For a second I was afraid that Pipsqueak didn’t recognize me, and was going to tear out my aura without even realizing that he shouldn’t. He was still grinning when he stepped between Sir Etienne and myself, and I could feel sadistic anticipation welling up on Pips’ side of our leyline. I could still see Etienne around Pipsqueak’s gaunt frame, but since Pips was facing me his expression was hidden from Etienne. That was probably good: if Sir Etienne could have seen the mischievous malice in Pipsqueak’s eyes, he would have been very, very worried. Of course Pipsqueak knew who I was: the leyline that connected us was wide from the debt he owed me.
Pips is going to help me escape, I realized. He owes me his life, and Sir Etienne has only been his commander for a day. His debt to me has to outweigh his obligation to Etienne. I felt a momentary upswell of hope — and then Pipsqueak reached in through our shared leyline and ripped it away.
The sensation was like being punched in the gut. Literally: like something inside my gut had just punched me on its way out. I let out a muffled cry and jerked in Reid’s grip, but failed to wrench free. No, I protested mentally since I couldn’t verbally. He can’t do this! As weak as he is, it would kill him to betray me! Wouldn’t it?
My only answer was a flare of psychic pain as my emotions roiled: Pipsqueak had reached past the fears that boiled around the edges of my aura in order to rip out that piece of hope, and that process had been far, far too similar to the spike of Lewellan’s geas reaching in to lash at the core of my soul — only Pipsqueak had executed the violation through our leyline, rather than by constructing an artificial leyline like the ones Lewellan had used to place his geases.
“Do pardon me,” Pipsqueak purred. “I have quite clear instructions, I’m afraid. Under other circumstances I would start with your fears and work my way inward, but since I am to take on an embodiment from them I’ll have to stir them up a bit, first.” He smiled. “You mortals don’t think with your souls the way actual people do, so pulling anything meaningful from them requires looking at the shapes your aura flows into when disturbed. It’s an art, really.”
Behind him, Sir Etienne rolled his eyes. “Why are you bothering with explaining to her, Nathaniel? Just get the deed done so we can move on.” He smirked. “I have a dance to collect from a nymph, back at the festivities.”
Pipsqueak glanced back at his boss. Then back to me. Pips shrugged. It was a gesture that conveyed the sentiment: ‘Bosses. Whatcha gonna do?’ “It was harmless chatter, Sir Etienne. It is rare that I can perform thusly on someone who is aware of me and can thus really appreciate the skill it takes to derive true fear from emotional impressions. I’ll be quicker about it, Sir.”
And then the leyline we shared pulsed It took me half an instant to realize what Pipsqueak was doing, and then the opening of the leyline slashed through my aura. In the other half of that instant I screamed into my gag. I jerked against Reid’s grip hard enough that the troll grunted from the effort of keeping hold of me. He had to straighten and lift me from the ground so I wouldn’t have anything to push against for leverage.
When I was lifted the sun seared my exposed face, cutting into my aura. I screamed louder, and Reid hastily bent back down, slamming my feet against the ground and shielding me with the shadow of his bulk once more. I sagged in his grip. Tears of pain slid down my cheeks, but my face felt numb. I wasn’t sure if that meant I had started to physically burn or not, but I did know that my aura was nearly empty. My fangs were pushing into the material of my gag.
“That was impressive,” Sir Etienne commented. “What did you do, exactly? It looked like you managed to flay the entire surface of her soul at once.” He actually sounded impressed.
Pipsqueak, of course, realized he hadn’t done anything. Or at least: that he hadn’t been responsible for my curse’s reaction to the brief exposure of the sun. I glared at him, angrily. I’m going to kill him, I quietly promised myself.
Pipsqueak swallowed nervously, but Sir Etienne didn’t see that: Pips’ back was still to him. “Mortal emotions are interconnected. Tug at one, and all the others react. Tug at the right one, and all the others react strongly.” He managed a smile, which he turned on Etienne. “I did say this was an art, did I not?”
Sir Etienne pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded in admiration, apparently accepting Pipsqueak’s explanation. I narrowed my eyes. What I want to know is why Pips isn’t writhing in agony with chunks of his aura missing for betraying the debt he owes me, I seethed.
Pipsqueak turned his gaze back on me, and then he laughed. “Oh, dear. Do you want to hurt me back? That’s silly of you,” he said. He took a step closer, so that his body eclipsed my view of Sir Etienne — and Sir Etienne’s view of me. Pipsqueak caressed my cheek condescendingly — like the gesture was meant to console me while his tone conveyed that he was explaining something obvious to an idiot. “If you want to survive this, Etienne is the one you need to deal with. He’s the one giving the orders.”
Behind him, Sir Etienne laughed. Pipsqueak fixed me with his gaze. His proximity — the fact that he was actually touching me — made the opening of his leyline seem almost as wide as it would if I were dormant. I don’t know if you can understand this, the thought came through our leyline, but somehow you managed to shout at me with your soul when you banished me, so I know there is more to you than there should be. Mortals don’t think with their souls. That’s what separates us from animals like them. But that doesn’t matter now. What does is that you own me. You own Reid. If you want out of here in one piece, you need to destroy Etienne.
I glared back at Pipsqueak. Hearing his mental voice through our leyline was disconcerting. I didn’t really care, though. I was hungry enough for my fangs to come out. Hungry enough to not be afraid anymore. Hungry enough to think rationally and realize what was going on, and getting hungrier by the second: Pipsqueak had started draining me in earnest.
He is working to help me escape. He’s just doing it in a way that follows his orders, so he doesn’t get torn apart by his obligation to Sir Etienne, either. I didn’t care about that, though: eventually Pipsqueak was going to pay for hurting me. At the moment, however, I was also sane enough to prioritize survival over revenge. And Pipsqueak was right: if I wanted to survive, I was going to have to deal with Sir Etienne, and do it before the faerie knight realized he had mistaken the vampire for the witch.
I understand, I thought specifically at Pipsqueak. His eyes widened, and he stepped back. His hand left my cheek, and the leyline between us constricted slightly as the loss of physical contact affected how connected and focused we were with each other. I couldn’t ‘hear’ his reaction, assuming he was thinking one at me, but I wasn’t vexed by that. I was already laying out plans for my next course of action.
Pipsqueak had done an admirable job manipulating the situation. He was obeying Sir Etienne’s instructions to drain me. In the process, he was setting me up to be hungry enough to destroy the faerie knight, which would effectively free Pipsqueak from any further conflict of obligation between Etienne and myself. And in the process, Pips was restoring himself to something closer to what he had been before I had drained him under Daniel’s bridge.
“Ah! I have it,” Pipsqueak suddenly announced.
Sir Etienne snorted. “That didn’t take long,” he opined.
Pipsqueak shrugged. “She was largely empty to begin with. There wasn’t much to take. Still, would you like to see? It won’t affect her properly now, of course, not while her aura is depleted, but I wouldn’t want you to think I’d failed in your orders.”
Sir Etienne smirked. “No, there’s no need to delay. We can experiment with your new form when she’s restored enough to appreciate it.”
I grit my teeth together angrily. Pipsqueak’s new form. Of course: that had been the other half of his orders. As if I needed something else to be afraid of when I was sated! At least now one of the things I’m always worried about when my thirst is quenched will be real. That’ll probably mean I’ll stop being such a pathetic wimp about it. Still, the thought infuriated me. I didn’t like being reminded of who I was when I was sated: helpless, cowardly, terrified.
In fact, I decided, fuck that. I bit down, hard. My gag was just a glamour: it was a construct of magic, with no more real power over me than I believed it had. And while I was terrified of being bound and violated when I was alive, while I was dead I was perfectly aware of the fact that I would rip the fucking throat out of anyone who dared try.
I bit through the gag violently: it dissolved into nothingness as my teeth sheared through it. At the same time, Sir Etienne gave a pained yelp. His glamour, I thought. Sir Etienne had replaced my gag, earlier. Well, that answers the question of whether or not a faerie feels it if you destroy something crafted from their glamours. I’ll have to keep that in mind, the next time I see Bonbon.
I threw myself forward before Sir Etienne could react further. I tore apart the chains binding my wrists and ankles like they were threads. How could I have felt bound by those? I can bend steel and lift trucks! Why did I have to be so fucking stupid when I was sated? It was almost enough to turn me off of feeding… if only blood wasn’t so blissfully delicious.
I tore free of Reid’s grip at the same time, or perhaps he released me. I wasn’t sure and didn’t care. I swung one arm forward and batted Pipsqueak out of my way. The blow flung him across the room, but I didn’t bother to see where he landed. My other arm was outstretched, and I seized a handful of Sir Etienne’s shirt while he was still reacting to the fact that I was free.
I slammed into Sir Etienne with enough force to knock him off of his feet. I landed atop him and hauled him up to sitting beneath me by my grip on his shirt. Sir Etienne screamed once — he’d finally noticed my fangs. I slapped him across the face to shut him up. He started to tremble. Fear was a stupid response on his part: it made the predator in me beg all the more to tear open his throat.
“Now, Sir Etienne,” I growled, “I think you and I need to have a little chat about some orders you recently gave out, and their consequences.” I smiled wide, making sure my fangs were prominent. “Reid,” I called without looking behind me. “Cover your ears and don’t listen in. This conversation doesn’t involve you.” Plus, that simple order would prevent Sir Etienne from ordering Reid to assist him. I didn’t doubt I could kill them both if it came to it, but that would leave me starving and with only Pipsqueak to turn to for sustenance. The sun was actively burning me, now: I could feel the skin on my face and hands blister and crack, faster than it ever had before. I was going to need blood. In fact, I needed some now.
I leaned in close and let my breath caress Etienne’s neck. Facing down took the sun off my face, but I could smell hair burning. I didn’t bite, though. I had plans, and they weren’t the same as Pipsqueak’s plans for me. Pipsqueak wanted me to destroy Sir Etienne for him, and then escape Archarel’s realm — but Pipsqueak was ignorant of my end goal. I was going to free Megan. Archarel owning someone who was so significant to my soul was unacceptable. And that meant I needed an invitation to Archarel’s party.
Reluctantly — with an intense effort of will — I resisted the siren call of Etienne’s jugular and slid my lips up to his ear. “My aura is empty,” I purred. “And that’s your fault. I have a very, very strong desire to destroy you in the replenishing of it. So if you wish to continue to exist, you’d best start making promises that will be worth sparing you for.” Sir Etienne whimpered and stumbled over inarticulate words. “I suggest you start,” I said, “by swearing absolute loyalty to me.”
And then I latched onto Sir Etienne’s throat, and moaned in rapture while he screamed and his faerie blood flowed.