They relocated to a greasy spoon diner not far from the hospital. It was a small, hole in the wall place that didn’t have much in the way of a Sunday crowd. A couple hundred casually offered as a ‘tip’ convinced the two mortal workers onsite to go take an inventory of their back room. Even so, Benjamin’s people — and the donors that Valerie had left behind — filled in several of the booths and tables, making a perimeter for the meeting that took place in the front corner of the building.
Benjamin slid into the booth while pocketing his phone. “Valerie has the situation at the hospital covered,” he informed the gathered individuals: Hans, the witch Cassie, and the ghoul John sat across from him. Sharing his side of the booth were his faerie liaison, Pips, and the werewolf Curtis. Another elf sat in a chair he had pulled up to the edge of the table. “The incident has been assigned to members of the police that are allies of the Center,” Benjamin continued. “It will be handled shortly, and without further issue.” He chuckled. “I would still advise not visiting that particular institution again, Hans; Cassie. I’m sorry, but they’re likely to receive a very negative report of your mental states and/or drug habits.”
Hans glowered but didn’t say anything back to that. He’d been witnessed acting crazy by a mortal that didn’t know about the supernatural community. He knew how that usually played out: the easiest story to sell was the one that confirmed whatever the mundane in question was already suspecting. Cassie, on the other hand, laughed.
“Right,” Cassie said. “Like you need to tell me how to deal with people thinking I’m crazy.” She snorted derisively. “I’ve been talking to people that no one else can see since I was in elementary school. I’m pretty sure your people can’t feed them a story that I haven’t already had someone accuse me of.”
“What exactly did happen?” Curtis interrupted to ask.
Cassie’s mirth sobered immediately. “The shades,” she said. “They went after that girl — that was Abigail, right?” she asked Hans. He nodded, and she turned back to Curtis. “At first they didn’t seem to pay much attention to her, but then a couple of them started drifting close. Hans’ wolf chased one off but the other jumped her. It… It was like the thing was trying to get into her.” Cassie shuddered. “And as soon as it started to, all the rest of them just turned around and started swarming her. I’ve never seen anything like it. I mean, shades are creepy as fuck and they make me feel…” she shivered again. “But other than the heebie jeebies, they’re harmless! And the way it was sinking into her… Ghosts can’t even possess people. I don’t know how a shade could!”
“Actually,” Pips interrupted, “Ghosts can possess people, under the right circumstances. A healthy mortal soul is typically encapsulated against anything interfering with the aura it contains, but Lady Abigail’s aura was badly damaged from last night — and your ‘shades’ are better equipped than ghosts to invade another’s aura. A ghost is a mortal soul that remains intact after being severed from its body: it is also encapsulated, as it would have been in life. Those things you call shades are different: they are leftover pockets of aura that have no such shell. But their strength of being is so great that rather than being drawn into the weave they have torn free of it, subverting those strands that should have drawn them out of this realm of existence in the process. I’m rather surprised her guards allowed her anywhere near them,” he concluded with a telling glance toward the other elf. “A shade can’t properly possess someone, but Lady Abigail could easily have had her emotional and mental core supplanted by or buried under the fractured memories and emotions of a shade.”
The elf shifted under Pips’ accusatory glare. “Lady Abigail was traveling in a warded conveyance,” he said. “As soon as she stepped free of it we traveled the line to her side, but by the time we arrived she was already inside the building.” He shrugged. “I suspect Reid would have warned her against the place if he’d had time to scout the structure — but most modern hospitals have a witch or two on staff who periodically cleanse any left over auras, and since this hospital was warded… Well, the ward was shoddy and hadn’t been maintained, but it still made us blind to the ‘shades’ until we could circumvent it. Fortunately, Reid’s connection to our Lady sufficed to allow him to force his way through, and between our connections to Lady Abigail and to Reid, the rest of us were able to follow. By then,” he nodded to Cassie, “she had somehow already sounded the alarm.”
“I’m a medium,” Cassie offered in explanation. “I can see spirits, ghosts, shades. I could see you and the other faeries… I think that’s what they were. They were very indistinct, but they seemed to be holding the shades at bay.”
The elf nodded. “That would have been us. Curious ability you have there, Lady Cassie.”
Cassie’s cheeks flushed slightly. “It’s… it’s pretty rare,” she admitted. But other than that, she didn’t seem to be paying the elf much attention. Instead her eyes kept slewing over to Pips.
I wonder, Benjamin thought, how much new she just learned about her own abilities and the beings they let her see. He’d never met a medium before, and had been assuming she was another young witch like Terry or Anna. As it is, if Cassie really didn’t know that shades could be dangerous or ghosts could possess people, then Pips’ casual explanations must make him look like a veritable fountain of knowledge.
Pips seemed to relax slightly, as though he accepted the elf’s explanation. Hans, on the other hand, seemed to seethe more.
“Enough,” the big werewolf suddenly barked. His eyes transfixed the elf. “Is Abigail going to be alright?” The elf hastily nodded. “Then all of that is out of our hands right now, and daylight is burning. We have a wolf to catch before nightfall. John?”
The ghoul cleared his throat. “Well, I didn’t get anything through the phone number while we were at the hospital. I did manage to turn up our subject’s social media profile, however. That got us his home address and some photos of him.” John passed his phone around, which had a handful of photos of a young dark-skinned male queued in the gallery. “That’s Jeremy. From what I can tell he’s home schooled and comes from a fairly conservative family. He seems like a decent kid, so I guess we’ve got that going for us — it’d be a lot worse if our werewolf-to-be were a delinquent. I got a call back from his mother while we were relocating to here. I posed as a doctor who wanted to do a followup on Jeremy’s condition, ask how he was responding to the treatments he received last night. She wouldn’t tell me much: just that he was currently at work, but that she would have him call me back when he came home for the evening.”
“That doesn’t seem too helpful,” Benjamin muttered. “Not if ‘home for the evening’ is too late for us to intervene before he shifts.” He passed the phone to Curtis, who glanced at the photos and gave it back to John.
“No,” John agreed. “Especially since Hans has already admitted that he’ll probably shift, too — so we’re going to have to cut our search short in order for him to get to a secure location, too.” For someone with such a pessimistic view, John seemed pretty unfazed. He even started to smile. “However: one of the things I got from browsing his social media happens to be that Jeremy’s ‘work’ is volunteering at a local library. And since we know where that is…”
“That’s our next destination,” Hans said. He shot Benjamin a glare that was harsh enough to make the vampire pull back slightly. “Unless you have anything to contribute beyond just dragging Abigail out into the sunlight.”
“Hey!” Benjamin protested. “Abigail came to help on her own, and none of us could have foreseen what happened at the hospital — but the sun had nothing to do with it.” Whoa, there. Benjamin told himself. He could feel his temper building, and suspected it wasn’t just because of Hans’ attitude. He’d really hoped that Abigail’s first boyfriend — and currently his own only male rival — was someone more amiable than Hans was turning out to be. It’s bad enough that he’s being super defensive of her without me getting super defensive of my relationship with her, which he isn’t even aware of yet. Benjamin took a deep, calming breath. And we can deal with that later, when this whole mess is under control and he’s had a chance to cool down. Who knew? Maybe Hans wasn’t an alpha-male jerk. These were rather trying circumstances, after all. On the other hand, any werewolf that decided to get snappish with a vampire probably was inclined toward social dominance games.
“Abigail came up with the idea that she could get some of her faeries to track the person you were after,” Benjamin explained. “I can’t claim to completely understand it, but she seemed pretty confident. So before we go running off, I think we should give it a try — just to confirm that Jeremy is where we think he is.” He looked at Pips expectantly.
Pips smiled. All eyes were on him. “I can make the attempt,” he said, “but you’ll have to give me permission to delve into your aura a bit,” he told Hans. “Enough to see your leyline to the boy.”
Hans hesitated, but only for a second. “I see,” he said. “Then, on the conditions that you look for that and no more, and only do so for this one occurrence — unless I extend my permission again — I’ll allow it. Is there anything else I need to do?”
Pips had already closed his eyes. He shook his head. “No. I’m fae: getting into your aura wasn’t terribly difficult to begin with. I just needed you to focus on what I needed to find, so it would rise to prominence.” He scowled, and then sighed. “Nope,” Pips said. “I can’t do it from here.”
Hans scowled back. “So. You aren’t very helpful, after all.”
Pips snorted and shook his head again. “Look, you aren’t asking me to follow your connection to this kid. You’re asking me to follow your connection to your wolf to the kid’s wolf to the kid. That’s just too long a string to follow for leylines that are already so newly formed and tenuous. Maybe if we were closer there’d be some more prominence to work with. Or if we had a more direct link. As it is, we’re playing two degrees of Jeremy, but the best route we have requires four steps. It just can’t be done from here — unless you want to wait until nightfall. Your wolf takes over. His wolf takes over. Hey presto: one step, wolf to wolf. Easy peasy.”
Hans’ lips curled angrily, and Benjamin hastily stepped in. “Let’s save that as a last resort,” he said. “Hans, Pips and I will come with your group to the library. I’ll send the rest of my people to watch Jeremy’s house — if we miss him at the library we won’t have lost any time, that way. And if Jeremy shows up there too close to dark there will be enough of them to make containing him feasible.”
“No thanks,” Hans said flatly. He seemed to struggle a moment and then clarified: “Look. Cassie’s car isn’t sunproof. I don’t want you in the sunlight more than you have to be. And if I have to be close to Jeremy for your faerie to track him, then I can just follow my nose. It makes more sense for you to accompany your people to Jeremy’s house. At least that way if the kid shows up there’ll be someone there who isn’t at risk of turning into a werewolf to help with ‘containment.'”
“Alright,” Benjamin conceded. It did make sense: it just grated on his nerves that Hans seemed to think he was as useful as Pips had turned out to be. “Keep us apprised of what you find.” Suddenly an idea struck him, and he turned to the elf at the end of the table. “Can you accompany Hans’ team, just in case Abigail’s plan does help once the range is closed?”
The elf shook his head and held up his hands. “I’m only here to find out your plans and report them to Reid, so he can inform Lady Abigail when she awakens. If I can, I’ll rejoin you after that, however. I can’t promise I’ll be available — but if nothing else, I’ll try to make sure one of Lady Abigail’s faeries are nearby when Hans turns into a wolf, to track Jeremy in case he doesn’t actually go home after his work for the day concludes.”
Benjamin scowled and clenched his fists. That didn’t seem like a good enough plan to him — and apparently it didn’t sound like the best option to John, either. “I’ll go to the house,” John said. “If we have to intervene there, the mother might recognize me as ‘Dr. Salvatore’ from our phone call, which could help. And I’m immune to being turned into a werewolf, so if it comes to that the people at the house will still have someone who can safely take point — and Benjamin and his faerie can still head to the library.”
“Fine,” Hans growled. He got to his feet. “Come on. We’re wasting time.”
Benjamin rose as well, to let Curtis and Pips follow. As they got up, so did John and Cassie.
John sighed. “It’s too bad we haven’t heard from Mr. Stuessy,” he mused.
Benjamin stopped still and waited for John to pass him. “What was that?” Benjamin asked. Hans was already out the door with Curtis and Cassie fast on his heels. John paused to answer.
“According to Hans’ memory of his wolf’s nose, Jeremy and Daniel were together all day yesterday,” John said. “If Hans’ wolf to Jeremy’s wolf counts as one step for the faeries to do their thing, then Daniel to Jeremy probably would, too.” He shrugged, a simple gesture of ‘but what are you gonna do?’
Benjamin realized he’d caught his breath and forced himself to start breathing again. Next to him, Pips lost his grip and started to snicker. Benjamin twisted to look at the faerie.
Pips smothered his laughter and met Benjamin’s gaze. “Daniel?” Pips asked. “Daniel Stuessy knows this Jeremy kid?”
“Yeah,” said John. “Why?”
Oh, hell, Benjamin thought. “Pips can probably find Daniel,” he told John. “But they have a… history. So we’ll check the library first, but if Jeremy isn’t there, that will be our most likely next step.”
John nodded slowly, then turned to introduce himself to the gathered donors. Benjamin hastened to follow Curtis and Cassie out the door.
“Oh man,” Pips chortled beside him. “I thought watching you and Hans butt egos over Abigail was going to be hilarious, but this….” He grinned broadly. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and vanished in a swirl of black mist.
“Shit,” Benjamin muttered emphatically. Then he winced as he stepped out of the diner and into the sun. He jogged up to Cassie’s car. To distract himself, Benjamin thought, briefly, of Abigail sprawled in bed. The recollection tied intimately to the memory of her blood on his tongue and her essence intertwined with his. He sighed and got into the back seat opposite Hans.
Benjamin spared the angry werewolf a glance and then looked away. This is really, really not how I wanted to spend today.