I spent the remainder of the drive psychically chatting with Reid, which was actually quite pleasant. He explained to me that the ‘zombie ghosts’ we’d encountered at the hospital were not, in fact, ghosts at all. They were fragments of auras — or souls — that had broken off of traumatized humans and proven too powerful for the weave to rip apart. The way he described them actually sounded a lot like how Emma had described the results of witchcraft: emotions imbued into a place and invested with symbolism to help them maintain their existence. Only these ones were formed unintentionally by untrained mundanes, and thus were wild and erratic — but since they were things of mortal souls, they were drawn to those environments. And since my own soul had such grievous openings…
I had to admit I found Reid’s explanation to be something of a relief: although I lacked the emotional breadth to be anxious about it while I was dormant, it had occurred to me that invisible ghosts would be right up there with invisible faeries on my freak out list once I’d fed again. In exchange, I explained to him how I had mended those wounds, though I left out the fact that I had gotten the idea from studying the remains of ‘stitches’ that someone else had embedded in my aura.
I couldn’t have explained why I kept that a secret with logical arguments: it just felt too personal, and it was something I myself was too uncertain about, for me to bring it up now. Whatever the cause, it was probably long in the past — I had been neurotic for all of my life, and if those stitches were the remains of some trauma that caused my neurosis, then it was unlikely that Reid was at all aware of them.
I was surprised, however, when Reid asked if he could check my work.
Have you done anything like this before? I asked.
No, Reid answered. But I have heard of it from a friend who was once a familiar. I would like to see what the result is like — perhaps some day I will have need of performing a similar repair on another mortal.
I considered that, but only for a moment. It had already occurred to me that if another faerie could perform this kind of spiritual first aid, then perhaps they could help Emma. Or, even better: teach Megan to. I knew I couldn’t: whenever I tried to push my essence outside of the confines of my soul, the weave tore it away before I could do anything with it. And besides, even if I could it would mean threading essence tainted by my curse directly into Emma’s soul. I had no idea what that would do to her in the long run, but one ghoul scare had been more than enough for me.
How can I show it to you? I asked.
Through our leyline, he answered. It is not just a tunnel that allows words and emotions to be pushed or pulled through it. It can work as a window, as well. Hold it in mind while focusing on whatever within your soul you want me to be able to see, and I will.
Oh, I replied. That makes sense. And I knew it was a window: I’ve watched emotions through leylines before. I didn’t realize I could control what was seen on my end, though! Which is probably silly of me, since if I can push thoughts through it then obviously I can control what eclipses my side of it.
Yes, just so, Reid said. The end of his own leyline swam across a construct of congratulations, satisfaction and pride that I’d grasped his explanation so readily. If I’d had the spare essence — and if I’d been alive — I might have smiled.
As it was, I focused on bringing the opening on my side of our leyline to bear on one of the rips in my soul. It was actually a very simple process: I’d had quite a bit of practice reorganizing my aura. I’d even shifted the prominence of structures like my vampiric curse in order to ‘block’ Director Lewellan’s geases. It had simply never occurred to me that I could do the same with a construct like the opening of a leyline.
The technique was no different than the ones I had employed before. Once I had a solid grasp of not the entire line, but just the opening, it was simple to bring it up to a tear in my soul. I slowly panned it across the damage and the stitches I’d placed. I don’t know if you see it the same way I do, I thought to Reid as I did. But if you look, you can see where the essence that is leaking out of me is catching on a net of faerie essence and ‘freezing’ instead of just being lost to the weave. Eventually I think the layers of ‘frozen’ essence will close off the gaps in the net entirely, and my soul should be fully mended.
I see, Reid thought. He was impressed: he showed me it through his end of the leyline. And thank you for showing me.
No, I countered. Thank you for showing me that I could control what people see through my end of their leylines. That, I figured, made us even for this particular exchange of knowledge — and I was finding that the more I got to know him, the less I cared to try to pile debts and geases on Reid. Yes, I’d appointed him as my faerie general — but he was also sort of turning into something like a friend. I wondered if I should be worried or paranoid about that, but decided to put that off until I was fed and paranoid as a matter of course.
Instead, I chose to focus more on what I had just learned to do. I already had some half-formed ideas percolating with ways I could use that. Certain fae are going to be very surprised the next time they try to peep and see if their antics are bothering me, I told Reid, and I felt his psychic laughter in response.
You can already do so many things that only a faerie should be able to do, Reid observed. You should see if you can do others, like casting glamours or traveling a leyline!
I hesitated, and Reid noticed. Lady Abigail? he thought at me.
I would like to try that, I thought back to him. Internally, I was thinking about the way Sebas’ glamour had changed in response to my emotional state. If I could influence a glamour that was tied to me, then maybe while I was dormant and my fae side was more prevalent I could do something more? Perhaps something intentional?
Now is probably not the time, though, I added. I have little essence held in reserve, and I do not know how long I will be dormant. But the next time I am dormant — intentionally dormant, that is — I would appreciate some proper ‘how to do faerie things’ lessons. Finding a faerie mentor was, after all, one of the things on my lists.
As you wish, my lady, Reid agreed. Then he switched tracks. Ah. We seem to have arrived.
Really? I thought, surprised. I must be worse at judging time like this than I thought. This seems like it was too quick a drive to Emma’s house.
That’s because we did not return to Lady Emma’s home, Reid answered. The college campus gate was closer, and the lady Valerie will not need an invitation in order to approach it.
Oh, good thought, I applauded him. I hadn’t considered that. Well then, Reid, what is this fellow’s name? I mentally indicated the troll beside me. I don’t know how accessible this portal is, but I suspect I’d like to see more of the way to it than I can as a corpse. I’m going to wake myself, and I don’t want to frighten him.
He goes by Thaddeus these days, Reid answered. But are you sure it is wise to….
Yes, I reassured him. It will be fine. This morning much of what I drained was lost in the process because I had been unable to mend my aura fully. Prior to that damage I did manage to significantly drain Pips, but not unto destruction. I think a single donor faerie is sufficient to sustain me when I am not feeding wastefully. And besides: if it seems I will take too much, I am confident you will have someone put me back under — if you don’t just do it yourself.
That can be done, Reid conceded.
I turned my attention from Reid and to the nervous troll. Thaddeus, I thought at him. He jumped in place. Calm down. I’ve patched up the damage to my soul from last night’s battles. I am going to awaken myself, and I will need to feed. However, with my soul intact it should not be so wasteful a process as it has been so far today. You should not be in any real danger — and Reid will be watching me. If I go too far he will put me back under and I will try to awaken again only after someone brings me to Megan’s realm and there is no longer a lack of donors.
Thaddeus’ thoughts spun briefly through fear before settling on determination as my explanation wound its way into them. I am ready, he responded.
Good. It will take just a moment. It would actually take less than that, but there was something I had realized I wanted to do. Or at least, that I would appreciate having done once I was in condition to appreciate things properly — and it required that I have more fine control over my essence than I would once I was ‘alive.’
First, I turned my attention inward. I needed more essence than I had currently, so I searched around until I found Pipsqueak’s leyline. Then I pulled.
The dagger that was impaled through my chest burst apart and dissolved into me as I drew it in, just like I had the clothing Sebas had glamoured me with earlier. The rush of essence was probably enough to mend the wound, and now that the dagger wasn’t preventing my curse from doing so it went to work. In short order I was healed, and my soul was being pulled in toward my body.
I had discovered, over the course of my battles with Lewellan and Archarel, that I could hold myself in a state of dormancy even if my body was fully healed — so I did so. I gathered up the essence I thought I could spare and set to work. It was a simple project, rendered difficult only by the strain of keeping my curse from snapping the bridge to my body back into place and cutting off my improved faerie abilities.
I took the essence I’d gathered and formed it into a pocket. It was a small pocket. Funnily enough, it already existed in the edges of my paranoia — I just had to reinforce it and fill it and cordon it off. I did all of that like I had the commands to save Emma and save Megan that had kept me motivated when all the rest of my soul had been devoured the night before. This one, however, was not a command meant to motivate me.
It wasn’t even meant for me.
It went: Get the fuck out of my head, you jackass.
With that thought solidly enshrined in a structure of faerie essence, I was nearly done. I took the opening of Pipsqueak’s leyline and focused it on the new facet of my soul. Then I looped strands of essence around it, twisting them into hooks and tying them back and forth so that the two were firmly associated. Pipsqueak’s leyline wouldn’t drift about in my aura anymore. Or rather, it would: but it would drag this thought along with it.
I regarded my work once, and then snagged Reid’s attention. Hey, Reid — will this work the way I think it should? I asked him. I focused his leyline on the bundle of Pips’ leyline and the thought I’d tied to it.
Reid started laughing out loud. That was good enough for me. I sifted through my thoughts a bit more and dug up Melvin’s leyline next. In relatively short order I had it tethered to the thought as well. I looked over my work once more and panned Reid’s line over the whole mess so he could give me his opinion.
It will certainly limit what they can read unless you pull that blockage aside, Reid opined. Very well done. I’d almost think you were born fae: that’s not entirely unlike how one of us would preserve their privacy.
I wanted to smile. Oh good, I thought. Then I relaxed my hold on my curse and let it flow into its natural place. My awareness snapped apart and my leyline to Reid became significantly less distinct. All of my mystical senses seemed to dim as my physical ones took over. I opened my eyes. I smiled.
It had nothing to do with Reid’s praise, though. I smiled because I was hungry and Thaddeus was right there.
I lunged upright and grabbed his arm. My fangs tore into his wrist and I drank greedily. Despite his fear that I would destroy him, Thaddeus didn’t pull away. I moaned into his flesh as fae blood dissolved within my mouth and his aura flooded into the emptiness of my soul.
Life. Life was bliss.
All too soon my fangs began to retract. I released Thaddeus’ arm and fell back. I breathed out happily. Thaddeus was a shadow of his former self, but he actually appeared to be in better shape than Pipsqueak had been the first time I’d fed on him. Despite that, I felt like I’d pulled more from him than I had from Pipsqueak. It has to be because I pushed some of Archarel’s essence to all of the members of my army, I thought. Thaddeus probably had possessed more essence when I began feeding on him than Pipsqueak had when he’d been tormenting Daniel.
I brushed my hair out of my eyes and looked up at Thaddeus. He was looking back at me with a mix of anxiety and steely determination. I smiled so that he could see my lack of fangs. It seemed that my most recent mending of my soul was holding — and as I’d suspected, it had made a significant difference in how efficient my feeding had been. I took a moment to study my aura as well as I could while I wasn’t dormant and nodded to myself. My aura was bloated, and I was losing a little of it through the net of stitches over each tear — but I was losing far less than I had been, and the holes between those strands were quickly sealing as some of the lost essence ‘froze’ to the psychic bandages on its way out.
I started to tell Thaddeus I was good, that he could relax — but I hesitated. My physical senses were ramped back up to full, but my aura was so bloated that their input wasn’t overwhelming. Moreover, the wards on the limo had never been replaced, and so nothing was preventing me from hearing what was happening outside.
And what I heard, I realized, was a very angry sounding Mr. Fiore.
“She’s dormant,” he hissed from somewhere outside the limousine. “The fae in this city number fewer than they have in decades, and they’ve as much as admitted they don’t have the numbers necessary to revive her.” I looked around and realized that Reid, Thaddeus, one of Valerie’s donors, and I were the only occupants of the limousine — and although I had no problem listening in on Mr. Fiore, his voice sounded distant enough and low enough that I doubted anyone else could.
“If we’re supposed to be keeping an eye out for another opportunity to neutralize her safely, then this is pretty much it,” the vampire scion continued. “With a goddamn bow on top!” Fiore sounded pissed. I sort of was, too — and I could feel Reid’s confusion and alarm as he picked up on that.
I had to admit that I was also frightened by what I heard: Matteo Fiore was a belligerent, hostile, bullying, necrophilic, blood drinking murderer who had it out for me, after all. But despite that, my aura was sufficiently full from Thaddeus that my emotions weren’t running rampant and overriding everything else. And beyond that? As the entire limo ride had proven, Thaddeus wasn’t the sort to succumb to his fears even though he was smart enough to have them when they were legitimate.
And Thaddeus’ aura was still being subsumed into mine.
I decided that the anger was appropriate, and disregarded my fear. I rose and stalked to the back of the limo. Then, without hesitation I stepped outside. The sun was bright, but my aura was bloated enough that it was — for now — just an annoyance. After Director Lewellan, Mr. Fiore was just an annoyance, too. And there he was: standing in the doorway of a blocky, one story building on the edge of campus, growling at Valerie. I tried to remember what the building was for from when I’d been a student, but I didn’t think I’d ever had cause to go by it.
“Actually,” I called out as I approached the building Fiore and Valerie stood in the entrance of, “You’re just as wrong as ever.” I approached the pair of them and glared Fiore down. “And I wish I could say I was shocked by that. You’d think you’d have realized after our last talk that ‘doing nothing’ is not a viable way to deal with me — so if you thought I could be ‘neutralized safely’ just because I was already dead then you really, really haven’t been paying attention at all. There is never a time in which I am vulnerable, Mr. Fiore. Not even when I’m dormant.” I may have been overstating things, but Fiore didn’t need to know that. I smiled as sweetly as I could and stopped between him and Valerie. “Or have you not talked to Derrick and Justin yet?,” I asked sarcastically. “I am not one to stay dead, Mr. Fiore. Ever.”