Page 30 of Court of Nightmares

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“Well, you’re more interesting,” Reve teases, making me grin.

She will never smile at me like that.

The voice is sudden, sharp, and filled with so much pain, I almost stagger.

Nathair frowns as he reaches out. “Are you okay?”

Evidently, he didn’t hear it, but I see Azul duck his head. Clearing my throat, I nod. “I’m fine, sorry. I guess dying leaves a bit of a side effect,” I lie, and Azul’s head snaps up. We both know I heard him, but I smile softly at him as Nathair accepts my answer.

“We will stop crowding you,” Nathair declares, ignoring the others’ groans. “We all have work to complete, so feel free to explore or even just rest, Althea, and tomorrow, we can start to show you the ropes, if you wish.”

“Sounds good.” I smile, and Nathair drags them all out.

I watch them go, and my shoulders drop. I’m used to being alone, used to the solitude, but now, the cold and loudness of my own thoughts seem wrong after waking up connected to them, so instead, I wander around the throne room once more.

“The chairs appear days after our induction. They simply materialise and tell the story of our lives.” The deep voice startles me, and I whirl, but I see no one until Azul suddenly comes into view right before me.

“How?” I ask, wide-eyed. I have heard stories of vampyrs in the old times who could walk among people unseen, but that was thousands of years ago, a talent that died out when they did.

“I can walk unseen,” is all he says as he tilts his masked head, watching me. I didn’t get a good look at his face earlier, but it makes me sad that his mask is back on.

“Why don’t you show your face like the others?” I find myself asking, feeling a kinship with him. We both need to be loved.

I can tell I’ve shocked him by the ripple in his appearance. “I am not beautiful like the others.” His voice is sad. “I would not wish to see the look in your eyes change.”

“It would not,” I assure him, stepping closer. “Beauty is more than skin deep. Vampyrs are supposed to be the most beautiful creatures in this world, but that beauty is empty if the person is rotten to the core. It leaves a mark. I’ve been surrounded by those sorts all my life, beautiful but rotten to the core. You are not. I sense you, and you wouldn’t be here if you were, so beauty isn’t everything, Azul. One day, I hope you trust me enough to show me your face, but until then, if you are comfortable, then that is what matters.” I place a kiss on the mask over his cheek. “I will still look at you like the others,” I whisper as I slide past him.

“My abilities are ghosts.”

I turn back when I hear his rough, hopeful voice. “I was close to death when they judged me because of my mistress. It did not scare me. Truth be told, I think I saw ghosts before I even died, but when I came back, I saw the souls of the dead. I can talk to them and help them, and in return, they help me. I can move and speak unseen to judge and see sins, and I saw you, Althea. I was the one who raised your name.”

I can see he is waiting for an attack, for me to hate him.

“Good,” I say, shocking him, and I laugh bitterly. “I was a broken monster, Azul. You did the right thing. No matter what the others say, even if I was killing those who were willing to harm their own, it doesn’t lessen the blood on my hands—blood I have to live with. I’m glad you stopped me before I did something much worse.”

“I sentenced you to death,” he retorts.

“You did.” I nod. “And here we are. I guess the gods have a plan for all of us, and who are we to take that burden on ourselves? You did your job, Azul, and I do not hate you for that. I’m actually grateful.” I let him feel the truth of my words as I clumsily reach out and feel him read my emotions.

“My mistress was a cruel woman. She made me into her creature of darkness, but the things she did to me left scars—both physical and mental. I am not like the others and never will be.”

“She hurt you,” I murmur.

His laugh sends shivers across my soul with its hopelessness. “She tortured me. For hundreds of years, she starved me, brought me back to life, broke all my bones, ripped off my skin, and sewed it back on. Every part of me was destroyed and remade into her image. I was judged for killing another in her name, and I wept in happiness when they delivered my death so it would free me of the pain.”

I sense intense longing and loneliness in his tone. He wants a connection to me, just like the others, but he doesn’t know how. That’s okay because I do.

“When I need to feed again, can I feed off you?” I let the question hang, giving him the power to choose. If he says no, I won’t hold it against him, but he needs the sense of control as much as I do.

His blood sings to me.

He stills like a ghost but does not disappear. “Even knowing my crimes and what was done to me, you would willingly feed from me?”

“Without hesitation,” I reply.

“If you wish to feed from me, I am yours, whenever and wherever,” he says, pounding his fist to his chest and ducking his head slightly.

“Good.” I grin widely.

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