Chapter 17: Blood Magic

By the time the king returned, I'd doom-and-gloomed myself into believing every worst-case scenario my brain put forth. We'd been found out. What other reason could there be for their collective absence? Neither Keel nor His Majesty nor even Boras had been down in days.

Which was why, when the king finally stormed through my cell door, with Boras trailing behind, my insides were quaking so bad I wasn't sure if I could move, let alone obey his commands.

"Neck," he barked, as he dragged me to my feet. Was he angrier than usual or was I just imagining it? Even if he knew, he might not say anything about Keel. The prince's fate – and the undoubtedly harsh corporal punishment he faced for his act of treason – wasn't exactly knowledge befitting a prisoner and personal blood bag.

I tilted my head and he sank his fangs into my neck with a sharp, snake-like, forward jerk of his head. It was the same place he'd taken a bite out of me last time, which pitched up the pain, almost making me cry out. But I refused to give him the satisfaction. I shoved my mind away from the five-alarm fire in my neck and retreated deeper inside myself.

My brain took me to my bedroom closet. In my life before, whenever I wanted to lock myself away from the world for a while, whenever I needed time alone to think, I'd throw all the shoes and other stuff out of it, then cover the floor with pillows and blankets and shut myself inside. I'd been doing it since I was a kid; it was my favourite hiding spot.

And that's what all this was about: hiding.

But I didn't want to anymore. I wanted to cast open the emotional floodgates, as I had with Keel and ensure the king couldn't hurt me ever again. But what if I was wrong, and this was just another grouchy feeding – which it could be, since the king's mood never much strayed beyond "bad" and "worse" – and nothing had been discovered? It'd be a grave mistake to give myself away like that.

What I needed to do was wait for the right opportunity and that certainly wasn't when Boras was standing there overseeing everything. Even if I could stun the king, Boras hadn't drunk my blood, so I would have no power over him and no hope in hell of bolting past him.

I'd have to wait, even if that had become my least favourite word in the dictionary.

My thoughts grew muddy and incoherent as the blood loss brought me closer to unconsciousness. When I began losing my hold, instinct told me to fight, but I still had enough awareness to know the resulting beating would be worse than the bloodletting, so I gave myself over to the descent and hoped this wouldn't be the time he drained me dry.

* * *

When I came to, I had no idea how much time had passed – the lights in my cell never dimmed. The only thing that showed up like clockwork was food, and there was a meal waiting, which suggested I'd spent most of the night out cold.

Every muscle in my body ached. Apparently the king had just dropped me like a discarded rag doll when he'd finished feeding and I felt rigor-mortis stiff after lying in a crumpled, motionless heap for so long. I rubbed my arms and legs, trying to coax circulation back into them, and after five minutes or so I was able to stretch out into a less tortuous position.

I eyed the still-warm plate of food sitting a few inches away from the edge of the mattress, but weakness trumped hunger and my heavy eyelids closed the blinds on consciousness once more. I didn't eat until I woke next, and even then I just picked at my meal. The food that had always been so appealing – even after I discovered the filthy conditions it was prepared in – held little interest for me, and when I finished pecking at it, I shoved the tray away still mostly full. All the promise Keel and my newfound magic had brought was waning, and depression was creeping back in. No matter how many times I dug my nails into my skin, or raked the edge of the shackle across my arm to draw blood, I couldn't get a handle on how my power worked. I'd started to worry that, even with Keel's help, I might never unravel its mystery. Maybe a tease would be all I'd get, never enough to actually accomplish anything – or escape.

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