After a moment, Pipsqueak looked up from my crumpled remains. “So,” he asked someone who was outside my awareness. “You were there this morning. Do you think she was cognizant of that, or should I be sticking around to repeat Queen Megan’s message after we wake her up again?”
Probably Reid, I thought idly. Or maybe that other elf? I was only mildly curious. With my aura mostly empty, I was feeling a rather significant amount of apathy. I did still have enough emotional capability for mild curiosity, though, which meant I had enough of an aura to keep myself mildly motivated as well. Since taking care of myself was more important than satisfying my curiosity — especially since I couldn’t move to observe the other half of the conversation — I tuned Pips out and focused inward, instead.
The first thing I checked on was the damage to my soul. I’d felt my spiritual stitches tear under the onslaught of the zombie ghosts, but I hadn’t known how bad it was — only that I was losing aura fast, and then losing more as the sun burned it out of me. As it turned out, not all of the stitches had ‘popped.’ Quite a few had, but the result was more like a series of punctures running in a line than the single massive tear I’d had before. On the other hand, some of the wounds I hadn’t been able to treat this morning had worsened: probably from being clawed at by those ghosts’ faux auras.
Even though my soul was leaking aura badly, I still had more to work with than I had this morning. This morning I’d gone dormant before feeding, and had possessed the barest minimum of essence outside of my shard of Megan’s soul. This time I’d been force into dormancy not by a lack of essence, but by physical trauma. And since the dagger remained embedded in my heart, my curse seemed to be unable to use what magic I had in my aura to try and mend the sundered organ.
That actually worked well for me.
I reached out and started guiding the strands of troll essence that were still spilling out through my wounded soul. It only took a little bit of a nudge to get them to angle to the side, where they would hook into the membrane of my soul instead of slipping out to be claimed by the weave. Then I started swooping the remaining thread back and forth, setting up a net of stitches as I had in the morning.
I tried to prioritize the gashes that were leaking the most — which weren’t always the largest ones, though I had no idea what determined which my aura would choose to spill from. Perhaps some parts of my soul were ‘closer’ somehow to certain emotions, and that had something to do with what currents of my aura brushed along them? I didn’t know, and I didn’t much care. I didn’t have a lot of motivation to spare, so I kept it focused more on the work of mending myself than idle speculations.
I have no idea how long I spent mending the remaining tears in my soul. When I was done, I noticed that at some point while I wasn’t paying attention Pipsqueak had left the radius of my awareness. He was replaced by a new troll — one uninjured and quite nervous about it. He watched me almost as much as he watched over me.
The lighting in the car had changed as well. There wasn’t a hint of sunlight, and the dome lights were on. I could only assume that meant the door had been closed, since my awareness didn’t extend that far. On closer inspection, however, I picked up on slight vibrations in my corpse and the floor. That confirmed that the door would be closed: the limo was moving.
I sifted through my leylines until I found the one that led to the troll sitting next to me. Now that I was done focusing on doing what I could to mend my soul, my excess motivation was drifting back into idle curiosity. I wanted to know what was happening around me.
So I focused on the line to that troll and pushed a thought at him. Hello? Can you hear me? I figured he probably could: Reid had been able to think his thoughts at me when he’d been out of sync with reality so it reasonably followed that I could, too. The troll’s sudden jerk of surprise confirmed it for me. Oh good, I thought at him. Would you mind telling me where we are going?
The troll looked at my corpse, and then away — toward the back of the limousine. “Sir Reid…” he called hesitantly. His voice was thick and gravelly, and very nervous. I could feel that last part particularly clearly since I was still focusing on his leyline. Then I noticed one of his other lines open briefly and flare outward.
Was that you sending thoughts to Reid? I asked. It was interesting to get a third person perspective of the process — I’d never been able to see it so clearly when I was sending the thoughts or they were being sent to me.
You — you aren’t supposed to be aware of that! The troll thought in an instinctive protest. You’re a vampire! You shouldn’t be able to get in my thoughts!
I am many things, I observed. Unbidden, a list spooled out in the back of my mind: Neurotic, shy, kinky, freakish, dead, alive, vampire, human, shadow queen, virgin, slut, alpha, submissive… I didn’t send them as thoughts, but I wasn’t sure that they weren’t somehow underpinning the rest of my thoughts. Vampire is just one of them. Your liege is another. As is curious. So, again: where are we going?
The troll swallowed. A portal to Queen Megan’s realm, he thought to me. Underneath it, barely registering, was another thought: Is patient one of them? But that wasn’t a thought he sent to me, and the glance I got at it lasted barely an instant before his thoughts to me continued. Reid was concerned that you might awaken spontaneously, like you did this morning, and we would not have sufficient of our numbers to sate you.
Oh, I thought. Could he not simply call for more of the fae who are loyal to me? And do not worry: I did not awaken ‘spontaneously’ this morning. It was purposeful — and I am much more capable of patience right now than I typically am when alive. It seemed like it should feel strange to be offering comfort to the massive faerie. Were I alive and sated I would no doubt have been terrified of him. But as it was I lacked the emotional breadth to feel frightened of him — let alone odd because of a strange conversational turn. Besides, I could understand his position quite easily from where I was, looking in on his emotional state. He was the only uninjured troll on hand. This morning I had nearly drained how many? Three? And Reid? If I awoke, I would no longer be largely ambivalent to the world. My vampire side would take over. I would be ravenous. And he would most likely wind up being destroyed.
A portal can only make way for so many of our kind, the troll thought to me. As the lines passing through it from our world to this one grow in number, it becomes harder for additional lines to make their way across the bridge. He was still nervous, but my comment about being his liege seemed to have struck a chord: he was answering me eagerly. As our connections to our world grow in concentration at the portal, this world reacts by resisting our presence more strongly at that point. Lord Archarel had called us all back for his wedding, and that unblocked the passage so that many of us could return at once as we did this morning. But our numbers in this world had been growing over the years, as more and more of us forced their way through the gates. And so our numbers currently are far less than they were before he called us back. And it will be that way for quite some time, unless Queen Megan opens another portal, because this world has had more than enough time to react to our presence again. With each faerie who enters this world, the time it takes for another of us to work their way across the bridge lengthens.
Really? I thought. If one of you leaves this world, does that time shorten?
Yes, the troll replied. But it has already grown sufficiently that the difference made by one — or even several — of us being banished is minor at best. And if someone tries to push through too quickly after the banishment, the difficulty won’t fluctuate at all because this world won’t have had time to relax its resistance around the portal in question.
Before my curiosity could compose another question, Reid’s spritely form flew into the radius of my awareness. He perched on the troll’s shoulder and looked at my corpse with a frown. Then, slowly, I felt the leyline between us gain prominence as Reid focused on it from his end. Lady Abigail? He thought at me tentatively.
Hello, Reid, I replied. I was just asking your companion about our current situation. The troll in question seemed to relax subtly as my attention shifted away from him. I was unaware that bringing me further donors would pose this difficulty.
Reid’s eyes widened. I am sorry, he thought quickly. I did not realize that your needs would extend past the three I had already arranged. The majority of your followers who are already in this realm are bound by instructions to serve as liaisons with those who were present in Queen Megan’s kingdom the other night, or have been dispatched to watch over your father. Beyond those, we have been holding back from pushing additional presences into this world so that the portal would not be so overwhelmed as to make the liaisons’ travel with messages prohibitively slow.
No apology is needed, I answered back. I could feel his deep fear that he had proven himself unfit for the position I had given him by not being prepared for my needs. I approve of how you’ve been handling my army, and your actions have made perfect sense in light of what we knew — and I, at least, did not anticipate zombie ghosts tearing my soul back open.
A wave of relief washed through Reid. Normally that sort of refuse poses no threat to faeries, and so far as I was aware mortals are not even aware of them. I did not anticipate that they would be capable of harming you, my lady.
I am not your… I instinctively began to think back at him, but halfway through the thought I realized that I wasn’t feeling the weave trying to react to his stating a claim. Why? I thought — and it seemed enough that the thought carried with it the context of what I wanted to know.
Because you are my lady — my liege, Reid answered back in surprise. The relationship already exists, and so my statement isn’t one of ownership, but a reaffirmation of subservience. If such a relationship does not already exist between two individuals, the weave will react by trying to force one into being. But when it does, it merely reinforces what is already there.
I see, I thought. Come to think of it: I hadn’t felt hooks trying to tie into me when Melvin had called me his lady, earlier. Was that because he was bound to me now, through his oath to Megan? He hadn’t made that oath yet, when he’d tried to claim me the first time.
What? Reid thought.
I pulled my curiosity back. That was an aspect of my life that I did not want to be widely known. Not just because I didn’t want the kind of responsibility that would come with it, but because it would probably interfere with Megan’s ability to rule her new kingdom. Still, Reid was my general. And so far I had come to trust him more than any of my other followers. If Melvin was going to torment fed-Abby with it, it would be beneficial to have someone else I could talk with about it to sort things out and come up with counters to whatever machinations Melvin put into play.
Do not share this with anyone who is unaware, unless I tell you otherwise, Reid. It felt slightly odd to be giving him an order. I felt more friendly with him than rulerish, when I thought about it. But that seemed to be an appropriate precaution. You know that I am capable of things that I should not be, as a vampire, I reminded Reid. It is because my first blood as a vampire was Megan’s. She and I share a portion of a soul. Or, at least, I possess a portion of hers. It is what gives me the ability to do all of these things that should only be possible for faeries — because I have a part of a faerie soul grafted into mine. But because it is Megan’s soul, the weave… Well, the weave enforces oaths made to her as though they were made to me, as well. I wasn’t sure if there were additional caveats to that, since I hadn’t experimented with it much, but I suspected it was more pronounced an effect when my aura was depleted and ‘living Abby’ didn’t eclipse my curse and the shard of Megan’s soul that anchored it.
For a second, Reid shared nothing. No thoughts, at least: I could see dozens of emotions rippling out from the knowledge I’d given him. When he did share a thought, it was a very simple one. A realization.
Shadow Queen, Reid thought.
Yes, I replied. Not that I have any desire to be, or to do anything with that ability, even when my aura is filled enough to permit me more driving motivations. Perhaps: particularly when my aura is full enough for me to have motivations. I paused. It does complicate things, regardless.
If word of this got out… Many of those I convinced to swear allegiance to you on the condition that you defeated Archarel did so as a gamble, Reid thought to me. They did not think you would succeed, but thought it would protect them from you if they were your followers and Archarel were destroyed. The others who were once Archarel’s followers… The ones who swore their allegiance to Megan… They did so to protect themselves from winding up in the same situation. If they found out, there would be a panic. I cannot even imagine how it would effect the realm. But I know that schemes would begin to hatch immediately to free themselves from the potential of being summoned to feed you, Lady Abigail.
I know, I observed back. That is in large part why I wish to keep this a secret, at the moment. I don’t want to be a queen when I am alive, but beyond that: I have been keeping a small portion of my aura dedicated to the motivation of protecting the people I care about when my aura is full. For Megan, I think that letting this twist in our relationship be commonly known would undermine her position in the kingdom that I originally set up with the specific intent of giving her a safe haven from other faerie lords who would try to use her status as a changeling for their own purposes.
I understand, Reid thought. I will keep your secret safe.
Good, I thought. The self-reminder of that bubble of motivation led me to shift some of my aura from my curiosity into that directive. I knew I was overlooking something, but what… Hans! I thought. If we are going to the gate, who is helping him? I had wanted us to find the person he had turned.
He is following up a lead that they turned up at the hospital, Reid replied quickly. And if it fails, he will still have help. I freed one of your followers by taking on his messenger duties — Queen Megan has extended an invitation to yourself and Valerie, by the way, and wishes to speak with yourself and Lady Emma in private this evening, at some point, on personal matters. Lady Emma, it has been determined, is stable enough to be fully herself so long as Queen Megan…
I know, I interrupted. I was aware when Pips conveyed the… Pips?! You freed up Pipsqueak to assist Hans?
Yes, Reid answered. Benjamin went as well: since Pips was assigned as his liaison, Benjamin has some authority over him and insisted on seeing to it that your mission was not abandoned simply because you yourself were not in shape to attend it.
Oh, I thought. Okay. Knowing that Benjamin was on hand to keep an eye on Pips did help me feel better. Although the thought of Hans, Ben, and Pips — all of whom were guilty of at least maybe trying to date me — being together and unsupervised was a little troubling. I didn’t really have the essence to spare examining those concerns, though, so I focused on a more practical one instead.
Well, I thought. I hope that the lead they turned up at the hospital pans out. Or that Pips can track the victim swiftly. I hadn’t heard back from Sebas about Daniel yet, but at this point? Perhaps it would be for the best if Daniel’s aid wasn’t required by Hans, after all.
I couldn’t begin to imagine what would happen if Daniel and Pips ran into each other again, but there was no possible way it would be good.