When we finally pulled to a stop I was the first one out of the limo, even though I had to climb over one of Valerie’s donors — the one who pretended to be a vampire on the weekends — to do it.
The church felt eerily quiet. I could still hear all of the random city noise that plagued my super-hearing, but nothing from inside the church itself. A part of me hoped that meant nothing was happening in the church — but the rest of me knew that was just because the church’s ward blocked out whatever might be going on inside from my supernatural hearing. And that just made speculating about it worse.
We had pulled up behind Matteo’s van. It had stopped in front of the church’s front doors — which had been thrown open. I didn’t need supernaturally acute eyesight to see that the doors had been forced. The solocks were nowhere to be seen. Matteo Fiore, however, was there: in front of the open doors, pacing, and frowning as he listened in on a headset.
Valerie approached Matteo without waiting on me. “What’s the situation?” she asked him.
Of course there’s a situation, my paranoiac tendencies moaned at that little bit of me that had been hopeful. Look at how many vehicles are in the parking lot. Jeremy had been present with a lot of people. There was no way that could have ended well if he’d shifted — and I didn’t have enough faith in good fortune these days to think that he hadn’t.
“My people have it contained,” Matteo answered. His words were crisp and authoritative. He also didn’t hesitate to give Valerie a full report. “The wolf is unconscious and has reverted to human form.” Dammit! So Jeremy had shifted. Why do I have to always be right? First Salvatore being a vampire, then the chupacabracorn existing, and now this! At this rate… I swallowed. I didn’t want to come up with a new worst case scenario, because then clearly it would happen.
“Five others were victims in the attack,” Matteo continued. “Four members of the church youth group, as well as the agent of the covens that found the wolf and decided to intervene. She was able to prevent injury to one of the victims,” he sounded grudgingly impressed, “while avoiding it herself. She has remained inside to render further assistance.”
“How bad are the injured people?” Valerie asked. I couldn’t make myself watch them discuss it. How many wolves are there going to be tomorrow? How many victims are dead? I found myself looking over the cars in the parking lot. Four vehicles. Four victims. Plus the covens’ agent. But if only three had been injured, then only three more possible wolves. Four wolves, including Jeremy.
“The other three were hurt significantly,” Matteo answered grimly. “Two of them are too badly injured to be moved. The third is ambulatory, but has refused to leave the other two, as has the uninjured victim. I have called in local emergency response teams, but my team is dubious as to the chances of the worst two — if they don’t shift early, it is unlikely that they will survive the night. And my understanding is that new wolves rarely shift on the same night as they are bitten.”
Valerie nodded and waved her people into the church. “Do what you can,” she told them. The two donors she had brought along — as well as the limo’s driver — didn’t hesitate to jog into the building. They had holstered pistols, but the limo driver had produced a large medical bag from somewhere, as well. I shivered. Having looked under the seats in Hans’ hummer, I was well aware that people involved in the supernatural side of reality tended to be scarily well-equipped for this kind of disaster. Now, though, I wondered if I hadn’t been wrong about all the medical supplies being kept on hand to treat personal injuries. Maybe the balance of guns and first aid supplies were actually the result of needing to take care of the victims of whatever nightmare broke out.
That wasn’t actually a comforting thought.
Despite everything Valerie had said in the car, another thought naturally followed it. Is this what the rest of my eternity is going to be like?
That thought was worse. I rallied against it. It was bad enough to wonder if I was going to spend the rest of my unlife fighting magical and supernatural beings — but I could handle that. An eternity of arriving too late, and knowing people died because I fucked up somehow? That thought made my mind gibber in panic.
No, I yelled at myself. No! You are not letting this happen. I started to move without realizing it.
“No,” I growled as I stalked toward Fiore. He took a half-step back and gawped at me. I think he’d been so focused on Valerie — his actual, legitimate superior — that he’d thought maybe I wasn’t actually going to get involved. “Why aren’t you in there?” I demanded. “They don’t have to die! We can give them our regeneration! All it takes is a bite. No one has to die!”
Matteo jerked as though slapped, but just continued to stare at me. Then his glare slowly softened. “I don’t have a choice,” he said. “The church is warded. I tested the resistance. It has been built up over years — maybe even decades, given the architecture. If I stepped through it would consume so much of my aura that I would collapse, if I didn’t just burst into flames, and the two worst off cannot be moved safely with the first aid supplies we have on hand. The other two are not in immediate danger. Once the paramedics arrive, we will let them handle transporting the victims out of the church and then do what we can.”
I stared at him and felt my lip tremble as his statement — his reminder about the wards — ripped that last hopeful thought away. No. Oh god no. I am not going to let those kids die. I am not going to cry in front of Matteo Fiore!
Somewhere in the back of my head, Hans and Curtis’ sentiments echoed. Take care of Jeremy. Don’t let the wolves hurt anyone. This is my responsibility.
“I truly am sorry,” Matteo said. Somehow, the fact that he sounded like he meant it made everything worse. “But someday we all learn that we can’t save everyone. And that however hard we try, often the best comfort available is the knowledge that it could have been worse. There are five other people in that building — potential victims who were in a youth lounge in the basement. The intervention of the covens’ agent — foolhardy though it was — saved those people. And even now my men have them separated from the rest of the victims, so they might not even be in danger of losing the protection of their disbelief.”
My emotions roiled. Denial warred with guilt and grief. I seized on the only spots of stability that made any sense at the moment. Take care of Jeremy. Don’t let the wolves hurt anyone. This is my responsibility.
I squeezed my eyes shut — squeezed the droplets of salt water forming in their corners out. This is my responsibility. Then I opened them and met Matteo Fiore’s sympathetic grief with my fiercest glare. “That’s. Not. Good enough!”
Fiore’s jaw dropped in surprise at my shout. I think he wanted to say something back, but I stalked past him. Maybe he couldn’t pass through the wards, but I was younger. Younger vampires were supposed to be less effected by the negative aspects of the curse — so maybe I could make it. Even if my curse seemed to hit me harder than everyone thought it was supposed to since it was adapted to a faerie’s aura instead of a mortal’s. Even if….
I reached the threshold of the church, and that hope was crushed, too. When I pushed my hand toward the space across the door, it was almost physically resisted. It reminded me of the time I’d yanked Melvin into a warded doorway, while he was pretending to be Zane, and he smacked into the threshold like it was a physical thing.
I shivered. Melvin. I needed to figure out what he’d done with the real Zane. Knowing that he’d done something made me feel even worse about the fact that I still wished Melvin was here. Maybe if I was fed… Maybe if he was pushing energy to me. Could I break through the ward — and then have Melvin restore me by pushing energy if I collapsed? But I didn’t have Melvin to rely on.
And yet I still really wished Melvin were here. And how fucked up was that, when I knew he was some kind of monster who did horrible things to people and stole their lives so he could pretend to be them and enslaved people with geases — or at least, he’d put one on me — for sport? Except: when it came right down to it I suspected he was a lot stronger than most of the other faeries I knew. If anyone could help, he could. If he would. But since Megan had told him to, that was actually not so much of a worry this time around.
I shivered. I still didn’t like the fact that I wished Melvin hadn’t been shot in the head — not that I wished he had! If anyone deserved it, it was probably Melvin. But it still would’ve been nice to have some more magical support.
How long would it take for him to get back to this world? I wasn’t sure. When we’d traveled together he’d said he would use my arrival as an “additional anchor” to pull him into this world. But it had still taken him a little longer than me to travel through the college campus’ gate than it had for me. Without someone else to hitch a ride with, how long would it take him?
Or… wait! Could I break through the ward, and then Valerie or Matteo could enter the church — like Reid’s trolls had entered Benjamin’s limo after one of them broke through the ward around it?! I knew my excitement was just the desperation of hope, but I didn’t care. I knew it was probably going to get smashed like everything else — I was probably going to get smashed walking into that threshold. But I didn’t care about that, either. I had to try.
I spun around to tell Matteo and Valerie my plan. This is going to suck, a small part of me yelled at myself. Remember the last time you busted through a ward uninvited? And Matteo had suggested that the wards on this church might just cause one of us to self-combust.
Remember being set on fire before? Seriously, this is the plan? I told my survival instincts to shut up and opened my mouth to tell Valerie what to expect — because after a second thought, I didn’t really want to include Matteo because I didn’t trust him not to screw it up somehow. Probably by not believing it could possibly work, and thus actively contributing to the wards working against us. But while I was distracted by yelling at myself and having second thoughts, my autopilot took the opportunity to hijack my plan to share my plan.
“Melvin,” I heard myself say. What? I didn’t know what I was thinking. My autopilot must’ve seized on some sort of desperation move — that was the only reason I could think of to call out to Melvin. Although, in retrospect, had Melvin ever shown up without me calling for him? Or him already being wherever it was that I ran into him?
I blinked. Maybe Melvin and I didn’t have a strong enough connection yet for him to travel to me without my giving our leyline a tweak? Or maybe he just needs the extra oomph of my calling to him in order for him to differentiate between myself and Megan, I thought. Matteo and Valerie looked at me in confusion. I ignored the urge to blush in embarrassment and pretended I knew what I was doing: somehow I had hope again and I didn’t want to let it go.
Besides, if this didn’t work, then I could still go with the ‘charge in headfirst and hope I do enough damage to the wards to let Valerie through’ plan.
Then I said, with all the faux confidence I could summon: “Hey, Melvin. Show yourself already. I need you for this.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was still more than a little shocked when Melvin actually did materialize out of thin air. To be fair, he seemed to be, too: his eyebrows already were arched in surprise when he formed.
“You’re getting much more perceptive, my lady,” Melvin observed.
I ignored his transparent attempt at flattery. “Oh my god,” I blurted out instead. “How long have you been standing there?!” Fucking invisible faeries! I silently freaked out. I need to learn to keep that in-between worlds vision on even when I don’t actively know they’re around.
Despite freaking out a little and ruining Melvin’s misperception of my abilities, I did notice that his calling me ‘my lady’ didn’t seem to sink any new hooks into my aura. I guess it’s like with Reid, a small part of me observed. Melvin and I have enough of a relationship established that he can’t change it just by throwing around possessive terms and focusing on what he wants them to mean.
Melvin sputtered at me. Then he got a grip on himself and started laughing. “Why, I only just now arrived,” he assured me. Blatant lie, I mentally accused. Fortunately, we weren’t close enough for me to worry about him picking up that thought around the barrier I’d erected to keep him out of my head — because I did need his help and antagonizing him probably wasn’t the best way to get it. Or maybe it was? This was Melvin, after all.
“Right after you called my name,” Melvin continued. “I was just assessing the situation before materializing fully into this realm when you called me out.” He smiled. His explanation almost sounded plausible. He was probably in the limo the whole time, I thought while glowering at him. “Fortunately,” Melvin said, “I was able to return quickly again by following in the wake of Queen Megan and Lady Emma.”
I immediately blanched. Megan and Emma were here?! I looked around frantically. Were they insane?! It wasn’t safe! “Where are they?” I yelped. “Emma isn’t in shape to be risking herself like thi…”
“Oh, they know that,” Melvin interrupted. “That’s why I’m here in their place. When I returned to Lady Megan’s realm it turned out that she and Lady Emma were discussing dinner. And since travel between the worlds is slowing down again for those who lack a strong connection to this one, after I explained what had happened to me Lady Emma and Queen Megan decided to come across in person to take care of finding Lady Emma ‘real’ food — and to assist in my return along the way.” Melvin leaned in conspiratorially. “Lady Emma is very wroth with you, by the way. Something about you running off into danger while leaving her behind and unconscious, again. I’d bring apology flowers when you see her next. And chocolate. Possibly handcuffs,” he concluded with a leer and a wink. “She seemed like she could get violent over it.”
I glared at Melvin. This was not the time for him to be teasing me. Also, with him leaned in like that I wasn’t entirely certain if the mental image that popped into my head when he mentioned Emma and handcuffs had originally come from him or not. Dammit, Melvin! He had no business thinking about my girlfriend like that!
“She wasn’t unconscious,” I protested. “She was just asleep. That’s totally…” Just a semantic difference? At least, it is when you’re ‘unconscious’ because your aura is so depleted that you’ve fallen asleep. “…not the point, anyway. We have people to save, so stop trying to distract me!”
Melvin stepped back into a penitent stance that was completely ruined by his grin. “Of course,” he said. “And what is it that you ‘need’ of me, my lady? It seems that you’ve already found the church, so I would think my part in this venture is done.”
I couldn’t counter that, and I didn’t try. I took another avenue toward convincing him to do what I wanted. “You said you wanted nothing to do with letting me take blood when I was hungry,” I reminded Melvin. I didn’t want to dwell on whether or not he was plotting another way to get his hooks into me. “Well, I’m not hungry. So I want you to give me blood now, while you know that I’m in control, so that I have enough to go through that ward and take care of the injured.”
Melvin studied me for a moment. “And in exchange?,” he asked.
My hands turned into fists. The tension made my arms shake. “I could order you to,” I reminded him. Dammit! Why hadn’t I protested as soon as he said his part was done? I could’ve made up a reason. Fuck, he didn’t even do anything except get shot in the head!
“I don’t think you could,” Melvin countered. “While it is far from full, your aura is also not what I would call drained. The connection between yourself and Megan is obscured by your own essence, to the point that I was able distinguish your line from Queen Megan’s after you called out to me. I think I could quite possibly resist such an order for an acceptable loss.”
My heart started to speed up. I couldn’t believe Melvin was doing this — except that I could. I just didn’t want to. After all, Jeremy and anyone he’d hurt was an important matter to Hans and Melvin didn’t even like Hans. I scoured my mind for something that I could offer him that didn’t involve me, in chains or otherwise, on his bed.
After barely a second, Melvin smiled. “There,” he said. “That should do.” He lifted his wrist toward me.
I stared at it, and then at him. “What.” I said.
Melvin smiled his most insufferably ingratiating of grins. “All I wanted was your realization that I didn’t have to do this,” he said while continuing to offer his wrist. “From what I have seen of how you conduct your affairs, it has occurred to me that I would be better served by having your gratitude than by having you under a geas, if I could even put you under one without violating my agreement with your puppy. And since people are so rarely grateful for anything that they simply take for granted, I wanted to make sure you knew I had a choice in whether or not you supped from my veins.” He smiled sweetly and produced a knife. I scowled at him while Melvin used it to put a small cut across his wrist. Right. No biting still. “But although I do deign to share this time: don’t take too much, Abigail.”
I glared at Melvin. I didn’t like his games. I didn’t like that he’d been watching me for who knew how long without offering help. I didn’t like that he’d wasted time making his point when he was going to offer his blood anyway, and I didn’t like… well, a lot of things. Most of them Melvin-related, at the moment. But I didn’t have time to worry about that: not if there were kids dying inside. I put my lips to Melvin’s wrist and drank.
It didn’t take much. The pool of blood on his wrist — even though it dissipated into the weave at the edges — was enough for my purposes. I took in Melvin’s energy in a long, fierce burst. It left me tingling to the very tips of my soul, even as the wound on his wrist closed.
I exhaled and let go of Melvin’s wrist. Now I was full. And yet, something was wrong. Not with the blood: it had been as delicious as ever. Something else. Melvin wasn’t shrunken like the other faeries I’d fed from, but he did look a little haggard. Like he’d gone a night or two without sleeping. Is he really that much more powerful than Reid’s trolls? I wondered. Was that it? Melvin had managed to sate me with just a few drops of blood, once. How powerful is he? I wished I knew. I wished I could figure out what his motives were. I wished I could figure out why the realization that Melvin was a lot stronger than I’d been thinking wasn’t making me feel like I’d caught on to whatever my subconscious had decided was wrong.
But I couldn’t take the time to sort through all of that, or how I felt about it — or even all of Melvin’s feelings. With my aura now packed full of essence and with my curse buffered by everything I’d taken from Curtis, I was subsuming the extra essence I’d pulled from Melvin more slowly.
Well, I was confident that would speed up once I burned some of my buffer off, at least.
I turned toward the open church door. It’s warded by the people’s belief that it is a sanctuary from evil, I reminded myself. I so hope that I don’t count. That might just give me another edge when I forced my way in. Somehow I doubted it, though. God knew, I wasn’t good — especially when I kept using his name in vain like that.
I swallowed nervously and tried to get my courage up. With so much of Melvin’s essence flooding my aura, I was having trouble focusing on the determination I could draw from my scraps of Hans’ and Curtis’ auras — those little bubbles were overshadowed by everything else. This is really going to suck, appeared to be Melvin’s predominant opinion of my plan.
I didn’t even laugh at the fact that ‘sucking’ was, in fact, literally the plan.
God, I thought even though I didn’t really know that he existed, or was even listening — or if he wasn’t actually some sort of Cthulhu-esque horror — I’m sorry for all the bad things I ever did and all the swearing and also all the hanky panky and the times I’ve used your name in vain and that I still don’t really know if you’re real and I’m only sort of hedging my bets right now, which is pretty crappy and manipulative of me — but you know that since you’re omniscient, right? It seemed like a kind of weak sentiment, but sort of heartfelt. And at least I wasn’t promising to change and be better or something, since god knew I was crap at that — and might end up going insane with blood lust, regardless of what I resolved to do. I hoped the sentiment of ‘I’m sorry’ was good enough.
So please don’t kill me before I can save those kids.
He probably wouldn’t. If he really existed anyway. Right? I mean, everyone always said he was such a nice guy. Letting a couple of kids maybe die just because I was a vampire would really be a dick move.
I swallowed. Amen, I concluded before I could go off on another string of apologies — or think any more unflattering things. I was pretty sure that ‘please don’t kill me before I can save those kids’ was all that I’d really needed to say, anyway.
I took one more shaky breath. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do to prepare — even trying to think of something else, at this point, was an exercise in putting off what I needed to do. And that could end with someone dying.
So I steeled myself. And then I stepped forward.