Page 100 of Court of Nightmares

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“Because I am one,” I answer truthfully. “Because I feel more at home with monsters than people.”

“If this is a trick, blood drinker, I will use your bones for toothpicks.”

“It is not.” I lift my hand. “See the truth. All I offer is trust, peace, and a home.”

I wait with bated breath, and it keeps its eyes on me before sliding closer and towering above me like the force it is. I hold my arm out, and one head bows over it. Softly, a rough tongue bigger than my whole body dips to taste my blood. I wait, knowing if I’m found lacking, this hydra will kill us all for treachery.

Its eyes narrow, and my heart stutters before it steps back and bows, shocking me to my core. This is a creature that has never bowed to another, even a god, and yet it bows to me.

“You are worthy. I see the truth in your heart, vampyr. Your soul is purer than I have ever felt, even with the blackness of a monster. I accept your deal, for I grow tired of this world, and I will find a home here for a time.” With that, it turns and slips back into the trees. Now, with my blood in it, I can almost feel the hydra moving across the land with great speed before it finds a small lake with a private, shaded beach and slides into the water there, accepting our land and us.

I turn to my mates behind me, seeing their expressions of shock and relief, but then I feel the ground shake beneath me and know another approaches. It seems as if my blood, my power, is stronger than I realised, and I am calling all the greats from their slumber.

Let us hope I can survive it.

When the ground stops trembling, I glance at the woods as a delicate figure drops to the ground before me. I instantly freeze as some fear trickles into my veins when she pushes her hood back. Although this one almost looks human, she is anything but. She is a banshee or a hell screecher, as they call her in our lore. Born from the agonised souls of betrayed women throughout history, she has more raw power than even the fey, and nature does her bidding. They are known to be reckless, angry, and downright crazy sometimes. This one watches me carefully. Her big black eyes are locked on me, and she’s beautiful bar the twisted sneer and sharp teeth she reveals. Her blonde hair blows in the wind, and her presence sings with power.

“You called, young one?” Her voice is beautiful, melodic, but I know all too well how easily that could change, so I choose my words carefully. Unlike the hydra who would kill me for lies, this one would kill me for fun. She seeks chaos and violence. I can taste it.

“We are seeking nightmares to join our court. In return, they will have sanctuary and a home here—no chains or restrictions,” I offer slowly.

“You wish to bind me?” she screeches, and my eardrums pop and bleed.

I cannot hear until my rapid healing kicks in, and even though I can’t see, since my eyes burst and bleed, I call out, “Never, we wish to bind no one. Simply an exchange.”

“I will never share power. Do not call me again or it will be your death. Consider yourself lucky that I feel your purpose.”

I feel her depart as my eyes slowly heal, and I blink, chasing the pain away as my shoulders slump.

“You will not win them all over. Beasts are meant to wander. This one was probably just too interested to pass up your call. A banshee would never fit here. They are meant to wander alone,” Zale explains, and I nod, knowing he’s right, but I hope more come and if they do, they will stay, because our lives depend on it.

As if drawn by my silent plea, more creatures slide from the woods.

I see a wendigo, with long, clawed arms and sharp teeth, but he has a stutter when he calls out. There is also a shapeshifter, who turns into a replica of me, which is freaky. A puk, which resembles a small man carrying a bow and arrow but with wicked fangs and the inclination for trouble, also steps forward. A mermaid emerges from the trees, his hair beautiful and alluring, although his skin is blue and his eyes are blood red. A pixie, who is a water spirit smaller than the palm of my hand but equally as bloodthirsty as us, is also with them. A chimera hides at the back, as if it’s unsure.

All are creatures of nightmares, and all are equally as beautiful and dangerous.

I offer them the same as I have the others, and I let them choose.

Lifting my arms, I wait for them to decide with my expression soft and truthful, and they descend upon me like a pack, licking and tasting my blood. If I were lying, they would sense it and kill me in a heartbeat.

Slowly, they slip away to find their homes. They will come and go as they please, but it suits our purpose, and I will just be more careful about where I walk outside.

I almost feel Nathair’s happiness that his once forgotten lands are filled with life once more, even if those lives thrive on death and blood like us.

I’m about to stand, thinking that is all, when an honest to Nox unicorn trots from the woods. Unicorns are not beautiful and sweet, like fairy tales describe them. No, their true form is a skeletal horse with a horn, fangs, and dancing eyes. Oh yes, they can appear beautiful, and even in this form, there is a certain macabre loveliness to them, but they will kill as quickly as they will change.

I call to it, and like the others, it drinks and disappears into the forest, its laughter trailing after it.

“Quite the menagerie we are making.” Lycus grins, making me chuckle.

My blood still drips, however, which tells me there is more to come, so I wait, even as the moon moves across the sky. I will wait forever if I must.

A troll appears some hours later, but it leaves at the mention of the others. The solitary bastards hate other monsters, so I don’t take it personally, even if I was jealous of his ridiculously long lashes. I continue to wait as my blood spills. Zale urges me to feed, but I know I cannot, not until this is done.

A cyclops appears and quickly accepts my offer. I sense her loneliness as she lumbers back into the woods to find her own place.

I still sense more, however, and I know there is something else we are waiting for, something watching from afar to see how I accept these deals, and only when it’s satisfied does it appear.