Chapter 8: I, Bleeder

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He only stopped moving when the door of my cell swung open and another guard stepped inside. "Are you done ye–" he began, then stopped and sniffed the air. "What's going on? Is she bleeding?"

"She is," Boras said.

A confusing array of expressions passed over the guard's face – horror, uncertainty, lust, hunger, awe, disgust, fear – before he blinked them away.

"Calm down," Boras commanded. "Go tell His Majesty I need to see him down here immediately."

No, please don't do that, I thought. I would have said it out loud if I'd believed begging would have done any good, but the way Boras refused to even look at me told me all I needed to know. I'd screwed up and he'd made his decision. I – we – would be answering to the king.

The guard glanced from Boras, to me, to the blood welling up from the lacerations speckling my shoulders and neck, and then back to Boras again. "Do you want me to send in some backup?"

"Absolutely not," Boras said. "Nobody comes in here except the king. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," the guard chirped.

"And shut the door behind you."

The underling did as he was told and Boras resumed his pacing.

The king is coming here now. Because of me. Because of what I did. My mind veered from one "what if" to another. Boras may not have gone all Harck on my neck, but he wasn't trying to hide his little indiscretion either. Did he want the king to behead him too? And what about me? I was important – I got that – but the king didn't seem like the kind of ruler who would enjoy being dragged down to the dungeon over a disobedient cow. What would he do to me? Maybe I'd black out before he broke too many bones. He might need me alive, but he didn't need me mobile.

Didn't think this through, did you, Mills?

With none of my anger left to fuel my adrenaline, all that remained was a suffocating sense of doom. The low, steady staccato of Boras' boots ticked off the waning seconds to His Majesty's imminent arrival.

I wrapped my arms around my torso to dampen the shakes that had taken hold. My heartbeat already gave my fear away; I didn't need my chains clinking like dinner bells.

My bravery had all but gone back into hiding, but it hadn't done a whole lot of good when it'd raised its head either. There was just a little too much irony in how deeply I'd admired Jenny's screw-you-all attitude in school, but on her sass always came off as sexy and rebellious. On me, right now, it was just plain suicidal. I wondered what Jenny would think of all this, but I came up blank. Who knew how anyone would react to monsters?

She's still out there somewhere, I reminded myself. They all are. Carrying on without you. As if you never happened.

That brought me full circle back to Boras' rant. What had he said? That the king intended to keep me here for years? For him, and then for his son. The king had a son? The monsters had baby monsters? Was that even possible? Maybe he sired him, like in the movies.

If so, did they eventually intend to turn me?

I hadn't considered that before.

I imagined my bones elongating as the melanin bled from my skin. I pictured myself looking into a mirror – would I even be able to observe myself or did folklore get that bit right? – and seeing the sunken-cheeked, corpse-like visage of vampire me staring back, no amount of makeup able to replicate my dwindling humanity. My red eyes glowed with implicit threat: monster within, tangle with at your own risk – this one's bloodthirsty. Would I someday walk through this same prison, selecting my entrée as one might choose a live lobster from a grocery store tank? What would it feel like when my canines shaped themselves into fangs and pierced human flesh for the first time? How would it taste when the blood of innocents spilled into my mouth, its salty heat urging the savage beast within me forth?

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