Chapter 3 – The Citadel
We rode for another hour, passing a couple of settlements along the way. Alcide told me that they were groups of Weres that had requested to settle in his territory and join forces with the Longtooth pack. Apparently, as long as the two-natured stayed away from the Vampire areas and didn’t try to get in the way of the Vampires ruling of other species – they were left to get on with it.
“The two-natured came off badly during the last war. As much as we’re better than the vamps – having a pulse and everything – they’re stronger than us and they can breed quicker.”
“It takes two full Weres nine months to make a new Were – and that new Were won’t be able to fight for at least twelve or fourteen years. The Lord Vampire in any area can just order his ten best to turn one human each and three nights later there are another ten Vamps – ready, willing and very able to kill at their maker’s command.”
I nodded and turned to Claude. He had been listening to everything with interest as he ate an apple from the bags of food we brought. My cousin was looking a lot better today, still a little tired, but not as drawn and exhausted as he had done the previous night. I was almost shocked when he spoke.
“Alcide, is there anyone around?”
Alcide shook his head. “Just us and the road, why?”
“Could you stop the cart for a moment while I test my strength?”
Alcide nodded and guided the horse to the side of the road before bringing the cart to a halt. Claude jumped off the end and stretched his arms out wide before popping to the front of the cart. The horse was startled and reared up on his hind legs. Claude quickly popped back to the rear of the cart and left Alcide to calm the beast. I narrowed my eyes at him and crossed my arms.
“I apologise for startling your beast of burden.” He called out while rolling his eyes.
That was probably as close to ‘sorry’ as I’d be able to pull from him in the circumstances. Once Alcide calmed Buck (not a name I’d pick for a horse but different strokes and all that), we were back on the road.
“It’s good you’ve got your magic back. You’ll need it if Dessie can’t help you.”
I frowned. “If Dessie can’t help us, then we won’t be able to stay in the Citadel. We’ll need to leave before it gets dark – get as far away as possible.”
“And I wish you the best of luck with that.”
“You’re not coming with us?”
“I’ll take you to Dessie, that’s as far as I go. I already told you I won’t put my pack in danger and, come nightfall, Eric the Northman will be looking for you again. I promised my pack council that he wouldn’t find you in Wolveswood.”
“You’ve already been more than generous.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked away my tears. I had fooled myself into thinking that this Alcide would go out of his way to help me as much as the Alcide I knew. I shook my head, trying to chase away my self-pity and I realised that this Alcide had a lot more to lose than the Alcide back in our world. I felt Claude take my hand again and turned to him.
“You might as well face it, Sookie. We’re all each other has, all of those we had to aid us in our world … they either don’t exist here or they are completely different.”
I nodded and rested my head on Claude’s shoulder. I estimated that we’d been on the road for a couple of hours, whether that was accurate or not was anyone’s guess. Another ten minutes passed before Alcide told us to get under the blankets because we were entering Vampire territory. From under the woollen hiding place I could hear the sound of Buck’s hooves change as we went from dirt to something harder. The cart rattled jarringly and I assumed we were now riding along a cobblestone road.
“We’re coming up to the Citadel, there’s no-one around if you want to have a look.”
We didn’t need any more prompting, Claude and I both poked our heads out from under the blankets and looked at the mass of buildings in the distance. The structures were all dark grey, except for some red banners that were fluttering from the top of an, honest to god, turret which jutted up to the sky like a beacon of the Citadel’s magnificence.
“It’s a damn castle!” Claude half-chuckled and half-sneered, as if the fact that Vampire’s would rule on high from a castle was so obvious they wouldn’t stoop to stereotyping.
“It certainly is. I heard Appius modelled it on the old castles in Europe, no idea if that’s true or not. I’ve never been to Europe.” I looked at Claude and he nodded, affirming that the Citadel was European in appearance and, also, that Claude had been to Europe. “The gates are up ahead, you should get back down.”
We once again hunkered under the woollen camouflage. The closer we got to the Citadel, the worse the smell got. There certainly was something to be said for country living, although I didn’t remember if the country air smelled quite so sweet in my world. The cart came to a stop once again and I heard voices. One of them was, obviously, Alcide’s, but the other was familiar too.
“Show your mark.”
“Don’t have one, I’m from Longtooth Country.”
“State your business.”
The short, to the point, requests without politeness or enthusiasm were all too familiar. My telepathy confirmed the voice from the grave, in my world at least, was Bobby Burnham. It seemed no matter what universe he was in – he was just a hair above plain humans in the Vampire Hierarchy.
“I need to speak with the Librarian. I was told I could find him here. And, before you ask, no – it can’t wait until the next time he passes through.”
“Very well.” I heard Alcide suck a sharp breath through his teeth, I took a guess that Bobby was hurting him somehow. “You have a one day pass, emphasis on the ‘day’ part. All warm-blooded beings are checked for markings at sundown – if you’re still here, you go in the tithe.”
“I know the score, buddy.”
The cart started rolling again and I squeezed Claude’s hand under the blanket, hoping and praying that Bobby wouldn’t want to check the cart before going into the Citadel. In the grand scheme of things – today was a lucky day. I felt the cart make several turnings before the sunlight shining through the fibres of the blanket disappeared. We stopped again and Alcide told us to sit tight and not reveal ourselves until he came back.
Without a friendly soul around, I could tell Claude was doing the same thing as me. Trying not to move, trying not to even breathe too loudly, just in case someone very unfriendly passed by. Although he was bigger, stronger and more confident than me; Claude also had more to be afraid of than me. I only had one, particular Vampire on my tail. If Claude stood upwind from an undead gathering he would have a posse chasing him through this unfamiliar place.
Without the sense of sight, my ears seemed to zero in on the tiniest sound – and the most distinctive. I could hear children playing, Moms calling for them to behave, other carts and horses nearby and the scratching of small animals closer by. There was a creaking, like heavy doors being pushed closed and then the sound of metal sliding against metal. Both Claude and I jumped with fright as a hand slapped the side of the cart.
“All clear.” The giggle I let out was almost hysterical as Alcide pulled the blanket from us. “There’s a door at the end of this tunnel – you’ll find Dessie in there.”
I nodded and scrambled from the cart; Claude took more time and stopped right in front of Alcide with his hand extended.
“You’ve been a great help to us in a time of need, Alcide. Thank you.”
I don’t know if it meant much, seeing as we were in a different world to our own, but what Claude had just done was very important. A Fairy thanking someone meant they were obligated to them.
“If I ever pass through a portal and end up in your world – I would expect the same treatment.”
“Of course, Alcide.” I took one of his warm hands in both of mine. “Even though we’re a lot of trouble, I really appreciate you helping us this much.”
Alcide nodded and pointed to the end of the tunnel. “You better get a move on; if these doors are closed and a guard passes by they won’t hesitate to break them down.”
We said goodbye to someone we trusted. Claude clung to me almost as tightly as I was holding onto him as we made our way up the stone staircase. Neither of us knew who, or what, we would find at the top. What if we shouldn’t have trusted Alcide? What if he had just sold us to the highest bidder? What if we were jumping from the frying pan into the fire?
I tried to lick my lips, but my mouth was bone dry from nerves. Claude gripped the door handle and a saw him close his eyes and take a deep breath before pushing it open. We slowly peered into the room and heard a voice calling to us from beyond the shelves of books.
“You’re quite safe here and I understand you have some questions.”
My heart leapt in my chest and I saw Claude brighten too. “Mr. Cataliades!”
We made our way through the stacks to find him looking rather confused as he sat at the biggest desk I’ve ever seen.
“Mister Cataliades? No-one has called me that for … hundreds of years.” He frowned. “The Vampires and humans who know me call me the Librarian. The Others … they call me Dessie, or Desmond. They don’t stand by formalities.”
“Ah … I don’t really know you by any other name.”
“And I usually refer to you as ‘The Demon Lawyer’.” Claude added. His input wasn’t welcome.
“You can’t use that word here.”
I panicked and babbled. “Claude didn’t mean any harm, if you don’t want anyone to know you’re a demon, we’ll keep your secret.”
Mr. Cataliades, Dessie, The Librarian … whatever he fancied calling himself at that moment – he laughed. He laughed so hard a tear spilled down one of his fat cheeks. Claude and I went back to holding hands, both of us confused at his reaction.
“Oh I’m a demon, and everyone knows it! Law – its enforcement and trials regarding it – is only practiced by Vampires. I am not entitled to such a lofty title as ‘Lawyer’, because I’m not a Vampire.”
Claude frowned and sneered. “You may practice and do the work but you may not claim the benefits?”
Dessie nodded but his smile was bitter. “And that is how I survived when thousands didn’t.”
“By becoming a slave – just like the vapid humans!”
Dessie snarled, and before I knew what was happening, he had Claude by the wrists. My cousin’s flesh smoked under The Librarian’s hold and Claude wailed in pain.
“Do not judge me boy! I survive so I can help runaways and idiots like you hide from the Vampires!”
I placed a hand gently on Dessie’s arm, hoping he would calm down and let go before he did even more damage. The look in Dessie’s eyes was cold as he let go and pushed Claude away from him. I held Claude to me as he inspected the damage. I noticed some redness and blistering and hoped that the injuries were more cosmetic than anything.
“I apologise for Claude’s outburst. We don’t know a lot about this world – including how we got here and how we can get back home again. We’d very much appreciate it if you could help us.”
“Tell me exactly how you came to be in our world.”
So, we did. Claude explained the type of magic he used and I described things from my point of view too. With everything that had happened, any anger I had toward Claude had evaporated with my fear and the fact that he was my only anchor in this world. He was also my only chance at getting back home, considering he was the last Fae on this version of Earth and, consequently, the only one with the right type of magic to try and jimmy the locks on another portal.
“Many have believed in an infinite number of universes, stacked on top of each other.” Dessie took out a piece of paper and drew a horizontal line on it. “You start with one universe, then something changes – it could be something tiny, a single decision or action that happens in one universe but not in the other and you end up with two separate timelines.”
He drew two lines on top of each other and carried on until he had about ten lines. I understood what he was saying perfectly – it was just like that Gwyneth Paltrow movie, Sliding Doors. One decision, one action could change everything … like missing a train or running to catch it. I remembered renting it from the video store and watching it with Gran.
“Now, between universes you can have wormholes. These have never been proven to exist, not in this world anyway, but they connect all of the universes.” Dessie drew little tubes between the lines to illustrate. “You came through a known portal – a gateway between realms, different worlds entirely. These, apparently, aren’t exclusive to this universe but they connect completely different universes – not parallel universes.”
Another piece of paper was introduced with a circle at each corner. Dessie explained that a number of realms were connected by portals, Fae, Demon … any number of races and species. But that Claude’s magical portal invasion had mutated the gateway and that instead of us travelling from universe A to universe B or C or D – we had travelled to universe A1. The same world but a different reality – an alternate Universe.
“What Claude did was incredible, unheard of, and also very difficult to fix.”
Peace of mind that ain’t. I sighed and rubbed at my temples. “What if he tried it again with another portal?”
Claude stared at me with wide eyes. “Seriously, Sookie, we don’t know where we’d end up!”
“So you want to stay here where we’ll be hunted? I’ll be hunted by Eric because I have his blood and you’ll be hunted because you’re Fae and they’ll be sniffing you out as soon as the sun goes down!”
“There’s also the issue of finding an unguarded portal.”
Both of us looked at Dessie and spoke in unison. “Unguarded?”
Dessie sighed. “Do you think the Vampires went to all the trouble of clearing out every other realm Supes might escape to and then just leave them open for anyone to use? All of the Vampire strongholds – are built on top of the known portals.”
“Then how did we get through?” I was confused; if that was the case then we should have been spat into some Vampire dungeon.
“As you explained – Claude kicked down the door of the space-time continuum. He basically created a portal where there wasn’t one before. And your only chance of getting out of this universe alive is to get to another portal and do exactly the same thing you did before.”
My eyes flicked to the window where the sun was streaming through. “And what are our chances of doing that before sundown?”
Dessie took out a pocket-watch and frowned at it. “Very slim. In my opinion your only chance of survival is for me to bring someone who can break your blood bond and mask your scent until we can come up with a plan.”
I’d thought about breaking the bond a fair bit since it was created. I’d even asked Amelia to look into finding a spell that would accomplish that task. I never thought I’d be breaking the bond for any other reason than to find out if our feelings, mine’s and Eric’s, were still the same without that connection. Breaking the bond to stop Eric from killing me was a damn good reason.
“We would very much appreciate if you could find that person, Dessie, very much indeed.”
Claude nodded next to me. “I will also need to gather my strength if I’m to use the same magic on another portal – some food and drink and somewhere to rest would also be appreciated.”
Dessie smiled slightly. “There’s a safe room – at the back. It’s sound proof – you two should stay in there while I get her. I’ll get you some food and water for the room and there is a bed in there already.”
We were ushered into a half-sized door behind a bookcase and settled into the small room quickly. I ate some bread and some hard cheese and dried berries while Claude gorged himself on the salted meats and crackers. He was still eating as I drifted off to sleep. Considering how much I had to think (and worry) about, I was surprised I managed to rest at all.
I woke with a start; my dream had left me in a panic. I panted and wiped the sweat from my forehead, shuddering at the images of Eric and the different ways that he might end my life. I’d seen how brutal Vampires could be, if not with my own eyes then in the minds of the people who served them or crossed them. Sometimes they were brutal purely by accident, or instinct, as my experience in the trunk of a Lincoln had shown me.
Claude was snoring softly on the mat next to me and I wondered what time it was. I wondered how long I’d been asleep, how long it would be until Dessie came back with the woman who would help keep us alive another night. I wonder how long it was until sundown. Without any windows in the tiny room, it was impossible to tell. Not that I was an expert on knowing the time by looking at the position of the sun, especially when I didn’t even know which way was west. My eyes darted to the door as I heard the bolt being slid back; I smacked Claude’s leg a couple of times to wake him up.
Dessie came through the tiny doorway first, followed by the woman who could help us. My breath caught in my throat, but I managed to squeak out one word.
She frowned as she stood to her full height. “I’m not sure which world you’re from but here we pronounce it ‘hello’. I am Marnie Stonebrook.”
Claude looked at me, confusion spoiling his handsome face. “Hallow was the witch who cursed Eric, yes?”
I nodded and Dessie suggested we leave the tiny room so they could hear about the events from my universe. I could tell Marnie was incredibly interested. We settled around the huge desk and I told them of a Vampire with no memory of himself who was taken in by the woman he eventually fell in love with. Marnie stopped me before I got to the very end.
“I was killed and the spell was removed. I know how it works. I must say – this is incredibly fascinating. If we weren’t in so much of a rush, I could listen to your stories for days!”
Her eyes were twinkling, as were Dessie’s. I frowned a little not knowing why my traumas and heartaches brought them so much joy. Dessie must have determined my upset.
“The stories or legends that are told here are very … pro-Vampire. They are the ones, who prevail with no help from, what they refer to as, inferior species. To hear a tale where a Vampire is rescued by a part-human is … incredible!”
I nodded slowly, understanding what he was saying but finding it difficult to distance myself from my memories and reclassify them as ‘stories’. Marnie wanted to know how our bond was formed so she could be sure she was using the right spell. Once again, they sat rapt in my recounting of all the times Eric had given me blood and by the time I finished up with my dramatic rescue of Eric and Felipe in the Merlotte’s parking lot, Marnie was frowning.
“Although breaking the bond right now seems like a good plan – I have an alternative. In your world, the bond has stood you in good stead, for you and your Eric. You will go through the portal before sundown under a different spell.”
Dessie nibbled at his lower lip and shook his head. “There isn’t enough time, I would need to make a test run and count guards through the castle. I’ve used the portal here very rarely – you know that its usage is monitored, Marnie.”
“They can only monitor what they notice.” She smiled and started taking different herbs and doo-dads out of a large bag.
To say I was cautious about sneaking into a Vampire castle under a ‘look away’ spell was a severe underestimation. Once again, Claude and I held onto each other as we walked the streets of the Citadel, toward our escape. Or our demise – it was fifty-fifty. Those weren’t odds I liked, but there wasn’t any other choice. Not if we ever wanted to get back home.
Just as Marnie had said, people ignored us. Those who did glance our way simply shrugged like they had happened upon a trick of the light. It was a damn good spell. Dessie checked his pocket-watch several times on the trip there. Each time Marnie huffed and told him we had plenty of daylight left. We finally got inside the castle, the guards oblivious to our presence with their standard human senses.
As suspected, the portal was in the bowels of the building. The castle smelled like death and decay. Dessie whispered that it was the product of years of draining humans and leaving the dead bodies for their servants to dispose of. Apparently, sometimes the bodies were left for days until the servants found them and disposed of them. If there was a newborn in the ranks, there were more to move.
“Don’t the Vampires ever worry about running out of humans? If they kill them as often as you say they do – surely they’ll run out of food at some point.”
“The humans here are forced to breed – no human can go in the tithe or be part of the tribute until they have spawned two children. Appius learned from Godfrey’s mistakes. Godfrey made the humans under his rule give them their sons – with no minimum age. Soon his lands were barren and he was left with wailing women to feed from.”
I didn’t need to ask any more questions about that, I knew all about Godfrey’s (or Godric’s) tastes in food. In my world he had met the sun to atone for his sins against humanity, I had no desire to ask if the same thing had happened in this world.
When we got to the portal, it was guarded by two humans. Thankfully, neither of them were familiar to me. Dessie explained that the guards changed at midnight, sunrise, noon and sundown. He checked his watch and nodded to Marnie. I was shocked when she nodded back and then swiftly blew some dust in the face of both guards. They closed their eyes and slumped to the ground.
“Are they dead?”
“No, they’ll sleep for a day or so and wake up none the worse.” Marnie put her hands on Claude’s shoulders. “It’s time.”
“There are two hours before sunset. Can you do it?”
Claude nodded. “I’m feeling strong, stronger than I was the last time, it shouldn’t take that long. You may want to leave, unless you want to be sucked into wherever we end up.”
Without thinking, I ran forward and hugged both Dessie and Marnie and thanked them for their help. Claude said ‘Thank You’ to both of them too before turning to the portal and starting the magical process.
He hadn’t been working long when he spoke. “It feels different this time. I don’t feel like I’m forcing the barrier as much.”
He smiled, that was a good sign – right? “Maybe it’s because the portals here aren’t closed off by Niall’s magic?”
“Possibly.” He answered and pushed the light from his hands toward the swirling red light.
I felt the portal start to pull us in, this time I didn’t resist. Maybe we would find ourselves somewhere more dangerous but there was that small chance that we would find our way home. I kept my eyes closed as we were sucked into the swirling mass and didn’t open them until I felt myself on solid ground. I didn’t feel as sick this time and managed to keep my stomach contents where they were despite my nausea.
My hearing hadn’t been affected the last time, but this time it was like sirens were going off in my head. I turned my head and saw Claude with his hands over his ears.
“We have a positive encounter – FPCON Delta. All units report to epicentre catwalk.”
When I looked up, all I saw were a row of soldiers pointing guns in our direction and the red flashing lights that accompanied the klaxons illuminating the fear in their eyes.