I was free, flying over a desert where a sun hung low on one side and a moon just rising on the other. Skimming the dunes, I rolled over and felt the universe hug me. Faster, I thought, and then was somersaulting through a starless evening dusk, the wind blowing through me. I saw a fire in the distance and moved toward it, curious as to what wild things inhabited this strange land.
I moved among them unseen, flitting from one to another as I looked at their beautiful faces filled with shadows from the flickering flames they huddled around. They looked tired; close to beaten down if not beaten. They turned as one to look at a tall man who exited from a tent to the left. When he stepped into the light I felt my heart flip around, and start to burn in my chest.
When I flew closer I saw that it wasn’t really him, this man had his body and face, but my Eric did not have pointy ears. I was sure of that, I had examined them closely on several occasions with loving lips that knew their shape and form by heart. His men rose to meet him, calling him Cantos, and from the way they gathered, and brightened in his presence, it was clear that he was their leader.
I watched from close by as they knelt in the dirt and drew out some complicated battle plan. Unable to stop myself, I flew right into Cantos’ face and hovered there, inches from the broad handsome nose that had found its way from my lover to this stranger’s face. I felt understanding slowly seep in as I looked at him. This was Eric’s son. I didn’t know how, or why or even when, but I was absolutely sure that was his son.
It cut me that someone else had given this beautiful gift to him. Turning away from the fire, and the almost face I adored above all others, I flew back out into the night, seeking the sense of freedom and peace that I had experienced just a moment ago. I wanted to be happy for him, but the only way I could do that was to move away from the evidence of this wounding truth.
I was screaming, I could feel my chest aching, the shrieks bleeding from me as I spiraled through the sky.
*Little star, how brightly you burn.*
I stopped, turning in the air around me to find the voice in my mind. It was deep, and smooth as black velvet. It was a voice I knew, even as I knew I had never heard it before. I felt a charge along my skin when he spoke again.
*I have waited so long for you.*
A man appeared before me, tall, dark and handsome, his eyes black as night, but shining from the light of their own internal suns.
*You are as lovely as I had dreamed you would be.*
I felt a pull to him, something like a hook in the middle of me, and knew for the first time what a fish must feel like when it is caught and removed from the sea. His will changed me from what I had been into a shade of the skin I wore in the light.
*Don’t fight me. You can’t. You were made for me.*
Flashes of Bill, Sophie Anne, and Russell crossed my mind. All of them singing some variation of the same tune. I found the strength to pull back at least a little, from his invisible hook.
*I belong to myself, and to Eric Northman!*
The stranger laughed, as though I were a child who amused him.
*You know nothing, little star. Let me show you the truth of what you are. Then you will understand that any love you have known before mine is but an illusion.*
I turned to fly away from him, and his lies that already had my bonds to Eric crackling with power.
*I will not touch you, not without your permission. Your bond to the vampire precludes that. However, if you don’t give me the chance to explain, I will go to the son of your man, and kill him now.*
I stopped, furious to feel trapped again. I tried to summon the fire that had burned through me when Eric had been taken.
*Your power will not work here. It’s physical, and right now we exist between flesh and fantasy.*
I tried again, so hard that I nearly fell from the sky in my efforts to kill this man who threatened my new found freedom, and Cantos, but nothing happened. I was candle that had guttered out and gone cold.
*Just give yourself to me for a moment, little star. I will do the rest.*
I ran for hours toward the sun that would never set. The voice had gone as still in my mind as Sookie was in my arms. I could not recall a time I had ever felt so alone. I kept seeing Cantos in my mind. What, if anything, could a thousand year absentee father say to his son?
Those thoughts led me back to my father, and how I had felt when he held me close as child, and embraced me as a man. Who had loved my son while I bloodied the nights a world away, blissfully ignorant of his existence?
And what war was being fought here, so deadly that it killed the land itself? Why would anyone fight to their own extinction? Why fight a war that no one could win? I knew enough to know I would like none of these answers when they finally came, but that I had to seek them, regardless.
I caught a burst of light in the distance, and saw that a man had appeared. I veered away, putting on speed to get away.
*Come to me, vampire.*
It was the voice I had heard back in Alloria. I slowed, but hesitated to approach him.
*I am the only friend you have here.*
I stopped, feeling frustrated and trapped. I looked down at Sookie, shaking her gently to see if she would awaken from her deep sleep, but she did not stir to offer her opinion. It was all on me to see whether this was friend or foe. I sped off toward the figure waiting in the distance.
The man was young and handsome, and bore a strong resemblance to the one who had called herself Claudine. I was immediately on guard.
“I am Claude, she was my twin,” he said, sorrow flashing briefly in his eyes before he blinked it away. “So, this is her.” He looked at Sookie with a mix of fear and admiration that confused me. “I never thought I would actually see her, despite what was foretold, and the blood we have shed to hide her.” He glanced back at me, “And you, Viking, father of Cantos, our greatest and best warrior.” He bowed slightly. “It is an honor to meet you at last.”
I felt my brow raise in question of his strange greeting. “You don’t seem too broken up by the death of your sister,” I observed, hoping to break his deception early, if that is what this was.
“She was arrogant, and reckless in her methods. I loved her because she was family, but we parted centuries ago, each of us seeking our own means to ensure the survival of our kind.” I knew her plan, but not his.
“What is this war about?”
“Her,” he said, nodding at Sookie.
“Explain.” Whatever was happening here, it had been going on for a very long time. There was no way that Sookie could be connected to this mess. Who ever thought the day would come when I would wish to be back at Russell’s compound where I knew all the rules, and deluded myself into feeling that I was in control?
“That is not my place. Though she is my kin, her story is one you should hear from the man who made the prophecy of her existence almost six thousand years ago.” He held out his hand to me. “Come with me to my father, and you will find the answers you seek.”
“Why must I take your hand?” Something in the way he said it made the hand prints on my back flare.
“The marks you carry will kill me if you do not permit my touch. Teleportation requires touch.”
“And if I take your hand, and then revoke my permission while I hold it?”
“I will die. Such is the way with our kind.”
If people were houses, this would be the equivalent of inviting a vampire inside. Rescinding my permission would be more definitive that rescinding an invitation inside, if what he was saying is true. I had no choice but to gamble.
When I held my hand out to him, my marks rumbled once more, and then settled back into a quiet tingling on my skin. This should be interesting. Claude took my hand, creating the same light I had last seen in Russell’s compound, and the world around me faded away.
When I agreed to allow his touch, a warmth filled me like nothing I had ever felt before. It was stronger than my ties to Eric, and finished filling the cracks of me with soothing magic. I could feel his emotions for me, kissing my skin with light dashes of affection and welcome.
He sighed, his eyes going closed as if he experienced the same thing. My blood tie to Eric snapped violent energy, like a downed electrical line. Whatever was happening, it did not approve. It was almost enough to make me pull back.
*Wait, please, little star. Just feel me, I belong to you as much as you do to me.*
I started to protest, I knew who I belonged to, and it wasn’t this man.
*Wait and see. Let me show you what we can be together.*
*I BELONG TO ERIC NORTHMAN! TELL ME YOU ACCEPT THAT NOW, OR I WILL END THIS!*
He fell back from the strength of my thoughts, and I felt the wild thing inside me smile and sit back. Perhaps I could not burn him in our mind connection, but he was not invulnerable.
*I accept it.*
He raised his hands in acquiescence, and I felt the tie to Eric settle down to a crackling inside me.
*What you feel now, little star, the way I complete you, is only a small part of what we can be together. The full strength of our union is blocked by your tie to another, but there is enough for you to see that he can never be to you what I can be. Your union is but a shadow of our truth.*
I glared at him again. He flashed me a smile and changed his tactics.
The scenery changed around us, going from desolate and empty to lush and green. There was a lake in the distance, sparkling in the light of moon and sun.
*This is the world we can make together.*
*I don’t understand.*
*That feeling inside you? The one that tells you how I feel about you, that I accept you completely, that you were made to stand at my side? It will also tell you how. Listen to it.*
I didn’t hear anything.
*You’re fighting it, little star. Your tie to a vampire should have been mine to make. I can bond with you in blood and light, giving you what he never could. I can burn with you at the heart of the sun. We can seed a world like none have ever seen. You were promised to me, and had you not been hidden away, this imaginary world would already be real.*
“I made her, promised her, and then could not find the heart to fulfill the prophecy that spared my life.” He had told me his name was Niall, and that he hid here in this mountain cave while his kin bled on the dead plains of this land to keep him, and her in turn, hidden from one called Warlow.
I looked at Sookie, who was still sleeping on a pile of blankets beside me while Niall rambled on about his bargain that he had made for her. I cut him off, hating his words and my questions in equal throbbing measure. “No, you will start at the beginning, and you will make me understand what the fuck you are talking about!” The old man sighed, and shifted his body closer to the fire between us.
“The beginning was so long ago that even I can hardly recall. I was only a boy myself when he came to my village, and killed everyone but me. He was an animal who felt the pain of his prey, made by one some called a god, even then.” His eyes left the fire and came to mine, sharper than I would have expected given his weak ramblings. “Do you know your creator, vampire? Do you still keep peace with the name of Lilith?” I scoffed.
“She wasn’t real.”
“Oh, but she was. She was set loose on your world to feed and rule, some say by God himself.”
“You believe in the Christian God?”
“Who said anything about the Christian God?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Assume for a moment that Lilith was real. Describe to me what you history tells you.” I searched my memory for details on her mythos. Godric had insisted that his children know it. I had studied to please him, but Nora had embraced the myths. It had been the seeds of her parting from us, and the heart of her drive for power.
“Lilith said that the world was made for our kind. That humans, and others were here to feed us, to make us strong. She said that we were holy in the eyes of the Creator, made in his image to bleed and breed our way back to his embrace.”
“Ah, such pretty words of your spiritual divinity. Who would not welcome a philosophy that paints them in such a light?” I could see his point. Every religion proclaimed its followers in such a way, even Newlin and his sheep subscribed to the same myths in their own image.
Nothing sells like hate, and us hating them was just as powerful as them hating us. I saw how wise Godric had been in telling us to study this, and at last why he had been disappointed in Nora’s chosen path. She had missed the point, and taken up the message, which was why she sympathized with the section of our society that still clung to the old ways.
The Sanguanistas were acolytes of Lilith. Nora was an acolyte of Lilith, no better than Steve Newlin as she pounded her drum to the same beat as his, even as she stood in another camp, and swore she was better than him.
“Family,” he almost smiled as he read my mind. “Nothing hold us closer, or cuts us deeper.” It angered me to have this stranger fingering my memories one by one, as I called them forth.
“Stay the fuck out of my head, and get on with it! Was she real? Was she really made by God?” He shrugged. It seemed ridiculous to even speak the words, but I needed as much information as I could gather.
“At this point in the story, we have made it truth, even if it was not in the beginning. This is the power of belief. Never underestimate it.” He shifted again, not able to get comfortable on the cold stone beneath him.
“Lilith made Warlow, and Warlow, in his rage and power, killed my entire village while we camped on a river in your world. He had been one of us, until she made him something else. Isn’t that the power of a god, to create new life?”
“If so, then each of us one of is a god, in our own right.” His sharp gaze came to me again.
“I can see why she wanted you.” Acceptance from her crazy family; should I propose now, and ride off into the sunset that never ended with her in my arms?
“Keep that sense of humor close, you will need it.” He looked into my eyes as he went on. ““Warlow was separated from what he had been, and unable to reconcile what he was now. He spared me, with the bargain that I would provide a mate for him. She was to be strong enough to bond in light, blood and fire. She would unify not only the shreds of his torn soul, but all races.
“I saw a chance when my son Fintan broke our faith for the love of a human woman who wanted children her husband could not provide. I allowed him to be with her in exchange for one of the offspring. I manipulated their genetic heritage, added in the blood a demon, and created the woman who sleeps beside you.”
“And her family agreed to this?” It was a wasted question. I had seen her daylight world, it rivaled my own for darkness.
“We are all short sighted when it comes to our desires. Adele wanted children, my son wanted her, and I wanted to fulfill the promise I had made long ago to spare my own miserable life.”
“You speak of her as if she was a recipe you made in a pot over this fire! Sookie is real! She feels, and she loves as no other! To be sold into slavery by her kin is…sickening to me!”
“To me as well, which is why after having done all that, I hid her from him.” He shifted again. I was starting to get why he could not find a comfortable place to sit. The weight of his monstrous act was weighing him down. “He would never have found her if she had never had your blood.”
*What do you want?*
*Only you, little star. You are all I have ever wanted.*
*In bonding to you, I can find the man I should be, and together we will heal this world, and then yours. We will unify them all, and bring about an endless peace where all can live in harmony.*
I laughed at him.
*Do you know anything about people at all? They can’t agree on anything, and for each one that claims to want peace, what they really mean is that they want control.*
He seemed genuinely puzzled at my words.
*I see no difference.*
*Of course not.*
*I don’t understand your sarcasm. We are the best of all of them. We have the right to choose their course, and the power to hold them to it. This is not just our right, it is our purpose!*
*Is this world an example of your purpose?*
*This world is a result of my being denied what was promised to me. They hid you from me!*
*Who hid me? Where are they? I want to send them some flowers as a thank you.*
*Don’t be cruel, little star. You have felt the barest taste of what I can give you. Don’t say things you will regret.*
*I want to be free. I want to be with the man I love. The man I have chosen. I will not submit to an arrangement that I had no part in making!*
*You will not only submit to me, you will welcome me.*
*I don’t think so. My entire life has been spent doing what others wanted. I am done with that now, and I won’t go back. Whatever the fuck is happening here has nothing to do with me.*
*I have had a long time to accept what I have become. You have only been awakened. I understand that you need some time as well. I will leave you now, but know this as you come to accept your fate. You will end your ties to the vampire Northman. I will grant you the opportunity to do it with grace and love, for it is clear that you do love him now, and I owe him for breaking the veil that hid you from my eyes.
If you do not release him, I will kill him, and make you mine anyway. You think you can fight me, but your very design links you to me irrevocably. The only choice you have in this is to spare Northman his death.*
He faded away, his final thoughts echoing into the emptiness he had just created inside me.
The only choice you have in this to spare Northman his death.
Before I could even begin to understand how my blood had led her to this fate, she awakened with a jerk beside me, her whole body burning brightly as she screamed my name reaching blindly for me. I took her hands trying to calm her, but she wrapped herself around me, holding me tightly against her. Then kissing my face again and again, she teleported us away.
When the light faded I looked up into a face that was much like my own, except for the ears, which I observed in my stunned silence, he totally rocked. He was beautiful, everything I could hope a son of mine could be in appearance and bearing. When he stepped back from us, I stood, with Sookie still wrapped around me. Her face was buried in my shoulder, leaving me alone to face Cantos.
For the first time in a thousand years words failed me utterly. No smart ass quips, no sage advice as I stood before the third person that I had ever wanted to impress. The first was dead in Dallas, the second was in the grips of some kind of breakdown in my arms, and the last looked as if he had seen a ghost. And he had, I was the ghost of the man who had made him on the edge of the battle that would take my life. What could I find in me that was still of that man?
“You are very handsome.” Did I just say that? He flashed my own smile back at me, making my chest tighten with some new emotion.
“They say I look like my father.”
“Then he must be a handsome man as well.” He laughed then, an echo of me when I had beat in blood and bone, as he put his sword away. He looked at me again, his hand coming up to his ears.
“He could never rock these ears.” I smiled back at him, searching for something to say. There were so many things, none of them relevant, all of them too important to go unsaid.
*It’s all right, father. I know.*
Air I had been holding in, to make words I could not find, exploded out of me as I felt the blood tears slip down my face.
*I knew of you, even if you did not know of me. I journeyed to The Well of Truth when I reached manhood to see you for myself. You are different from me, from the ways I was raised to follow, but you are a man of honor, and I am proud to be your son.*
It was the first time anyone had invaded my mind who was welcome. Unbidden, I saw Claudine again, and accidentally revealed her death to Cantos.
*She met me on her way to the Summerland. She was at peace with the path she chose. I do not blame you for her passing.*
My arms closed tighter around Sookie, fearing that he would blame her instead. He shook his head and smiled at me sadly.
*I have no ill will for her either. She was protecting you. I would only hate her if she had not proven worthy of you.*
“We can’t stay here,” Sookie sniffed, letting her legs down to stand. She wiped her face, offering me a watery smile as she hugged me in our bond before she turned to face Cantos.
“Your fight is over, Cantos. He has found me. He has threatened you both. Disband your men and come with us now.”
“To where?” Cantos asked, as I realized that I had missed some things even though I had been the one awake.
“Home, for now. We need time to think and plan.”
“We can seal the portals, it won’t hold him for very long, but it will give us a little time,” he offered, his mind racing. “I should stay here and keep him distracted.”
“No, he won’t fight now that he knows where I am. He has but one goal now. You belong with your father.” Something in the way she said caused dread to well up inside me. Didn’t she mean he belonged with us?
“There is something you aren’t saying. I can feel it, Sookie.”
“I will say it all, once you are both safe.” Her words did nothing to lessen my sense of foreboding. Cantos stepped outside the tent, leaving us alone as he told his men to return to their homes. I ignored their quiet questions as I stared at her.
“I am different now, Eric.” She took a step back and folded her arms over herself. A defensive gesture I had not seen from her since that night we began on her porch.
“It doesn’t matter to me. I signed on for the whole package. I always knew you were more. I always believed in you, Sookie.” She dropped her arms and stepped into mine.
“I know,” she told me as she hugged me tightly. “And I love you for it, more than you will ever know.” Cantos stepped back into the tent announcing that he was ready.
“How do we close the portals behind us?” she asked him.
“Leave that to me.” She nodded and took his hand in hers, and then she took mine. She smiled a sad little smile as she looked from his face to mine and back again. I felt good-bye in that smile, and I hated it.