The transition between my living point of view to the semi-omniscience of being dormant was only disorienting because I hadn’t been expecting to pass out. I felt a tiny surge of annoyance with Melvin for not being willing to give me blood: if he had, I might not be hovering over my physical body, uncertain of what was going on in the world beyond a few feet of my dormant corpse. Then my emotions settled, allowing the peaceful clarity of dormancy to take over: After all, what right did I have to be annoyed? It wasn’t like Melvin had ever willingly given me his blood before. The first time he’d ‘given’ me blood I had tricked him by tying my well-being to the geas binding him to protect Megan from harm. And the time after that I’d even more blatantly seized him and flat out taken what I wanted. I suspected I would find that realization upsetting when I resumed living, but at the moment it was just a fact.
I needed more donors.
Whoever had shouted when I collapsed was outside of the radius of my awareness. So too was anyone else who might have been around, so I had an indeterminate amount of time to ponder what to do about my feeding habits without distractions. Any new donors would have to be faeries, of course. Or possibly humans with faerie familiars — feeding on Fumiko while Bonbon had pushed essence to her had worked well enough.
The obvious choices were my personal army, who wouldn’t have a choice in the matter if I didn’t give it to them, and Emma or Megan. Feeding on Megan and Emma still seemed to run at odds with the drive to protect them, though, and I’d reinforced that drive often enough that I even still felt it while dormant.
It was a conundrum.
My introspection was interrupted by people coming into the radius of my awareness. I recognized Derrick, the solock I’d enthralled, as one of them. With him was a fae I did not recognize — a goblin of some sort. Derrick crouched beside my corpse, then looked up and addressed someone outside of my range. “Call Mr. Cullison,” he said. “Or Mister — No, I don’t care if it’s normal for vampires to be dormant during the day. They walked out of here, so I want one of them to tell us if she needs anything.” He turned back to my body and easily lifted it. Then his head snapped up again, his attention grabbed by someone outside my range once more.
“We’re relocating her,” Derrick said. “Sure, we could move her to the bed, but this is still a potential point of conflict. We’ll use the other bedroom to remove her from the immediate area and set a separate guard there.”
The goblin scurried out in front of Derrick, but to one side so he wouldn’t be in the solock’s way. “Respectfully, Sir Derrick, I will inform Sir Reid of Lady Abigail’s condition. He will wish to reinforce whatever guard watches over her, I am certain.”
Derrick hesitated, but only for a second. “Reid’s the big troll?” He asked. “The one Mr. Stuessy had words with?”
The goblin nodded.
“Alright,” Derrick agreed. “And hurry back with word of whatever reinforcements he has in mind.”
The little goblin grinned, snapped a sharp salute, and disappeared in a swirl of shadowy mist. From my current vantage I had much better perception of the flow of magic than usual, and I could actually see the glamour of the goblin’s body unravel — then be sucked away into apparent nothingness as it was pulled back to the faerie world.
That must be why their blood always vanishes so quickly, I thought. It’s being sucked back into themselves, or into the weave, or being banished back to its native world or something like that. It was an interesting observation, but not a very meaningful one… except that my native soul was damaged and had a tendency to leak, now. Not unlike a faerie’s glamoured body ‘leaked’ when damaged. I wonder if that means a faerie would know how to patch my soul back up? Being unable to really ‘live’ had its advantages — but being so close to being ‘dead’ all the time was a significant draw back, as my current dormancy could attest.
Derrick strode toward the bedroom door, and since he was carrying me, the locus of my awareness moved with him. Mr. Kallaher slid into my range — it seemed that he was the one Derrick had addressed — along with a few other donors I didn’t recognize. Probably Thomas’, then, since I thought I knew most of Benjamin’s at least by sight now. Although, maybe they belonged to that third scion? I moved meeting her up in my que — I didn’t particularly care for the fact that she had my dad and I didn’t know anything about her except that she was a vampire.
Mr. Kallaher was frowning when Derrick passed him, but didn’t say anything while I was in range to hear it. Derrick took me out into hall — little more than a landing for the stairs — and across it. He fumbled the next door open, and went through it sideways, still carrying my unresponsive corpse. His eyes immediately darted about to check the corners, and then he carried me the rest of the way into Emma’s room.
I only ‘saw’ a sliver of it. The bed appeared to be on the wall opposite the door, which is where Derrick took me. It was a twin, with a couple of pillows, a jersey sheet set and one of those synthetic, fuzzy blankets. Derrick put me down on the bed, then stepped out of my range. When he came back, he was tugging a wheeled office desk chair — the cheap kind — that he set up next to the bed. He gave me one more long glance, then shook his head, unslung his rifle, and sat down facing the door.
I realized that I could keep track of the passage of time, roughly, by watching Derrick’s breathing. However, that was intensely boring so I ended up paying him little mind and turning back to my introspections. I chose to focus on the damage to my soul. I didn’t have a faerie on hand to tell me how to fix it, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t look at it and maybe figure something out myself. Besides, I hadn’t yet taken the time to get a real evaluation of how bad it was — and I wasn’t going to be able to get a better look than I would while dormant.
My soul had been breached almost a dozen times, I found after a close examination. Only one of those was truly large: that was from the first time it had started to split under the pressure of Archarel forcing essence into me. Two more places were clearly rents left by that same battle; the others were different — more like holes than tears. I recognized some as having been left by the spikes of energy Lewellan used when he cast geases. Others I managed to attribute to times I had been fed on — by Megan, for one, and some that I thought might have been left over from before I’d died and become a vampire.
The holes were small and didn’t seem very problematic — not in comparison to the great big tears Archarel had left, anyway. The damage there was smooth, and I could sort of see where it had started to heal on its own, on the older ones: if my mortal essence was like water, then my soul had the consistency of ice, and there were rings of ice inside of the holes. It looks like a little bit of any aura that leaks through these ‘freezes’ to the inside, I thought. Eventually they’ll be sealed off. I looked over the damage again, this time noting the number of ‘rings’ in each puncture. Using the ones that I thought corresponded to Lewellan’s geases, I confirmed my theory. I could count the number of rings in each injury, and the older ones — the ones which had been healing longer — had correspondingly more rings. Like the rings of a tree, except they grow inward over time instead of outward each year.
I was interrupted from further speculation by Derrick suddenly jumping in his chair. He snapped his rifle up. “What are you… Okay,” he said. He lowered the muzzle of his weapon a half inch, but other than that he showed no sign of relaxing. “But the rest of you keep your distance.” His eyes darted back and forth, but I had no idea what he was taking in. Omniscience, I thought, really isn’t that useful when it’s only limited to a few feet in radius. My natural hearing and vision would have been much more informative at times like this. Derrick’s little goblin climbed up onto the foot of the bed, then sat down cross-legged. I guess he came back with Reid’s reinforcements, rather than just with word of them.
Unable to do anything about it one way or the other, I dismissed Derrick from my focus once more. This time I turned my attention to the tears Archarel had left behind in my soul.
I started with the largest one. It was gruesomely ragged in a way that the punctures from feeding were not. Bits of broken off soul seemed to have been pulled or pushed out of place — tendrils from the weave had anchored to them, and they remained attached to the rest of my soul by bare threads. If those threads broke, I suspected, those shards would be dragged off into the weave.
I ‘looked’ closer. Elsewhere, my soul had very clearly fit with my analogy of water and ice, which made the threads holding together the scraps along the edge of the tear seem strange. And they were: when I looked closely, I could see that those threads extended into the ‘ice’ around the torn portion of my soul, but weren’t actually a part of it. The wove through it like veins — Like veins, I thought, or like a latticework.
I took a tiny portion of my remaining aura and nudged it toward the tear. As the drop of essence crossed the threshold marked by my soul, threads from the weave latched into it and almost instantly whisked it away. I gathered up another droplet of aura. This time I concentrated harder, carefully guiding it so that it pressed against the tattered edge of my soul rather then passing through the opening. When it moved into the threshold between my soul and the weave, the weave again latched onto it — but this time some of it ‘froze’ into the edge of my soul. The back half of the droplet was torn away by the weave, but a part of it remained fixed in place: a wedge that was thicker alongside the rest of my soul and narrowed as it pointed into the opening of the tear. The sharp edge of it crumbled away, broken and ripped by strands of the weave until it was a rounded lump of nearly uniform thickness, firmly affixed to the rest of my soul.
For a moment I contemplated my efforts. So, this will heal over time, too. And if I put some effort into it, I could probably mend it faster by directing the flow of my aura along the edges of the tear, rather than letting any spill out without having a chance to be bound back into my self. It would make sense not to feed too fully, too, I thought. If I do feed completely, most of the aura that presses against these places in my soul will be pulled away by the weave. Not a very efficient use of aura, that.
But it still didn’t explain the strange veins that ran through the portion of my soul around the tear, and jutted out like bits of twisted rebar where my soul had ruptured.
Twisted rebar, I suddenly thought, or torn stitches.
When my soul had burst, I’d felt like it was ripping apart at the seams. Looking at it now, I realized that in most cases the threads looked like they would line up to meet on either side of the tear — and at the top and bottom. Latticework is right, I thought — and with that thought came an idea.
I redirected my attention. Not to the physical world, where nothing much seemed to have changed, but to my leylines. If I was going to repair myself, I was going to need the essence to do so. Since Archarel had been able to pull at will from his servants — and I knew I could pull essence like a faerie could, while I was dormant — it made sense that I should be able to pull from those of Archarel’s minions who had agreed to swear fealty to me if I defeated their previous lord. I found Reid’s ley line without difficulty, but a stronger connection caught my attention before I fixated on it.
Sebastian. Sebas, it seemed, had bound himself to me far more thoroughly than Reid had. Either that, or he was significantly closer. In either case, pulling from him would be easiest, so I chose to focus on that link. I didn’t intend to take much — just enough to test my theory — so I wasn’t worried about leaving him in too weakened of a state. After all, I had fed on him in order to scare him into swearing his oaths to serve and obey me. And it just wouldn’t do to break my butler before I’ve really gotten any use out of him.
I tugged gently at the aura available through my leyline to Sebastian. Almost instantly I felt a burst of energy — and just as suddenly the leyline constricted. If I could have laughed I would have been tempted to: at the same time, my gown from the previous evening dissolved into shadowy wisps and vanished. Beside me in the physical world, Derrick yelped in surprise and demanded to know what was happening. His goblin liaison stood and peered at me in curiosity, but didn’t answer.
And that explains the strength of my connection to Sebastian over Reid, I thought. That gown had been a glamour Sebastian had woven — which meant it was, quite literally, a part of him. And since physical proximity could impact the strength of a connection, and it was sort of hard to get any more physically close than flush against the skin… Hm. I’m probably going to freak out about that, too, once I’ve had something to drink, I thought — but it was an idle thought. I had essence available to work with now, and had to turn my attention toward preventing my vampiric curse from consuming it.
I’d discovered while fighting with Director Lewellan that essence I ‘pulled’ rather than ‘drank’ took on a different form. When I drew essence through a bite, the way vampires were supposed to, what I took in felt more like a liquid — like the blood that carried it, or like a mortal aura. But when I ‘pulled’ essence — feeding like a faerie — it was brought into my aura as strands that wove into a latticework as they piled up. Looking at the essence I’d brought in from Sebastian’s gown confirmed it for me: the strands that had riddled my soul at the places it had torn had been arranged in a similar latticework. Just not as deep as what was now stored in my soul — the strands at my wound were like the remains of a sheet that had been stretched out for my soul to grow over, rather than piles of folded linen.
With a careful bit of concentration I gathered up some of my newest essence. Most of my focus was still on keeping it away from the ravenous claws of my vampiric curse, but that still left me with enough mindfulness to tease out the ends of a few strands and guide them toward the edge of my ripped soul. One strand was too far out of line with the others. I lost the ability to control the end of it as it passed through the opening and outside of my soul. Fortunately, however, it presented so small a surface that the weave was unable to anchor to it and suck it away before I could reel it back in.
The other strands slapped against the edge of my soul, but didn’t freeze into it. I pulled them back and concentrated on them, reinforcing their ends and shaping them: adding small barbs and hooks like I had seen so many times in a geas. This time, when I pressed them against the torn edge of my soul, they snagged and hooked, anchoring in place. Ha! I felt a very brief flare of satisfaction before the tranquility of dormancy washed it away. I spooled out more of those threads — enough to cross the gap made by the tear and then some — before twisting and breaking them free of the rest of the mass.
Holding onto them as separate items from the rest of the essence I’d drawn them from proved surprisingly difficult. I felt the tax on my concentration swell, and I actually lost my grip on two of the strands. They whipped about for an instant before their free ends touched the rest of the mass and dissolved into the latticework. I let them go, instead focusing on the few strands I still held in mind.
I added barbs to the free ends of those strands as well, and then stretched them across the gap in my soul. I pressed them against the far side, letting them anchor in place stretched across the gap. I repeated the process, using as many strands as I could focus on at a time, until I had a network of crisscrossing lines covering a small part of the tear.
While I had worked on that, Sebastian had entered the radius of my awareness. No doubt he had felt me pull apart his glamour and come to investigate. He leaned in over my corpse while Derrick watched nervously.
“Oh good,” I thought to Sebas when he seemed close enough for me to be able to push the message along. “If this works the way I think it will, I’ll be waking up soon. For that matter, I’ll be up again soon even if it doesn’t work the way I think it will. In any event, I will be parched and I won’t be in any state to be careful not to hurt whomever I feed off of. Be a good butler and instruct Reid to come here with some of his troops, alright? They can spread the burden of being fed on amongst themselves.” That seemed like it would be safest for everyone involved.
Sebastian yanked back from me as soon as I was done giving my instructions. I watched him blink at my corpse a few times — and then, through my connection to him, I saw the connection between himself and Reid briefly fluctuate. It looked similar to the way the connection between Sebas and myself had rippled when I’d thought my desires at him, so I assumed it meant he’d passed my orders along in a similar fashion. After that happened, Sebastian straightened and turned. “I believe she will be waking up soon,” he announced. “And it is likely she will be thirsty. Reid, if you would be so good as to select a few of your followers to donate their blood to her? It will be safest if her needs are spread out between more than one of us.”
Aw, I thought. Reid must be among the reinforcements that came to watch over me. And by announcing my orders like that Sebas is making sure Reid knows that they aren’t a suggestion, while also covering up the fact that I can send my thoughts to faeries that are close enough to me. That was probably a good idea. The more tricks I had hidden up my sleeves, the better off I seemed to be whenever the shit hit the fan.
Reid and a handful of other trolls came forward to cluster within the radius of my awareness. Derrick was forced to retreat out of my range. Unhappily, if his sputtered protest was any sign — but apparently Derrick was willing to give Sebastian the benefit of the doubt, because he did back off without shooting any of the fae that moved to replace him.
I turned my attention back to my work. This time, instead of gathering more threads with my mind, I pinched off another droplet of my older essence — the essence that was still ‘liquid.’ Essence that I’d gathered as a vampire, rather than as a faerie. With a thought I sent the drop of aura drifting toward the net I’d woven and anchored over the tear in my soul. This time, rather than being sucked out into the weave, the drop snagged on the net like a drop of water caught on a spider’s web. It hung there, slowly constricting, freezing into a little jewel of soul-stuff.
Perfect, I thought. I redoubled my efforts. This time I didn’t tear any strands free of the remains of Sebastian’s glamour. Instead, I anchored one end of it against my soul as I had before, and then I spooled it across. Whenever I pulled the strand across the tear, I added barbs into the strand without bothering to split the segment off. Then I pressed it into place, letting it snag and anchor before twisting the rest of the aura and spooling another line of it across the gap, running in the other direction. Soon I had a zigzag going back and forth across the entire tear and — just for good measure — a few passes going across it from top to bottom as well.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was fairly thorough: a net that covered the whole of that large tear without any gaps large enough for a droplet of aura to pass through without touching a strand. It also consumed nearly all of the essence I’d pulled in from Sebastian. I didn’t think I’d have enough to similarly patch the other two tears.
So, instead, I fed what was left of Sebastian’s glamour into the maw of my vampire curse. The curse pulled the threads of faerie aura in greedily, tearing them apart and letting the remains condense as a liquid pooling into the curse’s buffer of energy. Then the ‘weight’ of the buffer started to drag the curse down — and with an abrupt snap it clicked into place, properly connected to my body once more.
My awareness snapped from omniscience to mortal in that same snap. My eyes were already open, and I found myself staring at the ceiling. Through my leylines I could sense the presence of Reid, Sebastian, and others — but everything to do with my aura or anyone else’s was blurry and out of focus. I couldn’t even ‘see’ the patch I’d put over the worst of my soul’s injuries. Of course, I didn’t particularly care about that, either.
I sat up. I was surrounded by Reid and four other fae. Further away, ringing the room, more of Reid’s goblins and trolls pressed against the walls: at least two or three dozen of them. Some even perched on Emma’s dresser and desk in order to fit.
I didn’t care about them. My eyes skewed sideways to Reid. “Blood,” I demanded. My vampire side had not been satisfied with the scraps left over from the glamour of Sebastian’s dress. My fangs were painfully extended, but my soul was almost crowing with relish at the buffet of faeries around me. But even so, I felt myself snarl from the need that wasn’t yet being met.
“Now,” I insisted, and without bothering to wait I grabbed Reid’s arm. I yanked him closer and bent down. My fangs pierced his skin and then — in a wave of bliss that can only be known by the starving at the taste of their first meal — life began to rush back into me.