The thought that I’d maybe died had a dreamlike quality to it, except you aren’t supposed to be able to feel pain when you’re in a dream. Are you? I was having trouble thinking clearly, but I did hurt. But thinking was more important. Maybe I could think of a way to make it stop hurting.
I knew that when I was dormant I didn’t think with my brain — I ‘thought’ with my faerie essence. And that shard was currently too overworked and exhausted to think clearly. It wasn’t even able to perceive clearly, because the world had collapsed into darkness.
I could think, though. After all: I was thinking about how I was thinking. I guess that meant my brain was intact? And that I was conscious enough to use it.
I forced myself to open my eyes.
That didn’t work.
Okay. Don’t freak out. Think this through.
I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t move. I hurt, but I couldn’t tell where. I couldn’t even tell that I had a body. But I couldn’t remember being injured, either. So maybe I was dormant? Like: Real vampire dormant, since I didn’t have the strength to look at the world the way a faerie normally would.
“Lady Abigail?” The thought wasn’t mine. It startled me: I immediately assumed I’d been possessed — why would I assume that? — and then I recognized the voice.
Thaddeus? The thought was a mental yelp. Part of that was surprise. A lot of that was because it hurt more to think that loud.
“Abigail! Thank goodness. I was afraid this wasn’t working.”
What was ‘this?’ I was so confused. And the sensory deprivation wasn’t helping. It was frightening.
What’s going on, Thaddeus? Again, when I projected my thought the pain in my mind flared. I hoped Thaddeus had a good answer, because I was not going to do that again any time soon.
“I’ve been pushing essence to you.” I could ‘hear’ Thaddeus a little more clearly. I focused on his voice desperately, hoping to use it as a distraction from hurting. It sort of worked. The voice sharpened; became more present. As though it were coming through a leyline that was coming into focus. Everything else was still dark, and I still hurt, though.
“I’ve given back everything I had left of what you’d given me from Archarel and then some,” Thaddeus continued. “You weren’t waking up, and I was starting to think it wasn’t going to be enough for you to recover. You haven’t moved since the collapse.”
I can’t see. Or hear or smell or feel! I’m scared, Thaddeus!
Ow! Fuck fuck fuck, that hurt. I’d forgotten I wasn’t supposed to do that.
“It’s okay,” came Thaddeus’ reassurance. “You can hear me, can’t you? And you can think. That means I was right and you’re recovering. It’s that human soul of yours, I figure.”
I barely managed to keep from turning my confusion into a painful ‘what?’
“I told you that fae who become too weak lose themselves, right? Until someone else gives them the essence to pull themselves back from starvation?
If I’d had a stomach I was aware of, it would’ve done a flop. Had I started eating my own soul?!
“No!” Thaddeus protest before I could get a serious freak out started. “You overstrained yourself. Maybe you ate into your essence: I’m not sure. But what I meant was: I couldn’t figure out how to push essence to that piece of Lady Megan’s soul you carry around within you. But your soul has that human shell, so everything I sent to you was contained. Eventually, some of it must have been pulled in to repair the damage you did to yourself.”
Lady Megan’s soul. How did you… OW!
Thaddeus’ thoughts had become relieved enough that he was amused by my partial question. “You do things that should be impossible for vampires all the time, Lady Abigail. And you were asking me about how the fae become stronger, earlier. Also, I was right there when you went dormant. I saw my leylines shifting. They tried to tell me you were Lady Megan, but I knew that she was back in her realm. Plus, it’s become rather common knowledge that she was your first blood. Which is apparently significant to vampires, somehow?”
Okay. Well, when he put it like that it did seem kind of obvious. Now I felt dumb for thinking it was supposed to be some big secret that would give me an edge over everyone.
“It sort of is, and does,” Thaddeus replied. “Your people know you have a faerie strain in your soul, but I doubt many realize how tightly it binds you to Lady Megan. I’ve never seen a leyline become indistinguishable from another person’s before. I won’t tell anyone.”
Unsaid was the worrying impression that if it came out, there would be trouble.
“Of course there would,” Thaddeus replied in surprise. “Sympathetic magic is the easiest, and if your enemies knew that they could attack Lady Megan directly through you — or vice versa — I am certain they would try to take advantage of it. If nothing else, Megan doesn’t have the reputation for being terrifying that you do. Someone could try to bind her so that they, by extension, control you.”
I hadn’t thought of it like that. Why hadn’t I thought about that? Don’t tell anyone, I told Thaddeus. Pushing the thought on purpose was exhausting. And it hurt like hell.
“Your secrets are safe with me,” he assured me. “I promise. Now: focus on recovering. On drawing in strength. If you can push thoughts, you should be able to actively put yourself together with all of this delicious essence I’ve provided for you, yes?”
God, I hoped so. Why hadn’t he started the conversation with that? Putting myself back together probably meant not hurting.
I refocused. It was harder than I expected. I didn’t want to let go of Thaddeus — the only thing that I was aware of right now. I forced myself to, anyway. I tried to focus on the faerie shard at the core of my curse, instead. It was a part of me, and it was the most active part of me when I was dormant, right? It should be easier to focus on than Thaddeus had been.
And it was. I had to reorient my thoughts — I was used to thinking of the faerie shard as being inside the bubble of my curse. I tried to picture it by itself, instead. I saw it as a glowing, crystalline structure. It was denser than the woven threads that defined most faerie essence: dense enough and strong enough to manipulate those threads.
Except that I’d been over working it, and the crystal had stretched from the strain. Like… like it was a diamond that had somehow been wrenched out of shape and turned into coal. I studied it. Somehow, restraining my attention to just the shard — just the densest part of the shard — made the pain seem to fade.
The crystal of essence was slowly — agonizingly slowly! — recompressing. The process seemed to be uneven. It was like the center was solidifying by pulling mass away from the edges. But it seemed that was how I was able to perceive it now, and Thaddeus earlier: there was a little speck of a gem at the center of the deformed shard, and it was my current mental ‘eyes.’
But it was almost as if that speck in the center had solidified by pulling mass away from the edges: in fact, I saw the edges thin when I tried to pull it together more. Letting my attention wander into that part of the crystal made pain shoot through my mind. I lost my focus and everything went dark once more.
An uncertain eternity later, I risked looking again. This time I braced myself. I managed to look for… I don’t know how long. I didn’t have anything to measure time against. A couple of agonizing eternities, at least.
Yes, the crystal was thinner at the edges. And the edges were stretching outward, growing thinner still, while the shard at the center was pulling in, trying to build itself up. It was like there was a tug of war going on between the inside and the outside of the shard.
Somehow I could feel that wasn’t how it was supposed to work. Drifting in the darkness, I tried to figure it out. The crystal was trying to heal itself. That was why it was self-compacting. But for some reason it wasn’t able to just congeal back into its original shape. Something was surrounding the edges, pulling it out of shape. But what could….
Fucking psychic migraines: they didn’t even have the decency to let me have a body so I could puke from the pain.
What had I been thinking?
That’s right: my curse was anchored to the faerie shard. Which meant the faerie shard was anchored to the curse.
And my curse grew along the shard — I’d seen it happen, when Lewellyn had attacked me with his geas. My curse had taken his essence and grown along the shard like, like a fungus.
And I just stretched my core all out of shape using it to do faerie things. Ow, fuckity fuck fuck ow. Which would have given the curse more area to grow over?
Fucking ow ow ow ow what was I think… oh. I slowly drew that line of thought back.
Funny how faerie thoughts were literally lines, right?
No. That was a distraction. I couldn’t parse that many threads at once. But as long as I didn’t concentrate on the important one too hard I wouldn’t pull on the thin part of my crystal. As long as I didn’t add strain there; as long as I didn’t focus there, the pain was manageable.
Alright. The thought. About why my core was made up?
Yes, it made sense: My curse would have grown along the shard. The shard was supposed to provide the anchor between my soul and my body, but if it was too stretched out of shape… did that mean my soul couldn’t reach my body right now? Because my shard had been stretched to the point that my curse wasn’t able to wrap around it? So my soul wasn’t properly connected to my body?
That would explain why I was dormant. Dormant-ish.
And why the crystal was thin around the edges: as the curse grew, it was anchoring the shard in place. Except, technically, the shard was out of place. And it was trying to pull itself back into place, except it couldn’t because it was too stretched out and flimsy to yank the curse around.
So there literally was a tug of war going on between the core of my conscious self and the framework of my curse. Because all the crystal had to work with to repair itself was itself, because the curse would be eating anything that Thaddeus tried to push to it, which would just make the curse grow more.
I needed Megan to be pushing me essence, because the shard was our leyline. Her essence would actually reinforce it.
Count through it. One eternity. Two eternity. Three…
I couldn’t pant from exertion or sob in pain. But I could think once the pain faded.
And it was worse than I’d thought. My speck of coherent crystal wasn’t growing anymore. Maybe it hadn’t been to begin with? Whatever the case, it was clear now: as the curse grew in breadth, it grew in width. As it grew in width, its weight dragged at the structure supporting it.
But I was pretty sure the deformed shard of faerie essence couldn’t handle that weight. It was deforming worse from the pressure. Which just gave the curse more room to grow along. Which made the pressure worse.
Eventually, the curse was going to pull me apart. And then…
I wasn’t sure. Would there be anything left connecting me to my body? I didn’t think so. Would I become a ghost, or would the weave latch onto that tear and unravel my soul?
Was this why most vampires didn’t survive being turned? Because their curse was too strong for them to survive long enough to drink their first blood? Without something to anchor it, did the curse just grow and grow and grow, consuming all of the essence in the host’s until their soul burst open? Archarel had tried to flood my soul until it broke.
Too bad pushing essence wouldn’t solve anything right now. Not only was there too little of my faerie shard compact enough to do much, but straining it would knock me out again. If Thaddeus was still giving me blood, I might not come back from that.
I wouldn’t, if my curse grew faster than the crystal could recover.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry so bad, but that was a body thing. I didn’t have a body while I was like this. I needed something that would let me bridge the gap between my soul and my body. Something that I could feed to my faerie side without my curse eating it first. Something that innately connected to my faerie side.
I was going to die, wasn’t I? I couldn’t bring myself to look. I couldn’t stomach the pain again just to have more despair.
I wanted Megan. She could fix me. Or Emma. Or even Hans or Ben, if only so I could hold someone’s hand when I died. Was it ironic that after everything I’d been through, I’d managed to work myself to a permanent death?
There was Thaddeus, but I hadn’t been able to do more than hear him. And he didn’t have a body with a hand for me to hold, anyway. For that matter: I didn’t have a body with a hand to hold someone else’s, either.
I reached out for him anyway. Or rather, I reached out to anyone. It was like the first time I’d gone faerie hunting, when I’d just sought after the ‘closest’ connection I could find. I was dying, and I didn’t care who was with me — I just didn’t want to be alone.
Pain threatened to send me back into darkness. I fought through it, though. I knew that fighting would kill me faster, but I was desperate. For anything. Anyone.
But all I caught a hold of was a fork.