Bleeder [Blood Magic, Book 1]

What if everything you knew about yourself was a lie?

Mildred "Mills" Millhatten had a good life: close-knit family, fantastic friends, decent grades and even a not-totally-annoying kid brother. You might say it was the best kind of ordinary. Nothing could have prepared her for being taken and cast into a strange, vicious world that she didn't know existed and has little hope of understanding.

As a Bleeder - one whose lifeblood feeds the Nosferatu - her continued survival hangs ever in the balance. The creatures are keeping her alive because they believe her blood has mystical properties. Mills fears what will happen when they realize they are wrong.

If she hopes to survive and discover who she truly is, she needs an ally. She has to befriend the mysterious boy who's been secretly visiting her cell, even though he's destined to become a bloodthirsty monster. Because s

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29. Daddy Issues

 

 Chapter 27: Daddy Issues

Keel and I sat on the rooftop in silence, watching the sun fully crest the horizon and creep up into the cloudless, cerulean-blue sky. His arm had dropped from my shoulder to my waist, but remained steadfastly wrapped around me. I was hyper aware of it, not just because of the sense of emotional wellbeing Keel’s touch brought, but because I was waiting for some twitch, some sudden tightening of muscles, some signal that death was near.

A death I’d sworn I’d do nothing about. Promised.

I’m not sure why we didn’t talk, but I don’t think either of us wanted our final conversation to be about what had transpired earlier, it was bad enough that this had to be done because of that; further verbalizing it wasn’t going to change anything. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it, wasn’t trying to make peace with it. My brain urged caution, but the bond was deaf to its pleas, and my heart could only hear the ticking sound of time running out.

Still, I couldn’t say goodbye. I didn’t want to. Not yet. Not to this version of Keel, the one who continued to mean more to me than he probably should. No: I would not say that word until the moment I absolutely had to. I was barely holding it together as it was. And those seven letters would surely decimate me.

I’d already hit emotional overload hours ago; my feelings were starting to register as physical pain. The thought of watching Keel die in my arms, for real this time with no chance of reprieve, clenched my heart in an ever-tightening vice, and knowing I had to go to meet my father – the man who was responsible for all of this – soon afterwards, made my temples throb.

This whole thing sucked, in every possible way.

Keel and I stayed like that a long time, determined to face his death together, head-on, bravely, even as my legs and butt grew prickly and fell asleep from the lack of motion. He was doing a better job of staring down fate than I was, even though it was his demise. A Zen-like acceptance drifted through the bond to me, a non-verbal communication telling me that he was okay with it, so I should be too. But once the sun was well on its way to its noon-time zenith, I was starting to think it wasn’t going to happen, at least not the way he thought it would.

I was relieved when Keel spoke, breaking the silence and finally putting words to what I’d been thinking for the last hour. “What the hell?”

“How do you feel?” I asked, even though I knew he was just fine. There hadn’t even been so much as a hitch in the bond since I’d sat down beside him.

“Guilty and angry at myself, mostly,” Keel admitted, “but otherwise no different than yesterday. It doesn’t make any sense. If we don’t die, what happens to those who don’t transition?”

I shrugged. “No idea. You’re the one who’s read all the books.”

Keel stood up unexpectedly, and I had to thrust my arms out behind me just to stop myself from falling over. “I have to go back to compound,” he announced. Of all the things he could’ve said, I wasn’t expecting that. He couldn’t go back, not without… then I understood what he meant, what he was still determined to do. I felt sick to my stomach.

“But they’ll kill you,” I said, unable to stop myself from imagining the myriad ways the Nosferatu might prolong his suffering in the process. Torture was, of course, one of their specialties. But he knew that,  and yet he was willing to–

“If I stay here, I’ll kill you. Maybe others.”

“You don’t know that for sure.” It was hard enough agreeing to let nature run its course. The idea of allowing him to go back to be murdered was absolutely repellant. And it was definitely giving up. And we did not give up. That was something we just didn’t do. I was about to give him an earful about it, but I didn't get the chance.

“Yes, I do. What do you think that was last night?” Keel charged. He was looming over me, casting me into his shadow. “That was too close, that’s what that was.”

“So what? We’ve been playing with fire since the day we met and, as I remember it, you used to enjoy it.”

Keel wrung his hands, seemingly frustrated that this was where I’d decided to make my stand. “If I kill you now, then all of this – all my sacrifice – will have been for nothing.”

God, Mills, you’re such an idiot! I thought. I’d been so wrapped up in our escape, our newfound freedom and the freaky new aspects of the bond that I’d been thinking of no one but myself this entire time. I hadn’t even asked Keel how he was coping with his mother’s death or the loss of the throne or his home or any of the rest of it. When did I get so selfish?

“I’m still a sorcerer,” I reminded him, but my voice was gentler. Guilt had stolen away some of my fight. “I could stop you if I had to.”

“Could you? Really? I saw those doubts in your eyes last night: as much you loathed him, you couldn’t stop looking for me. But we’re one and the same. And if I know how to sabotage your powers, so does that part of me.”

“Like you couldn’t do that already by just knocking me out?” 

“Don’t argue with me,” Keel said, turning away. It sounded like a dismissal, but he kept talking. “I could feel how reluctant you were to touch me or even come near me this morning. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to be.”

“How what’s supposed to be?”

“Whatever we are.”

My ribs ached. It was a good thing that Keel didn’t know much about love or relationships, because we'd barely tested the waters of ours and I was already in the running for Worst Girlfriend Ever. First with my absolute self-absorbed-ness, now this.

I stood up and joined him at the edge of the roof, where he was watching the bustle of mid-morning traffic on the street below. “Maybe it isn’t,” I allowed. “But when haven’t things been complicated for us? I’ve gotten kind of used to it.”

“Mills, we’re talking about your life here."

“I know,” I said. “But I was taught that sometimes you have to fight for what you want.”

Keel shook his head, but I sensed his resolve was wavering. He didn’t really want to die, or leave me; he’d just convinced himself that he was all out of other options. I turned to him, balanced myself on my tiptoes and wrapped my arms around his neck, forcing him to face me. “It’s about your life too,” I reminded him, leaning in to leave a lingering kiss on his cheek, then another on his lips. “I think we both maybe forgot that for a while. But I want you to live. I want nothing more in the world.” I knew I’d regret confessing that the next time I had to stare down Nosferatu Keel, but to hell with it, it was true. He could use it as ammunition if he wanted.

“So what do you propose?” Keel asked, clasping his hands behind my back and caving completely.

“That we get cleaned up, and then go and get ourselves some answers.”

“And just where are these answers going to come from?”

“Where do you think? My father,” I told him. “The way I see it, if Nosferatu know about sorcerers and keep books on them; wouldn’t the reverse be true? Maybe the sorcerers even know some stuff we don’t.”

Keel frowned, and extracted himself from our embrace. Did I say something wrong?

“What makes you so sure he’s going to help us?” he asked. Keel was staring out at the city again, so I could only see his apprehensive expression in profile. “If you think that your father isn’t just as likely to kill me as the Nosferatu, then you don’t know sorcerers.”

“Well, if all your options are ‘death,’ what do you have to lose?” I countered. Maybe I shouldn’t have been fighting so hard to hold onto Keel; maybe I should have tried harder to cling to my doubts from last night, when he was a bloodthirsty, unapologetic monster; but he had a habit of unravelling my defenses without even trying. I found myself back to hoping that we could both get through this alive, without either of us permanently turning to the dark side. Keel hadn’t died yet, so what else had the vampires been wrong about?  What else didn’t they know?

“Come on,” I said; when he didn’t answer,  I tugged on his arm until he yielded and followed me back across the roof. Returning to the van was much trickier than I’d expected; I hadn’t planned on having to negotiate the distance in broad daylight while splattered with copious amounts of my own blood. I expended a tiny bit of my remaining energy to make my savaged wrist less raw and angry, but there was no disguising the dry, hardened blood that was crusted up the entire lower half of my sleeve, turning the once-purple fabric a dark, murky brown.

Somehow, we managed to get back to the parking lot without attracting any of the wrong kind of attention. Once inside the van, Keel quickly changed tees and then ran into the store to get us some more clothes. Meanwhile, I jumped into the front seat, stuck the key in the ignition and turned it. The dashboard clock read 11:32 a.m.; we were due to meet my father in just under a half hour. Hurry, I thought, through the blood bond, and he did. Fifteen minutes later, we were changed and as decent as we were ever going to get without the benefits of a bathroom and proper running water.

“What do you think he’ll be like?” I asked nervously, once we’d stuffed the rest of the clean clothes and leftover supplies into the backpack Keel had bought and started walking towards the Falls lookout point. I was also sporting a brand new pair of exceptionally dark sunglasses because Keel was worried that if the first thing my father saw were my Nosferatu-infused eyes, it might start us off on the wrong foot.

“Probably just as intimidating as my father,” he guessed. 

I’d been so gung-ho to confront the man and make him answer for himself, for all the things I never knew and never had any say in, but now that I was minutes away from getting my chance to do that, my headstrongness was starting to crumble. I could play tough and pretend to not care what he thought about me, but on some level I did. He was still family. The first real family I had ever met.

“What did your father mean back in the loading dock when he was ranting about deals and payment?” I asked, suddenly wanting as much information as possible about what had transpired between our parents.

“I can tell you what I know, but obviously it’s not the whole story,” Keel warned, as we walked along the sidewalk together, just like two ordinary human teenagers taking a stroll on their lunch break – it was something I could definitely get used to. “My father wants nothing more than to walk in daylight. And the deal that he made with your father would have allowed him to do it, though that’s not the pretense he hired him under. So when the truth came out and your father called it off, he was furious. And using you, ruining you, manipulating you and your blood in anyway necessary to get what he wanted seemed like perfectly just responses to him.”

“But I was to be yours,” I said. Funny how I’d fought those words back when I’d first heard them, yet they’d pretty much come to pass anyhow, albeit not at all how the King had intended.

“Even broken, you could have fulfilled your role,” Keel said quietly, then quickly added, “but before you slug me or fry me or anything else, let me just reiterate that I like you like this much better.”

I was thankful for the joke to diffuse the awfulness of the destiny that could've been – and also for the compliment. Keel had become a lot better at saying the right things lately.

“So that’s what he meant when he said that I was owed to him?”

Keel nodded.

So there it was: I’d been a pawn, a commodity. Less a person than a purposeful object.

I was still absorbing that, and the pitch-black feelings it conjured up, when I felt Keel’s hand slip stealthily up under the back of my shirt. His fingers danced lightly across my lower spine sending some calming energy – and another sprinkling of love – my way. It was a possessive motion, but I leaned into his touch all the same, welcoming it and its blissful serenity. Yeah, I was probably bound to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again until one day they killed me, but maybe he was worth it.

“It wasn’t entirely your father’s fault,” Keel continued, carefully, attempting not to rile me up a second time. “My father tried to outsmart him; if he’d succeeded, it would have undoubtedly led to war, probably sooner than later. But your father refused to finish the job – and likely saved the lives of thousands with that decision. Even though the contract was entirely misleading, my father still claimed he had broken the blood oath that’s signed whenever any cross-race transaction is entered into. And he decided to take you as payment for what your father failed to deliver.”

“But if the contract wasn’t legit, why didn’t the rest of the sorcerers step in?”

“That’s the part of the story that I don’t know. You’ll have to ask your father about that.”

I suspected that explanation would be just as fraught with painful, unwanted truths as the rest of them had been. Maybe there was something to what Keel had said during the drive here about turning around, going somewhere else and never looking back. But I needed answers. Not just to understand the “why?” of it all, but about the sorcery thing, and the bond between Keel and me, and to the whole question of how was I supposed to live in the human world, now that I was definitely not human.

If my father took one look at me and my red-ringed irises and disowned me for whom I was with and what I’d become, then Keel and I would go our own way, and figure things out on our own, just like we'd always done. But I needed to try, for both of us. We'd already caused so much trouble for ourselves by stumbling around in the dark; if we knew the facts, we’d know what to do and what not to do. Maybe we could even find a way to combat the ferocity of Keel's Nosferatu side, so he could stay topside  –  with me.

As soon as the Falls’ overlook was in sight, I started scanning the crowd. Even for a weekday, there were plenty of tourists meandering amid the hokey Niagara Falls swag vendors, taking in the sights, staring down over the railing at the endless gushing water, and snapping dozens of smiling vacation photos of each other, not the least bit aware of who and what had just joined them. For a split second, I envied their blissful, easy obliviousness. It was yet another thing that was forever lost to me now. I looked at the klatch of tourists more closely, trying to find someone who didn’t belong, who looked out of place – someone who was by himself. Then I spotted him, standing a short distance away from the main throng of bodies. He had already seen me. And since he was so blatantly watching me, studying me, I stared back, taking him in. He was an older man, in his 50s, tall but stocky, and neatly outfitted in a pair of carefully pressed beige pants and a short-sleeved black button-down. His neatly combed hair, which was the same impenetrably dark shade as mine, was peppered at the temples with grey, giving him a severe but still somewhat grandfatherly air about him.

“There,” I said to Keel, motioning in the man’s direction.

Keel followed my line of sight and immediately dropped his hand from my back. The sudden absence of comfort was jarring, especially in a moment I so needed him, needed to know I wasn’t alone.

“He’s already seen,” I said, snatching his hand back up in my own. “Besides, how many times do I have to tell you?  You have just as much right to be here as he does.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s going to feel otherwise,” Keel said ominously.

“Then let him,” I declared, and strode confidently forward towards my father, doing my best to hold my head high, even as his expression hardened with each step we took. As we got closer, I recognized hate in those eyes  –  and unveiled disgust. It rattled me even more than I expected it would, because his eyes were my own. I may not have been able to immediately identify the family resemblance from a distance but now there was no denying it.

“Dad?” I said, when we finally reached him.

“Ephraim Sayre,” he corrected, with all the warmth of a boulder in the desert night.

Is this his real name? I wondered. Or yet another alias?  

Now that we were standing directly in front of him, I could see that the man's face and arms were lined with dozens of scars, evidence of a hard life lived. Still, I was pretty sure l had more, though that wasn’t exactly the kind of thing you whipped out to compare in polite company. I wondered why he didn’t heal himself. Maybe men like him wore their battle wounds as badges of honour. Maybe it was yet another sorcerer thing that I didn’t know about. Though, even if it was, I had no intention of living with my own.

“But you are my father, aren’t you?” I asked.

He nodded, a motion so slight it was barely perceptible, before setting his hard gaze on Keel. “What is this?” he said pointedly. “When you called, you said she was dying. What exactly are you playing at here, Nosferatu?”

“Sir, I...” Keel started nervously, then trailed off. I’d never seen him act this deferentially around anyone. “I’m not playing at anything. I really did think she was dying.”

During my imprisonment I’d pictured the moment of finally meeting my father many times – from tear-filled joyful reunions to screaming, vitriolic, violent ones  – but I never imagined it would be like this. Half-ignored and being talked about in the third person, as if I wasn’t even there.

“And now what: you’ve brought her here to trick me, to trap me, in order to bring back a long-sought-after trophy for your king? Or are you trying to make another deal for my services?” my father said, his words as frosty as his demeanour. “I may have underestimated your kind in the past, but I will not be fooled again. You’ve broken her.” He tilted his head towards our clasped hands. “She’s no good to anyone now.”

Keel immediately leapt to my defence. Good thing too, because I was too busy standing there gape-mouthed, unable to believe those words had just been uttered by the man who brought me into this world.

“She’s not broken,” Keel stated adamantly. “There’s nothing wrong with her at all. She’s a sorcerer and a pretty good one at that.”

Okay, little bit of a lie there, Keel, I thought. I wasn’t hiding behind these dark sunglasses just to look cool.

“And that’s supposed to change things in some way?” Ephraim asked, and I suddenly lost all desire to call him father. I should’ve believed Keel when he’d told me that I was setting my expectations way too high. Perhaps that was my fatal flaw. That I always had hope. Sometimes I worried that that was the only real, original part of me left, I’d lost so much in the last half year – and kept losing – that it couldn’t do anything but change me, and what it didn’t touch, the magic and the bond and Keel did. But still, there were things I’d clung to, especially after discovering my powers; namely, the prospect of forging a relationship with my birth father, and getting to learn about who and what I was while also getting to know him. But that dream was growing dimmer by the second. And I don’t think I ever missed Fredrick more.

“I give you my word, sir, I am not here with any ulterior motives. I just promised her I’d bring her home.”

“And why exactly would a Nosferatu promise a sorcerer anything?” Ephraim asked, voice thick with suspicion.

Keel looked uncomfortable, and his hand grew hot and sweaty in mine.

“His mother died, so he couldn’t transition,” I said, giving him momentarily reprieve from the barrage of questions and accusations. “He had nothing to lose by helping me escape, and I couldn’t have done it without him.” I went with my gut instinct to keep things super vague for the moment.

“And what’s in it for you now?” Ephraim asked Keel, not even acknowledging that I’d piped up.

“Like she said, I didn’t transition, so I expect I’ll die,” Keel said, “though I thought it would have happened by now.”

Ephraim looked as if he were attempting to bore a hole straight through Keel’s soul with his eyes. It was eerily intense. Keel patiently allowed him his scrutiny. When he was done, Ephraim said, “Is that what they are telling you now? Interesting.”

I thought Keel would follow that up with another question – it was, after all, the perfect opportunity to get some of the answers we wanted – but he didn’t. He just stood there, speaking only when spoken to, and only saying what needed to be said, and absolutely nothing more.

“Okay, hand her over,” Ephraim ordered. “But understand, if this is some kind of ploy, you will be hunted and killed. This ends now.”

“No ploy,” Keel said, releasing my hand and taking a couple of quick steps backward. I looked over my shoulder at him in dismay. What are you doing? I asked frantically through the bond, even though he had no way to respond. Then I saw it: fear. Keel was as frightened of my father as I was of his.

But I wasn’t afraid of him. Not here in public anyway. No one was going to be throwing any powers around with this many potential witnesses.

“Let’s go,” Ephraim said curtly. This time his words were directed at me, but like those spoken by my Nosferatu captors, they were a command, completely devoid of any familial kindness. Then he was turning away, expecting me to follow obediently, even though I didn’t know a single thing about him except that he shared one half of my DNA, was a sorcerer and was apparently as big of a dick as Keel had predicted.

I looked back at Keel again, and he waved at me to go. He was offering me my freedom, a chance to put his world  –  and the danger he continued to pose to me  –  entirely behind me, forever. And while I should have been thinking about myself, my future, and what his offer really meant for both of those things, all I could think about was him. What would he do topside without me? Would he return home to die or would he stay and wait for death here, in hopes that his blood lust didn’t return first?

“No,” I said loudly, as much to him as to Ephraim. A few heads turned in our direction. Crap.

My father stopped moving. Impossibly, his expression was even more disapproving.

“This isn’t right,” I said. “Keel committed treason to help me. He can’t just go back.”

Ephraim considered this for a moment. “You’re right,” he conceded. “I thought we could let him live, but allowing him to remain amongst the human populace is just too dangerous.”

“No, that’s not what I meant at all,” I said, instinctively throwing myself in front of Keel to become his not-quite-human shield. “He helped me escape; he saved my life. Now we have to help him. It’s only right.”

“That is not how things work.” Ephraim’s tone was slow, gruff and patronizing, as if he felt put out by having to explain this at all. I could see how Fredrick and Estella would have been totally intimidated by him, but he had nothing on the Nosferatu King and his bone-lined garb.

“Yeah, I get that,” I said angrily, careful not to raise my voice again and attract any more unwanted attention from nosey tourists. “Sorcerers don’t do anything, which is why you left me to rot with the Nosferatu. But he didn’t, which means that I’m not going to do that to him now, nor am I going to stand here and let you kill him.”

“There are laws, Mildred  –  and politics. If there weren’t, the peace couldn’t be preserved. We can’t interfere in the matters of the Nosferatu, or any other race, except under very specific circumstances.”

“But they did. They interfered, and now, because of that, so have I. Keel wouldn’t be exiled or trapped up here if it wasn’t for what they did first and what I had to do to escape.”

“He is going to kill you.” To Ephraim, this was a cold hard fact and he stated it as such.

“Maybe,” I said, “but he hasn’t done it yet. And, just for the record, leaving me down there with them, that would have killed me too, but not before things a lot worse than death would have happened to me.”

“Yes. Perhaps," Ephraim said. "But it would certainly have been cleaner.”

My face flushed red with explosive rage. I’d come all this way to meet my father, and this is what he had to say: that it would have been easier – better for everyone involved – if I’d just gone ahead and died. And he wasn’t even right about that: if the Nosferatu had succeeded in breeding sorcery into their bloodline, then… I shut down the thought, but it was immediately replaced by another, even sadder one: would there ever come a time when I stopped being betrayed by all of the people who were supposed to love and protect me?

“Come on, Keel,” I said sharply, grabbing his wrist. “We’re done here.”

“But, think about–”

“No. You heard what he said. Part of you may want me dead, but at least the rest of you really honest-to-god cares if I live. Right now, that’s enough.”

It had been a mistake, coming here, doing this. This was the man who’d abandoned me, sent me away to live with complete strangers: why on Earth would I think, even for a second, that he’d be a good person? I wanted to put as much distance between us as possible, as fast as possible.

“Mildred, wait,” Ephraim called out, but I was done listening. I just kept walking.

Keel didn’t. And since he’d grabbed my arm, I was dragged to a halt a second later; strength was the one Nosferatu characteristic he could make use of here without giving us away.

“Let me go,” I growled.

“No, not yet,” Keel said, and I glowered at him. I’d said I was done: why couldn’t he just let me be done with this?

I spun around on Ephraim next. “What do you want?” I said. “You got some other barbs for me? Well, go ahead, spit ’em out. You don’t even know me. Don’t have any clue of what I’ve been through or what I’m capable of. If there are all these rules and laws I’m supposed to know, maybe you should have bothered to be around to tell me about them.”

“I had my reasons,” he replied. Not “I’m sorry,” or “I wanted to protect you,” or anything else real, just more intentional secrecy. From the sideways manner in which he was eyeballing Keel, I guessed his presence may have accounted for some of the crypticness, but I didn't care. 

 Just imagine how pissed he’ll be if he ever discovers precisely how much Keel already knows, I thought. But that didn't seem very likely, not with the way things were currently going.

“Well, then I guess you’ll understand that I have my reasons for not wanting anything to do with you now,” I said, matching his coldness perfectly.

“Mills,” Keel said in an admonishing tone that was accompanied by a small surge of calm through the bond.

“Stop it,” I snapped at him, then turned my attention back to Ephraim. “So what did you want to say?”

Ephraim cleared his throat. It was a moist, raspy, not entirely healthy sound. “You know, you actually remind me a lot of myself in my fiery youth. Still, this…” he paused, seeking the words, “is unbelievable. You really expect me to believe that you want to risk your life to save one of them? That there isn’t some kind of coercion going on here?”

“Yes,” I said, firmly, meeting his eyes with my own, daring him to find anything in them besides one-hundred-percent determination.

“I’m not going mince words,” Ephraim said, “this whole situation is disgraceful, a black smear on our family’s otherwise fine standing, and I'd like nothing more than to wash my hands of it. But if he doesn’t kill you, the League of Sorcerers, should they find out about any of this, most certainly will. We could be picked up on at least a half dozen different violations right now, from just standing here talking like this.”

“So let us go then,” I said. I couldn’t help picturing this League of Sorcerers as just as shady, corrupt and set in its ways as the Nosferatu council and, if that was the case, I wanted nothing to do with them. I didn’t need yet another thing to fear or any more rules to break. “You can forget all about me and this blight that my surviving has cast on your honour. You’ve spent the last sixteen years doing absolutely nothing, so don’t feel any obligation to start now.”

I’d definitely been way too hard on Fredrick. He’d been the real dad in my life, without a shadow of a doubt. He was the one who’d always been there supporting me, cheering me on, and he’d done everything in his power to try to protect me, going so far as to sacrifice his own life to try to save mine. The man in front of me, for all his alleged magic, was just a dull facsimile. Someone who would likely turn us over to his precious League of Sorcerers  himself if it would save his own hide.

“Nosferatu,” Ephraim said, addressing Keel directly. He had never, not once, called him by his proper name. It reminded me of how Keel’s father never used mine. “Do you still wish to transition?”

The question startled me. A quick glance at Keel told me it had blindsided him too; he’d been all but ignored by Ephraim since he’d stopped me from walking away.

“Not if I can’t return to the compound, sir,” Keel said. “I don’t want to endanger anyone, and I definitely don’t want to cause an incident – or a war. Forgive me if this is beyond my place to say, but I know what happened between the King and you and, in case it matters even in the least, you were right. What he wanted to do would have upset the balance.”

Keel had not only turned on his princely charm, but extended an olive branch with that admission, and Ephraim’s forehead crinkled as he weighed what was being offered. 

“There might be a way to fix this and allow you to live,” he said finally, several long minutes later, and I thought I heard Keel exhale a tiny sigh of relief beside me. “But it won’t be easy and to the best of my knowledge no one’s attempted it in hundreds of years.”

Was it possible? Had Keel somehow just convinced Ephraim to help us? Wow. All that training to be King, to be a leader, apparently really paid off. If I was still running the show, dear old dad and I would probably be throwing punches by now. Keel might be the monster, but I definitely had a much harder time keeping my temper in check than he did – at least when he wasn't all vamped out.

“What’s the way?” I blurted out. I probably should’ve waited for Keel to ask, but I was way too impatient, and pretty much willing to try anything at this point if it meant not losing him.

Ephraim’s answer shocked me more than anything else he’d said thus far. It was so simple, yet so entirely unbelievable:

“Keel must become human.”

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