Legal Crud: The characters (Thalia, Eric, Bobby Burnham) belong to Charlaine Harris. Xbalanque, Xerxes and zee plot is mine.
This is the 2nd part (sequel!) to another story - please read Bloodletting, Part 1 first or this will not make much sense. (Located on at : /s/5573114/1/Bloodletting_Part_1# )
This story began as an attempt at an entry for the Poppin' Eric's Cherry contest a long, long time ago, and ended up a completely different thing entirely - and quickly at that. It became an excuse for me to write about two characters that steeped my curiosity and don't get nearly enough attention in the books. For those that read the first story, apologies it took me so long to get to the 2nd - after Harris killed off Bobby it was hard to keep my motivation up, and, well, life gets in the way sometimes.
Please review and future chapters will be published! Thanks everyone!
It was already several hours into night when the Hummer that serviced guest of the Fairbanks Signature Resort dropped them of at the front door of the house. Calling it a house, however, may not be quite accurate. It was 4,000 square feet of glass and wood, a modern monument to log cabins sitting in the middle of twenty acres of evergreens and snow. While the house was not excessively large, it still managed to appear quite grand. Lights set along stone path guided them towards the front door, which was just about twice as tall as Burnham and three times as wide as both of them put together. When Thalia pressed the doorbell they immediately saw movement inside, since the majority of the front facade consisted of eight feet tall panels of glass. She wondered how a vampire could possibly secure sleeping quarters in a house designed so openly.
When the door moved the size of the person that opened it accentuated the enormity of the doors even more. The solid, stout woman pulling the door open stood about five feet high. Her skin was ochre colored with a red tone to it that, when mixed with the faint pallor overlay of vampire, made her appearance somewhat otherworldly. There was no discernible difference between the dark black of her pupils and her iris color, and her hair was a matching charcoal shade, bone straight and waist length. Tendrils flew around her wildly as the wind blew into the house from Thalia and Burnham's direction. She spoke with a noticeable accent that sounded to Burnham like a choppy, exotic mix of Spanish and Malay.
"'Allo there! come in, come in. You must be Bobby, and you, I suspect, are Thalia."
She noticed that before they moved to walk into the house, Thalia had to dislodge herself from Burnham's arm, which was wound rather tightly around her waist. An audible grunt was heard from Burnham as Thalia nudged him forward and off of her. Thalia nodded and they both entered. The exotic woman ushered them into the foyer and closed the door behind them. Her English was clear in spite of the accent, but Burnham found it hard to hide his expression. It was obvious he was trying to discern her native language.
"I am Xbalanque. Call me Xba. Apologies for the modicum of hospitality. Most of the furniture was moved out yesterday. Anyway, please have a seat over here at the table. Let's discuss."
She pronounced it shee-ba-LAHN-kay, and the shortened version sounded like shee-ba. When she said her name it was like a light went off in Burnham's mind. He looked at Xba with a glimmer of excitement in his eye. Thalia eyed Burnham skeptically, not knowing what to expect of his behavior given his obvious curiosity. After all, she was essentially his bodyguard for this trip, and that meant she needed to be able to predict his behavior to some extent. She mentally noted that she would have to remind him that in the future, the protective curling around her waist move would be unnecessary. The left corner of Burnham's lips curled upwards as he simpered. He was pretty certain he'd successfully guessed Xba's origin, and the arrogance behind his cocked grin was plain to see. He gave a shallow bow of his head as he started to speak, "Hach ki'imak in wo'ol in kaholtikech."
Xba looked momentarily frozen before she turned to look back at Burnham. She was obviously thrown off guard. "Bey xan teen. How did you come about knowledge of my language?"
Thalia leered at Burnham, but he ignored her. Xbalanque motioned them to the left when she spoke, and the three of them headed over to a huge dining room table and sat. It was a gigantic, uncut slab of dark wood. When they sat, Burnham ran his fingers over the tabletop and found it abnormally hard and smooth. "I don't know much really, only a few phrases. I would love to learn more though, be it Yucatec or, better yet, Proto-Mayan. Languages are a bit of a hobby for me, and-" Thalia decided to interrupt their little bonding session. "Out of curiosity you must tell me what it is I find strange about this table. It is gorgeous. Is this petrified wood?"
Xba's gaze never left Burnham, but she understood the need to change the topic. She seemed pleased but weary. "Yes, and that is why it is still here. The table weighs over eight hundred pounds. We're waiting for a specialty mover to come pick it up for transport. Hopefully it will make it out of this state." She spoke as if she were talking to herself, "Hopefully I will make it out of this state."
Thalia spoke, "Indeed. We have much to discuss."
Xba asked, "Do you have the item?"
Thalia looked at Burnham. He lifted a black velvet bag out of the case he brought. He placed it as close to Xba as he could reach. She loosened the drawstring, peeked in and her eyebrows raised. Her lips pursed and she nodded, impressed. "Well then. I am not an expert in these things, so I will have to trust that this is the authentic piece. Xerc says that Eric is trustworthy, and I have no choice than to hope that he is right."
Burnham interjected, "Xerc?" It sounded like Zerk.
Xba wondered, "Xerxes." Bobby realized that her accent shortened the consonants a little more than they should have been, but it still sounded like Zerk-sees. "He is the reason why you are both here. Did Northman not tell you any of this?"
Thalia interjected, "We only know the basics, and I probably know more than Mr. Burnham over here. Eric likes to think that keeping us in the dark will add to our... sense of adventure. It is just his way. So it falls to you to... fill us in."
Xba shook her head. "Alrightie then. Xerxes is my companion. Unfortunately, his temper has driven him into what we now understand is a trap. An obvious one, at that.
Thalia thought, "Tell me something I had not figured out already." But she only nodded. Burnham was barely containing himself, still high on his newfound infatuation with Thalia and getting giddier still off the excitement of being involved in vamp-world scheming. He was barely managing to sit still. Thalia thought about resting her hand on his knee to still the nervous bouncing of it, but thought better of it.
Xba continued. "The Queen here is not typically a nefarious, scheming sort, but my theory is that her desperation has driven her to extremes. We suspect that she aims to make some sort of move towards the Kingdom of Russia.. or Kingdom of the Russian Federation.. or whatever the hell they're calling it these days. That big landmass on the other side of the Bering Strait." She simpered. "The King there has been weakened by some successful political maneuvering from many sides, but their collective efforts have caused some chaos and confusion. We think the Queen suspects this is her time to make a move. Unfortunately, this is not in our best interests."
Burnham's nerves started to calm once his intellect began to kick in. "Do you have any idea why she's so intent on Russia?"
Xba shrugged, "Xerc knows more than I do, but I hear that she ruled over Russia previously and she wants it back. Rumor has it that she settled for ruling Alaska in order to stay in close proximity of her homeland. In any case, we suspect she needs a fighting force of some kind. The more obfuscatory, the better, and Xerc would be a welcome addition to anyone's mêlée militia."
Thalia interjected, "So what has she done to trap him?"
"Xerc and I both do linguistics work at the University of Alaska. A month ago two of our research assistants went on a trip to visit some friends in Anchorage. They never came back. After some investigation we found out that they were both drained by an area vamp. A rogue hardass, apparently. Goes by the name of Akiak."
Burnham cut in, "He's Yupik of some sort?"
Xba replied, "Yeah, Siberian Yupik. Originally from somewhere in Uelen, apparently. Why do you ask?"
Burnham shrugged, "Mostly curious, but I'd probably be a hardass too if I grew up in a place where the weather stayed at a constant between -10° and -20° Fahrenheit."
Thalia sharply poked Burnham in the side with her index finger.
Burnham tried to act macho, but that lasted all of a fraction of a second. "OW!"
"If I was not partial to you that would have hurt far worse. I know the academic in you is dying to wax poetic about the potential of learning whatever language Siberian Yupiks speak, but now is absolutely, definitely not the time."
Burnham was still rubbing at the poked spot in his ribs. "Yeah, got it."
Xba smiled brightly and her eyes widened. "How cute! Don't know how I missed that! How long have you two been a couple?"
Whatever color was left in Thalia's face now drained from it. "Feels like forever. So, back to Akkyaak, or whatever his name is."
Xba held back a snicker then leaned forward to address Burnham, "Must be recent since she's still embarrassed. Lucky you, the hardest nuts to crack tend to be the tastiest."
Thalia started to scowl. Burnham grinned broadly.
"Sorry. So yeah, Akiak. When Xerc found out he hunted him down. Turns out that was the trap. Apparently-"
Thalia cut her off. "Wait a second. Just found him, or are you saying he killed him? You speak as if describing a walk in the park. How long did it take to find him? How did he overcome him?"
"If Xerc decides to hunt you, it means you're as good as dead, so yeah, Akiak is now crispier than a potato chip. Xerc was gone less than a week. I think he found him in three days or so. Like I said, there's good reason for the Queen to want him fighting for her. How the battle went down, I don't know. I didn't have much time to speak to him before he was summoned."
Thalia was impressed and intrigued. Rogues were assassins amongst vampires. They were usually the most dangerous of an already lethal species, and it was their nature to stay out of sight for the most part. Even if this particular one was being reckless in his activities, the fact that Xerxes was able to hunt one down and kill him in such short order told Thalia volumes. She was also now less surprised by the expense Eric Northman spared to assure Xerc's safety. It was now more obvious how valuable a friend or asset he could be.
Xba continued, "Turned out that Akiak is a child of the Queen. He had been causing quite a bit of trouble over in Anchorage over the last decade or two, and from what we hear he was costing her a lot of money, so she wanted him gone. She adeptly calculated that Xerc would avenge his friends, and she was right. That gave her a valid excuse to hold Xerc accountable. Two days later he was summoned to court. She agreed to release him from his sentence if he agrees to work for her, but he would rather meet the sun than kill recklessly for someone else's derisory purposes."
"So this item in this bag - what role does it play in all this?" Burnham asked.
"Apparently it's something the Queen's human family lost around 1917 or so. Xerc is rather certain that she's been going to extreme lengths to recover this item and others like it. The hope is that her thirst to reclaim these artifacts will outweigh her desire to make him her unwilling war chief."
Burnham was starting to worry that this was more intrigue than he should be involved in, given his fragile mortal state and all. "I know I'm losing all my courageous guy credits by asking this, but why can't we just hand this off to you and be gone?"
Xba laughed. "Yeah, sorry about that. The Queen must have the full understanding that the item is being given for Xerc but not by him. If she thinks it belonged to Xerc and he's had it all along she will suspect that there is more. She will more than likely order him killed and then attempt to seize his property hoping to find more of the spoils. Northman, however, is safely out of reach, and under the protection of his King. Besides, Northman has a lot of friends. He may not be vampiric royalty, but he has quite a bit of power in his own right... and there are a lot of us who rather not complicate life by pissing him off. So sending two of his people to represent him makes it clear that this isn't something Xerc was hiding under his pillow the whole time. We're not even remotely certain this will work. But if it doesn't Xerc and I will have to massacre the entire Alaskan court, and that would just be a heck of a lot of trouble, would it not?"
As the last sentence was spoken Xba's fangs dropped just a centimeter or two. Burnham recognized the look of bloodlust that flashed across Xba's face. Something told him he should be bothered by it, but he wasn't. He did, however, allow it to remind him that even the friendliest, most innocuous looking vampires were deadly creatures. Thalia found the moment familiar and somewhat comforting. She understood the occasional thirst for war; it kept a vamp from getting bored. Thalia, however, craved boredom at the moment, so the feeling was fleeting.
The longer they sat in the moment, the more uncomfortable Burnham got, so he kept talking. He also wanted to find out whether he would get any time alone with Thalia before sunrise. "So when do we do this?"
"Tomorrow at nine. I will meet you where you are staying and we will travel together from there. Besides, we are two hours southwest of Fairbanks. Her compound is more convenient to your resort. An hour's drive north, in fact. Tonight I would like to discuss some specifics of the compound's layout, and give you some things that might be invaluable."
Thalia raised an eyebrow. "Weaponry?"
"Yes. There are some things I think we will be able to manage past her guards. Some others that may not be helpful to us, but can be helpful to Xerc if we can manage to get them to him. I pray we don't need them."
Thalia grinned, "You still pray?"
"Oh, most definitely. I figure our existence has to be the cruel, sick joke of some god with a totally wacked sense of humor. Cruel or not, I would rather be on his good side than his shitlist."
Thalia smiled and nodded. "I think I'm going to like this girl. I still have to keep my distance though." "Good enough then. Show me what you have."
Xba's face widened into a beaming grin so wide her face dimpled. "This way, madam." The three of them walked across the house to a corner of the living room. The room was emptied of everything but the built in cabinetry on the far side of the room. The sound of Burnham's boots made rich clunking noises against the wood floor. Xba walked up to two wide, seven foot tall pantry-like doors and swung them open towards her in a grandiose display. The interior of the cabinets were lined with purple satin and were fitted with small, bright lights that were angled perfectly to compliment the contents within. There were hundreds of weapons in front of them, all glimmering and shiny in their metallic glory. Each was perched carefully on its own individual shelf, hook, or peg.
"Oooh. This must be what it is like when humans talk about being a kid in a candy store. Delicious!" Thalia uttered in almost a whisper.
Just as Burnham's eyes widened and he took a step back, Xba took a step forward and grabbed a pair of gloves from a drawer on the right side of the open cabinet. She put the gloves on, then grabbed a second pair of gloves, several velvet pouches, and a tote bag from the same compartment. She assumed that Thalia would know what most of the weapons were, so she addressed Burnham when she spoke, "This is a modified Kusari Fundo. It's a chain whip, and in this case it's pure silver, and quite intricate in its construction. One decent lash from someone with enough speed will incapacitate a vamp. With a human, it's thin enough that in the right hands it will also choke them to death faster than you can release its grip. Thalia, do you have any tunics or long shirts?"
"Good. This one is fitted with a small hook on each end so it can be connected together. Tomorrow, Bobby, she's going to get dressed and you're going to double this around her waist so she can wear it as a belt. Be careful with it. Remember, it's silver, so don't let it come into contact with her skin." Using her gloves Xba carefully manipulated it into one of the velvet pouches, then put the pouch in the tote bag. Then she pointed to a thinner, finer version that was nearly twice as long. The silver chain was composed of intricately bent double-s shapes that linked together in two places on each link. "I'm going to wear this one as a necklace. It's really quite striking that way. Note to self: wear a turtleneck tomorrow."
Thalia interjected when something caught her eye. It was an extremely slender and delicate looking braided metal but not shiny like the silver items, and it was shaped like a glove. The top end stopped just below the elbow, and the tip stopped right below the knuckles and therefore allowed the fingers to remain flexible. "Oh, this is just perfect!"
It almost unnerved Burnham to see her so excited, but she continued. "My tunic, it has long bell sleeves that fall below my knuckles. And this? I haven't seen one of these since I was a... well, since forever. Best of all it will make me feel like a gladiator. Oh yes, I must wear this." She frowned, "Now I'll be disappointed if there's no fight."
Xba replied, "I understand, really, I do. It gets better. Here, put it on."
Thalia slid the glove on. It was almost too large, but when she flexed it adjusted and formed around her, well, like a glove. She looked at Burnham with a child-like expression of adoration in her eyes for the ancient weapon. "Bobby, do you know what this is?"
Burnham smirked. He was mildly annoyed and felt his intelligence was being insulted. "I imagine that's a metal version of a cestus, derived from the Latin word caestus, meaning 'to strike.' Used by the Romans and a few other cultures during the days of pankration, which is one of the first known forms of martial art. And it's technically before your time, so I'm wondering where exactly you learned to use one. In any case, it's ancient and European, so give me some credit. I may not know how to use it, but I certainly know what it is.
Thalia decided to knock him down a notch. "Ah, but you see, knowing how to use it is far more important in this case, wouldn't you say?"
Deflated, Burnham clinched his jaw and folded his arms. Thalia removed the cestus and placed it in another velvet pouch, then into the tote bag.
Xba chimed in, "I think we can manage a couple more things. Here, this might be a great help." She grabbed a mass of strung silver balls that were cinched together by a few flimsy pieces of fabric. "Ball bearings." She pointed at a barely visible string. "Here's the cinch point. Pull this string here and they'll all release in short order."
Burnham looked on curiously. "Ok, fine, you've got me on this one. What would we use these for?"
Xba smiled, "Short lesson in vampire warfare, m'dear: it doesn't matter how fast anything on this planet can move if they can't catch their footing." Thalia nodded. Xba continued, "A while back I came up with a way to make them look like a fancy... well... scrunchy. Let that be another lesson for you. Don't underestimate the power of the feminine dress code. The most efficient stake in a room is often-"
Thalia finished her sentence, "A stiletto heel." Thalia continued, "Trust me, I think about it all the time."
They both laughed, but while Burnham managed to smile he was really a bit creeped out about the whole thing. He wondered if he could ever feel safe standing next to a woman again. After all, she had just turned a weapon into what was essentially a ponytail holder. At that second he noticed that Thalia had moved so that she stood next to him, and pressed against his side gently. She quickly looked up, winked at him, and snuck in a butt-grab. Once again Burnham was squarely in the vampire-lovers camp.
Xba introduced a few other items, and then packed the items that the couple would be using into the tote bag for the couple to take back with them.
"Let me make this clear since I neglected to mention it earlier- if things do not go smoothly, you are to toss, throw, or sling these items to me or Xerc as fast as you can. Use them to protect yourself if absolutely necessary, but do not intervene on our behalf. While we'd love to have your help, I'm sure Eric the Northman would not appreciate us getting him involved with a coup against a royal. Protect yourselves, get the weapons to us, and stay out of it. That's going to be the rule of the night."
Thalia looked disappointed but she knew Xba was right. Burnham just stood there. He was still trying to soak in the fact that in the last 48 hours he had done about 50 things for the first time and now he was standing here with his new, committed, vampire girlfriend, wanting to comfort her over the fact that she was sorely disappointed she'd just been ordered not to lop off anyone's head tomorrow.
There was a hint of a smile forming on Thalia's face. "I'm keeping the cestus on, just in case."