Chapter 35: Ascension

Is this Hell? I thought, as I came back to myself. Am I dead?

It sounded like Hell: banging, scratching, cracking, tearing, breaking. Wherever I was, it was pitch dark and something – or rather multiple somethings - wanted in, badly. I felt around with my hands: mattress, sheets, crusty pillowcase. I was still in the bed at the guest house! Keel hadn't killed me, just drained me to the point of unconsciousness. Guess he'd learned a few tricks from his father after all.

But that didn't explain what was going on outside, or why it sounded like the end of the world. Mike must be having a conniption; the rest of motel's guests had to be hearing this. I rolled over and flicked on the lamp. The Nosferatu had been busy while I'd been out cold. The bedroom window was boarded up with a double layer of thick wooden slats, as if they'd known whatever was out there was coming. But Keel had acted as though everything was going according to plan, at least until he'd knocked me out. Was that why he'd done it? Another misguided stab at keeping me safe? A surge of annoyance hit me. I didn't need to be protected like this, not when I had magic.

I dragged myself out of bed, first using the night table, then the wall to steady myself. The blood loss left me light-headed, but I could already feel my body beginning to rebound. Sorcerer's resilience. The more I used magic, the faster I recovered, from everything.

Familiar voices drifted in from the living room; Arthos, Boras and Keel were still here. I pulled on my dress and killed the light, then cracked open the bedroom door and peered out.

The living room had been transformed: the windows in there were boarded up too, and the area where Keel and I had performed the ritual earlier had been reconfigured yet again. The coffee table was now tipped up against the wall, beside the pushed-back couches and chairs, leaving the centre of the room bare.

The girl from the compound was kneeling in the middle of the space, hands tied behind her back. Keel was standing in front of her in his royal robes, repeating a series of proclamations Arthos read out of an ancient-looking book. I didn't recognize the language, but I suspected it was vamphyrric.

I glanced toward the front door. It was rattling in its frame with each insistent, concussive impact. Boras was standing near it, tense and alert.

I stayed in the bedroom, out of sight, dampening the bond, so Keel wouldn't know I was conscious and watching. He hadn't wanted me to see his transition. But I couldn't look away. Maybe it was macabre curiosity – I might well be the only non-vampire to ever be privy to this, aside from the human participants who never survived it – or maybe it was love. Someone should remember Keel's last moments of humanity – and the final accepting embrace of the wolf beneath his sheep's clothing.

I wondered how he was feeling, but no matter how I angled myself, I couldn't see his face. Was he nervous? Excited? Scared? Already half-gone to blood lust? His formal-tongued reiterations of Arthos' lines told me little about his frame of mind. And soon even they were drowned out by the cacophonous commotion outside.

More hunter-trackers? If so, they'd come en masse this time. Still, who else could it be? The sorcerers knew this was happening and while they may not have approved of it, they were allowing it – with the appropriate paperwork.

The noise had no effect on the ritual, apart from causing Arthos to cast worried glances toward Boras and the door. I suspected that, like sorcerer magic, once such a thing was started, it had to be seen through to completion. Keel will be safer, stronger, I consoled myself. He'd finally have the strength and speed of the full-blooded - and then some, at least during the feral part of the transition.

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