I swallowed. Emma. Right. That was what I’d wanted to ask John about to begin with. “I… crap, I don’t know how to start this,” I said. I screwed up my courage and pushed forward.
“I fed from her tonight,” I blurted out. “I mean, I’d tasted her blood earlier today, after you’d left – but that was just a taste after I’d fed on Hans. This was the first time I’d really fed from her, you know? And it was messed up. I got so depressed because she was depressed – except she isn’t really. I mean, I know she can be insecure, but I haven’t seen her depressed. It was like… like when I was feeding on her I was digging really deep down; tearing up stuff that she’d already come to terms with at some point. But when I feed from Hans it isn’t like that. With Hans I just get surface impulses – hell, I get the wolf’s impulses, not even his. Except now I’m worried I’m not getting the wolf because it’s on the surface. I mean, I used to look at it like the wolf was pushed outside of his soul until the full moon – but now I’m worried that’s what’s deep down inside of him. The wolf. And that makes me worry that I’m tearing stuff out of Hans and Emma that is deep down inside of them, and that it’s going to hurt them. Or that it’ll hurt me. Like: I’ll start to internalize it over time, and then I’ll end up depressed and insecure and territorial and aggressive… and that seems like a really bad place for a nuclear deterrent to be, emotionally. But Mr. Salvatore got all murderous and possessive while Hans was his donor, so I think I might be right about that internalizing thing. So now I really, really need to find out how this feeding on people’s souls stuff works – and you’re the only other person I know who’s undead like me.”
I clamped my mouth shut. I’d stopped breathing somewhere in the push to get more words out, and I realized that if I let myself I would carry on with an unending stream-of-consciousness babble. John wouldn’t even get the chance to offer the answers I was looking for.
As it was, John seemed a little stunned by the sheer volume of words I’d already given him to parse. He blinked. He sat up straighter. His brow furrowed.
Then he leaned toward me. “Wait,” John said. “Hans was your first donor? Not Emma?”
I nodded. John’s eyes shot open wide at my confirmation and he sat back with a low whistle. It was the kind of whistle someone makes when they’re impressed. It made me scared. It made me wonder how much shit I was in that the undead son of a murderous vampire warlord found it impressive.
“I didn’t know what else to do!” I protested. I felt like I was pleading my innocence – or maybe my ignorance. I didn’t even know what the accusation was that I was defending myself against. “I’d just died and I was so hungry and he was there – I wasn’t even thinking! It was vampire-Abby, not me!”
John stared at me. His expression slowly softened. “Hans said dad murdered you. He implied that your being a vampire was some kind of accident, or that you’d been forced into it, but… you really don’t have any idea about what being a vampire means, do you?” His voice had a sort of horrified wonder in it. Like he was watching the aftermath of a train crash. And the train had been shipping puppies and kittens. And it had run into an orphanage. Run by nuns. On adoption day.
“I found out about magic and all this supernatural stuff just a couple days ago,” I said. “Your dad was stalking my best friend. When he finally went over the edge she wasn’t around. So he grabbed me instead. He drank my blood and made me call her; made me invite her into a trap.” My voice shook. John listened intently. “When I snapped out of it he was still holding me hostage. I had to bite his hand to make him let me go.”
I shrugged. “That’s when I got infected, I think. Mr. Salvatore was pissed. He knocked Megan down; she hit her head and passed out. Then he stabbed me to death. When I came to it was morning and I was…” I gestured at myself. “…this. Undead. Vampire. I tore down the curtains and fried Mr. Salvatore. Hans shot him a few times for good measure. Hans had come to rescue me, but he was too late. And the sun was so hot. And I was thirsty. I…” I swallowed back my words, unable to continue. My eyes wanted to water and my body trembled from the adrenaline and fear brought up by the memories.
“You took Hans’ blood,” John finished for me.
“No. Yes.” I shook my head. “I mean: he didn’t try to stop me.” I swallowed. “Was that so wrong?”
John blew out a long breath. “No,” he said. “But it does explain some things, perhaps. And it could complicate others.”
I made myself look up at him. “What do you mean?” I didn’t need more complications. I had enough already.
John spread his hands and grimaced apologetically. “A vampire’s first blood is important,” he stressed. “The curse adapts to it. If your first blood comes from someone with a powerful aura then the curse will set upon you more aggressively. You’ll be stronger, faster; more powerful from the start. You’ll grow in power faster. And your hunger will be more intense, harder to sate; quicker to overcome you.”
My throat felt dry. “Oh,” I managed to say. “And werewolves have a strong aura?”
John snorted. “Indeed,” he said, “On account of having two. On top of the curse that binds those two together. You were pretty fast this afternoon – I should’ve realized that wasn’t from Emma’s blood.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Most vampires feed on an ordinary human first. It helps them in adjusting to their unlife because it keeps their cravings more manageable. Both in severity, and in the ease with which they can find sustenance potent enough to satisfy their curse.”
“Then feeding on Hans was bad?” I asked. It was a rhetorical question. I was pretty sure I was fucked.
John grimaced. “Yes and no. There are definite advantages. Not many vampires manage a lycanthrope as their first blood. Dad’s first blood was a sorceress, which put him in the second tier of vampires in terms of raw power. But it also meant that he needed more donors of that caliber. His donors were always witches, warlocks, and other mortals who had developed their aura into something more potent. Normal humans just weren’t as effective – and when he did drink from one, the curse would ‘dig too deep’ trying to make up the difference. It could really mess with his head.”
I nodded slowly. So I’d gotten depressed when drinking from Emma because my curse was adapted to a lycanthrope’s blood, and her aura or life force or whatever wasn’t potent enough to meet my needs unless I tore more out of her than I should. Emma had mentioned that she wasn’t particularly powerful for a witch, but that Mr. Salvatore hadn’t needed any sugar to stave off his reaction when he’d drunk from her. “Does that mean Mr. Salvatore’s aggression wasn’t something he took from Hans?” I asked. “Because I get aggressive when I drink from Hans. I mean, really aggressive.”
John shook his head. “Hans and dad wouldn’t have even formed a connection. Just scraping the surface of Hans’ aura would have been enough to sustain and satiate dad’s curse.” He frowned. “If you are feeling Hans’ emotions when you drink from him, I’d hazard the guess that it’s because he was your first blood. That’s supposed to result in a more potent link than most – a lot more power will be shared between a vampire and their first donor, supposedly. I haven’t witnessed the specifics, since I never met dad’s first, but that’s what I’ve been told.” He snorted. “I would not drink from a normal human if I were you. I can’t imagine how much worse that would be for both you and the donor. But it would be a lot worse than what happened with Emma, I can guarantee that.”
“Shit,” I muttered. “Is there anything else I should know about this first blood stuff? If witches make ‘second tier’ vampires, does that mean I’m first? Are the Directors going to have different expectations of me because of this?” And, unvoiced: How the hell am I supposed to find more werewolves that don’t mind exsanguination?
John frowned while he considered. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I’m a ghoul, and ghouls don’t feed like vampires do, so I’ve never dealt with any of the psychic linking or sharing of powers that supposedly occur between a vampire and his donors. What I do know is from watching dad, the step-moms, and conversations with a friend who’s also a vamp. Um. Let’s see… You will have a strong connection to Hans because he was your first. You’ll share power with him and take power from him more readily. I think you won’t ever need permission to enter his home, since a sliver of his aura formed the first kernel of yours after your death. But I don’t know what else might come out of that bond.”
John shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry. You are definitely going to be a first tier vampire, though. In the United States there are only a dozen vampires who feed primarily from lycanthropes, and they’re a pretty tightly knit group. They call themselves ‘the circle of twelve’ and, well, they are to the Directors what the Directors are to newborn vampires. So this might actually get you some deferential treatment on that front.” John shook his head. “Honestly, I’d be more worried about finding more donors. I’ll admit I’m not an expert on these matters, but I do know that even vampires who start out with the weakest of auras for their first blood will burn through a single donor if that’s all they have. A person can only take so much spiritual abuse before they start to twist.”
“Twist?” I asked even though I already suspected I didn’t want to know.
“Oh, you know,” John said. “Schizophrenia, paranoia, codependence, depression, anxiety, split personalities – all of the different ways a human mind can be broken. If a person’s soul is always missing chunks then it’s only a matter of time before their mind starts to crack around the absences.”
Shit fuck shit fuck shit, I silently swore. Other than the schizophrenia, John had just described me to a fucking tee. I laughed so I wouldn’t show my nerves. “Yeah, I wouldn’t want Hans going through any of that.” I even had the damn split personalities: Alive Abby and Dead Abby. Or, if those didn’t count for some reason: me and my autopilot. I didn’t know how much more evidence I could even get… clearly the fae had been picking me to pieces my entire life, and Mr. ‘I have never fed on you’ Tophat was a fucking liar.
So: I was, to borrow John’s phrase, ‘twisted.’ That explained so much about me that I almost felt like I should have been relieved. Instead, I just felt sick. Now that I was a vampire, I was off the faerie buffet menu. They were going to have to go victimize someone else. Someone else was going to suffer the same sort of life they’d subjected me to.
That, I decided, was unacceptable.
“Wait,” autopilot-me said. “Step-moms? Just how big is the Salvatore family… and are any of them going to hold a grudge over my disposal of your dad?”
John chuckled and started to answer. I didn’t really pay attention. I left the conversation entirely in the hands of my autopilot.
My decision regarding the fae had brought the relief that John’s inadvertent revelations had not. I wasn’t going to let the fae put someone else through the life I’d lived. I wasn’t afraid the Directors would condemn me – not if I was going to be as powerful as John implied. Hell, maybe I could even get into the ‘Circle of Twelve;’ gather support from them if the Directors tried to give me shit for my accidental resurrection.
While John gave me a rundown of the Salvatore family and some of the other prominent vampires clans, I was thinking about the fae. How to confront them. How to stop them. Forget protecting just my friends. I turned my mind – my paranoid, anxious, hyper-imaginative mind – to the task of dealing with the faerie threat to all of humanity.
I’ve spent my entire life in near perpetual terror of one thing or another. It didn’t escape my notice or my plans that by becoming a vampire I’d also become the one thing that could truly terrify a faerie. I smiled and let John think it was at one of his anecdotes.
I knew I was prone to meltdowns. I’d even compared myself to a nuclear landmine before. Even now, determined as I was, I felt a giddy panic as all the things that could go wrong – real or imagined – whirled through my head.
But that was because I was Alive Abby. Alive Abby was afraid of everything, and perverted and anxious and twisted.
I wasn’t going to act on my decision while I was alive. That would just be inviting disaster. No, it was Dead Abby who got shit done.
As soon as I was hungry again, I swore to myself, Melvin and his ilk were going to be in some serious trouble.