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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6. Sleepless in the City

Chapter 3: Sleepless in the City

I was still sitting on the couch, staring mindlessly at the TV, at 2:20 a.m., when Bruce’s stocky shadow finally darkened the doorway of our living room. He must have went to meet Ephraim or his stepbrother Mike; nothing else could have accounted for him being gone so long. Supernaturals, and those linked with them, didn’t keep human company. Except for me, forcibly exiled and made to pretend I was someone I wasn’t.

“What are you still doing up?” Bruce asked.

“Had trouble sleeping.”

“Did you train?”

I thought about lying, but there wasn’t much point. Bruce may have been a bit of a slob, with his video games and ever-growing collection of random computer parts scattered all over the apartment and his habit of using his bedroom floor as his hamper, but he was meticulous when it came to his weapons and training space: he’d know right away that I hadn’t touched a single sword or sweated on any of the practice mats.

“Got home late from shopping,” I said, “then—”

“You took the night off because I wasn’t here.”

“Something like that,” I agreed. Bruce was well aware I only kept up with the physical aspect of my training so I could keep studying magic.

“Probably why you couldn’t sleep,” he said, as he sloughed off his blue parka and draped it over the top of the leather recliner.

“Yeah, probably.”

“You hungry? I didn’t have time to stop and eat and I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep, as long as my stomach is making this racket. What’dya say, late-night breakfast?”

“Sure,” I said, though my appetite had gone AWOL, despite skipping supper myself. Maybe I was coming down with a bug  of some sort. That could account for both my lack of hunger and my whacked-out dreams.

You’re reaching, I told myself. Still, that’s how badly I wanted a mundane explanation for all this.

Bruce disappeared into the kitchen, where I heard him removing various pans from the cupboard and then digging around in the fridge. A moment later, he shouted out to me, “You’re not going to help?”

I let out a dramatic mock sigh, turned off the TV and joined him into the kitchen. Ten minutes later, the room was filled with the scent of frying back bacon. Its rich, greasy aroma made my stomach rumble. Guess I was hungry after all.

But as my appetite stirred, it brought with it scalded-in memories of a different kind of craving. A faint echo of Keel’s feral urges tugged at my body, willing it towards Bruce, and though I knew it was impossible, I thought I caught a whiff of his blood, sweet and inviting – just as the Nosferatu would smell it, just as I’d smelled it earlier in my dream – mingling with the sizzling bacon.

I rushed to the window and threw it open, gulping down two, then three mouthfuls of cold, late-November air, but it wasn’t enough to stop the bitter-tasting bile from rising in my throat. A second later I was fleeing to the bathroom all over again, hand firmly clasped over my own mouth, just in case I didn’t make it in time.

As I fell to my knees in front of the toilet, the carpet barely buffering my kneecaps from the hard tile floor, streams of bile, then blood – lots of it – splattered into the bowl. The rest of the nightmare crashed back full force as I stared down at the stringy red-pink mess in the water. It couldn’t be…

No. That was NOT possible. Keel had eaten that guy. Not me. Never mind it was just a dream. Wasn’t it?

I quickly flushed the toilet, hoping to send my panic and worry swirling away with the bloody water. Of course, it didn’t work. Connections were already forming in my head. If I added up all the coincidences – the unnatural length of the bond’s absence; the weird, ultra-vivid, being-Keel dream; and now all that blood – there was only one thing that explained everything. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t ready to say it out loud yet.

I washed my face, brushed my teeth again, and returned to the kitchen, several shades paler.

“You okay?” Bruce asked. Concern accentuated the lines on his face; he looked exhausted.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said. “Upset stomach.” Hide the lie in the truth; it was Bruce who’d taught me that, and now I was using it against him. I felt a twinge of guilt. Yet, I knew if I told him about the dream or what had really just happened in the bathroom, then neither of us would getting any sleep tonight.

“Are you sure eating is a good idea then?”

I saw my out and took it. “You’re probably right. Maybe I should go lie down.”

“Just try to get some rest,” he advised. “You’ll feel better in the morning.

Fat chance, I thought, as walked back to my room and shut the door behind me. Now what? If I hadn’t wanted to sleep after having the dream, I definitely didn’t want to now.

The gears in my head wouldn’t stop turning. The blood barf pretty much sealed the deal. That hadn't just been some dream. It'd been the bond.

It had always spoken to Keel and I in myriad ways, evolving as we – and our relationship – had evolved. In fact, if our experiences had proven anything definitively, it was that the bond was constantly changing. Even now, there was no way of knowing if this was how it was supposed to work, because no one had studied sorcerer-Nosferatu bonds – ever. The only mention of them in Nosferatu texts spoke of their absolute taboo or came in the form of folkloric stories of King Garstatt, the sole vampire known to have bonded with a sorcerer, and, as Keel had explained, most Nosferatu doubted the veracity of those centuries-old accounts. No one knew for sure that such a thing was possible, until us.

Keel and I had done our best to document the nature of what we’d become. He’d kept copious notes of everything we’d discovered, from the effects – both positive and negative – that consuming my blood had on him, to the different spells I’d learned to wield as I repeatedly and willingly faced off with his pre-transition Nosferatu side. But if there were any missed secrets or clues in those journals, they were lost to me now. They were all back at the Nosferatu compound, in Keel’s hands.

Keel’s hands. The dream. That wasn’t… what if…

My stomach contracted as if clenched in an angry fist.

Think, Mills, I ordered myself. Was there anything about that dream that couldn’t have been real?

The room shredding apart!

I latched onto that immediately, but the more I re-ran the events through my head, the more I had to admit that everything after that initial disintegration was all utterly believable. If I had been seeing Keel’s world through Keel’s eyes and feeling what he was feeling, was that really so different from Keel experiencing my emotions after drinking my blood or any of the other ways we were able to communicate telepathically? If this was real, however, it was much more potent than anything either of us had experienced thus far, but even that could be reasoned out. We were bonded through magic too now – and had been ever since the blood contract ritual unexpectedly bound us tighter even while swearing us apart – and Keel was a newly turned, young, powerful Nosferatu king. Bruce and Ephraim had suspected his transition would weaken the bond, but that was just speculation; the sorcerers had no research on this either. Knowing the League, they’d likely shunned the one who’d bonded with Garstatt as fast as they’d shunned me.

But if the dream wasn’t a dream, then that meant…

Keel's thinking of kidnapping another sorcerer! The fist in my stomach gave a sharp twist, my head spun dizzily, and I sank to the floor. If there’d been anything left inside me to puke up I probably would have, on the spot.

Would Boras and Arthos allow him do that? Would I? Could I just sit back and let someone else suffer my fate? Keel and I had started this, we should end this; other innocents need not apply.

Are you sure? that stupid little voice inside me asked. Maybe you just don’t want to share him.

I didn’t want to share the old Keel. This Keel… I… I…

I hated how confused all of this made me. And I loathed how good that man’s blood had tasted in my not-dream and how badly I’d wanted it. I knew what that said about Keel, but what did it say about me? Hadn’t I looked at Bruce the exact same way not twenty minutes ago?

Good versus evil. Natural versus supernatural. Biological versus mythological. Fate versus coincidence. What if all those things weren’t in contradiction? What if they all just were?

This was the stuff I wanted to learn about, the stuff that wasn’t in any of the sorcery books that had been loaded onto my computer, the stuff I couldn’t ask my all-too-human tutor or even Bruce about, because he might deem it something worth reporting back to Ephraim, and then I'd be even further from the answers I sought. I needed to know where superstition and mythology ended and fact began, because that line seemed to be growing ever more blurred.

I crawled over to my dresser and retrieved my journal. I flipped one page past my last letter to Keel, then wrote OBSERVATIONS in the middle of it. On the next page I began to record my dream, every single thing I remembered about it, no matter how seemingly minuscule and insignificant – everything I saw, felt, tasted and heard. Then I scribbled down what had happened after I woke up. Up to and including my deductions about the bond and the dream itself. Just like Keel would have done, once upon a time.

Since I didn’t have those original journals, I’d have to recreate them from memory as best I could. And since Keel wasn’t here to bounce theories off, I’d have to buckle down and try to suss this out on my own.

Maybe these side effects were yet another reason why sorcerers didn’t bond with vampires, or any other supernaturals for that matter – only humans, who weren’t bringing their own preternatural genetic interference to the party. Bonding with ordinary people – as my father had done with Bruce – kept all the extant power in the sorcerer’s court, while also providing them with a virtual servant, who’d be summoned unconditionally should the sorcerer be gravely injured. It was considered a particularly regal form of supernatural insurance, and most powerful sorcerers subscribed to it.

From what I could tell, Keel’s and I’s connection didn't work like that.

All the same, if I really was seeing what Keel was seeing, then I needed to do it again, and soon, if only to find out if he was serious in his threats. 

I shivered, and considered my bed, as much repelled by the idea of going back in as I was attracted to it; the bond wanted this, but did I?

The Keel I knew was gone. The prince had become a king, and an unrepentant bloodsucker. All had happened as destined. But I still had no idea what my role in this was supposed to be.

How could I even be sure what I felt was really what I felt and not just the influence of the bond?

Perhaps I should go across the hall, wake up Bruce and tell him everything. But what if that meant the end of our little New York experiment and it was back to being shut up in Ephraim’s boring Pennsylvania safe house? That’d be even worse than this.

I shot another glance at my bed. I had to sleep again sometime, but it would not be tonight. I wanted to do some research first. I had to make like a boy scout and be prepared.

I spent the rest of the wee hours of the morning on the laptop, boning up on sleep spells, though none came remotely close to achieving anything like the kind of visions the bond had produced earlier. There was no shortage of sleeping curses and restorative sleeping cures, but nothing that allowed two sorcerers or even a bonded human and sorcerer to communicate with each other or ride along in the other’s body. It was another dead end, though not a particularly surprising one: only one part of the bond was entirely born from sorcerer magic.

Once the sun began casting the first of its long rays over my desk, I returned to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. I was definitely going to need it if I wanted to make it through the day.

By the time Bruce finally joined me, I was wired and fidgety and no less conflicted. If I couldn’t trust my own feelings, what could I trust? I couldn’t get past that.

“How’s the stomach?” Bruce asked, as he emptied the last of the coffee into a mug. He was still in his plaid flannel pajamas, with his brown hair sticking up at a dozen odd angles; he’d likely bee-lined from his bed to the coffeemaker.

”Better,” I said with a smile, thankful for the artificial perkiness the caffeine had granted me.

“Good,” Bruce said. “Did you have fun with the girls yesterday?”

“Yup.” I hoped he wouldn’t ask me to elaborate. I’d almost forgotten about the sprinkler incident, and kind of preferred it that way. I didn’t need a lecture on using magic in human places. I already knew exactly what he would say: “Keep doing stuff like that and you're going to get us caught.”

“Maybe you should invite Anna and Jenny over here again,” Bruce suggested. “Have another sleepover.”

I didn’t want to talk about that either, because then I’d have to broach how horrendously awkward things had become between us, and that would only lead to a different kind of lecture.

“Ugh – too much work,” I groaned. Last time we’d spent most of the week prior to their visit carefully hiding all the weapons and weird supernatural stuff. Even so, I’d spent the entire duration of their stay fretting that someone would accidentally open the closet door while looking for the bathroom and find all the freaky.

“But that’s what normal teenage girls do.”

My false cheer vaporized. “How about normal teenage girls who are actually sorcerers that have been kidnapped, tortured and fed on by Nosferatu? What about them?”

“Mills…” Bruce said warningly.

“I know, I know.” I was tired, cranky and worried, but the last thing I wanted to do this morning was pick a fight. After all, Bruce was only trying to do what Ephraim wanted. In some ways, his situation wasn’t so different than mine. Free will was an illusion for him too, but somehow he’d made peace with that – unlike me, who wasn’t willing to give it up.

“What if we do it someplace else? I could take you guys on a weekend ski trip or something.”

“I don’t know how to ski,” I said. “Plus I hate the cold.”

“Well, you pick something then.”

I shrugged noncommittally and stared into my now-empty coffee mug. “Sure, let me think about it.” A delay tactic; I knew I probably wouldn’t. There were much more important things demanding brain time right now.

“What’s eating you this morning?” Bruce asked, as he popped a couple slices of whole wheat bread into the toaster.

I frowned at him and stood up, depositing my dirty mug in the sink. “Up late, bad sleep, sick, remember?”

Bruce didn’t reply, but I felt his eyes burning a hole in my back as I gathered my schoolbooks from the table and loaded them into my backpack. He suspected something was up, that much was apparent, but I was hoping he thought it was just another human-integration problem, as most things were these days.

Of course, it wasn't. It was so much bigger than that.

The bond was back. Keel was a monster. And I had no idea what other treats either had in store for me. The only thing I was certain of was that whatever happened next, regardless of what I did from here on out, it would still to be fifty percent my fault.

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