Letters from New York [Blood Magic, Book 2]

Until Mills and Keel, the sorcerer-vampire bond was solely the stuff of folklore and legend – a whispered myth with one hell of a body count.

Now Mills has returned to New York City, to human life, but the bond is reawakening.

And someone knows her secret.

All her secrets…

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15. Family Reunion

Chapter 12: Family Reunion

“Is he here?” I asked Lucia, as I wandered between the concrete planters on the roof of my apartment building. There was two inches of snow on the patio from yesterday’s storm and no footprints but my own. Lucia was still standing by the door that led onto the roof; she hadn’t stopped scanning the common area since we’d arrived. She looked absolutely terrified, as if she might run back into the building at any moment. The elevator ride up had been the same. But she still refused to divulge what scared her so much about this.

As I was looping back towards her, Lucia’s eyes snagged on something to her right, and widened. She took a quick, shaky step backward and reached for the door handle.

“Is that a yes?” I said.

Lucia nodded, slowly and deliberately, her eyes still fixed on what I couldn’t see.

Suddenly, she was thrown off her feet and slammed into the wall behind her with incredible force. The air burst from her lungs with a wet “wuh” sound, before she crumpled to the ground.

I rushed to where she’d collapsed, dropping to my knees beside her. The snow soaked through my yoga pants in seconds.

“Lucia? Lucia? Are you okay? What happened?” I yanked off my glove, tossed it to the side and pushed my hand up against her neck. She had a pulse. Good. I moved it up to her face. She was breathing too.

This had to be what Lucia had been so afraid of. But why hadn’t she warned me?

“Lucia?” I said again, gently squeezing her shoulder. I was scared to shake her in case she’d broken something. She remained unresponsive. “Lucia!” I repeated louder.

Still nothing. Shit.

What the hell was I supposed to do? Back when I believed I was human, it would have been a no-brainer: call 911. But now? Call Bruce? Get Lucia’s mom? Wait it out a bit? Try some magic?

“Come on, Lucia,” I pleaded. “Snap out of it.”

I shoved my hand into my pocket and wrapped my fingers around my cellphone. Should I? Could I? I looked at Lucia’s prone figure sprawled in front of me. Her secret was as big as mine, and I owed it to her to try to find us a way out of this that didn’t compromise it. I could already predict what would happen if the sorcerers found out psychics were real and human: they’d hunt them down, bond with them, and force them into service. They'd be both a tool and a weapon, but never free.

Maybe the psychics knew that too, hence their strict avoidance of supes – until Lucia screwed that all up. Now I had the opportunity to mess it up even worse. All I had to do was make the wrong choice.

I checked Lucia’s vitals again. No change. I squeezed my eyes shut. Come on, brain, tell me what to do here! Trying to think while I was this exhausted was like trying to swim through quicksand.

Damn, damn, damn.

When five minutes stretched into ten, I decided to get her mom; if this was a psychic thing, she’d know best. Of course, I'd have to come clean and that would probably mean the end of our friendship, but perhaps protecting their secret would earn me a few brownie points. I sneaked back into the apartment for a couple of blankets: supernatural elements weren’t the only ones we had to contend with. Bruce was still ensconced in his office, doing whatever it was he did in there, and for once, my luck held – until I stepped back out onto the roof.

Lucia was gone.

I dropped the blankets in a heap by the door and scanned the area. Where is she? The marks in the snow showed that she'd gotten up on her own. I followed her footprints around a couple of the larger planters and the maintenance shed; she was standing on the far side of the patio, looking out at the city. Snow clung to the back of her jacket in clumps.

“Lucia? Are you alright?” I called out. My words buoying above the traffic sounds emanating up from the street below.

“Just fine,” she drawled. Her voice was contorted, dipping far deeper than her natural octave.

“Why are you talking like that?” I said, stopping a few feet behind her. That instinctive feeling that I can only describe as “sorcerer’s intuition” was rattling up my spine, warning me that whatever was going on here, it was very, very bad.

“Why do you think?” Lucia intoned. Her voice – but not. She stared out at the New York skyline for a minute more, then turned around. Her movements were jerky, as if she’d forgotten how to control her limbs. But it wasn’t until I saw the red eyes glowing out at me from my friend’s face that I put it all together. This was not Lucia. Or at least, not all Lucia.

I immediately threw up my shield.

Magic thrummed through me into my barrier – familiar and reassuring – but my weariness siphoned off much of its usual vibrancy. It flickered and strobed around me.  There was no telling if it would hold, or for how long.

“Do I look like that much of a threat?” Lucia sneered at me, sounding utterly demonic.

“What have you done to my friend?” I demanded. I wasn’t going to answer any questions until the thing in front of me did some answering of its own.

“I borrowed her body. Whether she gets it back depends on you.”

“Is that a threat?”

“It’s a truth.”

“Who are you?”

“I doubt you need to ask.” He forced Lucia’s mouth into an uneven, flinching grin, and all that horror and hatred I’d felt for him back at the compound came rushing back. He was wearing my friend like a skin suit, violating her in a way that might just be worse than anything he’d ever done to me. And I was helpless; attacking him would only harm Lucia’s body, which she needed.

“What do you want?” I asked. I was trying to sound brave, fierce, but I could hear my voice wobbling.

“I want you to take this girl – this Lucia – to my son.”

“What?” I balked.

“You heard me.”

“That’s impossible,” I told him.

“He’s not dead. It’s possible,” he refuted.

“No it isn’t. I’m under the sorcerers’ lock and key.”

“Then escape,” he said. “You escaped my compound; surely you can escape a human residential structure.”

“I won’t do it,” I stated. “I refuse.” If we went to the Nosferatu compound, we'd never be allowed to leave. Keel would be able to stop playing with substitute-me, because he’d have the real thing, and if he didn’t immediately see the advantage Lucia’s abilities could grant him, then Arthos and Boras certainly would. The sorcerers wouldn’t even be able to enforce the terms of the blood contract if I went there of my own volition.

Of course, the former king knew that, or he wouldn't be trying to trick me into making the same sorts of mistakes that Ephraim had made during his dealings with the Nosferatu.

Lucia’s face stretched into a frown, it was even more horrifying than the smile had been. It looked carved on. “Then she dies.” Keel’s father jerked Lucia’s body towards the edge of the building: she twitched and lurched like a marionette controlled by an incredibly inexperienced puppetmaster.

“You wouldn’t dare,” I shouted, hoping my fury would mask my swelling panic. I couldn’t think of any way, even using magic, to stop her from plunging over the edge of the roof if he willed it.

“Wouldn’t I?” he threatened. “She wouldn’t survive it, but I would. She’s merely a conduit here. A means to an end. A means to speak to my son.”

I took a step towards him. Keel’s father raised one of Lucia’s legs over the concrete lip of the roof. I inhaled sharply, watching it all play out in my head in a second: Lucia plummeting towards the sidewalk, all that sass and energy splattering against the concrete; the police tape that would strung up around my apartment building for days; and, of course, the endless questioning. Never mind that Lucia’s mom would have to identify her broken body in the morgue – her only child. It turned my stomach, all of it.

“Don’t you mean a means to get both me and her to the compound? A gift to the new king from his dead daddy,” I countered. “If you kill her, you lose all hope of having your little father-son chit-chat. So what have you really accomplished?”

“A small measure of revenge,” he snarled and flung her other leg over the barricade. Lucia was now sitting on the ledge: one big gust of wind, one slight loss of balance and…

My veins ran cold. Keel’s father was going to continue his torment from the afterlife and in doing so he was going to take away the one person I’d connected with since my return. Right in front of my eyes, no less. All this supposed power, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. It was unbearable. Overwhelming. Soul-shattering.

Then the paralysis hit. My feet locked in place. My heart beat double time. The rooftop lurched and spun around me. I regained motor control just long enough to grab onto one of the concrete planters to stabilize myself. It didn’t help the dizziness. I fell to my knees and threw up. My shield went down with me, sputtering out in a pathetic, barely audible fizzle.

I was going to lose this one.

I wished I could trade places with Lucia on that ledge. She didn’t deserve this. Not one bit. And if I'd just accepted my fate all those months ago, none of this would be happening now.

I tried to shove myself onto my feet, but I still couldn’t move. Lucia leered at me from the edge of the roof with a lopsided grin; she was rocking precariously, leaning further forward with each sway of her body. If I knew the former king, he was probably enjoying my suffering.

When I tried to move again, a molten lava-like heat radiated up inside me. I bit my tongue to keep from yelping out. I felt as if I were about to spontaneously combust – a human supernova. The invisible flames licked at my consciousness, driving it back until my vision greyed; when the inferno finally died, I was not alone in my skin, nor was in control of it. I threw the whole of my soul against whatever had shut me out.

This can’t be happening! Not now!

I tried to command my eyes to look up at Keel’s father – maybe if I could see him I could figure out if he was causing this – but they remained down.

“Don’t fight.” The words weren’t mine: they just appeared in my head.

I sure as hell wanted to fight – against what had taken up residence in Lucia’s body, against what had moved into mine – but I’d been made an unwilling, hapless spectator, much as I was when I was with Keel in those inescapable dreams. Mentally, another piece clicked into place.

“Keel?” I brain-asked.

“Shut up.”

This was not good, monumentally not good. How the hell had he managed this? I tried not to freak out, but it was impossible. It was one thing to share his body, but another still to give up my own. “Please don’t let her die,” I pleaded, temporarily pushing my self-concern aside. “Please. I beg you.”

My body took a step forward and unlike Lucia’s movements, mine were fluid. Lucia didn’t so much as flinch, not even to wiggle her butt closer to the treacherous edge.

“Get down from there,” I heard myself demand. I didn’t sound possessed. I didn’t know if that made whatever was happening to me more or less unnerving. “You wanted to talk to me, so talk.”

The thing inside of Lucia looked us up and down. “What sort of trickery is this?” it demanded.

“No trick. Just the bond. So what did you want to say?”

“I don’t believe you.”

Keel paced my body back and forth on the rooftop.

“Tell him something only you would know,” I instructed in my head. Perhaps if I offered Keel some goodwill, he’d return the favour.

He kept pacing.

“Trust me,” I implored. “Prove you are who you say you are.”

Keel turned back to Lucia. “When I was six, you took me topside so you could show me how we used to hunt before we were forced into the shadows. When I looked away during your kill, you blackened both my eyes. Need more?” Keel asked, with my voice. I shivered, but it didn’t reach my flesh.

How was he able to possess me so perfectly?

If Lucia hadn’t been caught in the middle, I’d be screaming for him to get out, but I needed her safe. Not that going along with Keel would guarantee that she’d be spared. But I had hope. At least Keel seemed to operating my body as if it wasn’t nearly dead of exhaustion.

“Son?” said Keel's father, suspicion darkening his single-word question.

“You lost the right to use that term,” Keel replied frigidly. “Now tell me, what was so important that you came here to do this to what is mine?” He said that last word like he’d said it the night we met, when I was a future possession, not a future co-conspirator. I cringed, and wondered if that tiny bit of hope I had left had been ill-placed.

“What is yours?” Lucia slurred, with a dark laugh. The former king wasn’t getting any better at enunciating with her mouth. “You can’t just leave your things lying around, believing they’ll go untouched. You shouldn’t need to learn that lesson: you’re the one who taught it to me.”

“She is not alone, and she will remain untouched, as will the one you are using as a vessel.”

“Is that so?” Lucia said, her body swaying wildly now, threatening to pitch itself into the roadway below.

“It is so,” Keel said, and with a sudden burst of speed – not vampire-fast, but definitely faster than I should have been able to move – my body dashed forward, grabbed Lucia’s arm and yanked her back off of the ledge. She lost her balance and landed on her rear in the snow. A look of angry, indignation settled on her face. “Now, what did you want to tell me?”

“There are traitors on the council,” Lucia said.

“You think I don’t know that?”

“You need to rule with an iron fist.”

“I rule how I see fit. Obviously, your way,” Keel paused, “had some flaws.”

“You ungrateful –” the former king growled from within Lucia, slowly pulling her body back to its feet, like a wet insect trying to regain its footing. It looked downright bizarre. I ached for Lucia. Was she a passenger in there like I was, experiencing everything, but otherwise trapped?

“Was that all then?” Keel said.

“No. I was going to bring you these two. Tell you to use them. But I see you’ve already done that with the sorceress – another thing I could have learned from you, I suppose.” He didn’t say that with pride, more like barely restrained jealousy. “This one, however – she’s got other talents.”

Keel eyed Lucia like a piece of meat, weighing her worth.

“Keel! Don’t you dare,” I said. “Do that, and this is war. Do you understand me?” I thought those last four words out nice and slow. I knew he could hear me; we’d communicated perfectly earlier.

“And what exactly is it that you want in return for these generous gifts?” Keel asked. “One of which, may I remind you, was already mine.”

“You mean the one you stole from me?” the former king corrected. “What do I want? An ear from time to time. Perhaps a seat on your council.”

An unexpected infusion of heat warmed my right palm. Keel was calling forth my magic. I tried to suppress it, force it back down, but it was like I wasn’t there at all. I felt my fingernails drag across the flesh of my hand. They wanted to release the force gathering within, so it could obey Keel’s will. I had no idea what that was, but I had a feeling that the “funny business” Bruce had been worried about didn’t even begin to describe it.

“Try not to kill anyone,” I whispered, wordlessly, then added. “Except maybe your father.”

That’s when everything went mental. My arm flung outwards and my palm found its mark on Lucia’s forehead. In a blast of heat and light, the magic surged out of me, throwing both of us backwards. Lucia’s flight was abruptly stopped by the maintenance shed behind her, but I went end over end until my head smacked into something hard and unyielding and I was cast into darkness.

* * *

I came to in my own bed. I hurt everywhere, a single, unified, senseless roar of pain. As soon as I tried to swallow, I realized something was crammed down my throat. My fingers flew to my mouth and I pulled hand over hand until the entirety of the plastic tubing had been removed. I gagged, coughed and gagged some more, while bile and saliva dripped down my chin onto the bedsheets.

Once I stopped choking, I noticed Lucia. She had dragged my office chair to my bedside. Her hand lay limply next to mine on the mattress. She’d obviously been holding it before she’d dozed off.

Lucia was alive! The relief that bubbled up through my chest was more than ample compensation for the soreness. I was surprised my fit a moment earlier hadn’t woken her. I looked around. My usually sparse room was cluttered with machines. The one that was connected to the feeding tube I'd yanked out of my mouth had been wheeled into the spot where my night table usually stood.

How long had I been out for? I scoured my memories for some clue, any clue.

I remembered Lucia being possessed by Keel’s father, and that Keel had somehow used the bond to possess me; I remembered the surge of magic bursting forth into her as my palm connected with her forehead, and the shockwave that threw us both backward. Then nothing.

No sounds. No smells. No Keel. No dreams. No anything. It was how I imagined death would feel. A timeless void.

I was nowhere, but now I was back.

I tapped Lucia’s forearm. “Hey. Wake up.” My voice cracked from lack of use.

She shot upright in the chair and yanked her hand away. Her eyes darted frantically around the room.

“Stop. We’re safe here. Private residence, remember?” I said, rhyming her own words back at her.

Lucia ceased craning her neck and looked at me.

“You look like crap,” I told her. Her dark hair hung around her face in tangles and her red blouse was wrinkled, probably from dozing off hunched over in my chair.

“Not funny,” she said, running her fingers through her errant strands as a makeshift brush.

“Yeah, but it’s the truth.”

She grinned a little at that. “I was starting to think you’d never wake up. There are a hundred or so ghosts keeping a twenty-four-hour vigil outside your building.”

“How long have I been out?” I asked, steeling myself for the reply, whatever it may be.

“Eighteen days,” Lucia said.

Wow. “Why am I not in a hospital?”

“Your father has a personal physician. Better than anyone in any hospital around here. Or at least that’s how he explained it to this lowly human when I refused to leave until they told me where you were being treated.”

“You really got my father to cave to you?” I said, impressed.

“Sure,” Lucia said. “Besides I was the one who sounded the alarm when you passed out on the roof.”

“Is that the going story?”

“Sure is,” Lucia said. “I’m pretty sure they bought it too; I think you’ve got your sleep issues to thank for that.”

“That’s about the only thing,” I sighed. Now that I was back in the waking world, I couldn’t help wondering whether Keel could jump back into my body at any moment. I shoved the thought out of my head; I'd have all the time in the world to fret and worry about that later. “How about you? Are you alright? Do you remember anything from the roof?”

Lucia looked away. That was all the answer I needed. Anything she refused to confront head on was trouble.

“You need to tell me what happened,” I told her.

“I don’t remember anything,” she confessed. “We psychics don’t, when that happens; it’s supposed to be a protection mechanism, but it’s useless.”

“Back up,” I said. “When what happens?”

Lucia still wasn’t looking at me: she was staring at the floor. “Some ghosts, the really powerful ones, can take possession of the bodies of people who are sensitive to their existence.”

“Like psychics.”

“Bingo.”

“And Keel’s father is one of these ghosts,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell me before we went up there?”

“Because I wasn’t sure – it’s so rare. Plus, it’s an embarrassing thing to admit. You’re so powerful, and in some ways I’m just a walking target for the right spirit.”

I laughed out loud. “We’re more alike than you think.”

Lucia looked confused, but I didn’t elaborate. I was definitely not ready to verbalize my own possession yet, even though I needed to – and soon. Keel knew about Lucia now. Just because he'd saved her, didn’t mean she was safe. Or that I was, especially if he decided to play Invasion of the Body Snatchers again. “Here’s what I don’t get,” I said. “If this was so dangerous, why do it?”

“Because there was no point in not doing it,” Lucia said, finally looking me in the eyes again. They were red and puffy, but entirely her own. “He’d already found me, he already knew I knew you, he was going to do what he did up there whether I played nice or not. If I hadn’t, he’d just have mind-raped me the next time I stepped out of my front door and walked my body over here himself.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“Stop apologizing. I’m the one who chased after you in the street. I’m the one who made first contact.”

“Why did you?”

“Because of you. You don’t know it, and I kind of love that you don’t know it, because somehow that makes you more real, but you’re already a legend. If I help you, I have a chance to help make history – a human in the supe history books: can you imagine that?”

“There are lots of humans in supe history books,” I corrected, but I knew what she meant. None of those humans were heroes. “I can’t let you be a walking target.”

“What do you suggest?” Lucia said, her expression dour. “Once this sort of thing starts happening, a psychic is pretty much done for. The more the strong ones get in, the easier it becomes for the weaker ones to do it. Soon I won’t be able to keep any of them out. That’s why I said the forgetting is useless, because soon you’re not just losing minutes or hours: you are losing entire days, while the dead take their joyrides or attempt to settle old scores or do whatever else it is they want to do.”

“Get me my laptop,” I told her.

“Why?” Lucia asked.

“Psychics aren’t the only ones who can be possessed, right? You said ‘sensitives,’ so that means other humans too, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but why? I’m not following.”

“Just get me my laptop,” I repeated.

When Lucia returned with it, I explained. “Sorcerers fix things. Supernatural things.”

“But they don’t know about ghosts or psychics.”

“True, but I bet you they know about possession. Just maybe not what’s doing the possessing. I don’t know if the ghosts ever told you, but sorcerers are the ones who get called in when supe stuff goes wrong. And since possession – at least this kind – has nothing to do with the bond or vampires, I’m counting on there being some info in here on how to stop it.”

“But if we stop it, how will we talk to Garstatt?”

“It’s been almost three weeks, don’t you think if he wanted to talk he’d have shown his face by now?” I said, scrolling through sorcery docs on my computer. “Besides, it’s too dangerous. You really still want to go through with that after all this? What if Keel’s father possesses you again? What if Garstatt does something even worse? What if he kills you? Yes, I need all the information I can get, but not at that cost.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure,” I said adamantly. “Do you want to make history with me or do you want to be history?”

“But what if Garstatt does eventually show up, and what if he has valuable information?”

“Then he passes it along through you, like any normal not-super-charged ghost and if he won’t then I’ll just do without it. I have for this long already.”

“As long as you’re sure,” Lucia said.

“I already told you I was.” What I was afraid to tell her was that this was the only security I could give her. The existence of real human psychics was no longer the best kept secret of the supernatural world; Keel knew, and there was no telling what he was going to do with that information.

“Here!” I said, when I finally found what I was looking for. I turned the laptop toward her so she could peruse the spell for herself. I was probably breaking another dozen sorcery rules by doing that, but I didn’t care.

“Ummm… did you read this?” Lucia said, warily.

“Yeah.”

“I’m not sure I can do this.”

I gave her a sharp look. “You have to, if you want to stop the possessions. The sorcerers don’t exactly have back-up spells if you find something about one distasteful. That’s not how magic works.”

“You’re okay with this?”

“It won’t be the first time I’ve done it,” I confessed.

Lucia looked as if she was going to throw up.

“Listen, you don’t have to decide right now. We can’t even do this until we get the necessary ingredients. Cedar, sage, garlic, basil and something called –” I flicked my eyes back to the screen “– burdock root. And according to this, we’ll also need a mortar and pestle to grind it into a paste.”

“I know where to get that stuff,” Lucia said, surprising me.

“But how are we going to get there? I’m bedridden – probably for at least another day or two, if not more – and you’ve got a vengeful vampire stalking you,” I reminded her.

“Actually, I haven’t seen him,” Lucia admitted. “Not since the roof. I don’t know what happened up there, but he’s just gone.”

I thought of the magic flowing out of my palm, how it had only affected the ghost. What the hell had Keel done up there, and how had he known to do it? I was positive I’d never read about any kind of spell like that, so how?

“I guess that’s a bit of good news,” I allowed. I closed my laptop and carefully handed it back to her; any sudden movement brought with it a fresh chorus of  physical discomfort. I watched as she returned it to my desk.

“I’m going to go,” she announced a couple minutes later. “I’ve been living over here for the better part of the last two weeks and now that I know you’re going to be okay, I owe my mom some family time. I will think about that spell though, I promise. You’re probably right: doing that isn't half as bad as what will happen to me if I don’t. It’s just it’s…”

“I know,” I said. “And remember, no pressure.”

“Don’t lie,” Lucia quipped and disappeared out my door. “I’ll tell Bruce and your dad that you’re awake.”

[CHAPTER 13 WILL HIT THE WEB ON MONDAY, JULY 1ST!]

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