Staring into the abyss that was the fabled Fae Realm, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had indeed become an extinct race, now seeing the barren landscape before me.
But seeing the proof of its existence at all only made me feel even more relieved that Sookie and I were now pledged.
Granted, she had no idea we’d just been wed in the supernatural world, but I had told her I would always protect her.
And if she had anything to say about the methods I chose to use in order to accomplish that, I could always remind her of her acceptance to my unspoken proposal in my kitchen, over a bag of pork rinds and Slim Jims.
Fitting that it was just as romantic a setting as the one we found ourselves in now.
A permanent bond between us was still an option, but that wasn’t something I was willing to trick her into to completing. A marriage – even a supernatural one – could be ended.
A bond would last until one of us were ended.
So for now, being my wife was just another layer of security should her existence – and in all likelihood, Fae heritage – become known by the queen.
Or if her supernatural kin came looking for her.
I’d known Decoudreau was watching from the trees from the moment we’d arrived. Either he hadn’t been using magic to conceal his presence or my own senses had picked up what my eyes couldn’t see. But those same senses had also told me he wasn’t a threat.
I’d taken a calculated risk by contacting him at all, but I hadn’t been left with many options.
Far fewer than when I’d typed ‘Venefica’ into the Google search engine.
But I’d been counting on his presence as a witness before having her present me with the ceremonial dagger. However, we had no way of knowing who, if anyone else, had been waiting for her to come knocking on the Fae Realm door.
And left feeling vulnerable – a sensation that had risen exponentially upon seeing the proof the Fae portal was indeed on Sookie’s property – I wasn’t sure which one of them I was speaking to when I ordered, “Seal it. We can’t afford for it to be discovered.”
Their hands were no longer clasped together, having fallen by the wayside when Decoudreau had drawn the pentagram on the ground, so I wasn’t sure how it was remaining open or which one of them could close it.
Something Sookie must have gathered as well because she looked back and forth between Decoudreau and myself, saying, “I don’t know how. I don’t even know what that really is.”
Then turning her frightened eyes to me, she bargained, “I’m probably still at that warehouse, waiting on you to come find me. So hurry the hell up and come get me!”
Her words were yet another reminder of how new this world was to her. Even seeing the proof before her, she was attempting to reconcile it as a human would, relegating it all as nothing more than a nightmare.
But she wasn’t human.
Nor would she be waking up from her new reality.
But I wasn’t used to seeing her scared. Up until now, Sookie had seemed to take everything thrown at her in stride, from vampire to Were attacks against her, and she’d always had a joke at the ready. But this was having the opposite effect.
Seeing the proof there was definitely more to her than met the eye.
And I found myself unwilling to leave her floundering all alone, so I did exactly what she’d asked me to do.
I went and got her.
Taking a step in her direction, I reached forward and pulled her towards me and into my arms, no longer caring who or what might come through the open portal.
I would treat it like a fairy vending machine, snacking on whatever fell out of it, if I had to.
But the moment she stepped out of the circle and into my arms, the window into the Fae Realm disappeared. So I looked at Decoudreau over the top of Sookie’s head, willing him for an explanation with my expression alone.
I had hoped it was the bokor’s magic that opened the portal, but he merely looked back at Sookie with an awestruck expression, proclaiming, “Child, you possess great power to be able to overcome your human ancestry and open a fairy portal.”
“Me?” she squawked, before turning her accusing glare towards him. “I didn’t do that. You did!”
“No,” he denied, with a small smile on his face. “You did that. I merely helped you focus your energy.”
No longer feeling afraid, her ire was rising like the sun on the dawn of the summer solstice, and the corners of my lips twitched hearing her say, “I smell what you’re steppin’ in, but in case you’re unaware…”
Then using her pointer finger to gesture wildly at the circle of trees, she ended with, “That right there is bullshit!”
Undeterred by her rant, he gave her a challenging look and then used the walking stick in his hand to forcefully stab at the earth at his feet.
I felt the flair of power emanating from him right before the ground shook, with the aftershocks rippling out from his feet in a wide circle. Dirt, leaves, and grass flew out in all directions and even the trees swayed outward with the blast of wind.
But in spite of his show of power – which was one of the reasons why I’d contacted him to begin with – I knew he was merely trying to get his point across to her.
That neither he, nor his words, were to be trifled with.
Sookie’s response was a mumbled, “By the power of Greystoke…”
But she spoke more clearly when she grumbled, “If you’re challenging me to a duel, then I’ll need my own Shillelagh stick. Is there an Olivander’s or something I can go to for that sort of thing?”
I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but Henri must have known, from the way his whole body shook with his booming laughter, before he answered, “You have no need for such an accoutrement. You are already more powerful than either he or I could ever hope to be.”
Our incomplete bond warned me of the argument that was building in her throat, but before it could pass through her lips, he went on to say, “The Northman only hinted at what your pedigree might be. Perhaps because he was unsure himself, or because tales of your kind had been thought to be nothing more than fantastical stories. You are a very rare breed, my dear, but I have little doubt about what you are. However, what your purpose is remains to be seen.”
“Are you going to share with the rest of the class?” she grumbled, when he said nothing more.
“You already know the answer,” he replied.
Her shoulders remained straight, as did her spine, but on the inside she was curling into the fetal position when she whispered, “A monster.”
“A beautiful one,” he nodded. “But only if you choose to be.”
His words were like a punch to her gut and fire shot through her veins as she hissed, “Only if I choose to be? Do you think I chose to kill everyone I’ve ever loved? Do you think I chose to live the life of a hermit, so I wouldn’t murder anyone else? Choose to be? It was never my choice!”
“You’ve answered your own question,” he smiled softly. “You chose to remove yourself from society, rather than using your power for your own benefit. With your beauty and a small amount of wile you surely possess, you could have sought out wealthy men, tempting them with promises of a lifetime spent with you, only for you to be widowed on your wedding night. No evidence of foul play would ever be found from a mere kiss from the bride.”
Her eyes closed and a shudder ran down her spine, but Henri ignored it and went on to say, “Or if power was what you sought, you could have had any number of kings, queens, and world leaders alike, begging for the use of your services in doing away with whomever they felt was a threat to their power, with no trail leading back to them.”
Recalling my initial musings of using Sookie in that very same manner, I felt more guilt that I’d known I was capable of.
So I thanked Odin we hadn’t completed a bond.
“You have barely even touched the surface of the true power within you,” he went on to say. “But there are any number of ways you could have used others for your own personal gain, and yet I can tell by the look on your face that thought never even occurred to you.”
“But I have no control over it,” she weakly protested. “You said I could choose to not be a monster, so are you telling me there was something I could have done that would have kept my loved ones alive?”
“That remains to be seen,” he answered sympathetically and then gestured towards me, adding, “But with all that I’ve witnessed tonight – the trading of the dagger among them – I will assume that you and the Northman are more than mere acquaintances. He seems to be perfectly healthy.”
Her skin flushed so fast and so hot that it felt like she’d stepped into a sauna when I wasn’t looking.
Which I wasn’t.
Because I was looking for a way to change the subject before my deadly little lover latched onto his comment about the ceremonial dagger and subsequently latched onto my balls when she heard his explanation as to what had really transpired.
But without waiting for an admission from her or a segue from me, he looked at me and asked, “Did the elvin doctor have anything to report?”
His assumption that I’d contacted Ludwig first wasn’t a surprise – in fact, he was batting a thousand when it came to not making an ass of himself – so I answered, “She has only run tests on her blood, but – with the exception of mine – it aggressively attacked the samples of every species it was mixed with. However a simple blood panel showed hers to be nothing more than standard human O neg.”
“Interesting,” he nodded in thought and then looked back and forth between Sookie and I before adding, “We shall see if She feels the same.
Looking down onto the ground, he picked up the items he’d told me to bring along – and that Sookie had dumped unceremoniously onto the ground, when I was up something more than a little over six-four – carefully arranging them on the makeshift altar of a fallen tree trunk.
The three bottles – crème de cacao, rum, and Florida Water perfume – were carefully arranged around a tall votive candle depicting the image of the Black Madonna.
Lighting the wick, he called Sookie to his side and said, “I will need a drop of your blood to summon Her.”
“Her who?” she asked and looked back to me for an explanation.
But it was Decoudreau who explained, “The loa whom I believe will have the answers you seek, Mambo Ezili Danto.” Gesturing to the altar he said, “These are some of her favorite gifts, but the gift of blood is also required in order for her to come and I have a feeling yours will get her here much more quickly than mine ever would.”
“That’s nothing like Mambo Number 5, is it?” she asked no one in particular and then repeated in disbelief, “Loa. They’re real?”
“Very much so,” he nodded. “The intermediaries between the Supreme Creator and humanity have always existed.”
And then adding with a small chuckle, he said, “Their willingness to help, however, is not guaranteed. Ezili is very powerful. She is known for her strength and the strength of her tantrums when she is upset.”
Eying Sookie in a knowing way, he added, “I believe she will see much of herself in you.”
Eying Sookie myself, I knew she was about to prove his belief to be true, so I stepped forward and grabbed her hand, asking, “Are you willing to do this?”
It would have to be her choice.
Finding out once and for all if our suspicions were true about what she was and hopefully, where we could go from there.
But it was a bell that couldn’t be un-rung.
She would have to decide which path she would follow.
I kept my expression completely neutral, not wanting to tip the scales in either direction no matter how much I wanted answers, so I was careful to hide my relief seeing her small nod of agreement.
Bringing the hand I still held to my lips, I kissed the back of it – and smiled at the small throb of want that went through her at my actions – before turning her hand over and puncturing her fingertip with one of my descended fangs.
Even after all of his assumptions – and his big mouth alluding to the significance of the dagger – Decoudreau still appeared shocked I didn’t drop to the ground dead, as soon as her blood touched my lips.
Well, deader than I already was.
But shaking off his astonishment, he pointed at the lit flame and told her, “While I begin to recite the incantation to call Her to us, hold your hand over the flame and allow your blood to flow freely on top of it.”
Then without waiting for any reply, he began to chant. And after a moment of hesitation, Sookie did as he’d asked.
I wasn’t sure the flame would remain lit once her blood dripped down onto it, thinking it might be snuffed out by the deadly sweet liquid.
And I was right.
Because, while the flame had initially disappeared, with the only sign it had existed at all being the wisps of smoke floating above it, Sookie’s whispered grumblings about a dark mark were cutoff when the flame suddenly reappeared.
Burning brighter and higher than before, small sparks were shooting out from the center of it in all directions, when the invisible but undeniable presence of magic surrounded us. A strong warm breeze whipped our hair up around our faces, but it wasn’t enough to conceal the fact we were no longer alone in these woods.
Standing on the spot where the door to the Fae Realm once stood was a stallion as black as coal, with glowing golden eyes, and puffs of fog emitting from its nose. And sitting atop its back was a woman, with rich chocolate skin and braided hair, woven in an intricate pattern on top of her head, wearing a long flowing dress in swirled patterns of blue and gold.
Decoudreau had stopped chanting the moment she appeared and no one said a word, while she dismounted the horse and stepped forward.
Eying the offerings on the altar for a brief second, she then locked her gaze onto Sookie and I found myself taking a step closer to her.
I wasn’t sure I could protect her from a spirit intermediary, but I was willing to find out if it looked like she would be a threat to her.
I had assumed it was my protective stance, by coming closer to Sookie that had drawn her eyes my way.
But I quickly learned I was only making an ass of myself, when she sniffed the air and said, “You have had her blood.”
It wasn’t posed as a question, so I didn’t answer her.
And it turned out I didn’t need to because she laughed out, “And yet you still live. As much as you are able to.”
Grabbing Sookie’s hand faster than either one of us could react, she licked the wound still dripping blood from her fingertip, before Sookie snatched it out of her grasp and eeped out, “Sorry!”
I assumed she was apologizing for what she thought would happen next.
What happened to everyone – save me – who had tasted her blood.
But I was guessing a spirit intermediary couldn’t be killed so easily because she appeared to be savoring the flavor on her tongue, before saying, “You have much power within you, girl.”
And then taking another long moment to stare at me, she eventually looked back at Sookie and laughed, “Your kin did not see this happening.”
Having reached her limit of staying quiet, Sookie asked in quick succession, “What kin? See what happening? What are you talking about? Do you know what I am?”
Ignoring her pleas for answers, she slowly circled us both, still laughing while she said, “This is what happens when fools think they are in control of magic. But with magic – true magic – comes a price. And it will always be paid, how it sees fit.”
“Mambo,” Henri interjected reverently.
And I only shook my head, trying to contain my grin, seeing Sookie’s hands come together, with her fingers forming a hashtag before all five fingers of her right hand straightened.
Sign language for Mambo Number 5…
Henri either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it and asked, “It is true then? This girl is a venefica?”
A shudder ran down Sookie’s spine, hearing the word we’d been dancing around all night long finally being spoken aloud.
“A powerful one,” she nodded. “Royal blood flows through her veins.”
Thinking she wasn’t talking about any European royal, my thoughts were then confirmed before they quickly scattered into what it all would mean, when she emphatically stated, “I tasted the blood of the Sky.”