I don’t know how long we spent crying. I do know that it tapered off once or twice only to reignite, but by the last round the emotional tone had changed from despair to… I don’t know. That feeling where you’re with friends and utterly amazed by them, and by the fact that they’re there to hold you up when you need to be held.
Something of both, I suppose.
In the end, my face hurt. So did Megan’s. I imagine Fumiko’s did, too — but she was the only one of us who hadn’t been sobbing, so maybe not. Fumiko was the first one to let go of us. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, then got tissues for Megan and I.
Of course, my face healed. After blowing my nose a couple of times, I didn’t even feel like I’d just been bawling my eyes out. I must not have looked it, either, because I caught Fumiko staring.
“What?” I asked a little self consciously.
Fumiko jumped slightly, as though she hadn’t realized she’d been staring and my question had startled her. “Nothing,” she said. “Just: your eyes aren’t red anymore. I didn’t realize you could do glamours, too.”
“Huh?” I asked dumbly.
Megan finished blowing her own nose and answered for me. “Glamours,” she said. “They’re the other thing Jack showed me how to do. Kind of like illusions, but with substance. Watch.” She closed her eyes, and I watched — and felt — as she calmed her emotions and concentrated. When she opened her eyes, they weren’t red anymore, either. And her makeup looked clean and freshly applied.
I blinked a couple of times in surprise. I hadn’t even seen when the change took place: one moment Megan had looked just as worn and emotionally drawn as she felt, and the next she looked like she’d just spent a half hour in front of her vanity.
I turned from Megan to Fumiko. “I can’t do that,” I said while leveling a finger in Megan’s direction. “I just heal really fast.” I turned back to Megan. “That’s pretty neat, though,” I added.
Megan smiled, just a little bit. I could tell from her emotions that this, at least, was a development she was happy with. “Yeah. I can do a lot, actually, as long as I’m working on myself. Working a glamour on someone or something else is hard, though… that will take something out of me, the same as trying to push energy off to someone does.”
“Right,” Fumiko chimed in. “So, this time Meg is underselling. It’s not just neat: it’s seriously cool.” Megan blushed slightly, but I could feel her agreement. “Show her what we were thinking for your convention costume, Megan.”
Megan smiled and closed her eyes again. It took me a second to remember that Fumiko, Megan and I — and Hans, for that matter — had been planning on going to a local anime convention next month. In that brief span of time, Megan’s clothing changed.
I gawked. Where she had been dressed like… like a normal Megan before, now she was wearing an elaborate costume that I recognized as the battle gown worn by Elena deu’Seraphine in the last episode of Hime-Hime Neko Revolutions. “Holy crap,” I blurted. Megan even had the scepter and tiara. Grinning, Megan stood and twirled for us.
“I know, right?” Fumiko echoed my sentiment. “And if that’s not cool enough for you, we figured out that she can conjure up pretty much anything she or I can imagine.”
Megan finished her twirl and posed. “To be fair,” she interjected, “I can’t really create exactly what Fumiko is imagining. But I can sort of… do that empathy-interface thing and tap into her creative side while I’m making my own mental image. And if I apply that to whatever I’m visualizing while she’s describing something, I can get really darn close.”
“Okay,” I said. “That’s unfair. I lost my entire wardrobe when I turned into a vampire, and you just got an infinite one!” I didn’t say it with any venom, though — I was too far on the dead side of things to be bitter without putting in some effort — and my feigned indignation made Megan laugh. No wonder Fumiko had sounded so jazzed up on the phone earlier: she loved cosplay. I treated myself to the thought of Megan and Fumiko in some of the other physics-defying costumes common in anime and manga. Wow. “Seriously, though, this explains some stuff,” I added absentmindedly.
When both Megan and Fumiko looked at me like they were curious for me to continue, I smiled sheepishly. “Melvin,” I said. “Whenever he dies, all his clothes and stuff disappear with him. Even his sword. I wondered once if it was some kind of, like, psychic prop or something. And I guess that wasn’t too far off. Glamour.”
Which, of course, immediately begged the disturbing question: did that mean that all of Melvin’s clothes and stuff weren’t real? Was he running around naked under there?! I mean… well, okay: obviously he was. But if his outfit was just an illusion, then being naked under it had a totally different connotation than being naked under clothes that were actually, really, physically there.
I felt my cheeks heat at the thoroughly undesired mental images that flickered through my fore-thoughts. The first time I’d met him, I had thought Melvin was disturbingly handsome. I’d tried my best to ignore that, due to his ongoing insistence on putting the emphasis on disturbing, but now I couldn’t stop picturing it. And even worse, my imagination was insisting on putting him in the indecently furnished bondage bedroom he’d once implied he had, posing in nothing but a smirk and that stupid top hat.
“That’s right,” Megan said — apparently oblivious to my own internal turmoil. “Jack explained that most fae rely on glamour — when you can create anything you can imagine, why bother learning to forge metal or shape clay or carve wood or weave cloth or whatever? But more than that, the fae… we are beings of magic, not flesh. Any given fae’s ‘physical’ presence depends on that fae’s personal self-image, and their ability to sustain a glamour that matches it.”
My jaw dropped slightly. I clicked it shut. “So… wait. You mean you don’t physically exist?!”
Megan bit her lips together and nodded bashfully. “Yes, sort of. Except that a glamour is like an illusion with substance, so to that extent I do physically exist. I can just change what that illusion looks like, or, um, how that substance interacts with the world.”
Fumiko nodded. “You should have seen her earlier. At one point she gave herself butterfly wings and fluttered around the apartment.” Fumiko held her hands together and waggled them like flapping wings to demonstrate.
I looked back at Megan, wide eyed. “Oh,” I said. “Oh, so you’re just a shape shifter, then?” Just a shape shifter. As though that isn’t a big deal, I snarked at myself. Then I checked my fangs with my tongue. I wasn’t sure if I was getting jaded by all the ‘holy crap: magic!’ or if I was getting hungry enough that I needed to go find Melvin and beg for a bite. There was no way I was going to take blood or essence from Megan, though. Not after sharing how she felt about the way she’d unknowingly fed from the people around her.
Megan was blushing when I pulled my attention off of my fangs. From her emotions, I knew the blush was embarrassment over Fumiko’s description of her earlier antics. “Jack said that any fae can change the glamour that represents them,” Megan explained, “but that making any sort of sweeping changes is dangerous. Sticking to the same appearance reinforces its association with the fae wearing it, which makes it less vulnerable to someone else using a glamour of their own to change it. And he warned me not to try to duplicate someone else’s appearance, because if I tried to take on a semblance that not only wasn’t mine, but actually belonged to someone else… well, that would give the person I was mimicking a huge claim over me. If they knew what they were doing, they’d be able to bind me into servitude or compel me to do things or… It’s just not a good idea. It’s like there’s just a small step to go from taking someone’s appearance without permission to them taking you.”
I shivered. So, it sounded like I didn’t have to worry about doppelgangers replacing the people I knew so long as the people I knew didn’t put themselves under the control of a fae, which was good. But the idea that a fae could do so much to conceal their identity was still disturbing. If Mr. Eyelids changed his appearance, would I recognize him the next time he came after me? What was to stop him from taking on the shape of a completely random fictitious person and setting up an ambush?
“No offense,” I said, “but in some ways that’s almost as creepy as it is cool. So, wait: is that why people can just disbelieve fae out of existence?”
Megan nodded. “What’s actually happening is that the individual’s disbelief serves as a focus for the communal disbelief of humanity as a whole. And that breaks the fae’s glamour. Then, without a focal point in this world, their essence just sort of snaps back to their home in the faerie world.”
I thought about that, and how it meshed with Emma’s description of magic and how witches would leverage the magic around them to get a desired effect, rather than just forcing the end result into being through their own power. Given my limited understanding of the magical world, it made sense. I shook my head: apparently, despite some of my more deeply seated worries, Melvin hadn’t been misleading Megan in order to put her under his control. Or, if he was, he hadn’t been with that.
I shook my head again to clear it. With that one down I had more important worries, at the moment. “You… you also mentioned that Melvin showed you how to summon him,” I said. “How do you do that? I mean: he tends to just show up around me, usually after I’ve been talking about him. Is that really all there is to it? Could Fumiko or I get your attention just by shouting your name? That could be useful someday.”
Megan hesitated. I caught her uncertainty — and the glance she shot Fumiko’s way before she overcame it. “Not quite,” Megan reluctantly admitted. “There’s more to it than just the name — there has to be a fairly strong connection associated with it. So when we’re talking about Lord Archarel, for instance, he isn’t getting pinged about it because there isn’t really anything between us. But when Fumiko and I were experimenting earlier… well, if you were talking about me and I was paying attention, I might feel the connection between us strengthening — not permanently, but just because it was being focused on. It’s sort of like there’s a string between us, and it’s getting plucked. If you were deliberately trying to get my attention, then I think I’d be more likely to notice, too. And Jack did something with his connection to me — I’m not sure what, exactly, since it isn’t quite a glamour, but I think that’s what ensures that he knows it if I call for him, whether he’s paying attention or not.”
I sighed. “Well, that’s not as useful as I’d hoped, then.” A thought suddenly struck me. “Wait, so the fact that Melvin keeps showing up whenever I talk about him… Does that mean he’s paying attention to me specifically, or set up that alarm thing for me, too?” I knew he was a crazy stalker elf.
Megan looked uncomfortable. Fumiko just snorted. “He said letting you call him Melvin was like giving you your own ringtone,” Fumiko confirmed.
I checked my teeth again. Normally, I think I would have been a little more freaked out by that. I sighed. “Well that’s just great,” I grumbled. My fangs were definitely more pronounced then they had been a little bit ago. I had no desire to test just how wide my margin of safety was with my hunger’s ‘sweet spot’ so I stood up. “And on that note, I really need to get back to Hans and Emma.”
What I didn’t tell them was that what I really needed to do was see if I could catch Melvin and cajole an early night snack off of him. Megan protested that I was leaving so soon, and even Fumiko chimed in that it was still way too early for me to be running off. I shook my head and held my ground.
“I don’t want to risk it,” I explained. “I told you I was in a pretty good zone as far as mental stability goes, but that also means I’m pretty close to the edge of being hungry enough for things to go downhill.”
This explanation found grudging acceptance, and while I surprised Fumiko by giving her a goodbye hug Megan stuffed a modest portion of her manga library into a bag for me. Then I hugged Megan, too — and while I did I felt a brief pulse in her emotions that left me a little embarrassed to be aware of, and then a startling surge in my energy.
“It’s just a little,” Megan whispered while squeezing me tight. “Just so you don’t have to worry that you’re cutting it too close on your way home.”
The surge faded after just an instant. For a second more, I was too surprised to reply. I knew what it took out of Megan to do that for me — not in terms of the actual energy she’d expended, but in terms of her own knowledge that the only way she had to replenish it currently was anathema to her.
I squeezed back. “Thank you,” I whispered back. “But never do that again.” I looked up and caught her gaze so that she could see my own determination and know I was serious. Megan blushed. She was the first to look away.
“I won’t,” she said. “Not until we know how I’m going to support myself.”
I let go of Megan and started toward the door, bag of manga in one hand and cloak and headphones in the other. Fumiko frowned while watching me go.
“Abby, are you sure you don’t want to wait here for John?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No… I’ll call him when I get downstairs. Right now I just want some fresh air and a chance to think about all this. And, I know it’ll sound silly, but… Usually I’d be afraid of the dark. And being in the open, and the night in general, and… well, right now I’m not. And yeah, I can’t exactly enjoy that right now — but I can experience it, and have the memory of it for when I’ve fed enough that I can.”
Fumiko started to move toward the door as though she meant to join me, and I hastily held up my hands to stop her. “You two should stay here for now, though,” I said. “We don’t know how far past the apartment Melvin’s wards extend. But don’t worry about me: I’ll be fine. I’m a supernatural badass, remember?” I made myself smile, and Megan rewarded me with a laugh. Fumiko still looked dubious, but I made my escape and she didn’t follow.
That was a relief. I didn’t really want either of them knowing what I was going to do. For that matter, I didn’t really want anyone knowing because I didn’t think anyone I knew would like the idea of my asking Melvin for blood any more than I did. In fact, I really wished Megan hadn’t given me that burst of energy before I left: I knew I didn’t have a choice, and now I was alive enough to be seriously wigged out about it.
I mean: Melvin couldn’t try to lay claim to me anymore, thanks to the deal he’d made with Hans. But that just meant he would probably try to do something worse.
Oh god, what if he asked me out to dinner and a movie or something? That would combine him being creepy and sadistic (since he knows how I’d feel about that!) just enough to be exactly the sort of ultimatum I’d expect him to level.
When I got down to the curb, I was starting to feel a little sick. I made myself fish out my phone, anyway. I didn’t dial anyone, but I did hold it up to my ear just in case anyone — like Megan or Fumiko — happened to be watching from a window. Then I started walking down the street, to get myself out of the line of sight of those particular windows.
“So, Melvin,” I said aloud once I figured I’d walked far enough to ensure some privacy. I hesitated before saying anything else, though. I found myself balking from asking for blood before I could actually see him. Maybe it was my own cowardice trying to postpone the inevitable, but I justified it by telling myself that this was the sort of favor you only asked for face to face. I took a deep breath to steel myself. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” I muttered before saying more loudly: “You wanted to talk. So do I. Get out here, buster.”
It was, of course, all bluster and bravado on my part. I barely refrained from shrieking when Melvin materialized practically in front of me.
Belatedly I realized: Maybe I should have.
Melvin had appeared with his sword drawn. What’s more, its blade was once again leveled at my chest. His eyes flashed angrily as he stepped forward. I stepped back, but not before the tip of his sword jabbed me through my blouse. I backpedaled as quickly as I could, because Melvin kept coming: driving me back into an alley.
“What the hell, Melvin!” I managed to gasp once my back hit a wall. I had no idea why… I swallowed as a sudden thought surfaced. Surely it was my growing panic talking, but: How could I be sure this was really Melvin? What if it was Mr. Eyelids, trying to be sneaky? Or… or… God, I didn’t even know. But neither could I think of a reason for Melvin to be holding me at sword point when I hadn’t even gotten around to asking if I could have a bite, yet!
Melvin’s face scrunched into a scowl. “That’s exactly what I’d like to know,” he snapped. “What the hell, Abigail. What the hell did you do?!”