While my body ran toward Megan’s home, my mind was racing in another direction. How were we going to get back to Mr. Salvatore’s house? Fumiko had a car, but there had to be a faster way — there had to. I could stop time, for god’s sake! And once we got to the house, how was I going to get her past Director Lewellan?
I ran with long, bounding strides that were half step and half leap, propelling myself forward at a ridiculous speed — in my haste I’d realized that I didn’t really have to work with the physical limitations I’d been used to in life. I didn’t get tired anymore, and my superhuman strength extended to my legs.
While I ran, I started tackling the problems my brain had laid out in reverse order. If I had to, I could try to fight Lewellan. I didn’t want him to try to compel me again, so I would have to be fast and brutal — stopping time and superhuman reflexes and strength would be good for that. It was a crap plan, especially if I’d given as much energy as I could to Megan for Emma. But if I could distract the Director long enough for Megan to get to Emma, well, then it would be worth it.
I squeezed my eyes shut for a second and when I opened them I almost clipped a car that was frozen part-way through a turn. Heart pounding from the near miss — I couldn’t afford to break my concentration and lose time — especially if it meant getting run over by someone — I resolved to keep my eyes open, even if closing them helped me think. If I had to, I could stop time again while I figured out a better plan. But I still had to get Megan to Emma. Sure, I could freeze time, but Megan couldn’t!
That was when the answer hit me, and I almost hit myself. Megan couldn’t freeze time, but she could teleport. I would wake her up and explain the situation. We would call up Melvin from wherever he was lurking, and get him to explain how the fae traveled along leylines. I would freeze time again and run back to the house. Fortunately, the morning sky was overcast — it looked like we would have rain later. I was sticking to the shadows as much as possible and the sun didn’t seem to be taking much out of me at the moment.
So: It seemed like I would have the energy to get to Megan’s apartment and then back to Mr. Salvatore’s house. It didn’t really matter how much that took out of me, because I couldn’t give it to Megan to give to Emma — not if it would still be tainted with the vampire curse. Megan and Melvin could teleport to me, and Melvin and I could distract the Director and any of his donors that tried to get in the way. Megan would have to provide the energy for Emma herself, but Emma would be receiving the best care possible essentially instantly.
I just had to focus on not getting lost, and not using up all the energy I’d need for the run back.
Fortunately, my earlier walk through Megan’s neighborhood turned out to be a secret blessing. I recognized some of the houses once I was in her neighborhood, and in short order I had found my way to Mrs. Butterson’s place.
Unfortunately, I started to develop a nervous twitch as I approached it. For a brief second, I thought it might be the approach of sunrise — but that had already happened. It was just the overcast sky and all the hours I’d been up without sleep that was screwing with my sense of time. I couldn’t place the source of this anxiety, but I couldn’t deny it, either. That scared me. Usually, if I have something obvious to be afraid of — like Emma’s safety or being abducted and sold as chupacabracorn bait — I worry about that. Being afraid of something but not knowing what? That meant my paranoia had subconsciously picked up on something worse than what I was worrying about currently, and was just biding its time to spring it on me at the worst possible moment.
I stopped outside Mrs. Butterson’s house. I felt like I should have caught my breath, but I hadn’t actually been bothering to breathe for most of my run. Everything looked okay as I surveyed the place. Fumiko’s car was still parked along the curb. The lights downstairs were out. The lights upstairs were on.
I froze. No, that wasn’t okay. If Megan or Fumiko had been up, one of them would have answered her phone. Or called back while I was still in the car.
I ran up the steps, taking them three at a time. Before I even reached the balcony that served as Megan’s porch, I saw something else out of place: Megan’s door was open, just a crack.
Now I did need to catch my breath, because I’d started to hyperventilate. Something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong. I realized, then, what I hadn’t picked up on before.
How could I have possibly gotten lost when the strength of my connection to Megan would always tell me if I was getting closer to her?
Why hadn’t I felt that connection become more prominent as I reached the house?!
I burst into Megan’s living room. I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t see any signs of a fight or other disturbance.
Then I noticed a foot sticking out from behind the base of the sofa.
Two steps moved me to where I could see: Fumiko was sprawled out on the floor. An empty glass by her hand had left a matted splotch in the carpet where its contents had spilled and dried.
No, I thought. Oh god no.
I knelt beside Fumiko. I didn’t see any obvious injuries, but I couldn’t tell if she was breathing, either. Of course I couldn’t! I still hadn’t released my grip on time. Please be alive, please be alive, please be alive, I begged. I let time go, fully prepared to bite into Fumiko’s shoulder if she was alive and merely injured. A wave of vertigo washed over me — I don’t know why but I associated it with using my powers during the day. I hadn’t lost more energy than I’d felt like I was, but there was no denying that the transition out of ‘timelessness’ had been a lot rougher than it had while the sun had been down. I groaned and rubbed my hands over my eyes. I hadn’t noticed it while I was in that timeless space, but the urge to find somewhere to hide from the sun and just collapse suddenly welled up again, this time strengthened in proportion to the energy I’d spent on the run to the apartment.
I took a firm grip on myself, determined not to go dormant now. I leaned forward to check on Fumiko, instead. She exhaled, then breathed in again, deeply.
I looked closer. Fumiko’s face wasn’t pained or anything. I heard a faint snore, but since I had all of my senses trained on Fumiko it blasted me like a chainsaw. She was sleeping?
I reached out and jostled Fumiko’s shoulder. She didn’t wake up, so I shook harder. Finally, I rolled her over onto her back and pulled her up to sitting. I had to prop her up against the back of the couch to keep her from slumping over. She mumbled sleepily but didn’t wake up.
Holy fuck, this is not normal. The observation was just a place holder to keep myself from thinking something panic-related, instead. It was also, well, obvious, and the part of me that makes up stories immediately assumed she’d been put under some kind of a spell. I kicked myself for always being so stupid like that — She was probably drugged somehow, by someone — before I mentally kicked myself again. Of course it was probably a spell. Magic was real, after all.
I picked up Fumiko’s cup and ran to the kitchen. I filled it with water and ran back. “I really hope this works,” I muttered, “because the only other way I know of to wake someone from a magical slumber involves kissing and you were pretty damn adamant about being straight.” I tossed the contents of the glass into Fumiko’s face. It splashed over her and the back of the couch. Her head snapped up and her whole body tensed for just a second. Then she blinked at me in confusion. Water dripped off her nose.
“Abby?” Fumiko asked. “What’s going on?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. She’d woken up. “I don’t have to kiss you,” I answered.
Fumiko blinked a couple more times, then shook her head as though to free it of a mental image. “Thank god,” she said, “but seriously: what’s going on?”
“Hey!” I protested, slightly hurt. Then the seriousness of the situation caught up with me again. “I don’t know,” I hastened to babble. “I was hoping you could tell me. I got here, but you were asleep and Megan is gone.” My connection to Megan — despite being anchored by our shared shard of her soul — remained faint.
Fumiko frowned. She pulled herself up to standing, looked down at her soaked blouse in disgust, and then around the apartment. I hastily hid the empty glass behind my back.
“I don’t know,” Fumiko said slowly. “I remember — it wasn’t long after you left. I’d refilled my glass of water. I was coming back around the couch when the door opened.” Her frown deepened as she pulled at hazy memories. “It was Katherine,” she said suddenly. “I remember that. But before I could do more than see her at the door I passed out.”
Shit! “She hit you with a sleeping spell, I think,” I said. Shit fuck shit. “I thought this place was supposed to be warded against baddies,” I railed. No, against hostile fae. Katherine is human. She probably just waltzed right in while Eyelids and his pack were keeping Melvin and I occupied.
Fumiko looked at me and scowled. “Warded against fae, was what Jack said,” she told me. “The wards were supposed to turn any unfriendly fae aside; make them get lost if they tried to find their way here. Katherine probably wasn’t affected at all — it’s not like she’s a faerie. Shit, how did we overlook that?”
Dammit, Melvin! “I don’t know. I… shit. Shit, shit, shit!” I yelled in frustration. It was too damn much. Too much, going on too fast. Going wrong too fast.
“Hey,” Fumiko hastened to interrupt me. “We’ll find her.” She was clearly worried, but she curled one hand into a fist so tight her knuckles popped. “This time I’ll get the drop on Katherine.”
I swallowed. “You don’t get it. Emma is hurt, bad, and needs Megan’s help. And even worse, the Director showed up, and he’s an asshole. If Megan isn’t here when his assistant shows up to collect her, they’re going to assume she’s on Archarel’s side, or that her family has deposed Archarel and has designs on the city, or some bullshit. She’s going to become secret-supernatural-society enemy number one.”
Fumiko stared at me, and then slowly forced herself to relax. She let her fist uncurl. “Well, that’s… shit. How long do we have, then?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “There’s a coven of witches on their way to Emma, but from what I’ve been told and what I can figure, they can probably only delay the inevitable. Emma has picked up my curse through shared life force, but she didn’t die — and now it’s trying to turn her into a ghoul. If Emma can get enough essence in her aura to push out the curse, she should be okay — but I was told that the curse is eating at her aura even as it tries to restore itself, and, well… My first blood was Megan’s. I’m pretty sure my curse is a lot more voracious than Director Lewellan is giving credit for, and I don’t think Linda or anyone will be able to reinforce Emma quickly enough through passive means to let her aura flush the curse out of her soul. It’ll just eat whatever energy she tries to pull in. Megan could maybe directly fix it though, using that ability to push life force into someone that she’d been practicing with you.”
I took a deep breath. More out of habit and to try to pull my thoughts together than anything else. “As for Director Lewellan and his assistant, Adrian,” I said, “We don’t have anywhere near enough time to figure this out before that situation explodes. Adrian is already on his way here. And he’s going to be pissed with me for ditching him, but he and Lewellan weren’t going to let Megan help, anyway. They were just going to assume she was an enemy and lock her up somewhere until she could prove otherwise — if that wasn’t bullshit and they didn’t try to just kill her.”
“Shit,” Fumiko said again.
Then we both jumped as my phone chimed. I’d gotten a text.
I scrambled to fish the device out in case it was Katherine messaging a ransom demand — no, that would be stupid. But what if it was Megan, trying to let us know where she was?
It was neither. “It’s Emma,” I said in surprise. Two more messages arrived as I said it.
“Director got call from assist. Pissed.”
“Be careful. Dont come back. U r declared rogue.”
“Is sending his people after known friends, family. Stay away.”
I stared at the phone in shock. Fumiko plucked it out of my hands and looked at the messages. She opened her mouth to say something when it rang.
Reflexively, I snatched it back and answered.
“Miss Abigail,” Director Lewellan began to say. I hung up immediately. What if he tried to compel me over the phone? Was that even possible? I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to deal with the repercussions, either way.
“Was that the Director?” Fumiko asked.
I nodded and prayed that Emma was okay.
Fumiko hesitated. “I don’t suppose there was any chance of talking to him before you hung up?”
I shook my head. “He tried to compel me earlier. Twice. I didn’t want to give him the chance to try again.”
“Shit,” Fumiko muttered. “Wait. Tried?”
“Didn’t work,” I said. “Tore some big chunks out of my energy, though. A lot more the second time. And I really don’t want to know what he’s going to do now that he realizes he isn’t as powerful in relation to me as he thought. Oh, and fuck: Hans is still under Lewellan’s spell. He’ll be with Adrian.”
“Well, shit,” Fumiko reiterated. “So: the Director has Emma and Hans. Megan is abducted… At least they’re in for a surprise if he tries to crash my house, since I’m here with you. Am I overlooking anyone?”
I started to shake my head — then froze. Friends, family. “My mom and dad,” I gasped. “They’re in town.” I’d even told Lewellan that they were in town when I’d tried to explain why his agents hadn’t found them at their house while trying to investigate me. Shit!
“Alright,” Fumiko said. “Call them from the car. If this assistant guy is coming here, then step one is evading him. You get your parents to lie low while we’re doing that. Then we hunker down and figure out how to track down Katherine and rescue Megan. Then we figure out how to get Hans and Emma free.” She grabbed my wrist and started pulling me toward the door — then froze. “Abby? What the crap?”
I followed her gaze. My cloak had slipped open — revealing the tattered, bloodstained remains of my blouse. I looked down at it and then up again. It was like I was wearing a Halloween belly shirt. I felt my cheeks heat. “I got in a fight last night. Two of them, but this is from the second one. I managed to hunt down a fae and I kicked his ass, but my wardrobe took the hit again.” I was actually a little pissed about that. Not only did I not have a lot of clothes, but this top was Emma’s, anyway. “Don’t worry. I got better. He didn’t.”
Fumiko swallowed. “Okay then,” she said. “Let’s go.” She turned away and tugged me after her.
I let Fumiko pull me toward the door. Actually, I was grateful that she was taking charge. Everything had seemed to be going so well after I’d caught Pipsqueak. How had it all fallen apart so damn fast?! Was I just cursed? More than the vampire thing, I mean?
Shafts of sunlight still pierced the clouds intermittently, making me wince as I stumbled out of the apartment after Fumiko. I pulled the hood of my cloak down past my eyes reflexively. I wasn’t really thinking about the sick, twisted game of ‘the sunbeams are made of lava’ I was going to have to play, though. Hopefully it would start to rain soon and that wouldn’t even be an issue.
Those thoughts were just distractions, though. The truth was, I was trying to dwell on them because I wasn’t ready to call my dad. He knows I’m a vampire. Had he convinced himself that what he’d seen was real, yet?
It looked like I was going to have to find out, and that scared me just as shitless as everything else that had landed on me since I’d died.