“Ghost Zombies!” I shrieked.
I didn’t know how else to respond. For the moment I was locked up in shock — and in that moment the other ghosts turned away from their scripted deaths. It was just like at the hospital: they were connected somehow, and once one of them woke up the awareness rippled out to the others until the whole horde had fixated on Elaine.
Worse, Elaine had cried out and hunched over. I almost threw up, remembering how it had felt when a zombie ghost had tried to worm its way into my soul.
“Thaddeus,” I screamed while I bolted forward. “Help!” Where the fuck was my army of faeries?! This was exactly the kind of time that they would be useful, dammit!
I reached Elaine while everyone else was still sort of looking around in confusion. Of course, they couldn’t see anything but that was no fucking excuse! Cassie was screaming at them that the ghosts were hostile and to get out of the clearing already. I grabbed a hold of Elaine — but I had no idea what to do about the ghost that was latched onto her opposite arm. Fortunately, Thaddeus dealt with the ghost: I had time to see him leap forward. His sword severed its arm and then he knocked it back with his staff.
I didn’t get to see what happened next because I had already turned toward the edge of the clearing and was dragging Elaine with me. She half resisted; half stumbled along.
I did get to see the flicker as the ghost Thaddeus had dispatched ‘restarted’ its death sequence. It appeared between us and the edge of the clearing, only it was clearly still ‘awake.’ Its eyes snapped into focus on us and it leapt past me to seize Elaine again.
“Fuck me!” I shouted. That was just unfucking fair. Fiore was ordering a retreat, and people seemed to be listening to him more than they had Cassie, but as I turned back to deal with the ghost on Elaine I saw that she wasn’t the only one beset anymore. Hans, Fumiko, and maybe a third of the scion’s donors were reduced to stumbling toward the edge of the clearing in retreat from enemies they couldn’t even see as ghosts clawed at their auras.
On the other hand, the other ghosts were being kept back by the pack’s wolves. Shantaya’s and Janiqua’s werewolf spirits were killing ghosts as fast as they could restart to come after the girls again, and Hans’ wolf was tearing through the clearing, crippling ghosts without a care for protecting his host human.
Which didn’t help me with the ghost attacking Elaine. All I could think was to get her outside the clearing: if we couldn’t even see them from the other side then maybe the wards served to confine the ghosts and not just hide them. But who knew how much damage was being done just in the time it was taking me to pull Elaine there? She was already starting to struggle against me.
Then Elaine ripped her arm out of my grasp at the same time as Benjamin snapped into existence next to me. Vampire speed. I didn’t have time to freak out about that. Couldn’t afford the time to freak out about that. Elaine’s eyes seemed glazed, and the ghost clinging to her was clearly stronger: less translucent.
I stared at them in horror, oblivious to Ben trying to get my attention. Was the ghost taking Elaine over, or was it feeding on her?
“Both,” I gasped in realization. It was pulling her essence into itself. Feeding on her. But it was still her essence: it was pulling the same mind-control whammy that vampires used when they fed.
“Ben, get Elaine out of the clearing,” I yelled at him. Outside, I could see where other people had escaped, and zombie ghosts no longer clung to them. Of course, that left more zombie ghosts to come after us, but whatever.
Some of Fiore’s solocks were darting back in to drag out the donors who had collapsed before reaching safety. Fiore was, too. Bonus points for him. So were Janiqua and Shantaya: in fact, they were surrounded by the golden nimbus of Benny’s wings, and between that and their wolves the few zombie ghosts that still went after them weren’t getting close to the rescue efforts.
That just left Elaine, Ben and I, since we were the furthest into the clearing, and Thaddeus and Hans’ wolf — who were doing their damndest to keep the remaining ghost zombies from swarming us.
Ben didn’t protest or argue or ask for an explanation. He bolted forward to grab Elaine. She slapped his hand aside with one arm and shattered his jaw with her other fist. Fuck, she was fast! I lunged for the zombie ghost.
Ben was just a step behind me: already bouncing back. And he was smart about it. He reached for Elaine, then danced back — forcing her to follow him a step closer to the edge of the clearing. He was luring her to where he might have a chance of getting her across the line of wards.
My methods were more straight forward. As soon as I was close enough to the ghost zombie I grabbed it and plunged the fork Sebas had given me into its eye.
The ghost howled. I wasn’t sure if it was in pain from being stabbed, or shocked that I could touch it, or just pissed. Whatever it was, though, Elaine was still in sync with its emotions. I had just enough time to think I should’ve turned that fork into something more lethal before my world twisted sideways and I slammed into the ground.
Elaine was on top of me. She got in one solid punch on my head — caving in my skull — before Benjamin tackled her.
My squished eye throbbed and coiled back into the socket. Bone skritched against bone as my skull popped back into the right shape. That bitch! I’d been planning to save her, but now I was just mad. With a snarl and a bit of focus, I shifted the shape of the glamour I was wielding. The only sword I could picture clearly was Lewellyn’s, but it was intended for hacking apart undead. I went with that.
I was on my feet and slashing before Elaine finished snapping Benjamin’s neck. Unfortunately for him, there was a ghost zombie between her and myself — the same ghost zombie that had started this whole mess. So Benjamin got thrown aside like a limp sack of flesh while I chopped the ghost into two surprised halves.
Which promptly flickered away and came back as one fully intact ghost. Fucking ghost zombies. But at least now I knew that my glamour could interact just as easily with the astral plane as the physical one.
I didn’t have time to contemplate that, though, because Elaine lunged toward me as soon as she was done with Benjamin. Maybe to attack me, or maybe to reunite with her spectral zombie leech. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. I threw myself at her in a pissed off fury.
We collided. It was brutal. She had decades of experience with combat. I had fury and a sword she couldn’t take away because it was a fucking illusion.
Experience won. She caught my wrist and crushed it; with a thought I sent my sword to my other hand and tried to cut out her soul. She must have assumed I was just trying to stab her because she twisted aside and yanked me off balance, then shattered my knee with a quick kick. It almost looked more like a step, but it brought me low enough that she could punch my skull into the ground again.
Then Jockboy’s wolf bowled Elaine over. He’d acquired a leeching ghost zombie of his own, it looked like — but no, that was just the ghost of Jockboy, still clinging to their shared body. Elaine kicked the wolf aside, but then Benjamin was in its place. Benjamin did have a ghost leeching off of him now, but it hadn’t taken him over yet. Instead, it clawed at him while he — oblivious — struggled with the stronger, older vampire. Jockboy’s wolf came bounding back in to help him.
Unfortunately, this time I didn’t bounce back. Elaine had crushed my skull again and my awareness had ballooned out as my corpse went dormant. With my improved spectral perception, I could see that the ghost attacking Ben was actually clawing at the chinks in his soul where his curse had consumed aura to heal his body.
The haze around the ghost was made from thin, waving strands of essence, and not all of it was remnants of the weave trying to tear it apart. Some of them were the severed remains of leylines. Probably its leylines, I thought. That would explain how it could feed with them: it dug into an unsuspecting soul and slurped up whatever essence came in range of those threaded maws. That didn’t really help it, though: the thing was leaking through the other leylines almost as fast as it was drinking from Benjamin.
Cassie was right about shades: this thing was just the shell of a soul. Desperately trying to fill itself on instinct.
Being dormant had replaced my fury with calmness. My vampiric instincts weren’t driving me now — my emotions and my faerie shard were. And my emotions had been all but wiped out by the curse’s attempts at repairing my body, so I was mostly apathetic about Ben’s plight.
Benjamin wasn’t going to make it: Elaine was stronger. And the more damage she did, the more he healed. The more he healed, the more that ghost could drain out his essence. Even with an enthralled wolf trying to protect him, Ben was going to go feral soon. That was bad. I mean: I wouldn’t care, but he probably would, later.
Unless one of those zombie ghosts just ate his soul completely.
That thought jolted me out of my complacency. I still had little pockets of protected emotions in place, and one of them was an imperative to protect my friends. Ben might have pissed me off by feeding on Megan, but in this state I wasn’t angry. And Ben was still one of my friends. So was Elaine, for that matter.
I couldn’t let either of them be consumed by some rampaging zombie-spirits!
But what could I do?
Elaine broke Benjamin again, and his ghost leech sank a little deeper into his soul when his body mended itself.
No, I thought — but at the same time I reacted without thinking. My sword sliced through the air and separated the zombie ghost from its host.
Oh, I thought in mild surprise. Okay. So I can do that.
I’d never thought about it before, but what happened to my glamours when I went dormant? They stayed present, of course. But they were anchored to me, not my body. And it’s not like they were physical, so it wasn’t like the sword actually needed my body to lift and swing it.
I did feel a headache coming on, though. It intensified significantly when I psychically seized my other glamour and shifted it to protect Ben. My clothes vanished from my body and reappeared as armor around him. Well, if I could change a fork into a sword, why not a blouse and skirt into plate mail? I based it off of Prince Tanaka’s armor in volume four.
My soul throbbed with migraine level pain as I worked, but the armor did what I meant it to: the zombie ghost’s next attempt at sinking it’s claws into Ben’s aura was turned aside. My mental pain faded as I shoved the glamour into place around Ben’s soul, anchoring it in the ghost’s place. I also lost control of it as it pulled away from my soul, but that was okay for now. The relief of being back down to wielding just one glamour was worth it.
For his part, Ben stumbled back in surprise. I doubted he was aware of the ghost, but his new armor blunted one of Elaine’s punches, too. He rallied quickly, though, and caught her in a bear hug. Then he leapt.
The leap took him out of my circle of awareness, but I could still mentally project it against my memory of the clearing. Clever, I thought. Since Elaine couldn’t just casually break his arms anymore, he could actually hold onto her. And they would be outside the clearing before they hit the ground. That should keep the ghosts off of them.
Honestly, I was a little surprised Ben wasn’t feral already: he must’ve taken a lot from Megan.
It was also down to just me and the ghosts. And Thaddeus, and the werepups’ wolves, and Hans’ wolf, and Jockboy’s wolf. But the other humans and vampires had gotten away. That left Jockboy’s wolf as the only mortal, living thing in the clearing — and the ghosts seemed to know it.
They swarmed toward us. Jockboy’s wolf bit into my shoulder and started dragging my corpse away — toward the safety outside the circle. The ghost wolves came running, too. They were slowed only by their efforts to maim and cripple any ghosts they overtook. Thaddeus knocked back ghost zombies to clear the way for our escape, but he was just one faerie.
I sent my sword to help him. Funnily enough, my awareness seemed to stretch when I sent the sword away from me: my perception was still centered on my body, but it extended slightly in the direction of the blade.
I’d have to think about what, if anything, that meant later: for now I was too busy slicing apart the ghosts that Thaddeus couldn’t get to quickly enough. It was hard. My head throbbed, and after a few swings I started to feel weak. I cut down another ghost, and felt exhausted to the core of my very soul.
That shard of Megan’s soul: the poor, strained, overwhelmed shard, couldn’t keep up with the demands I was making of it. My thinking was already hazy; the migraine was back. But we were almost out of the clearing. I cut down another ghost, and then another, and then the first one again because it had ‘restarted’ right next to us.
After that, I was just too tired. And I hurt. I hurt so bad. It felt like when Lewellyn had slashed at my core with his geas, only I was doing it to myself by manipulating my glamour. I couldn’t keep it up. I let it go, and a fork plopped onto the ground in the sword’s place.
Then I think I passed out. Except I was already dormant.
So maybe I just died?