It took a focused effort of will for Charles to pull himself away from Katherine’s neck. Feeding always brought out the beast in him, and it didn’t help that the witch’s anemic blood had provided so little essence compared to his preferred donors. He growled in the back of his throat and shoved her away — aiming to distance himself from the temptation of sinking his fangs back in and leaving her aura dry.
Katherine did not react to being pushed away. One of his men caught her — otherwise she would have likely slid to the van’s floor. Her eyes were glazed and empty; staring into space. The cuts his fangs and teeth had left healed swiftly, leaving just a bit of smeared blood to mark their previous existence — but the damage Charles had done to her aura would be a long time in healing.
No matter, Charles thought. The feeding frenzy had faded, and he was in control of himself once more. Well, in control to a given extent: feeding too much from the witch had flooded his aura with hers, and he had to struggle to exert himself over Katherine’s emotions. But she, at least, will be docile for now. The greatest risk in ‘liberating’ Katherine had been Katherine herself: she had spent too long as Salvatore’s donor for another vampire to be able to reliably enthral her, and Charles had not exaggerated his opinion of her abilities. It had been well within the realm of possibility that she might choose to free herself from his ‘rescue’ — and that would have introduced yet another lose end to tie.
There was no need for that.
Charles sighed and sat back. He licked his lips, despite generally thinking it a disgusting habit, and then withdrew a handkerchief from one of his pockets with which to dab away any blood that remained. His fangs had withdrawn by the time he was done, but Katherine’s emotions still assaulted his in the back of his mind.
But that was an acceptable cost for such a beautifully thought out plan: Katherine’s rescue had paid for itself, in terms of essence. Moreover, now she didn’t have the will to be bothersome — and they could spill enough of her blood to make Salvatore’s ‘revival’ look realistic. The sympathetic healing he provided her would prevent her from dying, but her aura was so depleted there was no chance that she would actually revive the corpse. Not that Charles had any intention of letting her bleed directly on one, but still: it was an elegant aspect of the plan. Charles liked it when everything — including the redundant precautions — lined up perfectly like that.
Of course, it also helped that Katherine was not a fan of being used while under someone else’s control. Yes, she was willing to place herself under someone else and give them that control, for the promise of a suitable reward. And becoming a vampire seemed to fall quite high on her personal list of rewards, as well: Charles had felt her jealousy of him even as she’d attempted to drive home the thought that she would serve whatever master it was required to secure her own immortality — at least, he had until he’d torn those emotions away from her, and more. But the fact remained: she did not like being used and would not have been docile if Charles had not drained her. He’d consumed her desire to maneuver for advantage along with all the rest.
The van continued down the city streets while the man who’d caught Katherine secured her. However, one of Charles’ other men spoke up to catch his attention.
“Sir,” Blaine said. “We received an update from the warlocks at Salvatore’s house while you were feeding. It appears a complication may be evolving over there.”
Charles looked balefully at his second in command for this operation. ‘Complications’ were a filthy word, in Charles’ opinion. They meant something was going wrong — moreover, they meant something he hadn’t planned for was going wrong.
Charles prided himself on covering all of the angles. The implication that he’d missed one was a very unwelcome interruption.
“What is it?” Charles asked. The last complication he’d had to deal with had been Abigail arriving at the hospital before he’d gotten the last shipment of records out. Given her slaughter of both Director Salvatore and Director Lewellyn, as well as her apparent ability to slay a Faerie Lord, Charles was forced to admit that he had no reliable plan for dealing with her. No reliable plan except avoidance, at least: He and his team had remained behind the hospital’s inner wards until she’d left. A tiny part of him hated her for that — he didn’t even know why she’d shown up there, at the time! Fortunately, her arrival had turned out to be entirely unrelated to The Alliance’s research, and her brief stay in the hospital lobby hadn’t impacted his timeline significantly — but he still didn’t have a way to deal with her yet. And if she’d shown up again….
Charles could hear the grimace in Blaine’s voice. “Abigail, sir. Apparently she’s arrived on site with at least four others. Two are unknown, one is Salvatore’s ghoul; the fourth is one of Scion Dolcet’s donors.”
The surge of fury that swept through Charles caught him completely off guard. He should have recognized that it wasn’t his own — he would have, except that Katherine’s hatred of Abigail resonated with his own. And that was all the opening it needed to overwhelm his rational thought.
“That bitch,” Charles snarled. The men nearest to him were startled by his uncharacteristic vehemence, but he was too angry to notice. That bitch, he repeated to himself. Charles trembled slightly from the urge to throttle someone — preferably Abigail. He had belatedly realized that he was acting under the influence of Katherine’s emotions, but he was too angry to care. Abigail infuriated him.
Her. This is All. Her. Fault. It was, too: Abigail had killed Salvatore, which had started this whole mess. She’d killed Lewellyn, which had dragged Charles into it. She’d delayed his clearing out of the hospital, and now what should have been a simple extraction had become complicated by the fact that being delayed at the hospital meant that by the time he’d gotten his pieces in place to move in on Salvatore’s house she’d fucking showed up again!
“We can wait it out,” Blaine said. “See if she moves on like she did at the hospital.”
“No,” Charles said. God, he wanted to kill her. But even as infuriated as he was, he knew he didn’t have a plan that would ensure that. He didn’t even have the resources to begin covering all the necessary contingencies. Hell, Abigail had already done so many ‘impossible’ things that he couldn’t even guess at what all the contingencies a plan to eliminate her would require. “It’s too likely that she’s there to stay the night. We know that she moved into the guest rooms there after her domicile burned, and we don’t have the time to waste. Eventually they’ll find out that Katherine escaped, and then you can bet they’ll reinforce themselves against hostile magic.”
Charles scowled. He didn’t need Katherine’s hatred to make his blood boil now. He started looking for options. Abigail kept complicating his plans in ways he couldn’t counter, and she didn’t even know it. He could try leaking information about Katherine’s escape in an attempt to lure Abigail out — but no, it was too likely that the enchantment his warlocks had been building around the Salvatore house would be detected if her people became wary of a rogue witch.
Charles seethed as Abigail’s presence — she was supposed to be on her way to Kallaher’s funeral home, not at Charles’ target! — made a mockery of all of his intricate plans and elegant plotting. And yet, even then there was a clear loss that had to be averted — and doing so would be Charles’ new, pathetic measure of ‘success.’
“We don’t have to kill Abigail,” Charles said. “We just need to keep her occupied while we recover the Directors’ corpses.” His men nodded, listening. They’d been working together long enough to know that Charles’ plans were solid. He would have to use that to instill the necessary confidence in them this time, because there wasn’t time to develop contingencies. “It’s more important that we get the Director’s corpses out of The Center’s possession than it is to keep our involvement a secret.” Liberating Katherine had been a complete waste of time — Charles was almost angry enough to put a bullet in her head, as well, but he knew that the target of his hatred was Abigail. And besides, Katherine valued her own well being too much — and Charles’ aura was still too full of Katherine’s essence — for him to lash out at her. He ignored the unconscious witch and focused on Abigail, instead.
“Worse,” Charles continued, “Abigail has already defeated two second generation vampires. Engaging her is untenable, so we will have to distract her while we focus on our objectives.” Charles’ eyes glinted dangerously as he salvaged his original plan into something new. He couldn’t risk striking at Abigail directly, but he wanted to kill her. At the very least, to hurt her. And the inelegant, brute force plan she was forcing him to implement had a very good chance of doing just that. “We will have to move fast. I don’t want anyone entering the house who cannot accelerate beyond mortal means.” That limited his options, but not too much. He would be one of the people in the assault force, this time. He didn’t have another vampire — but fortunately a recently fed ghoul could mimic a vampire’s talents, and he did have a corpse.
And ghouls. If there was one thing that The Alliance did not have, it was a shortage of ghouls.
Even better, almost everyone was already in place. The last of The Alliance’s ghouls within the city were with the coven that Charles had requisitioned to knock out the occupants of Salvatore’s house, just as a contingency in case they were found out by one of Linda’s witches and needed some heavy hitters to prevent their capture.
And feeding Linda’s corpse to a team of ghouls so that they could raid Salvatore’s house while Abigail was occupied with a distraction would quite nicely handle the lose end of how to dispose of her body. There was the elegant use of resources that Charles took pride in, even if it was no longer necessary to maintain that level of secrecy: Extracting Lewellyn and Salvatore was Charles’ overriding priority, and since Abigail had ruined all of his elegant plans and was forcing him to make use of a brutish snatch and grab instead there would be no way to prevent The Center from asking questions about what had happened, who had taken the Directors’ corpses, and why.
But on the other hand: That was a better outcome than Salvatore and Lewellyn being revived and interrogated about their actions. There was no guarantee that The Alliance would be able to rig their trial with one of it’s covens acting to provide the truth teller geases they would be under. At least this way The Alliance would remain largely unknown, it’s objectives would remain uncompromised, and it’s other members could continue to operate unharassed by The Center.
Charles still seethed that Abigail was forcing him to settle for the lowest possible measure of ‘success,’ though.
But before he could continue his plan, Blaine interrupted again. “Sir! Another vehicle has arrived on site. Four occupants: The witch Emma, Megan the changeling, the mortal Fumiko and one unknown. They’re entering the house now.”
Charles’ teeth grit together. More people? Katherine’s emotions surged. Disgust and anger and jealousy swept through him. Fine: none of them will further impact the plan. Even faeries that spend much time impersonating mortals are vulnerable to sleep — changelings are so thoroughly shaped by belief that Megan will certainly be susceptible. They’ll all be vulnerable to the same spell that will take out everyone else. In fact, their presence makes my plan even better.
“Good,” Charles finally said. “Abigail was unaffected by Lewellyn’s geases,” he continued. “Odds are that she will not be affected by the slumber enchantment we have set up to descend on the house, any more than she was by Lewellyn’s compulsions. However, once we feed some of Linda’s remains to the ghouls we have on site they will be able to accelerate, and we’ll only need to keep her occupied for a moment in order to secure the corpses from the basement.” Charles smiled. He wanted to hurt Abigail, and he’d read all the reports that had been diverted into Alliance hands. He knew that she valued the safety of others above her own — and the safety of her lovers had been the driving motivation behind her turning against Lewellyn and taking down Archarel.
“No matter how strong she is,” Charles declared, “Abigail can’t be in more than one place at once. So, to divert her attention while we extract the Directors, I think we’re just going to have to set a house full of her sleeping lovers and allies on fire.“