Chapter Fifty: Gathering the Players
“I’m worried about Sookie,” Camilla whispers as we sit in a Pittsburgh parking lot, waiting for our injured allies to arrive. Bringing her hand that I am holding to my lips, I give it a comforting kiss. “She’s never done anything like this before. What if she gets hurt? What if Jason gets hurt?”
I squeeze her hand as I bring it back to rest in my lap. “Sookie and Jason will be fine. They are stronger than you give them credit, and they have always risen to the occasion,” I tell her comfortingly.
Sometimes even I forget the hardships those siblings endured before Eric’s arrival in their lives. They have suffered losses Camilla cannot even fathom because she cannot remember what she has lost. That is not to say what my Bonded has overcome is miniscule; it is merely incomparable.
Camilla leans her head back and stares out the window. “Godric, is that who we’re waiting for?” she asks, pointing to a sedan that has pulled into the deserted area. “I feel vamp energy coming from it.”
A black BMW pulls up, sleek and silent. When it pulls alongside us, the aura of an ancient far older than me presses against my own spirit in warning. Much like the aura a Bonded couple wears, ancients have their own presence to exude our authority and status in the true hierarchy.
“Yes,” I flick my lights twice, pause and then hold them for two counts. The car responds by turning off its engine. Camilla grows nervous beside me, her fingertips fiddling with the string of her hooded sweatshirt as she waits beside me. Eventually the string begins moving of its own accord like it is playing on a gentle breeze, but I know it is Camilla refocusing her nerves and practicing her energy manipulation. She has come so far so fast, I think admiringly.
I turn my engine back on and wait. Soon the driver’s side door of the other vehicle opens, and a familiar voice booms into my ears.
“Ay there, Godric!” A sturdy five foot, ten inch mass comes toward the car and opens the back door. “It’s been too long! Why don’t you ever come out my way?”
“Quigley!” I greet welcomingly. He is an imposing figure of solid muscles, thicker than Eric, but easily a head shorter. Scraggly dark blond hair with accents of orange frames his face and he has allowed his beard to make a reappearance. “You have Diedre with you?” Of course I am well aware that Quigley is not giving off the foreboding aura that urges me to exit the car and take a respectful knee.
The vampire’s face grimaces, “Yeah, she isn’t in the most right of minds at the moment. You know how she felt about Cassie.”
“I do,” I lower my head apologetically. “I know how you felt about her too.”
Quigley had been a result of desperation. Diedre and Cassandra had been so frantic to connect more deeply than that of a nest. After over a millennium of existing side by side in the deepest of love, they finally began seeking a way to weave their existences truly into one. It was what is known as a Binding Union.
And along came Quigley.
Though many vampires of the age had scoffed at Quigley’s mere existence, they could not deny the genius of the Diedre and Cassandra’s plan. Each vampiress had fed from the young priest and then forced an even blend of their blood down his dying throat. Quigley became the only instance of a double sired vampire, and coined the term of Binding Ceremony. His participation in the ritual became known as ‘The Knot’ of the Binding. Through him, Cassandra and Diedre could feel each other at last, much like I can feel Pam through Eric when I desire to do so.
“How are you handling her final death?” I ask courteously. I can only imagine the younger vampire is shaken to the core at the loss of one of his Makers. Despite the rough start he had accepting his fate as one of the undead, Quigley eventually adapted and became a rather interesting addition to our culture. He is one of the few truly religious vampires in existence, but when he had been changed, he had cursed Diedre and Cassandra both.
It was not until years later that he felt the genuine love they had for one another, and the regret they bore upon turning him into a vampire for their own wants and desires. That love and regret is what gave the former priest the heart to forgive them and finally accept what he had become. After all, if a creature could love so strongly and still feel regret at harming another for that love, was that creature really evil? Was he truly evil now that he was a vampire?
Quigley shrugs, “I’m pissed off is what I am, but I also know that the arseholes responsible piss you off too. Especially when you see Diedre!”
I frown at Quigley’s words, but give a gesture for my friend to make quick work of getting Diedre into our vehicle for the ride back to Ohio.
Quigley gives me one of his charming grins that contradicts the priest he used to be, and opens the back passenger door for Diedre. The ancient vampiress holds out one complete arm and one stump. I watch sadly as Quigley reaches into the vehicle and lifts what remains of his Maker from the vehicle.
“Thank you for your harboring of an old fugitive,” Diedre gives a despondent thanks as she is placed carefully in the backseat. Her destroyed arm was something I was prepared for, but her other injuries were not known to me. There is hardly anything left of her. A torso and a left arm. That is all that remains of the strongest vampire in existence. One leg is completely gone and the other looks as though it could fall off any moment.
“You thought we would leave you to fend for yourselves?” I ask as Quigley seats himself behind Camilla.
“We knew you wished to be left out of human and vampire politics, but we hoped that you would help,” Diedre replies weakly.
“As we speak, Eric, Jason and Sookie are preparing to find out how this happened,” I assure her.
“I have information about the methods the extremists are intending to implement,” Diedre replies as Camilla fidgets quietly.
“Excuse me, M’am,” Camilla interrupts softly to get Diedre’s attention. “Is it all right if I record this? It’s going to get back to Eric, and this way nothing gets left out.”
“It is fine,” Diedre flicks her wrist impatiently. “It is probably better if my words are saved in case I am unable to speak them again.”
My frown deepens at Diedre’s remark, “What are you talking about?” The recorder in Camilla’s hand clicks as it starts documenting our conversation.
“Cassandra’s surviving handmaiden brought me to Quigley. If she had not survived the blast, I would be truly dead,” Diedre begins monotonously. “Someone even my Cassie could not see managed to take her existence and nearly extinguish my own. You of all people should know that Cassie and I are not easily attacked!”
Her progeny places a comforting hand on Diedre’s shoulder and continues for her, “What Diedre’s trying t’say is that she doesn’t believe she’s safe anywhere if Cassie couldn’t even keep her safe. I don’t know she’d want to…-”
“Continue existing without her,” I finish for Quigley and the vampire nods as he starts smoothing his beard.
“I know it might sound unbelievable to a Bonded vampire,” Quigley gestures to Camilla and myself, “but Cassie was Diedre’s soulmate. If they had met while Cassie was still alive, they would have been Bonded. I know they would have!”
“Quigley,” I interrupt his demonstration on the impact the Ancient Pythoness’ demise has had on Diedre, “I have never seen two unrelated vampires maintain such a loving and deep relationship. I have never seen a monogamous, unBonded relationship between two vampires other than Diedre and Cassandra. Believe me when I say I hold their relationship in the highest regard; Bonded or not.”
Diedre lowers her head sadly and Camilla sits awkwardly silent beside me. I can feel that she is self conscious in flaunting her Bond in front of one who has just lost their lover.
“Camilla,” I try to give her an escape. We can easily continue this conversation later, “do you need me to pull over for some food?”
“No,” she whispers and takes my hand to squeeze it reassuringly.
“After Cassandra and her second handmaiden were killed,” Diedre begins once Camilla has settled in, “our residence was burned to the ground. All security personnel perished,” she says bitterly. “There was no mercy for vampire nor mortal. The only ones to escape were myself and the other maiden. She passed shortly after getting me to safety.”
“I’m so sorry, Diedre,” Camilla murmurs and reaches for the ancient’s remaining cool hand to squeeze it comfortingly. Diedre looks at my Bonded with surprise and a brief spark of amusement. For ancients like us to be comforted by beings so young, it is… warming.
“Thank you, Camilla,” Diedre whispers. She shakes her head to dispel the moment and turns back to me, “From what Cassandra told me before her… final death… there is a hand being dealt. Cassandra told me that once the first spark to the plan is struck, I should bring Quigley, and ask for your protection. I would believe that this is the spark she mentioned.”
Diedre’s expression twists at the foreign request. Normally she is the one granting protection, not asking for it.
“We happily offer our protection to you and Quigley,” I assure her.
The most ancient of vampires flops her head against her half-progeny’s shoulder as if she is relaxing for the first moment in years. “I am sorry to be a burden upon you, but I could not bear if something happened to Quigley as well.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mum,” Quigley takes her hand and squeezes it affectionately. “You just concentrate on healing.”
All she offers him is a soft, empty smile. It is a smile one makes when no true feeling lives behind it. Vacancy resides in her flat, black eyes, and placation gleams off her bright, white teeth. She has very little interest in healing.
At this moment, I do not have the heart to push her for the information she had offered earlier. Seeing that despondent gaze has paralyzed me. Perhaps it is better to allow Eric and the others to discover more about our enemy and let Diedre rest. Maybe it is better to let her think of Cassandra with love rather than recall the Seer’s shared visions. For now, let her mourn. Information can wait a while longer…
When we arrive home it’s almost daylight and there’s barely enough time to get our guests tucked away for the day. Their luggage is left in the hallway as I show Quigley to the vampire guest room, and he slips Diedre’s damaged body into a protective cache.
“Thanks again,” Quigley says to me as I show him his own reinforced hiding area. We light proofed a spare bedroom and added the fireproof, break-in resistant, insulated (for lack of a better word) caskets. The tiny chambers were anchored into the foundation of the house so they could not be washed away in a flood or carried out while no one was home. Of course, to even attempt walking away with our guest, you’d have to know the code to the hidden spare bedroom. I affectionately refer to our guest room as Fort Knox.
“We never meant to tell any community we wouldn’t help when we were needed,” I tell him truthfully.
“Then why the big ‘leave us alone’ announcement a couple years ago?” Quigley teases as he closes the lid on his hideaway.
Thanks to his age and vampire hearing, he’ll still be able to hear my reply, “Because we were nervous about how others would take it. Eric might have been feeling a little cocky and wanting for a fight, too.”
I hear an obvious laugh from inside the cache and smile myself. If he replies beyond that, I can’t hear it. Instead, I pat the door and say my farewell.
When I arrive in the kitchen, my Bonded is standing with his arms crossed over his chest and a thoughtful look on his face. I can feel a dose of anguish in the Bond, and I place my head against his chest as my arms wrap around him comfortingly.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. What’s wrong? Have you been in a coma these past eight hours, Cammie?
“The final death of the Ancient Pythoness is unsettling, Camilla,” Godric tells me. “If she could be taken, any vampire could.”
I nod in agreement, “It seems a little far fetched to believe that any human could get the drop on her, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” he agrees solemnly, a bit reluctant. I know that he doesn’t want to believe anyone in the community would do such a thing, but disregarding the possibility is foolish.
“You think a vampire was involved,” I guess and he nods, still reluctant. “Did the Pythoness have any enemies?”
Godric sighs and puts his hands behind him to lean into the kitchen counter. My world tilts with him as I still have him wrapped in my arms. A small smile tugs at my lips. This small ounce of playfulness takes the weight of the evening from my shoulders.
My Bonded finally answers, and I hear a soft amusement in his tone, “That is a difficult question to answer. Being a Seer, she was an enemy of everyone and no one. Those who wished to change the world in an image she would not agree with would be her enemy. Basically, if you had to lie to her, she was in the way.”
I listen to his words and quickly understand his meaning. Cassandra could have been in anyone’s way at any given moment and even she might not have known why at the time of her True Death.
A tiny shiver runs down my spine at the idea. Perhaps Cassandra had seen her own death many times over. Maybe this was the death she chose. Is there ever a future so absolute that even those who could See were still doomed to accept it?
I discretely take a peek at my phone while I wait for the cute-y at the receptionist’s desk to find me a tour guide. Too bad she’s a Fellowship of the Sun nut job, I think with disappointment, but still consider banging her in a nearby office. The little fantasy of giving this girl a few ‘love bites’ and watching the mayhem as she tries to explain them to her zealot friends entertains me for a moment. Then I think of the fact it would mean using my glamour on a girl to give her a dicking and my fantasy turns ugly. A shudder of disgust in myself runs into my center. It would only be funny if she wanted the fang herself.
Sookie: Security office, Matthew, has footage of vamp executions. “Brother Gabe” has target listings and potentially other information. I read the text message that’s just popped up on my phone and frown. I slip my phone back into my pocket and try to make up a plan all on my own. There’s no Eric, Godric, or even a Pam to spoon feed me an idea. The weight of my decisions is all on me for the first time in a long time. The last time I had to think on my own two feet was when Godric called the school to say Cammie had been attacked.
Finally, the start of a plan takes root in my head. After all, I’m really good at two things: glamour and reading vampire minds. Since there’s no vamps to read, that leaves me one option.
“Hey, Hannah?” I lean into the receptionist’s personal space, “When’s my tour guide gonna get here?”
Hannah pulls the phone she’s been pressing into her ear away to whisper a reply,“It will only be a minute. I just need to find someone who’s free.” Her smile is amazingly big and white as she tells me in her own way to calm down and be patient. Damn, that’s a beautiful, fucking smile, I think in disappointment. A girl with that pretty a smile shouldn’t be following the FotS. She should be in a soup kitchen feeding the homeless if she wants to feel pious.
“Any chance Brother Gabe might be available to give me the tour?” I ask while my eyes bore into hers and instill my glamour. Hannah leans forward dazedly.
“Brother Gabe?” she mumbles. Her voice is almost drunken as she falls under my spell.
“You will give him a call for me, right? Because he’s not doing anything right now,” I press and watch her hand reach obediently for the phone.
“You have to be part of the Soldier program to speak with Brother Gabe,” Hannah replies like an automated message. I guess Gabe is very strict about whom he takes meetings with.
“Would Matthew in Security be a good reference to join the Soldier Program?” I press gently.
I hate using my glamour for anything other than covering for my vampirism, but Sook’s text has kinda put me in a spot of necessity. There’s no way I’m getting close to the guys she suggested without the help of some glamour.
“Yes, Matthew has brought several recruits through his online message boards,” Hannah tells me in that sweet, drunken haze I’ve put her in.
“Then you go ahead and tell Gabe you’ve got a recruit for him that Matthew has convinced to come join,” I instruct her.
Obediently, Hannah picks up her phone and dials slowly. “Gabe, I need you to give a potential recruit a tour,” Hannah says into the phone casually. “He’s here in the reception area.”
“How did he hear of the Soldier Program?” I hear from the other end of the phone.
Hannah answers with a rather natural pause, “Matthew from Security recommended him. They’ve been talking through a message board online.”
“Ask him to let me meet Matthew too so I can shake his hand,” I tell Hannah in a soft, commanding whisper.
“Any chance you can bring Matt along with you? The potential recruit would like to greet him in person,” Hannah adds.
There’s a long pause on Gabe’s end of the line after Hannah gives him my risky request. Suddenly, Gabe hangs up and Hannah smiles up at me.
“What’s up?” I ask of Hannah.
She shrugs and starts filing her nails. My glamour has waned smoothly from her, and she goes about like everything that has transpired in the last few minutes was completely normal. I clear my throat reflexively as I wait quietly.
Soon the door from the hallway I was in a bit ago flings open and a big, crew cutted guy and a nerdy looking tech guy are standing in the receptionist’s area.
“Hey there, nice to meet both of you,” I reach out to shake Gabe’s hand and as I do, I take his mind quietly into my control. “I was hoping you’d give me a tour of the Soldier Program. I’m very interested in it.” Matthew looks at me a bit aghast.
“Of course,” Gabe replies quietly, subdued.
“And I’d like copies of your vampire executions,” I enthrall Matthew next before he fully realizes why Gabe is following my commands so easily. The stench of his suspicion nearly broke my concentration, but now I have two well glamoured men following my orders while Hannah sits at her desk blissfully unaware of the lion she’s let into the hen house.
“I’ll get right on that,” Matthew responds obediently.
“Leave them with Hannah and tell her to give them to me when I return. Tell her they are recruitment discs,” I command quickly before putting Gabe into action.
“Sure thing,” Matthew exits robotically as Gabe starts leading me out of the greeting area.
“I want the lists of your marks, blueprints of the facility, and numbers for all your contacts that helped you get information on your targets,” I command Gabe as we walk briskly down the hall. In no time, I’m in his office with a pile information. I got notebooks, tape recordings, blueprints… How the fuck am I s’pose to walk out with all this shit without being suspicious to non-glamoured folks? It’s then that I remember I have the other set of keys to our car rental. Lord knows Eric wasn’t about to give the other set to Sookie! I give them to Gabe, “Go put this all in my car and lock it back up. Then come back here to me.”
Gabe takes the keys obediently and goes to perform his assigned tasks. Man, I feel like a dickweed, but this is a matter of life and death… and final death…
With that excuse becoming a mantra in my head, I start snooping around Gabe’s office. I read up on the Soldiers of the Sun and a bunch of other propaganda as I realize, partially, what’s going on. Even with a quick glimpse at some of the documents Gabe’s currently putting in the car, I have a sinking suspicion about everything.
There’s a vamp out there using the Fellowship as his scapegoat. No doubt there’s some kinda incriminating evidence at all the murdered vamps’ places linking them to the Fellowship. Shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if the FotS just started taking credit on their own!
I start wondering if the Ancient Pythoness knew when she was going to die. I know she’d seen it. She’d shown me she had several years ago when we first met. The thought makes my fangs throb, and not in the good way. It’s almost like when I’d get shivers down my spine as a human, only it’s in my mouth now. I feel that vibration all the way into my cheekbones, and my eyes shake a bit. Dang.
At least the Pythoness sees Thorn being whole again in the future, and I guess she meets someone. That must’ve torn the Pythoness up to see the love of her existence with someone else. I hope Thorn at least has a considerable grieving period.
My thoughts are interrupted then as Gabe returns and hands me my car keys back. He’s still obedient, and waits for further instruction. As I am about to break the glamour, I realize this guy’s gonna realize at some point that a bunch of his information is missing, and the security footage is going to show me as the last person he was with before it went missing.
Another idea comes to mind and I take in Gabe’s line of sight once more. I impress upon him that I am Steve Newlin giving him an order.
“Your contact has been compromised, and is recalling all leaked information to be gone over with a fine toothed comb,” I tell Gabe. “You delivered that information to a courier while taking a meeting with a new recruit. Once the information has been authenticated, it will be returned with a new list of names.”
Gabe’s eyes blink once I tell him what he did this afternoon, and he nods gravely, “It’s a good thing our informant noticed the mistake before one of our people got caught. It’s too soon for our involvement to be known.”
I tilt my head curiously, “Why is that?”
“Because our Big Mark isn’t back in the country yet,” Gabe replies with a shrug.
Oh, shit, I think in bewilderment. “Who’s the ‘Big Mark’?!”
“Don’t know yet. I only know that I was told we can’t let the media know of our involvement until we take care of the ‘Big Mark’,” Gabe shrugs again and I want to beat my head against a wall.
“Do you know anything about it? Where it will take place?” I try to press.
Gabe’s brow furrows. I feel him pushing against my glamour and realize that I’m overstepping what his mind is willing to accept. Steve Newlin trying to get information out of Gabe makes no sense to his mind. Steve tells him what is going on, not the other way around.
Instead of pushing further, I end the glamour marathon and head back to the reception area while Gabe recovers from my mind control. I wait for Sookie and Eric to return from their own tour.
Hopefully there will be clues in our notes… Hopefully Sookie has found out some things of her own.