Lewellan’s geas tore into my soul. It was a barbed spike that ripped into me — but it was meant to hook into the diffuse auras of mortals. It shattered the remaining lattice works of fae-drawn essence I maintained, throwing my emotions into utter disarray. All of them except one: the drive to save Emma. The only one that Lewellan’s geas could latch onto, and the only one I couldn’t afford to lose.
I froze time. It was a knee-jerk reaction, an ingrained instinct that I followed simply because Lewellan’s assault had scattered my ability to respond so thoroughly I was only operating on instinct. It didn’t do a damn thing to slow Lewellan’s geas as it ripped through my aura, but even as part of me was reacting by seizing control of time, and another was reacting by physically stepping back, and another was panicking — another part was taking the one course of action that had saved me from Lewellan’s geas in the past.
I shifted my aura frantically, bringing the thin buffer of unsubsumed essence — the remnants of the power I’d shoved into my curse to speed my healing — into place to block Lewellan’s curse before it could take root in my need to protect Emma.
Before — the last time Lewellan had cast a geas at me — that buffer had been massive. I had been bloated with energy from both Melvin and Pipsqueak. Now, it barely existed.
Lewellan’s spike of power smashed through my reserves like a nail being driven into an egg — just like the fingers of essence I had plunged through that buffer in order to draw out my vampire side when I needed its ruthlessness. The spike that led the way for Lewellan’s geas plunged into the very core of my existence: the survival instincts that the vampire curse preserved above all others and the shard of Megan’s soul that bound my unlife together.
I screamed from the violation. I screamed in despair. But above all other reasons, I screamed from the agony. I felt like a live power line had been shoved into my mind, and my soul, and my body. I felt nothing but pain, physically. I felt nothing but pain, emotionally. I couldn’t even think about anything except the pain the pain the pain pain pain pain pain pain pain…
And then it started to fade.
I was in a ball, curled in the fetal position, shuddering helplessly on the ground. Time was still frozen. I didn’t know how long, subjectively, I’d been like that. I didn’t remember falling, or curling up, or shedding the tears that streaked my face. I forced my body to uncurl. I moved jerkily, like I’d forgotten how. I pushed myself up on my hands and knees. “What happened?” I whispered. The words felt as clumsy as my body.
Lewellan hadn’t moved. He was outside the range of my aura, and I hadn’t pulled him into my time-stream with me when I’d reflexively stopped it for the rest of the universe. He looked like a terrifying, malevolent statue: probably something entitled ‘hateful mountain man throws a curse.’ Or something. My imagination was coming up empty for the first time in ages. I was still recovering from the overwhelming pain.
How had I recovered in the first place?
I stood. Lewellan was frozen. There was no one else nearby; no one else in my time-bubble with me. So it stood to reason: whatever had happened, it had something to do with me. My body didn’t hurt like it was being electrocuted anymore, but it still felt weird: like I’d been in a coma or something, except my muscles hadn’t atrophied. How long was I..?
No. I shied away from the thought. The thought was of the time with the pain, and I didn’t want to remember that. I…
I was thinking about the time of pain, but I was doing it abstractly. I wasn’t thinking about the pain itself. I wasn’t feeling the pain anymore.
Tentatively, I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my aura. What happened to me?
I mentally and physically recoiled at what I found. My eyes shot open and I fell to my knees, dizzied by the enormity of it. I swallowed and leaned forward, propping myself up with one arm. Then, head bowed, I closed my eyes and looked into my aura again.
There was a spike running through it, of course. A thrust of power flowing from Lewellan with the intent to bind or destroy me. It drove to the very core of my being: through my reserves of energy and into my shard of Megan’s soul and my most innate instincts for survival… and my vampire curse.
The curse that kept me alive by consuming whatever essence I could throw at it.
The curse that was happily devouring Lewellan’s essence and packing it into the shell-like buffer that composed my reserves, just like it had devoured my own aura when I’d punched tendrils of it through the reserve in order to get those vampire instincts to protect me from freaking out in the hotel.
How long had I been collapsed in on myself from pain while the world was frozen around me? I didn’t know. I would probably never know. But I did know that vampires grew more powerful with time. I’d never really thought about it, but logically that probably reflected the curse growing from some excess of the aura that it consumed: just a little bit, unnoticeable in the short term, with every feeding.
My curse had grown. Not massively, by enough that I could tell. The gnarled structure of it had spread, growing like some kind of sinister snowflake crystal suspended in solution. It remained wrapped around the shard of Megan’s soul that served as its anchor, but now it seemed to fan out protectively: just wide enough to keep the flailing hooks of Lewellan’s geas from digging into anything else. That’s probably why I don’t hurt now.
I didn’t know how long it had taken for my curse to expand like that. Perhaps it had been accelerated by the need to protect and repair the parts of my soul that Lewellan’s geas had been slashing into. Or maybe it had grown to shield me from Lewellan’s geas for the same reasons plants grow toward the sun. Perhaps not. Maybe it was just fanning out to latch onto other parts of my soul like a creeping fungus.
Regardless of the reason, the results remained: my curse was the equal of Lewellan’s geas now. And wherever the hooks of his geas flailed at my curse, the curse welcomed them. It drew them in, and it consumed them. It fed them into my buffer, and the rest of my soul drew off of that. In bare moments I felt normal again, emotionally.
Normal and neurotic and paranoid and scared.
Lewellan kept dumping power into me. He can’t stop, I realized. It was almost exactly like when Bonbon had sucked me dry of all my spare essence — I’d been in a different time stream than her. Magic didn’t care about that, though, and it had flowed at a speed relative to me rather than her, but that meant she had remained frozen: unable to do whatever it was she would have done to stop pulling from me until I was so hungry I lost control of my ability to keep time frozen.
Only this time, Lewellan was pushing energy into me, trying to invest me with a geas that would destroy me — except he was on the wrong side of a time imbalance. He was frozen and I wasn’t, and he couldn’t stop his spell. He couldn’t move on to the step where he imbued his geas with whatever command I was meant to follow. He was locked into the assault portion of his spiritual attack and unable to conclude his conquest — even though I’d been on the ground, insensate in agony, and I would have agreed to anything just to get the pain to stop…
I shied away from those thoughts. I was scared. Scared that just thinking about that pain would dredge it up again.
I opened my eyes and looked up at Lewellan. “You poor, dumb bastard,” I said. I forced my tone to be harsh, even though I actually did feel something for him. It was hard not to: it was his emotions that were flowing into me. But I didn’t feel compelled to release my grip on time. I didn’t feel enthralled.
Actually, since I was consuming his aura, wouldn’t it be him who became enthralled with me?
I felt a little nauseous at that idea. I stood. “You know, I’m not actually a faerie,” I told Lewellan — even though I knew he couldn’t hear me. I was feeling shaky, and babbling was how I could cope. I wanted to freak out, but I didn’t. I had other ways to deal with that, but I couldn’t… I didn’t…
Hurting myself wasn’t an option. Not after experiencing pain like I had. It was too soon. Pain was terrifying.
I kept babbling. “Your own energy let me keep time frozen, you know,” I said. I didn’t actually know if that was true, but it seemed likely: however long I’d had time frozen, my curse had been feeding on Lewellan’s aura the entire time. That would have kept my body alive and healthy, despite not eating or moving or doing anything but hurting for god knew how long. It would have provided the energy I needed to keep time frozen, too.
“You should’ve thought of that,” I told him. My aura was full — I felt bloated, more so than I even had after feeding on Melvin and Pipsqueak. How much essence does a Director have?
A lot. More than I could probably imagine: he’d had centuries to build it up, after all. And I knew the difference between the depth of a mundane’s aura and that of a witch — even a weak, ‘newbie’ witch like Emma was an order of magnitude more potent than a normal human. Lewellan, who had been a warlock in life and had continued to practice magic during his centuries of undeath…
Even though I’d started out almost completely empty, there was more power in Lewellan’s aura than I could hold in mine. My aura was bloated. My buffer, the compacted essence my curse had yet to subsume, swelled in size.
It started to hurt.
“No! God no, no no no!”
I wasn’t sure if I thought it or shrieked it, but the slowly building pain was terrifying beyond words. I had to get rid of Lewellan’s essence. But I couldn’t just release my hold on time and let him stop it for me. This was my chance. I had the opportunity to defeat him, right now. If I stopped, he wouldn’t come at me with a geas again. No way. He would fight or he would run, but one way or another he would get away and I would not have that.
I had told him not to piss me off again. Well, my aura was full once more, and that included the little nook I had set aside in my soul specifically for everything related to killing Lewellan. He was dead. He was so fucking dead. I didn’t care if I couldn’t hold that much essence. I didn’t care if I felt like I was burning from the inside, like my soul was straining — like I was going to tear open and vent my existence into the weave.
I don’t care! Lewellan dies tonight.
I sobbed. I felt a part of my soul crack like it had when Lewellan stabbed his curse into me. It let a tendril of essence out, whipping away from me like one of those rogue leylines, attached to me but not to anyone else.
Except it was still Lewellan’s essence. It snapped into him, spinning into something like a second leyline to replace the one that had been strangled shut but the faerie geas. No, I thought in protest. Some of the excess essence began to bead along it; to flow down it — to return to Lewellan. “No!”
I tried to close off that connection, but my soul splintered elsewhere and another strand snapped free. Then another, and another — but still the geas was pumping more essence into me than was escaping to Lewellan. Eventually, I realized, we would reach an equilibrium. Except my soul would be in shattered pieces, while Lewellan’s was whole.
He would win. And with this much of Lewellan’s essence composing my aura…
What was it Bonbon had said about my command that she not escape? That she hadn’t had a chance to resist my geas, because her aura had been so full of my essence?
If I lost, the faerie geas — reinforced by Lewellan’s essence — would destroy me. Utterly. I had no doubt.
And even worse? Since time was frozen it didn’t even matter how long I could hold out: Benjamin and Daniel and Derrick and Justin and John would be no closer than they had been before.
I wanted to sob, but instead I wailed in pain as my soul splintered again. I let my head sag again. I was going to lose, and there was nothing I could do about it, and no help that could arrive in….
Help. Daniel, who was too hungry for me to draw power from. Derrick and Justin, who had both been drained! John, who was weak from the constant rain and getting shot repeatedly…!
I needed help to deal with Lewellan’s aura, but I didn’t need it to be here. I just needed better places to put the fucking essence. I seized the leyline to Daniel. He was closest, and I’d pushed energy to him before. I had a good connection to him. I knew what I was doing. Bonbon had said pushing energy was an intimate thing, but I’d already done it once with Daniel. True, that had been his own essence returned to him, but still: I pushed again, pulling essence off my reserve to send to Daniel and shunting essence away from the leaks back to Lewellan — corralling it back to the line into my curse to be consumed and replace the essence I was sending to Daniel.
It wasn’t enough — but Benjamin and I had shared an experience that was more than intimate. I poured energy into his leyline as well. And Hans! I didn’t know where he was, but I still had the line to his tattered soul. I opened it and pushed energy off of my buffer, into the line from myself to Hans. Hans, my boyfriend.
Who was it that told me that sharing blood wasn’t dangerous as long as the recipient had enough of their own aura for their soul to replenish and push the vampire taint out? I couldn’t remember, but I prayed that Hans was strong enough. And Derrick. I knew Derrick: I had stripped away his aura before. And Justin. Justin had killed me. You couldn’t get more intimate than that, in its own fucked up way.
I kept pushing Lewellan’s essence out, sharing it to anyone I could think of, anyone I had a strong enough connection to. Part of me was horrified. Does this make me a faerie slut? A greater part of me was just relieved when the pressure began to slack off. I sealed off the nascent leyline that had sprung from the leaks in my soul and let it drift away, withering until it vanished into the weave.
Whenever I felt resistance on any of the lines I looked for someone else to pour energy into. Kelvin and Linda were warded. Mr. Kallaher had some sort of protection, too. But I dumped energy into Fumiko, and Bob and Mark and Aaron and Larry. Carl and Jimmy from work had never been drained that I knew: they couldn’t take more than a fraction of a sliver of power, but I gave it to them. I gave to Dad and let my broken promise tear a hole in my soul and disperse the gathered aura — at least it wouldn’t be returning to Lewellan! Plus it gave me a little pocket of emptiness I could refill, a little more room for the essence I drained from Lewellan. Desperate for more avenues to give away Lewellan’s life without returning it to him, I tried for my last ditch options. I gave power to my mom, who took in more than Carl or Jimmy had, but not so much as Dad. I tried to give some to Mr. Fiore, but that connection was too tentative — and there was something blocking me from it. He must have had his own wards in place against faerie magic. I pushed energy toward Mrs. Butterson, and Thomas, and was somewhat surprised when I managed a connection with both. Thomas, in particular, was a drain I could pour Lewellan’s essence into freely.
God help me, I even poured essence to Emma.
And then, with a suddenness that shocked me after who knew how long of acting as a conduit, the flow of energy from Lewellan tapered off and ceased.
Lewellan’s soul was empty. His aura was gone. I stopped trying to stuff essence into other people’s auras. My soul still felt bloated and stretched, but it wasn’t ripping apart at the seams anymore. I stood fully. I curled my hands into fists and braced myself to fight the feral monster that had once been Lewellan. Then I let time flow again.
Lewellan collapsed like a cut marionette. There was no feral monster. Even the deepest, most secure depths of his aura had been drained.
Lewellan was gone.
I had won.