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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37. Restoration

Chapter 35: Restoration

I spent most of the next week holed up in the master bedroom at the safe house, refusing visitors. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, because no one else on planet Earth had gone ever through this. Keel and I were an anomaly, and only we understood the true gravity of that. The promise, the allure and the danger. But now that Keel was full-blown Nosferatu, I had no idea what he’d do with that knowledge and whether the blood contract would be enough of a deterrent if it was something unsavoury.

The crazy part was I lived half in fear of him, and half in hope that he’d turn up, in any state. It was as if the emptiness left by his absence was slowly devouring me from the inside out. Was it the bond? Heartbreak? Grief? All of the above?

I felt heavy, impossibly tired, and more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. An alien in my own world. Something that didn't belong.

I slept lots, sometimes whole days, and I cried.

From time to time, Bruce demanded I push the chair aside and open the door. He threatened that if I didn’t eat, they’d take me to the hospital. I always let him in when he said that. I wanted to be alone, not head-shrunk and all hooked up with tubes.

He always stuck around to make sure I actually ate, and didn’t flush the food he brought down the toilet.

Sometimes he tried to talk to me, but I wasn’t interested in opening up.

When Bruce came with the contract from the sorcerers, I read it dutifully and signed it. He served as my witness. And just like that, I scribbled away my right to magic, to consorting with supernaturals of any kind. That piece of paper stripped me of my sense of belonging in a way I hadn’t expected it to, and my depression became a volatile storm.

I still hadn’t healed my wounds from the guest house, though after much persuasion I’d relented and allowed Bruce to clean and treat them.

I wanted to feel that pain. It dampened a bit of the unbearable feeling inside.

* * *

During the second week, Bruce brought me a black canvas duffle bag. He’d wrapped a pink ribbon around it and pinned a giant sparkly bow smack dab in the middle. It looked so ridiculous, I couldn’t help but smile. “What’s this for?” I asked, initiating conversation for the first time since Bruce had picked me up from the motel and brought me back to the safe house. I'd been expecting Ephraim that night, but he’d sent Bruce instead.

“You’re going to have to leave here sometime, and when that time comes you’re going to need something to put that stuff under the bed in.”

I wasn’t able to keep the surprise off my face. I didn’t think Bruce had got a good look at what I’d carried out of the demolished house, or where I’d stashed it.  Before he’d arrived on the scene, I’d dug out the contract ritual materials, and the book with the transition passages in it. It was badly scorched, but parts of it were still legible. I’d stuffed it all into a disintegrating bag; he must have caught a glimpse of the contents through the holes in the sides.

“It’s my job to know,” he said, offering up his favourite phrase before I even asked the question. “And Mr. Sayre doesn’t, and this is so he won’t.” He passed me the bag, which was shockingly heavy. I pulled open the zipper and peered inside. It was just under half-full of dark and comfy-looking clothes. “You needed those. I wanted to replace the dress too, but I didn’t know what kind you’d like, so I put some money in the front pocket. You can get yourself one later.”

“Why?” I said, a little choked up. I wasn’t sure what I did to deserve this kindness. All I’d been was all kinds of miserable.

“Because life is going to continue whether you like it or not, and it’s easier to pick yourself up when you have a few things to get you started. But I want something in return.”

“What’s that?” I said suspiciously.

“I want you to talk to me. Once a day. Even if it’s about nothing. It’s not healthy for you to be alone so much up here.”

Part of me wanted to shove the bag back at him. It was easier to keep my distance, to make a conscious choice to be an outsider on the outside of everything. But if I didn’t open up to Bruce, I’d never open up to anyone.

“Okay,” I said, begrudgingly.

* * *

I got out of bed a lot more after that. I’d done a good job of convincing myself I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I quickly grew to enjoy Bruce’s company again. By week three, our daily conversations had grown into a daily routine. I helped Bruce with his work, and when we were done, he taught me to fight, with weapons.

“It’ll help with your anger,” he told me. “Doesn’t even matter what you're angry about.”

For all my innate proficiency with magic, I was terrible with maces and swords and even guns. But Bruce didn’t let me quit.

“Stop trying to make me into you!” I’d shouted at him one day in a moment of profound frustration, and stormed up the stairs.

He knocked on my bedroom door later, but I didn’t answer. He even tried to open it, but I’d jammed the chair under the doorknob. I knew what Bruce was trying to do, but hand-to-hand combat was never going to take the place of magic for me. I was born a sorcerer, and I would always be one, piece of paper or not.

When I woke the next morning, the bedroom door and the chair I’d used to barricade it were gone. On the sun-bleached wicker chair in the corner was a rectangular box, gift-wrapped.

My anger at the missing door competed with curiosity about the unexpected present. As I got closer, I noticed it had a note attached to it:

Keep training with me. - B.

I snatched up the gift and ran down to Bruce’s apartment. He was sitting on the leather couch annihilating zombies in one of the Left 4 Dead games on his Xbox. I tossed the present onto the other couch and ripped the controller out of his hand.

“Careful,” he said.

“Where the hell is my door?” I demanded.

“You can have it back,” he said. “As long as you promise to stop barricading it.”

“What the hell do you care what I do with my door?”

“Because you have to push past this, Mills. You’re safe here, and you can’t keep locking everyone out when things get hard.”

“I’m sick of hard,” I said. “Besides, if I push past this, then I have to go home. And I don’t know how to do that. Be that.”

“Maybe that will help,” Bruce suggested, pointing at the box I’d abandoned on the couch, still wrapped.

I picked it up and peeled the paper off. It was a laptop. “How’s this supposed to help me?”

“Turn it on.”

When I did, I saw that it was not some fresh-from-the-store model. Bruce had completely customized it. “What is all this?”

“School,” he said, smiling. “I’ve loaded a selection of novice sorcery books onto it, some math programs to help you with the equations, and a few encyclopaedias of ingredients, runes and mystical languages.”

I gaped at him. “Does Ephraim know?”

“What do you think?”

“Why are you doing this? You co-signed that document with me. You know what it said. This could get you killed.”

“Maybe,” Bruce allowed. “But I don’t want to lose you to the darkness. Your bond has a price. As does taking lives, regardless of whose they are and how deserving. You’ll need to be strong to endure it. You’ll need to be you.”

“You might be right about the killing, but the bond’s gone," I told him, and it was. "I don’t feel anything through it anymore. No pull, no communication, no nothing. Keel’s gone.”

“I don’t think so,” Bruce said. “You’re just cut off because he’s still between states. It won’t last forever.”

My heart sped up; it was a fist-sized percussionist in my chest. “What does that mean?” I asked.

“Some of the effects will return with time.”

“And if they don’t, does that mean he’s dead?”

“You’d know if he was dead,” Bruce said ominously, before perking up again. “But that’s why I want you to practice with me, if you’re strong of body, mind and spirit, you can get through this.”

What about will? I thought. The anticipation of one day feeling a spark of Keel through the bond charged me like an electric current, like the current that had once cycled between Keel and I. I was being irrational again. I should be thankful for every day I was free of his Nosferatu incarnation. Yet his words hovered in my mind, always there: “But we don’t know who I will be yet.” I found myself clinging onto them, even in those moments I dared to think the worst.

“And let me guess, if I don’t train with you, no kick-ass laptop?”

“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”

“Okay,” I said. It wasn't a hard decision. “But you better keep working on those reflexes. I’m a danger to both of us.”

Bruce laughed at that and so did I.

* * *

I started learning how to let go of all the things that I could not change after that, and I began to find new ways to make myself whole. I grew stronger than I’d been in a long time.

After Bruce and I spent a couple weeks helping Mike fix up the motel, I declared I was ready to go back to the city. It wasn’t so much because I was anxious to do all the human stuff again, but I wanted to start learning magic, and it was just too risky to do it in the safe house, even if Ephraim wasn’t around a lot.

He’d been busy making arrangements for me since the day after Keel’s transition, which worked out okay, because we didn’t have much to say to one another. Things between us were as tetchy and as complicated as ever.

Almost as complicated as re-integrating me into society was turning out to be. I’d hadn’t been declared dead, but when you’ve been missing for the better part of a year, the authorities tend to ask questions – lots of questions. I had to be schooled on how to answer them, and how to protect what I was and what I knew.

I got to practice those skills on the phone with Fredrick, Estella and Mikey during lovingly awkward conversations fraught with rules and not-to-be-mentioneds. It was determined fairly quickly that I would not be going back to live with them. It wouldn’t be right to jeopardize their safety when there was no knowing if Keel would come after me or not. At first, it felt like more losing on top of everything that had already been torn away from me, but the more I talked to them, the more I realized how exhausting keeping the truth from them would be, especially if we were living under the same roof.

Instead, when I returned to New York, Ephraim had arranged for Bruce to go with me. This was probably the best part of the whole deal. I’d be close enough to visit everyone I cared about, but I wouldn’t have to wear the lie 24/7, at least not at the beginning. And if anyone could get me through this, it was Bruce.

He was the only one I still trusted.

Plus, he’d know what to do when the bond sprung to life again. When Keel came back.

Bruce’s certainty about that had begun to creep into my bones too.

But for now, I did what I could to move on and live in the present, topside.

With hope. And magic. And more secrets than any one girl in the world needed.

 

--- THE END ---

 

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