Director Lewellan’s eyes were dispassionate as he met my gaze. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but the paranoid part of me — fueled by my grasp of my vampiric instincts — was pretty sure that he’d been playing me when he’d pretended he wanted to be helpful. “I’m glad you can admit that you have an issue we need to address,” Lewellan said. “I could have compelled it from you, but however you might feel about the heavy-handed approach I have had to employ, it is important for you to admit your shortcomings to yourself.”
I swallowed and nodded. I was still weak-limbed from the compulsion he had hit me with, and I hated to think about what it would have been like if he’d been serious about getting a specific answer. Behind me, I could feel Hans tensing. I knew he could tell I was upset — for that matter, I knew he was upset. He’d been pissed about Melvin putting a geas on me yesterday morning, and that had been when his aura was in better shape than it was now. I leaned back against Hans for support, as much to force him to do something other than leap at Lewellan as because I needed it. I wanted to run away from fucking everyone — or kill Lewellan, if I listened to the nastier suggestions my vampiric side had to offer. Hans’ arm tightened around my shoulder protectively and I had to force down another urge to scream and claw at him until he let me go.
“Good,” Director Lewellan said. “Now, I can feel that sunrise is fast approaching. Although we clearly have much work to do, child, I propose we begin fresh when you awake this evening. In the time we have left before you fall dormant, I think it is more important that we address my assistant’s,” he inclined his head toward Adrian, “question. You implied that you had more than one donor. Where did you find another wolf on such short notice? Without the bonds of a pack to bring them together, loners are notorious for avoiding each other. I would have expected any who scented your prime to have reacted rather hostilely, if they even let you approach.”
“Yes,” I said. Shit, Emma. “My other donor.” Somehow I had no doubt that Lewellan would not believe that I hadn’t known how badly Emma’s aura was damaged, or how badly the sun would drain me when I went out, or that I had done my best to take care of her after I’d vamped out and drained her too far. Worse, I had nothing but confidence that he would turn her condition against me somehow. In fact, my paranoia was beginning to suggest that Lewellan would actively prevent me from trying to help her, since it would leave me reliant on him to ensure her wellbeing in my place.
“Emma isn’t a werewolf,” I said. “She’s a witch — and although she did express some interest in joining Hans’ pack, I’ve insisted she not make that kind of decision until her aura is fully recovered.”
Normally my paranoia is insane. I suspected it still qualified. But there was a difference between my normal paranoia and the paranoia that I was feeling now. Normally, I was too scared of things that could possibly be real threats to be paranoid about them — so instead, I was paranoid about Canadian slave traders, the Chupacabracorn, vampires (before I knew they were real) and aliens. Or I overemphasized potential threats to the point of ridiculousness, turning every stranger into a deranged, psychopathic murderer. This paranoia, fueled off the dark thoughts that dwelled deep down with my vampiric instincts, was not so whimsical.
“I’ve only fed from Emma three times,” I continued. “One of those I’m not even sure counts: it was just enough of a taste for me to get a look at her emotions when she insisted that she really did want to be one of my donors.”
Director Lewellan wasn’t here to help me. That had been bullshit from the very beginning. If he had been concerned with helping me adapt, why hadn’t any of those agents and allies of the Center contacted me while they’d been digging up dirt on me? Why hadn’t Lewellan been on the phone with me, walking me through shit and explaining how being a vampire worked? The Director had an agenda, and it didn’t revolve around my best interests.
That wasn’t paranoid of me, was it?
“She should be sleeping,” I added. “It would probably be better for her if we didn’t disturb her.”
Lewellan was trying to control me. Why else would he attempt to ingratiate me to him? ‘Any other vampire would have been interred if we found they’d abused a donor’s aura like you did Hans,’ my ass. Oh, that might be true. It might not. And in either case, the fact that I hadn’t been staked yet meant he’d only told me about it so he’d have it to hold over me, to make me feel grateful that he was showing me mercy. And it was all bullshit.
“I don’t believe you get to make that call, Abigail,” Lewellan said. “It would be irresponsible of me not to check on anyone who has given you blood given the condition of Hans’ aura. We need not wake her, but I insist on seeing for myself that she is healthy.”
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. I felt guilty for being mad, for wanting to hide Emma’s state from Lewellan — like I would be doing it for my own sake and to her detriment. But I knew he was going to use her against me. He was just playing the part of the good guy, and anything he did would just delay me from getting her to Megan and the help she really needed. And I had no idea what I could do about it.
“Alright,” I conceded. “But I can tell you now that her aura is in bad shape. It’s not as bad as it was: I managed to give her back some of the energy I had taken when I realized what that last feeding had done to her, but I need to take her to a friend who can help her more.”
I wasn’t sure what I expected when I let my autopilot just lay it out like that. I hadn’t mentioned that the friend who could help her was a faerie herself because of how he’d reacted when I’d brought up the fae before. I think I was bracing myself for a snide, smarmy insinuation that ‘oh, that was just too bad, poor Emma, she has such an abusive vampire for a mistress’ and ‘no, you’ve done enough. I’ll be taking over your donors, now, for their own good.’ Maybe he’d even claim to be doing it for my own good.
I wasn’t expecting him to leap over the bar and bolt to the stairs so quickly he actually blurred.
From the door, he turned. “Is she in the house?” he demanded. His voice was curt — severe in a way that probably took centuries of command. “The heartbeat I hear upstairs, is it hers?”
I twisted around to face him. “I- Yes,” I stammered despite myself. That voice, demanding to be answered at once was far more effective at getting an instant response from me than his geas had been.
He turned to Adrian. “Call the circle,” Lewellan ordered. “Wake everyone up. Warlocks first, then anyone who can still donate life. I need them here now.”
I pushed away from Hans, stumbled, and looked back and forth between Adrian and Lewellan. “What-?” I tried to say, but the Director had already vanished up the stairs. Adrian was on his phone, ignoring me completely.
Emma! I thought. I had no idea why, or what I was thinking about her, except that the thought was a panicked one — and I knew Director Lewellan had gone after her, had probably already reached her room. I tried to stop time so I could catch up, but the hole Lewellan had ripped out of my soul blazed with agony in response. I staggered, and Hans caught me. This time I did break free from him. I ran up the stairs as fast as I could, taking them in leaps of four. I heard Hans running behind me.
I don’t consider myself a graceful person. Being off-balance and panicked didn’t help. I stumbled at the start of the downstairs hall and scrabbled on hands and knees for a half step before I regained my feet, and then continued racing up to the guest room. Hans was barely a step behind me when I reached it.
Director Lewellan was already inside, at the far end of the room kneeling next to the bed. Emma was there too, of course. She was sleeping: her rhythmic heartbeat and slow breathing reassured me that she was okay. The expression on Lewellan’s face when he looked up at me made me doubt that I was going to be.
Lewellan rose to his feet. I didn’t get a chance to ask him what the fuck was going on, and I didn’t think I would have dared if he’d let me. His face was a mask of outrage — or maybe just rage. “You gave her your blood?” he demanded, and his rich voice was infused with suppressed fury.
I recoiled. Just the force of Director Lewellan’s voice tripped every panic response I’ve ever had for figures of authority. “I- No,” I yelped. Backpedaling made me collide with Hans; he caught me and steadied me.
The Director’s expression twisted. If it had been outraged before, now it was definitely just enraged. “Enough!” He shouted. He gestured at the love seat. “If you cannot contain your lies, then sit down and shut up.”
I wobbled unsteadily on my feet. The urge to cry was welling up again. “But I didn’t… I… What…? What’s going on?” Emma’s heart continued to beat methodically; her breathing was slow but deep. She was just asleep.
Lewellan knelt back down beside Emma and resumed looking over her. “This girl’s aura has been tainted,” he said. “You fed her corrupted life force with your blood, you foolish, stupid child.”
The accusation made me reel. I hadn’t fed her my blood. I hadn’t even thought about transferring life force back to her like that! But I had tried to give her back the life I had taken from her.
Oh god, what had I done?!
Hans kept me from collapsing to my knees. With his help I stumbled to the love seat and sat. Hans remained standing.
“But Abigail didn’t…” Hans tried to protest for me. I interrupted him by reaching out and grabbing his forearm. It didn’t matter how I’d done it: Lewellan was right. I’d given her life force that had been tainted with the vampiric curse, and I hadn’t even thought about it at the time!
“What-” I swallowed. “What’s happening to her, and what do we do?” I asked. I clenched my hands into fists, tearing at the love seat cushions as I did. “What does she need?”
Director Lewellan looked up at me again, and this time, after a moment, his expression softened. “You don’t know,” he said. He shook his head. “You didn’t know.” He sighed, and suddenly he sounded old. “There’s nothing you or I can do. For now, we wait until the members of my circle arrive.”
I stared. I could feel a creeping, nameless dread. I tried to blame it on the approaching sunrise… but I knew that wasn’t it. Lewellan hadn’t answered my question, not entirely. “What’s happening to her?”
Lewellyn’s voice hardened. “What’s happening is that the curse is attempting to infest her soul. If this were a proper transition, she would already have been on her death bed before you gave her your blood. After she took in the taint, you would kill her. A lethal injection is the preferred method in this age — when the progenitor cannot simply turn off the machines keeping their desired scion alive. When the soul separates from the body the curse would act, binding itself to both the body and the soul by latching on to both ends of that severed coupling. Should the process succeed, the result is that the soul is dragged back from the grey realms of death, and the body lives on as a vampire.” He sneered at me, but only for a second. “But of course,” he said, “this is not a proper transition.”
The Director looked back down at Emma. “Do you know much about magic, Abigail?” He asked. His voice was quieter again. I wondered if his animosity was reserved solely for me, for some reason.
Probably because whatever is going on, whatever my tainted life force is doing, it’s all your fault, I accused myself. Even if you had realized that the energy you were giving her would be tainted and found some other way to fix it, it’s your fault her aura was drained. You could have killed her. Oh, god: I may still have killed her. I didn’t know what was happening, what Director Lewellan had rushed up here to see — but I knew it was my fault.
I shook my head. “Only,” I choked on a surge of emotions. Dread, mostly. Dread, fear, and guilt. “Only what Emma has told me,” I said. “And a little bit I’ve been figuring out by running into it.”
Lewellan nodded as though my answer was no surprise. It probably wasn’t. “Many lay people use the terms ‘soul’ and ‘aura’ interchangeably. Even for many practitioners there’s no real reason to make a distinction, I suppose. In truth, you’ll find that there are as many beliefs about magic and methods to employ it as there are people to believe and act upon them — that is the nature of belief, and magic is a thing of belief; not the science you grew up with. For my part, I and others of my school of thought do make a distinction. As I conceptualize it, the ‘soul’ is a container. It shapes and defines a person’s life forces. An individual’s aura, then, is the energy that wells up from within it, that fills it, shines through it, and if they are alive and well, that overflows from it. Mundane individuals can see the soul of others in their character, while the aura is seen in their emotions.”
Lewellan knelt beside the bed again. “Right now, this girl’s soul is pure. The taint is searching for a severed link between it and her body, but that coupling has not been broken by death and thus its severed ends are not to be found. The taint came in on the life force you gave her with your blood — but at the same time, her soul is attempting to replenish her aura. That energy is untainted, and as it fills her soul, it will push the foreign taint out. Think of a cup with oil in it. As you fill it with water, the oil will rise and eventually, when the cup overflows, the oil will be washed out.” He raised his head and I was transfixed by his gaze.
“But our curse is not so simple as ‘oil;’ nor is the essence of an aura so mundane as ‘water,'” Lewellan said darkly. “You have felt the hunger — you know the addiction to life. Our curse consumes the energy of auras. That is why, even though we are ‘alive’ in a sense, our auras do not replenish themselves like other living beings’ do. Why in time, our auras deplete and we thirst for life anew. And right now, the curse you fed her is devouring that woman’s life force even as her soul is attempting to replenish its aura.”
I stared back at Lewellan, my eyes wide with horror as I tried to take in what he was telling me. “Then… she’s becoming a vampire?” I whispered.
Lewellan snorted. He looked at Emma again and shook his head. “No,” he said flatly. “To come back as a vampire requires a scion be fed back their own life force, tainted by our curse. So, perhaps if she had died when you’d first given her your blood, she would have come back as one of us. One in fifty survive that transition. No, from what I can see the taint has already consumed the life force that you passed along with your blood, and moved on to the pure energy being produced by her soul. Should we kill her now, she will simply die, for the taint will not have the strength to rebind her body and soul — it has already devoured that energy, like a starving beast consuming its own fat.”
I wobbled, even though I was sitting. I felt light-headed. What did I do? I didn’t know. I didn’t know!
“Now,” Lewellan continued, “One of three things may come about. Most mortals who are fed the taint and are not killed will recover. It was actually once common to share blood — it was believed it would allow the taint to build up within a favored scion, so that they would be more likely to survive the transition to vampire. Of course, as with many things arcane that theory could never be proven one way or the other. But the point is: a well-managed donor’s soul would be strong enough to replenish their native aura and force the taint out.”
Lewellan looked away from me and sighed. “That is the best possible outcome for… Emma, was it? Of course, for some mortals that does not work out. If,” he said — and now he glared at me accusingly — “for instance, their soul has been shredded by a vampire feeding upon it too heavily, well: then it may not be strong enough to restore its aura faster than the taint can consume it. In that case there are only two ways for the tragedy to resolve.”
I blinked away the tears that I had refused to spill down in the basement. I hadn’t noticed when they’d started falling. I’d been too busy thinking about Emma, and how I’d been determined to be better for her than Mr. Salvatore had been, and… No, no, no, my mind was railing — I didn’t want to know. I didn’t know what those outcomes might be, but I knew they couldn’t be good — and it was my fault, and I didn’t want to know.
“What is going to happen to her?” I whispered.
“The vampire’s curse will consume her aura entirely,” Lewellan answered. There was neither mercy nor compassion in his voice, just hard accusation as he laid out the paths that remained. “Her sleep will pass into a coma, and the curse will continue to consume her aura as her soul produces it. Her aura will not recover and she will eventually die. Or, the curse will manage to latch onto the coupling between her soul and her body despite the fact that it has not yet been severed. That joining will become contaminated, and the taint will drain out of her aura and into her soul, befouling that part of it. From within her soul the curse will no longer require so much of her life essence to maintain its form; it will be dormant, in part, and maintained by the strength and structure of her soul, instead of her aura. Thus, her aura will replenish. And then, when she eventually dies of other causes, she will either die a normal death — or the connection between body and soul will be held intact by the taint, and she will live on as a ghoul.”