We left soon after that. I managed to pick myself up off the floor. Lewellan had gone back to watching Emma; ignoring me. Hans turned and stepped out of the room, but didn’t say anything. He moved as naturally as ever, but I didn’t see a hint of expression in his face.
I was more frightened of him — for him — at that moment than I had ever been before.
“Hans,” Adrian said, “do you know where we need to go?”
“Yes,” Hans answered flatly. His accent was thicker than normal, and I wondered if he usually put effort into mitigating it.
“We’ll take your vehicle, then,” Adrian decided. “As long as it will cause less alarm since it’s known?”
“It will,” Hans said. He started downstairs.
“Come along, Abigail,” Adrian added. I scrambled after him.
My mind kept scrambling, even after my body settled on a steadier gait. I had to find a way out of this, a way to warn Megan, a way to get Megan to Emma. And fuck me, but the only options in front of me weren’t good. I’d been telling myself that letting Director Lewellan — letting the Center — know about the amount of power I potentially had would be a mistake. That, at the very least, it would get me embroiled in politics and power plays and god knows what else. The problem was: apparently I already was. And if I didn’t force them to take me seriously then they were going to just keep treating me like a pawn.
But more than that… I was angry. I didn’t want to make any kind of an alliance with the Center. They were supposed to be the ones who would help me. Who would put Salvatore away and teach me how not to hurt my friends and family. After the way Director Lewellan had treated me… Well, I was grateful that he had explained what was going on with Emma. But I still didn’t want to have a damn thing to do with him or the organization he represented.
I followed Hans and Adrian downstairs. I was still wearing my cloak to cover up my shredded blouse, so I just followed Hans outside. Adrian followed after me.
We didn’t talk as we piled into Hans’ Hummer. I sat in the back, and Adrian followed my lead to sit in the back with me. I didn’t say anything, even after Adrian told Hans to take us to Megan’s and the car started. I was focused on the hole in my aura and directing the energy my curse was subsuming toward repairing it. Maybe I could strengthen it? Push more energy there, to block Lewellan’s geases from punching through like that?
Adrian broke the conversational silence. “Miss Abigail,” he asked, “How long have you known your friend Megan?”
I looked over at him. I did not appreciate being interrupted in my mania of self-accusations over Emma’s situation, Hans’ compulsion, and my efforts to fuck over Lewellan — so I glared while I did. “Six years,” I answered. “Why?”
He frowned slightly, considering my answer, and shrugged. “I thought it would better inform my opinion on the trust you have in her. I hope for your other friend’s sake that Megan is as willing — and able — to render aid as you believe. Even though Director Lewellan won’t permit the two of them to be together before Megan is vetted as a non-threat, once some confidence that she won’t harm your donor has formed we may be able to convince him to allow it.”
Did he mean that? He was Director Lewellan’s assistant, so I would have expected him to be on his boss’ side — but then again, I’ve had plenty of experience with being stuck under a boss I despised and distrusted. Hello, Mr. Salvatore. If Adrian was a more reasonable man than the Director — and had any influence over Lewellan at all — then I needed him on my side.
The problem was: my nerves were still so frayed that interacting with anyone seemed to just hurt, like everything said and everything I felt about it was too sharp. Maybe it was because of the hole in my soul that was still mending? Or maybe it was just that I was touchy because someone had put a fucking hole in my soul. My paranoia informed me that it had no doubt Adrian was trying to play me, somehow. I didn’t doubt it, either.
I took a longer look at Adrian. He had sort of faded into the background while Lewellan dominated things back at the house, and I hadn’t paid him much attention then. I addressed that mistake now. While Lewellan looked like he should be perfectly at home somewhere in the mountains, wrestling grizzly bears and baking the bones of his enemies down into charcoal for his outdoor barbecue, Adrian was significantly more… kempt? He was clean-shaven, with short, neat hair and a much more narrow build than his boss. He wore a red button-down shirt with a black tie and black slacks, under a black suit jacket.
I immediately wondered if he had a gun under that jacket. Or maybe a silver knife. Or, hell: a pair of dueling wands and a gun. With a mixed clip of silver and wooden bullets.
Adrian’s expression was mild, thoughtful — almost nice. He was kind of cute, in a ‘young gun executive’ sort of way, except he was too quiet and composed to give off the blatant arrogance needed for such a role. It made him seem competent, but harmless. I bet it helped him get close enough to people to pull the trigger. I knew his youthful appearance was bullshit: his heart wasn’t beating, so there was no telling when he’d died and stopped aging. Moreover… his heart wasn’t beating. Neither had Lewellan’s. And to me, that implied they were both in a very dangerous zone between being alive and being dead.
Adrian gave me a friendly smile. It made me want to freak out and stake him before he could go blood-thirsty psychopath on us. “I know the Director was…” He paused as though looking for a polite word. “…brusque?” Adrian shrugged. “Allow me to apologize for him. I have become accustomed to his ways, and I think that makes him forget how he comes off to others. He is, well, old and not terribly well socialized because he finds most younger people unrelatable. A fault of having too much experience, I think: he knows he knows how to handle any given situation, and no longer has the patience for those he believes are too inexperienced to contradict him.”
I continued to stare. Seriously? Adrian seriously thought he could just apologize for someone being a jackass? “That doesn’t do a damn thing to help,” I pointed out. It certainly doesn’t mean Director Lewellan is apologetic! “Frankly, if Emma weren’t in trouble, I wouldn’t be bringing Megan anywhere near your jackass boss. For all I know ‘knowing how to handle any given situation’ means he’s already decided to kill her to stave off the imminent faerie assault — because he sure as fuck wasn’t listening to me when I was trying to explain what the situation actually is.”
My declaration appeared to upset Adrian. Good, I thought. He took a breath and sighed. “Given your own assessment of the situation, then, do you think Megan is likely to willingly accompany us back?”
The question made my paranoia stand up at attention. Willingly? I barely kept from yelling at him. Are you implying that was even an option? Adrian seemed to notice my incredulity, and hastily tried to make up for it.
“I only mean that she won’t help your friend if she doesn’t come with us,” he said hastily. “I would prefer not to try to force her to. But I don’t know how hard you’ll try to convince her to accompany us if you don’t think the Director will allow her to assist — and your friend Emma needs all the assistance we can gather for her.” He sounded in earnest about Emma’s need. Enough so that I almost believed he gave a crap. “If she agrees to come willingly, I will speak to the Director on your behalf, and Megan’s,” he offered.
I nodded slowly. “Okay, gotcha,” I said. “So, you’re the good cop?”
He hesitated. “What?” he asked — but I figured he had to be feigning his confusion. Or maybe he just thought I was an idiot, too, and he was confused that I was seeing through his sham.
“The good cop,” I reiterated. “Director Lewellan is the bad cop, because he’s old and crotchety and arbitrary and too powerful for anyone to stand up to him. You’re the good cop, because you’re young and soft spoken and nice. He lays down the law as to what’s going to happen, whether I like it or not — and you get me to go along with it by sympathizing and saying that you’ll ‘talk to him’ about whatever he and I are butting heads over. I’ll toe the line until it’s too late because it won’t be worth being defiant if that’ll just ruin the chance that he’ll come around — but when nothing I want happens, that’ll just be because the Director is a jackass, and you’ll keep on my good side by commiserating, and then the whole process will start all over again with Director Jackass’ next decision.”
Adrian sat up more stiffly. “That’s not…” he protested, but I cut him off.
“Please don’t bullshit me,” I said. “Your boss tore a fucking hole in my soul.”
Clearly offended, Adrian glared back at me before answering. Then his expression softened. “I understand you are frightened for your friend. And her danger is significant.” He took a deep, fortifying breath. I wanted to smack the ‘understanding’ expression off his face. “So let me explain something to you. I met Lewellan seventy years ago. He was hundreds of years old, even then. I have been his assistant for seventy years. I know his methods are often harsh and blunt, but he is acting in the best interests of all involved. He has a better understanding of what is going on than you could even hope to grasp, and the very best thing you can do is to follow his lead. And if it takes a geas to make you see that, then I don’t think he was wrong to cast it. And I trust his judgement that it was necessary — that you wouldn’t have listened to reason otherwise.”
“Okay,” I said. “Your good cop title has been rescinded.”
Adrian scowled. “This isn’t a joke, Abigail. Your friend is in danger, and we don’t actually know if Megan will be an ally or an enemy.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. “You don’t know if…” I stopped and sneered. “Let me tell you about the things you and Lewellan don’t know, because Lewellan decided he already knew everything there was to know instead of taking the time to listen to me.”
“Miss Abigail,” Adrian tried to interrupt. I ignored him.
“Director Lewellan doesn’t seem to know that I’ve been attacked by fae multiple times because I keep getting in the way of their efforts to kidnap Megan — which they keep trying to do because she isn’t on their side. Director Lewellan doesn’t realize that Megan didn’t even fucking know she was a changeling before I told her. Director Lewellan doesn’t know that Megan is in love with me, and Megan dated Emma, and there is no fucking way Megan would let harm come to her, especially with me asking her to help.” I took a deep breath and smiled. The hole in my soul had finally closed. It felt weak, but it was whole.
“Oh, and something else Director Lewellan doesn’t know? He doesn’t know that my favorite color is blue, and that I will do whatever needs to be done to preserve the well-being of my girlfriend, even if it involves telling Director Lewellan to go fuck himself.”
“Abigail,” Adrian said — and he sounded alarmed. Good. “You’re under a geas. Don’t do something you’ll regret.”
I laughed. “Apparently you aren’t any better listening than your boss is. Let me reiterate: I will do whatever needs to be done. And if you’re so concerned about that geas, let me put your mind at ease. Apparently, the two of you don’t know that any geas can be broken, as long as you don’t mind sacrificing the part of yourself that the geas has latched into. If you had been paying attention you’d know that I’d already broken one of Lewellan’s geases — and instead of being rendered unconscious, all I lost was the bit of my ‘bloated aura’ that I shoved in its way. An aura, by the way, that is bloated because I’ve figured out how to fucking hunt Archarel’s fae. On my own.”
“Miss Abigail,” Adrian snapped. He was starting to sound panicked. I continued to ignore him.
“Hans, I’m sorry.” I said. I knew he would want to help me, and I knew his aura wouldn’t survive the strain of breaking a geas. “I know you can’t do anything about it right now. Don’t fight the Director’s compulsion. Don’t pick a fight with him. I will get you out of this fucked up mess, just as soon as I get Emma taken care of.”
“I understand,” Hans said — and his voice was rough and his accent was still thicker than usual, but this time it was thick with emotion. Belatedly, I remembered what had happened the last time someone had ordered him to go against his instincts… and he had wound up being the sole survivor of his pack.
I’m sorry, I thought. I would find a way to make it up to him. But first I needed to get Emma help, and I needed to get it to her now.
And as soon as I steeled myself to take action, Director Lewellan’s geas tore into my soul.
Into the bubble that kept my vampiric instincts out of my ‘living’ self.
The geas was ripped apart by my determination to disobey Director Lewellan’s mandates. In the process, the energy it had latched onto was shredded and twisted as well. The first time Lewellan had geased me, I hadn’t been able to differentiate between the moment the geas broke and the moment Lewellan’s spike had withdrawn — I’d lied on autopilot while Lewellan had still been planting his compulsion, and it had torn away both the energy that I had thrown in front of it and the chunk of soul Lewellan had pushed his psychic spike through.
This time, the spike had already withdrawn. In fact, the hole it had torn in my soul was already scabbed over. The membrane of energy patching it was thin, but it was still there. So this time I was very aware of what the breaking geas did.
Describing it like oil on water was astonishingly accurate. The remnants of the geas and all of the energy it had been hooked into twisted into something foreign and immediately rushed away, pushed out as more of Pipsqueak’s and Melvin’s energy surged into place around my vampiric instincts.
It was agonizing — but I’m used to the catharsis of pain. Even more liberating, in this case: as Lewellan’s geas dissipated, it took that cyst of Melvin’s and Pipsqueak’s auras with it — and my vampiric instincts, the instincts that got shit done flooded into the front of my consciousness. For a brief second I was nothing but ruthless confidence… until the cyst of energy reformed.
It was like that node — the curse, my vampire self — was drawing in the unabsorbed life force I had left over from Pips and Melvin and consuming it, but more energy was being pulled than the curse could devour at once. As a result the unabsorbed energy was piling up: compacting and forming the buffer which kept my vampire side contained even as it fed on the accumulating energy.
At the same time, the energy Lewellan’s geas had ruined didn’t tear up my soul — instead it flooded to the edges of my aura like oil bubbling up through water. Then the ruined energy and remnants of geas oozed out of my soul, like it was being forced through a porous skin by the energy that genuinely composed my aura.
That swirling of energy as my aura reordered itself was intensely nauseating.
All of that happened in a split instant. Physically, I reacted by pitching forward, grabbing my head and screaming. Then I took deep, ragged breaths as I straightened in my seat and lowered my hands. The pain had passed, leaving a phantom ache in its wake that only heightened the nausea. I took more breaths to try and steady myself.
Hans didn’t react to my distress at all.
Adrian, on the other hand, sighed in relief. “You are under a geas,” he said as though reminding me. Or maybe he was reminding, or reassuring, himself. “Stop struggling with it before you do yourself real damage, Abigail. The Director will listen to reason — if Megan really isn’t a threat, then she will be allowed to help your donor. But if you aren’t willing to be reasonable then you can’t expect me to speak up on your behalf — or Lewellan to listen if I did.”
I smiled to myself. My vampire self had urged me to slaughter Adrian and incapacitate Hans until Hans’ geas could be undone… but I wasn’t entirely sure how to do that without seriously physically hurting my boyfriend. And now that my vampire self was back under wraps — albeit a thinner one than Lewellan’s geas had stripped away — I just wasn’t that big of a psychopath. I opted to enact my original plan, instead.
The one I’d decided on when I’d sensed that the hole in my soul had finished sealing itself up.
Adrian reached out to grab me — maybe just to physically demand my attention, or maybe because he figured that I was going to do something crazy and the sooner he restrained me the better. It didn’t matter, though, because I had already stopped time.
I looked at Adrian and scowled. His mouth was open to say something, exposing rows of sharp teeth. Adrian is a ghoul? I hadn’t picked up on that before. It was pretty obvious now, though. He looked very frustrated and a little angry. Well, I had that effect on people. I couldn’t imagine how he was going to react when time started up again. Trying to made a tight smile slip across my face, though.
I unbuckled my seatbelt. Then I popped open the door and stepped out of the time-frozen Hummer. I thought about going in the front, getting Hans’ keys, popping the trunk, getting a gun and putting a few bullets through Adrian, just to keep him off my ass for a while. But that was just vampire-Abby. I didn’t know if Adrian would be able to come back from that — but if he had super healing and it was anything like a vampire’s, then he probably could if he fed. I didn’t want to be responsible for pushing Adrian over the unholy hunger edge: ghouls fed on dead human flesh, and hungry undead lacked the morals necessary not to go around murdering people as a matter of convenience.
Instead, I slammed the door shut behind me. I wasn’t entirely sure this was a good idea. I didn’t know how much of the energy I’d taken from Pipsqueak and Melvin I was going to have to use up to do it, especially since the sun had crested the horizon while I’d been talking to Director Lewellan. All I knew was that Emma needed help now, and I had a way to get to Megan instantly. Or close enough.
So I kept time locked down in stasis. Then I turned toward Mrs. Butterson’s house — Megan’s apartment — and started to run.