I ended up riding in one of the vans with Fiore. Well, he rode shotgun while one of his solocks drove. Cassie, along with Hans, Shantaya, and her sister rode in the back with me. Cassie was going to ride back to campus with us and pick up her car when I finally took the gate over to Megan’s kingdom. Jockboy in wolf mode continued to stick to Ben’s side like glue, and Benny wound up riding with them as well. That left Fiore’s solocks in a second van and Ben’s donors in another.
I strongly suspected Fiore was so willing to provide our transportation this time because he didn’t trust me to not be under his direct supervision, lest I casually do something impossible again.
I spent the ride trying to keep my nerves under control. The prospect of ‘answers’ was not actually a comforting one. Whatever Mister Salvatore had been up to, it hadn’t been good. But I needed to know. Hell, if people were going to go around trying to kill me — possibly killing my friends in the process — then dammit I was going to know why!
Not the least because it should help me put together a list of who I needed to kill first.
That was a disquieting thought. Was I really becoming so inured to violence? Or was it just that I wasn’t getting upset at the idea because my aura was too bloated to allow for mood swings? Or was it that my pocket of ‘protect your friends’ didn’t really have anything in it to care about the extremes that protection might take?
I worried at my lower lip and stared out the window while I considered that. It didn’t help my nerves any more than anticipating whatever we would find out from the ghosts at the hospital.
“Alright,” Cassie interrupted the silence after we’d parked. “Wish me luck?”
“Good luck,” Shantaya’s sister said. I nodded. That was close enough to echoing the sentiment, right? I didn’t want to jinx it by saying anything out loud, though.
Cassie opened the back of the van and hopped down to the paved lot. Behind her I had a clear view of the hospital, thanks to my supernatural night vision. Hope Community Hospital looked the same as it had the last time we’d been there. Well, except that the parking lot was less full. And it was night. And the big glass window over the front lobby had been boarded over with plywood.
I sort of felt guilty about that. Maybe I could arrange for some of my life insurance to pay for the window we’d broken? It wasn’t like I was going to need it to get an apartment, if I was still planning on staying with Megan. She had an entire kingdom, after all.
“I’ll bring Margaret and Doctor Lin back here,” Cassie said. “Don’t let anyone get too close to the hospital, okay? Especially without Abby or I to keep an eye out for, um, the zombie ghosts.” She closed the van doors behind her.
A hearbeat later, Fiore unbuckled. “I’m going to coordinate with Ben and get a guard set up out of our donors,” he said gruffly. “Wait here.”
I didn’t argue. Fiore left as well, leaving me behind with the werepups and Hans. It didn’t escape my notice that at least one of the solocks — the one who’d been driving us — didn’t seem to be involved in whatever patrols they were going to set up. He stayed in the front seat to keep an eye on us.
The silence in the back of the van stretched out awkwardly. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more. “So,” I said. “Who all gave me blood back in the woods? I need to know so I can make sure to re-un-enthrall everyone who donated.”
In the front seat, the solock who was babysitting us started coughing on a choked off breath.
“I did,” Hans finally said. “And Shantaya. We wouldn’t let Ben — we didn’t need another hungry vampire on our hands. But one of his donors did in his place.”
I nodded. I didn’t like hearing that Hans had torn up his aura more on my behalf, but I wasn’t really surprised, either. “Okay,” I said. I started checking my leylines to see how much damage I’d have to undo. I figured I’d probably have to wait until tomorrow night… tonight? It was early enough to count as morning, but I still held to the belief that it didn’t really count as the next day until you went to sleep or the sun came up. So: hopefully by tomorrow night I’d have spooled enough faerie essence to start fixing things.
I didn’t get very far into my assessment before the back door of the van opened again.
It was Cassie, and two ghosts hovered behind her. I recognized the ‘younger’ one as Margaret. Which meant the other had to be Doctor Lin.
Doctor Lin was a small ghost. Short, and a little portly, he walked alongside Cassie while levitating slightly above the ground — enough to keep him at head height with her. He wore a lab coat over an old fashioned suit’s vest and shirt, and pinstripe trousers. Despite his dated clothes, the stethoscope that was looped around his neck and the little tonsil-light tucked in his breast pocket seemed almost modern. And of course, everything about him was slightly transparent.
Especially his opinion of me.
As soon as he saw me, his eyes widened. Horror and disgust distorted his features as he looked around the interior of the van, and then he hastily backpedaled. “No,” he said vehemently. “No, Miss Cassandra, I’m afraid we cannot help you. Margaret, we’re leaving. These are not people we wish to associate with.”
For a moment, I was too stunned to say or do anything. Cassie was startled enough to turn around. “What?” she asked of the doctor. “Wait!”
Doctor Lin was already stalking back toward the hospital, towing Margaret along with a firm grip. She protested, as Cassie did again. Cassandra abandoned the van and dashed after him: The doctor was zipping away with a speed that had nothing to do with how quick his legs could move.
In the back of the van, all eyes turned on me. Probably because I was the only one there, now, who could tell everyone else what had just happened. I think the wide-eyed confusion on my face adequately conveyed my incomprehension. Belatedly I pulled myself past the others and out the back of the van in pursuit of Cassie.
“Doctor, wait! We need your help,” Cassie was pleading when I got out of the van. Doctor Lin had stopped part way back to the hospital, where Margaret had apparently wrested herself free of his grip and given Cassie a chance to catch up.
Now Margaret was hovering behind Cassie and glaring at the doctor. “What on earth?!” Margaret exclaimed. “Doctor Lin, what has gotten into you?”
The spectral doctor jabbed a finger toward our vehicles. “There was a vampire in there,” he said hotly. “And werewolves, and there are men with guns throughout the lot. Margaret, you weren’t around the last time a vampire and his goons brought a troupe of werewolves to Hope, and you weren’t there to see the condition those poor bastards were in when they were taken away. I will not help one of those monsters. I don’t care how novel the experience of talking to a living person again is, I will not be party to that.
“Party to what?” I asked aloud.
Doctor Lin jerked as though my words had physically slapped him. He snapped his gaze to me, and the horror he’d shown when he first saw me turned to immediate fear at the realization that I could see, and hear, him. He bolted for the hospital.
I froze time. It was the only thing to do. Doctor Lin wasn’t running toward the hospital: he was flying at something akin to the speed of thought, and my thoughts were too jumbled a mess for me to get one in front of the other, let alone catch him without cheating.
‘You weren’t around the last time a vampire and his goons brought a troupe of werewolves to Hope.’ That was what had been bothering me at the clearing. Lin’s words gave me the context to put my nameless concern into words of my own: All those ripped apart ghosts had been human. There hadn’t been a wolf among them that hadn’t come with me.
I ran to the far end of the parking lot and put myself in front of Doctor Lin. What happened back then? I couldn’t keep up with my own speculation. Doctor Lin had called it a troupe of werewolves. Not one. So it couldn’t have been Hans. Which meant he had to be talking about Hans’ pack, right? There weren’t any other werewolves in the city, except for Curtis, and there wouldn’t even have been Curtis around before Hans’ pack had… But Hans’ pack hadn’t died. And they’d been hospitalized? Why didn’t anyone know about that? Why was that being covered up?
I didn’t think I wanted to know.
But I did know I needed to.
Because the other thing Doctor Lin had said before running wouldn’t stop using my brain for an echo chamber: You weren’t there to see the condition those poor bastards were in when they were taken away.
I reached out toward the doctor and let time flow again. I caught Doctor Lin by the collar before he could even react to my appearing in front of him. I seized him psychically, the same way I’d grabbed Pipsqueak when I’d first met him.
“Party to what?” I demanded of the shocked ghost. I wasn’t being diplomatic, but when am I ever? I could feel the sun approaching, and it had my nerves on edge — but not as on edge as the questions I didn’t have answers to did. “I’m not the vampire who was here before,” I told Doctor Lin, hoping to reassure him. I didn’t think I was succeeding. “If he’s who I think he was, he’s already murdered me once and his friends have been trying to do it again. But the werewolves in the van? They are my friends, and any werewolves in this city were probably their family. So don’t make me repeat my question,” I growled. “Party. To. What?”
“I don’t know,” Lin practically squeaked. “It was over fifty years ago! And they did something to the lower levels. I couldn’t follow them. But I could hear the screaming.”
Over fifty years. That put the event Lin was talking about right in line with when Dopplinda supposedly invaded the city. I didn’t want to think about it past that. Fifty years. I hadn’t given it much consideration, but that was my first real clue as to how old Hans was, wasn’t it? He’d been the youngest werewolf. And hadn’t John said he was older than Hans? And eighty something? That meant Hans had to be between fifty and eighty years old.
It was easier to think about Hans’ age than to think about werewolves screaming in a hospital basement.
“What condition were they in,” my autopilot ruthlessly asked for me, “when they were taken out?” Oh god. That had me thinking about them again. Had they been alive? Was Hans’ pack still alive?!
“Comatose,” Doctor Lin said. He was sweating ectoplasmic bullets. “They were unconscious, and in straight jackets and strapped down to dollies with silver chain.”
Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god…. But that didn’t mean anything, necessarily. That could have been days after they were ambushed. There was no guarantee that any of them were still alive. And the trail could be decades on top of decades old. Oh god, Hans….
“When.” I barely managed to choke the word out. It wasn’t a question, it was a demand. I didn’t recognize my own voice. For once, my bloated aura didn’t seem to be helping me keep my emotions under control. Maybe it was because I’d burned a little off stopping time. Maybe it was because the anger that was infusing my soul wasn’t the product of a wildly seesawing emotion, but of a slow boil originating from the pocket of protect my friends that I always maintained. Any answer Lin had to give was going to devastate Hans.
And maybe it was because I was thinking about how long it had taken for Hans to come to grips with the loss of his pack — time in which they had been alive, but being hidden away by Salvatore for reasons nefarious. God, Mister Salvatore had become Hans’ mentor. So. Maybe it was because I was reeling emotionally at the completeness of the betrayal my boyfriend had suffered, but I was completely unprepared for the answer that Doctor Lin gave.
End of Book 6