“Who gave this to you?” asked Ninian, brushing dirt from her knees as she rose from her work gardening to take the necklace that dangled from Racell’s hands. The demi-god had been true to his word and spent the last several weeks trying to get to know his daughter, under the guise that he was just another mentor. During that time, Ninian had found that her new house-guest had knowledge of history that even her and Drianna could not know.
“Sandeen. She said you would know what it was.” Racell looked anxious, Ninian observed as she lifted the heavy pendent into the sunlight, gesturing for him to look at the wooden piece.
“This wood was felled by the trolls, carved by Fairytale elves, and infused with the magic of the Original Fae,” she murmured, pointing to the grains of wood that now glittered with traces of silver and gold revealed in the afternoon light.
“It is the Stone of Souls, forged by three magical races of mixed origin in order to aid a lost soul. It is very old, but no one is quite sure why it was created. As far as our lore and written records indicate, there has never been such a soul who would be in need of such a powerful token.”
Racell nodded, lost in thought, holding out his hand as Ninian started to hand the necklace back to him. In mid-air, her hand paused. Her round blue eyes met Racell’s own, both having figured out the puzzle at the same moment.
“A lost soul …,” Racell whispered.
Ninian nodded in response, her pale fingers curling back around the necklace as she clasped it to her chest. “I must give this to her fath—I mean Faulks. He should be the one to give it to her. But first, I want to research it a little more.”
Racell seemed to have stopped listening, his gaze glazed and lost. When he finally met her stare, the honey of his golden eyes had crystallized. “I’m her father, I—“
But Ninian cut him off with a soft, but pointed look. “You may be her true father, and I have watched her begin to grow fond of you, but Faulks is the father she has known—the father who has helped raise her and who is her primary guardian while she resides in Tressla.”
Racell nodded tightly, a challenge still glittering behind his stoic expression, but when she motioned to him, he followed her into the cottage. Out back, Story, aided by Jess, could be seen through the window creating and putting out fires. When Story couldn’t put it out by sheer will, Jess was ready with buckets of water. Racell turned toward Ninian anxiously. “She can create fire out of thin air?”
Ninian, who was quickly flipping through the pages of a book, looked up and nodded. “Only small ones, but yes. She has the potential to be able to create many wonderful and frightening things, this is merely one that she has already exhibited an affinity for and has had a problem controlling—thus, her training. I’m actually surprised she doesn’t have better control of this by now. But she is still young,” Ninian murmured, biting her lower lip as she studied Story for a vast minute before turning back to Racell. “You saw her poke a hole through the very fabric of our space, and this surprises you?”
A week or so prior, Bliss, Story’s Thumbelina Fairy, and Jess had come to visit. They’d been playing outside for only a short time when she’d heard a scream. By the time she’d gotten outside Racell was already there. It had taken a moment for Ninian to realize what was wrong. Wavering in the sunlight as if it were a mirage in the heat of day, a different landscape had invaded the wooded backdrop of her gardens. The picture was idyllic. Gardens more vast and lovely than her own emitted a heady, flowery fragrance that wafted out through the doorway Story had somehow opened in the fabric of space. Before she could get any closer to study it, Story had rushed forward and closed it, turning to her with panic flaring in her amber eyes.
Shaking her head, Ninian glanced quickly at Racell before turning back to her books, her newly donned glasses perched on her delicately structured nose. “See! Look here,” she commanded, tapping a passage with her index finger. Stepping closer, Racell peered over her shoulder to observe a drawing of the pendant Ninian still clasped in her hand.
“The Stone of Souls has the ability to bind a soul, rendering the wearer safe from unwanted travels through time, space, and reality,” Ninian read aloud. “It gives the wearer the artificial benefit of unity—hmmm,” Ninian said, arching her brows, while biting her lower lip lost in thought. “Artificial benefit of unity? Now whatever could that mean?” Turning back to the book, she turned the page to read more, but the page had been torn out. Sighing in frustration, Ninian put the book down with a frown, while Racell pulled out a chair at the table and ran a frustrated hand through his long blonde hair as he took a seat.
“So somehow, this stone will keep Story from traveling here if she were to wear it?” Racell offered.
Ninian nodded, “Yes, I believe so … but the part about unity doesn’t make sense. I also don’t understand why this stone was created long before Story even was born—centuries ago. There must be something more to this, but the next page is missing.” Closing the book with some finality, Ninian looked up at Racell and held up the necklace, frustrated she hadn’t found the answers.
“I’ll give it to Faulks, Racell. And until the day the necklace is needed to bind Story, as I’m sure that day will surely come, I will continue to seek the answers.” She held his gaze, feeling her cheeks warm once more as she basked in the golden light of his gaze. Dipping her head as a blush crept up her cheeks, she looked down at her intertwined hands. “It would be nice if the gods would share more,” she said.
Racell shook his head, oblivious to the moment they’d shared, she thought, before slapping the notion of any “moments being shared” away.
“Honestly, Ninian, I don’t think they know as much as they should … Except for Sandeen,” he said, his golden eyes narrowing slightly.
Ninian looked up sharply at the mention of the lake goddess. When she thought back only eight years before, when she and Drianna had first approached Sandeen with the prophecy and their concerns, she hadn’t questioned the plan. In fact, she’d been oddly motivated to help the two Daughters of the Will—who were in their actions betraying the very god they’d sworn to serve, Sandeen’s father—when it was known that the gods just did not interfere.
She didn’t tell Racell about Sandeen’s involvement in his union with Edie, Story’s mother. If she did that, she’d have to tell him of her and Drianna’s as well, and she didn’t think she could quite stomach how he would look at her if he knew.
They remained silent, contemplating separately, but gazing thoughtfully out the window in companionable silence. The momentary stillness was shattered when a hole through the fabric of their world’s space rippled in Ninian’s backyard once more, becoming a large tear within an entirely different landscape. The door slammed shut behind Ninian, as she flew out to aid Story.
After she'd cleaned the frightened child up, sent Jess, Bliss, and Story to their respectful homes, she set about fixing her and Racell a late dinner, for the hour had grown long.
"I have some herbs I need to pick tomorrow," she said, setting down a berry and blue leaf salad for Racell. "I'll be gone most the day."
Racell, who was deeply engrossed in a book, lifted his head quickly, barely focusing his gaze on her.
"Would you like me to come with you?" he asked, as gallant as ever, but she could tell he was more interested in his reading.
"No, I'll be fine. I'd like you to spend the day with Story."
At that, his head popped up and he flashed a brief, but brilliant smile that made his eyes crinkle and her heart miss a beat. Then he looked back down at the book, the moment gone before she could fully grasp it and bring it back.
It would take her several hours to reach Sandeen's Lake, but she welcomed the journey and the possible answers she sought.