is here. The bonding sickness is a problem on top of morning sickness. I need Eric’s blood, he probably needs mine.’
‘He is hurting too, yes. His focus is on planning so he can get through this. I have updates for you from home, if you want?’
‘I want! How is Pam and the silver poisoning?’
‘She’s improved enough to travel and attend the Sheriff’s ball as Eric’s guest – at least appearance wise. She still gets tired throughout the night, but they have plans to prevent that from being evident at the ball. Godric’s presence in Boston will help since he’ll feed her every night while they’re there.’
‘That’s good. Do you have an update on Eric’s hand?’ It had been about 2 weeks since he’d lost his fingers and she was hopeful they were almost back at 100%.
‘They are almost fully grown back.’ Eric was sure she would ask, and he could hear she was pleased with the update. To maintain her good mood, he hurried on with some good news. ‘You have two friends who will be in Vegas next week, Monday when you’ll be at the casino as scheduled.’
‘Hoyt and Holly.’
‘That’ll be good. Thanks.’ Sookie went on to send the details of where they can best see her while they walk through the casino – with a warning about her appearance. ‘You tell them to think to me, anything from home, any stories and gossip, ANYTHING Barry.’
‘We’ve been told about the outfits and your hair. I’m sorry Sookie. And I’ll tell them to keep thinking to you – even if they can’t see you.’ As he didn’t want her to hear his pity, he quickly moved to another topic. ‘I spoke to your Gran, she is doing well. She bakes and cooks with Potts and Michelle. Since there’s a houseful now, they have plenty of work in the kitchen. They’ve added another child to the property, Cecelia . . .”
‘Yes, seems with the Sheriff’s ball and the upcoming battle, they felt she was safest at the farmhouse. Plus, Hunter wants the company. He likes Michael, but as a shifter, Cecelia gets him.’
‘I could see that. Where are they putting Cecelia?’
‘She shares a room with your Gran.’
‘The farmhouse is bursting. . . . We should get onto business. I mean, you can’t go around the block forever.’
‘True, but I don’t’ go back til tomorrow night.’
‘So you can visit again?’ Even in her thoughts Barry could detect the excitement.
‘Yes. If you want.’
‘I do. I’m lonely. But I’ll get onto business; then tomorrow we can just visit.’ She pulled her thoughts together before she sent them for Barry. ‘So I’ve learned that Appius is pretty much staying here now. He even stayed behind from the Sheriff’s Ball. His chamber is below a room just behind the throne room, but he entertains donors and a favored pet in an underground room past the between the tower and the guard meeting room.’
‘I have a floor plan here; can you take me from the throne room to that room?’
Sookie described the walking path to Felipe’s entertainment room, and Barry verified it with other bits of floor plan information. ‘So Sookie, who is the favored pet?’
‘His name is Adam. He’s just a fangbanger that belonged to Sandy, she used to be Felipe’s assistant. She’s finally dead now.’
‘I met her when I was there. What happened?’
‘She pissed off Appius, he killed her, but that’s all I know. It happened before I got here. Anyway, I read the pet’s mind, that’s why I have all the information in my head, and until now I had no way of getting it to anyone. Appius visits Adam upon rising since he can get to that entertainment room via underground tunnels. He then rejoins him at dawn with several donors. He only attends court occasionally, and I’m pretty sure it has to do with the other attendees planned for the night. Oh, and those donors? They don’t always survive, but Adam keeps his mouth shut about that.’
‘How does he get away with that?’
‘Felipe secures runaways, other people who won’t be missed for the general donor pool. I don’t know what they do with the bodies.’
‘What of Felipe’s army?’
‘I don’t know much about that. I do know there are vampires here that are his, not necessarily just Nevada’s, but I don’t know how many or how old.’
‘Ok, I’ve gone around three times, I need to get moving.’
‘I’ll drive by two different times tomorrow. I’ll talk to . . .’
His voice faded out as he left his range. Sookie left the shower where she’d hid to have her conversation, feeling very relieved. She had a book in her hands and pretended to read to cover her emotions as she processed Barry’s updates. Eric certainly had his hands full now with a third child in the house. That’ll help prep him for Roo.
The night of the Sheriff’s ball started without incident. The ball was held annually and sponsored by all the monarchies as a thank you to their Sheriffs and their members of court. It was also a chance for the selected host to show off their riches. Be it their properties, staff or donors. The ball was positively boring, just as Eric predicted: The usual conversations, the deals, the posturing. The VIA had a mission though and they met after the dance to share what they had gathered.
Stan started with good news. “I have updates from Barry. He was able to spend several minutes with Sookie two days in a row.”
Eric felt warmed by this information somehow. “Indulge me please, I know they spoke strategy, but how is she?”
Reading from his phone email, he summarized Barry’s information. “She is suffering from bond sickness and morning sickness. I guess you know she’s been sequestered for her cycle and is in much better spirits from that. Barry said she asked about you and Pam and Gran and the household in general wanting as much information as possible. She’s excited about Hoyt and Holly being at the Casino and told me Felipe and his entourage always walk by the dollar slots in the lower casino on their way to the meeting rooms. She also really wants to be sure that Hoyt and Holly are prepared for her outfit and hair, and for her to see them, they need to be seated.”
“Just so the group is aware, we have a photo of Sookie from Alcide and I will share it with everyone that will eventually see her. It’s just something to prepare everyone.” He focused on Stan. “Thank you for sending Barry. The bug is in her room but she can’t actually talk to us, she usually sings, horribly, about her mood altering the words a little. We really can’t get intel for our battle that way though.”
“My pleasure. Let’s get into the other details she shared.” Stan provided all the details he had from Sookie’s conversations with Barry. They pulled out the floor plans and filled in information about Appius and his pet Andy. They moved to an assessment of the vampires at the ball and the travel plans they were able to gather. The best news was that Felipe and his entire group were leaving shortly after midnight the next night so they would be able to rest in Vegas during the day Monday. That took many unfriendly vampires out of the equation. The only Nevada vamp staying for the entire third night was Bill Compton so he could sell his database at the business Meet and Greet vendor fair. Nobody was concerned that Bill was staying. If they trusted the Ancient Pythoness, their fight during this trip would happen after Felipe left the next night.
Quinn had some time between his even tasks so he returned to the meeting and Eric questioned, “You’re ready with weapons?”
“Yes, they will be in position under the tables in the vendor Meet and Greet. I created a sandwich if you will. Each table has a weapon or weapons depending on size; then a new table was built to cover it. To get to the weapon, grip the fake skirt covering the weapon and pull down. With vampire or Were strength, you shouldn’t have a problem. I suggest we review the floor plan for the vendor fair and assign tables out so we have weapons runners in case the battle isn’t taking place in the ballroom where the Meet and Greet will be.”
“A good plan Quinn, please take us through the floor plan for the fair.”
The next night, Godric was visiting Pam to feed her one last time and he had brought donors with him to replace his blood and ensure that Eric fed well before whatever battle was ahead. The three of them also planned to arrive a bit late. Felipe was aware of Eric’s scheduled business meeting with Russell, but they wanted to keep their time with Felipe to a minimum in case he tried to intrude in some way.
Godric lead his family into the vendor hall in search of Russell and Toni. He’d left Toni at sunset to feed Pam and now he wanted to get back to Toni and spend as much time with her as possible since they wouldn’t see each other again until Stan’s pledging. Godric had very much fallen in love with his Were and enjoyed Cecelia as well so the separations were hard. He planned to start the discussion about their future just as soon as Sookie was home. He wanted to complete their bond and be together as a family. Right now though, he needed to be attached to her side, enjoying these final moments before they headed out.
On the way to greet their friends, Eric and Pam needed to stop and do the usual groveling to Felipe and ‘his Lord’ Victor and Godric waited with barely controlled anger as Felipe made his final jibes to Eric about Sookie. “Well Eric, I can’t wait to get home to your bonded. I know I’ve missed seeing her grovel in submission to me these past nights. I even missed two nights before we left for Boston because she started her bleeding again. Guess that means that her baby is certainly gone from the womb. I’ll be sure to tell her I saw you and Pam. I also took several videos of you and some fellow Sheriff’s dancing last night. Do you think that will upset her? That you’re here dancing and she’s not?”
Felipe, Victor and Lorena laughed but Eric remained stoic. “If there’s nothing else your Majesty, my Lord?”
“Nothing Northman. I hope to hear about new profits from your ventures with Russell. Your tribute is quite pathetic.”
Sure the comment was made out loud to call Eric’s finances into question in front of other vampires; Eric ignored it and instead enjoyed the fact that his tribute apparently bothered Felipe enough to think of it at all. “I’ll be sure to keep you informed.”
“I’ll keep Victor on top of that Eric. You are dismissed.”
They turned quickly and headed to the back corner where they saw Russell and Bart laughing at some vendor stand. When they arrived, they could see why. The vendor, a Were, was selling a special at-home waxing kit. He created it for the especially tough Were hair but discovered it worked well on vampires that had the bad luck of being turned with side burns or other equally undesirable facial or body hair. His process, he stated, would last almost the entire night before hair would grow back. His claims were ridiculous. The fun here was where his stand was located: Across from Bill Compton. Pam had always hated his stupid Civil War mutton chops and he was currently being persuaded to try to process by the vendor. Russell was clearly enjoying his humiliation.
After having their laugh at Bill’s expense, Godric asked about Toni and was met with a surprised look from Russell. “I got a text from her telling me she was meeting up with you to arrive. I haven’t seen her tonight.”
“When did you receive this text?”
“About 2 hours ago.”
“So it was after we split. I was heading to Eric’s room to feed Pam; she was headed your way.”
“Can you detect her?” Russell asked.
“We aren’t fully bonded yet, but let me focus on her location.” He stood still and concentrated. It only took a moment for him to get a read. “It’s muted somehow.”
“Drugs or a spell I would guess. Eric, have you felt it muted like that?”
“Not really Russell. When Sookie was kidnapped and given chloroform the bond felt gone – but we were fully bonded at that point. I would suspect a spell then.” He turned to Godric. “Can you get anything of her location Father?”
“I think so.”
Focusing on Pam, Eric ordered. “I need you to go back to the room.”
“Do not disobey me, we don’t know what will happen,” he lowered his voice, “and you are not full strength yet. I need to concentrate on helping Godric, not worrying about you. We talked about this before we even left for Boston.”
“Eric,” Stan interjected, “I’ll escort her back; then we’ll join up with you.”
“Thank you Stan. Let’s go.”
Before they made it from the ballroom, Eric was stopped by Felipe. “Eric, where are you going already? I was informed you needed to stay tonight for your meeting at the business Meet and Greet, and now you are already leaving?”
They were in such a rush to leave; they hadn’t counted on being stopped and trying to explain. Eric needed to think quickly and answer Felipe without exposing why they were leaving; they were unsure who was involved in whatever happened to Toni. He figured Pam was his out and she was NOT going to be happy.
“My King, as you are aware, my child is still recovering from silver poisoning.” OUCH, she sent him a blast of anger knowing he was about to make her appear weak. “This three night event has simply worn her out and I am returning her to our room.”
“And you need this entire group to do that?
Russell stepped in as another monarch. “Felipe, Eric and I were due to meet later; we’ll simply meet up outside the vendor fair. I’m certain you aren’t questioning another monarch’s comings and goings?”
Felipe, over 2000 years younger than Russell, backed down immediately. Seeing the ferocity in Russell’s eyes, he had to question – internally only – his maker’s request. Why he wanted them to hurt Toni, Godric’s pet and a member of Russell’s court? He had no idea. His brother Carlos was in for a hard night if either of these vampires discovered he was behind her disappearance. ‘I wonder if I should delay my departure? Carlos might need my sword and the fighters I have here. That would be interesting – ordering Eric to fight against Godric and Russell. No, I was clearly told by Appius to be back before dawn tomorrow. I’ve had enough of his punishments for a lifetime just in the past two months. Carlos is on his own.’
“Of course not Russell. I’m simply ensuring that Eric is not skipping out on his obligations. You have a good rest Pamela. Goodnight everyone.”
They slowed down their walking so they would not appear so panicked. After they were away from the entrance to the Meet and Greet, they stopped to plan. This was Russell’s battle per the Ancient Pythoness, so he called the shots. “Let’s secure Pam and begin searching. Godric, any leads?”
“We should put Pam in one of the rooms we still have here, since I feel the need to go up anyway.”
“Eric, do you have a key?”
“I do, 12th floor.”
After passing the 10th floor, Godric announced they went too high for Toni, but they still continued to the 12th to secure Pam. Liz wasn’t much of a match for Pam, but she was armed with a phone to call Stan if Pam tried anything – at least until the Were guards Eric brought arrived to ensure her compliance. Pam’s last comment was a middle finger she gave Eric as he kissed her forehead. As the doors to the room closed, they could hear Liz telling her to just lie down and shut up.
They descended 4 flights when Godric started shaking his head. “Something is wrong. She’s lower now than when I felt her before. She’s being moved.”
“So we keep going down?”
“That’s my best guess.”
“We need to split up.”
“What do you mean Eric?”
“Russell and I should go to your hotel room and walk the path she would’ve taken to his room. We can search for scents or clues. You and Stan can continue to search via your blood connection.”
“Good idea. But you must stay together until midnight when Felipe leaves, if he sees you apart, he will question your meeting with Russell again.”
“Understood. At least it’s almost midnight so he’ll be gone soon.”
Russell and Eric started at the door to Godric’s suite picking up Liz’s scent following it to a door in the hallway and since it went no further, they entered the stairway. They started down first and discovered the scent ended at the 16th floor, 4 flights down. Other scents were in the stairwell and ended at the 16th floor as well, so they figured they now had a match. What they found was vampires (at least two of them) and Toni. Eric texted Godric with an update and he replied that they were trying to track her, but she was still on the move.
Moving forward on the 16th floor, Eric tracked the scents to another door, an employee only stairwell and they couldn’t enter. They figured switching the stairs was to throw them off, but they persistently checked out the doors for the employee stairs on each floor until they picked up the scents again at the basement level. From there, they went to the garage but lost the scent, figuring she was put in a car. Since they were NOT in Carlos’ hotel they had a chance at getting security footage from the garage, so they went back to speak to hotel management.
They lucked out: The hotel manager on staff at the time was a Were. The situation was explained and within 10 minutes, they were watching footage from the camera Eric and Russell felt was the best angle based on where they lost the scents in the garage. With their superior eyesight, the manager was able to run the video on fast forward, and Russell and Eric could see everything; including the moment when Carlos himself with the help of his second, Doug Ochs, came out of the stairs carrying a bag big enough to hold a body. “We need a copy of this.”
“Certainly. I can get that for you while you try to find that car.” They exchanged contact information and Russell and Eric headed to the garage at Carlos’ hotel.
Eric called Godric while they walked. “We got Carlos and his second on camera carrying something akin to a body bag. It matched to where we traced her scent. We’re getting a copy of the video – we got him.”
“Good, now we just have to find him so I can take his head.”
“Hang on Godric.” Russell interjected. “She’s not your bonded yet. She is a member of my court so I can kill him with justification. You might have problems like Kat is having if you take his head.”
Godric knew Russell was right, but he didn’t like it. He went for the consolation prize, “I want his second.”
At this point, Russell and Eric had made it to the garage and found the car from the video. “We just found the car, we have the scent again.”
“Call me when you have an update.”
The trail took them back to the waiting area outside the ballroom after they also noted a change in vampire scents. They met up with Godric and Stan there. Godric ran in first.
By the time Eric reached the ballroom they saw Godric enter the donor room and roar. Toni was in the donor room and being fed on by a vampire from Boston. From the doorway, Eric could see that the vampire had actually started to drain her, likely having been under orders. Eric wasn’t sure if Toni would make it without being turned she looked so pale and her heartbeat had slowed. Stan had already called 911 and Godric was stunned. “We hadn’t decided on her being turned since she’s a Were. My son, I don’t know what to do.”
For his Father, Eric took command of the room. “Stan, how long until an ambulance is here?”
“Get her some human blood until then, Godric give her a small amount just to keep her heart going until the ambulance arrives.” He turned to Russell. “You’ll address the guilty?”
Russell nodded and asked Stan, “Stan, can you bear witness?”
“Certainly Russell.” With that, they both left the room. Eric could hear Russell bellow in the ballroom, asking the location of King Carlos.
Godric fed Toni just a bit of blood then had a donor provide a bloody wrist opened by Eric. Her heart was still beating and seemed just a bit stronger, so they waited for the ambulance to give her a transfusion. Eric sat with his maker with a supportive arm around his shoulder, while Godric cradled Toni. He was in misery. “This is Appius; he ordered this I’m sure. It’s the grudge.”
“He is MINE when we get to Vegas.” He whispered so lowly nobody, not even vampires, in the area could hear.
The paramedics were taken aback by the vampire’s requesting help for a human, but they did their jobs and hooked Toni up to donor blood as soon as they could and moved her to a gurney for transport. “Eric, I’m going with her. Please have Doug held until I return. You may have fun but save something for me.”
“Understood Master. I will arrange for someone to relieve you at dawn at the hospital.”
Once Godric was tucked into the ambulance, Eric returned to the ballroom to get an update. The scene before him was joyful: Russell had Carlos and Doug strung up and the Were from their hotel was playing the video. Carlos was protesting that the video only showed them carrying a bag and Eric offered the scent trail.
“You still have no proof.”
“Russell’s nose is 3000 years old, you can’t dispute that.”
“He’s the one that wants my kingdom, he can make it up.”
“Let’s go to the car then. Let’s check for Toni’s scent there.”
“You have nothing for comparison.
“Oh, but I thought you might have a problem with taking our word, I have the jacket she was wearing. Who would you like to select to witness the scent test?”
It was desperation, he knew, but Carlos requested as sniff test. Since the ballroom was still active with the Meet and Greet vendor fair, Russell and Carlos selected 5 vampires representing different territories, ensuring they were skipping their own in the process. TO further ensure impartiality, the car seat cushion was removed and several other items were set-up for a blind test. Carlos knew he was dead when the first two ‘sniffers’ confirmed the jacket and the car seat cushion smelled the same; he suspected he wouldn’t survive when Appius assigned him this task, and he was right. He did wish Toni would die so he could give his maker that one last gift, but he believed she would survive or be a vampire. They found her much too quickly.
When the third sniffer confirmed the scents yet again, he chose to stand with dignity and announced that he had captured Toni and handed her off to the vampire who took her to the donor room. Russell was almost disappointed as his confession and stance left him only with the choice of beheading him to end it. This was a monarchy takeover, not revenge. Doug would be saved for Godric, and he could do whatever he wanted to him since as soon as Carlos’ head was gone, New England was Stan’s; ending a chapter of depravity and evil for New England.