Sebastian did an admirable job with my dress. It was robin egg blue, with lace trim in a deeper shade. Most notably, it covered me quite thoroughly, leaving only my face exposed. The parasol did the trick for keeping that shaded, and keeping me from getting bitey.
Fortunately, the walk to Lord Archarel’s party was a short one: Sebastian led me back through the archway we had come from, and we were there. The festivities took place within a massive circle of standing stones. Stone archways were spaced equidistantly about the perimeter. Within the circle, an overabundance of faeries danced and laughed and chattered.
My senses went into overdrive, slamming me with a cacophony of conversations. It was far more than I could sort through, so I just grit my teeth and tried to focus on Sebastian as he led me through the crowd. It was surprisingly difficult: not just because of the volume of the conversation, or the eye-catching visuals of faeries in hundreds of unique forms and costumes. No, what really gave me trouble was the thrumming rumble of all those heartbeats.
I’d refrained from destroying Sebastian so I could use him to get close to my Megan, and he had led me to a buffet the likes of which I’d never imagined. I felt like an overstimulated cat surrounded by toys: everyone around me was prey. The slightest movement clamored for my immediate attention, and I didn’t dare give in to the distraction or I knew I would find myself struggling against the urge to pounce, whatever my goals may be.
It was perhaps the most cruel torture any faerie had put me through.
I kept my head lowered so that my hyperactive attention wouldn’t give me away by showing on my face: I didn’t need some faerie wondering why the ’emptied’ witch accompanying Sebastian was showing far more interest in her surroundings than someone devoid of aura should be capable of. Sebastian maintained his pace just ahead of me, further shielding me from view. I concentrated on the tiny piece of my soul that was shared from Megan, and the resonance that let me know I was finally approaching her once more. That was probably the second worst torture a fae had put me through: I could feel us growing closer, but didn’t dare look for her.
At last Sebastian stopped at a long table that was piled up with food: elaborate arrangements of meat, cheese, fruit, pastries and the like. I couldn’t have cared less about the contents of those dishes, though. The true feast was all around me, dancing about, laughing, and talking in naive ignorance: all oblivious to the predator in their midst.
Sebastian pulled out a tall-backed chair that seemed to have been shaped from a single piece of wood, as though a small tree had grown in the shape of a seat. I sat.
“Miss Megan,” I heard Sebastian say. “I believe this is a friend of yours.” His voice was haughty and cruel. “As my lord has commanded, I leave her here so that you may contemplate the significance of your future choices.” His hands rested briefly on my shoulders. The touch amplified my awareness of our leyline until I could feel his nervousness, but none of it showed in his voice. If anything, he sounded haughty and cruel: exactly the role he needed to portray, since he was acting the part of himself had he actually drained Emma and brought her to Archarel’s gathering instead of being trapped by me.
I thought a brief note of approval at Sebastian, and felt his surprise — enough for him to jerk his hands away. Although, in all fairness that might have been because I interlaced the approval with a note of anger: the part he was playing showed how he would have mistreated my Emma, and although she was worthless as a donor she was still mine. And that meant that at some point there would have to be reprisals made against Sebas for his unrealized intentions toward her.
I heard Megan’s sudden intake of breath. “It… It’s really…”
I shifted my head just enough so that I could raise my eyes and catch Megan’s. I heard her heart hammer, and it was all I could do not to cross the table and pin her down and… I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to ravish her body or just her throat. Both, I decided. Sympathetic vampire healing might prevent me from leaving physical marks to show that someone was mine, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make them know, regardless.
The corners of my lips curled up hungrily. Megan continued to stare at me, wide-eyed, but she didn’t say a damn thing more. She wasn’t stupid: she knew that something had to be going on, that there was no sane way Archarel would allow a starved vampire at his banquet table. But more importantly? My connection to Megan was far, far stronger than it was to anyone else. Just as I had when I’d realized she was a changeling, I could reach across the link of our shared soul and into her aura. And, I realized, so to could she to mine. I took a deep breath, letting it expand my slender chest. My nostrils flared slightly on the exhale. The blood leeched from Megan’s face, only to flood back into her cheeks as I hit her with the entirety of my desires.
I had told her once before not to ever push energy to me again. She tried to push aura at me anyway in response to at least half of the hunger I let her feel. I turned the energy aside, refusing to accept it and letting it flow back into her. When I took aura from her, it would be through her blood. She had said she wanted nothing more than a relationship that would last forever. If it was going to be with me, then she was going to have to accept me in my entirety. Blood lust and all.
I shook my head almost imperceptibly. For so much of my life, I had relied on her to get by in even the most mundane of circumstances. Well, now I was dead and I didn’t need her for that. This time she follows my lead, I thought firmly. And once we’re done here I’ll have to impress upon her the fact that I don’t need her to take care of me for me. A part of me that my living self would never have experienced — a part that my living self would have been too desperately needy to have — was angry that Megan had even tried to slake my thirst by pushing her aura to me.
But it was a small part, and barely vexed me: I was confident that I could come up with an inappropriate punishment.
Megan swallowed and nodded — a barely perceptible bobbing of her head that was glaringly obvious to my over-charged situational awareness.
Our imperceptible exchange passed in the barest of instants. When Sebastian continued talking, it was a continuation of his initial taunting. “Now,” he said, “please do think about your decisions. I will return momentarily with the Lady Fumiko, so that you can make all the appropriate comparisons before you decide if you want Lord Archarel’s good will or his animosity.”
Sebastian disappeared into the crowd behind us. I registered his departure only because I couldn’t help noticing it. He was supposed to find Fumiko, as he’d been instructed by Archarel. Find her, bring her up to speed, and then bring her to Megan and I. I left all of my intentional attention remained fixed on Megan, even as I lowered my eyes again before anyone else could notice the glance we’d exchanged and remark on it.
“Lady Megan,” a woman’s voice suddenly came from one of the thrones at the head of the table, “will you introduce me to your friend?”
The voice belonged to a woman with a stunning resemblance to Megan — despite clearly being a different person. They could have been sisters. What’s more: I could smell the faint copper tang of real blood in her veins. She wasn’t a faerie. It didn’t take a genius to realize that she was the quisling who corresponded to Megan’s status as a changeling.
“I…” Megan swallowed and started again. “I don’t know who this is, Orlina. Her aura has been taken from her and she isn’t the person she was.”
I smirked in amusement at Megan’s deflection, but kept my face down. If only Megan knew: I was different, yes, but not a different person. I had long since realized that who I was when I was ‘alive’ and when I was ‘dead’ didn’t change. I had the same memories, had lived the same experiences: the only difference was the lens through which I viewed the world and the instincts that held sway over my desires. While I was dead I could admit that ravishing Megan had been on my mind for years. While I was alive, I was too chicken shit to admit to anything and had to fill in for myself in my own fantasies with brutish thugs and bitchy witches and whatever other people — real or imaginary — crossed my mind. Well, I was admitting to it now: I wanted Megan. Blood and body and aura and soul.
Own that, I thought at my future living self. My toes curled slightly at the rather explicit fantasy I started to weave: Megan, collared and bound and prone while I — I — ran my lips over her trembling skin, my fingers teasing between her legs and my mouth seeking the perfect place to bite. God, that was deliciously hot — no pun intended. And as an added bonus? Since who I was didn’t change when I was alive as opposed to when I was dead, once I went back to being ‘living’ Abby I was going to be stuck with the full memory of this fantasy, these desires, and the knowledge that I couldn’t deny that I possessed that desire or pretend otherwise any more.
I even decided — just to twist the knife on my living self — that I wasn’t going to slake myself on Megan — or ravish her. Not this time. I was going to destroy Archarel, I decided. That would show the rest of these pissant fae not to mess with me or mine, and should slake my thirst nicely. And it would leave ‘living’ Abby with having to deal with her emotional neurosis for once. Which I was sure I would be terrified about, but fuck it: I needed to grow up and stop being so fucking weak when I was alive. I’m not going to bail myself out of it, this time, I thought. I’m sick of hating that part of me whenever I’m thirsty enough to not be fucking insane. Either I own up while I’m sated, or the whole fucking thing burns and I never drink my full again.
That would suck — or rather it wouldn’t, I reflected on the second pun — but right now I was willing to make that sacrifice. It wouldn’t even stop me from feasting as gluttonously as I desired: I had fae bound to me, after all, and I was sure that I could order one to drain me down to sanity if I decided to indulge myself and wound up fed enough to become my weepy, emotional, neurotic wreck of a ‘living’ self. Hell, I could just order Sebas to do it and he wouldn’t dare do otherwise. I might opt for Melvin instead, though: that kind of recurring donation of aura was bound to give my chosen fae a significant boost in strength over time, and Melvin had always been more fun to spar with than Sebastian had proven.
“Now now,” a booming, jovial male voice suddenly interrupted my thoughts, “Don’t be so cruel to the poor thing, Lady Megan. There’s no reason to foreswear your relationship: surely you can sense how important you are to her. And it’s not like pretending she’s less important to you in her diminished state will make me any less inclined to torture her to death if you step out of line tomorrow.”
Megan’s gaze snapped away from me and toward the interloper. I heard her heart speed up, achieving a tempo that was distinctly different from the heavy thumping it had undergone when I’d appeared before her. She was afraid.
Megan, who had protected my living self so many times — who had faced down Salvatore to save me — was afraid. And not for herself. No, she was afraid for me.
Afraid that whoever had interrupted us would make good his casual threat and kill me. I felt my hackles rise and my blood lust displace my physical lust. I could guess who the interloper was, and he had already made one serious mistake.
He had interrupted one of the best fantasies that had ever been put out by the combination of my libido and my hyperactive imagination in my life — or unlife, as the case may be.
And he, I thought with fierce anger, is going to pay for that. In blood.