Chapter 26: To Everything, Change

It was completely dark as we approached Niagara Falls a few hours later.

As much as I'd wanted to bask in my newfound freedom, tucked up next to Keel, doing something one-hundred-percent normal for the first time in almost half a year, I couldn't enjoy it. I couldn't get my mind off... well, everything.

Every couple of minutes my eyes would flicker onto the dashboard stereo's digital clock. Time was slipping away on us, while the do-or-die moment was creeping ever closer.

A dread as deep and gutting as any I'd ever felt was lodged in my stomach.

Yet I didn't have time to focus on that. We'd been lucky so far, but we were out in the human world now, where people had a tendency to report suspicious occurrences, such as two bloody, beaten-up teenagers cruising down the highway in a big black van. The windows were tinted, but they weren't that tinted.

We needed to wash up and get some new clothes. At least Keel was sporting a clean T-shirt. I looked every bit the prisoner I'd been for the past five months, my tank top and cargo pants long since torn and ragged. Those, along with my multitude of scars, would attract gobs of unwanted attention. I knew I had to heal myself – my face anyway – or I'd never be able to leave the van. But I loathed the thought of expending any power on anything that wasn't saving Keel.

But you're not doing him any good if you are trapping us in this tin can, I argued with myself. Still, what if at the end, when everything mattered, I came up just a tiny bit short – all because I'd spent it on myself, on fixing my face?

It was pointless trying to pretend I could avoid it, though. It would have to be done, because we did need to ditch the van. Keel had assured me the Nosferatu would not pursue us immediately – and maybe not at all, since he was as good as dead – but he'd opted for an old-fashioned paper map instead of the traceable GPS just in case.

"Don't they still want me?" I asked.

"After you decimated the troops like that? Only if they're suicidal, and my father isn't. He's going to have a hell of a lot of damage control to do, never mind he's a walking target now that I'm gone."

I'd done that. Been responsible for all of it. Keel's downfall. All those deaths. How many had I disintegrated en masse? I'd gone from innocent to mass murderer with one spell. I found myself flashing back on that scalp in the Nosferatu museum, the one belonging to the sorcerer who'd killed fifty-some vampires before being taken down. I'd barely believed it at the time – now I was well on my way to matching his body count.

I was everything Keel had said my people were.

Maybe someday the Nosferatu would hunt me down and hang my hair in a museum. "This one," they'd tell their students, "not only slaughtered our strongest soldiers, but corrupted the heir to the throne."

But tonight they'd too busy regrouping. Keel was certain of that. Me, not so much.

And that still didn't take into account the human authorities. I doubted Keel had a license or the necessary papers for this vehicle, or any ID whatsoever. And neither did I. Getting pulled over would be a whole heap of bad. We'd likely be detained and Keel would end up dying alone in a holding cell or in a hospital bed surrounded by humans who'd be helpless to save him.

After that thought invaded my brain, I found myself gazing in the rear-view mirror as often as at the radio, terrified I'd see flashing lights behind us.

But paramount to all that, I had Keel's life to worry about. I didn't know if saving it was possible or what form his deterioration would take. I didn't want to ask, either, because he'd figure out what I was planning in a second, and try to forbid it. It should've been flattering that he wanted to protect me as much as I wanted to protect him, but right now it was annoying. I wished we'd bothered to look up exactly how Nosferatu who didn't transition died in the vampire texts, but of all the things we thought could happen, we'd never seriously considered that. We'd been way too bold, especially at the end. So confident in our little games, unwilling to admit Keel's princely powers of getting out of trouble did have a limit, and if we weren't careful we'd go too far. Which, of course, is exactly what had happened.

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