I’d won. Lewellan lay dormant at my feet.
I didn’t believe it.
It’s a trap, my paranoid side screamed. He’s going to get up and grab you. He’s laying in wait to see who your allies are so he can get them too. He’s not actually dormant: he’s floating in the weave like you do when you fall dormant, and even though he can’t see the weave or leylines or anything he has some spell ready to revive him. Or more donors somewhere. Or something. It’s a trap!
I stumbled forward. I picked up Lewellan’s sword, desperate to have something to protect myself with. My emotions were out of control: my aura was bloated and my vampire instincts were locked down tight, leaving my mind free to experience relief — except relief wasn’t coming. Panic and anxiety and how I felt about everything that had happened tonight were all trying to catch my attention at once, now that they could all exist.
It was overwhelming.
Kill him! Kill him with fucking fire!
My paranoia spoke with the voice of authority. It was a side of myself that had been in charge of my actions more than any other, and that made it comforting. Normal. I listened to it. Or my autopilot did. I think I might have been too in shock to actually be deciding what I was listening to out of all my emotional turmoil.
I didn’t have fire. Instead, without thinking, I chopped Lewellan’s sword down: hacking into his body. I did it again and again: blindly; frantically — screaming inarticulate hate with each slash. I wanted him dead. But he was a vampire. He could come back from death. I want him to never come back.
“I hate you!” I shouted at Lewellan’s corpse. “I. Hate. You.” I punctuated each word with another chop. My superhuman strength drove the blade through flesh and bone and gouged the pavement underneath, but the angle was wrong to actually sever anything and I wasn’t really aiming, anyway. Tears were streaking down my face, ruining my vision. I chopped again and again and again — more feebly as the tears took over. I let the blade rest at an angle, jutting out of Lewellan’s body, and fell to my knees beside him.
“I… I…” I couldn’t speak because of the sobs.
I hate him, I told myself. But I wasn’t crying because of that. I wasn’t crying because I had finally, at long last, become a genuine murderess — hacking a vampire’s body to pieces had to qualify at least as attempted murder, even if they could come back from a regular killing. I wasn’t crying because of all the stress and agony that had preceded my tears — I wasn’t even crying because of the pain Lewellan had seared into my soul: the pain his unformed geas had flayed into me while I lay trapped and tortured for an unknown subjective length.
No, I was crying because the night wasn’t even done.
I wasn’t done.
I sobbed. Megan was still a captive of Archarel. Fumiko was on her way into the faerie lands, and would need me to pull myself together and back her up. Megan needed me, and Emma needed Megan. I couldn’t fail them. I couldn’t.
I didn’t know if the thought meant I couldn’t fail them, or that I couldn’t meet their needs. I desperately tried not to think about it.
This entire night… No, this entire fucking nightmare… All this running around with Lewellan hounding me, and I hadn’t even confronted Archarel yet. I wasn’t done, and it was too much on top of everything else. Too much to imagine that I was going to have to go through more.
I’ve always been a bit of a wimp. I know it. I’m not good at dealing with pressure, or living up to people’s expectations, or doing the right thing — or doing anything. I’ve always been a neurotic, egocentric, paranoid freak. I knew that, too.
So I didn’t beat myself up for breaking down now that my aura was whole. I’d known it was coming.
Instead, I did my best to let all of those emotions out. They had an entire evening to catch up on, and I couldn’t shove them down. I didn’t even want to try. I was too busy sobbing my eyes out.
Over Lewellan. Over Archarel. Over whatever fucked up twist of fate had made me the one with the superpowers and semi-immortality and everything fucking else that meant I had to step in and protect my friends. I wished I could run away. I wished I could go back to them protecting me, when the worst monsters I faced were always the product of my own neurosis and the hardest thing I had to do was make it to the grocery store or talk to a cashier.
One of my sobs caught. It sounded almost like a hiccup. I’d heard someone approaching, and other habits were taking over. Falling down, breaking under stress? Yes, that was who I was. But so was shoring myself up so that I could try and fail to pass as normal in front of other people.
I choked back another sob, then gulped air instead of letting out another. I scrubbed my eyes clear and stood. As long as my face was dry no one would know I’d been crying. Chalk one more up for vampiric regeneration: I never had to look like my face was strained from all the emotions my brain had tried to shove out my eyes.
And nose. I needed to start carrying around tissues.
And I needed to pull it together, because running away was not an option.
I turned away from the approaching footsteps to finish putting myself together as well as I could. I stepped over Lewellan first, though, so I wasn’t turning my back on him. Just on the person, whom my leylines informed me was Daniel. And whoever was running behind him: a mortal who had to be sanely scared — at least, they were if their heart rate was any indication.
Part of me twitched at the thought of Daniel running at my back. It helped that my hearing let me know exactly where he was at, and he wasn’t even on the same street as I was yet, but… What if he hates me for getting him involved in this? What if he has a gun? Can I even justify not letting him kill me? It would be justice not murder, in his case.
I couldn’t let him, though. However much he might want justice — or even revenge — he was just going to have to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to let him kill me until after Megan and Fumiko were safe.
Maybe… maybe if he was really adamant I could let him shoot me in the head once to tide him over until then. I probably had enough of Lewellan’s aura packed into my buffer to come back from something small caliber without going psycho-evil Abby on anyone.
I wasn’t ready to face Daniel yet, but I didn’t think I had a choice.
I really wasn’t ready to see him snap out of an alley, pressed tight against the side of a building, half crouched and sighting down an assault rifle’s scope.
I bolted out of the street. I could have frozen time, but I didn’t. The pain was too real and too recent — I just couldn’t. I ran full tilt to the nearest alley on the opposite side of the street, instead, and threw myself into it. No. That is too many fucking bullets. I didn’t care that I hit the ground hard enough to scrape myself up: the scrapes were gone before I even consciously felt them. I pressed myself hard against the ground and cringed in anticipation of a cacophony of bullets tearing over my head.
It didn’t come.
I twisted around to peer over my shoulder. Daniel had advanced into the street, but he was paying more attention to Lewellan’s corpse than to where I’d run. “Huh,” I heard him say after he got close enough to prod the body with the knife on the end of his rifle. He glanced over his shoulder. “All clear, Terry.”
From the alley emerged the source of the heartbeat I’d heard accompanying Daniel. It belonged to a young, pretty blonde in a skirt, sneakers and a sweater — with scraped up knees. The scent of blood enticed me, but I was too full to pay it any mind. Human, young, pretty, female — one of Linda’s witches? Terry followed Daniel’s path more tentatively. I scrambled to roll over and press myself against the alley wall, where I could watch without being quite so exposed. Terry was armed, too. She was carrying a machine gun of some sort and… literally an arm.
Ha. I thought inanely. I observed a pun.
“Abigail,” Daniel called toward me. He kept his gun lowered. I wasn’t sure if he meant for it to be pointed at the ground or at Lewellan, but in either case he was covering the corpse. “Are you alright?”
No, I thought. You interrupted me in the middle of freaking out. “I’m fine,” I called back. Shit. Apparently I was going to have to deal with this. “I’ll let you take one shot,” I added. “That’s it, okay? I’ve got stuff to do.”
Daniel didn’t respond. He pulled out his phone and called someone. “The Director is down,” he said into the line.
I heard the person on the other end bluster in surprise. “What? How?!”
“Abigail got him,” Daniel said. He gave me a reassuring grin and I crept out of the alleyway. He didn’t sound mad at me.
What’s going on? Did he decide to be mad at Lewellan instead of me?
“That’s… I shouldn’t be surprised, should I?” I recognized the voice this time: Benjamin.
“Nope,” Daniel agreed. “I reckon you shouldn’t. We’re about a block from the house. Meet up here? We’re going to have to do something about the body.”
“Yes, of course,” Benjamin answered. “Maple Street or Douglas?”
“Douglas,” Daniel replied. “See you shortly.” He put his phone away and let his grin widen as he turned fully toward me — but left his gun still pointing at Lewellan.
I shifted a little nervously. “Um. Sorry about running away like that,” I said as I ventured back into the street. “I thought you might be a little mad about how I got you killed.”
Daniel snorted. “You got me killed? Please. What you told me about the fae saved my ass when Archarel sent one of his goons to make a message out of me. This piece of shit is the murderer here.” He kicked Lewellan’s corpse for emphasis.
I straightened a little. “It’s not over yet,” I told Daniel. He cocked his head and fixed me with an attentive gaze. “I don’t know how much you know, but… my friend Emma? She’s cursed. And Megan can maybe break that curse, I think, but she’s been captured by Archarel. I’m… Fumiko has gone to rescue her, but I can’t help. I… I mean, I can, but I don’t have an invitation into the house. All I can do is stand guard in case she’s chased when she comes back with Megan.”
“Ah,” Daniel said. “That’s the other stuff you mentioned, I take it? Well, that’s fine then. You won’t be alone in standing guard, Abigail. Benjamin and the folks with him will back you up, and there’s an arsenal at the house we can load up with. Might be able to convince one of the witches,” he cast glance at the young woman who stood behind him, looking at Lewellan’s corpse and looking rather pale at the same time, “to help out, too.”
I turned my attention to the young woman. Terry. I probably could use her help. I had a more important question to ask, though.
“How is Emma?” I asked.
Terry jumped as though startled that she’d been addressed. She fixed her attention on me and dropped the arm she was carrying. Then she swallowed and took a half step back. “Emma is… she isn’t good,” Terry said. I could hear her heart rate begin to ramp back up — it had started to drop to normal when Daniel had walked openly into the street. “We’re doing the best we can for her, but her aura is almost completely empty. She isn’t able to replenish herself very quickly, even with the three of us providing her as much energy as we could.”
I nodded weakly. That wasn’t the case anymore, of course: I’d filled Emma with energy from Lewellan. Her aura would be almost full, now — but it would be entirely full of ‘tainted’ aura. It might stave off the moment that she became either a living ghoul or died, but it wasn’t a permanent solution: the curse would consume that aura and then seek to feed on her soul again. Only this time, there would be a lot more of the curse present to do damage. If anything, I’d probably made things worse for her.
That seemed to be my modus operandi, when it came to Emma.
“Thank you,” I said. “For taking care of her… for everything.” I felt a slight tremor in my aura: some of the faerie drawn essence realigned slightly, drawn toward the leyline between Terry and I. Oh, right. Thank you’s are like tiny admissions of debt to the fae. Megan and Fumiko had warned me about that.
Terry nodded back, slowly. Now she was looking at me with an intensity that made me feel awkward. “You’re not what I expected,” she said. “Even though Daniel explained about Lewellan lying… you aren’t what I expected.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I just smiled. “I never am,” my autopilot observed. “People need to learn to stop expecting stuff about me.”
Before my autopilot could explain further, thankfully, additional conversation was forestalled by a pair of headlights turning a corner at the end of the block. They were attached to a large van. The leylines I was watching informed me that the van was the one I was expecting: Benjamin and John were inside, along with Derrick and Justin. The driver was Adam, so I assumed there might be other of Benjamin’s donors with them, as well.
“Alright,”I said as the van pulled up. “Daniel, can you and the guys take care of Lewellan? I really, really don’t want to have to look at his face again. Terry? While they’re cleaning up would you mind… would you mind telling me how Emma’s been doing, in more detail? I mean… I know she’s been unconscious, but since when? She was awake to text me this morning, and…”
I pulled Terry aside while Daniel waved some of the guys out of the back of the van to deal with Lewellan. I tried to ignore them while they worked. Having Terry telling me about Emma was an agonizingly effective distraction: I couldn’t help but masochistically despise myself through the recounting. I think Terry knew it, too, because she kept getting more and more consolatory as our conversation continued. I kept my eye on Emma’s leyline the entire time, too.
Finally, Benjamin interrupted us. He tapped my shoulder from behind. I didn’t freak out, though — I had better reasons to freak out on hold already. “We’re done here,” he said. “Daniel mentioned we aren’t actually done though. Care to explain further?”
I looked at him. “Yeah,” I said. “Archarel. He kidnapped Megan and all of that, right? And I need Megan here, because she’s my friend and because she might be able to save Emma.”
Benjamin nodded. “We’ll stand guard on the other gate with you,” he promised. Daniel must have said something about it to him while they cleaned up Lewellan’s corpse.
“Thanks,” I said — and felt another shiver in the faerie-shaped portion of my aura. I ignored it. I was going to have to get better about that sort of thing, yes, but dammit: Benjamin and Daniel and John deserved my thanks. And they’ll deserve a lot more than that before the night is done. “Thanks,” I repeated, “but that’s not my plan. Emma is awake.” I could tell from the way the emotions on the other end of her leyline were shifting. She was awake, and probably talking to someone. “I pushed aura to her along with you and everyone else, and it seems to have gotten her on her feet.”
Benjamin’s eyes widened. “That’s wonderful!” he exclaimed. Then he did a double check. “Wait, you pushed aura to me? That’s…” I narrowed my eyes at him. He knew the truth about my first blood. “Oh,” he said, getting it. “Right.”
I nodded. “Yeah. I couldn’t hold everything from Lewellan, so I had to distribute it to anyone I had a strong enough connection to. You and I… well, you have taken my blood, Ben.”
Benjamin flushed slightly. “I… yes. I do feel less hungry, but… I hadn’t realized why. I hadn’t even really thought about it.”
I shrugged. As weirdly nice as it was to make Benjamin blush — I totally got what Emma meant about that, now: there was something extra special about making a vampire’s cheeks flush — he hadn’t understood what I meant about Emma being awake.
“And it’s not really that great,” I said. “The essence in Emma’s aura is still cursed. When that essence is consumed by the curse, she’ll have more of it attacking her soul.” I heard Terry suck in a startled breath. “I may have revived Emma momentarily,” I continued, “but I don’t think she’s in better shape than she was. I think she’s in worse.”
I looked at Terry for confirmation, and the young witch nodded jerkily. “I.. yes,” she said. “I mean, I’d have to look at her and read her aura to see what is going on there now, but if I had to guess I’d say you’re right.” Terry swallowed anxiously, as though she was afraid of how I might react to her agreement. “In fact, if she has more of the curse in her, I… I don’t think there’s anything our coven can do to ensure her soul recovers and her aura is cleansed.”
I took a deep breath, then blew it out. I’d already figured as much, too. I turned back to Ben. “So you see, I need to rescue Megan even more than I did before.” Emma didn’t stand a chance, otherwise — or rather, she had a one in four or five or whatever chance of becoming a ghoul. And a much greater chance of becoming prematurely dead. “That’s why the plan has changed.”
I looked around me. While Ben, Terry and I had been talking, Daniel, John and Derrick had come over. Justin and Adam and Ben’s donors were paying attention, too, but from slightly further back. I closed my eyes. Public speaking was a freakout thing, definitely, but at least I could get this over with all in one go.
“We aren’t going to stand guard,” I said. “Benjamin, you and I and everyone else I can find and convince in the next fifteen minutes are going to do something impossible.” That was my one good trick, after all: doing the impossible always seemed to solve my current problems. And fifteen minutes was more than enough time to get to Salvatore’s house and talk to everyone there. “Since you and I are young enough to withstand the sun for a while and our auras are bloated, and ghouls aren’t burned by the sun like we are, and everyone else is human… We’re going to get Emma to invite us into Katherine’s house. We’re going to get Linda’s coven to open the gateway there. And then we are going to go into Archarel’s kingdom, in force, and we are going to make sure Fumiko succeeds in getting Megan out.”