Chapter 2 – Same time, same place
I squinted in the dull light, looking back at the empty air we had been expelled from, wondering if we had been sent back in time, back before there were any Stackhouses. I thought Claude seemed intent on sitting on the grass and moping about his plan failing, but on closer inspection (as much as I could without a lot of light) he just looked plain exhausted.
“Have you sent us back, or forward, in time?”
“I have no idea. We could be anywhere, any time frame; I’m not sure about the mechanics of screwing around with gateways between realities.” Claude practically sneered at me. That didn’t help my mood one bit.
“Well, just turn your butt around and re-open whatever tear in the fabric of the universe you created and take me back home!”
“Because the portal is gone. After you came out it crackled and folded in on itself. There’s no thinning of the universal forces there anymore.”
Well, that’s just grand. I bit my lip to stop from saying anything out loud, Claude was still angry but now he had a generous side order of failure and an extra helping of being stuck in a strange place on his plate. I sort of knew how he felt.
“Even if it was there, I couldn’t open it. Not like this, I’m tired. I need food, drink, rest … and another portal if we’re going to even attempt to get back to Bon Temps.”
I nodded and put my hands on my hips. “So, I guess we should find somewhere for you to eat and sleep.”
To be honest, I could do with some rest myself. I was wary of exploring in the dark, if Gran’s house wasn’t there then what was to say Bon Temps would be? For all we knew, we were thousands of years in the past, or thousands of years in the future. I extended my hand to help Claude up from the ground and used my knowledge of the woods to get us to the small creek.
We tripped several times in the woods as the canopy of leaves blocked out the meagre light. But we made it and knelt down to drink the cool water. Suddenly, nature was silenced. The babbling of the water was the only sound as the chirping of crickets and other night creatures stopped. Claude and I both looked at each other, because that was a sure sign that someone, or something, supernatural was close by.
I searched with my telepathy only to draw back and try to assemble a shield around my mind, as much as I could in my stressed and exhausted state. I gripped Claude’s hand tightly as I whispered.
“We’re surrounded. Weres, lots of ‘em, hiding in the woods.”
Crickets don’t usually quieten down for Weres. That was my last thought before something large landed in the creek in front of us. Both me and Claude scrambled back from the water’s edge and as I looked up I saw exactly why nature shut the hell up. It was Eric, and he looked more pissed off and feral than I’d ever seen him.
His fangs were long and the moonlight glistened against them, he was standing in a position that allowed him to spring forward and attack at a nanoseconds notice. The growl coming from him made my heart almost beat out of my chest. I saw his nose twitch before he reached for a sword at his hip and hissed out his version of a hello.
“Fae!” He licked his lips and sniffed at the air again before chuckling. “Terrified Fae, even better.”
He was absolutely right, we were both terrified. We were trapped. Claude had no energy to pop out of there and save himself, let alone me.
“You are connected to me by blood.” Eric brought out his sword and pressed the tip lightly against my chest. Well, it may have been light to Eric but it would damn sure leave a bruise on me. “Is this part of your magic, Fae?”
My mouth opened and nothing came out except air as I gasped for breath in my fear. Wherever we were, the blood bond was still in play – on my part at least. Eric could sense his blood in me, but had no idea how it got there. He snarled and pulled back the sword, I was grateful the pressure had been removed, but the way he licked one of his fangs and threw the sword to the side made me realise he had a more grisly plan in store for us.
His eyes flicked between me and Claude, as if deciding who to eat first, then his head snapped up and he growled even louder. I screamed as two wolves jumped on him, then another three. I lost count when he’d thrown off the tenth wolf but they just kept coming, leaping at him, biting, snapping and scratching at him with their claws. I had no idea if the wolves were protecting us or simply attacking an interloper to their territory, but right at that moment, I was glad they did.
After what seemed like hours of him fighting off the attacks (but was probably only a few minutes), Eric must have gotten sick of it and floated up in the air. He pointed at us menacingly.
“I’ll find you again – my blood will tell me where you’re hiding!”
And with that, he shot off into the sky.
I hadn’t noticed that I was clinging to Claude the way a Koala clings to a tree until he was gone. But Eric being out of sight didn’t mean we were out of danger. The wolves were circling, creating a rumbling furry barricade around us, one of them broke formation and shifted back into human form with that, now familiar, gloopy noise. I was shocked and ecstatic to find it was Alcide but held back from hugging him – if Eric didn’t have a clue who I was, then I doubted Alcide would either.
“All the books say you guys are extinct.” His accent was different, he sounded less American for some reason.
Claude frowned and looked at me with confused eyes.
“Who is extinct?” I tried to be as polite as possible.
“The Fae.” Alcide looked at me like I was stupid. “Where did you come from?”
“A portal.” Claude stood up and extended his hand to Alcide. “We mean you no harm and would be most grateful if you could give us any information possible about where we are.”
Alcide eyed Claude warily but shook his hand and nodded before looking to me. I stood up, and held my own hand out to him. I tried to block out the fact he was naked as a jaybird and didn’t seem to mind one jot. Supes never seemed to bother with things like modesty and respecting that other people might not want to see their dangly parts.
“Hi, I’m Sookie Stackhouse.”
“Alcide Herveaux.” He smiled tightly in my direction and looked back at Claude. “And you are?”
Alcide nodded again and told us to follow him. He pointed to his right and nodded to a wolf at his side, that wolf and several others broke away from the group to run off in the direction he’d gestured. Alcide looked at another wolf and it seemed to nod before running in the opposite direction with more of the pack, the rest that remained changed position so they were surrounding us.
“Eric was a long way from the citadel, we can’t be sure his maker or other Vampires won’t be around somewhere.” Alcide stopped walking and turned around to face us. “We’ll protect you, but not at cost to the pack. We can take minor injuries but not death. One of my wolves gets killed – you’re on your own. If the Vamps want you that bad, they can have you.”
I pinched Claude, just in case he was thinking about speaking. “And we’re very grateful for that.”
“You want to know where you are; I want to know where you’re from. Your clothes, accents and the fact you’re from a race that is supposed to have been wiped out over three hundred years ago has me curious.”
“Before anything else happens, can you tell us what year this is?” I blurted it out; there was no telling if we’d get attacked again. Maybe Eric would come back with reinforcements, maybe Alcide and his pack would turn on us, despite his interest, or maybe we would fall into a ditch in the darkness and break all of our limbs.
Alcide snorted. “Well, that all depends on what calendar you use. We Weres have continued to use the Gregorian calendar, despite the Vampires using their own.”
I was confused, why would Vampires be using a different calendar to the rest of the world?
“Ah … Gregorian, please.”
“2007. Are you time travellers or something?” He snorted again and shook his head before continuing forward.
“Apparently not.” I muttered under my breath.
I felt Claude take my hand and squeeze it lightly. I squeezed back; I needed all the comfort I could get right at that moment.
We walked for hours, Claude and I staggering behind Alcide and his pack, barely awake and stomachs growling. I got a second wind as I saw lights flickering in the distance. I nudged Claude and pointed, but he simply nodded in answer. I was worried about him, he looked awful, I could feel him shiver next to me and his eyes had big dark circles around them.
It was a town, of sorts, large wooden cabins around a crossroads that was lit with lanterns. The design was very Wild West. We passed a paddock with horses and next to it was a row of carts and wagons. I had to wonder, if it was 2007 here – where was the electricity? Where were the cars? Someone threw Alcide a pair of pants and a shirt, it was Fall and in the light of the lanterns, I could see the gooseflesh on his arms and back. Even though Weres run hot, I guessed the weather was still a little cool to be running around naked.
He dressed as he walked, hopping to push his legs into the pants but never pausing. Alcide stopped at a cabin; it was the largest one in the town and obviously the centrepiece of the community. We could smell the food before the door even opened, and I heard Claude’s stomach growl along with mine. Alcide must have heard it too; he turned to us and smiled.
“I won’t ask if you’re hungry. We can talk over some stew and brew.”
Both of us nodded enthusiastically and followed him inside the cabin. There were two ranges against the far wall, with a big tub full of dirty dishes. The rest of the space was taken up by long tables with benches at each side and there was a staircase leading up to a second level a few yards in front of the door.
Everyone in the cabin stopped to stare at us as we entered, and Alcide did nothing to stop them. He led us to the cooking area and grabbed three bowls and three spoons from a stack on a table. Claude and I took the dishes gratefully and copied Alcide as he held his bowl out to a stocky woman for her to fill it with a deliciously scented stew. It was thick, with chunks of meat, carrots and potatoes. We put our bowls at the unpopulated end of one of the benches and, again, followed Alcide to a stack of glasses. He filled ours from a barrel with a tap and we all went back to sit down.
My butt was barely on the bench before I opened my mouth. “Where are we? I mean, what is this town called?”
“I’ll ask the questions.” Alcide grunted with a mouth full of stew.
I nodded and kept my mouth shut, with the exception of spooning in some much needed warmth and sustenance. Claude looked at me sideways and raised an eyebrow, silently mocking my impatience. He had barely said a whole sentence since we were rescued by the pack, part of me knew that it was the smart thing to do.
Alcide cleared one bowl while I was only halfway through and went up to get another one, coming back to the table with a chunk of bread. He offered it to us and both of us gladly tore chunks off to dip in our meal. Alcide ate more slowly this time, staring at us, assessing us … maybe wondering how to kill us. All I could read from the snarly redness of his mind was curiosity and some lust, so perhaps my assumption that he was wondering how to kill us was wrong.
“You asked me, before, what year it was, what year is it where you’re from?”
“It’s also 2007.” Claude replied calmly. “But … things are very different.”
“Through the portal, right?” Claude nodded. “The portals have been useless for centuries. So I’m wondering how in the hell you managed to come through one of them when there’s nothing beyond them.”
“Ah … where we’re from, the portals are active – that is, there’s something on the other side of them – but they’re sealed off by magic.” Trying to explain how we managed to appear in this world was harder than I thought.
Alcide raised an eyebrow and beckoned to someone. A teenager came over and Alcide told him to bring him the first book, whatever that was.
“And Lord Appius’ Lieutenant, Eric the Northman, was miles from the Citadel, and into Longtooth territory, just on the off-chance?” He looked at me coldly. “I heard him mention blood – and I want the truth, not some ‘we came through a portal’ nonsense. Are you an escaped Renfield?”
“What? No!” I could read from him that he thought I was lying. “In … where we’re from I’m connected to Eric. Through blood. But I’m not a Renfield. We really did come through a portal.”
Alcide narrowed his eyes and looked from me to Claude and back again. “If you were just plain human I’d have you killed for lying and putting my pack in danger. But you ..” He pointed to Claude “Are Fae, I can smell that much. You’re not all human either, are you?”
I shook my head, I had a tiny smidge of Fairy blood in my veins, and usually I was fairly happy to deny it was there and proclaim myself fully human. But this wasn’t the time for denial.
“I’m part-Fae. Not much … but enough.”
The teenager came back with a large book. It wasn’t a printed book you could buy in a store, it was a leather bound super-sized notebook. I could see that it was hand written as Alcide flicked through the pages. When he found what he was looking for he spun the book on the table and pointed to the part he wanted us to see.
“Here, read this.”
1674 AD (198 După dominaţia)
The last of the Fae have been hunted and exterminated. Unhappy that they could escape to their own realm, The Dark Lord Dracula employed witches to spell an army of over one thousand Vampires so they could enter the Fae Realm. The portals are useless, unsafe, except to those demons that may use them to travel from continent to continent. Our last true ally is gone; we must fall back and protect our numbers.
I blinked and looked away from the book to Claude. His head was bowed and he rubbed at his eyes, like he was tired or they were itchy, but I saw that his lashes were wet when he pulled his hands away. Alcide was decent enough to look sympathetic at Claude’s discovery that his entire race had been hunted to extinction. Did Niall even exist in this world? If Vampires killed all the Fae back in the 1600s – did I even exist?
“Something tells me that Dracula’s great rebellion didn’t happen where you’re from. Are there still Elves, Brownies and Demons in your world too?”
Claude and I both nodded, not sure what to say. Had Vampires killed them all and what about the humans? I asked that question out loud and Alcide’s eyes darkened.
“Humans are weak, easy to control. They pay the Vampires to continue to exist.” He spat the last part out with distaste. “We gathered into cells, a resistance of sorts. This is the first time in centuries we’ve been able to settle and build some kind of community. An uneasy type of peace is there, we leave them alone and they leave us alone. There are very few demons; the only ones who survived are the ones who can serve the Vampires in some capacity.”
“Do I want to know how the humans pay the Vampires?”
Alcide just looked at me. I knew. There was only one thing Vampires would want from humans and that’s blood and sex. The humans continued to exist by being slaves.
“There are some humans who remain free but they’re not really free. They steal from everyone else to survive … and pay for their theft. A lot of them are runaways from the Vampire cities but they don’t survive long.” He paused for effect, as if he wanted us to think about the ramifications of running off on our own. “I only know one person who might be able to tell you about portals and how you managed to end up here. We’ll leave first light and try to find him.”
“Will he be able to tell us why our world is so different to yours?”
Alcide shrugged. “Dessie knows a lot about a lot of different things. It’s possible. You guys just better pray he isn’t in the Citadel – that’s the last place you want to be caught.”
True to his word, Claude and I were woken up just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. We were given clothes and pointed in the direction of another cabin. There was a small queue of people waiting to go inside, all of them holding a bundle of clean clothes the same as us. Alcide came out of the door, his hair wet and his chest bare. I heard giggling and turned to see a group of teenage girls waving shyly at him. He winked at them, then me and crossed the dirt track to the cabin where we’d gotten something to eat the night before.
When I got to the front of the line, I looked in the doorway to find that we were waiting to go into a bath-house of sorts. We’d slept, in the same bed, in another, different building. The floor was raised and around a dozen baths were sunk into the boards. I was nervous, because there were no individual cubicles or private areas. I felt Claude’s hand on my shoulder; I knew he wouldn’t have a problem with the situation. Not only was he a Supe who didn’t mind who saw him naked – he was a stripper who got naked for money every night. I wasn’t.
My eyes snapped to a young woman as she shouted for the next person. I walked toward her, watching as she checked the temperature of the water with her elbow before putting a fresh towel next to the tub. I must have been dragging my heels because she huffed, put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot.
“There’s others … oh! You’re the woman they found last night!”
I nodded and gingerly put my pile of fresh clothes on a stool and toed off my Nikes. I could see her staring strangely at my ‘My world’ footwear and the Merlotte’s uniform that I’d been wearing for almost 24 hours. I must have stunk something awful. I could see her craning her neck and smiling at Claude who was waiting for a free bath at the door. I smiled, glad that there was a distraction for some of the people in the bath house.
It was quite a feat, but I managed to undress without flashing the members of the community too much by keeping my back to the rest of the bathers and removing my clothes in stages. My dirty clothes went in a pile with everyone else’s. While I was rubbing the large bar of soap over my skin, I could feel their eyes on me. I doubted they were looking at my nakedness as much as they were looking at the strange, scarred woman who had been found with a beautiful Fairy in the woods, a strange woman who had been brought home, like a stray dog, by their packmaster.
I ducked my head under the water and soaped up my hair. Usually, the shower or bath was my thinking place. I took stock as I washed away my stress. I couldn’t do that here, and it irked me something terrible. I had a lot of stress and thinking to take stock of. But, like so many things in my life, it would need to wait until later. Until I’d found a way back home.
Back to Eric, the Eric who didn’t want to drain me, the look on his face as I was sucked into the portal would haunt me until I got to see him again.
After breakfast, Alcide hooked up one of the carts to two horses and loaded the cart with bags of food, canteens of water, a canvas tent and blankets. I wondered how long we were going to be on the road for. He suggested that Claude and I rode in the back so we could hide under the blankets if anyone Alcide didn’t trust happened upon us. We left what I now knew as Wolveswood behind and the cart rattled down the dirt tracks.
I had absolutely no idea where we were. Nothing was familiar, there were no landmarks. There wasn’t even any concrete road to travel on, just dirt, trees, grass and fields. I quizzed Alcide as the clip-clop of the horses lulled Claude into sleepy state. We weren’t in Louisiana, the area we were travelling through was simply known as Longtooth Country. Alcide had no knowledge of any of the towns, cities, states or countries I told him existed in my world. After we’d established some of the geographical differences, Alcide’s questions became more personal.
“Your mate is very tired. Is he always like that?”
“No, he’s usually very energetic but he used his magic to try and open the portal back home and … it drained him I guess. But he’s not my mate – Claude … he prefers men.”
Alcide curled his lip slightly at Claude’s sleeping form. “Does he at least help with the breeding?”
“Ah … I’m not sure. We’re cousins but I don’t know all that much about his side of the family.”
“You said you had a connection to Eric the Northman, through his blood, in your world. Are you a pet or is it an expression of love where you’re from?”
“Neither. I’ve worked for Eric and we became close.” For lack of a better explanation. “I’ve saved him, he’s saved me and along the way we’ve exchanged blood enough times to form a bond. It’s used to control humans in my world but Eric doesn’t use it for that.”
Alcide turned to me and raised an eyebrow. “Sure.”
I didn’t react to his obvious goading; instead I turned to Claude, laid my head on his shoulder and pretended I was in need of a nap too. I cracked open one eye when I heard Alcide muttering for the horses to slow down. Peeking over the edge of the cart, I noticed him heading toward a man who was tilling a field with a plough strapped to a Clydesdale. I was once again struck by the primitive nature of technology here and mused about why that might be.
Eric had once said that he didn’t feel comfortable with technology some of the time. It was entirely possible that the older Vampires who now ruled the world had the same ethos. Did they prevent advancement in technology because they weren’t interested? Or did they eat all the humans who might have invented technological advancements? Maybe it was a little of both.
“Hey, Calvin, do you know where Dessie is?”
Claude snorted and sat bolt upright at the sound of Alcide’s voice after such a long silence. I kicked him and pressed my finger to my lips but it was a day late and a dollar short.
“You got passengers hiding back there, Alcide?”
Alcide turned to us and nodded. “It’s okay, I trust Calvin.”
I smiled faintly, wanting to say that I trusted Calvin too. Claude and I both sat up and waved to the were-panther. He had scars on his face that weren’t there in our world. I wondered what might have caused them.
“Dessie? Last I heard he was heading back to the library, had some contract to write for the big cheese down there.”
Alcide sucked a breath in through his teeth. “That wasn’t really what I wanted to hear but thanks, Calvin.”
Calvin cocked his head to one side. “There a reason you want to avoid taking your … guests to the citadel, apart from the fact that it’s the Full moon tonight?”
“The less you know, the better my friend.”
Alcide got the horses moving again and I gave Calvin a lacklustre wave as we passed. Once we were out of earshot I spoke up.
“What’s so important about the full moon? I thought the citadel was where the Vampires were.”
He stared straight ahead, the muscles in his jaw clenching as he ground his teeth. It seemed to take an age before he answered.
“They take their tribute every full moon. The humans that live within the walls of the citadel … they give the vampires their tribute.”
Well, that answered that.
When is the worst time for two strangers, who smell especially tasty to vampires, to be caught in a vampire run city?
When the human slaves are presenting their sacrifices.