Chapter 22: The Beginning of the End

Fate was fate, and acceptance proved liberating for both of us.

The next four weeks were magic, and filled with it too.

We'd stopped fighting – except of course when I was practicing, and Keel had to go all scary-vamp-guy on me. The rest of our time together was spent hanging out in his room (if I was too tired after spellcasting to do anything else) or sneaking around the compound indulging in Keel's newfound, if reckless, zest for life. Our exploration gave me a chance to test out my powers in more practical and stickier situations, though it didn't take long to discover I was a lot more effective at wielding them for bloodshed and pyrotechnics than subterfuge – a reality that almost got us caught more than once. Thankfully, being royalty seemed to mean Keel had a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card, and whenever things got a little too close for comfort, I'd end up hiding around a corner or in some darkened room while he made up excuses for why he was wherever we were at. His lies always voiced with perfect, unwavering authority, as if the guards should feel guilty for wasting his time with their stupid questions. After he berated and belittled them, they skulked off, far too embarrassed to go and report their encounter with the prince to their superiors – which was exactly how he planned it.

I'd believed Keel's words about having to watch what he did, when and around whom, but after two or three of these encounters, I suspected he may have been exaggerating. Maybe it was true for his father, Boras and the council, but dealing with the rest of the Nosferatu, he proved himself a master manipulator.

I didn't know whether to be disappointed or impressed by that. Like everything else with him, it complicated things.

Keel slept two days and spent every third with me. Mostly his visits didn't coincide with his father's feedings, which had slowed down in recent weeks. When they did, I was usually too drained and listless to do any magic, and once too bruised and torn up to even consider standing under the pounding spray of the shower.

That particular night, I'd refused to leave the cell, even after Keel unshackled me and offered to carry me through the prison in his arms. The king had finally lost his temper over the "uselessness" of my blood. And this time Boras hadn't stepped in to stop him. By the third meaty chunk the king ripped out of my torso with his fangs, all I'd wanted to do was blast back from my safe place, embrace the agony, and command my blood to eat its way out of him, dissolving everything in its path – bone, muscle, flesh, sinew, tissue, skin – until all that remained of my captor and tormentor was a bubbling heap of unidentifiable gristle on the cold concrete floor. But I couldn't or, rather, wouldn't do that. Not even if he tore me apart limb from limb.

I would not divulge Keel's and my secret, and I would not be the one who put him on the throne at seventeen.

I'd messed up his life enough already. Even if a lot of it had been his own damned fault.

Keel had been so angry when he'd shown up in my cell the next day and surveyed the new scars his father had added to my personal topography it'd made me laugh. This only made him rant and scowl and pace more until I reminded him that not too long ago, he'd thought about me exactly the same way – as a thing to be taken, consumed and owned. And not too long from now, he might feel that way again.

Keel had shoved his hands deep into his pockets and stared at his sneakers, but he didn't try to convince me otherwise. Neither of us knew who he would be post-transition, but if our training exercises were any indication, he'd follow in his father's footsteps: callous, cruel and controlling.

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