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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10. I, Bleeder

 

Chapter 8: I, Bleeder

I clenched my eyes shut and waited for the crunch, for the unbearable agony of my bones grinding between Boras’ teeth.

As my life dangled in the balance, skewered on the dual points of his razor-sharp fangs, I realized just how badly I wanted to hang onto it – or, at the very least, not die like this. If I have to die, I want it to be with purpose, dammit.

Instead of becoming a human juice box, however, I tumbled roughly onto the filthy mattress as he tore himself free of me. A red, glistening splotch of my blood was smeared across his lower lip; my hand immediately shot up to my throat. It was barely a nick. I was bleeding worse from the cuts on my shoulders where his nails had punctured my flesh.

Boras sized me up hungrily; his irises still as black as pitch and his gums receded to fully expose his fangs.

“P-p…please,” I begged. I was shaking so hard it was the only word I was able to force out.

Boras began to bend towards me and I flinched back against the wall. Alarms sounded in my head. I’d been cocky before I’d known what he was capable of. Now? Now I just wanted to go back to being prisoner-and-captor, not predator-and-prey. Not this.

As he reached his pale, bony hand towards me I wholly expected him to drag me back up into death’s embrace, as if my body were a rag doll with which he could do as he pleased. But Boras released a mighty groan, wiped his right arm across his mouth, transferring my blood to his sleeve, and abruptly stood back up.

“No,” he announced. “You’re not so sweet that I would die for a taste of you.”

Some girls would have been insulted by that, but I knew I’d just dodged a bullet – one fired out of a rifle of my own stupidity. Maybe my luck was finally changing.

Yeah, right. Just keep telling yourself that.

“I’m sorry,” I sputtered. “I–“

Boras stared down at me with utter disdain. I’d seen that expression other vampires’ faces when they looked at me, but never his.

“I didn’t mea­–”

“Enough,” he roared so loudly I had to cover my ears.

“But…”

“No. You aren’t going to say another word, or so help me I’ll rip out that throat of yours.” His voice drawled into a feral-sounding growl; his fragile restraint was wavering.

I frantically wiped the blood from my still-bleeding shoulders with the top of my tank top, unsure if it’d be enough to stem the temptation but I had to try. And no more talking either, I told myself. Please, just once, keep your mouth shut.

“The King is mad for bringing you here,” Boras raged on.

I watched as he channelled his bloodlust into anger, hoping he wouldn’t turn it back on me and take with his claws what he refused to take with his mouth.

“The others had it right. You don’t belong here. The King should’ve just drained you dry, as we’ve done to your kind for centuries, and been done with it.”

He meant it: the callousness in his face matched the hostility of his words. I lowered my eyes before he could see the regret on my face. Boras wasn’t an ally; perhaps he could have been, but I had to go and ruin it.

“But no,” Boras went on bitterly, “he would keep you here for years, first for himself and then for his son. It’s pure insanity.”

He was pacing now, like an agitated lion. Still, this was the most any of them had told me about “my situation” and I was absolutely riveted.

Boras turned his monologue inwards as I followed the trajectory of his black-booted feet with my eyes. Back and forth. Back and forth. But never any closer to me. It was as if he had forgotten me entirely. I was invisible. Blanked.

He only stopped moving when the door of my cell swung open and another guard stepped inside. “Are you done ye–“ he began, then stopped and sniffed the air. “What’s going on in here? Is she bleeding?”

“Yes, she is,” Boras said bluntly.

A confusing array of expressions passed over the guard’s face – horror, uncertainty, lust, hunger, awe, disgust, fear – before he blinked them away.

“Calm down,” Boras commanded brusquely. “Go tell his Majesty that I need to see him down here immediately.”

No, please don’t do that, I thought miserably. I would have said it out loud if I’d believed begging would have done any good, but the way Boras refused to even look at me told me all I needed to know. I’d screwed up and he’d made his decision. I – we – would be answering to the King.

The guard glanced from Boras, to me, to the blood that continued to well from my lacerations, speckling my shoulders and neck, and then back to Boras again. “Do you want me to send in some backup?” he asked.

“Absolutely not. Nobody comes in here except the King. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” the guard chirped.

“And shut the door behind you.”

The underling did as he was told and Boras resumed his pacing.

The King is coming here now. Because of me. Because of what I did.

My mind fluttered wildly, veering from one “what if” to another. What exactly would happen when his Majesty got down here? Boras may not have gone all Harck on my neck, but he wasn’t trying to hide his little indiscretion either. Did he want the King to behead him too? And what about me? Okay, so I was important – I got that – but the King didn’t seem like the kind of ruler who would enjoy being dragged down into the dungeon over a disobedient cow. What would he do to me? Maybe I’d black out before he broke too many of my bones. He might need me alive, but he didn’t need me mobile.

Didn’t really think this through, did you, Mills?

With none of my anger left to fuel my adrenaline, all that remained was a suffocating sense of doom. The low steady staccato rhythm of Boras’ boots ticked off the waning seconds to the King’s imminent arrival.

When I started quivering involuntarily, I wrapped my arms around my torso to dampen the shakes that had taken hold. My heartbeat would give my fear away, without my chains clinking like dinner bells.

My bravery had all but gone back into hiding, but it hadn’t done a whole lot of good when it'd raised its head either. There was just a little too much irony in how deeply I’d admired Jenny’s screw-you-all attitude in school, but on her sass always came off as sexy. On me, right now, it was just plain suicidal. I wondered what Jenny would think of all of this – well, after she stopped screaming. I drew a blank. Who knew how anyone would react when faced with monsters? Still, I tried to picture it, momentarily losing myself in the tiny reprieve from worrying it gave me. She’d likely become a wreck, just like me, but maybe she’d turn into some butt-kicking Wonder Woman, if her inner fashionista let her wear spandex, that is. A smirk crept over my face. Jenny would be totally conflicted over that.

And she’s still out there somewhere, I reminded myself, but the thought that came on its tail chased my tiny smile away. They all are. Carrying on without you. As if you never happened.  

And I came full circle back to Boras’ rant. What had he said? That the King intended to keep me here for years? For him, and then for his son. The King had a son? The monsters had baby monsters? Was that even possible? Maybe he sired him, like in the movies.

If so, did they eventually intend to turn me?

I hadn’t considered that before. Would it be better or worse than being a cow? I wondered.

I imagined my bones elongating as the melanin bled from my skin. I pictured myself looking into a mirror – would I even be able to observe myself or did folklore get that bit right? – and seeing the sunken-cheeked, corpse-like visage of a vampire me staring back – no amount of makeup able to replicate my dwindling humanity. My red eyes glowed with implicit threat: monster within, tangle with at your own risk – this one’s bloodthirsty. Would I someday walk through this very prison, selecting my entrée as one might choose a live lobster from a grocery store tank? What would it feel like when my canines shaped themselves into fangs and broke human flesh for the first time? How would it taste when the blood of innocents spilled into my mouth, its delectable, salty heat urging the savage beast within me forth?

I gagged, and quickly tried to disguise the sound as a cough, hoping Boras wouldn't notice. If he grilled me about what was on my mind, he’d only assume I was leading him on again, that this was another ploy to try to break him. He wasn’t deaf, however, and briefly turned his head in my direction. The disgust still hadn’t faded from his face.

When the King finally arrived – sometime after a lot more awkward non-talking: Boras pacing, me sulking – he threw the door open and it bounced off of the cell wall with a deafening, dissonant clang, chipping the concrete at the point of impact and sending several small chunks plummeting to the ground. His Majesty had to duck to pass through the entryway. Much like the guard, he detected the scent of my freshly shed blood at once.

“She bled,” he said. His fury bubbled just below the surface. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“She threw herself at me,” Boras said coldly. “Offered herself up and dared me to drink from her. It took everything in my power not to betray you, your Majesty.” He paused, for emphasis. “She’s a liability.”

Boras was deferent in his posture: he kept his head slightly bowed, and did not meet King’s eyes. But his words told a different story. Unlike Harck, when the King had called upon him, Boras’ answer was confident and strong.

The King’s red eyes shifted to me. “Is this true?”

My mouth opened and closed as uselessly as a fish’s out of water. What was I supposed to say? “I’m sorry, your Majesty, I lost my temper, it won’t happen again”? – I doubted the King spoke teenage girl or teenage anything. He was also unlikely to simply forgive my impetuousness.

“She doesn’t seem to be much of a threat now,” the King observed.

“She wasn’t much of a threat then, either,” Boras said, “unless you mean to herself.”

The King chucked; the sound was as devoid of warmth as Boras’ words had been. As he laughed, he assessed the two of us and the scene that lay before him. Seeing nothing that conflicted with what Boras had told him, he moved on. “What do you suggest we do with her?”

Boras hesitated before answering, just a tiny bit. I wouldn’t even have noticed it if I hadn’t been mulling over their interaction so closely. “Your Highness, I know it will displease you to hear this,” he began, finally raising his eyes to meet those of his ruler. “But I think you should get rid of her. How long is she going to survive down here? Someone will–“

“What are you suggesting?” interrupted the King. “That my charges will be disloyal, for a little dessert? You sell them short.”

“And you hold them in too high regard, your Majesty.”

I narrowed my eyes and instinctively brought my hands up to cover my face. I fully expected a repeat of yesterday’s execution theatrics, but the King evidently did not see Boras’ insinuation as insolence. “Is that so?” he asked.

“It’s her blood,” Boras explained. “I wasn’t sure about this until I overheard some of our brethren talking. The younger ones feel the draw of it more acutely, but even I am not immune, especially when provoked. Do the books say anything about this?”

“Unimportant,” the King snapped. “Nor will I get rid of her. This will be my greatest achievement.”

“Or your downfall.”

I couldn’t believe Boras’ audacity. I lost the ability to form coherent sentences around the King and here he was back-talking him, as if his Majesty wouldn’t reach out and kill him in a fraction of a second if he chose. I’d misjudged Boras. He was obviously a lot more than an order-following drone.

“Our kind has been draining theirs for centuries,” said the King, as casually as he might have disclosed that our two races had been having weekly happy hours at the neighbourhood pub. “But to no end. What we have here is a rare opportunity: sustained sustenance. We’re all attracted to her blood because of the power it wields; perhaps the secret is not in the amount, but in the duration of exposure.”

“Surely someone’s tested that before,” Boras suggested.

“If so, it hasn’t been recorded. Though the Nosferatu have not been particularly successful at keeping their kind imprisoned,” the King admitted.

“And yet you think you can?” Boras asked, disbelief written all over his monstrous features.

“Yes. We’ve never had such a facility before.”

Boras shook his head slowly: he’d accept it but he wouldn’t like it. He had to have expected defeat; even I knew there would be no changing the King’s mind about this.

“Then you must confine her,” Boras said. “She must have contact with no one but you.”

The King laughed, but it wasn’t jovial. “You would have me wait on her?”

“No, your Majesty, it’s just–" Boras began. “As I explained, the others – they can’t be trusted.”

“But you,” the King said, pinning Boras down with his red stare, “can be.”

“How can you say that? After this? After today?” For the first time in the exchange, Boras was losing his cool. Did the thought of being forced to be in my presence really make him that uncomfortable, that uncertain about his control over his base instincts? Maybe I did have some power after all. Pity it was only useful for getting me eaten.

“That’s exactly why I can say that,” explained the King. “I saw the mark you left on her neck: you drew blood, yet you repressed your true nature.” Boras shuddered as he relived the moment, his haunted expression telegraphing his longing to both the King and me. “Not many of our kind have that much self-control. You serve me well, Boras, which is why you are the only one I trust with her.”

“But–”

The King cut him off again. “Boras, her security is in your hands. You understand the threat. Do as you see fit, but above all else, keep the girl alive.”

“Then as my first order of business, I suggest that you take your feedings down here,” Boras said, adopting the role of my keeper as if it been his all along. “I know this is irreverent for royalty, but as I’m sure you agree, the fewer Nosferatu we expose her to, the better.”

”Fine,” the King said, “It’s matters little where I eat, only what I eat. Speaking of…”

For a while, they had forgotten me, and I had almost been able to trick myself into believing I was a fly on the wall, illicitly eavesdropping on their conversation, but as the King turned from Boras to face me, I felt as if I was the biggest, most unmistakeable thing in the cell. The bull’s eye on a giant target.

“Boras said you wanted him to bite you. Might I oblige?” he teased cruelly. I scrunched myself into a tight little ball – thighs pressed to my chest, chin to my knees, arms wrapped around my legs – and imagined a protective shell around me, just like I used to when I was little and neighbourhood bully Carter Hamm would throw rocks at me on the playground. I had no idea why that memory suddenly popped into my head, but there is was.

Something flickered brightly.

I tilted my head up to look at the fluorescent lights, but their luminescence was as steady as their hum. They'd been flickering like crazy when I first arrived, but had long since stabilized; the vampires probably only kept them on in here when they had a captive.

“Your Majesty…” Boras said, warningly.

“Get her on her feet, now.”

No sooner had the King issued the order, then Boras was at my side, dragging me out of my defensive curl with his bone-crushing grip. I yelped, but he continued to squeeze harder, until I finally gave in and stood of my own volition. Only then did he release me. I scowled at his back as he stepped away from us.

The King was standing directly in front of me, which brought me face-to-face with his bone-covered robe, but before I could absorb the intricate details of its gruesome accoutrements, he reached out, clutched my chin in his hand, and tilted it up towards him. His claw-like nails scraped across my cheeks, leaving tiny stinging welts in their wake.

“When I come to you, you will offer up whatever part of yourself I demand,” the King told me. “You will do this without insolence and without disobedience or you will be punished – severely. Obey, and I will not harm you any more than our time together demands.”

I wanted to shake my head free, to scream out, to deny him the guidelines he was laying out for me, which set me up to be his nourishment, his concubine, or any other number of things I was trying extremely hard not to think about. Instead, I nodded complacently. Maybe I would find the courage to resist him eventually, but what good was denying them my blood, when they had no immediate intention of killing me and would take it regardless? This battle was lost without ever having been fought.

“Arm,” he demanded.

I tried to will my left arm to rise, to extend itself towards him, the giving of the offering expected, but it would not. It hung beside me limp like a deflated balloon. I shot the King a look of absolute panic.

This is not defiance.

This is not defiance.

Come on, arm – work!

When my arm continued to ignore all impulses from my brain, the King extended his and took my hand. His touch was light at first – far gentler than I believed a creature such as him capable of – but as he lifted it towards his face, his grip solidified. He wound his fingers between mine, as if we were holding hands, but the tightness belied his true intent. His face held one question: “Dare you challenge me?”

The King adjusted my shackle, so the chain hung away from my arm. Then he lowered his head and dragged his nose along my skin from my elbow to my wrist, it was cold and dry, like the hand that clutched my chin, forcing me to watch him do this. He was sniffing me as if I was a fine vintage, which in vampire terms likely wasn’t that far from the truth.

My breath was coming faster now, edging me ever closer to hyperventilation. All I could think of was Harck, the pain, the violence of the first time – and how I didn’t think I could go through that again.

Then I couldn’t think at all.

I watched in horror as the King slowly sank his fangs deep into my forearm. The pain rushed over me, a tsunami cast forth by the King’s teeth. I shrieked and it echoed off the bare grey walls around us. I rolled my eyes away from the ravaging of my arm and locked them on Boras’, which were fading to black once more. The smell of my blood was fresh in the air again, undoubtedly reminding him of how I’d teased him earlier, and how he’d been forced to deny himself. I saw volatile fusion of hunger and hatred there, then there was nothing left but the chasm of the black, empty depths.

My eyes whipped back to the King as I felt his fangs moving deep within my arm. My shrieks pitched up a notch, in sync with his exploration, and took on a frenzied, animalistic quality. The son-of-a-bitch is doing it on purpose, I thought. He wasn’t butchering me like Harck had but he was absolutely taking pleasure in increasing my suffering. When I started to get dizzy – either from blood loss or wailing at the top of my lungs – he slowly retracted his fangs, making sure I felt every millimetre of their withdrawal, and dropped me to the ground.

I scuttled away from him, as far as the shackles would allow, and cradled my injured arm to my chest. The tears that had begun to escape during the feeding were escalating into full-on, chest-rattling sobs.

“Anything?” Boras asked the King with interest.

“No, nothing. But I didn’t expect it either, although I did like the way she screamed,” he replied, before adding, “Get her arm wrapped. We don’t want any trouble. And while you’re at it, clean her up. She’s putrid.”

“But, your Majesty, the showers. Do you really think that’s such a good idea?”

“Then hose her down in here,” the King said dismissively. “I don’t care how you do it, just do it.” Then he turned and winked at me, “Till tomorrow, sunshine.”

I gaped at him as the weight of that statement sunk in. I’d see him every day. He was going to do this to me every day.

After the King left, Boras dragged the mattress out and the hose in. I clutched my aching, throbbing arm and ignored him as best I could, even when he turned the cold water on me full blast. Later, as I watched him carefully dress those two angry red holes, I thought, I’m just like the rest of them now: a bleeder.

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