I looked around the empty street once more. I was slightly disappointed that all of Mr. Eyelids’ fae had fled. I was slightly more amazed that Melvin had not. When I turned my attention to Melvin, he stopped his own survey of the street and returned the favor, focusing on me. He spoke first.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
I smiled crookedly. If I lunged for Melvin, he’d probably disappear on me. He wasn’t stupid, after all, and there was as much distance between he and I as the horde’s original circle would have allowed. I also figured he wasn’t asking about how I’d bluffed our way out of a fight — but rather how I’d killed three of our enemies faster than anyone who’d been there could blink.
“Oh, are we playing this game, now?” I asked. “Trading answers to questions?” I kept my hunger out of my voice, not wanting to spook Melvin. I called it a game to keep his interest. Really, it was a lure.
I was parched.
Melvin hesitated, but then a slow smile spread over his lips. “Yes, and yes. You’ll find I’m a better player than your last opponent — and that now you owe me two.”
I laughed. It was a rich, throaty sound totally unlike my usual anxious tittering. I liked it. And I was actually having fun, playing with Melvin. Or rather, I was having fun stalking him. It may have seemed like we were just exchanging words, but for me it was the hunt.
“Then I think we should make it three,” I said. “Three is supposed to be a special, magical number, I’ve heard.” Admittedly, I’d only heard that from books and movies — but I figured if it was a common enough perception, then as far as magic was concerned there was truth to it. After all, a common perception that magic didn’t exist was also the easiest way to banish it. “Answer me one more question, Melvin.”
I don’t know if Melvin overlooked that I’d just given him an order, or if he was excusing it to keep playing instead of trying to screw with me. Hell, maybe he was going to screw with me by only answering quite literally one more of my questions, ever. I should have thought of that.
“By all means: Ask,” Melvin agreed.
“Why haven’t you fled, like the others?” I asked. “Surely you have noticed that I am not afraid. And you must know by now that means I am dangerously thirsty.”
Melvin chuckled. “Too easy,” he replied. “As you’ve said yourself: I have a certain duty to make sure you are not a threat to Megan. That is only exacerbated by the fact that she is my liege. So I must remain here to assess your condition, and perhaps assure myself that you will make it to feed on your puppy instead of turning back toward my Lady’s domicile. But, if you must have a new reason, as well, there is this: there is no circle around us, now. If I suspect you intend to so much as twitch in my direction, I will be down the leyline and at Megan’s side to warn her against you before you can ever hope to catch me.”
I nodded slowly. That was about what I’d expected, and it was nice to have his method of retreat confirmed. Especially since I suspected it would backfire quite nicely. I smiled. “I see. Then I suppose it is my turn to answer your questions, Melvin. For the first: I am far stronger and faster than you would have expected in comparison to Mr. Salvatore — especially given my youth relative his age — because the blood of Mr. Salvatore’s first victim was less potent than the blood of mine. So, the answer is: I did it easily.” I smirked. “Now, by all means: you have two more to ask.”
“Yes,” Melvin agreed, “and I think I may save them for when you are more yourself, Abigail. I hardly think I’d be able to distress you with them right now.”
I let my eyes narrow. “So, you mean to torment me when I am more ‘alive’ again?” I asked. I despised my living self for being so weak as to be vulnerable to Melvin’s simple machinations. I despised him even more, for so cheerfully taking advantage of it.
Melvin chuckled. “Of course,” he said. “And now you owe me three again.”
I closed my eyes. I wasn’t breathing, or I would’ve taken in a deep breath. Instead, I sorted out my mind, identifying all the influences raging around in my thoughts right now. Hunger, that was the big one. But there was also a tiny corner of my mind that, now that I was looking for it, I recognized as Megan. I frowned. I thought I could feel just the faintest traces of something like Hans — and something like Emma, and even something like Melvin. My frown deepened. I wasn’t supposed to be carrying anyone else’s souls in mine — but then, those traces were far fainter than the steady pulse of Megan’s existence. And now that I was looking, there were others, still fainter: traces of emotions and mindsets that didn’t remind me of anyone I’d fed on.
Were those leylines?
It was possible, I decided. I had no idea what leylines were supposed to look or feel like, only that they were connections between people. But Megan was supposed to be able to see them, and I was hungry enough that the bulk of the soul that remained within me was Megan’s.
I opened my eyes again. “I have one more question,” I said. “But this one isn’t a part of our game. Answer it, and I will reward you with…” I paused to consider something he would find too enticing to pass up. “…a favor,” I said, letting the word roll off my tongue suggestively. Melvin perked up. His interest was hooked.
“Pray, good vampire, ask,” he said.
I tilted my head and considered my words. “If you couldn’t just teleport — if, say, you had to lead a physical being to her — how would you use your leyline to find the way to Megan?” Megan and I were connected. If I could leverage that connection to always be able to find her… Well, with Archarel and so many others out to capture her, that would give me a considerable advantage. She could be the bait, and I could gobble up whoever Katherine sent after her next.
Melvin frowned, considering the question. Then he smiled. “I would use my connection to teleport to her, and then — once I knew where she was — I would return and lead the way by whatever means of transportation were required.”
I scowled, and Melvin laughed at me. He clearly knew that his answer was cheating.
“Unfortunately, connections care not a whit for things like direction,” he said. “I couldn’t just focus on her and start walking, for instance. Distance is a slightly different matter, though — the connection doesn’t become stronger with proximity, but it does become more… well, more evident. It acquires prominence.”
My scowl softened into a frown. That actually sounded a lot like the connection I felt to Megan, and explained why it seemed so much stronger when we were together — It was just easier to grasp; harder not to notice. “But out of sight, then out of mind,” I muttered.
“Precisely,” Melvin agreed cheerfully. “In fact, focusing on someone can bring their connection to the fore regardless of distance. For instance, even though Megan is most likely still in her home, that leyline is just as prominent to me as if she were beside me because of the importance she has as my liege and the fact that we have been discussing her.” His smile widened. “And now you owe me three questions and a favor,” he pointed out — just to toy with me, I was sure. “I am greatly looking forward to after you’ve fed again.”
I smiled at him. It wasn’t a nice smile. There was something else I wanted to test, now. “Actually, I’m paying the favor back now,” I said. “It’s a warning. I am going to twitch, Melvin, and if I get to you before you get to Megan, I will have your blood.”
Melvin chuckled. “I’m game for a race, vampire. But when I win, I’ll take my prize from the living Abigail.” He sneered. “You’re so far gone I can barely feel our own connection, even though you’re right in front of me — and there’s simply no fun in toying with a soulless monster.”
I kept my smile fixed on my face even though it wanted to widen. I think that’s confirmation, I thought — and then I took a single, deliberate step forward. Melvin vanished in a swirl of shadows.
…only to immediately appear beside me.
I lashed out and seized hold of him before he could even process his surprise at not appearing where he’d intended. I’d managed to grab his arm, and I turned so we were facing each other. Then I grabbed a handful of his shirt, just for good measure. “I win,” I told him.
Melvin’s mouth hung open. “Wha… How?!” he sputtered.
Now I let my smile widen. “I told you,” I said. “My first blood was more potent than Mr. Salvatore’s. He fed from a witch. I fed from Megan. If you remember telling me that I was a monster who stole the souls of others in order to have my own… Well, apparently, there’s some truth to that. The foundation of my curse was Megan’s blood, and the bit of her aura that came with it is eternally a part of me. I’m starting to think of it as layers: There’s my soul, which goes dormant as I hunger. Then there’s the vampire curse, and anchoring both is Megan’s soul, which also binds them together and to my body.”
Melvin’s eyes were wide. I watched the intelligence working behind them with mild amusement. This was the part where he figured everything out. The huntress in me had already exulted in his capture. But I was a little sadistic at heart, no matter how I tried to deny it when I was ‘alive,’ and I felt no guilt about wanting to play with my food before devouring him.
“That’s how you could order me,” he said.
“And that’s why I went to your side instead of Megan’s,” he added.
I nodded again. “And why you could feel her connection to her ‘as though she were right in front of you’ but couldn’t feel your connection to me. I suspect that when I am fed, my ‘living’ aura blankets Megan’s as well as the vampire’s instincts.” Just like Hans’ living aura concealed and supplanted his wolf’s, until I sank my teeth into him. “And now,” I said, “You’re down to two questions. I think you should use them now, Melvin. Before I claim my prize from our race.”
Melvin swallowed. His eyes widened slightly, as though he was just now realizing that I really was going to feed on him. If he tries to resist, I’ll tear off his arms, I decided. I could just order him to let me do as I wished, but the sadist in me was enjoying his misery too much. Turn about is a bitch, I echoed my earlier thoughts — only this time there was no doubt in my mind that I was scarier than he could ever be. Payback was going to be delicious.
“Actually, I think I’ll save them,” Melvin said.
I arched an eyebrow, impressed that he’d pulled up the courage to defy me when his existence was literally in my hands. “If you think I won’t destroy you just because you have an outstanding debt left to collect then you’re wrong, Melvin. I don’t care about how that might impact my soul, whatever you’ve told me about broken promises. I’m a vampire. My soul is in tatters already.”
Melvin’s throat spasmed, but he managed to keep any panic out of his expression. “Perhaps,” he said, “But they are two more reasons to keep me alive — and there are others.”
I looked at him coldly. I wasn’t going to ask him what they were, not until we’d officially declared our game over. I might not care about one broken promise — but I wasn’t stupid. There was no sense damaging myself unnecessarily.
Melvin hastened to explain. “I’m helping protect Megan — who seems to be an integral part of you. I would think that means her well-being actually matters to you whether you are living or not. Moreover, I’m her servitor, and by proxy yours. I’m far more valuable to you alive than dead, and I’m immortal. Whatever you could possibly get from my death, now, cannot possibly compare to what I can offer over an eternity.”
I snorted. “You’ll have to do better than that, Melvin. I happen to recall someone saying that if I ever sought to use the leverage I had over him, he would make it a game to defy me in every way he could imagine. It seems to me that if I destroy you, what I’ll get is an eternity free of your bullshit, and a pleasant meal to boot.”
Melvin’s answering chuckle was decidedly anxious. “I rescind that proposed game,” he hastily said. “On introspect, I do not believe it would be as enjoyable as I first considered. I will be positively pleasurable company in the future, I assure you.”
“Good,” I chuckled. “And I do realize that promise doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t screw with ‘living’ Abby. But Melvin, while you like to be sly I prefer to be blunt. So, just to make sure there are no misunderstandings: If you do decide to fuck with me, and I decide you’ve gone too far…” I yanked Melvin forward. He stumbled, and I held him so we were eye to eye and nose to nose. “I will fucking eat you alive,” I hissed.
Then, without thinking — without so much as pausing — I tilted my head and shoved my mouth over his. Just to fuck with him… and because I’d made a promise.
My lips parted over his, and when he reflexively started to return my kiss, I sank my fangs into him. He cried out against my mouth and I drank deep, yanking him forward again when he tried to pull away. In the process, his lower lip had been shredded. I kissed it better, licking it once and sucking at the shadowy blood that spilled from his torn flesh until the skin of his glamour mended and the flow of blood stopped. Then I shoved him away.
Melvin went sprawling on the street. I barely noticed. I’d had Megan’s blood before — the congealed, nearly scabbed blood from her scratched cheek. I’d even had Melvin’s — but only drops, spilled through the air before I caught them. This? This experience was something else again. Fae blood, fresh from the flesh, was infinitely more.
Maybe it was just that I was a young vampire, and wasn’t supposed to need much blood — and, for the first time, I was drinking the blood of someone with the potency my curse was keyed for. Those two things, coupled together, probably explained it: I was alive. I felt like electricity was running through my veins. I felt strong and energized; healthier than I’d ever felt before. I could hear and smell and see everything, just like when my senses heightened when I was hungry — but it wasn’t overwhelming. I could key in on anything with a thought while the rest faded into a panorama around it, still there but not crashing through my perceptions and demanding the attention that I didn’t have to spare.
I breathed in deeply, inhaling for as long as I could, feeling the air swell in my lungs and rejoicing in the sheer bliss of being alive. I was so sensitive that even the air on my skin felt like a sensual caress: the embrace of a living world for a living being on its surface. I exhaled.
Then I looked at Melvin. I could feel his life force still, and I locked down on it in my mind, ruthlessly separating what was him from what was me. I did everything I’d learned so far to absorb it faster, to get Melvin’s emotions out of my head, and it hardly felt like I was making a dent. The tiny part that had already spun into what I recognized as myself realized that I hadn’t actually taken more than I did from Hans or Emma — but I’d taken it in all at once, from just a fraction of the blood, and it was overwhelming.
“Melvin,” I managed to say. He looked pale. I didn’t blame him: I knew he hadn’t known I wouldn’t kill him permanently. “Go to Megan.” Surely, I thought, I had taken in enough life that my fraction of Megan’s soul was being overshadowed by my living self.
Melvin didn’t need me to order him twice, and he didn’t try to misinterpret what I’d told him. He vanished at once, and this time he did not appear beside me.
I was alone in the street.
I kept my focus on Melvin’s life, on breaking it down and letting it pool into emotions and patterns and thoughts I recognized as me. I started to tremble, like some kind of addict coming off of a high. I fumbled in my purse and pulled out my cellphone. Then I called John.
I barely registered it when he answered. I didn’t really hear what he said.
“I’m a couple streets down from Megan’s apartment,” I managed to tell him. “Please come pick me up.” Then I hung up.
On autopilot I put my phone away. Then, with a little more fumbling, I found one of the candy bars I’d always kept for Megan. I pulled it out and unwrapped it. I turned and walked out of the street, then sat on the curb where I thought John would be able to see me.
Still shaking — and finally really feeling everything that had happened since I’d left Megan’s apartment — I waited and ate.