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…


13. Which Will You Be Having?

Chapter 10: Which Will You Be Having?

Keel was at his desk in the royal quarters when I joined him.

We were hungry, but despite the considerable physical discomfort, Keel was in complete control of his appetite, even though we smelled multiple humans extremely close by. He was busy poring over an old book; it was written in vamphyrric, so it wasn’t until he came to a page with pictures that I was able to glean its subject: Garstatt.

Another coincidence? Or was the bond passing things subconsciously between us now, too? I hoped I was over-reacting. Maybe we were simply figuring things out at the same pace.

But why wasn’t he eating?

As I sat there, trapped in Keel’s body, under attack by its relentless, piercing hunger pangs, Ephraim’s revelation really hit home: this was my life, my whole life. I’d been resisting crawling back into a human mould, but now that I’d never be able to – not even if I wanted that someday – I regretted it. It was different when you didn’t have a choice. Keel and I were linked until death. Separate or apart, the bond would always be there – tugging, manipulating.

Maybe Ephraim hadn’t wanted to tell me all of it because it was just so damned depressing.

It was impossible to imagine a lifetime of resisting Keel when I wasn’t even resisting him now. Yet even if I could arm myself against the bond, that wasn’t an option.

I needed to save him and his rule, in order to save us. That meant figuring out how to get him stable enough to govern properly, instead of obsessing over me. While the ins-and-outs of vampire kingship, and the Nosferatu world outside of the Michigan compound, largely remained a mystery, that much was a given.

Keel slammed the book shut, startling me. Beneath it was a pad of lined paper, turned to a blank page. He reached across the desk, retrieved a pen from the black metal holder and wrote GOOD, YOU’RE HERE.

Time stopped, or at least that’s what it felt like. I was too stunned to react in any way, yet I was positive that my heart had skipped a beat or three back in my own body.

AN EXPERIMENT? he wrote next.

I stared at the blocky, black letters through his eyes, not knowing how to reply. Or whether I should. Those two words sounded so much like the old Keel, but it wasn’t.

Apparently, I didn’t need to, because he was already spelling out another word: CHOOSE.

He placed the pen beneath that final instruction, as if to underline it, and stood up.

Choose? Choose what? I thought. Then he turned around.

Four humans, from the dungeon below, were cuffed and standing in a line roughly ten feet in front of us. My doppelganger was among them, but I didn’t recognize the others. There was a guy who couldn’t have been more than a few years older than Keel and I – he looked like he'd probably been cute before the Nosferatu had gotten their fangs into him; a middle-aged woman who gave off a huge “mom” vibe; and another guy whose baldness and sallow cheeks made him look much older than he probably was. Is he sick? I supposed it didn’t matter, Nosferatu were immune to human ailments, just like sorcerers were. All four prisoners watched us with dull, disinterested eyes.

Keel wanted me to choose one of them… to eat.

It was obvious from the way his – our – hunger spiked in anticipation. Not much longer now.

Last night I’d been trying to contact him and now he was forcing communication with me. I should have known I was playing with fire.

Keel closed the distance between us and the humans. How was I supposed to do this? The very idea of choosing someone for Keel to hurt – and I knew he would hurt them – was repellent. Suddenly, I was furious at myself, both for being so quick to give him a pass during the ordinary, mundane parts of his day, and because on some level I'd actually been looking forward to tonight.

Keel sidled up to my doppelganger first, dancing his long, sharp fingernails lightly along her collarbone as he leaned close for a whiff of her now-familiar blood scent. A whole host of emotions promptly filed in, most of them unpleasant. Guilt, anger, revulsion and – though I’d never admit it to anyone because they’d think I was crazy – jealousy all made grand, sweeping personal appearances. My very own red carpet of shame. There was simply no untangling my feelings about the girl from my feelings for Keel, which were deeply conflicted. Being brought up human didn’t exactly prepare you for these sorts of interpersonal entanglements. This was miles beyond the stuff of high school hook-ups and who cheated on who at what party.

It was good that my doppelganger appeared to be distracting Keel from his plan to kidnap another sorcerer, but the whole thing still creeped me out to the max. Never mind: did she really deserve another wound on my behalf? No, I didn’t want that. Any of it.

Keel inhaled deeply once more, his partially open mouth hovering just an inch below her ear, fangs teasingly near to her skin. Then he took her arm and led her to the door of his chambers. She followed obediently, offering zero resistance.

A guard was waiting outside.

“Return her to her cell,” Keel instructed, shoving her through the doorway, before zipping us back to the remaining three prisoners. His unexpected use of vampiric speed left me dizzy and disoriented. From the purposeful way he was carrying out this "experiment," I suspected that was intentional. For whatever reason, Keel was messing with me or testing me – or both.

I knew now, he was reading my emotional responses, just like he had back in the compound when he’d been drinking my blood. The bond’s disparate connections – blood, life force, magic – were apparently more fluid than either of us had guessed.

Keel approached each of the humans, one by one, and inhaled their scents.

I was hungry because he was hungry, but none of the remaining three caused the same level of emotional response in me as my doppelganger. While I felt horrible for each of them in turn, they weren’t her, the one who was supposed to represent me. Nothing could compete with that kind of baggage.

My lack of reaction clearly angered Keel. He cycled through the line again, faster and with far less gentleness. Then he stomped back over to his desk and scrawled, CHOOSE, OR I’LL KILL THEM ALL.

I balked. Nothing about his threat suggested he was anything but serious. Dead. All of them. Unless I chose. Now.

But how can I make myself feel something I’m not feeling?

For the first time, the bond itself felt like a trap. There was no escape, no waking up. If I didn’t comply, I’d have another three lives on my conscience. Innocent, human ones this time. Keel and I's connection was supposed to give me power, but it didn’t in this place. When I slept, the power was all Keel’s. I understood that now.

I shuddered as he approached the humans once more. The hunger howled within us; its pleas taking the form of body-shaking rumbles and violent muscle-contracting jabs. We needed to eat. But who?

Keel circled the young guy first, drawing in a breath near the base of his neck; the same place that Harck had bitten me and Keel had bitten my doppelganger. Had he chosen this spot on purpose? Another mind game? If I picked this guy, especially after he’d approached him like that, what would that say to Keel? I decided not to risk it. I threw a bodiless temper tantrum, screaming the word NO over and over again, like a petulant toddler. I hoped it would work.

Keel moved on to the mother. I couldn’t choose her either, not when every time we looked at her, I imagined her with a gaggle of children. Children she’d never see again, if they even existed, but children all the same. I threw another mental temper tantrum.

That left only the sickly one. Be complicit in dining off one, or killing all. A choice that was not a choice.

As Keel neared him, I stayed silent. Would my non-response pass along my message, my grudging consent? I highly doubted any poorly feigned excitement would. If anything, it’d only piss off Keel and lead to a much unhappier ending for all of us, except perhaps him.

Keel looked back at the other two briefly, as if he was considering something, then raised his hand to shove the man’s neck to the side and sank in his fangs. Blood exploded into our mouth in a hot, delicious torrent. As much as I loathed the decision he'd forced on me, I couldn’t prevent the ambrosia of the feed from numbing my self-hatred, my weakness, my absolute unwillingness to even attempt to stand up to Keel on this. Instead, I idly wondered if anyone tasted bad to the Nosferatu. It sure didn’t seem like it.

When our victim's legs gave out under him, Keel hooked his arms beneath the man’s armpits and held him up, still drinking. He continued, even as he dragged the limp body towards his desk. He needed to stop. If this guy was going to survive, Keel couldn’t take this much. We'd already drank long past the point of satiation. But the blood just kept flowing, albeit ever slower; the man’s drumbeat heart reduced to a barely audible – even to our vampire ears – thump-thump. He was unknowingly playing his own death march.

Suddenly, a bright, explosive warmth flared through Keel’s entire body. The man’s sagging form slipped out of Keel’s arms – and mouth – as Keel went slack and fell backwards into his chair in an unmoving ecstatic stupor. Sensations I’d never experienced before and had no hope of describing raced through us. It was like the most insanely intense body buzz ever. Blinding and wholly enveloping. Wave after wave of euphoria crashed into me, until I could not separate myself from the pleasure.

As the initial rush began to fade, two things broke through the haze. One, our body was thrumming with power. Not magical power, but vampiric power. I recognized the feeling from the night Keel had imbued me with a piece of it in Niagara Falls. And two, the man on whom we had fed was lying on the floor in front of us, dead. Keel had done that: why? I’d obeyed him. I’d chosen.

Was it about something more than that?

Still, why make me complicit in murder? Was he grooming me to accept this life? Was he testing the strength of the bond? Was he trying to start a dialogue about power? What?!

For every answer, there were always a dozen more questions.

Was it possible that Keel could be one of the power players himself? Could he be seeking to use the bond – and me – for his own gain, over the Nosferatu or against the sorcerers? His father had, when he was king. He’d sought to harness sorcery to broaden his power and influence. Like father, like son? I wondered. What if Keel wasn’t seeking to use magic himself, but rather to gain control of it through me? The bond certainly gave him an opening.

Was I going to have to figure out how to hide from Keel and help him at the same time? Was that even possible?

My mind spun and squawked and always, always, always came back to fact that Keel and I had just killed a man – and it hadn’t been in a fit of lost control, it hadn’t been in self-defence: it had been absolutely calculated. The more I sobered up, the more I hated him for it. If participating in the torture of my doppelganger had been hard to swallow, this was an unpalatable boulder.

I screamed at him to give me a reason why. If he was tuned in to my emotions, he had to be feeling my white-hot rage. But there were no more notes in the notebook, no more acknowledgement of me whatsoever. For all I knew, it could have just been some demented Nosferatu game.

Other than his dreams, had there ever been any indication that this Keel was even remotely reminiscent of my Keel?

If this had been my Keel, he’d be documenting the experiment right now. Instead, he got up and moved to the bed, as if there wasn’t a bloodless, withered dead man on the floor and two catatonic humans standing nearby. I wondered what was going through his head. All the while I kept seething my anger out at him; I wanted him to feel it, all of it. This was not okay.

So help me god, I’m trying to teach morals to a Nosferatu king.

I had to be insane. Then again, this whole thing was insane, so insane that it had happened only once before in recorded history. Yet here I was.

I didn’t stop freaking out until Boras arrived to do it for me. It began the moment Keel allowed the other vampire into his chambers.

“I thought we were done with this?” Boras boomed angrily. Keel was still lying on the bed, staring up at the sculpted plaster ceiling.

“We are,” Keel said.

“Then what’s this?” Boras demanded.

“His death had a purpose. There won’t be any others.”

“And what was that purpose?”

Yeah, what was it? I echoed in my head.

“Nothing that you have to concern yourself with,” Keel said. He still hadn’t moved from where he was lounging.

“But your Majesty –”

A phone was ringing. My phone was ringing. I desperately tried to cling to the dream, to see what, if anything, Boras’ and Keel’s conversation might reveal, but it was impossible. Each chime of my ringtone dragged me closer to consciousness, until panic kicked in and yanked me the rest of the way back to the world of the waking. I rolled over and snatched my phone off the night table in a desperate bid to hit mute before it woke up Bruce. I couldn’t believe the damned thing was about to be my undoing for the second time today.

I looked down at the screen. Lucia.

“Hello?” I answered, my voice a whisper.

“We’ve got a problem,” she said. She sounded wide awake. I glanced at the digital display on the screen, it was almost 2:00 a.m.

“I’ve got a few,” I told her.

“Well, here comes one more.”

“What’s that?”

“I’ve got a dead vampire here that seems a little unclear on the concept of boundaries.”

“Garstatt?” I asked, hopefully.

“I don’t think so.” I wondered if she had meant that to come out as ominously as it did.

“Who then?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line, so long that I was about to say “hello?” again because I thought our connection might’ve have been dropped. But just as I opened my mouth, she said, “He says he’s Keel’s father.”

The phone fell out of my hand, bounced off my comforter-covered leg and then down onto to the rug beside my bed with a surprisingly loud clunk. I glanced at the door. I was going to wake Bruce up yet, if I wasn’t careful.

I leaned over the edge of the bed and scooped up the phone. “What did you just say?”

“You heard me,” Lucia said.

“What does he want?” Dread was already tightening its steely grip on my lungs. My breath was coming faster, shallower.

“You. He wants to talk to you.” The phone nearly slid out of my hand a second time. Me? What could he possibly want with me? He was dead.

“Well, even if I wanted to – which I really, really don’t – that would be a problem. My father’s got me on lockdown.”

“Your father? The sorcerer? That father?”

“Yeah,” I said, miserably. “He found out about the bond coming back.”

“Damn,” Lucia said. “But listen, I don’t think this ghost is going to go away. He’s been sitting on the ledge outside my window for hours. I don’t even know how he got up here.”

“Don’t ghosts just appear and disappear?”

“Not exactly. But that’s not important right now: we just have to deal with this. Promise me we’ll deal with this.” Lucia sounded rattled, which worried me. She didn’t exactly get freaked out easily. “I can’t have some dead creep stalking me every time I leave the house. And trust me: with this type, that’s what they do. So humour him, okay? I’ll even let you out of our deal. Go back to ignoring me at school. I don’t care.”

“This is that serious?” I asked. “I thought the dead couldn’t hurt you.”

The silence on the other end of the line told me everything and nothing.

“Fine,” I said. “But can you pass for human?”


“Can you pass for human in front of a sorcerer? I’m not talking about me, but a powerful one.”

“Of course. I told you. I am human.”

“Then come over to my house tomorrow and we’ll deal with it here,” I told her. Bruce and Ephraim would not be happy about short-notice visitors, especially not when I was supposedly grounded, but I’d leap that hurdle when we got to it.

“Are you sure?” Lucia asked.

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that? Aren’t the psychics going to lose it when they find out what you’ve been messing in with me?”

If they find out.”

“In my experience,” I said, “this stuff always comes out. One way or another.” While it ended up sounding much more sombre than I intended, it was the truth. There was no sense in denying it.

“Well, we can’t leave things like they are now!” she insisted.

“I know, I know. I was just saying,” I said, feeling bad for adding to her unease, especially since there hadn’t been any reason to do that. I was just exhausted and on edge. “Hey, you know, we don’t need a deal to be friends. I mean, you’re already in this deep…”

“Thanks,” Lucia said, and for the first time since I picked up the phone, I thought I detected a hint of relief in her voice. “I’ll come by after lunch.”

“I’ll text you my address,” I told her. “See you then.”

Keel’s father wanted to talk to me. If I hadn’t been so exhausted, I would have probably spiralled into a full-blown, rocking-back-and-forth-in-the-corner panic attack. Even so, Lucia’s call left me shell-shocked. Keel’s father – a ghost? I’d never even considered it. But if my other victims were lurking out there, why not him too? It didn’t seem outrageous that he would have unfinished business. But that didn’t explain why Lucia was so terrified? I’d just seen her speak to dozens and dozens of spirits like it was nothing. Of course, if anyone could figure out how to cause pain and misery from the afterlife, it would be Keel’s father.

I was starting to feel as powerless in the waking world as I did in Keel’s dreams.

I sat up, crossed my legs beneath my comforter and pressed my fingernails firmly into my palms. As they slipped past the surface of my skin, magic surged within me, reacting to my wordless summoning. I cast out my shield. It shimmered in the darkness of my room, a wafer-thin orb that was only noticeable because I was looking for it. It didn’t make me feel any safer or any more in control of everything that was happening. If anything, it just reinforced my isolation. I dropped the shield and conjured the flames instead.

With one flick of my wrist, I could command an inferno and burn down this entire building. I could fake my death and disappear. The fire in my palm inched higher at the thought. I just needed all this to stop for a while. It’d be so easy.

No, Mills, I told myself. You’re not thinking straight. Don’t you dare sink to his level. Besides what would that accomplish? The sleep deprivation would still get you. You’d die and so would he.

But at least then all this would be someone else’s problem, that little voice in my head argued.

I told it to shut up and stared into the orange flames a while longer, their crackle and spark strangely hypnotizing to my bleary eyes. What I really needed was to get ahead of this thing, to be acting rather than constantly reacting – whether that be to Keel or Bruce or Ephraim or even the former Nosferatu king. But just as with everything else, I had zero idea where or how to start.

All I was sure of was that I didn’t want to go back to sleep. If I fell asleep, Keel would be there, and I wasn’t exactly up for more “communication.”

Maybe Ephraim finding a cure for this dream thing isn’t such a bad idea, I thought. One way or another, if this continued it was going to destroy me, physically or mentally. Perhaps temporarily shutting it down was the right thing to do.

But then how are you going to help Keel?

Truth was, I wasn’t sure I even could. Everything I originally thought harmless was fraught with danger. Maybe Keel was just too far gone. If so, then what?

Garstatt might provide some answers, or maybe he wouldn’t. It was possible our message might not even reach him. I truly was grasping at straws.

Still, I needed something to do in the meantime. Something that wasn’t sleep and that wasn’t pacing a rut into my bedroom floor.

I reached over, flicked on my lamp and looked at my desk. There was one bit of new research I hadn’t yet tackled: attempting to untangle the mess the transition made of Keel’s brain.

After tonight, some expediency on that front seemed like a very good idea.


[Chapter 11 will be posted on Monday, June 10! Thanks so much for reading!]

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