I felt an immediate wellspring of guilt. It was just as strong as it had been in the car, but not as shocking: this was confirmation of John’s suspicions, not a surprise. My fault, I thought dimly while I tried to figure out what I could do. Even without going out during the day, there had to be something.
“Hey,” Valerie said gently, interrupting my downward spiral before it could get in the way of me coming up with something to do. “I know that face. Whatever is going on, it isn’t all your fault. In my experience nothing is ever one single person’s fault, except for the things they specifically do — and if your donor made a new werewolf, then that’s on him.”
I looked over at her. “You don’t understand,” I protested. “Hans doesn’t want a pack. He was adamant about it when we thought that might be a solution to my lack of donors. But I tore up his aura, and then Director Lewellan geased him because he was with me, and… he must have broken the geas. Or Lewellan broke him. But either way, he didn’t choose to curse anyone. And it’s my fault he was frail enough to be forced out of control, and he knows it. He doesn’t even want me to try and help.”
I couldn’t blame him, either. Hans had seen how crazy I could get from a little sunlight. Everything that had happened to Emma — her almost turning into a ghoul — had been because I didn’t have the moral fortitude to stand up to my parents when they told me to come out for lunch. If I’d just stayed at the house….
“Okay,” Valerie said, interrupting me again. “No. First of all, anything that has to do with Director Lewellan geasing people is on Director Lewellan. Second: he did ask for your help. He wants you to network with whatsisname…” She glanced at Ben.
“Daniel,” Ben supplied.
“With Daniel,” Valerie said. “Asking you not to go out in the sun isn’t the same as asking you not to help. It’s just recognizing your weaknesses as well as your strengths. You’re a vampire, Abigail. We’re the big, bad, super-scary faerie deterrents. Great if you have a problem with goblins and changelings and trolls. But not so helpful if you need to find a random individual in a city before the sun goes down.”
Ben nodded in hasty agreement. “Val’s right,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing that you turn to a clandestine organization of heavily networked supernatural emergency response providers for.”
Valerie grinned. “Exactly. So relax a little. You’re not to blame. Your donor isn’t mad at you and telling you to butt out of his business. And the mortals will turn up whoever this new werewolf is. You have other stuff to deal with, Abby, and you don’t need to go borrowing other people’s troubles. If they need your help, they’ll ask you — like he did about getting in touch with Daniel.”
I shifted uncomfortably. I wasn’t sure I bought what Valerie was giving out. I mean: intellectually it made sense, but emotionally? Still, she did make one point that I could focus on without having to deal with the intellectual dissonance between what she was saying and what I was feeling. John had asked me to contact him if I got a hold of Daniel. I could help with that.
I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment and tried to calm myself down. How was I supposed to help with that? I took a deep breath and held it while I thought.
Hans didn’t want me to go out in the day time. I couldn’t blame him. I knew it was a bad idea. But I’d never had Daniel’s contact number in my old phone — since he hadn’t had one himself — and now that it had been destroyed Daniel didn’t have my contact information, either. I tried to lock down all the self doubt and anxiety that threatened to keep me from thinking straight.
Freezing my emotions like I had my phobia of being caught out of the regular time stream was a little easier this time around since I knew what I was doing. It actually wasn’t that different from mimicking the structure of my vampire curse. That shouldn’t have surprised me: my curse served to hold back a lot of emotions all on its own. I should have figured out that I could do something like this days ago.
Of course, putting my guilt behind a barrier like my curse prevented me from dealing with the emotion at all. And since the bonds holding it back were just as fragile as the one Ben had consumed with my blood in the restroom I could still feel feel them lurking around the edges of my thoughts, whereas my curse was strong enough that getting into the mindset locked behind it was enough to change the entire way I saw the world around me.
Still, by keeping them from ramping up and overwhelming me I was able to push them aside. At least for now. I knew that wouldn’t last long. I had them in… not a house of cards, but a prison of cards. As soon as something else came up to throw my emotions in disarray, the whole thing would come crashing down and I’d have this guilt to deal with on top of whatever else had gotten me. But I could handle that, for now. And it wasn’t like I had to leave the guilt locked down until something made me collapse. I’ll let it out once I know what I’m doing, I promised myself. That was responsible, right? The last thing I really needed was another bubble in my soul that would seriously warp my mentality when it was breached or exposed by hunger.
But first, I reminded myself, help Hans take care of finding the person he cursed. Then figure out how you feel about your role in it. Then figure out how he feels about you now.
I exhaled and opened my eyes. “Okay,” I said. “I should do what I can then, right?” I didn’t wait for an answer: the question had just been a delaying tactic while I sorted out my options. I felt a little bit weird. Detached. That was probably to be expected, though. Or perhaps I had locked down too much of my emotional state by restraining my guilt while it had been in the midst of running rampant. In any event, I could now sort through my options with a clarity I’d never really experienced before. I decided that feeling a little detached was an acceptable price. Usually I have to figure out things like this by letting my brain work on the problem in the background while I freak out about something completely unrelated.
“We should go back down to my room,” I said. I rolled out of bed and brushed down my clothes out of habit. “Ben, Valerie, is there any way I can selectively weaken the wards around my room? I’m going to have a faerie deliver a message to Daniel with my new phone number as well as John’s, but I would rather not keep forcing my fae to lurk around in the hallways. Especially with a pissed off Fiore potentially roaming them.”
Ben looked at Valerie for an answer. She nodded her head.
“Yeah,” Valerie said. “You can do that, but it’s usually not a great idea. Every time you breach your own wards to make an exception you weaken the enchantment as a whole. You’d be better off just bringing them down and then putting new ones in place — but I can give my warlock mentor a call and he can see to that.”
I shook my head. “No, that’s not acceptable,” I said. “I have numerous faerie minions, and I feed from them. The ones I choose will need the ability to come and go at need. Also, the wards cut off supernatural senses. I have no desire for my private messages to become public business.” Again, especially since Mr. Fiore was probably still somewhere in the building. For all that I had not been impressed with him — other than being terrified of him — I didn’t want him overhearing all of my potential weaknesses when I grilled Sebastian and Reid about the faerie debt system.
“Could your mentor take down the current wards and replace them with a more permissive set? ” I asked. “Perhaps something designed not to keep out the fae, but to keep out anyone uninvited?” Since that was already an aspect of my vampire curse, it seemed sensible that magic would accept it as a defining rule for something else as well.
“He can,” Valerie said confidently. “But it won’t have much impact on anyone who isn’t innately supernatural — and anyone who isn’t innately supernatural would be able to bring the whole thing down by walking through it without an invitation. That’s part of the reason wards tend to be specifically geared toward the supernatural: so that the energy put into them isn’t expended against a mortal that won’t even notice it.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “That will do for now,” I said. I could just put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign. It would work as a temporary measure. “I would like to speak to your mentor, Valerie,” I said. “I believe I need to secure one myself.”
Valerie nodded. “I can’t promise that he would be up to taking on additional apprentices, but I can at least introduce the two of you. It won’t be right away, though,” she added. “He is currently at a different holding, keeping an eye on the wards reinforcing the containment of Director Lewellan’s ghouls and warlocks.”
Then Ben interrupted us. “Are you sure you want to do all of this right now, anyway?” he asked.
I tilted my head. “What better time would there be?” I inquired.
Benjamin hesitated, then glanced at Valerie uncertainly. She pursed her lips and arched her brow, clearly also waiting for his answer. He shook his head and looked back at me. “There probably won’t be one,” he admitted. “But you were just asking for time to lie down and figure things out. And now you’re acting like… Well, it’s kind of an abrupt turn around.”
I frowned slightly, because that seemed to be the appropriate way of showing I was considering his concern. It made a certain amount of sense that he was picking up on my emotional shift so strongly: we had just recently been bound by empathic magic. Did I want to explain about locking down my emotional state behind a barrier of woven essence? That seemed like the sort of thing that might make him more concerned, which wouldn’t exactly be helpful.
Valerie turned from Ben to regard me, and her pursed lips slipped into a frown. “He has a point,” Valerie opined. “I mean, your donor’s problem is serious and you should definitely arrange for that message to be delivered. But I’ve known people who piled work on themselves to keep distracted from their emotions, and they never ended up dealing with how they felt about things. Their relationships, their lives, and the lives of the people who cared about them suffered because of it.” She spoke with a simple matter-of-factness that made me wonder who in her life — or unlife — had been emotionally detached from her.
Still, I couldn’t deny that what she said made sense. Even if she was completely off on what I was doing, the immediate consequence — not being able to deal with my emotional state — was the same. It followed that the derived consequences in regards to my relationships would be the same as well. Still, I could very easily address that concern. “I promise that once I have sent the message to Daniel I will stop to give my emotional state due consideration,” I said. Melvin had told me that all promises and relationships were bindings of sorts. The geas that twined into my soul following my promise was thus not at all unexpected: it was what allowed a simple promise to suffice as a reassurance on such an important issue.
Except, of course, that Ben and Valerie couldn’t see or feel the weave’s geas taking hold. They looked at each other, and then back at me. I was somewhat curious as to what information had passed between them in that glance, but also more impatient to get down to my room and have Sebastian get in contact with Daniel via his faerie liaison. Even though the geas I’d put on myself hadn’t specified when I would have the message sent to Daniel it did provide me with a constant reminder of its existence in the form of a gnarl of barbs in my soul that tensed whenever I threatened to think in depth about my emotional state before the message had been sent off — which this entire conversation skirted the edge of.
“I have a better idea,” Ben said. “I’ll take care of it.”
I looked at him in surprise. I think Valerie looked just as surprised.
Ben shrugged. “Abby made sure everyone who went into faerie last night came back with an ambassador,” he said to Valerie. To me he added: “I can breach the wards in this room enough to ask mine to deliver everyone’s contact information to Daniel.” Ben looked back to Valerie. “That way Abby still has a secure sanctuary and doesn’t have to worry about wards and such on top of everything else.” He then looked at me again. “If that’s acceptable? I’m not too concerned about maintaining the wards here. I can always hang out in someone else’s room while waiting for a warlock to get around to reinforcing them.”
I nodded. If he wanted to risk the integrity of his wards, I wasn’t going to stop him. “That sounds acceptable to me for now,” I agreed.
“Great. Good,” Ben said. Then he frowned. “I haven’t done a lot of magic,” he admitted, “But everyone has to deal with wards. So just give me a moment here, and I should be able to get this done.”
“All it should take is concentration,” Valerie chimed in. “The wards already exist, and since this is your room they should have keyed themselves to be more responsive to you than to others. Changing them should be a lot easier than trying to build them up from scratch.”
Ben nodded distractedly. He was clearly focused on something else. I watched, curious. I even peeked down the leyline between us to see if I could get an idea of the mindset he used to work spells.
‘Don’t come in here vibes’ I thought, paraphrasing how Emma had explained wards to me. So, is he just thinking, ‘come on in’ now?
Finally Ben took a deep breath and straightened. “Okay,” he said. “I think that did it.” Valerie nodded, though how she could tell I had no idea. Perhaps her mentor had given her instruction on how warlocks could sense or see auras? I really needed to get that lesson, too. Or maybe she was just confident in Ben’s abilities.
Ben turned to face the door. He cleared his throat, and then spoke to someone clearly other than those of us already in the room.
“Alright. I need a message delivered, so I’m calling you in like you told me to,” Ben declared. “Show yourself, Pips.”