Everything having to do with soul stuff was at least somewhat metaphorical. Including how I perceived it. So I decided to try to shift that. To… open myself up, and see if I could come to some better way of understanding what was going in my own head. Leylines were supposed to be the connections between people, right? Shouldn’t examining them tell you something about what that relationship was? Wasn’t that how things like geases and compulsions worked — by creating a faux leyline that enforced a particular relationship or injected a certain emotion or need?
Hadn’t Reid explained that things like being called “my lady” by my faerie army wouldn’t let them claim me like Melvin calling me his whatever had, because that claim was informed by the sort of relationship we had? And my faerie army calling me their lady reinforced that they had belonged to me.
I didn’t have eyes to close, but I did have a mind to blank. So I did that, and then tried visualizing my leyline to Shantaya in a way that would be more useful… a way that would let me look at the relationship itself, maybe. So: not as the narrow opening of a fiberoptic thread. Not even as a window, since the ‘thread’ imagery at least gave the leyline enough depth for me to look at it instead of only through it.
Instead, I pictured the leyline to Shantaya as a corridor, wide enough and tall enough for me to feed my perception into.
I’m pretty sure that if my perception hadn’t shifted, I would have been trying to thread a needle with my awareness. I tried not to think about that, though, because it was so much easier to walk my awareness into a corridor — and even doing that was giving me the psychic equivalent of a headache, without my having to keep it all from collapsing back into a thread, too.
It would have been easy to just push essence to Shantaya. That just meant piling it into my entrance of the leyline until the sheer weight of it forced it to flow down the path and into her aura. But instead, I had to keep my awareness tethered to myself as I slowly ventured it through the passage. It was a strain — a strain on my focus and a strain on my shard of faerie soul, as that was the anchor that any aura I manipulated was anchored to.
It was like the leyline was a path on a hill: heading away from myself was like moving uphill, and I could see how the leyline there was formed by my own soul being stretched and spun outwards. Moving along that part of the path forced me to push against the natural flow, which kept my aura from ‘leaking’ out into Shantaya. Presumably, once I crested the ‘hill’ I would have to keep my awareness from being pulled into her soul, as that stretch would be orientated toward keeping any ‘lose’ essence from leaking out of her soul and into mine.
Sure enough, the path abruptly leveled out. Here, the walls of the leyline were not so clearly made from my own aura. Here, briefly, my awareness was not being pushed in any particular direction. And at this point, the ‘crest’ of the hill, it looked like the walls of the corridor were made from faerie strands. I looked closer.
The weave, I realized. At this point in the leyline the weave was pulling on my soul and on Shantaya’s, both. Somehow — probably when we became close enough to meet and paid enough attention to each other to form a relationship — our souls had, for lack of a better concept, come ‘close’ enough together that at this point the weave had been pulling on both of them to the point that they were stitched together. After all, physical proximity, emotional investment, focused attention — these things made a soul easier to reach. Made the souls involved ‘closer.’ Right?
The theory made sense to me, anyway. That was how I triangulated people’s positions using leylines, after all.
I mentally frowned. Did that mean this part of the leyline — this part of how I related to Shantaya and how she related to me — was informed by societal expectations, prejudices, and traditions? The sorts of things that governed the behaviour of the weave? So, was this where I would look if I were afraid I were racist in general — or would it be back on my half of the ‘hill,’ where the relationship was based on my ingrained emotions and thoughts?
I wasn’t sure — and it’s not like I really knew what I was looking at. I couldn’t look at a strand of the weave and say: that’s what makes people not use Shantaya’s name. Well, what makes Jockboy not use Shantaya’s name. I used it. And what was up with him not doing that, anyway? Shantaya was a pretty name.
My name sounded like I was someone’s grandma. Or like I was destined to retire and spend my time answering an advice column for people who were obsessed with protocol. I could just see it: “Dear Abby. I’m a recently turned undead who keeps accidentally enthralling people. On the one hand having everyone be subservient makes unlife so much easier, but I can’t help thinking there’s some kind of moral issue with taking advantage of it. Is there, or can I just relax and accept this as the new normal? On a somewhat related note, do you have any advice for meeting the parents of a witch, werewolf, faerie or vampire? Or would it be okay if I just enthralled as many of them as I could, too, and didn’t worry about first impressions so much?”
Right. That was not what I was here to think about. I pressed on, expecting the slope of the ‘hill’ to reorient downwards. And I was right: It did at about the point that the strands of the weave which formed the basic structure of the leyline began to show signs of Shantaya’s soul flowing and freezing over them.
Except then, abruptly, it changed. I found myself in a sludge of unformed emotions — remnants of something that felt familiar. It was like there was a second dip in the curve for some reason, and somehow essence had gotten trapped in a little pool. I looked down the corridor, toward the other side of the pool, and saw that the slope of the corridor had been disrupted by… Well, it ‘looked’ like rubble. Like someone had torn out a chunk of something, which had forced the leyline to twist and shift around the damage. Like the pool of essence had caught on some sort of damage and frozen in a jagged blockade that the leyline corridor had to bend itself over in order to stay intact.
I pulled my awareness back, spooling it around my shard of Megan’s soul. That pool of essence wasn’t exactly an impediment, but it was weird. There hadn’t been anything like that on my half of the leyline. And the damage was alarming. It looked like it had stretched along the floor of the leyline all the way down and back up to where it connected to Shantaya’s soul.
I had a suspicion, but I didn’t know what I was looking at — not really. So I sent my awareness slowly down the corridor that led to Megan. And then the corridor that led to Emma, and then Fumiko, then — just because I couldn’t think of anyone else — James from work. Again and again I found the same thing: None of them had that second bump in the ‘hill’ between us. It wasn’t there on anyone who hadn’t been enthralled by me.
Emma’s corridor showed signs of similar damage to Shantaya’s, but it was all in the ceiling of the corridor, as though when our leyline had formed it had burrowed under some sort of existing scar. Fumiko’s end of her leyline had similar signs. James’ and Megan’s leylines had no such damage to them, at all. Two people who have never been under a vampire’s thrall have no damage. The two people who have been fed from in one way or another over a long enough time to be able to ‘resist’ being enthralled have leylines that are damaged differently than Shantaya’s. It wasn’t exactly a scientific sample size, but it also couldn’t just be coincidence, could it?
This time, after withdrawing my awareness from my leyline to James, I pushed it toward Hans. I’d been distracted by the question of whether or not I was the cause of the disruption in Shantaya’s leyline. Was that damage what kept her enthralled to me? Was the time it took to repair it ‘naturally’ the reason that someone who was enthralled would gradually come out of it, and be unable to be similarly enthralled in the future? Because the damage from previous feedings had forced their new leylines to form by burrowing ‘deeper’ into the weave between souls?
The second curve existed in Hans’ curve, too. There was a pool of essence there, as well. And this time I recognized it: it was some of Hans’ essence that had been being pulled into me when I fed on him. It had been reformed to match how I’d been feeling at the time. Worse, I could see Hans’ leyline more clearly than I had been able to see Shantaya’s. So I picked out more detail: the damage hadn’t just made a pool of your emotions must align with Abby’s in our shared leyline, it had shifted the entrance on his end of the corridor.
The ‘slope,’ for lack of a better description, wasn’t enough to keep his aura entirely from leaking anymore. Instead, every time the weave dug through the damage — and it was constantly pulling the floor of the corridor down, I could now see — a trickle of essence sloshed back and forth: diluting the pool with essence from Hans, and replacing the essence in Hans with the compulsion from the pool.
It’s like when I feed on him. I thought. His essence is being replaced with something like mine. But eventually that gets pushed out of his soul, because he’s mortal and his soul is always creating new essence and pushing the excess out into his ‘aura.’ And then, eventually, this pool is replaced with his own aura from the back and forth flow and he’s no longer being fed a constant trickle of you belong to Abby.
I had a sneaking suspicion that the process of draining that pool and tunneling ‘under’ the damaged chunks of the current leyline would take about a year, give or take.
Tentatively I reached out. This was my fault, but maybe I could do something to fix this? Maybe I could do something to ‘drain’ that pool, so that Hans could just deal with it all at once? His soul would keep making more essence and eventually flush the compelling emotions out of himself regardless of if it was doing it all at once or over the course of a year. I knew that because Emma had been in the process of doing the same with the essence I had pushed to her — she just needed Megan’s help because her soul had been badly damaged, on top of that. Right?
I already had the begenning of a psychic headache from all the focus I was expending, so it took me a moment to tangle my thread of aura around some of the damage that was diverting Hans’ leyline. Maybe it was a harebrained idea, but: could I pull it out of it’s current place and stitch it into the ceiling? Or, hell, could I even just make a narrow trench that was deep enough for the pool of essence to drain through by stacking the damage bits along the ‘walls’ of the leyline corridor?
I tugged at a the chunk of damage, even though that made my ‘headache’ throb. The blockage didn’t even shift, but it felt like it would if I pulled a little harder.
So I did.
The explosion of pain that resulted was so utterly out of proportion to the dull throb tugging had evoked. I’d thought there would be something — some strain commensurate with the effort. But what happened was so much more that I couldn’t possibly have expected it. It ripped through my being: a psychic migraine that made me reflexively jerk back in on myself.
It was exactly the wrong response. My consciousness still infused the tendril of aura that I’d extended down the leyline. That tendril was securely tangled around the broken shard of Hans’ soul that I was trying to move. The instinctive retreat made me pull harder, making the strain on the fae part of my soul rocket exponentially.
If I’d had lungs to scream with, I would have. I felt like my mind was supposed to be this big ball of taffy, but it had just been ripped in opposite directions to such an extreme that now it was just a strand and only instants away from snapping: A violin string that had been violently tightened beyond all reason or purpose except breaking it.
I tried to let go — or I would have, except that focusing through the agony was impossible. Even when the pain suddenly crested and broke, the aftershocks wracked me like some kind of mental whiplash, leaving me whimpering.
Or at least: wishing I could whimper.
I don’t know how long it took for me to recover. Somehow, despite part of me having been tied down in Hans’ half of the leyline, I’d managed to retreat my awareness. My fae shard had withdrawn behind the buffer of my curse by simple merit of having spooled that extension of awareness in around itself. My curse had wrapped around the shard, shrouding it from my ability to see and tying it back down to my body.
I was alive. That was how I was still conscious: my brain had taken over the thinking while my shard of faerie soul hid. I felt nauseous. Trying to focus on seeing auras was normally harder when I was alive; now just trying to look at my own left me reeling and dizzy with pain. The psychic migraine became a physical one when I tried to see how badly I’d hurt myself.
I’d only ever felt that sort of agony before when Lewellyn had tried to compel me while we fought, and his spell had ripped into my soul in its attempts to anchor itself to the core of my being. This time, like then, the only relief came when I let my curse sheath and obscure the fae shard — except, last time that had happened when the curse had grown. This time it felt more like my curse was stretched tight around it. Or maybe that was just the pain from trying to use the shard after overstraining it. I felt like I was stretched tight, psychically, any time I tried to look at my thoughts.
Had I damaged that shard of Megan’s soul? Something had snapped, at the end. It hadn’t been the strand of essence I’d used to reach out to Hans — which meant it had either been the blockage I’d been trying to move being tugged free, or the part of Megan’s soul I’d anchored that line with breaking away. The question left my heart pounding frantically. Maybe my curse felt stretched because it was binding broken parts of Megan’s shard together. I knew how a mortal soul ‘healed:’ it slowly closed gaps as leaking essence froze into a sort of membrane. But how did fae souls repair themselves? They didn’t flow like a mortal’s did, after all. If I had broken that shard, would it mend on its own if I just left it be?
I gulped down air. All of my ‘Abby is alive’ body functions seemed to be in overdrive. My heart hammered hard enough that blood rushing through my ears made them ring. I couldn’t stop hyperventilating. My eyes were wide and staring and even then I was so deep into a panic attack that it took me a moment to realize that I was being held.
Ben. At some point while my awareness had been absent from the real world Ben had arrived and found me. I clung to him and started sobbing into his shirt.
“Abby!” Ben exclaimed my name with some combination of worry and relief. “Abby, what happened? You were dormant, Abby.”
I started protesting before he even finished talking. “I’m bad,” I sobbed. For once I couldn’t distract myself from what I was saying by looking at my thoughts: my brain hurt too much for introspection. I was forced to hear my own words as they spilled out. “I’m horrible,” I sobbed. “Megan, she, she’s hurt and it’s my fault and….”
It took… I’m not sure how long it took, but at least I managed to explain. Sort of? Everything came out jumbled together and without order. I’d enthralled my boyfriend, Hans. Something about talking with Shantaya, but I still didn’t know how I felt about that other than defensive and confused and uncomfortable — which probably at least meant there was some thing wrong for me to be defensive about, right? And Megan. Oh, god: Megan. That was what I felt worst about; what I worried most about. She and Emma were rushing back to the faerie kingdom because I had freaked out and fed from Megan while she was still trying to support Emma’s soul.
Like I hadn’t cared about either of them.
“It’s not your fault,” Ben told me. “It’s not your fault,” he insisted even though I kept sobbing “it is, it is, it is,” over and over again.
“Abby,” Ben said. He hesitated. “I had to feed on Megan at the house,” he told me. It shocked me enough that I choked on a sob. The sensation made me gag and then gasp for air. I stared at him. “While she was unconcious,” Ben explained.
He seemed to gather courage in the face of my silence. Maybe he thought that it meant he was getting through to me. “I had gone feral,” Benjamin told me. “I couldn’t have stopped myself if I had wanted to — no more than you could’ve stopped yourself from pulling on her essence when you did. If she’s hurt then it is no more your fault than it is mine. This is simply a danger that we — and those close to us — have to be aware of and live with, Abigail.”
I stared at him. I’d heard each word with crystal clarity, as I hadn’t had anything to distract my thoughts except the roiling of my emotions — which settled as soon as Benjamin stopped talking.
“You did what?!” I screamed. It was pure agony on my head, but I did it anyway. And I leapt to my feet, grabbing Ben as I did. I twisted and slammed him into the side of the house we were next to. I did it hard enough to splinter the siding — and only then realized that I’d moved so fast by freezing time instinctively, for just a second.
I let go of Ben. He looked as shocked as I felt. Or maybe he was angry. Or maybe afraid. Maybe I was angry. Or maybe afraid.
“Go inside,” I told him flatly. I didn’t want to hear anything else he had to say and didn’t trust myself to say anything more than that. “I don’t want to hear your voice right now,” I hissed anyway. I was too worried to reign myself in.
I tried to check on Megan through our shared leyline, and was rewarded with a surge of fresh psychic pain for the effort. It made me grit my teeth and cringe in on myself at the same time as Ben pushed himself away from the house. He stalked past me, and I turned to watch him go. If I couldn’t check on Megan’s leyline I didn’t dare try to look at anyone else’s. Angry, I thought. He’s definitely angry.
Fine. So was I. I think.
Honestly, my head and my mind was hurting too much for me to know what I thought. Or even what I felt.
Nauseous. Nauseous and empty and somehow emotionally drained despite an aura that wasn’t as empty as it had been earlier this evening, before I’d pulled from Megan.
It was only as I turned to watch Ben go that I realized he hadn’t been alone. He gestured sharply and three other men — donors, I assumed — who’d been standing back followed him toward Cassie’s apartment. One of them kept a wary eye on me as they left. My social anxiety flared under the weight of that stare, and the sharp line of Ben’s profile as he walked away.
Eventually, he and his people reached Cassie’s apartment. They disappeared inside.
And that left me alone except for Fumiko and Jamie.