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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21. Ramifications

Chapter 18: Ramifications

My relief at bringing Lucia back from the brink of death was short-lived. As the sirens swelled from a distant howl to a soaring wail, it became clear we now had another problem: how the hell would we explain this to the authorities? When I’d originally returned to the human world from the Nosferatu compound with my amnesia story, there had been weeks to concoct and plan it. This time, we had minutes at best, and not much to work with. Lucia and I were both drenched in blood, but neither of us had a wound on us. The bullet-hole in her chest had closed as seamlessly as the cut I’d made on my arm. If the police tested our clothes or the puddle, the results would raise a lot of questions. This situation, I realized, was why Ephraim had made me swear never to use magic in the human world: it was far too easy to get in over your head.

And where was Ephraim? Injured? Dead? Lying bullet-ridden in the street next to Bruce? Collateral damage. Would I have to try to explain that too? I knew I should be doing something, but my worries kept me paralyzed in place next to Lucia, who was still in the same position she’d been in when I healed her. Her breathing continued to grow stronger and steadier, but she had yet to get to her feet or look at me or the damage to her mother’s store. She hadn’t even attempted to pull her shirt shut. Maybe she was feeling the same way I was. Overwhelmed. All out of hope ‒ and ideas.

I was dragged out my drain-circling spiral of self-pity by the sound of someone pounding on the store’s front door. The first impact nearly made me jump out of my skin. See, it’s already too late.

“Girls, if you can hear me, open up.” It was Ephraim.

Thank god.

I scrambled to my feet and crunched my way across the debris that littered the store floor as fast as I could, which wasn't fast at all. I was weak and light-headed from expending so much magic, and my body still ached wretchedly from my wipeout on the stairs. When I unlocked the front door and cracked it open, Ephraim slid in, then Bruce, who locked it again behind him. Neither looked as if they’d taken any bullets. Another miracle.

Ephraim stared at the blood on my clothes. Then, to my utter surprise, he reached out, spun me around and started patting me down – gently but very, very thoroughly. It took a long, bewildering minute, during which time I almost began to protest his intrusion, for me to realize he was looking me over for wounds. I had no idea why he didn’t just ask if I was okay or if I’d been hit. When he was confident I was free of injuries, he gazed past me to the puddle on the floor, which Lucia was still lying in, doing her best, though arguably inappropriate, impression of a corpse. “Is she-” he began, then she sat up, like Dracula in his coffin in one of those old movies, and his words changed to “What did you do?” He sounded incredulous.

I half-expected him to ream me out right then and there, but instead he shot over to Lucia, yanked her up off the floor, and propelled her in my direction. She slipped, wobbled and nearly fell, but managed to reach out and grasp the store's cash counter to steady herself just in time. She scooped up my duffel bag and both of our jackets and joined me by the door. She put hers on immediately. I couldn’t blame her; her top was hanging wide open where I’d ripped it in half to get access to the bullet hole. There hadn't been time to negotiate buttons.

“Good thinking,” I said as she handed me my bag, amazed that she’d just survived a near-death experience and yet still had more prescience than me.  If the cops saw what was inside it ‒ jar filled with a mysterious, bloody concoction; laptop full of magic books; my journal and letters to Keel ‒ it would only bring unwanted scrutiny. Then, because of who I was ‒ amnesia girl, just found ‒ the media would start sniffing around all over again, in hopes of finally getting their juicy story. And what a nightmare that'd be. They'd probably jump straight to speculating satanism, and maybe even try to tie my disappearance to a cult.

While my mind played out that unpleasant little scenario, Bruce walked the inner perimeter of the shop. I guessed he was scouring it for anything that might tie us to this place, and this place to our secrets. Meanwhile, in the office, I could see that Ephraim had slit open his palm and was squeezing several drops of his own blood into the pool of Lucia’s and mine. His lips were moving, but his words were so soft that they didn’t carry. When his mouth stilled, there was a loudening hiss, and the entire pool of blood evaporated in a plume of white smoke.

“Wow,” Lucia whispered.

“That was really not good,” I muttered. Humans could not ‒ did not ‒ know about sorcerers unless they were bonded to them or in their involuntary employ. And Ephraim hadn’t made any effort to hide his magic from Lucia.

She gave me a look that told me she didn’t follow.

“He isn’t bothering to keep his magic a secret,” I clarified. “That means ‒” I didn’t know how to finish the sentence. Lucia and I had talked about how our respective people maintained their secrecy before and I could tell from her face that she was remembering that conversation now. “You remember.”

Her face grew pale.

“Does this mean that you saved me so I can end up getting killed by your father’s cronies or, worse, forced to become their slave? I should’ve have stayed on the floor.” She was mad and she had every right to be.

“I won’t let that happen,” I vowed, but I had no idea how I would stop it. How far was I willing to go to protect Lucia? Would I run away with her? Would I fight my father? With my magic? With bond magic? With Keel? I’d be changing sides – or maybe creating a third one.

“You'd better not, or else you never should have saved me,” Lucia said.

“Don’t talk like that. Don’t you dare!” I erupted. Bruce stopped what he was doing and shot us a concerned look. I waved him off.  

“Mills, don’t you think your father’s going to figure out what I am? Then what?” Lucia’s voice was low, but her eyes were wide, and her hands were trembling. The stakes look different once you’ve lost the hand, that was something I used to hear Fredrick say, but I only now understood it. Humans weren’t particularly good at believing the worst-case scenario could happen to them.

But I knew better. Should have known better. This one was on me. I knew the dangers of letting anyone too far into our world, but I had done so anyway because I’d wanted a friend, one I didn’t have to lie to. I’d been selfish and I’d played fast and loose with her life. If something happened to her as a result of that, it was my guilt to carry. “I don’t know. I’ll think of something,” I told her. “I promise.

I hoped that would reassure her, if only a tiny bit, but none of the colour returned to her face. I’d messed up real good, and completely obliterated someone else’s world in the process. I sucked. I reached out to squeeze her hand; she knocked mine away. I made no attempt to reach for it again.

When Ephraim returned to where we were standing, he stopped in front of us and pressed his bloody palm up onto each of our foreheads. Lucia looked appropriately terrified, which I could only pray would be in our favour. “Stay close to Bruce and me,” he instructed, “and don’t speak.”

Lucia and I nodded timidly in unison, and followed Ephraim and Bruce out the door. There were a lot of frightened-looking civilians milling around, talking loudly to each other and into cellphones. The front of Lucia’s mom’s store was a spectacle in itself: the wood and siding was bullet-ridden, allowing rays of late afternoon light to breach the confines of the structure, but the door and windows were completely intact, without so much as a chip or a crack in any of them. Guess Ephraim and Garstatt’s spell worked after all; we just didn’t cover a wide enough surface, I thought. I wondered how the humans would explain this anomaly. As if on cue, police cars pulled up on the curb behind us.

“Keep walking,” Ephraim whispered; the lowness of his voice made the words no less of a command. “And try not to let anyone bump into you.”

It was slow going, but we wove our way down the street, away from where the cops were now rushing to set up a taped-off barrier to preserve the scene of the crime. Even as an awkward, shuffling, huddled mass, we drew no attention. In fact, it was as if no one could see us at all. Ephraim must’ve cast some sort of cloaking spell, I realized, but I still barely dared breathe until we were well beyond the shot-up car that had sheltered Ephraim and Bruce. Two blocks later, my father steered us into an alleyway, to the protest of a several rats, which squeaked and skittered as we navigated ourselves around the pile of  oddly shaped, semi-full garbage bags they'd been foraging inside. When we were far enough back from the street to be cloaked in the shadows, Ephraim stepped away from us, back into the mouth of the alley. I knew this meant he had dropped the shield; with blood magic, proximity was a constant, immutable consideration.

“The minivan’s just across the street.” If anyone else had said that, it would have been a rather bland statement of fact, but Ephraim turned it into an order. Two minutes later, all four of us had piled inside of the vehicle ‒ Bruce and Ephraim in the front, Lucia and I in the back. As we drove away from the barrage of flashing lights and ever-growing mob of gawkers, no one spoke.

The uncomfortable silence held as we pulled into our apartment’s underground lot, and continued during the elevator ride up to our unit. The tension felt like an ever-tightening noose. It was getting hard to breathe.

“Find her something clean to wear,” Ephraim told me, as we doffed our shoes and coats inside the apartment door.

“Okay,” I said, and headed down the hallway towards my bedroom. Lucia quickly fell in step behind me.

“He’s really pissed, isn’t he?” she said once we were in my room.

“Yeah, he is.” I wished I knew what to tell her. I was sure that saying anything at this point would only make it worse; awful things happened to humans who knew about supernaturals, especially once the supes knew that they knew. And Lucia had bigger and more important secrets than any human: this would be ten times worse for her. I slid open my closet door. “Take anything you want,” I said. A moment later I added, “Just not the red dress.”

“I think it’s a little too fancy for the occasion anyway,” Lucia said dourly.

After riffling through my entire closet twice, she fished out a pinstriped blouse and a light purple, velvet knee-length skirt. They were both Estella purchases. “Why do you have so much black?” she asked. “I mean, you’re not exactly a goth.”

I wondered if she was actually curious or just using small talk to distract from the impending awfulness. I decided it didn’t matter. “Don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never really thought about it.” I’d always been a bit basic in my tastes, but it had only been since the compound that I’d become so monochromatic. Perhaps that too had something to do with Keel and the bond, or perhaps clothes just didn’t seem so important anymore. Still, neither of those things explained the red dress. Like me, it was an anomaly.

“Can I wear these?” Lucia asked, holding the ensemble she’d picked out up to herself in front of my stand-up mirror, as if we were merely two teenage girls swapping clothes and not about to sit down with our judge, jury, and… executioners? That’s how the saying went, but Ephraim wouldn’t really do that, not now, not after all our strides, would he? I wished my magic could blink the world into that former, much more innocent configuration.

“Absolutely.” I said. “In fact, you can keep them.”

“Thanks,” Lucia said, then disappeared into the bathroom. I selected my own outfit – black jeans, black cable-knit sweater, stripy socks – and waited my turn for the shower. Once we were done, we made our way out to the living room. Ephraim didn’t need to tell me that that was what he expected: most of our big discussions happened there. Sure enough, he and Bruce were waiting.

We took our seats. I was in what I was starting to think of as “the interrogation chair,” and Lucia was on the couch beside Bruce, though she scooted herself so far to the end of it that she was closer to me than him.

The room buzzed with that same stomach-turning tension as earlier. This was one of those moments when, more than anything, I wished that life had a fast-forward button, and I didn’t even care that hitting it would mean accelerating the return of the bond and Keel’s unfathomable machinations. Hell, at this second, I wasn’t even sure if Nosferatu Keel was scarier than my father: only one of them could kill me with impunity, and it wasn’t the vampire.

“This afternoon my daughter did something she should not have done,” Ephraim began, addressing Lucia, “and as a result, you have seen things you should not have seen.”

Lucia nodded slightly, but didn’t utter a word. She had her feet jammed hard into the floor to keep her legs from trembling too much. I wondered if Ephraim could see how terrified she was. I wondered if he cared. I saw none of the Ephraim of the last week in him now; it was as though he’d completely reverted back to the authoritarian ass he’d always been. Damn, I thought. I’ve even managed to screw that up.

“The rules about what happens when a human is exposed to the supernatural world are clear,” he continued.

“No!” I said, jumping to my feet. “You are not going to tell the League about her.” Ephraim raised an eyebrow, but let me speak. “We’ll give her mom some story, and that’ll be the end of it. This is all my fault. I won’t let you destroy her‒” I stopped and corrected myself. “Their lives.”

“I can’t break the rules.”

“Sure, you can,” I argued. “You gave me the magic books, even though the terms of my exile forbids them.”

I snuck a stealthy glance at Lucia, pleased to see she’d put on a shocked expression, as if not all of this was already old news. If she’d never considered going into acting, she should have; she was damned good.

“Ephraim. Dad ‒ please,” I pleaded. “I’ll do whatever. Just don’t punish her for my screw-up.”

Lucia must have known we were talking about my saving her life, but I didn’t want to be the one to spell it out for her and confirm that, yes, the sorcerers would rather I had let my best friend die, because things would have been neater that way.

“Even if she did tell someone, who would believe her?” I added, my voice growing more shrill and desperate with every word.

Ephraim looked at Lucia, who seemed to sense the weight of his stare and looked up. “Wait in my daughter’s room,” he told her. “I need to talk to Mildred ‒ alone.” Lucia didn’t hesitate at his unexpected dismissal, she sprang to her feet and bolted down the hallway, as if she couldn’t get away from all of us fast enough. A moment later we heard my bedroom door click shut behind her.

Ephraim turned his attention back to me and rubbed his temples. When I didn’t sit back down, he said, “Before I agree to anything, I need to know how you did what you did in there.” I sagged into my chair. How could I explain any of this without copping to Lucia and Garstatt’s involvement? Yet that’s exactly what I had to do. Funny how I used to rail against everyone’s secrecy, and now I was the one with the most to keep, and the most to lose.

“Do what?” I asked, hoping to buy myself some time.

“That was no small amount of blood on that floor, nor on your friend.”

“She was shot.”

Ephraim waited for me to elaborate. Bruce appeared to have the same expectation.

“It was bad,” I said. “Real bad. There wasn’t time to call 911.”

“The bloodstain told me that much,” Ephraim said. “But how did you heal her?”

“I used my magic.”

“Lying to me right now will not help your friend,” he said, loudly. I was pretty sure he did that just so Lucia would hear.

I sighed. “Okay, fine. You want the whole truth? Here it is. I tried to use my magic but it didn’t work. But underneath it, I felt something else, something powerful, and when I pulled on that and channelled it into me, it did work. I could heal her. I know what I did was all kinds of wrong, but you have to understand, I couldn’t let her die.” I was still lying. I didn’t believe what I had done was wrong at all; how could saving a life ever be wrong?

“And what exactly was this power you tapped into?” Ephraim said. He was asking but I knew he already knew. He just wanted me to admit it, to lay it all out on the table for him.

“The bond,” I said, half under my breath. “It was bond magic.” I felt like a six-year-old forced to confess she’d been playing with matches after lighting up half the kitchen. “And Keel.”

“As you did on the roof?” It was an accusation.

“I already told you: I did nothing on roof.”

“Why am I suddenly finding that so hard to believe?” Ephraim snapped.

He was looking at me as if I’d been gaming him the whole time, and it pissed me off. I thought we were finally past all this.

“I don’t care what you believe,” I growled.

We glared at each other, not speaking, for at least a minute ‒ waging a non-verbal battle of wills. Then Bruce interjected, “We still need to figure out what to do about the girl.”

Ephraim appeared to contemplate that, then said to Bruce, “Go and tell her to phone her mother; have her come here.” Surely Ephraim wasn’t going to do something horrible if he was summoning Lucia’s mother to our house.

“You know that what you are doing is extremely dangerous,” Ephraim said, as Bruce left the room. He was obviously still furious, but trying to contain it.

I thought back to my conversation with Garstatt. “Is it?” I asked. “Or is that just what everybody fears? I can save lives!

“Like all things, the universe requires balance. The scales of life and death require balance.”

“No,” I said, leaning forward in my chair, elbows on knees. “What the universe requires is less hate, less senseless murder, and less intolerance between humans and sorcerers and vampires and everyone.”

“And you think the way to that utopia is paved by an exiled half-breed sorceress and a vampire child-king?” Ephraim sneered, as if it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.

“I don’t know what I think,” I snarled, maddened by his ugly words. “All I know is that while it may have been my fault that Lucia and I were together, it was sorcerers who shot up the store and nearly killed her. It was my own goddamned people. You’re all so terribly worried about Keel, but I don’t think he’s the threat here.”

Bruce returned to the room just as I finished; he announced that Lucia’s mom was on her way.

Ephraim seized the opportunity to change topics. “You won't have to worry about those vigilantes anymore,” he said. “The League will hunt them down now. Incidents such as today’s occurrence cannot and will not be tolerated.”

“And what about the next group?” I asked. “I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of supes who hate me.”

“We will worry about that when the time comes.”

“Sure we will,” I said sarcastically, wondering if we were always going to be reacting rather than acting. “Are we done?”

“For now,” Ephraim said. He didn’t move from the couch, but he didn’t look at me again either. I suspected he’d have a lot more to say to me about Keel and using bond magic and saving other people’s lives while irreparably screwing up my own later, but he was clearly finished for the time being. It was a small mercy, though I feared the worst was yet to come.

I got up and returned to my room. Lucia was lying on my bed, her face red from crying. “My mom saw the store. She’s furious.”

“She doesn’t know you had anything to do with it. She doesn’t even know that you were there,” I reminded her.

“My mom’s not an idiot, Mills. You think when she comes here and sits down with your father that she’s not going to figure out what’s going on?”

I had no reply. Everything Lucia feared was absolutely possible.

“Can I ask you something?” she said, as I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room wishing I knew the words to make all of this better.

“Of course.”

“Are we bonded now?” The question was tinged with equal parts hope and dread. Lucia’s face was a canvas of conflicting emotions.

“No,” I said. I’d known we weren’t since back at the shop; it had taken me no time to bounce back from saving Lucia. When I’d bonded with Keel, I’d been comatose for hours.

“Why not? Isn’t that how it works? You save my life and bang! Eternal connectedness.”

I thought back to the way Ephraim had grilled me about the healing. “I don’t think sorcerers can be bonded to more than one person,” I said, before adding, “Besides, I needed much more than my own magic to bring you back.”

“I was dead?” Lucia said, unbelieving.

“I don’t know,” I confessed. “I just saw you lying there, bleeding out all over the floor, and I knew I couldn’t let it happen.”

“See? You are powerful,” she stated, sitting up on my bed. The pinstriped blouse now boasted several new wrinkles; the velvet skirt had fared better.

“I’m getting that. If only I could use it to get us out of all of this.”

“I guess saving my life is gonna have to be good enough,” Lucia joked. I hoped it would be. I also hoped Ephraim would spare her from a life of servitude to the sorcerers. “Hey, can we do that no-more-possessions spell now? Just in case my mom does decide to ground me until the next ice age.”

I was happy she brought it up. I’d completely forgotten about it and it did need to be done. I didn’t save her life just so she could be hijacked and driven mad by some depraved, opportunistic spirit.

This time, there was no hesitation on Lucia’s part or mine. Both of us knew her mother could arrive at any moment, so when I unscrewed the lid and handed her the mason jar, she choked down the concoction with zero complaints. I hastily chanted the necessary words as she drank.

“I felt it. It worked,” Lucia said, when we were done.

“I did too,” I confirmed. Magic when performed correctly left behind a telling tingle. “I guess we can finally chalk one up for us.”

“Guess so,” she said, wiping the remaining chunky bits of the spell juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. There was a knock at the door.

“Lucia, your mother’s here,” Bruce announced from the other side. “I think you should join us in the living room.”

“Okay,” she answered, voice quivering anew. Then she threw her arms around me. “Sorry for...earlier. Even if I get grounded forever, I’m happy you didn’t let me die.” She looked as if she was about to burst into tears. She may have been halfway jovial a few minutes earlier, but Bruce’s announcement had beaten it out of her again. For her sake, I hoped the next part of this wouldn’t play out as awfully as she obviously thought it would.

“It’s alright,” I told her. “Besides, I couldn’t let you die: you haven’t given me my Christmas present yet.”

She smiled. It was sad but genuine.

“Good luck out there,” I told her, as she opened the door and stepped into the hallway.

“Thanks. I’m going to need it.”

No matter how hard I listened or what spell I attempted to cast, I could not hear what was happening in the living room. I hoped the fact that no one was raising their voices was a good sign, but there was honestly no way to tell. I even tried to reach out to my blood inside Lucia, but her body had already broken it down beyond the point of usefulness.

While I waited, I paced, stared out the window, and paced some more. When I couldn’t stand worrying about Lucia anymore, I gave myself over to worrying about Keel. What had the cost of my tapping into the bond – and him – been? Had I knocked him into a coma as he’d done to me on the roof? My father had been right when he’d suggested I was playing with forces I did not understand. Still, I didn’t regret what I’d done. I was strong and Keel was strong, and Lucia was not; it was our job to protect the weak. I doubted Keel would agree, not now that he was full-blooded Nosferatu, but if Etan paved the road to Hell by doing all the wrong things, I would attempt to the pave the path to somewhere else by doing stuff right. That much I’d already decided.

Almost an hour passed before there was movement in the front hall. Though no one called for me, I finally dared leave my bedroom when I heard a coat being zipped up. I had to make sure Lucia was okay, and that meant setting my own two eyes on her to confirm it. If I caught more crap for that, so be it.

“Get your stuff. We’re going,” declared Lucia’s mom. She was a one-woman vortex of fury. She refused to look at any of us, as if we all disgusted her in some heinous and unforgivable manner. In that moment, all I felt was shame, for what I was and what I’d done. That Lucia had opted in didn’t matter. I was the one who should have been smart enough to see the inevitability of this ending.

“Sorry, Mills,” Lucia said, as her mom frogmarched her out of our apartment by the arm. Ms. Flores was holding her daughter so tight, I suspected Lucia would have five perfectly finger-shaped bruises on her forearm in the morning. I had no idea what specifically she was apologizing to me for, but I got the impression that whatever had been said between the four of them had been on the extreme side of “not good.” Or perhaps it had, like Lucia feared, all boiled down to what her mom had read between the lines.

As the door closed behind them, I began to retreat back to my bedroom.

“Not so fast, Mildred. There are still some things we need to discuss,” Ephraim barked after me. He sounded in as foul a mood as Lucia’s mom had looked.

“Not right now,” I said, not even slowing my pace. I was already gutted, I wasn’t entirely sure I could withstand another Ephraim-style chewing out. I’d felt the hate wafting from Ms. Flores, and I knew what that meant, even if I wanted to pretend that I didn’t. Regardless if she been implicitly told or if she'd just figured it out on her own, she knew we were supes now. I’d become the enemy. And in many ways she was right. I had nearly gotten her daughter killed twice.

I collapsed onto my bed and sobbed. I’d learned so much over the last couple of months, and yet I had even less of an idea of who I was than when I’d first left Pennsylvania. I was still stuck somewhere between the Mills I had once been and the Mills I would have to become if I wanted to survive.

And if Garstatt was to be believed, I was one half of something inevitable.

I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. There were a couple of dead flies dotting the bottom of the light fixture. It got me thinking. Flies always knew to gravitate towards the light, but where was I supposed to go? Maybe Garstatt was onto something. Maybe it was time to stop running away from my fate and start marching towards it.

That thought was beyond frightening, though, and so was the idea of really, actually standing face to face with Keel again. I pushed it to the back of my mind.

As I did, the bond twitched.

Come home, it murmured wordlessly. It was a feeling, a familiar pull. Destiny awaits you.

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