After a moment, the solock I was feeding on started to sag. Her companion shouted in alarm and managed to wrestle her away from me.
I let him and took the opportunity to latch onto his neck instead. I needed more. “More,” I gasped before biting into him again. His Adam’s apple bobbed, rubbing against my chin, but he also staggered forward — toward the kids they wanted me to heal.
Heal? Fuck them. I was going to kill everyone.
My current victim only made it a few steps before he started to collapse, too. Someone nearby was shouting — I couldn’t see anymore, but I could still hear. “It isn’t working! She isn’t healing!”
I dropped my solock — he was too empty to be worth the effort of feeding on anymore. No shit, dumbass, I thought at whoever shouted. My vision had gone dark — my eyes were no more immune to the church’s aura than the rest of me, and at some point they had burst. I turned toward the sound. Come over here and feed me. “More,” I rasped. I staggered forward. I think I collided with something, but I couldn’t tell — I couldn’t see and I couldn’t feel anymore, either. I heard running feet. Some running away, some toward me. I lashed out blindly toward those coming toward me, but I don’t think I connected with anyone.
“I’ve got her,” someone suddenly said from behind me. Fumiko? When had she gotten here? I tried to twist around and sink my fangs into her, but only bit air. I wasn’t surprised: I knew that Fumiko could manhandle an injured vampire with ease. I still had to make the attempt, though. I was going to die, otherwise.
“Shit,” Fumiko muttered. “What the hell did you people do to her?” I heard movement. I heard people talking in frightened, hasty tones — saying stupid shit like “is he okay” and “dump your aura so their souls can replenish.” I screamed at that last one. A solock was throwing perfectly good essence into the world instead of feeding it to me? What the fuck?!
Then someone gasped, like they were coming up from being underwater. Then a male voice groaned: “What the crap?”
The girl that had turned the church’s wards actively against me shouted in surprise. “Jacob? How…!”
Then, right next to me, the boy who’d protested hearing I was a vampire because I wasn’t Salvatore: “I’ve got her. What can I do?” I tried snapping my fangs in his direction, but caught nothing.
“We need to get her out of here,” Fumiko said. “I’ve got her head. You carry.” More movement. “We need to get her blood, too — Christ, what the hell did you people do to her?”
“Nothing!” The boy protested.
“Wards,” I rasped. “That fucking child turned them against me.” I snapped my fangs again, then snarled in frustration when I received nothing for my trouble. “Feed her to me, Fumiko. Please.”
“Bring her here,” one of the solocks called. “This girl will die without help. I don’t know how she’s still alive now.”
“I did my best,” Jock-Boy said. “But all I could manage is to keep the aura linked to the body.”
I snarled and snapped at him, but to no avail. All I had left was thirst. Mind-numbing, agonizing thirst, and a few little bubbles of aura that weren’t even mine yet because I’d tied them off before they could be subsumed, and the drive to kill everyone and quench myself with their blood.
Starting with the arrogant little prick who thought they hadn’t done anything to me. Who did Jock-Boy think he was, holding me at arm’s length when he had delicious, warm life’s blood flowing through his veins? “Let me have a bite,” I whimpered at him as pathetically as I could. “I can save your friends.” It would only cost him his life. Or them theirs. Whichever. All I knew was that there was no way I was letting the next person I sank my fangs into go while they still had a drop of blood in them.
No one answered me, so I snarled. I could hear Fumiko grunt, then curse under her breath. My fangs found something, and for a brief second I felt the rush of a wolf followed by a surge of mortal life. I hissed. In part because of Hans’ and Curtis’ desire to help anyone that their werewolf had hurt, and in part because of the determination of the two solocks, I knotted a portion of that mortal life to keep it from vanishing into my curse. Then the solocks’ determination drained into my aura, but by then it was already done and simply easier to feed the wolf into my curse than to unravel that knot.
This is my responsibility. I’d fed all the rest of Hans’ and Curtis’ auras into my curse by now, but I’d clung to that little bit. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could — I didn’t even want to anymore. I howled in protest when the blood I was drinking was taken away — a wild, lupine howl. I tried to thrash free, so I could go after the blood that was being denied me. Someone cried out; then Fumiko muttered a short “sorry, Abby,” and I heard bones snap. From the way my aura snagged and drained faster, I realized that they must have been mine.
Thanks to my broken limbs, the wolf I’d consumed didn’t have time to rage through my thoughts before it was being subsumed into my soul. And then it was gone, and I was faced with agonizing emptiness.
I heard someone shout in alarm. Something about fire. I should have been dormant, but the sheer fucking weight of the church wards compacting my soul was preventing my aura from unraveling, keeping the shard of Megan’s soul in place and locking me into my body. I fed the last bit of Hans and Curtis into my curse to stave off the agony of emptiness, along with the sign I’d erected to keep Melvin and Pipsqueak out of my thoughts.
Then I pulled apart the little bit of Juice Box’s soul that I’d been holding on to, and then I started on the bit of that girl. I could live with the guilt of abandoning my ‘responsibility’ and failing them all — but I couldn’t live without the aura to feed my curse.
Failing the werewolf’s victims would only bother my stupid living self, anyway.
Then, suddenly, I heard a cacophony of noises: cars, people, a cat yowling, something being knocked over… I was outside of the church, and the sounds of the city washed over me until they became an indistinct jumble — like the burble of water in a drowning person’s ears.
“Abigail?!” I heard Valerie exclaim in alarm. “Oh, fuck, Abigail… Dan, call everyone who isn’t already on their way here. We’re going to need…”
“She’s already dormant,” Fiore interrupted her. Fiore! I bet that prick was going to tell them to put me in a box and ship me to The Center. But he was right, I should have been dormant: I wasn’t being held together by the crushing weight of the church wards anymore. Was Jock-Boy doing something to keep my soul and body bound together, now, like he’d said he did for Juice Box and Unconscious Girl? Was that what had kept me from falling dormant in the church, and not just some strange interaction with its wards as they’d tried to literally crush my soul?
Honestly, I did not actually care. Not when I was being wracked by the sheer agony of an empty aura. I could feel my curse start spreading into my soul — not my aura, but the spiritual wall around my aura that was supposed to contain it. The curse’s tendrils reached out and began stripping away chunks of soul from the framework of faerie aura that had served to patch it up somewhen in my past. It was like I was being torn apart by the weave, but from the inside out.
“No,” I growled through the agony. I would not let myself look weak in front of Fiore. “Matty, Matty, Matty… I’m fine,” I hissed. “I’m just a little thirsty. Why don’t you be a gentleman and come over for a bite?” I kept my voice as sultry as I could. If I fed from a vampire, would it replenish my aura like feeding from a mortal or fae or wolf?
Of course, I knew it didn’t really matter either way. If Matteo was dumb enough to fall for it, I was going to rip out his soul before he could try to get people to turn on me. I knew he wanted to get everyone to turn on me like fucking Lewellan had.
Fiore was going to die, now. He just went to the top of that list.
“Oh my god,” Fiore gasped. “How is she still conscious? How is she still cognizant?!”
The sirens that had been in the distance when I went into the church were much closer now. I heard them stop, and doors opening and closing. “Not her,” Valerie called at whoever had just arrived. “We have this one. In the church.” People ran past us.
Fumiko ignored them. “Jamie,” she called out for my Bonbon. “I need blood. Now.”
Yesss, I called out psychically along that leyline. Let me consume you, my pretty little Bonbon.
“I’ll take care of it,” Melvin answered instead. Life abruptly rushed into me. I tried to bite at him, but I couldn’t: something was clamped over my mouth. I only realized it because feeling was returning to my lips. I whimpered. It was his palm. Melvin had cut his palm and clamped it over my mouth, so that none of the little wisps of his blood could dissipate into the air instead of into me.
I smiled. It made my withered lips and cheeks crack. And that hurt — because they’d healed enough for me to feel pain once more.
And I drank.
And I drank.
Melvin. I liked Melvin. Melvin tasted fantastic. He didn’t run out of life just because I took a little nibble. He was delicious, and capable of being at least as ruthless as I was. His aura meshed well with mine; parts of it resonated in ways that made me smile wider. Liar liar, I pushed the thought at him. The construct I’d made to keep him out of my head was gone: it had been consumed at some point while the wards had been attacking me. You love me, Melvin.
Not even a little, he thought back. Though perhaps, some day? There’s certainly enough about you to admire, anyway.
I ignored his protest and ran my tongue along his palm. I could see again, though opening my eyes made a crust of scabbed ash flake and fall into them. I blinked through that, and what I saw then was that Melvin was kneeling over me. So was Jock-Boy from the church, and Fumiko and Valerie. The sun had set while I was in the church, and now we were illuminated by the flashing lights of an ambulance that had pulled up in front of Matteo’s van.
“Unbelievable,” Valerie whispered.
I struggled to sit up. Melvin held me down just a little longer — just long enough for me to start panicking about the fact that I was being held down by a man. And not just any man, but one who I knew was a sadist and a stalker and had professed a specific interest in seeing me chained up on his bed.
Then Melvin smiled and removed his hand. “She’s herself again,” he said.
Asshole, I thought at him. Of course he would judge whether or not I was myself by whether or not he could scare me by being a creepy guy. My momentary fright was tempered, though, by sudden concern: Melvin’s face was drawn. His clothes hung off of him and he looked emaciated.
Melvin’s eyes sparkled. He nodded in my direction. Aw, he thought, you care. I could feel his mental grin. I think perhaps the truth is that you’re falling for me, my worried little waffle cone.
Fuck no! I mentally shouted. But he just grinned back at me like I’d said ‘I am,’ and had sent him a mental image appreciating his butt, instead.
“That’s our Abigail,” Melvin said to the others.
I struggled to sit up. Not because it was difficult, but because I kept wincing at the pain I expected to feel but didn’t. Bits of ash flaked and drifted off of my skin as I moved, but I really was intact again. And still dressed. Thank you god. It was a good thing Megan’s glamour hadn’t been tied into mine or I’d probably be dying all over again from embarrassment, now.
“Are they okay?” I asked, since that was the question that mattered. “Did I hold onto their auras long enough?” I felt a spike of panic. “What about the first wolf? The one who attacked them? Jeremy?”
Fumiko stood up. She helped me to my feet. “I saw the disemboweled guy back on his feet while we were leaving. We got you to bite the unconscious girl, but I’ll have to go back in and check on her. The other one… well, she wasn’t in that bad of shape anyway. The werewolf that started it all turned back to his human form after I choked him out. He was unconscious and in silver shackles, with some warlocks watching over him, last I saw.” Fumiko gave me a self-satisfied grin. “Wait here; I’ll check on the girl who was unconscious.”
I shivered. I was glad Fumiko had volunteered, because there was no way I was going to go back into that church. I opened my mouth to thank Fumiko, but then I found myself blinking a few times to make sure my eyes were clear. “Is that Magical Girl Miaka?” I asked her instead.
Fumiko looked down at her outfit and snorted. She was wearing a short, floofy skirt sporting shocks of glittery lace, tall stockings and a very bright dual tone top with accent stripes that wrapped around her waist and curled under her breasts like vines. An elaborate wand was buckled to her belt. Instead of the manga character’s typical pumps, though, Fumiko was wearing sneakers. And she was wearing cat ears. Those weren’t part of Miaka’s battle attire, either.
The whole outfit was a mess: it had been ruined by tears and blood stains. What wasn’t ripped was crumpled and disheveled. “What it is is a wreck,” Fumiko said sadly. I paled. Was any of that blood hers? My vampiric senses seemed to say no, but Fumiko turned before I could ask to make sure. “I’ll be right back,” she called as she jogged back into the church. I blinked again as she departed. Had those cat ears twitched in disappointment when she’d looked over herself?
I looked at Bonb… Jamie. “Did those ears just twitch?” I asked.
“She asked if I could glamour them up a little,” Jamie answered back. “It didn’t take much to make them a little more responsive to her mood,” she said defensively. Jamie was back in her punky-female form at the moment. She’d answered me, but she was hovering behind Jock-Boy and Melvin, so that they were between her and myself.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Fumiko had a familiar, so she’d made enchanted cosplay accessories?
“Right,” I finally said, after wrapping my head around it. Yeah, that was Fumiko all over. I opened my eyes again. Then I wondered if the wand was actually functional, too. From what I remembered of the anime…that was actually kind of terrifying. Probably not, I thought. Too much disbelief in this world. But maybe if she took it into the faerie world and had to face off with another Archarel?
Oh, god. A Fumiko armed with whatever she could dream up out of her manga? Assuming Fumiko could gather enough power to make whatever it was she wanted, and had a faerie who was willing to glamour it up, that was mind blowing to contemplate. Which she could, because: Megan. And which she did, because: Jamie. Oh god, if Megan’s faerie father decided to be an ass, he was going to be in so much trouble.
But that was going to be something to laugh and/or freak out about later, I decided. I shoved those possibilities aside and looked over everyone else. Valerie’s shocked expression had changed into something else. Something speculative. Matteo still looked stunned and pale — even for a vampire. That left Jock-Boy, who seemed to be disturbingly at ease, given everything that had just happened.
He looked at me with a wide grin. “They’re going to be okay,” he announced. His faith in that statement was obvious. “Shantaya isn’t completely healed — but she isn’t in danger, either. Thank you so much.” He reached out and caught my hand while I was still recovering from the sudden shock of the weave binding his leyline to me with his admission of gratitude. “I’m Benny,” he added. “And I can’t express my gratitude enough. My abilities wouldn’t have been able to keep them alive much longer. Thank you.”
I yanked my hand out of his and stumbled back a step. Benny’s leyline had surged within my aura, opening wide and revealing almost as much of his mind as if I’d bitten into him.
“What is it?” Benny asked. I blinked at him. How had he not felt that?!
But then… I hadn’t felt it when I’d given Melvin my name, either. Crap on a cracker, he just gave me his name while I was hopped up on faerie aura. No wonder his leyline had grown so prominent so quickly.
“Uh. Nothing,” I said. “I just had to help. Um.” Benny’s aura was liquid smooth, tranquil — a lot like Fumiko’s, only without the hidden depths. In fact, now that I considered it, looking at Benny’s aura felt more like I was looking at a pool of oil that obscured the waters beneath it. I squeezed my eyes shut again and pinched my nose. Trying to contemplate it gave me a headache. Or maybe it’s like I’m looking at an obstruction. Like the one I put together to keep Melvin and Pips out of my head.
Yes. Yes, that was what it was like. The whole thing was an obstruction, and the illusion that I could see into Benny’s aura was just that: an illusion. There was something blocking the opening of our leyline on his side. A ward, maybe? Could people do that? Whatever. I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. Not right now. Maybe later? But right now I just wanted to take care of Hans’ new werewolves and then go back to faerie land — or wherever in this world Megan and Emma had gotten to — and not have to do anything until morning came and I went dormant.
Maybe it was just because I had just fed and had swung all the way to the ‘alive’ end of the spectrum, but all I wanted to do right now was go to sleep. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, despite my aura being full. “Valerie,” I said, “can you manage the cleanup from here?” I figured they would have to do something in the nature of a cover up, but that would involve The Center’s contacts in emergency management and the media — nothing I could really help with.
“Yes,” Valerie answered. She still seemed a little stunned, and I wondered where her speculations were taking her. I’d have to ask her sometime. Later.
“Wonderful,” I told her. “In that case, I’ll go wait in the limo. Let Fumiko know when she gets back out.”
Valerie nodded. I glanced over the people who were still clustered around me. Bonbon had drifted away and was waiting anxiously by the church doors. Melvin was studying Benny — but Benny’s leyline was still giving me a headache, so I ignored him. He was paying his attention to the other vampires, anyway.
“So,” Benny asked as I turned and walked away. “Are you all Directors, too? What’s going on, and how many of you are in town now, anyway? And where’s Salvatore — and what the heck was up with Jeremy being a werewolf?!”
My lips quirked despite myself. I ducked into the limo. I laid down across the seats and listened as Matteo began to explain. I probably wasn’t going to sleep, but I could at least close my eyes and be thankful that I wasn’t the one who had to explain everything, for once.
So that’s what I did.