After taking care of Hans, I also managed to unravel and consume the obstruction in my leyline to Shantaya. That was something of a relief on multiple levels. I wasn’t able to do the same with anyone else, though. The people who’s leylines I had easy access to — Emma, Megan; Fumiko — were already resistant to being enthralled and didn’t have anything for me to fix. Everyone else on my mental list of bite victims were people I just didn’t know well enough to have a wide enough leyline entrance for me to manipulate my awareness down.
I kind of suspected that I’d only been able to undo the damage I’d done when I’d fed on Shantaya because of the whole “physical proximity makes leylines more prominent” factor. Disheartened that I couldn’t unenthrall more people — and couldn’t refill my aura further — I eventually let my curse drag my faerie shard back into alignment with my body. At least I’d gotten to the point where my buffer was built up enough to keep my headache minimal for a while and my aura had enough left for me to be disheartened at all!
When I “woke up” from dormancy I opened my eyes and tilted my head side to side, popping my neck. Apparently it had started stiffening while I was dead. Whatever: I think I regenerated the stiffness there almost as fast as I’d tilted my head and I didn’t smell any self-rot. Then I glanced at Shantaya as though I’d be able to see a difference now that she wasn’t enthralled. In fact, I sort of could: she was looking at me with a wariness that hadn’t existed before. Like, before she’d been wary because of what I was capable of. Now she looked more personally concerned. Confirmation made, I thought. The rose colored glasses are off.
Actually, Shantaya looked like she wanted to say something but was holding herself back. Probably because I was some kind of undead night terror that was possibly casually racist and who had, as she’d just discovered by coming out of it, some kind of mental influence over her. That would’ve intimidated me, if I’d been in her shoes.
Actually, I had. And I’d tried to ruin all of Salvatore’s plans when I came out of it. And then I’d murdered him. -ish. I mean, Hans had shot him, but I’d already set the house on fire so he was a goner one way or the other. I was going to keep claiming responsibility for it, anyway.
“So,” I said to Shantaya. “When I fed on you before you were enthralled. Well, your wolf was. You were.” I scowled and made a frustrated noise. “You and your wolf were, because you were newly made a werewolf, I think, so ‘normal human’ rules were still in effect? Usually when I feed on a werewolf, it is the wolf that is enthralled — and only when I feed on the wolf is it the human that is affected.”
I shook myself out of my ramble. “Anyway,” I said, “that wasn’t on purpose. But I figured out how to undo it, so there you go. I don’t… I don’t like having that kind of control over people. It skeeves me out, frankly.” Wait, did that mean that I’d unbound the enthrallment over her wolf? Maybe I hadn’t thought this entirely through. Craaaaaaap, I hope the whole “accidentally psychically enslaved you” thing didn’t piss her off enough to make her wolf-out in the car.
Shantaya’s eyes flicked up and down me. On the other side of me, I could feel Cassie’s boring into me, too. Or maybe I was imagining that. But I knew that Cassie could listen in freely. “Are you doing this to everyone else, too?” Shantaya asked.
I swallowed. By ‘this’ did she mean the enthralling, or the removal of it? “Yeah,” I answered. “Anyone who hasn’t built up a resistance to it is vulnerable to a vampire’s bite. Well, to the feeding process, really. It’s…” I didn’t think she actually wanted me to wax on about leylines and corridors and frozen obstructions of twisted, broken soul bits. “…Magic,” I concluded lamely. “And also yeah: I’m going to fix it for the other people I’ve fed on. Except the ones where it’s the only thing keeping them from murdering me or stuff like that.” Basically: Not the faeries in my army. Or Lewellyn’s minions. “But all of your friends, yes, as soon as I can. The fact that you’re sitting next to me and we’ve been in proximity all night made it possible for me to take care of it for you. I might be able to do it for joc–Jacob. But since he’s still wolfed out at the moment it might be better to take care of it with him in the morning. And I don’t know if we can fix it if he’s enthralled to Ben, too.”
“Why not?” Shantaya asked sharply. “Don’t get me wrong: Jacob’s a jerk. But this enthrallment thing is… No one should have to deal with this.” She looked pretty nauseous about it, too. I was utterly sympathetic.
I shrugged awkwardly. “I’m kind of a special case, for a vampire. I can do more magic than most can, but it’s limited, too. I can unenthrall anyone I’ve enthralled, because I have access to the leyline that connects us. But if someone else has enthralled them, I don’t have access to that. And as far as I’m aware, other vampires can’t do the unenthrallment trick It’s….”
“You don’t?” Shantaya interrupted. “I thought leylines were like this grid of power lines for magic. That’s what it’s like in the books. Anyone can grab them.”
“Uh,” I said. I’d never asked about that.
“Those exist,” Cassie interjected. “But there are also smaller ones that interconnect people, places; things and ideas. Those ones are a lot more common.”
I turned to look at her, startled. I’d never heard her talk so much about magic — and I’d only known about the lines connecting people to people.
Cassie shrugged. “It’s why ghosts tend to be stuck at the place of their deaths, or to a person or a thing,” she said. “They’re tethered there. My teacher told me that the tethers were leylines: I can’t see them, and he couldn’t before he died. He said they fit a description of leylines he’d heard from a familiar once.”
“Huh,” I said eloquently. I was going to have to look for those, now. I’d never noticed anything like that — but then again, I’d never tried, either, and it had been tricky enough to find regular leylines the first few times. If it was true… I would never have to worry about losing my keys again, at least.
Or maybe I could do something useful with it. I’m sure there was something.
“Alright,” Shantaya said. “This is way over my head. But I’ll trust you — for now?” She frowned. “You are not what I would’ve expected from a vampire, Abigail,” she said. The implication was clear: If I had been your basic immortal, unperturbable, and ancient undead she would be assuming I was trying to manipulate her. Maybe she did, anyway, and I was the one being fooled. Eh. I’d take it.
I laughed weakly. “Yeah,” I said. “I get that. I’m not what I would have expected of a vampire, either, except when I’m thirsty. Um. Stay away from me when I’m thristy. But otherwise… I mean, you can do what you want and I genuinely didn’t want to have you enthralled or under my control in any way shape or form, but…” I swallowed. My tongue felt kind of thick and awkward.
“Thank-you-for-calling-me-out-earlier,” I blurted in a mangled rush. Oh, shit: that should’ve been an ‘I appreciated that’. Oops. I felt a slight tension tug at my aura as the weave lined our leyline with a strand of debt. “I mean, I appreciated that,” I hastily corrected — but the debt was already in place. Not that I really felt all that bad about it, because I did appreciate… I mean: I’m not a racist, but I hadn’t realized that I might sometimes be doing and thinking stuff that… I mean….
I closed my eyes. Fuck me, the urge to protest innocence and deny any wrongdoing and, actually, to get angry about the suggestion that maybe I wasn’t innocent and had been doing something wrong… it was almost overwhelming. So I took that urge and stuffed it directly into my buffer, because fuck that.
I wasn’t going to tell Shantaya that she was wrong when she told me how things I did affected her, especially since I could look through our leyline and see that she was telling the truth. And it didn’t matter what my intentions were. Plenty of people had perfectly fine intentions when they told me that there were no chopped up humans in the spaghetti, but the impact had always been a pretty clear yes there are, wink-wink. And most of the people who’d been male and terrifying had probably never actually intended to be. Maybe. Well, some of them probably hadn’t meant to be terrifying, I had to assume.
And I never intended to freak people out and look like a nutcase when I spoke in public, but then I spoke in public and freaked everyone out and looked like a nutcase. If anyone knew that impact matters more than intention, it was me.
I rebooted my attempt to express myself. “I appreciated you letting me know that I was being ignorant,” I managed to say before mentally stumbling over the urge to add but I’m not a bad person! to the end. I tried to stuff that in my buffer, too. And my autopilot took over while I was distracted.
“I’ll try to be more aware,” I said. “But given that I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t aware to begin with, I might miss things still. I’m worrying about that a lot, now. I mean: I’ve been worrying about it since we talked. And I don’t know if I’ll keep worrying about it, because I tend to get stuck in these obsessive cycles, but it’s important because, frankly, growing up I was always told that the worst thing a person could do was be a racist.”
I blinked in surprise at my own statement. Was that… yes, that was why I kept wanting to protest that I wasn’t a racist or a bad person or whatever. I could put together reasons that I wasn’t, but I wasn’t falling back on them: the knee-jerk emotional response was firmly founded on the desire to not be the worst thing ever, even out of ignorance or by accident.
“Yeah,” Shantaya agreed. Then she added: “Good. Get woke, girl.”
I did not know what that meant. “Yeah,” my autopilot agreed. Then it tried to change the subject before anyone could realize I didn’t even know what I was agreeing with. Great: something else to add to my I need to look things up on the internet list. “So,” I segued, “Valerie and Megan and I guess Prudence and maybe Jamie are trying to set something up to let some faeries live in this world. And I kind of think, in retrospect, we need more perspectives than just theirs on that. Would you be interested in helping set up that program?” Wait. She was in, like, highschool, wasn’t she? Was I asking a bit too much here?
“I don’t know what that means,” Shantaya said. “I mean: I’d like to help, but I don’t have the context here.”
I breathed out in relief. The segue had succeeded. “Oh,” I said. “It’s pretty straight forward. You see…” and then I launched into an explanation of faerie culture, as I understood it. Feeding practices, as I understood them. The whole secret shadow war and the center and how faeries were — at least the ones that got into this world — interested in fomenting discord and terror. And how some, like Prudence and Reid and Jamie, didn’t seem like that at all.
The best part was: it was all completely true, but it was outlandish enough that my autopilot didn’t have any trouble laying it out without embellishment. And I was so used to people looking at me like they were sure I was making shit up, that I wasn’t remotely phased by some of the faces Shantaya made in response.
By the time I’d gotten to the part where I was reiterating our plans to let some members of Megan’s kingdom move into the city without having the local supernatural community decide to hunt them down, we’d reached the campus and almost made it all the way back to the old Archives building. I guess that made as good a place to gather as anywhere.
Plus, the Archives building had to be reasonably close to wherever the battlefield we were looking for was, since technically it was within the radius of the Gate’s original focus. It also looked like Valerie or someone had been on the phone, because as we pulled up a group of girls came out of the building to meet us.
There were six of them. I recognized a couple from when Emma had been comatose, but the other four were strangers. It was still pretty obvious that they were from Linda’s sorority, though: they were all the right age and pretty. I bit my lips shut to keep from saying anything. Just being around them made me feel nervous: like I was the dork girl crashing a Greek function in college all over again. I almost didn’t notice when Shantaya said: “I’ll think about it,” before getting out of the car.
I tried to swallow my nerves while getting out of the car. My anxiety promptly offered me a consolatory thought: instead of being vaguely intimidated by the socially elite pretty girls with magic whose club I wasn’t in, I could freak out about the idea that they were there as our guides. It was a good thing, right: we wouldn’t be wandering aimlessly through the haunted woods. Instead we could go directly to the vengeful ghosts. The thought made me tense up and break out in a sweat despite the cool pre-dawn air.
Okay. So maybe — just for the sake of my own mental well being — I shouldn’t have refilled my aura quite so much before going on a ghost hunt.