The first vampire I addressed was Elaine, even though she was trailing behind the other two. “You’re okay,” I observed in relief. “What happened?”
The question was almost rhetorical — from the way Nora clung to the older vampire I could guess who’d replaced the essence that the ghost had siphoned out of Elaine. The real question was: how? Had it been a willing donation? Only one of the other witches was still present that I could see and her face was white. She was standing alone — close to Cassie but apart — and she was watching us like a mouse, or any rational human being, watches a cat.
Elaine grimaced. “We’ve been trying to sort that out ourselves. Cassandra explained about the ghosts attacking. We don’t know what made them act like that, though.”
“Oh,” I said. My gaze cut between the two remaining witches and back to Elaine. “Is everyone okay?” I glanced at Nora again.
If I didn’t have supernatural hearing I wouldn’t have caught Elaine’s sigh. “Yes,” Elaine said. “Mister Dolcet pulled me off of one of Miss Grenz’s donors before I could kill him. Miss Greene provided the remainder I needed to regain my rationality. She will recover, and Mister Dolcet healed without yet needing to feed.”
Right. Because ‘Mister Dolcet’ had topped off earlier on my girlfriend. I was really going to have to figure out if I needed to keep being angry with him over that. All the running around, saving people’s lives made me wonder if I’d been too hard on him.
I’d have to talk to Megan about it.
“Some of the donors,” Elaine continued, “collapsed. They are being brought back to the campus. Miss Greene has called on her coven to gather and support their souls’ replenishment of essence. Now that you’ve rejoined us no one is physically injured who has not healed. The others should recover with time and care. The rest of us were determining what exactly this encounter had to tell us about those poor ghosts’ deaths while your people were working to revive you.”
This time my gaze slid to Cassie. “Did you see any ghosts we might be able to talk to, before the rest went zombie on our souls?”
Cassie shook her head in the negative. Although she hadn’t been attacked that I’d seen, she was pale and trembling. Maybe in shock from the violence. “They all turned on us,” she said. “When Missus Salvatore bumped that first one, they all turned violent.”
“It seems that we won’t be getting answers as easily as we’d hoped,” Valerie said. “We’ll have to rely on more conventional investigation methods to uncover what has been going on in this city. But for now, we all need rest. Sunrise is not far off. I’ve already called Thomas. He’ll remain awake in case anything else happens through the day. The rest of us can relieve some of the strain on our donors by going dormant while they recover.”
I nodded, but my brow was furrowed from thinking. I was already half checked out of the conversation. I had been so sure all of my questions about Salvatore and Lewellyn would finally be answered — but all I had were more puzzle pieces.”
“My donors will meet me at the hotel,” Elaine added. “I will also remain awake, since my lapses of essence were not paid for by them this evening.” She stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder. “Will you join us, Abigail?”
I shook my head distractedly. “I think I’m going to spend the ‘day’ with Megan and Emma. It’s perpetual night in Megan’s kingdom” — it felt so weird to say that Megan had a ‘kingdom’ out loud — “and there will be plenty of essence available should I need it.” More to the point: I needed Emma and Megan. And Hans and the werepups would probably benefit from time to bond without me and my enthrallments and bloodlust and general purpose insanity distracting them.
Oh, shoot. I was going to have to go back and re-un-enthrall anyone who’d tried to contribute to reviving me, wasn’t I? Dammit. And I’d just finished unenthralling some of them, too.
“Then if we’re done with this waste of time and energy,” Fiore said, “We should go.”
I nodded absently. I didn’t have the essence in my faerie bubble to work on undoing enthrallments at the moment, so I was keeping distracted by trying to make sense of my new clues. Something about the ghosts was bothering me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“I don’t think there’s more to be learned here,” I agreed at last. “But at least we’ve confirmed that those warlocks were ambushed by Mister Salvatore.” There was some kind of conspiracy going on. That was a horrifying thought, but it was also kind of a relief: it meant that Reid hadn’t been lying to me. And it meant that I while I was generally paranoid, I wasn’t just being paranoid.
“Ambushed?” Ben asked from behind me.
At the same time Elaine asked: “What?”
I started out of my thoughts and scrambled aside so that Ben wasn’t behind me anymore. “The ghost zombies,” I explained hastily. I looked between Ben and Elaine. “They were re-enacting their deaths before we jarred them out of it. And they were each attacked by surprise. And from the side or the back, not the front.”
I shivered, recalling the essence I’d consumed to revive myself. “And I tasted their fear and betrayal. They were betrayed. And whatever did that ripped their souls open.” That last detail was what threw me. I’d done enough repairs to my own soul to know that those tears weren’t from vampire bites. Maybe Lewellyn had been involved. his geas was meant to sever a soul from its body — or so he’d said. Could he have placed it on those warlocks and then just ripped it out to end things? Maybe, but somehow that didn’t feel right. When he’d used geases on me, they had been more of a spike. The holes they’d left in my soul had been just that: holes. Not massive tears. The only thing I knew of that could tear open a soul like that was….
The blood drained from my face. Faeries. Noble faeries. Archarel had threatened to flood my soul with essence until it burst. If I hadn’t found a way to bleed off the pressure he’d exerted, he might have succeeded — and my soul might’ve looked like those ghosts. And… and….
And Dopplinda had told me to my face that she’d ripped my soul open so that I would die from bleeding out essence. And supposedly this was where Dopplinda had come through into our world.
I swallowed and turned my attention back to Cassie. Suddenly — in the face of the suffering I’d tasted from the ghosts — my speculations felt like a pathetically secondary concern. I didn’t want to address them, anyway. “More importantly,” I said, “is there anything we can do for them? The ghosts, I mean. They’re suffering. I mean: they are suffering. That’s all that’s left.” I couldn’t stomach leaving them like that. Not if it was my dopplegrandma’s fault. “Please tell me you can help them… move on, or something.”
Fuck, I’d said please again. Oh well: I kind of felt like Cassie was friend material, if only because she’d been fucked around with by conspiracies just like I had. It gave us some common ground. Plus, it was worth being in her debt if it meant we could end those spirits’ pain.
But Cassandra shook her head. “I can only see them and interact some,” she said. “I’ve never managed to help one ‘move on,’ and I’ve had a few ask me to. It was something I had hoped I could learn.” Cassie’s eyes flicked to Nora, who was oblivious because of her enthrallment with Elaine. “But I didn’t,” Cassie concluded stiffly. “And even if I had, I don’t know if anything that applies to regular shades would here. I’ve only ever seen shades behave like this once before, and that was just….” Cassandra trailed off.
“The other day, when they attacked me at the hospital?” I finished the thought for her.
Shit, I thought. If I wasn’t totally turned around — and there was no guarantee there, but I didn’t think I was — Hope Community Hospital wasn’t that far away from campus.
And wait a minute: I’d gone to a hospital with a messed up aura before, when my apartment had first burned down and I’d followed Megan to the emergency room. And I hadn’t been assaulted by zombie ghosts there. But that had been a different hospital, on the other end of town, and….
“Any injured,” I said, “physically injured, would have been taken to Hope from here, wouldn’t they?”
I was a little surprised when Fiore answered for me. “Yes,” he said. “It’s the nearest emergency medical center.” He snorted at my expression. “My people are stationed here to watch the gate to Faerie,” he said dryly. “I make it a point to be aware of our options for emergency care when my people are potentially in harm’s way and I won’t necessarily be available to provide treatment myself.”
I ducked my head, inexplicably embarrassed. Ashamed that I would never have thought of Fiore as someone who would care about his donors? Maybe I was pigeonholing Matteo too much as ‘just’ a jackass. But it took only a moment for me to shake that thought away and look up again.
“Right,” I said. “So this wasn’t a waste of time. And Fiore, you might want to look into a different hospital for any of your people to use. Because there is no way that it’s just a coincidence that the ghosts here and the ghosts at that hospital have the same spiritual injuries. Not if someone who has been able to see ghosts her whole life,” I gestured at Cassie, “has only seen this kind twice. The ghosts at that hospital are connected to the ghosts here. Somehow.”
Fiore frowned thoughtfully. His brow set into a furrow and his lips thinned into an angry line. If I had to guess, he was realizing what would happen if any of his people had damaged auras were sent into a hospital full of ghosts that fed on damaged souls.
“That’s… worrisome,” Valerie said.
At the same time, my auto pilot said: “We need to go there next.”
Valerie looked at me, startled by my declaration. Actually, everyone was looking at me. I started to cringe on the inside. Bloated aura or no, I was not comfortable with this level of scrutiny.
“If the ghosts there are behaving in the same way as the ghosts here,” Ben said, “I don’t think we’ll get more answers out of them, Abby. Especially since anyone without a fully intact aura is in danger from them. We’ll have to investigate, but we specifically aren’t in any condition to. We’ll have to arrange for a coven to look into the facility.”
But I was already shaking my head. “No,” I said. “We can’t afford to wait. There’s a leak in The Center. So if we pass this on to anyone else, it’ll get to the people working with Lewellyn and Salvatore. The people who burned down Hans’ house to cover their tracks, and kidnapped and murdered Mister Kallaher in the processes, and did god knows what here. I’m not letting them get away with it. I’m not giving them a chance to wipe out the evidence again.”
“Abigail, we still wouldn’t be able to get any answers out of the ghosts themselves,” Valerie pointed out. She sounded worried. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had a point, or if it was because I was starting to sound unhinged. “We can set a guard on the facility, but we’re going to have to wait for someone else to follow up on this.”
I was shaking my head again before she was even done talking. “No,” I said vehemently. “How long do we have before sunrise? An hour or two?” Long enough for us to get to the hospital, certainly. “And then anything can happen for the next day. But the ghost zombies only go after people who have an injured aura.” My thoughts were all over the place, jumping between tracks as I tried to figure out what I was even trying to figure out.
I looked at Cassie. The ghost zombies had never gone after her. She wasn’t anyone’s donor, and hadn’t been interacting with faeries. Her aura was as healthy as could be, as far as I could tell. I couldn’t go into the hospital, but Cassie could. “And the zombie ghosts,” I said, “aren’t the only ones in the hospital that we can talk to.”
Cassie was nodding before I’d finished speaking. “They’ve never attacked me,” she confirmed. “Not even when I was in the hospital before. And if there’s something out there that’s doing this to people… it’s wrong. I don’t care if Margaret and Doctor Lin are dead, they should be warned. What if whoever is doing this to spirits goes after them, as witnesses? Margaret said that Doctor Lin has been at that hospital since it opened.”
“Cassandra, don’t,” the witch — not Nora, but the other one — suddenly interjected. “This is dangerous!”
Cassie gave the coed witch a withering glare. “I’m going in there,” she said in a tone of voice that seemed to mean: ‘Like I would ever listen to one of you.’ “I’m warning Margaret and Doctor Lin. They’re full ghosts, not shades. Even if they don’t have the answers we need, they can at least get off the hospital campus and out of the line of fire of whoever is doing this.”
“I’m with Abby and Cassandra on this,” Ben interjected from beside me. His tone was thoughtful, as though he’d already reconsidered his previous point. “I was there when they attacked the Salvatore house.” He met Fiore’s gaze. “They were disciplined, ruthless, and armed with military gear. They put an entire house of people to sleep and then set it on fire. In retrospect, I have to say that I really don’t think that guards or daylight or the fact that we’re investigating a mortal hospital would suffice to keep them at bay if they thought we were going to uncover something.”
I kind of expected Fiore to say something jackass-y, but he nodded in curt acceptance of Ben’s assessment. “I’ll come with as well,” he said. Although his tone was stiffly controlled, he sounded angry. “Since my base camp is at the college, it won’t take me long to get from the hospital to somewhere safe to rest — and I can set some of my people up as security until we can get others in place.”
I wanted to protest — I wasn’t sure if I trusted Fiore, and I knew I didn’t like him — but I didn’t want to waste the time it would take. Plus I was still going to need transportation, and if things took too long at the hospital I could rely on Fiore’s to have tinted windows. “Alright,” I agreed. “Valerie, Elaine: if you go back to the hotel and make arrangements for people to check out the hospital immediately, we’ll go there now. We’ll get the ghosts we know we can talk to out, and we’ll keep an eye on the place at least until your people can get there to lock it down and start digging stuff up. And if you’re staying awake, Elaine, I’ll make sure you’re kept in the loop on anything we find out.”
Elaine nodded. Valerie waited just long enough to say “Be careful,” to all of us before turning to her donors and getting them ready to go. Nora went with Elaine, and the remaining campus witch stuck with Nora.
I looked at the group I had been left with. One werewolf, three werepups in varying states of shapeshift, one seraphim, two vampires, one medium and a handful of solocks and donors. “Alright,” I said. I was tense from restraining nervous energy. “Figure out who’s taking what car on the way to campus. And let’s go get some answers.“