The Challenge

the challenge

 

Days had past where all Sookie could see was the eternal blue of the sea, only to incidentally be interrupted by white sails peaking over the horizon. A stark contrast to the taut canvas that billowed proudly on their ship, black as the night, symbolising her ominous fate as the wind blew her nearer to death in premeditated mourning.

 

Queen Maryann of the isle of Crete never failed to preen with pride as her outlook became crowded with those sails of black approaching her seat of power. Promised tribute in acknowledgment of her superiority where those that owed her fealty squandered their greatest wares in appeasement to her for promised peace, stability, and riches all for order, sacrificing the youngest, most beautiful, fertile, and prominent of their own. It was their duty, something implored since childhood on the fourteen young men and maidens, seven of each.

 

It was that duty that would bring Sookie to her end and, unlike her travel companions, she was certain of that. Thus, she sat basking in the sun on deck enjoying its abundance while the rest of her party remained below, insistent on keeping their skin fashionably pale, and strategizing on how to defeat the notorious beast that lived in the infamous labyrinth beneath the impressive palace of Knossos.

 

Only one had ever walked out the labyrinth with his life, which is how Sookie knew she would not. Jason, barely a man then, with his eternal luck had walked out unscathed leaving a wounded Minotaur for dead behind. A quick escape was made and, fearful of the Forrestor’s wrath with the discovery, he had sailed home with little thought, not that one could ever accuse her brother of possessing many thoughts. Nine years had gone without repercussions and Sookie knew that was all the luck the Brigants would ever be afforded.

 

Sam, her faithful page, came to sit beside her squinting his eyes from the harsh light as it reflected off the eerily calm water. “At the next port,” he whispered almost inaudibly so it would only reach their ears. “We can run away.”

 

“No,” Sookie answered stoically, and rather loudly. “Order must be maintained, fourteen of us boarded this ship, and fourteen must disembark.”

 

“Sookie,” he pleaded. His eyes were always a trap to her, those imploring orbs of a puppy had granted him more kindness than she should have afforded a mere servant. Sam was in love with her, something he failed to hide in every interaction with her, otherwise her unique insight into his mind had spoken often enough of his utter devotion. Though this was something Sookie had little use for, she had briefly contemplated on engaging his infatuation to know something of love before her death, but she would know it to be a fraud and ultimately be unfair to them both. Sam was a friend to her and would never be more, no matter how much he wished and prayed to all the deities.

 

“Stop,” she commanded when he tried to plead once more that they escape. “No good will come of it. Everything and everyone I left behind on our emerald isle would suffer her wrath, chaos, and destruction all because you are not prepared for me to die. Is that what you wish to carry on our consciences?”

 

“There has to be another way.”

 

“There is,” Sookie replied with a shrug. “I miraculously kill the Minotaur, then find the exit to an impossible maze, and escape the island without detection. Easy.”

 

Sam sighed at the incredulousness tone with which she spoke of it all. If only she could see the potential he saw in her. Alas, since Jason’s return from the Isle of Death, the one he was dreading reaching any day now, she had stood in the shadows of her brother. The eternal golden child who was never expected to return, had, in fact, returned. Not even when it was discovered that the Minotaur was not finally dead was there anything to tarnish the reputation of the future King, he had achieved more than any other, thus granting him more women and wine than he knew what to do with.

 

“Promise you will at least try,” he begged wishing to touch her, somewhere, anywhere, knowing it would never be allowed by propriety, but mostly by her.

 

She took the offered plate of food from him, the foil for his presence around her, and in that ending any further interaction with a dismissal. “Sure,” she whispered with kind eyes for his sake. With a small bounce to his step he returned to his station while she continued to soak up the sun, contentedly resigning to her fate where he could not.

 

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“I have killed man and bull alike,” Preston spoke haughtily to the gathered crowd of the banquet that cheered him on. “Why should I fear this one?”

 

His overfilled cup of wine knocked into Sookie’s, spilling the contents of hers over the fine linens staining them red in foreboding. Her mouth held tight, the ingrained decorum of her grandmother’s teachings remaining prevalent even when all she wanted to do was rip off Preston’s head for his apparent lack of it. Being a chosen tribute from early birth tended to afford them entitlements that would otherwise not be granted them on account of their short lifespans. Preston’s hubris was, however, infectious to the rest of their party as ever. The sun had barely set and all but Sookie were heavily intoxicated. Tired of their presence, she made a mumbled excuse before making her way to one of the balconies that overlooked the harbour they had sailed into that morning.

 

“You are Sookie Brigant, are you not?” a voice asked from behind.

 

She turned around and greeted with a small curtsey, “I am.”

 

“The resemblance is undeniable,” she noted while fingering the ends of her hair. “This luminous shade of yellow, the bone structure. Such glorious creatures you Fae are. What a meal you shall make for my child, where your brother scurried out like a coward.”

 

“Thank you,” Sookie managed to utter without the grimace she really wanted to unleash, however, knowing this was Maryann, Maenad and daughter of a Goddess, mistress to Dionysus, Lady of the Labyrinth, bringer of chaos and destruction, brought out the finest of her behaviour.

 

The Queen clapped her hands excitedly with the restraint on display. “Meet my daughter Tara,” she smiled wildly while beckoning the dark-skinned girl from the shadows between the pillars, coming to stand as a stark contrast to her mother beside her. “She likes to escape the crowds too.”

 

“Your Grace,” Sookie greeted carefully while Maryann retreated back to the party.

 

“Yes,” Tara answered Sookie’s unspoken thoughts making her consider momentarily if she too was a telepath. “The resemblance is uncanny,” she continued sardonically with a roll of her eyes. “Maryann abducted me when I was a babe from the farthest end of the Nile. I had a power she could not resist to leave behind.”

 

“You’re a sorceress,” Sookie ascertained, giving explanation to the impenetrable barrier around her mind. A small nod was given before Sookie’s eyes became distracted by a newly-arrived vessel, blacker than she had ever seen before as if the wood was charred by fire.

 

“The Nocturnals,” Tara gave in explanation after following Sookie’s gaze. “From the far north, always the last to arrive, the eldest of the eldest.”

 

Seven males and their female counterparts found the shore with feline grace as they were greeted by a small delegation that led them to the Palace. These were the creatures that put the fear into any young Fae, but Sookie couldn’t help but be mesmerized by their beauty and apparent strength, and perhaps, that fascination was their true threat, something she could only attest to when the tallest of them winked at her and blew a kiss when he caught sight of her staring at him. Her hands instantly caught on Tara’s elbows to pull them into the shadows among the pilars where she had stood hidden moments earlier.

 

“Who was that?” Sookie whispered conspiratorially in the safety of the gallery.

 

“That would be Eric-”

 

“Northman,” the vampire himself grinned pulling her hand to his mouth to kiss the bare spot where the ring carrying the insignia of the Brigants should have sat on any other day.

 

With little grace she pulled her hand away quickly with the sudden recognition of the name. “Excuse me,” Sookie uttered, failing to hide the grimace she had managed to cover earlier in Maryann’s presence, before moving back with great haste to her departed table.

 

“Who was that?” Eric demanded of Tara while he hungrily watched his intended fuck and feed for the night escape.

 

“Not for you,” Tara informed with a set of crossed arms, daring him to defy her.

 

“Says who, witch?” he threatened lowly.

 

“The Royal House of Brigant,” she informed with satisfaction as the vampire looked on with wonder while Sookie retook her seat of honour at the table of the Fae, placing the crown back on her head that she had left there.

 

“That’s all the incentive I need,” he grinned in return, following the path of the faery while Tara could only shake her head at his impending failure.

 

“Perhaps you should remain on your side of the room,” Sookie ground out between clenched teeth when Eric came to hover by the congregation of faeries who, despite their inebriated state, were acutely aware of the threat the vampire posed.

 

“If you come with me, I will,” he promised with boy-like charm.

 

“Mr. Northman-”

 

“Eric,” he insisted, delighting in the angry fluster his interruptions caused in the prim and proper Princess.

 

“Eric,” she conceded begrudgingly. “You know the rules of conduct prohibit you from being here.”

 

“Allow me to handle this, Your Highness,” Preston interjected, which only served to irritate Sookie further. “Leave vampire!” he demanded with a supposed tone of command while shoving against the hard chest of muscle with little success.

 

“Preston!” Sookie admonished, horrified by his lack of manners and the sudden ball of light he had conjured to further threaten the night creature before him. “Put that away! I will see Mr. Northman to his table.”

 

“Eric,” the vampire corrected which earned him a menacing glare that dared him to push his luck any further.

 

Reluctantly, Preston let the ball of energy dissipate while Sookie grabbed Eric’s hand to steer him away with ease towards his seat of honour as the eldest of his party. They passed the many tables of other Supernaturals, all present as tribute. Most were drunk like the faeries, either drinking in the needed courage to face their death or in necessity of forgetting that impending thought. This night was often described as the end of the world and, in a sense, it was for those taking part, only further fuelling the power of Maryann’s reign where she drank in their fear with delight.

 

“You’re different,” Eric noted with a sideways glance, putting on the charm thickly. “Fearless, and a stunning beauty.”

 

“Do you ever quit?” she snorted with a shake of her head.

 

“Never,” he replied huskily to the shell of her ear. “Can go for days without stopping.”

 

Blood rushed everywhere, her entire skin standing in bloom in flushed crimson before she angrily swatted him for the lascivious statement. “YOU! Pervert!” she hissed out angrily.

 

“I fear the pervert is you, Your Highness,” he grinned with a poorly contained chuckle. “I was talking about conversing. You know, this little banter we seem to be engaged in. I can go for days without stopping.”

 

“Of course you can,” she said with another roll of her eyes, not doubting him for a second. They had reached the perimeters of where his fellow vampires were seated, gorging themselves on copious amounts of blood from either cups or veins. “Good luck tomorrow,” she offered sincerely in an official tone.

 

“I’ll look for you,” he spoke in a whisper caressing her cheek with the back of a cool finger, making her unsure whether it was threat or promise, hostile or friendly. A polite smile was given before she returned to her table to stare at her emptied cup of wine. She had failed to swallow a drop. Confused by her interaction with the tall vampire, she had imagined feeling many things on this last night, but none of those supposed feelings had been these.

 

“Who was that?” Stan demanded while making room for Eric on the long bench beside him.

 

“A promise for another day.”

 

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There was little desire to sleep, and the only reason Sookie sat in her nightgown was because it forced Sam out of her vicinity, his hovering had become near claustrophobic. The cool night breeze helped settle her mind, despite the many whirring thoughts of others surrounding her. It was no secret that in these moments before looming death the chosen ones fucked one another as if there was no tomorrow, for there wasn’t. Sookie remained firm she wanted no part in it, despite the many offers. In doing so she could at least retain something of herself in death.

 

Sookie thought she heard a whisper in the dark beckoning her, before disregarding it as the wind. However, when shoving aside the curtain to take another look at the crashing waves in the moonlight she was startled to find a dark figure stand before her.

 

“Can I come in?”

 

She nodded, pulling the heavy fabric aside and offering entrance to her quarters.

 

“Has your brother ever mentioned me?” A look of confusion marred her face before she could answer. “Figured as much, the bastard!”

 

“Sit,” Sookie offered, gesturing to the plush seats.

 

“I’m the reason he lived,” Tara explained while pulling her knee under her chin. “I gave him the tools to survive, the means to escape,” she continued before taking a pause. “He holds my virtue.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Sookie whispered sympathetically, having met the scorned and disgraced women Jason left behind far too often. “He’s selfish, he can’t care for anyone but himself.”

 

“Jason cares for you,” she noted. “He spoke of you then.”

 

“He has to,” Sookie said with a small smile, she couldn’t help the fact that it still made her feel special to be one of the few Jason loved without discrimination. “We’re kin.”

 

“Even so, it proves he is capable.”

 

“I can’t change who he loves,” Sookie offered carefully. Unsure of exactly what Tara wanted from her.

 

“You can take me to him, I have waited long for this.”

 

“Nine years,” Sookie acknowledged of the time since Jason was here, probably in the exact same room as they were now. “He seduced you?”

 

“I thought it was mutual, that we were both struck in the heart by the will of Aphrodite,” Tara admitted softly before her face grew hard again. “I was wrong, he promised to make me his wife, but instead left me behind on the first island we encountered. He used me.”

 

“I’m sorry, Gran raised him better than that.”

 

“I knew I was right in coming to you,” Tara grinned while unwrapping a cloth parcel. “I will give you the same tools as your brother.”

 

“Why?” Sookie wondered aloud. “After what Jason did to you?”

 

“That is exactly why,” she smiled, placing the ball of yarn and a small blade in her lap. “You will take me back with you when you defeat the Minotaur, so I can beat the shit out of your brother.”

 

“You have a great deal of faith in me,” Sookie laughed looking at the items in front of her.

 

“I wasn’t so moon-eyed back then to ignore your brother could have used a few more brain cells. If he was able to make it out with ease, so should you,” Tara noted dryly. “The twine can only be seen by you, it will guide you back to entrance. The Minotaur can perish with this blade and no other, you must use all your strength.”

 

“I don’t know if I can,” Sookie whispered.

 

“You can,” Tara assured with her hand on her shoulder. “I’ll meet you by the docks at dusk tomorrow, I can only leave if you leave, and I cannot stay here any longer. This time he will die, and with his death, Maryann’s power will cease.”

 

“Are they not your family?” Sookie asked with concern, remembering the pain it had caused to leave behind Jason, Gran and Niall. She even missed Hadley who had been nothing but unkind to her when she was passed over as chosen tribute in Sookie’s favour.

 

“They are, but I do not wish them to be,” she confessed baring the physical scars of her harsh existence she otherwise kept hidden with a spell. “They are cruel and unkind. You will be killing my brother tomorrow, but it is mercy for him to be dead. Were he not my brother I would do the deed myself. Maryann was wrong in mating with that mythical bull as it came to her from the sea rather than sacrificing him as she had promised the Gods, he suffers for that every day as their offspring. He is the last I care for and the last who would keep me here.”

 

“I will do my best,” Sookie offered sympathetically. “You have my promise.”

 

“A promise from a Faery?” she grinned, delighted with her success. “You offer much.”

 

“I offer as much as I can afford.”

 

“That makes me a rich woman then, Princess Brigant,” Tara nodded wisely before disappearing into the shadows again. “It will see you live.”

 

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“Stay with us, Sookie,” Preston commanded while she continued to make her own way with haste around the winding paths of the labyrinth. “Sookie!”

 

“You are not my commander!” she fumed, irritated at the slow pace that had been forced upon her since most of their party were too hungover from the night before. “I go where I please.”

 

He shoved her into a darkened ante-room, away from the rest of the faeries. Tired of her insubordination and constant defiance of him, he urged the others to continue on knowing they’d catch up to them with ease. “You may have been a Princess last night, but that ended as soon as we entered the labyrinth. I am in charge now,” he warned.

 

“Who decided you were in charge?” she retorted angrily, however, his hand clasped over her mouth silencing her attempt at further rebuttal.  “Shh,” he warned while listening intently. Only then did the net of her telepathy catch the swarm of minds as it attacked the rest of their party further down the tunnels.

 

“Stay,” Preston said with panic before running out of the room.

 

“Don’t!” Sookie whispered, but it was already too late. Preston had thrown himself into the fray, losing his life in seconds with his foolish bravado while she crawled into a hidden crevice of the wall, masking her scent as only one of her lineage could. Tears escaped her, and despite not caring much for the thirteen other chosen ones who had accompanied her, she deeply felt the sudden demise in a way their families never would. They saw the great honour in their deaths where she could only mourn the indiscriminate loss of young life, of futures thwarted.

 

She sat immobile for hours, waiting for the whir of minds to leave while others came and went. Her eyes were kept firmly shut with an infantile conviction that if she could not see those who preyed on her, they wouldn’t see her either. It wasn’t a surprise to her that the death of her fellow faeries hadn’t come at the hands of the Minotaur. Mortal enemies sought each other out in these tunnels for that added advantage against the ultimate prize. In Jason’s retelling, they had taken out all the vampires in their weakened state during the day to further their own strength by robbing them of their blood, and it wouldn’t surprise her if the vampires had done the same now. Sookie could tell there were few survivors left in the labyrinth as she mentally tallied the different signatures. An impressive hundred-ninety-six had dwindled down to thirty-two.

 

A deep voice suddenly startled her, lost as she was in concentration with the task while the sticky hairs on her forehead were brushed away, “Impressive strategy.”

 

“Mr. Northman,” she whispered with a gasp.

 

“Eric,” he corrected while coaxing her out of her hiding spot. “Never did catch yours.”

 

“Sookie,” she spoke softly while her free hand clutched at the hidden blade that was sheathed around a leather band on her thigh. It wasn’t wooden, but she hazarded with his unguarded stance and a magical weapon capable of taking out the mythical Minotaur it would suffice in ending the vampire in front of her. However, before she could act she found her back against the roughened wall and surprisingly soft lips pressing tenderly against her own. The tip of his tongue probed at the seam and without thought she granted him entry, her fingers seeking the hairs in the nape of his neck instead of the lethal blade.

 

“Nice to meet you, Sookie,” he grinned when her lips disengaged to suck in air. “Told you I would look for you.”

 

“So you did,” she acknowledged, biting her swollen bottom lip nervously, not sure what to make of her eager response to him. “Why?”

 

“Found something more challenging in you than I did in the Minotaur,” he shrugged while placing a trail of soft kisses down the hollow of her neck, causing her to stiffen with the possible threat of fangs.

 

“Please stop,” she whimpered while squirming uncomfortably in his hold. “We can’t do this. The Minotaur-”

 

“Poses no threat to me,” he dismissed while sucking softly around the throbbing vein of her neck. “I’ll take him out if he shows up, it’s why I’m here.”

 

“Cocky much?” she posed with irritation while shoving him off her.

 

“Told you I like a challenge,” Eric grinned. “Told you I’d find you.”

 

“You had to kill all the faeries in my party to do that?” she demanded angrily.

 

“Wish it was us,” he said dreamily. “Came late to the party myself. Elves spoiling all my fun, made the search easier though.”

 

“It’s not very nice to talk about them like that,” Sookie huffed while her feet tapped away angrily at the floor.

 

“They were assholes,” Eric pointed out with little apology.

 

She frowned deeply with that. “Didn’t mean they deserved to die,” Sookie spoke angrily. “You’re an asshole yourself.”

 

“Didn’t stop you from trying to take me out with that contraband blade you’ve got strapped around your thigh.”

 

“You-,” she fumed before her telepathy caught another swarm nearing them. Her face turned serious while catching him by the arm, “We need to go, NOW!”

 

Sookie hardly had the time to contemplate it as her feet left the floor and he swished them around the narrow tunnels at high speeds delving deeper into the lower levels. “Where to?” he demanded after a worried glance from her had made him alter their course more than once whenever they threatened to near a cluster of hostile minds. From that point on she directed him accurately away from all the upcoming threats while the ball of magical twine unspooled behind them.

 

“So you’ve figured out I’m a telepath,” she deduced when he set her down on the ground again in a slightly larger ante-room that was deemed safe by them both.

 

“Brigant Princesses tend to be.”

 

“So the kisses,” she spoke with a high pitch while waving an accusing finger between them, “were to secure me as your asset?”

 

“No,” he replied smugly pushing against her mouth again. “Certainly makes things easier.”

 

“So why the kisses?” she strangled out with the frugal breaths he allowed her.

 

“If I meet the true death without at least kissing you, Sookie Brigant, that would be my biggest regret.”[i]

 

She didn’t quite know what to make of that statement, any further thoughts, however, were lost with the sudden presence of eight elven minds that encroached on her mental perimeter. “NO!” she screamed, cursing herself for her poor detection of those minds. Elves always were trickier to detect, a blast of light erupted out of her before shoving Eric behind her in protection, taking five out instantly with the sudden and powerful charge as it counteracted their attack on the vampire. Eric didn’t hesitate to decapitate the remaining three with glee, high on bloodlust, ripping them to pieces till they fell to puddles of green globs. Sookie staggered backwards, seeking support from the walls while breathing haggardly.

 

“You’re hurt,” Eric roared with outrage as the scent of her blood caught up with him, her ability to mask her smell lost with the injury.

 

“I’ll be fine,” she whispered, hiding the surge of pain while he ripped at her saturated clothing to see the point of impact where the elven arrow had struck deep into her abdomen.

 

“Take my blood,” he demanded with impatience when she seemed to hesitate with the proffered wrist before her. She shook her head, not wanting to suffer the repercussions of a powerful vampire being able to track her through the maze while she was still trying to rid herself of him, unsure of his true intentions, her hesitance only urging the wrist closer against her mouth. “Don’t make me force you,” Eric growled out while he watched the golden hue of her skin pale. “You need this.”

 

“OK,” Sookie finally agreed when a light-headedness announced she was losing consciousness fast. With caution, she sucked at the wound watching his eyes grow dark with lust. It was too much for him, the sensation and the aftermath of a well-fought fight had him nuzzling against her, purring contentedly while caressing the softness of her curves. She whimpered under his touch until suddenly he pulled the arrow out of her swiftly and sucked the blood from her wound before she could cry out with the pain. Instead of being greeted with the promised nectar of the gods Eric was met with the most putrid flavour he had ever sampled. With distaste, the blood was spat out besides her, purging it out of his body to the very last drop and with a poorly-held grimace he finished lathing at the wound with his healing saliva.

 

“I apologise,” she whispered mortified with his apparent repugnance of her blood.

 

“Don’t,” he admonished before lightly kissing against her red stained lips. “Poisoned arrows, probably a good thing. Wouldn’t want to be high on faery blood when I have a Minotaur to take down.”

 

“You’re different,” she said in repetition of his observation of her the night before.

 

“I like what I like,” he grinned while touching the barely healed skin of her abdomen. “Don’t care what you are.”

 

“Thank you,” Sookie smiled while nestling into his chest for comfort, still weak from her injury depsite his blood. “You reputation tells a different story.”

 

He shrugged, “A reputation is just that, a reputation.”

 

“Even in the tallest tales there is a kernel of truth,” she argued. “No matter how much you like me, you can’t deny I make a better ally to you than your fellow vampires did. You didn’t hesitate to try and bind yourself to me. I’m part of your strategy. You can’t dispute you’re not an opportunist.”

 

“What makes you so sure?” he grinned.

 

“That smirk and an assault to my lips!”

 

“I’ll admit I’m an opportunist when you admit those are the two things you like most about me,” Eric taunted with glee. “Well, until you see my cock. In that my reputation does precede me, I’ll freely admit to that.”

 

“Gods!” she screamed out while shoving herself away from his chest. “Must everything be a joke with you? Can you ever be serious so I that I am able to take you for your word?”

 

“You’re just going to need to trust me, Princess, whether I offer such assurances or not,” he shrugged. “Tricky thing for a telepath isn’t it, when you can’t read my thoughts?”

 

Her demonstrative huff revealed far more than she was willing to betray, but she was already too late, her temper had spoken volumes. His eyebrow sat raised in amusement, “Just admit you like me and we can be done with this.”

 

“Do NOT!”

 

“Tongue says differently,” he teased, invading her personal space once more.

 

“Just admit all you are interested in is a Brigant Princess with an advantageous quirk,” she countered with a defeated whimper, closing her eyes tightly once more in fear of the answer.

 

“Wanted you, before I ever knew what you were,” he confessed softly, forcing her to open her eyes and seek out the honesty of that particular statement. Still, she couldn’t forget about Tara who in a similar position had been seduced by her very own brother, only to be left behind as soon as her use was spent, all for a moment of glory that fortified his reputation for the ages.

 

“So you say,” Sookie returned unsure whether or not it was a lie. She had to admit that he was different; Eric didn’t possess Preston’s over-confidence that was widespread among many. For whatever reason, his physical superiority seemed one of proven fact rather than fabricated youthful bravado. Eric was not as accepting of his fate of true death in the way she had been before Tara’s intervention either. He was smart, rational, and calculated. Perhaps his thickly laid-on charm made her part of that strategy or she had simply become a quantity of it while he adapted to circumstances, but he proved to be the best chance of getting out of there alive. “I will just have to trust in that,” she sighed, before adding thoughtfully, “In you.”

 

“You could flatter me a little by not sounding so resigned,” Eric pushed with a low chuckle.

 

“I think you’ve been flattered enough for many lifetimes,” she pointed out. “Far be it for me to add to a false tally.”

 

“False?” he snorted with an air of scorn.

 

“You know as well as I that you’re showered in false flattery more often than not once you are recognised as tribute,” she retorted while dusting off the dirt from her clothes as she rose to stand. “Don’t you ever tire of the sycophancy and platitudes? Isn’t that the reason why you enjoy the challenge over the spoils?”

 

“Perhaps,” he acquiesced while coming to stand. “Tell me of your plans, little faery.”

 

“Tell me yours,” she countered.

 

“Rip bull’s head from man’s body,” he winked with a confident stride as a brief glance was made to the emptied tunnels before his eyes fell on her again. “Have passionate primal sex with you.”[ii]

 

“You’re not going to distract me while talking nasty.”[iii]

 

“I already have,”[iv] he grinned, holding the blade she had smuggled in. A little gasp escaped her with the sudden theft from her inner thigh while he observed the item, holding it just out of her reach, using his height to his full advantage. “Naughty little faery who doesn’t play by the rules. Figures.”

 

“Says the vampire,” Sookie retorted with a huff.

 

“Care to strip search me?” he spoke lowly, sending shivers through her body that had little to do with the cool temperatures of the labyrinth. “You might find something you like.”

 

“Or not,” she seethed with little conviction.

 

His eyes twinkled with delight, ignoring her little outburst momentarily while his focus fell back on the unsheathed blade. He took an elaborate sniff, sensing the magic that resided in it, “Tell me about this.”

 

“Tara gave it to me. It’s the same blade that allowed my brother to wound the beast and debilitate it. Nothing else will kill it.”

 

“Intriguing,” he noted while testing the weight of the weapon. “You have interesting allies.”

 

“Tara has a score to settle with my brother,” Sookie offered in explanation. “She has a vested interest in my survival.”

 

He slipped the blade back in its holster before offering it in return to her. “Keep it,” she instructed, pushing it towards him. “It’s a blade that needs strength, you have more of it than I.”

 

He nodded respectfully before bending down on one knee. “I shall be your champion then,” he acknowledged from his kneeled position before she beckoned him to rise again, the small moment of decorum delighting her far more than it should.

 

“So you are.”

 

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“How long till sundown?” she asked in his loose embrace around her. It felt like hours that they had sat waiting. She had guarded him in his day death, assuring them of the best possible strength in their collective fight against the Minotaur. During the long wait she had deliberated much on the ease to which he had trusted her with his protection.

 

“Not long,” he acknowledged. She had been rather impatient from the moment he had risen, ready to seek out the Minotaur before he was forced to explain his advanced age had him awake well before the sunset.

 

“Fuck,” she whispered with a sudden widening of her eyes.

 

“Didn’t think I’d ever hear that come from your mouth,” he chuckled. “Now say cock.”

 

“Quit it!” she hissed, cheeks flaming red momentarily. “You know that feeling when you go from being the hunter to prey?”

 

“It’s been a while,” Eric smirked while pulling his thumbs against her temples to make the set frown of worry on her face disappear.

 

“Start feeling it again because it’s now,” she hissed, sensing the intent from the jumbled thoughts of the Minotaur’s mind. It was snarly and red, not unlike those of the two-natured, except the volatile threats projected from the beast somehow made it all the more unsettling for her. “We’re the last ones left and he intends to rectify that now. He’s scented us now.”

 

“How far away is he?” Eric demanded, standing like a commander devoid of all the playfulness in his personality. “We can distract him by moving.”

 

Sookie shook her head, “He knows this labyrinth better than any other, including the man that designed and built it.”

 

“You seek the advantage in letting him come to us,” he noted with an agreeable tone.

 

“If we exchange blood-,” she suggested tentatively. “He will recognise us as one,” Eric finished for her, beginning to understand the plan she had been mulling over while he rested. “Our scents will be one.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“No,” he protested suddenly when the formulations of her plans came together in his mind. “I will not use you as bait.”

 

“Wasn’t that your plan all along?”

 

“At some point, yes,” he admitted. “I dare not risk it now.”

 

“There is little opportunity now,” she pointed out. “It’s the best chance we have, we lost our advantage of hunting him down with the distraction of others. I know I taste foul-”

 

He growled at the disparagement of herself, and at the recognition that her altered plan was the best option they had, hating that it called for her to bear such risk alone against the Minotaur. “Very well,” he sighed. She eyed him warily, making her suspicious of his motives once more.

 

“If you don’t want-”

 

“I said very well!” he spoke in annoyance before sinking his fangs into his wrist and bringing it up to her lips. With a tentative grasp around his forearms she began to suck while he desperately dampened down the desire and lust it called from him with the sensation. His nose grazed over the delicate arch of her neck, savouring the promised scent briefly. A cool tongue traced the palpitating vein as it prepared itself for a painful assault of fangs. Delicately his fangs slipped in without a hint of the feared physical suffering, and with a frugal suck, he downed the tiny sip that would suffice for the exchange while the ominous sound of horns scraping against the narrow tunnel walls neared closer.

 

It was with regret that he lapped at the twin wounds, urging them closed, fearing the repercussions of being drunk on her blood that simply called for him to drink down every drop of her. “You OK?” she whispered, taking in his darkened eyes when releasing his wrist.

 

“Yeah,” he replied gruffly blocking her instantly from his side of the newly-formed bond so he wouldn’t act on the yearning of consummation the exchange had called forth in them both. Slightly hurt by the sudden expulsion, she reacted in kind barring all access to her while scrambling out of his physical hold. Before he managed to explain she had already urged him to hide in the open space where they had taken refuge, the approaching Minotaur imminently close.

 

Sookie positioned herself innocently, like a sacrificial virgin in the light of one the rare wall torches waiting for the beast to find her. The Minotaur was far larger than she imagined, leaving her to wonder briefly how he managed to move about the narrow tunnels without constantly injuring itself. A bristle escaped its nostril, puffing out steam in the cooled air in front of him before it stepped into the faint light. His human body was marred with scars, just like Tara; though he lacked the ability to mask them. Pity filled her eyes at the sight of the wounds of pain and torture alongside those inflicted by the maze itself. Only one cut was clean, and she knew it to be the one her brother had exacted. Unlike the other tormentors, Jason was not one to relish in extending death unnecessarily.

 

Yet it was the offered kindness in her eyes that angered the Minotaur, the perusal of his wounds and recognising those as the act of suppression rather than battle as any other had assumed made him lunge towards her with unparalleled rage. Her hands shot out with white light in an attempt to block him, but it did little to deter him, rather, it seemed to fuel his assault against her. Eric was left conflicted as he watched in hiding, knowing he had to wait for his opening rather than protect the object of his desire from the attack. His heart sank as he watched Sookie fly through the air barely able to recover from the impact of the fall. He held his quiet rage as the Minotaur stalked towards her as it intended to play with his food with a taught cruelty.

 

Sookie launched light ball after light ball with little impact, and as the Minotaur descended on her once more Eric could no longer contain himself, even if it wasn’t the opportunity he was hoping for. With any other he would have waited, taking the damage to her body as the cost of war with no willingness to trade that for uncertainty. He struck, taking the Minotaur by surprise, but it wasn’t enough. The blade lodged firmly in his abdomen rather than the projected heart, and though the new assailant caught the Minotaur by surprise it didn’t deter him from throwing the formidable vampire with ease into a crumbling wall before focusing on the injured faery in the far corner again.

 

A fierce battle cry escaped Eric’s lungs, thwarting the Minotaur of its intended path, and tackling it to the hard ground. They struggled while the vampire suffered several powerful blows against him. Never having suffered such pain in his human or vampire existence, yet he persevered with a conviction that he would come out on top. Despite his momentary gain, he was tossed aside to another wall once more, this time leaving himself no moment of recovery. Eric flew back against the Minotaur seconds after he came to stand erect, twisting at the blade that sat in the beast’s human abdomen. Determined to take the blade into the mythical creature’s heart. Eric struggled to do so despite his strength, and even enhanced by Sookie’s blood, he was finding it difficult to slice through where any other enemy would have been dead a thousand times over by now.

 

A surge of pain suddenly travelled through his body, with shock he took note of the eclectic cackle that surrounded him with impact. His head turned to the sight of betrayal, the cause of his impending death standing wide-eyed with the release of the most powerful surge that ever escaped her hands. “You treacherous bitch!” he screamed, wishing his last words to have at least some impact, though begrudgingly he couldn’t help but admire how well she had played the game, taking out the last two opponents in one fell swoop.

 

A frown crinkled her forehead momentarily before she screamed in return, “NOW!”

 

Confused that he wasn’t turning into million pieces of dust particles, he suddenly watched the flow of power not move to his heart but to the hand that tried against all his might to move the blade along, and with sudden agility it followed his willed path, slicing through the Minotaur’s heart, not stopping till it pulled out cleanly through the bull’s head splitting it in two with a surprising velocity. He continued to stare dumbfounded as the body fell before him to inanimate life. Not wishing to take any chances, he cut the flesh into pieces intending to set fire to them separately, so as to not make the mistake of her brother. He was about to direct Sookie to gather pieces of wood for the fire before he noticed her shallow breathing and collapsed form.

 

Tentatively he nudged her checking for her consciousness, while holding her tenderly to him, cursing internally for ignoring that newly forged bond. She gave a weak smile before hoarsely questioning, “He’s gone?”

 

“Yeah, he’s gone,” Eric answered while rocking her, he didn’t hesitate to wipe the blood of the Minotaur on the fur that sat on his shoulders before coaxing his own healing blood out of his wrist and urging a slow trickle down her throat, offering what he could afford with the many injuries he had sustained himself.

 

“I wasn’t trying to kill you,” Sookie whispered when she had swallowed all he had to give.

 

“It’s not often that is given away to a vampire,” he acknowledged of the rare surge of power the Fae protected fiercely with their life, let alone share with a mortal enemy. “Guess I should have had more trust in you.”

 

“Yeah, buddy, you should,” she grinned, still slightly loopy from the fatigue. “I’m the only one that knows the way out of here.”

 

“Is that so?” he posed with a raised brow, but the effect was already lost on her as she snored softly against his chest. He played momentarily with the tendrils of her hair before covering her with his cloak, and tending to the fire that eliminated the last of the Minotaur. He found a small well of water and carefully washed off the grime from his body while waiting for Sookie to stir.

 

“Hi,” she whispered, taking in his observing gaze while the shadows of flames danced across his face, his predatory perusal of her in such a vulnerable position should have unnerved her, but instead she reached out for his hand in aid, seeking comfort. He helped her sit up, aware of her still-weakened state.

 

“We should get of here,” he urged, mindful of the sun that would be up soon and her need for nourishment. He too, was looking worse for wear and was in desperate need of fresh blood.

 

Sookie nodded in agreement while removing the cloak from her body to return it. “Keep it,” he urged and she gratefully wrapped it around herself before leading the way through the many tunnels of the maze, following the magical twine as it revealed itself to her. They walked companionably while she regaled the tale of her brother and Tara that allowed themselves to find the entrance to the labyrinth with ease. Incidentally, he would block her vision of the brutal aftermath of all the death and destruction that had occurred in the violence of confined spaces, some by his hand, and others by hers.

 

“Here we are,” she spoke in a lower tone than she had anticipated when they came to the closed door that locked them all in not so long ago. “What now, Eric Northman, eldest of the Eldest?” she questioned looking at their entwined hands. She couldn’t remember when that happened, but as soon as it had, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to hold the hand of a mortal enemy so affectionately. Here in this labyrinth they had found one another and worked together, but there were no such guarantees for the world that lay beyond that door.

 

“Now, Princess Brigant of the Fae,” he began, acknowledging the crux of possible divide with her full title, just as she had with him before quieting. Eric regarded the hand that sat so comfortably in his for a moment before he moved closer towards her, his free hand caressing the side of her face gently before pulling her to him with a hold around her waist. “Now,” Eric whispered before finding her lips with ease, “my little faery, the real challenge begins.”

 

linebreak2

 

[i] Dialogue from True Blood S03E10

[ii] Dialogue from True BloodS03E02

[iii] Dialogue from True BloodS03E02

[iv] Dialogue from True BloodS03E02

Historical notes:

  1. “In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a monster with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. The Minotaur was the offspring of the Cretan Queen Pasiphae and a majestic bull. Due to the Minotaur’s monstrous form, King Minos ordered the craftsman, Daedalus, and his son, Icarus, to build a huge maze known as the Labyrinth to house the beast. The Minotaur remained in the Labyrinth receiving annual offerings of youths and maidens to eat. He was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.” [Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Minotaur/]
  1. The relationship between Jason and Tara is loosely based on the story of Theseus and Ariadne.

“[…] One year, the sacrificial party included Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, who volunteered to come and kill the Minotaur. Ariadne fell in love at first sight, and helped him by giving him a sword and a ball of thread, so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

She eloped with Theseus after he achieved his goal, but according to Homer “he had no joy of her, for ere that, Artemis slew her in seagirt Dia because of the witness of Dionysus” (Odyssey XI, 321-5). Homer does not expand on the nature of Dionysus’ accusation, but the Oxford Classical Dictionary speculates that she was already married to Dionysus when Theseus ran away with her.

In Hesiod and most other accounts, Theseus abandoned Ariadne sleeping on Naxos, and Dionysus rediscovered and wedded her. In a few versions of the myth,[6] Dionysus appeared to Theseus as they sailed away from Crete, saying that he had chosen Ariadne as his wife, and demanded that Theseus leave her on Naxos for him; this has the effect of absolving the Athenian culture-hero of desertion. The vase-painters of Athens often showed Athena leading Theseus from the sleeping Ariadne to his ship.” [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariadne]

  1. “Aphrodite (Venus) is the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty and desire.” [Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Aphrodite/]

 

  1. “Dionysus (Bacchus) is the ancient Greek god of wine, merriment, and theatre.” [Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Dionysos/]

 

Further Reading:

http://www.ancient.eu/Minotaur/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minotaur

http://www.theoi.com/Ther/Minotauros.htmllinebreak2

 

A/N: Thanks for everyone who took the time to read all the entries and went out and voted and left comments behind. Thoughts welcome as ever! 

 

Special thanks to msbuffy who polished away all the blemishes on this!

19 thoughts on “The Challenge

  1. Challenge indeed! I loved this story! What a creative tale. It sort of reminded me of hunger games in a way when they were killing each other and surviving and such. I’m glad Eric and Sookie teamed up and survived!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I enjoyed writing it even if it was an afternoon of supposed holiday planning hijacked by an evil muse. Thanks so much for organising the competition!

      I never read or saw the Hunger Games but what I vaguely know of the synopsis I’ve always assumed this is the myth they’ve loosely based it on. Of course Sookie and Eric had to survive but it’s all the more fun that they needed each other to do so!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed this story so much and I too hope that at sometime you and your Muse will might have a thought or two on this couple’s future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it! Yeah me and Musey pants aren’t feeling this one so much but between here, the contest page and ff.net I’ll reconsider if I feel like persuing this beyond the single shot.

      Like

  3. This was one of my favs from the contest. I’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology. Love the banter between Eric and Sookie. You did such a fantadtic job creating this world! Like some of the others suggested, if you and your muse decided to add another one shot to this (or more!) I definitely wouldn’t be oppsoed to reading it! lol. Thanks so much for all the wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aw thanks… I got distracted while looking at holiday destinations and this came out. I always love the banter between those two, Eric really is incorrigible even in ancient Greece… yeah musey pants will consider it. Welcome for the wonderful!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I can attest to the fact that it was VERY hard to vote on that contest as the quality overall was excellent… And I normally hate period pieces… I did love The Challenge and as i said in my review un-influenced by my fangirlism for all things hisviks…

    ‘Loved it! Noble but also badass Sookie teaming up with rakish Eric and kicking minotaur’s ass…. Great adventure story with happy (and promising!) ending… I could read more adventures of this duo against the world… But works great as a one-shot too’

    Like

  5. Loved it! So amazingly well written! Such original and in-depth characters! It went by so quickly. But I guess that’s one thing that makes a great story. That you forget you’re reading a fictional story until you reach the end and then you’re sorry it went by so fast. Damn, can never get enough of these two and your writing just makes me miss them all the more!

    Liked by 1 person

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