After my third utterance of ‘oh my god,’ I gave up on trying to explain to Mr. Spiky. I didn’t really want to, anyway: for the moment he seemed remarkably non-hostile, and I didn’t really want to have to fight him and his donors again. Especially not right after I’d gone through the trouble of getting them all restored — but somehow I thought that going: ‘never mind, I did get that homeless guy killed. My bad,’ would not be very conducive to our current ceasefire.
I shook my head. I couldn’t figure out what to say about the whole mess, so I let my autopilot take over.
My desire to own my actions had apparently disappeared somewhere into the gaping emptiness that ached throughout my soul.
“I think I know what happened with Daniel,” I told Mr. Spiky. “He was a homeless man I saved from a faerie. Thought I’d saved, anyway. If I’d known more at the time, I could have really saved him.” Was Daniel going to wake up, or was he going to just die?
A little bit of anger managed to bubble up through the numbing horror of Mr. Spiky’s revelation. “If Director Lewellan — if anyone — had bothered to call and explain things instead of forcing me to figure this shit out on my own, Emma and Daniel would be okay right now,” I said bitterly. But even with that accusation to level, the person I was angry with was myself. I couldn’t do a damn thing about what Lewellan had or hadn’t done — but blaming myself for not figuring things out fast enough, not realizing the consequences of my actions… well, that was on me.
“Miss Abigail,” Mr. Spiky started to say — but I let go of him and turned away. I didn’t want to talk with him.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said bitterly. “What’s done is done. But fuck all of you for blaming me for it — it isn’t like I haven’t been doing my best.” I straightened, completely ignoring Mr. Spiky now. “Dad, will you cover those guys while Fumiko brings her car around?”
“Miss Abigail?” Mr. Spiky asked. He repeated my name when I didn’t respond.
Instead, I watched Fumiko hand her gun to Dad and go jogging toward the front of the building. I was planning. Insofar as I ever do: somewhere in my subconscious a plan was taking shape, and I was studiously ignoring it so I wouldn’t freak out about how insane it was.
When I heard Fumiko getting into her car, I turned to Mr. Spiky. I held up the medallion I’d taken from him — it sort of buzzzed in my hand, like a current was running through it. “So,” I asked. “How exactly does this work?”
Mr. Spiky looked at it, and then at me. His brow furrowed. “How can you not know? If you were acting on your own to save that man, as you say, then you would have needed a far more potent talisman to locate the fae plaguing him.”
My lips narrowed in an angry line. “Well I don’t and I didn’t, so just tell me. Or would you rather be Mr. Jerkface? I did just save your ass, you know.” Part of me was horrified that I was being so deliberately antagonistic. Part of me just didn’t give a shit anymore. I was exhausted. Not physically or even mentally, exactly — auratically, maybe? Was that a word?
The part of me that was horrified tried to make me care, but all I felt was that aching emptiness. All of the fucks I had to give were effectively gone — along with the vast majority of my reserve aura, now. I didn’t have anything left of Melvin’s life force, and just a thin shell of Pipsqueak’s wound about my vampiric curse. I frowned and tried to focus on my psychic state a little more closely — in the past I’d felt largely normal until I’d thirsted more than this.
I swallowed when I found the problem. It was pretty obvious, in retrospect. Maybe cracking through the buffer around my vampire side hadn’t been such a good idea: the leak, now that I was paying better attention, was going both ways. The tendrils of self that I had stabbed into it were slowly being drawn into the curse and consumed. I felt that ache of hunger because now when the curse drew in the aura that fueled my vampiric powers it wasn’t drawing on just the reserve of un-subsumed life force that should have been wrapped tight around it. No, it was sucking in some of my ‘living’ aura, too, through the cracks in the buffer of Pipsqueak’s aura.
So: even though I had enough of Pipsqueak’s aura left that I shouldn’t be hungry yet, my living aura was still being depleted by my curse. And my vampire side wasn’t free to provide the instincts to deal with it, because they were still mostly restrained by my reserve of Pipsqueak’s life force. Which left my living aura in control to deal with the emptiness that it would normally be dormant for. The emptiness I felt was probably just how my living side interpreted the vampire curse’s hunger.
Figuring that out didn’t help, though. The emptiness was maddening. The ache had persisted for so long that it was becoming indistinguishable from pain: psychological anguish that I imagined was sort of like phantom limb pain — only for missing emotions instead of missing limbs.
“It isn’t difficult,” Mr. Spiky said — jerking me out of my own head. “It works on the premise of like attracting to like. All the wielder need do is hold the medallion and move. They will physically feel the wrongness if they move the metal away from the person it is bound to — usually as a sensation of coldness. And, in contrast, the metal will feel warm if it is approaching the subject of its tracking spell.” He threw out his explanation as though he were offering it to get my attention — and maybe he was. I don’t know how lost I’d gotten in that aching emptiness while I’d tried to figure out what was wrong with my aura, but focusing on it had definitely become more and more all-consuming the longer I’d done it.
I turned toward him to respond, but ended up blinking and shielding my eyes when the bright glare of Fumiko’s headlights slashed past us. I blinked away the spots that blossomed at the edge of my dark vision and realized I was blinking away tears, too.
When had I started crying? It must have been while I’d been lost in contemplation of the vast loss in my soul. I…
“Miss Abigail, are you alright?” Mr. Spiky asked — pulling me back out of that contemplation once more. I didn’t know if he was worried about me, or just worried about what I would do if I were emotionally unstable — but either way, he sounded worried.
I looked at him and blinked some more. Was I alright? Of course not! Couldn’t he see that I was crying? Even if it was actually silent this time, that didn’t make it invisible.
“Yes,” I answered on autopilot. “I’m okay. I just had to tap into my vampire instincts to get up the will to do what needed done in the first place, and now I’m thirsty but my vampire side is still too restrained to cope with it for me. And it really, really sucks to be thirsty while I’m still alive enough to not be a psychopath,” I added with a weak laugh. “I should have been more careful about that.”
If fear and anger and superstition and things like that constituted the edges of a person’s aura that a fae could easily feed on, then it made a certain amount of sense that their opposites would form the core of an aura — and my curse was in my soul, at the very center of my aura. So that gaping empty expanse? That had to be hope and love and faith. Or at least two of the three, I thought. I still had enough of my aura to care about my friends and my family, but I couldn’t say I had any faith that I could save them — or any hope that they would still love me when I inevitably failed them.
No wonder looking at that emptiness was like looking into an abyss of despair.
“I…” Mr. Spiky said. “I don’t understand. You’re feeling the curse’s thirst, but you aren’t succumbing to it? How is that even possible?”
I opened my mouth to explain, but all I managed to do was laugh. It was a weirdly hollow laugh. “I dunno,” I said. “How did I track down a faerie on my own? Isn’t that impossible, too?” I hugged myself, hard. I wanted Hans. Or Emma. Or even Megan. “What about pushing my aura into people without feeding them my blood? Or breaking geases without being broken by them? Or…” Or how will I rescue Megan from Archarel and save Emma from turning into a ghoul? That was going to be impossible, too.
Behind me, I heard the door to Fumiko’s car open. “What’s going on?” she asked — not me, but my dad.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “They’ve been talking, but I haven’t been able to hear about what.”
I sniffled. God, it was so damned hopeless. How could I have thought I’d be able to get through this just because I’d already done impossible stuff? Clearly I’d already used up my allotment of doing the impossible. It was all dumb luck, and just a matter of time before mine ran out. Right?
Mr. Spiky was goggling at me wide eyed. “How did you… You did… What?! That doesn’t make sense!”
I snorted. “If you want to talk about stuff that doesn’t make sense, you should give Thomas a call.”
Mr. Spiky looked at me blankly. “Who?”
“Mr. Cullison?” I suggested. “He knows lots of things that don’t make sense.”
Mr. Spiky’s brow furrowed. “How do you know him, if we haven’t heard of you? He’s the youngest of all of us!”
I laughed again. “No he isn’t,” I said. Then I broke out in tears again, sinking to my knees as I did. “No he isn’t,” I reiterated. And he probably hasn’t fucked up and nearly killed his donors or anything, either.
“Miss Abigail!” Mr. Spiky yelped. He did not appear to be very good with displays of emotion. Or maybe just not with wild mood swings. Although to be fair I didn’t feel like I was having mood swings: I felt like I had one mood, depressed, and I wasn’t swinging so much as trying to crawl out of it, trying to ignore it — and then backsliding when something reminded me of it.
I heard Fumiko running toward me, probably in response to Mr. Spiky’s shout. “What are you doing?” She demanded.
Mr. Spiky looked up at her and then at me and then back. “Nothing!” He protested. “She just started talking nonsense about doing impossible things and then crying.”
I twisted to look over my shoulder at Fumiko. “It’s not going to stop, is it?” I asked her. “It’s only been what… four days? Five? And it’s always life or death, death or life, death or undeath, death or death. And it’s never going to stop. I’m just going to keep fucking things up for people until they’re all dead, even if they’re not.”
Fumiko shot a look at Mr. Spiky and then immediately discarded him as a potential source of support. She crouched down beside me and wrapped her arms awkwardly around me. She wasn’t as experienced at hugging people as Megan. Or even Emma. “Hey. No. It’ll get better. We’ll rescue Megan and we’ll save your girlfriend,” she insisted. “This weekend we’ll all hang out and it’ll be okay — you’ll see.”
“I fucked up Hans, too,” I whispered. Why did I have to feel so empty? “I feel like I’m dead,” I said. “But I’m not. I’d rather be dormant. At least then it’s peaceful while I’m floating around.”
“While you’re what?” Mr. Spiky sputtered. He looked from me to Fumiko. “What the hell is going on?” He demanded. “What happened five days ago?”
Fumiko glared at him and pulled me closer against herself, protectively. He blew out a frustrated breath.
“Damnit, girl — what happened?” Mr. Spiky frowned. “That sounds like about when Director Lewellan said Director Salvatore had been reported as involuntarily dormant.” His eyes widened. “Did you take out a Director? Good god, Miss Abigail: how long have you been hiding from the Center?!”
I twisted away from Fumiko. I had to: otherwise I was going to bite her and drink her blood to banish the emptiness. I faced Mr. Spiky. I knew there was a reason not to talk to him. There were lots of reasons. He was one of the people hunting me. I couldn’t afford to sit still while more were coming. The more things I could keep under wraps, the fewer things they would have to use against me.
I couldn’t make myself care about those reasons, though. That ability was lost somewhere in the emptiness.
“I haven’t been hiding,” I told him. “But I did ‘take out’ Mr. Salvatore. I killed him because he was going to kill my best friend. I decided I’d rather die than let him do that. So I died. And then I came back, and I decided I still wouldn’t let him do that. So I didn’t. I haven’t been hiding,” I repeated. “I told Hans within minutes of realizing I was a vampire, myself. And he told the Center. And they told Lewellan.”
Mr. Spiky stared at me. The blood drained from his face. “You… you’re less than a week old?” He stammered in disbelief. “How is that possible?”
I hung my head in shame and despair. “It’s because I fucked up,” I said. “I always fuck up. But I had just come back to life and the sun was burning me and I was starving — and I know that’s no excuse, especially since she was unconscious and I couldn’t even ask her to consent and I didn’t even care,” I babbled.
“Abby,” Fumiko said — like she thought maybe I shouldn’t be saying all of this.
I shook my head at her caution. I needed to explain. I was so fucking tired of trying to keep it a secret — and I didn’t care. I just ached with hunger. At least Mr. Spiky would understand that part, even if everything else was insane and impossible.
“I fed from my best friend,” I said. “Hans wasn’t my first blood. Megan was.”
For a moment, Mr. Spiky just stared at me in utter bewilderment. “Who…” And then the names must have clicked. “Megan?” he squawked. “Your first blood was a fae?!”