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


28. Last Night on Earth


Chapter 26: Last Night on Earth


I had no idea how Keel’s brain didn’t just melt down from the constant sensory overload. Every time I thought I could see, hear, smell things at maximum clarity, everything sharpened, again and again.

I could feel every pebble under my high-top black sneakers as I sprinted across the pavement. I could smell the blood of at least two dozen rodents and small mammals in the direct vicinity, of four different species, and roughly twenty humans, none overly close. The city of Buffalo sounded like a discordant symphony playing all around me – insects were the strings, birds the woodwinds, and vehicles and the rest of the urban soundscape the bass and drums. It wasn’t so much beautiful as incredibly dense; honing in on any one sound led me to previously unheard textures and rhythms, which in turn led me to others. A rabbit hole of never-ending warrens. The way humans saw the world was so flat compared to this; this was Technicolor, with a hundred thousand channels of surround sound. I was in love.

Keel was trailing behind me, starting and stopping frequently, overly cautious. More than anything else in the world, in the night, I was aware of him. Whatever he’d given me had come with an invisible tether. “The bond is a closed circle,” he’d opined, and I was starting to understand what he meant by that.

Who else could give me this?

And in the back of my head were other questions: How was this even possible? And why?

I avoided residential streets as much as possible, opting to head deep into a cluster of industrial buildings, where there was much less chance of encountering people in the dead of night. Keel might’ve thought I was being reckless, but this was my world, and I knew how my world worked. I spotted a vacant single-storey building, with the rusting hulk of a dumpster conveniently tucked up beside it, and immediately swerved in its direction. Climbing the metal container was easy; jumping up to the lip of the roof and then hoisting myself up onto it was much trickier, but even so, it barely left me winded.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like a victim. Not at all.

But something new was bothering me.

As I waited for Keel to catch up, I walked along the perimeter of the roof surveying our surroundings. It was a quiet, peaceful night, probably a weeknight, when most working folks stayed in and went to bed early. As Keel came into view across the street, I waved at him, flagging him over, though it was entirely unnecessary, since my blood would have led him straight to me anyway.

I could tell he was angry even before he set foot on the roof, but the way he stormed towards me cemented it. His expression was as hard and unyielding as that of a marble statue.

“Are you crazy?” he shouted. “Someone is going to see us!”

“You’re overreacting,” I said calmly.

“How am I overreacting? Do you have any idea how bad it would be if humans found out about us?”

“Yes, Keel, I get it, you don't have to keep telling me, but I also know there’s absolutely no danger of that happening.” And he should have known too. His senses should have been telling him the same things mine were.

“And how can you be so sure of that?” he asked.

“The closest human is inside that building across the street and the nearest one outdoors is more than a block away.” Keel's anger turned to shock. Once that faded, it was replaced by a slick veneer of worry. But, for once, I wasn’t worried. Nothing bad could feel this good. “But there’s one thing I still don’t get,” I continued. “If this is how you see the world, why did it take your father’s troops so long to find me in the smashed-down cabin?”

Keel looked confused, as if he couldn’t make sense of the question.

“The cabin, remember,” I said. “I showed you it that night we discovered I could share things when you drank my blood.”

Keel frowned, his face a portrait of concern. “Mills, I think you’d better show me what you’re feeling right now.”

“Sure,” I said. Something had Keel spooked, and he shouldn’t be. I was fine. I was better than fine and I would prove it, and then we would go back to having fun, to celebrating freedom. I opened the bond and shared: there was more than enough awesome to go around.

Keel gasped, emitted a strangled yelp and stumbled forwards as if he’d been struck from behind by an invisible assailant. Dropping down onto one knee, he clutched his head and groaned miserably. All of the good of the night – all its joy – was instantly siphoned away as fear swelled up inside of me. Is this it? Is Keel dying? Suddenly I wished I was more myself, instead of a hyper-sensitive receiver, unable to keep the world out. How could I figure out what I was supposed to do when there was so much exterior noise, so much conflicting input?

I closed the distance between Keel and I in a heartbeat, and dropped to my knees in front of him. “What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked frantically, grabbing hold of his shoulders to steady his swaying body. There was no keeping the panic out of my voice.

“Dampen it,” Keel groaned. His eyes were glazed over and his whole body was shaking, as if he was about to have a seizure. “Too much.”

The bond! It’s the bond!

I slammed it shut, but not quickly enough. Keel slumped forward into my arms unconscious.

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said, stroking his face, his hair, trying to rouse him.

What the hell have I done now? I wondered.

I thought he’d said I was feeling what he felt all the time, so shouldn’t it have been safe? Then other words returned: more charged, more volatile. Oh crap. But still, Keel had given me this. It had come from him, so how could it hurt him?

Unlike with most of our experiments, I felt blinder than usual. I might be magic, but Keel had always been better at figuring this stuff out than me. For him it came naturally, just like his photographic memory. Now, I needed to think like him, but I couldn’t. My mind was racing, and the world was screaming minutiae at me, leaving me completely unable to focus on any one thing for more than ten or fifteen seconds.

Come on, Mills, think! I pleaded with myself. What did we miss?

Too much, apparently.

But I could still heal him, couldn’t I? Regardless of what he’d added to my powers, I was still a sorcerer.

I’d probably have been freaking out a whole lot more if I hadn’t been able to hear Keel’s blood pumping, his heart beating strong and steady, and his rhythmic inhale and exhale of breath. He was alive and stable, just completely unresponsive. And somehow I had done that.

Did I fry his brain? A side of guilt joined the panic, and shot off a couple of reverberating fireworks. I may have been good at saving his life so far, but I appeared to be better at almost killing him.

I lowered Keel’s limp body to the tar-paper roof and attempted to harness my flagging concentration. I could fix this, just like I’d fixed it every other time I accidentally went too far, used too much magic. Only I couldn’t seem to connect with my power. It was there, but muted and distant, as if the sensory exhilaration acted against my emotions, took the worst part of the edge off of them. And of course, it was that edge – that chest-aching rawness – that fuelled my magic. Keel is everything, focus on Keel, I told myself. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t conjure any more power than a trickling sputter. Not enough to undo anything. And far from enough to heal him.


Keel had refuelled me, but handicapped my magic in the process, imbuing me with something absolutely useless in this situation. I plunked down hard on the roof beside him, placed my hand on his chest and tried to figure out what to do. Are you in there? I asked through the bond. His open but unseeing eyes showed no sign of registering my question. I grabbed his hand and squeezed, mentally urging him to wake up. Still nothing.

I had to try to help him, but how? I couldn’t just carry him off to a human hospital. If his fangs didn’t tip off their curiosity, something in his bloodwork undoubtedly would.

Wait! Blood! That’s it!

My magic wasn’t the only thing that healed and strengthened Keel: my blood did too. But if I fed him now, would I have enough energy left to save him later, or would I be dead on my feet again? Did that even really matter? I was positive it would take more than my blood to spare Keel from his date with the Reaper, it would require sorcery, and my magic was all but blocked to me. It appeared we’d lost from the moment I’d agreed to this latest experiment. All that was left was damage control.

If Keel hadn’t had his eyes open, unblinking, it would have appeared that he was just sleeping, but my senses told me it went much deeper than that. There was no change in the pace of his heart, but his body was an empty house – one that did not acknowledge our connection in any way. His mind was not home. But where had it gone? And would my blood alone be enough to bring him back?

Or was this how I was going to have to watch him die? Losing him one slow step at a time? All hyper-realized by my borrowed Nosferatu senses?

The thought was as unbearable as the idea of abandoning him on the loading dock floor had been. We were in this together, and there was nothing I wouldn’t try to save him. Nothing!

I slashed the nail of my index finger across my wrist, and a thick line of blood sprung up where the skin had been split. I pressed my arm up against Keel’s lips and waited. Two minutes later there was still no sign of increased awareness. Damn, damn, damn.

I felt the tingling heat of the wound knitting itself back together, so I pulled my wrist away from Keel’s mouth and opened it again. This time I used my other hand to pry Keel’s jaw apart, ensuring that some of what I was trying to feed him got inside.  Time seemed to slow down. If this didn’t work, what then? That was my last best idea.

When Keel’s fangs finally clamped down on my arm, I felt a strange, sick combination of agony and ecstasy. I thrilled at his return to consciousness, but oh my god, the pain! With the heightened senses, it was blinding, all-consuming, an inferno that spread out from where Keel’s teeth were lodged in my muscle tissue to all of me. I cried out, my voice as shrill as the plaintive wail of a stray cat, but Keel only bit down harder, grinding his teeth against my bones mercilessly.

Where was that sense of well-being his touch brought with it? Then it hit me, he was being intentionally cruel.

Meaning, this was definitely not my Keel.

This Keel wanted me to feel this and he wanted it to hurt. And he would know it was working, not just from my physical reaction, but because I couldn’t thoroughly block my most extreme feelings from him. Warning bells clanged overloud in my head.

Still, the more blood he took, the more the Nosferatu sheen on the world faded. The pain was still there, still blazing, but it now it was less unbearable and more in line with the suffering I’d become accustomed to – at the hands of the King anyway. But Keel’s savagery inflicted much more emotional misery.

I couldn’t shut it out and go to my happy place though, I had to stop him.

I used my legs to shove myself forcefully backwards away from him, attempting to tear my arm from his mouth but his hands clasped on just as fast and pulled me back towards him. With all my excess vampiric energy gone now, the blood loss was beginning to take its toll. The first hints of dizziness loomed ominously on my mental horizon. If I couldn’t get some magic flaring soon, he was going to drain me dry.

My blood tastes like mud, like filth. I threw myself and my fear behind that thought, until Keel started gagging, coughing and throwing up, my regurgitated blood splattering down onto the rooftop and all over my brand new clothes. At least with the Nosferatu boost stripped away, I’d found my powers right where I’d left them.

I scrambled out of Keel’s reach and threw up a shield. Not the fiery, explosive kind – I didn’t want to hurt him any more than I already had – but the protective, keep-everything-out-so-I have-time-to-think sort. Good thing too, because no sooner had it solidified around me than Keel started throwing himself at it – black-eyed, snarling and feral, just like our attackers back in the compound. Will he stay like this? I wondered, as he dragged his nails down the invisible force field, all traces of humanity completely lost to the malicious thing raging within him. Had I just created and loosed a senseless, bloodthirsty monster on the world? If so, would I be able to do what I needed to do to stop him? Did I even have enough magic left?

As long as he was fixated on me, I could delay, but if he turned his attention towards the human populace, then I’d have to… I could barely bring myself to think it.

I sat cocooned inside my dome as he threw himself at me with suicidal fury, more animal than rational being. How did we go from what we’d become to this? Was it because I'd saved his life and altered the bond in doing so? Or was it because of how he’d been injured by the mental feedback loop? Or was this just a result of Keel’s missed transition, which, had everything gone according to plan, would have happened by now? There were just too many variables. And no one to bounce them off of. My lab partner was too busy trying to eat me.

Keel spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes coming at my shield, trying to find a weakness in it to exploit, but there wasn’t one. The flow of power from me to it was continuous, steady. If he’d been himself, he wouldn’t have bothered with all the pounding and scratching; he’d have been fully aware that shields had always been my specialty. Instead, his frenzied attempts just confirmed what I already knew: the monster was in the driver’s seat now.

But for how long? Would we be trapped in this standoff until I passed out from exhaustion, the force field failed and he killed me? I needed a better plan, which, sadly, was really starting to become the story of my life.

Once he gave up, he sat down in front of me, as close to the shield as he could without pressing up against it and stared in at me with those cold, black-hole eyes. They weren’t hungry, not anymore. Just utterly inhuman, and seriously pissed off.  He was the rabid cat, and I was the canary in the cage.

He said nothing, but allowed the sharp white tips of his fangs to show menacingly. A promise or a threat, possibly both.


This was different too; Keel’s Nosferatu side was always driven by blood and anger at being denied it; now that he was calm enough to sit still my Keel should have been able to assert himself and regain control. But there was no sign of him in those bleak, obsidian eyes or his caustic expression.

I could try to jolt him back into himself with magic, with pain, just like I did that night I’d melted his face, but he’d taken a lot of my blood and I wasn’t sure I had enough power left to juggle the protective field and an offensive spell, and if it didn’t work, and I dropped the barrier… Well, I knew the Keel creature staring in at me wouldn’t hesitate to attack, to kill. But attempting to wait him out had its share of risks too.

“You are mine,” Nosferatu Keel suddenly rumbled out at me. “Why do you resist?”

“Why do you think?” I snarled back. “If I didn’t you’d kill me.”

“But you are mine,” he repeated, as if that voided everything I’d just said, “to do with what I please.”

“No, we are bonded, and I get a say in it,” I said pointedly, even though the semantics of it would be utterly lost on him in this state. I’d never talked to Nosferatu Keel, even during the experiments, and I wished I didn’t have to now. He gave me the creeps.

“You can’t stay in there forever, little sorceress.” That was a pet name he'd hadn't used before and something about the falsely endearing way it rolled off his tongue made my flesh crawl. “Good. You should be scared,” he continued. “Because once you let your guard down, I’m going to tear you apart.”

I closed my eyes to dam off the welling tears. Don’t let him get to you, I told myself firmly. That's what he wants. This is not the Keel who saved your life, gave up everything for you. But lying to myself was useless, I knew they were one and the same, even if he managed to keep the monster tucked away most of the time.

Now, something had triggered it – with a vengeance.

“Can’t bear to look at me?” he chided.

“Don’t want to,” I spat back.

“Is that so? Maybe I should hold your eyes open when I eviscerate you,” he said with a smirk. “Then you’ll have to.”

I shuddered, overwhelmed with repulsion and anger. The latter, however, I could use. I sent a blast of piercing agony through the blood bond – recycling the same pain he’d inflicted on me earlier back at him. My shield, thankfully, held steady. I heard Keel shift and release a pained groan, but I didn’t open my eyes to survey my handiwork. Even if he came back to himself, I was positive I’d have nightmares about Nosferatu Keel for years.

“Bitch,” he growled. That one word told me everything I needed to know. It hadn’t worked. “But I have to say, I do like your fight. You’ll be lots of fun to break.”

“I thought you were going to kill me?” I snipped.

“Oh, I will – eventually,” he said. “But I’m starting to think it’d be a lot more fun if I keep you alive for a bit.”

That sentiment, as horrible as it was, did give me another idea, another way to attempt to break through to him, to appeal to my Keel. I unleashed a barrage of images of us having actual fun at him – memories of stealing around the compound conspiratorially in the weeks before our escape, nearly doubling over with laughter each time we outsmarted the guards, and the hours spent digging through his box of “artifacts,” lazy afternoons when I relayed the meaning and importance – or lack thereof – of each precious item. I sent emotions along with the thought pictures, mostly happiness and that encompassing sense of calm that always sent Nosferatu Keel into retreat during our practice sessions. I stopped short of showing him our little make-out session, though, unwilling to give this Keel any more kindling to throw into his bonfire of awful.

When I was done, he laughed. It was short and dismissive. I opened my eyes, and was greeted by the same mask of callousness that’d been there when I closed them.

“You really think I don’t remember those things?” he asked, tilting his head as a reptile might. “You forget what I am, which is why I am going to live and you are going to die – slowly.”

“I would sooner kill us both than let you torture me,” I told him, and I meant it.

“Is that so? You allowed my father to do it and you didn’t even like him.”

Ouch. That stung.

“Yes, but now I’m free,” I countered.

Keel laughed again. And for the first time in a long time, I was reminded of whose son he was. “Are you? Why don’t we put that to the test? Give me your hand,” he demanded.


In order to do that I’d have to lower my shield and that wasn’t an option. All evidence pointed to the bond being strong and wholly intact, even with Keel in this form, which meant he could still influence me – and probably even incapacitate me – with touch, and there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen.

If I was going to survive this, I had to outsmart the smart guy – or at the very least outlast him.

“See. I was right,” he gloated. “Even now, you’re locked away under your little dome. Trapped.”

I glared at him. “If you remember everything, then you also know what I can do,” I said, my voice low, quiet and full of threat.

“True, but unlike my Nosferatu nature, your power can and will run out. I just have to wait.”

The problem with allowing Keel to help me develop my sorcery was that it also meant that he knew all my secrets, my weaknesses, my plays and now, it seemed, so did his Nosferatu side. 

“And what’s to say I won’t kill you first?” I challenged. As terrifying as he was, I refused to look away.

“You can try,” he said. “But that would mean lowering your shield. Could you make your blood poison me before I tore your throat out? What’ya say? Wanna give it a try?”

I shook my head. I probably had enough magic left in me to slam my shield outwards, but doing so would surely incinerate him – and I would only be able to live with that if I was entirely out of options. There had to be another way. We’d come too far to just kill each other, especially here, a place where our bodies would likely remain undiscovered until they started to stink and decay and had been partially pecked away by scavengers. But what if I failed and Keel didn’t make my death quick after all? What if he fulfilled his earlier threat to keep me alive and torture me, then what? If he didn’t snap out of this – whatever this was – it’d be no better than being the property of the King. In fact, it would be ten million times worse, because I’d have to live with the knowledge of who Keel had been and all the good he’d done before becoming a cold-hearted, merciless monster.

But wasn’t that always his destiny? Maybe this is what you get for pretending otherwise, my brain interjected uselessly.

Keel stood up, stretched his limbs and circled my protective barrier, never taking his eyes off of me, even for a second. He reminded me of a wolf circling its prey, engaged in a predatory dance of the inevitable.

He didn’t say anything for quite a while after I refused to play along, seemingly content to taunt me with his mere presence and the silent threat inherent in his slow, stalking laps. It wasn’t until the horizon grew deep red with the first signs of impending dawn that his urgency mounted; his face was painted with unease and it echoed in his quickening footsteps. Could he feel death creeping up on him? He’d failed to transition, and he’d always expected to die around now, if not sooner. Would it take him fast or slow? Would I have time to drop the shield and save him one more time? Should I? Did I even want to now?

The more time I spent with the monster, the more conflicted I felt. I couldn’t allow this Keel to be loose in the human world, but could I write him off so quickly? Would I be able to live with myself if I did?

Keel crouched down in front of my shield, placing one hand on it near my cheek. “My father must have taken great pleasure in ruining someone as beautiful as you,” he whispered.

I held my tongue, but was unable to hide my disgust at that comment and the snide way he’d said it. He was looking for a reaction; he was running out of time and trying to goad me into making a mistake, but I wasn’t going to give in. At this moment I could read him perfectly; the way he kept stealing anxious glances to the east told me this Keel had some serious reservations about sunrise, even though he knew that it hadn’t affected his other self yesterday. Was this how failure to transition killed? By first daylight, regardless of whether a Nosferatu was topside or not?

As if to confirm my theory, the rays of light that had begun to stretch across the rooftop reached us and elicited an agonized howl from Keel, who had stopped paying attention to me altogether and was frantically trying to cover every exposed inch of skin. I wondered why he didn’t use his preternatural speed to dash off and find some cover. Had he waited too long, and was now unable? Maybe that boded well for me saving him. Or maybe it spelled doom, because I’d only be raising a monster – again. But this time I intended to do it with magic not blood.

I didn’t dare drop the shield until Keel was writhing on the ground. Even though all my senses were telling me this wasn’t a trick, I needed to be sure. Things weren’t always what they seemed with us.

By the time I reached where he’d collapsed, he’d stopped moving – a familiar scene, but cast in shimmering light of what promised to be an impeccably sunny day. Keel was curled up half-fetal, his face turned down towards the roof, his t-shirt partially pulled up over his head, while his arms were wrapped protectively around the rest of his scalp.

I tentatively reached out to touch him, and as soon as I did my hand fell away. The rightness was back. But it didn’t make me feel as it should. Spending the last few hours with Nosferatu Keel had cast a pall over our… whatever it was. That part of him would always exist, and now I knew without any doubt that if I stayed with him, it would always be a threat to me. He was clearly not as in control of it as I’d always believed he was.

I took a deep breath, and dug my knees and feet in, preparing to roll his body so I could assess his injuries. As soon as I placed my hands on him, he spoke. “Go away, Mills.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I know what you are going to do, and it’s crazy, and so is the fact that you’d still go through with it after last night.”

“You remember?”

“Of course. Which is why you have to go. If you stay, you won’t let me die, and I’ll be forever stuck in this in-between state, always prone to losing control. I didn't help you escape just to slaughter you myself, but that need... it's in me, it's a part of who, no, what I am. I was going to kill you tonight, and I wasn’t going to stop there. I’m not meant for this world. If I can’t return to my people, you have to let me go, before we make this any worse than it already is.”

It was devastating to hear Keel say that, even if it was something we both already knew. “There has to be some way,” I said, but I wasn't sure there was. The Nosferatu had to live underground, not just because of their appearance, but because the temptation of millions of beating hearts pumping blood through millions of circulatory systems would be too much. A paper cut could trigger a feeding frenzy, turning my world into a shark tank at dinner time.

“The only way is to let nature run its course,” Keel said stoically. He pushed him up into a sitting position, but didn’t look at me. Maybe he thought as long as the monster was fresh in my mind this would be easier.

“So you want me to leave and let you die alone?” I asked. “I don’t think I can do that.”

“Stay then,” he said. “Just promise you’ll let me go when the time comes. And remember, I’ll know if you are lying.”

I stared out at the waking city and its houses full of people who had no more difficult decisions to make this morning than what to wear to school or work, and what to eat for breakfast. Regardless of what I chose, the outcome would be the same. Keel would die, and in dying he would save others – and me – from himself. My fragile dream of our life together topside was about to be extinguished just one day in. But could I even claim to still want that after last night? Knowing some part of him longed to do the same sadistic things to me that his father had done?

Maybe this really was the only way to set things straight. All actions had consequences, and these were ours.

“I promise,” I said, my voice as small as a child’s.

“Thank you,” he replied, finally shifting his body so that he could look up at me. His expression was drawn, and full of sadness. Keel didn’t usually feel things as profoundly as I did, but there was no denying his misery now. He reached up and offered me his hand. I bristled a little – remembering all those awful words, those threats, the hollowness of him in Nosferatu mode – and found myself hesitating. Keel’s frown deepened and he lowered his arm, turning back towards the rising sun. “Sorry,” he said. “You have every right to be angry. I understand.”

But did I? When I lost control and melted half his face off, he still came to me when I called. Now I'd deny him the same thing – on the morning of his death – after a slip up that I undoubtedly played some role in? Who was I becoming? I had no clue, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t the person I wanted to be.

“Hey, wait,” I said, sitting down next to him and retrieving his hand from his lap. That wonderful sense of belonging washed over me and I closed my eyes, allowing myself a moment to savour it before darker thoughts got in the way. Will I feel his death through the bond? Will it ache like a phantom limb in the aftermath? How do I say goodbye? I was kind of done with experiments, but this one would bear itself out anyhow. “I’m sorry too,” I said. “For everything. I feel like I’ve been ruining your life since the moment we met.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, squeezing my hand with gentle reassurance. “It was totally worth it.”

I tried to smile, but sorrow was an anchor on my lips. Keel let go of my hand and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, when I didn’t immediately flinch or retreat he pulled me closer. A moment later, I felt something begin to flow through the bond, it took me a few seconds to decode its intensity, and once I did, I could no longer hold back my tears. Keel was sending me love. Pure, unadulterated love.

Sometime, somehow during this crazy adventure he had learned to love, but it hadn’t vanquished the monster, nor tamed his inner dragon. Real life just didn’t work that way. There were no happy fairy-tale endings here, and this was irrefutable proof.

Keel had learned love just in time to die.

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