Dozens of voices picked up the command, turning it into a
chant. "Drink," they all shouted at the thief. Everyone else
had already taken their turn, pledging their allegiance to
Klaus's army by drinking his blood. Klaus let them think the
gesture was symbolic—what was the point in letting them all
know they'd be vampires by the end of the night? That'd only
result in an unnecessary struggle, and Klaus never did
anything to make his life harder.
The energy in the room was at a steady thrum, and it felt as
if the very blood in his veins vibrated with the cries of men.
Klaus had outgrown the family mansion, shedding it in favor of
a roomy four-story garrison in the center of town. It was a
more fitting place for his new calling—a place of war.
There had to be a hundred new recruits in the large main hall,
banging their tankards on the long wooden tables and shouting
encouragement to the next victim. Klaus sat alone on a dais,
where he had received each of his subjects in turn. One was a
whore from the Southern Spot, the oldest brothel in New
Orleans and, by Klaus's estimation, still the best. She'd run
afoul of the madam and been thrown out. But she'd refused to
go quietly—showing some real fire and a surprisingly creative
vocabulary. Another was a bandit who'd been rounded up by the
Spanish soldiers who patrolled the countryside—and who had
handed him over to Klaus for a small fee. The youngest were a
fresh crop of runaways who'd been discovered scavenging in one
of Klaus's warehouses near the harbor. He'd convinced the
teenagers that they'd have a much better life working for him
than begging for scraps.
The last recruit to drink was the thief. José had been caught
with one hand in the safe of the Southern Spot. The manager, a
hothead whom Klaus suspected might be doing some skimming of
his own, had wanted to kill the man and dump his body in the
river. But Klaus had an eye for potential—he could spot those
who were loyal. All Klaus needed to give him was a new life, a
new family, and a new mission. That might have seemed like an
impossible gift to give, but not for an Original vampire.
Drinking blood was a gruesome way to pledge allegiance, but
the extreme nature of the hazing was a sure way to have
volunteers begging to join Klaus's cause. Everyone in the hall
understood that being a part of Klaus's army would require
dangerous things. That was the appeal. And Klaus had no use
for an army that wasn't ready to die for him.
It hadn't always been like this—his mad thirst for ultimate
control and power. Klaus's past self would have traded the
entire city for a life with Vivianne Lescheres, but he
understood now that it was never meant to be. If he couldn't
have her, he would rule New Orleans, and the werewolves—his
"co-rulers" for the past twenty-two years—would consider
themselves lucky if he stopped there. Without love, power was
the only prize left that was worth fighting for … . and, as it
happened, Elijah himself was distracted by love at that very
moment, inally giving Klaus the chance to take what was
If the gossip among the Southern Spot's laundresses was to be
believed, Elijah was entertaining a little side romance. At
the moment, Klaus didn't care who his brother spent his time
with, as long as it kept Elijah out of his way. He was sure
the tantalizing news would come in handy just when he needed
it to, but for now, it was Klaus's little secret. Since his
older brother couldn't fully dedicate himself to controlling
their city, Klaus would do it—and he would do it in his own
way, as he should have from the start. The werewolves were
coming, and Klaus was determined to strike irst and in force.
Peacetime was boring, anyway. Klaus had spent the last twenty
years building his family's fortune to levels that rivaled a
king's. He had become the foremost merchant in the city, and
there was no trade route out of New Orleans that his ships
didn't sail. He had risen as high as anyone could in a city at
peace, and it still wasn't enough. Conquest was what Klaus was
good at, what he was destined for. Everything else was just a
distraction, and Klaus was done with those.
Fortunately, a new enemy had presented itself just when Klaus
was ready to go looking for one. As if the werewolves' role in
Vivianne's two deaths wasn't enough of an insult, they'd grown
particularly bold in recent weeks. There had been daytime
raids on the Mikaelsons' businesses, and frequent sneak
attacks on their warehouses and ships. Now Guillaume, one of
the humans whose eyes and ears Klaus relied on, informed him
that the werewolves were poised to strike directly at the
As part of a pact, Elijah had generously given the Collado
wolves a foothold in the city, even after they had failed to
stop an army of dead witches. And yet, instead of showing
gratitude, the werewolves had spent the last two decades
grasping for more and more. There was no reasoning with them,
and the disastrous failure of Elijah's peaceful diplomacy was
more than enough proof of that. As long as the vampires were
forced to share and negotiate, true power would never be
theirs. The only solution was to wipe out their rivals, as
Klaus had wanted to do from the night he had irst arrived on
Klaus stared down at the thief who knelt before him, ready to
use compulsion if he tried to bolt. José had sharp, angular
features, with a pointed nose, watchful blue eyes, and starkly
black hair. He couldn't have been more than nineteen, and to
Klaus's critical eye he didn't look like much. He didn't need
to, though. Klaus had more than enough power to go around.
"Drink!" his soldiers shouted, and Klaus could see the thief's
pulse beat in his throat. José lifted his shot glass and
drained it in one swallow, the blood leaving an unsightly
stain on his lips. He gagged a little as he tried to control
his disgust at the taste of the thick, warm blood. Klaus could
dimly remember feeling the same disdain, but centuries upon
centuries as a vampire had cured him of that distaste.
Becoming a vampire was a cure for any number of life's ills.
The thief looked around uncertainly, awed by the thundering
roar of approval that shook the hall. Klaus's army was in a
merry mood that night, and it was only going to get better.
Klaus studied the trembling man before him for a long moment.
With a welcoming smile, he stepped forward and snapped Jose's
neck, feeling the vertebrae pop under his ingers.
The room went silent,a hundred faces staring,mouths gaping
open in shock. The dead man collapsed to the floor in an
awkward heap, but Klaus didn't bother to watch him fall.
Instead, he leapt forward, moving faster than human eyes could
follow, reached for the neck of the nearest human, snapped it,
and then seized the next.
There was barely time for the last man to scream—a thin,
strangled sound that choked off when Klaus's hand closed
around his windpipe. He took pleasure in killing the last man
slowly, watching him struggle for air as the surrounding
bodies thumped to the ground.
The whole ordeal was over in seconds. Klaus walked among his
men and women, down along the narrow aisle that ran between
the tables. They had all been criminals and deserters, lost
until he had come along. Now they were an army of the dead.
Klaus was the only one of his siblings who seemed to realize
that the only true safety lay in power. A better network, a
bigger army, more resources, more weapons—there was no
position too strong, in Klaus's opinion. The fact that Mikael
hadn't come for them yet didn't mean he had ended his hunt.
His children—and Klaus, his hated stepson—needed to be in the
strongest position possible when Mikael appeared, and that
meant the entire city should be under their control.
The last of the brisk winter air swept through the open
courtyard and struck Klaus in the face. The night was
promising; he could feel it. Klaus's vampire blood was already
getting to work, changing and reforming the men and women,
dragging them toward an entirely new kind of life. By the
following night, he would have a hundred new vampires in his
army, all of them fanatically loyal to Klaus and Klaus alone.