Of course, knowing what I had to do and knowing how to do it were two entirely different things. I started walking again, more to keep moving before I could freak out and abandon my resolution than anything else. I didn’t have a destination in mind, and I had no idea how to go about finding faeries. I vaguely recalled something about putting milk out for them, but I honestly didn’t expect that to net me anything but cats. Any faerie that let itself be lured to the back door of a vampire’s house like that had to be moronic. I probably wasn’t going to be that lucky — and I didn’t want a bunch of fuzzy little predators showing up on my doorstep and deciding they were the boss of me. Hans would probably object.
I turned a few more corners before I stopped. I was going nowhere fast, and I wasn’t going to let myself screw up my resolution by just being dumb about it until it was too late. I didn’t know where to go to catch fae, so I had to figure it out.
If I were a sadistic shapeshifter who fed on the fears of others, where would I go?
A list started popping up in my brain almost before I finished asking. This was exactly the sort of task my overactive imagination had been training for all my life. So: Hospital emergency rooms — you could probably take a big chunk out of someone and everyone would just write it off as them being in shock. Amusement parks with haunted houses or roller coasters, for obvious reasons. Movie theaters, whenever a new scary one came out. Underneath kids’ beds, or in their closets. Hospice centers, because who isn’t afraid of death? Dark alleys in shady neighborhoods. Cemeteries, although that might be hit or miss: how often would people be there when it was dark, really? The city morgue, though, that was a given. I couldn’t imagine anyone working there at night and not being creeped the fuck out unless a fae was eating their unease.
Unfortunately, those all presented problems. The hospital was pretty obvious, but I already knew there was at least one warlock there keeping an eye on things. So it was probably warded. It was late, so the amusement parks would be closed. Halloween had been over long enough that the same was true of any haunted houses. There might be a scary movie playing somewhere, but I had no idea where — and as late as it was there probably wouldn’t be much of an audience, so there wouldn’t be much of a reason for a fae to be lurking around, either. I wasn’t about to try to break into some kid’s room — and hospice centers were out because I didn’t want to chance giving some nice old lady a heart attack — and they might count as ‘homes,’ anyway. I didn’t think there would be anyone sitting around in a cemetery, so there probably wouldn’t actually be fae lurking around there either… I’d probably have better luck at the movies. Dark alleys scared me. And the city morgue would probably be locked up. Plus, I bet it was already covered by any local ghouls, so there probably weren’t any fae there after all.
And what was worse: I couldn’t just go somewhere and lurk around myself, hoping I got lucky and caught a fae. I had a time limit. I didn’t know when the Directors would show up, but even without worrying about them, it was only a matter of time before I got hungry again. And if that happened, I wouldn’t give a shit about my self-imposed moratorium on feeding off of Hans or Emma.
What I needed was a fae that I knew the actual location of. I frowned. The only two that fit that bill were Megan and Melvin, and they were pretty much off limits. Melvin a little less so, but I didn’t want to get into debt with him again. Plus, I wasn’t completely sure where he was: I’d just been taking advantage of Melvin because I could reliably find him, since he always came to me when I used his name too much — but I had no idea where he was until he showed himself.
Still, something about that tugged at my thoughts. It wasn’t that I needed to know where a fae was… right now, what I needed was to be able to find a faerie. And Melvin was a fae I could reliably find. Why? Because he always came to me.
I started walking again. Despite myself, I was getting excited. My thoughts chugged on relentlessly, pursuing that particular line of reasoning.
Melvin had come to me because either I had a claim on him or he had a claim on me. One way or another, we had always been linked like that — except for the first time he had shown up, when I hadn’t been calling for him specifically and he had shown himself so he could make his first bid for claiming me. So if I needed a fae I could reliably find, then what I really needed was a fae I had a link to. A fae I had a claim on.
Like, say, a faerie that owed me a boon.
I stopped stock still and bit my lips to hold in a giggle. Oh my god, could it possibly be that easy? I had a faerie that owed me a boon. In fact, I had a whole damn army of them! At least, maybe I did? I had challenged the fae that ambushed Mr. Salvatore, wagering my freedom against their ability to defeat him. They had failed my challenge, which supposedly meant they owed me a prize — but they’d been attacking Mr. Salvatore not because of my challenge, I now knew, but because they were trying to keep him from getting to Megan.
So, did that count? Maybe I could press a claim, but would any of them acknowledge it?
I held my breath while I pondered that thought. Whether or not I would ever be able to face Hans or Emma again hung in the balance of it.
But they would have to, I decided. Not just because I needed those debts to hunt them down, but because I didn’t think for a second that any of them would have passed up on abducting me if they actually had defeated Mr. Salvatore. Sure, that would’ve just been a nice little bonus for them — but I would have been languishing in terrified agony for all eternity, either way. And that meant that even if my offer hadn’t been their principal reason for trying to tackle a vampire, they had accepted it nonetheless.
I was resolute in my belief that my reasoning was solid. I couldn’t afford not to be: magic and belief seemed intrinsically connected, so if all I had to work with was what I believed to be true, maybe it would be enough for me to hunt one of them down.
Which left me with a new question. How?
“I wish Emma were here,” I muttered. She knew so much more about magic than I did it was ridiculous. But, on the other hand, relying on her to figure things out for me would’ve been more of the same. I needed to rely on myself. I needed to figure this out. I looked around, then followed the sidewalk I was on to a tree growing at the edge of someone’s property. I felt too nervous to think straight while I was standing in the open, so I sat down under it and let its trunk and branches obscure me from view. Hopefully no one will notice me and call the cops about some weird prowler.
Once I was situated I closed my eyes again and did my best to shut off my supernatural hearing. I tried as hard as I could to clear my head so I could focus on the problem at hand, even doing Megan’s meditation breathing technique in hopes that it would give me something to focus on other than the weird creaks coming from the houses around me, or the little animals and bugs skittering around or the late night TV show someone was watching down the block.
The process reminded me of when I was trying to digest Melvin’s life force, and had to focus on what thoughts were mine and which were his only this time I was doing it with sounds and senses — was it a thought? Keep it, hold onto it, explore it. Was it sensory input? Ignore it; move on.
One by one I managed to shut out the nighttime distractions around me, but no matter how hard I focused on the problem I had or what angles I looked at it from, I couldn’t figure out a solution. If I were fae, I could just hold onto the connection formed by a debt and teleport to the poor bastard I was hunting, I thought bitterly. Having a physical body sucked.
Then my eyes flew open. “Holy shit,” I said. I had it. I had it!
I stood up and glanced around to make sure I hadn’t attracted any unwanted attention. I was still alone along the street, and everything I could hear around me seemed to indicate that the occupants of the nearby houses were asleep. I took a deep breath. Then I held it and focused.
When I’d been pushing Melvin’s thoughts down, forcing them to shift over to mine, I’d noticed my connection to Megan. I’d also noticed my connection to Melvin and, since I’d been paying attention, the faint connections I had to Hans and Emma, and the ones that were even fainter still. I had even wondered if those were what Melvin was talking about when he’d described leylines.
That was what I needed. It was exactly what I needed. Sure, I couldn’t teleport along them like a faerie could, but I didn’t need to. Melvin had said they wouldn’t tell me what direction I needed to go to find the person I was after, but that was because Melvin was a moron. Or maybe because he could teleport, and had never had to seriously think of another way to use the information those connections provided.
I kept focusing until I found one of the very faintest of connections. If I hadn’t experienced them on a grander scale — if I hadn’t felt the powerful and intimate connections between myself and the people I fed on, or between myself and Megan through the shard of her soul — I would never have been able to pick them out from my own thoughts and emotions. But now that I knew what to look for? Now I could.
It took effort. A lot of effort. I was thinking in a way I’d never really had to think before. But I managed it. I pulled out one of those faint threads — one that felt inhuman — and held it. I’d focused in on the one that I noticed first, the most obvious one to my questing thoughts. Now that I was actively examining it, it was… it was hard to describe. Calling it a ‘thread’ felt accurate, even though I had no way to define where it started or ended or how long it was. But it spooled, and it was thin, and my mind’s eye could only focus on a little bit as it all kept flowing past.
Maybe it was closer to a reel of tape, actually. Or peeking through a crack in a door, a thread-thin crack, and watching the mind of the person on the other side.
The person this one belonged to wasn’t human. He, because I could tell it belonged to a he, was cruel and spiteful. He was laughing inside. And the connection was too thin for me to tell anything else.
But it had told me enough. I couldn’t grasp it any better, and that was what I was hoping for. Melvin had implied that the sense of distance a leyline gave was untrustworthy because it could also just be that you were focusing on the individual at the other end of the leyline harder. Well, I couldn’t focus any harder than I was, which meant there was only one variable left that could affect my grip on the connection.
I took a step forward. My psychic grip on the fae slipped, and I hastily stepped back. My heart pounded, distracting me, so I quelled it. Then I focused again, rebuilding the connection in my mind, grabbing hold of it again.
This time, I stepped backward. And the connection didn’t slip. In fact, it felt easier to hold onto — not much, not an amount I ever would have noticed if I weren’t focusing on it with all of my might, but a little.
I laughed, completely ruining my concentration. The connection fled, disappearing back into the obscurity of the back of my mind. I didn’t care. It had worked! I ran out into the street, daring some late night joy-riding teen to run me over. When I was in the open, as far away as I could be from any of the nearby houses, I closed my eyes and focused again.
I focused in on the same thread that I had found before. It was just a little easier this time. Perhaps because of practice? Perhaps because focusing on this individual for so long, and the surge of triumph when I’d tested my idea, had made them more important to me than they had been before? I didn’t know. It didn’t matter.
I dropped my cloak on the road, and then focused until I couldn’t concentrate any harder. And then I walked in a slow circle.
I stopped twice to open my eyes and note where I was. Once was when stepping forward or backward caused my mental grip on the fae’s thread to slip. And the other time was when stepping either forward or backward made focusing easier.
The result was two points: one was the closest point on my circle to the fae I was concentrating on, and the other was the furthest. When I drew a mental line between them, it ran straight through my cloak. I raised my head and continued to follow it. The imaginary line kept on running through someone’s yard. Eventually it clipped the corner of their house.
I felt a giddy surge of triumph. Gotcha! I thought. I swept up my cloak and ran to the end of the block that was closest to the end of my imaginary line. Once there, I dropped my cloak in the middle of the intersection and went through the process again. The new imaginary line had shifted slightly.
Almost as though one end of it were anchored where I was, and the other was anchored somewhere else.
I grinned, and I was so excited my fangs slipped out even though I was nowhere near hungry. I grabbed up my cloak again and ran down the street that traveled closest to the imaginary line I’d drawn in the intersection. At each corner I reached I repeated the process. It got a little easier each time. Each time, I followed the street that seemed like it would take me closest to the end of that imaginary line. And each time, the excitement that surged through me burned hotter.
The hunt, it seemed, was on.
And even though I was alive, I liked it.