Two days earlier
During the ritual with the book, Sookie managed to hold herself together despite the fact that all of the knowledge flowing into her was overwhelming. The sensation of receiving what Niall had called the “sacred secrets of the Sky Fae” was nothing that Sookie ever wanted to experience again. It was as if every unfilled spot in her brain was suddenly at capacity. No—over-capacity. She felt that her body might burst as the excess information was compacted and force-fit inside of her. She had a brief thought that she was going to end up as the human equivalent of a zip file.
Her mind initially tried to process everything new in a single second, but instinctively and for self-preservation, Sookie stopped it. Perhaps fairies could do it that way, but Sookie knew that her brain couldn’t take it, so she focused her attention on only one thought: Eric. And perhaps it was somewhat cowardly, but she immediately took shelter in the fairy bond so that she could escape the torrent of what the ritual was sending into her. Thankfully, the Eric that she always found in the bond was waiting there to protect her.
Sookie was certain that what kept her on her feet and sane was the grip that she had on Eric. Primarily, she was trying to hold herself to the “real” Eric, whom she knew was in danger; hell, she was willing to rip through time itself to do that. But “real” Eric was holding onto her too, and she felt his strength even as she was feeding him hers.
Sookie’s actions had caught the attention of Time, who decided to check in on one of its favorite pairs. Time, however, did not like what was coming and opted to try to fix it.
Almost as soon as the ritual was complete, Sookie felt something odd happening—almost like a skip in time. Suddenly, she saw the world as if through Eric’s eyes—the “real” Eric’s eyes. Her breath hitched as she saw Russell Edgington rushing at her. She felt a strike to her—no, to Eric’s—head that was so strong that she knew it was a death-blow. And, then, she felt her Eric no more. The Eric in the bond stayed where he was—though he no longer felt as “full” to her. He looked stunned, and red tears began to fall from his eyes.
“He’s gone,” bond-Eric whispered.
Just as Sookie was about to lose it, time seemed to skip back again, and suddenly, she was certain that the “real” Eric was still alive.
“It was a warning,” Sookie said to bond-Eric.
As if by instinct, Sookie knew that there had to be something in her head now—some knowledge that she’d gained through the ritual—that could help her to prevent what she had just seen. She remembered Niall’s description about the ritual helping him to meet his full potential. She had to have faith that what she needed to protect her husband was already inside of her. She just had to find it.
She looked up at bond-Eric. “I need to go figure out a way to help him, and I somehow know that I can’t do it in here.”
He looked concerned but nodded.
Quickly, Sookie left the fairy bond with a singleness of purpose—to find exactly what she needed to help Eric to survive what Russell was going to do to him. She begged Time itself not to separate her from her mate. In fact, she begged that it would stop for a while—just long enough for her to come up with a plan to make sure that the blow her husband would soon receive from Russell wouldn’t kill him.
Time—having a vested interest in what was happening and curious about what could happen with one of its favorite pairs—granted Sookie’s request. After all, Time had bothered to show very few individuals the future, and none had ever had the audacity to ask for a “moment” in order to change it. Yes—Time liked Sookie’s moxie very much. So it stopped to give her that moment and simply watched.
Once outside the protection of the fairy bond, Sookie needed to use her strongest shields in order to not be bombarded by all of the new knowledge that now surrounded her, but it was difficult, and she knew that her shields would collapse under the pressure before long.
She needed to hurry.
Like a student looking for only one book within a huge archive, she tried to ignore everything else around her. Just outside the fairy bond, she instinctively knew that she had found what she needed: the vampire bond. She’d never seen it like she was now seeing it. She associated this bond with feelings rather than sight.
Now, in front of her, she saw cords of beautiful iridescent light twined together. There was not a rainbow of colors in the bond. In fact, there were only two colors twisting together—though there were countless shades for those colors. She recognized the blue hues immediately: Eric’s eyes. That blue was wrapped around and around a string of brown shades: the colors of her own eyes.
She thought about the old saying that the eyes were the windows of the soul. She thought about the water and the earth meeting. She thought about how Eric had once said that she was his mooring to land when the sea was tossed with storms. She knew that her husband and she were in the middle of a storm even then, and she was indeed trying to keep him safely harbored.
The vampire bond was barely shimmering, but she intuited that it would be blindingly bright if they were able to feel each other’s emotions. She thought about the other thing that the vampire bond enabled them to do. It allowed them to find each other.
But she recognized that there was more to it even than that. The fairy bond and the vampire bond were interconnected in a way that she’d not known before. While the fairy bond was like a room within her, a kind of haven, the vampire bond surrounded that room like a protective barrier, pressed against the fairy bond, even as it ringed around the outside of it in a perfect circle.
Sookie was reminded of the ring she’d gotten for Eric to symbolize their pledging. It was entwined by a series of Celtic knots, which were reminiscent of the way the colors of the vampire bond were twisted together. She thought about the words that she’d had inscribed inside the ring: “My Marked One. Forever.”
She smiled. She had always wanted to visibly mark Eric as hers—as his bite marked her—but his body healed too quickly. She realized, however, that she had marked him. Their bonds were their marks—the signs of their connectedness. And the two bonds were also connected to each other, the vampire bond literally fortressing the fairy bond. Together, they formed a unique symbiosis, and that meant that one could feed the other.
And suddenly, she recognized what she could do to protect her husband from Russell’s strike. She sent energy into the vampire bond—energy meant to heal. She knew that it was not a hugely potent force, but it was all that she had the strength to give. As she watched the energy circle around the vampire bond again and again, she realized that two things were happening—one welcome and one not.
The first was that the energy in the vampire bond was gaining in momentum and force with each pass it took; this is what she had been hoping for. The second was that her shields were near collapse. She closed her eyes and tried to bolster them. They needed to last just a little longer.
She watched as the two colors of the bond—her power and his power—fused into one; it was a shade that she’d never seen before, but it was radiant. And the power within the bond was still growing.
Sookie knew from past experience—namely when Eric used their fairy bond to keep her alive when Mab force-fed her the light fruit—that the healing that they could give to each other was possible even when she was not at the fairy pool, but she also intuited that the kind of force she could generate with a single blast, especially in her current weakened condition, would not be enough to counter Russell’s blow. Eric had needed to keep up a constant stream of energy for months so that she would survive; altogether, the energy that he put into her must have been a great force. She would need to do the opposite. She would need just as much force, but it would have to be transferred into him in an instant in order to stave off Russell’s blow.
Thus, she had known that she would need something a lot more potent than what she could generate on her own even under the best of conditions, and she’d intuited that the vampire bond—so steeped in the profound strength of her mate—would be the perfect vessel for generating that power. She had hoped that Eric’s magic would combine with hers, and she was not disappointed as she saw the evidence of that combination circling around the vampire bond and now increasing in size.
In school, she’d learned about centrifugal force, which was force that moved outward from the center. But Sookie had always been more interested in centripetal force, which was power that moved toward the center—power that moved inward. It was implosion verses explosion.
If she was right, once the tiny healing blast―which she had barely managed to send into the vampire bond and which was now augmented by Eric’s magic―multiplied in force so that it encompassed the whole circle of the bond, then its power would move inward and literally pound the fairy bond with its energy. She just prayed that it would be enough to protect her mate from the strike a three-thousand-year-old vampire.
If she had been at the fairy pool, getting the energy into Eric would have been simple. She would have just sent the healing magic into him through the pool as she always had. But she was still in Niall’s home, and he was as frozen in time as everything and everyone else.
She could “feel” Eric through the fairy bond and knew that her healing magic would spill into him, but she prayed that the ability of the vampire bond to seek out and find her mate like a missile would also be transferred into the fairy bond when the force finally built enough to cause the reaction she was looking for. She needed her aim to be accurate—true. She needed to literally place her protection right over where Russell would be hitting.
The magic swirling around and around the vampire bond began to buzz as it filled the bond completely, and in that moment, Time seemed to restart. Sookie closed her eyes and let go of the magic in the bond, allowing it to hurl inward. For a moment, the spherical shape of the fairy bond lit up as it absorbed the force from the vampire bond. And then the magic within seemed ready to implode.
Sookie once more saw the world through Eric’s eyes. She saw Russell approaching quickly—seemingly too fast for her to act against. But the healing magic she’d collected was already at the ready and burst forth just as Russell’s blow connected. Sookie felt Eric sink to his knees at the force of their enemy’s strike, but—this time—he did not die. His body held together due to the cushion of her healing magic.
Sookie had no time to celebrate her victory, however. Her shields collapsed, and the light within the vampire bond—the fusion of blue and brown—seemed to short-circuit, leaving her unable to see anything. She fell to her knees as the full effects of the ritual pounded into her mind at last. She tried to reach outward for the cord of the vampire bond, but her fingertips could only skim it as her body was thrown backwards into an abyss of darkness.
When next Sookie became aware, her whole body felt like it was surrounded by liquid. She was swimming in darkness—seemingly impenetrable fluid that was thick with the flood of the knowledge she’d been given. But she couldn’t move through it—couldn’t process it. And no matter what she tried, she couldn’t find the surface. She couldn’t take a breath.
She felt herself panic and began to thrash. However, the liquid became even denser; it seemed to be trying to crush her—wanting to crush her.
And that’s when she felt it—like a thin cord in her hands. She knew it was the vampire bond. She immediately felt better and relaxed a little. That was not wise. The darkness tried to wash her away from the bond again, but she tightened her grip just in time.
She tried to steady herself. The crush that she felt was due to all of the knowledge that she’d gained; her mind was trying to process it, but there was so much of it to deal with that her mind literally didn’t know where to start, so she was drowning. She needed a plan.
Sookie thought again of her zip file analogy. A zip file compressed and stored a large amount of information in a discreet location. When needed, the file could be opened. When not, it stayed tucked away so that its large amount of data would not interfere with the normal functioning of the computer.
Sookie knew that this system was just what she needed. She steeled herself and began to isolate the information for one fairy—just one. She began with a fairy that she knew well, Claude. She called only the book’s information about her tanu to her, just as Eric might call Pam to his side. When she had collected everything, she zipped it, and put it to the side. Next, she worked on Niall and then the other fairies she knew or had seen at the “in-between place” or at Niall’s homestead.
Those done, she began to group the fairies into families so that she could zip those files into bigger files. She practiced first with her own family. She collected Claude and Niall and then placed them into a larger file with Claudette and Claudine and the A.P. Using information from Niall’s file, she worked backwards and found his parents and then theirs. She traced that line back a few more generations and then zipped the larger file. Then she began on Katherine’s family. Some distant members of her family overlapped with Niall’s because of intermarriage, but Sookie’s system allowed for something akin to cross-referencing, so that is what she did.
After what must have been a few hours of work during which she completed the larger files for three additional family groups, she felt that the liquid around her was slightly less thick, and in addition to simply holding onto the vampire bond, she was able to begin moving a little, so she inched herself through the still-thick sludge, even as she kept a firm hold on the cord of the bond. She also kept up her “filing” even as she crept along. Both processes were slow and tedious, but at least she was moving.
She knew that if she could find a way to enter into the fairy bond, she would be safe and could continue her “filing” without having to feel the pressure of so much information trying to seep into her consciousness all at once.
It seemed like she’d been pulling and filing for a few more hours when she began to get the sensation that there was someone helping her. Something within her told her that it was bond-Eric, trying to pull the cord around in order to find her. She held on and rested her brain for a while as he did the pulling.
A little while later, she realized that she was receiving additional help—maybe from Niall or Claude. As she began to put together another “file” in her mind, she realized that the process had become easier. And the density of the fluid around her seemed to be lessening a little with each file she made. Also, she was still being pulled through the murk, though her progress was still slow. She tried to help by pulling herself for a while, but she was so exhausted that she almost lost her grip.
That’s when she decided to concentrate on two things only—putting together her files and keeping a firm grip on the cord. She knew that the more files she put together, the less dense the liquid would become and the easier pulling her through it would be for Eric. Moreover, if she lost her grip, then who knew how long it would take for her to find the vampire bond again?
And then she saw it—like a beacon underneath her fingers. It was a sliver of blue light, pulsing through one of the twines in her hands and creating a tiny fissure in the darkness. And then she was being pulled a little harder. That light also gave her the ability to work faster, and she found that she could create the files for several family members at once as she traced a line backwards.
After what felt like another hour or so, more light fractured the dark. And then more. And then more.
She was moving faster and faster, both physically and mentally.
And then she felt large hands on her hands and then on her shoulders, pulling her into the fairy bond. Suddenly, the weight of the liquid was no longer around her.
Eric was on the ground right in front of her; he looked haggard, tired, and worn. But he was also the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
“You’re here, min kära,” he said as if breathless. He reached out a hand to her, but it wasn’t enough. She used what little strength she had left and threw herself into his arms. She was crying tears of relief and joy as he picked her up and carried her to a blanket underneath a canopy of peach blossoms.
He laid her down carefully and then collapsed next to her. She knew that he was just as exhausted as she was, but whether it was because of the help he’d been giving to her or because of the distress that the “real” Eric was facing—or both—she did not know.
He moved his large body and wrapped himself around her, holding her close.
“I have you,” he whispered.
And then they both slept.
When Sookie next became aware, she was still in the fairy bond with Eric. He was stroking her hair softly and speaking words in a language she could not understand. Snälla, aldrig lämna mig. Lova mig, min kära.” [Swedish translation: “Please, never leave me. Promise me, my love.”]
“Eric,” Sookie managed. “You okay?”
“Yes,” the Eric in the bond said. “I’m fine.”
“What about Eric?” she asked, knowing that this version would know that she was asking about the “real” one.
“I am not certain, but I know that he’s alive. I think that we must be near the fairy pool. And I have felt that you have been sending him magic to heal. But,” his voice sounded agonized, “you must keep some for yourself now, my love. You are so weak. And we,” his voice caught, “cannot lose you. Please. Your kin is trying to heal you; keep some for yourself.”
Feeling drained from even her short time awake, Sookie nodded a little, bolstered by the fact that her Eric was still among the undead.
And then—once more—she slept.
The next time she woke up, she felt a little stronger. The Eric in the bond was cradling her and humming a tune that was over a thousand years old.
“Beautiful,” Sookie whispered.
The melody of Eric’s chuckle interrupted the song. “Hunter likes this one too.”
“How do you know?” she asked, already feeling tired again.
“When we renewed the bond with the second dagger, I gained his memories up to that point,” he answered.
“Tell me everything about Hunter,” she requested, though her voice was still weak.
As Eric talked, Sookie fell in and out of consciousness, but he didn’t stop his stories. There were so many things that she’d missed, and he recounted them through the long hours.
During this time, Sookie realized that her mind was still automatically grouping and filing the knowledge she’d been given, but thankfully, she no longer had to consciously engage in the process.
So she let Eric’s soothing voice lull her and comfort her as she rested against him.
“Look at his face,” Claude said as tears streamed down his own. “He has not been like this before. This is worse than yesterday. At least then, he was holding onto himself.” A sob escaped from Claude. “He will die, Father!”
Niall could only nod as he looked at Eric’s tormented expression. The night before had pained Niall deeply. He and Claude had been forced to watch as young Eric had gone through unspeakable torture and rape at his oppressor’s hands. To add to their distress, Sookie had teetered near death all during Eric’s ordeal the previous night; both he and Claude had sent a continuous stream of healing magic into her, but she would immediately transfer all of it into Eric. But they had feared shutting off the pool for even a moment.
It had been Claude who’d had to keep Niall from trying to get to Eric. Of course, the rational part of Niall knew that he could not even get into the room where Eric was being held, but he desperately wanted to draw Eric’s tormenter away from him even for a moment—even if it cost Niall his life. Claude had to remind Niall again and again of the A.P.’s warning.
And many times, Niall had needed to walk away from the pool when he could no longer bear to witness what was happening to the vampire who felt like a son to him. Claude had been the stronger one the night before, and Niall was more grateful for his son than ever.
Sookie had been way too weak to even try to awaken the night before. All that Niall and Claude could do was continue to send healing magic into her and keep hold of Sookie so that the image in the pool and the connection of the human realm would remain. Truth be told, they were glad that they could do that much—that they could do anything to help the pair that they loved so much.
So they’d watched and waited and prayed and hoped. When Russell finally departed the night before, he left behind a vampiress who tended to Eric with skill and care, and both Claude and Niall had sighed in relief, especially when Sookie began to use much of the healing magic that they were still sending to her in order to heal herself.
All day and into the night, she’d been getting stronger, but they still hadn’t wanted to wake her.
But now, as they saw Eric cracking before them, they knew that the previous night had been nothing compared to what he was going through now.
Even through the pool, they could tell that tonight’s physical torture—though bloody and profound—was not as damaging as the frenzy of the previous night, but something Russell had said had caused Eric tremendous pain, and they were watching their loved one’s torment play across his face.
“We have to try to wake her now,” Claude said softly as Eric’s expression became hopeless. “If we don’t, we will lose him. And her.”
Niall nodded. “She is still weak, but you are right.”
Claude took the tonic that Katherine had brought earlier that day and raised it to Sookie’s lips. He was comforted when she swallowed the draught without choking, and he prayed to his ancestors that it would work to wake up his tanah.
In the bond, Sookie could feel that Eric was shaking her gently, so she opened her eyes. She felt much stronger than she had the last time she’d been conscious.
“It is time, min kära,” Eric said. “You are being called upon to awaken.”
“Why?” she asked groggily.
“Eric needs you now,” he answered. “And you need him. You must go to him.”
Sookie could hear the urgency in bond-Eric’s voice. She felt something enter her body that she knew would help her to wake up.
“You will succeed,” Eric said confidently. “And remember that I will be with you the whole time.”
She smiled at him, nodded, and woke herself up.