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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5. Welcome to My Nightmare

 

Chapter 2: Welcome to My Nightmare

I was standing in front of my mirror studying myself, just as I’d done earlier, but now everything was more exaggerated, more surreal – from the glow of the dress’ red sequins, which seemed to be generating an unearthly luminescence within themselves, to the shadowy corners of my room, impossibly dark and hungry – a hiding place for ten thousand tiny, toothy, silently chomping mouths.

I twirled once, then again and again, giving myself over to the momentum; the bottom of the slightly flared skirt granted me a sparkling red mermaid’s tail. As it did, the room began to spin with me in a dizzying waltz, shaking loose its solidity. The walls and furniture began to fray at their edges and wisp away in great plumes of black smoke, as if on fire.

But nothing was burning. My bedroom was neither hot nor cold; rather, it was devoid of temperature all together.

I was dreaming. Had to be. Because I wasn’t the least bit alarmed.

Other objects began to take shape and form around me, and suddenly I wasn’t moving anymore. I hadn’t stopped dancing; in fact, it was as if I never had been. What I was doing was staring down at my own body, sprawled out before me, bruised, scarred, motionless, maybe dead.

What the hell?

Once my shock dissipated, I knew exactly where I was: the loading dock at the Nosferatu compound. I knew this scene too. I seemed to be inside a memory, even though I’d never seen it like this. This had to be just moments after I’d unknowingly bonded Keel and I together in a much more permanent way than the blood bond had. The blood bond faded if Keel didn't drink from me, or if I stopped offering him my blood willingly, but when a sorcerer returns a soul – human or otherwise – from what should be the inescapable brink of death, their lives and minds and futures become inextricably linked.

If this was a memory of that morning, however, it was a seriously weird dream-time version of it, which apparently only starred one of us. Me.

Or, that’s what I thought until I started moving. Suddenly I wasn’t simply looking down on this tableau like a fixed camera anymore. I was a participant in it.

As I crouched down beside my body, I couldn’t take my eyes off my scars. Had I really looked like that once? So young and battered and utterly defeated? I saw no telltale rise and fall of my chest. Was I still breathing? I must have been. Unless this dream was about to roll out some alternate, much more macabre take on our escape.

Just then a pair of arms – my arms, apparently – came into view and gently scooped me up off of the concrete, as if I was as fragile as centuries-old fine china and a hundred million times more valuable. Only they weren’t my arms: they were Keel’s. I’d recognize those pale fingers, slightly sharper-than-human nails, and black hoodie sleeves anywhere. Which meant…

I was Keel?

I didn’t think anything could deep-six the shock of seeing my own lifeless body, but this blew it to smithereens.

Sure, I dreamed about Keel – all the time, in fact. Sometimes about things that had happened and sometimes about things that never would, but I’d never dreamed I was him.

But I wasn’t really him. The dream may have put me behind Keel’s eyes, but it hadn’t granted me access to his thoughts. Beyond the initial WTF-factor, it was shallow and vapid, offering me only the visuals, like some god-awful depressing silent movie.

Yet I found myself enrapt all the same. This was still Keel and I, in a way I’d never seen us before.

Dream Keel loaded me reverently into the passenger side of the van, clasping the seatbelt snuggly around me. In my head, I was screaming, “Hurry up, hurry up! We need to get out of here! They're going to come back!” But Dream Keel – and thus me too – had no eyes for the charred corpses strewn in loosening circle behind us, nor any Nosferatu security personnel that might still be hovering in the vicinity. I tried to tell myself that we were going to be okay, because we were okay, we had survived this, but I wasn’t convinced. Everyone knew dream logic had little regard for real-world history.

Keel thumbed the button for loading bay door, then we climbed in the driver’s side and drove out into the waning night. He looked down at me often and kept an almost a constant hand on my shoulder. When it wasn’t there, it was holding the steering wheel, fiddling with the radio, or stroking my tangled, ratty hair. Oh, to be back there, I thought miserably, to wake up and make any decision but to go and see my father; to still have firsts to look forward to, instead of just lasts and ominous prophecies.

I was just about to lose myself in the promise of that – or at the very least, in the continuing replay of what had actually occurred – when the car and the road and everything else vanished.

And not like my bedroom had. They merely blinked out of existence, and suddenly I was nowhere.

Of course, this was familiar too. I’d felt this way in that same van, on that same day, when I’d been about to come to. Maybe reliving that morning really was tonight’s agenda. There were definitely worse ways to spend an evening.

There was nothing for a long moment. Just blackness. Then I felt rather than saw.

And what I felt confused me. I certainly wasn’t curled up on the front seat of any vehicle. Sense memory told me I was in a bed, tucked beneath what felt like smooth satin sheets. Not my sheets. This was lap of luxury stuff and I lived in a practical-cotton kind of world. I tried to open my eyes, but my body did not respond, even though I could feel it; it was playing deaf to my brain’s commands. Damn this dream, I thought, as I waited for something – anything – to happen. In the meantime, the observations I was able to make weren’t adding up. My body felt strange, entirely the wrong shape and size. Also, wherever I was, it was way too quiet. In New York, sirens and the hum of traffic were constants, even late at night, and while you began to tune them out over time, when they weren’t there you noticed. Like now.

When my eyes eventually blinked open – not at all of my own doing – I knew immediately I was no place I’d ever been before. The room was an extravaganza of black-on-black décor, everything gleaming and glossy, as if each piece of furniture was diligently polished every day. My body – which I’d started to think of more generically as “the body,” since I was almost certain it wasn’t mine and I had zero control over it – stirred of its own volition and sat up, allowing me a better look at my surroundings. Besides the bed, the room housed a pair of night tables, a desk, several amply stocked bookcases full of old, well-worn leather-bound volumes, a tall six-drawer dresser and an armoire, all ebony and undoubtedly very, very expensive. Where the hell was I now?

My hands involuntarily rubbed my eyes with the balls of my fists, then came to rest on either side of my/the body. Poking out of the black satin pajama sleeves were a pair of pale white hands with long, slender fingers topped with ten fingernails all perfectly arched into very sharp and very deadly claws. Nosferatu claws.

Keel?

Another version of Keel? Nosferatu Dream Keel? I knew it had to be the instant the hunger kicked in, a rumbling primal urgency inside of him – us – that eclipsed almost everything.

We – I was trying on the third pronoun in as many minutes – flung our legs over the edge of the bed, yanked on a black robe that had been thrown over a nearby chair and stormed towards the door. I was expecting us to go through it and hopefully spill out into someplace I recognized, but instead our fist wailed on thick, hand-carved wood. The reverberations rang all the way up our arm but there wasn’t any pain. Only hunger and need. I suspected we’d have no problem tearing the door from its hinges if someone didn’t come soon.

When it swung open – in undoubtedly much less time than it felt like – I was face-to-face with someone I knew, and didn’t particularly like: Boras, the previous Nosferatu king’s right-hand man, and the primary warden of my imprisonment. My stomach lurched sickeningly, but Keel’s appetite swallowed the sensation whole. It allowed me to hold onto my steadily rising fear, though, not that that was a particular kindness.

It’s just a dream, I told myself. Breathe. Ride it out. You’ve lived through much worse than this.

Boras had an Asian guy in tow: he was cute, if he'd still been topside he'd likely be in college, but judging from the menagerie of healed-over bite marks and his deadened eyes, the Nosferatu had captured him young. He was obviously one of the compound’s cattle. It was the only way he would have walked into this little scenario willingly.

Are we actually going to do this? I thought. I knew Keel was, because blood-drinking was what the Nosferatu did, but me? Was I really going to stick around for breakfast? If pinching yourself to escape from a dream worked – and I had any control over our hands – I’d have done it a hundred times over, but no, I was stuck eating whatever my subconscious was serving, and apparently it was this guy.

As soon as the door swung shut, we made a dizzyingly fast pounce toward the man, but Boras thrust out an equally quick hand that landed square in the centre of our chest. It wasn’t enough to stop us – the hunger demanded what the hunger demanded – yet we did. I couldn’t hear Keel’s thoughts any more now than I'd been able to during the loading dock part of the dream, but I knew this awkward, weighty hesitation was him fighting instinct, fighting the bestial nature of the transition itself and the feral, animalistic cravings it left in its wake. Cravings we were currently sharing.

Good, delay itMaybe it’ll buy me some time to figure out how to bail out of here.

The scent of the man’s blood wafted towards us as if he were a fresh-baked pie left on a windowsill, but a hundred times more mouth-watering.

Keel ran his tongue over the bottoms of his fangs and I wondered if he was thinking the same thing.

Boras gave us a sharp, reprimanding look, and we took a step backward, which was damned near impossible when every cell was screaming to be fed, NOW! A drawn-out moment later, we took two more, allowing Boras ample space to bring the man further into the room. I don’t know how Keel was managing it: if I had had to fight these urges, I think I would have clawed the guy to pieces already. If only to find some satiation. If only to make them stop.

Please make it stop.

No one could hear me. Dream logic took a sharp turn into nightmare territory.

“Your Majesty,” Boras said. “This restraint: you need to apply it to all your meals. You can’t keep killing them. We did have some reserves after the–” he paused to seek out the word he wanted, “–incidents, but those are depleted and you know that harvesting more is always risky, especially multiples. It’s time to rein in the hunger, to master it and take your throne – fully.”

Keel grunted something unintelligible; Boras was losing his attention to the prey. The hunger had swollen and bloated inside of us, its mindless haze creeping into the edges of our vision: red like the sweet, life-sustaining blood that was so close. So very, very close. The man’s steady heartbeat pounded all around us, silent yet louder than the cranked bass at a night club. Just like the smell, it was everywhere. It was excruciating, unbearable. It was…

...pouring into our mouth. My brain couldn’t process Keel’s vampire-fast movements, but it caught up as his jaw clenched down around the man’s jugular and the most decadent substance I’d ever tasted slid down my esophagus, leaving a hot tingly after-burn in its wake.

Everything else immediately faded into background noise; colours dulled around us and what few sounds there were got drowned out by the exquisite rhythm of the man’s heart pumping his life force into us. It was more than nourishment: it was like gulping down distilled power.

Then, just as abruptly, we were pushing the guy away, as if he were holding onto us and not vice versa – but I didn’t want to. The physical cravings were more tolerable now, but his blood still beckoned, promising a glorious and instantaneous return to the nirvana of the feed.

“Better,” Boras said, sounding pleased. His voice startled me. I’d completely forgotten he was still in the room.

“Swill,” Keel declared, spitting what little of the man’s blood remained in his mouth onto the black marble floor. Though I’d heard his voice many times in my dreams, I wasn’t prepared for how real it sounded now. The  thrill died with his next words. “How am I supposed to subsist on this – I felt our facial muscles contort into a disgusted sneer – “after I’ve tasted her?” There was no doubting who the “her” in that sentence was.

“We’ve already discussed this,” Boras said, sternly. “It cannot be. Can never be. The price for breaking a sorcerer’s contract is too high. Unless you’d see us all dead, just so that you may have your preferred cut of flesh.”

“A different one, then,” Keel snapped.

I had no mouth to gasp, but that’s the sound my brain made, right before I shot upright in my own bed.

Keel, no! my mind screamed, but he was gone with the dream.

I reached out a shaky hand to flip on the lamp on my night table, and nearly knocked it over. The bulb cast broad, wavering shadows across my bedroom. I stared at them warily, but they behaved as expected.

This is real and that was only a nightmare, I told myself, trying to find reassurance in logic. You were writing to Keel before you dozed off and that always messes with your head.

As true as that was, this dream felt different. For one, I swore I could still taste that man’s blood in my mouth, no longer ambrosia, but warm and metallic and wholly unappealing to my sorcerer taste buds. I gagged, as the contents of my stomach threatened to heave themselves up all over my checkered quilt. Before they could, I flung myself out of bed and darted for the bathroom. By the time I wrapped my arms around the cool porcelain of the toilet bowl, the dry heaves were subsiding. Crisis averted. I stayed there on the tiny green rug until I’d completely caught my breath, then I stood up and brushed my teeth for a good five minutes. My red-ringed eyes stared back from the mirror at me. They looked scared, more wide-eyed and bewildered than the human world ever called for. But this wasn’t about the human world. That much I was sure of.

I shuffled to the kitchen, still shaking, and poured myself a tall glass of milk. The digital display on the microwave told me it wasn’t yet midnight. I’d taken to going to bed early, because Bruce liked to sleep in, which meant I had the mornings to practice sorcery. It wasn’t that Bruce wouldn’t approve; I just didn’t need him reading things into the direction of my studies that weren’t there – and then deciding to tell Ephraim about them “because it was in my best interests.”

If that happened, if I lost magic too…

Why are you even worrying about that right now? I asked myself. But I already knew the answer. Worrying about my sorcery was a safe thing. Not so with the dream. Nothing about the dream felt safe. I could tell myself that it was just another nightmare as much as I wanted, but my gut – and that weird, unexplainable sorcerer instinct – said otherwise. Deep down, I was seriously rattled. And it was going to take a heck of a lot more than a cold drink to set things straight.

I carried my cup into the living room and flipped on the TV, idly surfing through the lineup of late-night talk shows and syndicated sitcoms. I didn’t really want to watch anything, but I didn’t dare go back to sleep either.

The encroaching unease remained coiled in the pit of my stomach long after I began ignoring its presence. Something fundamental had changed, and that dream had been its harbinger.

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