Page 31 of Court of Nightmares

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“I must work,” he suddenly rasps, and then he disappears, but I still sense him close by.

“Goodbye, Azul,” I murmur as I turn away, and at the door, I hear his whisper.

“Goodbye, sweet Althea.”

Exhausted, I climb the steps to my room and sprawl on the bed. So much has happened over the last twelve hours, and my head is full of not just the others’ presence, like whispers on the wind, but also dying, being reborn, and the new job.

For a moment, I ache for Simon, wishing I could share this with him, but instead, I slide under the sheets, shivering from the cold, and imagine he’s there with me, holding my hand. I must reach for him with my mind, but the distance is too great, and our bond is too hollow after all this time, and for a moment, I feel completely alone. Tears spring to my eyes, as if saying goodbye to my old life has finally cut all ties with him.

My best friend, my brother, and the only family I have.

“Not all,” someone murmurs, and I jerk up and around to see Osis at the door.

“Your pain called to me.” He steps inside and shuts the door. “It is a big thing to be selected as a judge, but the others forget the loneliness and emotions that come with it. You miss your friend, but you are not alone, Althea. We are here. We can’t replace him, nor would we wish to, but I can be here for you now if you would like.”

I watch him before nodding slowly, and he strides over and slides onto the bed. I turn on my side once more, look at him, and smile.

Reaching over, he brushes away my tears, sucking them from his fingers with a groan. “Sleep, Althea, I am here.”

“Promise?” I whisper, searching his gaze.

“For as long as you want me, and for as long as you need me,” he vows. “We will look over you, Althea. You will never feel alone again, and one day, I will bring Simon to you to see once more.”

A smile curves my lips as my eyes flutter shut. “I would like that, even if it’s just to say goodbye. I never did.”

“Then I promise you that too. You will get your goodbye, Althea,” he murmurs, curling his hand around mine. A jolt of warmth, friendship, happiness, and hope flows from him and into me, and I fall asleep smiling and warm.

The tears dry on my face as if they never were.

* * *

Daughter of my blood.

The whisper makes me whirl around in the grey, smoky place I’m in, except there is nothing but darkness around me. “Hello?”

I am here.

I see nothing. Closing my eyes, I search with my senses and feel something in the dark. Something ancient. Something old. Something powerful.

“Who are you?” I ask, refusing to cower or shake.

I am a god, of course, but you knew that, even if you did not wish to admit it. Time is running out, blood of mine. We must speak. You chose well, like I knew you would. This was always to be your destiny, but now you must embrace it.

“Embrace what?” I demand, unsure if I’m speaking out loud anymore.

Your destiny,they hiss. I have given you my nightmares, blood of mine, the strongest and most powerful of our race, so take them, make them yours, and become the change. Rain unholy fire on our world and cleanse it. Make it right once more.

“Yours?” I whisper, my heart freezing. “You . . . You are the vampyr king of lore. You are Modatheth, the first vampyr.”

Of course. My blood runs through you. All are mine, but they have turned their back on me, on our lineage, and now they are weak versions of what we should be. Your mother knew that.

“My mother?” I gasp, seeing the shadows wrap around me.

She spoke to me since she was a child. She called into the darkness with her powers without realising it. She knew her duty and her destiny was to die for you, my descendent. You are the one who will save our race once more. I loved her like my own daughter, as I do you. They thought she was strong, little one, but they have not seen anything yet.

Suddenly, a man bathed in blood-red flames emerges, so I bow.

A burning fingertip tilts my head back, and my eyes well with tears as I take in his power.