“So there’d really be no need for me to train at all if I went through with the ritual?” Sookie asked.
“Wow,” Sookie said. “Well maybe the other training will work. What do you need me to do?”
Niall gave her another sheepish smile and a shrug. “You are already doing it.”
“Huh?” Sookie asked, inelegantly.
Niall responded, “Just by being in this place and allowing yourself to connect to the magic here, I am hoping that your power reservoirs are opening up. I am hoping that even now—without your being conscious of it—that you are coming to understand the power within yourself that is already there. There is no ‘training’ that can be done in the way you are thinking. It is simply being here that could make the difference. I was hoping that you would get what you needed by instinct.”
“So I was just gonna—what?—sit here for an hour and then go back?” Sookie seethed with frustration. “But how’s that gonna even do anything? This is a waste of time!” She jumped up from her seat and began walking toward the door.
Niall stood up. His forceful voice stopped her in her tracks. “It is not, Great-granddaughter. It is the opposite of waste. You already know what your powers are. We have spent a great deal of time during the last forty days discussing and practicing them. Claude and I have gauged your capabilities and have taught you all that we can about the way each of your gifts functions. We have told you the potential of your abilities; now it is up to you—and you alone—to meet that potential.”
“I still don’t see why I need to stay here if I’m not actually doing any training,” Sookie said angrily. “I haven’t even been doing that ‘connection thingy’ for most of the time that I’ve been here.”
Niall’s tone did not soften. “You are here, Great-granddaughter, because you lack nothing that you need to accomplish your task!”
“What the fuck?” Sookie asked, still obviously frustrated. “What do you even mean?”
Niall shrugged. “You know how to use every single one of your gifts. Claude and I have made sure of that. You simply have not been using them as you could.”
Sookie’s hands went up in frustration. “Isn’t that why I need to frickin’ practice and train then?”
“Yes—practice is generally the way of things, but I have been led to believe that in order to conquer your foe, you will have to use all of your gifts to their greatest potential. And that would take many years of practice. We do not have that kind of time.”
“Well—then how is an hour of just sittin’ here gonna make any frickin’ difference? And why not just leave after I saw the book?”
“Because,” Niall answered, “I have also been told that in one thread of time you do accomplish everything you need to do, so I brought you here to try to give you the only thing you are lacking.”
“If you can feel the magic of this place and these people, Sookie—as you have been doing for the whole time you have been sitting here even if you have failed to recognize that fact—then you may come understand that you are the same as they are. I was hoping that you would no longer doubt your own abilities.”
Sookie grunted in frustration. “So you are tellin’ me that you just want me to BE here and DO nothing?”
“Yes,” Niall said, more gently. “I asked you to trust me, and you promised that you would. Will you hold to your word, Great-Granddaughter? Will you honor me, your husband, and your little boy by staying here and trying to get the tools you need?”
Sookie felt her anger deflate at Niall’s words. “But I don’t understand.”
“Do you need to?” Niall asked with a little mirth returning to his eyes.
Sookie sighed with frustration and returned to her seat. “Don’t I?” she asked with a sulk.
Niall returned to his seat too. “My dear, if what I hope will occur actually does, then it will happen naturally. Your mind will become more aware of your intrinsic nature. There is no conventional training for that―I’m afraid. You already have all the power that you need. You have all the knowledge that you need. You even have your bonds with your mate to give you more than you need.”
Sookie inhaled deeply and then exhaled. “So there’s no way to help this along?”
Niall smiled. “Just stay calm and open to what you felt before.”
Sookie nodded and closed her eyes. To her surprise, she realized that the connection she’d felt with the other fairies earlier hadn’t been switched off. Her eyes popped open. “I already am!”
Niall chuckled. “I know. I feel it.”
Sookie shook her head. “Okay—so how long?”
“We have been here for thirty-seven minutes.”
Sookie inhaled and exhaled deeply again. She tried to steel herself. She could do this; something told her that she needed to sit where she was and do this for Eric.
“Do you know how Eric used your magic so easily?” Niall asked.
Taken by surprise, Sookie shook her head. “No, I don’t know.”
Niall smiled. “He has no innate fairy magic as you do, yet your magic flowed through him, and you were not even there with him to help him along.”
“How did he do it then? Do you know?” Sookie asked. “I mean—we have shared gifts before, but nothing like that. Is it because the bond is stronger now?”
Niall contemplated for a moment. “Yes, that was likely a part of it, but I also believe that he was able to use your power because he needed it.” The fairy paused. “Sookie, what other gifts have been exchanged between you and your mate?”
“Well,” Sookie began, “my blood has helped him to stay up more during the day and even go into the sun.”
“Yes,” Niall said, “but that would happen—at least to a certain extent—even without the bond.”
“True,” Sookie observed, “but I have protected him through the bond too—not just with my blood.” She closed her eyes. “When I send my magic into him, it’s like I’m sending my power right into the fairy bond, and then he can use it to keep himself safe.” She sighed. “It’s hard to explain.”
Niall smiled. “That is okay, my dear; it was difficult to explain what I felt coming from my Viola too—after we bonded. Have you gotten any of Eric’s gifts?”
“I can call for him to come to me—like a vampire can with his child.”
Niall nodded. “Yes—I have seen you call for his strength before, and he has been able to share it.” He paused for a moment. “I know that vampire bonds will generally allow for you to feel your bonded’s emotions and even to give emotional support, but the fact that Eric can literally send you his own strength is probably your gifts working in him as much as his gifts working in you.”
“Like how I can heal him?”
“Yes. He can heal you too—in a way. He gives you what he can—his own strength.”
“And he can shoot light bursts like me now too.” Sookie was thoughtful for a moment. “That’s all the same gift, right? I mean—you and Claude told me that all fairy gifts have complementary sides, so being able to use my light to both attack and heal is the same gift, right?”
“Yes,” Niall confirmed.
“Then why can’t Eric heal himself from the bonding sickness?” Sookie asked, though she seemed to be asking herself. “He helped to heal me when I needed it—when my body rejected the light fruit. Why didn’t he heal his own bonding sickness before?”
Niall shrugged. “I don’t know. Perhaps, that power in him is not activated unless the fairy bond is directly threatened. But—most likely—your mate can only use that shared gift to heal you.”
“And him using the bursts to attack someone?”
Niall smiled. “He was protecting your fairy bond—and, therefore, you—from Hallow’s spell. Your bond was certainly under direct attack because of the nature of the spells she was using.”
“Okay—so how did Eric use my magic so effectively?” Sookie asked, going back to the original question.
Again, Niall smiled. “That is the right question to find the answer to. Young Eric is a warrior, Sookie. I believe that the threat from Hallow activated your gift inside of him. I felt the magic stir in him even from where I was fighting at the back of the house. But it was several more minutes before he actually used it.”
Sookie raised her brow. “What do you mean?”
“I am certain that he felt the surge of your magic rising inside of him. He analyzed what it was, added it to his cache of weapons, decided upon how best to use it, and then did so. That is why he was so drained from it; he literally put his entire store of fairy magic—everything you had just given him—into that burst of energy so that it would be most effective. When that was added to his intrinsic vampire magic, it was very strong indeed. However, unlike you, he does not have a source for more fairy magic—just a way to store it in the bond—after you give it to him. That is why he began to burn almost immediately—though as you have seen before—the bond itself slowed that process down. He was also using his own magic to protect himself. And then you stopped the burning by sending him another burst of fairy magic.”
Sookie shook her head. “So what you’re really saying is that my husband—who is not a fairy—used fairy magic better than I do.”
Niall chuckled. “Yes—at least in a way. He took what was available to him and used it to his fullest potential. You have much more potential than even that, Sookie.”
“But I don’t believe in it,” she observed quietly. “That is my problem.” She shook her head. “I have never been able to tactically use my own powers like Eric did. I’ve never recognized my power, analyzed its best use, and then used it to greatest effect all at the same time.”
“No,” Niall confirmed softly. “You have let forth very powerful bursts thanks to your own natural ability and the extra boost you get from the vampire bond and Eric’s magic in you, but you have never been a strategist in its use.”
“Because I let my emotions get in the way,” Sookie said dejectedly.
“That is a big part of it,” Niall concurred before his tone became encouraging. “But maybe the bigger part is that you have not believed in your potential. I believe in you. Claude believes. Young Eric believes. But the insecurities created in your past have made you doubt, my dear.”
He sighed. “I did not understand just how much that was true until I read the same self-doubts in Hunter and saw their origins. Through the years, your self-doubt has moved deeper into your mind as you have tried to battle it and as you have moved on in your life, but it is still in there. I heard it when Eric was speaking to Hunter yesterday morning and telling him that his gift did not make him “bad” in any way. Your fears came to the surface of your mind as Hunter expressed his, so I could see them as well.”
“I can’t just get rid of them with the snap of my fingers, Grandpa,” Sookie said sadly. “They won’t disappear overnight.”
“No,” he agreed. “But I hope that once you understand your potential—really feel it—that you will at least know that your fears have no basis in fact. If you can do that, then your past will add to your strength and not sap it.”
Sookie closed her eyes. “How long?”
“We will start back in twelve minutes,” Niall said.
“Okay,” she said, opening her eyes and then picking back up the book she’d set down earlier. “Can you tell me what changed in you when you received the ancestor-light thingy?”
He smiled at her phrasing. “It is difficult to explain the profound difference I felt within myself once the light of our people was shared with me through this book.”
“Can you try, Grandpa? I need you to try.”
He nodded and thought for a moment. “It was like everything that I was suddenly became everything that I could be. I have always had much magic in me, for the spark of our family is quite great, but,” he stopped for a moment, looking for words. “Imagine a fire. It gives off light and generates heat. It is stable, but checked. It is fed consistently and is allowed to burn as it wills. That is what my magic and abilities felt like before. I was that fire before.”
“And after?” Sookie asked.
“It was as if that same fire had been stoked, and suddenly I felt as if all Sky Fae who had ever been chosen by the book were with me within that fire. The knowledge and the abilities that they had in their lives did not come into me directly, but the strength behind those things was offered to me. It was as if each one had a log to add to the flame—a log that would never burn out—a slow, steady burn that would be inside of me forever. The fire that has always been me is still there, but it was made brighter and warmer by the others.”
“Do you—uh—hear them in your head?” Sookie asked anxiously. “The very last thing I need is to be able to “hear” dead people; the live ones give me enough problems.”
Niall chuckled, “No. It is not like that. I felt a connection to those who had come before me, but it was more like they were willing to bolster me.” He paused. “It is not unlike the connection I feel to the people in this village right now. Their magic flows in and around me—strengthening me—but it does not change me in any fundamental way. Do you understand?”
Sookie sighed, “I’m gettin’ there. Maybe.”
“It is difficult to understand unless you feel it.” Niall chuckled heartily, “And I did not suddenly become all powerful either. What I had simply met its greatest potential, which is why I think the ritual will help you to reach your greatest capability too—if you and Eric decide that you should do it.”
“Oh,” Sookie said, thumbing the book.
Niall continued, “So—yes, I did become stronger, but it is not like I could suddenly do anything that I could not do before. I was just able to utilize all I had. But―for me―the most profound effect was on my confidence.”
“Your confidence?” Sookie asked.
“Yes—my mentor, the other person I spoke of whom the book had opened itself up to, gave me the same offer I am giving to you now. I was different back then—timid even. Before I completed the ritual, I did not often share my views with others. My ideas were unpopular at the time, and I wanted to avoid confrontations. My parents were the leaders among the Sky Fae then, and as I have said, their philosophies were very different from mine, but I did not publically challenge them.”
He sighed. “In truth, I did not challenge them in private either. I knew, for example, that their matching me with Mab was completed because they needed the backing of the Water Fae to move forward with their plans against the Earth Fae and demons.” He sighed again, even louder this time. “Yet I did as they asked, and I married a woman who has made my life miserable at times and who has tried to carry on the plans of my parents at every turn. I tried to be a good husband to her for so many years—until I discovered that she had been in love with Rogan the whole of our marriage and even before. She married me because I was the eldest and was to inherit my parents’ position of leadership, but she loved Rogan. Part of me always knew that I ought to speak out and not form the match with Mab, but I was not strong enough to deny my parents’ wishes.”
He shook his head. “My greatest shame is that I did not even speak against them when they disowned my sister after she followed her heart and married Artegal. I did not help my sister and her beloved, for I was too fearful to go against my parents.” His voice grew almost inaudible. “Perhaps—if I had, then things may have turned out differently.”
He closed his eyes. “After Artegal was killed, I helped my sister leave this realm, but I did so in secret. My parents thought that she had died as well—that Artegal’s parents had killed her and not cursed her. They spun the situation and used it as an excuse to restart open war with the demons. By then, most of my people wanted to stop the fighting, but my parents lied and said that Artegal had used magic to seduce my sister. They said that he was the one who killed her after stealing her innocence. In other words, they used her to rekindle my people’s bloodlust against her own beloved’s race.”
Sookie shook her head sadly. “That’s the last thing she would have wanted. That goes against everything she and Artegal stood for.”
Niall nodded. “I know,” he said with regret. “And it shames me.” He paused for a few moments. “It was a few years later that I came of age by fairy standards. After the book shared itself with me, everything changed, and I was able to become a real leader among my people.”
“So you met your potential,” Sookie said.
“I hope so,” Niall said quietly. “I have tried to make up for what I did not do before.”
Again, Sookie reached out to pat his arm. The two shared a smile.
After about a minute of silence, Niall went to stand up. “It is time to go, my dear. We have been here for fifty-one minutes, and I thought that you might want to say goodbye to Hadley before we go back to the ‘in-between’ place to check in on young Eric through the pool and then test whether your time here has made the difference that I hope it has.”
Sookie rose and nodded before placing the book back on the table. A very large part of her was drawn to the kind of quick solution the book seemed to be offering to her. But she was mostly human, and she needed to discuss this with her mate. She lamented that returning into Faerie—even if the ritual was short—would mean even more time for Eric without her, but they were partners and needed to think about the implications and possibilities of everything that Niall had told her together. And perhaps just being there had helped her enough so that she could face down their enemy. If so, then she and Eric could spend longer thinking about what to do regarding the book.
Just as Sookie and Niall were leaving his library, Sookie felt a lurch in her bond with Eric.
She knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong because he was calling upon her strength—just as she’d called upon his when Mab force-fed her the light fruit. He was calling upon the fairy bond for help. He needed her.
Something—perhaps simply the instinct that was so prominent in her when it came to her mate—told her that whatever was threatening him was what the A.P. had been warning them about. She immediately latched onto the bond, willing the very fabric of space and time to hold still so that she could protect him. He seemed to be grappling to hold onto the bond as well.
Feeling the magic surging from Sookie and also sensing that she was drawing on the magic of everything and everyone around her—including himself—to strengthen her hold on her bonded mate, Niall turned to her.
“Do it now! Do it now!” Sookie yelled out. “If you don’t, it’ll be too late!”
Niall looked at the desperation and the certainty in his great-granddaughter’s eyes. Without hesitation, he nodded and quickly retrieved the book. He opened it to the first page.
“Read these words, child of my blood, child of the Sky Fae,” Niall commanded. “Read them, and mean them.”
Sookie looked down at the page as the language of the Fae once again twisted and translated itself for her. As soon as she could read it, she began—with no other thought than holding Eric to her and getting to him as quickly as she could.
She reigned in her already-falling tears and spoke with a strong voice. “Ancestors―keepers of the legacy of the Sky Fae,” she read as if in prayer, “I hear you calling to me now. You honor me with the gift of your magic. I accept that gift into myself now. I accept your knowledge into myself. I will keep that knowledge and power sacred and do as must be done to protect the line of my people. I stretch myself and embrace that line back to the beginning. I take my place in that line now with a sure heart and a steady spirit.”
As she finished the words, Sookie could feel the magic revving up in her body and around her―as if the strength from all the fairies in the realm was now circling her. And to that magic seemed added the force within every plant, every animal, every rock—every atom—that made up Faerie. She felt energy from the book she held, energy that was now seeping into her fingertips. She felt that the magic all around her was also being put into her, and she transferred that magic to the fairy bond; she held on to her beloved as if her life depended on it.
The magnitude of it all overwhelmed her. And with her last conscious thought, she prayed that those giving her their magic would protect her husband and their child until she could protect them.
And then the world went black.
Niall caught Sookie as she fell. Her breathing was shallow, her heart rate unsteady. Her skin was pale and clammy. He did the only thing he could think of; he activated his own healing magic and sent it into her.
But it was not enough. He felt her dying. Her heart stopped.