Before the Damned
Sookie brushed a hand over her dress, smoothing out the fabric, as she waited for Eric to finish his phone call. The Vampire Ball was due to start in an hour, and her nerves were getting the better of her.
“Remember, your life as a vampire depends on her well being. I don’t care what Roman said, if something seems off, get her out.”
Sookie let out a sigh as she listened to Eric give his orders. She agreed with what he was saying, she just hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.
He turned to her after hanging up, taking in her appearance for the first time since she finished getting ready. “You look stunning.”
Sookie ducked her head as she heard his compliment. She was grateful that she could no longer blush. “Thank you. You look mighty handsome yourself.”
“After you,” he said, holding open the hotel door for her.
Sookie brushed her lips over Eric’s cheek before walking out of the hotel room.
He smiled, but his body was tense.
Oh wow, Aunt Sookie! Can you hear me?
Yes, I can hear you, sweetie, Sookie replied telepathically as she fell into step beside Eric.
The ballroom looks so beautiful. I wish I could be in there a little, but there’re a lot of minds here.
I know, but you’ve gotta stay outta sight, Sookie reminded her niece. If it gets too much for you, you stop right away. You hear me?
I am. Miss Thalia is with me. She’s scowling, but it’s funny since she’s doing it on purpose. Her mind says she actually is happy, or proud, to be helping me.
Good, but at the first sign of any trouble, you shout for me.
There’s lots of minds, Sookie. More than I’ve ever looked at before.
Eric had noted how distracted Sookie was and was leading her down the hall and into the elevator where they were thankfully alone.
Susie, you don’t have to do this. You can still back out.
Looking up at Eric, Sookie mouthed, “Susie,” to him, unsure if anyone could overhear them.
No! I just think it’s awesome! I’m able to filter through all of them. I already have three names for you, and I have a few who are thinking about others who don’t like you.
Okay, Sookie thought as she let out a sigh. Give me the names, sweetie.
Umm… Thalia wrote them down… She says they’re the Kings of Chicago and Maryland. The Queen of Alabama and umm…someone in Canada. We’re not sure who exactly.
Sookie mouthed the names to Eric and saw his eyes narrow in response. Thank you, Susie.
Aunt Sookie, will you talk to me the whole night?
I’ll talk to you all I can, Sookie promised.
Eric caught Sookie’s eye as he confirmed the information and he slipped away to acknowledge his queen and inform her about those Susie named.
Sweetie, I’m about to go into the hall now, Sookie thought. If you need me for anything shout really loud.
The room was packed. Vampires from every state were attending the ball, which had been in the works for years. Each monarchy had its own entourage and its own agenda. Some were there to show support for the Guardian. Others were there to be ‘influenced’ by others, monetarily or otherwise, to support either side. Some were just trying to show off and were ignoring the pink elephant in the room.
The last group of vampires were those Susie was trying to find; those who would be traitorous towards The Authority and the Guardian, those who would destroy Sookie and those who were willing to work with Warlow, if necessary, in order to save themselves.
Sookie took an unnecessary deep breath before she stepped into the room, her head held high in the face of all the scrutiny. Faces turned to look at her, some overt in their actions and some a little less obvious. She could hear Susie’s thoughts, cataloguing with Thalia the names of people she managed to suss out. They were just names, but Susie was a thinking a lot of them. She needed to wait to act, to see what those names meant.
Eric was already in the room, standing with Nora beside the Guardian. Thalia’s absence had been explained by her role as his second. So far, it seemed no one knew of Susie’s presence, though many vampires were on guard.
Being a resident of Louisiana, Sookie made her way to Nora, her Queen, offering her a small bow of respect before moving her way to her own Maker. As members of The Authority, they had their own area with Dieter, Molly, and others who worked with them. They settled into their seats, noting how the decorations were set up to honor those lost in Mississippi.
“Everything all set?” Russell asked so quietly that only he and Sookie could hear.
“Yes.” Sookie replied, her voice barely a whisper.
“How is she?” he asked.
“Overly excited,” Sookie answered with a grimace. He smirked, imagining Susie jumping all over the place. There were times, like when she was training, that the girl had the focus of someone five times her age. Other times, she showed she was a typical six-year-old girl. “She did give me the names of some of her friends,” Sookie added, choosing her words carefully.
“So there’ll be a party for her later?” he asked.
“I think so,” Sookie replied. “It would be a shame to waste such efforts after all the hard work.”
“That’ll be something to see.”
“She deserves the best.” Russell placed his hand on her shoulder reassuringly. He knew she was worried about her niece…sister. Though, technically, they had the same mother, Russell knew she would always look at Susie more as a niece. She grew up with Jason, not Susie. Susie was Jason’s daughter, and he didn’t think she would ever hurt her brother in such a way to consider Susie as anything beyond her brother’s daughter.
Sookie took comfort in Russell’s reassurance as she looked out over the many vampires present. While most were well adept at concealing their emotions, there were a few Sookie could easily read. Eric left his post by Nora to come sit by Sookie. He handed her some paper and a pen for when Susie mentioned more names.
“Everything okay here?” he asked.
“So far,” Sookie answered, taking the pen and paper.
Suddenly Roman was calling the vampires to attention. He was speaking through a microphone. “I’d like to welcome you all to the 20 Decade Ball for the US monarchies. Before we begin,” he announced, “I would like to take a moment to reflect on the loss we have recently suffered in the state of Mississippi.”
Murmurs broke out through the room and more than one set of eyes flicked to Sookie briefly. A few of the monarchs blamed her for the loss of so much vampire life.
As Roman continued talking, Susie spoke up. Aunt Sookie!
I have some names.
Tell me what they are, Sookie thought as she discreetly prepared to write them down.
There’s a lot, Aunt Sookie, she thought wearily. Susie looked up at Thalia, seeing the long list of names they had written down. She was worried. What if all of these vampires joined Warlow? She bit her lower lips, her brow furrowed as she examined the list. She tried to show Sookie a picture of it with her mind.
Sookie’s eyes widened as she took a look at the list. She quickly scribbled down all the names and passed the list to Russell.
“Fuck,” he said, seeing at least a few vampires from almost every state, including quite a few monarchs.
“More than we anticipated,” Sookie whispered.
He nodded, looking at her as Eric slipped his arm over Sookie’s shoulder, grasping it reassuringly.
Sookie smiled at Eric as she leaned into him slightly. She honestly didn’t think she would have been able to get through it if he wasn’t by her side.
He gently gripped her shoulder, sliding his hand down her arm while keeping an eye on the crowd. Knowing how many were against them in the attending vampires, he wasn’t about to let down his guard for a moment.
“Now it’s time for the auction!” Roman announced. “Will all of the lovely vampires to be auctioned off come to the front? As you know, all proceeds to benefit the Makers and Children of those lost in Mississippi.”
Sookie smiled as Eric placed a hand of her back and escorted her to the stage where she stood with Eric and the other vampires who were to be auctioned.
Molly, Dieter, Sookie, Eric, Queen Freyda of Oklahoma, King de Castro of Nevada, King Peter Threadgill of Arkansas, the renowned fighter, Quinn, the were-tiger, and a few other vampires from various states stood to the front of the room, waiting to be auctioned.
“How did you get Quinn to agree to this?” Nora asked as she sidled up to Russell. “How ever did you get him to wear that awful outfit? He looks like a genie.”
“That was all Sookie, dear,” Russell replied. “Except the outfit. That was me.” He smirked at her.
“It’s very fetching,” Nora snorted. “It brings out his eyes.”
“I just like his pecs…” Russell replied, sighing longingly.
“Will you be bidding on him?” Nora asked.
Russell looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Will you?”
“If I can spare a dollar,” Nora replied with a smirk.
“Then it’s on, bitch,” Russell replied with a smirk.
Nora let out a soft laugh before turning her attention back to the stage area where Roman was about to start the bidding.
“First up is King of Arkansas, Peter Threadgill!”
The young-looking King stepped up. He was turned as a teenager, and his 15-year-old body belied the viciousness in his running of his state. He stood before everyone, a scowl on his face. He had been coerced into participating. He demanded he be first to get it over with.
“I tried to convince Roman that all the men should be shirtless, but he wouldn’t listen,” Nora whispered, as she ran her eyes over Peter. “I’m thankful for that now.”
Russell smirked. “True,” he chuckled slightly as he bid for the young King. “Two hundred.”
“Two hundred and fifty,” a voice called out, as a brown-haired woman stepped forward.
“Jennifer Carter,” Nora hissed, her distaste for the other vampire showing. “She’s his second.”
Russell laughed. “Five. He’ll be in my harem,” he added, addressing Nora.
“Five hundred and fifty,” Jennifer countered angrily. She wasn’t happy in the slightest that she had to use her own money to bid on her King.
“Eleven hundred,” Russell answered. He would either win the boy-King or drive up the cost for his second.
Jennifer let out a huff as Russell increased the bid. She didn’t even want to bid on her King. He had ordered her to do so.
“Do I hear eleven fifty?” Roman asked, looking at Jennifer before glancing around the room.
Jennifer eyed her King before shaking her head in the negative. She knew Peter would make her pay for it, but she wasn’t about to start a bidding war with Russell.
Peter looked at Jennifer, enraged until Roman declared, “Sold, to Russell Edgington, for eleven hundred dollars!”
“Wait –” the King started before Russell approached him. The elder vampire slipped his arms under Peter and carried him back to his table bridal style, his arms under Peter’s neck and knees.
“Next up, we have Molly, the technical specialist for The Authority!” Roman announced. “Who will bid for a dance with our spunky guru?”
“Five hundred dollars,” the King of New York called out, starting the bidding.
Molly raised an eyebrow speculatively. She couldn’t dance. So whoever was bidding on her was going to have a shit of a time cashing in on their purchase, but they didn’t need to know that.
“One thousand dollars,” the Queen of Kentucky countered. Molly caught Dieter watching with a scowl on his face. Her Maker had been her lover before she was even turned. She winked at him, trying through their bond to reassure his loyalty.
Aunt Sookie! Don’t let Kentucky win! Susie’s voice screamed in her mind.
Not so loud, Susie, Sookie thought back at her as she hid a wince. Catching her Maker’s eye, Sookie raised her hand and lightly brushed a finger over her temple as she flicked her eyes toward Kentucky.
Russell cleared his throat, indicating to Nora there was a problem. He had placed Peter at his seat and rejoined her to watch the auction.
“Two thousand dollars,” Nora bid unsure of what was going on, but for now she trusted Russell.
Kentucky frowned before bowing out as New York bid again. “Twenty-five hundred!” he called out.
Nora inclined her head; informing Roman she wasn’t going to bid any more as she took a step back.
“Sold to New York!” Roman declared. “Next up is the owner of the best casino in Las Vegas, King of Nevada, Felipe de Castro.”
De Castro swept his cape over his shoulder as he bowed theatrically in front of the audience, always the showman.
“Five hundred dollars,” the Queen of Florida called out without prompting.
Russell smirked and shook his head as de Castro crossed his arms and shook his head. He was worth far more than that. “Ten thousand,” Russell bid.
“A harem?” Nora asked, as she laughed lightly.
Russell chortled before responding, “And?”
“I wish I would have thought of it,” Nora grumbled good-naturedly.
When no one else bid, Russell held his hand out to the pompous king. “Come, my dear,” he spoke sweetly to his latest win.
De Castro jumped off the stage and strutted towards Russell. “Charmed,” he purred, as he held out his hand.
Russell led de Castro over to his table and stayed him beside Threadgill, who watched open-mouthed.
Nora shook her head as she watched Russell group them together. “I don’t think you’ll be interested in the next one,” she said, as she watched Roman order the Queen of Oklahoma to step forward. “Neither am I,” she added under her breath. Queen Freyda was the kind of crazy she didn’t do.
“Definitely not,” Russell said with a sneer.
Nora snorted as she watched Freyda preen in front of the crowd. The Oklahoma Queen smiled coyly at the male vampires, batting her eyelashes at them.
“I don’t know who she’s trying to fool with that innocent act,” Nora whispered low. “She was a whore before she was even turned. She just didn’t get paid for it.”
“So she’s no different now than she was before,” he replied.
“No, she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Nora said with a sneer.
The King of the Dakotas bought her dance. “Next, the renowned fighter, Eric the Northman.”
“Five hundred dollars,” A familiar voice called out before anyone else had a chance to speak.
Turning her head in the direction of the bidder, Sookie was surprised to see it was Jessica standing at the front of the room with her hand up.
“Seven-fifty,” The Queen of Alabama bid.
“One thousand,” Jessica countered.
“Ten grand,” Russell bid.
“Fifteen thousand,” Nora said, upping the bid. She grinned as she saw the look of disappointment flash over both Jessica and Alabamas’ faces.
“Fifty,” Russell replied.
“Seventy-five.” Nora arched a brow as she upped the bid again.
“A hundred thousand,” Russell added.
“A hundred and fifty,” Nora countered. She had promised Sookie she would bid on Eric to stop any power hungry vampiress from getting their claws into him. Sookie trusted Eric implicitly, but she was well aware of the eyes that followed her Viking around. Nora just didn’t think she would be bidding against Sookie’s Maker.
Russell nodded in defeat to her. She was his Queen after all.
Nora grinned as Russell conceded defeat and Roman declared Eric sold. “That was close. I almost had to tell your child, I lost the bid.”
“I doubt she would worry about me,” Russell replied with a laugh. “Then again, she knows my wandering hands…” He had, for the sake of his child, tried to put aside his animosity towards Northman. She had reminded him that he was extremely rich now, having her for his child. He looked over at his small harem, really just a duo thus far, and tried not to think, especially now, about his Talbot.
Nora continued to have minor bidding wars with Russell as the auction progressed. She lost every one as Russell built up his harem, but she didn’t care. She had already spent a hundred and fifty thousand dollars just to dance with her brother.
“There are only three remaining!” Roman said, building up the tension. “The Magister is first.” The room was silent initially, unsure of whether the Magister wanted to be bid on or if he would prefer to be left alone.
“Five hundred dollars,” the Queen of Nebraska said timidly. Dieter nodded in response, thanking the queen for her bid.
“A thousand,” New England’s Queen bid. Another nod from the Magister.
“Fifteen hundred,” Nebraska countered, her voice growing stronger.
“Two,” New England offered.
“Five thousand,” Russell bid. Dieter, however, turned to him, eyes slightly wide. The Magister cleared his throat, looking back to the queens.
“Ten,” New England replied.
“Twelve,” Nebraska upped.
“Fifty,” Russell replied, once more getting a look from Dieter.
Nora fought back a laugh as she watched Russell outbid the two queens time and time again. It was clear to her that the ancient vampire was going to win.
Another throat clearing from Dieter, and at eighty-two thousand, Russell bowed out. He was willing to appease his Magister, but the entire purpose was to gain money for his old state. Nebraska had won her dance, and Molly was appraising the queen thoughtfully.
“Second to last, the renowned fighter, Quinn the were-tiger!” Roman announced.
“Fifty dollars,” Nora called out, starting the bidding.
“Fifty-one!” Russell bid.
“Fifty-two dollars,” Nora countered.
“Fifty-two fifty!” he replied.
“I don’t have any more money,” Nora pouted.
“Then that means I win!” Russell said, wrapping his arms around Quinn and lifting him to carry him to his table to accompany the other seven men Russell had won.
“Last, we have Miss Sookie Stackhouse, the AVL spokesperson!” Roman announced.
“One thousand dollars,” the King of Maryland bid, as he stepped forward to get a better look at the vampire who was causing all the trouble.
“Five,” another monarch called.
“Ten thousand,” Maryland countered. He was desperate to get his hands on Sookie and find out what was so special about her before turning her over to Warlow.
“Thirty thousand,” a third called.
“Fifty thousand,” Maryland said, increasing his bid again.
“A hundred,” the second called out again.
“A hundred and twenty-five,” the Queen of Florida said, joining the bidding.
“Two fifty,” the third bidder added.
Eric fought back a growl as he watched various monarchs start a bidding war over his lover. He cursed Roman for his refusal to let those who offered themselves up for auction from bidding.
“Three hundred,” Maryland said, increasing his bid once again.
“Five million,” a vampire called out. He was standing apart from everyone, not a monarch and seemingly not associated with any.
Shock swept around the room at the large bid and many heads turned to get a better look at the vampire who had placed it. He was tall, broad, and muscular. He wore glasses, an extremely expensive dark gray suit, and had cropped hair. His tan skin said something of Middle Eastern descent — maybe one of the many vampires from that area who had cashed in on the oil explorations there.
“Five million dollars,” Nora mouthed in shock, as the mystery vampire stepped forward.
He patiently looked around, seeing if anyone would raise his bid, before standing before Sookie and holding his tan hand out to her.
Sookie paused for a brief moment before taking his hand and allowing him to help her off the stage. “That was a generous bid.”
“Anything to help the state,” he replied with a nod. His voice was deep, smooth. It fit his appearance. “I was also hoping to be able to win you.”
“A dance with me,” Sookie corrected not unkindly.
“Of course,” the man replied.
“What is your name?” Sookie asked, as they took their positions on the dance floor.
“You may call me Dan,” he said with a smile. He placed his hand at her waist and gently held the other.
Sookie gave him a small nod as she waited for the music to start.
“So, Sookie,” Dan started as they began gliding around the floor, “what do you do when not working?” He was a smooth dancer, suave with sexiness, even when dancing formally.
Sookie could see Russell and his group of men dancing — an odd-looking group of eight men around one — Russell — in the center. Nora and Eric were dancing not too far away as well.
“I spend time with my partner, Eric Northman,” Sookie answered, making it clear from the start it was only a dance he was getting from her.
“Ahh, excuse me, I had heard you and he were not in a relationship,” Dan replied. “If you would care to, I could show you the most amazing sights.”
“I’m afraid I will have to refuse,” Sookie replied politely. “And my relationship with Eric is of no concern to anyone. It’s private.”
“Of course, Sookie,” he said with a nod. “However, you see, sometimes contracts supersede. I am a big believer in contracts.” His grip on her waist tightened as Sookie heard Susie scream in her head.
IT’S HIM, SOOKIE!