I have to admit: Lewellan got a grip on his reaction a lot faster than I would have in his place. His eyes narrowed sharply and he actually took a few steps back away from me. “What kind of monster… Your first blood wasn’t from Hans, was it?”
I stood. I could feel torn skin closing across my scalp and torn muscles mending in my arm. I gave Lewellan my best ‘would I lie about something like that?’ face and admitted: “Megan was.”
Lewellan stared at me. I wondered what he was thinking. I wondered if there had ever been any other faerie-blooded vampires. Did he know something about me, or what I could expect, now that he had that final detail? I wished I could still peek down his leyline, but I couldn’t while it was strangled by the geas binding us both.
“My god,” he whispered to himself. “In a few centuries she’d be worse than the Council of Twelve.”
I scowled at Lewellan. “Hey!” I protested. “There’s no need to be rude about it.” I hadn’t even done anything bad. But was that why Lewellan had been out to get me this entire time? He didn’t want me growing up to join the other were-blooded vamps? Fucking politics!
I started checking other leylines. I couldn’t look down Lewellan’s, so I probably wouldn’t be able to draw from him if he killed me again, either. But I knew a lot of people these days — a lot more than I had when I was alive — and some of them had to be scared of something. I mean: rogue vampires were runnning around and the faeries were getting ready to launch a war. These were scary times. And that meant I had to have options.
Fumiko was off limits, of course: I’d already fed from her tonight, and I didn’t dare drain her further just before she went into faerie land. I couldn’t take from Bonbon or Mr. Kallaher for the same reasons — they were Fumiko’s backup. My dad was definitely off limits. I had promised not to scare him, and if I drew from him I knew that promise would turn into a geas in the process. Somehow I thought the idea of me going one on one against a centuries old vampire would qualify as something that would scare my dad, and then I’d be in more trouble than if I hadn’t tried to take anything from him to begin with.
Megan? She wasn’t even in this world. The same went for Melvin. Hans’ aura was still shattered — when I peeked down his leyline I shivered. There was more wolf than man in the little glimpse available to me. Emma’s aura was in even worse condition: still almost completely empty. Certainly off limits.
Well, fuck, I thought. Maybe I didn’t have as many options as I thought. Pipsqueak? Also not in this world. Derrick? Already drained. Benjamin! I had a strong connection there from when he’d taken my blood… but if I took essence from him he might go berserk. Since Derrick and Justin were already drained, the human with the most essence near him would be… I didn’t know. He’d kill Derrick or Justin if he went for them, though. No. I wasn’t going to risk that — and that meant John was off limits for the same reason, except that if he went berserk he would try to kill someone, whether their aura was in good shape or not.
What about Daniel? He had been feral, but supposedly he had fed on Salvatore. I had trouble imagining him afraid of anything, but I checked anyway. The sliver of his aura that I could see was painted in equal measures of determination and hunger.
No, Daniel is off limits, too. He’d go feral again if I tried. I was getting down to the bottom of my list, and fast. My mom? Jimmy and Carl from work? I didn’t want to get anyone else involved in this supernatural business, but if I had to I would. They might not even realize what had happened if I drew from them — but then again, since they were living ordinary lives they might not even have anything they were really afraid of. Bob, Aaron, Mark and the Nameless Bouncer from Club Luminescence — fuck it, from now on I’m calling him Larry — hadn’t had anything they’d been particularly afraid of. I probably wouldn’t have been able to drain anything off of them if I’d been dormant, instead of fanged.
Kelvin? He was a possibility, except that he was probably securely behind anti-faerie wards right now. Linda, too. Shit! The only others I could think of I didn’t think I had enough of a connection with to do anything. Mr. Fiore would have been great — he was a vampire, and supposedly had a large number of strong donors sitting around with him. Unfortunately, our one phone conversation hadn’t really given me a good sense of him. I’d probably have better luck with Thomas, since I’d actually talked to him more than once and he was closer.
All of those possibilities and dismissals flashed through my head as swiftly as I could sort out and check their leylines — which was pretty damn fast. I was getting good at that. I guess necessity really is a good teacher, I thought. Too bad I don’t have any good options.
“Well then,” Director Lewellan interrupted my thoughts. “What’s it to be, Miss Abigail? Pick your weapon so we can end this farce.”
I snorted. “You’re so impatient, Director,” I commented on autopilot. I hadn’t found any good options in my perusal of the leylines, but I had noticed something even better: John and Ben and Derrick and Justin were drawing closer. Thomas wasn’t, but Daniel was — and Daniel was very close indeed. This is just like the first duel I waged at a crossroads, I realized. I laughed at the recollection. I don’t have to win. I just have to stall until help arrives. “Of course I have to choose ‘vampires,'” my autopilot continued while I tried to figure out what weapon I could stall Lewellan with the easiest. “I always do.”
“What.” Lewellan said bluntly.
I blinked and replayed the conversation in my head. What had I..? Oh, fuckity fuck fuck. Damnit, autopilot! Alright, I could still delay with conversation. That’s what I’d done the first time, after all. Of course, in retrospect Melvin hadn’t really been playing to win, that time. Sure, he would have claimed me if I let him but he wasn’t out to kill me, and Lewellan had already said he was going to demand the cessation of my existence as his boon if he was victorious. Oh, fuck! Did that mean if I lost the weave’s geas would actually destroy me? If that shard of Megan’s soul was ever broken, I’d be gone. That was the anchor that held me together in undeath. And it was fae in nature, so it would have been just as vulnerable to those rogue leylines as the lattice of fear I’d taken from Lewellan. Why hadn’t I checked to see if the weave was binding itself to it? I couldn’t see the weave at all right now. Shit shit shit shit!
I had to assume that if I lost, I lost for good.
Alright. Get it together, Abby. You don’t have enough aura to be freaking out, so don’t!
I could still stall with conversation. That would work. I was good at saying crazy fucked up shit and making people listen because they just couldn’t believe how crazy and fucked up what I was telling them actually was. It was the train wreck scenario. If I started talking, people just had to listen. “Vampires,” I said casually, as if it was the only obvious choice. “It’s what I always choose in these situations. The first time I was challenged to one of these, I had to use Mr. Salvatore as my weapon of choice. I won, though. And the time after that, well, I was a vampire myself. That time no one actually had the guts to make the challenge,” I added with a cheerful laugh. “So of course, how could I possibly give that winning streak up?”
I smiled at Lewellan. I’d just had an idea. A terrible idea — which meant, according to past experience, it just might work.
“So, I choose vampires,” I said with the kind of absolute confidence you can only get when you really believe you have the upper hand — or are certifiably insane. “That means no swords, Director. And since we’ve already seen that I can come back from anything you can do with your bare hands, it looks like I’ve won.” And that was the crux of my idea: I didn’t actually have to win to claim victory. I just had to make Lewellan think I had.
After all, faerie magic was as much about the perception as it was about actuality.
“If you go ahead and yield now,” I added to sweeten the deal, “I won’t use the boon you’ll owe me to have you destroyed. Your service for a year and a day? That’s the tradition, I believe, but I can hardly say I think we’d work well together. Instead: surrender now, and the only binding I’ll place on you is that you and yours shall never come within the same city as me. And that’s quite generous of me. Why, you tried to frame me, to have me killed, to murder my people, to murder me, and here I am letting you get off with a restraining order.” I tsked at myself and shook my head. “I suggest you take the offer. Because, as I warned you before: you do not want to piss me off again, Lewellan.”
Lewellan stumbled back another step as though my words had physically impacted him. Having been on the receiving end of a geas trying to compel my behavior, I could sympathize. I didn’t though: He didn’t deserve sympathy. He didn’t want it, either. His brow furrowed angrily. His hand trembled as though he didn’t want to — but he cast down his sword. Then his hand stilled again. “Very well,” Lewellan growled. “Except that I do not surrender to you, for those or any terms. You chose ‘vampires?’ You wish to fight as just ourselves, with no weapons to tilt either side? Fine. I accept. And I will win, because I know how to deal with a faerie.”
Lewellan straightened slightly. The geas was exerting less pressure on him as he expressed his own confidence in victory. That made me nervous, but I didn’t let it show. If we couldn’t settle things here, in the battle of wills and words and confidence, then it would be down to actual battle again. Lewellan had already shown he could destroy me in hand to hand combat, and I didn’t actually have that many potential donors for my faerie side to fall back on.
I snorted derisively. “I doubt it,” I tossed back at him. “After all, I’ve taken out more faeries in the time that you’ve been in town than you have.” I had, too: I’d beaten both Pipsqueak and Bonbon while Lewellan had been scheming against me. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve done more about the faerie threat than any of the other scions in this city.” I’d mobilized the neutral warlocks, put Linda on alert, organized a rescue party to steal Megan back from Archarel before he could launch his sneak attack and found out where that attack was most likely to come from. “I’m pretty sure that means, according to the criteria you laid out for the other scions, you’re supposed to name me as the vampire in charge of this city, and then get the fuck out of it.”
Lewellan sneered at me. “Cute,” he spat. “But you’re too full of yourself, Miss Abigail. You may be a monstrosity, but you’re still an infant. And now that I know what you really are, you will be destroyed just like any other faerie.”
“And how’s that?” I taunted Lewellan. Keep him talking. Benjamin and John were traveling faster than Daniel — they were in a car, I guessed, but Daniel was close. I just had to hold out for a minute or two, and then… “I chose our weapons. Exactly how many faeries have you successfully punched to permanent death?”
Lewellan raised his head imperiously. “You see? That’s your inexperience talking, Miss Abigail. You didn’t choose ‘fists,’ you chose ‘vampires.’ And you don’t beat faeries to death — even if I would enjoy breaking you a few more times for all the suffering you’ve inflicted on my people.”
Lewellan smiled at me, showing of a set of long fangs that descended from his upper jaw. “You drain them,” he snarled. “Right after you bind them.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but didn’t get to. Before he’d even finished talking, Lewellan had snapped his empty hand up to point at me with claw like fingers. I recoiled away from the sudden movement. But trying to retreat didn’t help.
Before the foot I stepped back with could even touch the ground, the spike of Lewellan’s geas tore into my soul.