Tessa picked up the Codex and hugged it against her chest. “So you are saying I am right. This is what is real, and the life I had before was the dream.”
“That is correct.” Gently Charlotte patted Tessa’s shoulder; Tessa almost jumped at the contact. It had been a long time, she thought, since anyone had touched her in such a motherly fashion; she thought of Aunt Harriet, and her throat hurt. “And now it is time to wake up.”
May make my heart as a millstone, set my face as a flint,
Cheat and be cheated, and die: who knows? we are ashes and dust.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Maud”
“Try it again,” Will suggested. “Simply walk from one end of the room to the other. We’ll tell you if you look convincing.”
Tessa sighed. Her head throbbed, as did the backs of her eyes. It was exhausting learning how to pretend to be a vampire.
It had been two days since Lady Belcourt’s visit, and Tessa had spent almost every moment since then attempting to convincingly transform herself into the vampire woman, without enormous success. She still felt as if she were sliding around on the surface of Camille’s mind, unable to reach through and grasp hold of thoughts or personality. It made it difficult to know how to walk, how to talk, and what sort of expressions she ought to be wearing when she met the vampires at de Quincey’s party—whom, no doubt, Camille knew very well, and whom Tessa would be expected to know too.
She was in the library now, and had spent the last few hours since lunch practicing walking with Camille’s odd gliding walk, and speaking with her careful drawling voice. Pinned at her shoulder was a jeweled brooch that one of Camille’s human subjugates, a wrinkled little creature called Archer, had brought over in a trunk. There had been a dress, too, for Tessa to wear to de Quincey’s, but it was much too heavy and elaborate for daytime. Tessa made do with her own new blue and white dress, which was bothersomely too tight in the bosom and too loose in the waist whenever she changed into Camille.
Jem and Will had set up camp on one of the long tables in the back of the library, ostensibly to help and advise her, but more likely, it seemed, to mock and be amused by her consternation. “You point your feet out too much when you walk,” Will went on. He was busy polishing an apple on his shirtfront, and appeared not to notice Tessa glaring at him. “Camille walks delicately. Like a faun in the woods. Not like a duck.”
“I do not walk like a duck.”
“I like ducks,” Jem observed diplomatically. “Especially the ones in Hyde Park.” He glanced sideways at Will; both boys were sitting on the edge of the high table, their legs dangling over the side. “Remember when you tried to convince me to feed a poultry pie to the mallards in the park to see if you could breed a race of cannibal ducks?”
“They ate it too,” Will reminisced. “Bloodthirsty little beasts. Never trust a duck.”
“Do you mind?” Tessa demanded. “If you’re not going to help me, you might as well both leave. I didn’t let you stay here so that I could listen to you nattering on about ducks.”
“Your impatience,” said Will, “is most unladylike.” He grinned at her around the apple. “Perhaps Camille’s vampire nature is asserting itself?”
His tone was playful. It was so odd, Tessa thought. Only a few days ago he had snarled at her about his parents, and later had begged her to help him hide Jem’s bloody coughing, his face burning with intensity as he did so. And now he was teasing her as if she were a friend’s little sister, someone whom he knew casually, perhaps thought of with affection, but for whom he had no complex feelings at all.
Tessa bit her lip—and winced at the unexpected sharp pain. Camille’s vampire teeth—her teeth—were ruled by an instinct she couldn’t understand. They seemed to slide forward without warning or prompting, alerting her to their presence only by sudden bursts of pain as they punctured the fragile skin of her lip. She tasted blood in her mouth—her own blood, salty and hot. She pressed her fingertips to her mouth; when she drew her hand away, her fingers were spotted with red.
“Leave it alone,” said Will, setting down his apple and rising to his feet. “You’ll find you heal very quickly.”
Tessa poked at her left incisor with her tongue. It was flat again, an ordinary tooth. “I don’t understand what makes them come out like that!”
“Hunger,” said Jem. “Were you thinking about blood?”
“Were you thinking about eating me?” Will inquired.
“No one would blame you,” said Jem. “He’s very annoying.”
Tessa sighed. “Camille is so difficult. I don’t understand the first thing about her, much less being her.”
Jem looked at her closely. “Are you able to touch her thoughts? The way you said you could touch the thoughts of those you transformed into?”
“Not yet. I’ve been trying, but all I get are occasional flashes, images. Her thoughts seem very well protected.”
“Well, hopefully you can break through that protection before tomorrow night,” said Will. “Or I wouldn’t say much about our chances.”
“Will,” Jem chided. “Don’t say that.”
“You’re right,” Will said. “I shouldn’t underestimate my own skills. Should Tessa make a mess of things, I’m sure I’ll be able to fight our way through the slavering vampire masses to freedom.”
Jem—as was his habit, Tessa was starting to realize—simply ignored this. “Perhaps,” he said, “you can only touch the thoughts of the dead, Tessa? Perhaps most of the objects given to you by the Dark Sisters were taken from people they had murdered.”
“No. I touched Jessamine’s thoughts when I Changed into her. So that can’t be it, thankfully. What a morbid talent that would be.”
Jem was looking at her with thoughtful silver eyes; something about the intensity of his gaze made her feel almost uncomfortable. “How clearly can you see the thoughts of the dead? For instance, if I gave you an item that had once belonged to my father, would you know what he was thinking when he died?”
It was Will’s turn to look alarmed. “James, I don’t think—,” he began, but broke off as the door to the library opened and Charlotte entered the room. She wasn’t alone. There were at least a dozen men following her, strangers whom Tessa had never seen before.