“Again, Sookie! And I know you have more power than this!” Niall insisted.
“I can’t,” Sookie said gasping for air. “I’m too damned tired.”
Niall shook his head as he gestured for Claude to stop his attack. “How often must I repeat this, Sookie? There is no ‘tired.’ With fairy magic, there is no wearing out. If you take your magic from its true source, it is truly limitless.”
“But I am taking my magic from my fairy bond with Eric,” Sookie insisted—just as she had been insisting for the last week.
“Yes,” Niall agreed, “you have been trying to take your power from there, and that has helped you. However, you are still not meeting your potential, child.” He sighed. “Where did your magical bursts come from when you were in Mab’s palace?”
Sookie looked at him with a bit of confusion. “From the fairy bond.”
“Yes,” Niall agreed with some impatience. “But the bursts of energy. How were they so strong?”
“They had Eric’s magic in them too,” Sookie said.
“How?” Niall asked.
It was Sookie’s turn to be impatient. It seemed like she had been rehashing what had happened at Mab’s palace with Niall all week long, yet she was not progressing with her skills to Niall’s satisfaction—or her own, for that matter. She took a deep breath and tried to speak calmly. “Eric was sending me his magic, and since he was by the pool, I felt it very strongly.”
“Yes,” Niall agreed. “I felt his magic flowing directly from him to you that day. If you wish to achieve the power you had at Mab’s palace again, you must tap into your shared strength more efficiently—as you were doing that day.”
“Okay,” Sookie said with even more frustration, “but how can I recreate that when he’s not here to send me his energy, especially since you won’t let me,” she stopped and pouted a little.
“Cheat?” Niall chuckled. “Sookie, you have already learned to bring forth your magic from the fairy bond, which is excellent, but you must now learn to fuel that magic on your own—with your own spark. You cannot always count on Eric’s strength.”
Sookie mumbled. “I could if you’d let me.”
Niall shook his head but chuckled again. “I will not allow you to cheat, Sookie, and calling upon Eric’s strength from here was cheating.”
“You said it was ‘amazing’ at the time,” Sookie said, using air quotes around ‘amazing.’ She was still clearly sulking.
Niall corrected her. “I said that the fact that he woke himself up to send it to you during his daytime was amazing. I never said that your asking him for that magic was amazing.”
Sookie put her hands on her hips. “But I didn’t even know that I was doin’ it. I didn’t even think it was possible to do it.”
Niall shrugged. “Neither did I, but that didn’t stop the fact that you were and it was.”
Sookie’s pout grew comically bigger. “I still can’t believe you went to see him about it—as if I couldn’t just tell him in one of our dreams or somethin’?”
Niall chortled. “He needed to understand that he could not continue to help you. And if you remember, I did give you two nights to speak to him before I went to visit.”
Sookie grumbled, “But he couldn’t help it either.”
“Yes he could,” Niall chuckled. “It simply went against his nature not to send you help when you asked―just as it went against your nature not to seek it―but once he understood that he should give you no aid, he stopped.” He chuckled again. “Not that you quit asking.”
“I know,” Sookie said with exasperation. “I can’t help it.”
“Luckily, young Eric has a bit more self-control—but just a bit.” He winked at her.
In turn, she rolled her eyes. “Okay—fine. I get the concept. I’m supposed to see the fairy bond as the source of my power, but I’m supposed to draw on my own spark to refuel it, but that’s easier said than done.”
Niall shrugged. “Then you will have to continue practicing until you can do it.”
Sookie’s voice once again betrayed her frustration. “I can do it when you aren’t making me do twenty other things at the same time.”
Niall smirked. “In battle, you must be able to do many things—sometimes all at once.”
Sookie once again rolled her eyes. She’d done that so much lately that Niall feared they might actually pop out of her head.
“I know,” she relented. “Eric said the same thing.”
“Young Eric is wise in the ways of battle.”
“But,” Sookie started, “I can’t keep firing at something when I’m holding Claude still with my force field thingy. It’s too much all at once!”
“Why?” Niall asked. “Is it because it is or because you think it is?”
Sookie scoffed. “Stop sounding like Morpheus!”
Niall chuckled. “I have told you before that I am not trying to. The fictional character you speak of was imagined long after I existed, so it is actually he who sounds like me—if anything.”
There was another eye roll. “I can’t believe that you and Eric watched the frickin’ Matrix together when you went to talk to him.”
“Well,” Niall shrugged. “I needed to understand the reference, and he was quite accommodating. I just regret not planning better so that I could see Hunter or meet Jason during my visit to your home.”
Sookie mumbled something under her breath.
“I could not quite make that out, my dear,” Niall said with a mix of mirth and sarcasm.
Sookie grumbled, “It wasn’t fair that you got to see him in person and not me.”
Niall looked at her sympathetically. “I know, child. But I needed to speak to him, and I cannot bring him here—as you well know.”
“I know,” Sookie said with a mixture of sadness and irritation.
Niall gave Sookie a moment to compose herself. He could sense her frustration. And he knew that she’d been trying very hard to learn how to use her magic on her own, but it had been difficult for her.
Finally, when she seemed calmer, he asked gently. “Now, my dear, is it too difficult to hold Claude back while you attempt to attack because your power truly is limited? Or are you having trouble believing that you can do it?”
Sookie shook her head. “I honestly don’t know.”
Niall smiled at her kindly. “Let’s try again.”
Sookie squared her shoulders, and a look a determination passed across her face. “Okay.”
Niall nodded. “Good. Now―Claude will try to attack again, and you will put a field around him.”
“Okay,” Sookie said as Claude came toward her. She was easily able to contain him with the magical barrier she constructed.
“Excellent!” Niall said. “Now—try shooting the tree at the same time. Remember to use short, controlled bursts, but keep them going.”
Sookie obeyed and began shooting the tree with her light, but after a few moments, she felt that the field around Claude was slipping, and then suddenly she couldn’t hold it anymore.
“Damn,” she cried out. “It’s just too tiring, Niall. I can’t do both!”
Niall smiled a little even as he shook his head, “Are you tired right now?”
Sookie assessed the way she felt. “No.”
Satisfied by her answer, Niall nodded. “Good—then your magic was not really draining you. Sookie, you cannot forget to take the magic for the force field―as you call it—and your light from the same source. They are not different. They are merely different renderings of the same thing.”
Sookie sighed, frustration clearly showing on her face again. “But it’s not working like that. I have to think different things to make each of them work, so it’s hard to do both at once.”
“That’s true―you must think of using the power in two different ways, but you will get used to it.” Niall gestured toward her heart. “Tell me again―where does your power emanate from?”
She rolled her eyes but dutifully pointed to her fairy bond with Eric.
Niall nodded. “Keep the stream of magic flowing from your bond, Sookie. Just use your head to direct it.”
Sookie shook her head. “But I can’t do that and use my light at the same time. I’ve been trying!” she insisted. “But I can’t do all those things at once.”
Niall smirked. “Do not tell me this, child. I know that you can think of more than one thing at a time. Even now, I imagine that your mind is doing several things.” He tilted his head and gestured toward hers, “May I?”
She nodded warily.
Niall delved into Sookie’s thoughts. He smiled a bit too triumphantly for Sookie’s tastes.
“Right now, you’re thinking about how you hate someone being able to rummage in your thoughts, you’re keeping your shields up so that you won’t accidentally eavesdrop on anyone here, you’re trying to hide what you did with your mate in your dream last night so that I cannot see―and you are doing a good job of that, by the way, so you needn’t blush—and, most ironically of all, you are wondering how you can be expected to do two things at once when you can’t even walk and chew gum at that same time. Moreover, you are having a laugh with yourself over the fact that you can walk and chew gum at the same time, and you wish Eric was here so that you could share that laugh with him. Does that about sum it up, Great-granddaughter?”
She looked up at him with an expression of half-realization and half-irritation.
He chuckled. “Do you not see that you can think many things at once―have been training your brain to think and to do many things at once by the almost-constant use of your shields—for many, many years? Now, you need only use those same skills with your new-found powers.”
Niall looked at Claude and seemed to be speaking to him in his head.
“Again,” Niall ordered.
Claude came at Sookie more aggressively this time. As before, Sookie stopped him with what she had been calling her ‘force field.’
“Now,” Niall said, “shoot the tree.”
Sookie raised her hand to her target and shot it with her light.
“Again and faster. Keep going!” Niall commanded.
Sookie took a deep breath and shot her light into the tree, several times―thinking of her bond with Eric each time. However, she felt her hold on Claude slipping again. “Wait!” she yelled.
Niall held up his hand for Claude to stop approaching and looked at Sookie with frustration again. “In battle, there is no waiting.”
She shook her head. “Listen—something is not working, and I need to think about this stuff for a little while, okay? Please.”
Niall gave her a curt nod. “It is almost our meal time anyway. Perhaps a fresh start tomorrow would be good for us all.”
Sookie looked down at the ground. She hated disappointing Niall. But even more, she hated the fact that she couldn’t just learn this stuff and get back to Eric. She was disappointed in herself, truth be told. And she was impatient.
“Thanks,” she said apologetically to Niall. “I just need a plan because trying to do all this stuff by instinct isn’t workin’ for me.”
Niall’s expression softened. “The use of your power will have to become second-nature to you, child. But if you need to strategize for now, then so be it.” He smiled a little. “I suppose that you will want to talk it over with young Eric in your dream tonight.”
Niall’s smile brightened. “Good. Tell him hello from me, and explain your difficulties. I am sure that―together—you can come up with a solution.”
Niall turned to walk toward where Hadley was sitting with her new friend, Martha, whom she had met two days after their arrival in the ‘in-between place.’ Martha was also pregnant, and like Hadley, that pregnancy had been the product of rape.
Claude reached over and put a comforting hand on Sookie’s arm. In turn, she gave him a little smile.
Claude ‘knocked’ on her shields, which he would do when he wanted to speak to her telepathically. Sookie appreciated the gesture. Niall still just ‘barged in’ with his thoughts when he wanted to speak to her that way.
In the last week, Claude had been much more successful at acclimating to human notions of privacy than her great-grandfather—which Sookie thought was ironic given the fact that Niall had lived with a human for over a decade. However, Sookie knew that Claude’s drive to learn about and respect human preferences was motivated mostly by his affection for Hadley.
She gave Claude a little nod to let him know that he was welcome to talk to her telepathically.
“Try not to become too frustrated with yourself, Sookie,” the fairy told her. “I think you are doing very well.”
Sookie shook her head. “Well—Niall certainly doesn’t seem to agree. And I really can’t keep my force field thing up while I am trying to attack something. I’m trying my hardest, but it just won’t work.”
Claude patted her arm again. “But you are getting better, Sookie. Do not forget that I am the one trying to break down your power field, and it is getting more and more difficult to do by the day.”
She smiled at him. “Thanks, Claude.”
Sookie was starting to appreciate Claude very much. In a lot of ways, his steady energy reminded her of Jesus. And amidst her frustrations of the last several days, he had been a calming presence. On the other hand, Niall seemed prone to as much frustration as Sookie was, and though he didn’t have a short fuse to his temper like she did, she would find herself becoming increasingly irritated with her great-grandfather as their training sessions went on. Of course, that irritation stemmed mostly from the fact that she wasn’t progressing as quickly as she wanted to.
Claude smiled comfortingly and continued in her head. “He is a good teacher and leader, and I have always thought he was an excellent father—though he would likely disagree on that point. I know that he is very proud of you, but he is also worried about you and the vampire.”
Sookie nodded. “I know. Me too.”
Claude smirked. “Plus, you and my father are much alike. I believe humans call the trait stubbornness?”
Sookie rolled her eyes.
Claude laughed out loud and then continued speaking into her head. “Yes—and you are both impatient. I am not sure which of you is worse.”
Sookie shrugged and gave Claude a wry smile. “I just wanna get this training done so that I can get home and help Eric with whatever threat is comin’.”
Claude nodded. “I know, Sookie, but try not to stifle yourself because of your frustrations. You have accomplished much in a short amount of time. I cannot believe that you have already learned to use a power field, for instance. Just think of what you were able to do with it the day before yesterday—and on your first try too!”
Sookie smiled. She had been rather proud of herself for her accomplishments that day. She had been learning about her force field—what Claude and Niall termed her power field. It turned out that her force field was quite useful and that she had already used it before—by instinct. In Mab’s palace, she had wondered why the other fairies had been unable to hit her with their light bursts. Sookie had thought that somehow Eric’s magic had been protecting her, and she was right to a certain extent; his magic—it seemed—had been the catalyst to activate yet another latent fairy power inside of her that day. Her force field could protect her from the magic of enemies. According to Niall, it could keep an enemy from being able to touch her, and she knew by experience that it could deflect an enemy’s light bursts.
From the book she had been reading, Hadley had told Sookie that the power field was a trait found only in powerful Sky Fae because it was a manipulation of the ‘air.’ Hadley had also explained that a Fae gift was like a weight with two ends, so there would be complementary powers associated with each ability. Thus, with Sookie’s force field, she could keep others out, but she could also ‘keep them in’ in a way. In other words, she could keep them from moving—freeze them in their tracks. That is what Niall had done to Eric that day he’d come to the pool.
Hadley had also informed Sookie that the force field could be used to protect another. Thus, in theory, Sookie could construct one to go around another person. This was seen as the ‘midpoint’ between the two sides of the Fae gift; it was something of a mix between putting a shield around someone else in order to ‘freeze’ him or her and putting a shield around herself for self-protection.
And after Hadley had told her about the various ways her new ability could be used, Sookie had been able to do all of them when she had practiced the day before yesterday. Niall had already taught her how to put up a force field around herself, but being able to visualize the complementary ways to use this ability enabled her to make her field stronger; in fact, neither Claude nor Niall could touch her or pelt her with their light once she’d protected herself with her shield. Then, she’d learned how to keep Claude relatively still by creating a power field around him. Finally, she’d modified that field to make it protective, and she was happy when Niall couldn’t shoot Claude with his light or approach him. Yes—Sookie had been extremely proud of herself for about five minutes—until Niall had wanted her to construct fields around both herself and Claude at the same time. That part hadn’t gone so well.
Claude was speaking inside of her head again. “Sookie, you must not concentrate on what you cannot do yet. I think you should concentrate on what you have been able to do. A week ago, you did not even know that you could construct a power field. And a week ago, you did not know that you could project thoughts into the minds of others. Now, you are doing both with relative ease.”
Claude looked at Sookie sincerely, “I am proud of the work you have accomplished—proud that you are my kin. And though he does not express it clearly at times, I know that Niall is proud of you as well.”
“I know,” Sookie admitted. “I can hear it from his head sometimes, but I think that we both want me to be progressing faster.”
Claude nodded. “I understand that things are difficult for you because you have the added pressure of knowing that your presence and abilities will be required to ensure the lives of the vampire and yourself.”
Sookie sighed and also nodded. She looked at Claude with her head tilted a bit. Claude had already figured out that this gesture meant that Sookie had a question that she wasn’t sure she should ask.
He gave her a little smile. “You may ask me whatever you wish, Sookie.”
She took a deep breath, and continued their telepathic communication. “Why don’t you hate Eric—or me, for that matter? If it weren’t for us, you’d,” Sookie stopped mid-sentence.
“I would have two sisters?”
Claude sighed. “After I learned that Claudine died, I admit that my first thought was to exact revenge upon your vampire. However, my father then told me how Claudine died, and I learned of my mother’s involvement.” He looked at Sookie apologetically. “When you first came to this place—before I understood that you crave your privacy—I searched your mind for memories of Claudine’s death.” He looked down sadly. “I saw your vampire kill her in seconds.” Claude once again sighed. “However, I also looked at the events that led up to her death. I know that she came to take you again. I know that you did not want to go. I saw the desperation on my sister’s face as she tried to convince you.”
He shook his head sadly. “Using telepathy, fairies can sense if a vampire is near. We cannot read their thoughts, but we can sense them.”
Sookie said, “Yes, I know.”
Claude continued, “I have analyzed your memory, Sookie. There is only one reason why Claudine did not wait until day to come to you. There is only one reason why she would be that desperate to take you. There was only one reason why she would not have left immediately once she sensed a vampire presence near enough to scent her. My mother.” He paused. “Mab had Claudine’s husband, Ryan, imprisoned.”
Sookie nodded. “Niall told me.”
The fairy went on, “Ryan was what you would call my closest friend. Claudine and I were also very close.”
Sookie touched Claude’s arm sympathetically.
Claude took Sookie’s hand, looking for comfort as he continued speaking, “The desperate look on Claudine’s face when she tried to convince you to go with her told me all I need to know about that day. Mab is the reason she was there; I’m sure that Mab was threatening Ryan, whom Claudine loved very much. And once Claudine was dead, Mab also killed Ryan.”
Sookie squeezed Claude’s hand.
Claude’s tone became angrier. “Claudine came to you because of my mother’s hatred, and my father is right; your vampire—especially in his state at the time—couldn’t control his instincts. So I will not hold Claudine’s death against him, and I cannot hold Claudette’s against him either. She was the aggressor, and he was protecting his kin. I would have done the same.”
Sookie gave Claude a grateful smile. “You are a good man, Claude. I am proud that you are my kin as well.”
Claude returned her smile. “Truth be told, I have many reasons to like your vampire—though I have not officially met him. He is a good father to Hadley’s child. He is a good husband to you. So I guess that makes him my kin too.”
Sookie smiled again at Claude. “Yes—I guess it does.”