For a brief instant I was in shock. I heard the shotgun blast that effectively took off my head, and it took that stunned moment for me to understand how. In the same instant that my skull was obliterated I went dormant. My awareness shifted as my body was finally damaged too far for the vampire’s curse to maintain its grip — shifted to that limited omniscience that I associated with sunrise.
Once I realized what had happened, I put a concerted effort into staving off the usual wave of tranquility that accompanied dormancy. The best I could manage was to hold on to the idea that, regardless of my current peace of mind, bad things were going to happen to people I cared about if I didn’t do something. Who would rescue Megan? Who would ensure Emma didn’t die or turn into a ghoul? Who would free Hans from Director Lewellan’s geas? Who would keep a starving Benjamin from slaughtering Fumiko and my dad?
Of course, that also sort of begged the question: what exactly did I think I could do as a disembodied pseudo-ghost?
Although, then again: did I even really know what I couldn’t do? The past two times I’d been dormant I’d been too at peace to really try to do anything. So who knew what was or wasn’t possible?
Well, maybe another vampire would. Except Benjamin had seemed startled — or perhaps confused — when I’d mentioned ‘floating around while dormant.’ For that matter, I’d had to explain the phenomenon to Emma when I’d been worried about Mr. Salvatore peeping on us while he was dormant, too — and she knew more about vampires than anyone else I knew (and trusted) except maybe John.
At the very least I knew I could observe. So I did that while I tried to figure out something more worthwhile to try.
My brief introspection had zipped by as though I were in stopped time — or as though it had occurred, pun perhaps intended, at the speed of thought. The two warlocks — soldiers? — solocks, I decided. The two solocks were still reacting to the shotgun blast that had de-animated me when I started paying attention to them instead of the inner workings of my own mind.
“Holy fucking shit,” the spotter solock gasped. They were both within the range of my awareness, and he was staring at my remains — wide-eyed and scared. His buddy, the shooter, was a lot more impassive. He just took a step back — still within my awareness — and kept his shotgun pointed at my corpse.
“Pull it together, Derrick,” the shooter said calmly. “What’s the condition of her thralls?”
Derrick — the spotter — glanced toward the edge of the roof, which wasn’t in range of my awareness. He blanched. “Uh… I think Dolcet is berserking,” he said. “He must’ve gone blood starved when you hit him.”
The shooter scowled. He prodded my body with his shotgun, and then turned away to look himself, apparently satisfied that I really wasn’t getting back up this time. “Not much we can do about it,” he said after a moment. “At least we won’t have to worry about anyone trying to revive her while we’re waiting for pickup,” he added with a jerk of his head in my direction. “Watch her, just in case. I’m calling the situation in.”
He stepped outside of my awareness while Derrick stiffened: apparently in a mild panic because of realizing that no one had a gun pointed at my body at that exact moment. He snapped his own weapon into position to cover me. I regarded him for a moment, and decided he wasn’t going to do anything interesting. My attention instead turned to Fumiko — I needed to know that she was okay, but I had no way to. My awareness was limited to a handful of feet in every direction from where I now seemed to float above my own body.
Except… I did have a way, didn’t I? I turned my attention away from Derrick and back inward, sifting through my own essence until I found what I was looking for. A thread of awareness: the leyline connecting me to Fumiko. It seemed much more vibrant than it had the other night — probably because I was worried about her, she was nearby, and I was level-headed enough to really focus on her. Or perhaps because my soul was currently divested from my body, which meant that Megan’s soul was no longer holding it in place — which meant that I had more of that fae element to bring to bear on the situation? Maybe.
In any event, I had a wide window to peer through. As it had with Pipsqueak, Fumiko’s line changed and shifted like a spool of thoughts being unwound in front of a viewer. I saw pain, determination and excitement all interwound with each other. No fear, though. I had no doubt that she was actively fighting Benjamin — and she seemed thrilled by it.
Dad, on the other hand, seemed the next best thing to terrified when I checked on him. That was overlapping his own determination not to succumb to it, and worry about me and Fumiko and a hefty undercurrent of uncertainty. But in him, fear was the primary emotion — not excitement like in Fumiko… Even though I was pretty sure he wasn’t fighting. Instead, I was fairly certain he was holding his ground; keeping Benjamin’s donors from jumping into the brawl. Doing his absolute best to convince himself that Fumiko could hold back Benjamin long enough for me to get back and put him down.
It was kind of touching, actually. On a very deep, very real level he was terrified. Enough so that he really didn’t think I’d be coming to save them. But he was standing his ground despite that because I was his daughter and he was determined to have faith in me regardless of whether or not he actually did. If my emotions hadn’t been so flat, I probably would’ve felt bad about the fact that I was lying dead on a rooftop and in no position to be coming to the rescue.
I idly hoped that there weren’t any fae around, or Dad was going to end up being a snack in really short order. But no: that was a silly thought. There was no way a fae would go after Dad while there was a starving vampire nearby, even if he was giving off the sort of bone deep terror that attracted the really nasty ones. They were sadistic, after all, not suicidal.
In fact, I was pretty sure that Benjamin was going to defeat Fumiko, eventually. She might survive, though, depending on how much of her life force he needed to regain his sense of morality. At that point, Dad would probably wind up being captured. Unless Benjamin turned out to be on my side, once he was morally uncompromised? He had taken a bullet for me, after all.
That was a thought: Perhaps he would come to rescue me?
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, so I withdrew my attention from the leyline to Dad and returned it to introspection of my own soul to find out. It turned out that I didn’t like it. It seemed too uncertain, given that I’d just met him. Although he had taken that bullet already… which turned out to be another reason I didn’t want him to have to rescue me. He’d already taken a bullet for me, and I didn’t like the thought that these solocks might tear him up again.
Plus, who knew how badly he would wind up hurting Fumiko before being able to even consider whether or not he should rescue me? Fumiko had made it pretty clear that she didn’t even want to be my donor, so I couldn’t imagine she would be okay with being enthralled by Benjamin. Not that she’d really have a choice, after the fact — unless she snapped out of it extra fast, like I had with Mr. Salvatore, because of already having had her aura fed on by Megan.
Unfortunately all of these spinning thoughts hadn’t given me a solution to my problem. That almost seemed strange. Illogical though it was, letting my mind run in circles had always seemed to provide an answer in the past — or at least gotten my autopilot to get fed up and take action regardless of whether it made sense or not.
But what could I do?
I wished I could frown in frustration, but I didn’t even have a face anymore. Which made Derrick’s anxious vigil over my ruined corpse almost comedic. Or, it would have if I’d been inclined toward humor at the mome…
And that was when it hit me. There was something else I could do that didn’t require a body. In fact, it was the cause of this whole mess to begin with!
I could push energy into another person without physically interacting with them. It was a faerie ability, not a vampire one. I wondered if that meant I could do it more effectively without being attached to my body, like my ability to focus on leylines had sharpened. That was a faerie ability, too.
More importantly, what other faerie abilities might I have access to?
For instance: if I could push energy, did that mean I could pull it, too?
For a second, I wished I could laugh at myself. Of course I could. I already had: I’d pulled energy from Megan when I’d first realized that we were connected. Admittedly, we had that connection in place to pull through… but what else was a leyline if not a connection between two people?
Derrick jerked and looked around. “Did you hear that?” he whispered nervously, apparently about something outside of my awareness, since I hadn’t heard anything. I was just as pleased to see him nervous, though. Fear was supposed to be the easiest emotion for a faerie to pull. I disregarded his reaction and looked through my aura for the leyline connecting to him.
There was one, of course. I knew who he was. He knew who I was. We were both quite focused on each other, albeit for different reasons. And the proximity made it a strong enough connection for me to grasp easily.
And when I grasped it, I could see the lines of nervousness and fear running through Derrick’s soul. I had given him quite a fright when I’d lunged for him, and he hadn’t quite gotten over it. I focused on that emotion. I opened myself up to it — it was astonishingly easy. Almost instinctual. In fact, there was already a gaping emptiness in my soul where my own fears normally were.
How had Megan described feeding? She’d compared it to water — or Fumiko had. In either case, the metaphor worked: I had an empty reservoir of fear and anxiety, and Derrick had a surplus of the same. And when I focused on the line between us, strengthening it with my attention, it widened to the point that the disparity attempted to balance out.
Derrick’s fear and anxiety flowed into me. It came even easier, I think, because he was trying to be macho and suppress it, causing it to be forced through our link by his own will as well as mine.
I redirected it as it came into me, funneling it toward my curse, which began to pull it in. The curse kept the essence fixed in place, preventing it from settling into my own soul as fear and anxiety — which let me keep drawing from Derrick as his aura tried to balance out internally, as well. Only in his case, that meant funneling more of his energy into the fear that was being drained away — which was then drained further by me.
Derrick wavered on his feet as though dizzy. “Justin,” he called for his buddy. But he did it quietly, without urgency: his fear had bottomed out. In fact, his soul had nearly emptied. I stopped focusing on our connection, letting it dwindle enough to stop draining him. I didn’t particularly want to kill him, and there wasn’t much left to take anyway. Derrick sank down to his knees and then slumped forward.
I didn’t see if Justin responded. My awareness started to get fuzzy. I felt a tendril of my soul reconnecting with my body; Megan’s shard sank like it was weighted in some metaphysical sense, following a leyline I hadn’t thought to look for before: the connection between myself and my body. Megan’s soul and the vampire curse reforged that connection.
Then my omniscient awareness cut out entirely. I sat up. The feeling of my head regenerating was freakishly unpleasant, and not just because I could feel my reserve of Derrick’s life force vanishing as it did. There was something just plain creepy about being able to feel air passing through my own head.
Then my lips twisted up in a smile. Simply because my face had reconstructed enough for that to be possible. And then I took a deep breath, out of habit — and let it go. I didn’t need to breathe. I didn’t even want to breathe.
Sight blossomed around me as my eyes regrew. Justin was a bit away from me, watching the alley across the street through his scope and talking on a cellphone. I continued to smile, letting my fangs slip free.
He wasn’t going to know what hit him.