It was January 31, 2011 when Sookie voluntarily walked into Faerie with her great-grandfather. And she was determined to knock out whatever training Niall wanted her to do quickly so that the calendar would not move too far past that date.
Intelligently, Niall had warned Sookie that they wouldn’t just go into Faerie and start shooting off her power. Before that, she would need to allow herself to feel that she was a part of the fairy realm in order to learn to access her power at will. He had also asked her to trust him even if she disagreed with the way he was going about things.
Sookie had promised―to try. She wanted to trust Niall’s lead when it came to her training, and she was grateful to him. Before they’d left the “in-between place,” she’d once again vowed that she would give him one hour. But she also wanted to return home as quickly as possible.
To say that she was torn was an understatement.
Sookie’s greatest worry was that an hour wouldn’t be long enough. However, Niall had promised her that he would have her back to the “in-between” place before that hour had been spent. He’d simply asked for her trust in exchange for that promise.
And she was doing her best. But trust was hard for her; it always had been. The only being whom she’d ever been able to give her trust to fully was her husband.
As soon as they were inside Faerie proper, Niall “popped” them to a village—the place where Niall kept his own “palace” of sorts. Sookie noticed immediately that Niall’s residence was a lot more modest than Mab’s had been. It was actually more like a collection of buildings―with a somewhat larger one in the middle―than a palace. And there was a bustling village around the residence. Whereas Mab’s palace had made Sookie feel trapped and claustrophobic, the openness of Niall’s dwelling made her feel “free” in a sense.
“Open yourself to this place, Great-Granddaughter,” Niall said quietly. “Feel the magic of this realm; let it fill you.”
Sookie took a deep breath. “I’ll try my hardest.”
Niall smiled. “That is all I ask of you, my dear.”
They passed by many fairies in the huge courtyard as they made their way to Niall’s private chambers. Sookie noticed that only about half of the fairies she saw bothered with keeping their image glamour in place, and all of them were simply dressed—as opposed to the showy dresses that Claudine had always worn and that Sookie had seen on Mab’s people.
However, notwithstanding the exterior looks of these people, Sookie picked up a lot of interior contentment coming from them. Sookie could feel their minds buzzing happily as they went about their day-to-day tasks. Everyone acknowledged Niall as they passed―mostly through telepathic greetings with little nods or smiles attached—and it was clear that they loved and respected their leader.
As they were about to go inside, Hadley exited the dwelling, almost running into Sookie. Excitedly, Hadley gave Sookie a firm hug. Katherine was with her, smiling brightly as always.
Though Sookie was distracted by the nagging sensation that she needed to be doing more—needed to be training even then—she listened for a couple of minutes as Hadley quickly told her about all the amazing things that had happened to her in the few hours that she’d been in Faerie.
Sookie was happy for Hadley, mostly because her cousin seemed so happy herself. She was buzzing about the people she was going to be working with as well as her new room in Niall’s house; however, Sookie had noticed that the first thing out of her cousin’s mouth had been a question about how Claude was. That question had made Sookie feel a lot better and had warmed her to Hadley more than she’d been before.
In truth—no matter what—Sookie knew that she still had mixed feelings about her cousin; she wondered if that ambivalence would ever truly go away. She hoped so―for Claude’s sake and for Hunter’s most of all.
However, Sookie truly was very happy for Hadley; clearly, there was now an easiness in her cousin’s demeanor that she had never seen before. Hadley said a quick goodbye as Niall ushered them through a door.
Niall led Sookie to a library of sorts where there was some food set up. He gestured for her to sit.
Sookie closed her eyes and steeled herself. She’d vowed to do things Niall’s way once they were inside Faerie, and even though catching up with people, trying to feel magic, and sitting down to have a snack seemed like big wastes of time to her—because every single minute meant so much longer for Eric—she was determined to do as Niall said. She’d promised both her great-grandfather and her husband that she would.
She took the offered chair and the offered drink. Niall smiled at her and took a chair opposite her.
“Do you feel them?” he asked, closing his eyes.
Sookie looked a bit confused. “Eric? Hunter?”
Niall smiled. “Yes. They will always be at your center, but try to feel the others; try to feel those who are in this place.”
“How?” she asked.
Niall opened one eye and looked at her. “Just try, my dear, and you will.”
Sookie stifled the urge to run back to the “in-between place” and closed her eyes, trying to feel whatever Niall was feeling. It took a minute or two, but she finally began to relax, and when that happened, she felt and “heard” not just the minds of the fairies outside, but a swirl of magic coming from each of them. That magic seemed to be reaching outward, connecting all of the fairies together in a way. To Sookie, it seemed like a kaleidoscope which had come to life; it was quite literally “alive.”
The magic of those around her seemed to be gathering into a centralized core—with energy bouncing into and rebounding off of all the fairies, strengthening them all. For a moment, she felt herself become part of that whole.
Sookie opened her eyes and looked at Niall with surprise.
He was looking back at her with pride in his own eyes. He smiled, “I have told you that all fairies are connected through magic—that we are all related. It is difficult to understand unless you are here and can feel it for yourself.”
“I didn’t feel anything like this at Mab’s palace,” Sookie observed.
Niall shook his head sadly, “You would not have. She discourages the kind of freedom and mixing that happens here, but I allow the people that live under me—both here and in all other parts of my domain—to live freely as long as others are not hurt by their actions.”
The smile returned to his face. “And that freedom includes the connection you feel now. As you have likely intuited, this kind of magic strengthens the whole. Mab does not like the equality of power this sharing creates. She thirsts to be the most powerful so that she can retain control, but that is not my way.” He paused and frowned. “When we lived together, Mab and I often disagreed about this topic.”
Sookie nodded and took another drink. “What’s this?” she asked of the delicious beverage.
“Ah,” Niall said. “That is the juice of the light fruit.”
Sookie coughed and looked at Niall with accusation and confusion. “Light fruit?”
Niall chuckled, “Do not worry, dear. If this drink had the power to keep you here, don’t you think that your body would have rejected it as before?”
Uncertainly, Sookie looked down at the cup.
Niall chuckled again. “I wanted you to have the nectar because that is the part of the fruit that bolsters the magic within us. It is only the skin of the fruit that would cause one to be tied to this world. I would never entrap you, child. Katherine herself took great care in carefully preparing this drink for you.”
Sookie looked at her great-grandfather suspiciously, “Why didn’t you tell me what I was drinkin’ before?”
Niall smiled, “The better question is why you didn’t ask in the first place.”
Sookie thought for a moment, “I guess I read your thoughts before I tasted it. You weren’t hiding anything and you weren’t misleading me.”
“Exactly,” Niall said chuckling yet again. “Even after all this time, you are very careful about me, Great-granddaughter―though I do not blame you for this. But I hope that you will one day learn to trust me fully.” He chuckled. “Even your vampire trusts me more than you do.”
She looked warily at him. “He doesn’t know you as well.”
Niall chuckled louder. “Perhaps not.”
Sookie narrowed her eyes. “Just now—I heard something. You want me to stay here—in Faerie. You don’t want me to go back to the human realm—not at all.”
“Of course I want you to stay in Faerie,” Niall answered without hesitation. “Or at least part of me does. That has always been the case; you knew that already. You are my kin, and I feel a connection to you—a strong one. I would have both you and Hunter here—your vampire too―if it were possible.”
Niall smiled. “But I would have you happy more, my child, and I know that you do not fit into this place as you fit into your home.”
Sookie nodded, inhaled deeply, and took another drink of the nectar. It was delicious, and more importantly, it was not activating any trepidation within the fairy bond. And while she was still not certain of all of Niall’s motives, she did trust Eric and their bonds, and she knew that the fairy bond would fight anything that could keep them apart. Plus, she had committed herself to trusting Niall completely—or at least trying to—as long as they were in Faerie. She sighed, telling herself that he must have his reasons for having her drink the nectar, so she quickly finished it and looked up at her Great-grandfather expectantly.
“What now?” she asked, trying not to show her impatience.
Niall picked up a book from a table next to his chair.
Sookie put down her empty glass as Niall handed her the old book. She opened it and was amazed to see the pages transform in front of her. At first, they looked blank, then words which she assumed were written in the Fae language appeared, and finally those words moved themselves into English.
Niall seemed very pleased with what was happening. “This book recognizes you,” he said with pride and just a hint of surprise in his voice.
“Huh?” Sookie asked, still fascinated as the words continued to transform. Beautiful portraits of fairies also appeared on the pages.
“This is the record of the Sky Fae, the book of your people, Sookie. All Sky Fae who have ever existed are recorded within it. See?” Niall flipped to a page that had a drawing of Sookie on it. A picture of Hunter was on the opposite page.
With surprise and then fear, Sookie read about herself. The book had information about where she lived, about her bond with Eric, and about Hunter’s location. She looked up apprehensively.
“Do not fear,” Niall comforted. “This book will not allow one Sky Fae to do damage to another, so the knowledge of individuals is kept secret—sacred. Most do not even have the ability to read this book and have no idea of its existence, though as they come of age, all Sky Fae in this realm are shown the book to see if it will choose them. No one has access to this knowledge if the book does not first choose him or her.”
“Really?” Sookie asked, running her fingers down the beautiful portrait of Hunter that had appeared.
“Really,” Niall confirmed. He sighed. “It is both a burden and a reward to have this honor from our ancestors, my child.”
Still awestruck, Sookie flipped through some more pages until she reached the portrait of a beautiful fairy who looked vaguely familiar.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“You know already,” Niall smiled.
Sookie nodded as she looked at the portrait of the A.P. as a young fairy. The obvious twinkle in her eyes was the most striking feature of the image.
“Why doesn’t it give her name?” Sookie asked.
Niall sighed. “I asked the book not to,” he said sadly. “And the book has honored her by keeping her name a secret until she is ready to say it again.”
“Why?” Sookie inquired.
“It was his last word—Artegal’s last word—before he died, so she does not like to remember it.”
Niall smiled a little. “My sister was lovely when she was young—was she not?”
Sookie nodded. “Yes—beautiful.”
“But she still looks the same to me,” Niall said softly.
Sookie smiled as she read about the A.P.—who was called Carlah in the book—and her lover, Artegal. “The book seems to approve of her love,” she remarked.
“As it does yours and Eric’s, my dear,” Niall stated.
She smiled and continued reading. “She loved Artegal as much as I love Eric,” she mused.
“Yes,” Niall agreed.
“What happened to them?” she asked.
Niall looked at her with some confusion. “You know already, my dear. Artegal was murdered by my parents and has passed from his corporeal body, and my sister has become known as the Ancient Pythoness among the vampires.”
“No—I meant Artegal’s parents,” Sookie sighed; the trepidation was clear in her tone. “I admit that I keep worrying that they are going to swoop in and try to hurt Eric and me—that they might be the great enemy that the A.P. has been warnin’ us about. I reckon that if they are still alive, they would do anything to make sure their curse on the A.P. is never lifted.”
“Oh,” Niall sounded. He looked down. “Do you really want to know their fate?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, catching his eye. “I think I need to know.”
Niall nodded, but kept his eyes down. “A brother would do much to avenge the wrongs done to his sister and her husband.”
“You killed them?” Sookie asked.
Niall nodded and then looked a little pensive. “No other being on this plane of existence knows of this—not even Claude.” He sighed. “Even my sister does not know how they died, for I used magic to conceal my actions and plans from her—though I believe she has her theories.”
“Why keep it such a secret?” Sookie asked.
Niall sighed. “Because as the leader of my people, I have always advocated peace with the Fire Fae, and I wanted nothing to compromise that. If my slaying of two prominent demons was ever discovered, that peace would likely be threatened.”
“Oh,” Sookie said again. “How?”
Niall narrowed his eyes as he remembered. “They settled in the human realm in order to watch my sister’s misery. They masked themselves well so that she could not use her gift to find them.” His voice took on a tone of hatred. “I later found out that it was they who made sure Appius knew about her, and they also cloaked his presence with demon magic so that she would not know he was coming for her.”
“Even after she was made a vampire, they stayed in the human realm to witness and to celebrate her pain at her maker’s hands. It took me over a thousand years according to the time of your realm to find them.” He paused and looked at Sookie straight in the eyes. “When I did, I showed no mercy and left no trail.”
She shuddered a little at his tone. “And your own parents?” she asked in a whisper.
Niall eyes flashed his guilt. “I did not kill them, but I could have prevented the plot that did.”
“But you didn’t,” Sookie stated.
“No,” Niall confirmed. “I did not.” He sighed. “They lived their lives in fear and hate. They would have exterminated all Fire Fae and were hoping to make the Earth Fae virtual slaves to the Water and Sky Fae; they were already setting their plans for that in motion. They felt as Mab does―that only certain Fae are worthy to rule, that there is a hierarchy that must be maintained.” He spoke with derision, “From their thoughts, I had heard their long-range plans; they were willing to go to any lengths to ‘keep our race clean’—including genocide. When I discovered a plot by the Earth Fae to remove them from power permanently, I did nothing to prevent it.”
Sookie reached out and placed her hand on her great-grandfather’s arm in comfort. “And you have carried the guilt of this.”
Niall sighed. “I weighed the guilt of two deaths—my parents’ deaths—versus the guilt of the deaths of two hundred thousand, which was the number of Fire Fae that were alive at that time.” He paused. “But—yes—I have felt guilt for doing nothing to prevent my parents from meeting their end.”
“And you told no one else?” Sookie asked.
Niall gave her a little smile. “Before we married, my Viola knew everything about me. She has always been my grace.”
Sookie contemplated. “Eric has had to kill people—to save those he has led and himself.”
“And to save you,” Niall added.
“Yes,” Sookie said quietly.
“The vampire is a good man,” Niall said. “He loves you very much.”
“I know,” she said. “You are a good man too, Grandpa.”
A/N: Thanks for all the comments/guesses regarding the last chapter and the individual(s) who is/are after Eric (and his clan). I’m sure that you are currently throwing “virtual” rotten eggs at me for not resolving the cliffhanger from the last chapter. But I am ducking, so “HA!”