Sookie shut off the motor and sat still in the car for a moment, staring into the dark trees. It had been a long shift, and she was tired, the more so that she was losing the increasingly consuming argument about whether to go seek out Eric. She had sworn to herself that she would not do it, it felt too much like surrender. But she couldn't focus on anything else, and as she sat in the driveway and listened to the engine tick, she told herself she would just run upstairs and change, that she would go to Fangtasia, not to see Eric- but to be free of him. So I'm lying to myself, on top of everything else. Terrific.

The door squealed as she threw it open. She got out, leaving her purse- she was coming right back. She checked the flowerbed and made a mental note to come out tomorrow and weed. That would be good, to be out in the sun in a bikini. Maybe she didn't have to go to Shreveport after all, maybe all she needed was some good old-fashioned yard work to relieve-

Was that… a music box she heard?

She turned slowly, trying to discern the direction of the music. Yes, it sounded just like the tinny, ethereal chiming of a music box. Was it Tchaikovsky? Something from the Nutcracker. It was coming from the cemetery. Before she had made up her mind to do it she found herself following the sound.

The animals seemed to have fled, or were cowering silently in their nests. Not a chip or a twitter sounded in the trees. As she wandered among the gravestones seeking the source of the ghostly melody, she finally placed the familiar, haunting music box song. It was the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. The hair on the back of her neck began to stand up.

She approached a light through the trees. It was a tiny pond, or an enormous puddle. Either way, it was a body of water that definitely had not been there yesterday. And if it had, she was pretty sure it would not have possessed the pulsing, pearlescent glow which drew her to it now. Sitting by the tiny pond was a long pale figure in loose white and gray linen with its back to her, and next to it on the grass lay an open, lacquered music box, exquisitely modeled with mother-of-pearl inlay and jewels.


The figure turned to face her, and she found herself regretting that she had left her purse in the passenger seat with the small spray bottle of silver nitrate in the side pocket. But what lounged in the shadows of the trees was not a vampire. Was it?

The tall man slowly rose to his feet. There was a lithe grace about him that made him seem weightless. He was breathtaking, with close-cropped black hair curling around his iridescent face, and long, supple white arms. His features were so fine as to be almost feminine, but his presence and demeanor were very masculine, almost threatening. She wished the music box would shut off- the tinkling, eerie notes unnerved her.

"Sookie, I am Mael. Maab sent me for you."

Oh, of course. Who else would be sitting in the graveyard at night listening to a music box but a fairy? But it was hardly a relief, especially when she considered who he worked for: Maab was not on her Warm And Fuzzy list.

"Uh, great. Sent you to do what?"

"To bring you to Fairae, of course." He nodded at the glowing puddle and spread his hands, as if to say, what else?

"Well thanks, but a year was plenty. Everybody at home was really worried about me."

Darkness moved in Mael's eyes. He seemed to shimmer. "Fairae is your home! The home your existence here continues to imperil! You lead a vampire to us? You attract a witch, who exposes you in front of a whole herd of humans? You will come with me, and we will seal the portal behind us!" His voice took on a strange dual timber-somehow there was a frightening harmony behind it. Sookie backed up a step.

"No, you creepy freak! Bon Temps is my home! I grew up here, my brother's here, my life is here! I'm not going with you to some other dimension!" She was furious, but her heart was knocking against her ribcage. She backed up again, wondering if she could outrun Mael.

The shimmer around him seemed to thicken. "Maab suspected you might be less than accommodating . But I was rather hoping for it." At this last he broke into a grin, and Sookie gasped as she saw his teeth for the first time in the dimness. It made her think of Jack O' lanterns, or a child's drawing of a monster with a single jagged line for teeth. It was a mouthful of daggers, a shark's mouth, or a crocodile's. "You see, we cannot allow you to endanger us all with your infatuation with the undead. If you will not come home… well." He shrugged, still smiling, but there was a crazed light in his eyes.

Sookie choked on a scream before she broke and ran.

She had only made it a few yards when he threw himself onto her and she pitched forward, cracking her temple on the corner of a headstone. She twisted around to try to push him off.

"Oh you gotta be shitting me!" When she turned around, Mael was in her face with a jagged foot-long dagger, which looked like it had been picked up at a yard sale at Beelzebub's house, and a psychotic grin distorted his features beyond recognition- how had she thought him handsome? She tried not to look at the teeth this close. When she went to shove the knife away, light flared from her hand and sent Mael flying backwards. She scrambled up and dashed on toward the house, thinking of the shotgun Jason had lent her. Then she heard Mael laugh, and nearly ran smack into him, stunned. How had he gotten in front of her?

"You use that diluted light on me, half-breed? Are you actually trying to hasten your death, or can you know so little of your cousins, of whom you are only a sad shadow?" He swept her legs out from under her, and the wicked knife was at her throat again. He seemed suddenly much stronger, and she could feel her muscles begin to tremble and buckle as she fought to keep the blade from sinking into her flesh. She felt a warm trickle on her neck. His eyes were bloodshot and wide as teacups. Through the clenched shark-teeth he whispered to her,

"End of the game, changeling." Her shaking muscles began to give and she felt the knife slip a centimeter into the soft skin of her throat. She cried out and squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't want to be staring into this madman's face when she died. She wanted to think of her parents, of Gran, of Jason.

There was a gust of air, and then Mael's weight was gone. For an instant she wondered if she were dead, but then she heard a bloodcurdling fairy screech that surely would have raised her, had that been the case. When she opened her eyes she saw Mael and Eric crouched and circling each other cautiously, like dogs.

Eric! Her heart leapt.

At the moment, however, Eric looked almost as frightening as the fairy. He had ripped into Mael's neck before being tossed off, and blood flowed from his snarling mouth, dripped from his bared fangs. He maneuvered until he was in a protective stance in front of Sookie.

Mael's wild eyes flicked from Eric to Sookie and back. He dodged toward her and Eric blocked him. He feinted and dodged again, again easily blocked. On the next pass the dagger came down on Eric's arm, and the blade hissed and smoked as it slashed through the skin. Silver. Eric staggered and almost dropped to his knee, then recovered. He howled and launched himself at Mael, and for the next few moments, Sookie could make out nothing but the blurs of black and gray of their clothing. When they stilled again, Mael had his back against a tree, bracing himself there and panting. He was covered in blood and wounds. Eric had smoking gashes all over his arms and torso, and blood spattered his face and clothes. He snarled and crouched again, deliberately licking the fairy's blood from his lips and beckoning with two fingers.

Sookie couldn't decide which one of them frightened her more.

She didn't see exactly how it happened, but several moments later Mael lay still, bent backward at a gruesome angle over a headstone, and Eric was tearing into his neck like an animal, a great fount of blood spewing from an artery there. As she watched Mael's skin began to sink and turn ashen. She tried to summon disgust, but she only felt a wave of relief and satisfaction at Mael's demise. She was safe. She sank to the ground and said a silent prayer. After a moment she realized her head was throbbing. She passed a hand over her forehead and wondered if she looked much better than Eric or Mael: between the cut on her forehead and the knife gash on her neck, she was covered in blood, herself.

Eric lifted his head from the now-desiccated corpse, sniffing the air. He turned to Sookie, his lips still curled into a snarl and blood running from his chin in long rivulets. The raw hunger in his stare her made her feel like a side of beef in a wolf pen. She took a ragged breath and scooted back against a tree.