A ghoul. Having to eat dead human flesh to keep on living? I felt a shiver creep through me, and fought to suppress it. I mean, if you were crashed in a jungle or something and only had to do it a couple of times until you were rescued and everyone was dead already then okay, maybe I could sort of see that. But having to do it literally forever? I didn’t know if that would be better than dying, or worse. And then, there would be the decision to be made: die young and hope you transitioned to undeath, or die naturally and risk an eternity of old age? I swallowed. I didn’t want that to happen to Emma. I didn’t want her to have to make that choice. “But that’s not going to happen,” I said. “You had Adrian call your donors, right? That means they can do something to help her. Right?” She’s going to be okay. Emma has to be okay.
“They’ll try,” Lewellan said. “Neither you nor I can help her now, because anything we tried to contribute to her aura would only further taint it. Mortal witches and warlocks, however, can tap into the auras that spill out from supernatural and living things and shape it for their magic. My circle of donors will attempt to facilitate that; to focus on her and open up their auras to her, so that her soul can more easily pull in energy with which to push out the cursed life force you gave her. It may be enough, or it may not. It depends on the girl and how badly you’ve ravaged her soul.”
I nodded and tried to ignore the surge of guilt. That’s what I’d been trying to do when I’d inadvertantly cursed Emma in the first place. Make my aura overlap hers, and then make it so that the two were similar enough that mine could sink into hers and be used to replenish hers. I just hadn’t thought about the fact that my life was forever tainted by my curse, now. “Wait,” I said. “Why can’t they just push their aura into hers directly? Like… like you said with the water. They could ‘refill Emma’s cup’ and flush out the curse.” I knew it was possible: Hell, Lewellan had pushed his aura into mine with his damn geas, hand’t he?
Lewellan shook his head. “It wouldn’t be her energy,” he said. “Rather than filling the cup with water, you’d be filling it with other oils. Maybe they would flush out the curse, or maybe the curse would push them out instead. In either case, doing something like that would damage her soul: they would have to create an opening to pour their energy in through, and the more damaged the girl’s soul is, the less likely she is to recover.”
I swallowed. Lewellan’s geas had left a hole behind when he withdrew it. It had taken the chunk of Pipsqueak’s un-subsumed life force I’d thrown at it, too. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think Lewellan was lying. Not about that, anyway. “Okay. But more witches would be better, right? They could put out more energy and make it even easier for Emma’s soul to restore itself?” I didn’t even wait for Lewellan to answer. I turned to Hans.
“Hans, call… call Linda,” I ordered him. Fuck, Linda is going to curse me all over again, I thought. But I didn’t know what else to do — and like hell was I going to let being intimidated by Linda and afraid of what she’d do to me in retribution get in the way of getting Emma all the help I could. My grip on my vampire side, muted though it was by the buffer of Melvin’s and Pipsqueak’s auras that had yet to be subsumed into mine, gave me at least that much of a spine. “She might want to be neutral, and maybe she won’t help me, but she as much as said she’d come out to help Emma.”
Hans nodded and pulled out his phone. I blanched when he slipped into the hall to make the call. I was alone with Lewellan. And Emma, but she was unconscious and I was supposed to be being protective of her, so that didn’t help.
“Linda?” Lewellan asked casually. “Linda Fleischer?”
I nodded. I was too busy thinking to pay attention to Mr. Jackass Director. It was even more important for me to get Emma to Megan, now. It sounded like witches weren’t supposed to be able to just push energy without causing damage, which made me confused because clearly I’d done just that to Emma. Unless I’d shredded Emma’s soul worse when I’d tried to give her energy back. Except I would have felt that, wouldn’t I?
Maybe not… My sensitivity to spiritual matters, especially my own aura, had been growing by leaps and bounds but maybe I hadn’t been that sensitive by noon yesterday. But no: I would have noticed something like that. I knew I would have, because I had been terrified for Emma’s life. I would have known if I was hurting her worse!
“Strange company you keep,” Lewellan observed. “Lord Archarel is an enemy of humanity, and you are inviting his daughter into your house.”
“No, I’m inviting his kidnapping victim, who escaped from and turned on him,” I snapped back. I’d had a realization. I had somehow pushed energy into Emma without using blood as a medium, and I thought I knew how.
Megan could push energy without hurting someone. She’d done it to Fumiko. Hell, she’d done it to me. And we shared a soul. Could I… could I maybe do faerie-like things because I had a faerie soul mixed in with mine?
Director Lewellan scoffed. “Who escaped from him and turned on him, but now wishes to remain neutral,” Lewellan countered. I ignored him. I was still focused on helping Emma, and fuck faerie and Center political bullshit.
I couldn’t help Emma because my aura was tainted. But Megan could. The help that Lewellan’s circle or Linda’s coven could provide were only stopgap measures. Maybe they would be enough to help Emma recover, but I wasn’t going to gamble on that. Megan, on the other hand, could actively take all of the energy that the gathered witches and donors were making available and flat out give it to Emma.
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “Whatever. You can worry about political bullshit, but I’m going to go save my girlfriend.” I got up wobblily and started to leave the room, only to stop short when Adrian came in.
“They’re on their way,” Adrian reported. “And it sounds like Hans is calling in support as well.” I was distantly aware of Hans’ conversation through the walls, but I had been ignoring it along with Lewellan. The truth was: I didn’t really want to hear Linda’s reaction to Hans’ news.
Then Adrian paused and looked at me. He seemed confused since I was clearly in the process of storming out. “Where are you going?” He asked.
“Excellent question,” Lewellan chimed in. “Please, educate me, Abigail. How are you going to ‘save your girlfriend’ now?”
I scowled. I sort of felt like I was being mocked. At the same time, the Director’s tone of voice made me feel like he thought I was being petulant. “I’m going to get Megan,” I said. “Maybe your circle and Linda’s witches can’t just give energy to Emma without screwing up her soul worse, but Megan can. Get out of my way, Adrian.”
Startled, Adrian glanced at Lewellan to see what to do. That pissed me off more.
“Seriously,” I growled, “Get out of the way, Adrian.”
“No,” Lewellan said. I snapped around to stare at him. He looked back at me levelly. “The girl is nearly comatose from a depleted aura,” he said, “and you want to bring a fae near her? A soul eater?”
“Megan won’t hurt her,” I said. I tried to keep my voice level. I tightened my grip on the bubble around my vampiric instincts. They wanted to just eviscerate him and be fucking done with it. I was finding myself surprisingly okay with that thought, assuming I could pull it off. I was getting really sick of the way Lewellan was addressing me like I actually was a child. Especially since I was clearly angry now, and he looked amused by it.
Like it was the anger of a child: impotent and unable to effect him or the world around me, and unworthy of note or concern.
“You can’t be certain of that,” Lewellan said. “Fae are tricksters, and you have been attacked multiple times. Do you think I didn’t notice the scorch marks on the floor downstairs? That attack was reported to the Center — as was the fact that it came in the midst of your last visit with your ‘friend’ Megan.” He sighed. “Abigail,” he said, his tone condescendingly reasonable, “you are being tricked. You have consistently made poor decisions, and this is another one. It is no surprise — it isn’t even truly your fault. Your ‘friend’ has been feeding on you for years, and in doing so manipulating you into dependency on her. This…” He made a gesture encompasing me, Emma, himself; maybe the city at large. “This is part of their coup. Or do you honestly think it is a coincidence that a changeling has so strong a hold over someone who was ‘accidentally’ transitioned into vampirism, leaving this city wide open to the fae in the process?”
I stared at him. He watched my eyes widen, and his smile curled slightly higher — like he thought I was coming around to his side, seeing reason.
What I was actually thinking was: holy fuck, I thought I was paranoid! Was that what Lewellan thought was going on? Was that what the other Directors of the Center thought was going on? Because if that was what was the accepted scenario in their heads, then all the help I’d thought I would be getting from them was a pipe dream. If they thought Megan was that kind of manipulative mastermind, if they thought she was making a bid for the city… Well then, they were going to come down on her like the proverbial cavalry.
Finally, Lewellan’s smile faded. He sighed. “Now then,” he said. “I had hoped that if I took the time to explain all this then you would go peacefully dormant with the sunrise and be out of the way while I cleaned up your messes. Since your aura is apparently too bloated for that, you may as well do something useful. However, as your judgement is obviously impaired — since you think bringing a fae here will help this woman — you will be following my orders for the duration of this crisis.”
I bristled. “Like hell I…”
And then the geas slammed into my soul. My breath caught. It struck in the same way as the first — not in the same place since my soul wasn’t a physical thing and any description I employed along those lines was just metaphorical, but in the same way. It tore through the hole that had been left by the first geas, ripping it open again. I screamed and fell to my knees before Lewellan’s psychic spike landed. As before, I shoved energy in its path, trying to get it to latch on to something I could afford to lose, something that hadn’t been subsumed into my actual self.
The only thing I had on hand — the thing I was focused on that matched that description — was the cyst of Pipsqueak’s and Melvin’s auras wrapped around my vampire self.
Director Lewellan’s geas cascaded over the bubble that partitioned my darker instincts away from the rest of me. The fuzzy edges of the spike permeated Pips’ and Melvin’s auras, latching into and merging with them. I physically shuddered on the floor. Director Lewellan had struck me with a lot more energy this time.
“I am sorry to curtail your movements so harshly,” Lewellan said, “but this situation is far too delicate for you to be allowed to blunder through stubbornly and make the mistakes you seem inclined toward. You will…”
“Abigail!” Hans roared from somewhere behind me. I heard the thud of an impact and a sudden grunt from Adrian, followed by a struggle somewhere behind me. It didn’t last long. Lewellan looked up, and the fighting just… stopped.
Hans had been geased as well. I squeezed my eyes shut. It was the only explanation I could come up with. Linda had said a tattered soul made an individual more vulnerable to illusions, glamours and geases. My fault, I thought. I made Hans vulnerable to this.
“That’s better,” Director Lewellan said. “Now then. Hans. Abigail. Since you insist on remaining awake, you will assist Adrian in this next matter. You will approach Megan as you intended. You will not bring her here, however. Instead, you will take her to the Grand Lion hotel on the west end of town to be detained. There are four scions there along with their circles of donors. They will keep Megan locked down and protected. In the event that she is an enemy, she will have been neutralized. Should she turn out to be an ally, she will be safer than on her own. You will remain there as well, and sit out further involvement in this affair. The scions will employ their circles to hunt and engage the remainder of Archarel’s forces, and once I have determined which of the four has most effectively dealt with the remaining threat, that individual will take over stewardship of this city. At which point the remaining three scions, myself, and all of our circles will escort Salvatore, Megan, and yourself to the Center. Am I understood?”
I squeezed my eyes shut tighter. Hans’ acknowledgement was flat and devoid of the personality that usually informed his tone and infused his words. I barely heard it, though, because I was being addressed as well. The spike Lewellan had used to plant his geas had withdrawn from my soul, but this time it left its hooks behind. I nodded fervently. I couldn’t afford to fight it, not right in front of Lewellan.
“Yes,” I sobbed. “I understand.”