The damage to my head was too much for my curse to handle. Really, the damage I’d inflicted on myself when I’d popped a vertebrae in my neck had probably been too much — but as I’d discovered when I’d been burning alive under the sun in Mr. Salvatore’s foyer, I was pretty good at forcing myself to deal with the damage and not go dormant, whatever my curse might’ve been inclined to do if left to its own devices.
Having my head shattered, though? That was too much, and it didn’t seem to matter if it was from a bullet or a fist. My awareness warbled into darkness as I went ‘dormant.’
For a given value of dormancy.
This time, since Benjamin had been so shocked that I maintained my awareness when I lost control of my body, I paid more attention to the process. My curse stopped trying to consume essence or channel energy into my body. It seemed to roil and withdraw — except no, that wasn’t right. It was disconnected from the rest of my aura not because it had withdrawn from me, but because whatever force it exerted to draw essence to itself was no longer active. To that extent, yes, it was ‘dormant.’ But the shard of Megan’s soul — the bit of her that I’d stolen and turned into the bridge between my mind and my spirit and my body — wasn’t. My curse still clung to it, but now that shard shifted, somehow.
I could compare it to a change in shape, but that wouldn’t have been accurate. Then again, everything I used to describe what happened when I was observing my aura or leylines or any of that magical stuff was metaphorical at best. Soul stuff wasn’t physical. The emotions that made up an aura and the soul that contained them didn’t have ‘shapes’ unless you could stretch ‘shape’ to mean function, perhaps. But that didn’t change the fact that the best way I had to describe it was to say that the shard of Megan’s soul changed shape.
When my vampire’s curse went dormant, it no longer forced that shard of faerie soul to function as the bridge that kept my soul and body together. And so the shard resumed its natural function, instead.
But faeries were beings purely of magic. They didn’t have any kind of separation between mind, body and soul. They just were, all at once.
And that, I realized, was why I was aware when other vampires weren’t. My mind — my brain — was a function of my body, while my aura — my emotions, motivations, drive — were a function of my soul. And neither could do anything without the other. But when I went dormant, I still had a part of myself that could think on its own. That could serve as my mind, and give direction and action to my emotions and motivations.
Megan’s faerie soul.
I even had emotions. Just tiny slivers of them: just what that shard of Megan’s soul could support on its own. Except that wasn’t right, either. I had more. I just had to reach across the tranquility around me to find it.
No: That’s hunger. Or emptiness.
Or, to a faerie, tranquility. That makes sense! When I went dormant, Megan’s shard was released to think and feel for me. It was still in my aura, but it was surrounded by my curse and therefore at the epicenter of what had been consumed to keep me going. Maybe it was the ‘space’ meant to be occupied by the buffer, or maybe it was the ‘space’ that was empty in my aura because I’d fed it to my curse — but to a faerie’s soul it was just tranquility; a blank canvas to be filled with vibrant emotions and thoughts and dreams and desires.
Except that in me, it was a mortal aura, and couldn’t provide thought or take on form of its own volition. It wasn’t actually the openness of potential that a faerie would instinctively feel it as. It was emptiness and lack. And Megan’s soul read that as tranquility.
I reached across it. Like the last time I had died, I couldn’t feel much — my faerie side was predominantly occupied with thinking for me, leaving relatively little of itself to function as emotional drive. But there was still enough for me to know that if I didn’t pull myself together, fight through the tranquility, and do something then I was going to be in serious trouble. It would be bad.
In my limited sphere of omniscience, Director Lewellan had stood up. He no longer held down my poor, broken body because he didn’t need to. It wasn’t going to do anything on its own. He did, however, turn and stoop to pick up the sword I’d forced him to drop.
He’s going to hack me to pieces, I realized. It was hard to feel anything about that. I wonder what I should do about it? That was exactly the sort of thing I could use an emotional response to. It was the sort of thing that would probably constitute ‘bad,’ but without the emotions to feel it, that analysis was pretty tepid and meaningless. I cast about through the seas of tranquility surrounding my thoughts, looking for something to give me direction. There wasn’t much. It wasn’t this difficult to find motivation when I died last time, I thought. It reinforced my theory that dormant ‘tranquility’ corresponded to vampire hunger and living emptiness.
Lewellan straightened, sword in hand. My questing thoughts had yet to find anything in my aura. It was perplexing. I wasn’t confused that I couldn’t find anything, since I knew perfectly well that there might be nothing there — but I was perplexed because I didn’t know what to do. I mean: I was capable of coming up with a course of action, sure, but which one should I enact? Lewellan with the sword had the potential for badness. What should I do about it? If anything? Not doing a thing was a valid course of action, too. And I might end up following that course by default, simply because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do instead.
Lewellan turned. He lifted his blade. And then my questing thoughts caught on a nook, a little cranny in my soul, with a surprisingly significant amount of aura tucked away in it. Shaped aura. I touched it with my thoughts, and suddenly I had a purpose.
It was a single, simple directive. It didn’t obviously apply to my current situation, but it was a motivation and my mind and imagination were more than up to the task of translating save Emma as it applied to my current situation. If Lewellan chopped me to pieces I wouldn’t have the physical presence necessary to save Emma from anything. So, clearly, the first step in saving Emma was saving myself.
The next one was probably killing Lewellan, but that was getting ahead of things. I needed to be able to interact with the world first, and that meant I needed more energy — and I couldn’t let Lewellan make reviving my body impossible by chopping it up and scattering the pieces. Fortunately, Megan’s soul gave me a means to acquire the energy I needed, too.
I opened myself up to Lewellan’s leyline. He was nearby, I already had it separated out from the others, and anything I could do to hinder him while helping myself would also lend itself to the goal of saving Emma. I just had to find something Lewellan was afraid of.
The opening wasn’t larger, like I’d described it before. It didn’t have a ‘shape.’ Not one that wasn’t just a metaphor, anyway. It was more accurate to say that my thoughts as formed by faerie means were capable of looking at the line closer; pulling out more detail. The line itself was an incredible array of emotional information. It was formed from the aura that leaked off of him, and leaked off of me, and how they related to each other. Being able to see that accounted for the greater ‘width’ I could perceive through the leyline, now. There was everything I had felt about Lewellan, and everything he had felt about me, and they were spiraling together to form the cord that connected us — except it was a hollow cord, a tunnel that opened into each of our souls.
I found a strand in Lewellan’s leyline that corresponded to fear. Fear related to me, but anchored somehow in him. I pulled on it, trying to focus on it more, and the far end of the leyline shifted in Lewellan’s soul, centering on the actual emotion. Fear. Not of me, exactly. I drew on it, pulling it through the leyline. It was… fear of discovery. I knew that fear far too intimately to mistake it for anything else. I’d lived my entire life in fear that people would discover what a freak I was, after all. But what was Lewellan afraid people would discover?
I didn’t know. And I couldn’t find out through the leyline: it gave me access to Lewellan’s emotions, but not his thoughts. Those were safely locked up inside his brain somewhere, or something. Interesting, I thought. I wonder if that means that faeries can share thoughts through their leylines, since there’s nothing separating their auras and their thoughts. Then again, maybe thoughts were just a different sort of energy than the emotional essence I was accustomed to, and it was just that a human brain or a faerie soul could translate that energy into something meaningful. After all: my brain was pretty much pulped, but I was still clearly thinking and they were my thoughts. Maybe my mind really was a separate thing, or a part of my soul or something and now I was just accessing it the way faeries did instead of the way humans did.
That was an interesting but rather trivial question, though. My faerie instincts seemed to correspond largely to curiosity… but since those questions weren’t related to saving Emma I was able to put them aside. I focused instead on drawing as much energy from Director Lewellan as I could, as quickly as I could. I didn’t know when he would notice — if he would notice — but I needed to be able to heal and fight back before he actually started lopping off my limbs.
Lewellan noticed immediately.
He jerked upright and spun in place, looking around wildly. “Show yourself!” Lewellan shouted. “I know you’re present, faerie!”
He doesn’t realize it’s me, I thought in surprise. Surprise that I could feel because of the essence I’d pulled from Lewellan. Greedily, I pulled more. Last time, I’d pulled energy specifically to heal myself. I’d fed it directly to my vampire curse as I’d pulled it from Derrick. This time, though, I was a little more tactical about it. My vampire side was still dormant, and this time I didn’t feed the essence I drew to it. If I started healing, Lewellan would realize something was up. If I wanted to save Emma, I needed to stall him. So instead, I stockpiled the aura I pulled from him. I didn’t have the ‘buffer’ to pack energy into, but since my vampiric aura wasn’t active it didn’t try to pull my newly acquired essence to itself, anyway. As long as I kept the curse separate from anything else, they wouldn’t react. I pooled Lewellan’s fear out into my soul, letting it fill up those emotions I thought might help — or that I thought I’d be able to sacrifice when I needed to heal.
It was strange. The energy I got from biting someone was always fed through my curse: that was what drew the life force from the blood, after all. So it was always packed into my reserve, and then either consumed to keep me alive, or to fuel my powers, or to refill my ‘living’ soul. And when my living soul pulled essence off of my vampire reserves to flesh out my living aura, the shape of that aura was… natural? Human?
The shape of the aura that I pulled through the leyline to Lewellan was different. It wasn’t diffuse, like my normal aura was — blending seamlessly from one emotion to another. Instead, it came as a thread and it formed a latticework of ordered energy wherever I stashed it in my soul. It felt the same, so I paid that difference no mind. I could worry about it when I had more mind to spare. For now I had to keep focused on my main drive: the one formed of human essence. Save Emma.
“Faerie!” Lewellan shouted again. “I command you again: Show yourself! By ancient law, I challenge you. We meet at a crossroads in the midst of night, and you dare attack me as though I know not the old traditions? Show yourself, or I will declare you forfeit in your cowardice, and by your own laws claim of you the cessation of your continued existence as my justly earned boon.”
Lewellan’s words shocked me, but not as much as the way the world reacted. The essence I’d stolen from him shivered violently, shifting slightly as barbs and hooks began to form all along it. Shocked, I shifted my attention away from Lewellan’s leyline to try and figure out what was happening to me. As the hooks came into the sharper focus of my direct attention I could see that they were connected to hundreds, thousands — hundreds of thousands — of leylines I didn’t even recognize that whipped through my aura like rampaging Huns, grabbing whatever they could seize. Shit shit shit! I thought. I recognized what was happening: a geas. Something was responding to his challenge. Those leylines — they didn’t connect to anything except themselves, and now me. What the hell?! They were so thin I didn’t think I would have even noticed them if my faerie soul had been deformed and I was ‘living’ or even ‘undead.’ It was like they were remnants of someone’s aura, or shadows of something real, or severed leylines that had collapsed: their ‘tunnel’ closing so that they were just the width of the emotions that had formed them, but all packed down without that opening to give them enough width to be noticeable.
Where the hell did these come from? It was like a hooked net of cut and woven leylines had been thrown through my soul. Woven? Why did that sound familiar?
Bonbon had mentioned a ‘weave’ when she’d talked about making a portal. It had sounded like it was the collective leylines of the city, the interaction of all of the people in this world. And human auras were always leaking into the world, and the leyline I had to Lewellan was formed by that excess, ‘leaked’ aura. All of the leylines that I knew were formed from that, actually. Is this what happens to all of the rest of the excess aura that leaks into the world? I wondered. Does it spin into lines based on the remnants of what it was? Is this where the weight of tradition and ‘ancient law’ comes from? Magic that isn’t bound to anyone anymore, but is still active in the world, following the directive of its origins?
Emma had said witches supposedly used the excess magic of other people and supernatural beings in their spells, manipulating it with rituals and getting it to force the effect they wanted instead of providing their own energy and directly affecting the world… which is what a faerie would do with, say, a glamour. So maybe? Maybe these rogue lines were just how a faerie soul perceived that ‘leaking’ essence. Maybe things like the midnight duel or banishing fae with disbelief were just rituals that were so old and so well established that anyone could call on them and some of those ephemeral strands, drifting and abandoned in the world, would respond.
Does it matter?! Wherever those lines had come from, they were taking root and they had done so in response to Lewellan’s challenge. And they were clearly something that would affect a faerie: the lines that had gathered in response to Lewellan’s challenge drifted through my ‘human’ essence without touching it — sliding through the diffuse shape of my need to save Emma without catching it. But they snarled and tangled and rooted into the latticework of energy I’d drawn into my aura by fae means.
I was under a geas. I’d been challenged, at a crossroads, at midnight… and I had to answer, or everything I had taken from Lewellan would be torn apart when the geas broke.
Fuck, but it sucks to be on the wrong side of those. First yesterday morning, and now again. And this time it wasn’t even going to cost Lewellan anything! He hadn’t actually cast this geas like he had the first. He’d just invoked faerie traditions, and now they were going to screw me over for him.
In a sudden panic I started dumping essence into my vampire curse. I needed to be able to respond before I lost everything I’d managed to gain. Fortunately, Lewellan was still scanning the distance, trying to spot the ‘faerie’ that had attacked his aura. He didn’t immediately notice when I started to heal.
My awareness jerked, collapsed, and expanded again — this time through my regular senses. My thoughts seemed slow and sluggish, and I dimly realized that was because I was still healing, and even though Megan’s soul was deformed, it was still providing me what access to thought I had. It had to be, because my skull was still shattered and my brains were probably still pulped. That was terrifying, and disturbing, and squicky — and I fed all three of those feelings into my curse to heal myself faster.
Not quite fast enough, though. Lewellan suddenly whipped around, alerted by something — perhaps the sound of bones mending. His eyes widened hugely, but he didn’t waste time in raising his sword against me.
“No,” I rasped in protest — and to my own astonishment, the protest worked.
Lewellan froze just before hacking his blade down. He trembled, stunned and confused. I smiled up at him. I could feel the little clicks and pops and scrapes as my skull started putting itself back together. I checked our shared leyline, and saw it was thicker still. I couldn’t actually look down it because it had been constricted by the weave: so many of those rogue lines had twined around it that I could see them, even though my faerie shard was deformed once more. Oh, I couldn’t see them as individual strands — but seeing all of them piled and twisted together like that? It was obvious, in contrast to how a leyline was supposed to look.
I giggled. But Lewellan couldn’t see leylines at all, could he? The only reason I could, even as poorly as I did now, was because of the shard of Megan’s soul. Lewellan didn’t know what was happening.
But I did.
Lewellan had invoked faerie law and cast a geas at me, and it had hooked into me because the structure of my aura had been faerie in nature. But there was a leyline that connected the two of us, and this geas was meant to bind both parties. It had taken root in me, but then grown along our shared leyline like vines wrapping around a trellis, and now — even though the faerie geas couldn’t ‘hook’ a mortal soul on its own — he was bound by it, too. It had grown from me and into him.
“You can’t just stab me,” I rasped in exasperation while my arm popped back into place. “Not now.” Lewellan’s fear of discovery — whatever it had been about in specific — had been deep and abiding, and even though I could no longer pull more of it from him, it had given me enough. “You challenged me,” I explained. “At a crossroads. At midnight. And as the challenged, the choice of weapons is supposed to be mine.“