Chapter 24: All's Fair in Love and War

After crawling through the vents in complete, impenetrable darkness for about ten minutes – following the sounds of Keel's forward motion and the occasional verbal command to turn right or left, and once to shimmy upwards a short distance – the building rumbled like a hulking, old furnace shuddering to life.

"Electrical's back up," Keel noted for my benefit alone, though it wasn't any brighter where we were. "That means they know we've escaped the elevator. I was hoping for a little more time, but at least I have a good idea what's going to be waiting for us now."

"Explain," I said, "to the person not privy to the plan." I couldn't help being a little peeved that he and Arthos had been scheming behind my back the whole time.

He stopped crawling again. Usually he only did that when he disagreed with something I said, as if he thought he'd have more of my attention if we weren't moving. It wasn't necessary. I was pretty much fixated on him, not only because I needed to be to know where I was going so I didn't bump into him, but because he'd decided to make his final act saving me. Keel knew nothing about romance, but I doubted anyone in my future would ever top this.

I wanted to scream at God, the universe, fate, whoever and whatever would listen, that this was cruel, unfair, unbearable. Without Keel where would I be? Still a helpless prisoner? Dead? Worse? Down here there was so much worse. I certainly would not be powerful, not mounting an escape attempt, and not madly in love with someone totally verboten, no matter whose world we were in. Keel changed things and the way I thought about things. And I actually liked who I was becoming. But in just one day I was going to lose him – get back my whole world, and lose the only person who truly understood this new me. My heartbreak was a raging storm in my soul, violent and deafening.

If these were to be our last hours, I wanted to memorize every moment of them, even if that meant scenes of fleeing from vengeful, murderous vampires and a reel or two without any picture as we slunk along in the dark.

"There's only one way out of the compound," Keel said. "So instead of dividing resources trying to flush us out, they'll camp there, as a collective front."

"Let's wait till morning then," I suggested. Would that really be so bad? It'd give Keel a chance to heal and allow my magic to recharge.

"We may sleep during the day, but we don't have to," Keel reminded me. "My father will make the troops stay until we're caught, that much I'm sure of."

"But won't sunrise slow them down?"

"Only until they get a whiff of your blood, and that's inevitable."

It was true. We'd never make it out without magic, and without blood, there would be none of that. "How many?" I asked. One Nosferatu was intimidating enough; en masse, they would be like a pack of rabid dogs: salivating, uncontrollable and scary as all get out.

"Thirty, forty – though not all will be skilled fighters." Even with that clarification, my heart sank into my stomach. How were we ever going to pull this off?

"That's insane," I told him. There was no point in dancing around it. "I could never fight with you more than two or three times in a day before being totally useless. I can't take out that many Nosferatu."

"Then here's hoping you won't have to," he said. "The door frame may not have given away your secret, and even if it did, we still have surprise on our side. Remember, we just have to make it to the van. If we get to the van, we're out."

"You can drive?"

"In theory," he said, and I almost slugged him, injured or not. Theory wasn't going to help us one iota when confronted by three dozen or so vampires who were all older and stronger than we were.

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