“She is still alive, I trust?” the ancient vampiress asked, though her tone told Niall that she already knew the answer.
“Yes, she is sleeping,” Niall said—without his characteristic chuckle. His own tone was very serious—challenging even. “But I was almost too late; she was slipping away from even the Viking.”
The Ancient Pythoness brushed his comment off with a small movement of her hand. “I sent you when you needed to be sent—at the proper time.”
Niall’s frustration was clear. “You sent me when it was almost too late to save her—when it was too late to get to Hadley.”
The Ancient Pythoness looked up at Niall with cold eyes. “Hunter’s mother was not my concern. And if Sookie and Eric are to live, then the timing of your arrival needed to be exact. If you begin to question my ways now, fairy, then all will be lost.”
Niall sighed heavily. During his long association with the vampiress in front of him, he’d come to learn that her methods were often questionable, and her ultimate plans stayed her own. Oh—she’d given him snippets of information about the future and had helped him at times, but she always kept most of her knowledge to herself.
Niall sighed and his tone became conciliatory. “It was a risk. Ten more seconds and Claudette would have killed her.”
“Their immediate future is nothing but risks now,” the Ancient Pythoness said with a sigh of her own. My child’s child, too, almost died as he fed her his strength.”
There were a few moments of silence between them.
“Their connection was rather magnificent to behold,” Niall said, his lips now turning up into a smile. “Unbelievable and wonderful.”
She smirked. “I imagine it would have been. Their bond is extremely strong now, but it will have to become stronger still if they are to survive.”
“Then why keep them apart?” Niall asked.
“Ah,” the Ancient Pythoness said, “you of all people should understand that separation can strengthen our bonds because it forces us to strengthen ourselves. Both are—in their own ways—going to have to grow if they hope to survive. And that growth must happen apart.”
“And they will be even stronger when they are back together?” Niall queried.
“That is my hope,” the ancient vampiress responded. After a few moments, she added, “It is my deepest hope.”
In that moment, Niall wondered if she were talking only about Sookie and Eric.
She looked at him. “You will be tempted to give into her desire to go home, but you cannot. She must not go to him yet―no matter how much that is her wish.”
Niall nodded sadly. “I understand. But what of the vampire?”
The Ancient Pythoness smirked. “He is about to have a growth-spurt―a very painful one. I, for one, will be staying away from him for the time being. Otherwise, he would likely take out his ire on me.” She chuckled. “And I do not care to be ripped to shreds, nor do I want to kill him in my own defense.”
Niall shook his head. “Sometimes, I think you enjoy playing with people.”
She shrugged. “Perhaps, but—even more—I like seeing my little cat evolve. It will make him stronger—less likely to fail in the future. And,” she smirked again, “it will be his young demon friend that will help him most tonight.”
Niall quirked a brow in her direction. “I’m sure you love the thought of that.”
“I’m sure,” she agreed.
The two stood in silence for a moment.
“You should expect Eric’s visit soon,” the ancient vampiress continued to smirk.
“I still don’t know if I believe you about that,” Niall said.
“The customary bet?” the Ancient Pythoness suggested.
Niall smiled. “Of course.” His look became more serious. “If you are right, his visit will mean even more time that they will have to be separated.”
She nodded. “All growth takes time.”
“Still—I would like to see them happy.”
“And alive,” she added.
“Yes,” the fairy said with a nod.
The Ancient Pythoness turned to go but stopped. “From your time in this realm, are you familiar with the animals—the birds—the sparrow and the crow?
Niall nodded. “Yes, both animals were common in Louisiana.”
“Through my long years, I have seen many things, but one of my favorites involves a sparrow and a crow.”
Niall quirked a brow.
The vampiress spoke in an almost dream-like tone. “It was just before dawn one morning in the spring—perhaps fifty years ago. I was making a visit to my child, Godric. That is when I saw it.” Niall noticed that her eyes were gleaming at the memory. “A crow was looking for food, and he had found the nest of a sparrow. Of course, crows are wise and large; they are true predators. And sparrows are smaller, but I have read much of them since that morning, and I have discovered that they are quite adaptable and tenacious.”
She smiled. “The crow sung out his pleasure at finding the boon of the sparrow’s nest, but,” her smile turned into a chuckle, “the sparrow was having none of it. While the female stayed bravely in the nest to protect their eggs, the male pursued the stronger bird. Against all of the expected laws of nature, the sparrow chased away the crow, and the nest was protected.” She paused and looked at Niall. “Our young ones have the biggest crow of all yet to face.”
With that, she disappeared into the night.
Niall stood silent for a moment. “And they are the sparrows.” He closed his eyes and sent a quick prayer to those who watched over him from the Summerlands. He asked that his great-granddaughter and her chosen one could do as the sparrows had done and chase away the crow.