Chapter 13: Artifacts and Artifice

"The compound has twelve levels," Keel said, as we walked down the grey hallway side by side. I snuck a furtive glance at him, shocked by how keeping step with me seemed utterly natural for the half-vampire, even though he was slowing down to pace himself with my limp. We'd been getting on each other's nerves - big time - ever since we'd left my cell, but now he was just trudging along beside me as if none of it had happened. Looking "pleased as punch," as Estella used to say. Keel was a chameleon: I never knew who I was going to get with him - man or monster, friend or colossal prick. But here I was, wearing his clothes and listening to him tell me everything Boras, his father, and the rest of them sought to keep hidden from me.

The hallway emptied into a featureless alcove with an elevator - the Nosferatu took minimalism to an obsessive level. It looked exactly like the one at the other side of the prison, only smaller.

"Service elevator, for guards, staff, royalty, and the council," Keel explained. "It only goes up as far as the second floor, though."

"Why are you telling me this?" I asked him, as we came to a stop in front of its doors. My wet hair was creating a damp trail down the back of the hoodie Keel had lent me, so I gathered it up and knotted it into a drippy, makeshift bun at the base of my neck.

"Why not?" he said, thumbing the "up" button. "I don't think you'll use it and, if you do, I'd love to see how far you'd get."

"Is everything a game to you?"

'Might as well be," Keel said, his tone low and confessional. "I'm combat trained in twenty different weapons, but no one will take a proper swing at me. Not as long as my father's alive anyway. My whole life has been spent practicing for what comes next. A series of calculated risks, where nothing's really at stake and I'm never really in danger."

"So this is..."

"Exerting my independence," he said, cutting me off.

Before I could ask what that meant exactly, the elevator arrived. It was little more than a metal box with a handful of round, black, numbered buttons to the right of the door. Keel pressed "2" and then leaned his head back against the elevator wall and closed his eyes, as if he was basking in the sun.

"What are you doing?"

"You're clean," he murmured, so faintly I could barely make out what he was saying. "This tiny space - it amplifies the smell of your blood, and now that there's nothing to taint it, it's like it's all around me. It's like you are all around me."

"Umm, ick." I scanned the tin can rumbling us upwards towards the museum, and tried to look anywhere but at Keel. "Why do you always have to go there?"

"Why do you refuse to acknowledge what we do?" he retorted, snapping out of his rapture.

"I don't. You drink my blood. I have no say in the matter. Why can't you understand I might not want to talk about that?"

"I didn't realize it was so horrible for you."

"Everything about this place is horrible," I said flatly, not caring how it sounded.

"That so?" Keel said, feigning hurt. "Even me?"

The elevator arrived at its destination and the doors slid open; the question hung in the air as we disembarked.

"Keel, you're..." I struggled to put words to the complicated array of things he made me feel. "What you are. Frustrating. Confusing. Scary. And sometimes, incredibly, mind-bogglingly dense. And I still don't know what this is about." I waved my hand between the two of us. "I know it's about more than my blood, because if it wasn't, you'd do just what your father does. Take it and leave. Stuff like this," I grabbed the front of the hoodie again, but this time I balled it up in my fist, "makes it about something else. And I'm trying to 'not fight.' But you never ever, ever say the right thing. And I get that you don't know better, that you were raised by monsters - literally! - and it's not your fault but..." My sentence trailed off into a defeated groan.

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