We don our masks as we materialise just outside of the court. Black and gold filigree covers my eyes and the side of my face, inlaid with red jewels to match my dress and their suits. They wear half masks, which are black and beautiful. We stand in a line as I take in the court for the first time. It isn’t what I was expecting. I know the party is invite only, but I was definitely expecting . . . more. The parties I saw and previously attended usually went to the extremes with entertainment, transforming the court into a musical environment.
This one is almost deadly silent, and that doesn’t bode well.
The building itself is beautiful. Unlike the mansion of Court Specter and the sprawling, gothic estate of the Court of Nightmares, Principes Court is as modern as they come. Obviously, it’s been updated recently. Done in all white, the square buildings are connected, without any windows to be seen, and beyond the white buildings is a dome of all glass. A blood-red moat surrounds the entire structure with a path allowing guests to cross.
“That is where the party will be,” Azul murmurs, looking at the dome. “It is the throne room. Beware, there will be tricks and traps. They prey on weakness, and if you make one wrong move, they will pounce. They love to tear down and destroy others, so don’t let them.”
“And the king?” I question.
“He loves to collect pretty things. If you want this to work, then let him think he has collected you.”
I nod and tug on his chain, wrapping it more securely around my wrist. “Let’s get this over with. I cannot wait to feel their flesh under my fangs for what they have done.”
I move confidently towards the court without an ounce of fear in me.
After all, what is there left to fear? We are the beings they should fear, and they invited us right to their door without even realising it. These nightmares are about to carve a bloody path through this gathering, and I cannot wait.
My blood kings, my mates, follow behind me, spreading out as I walk up the path to the open triple doors. I step inside and feel power wash over me.
If we were rejected, it would have killed us, Azul informs me, switching to internal communication so no one else can overhear what we are saying.
Lovely. Instead, it felt like a thousand ants ripping into my skin. I’m beginning to understand that pain is the currency here. The inside is just like the outside, screaming modern design, with black floors and walls and white ceilings. It shouldn’t work, but it does. There are no paintings or decorative ornaments, just clean walls and floors with a red carpet leading farther into the court. No one greets us, and I don’t even see anyone here.
Just as I think that, I step onto the carpet, and a man with black hair in a white suit and a white mask appears at the other end of the carpet. He waits for us, but I refuse to hurry, so I wander down the carpet like I have all the time in the world, and I can sense his irritation as I reach him. He holds a tray with wine glasses filled with champagne. I take one without a word and turn away, following the carpet. I feel his eyes on us, and I have no doubt his king is watching us through him.
We follow the carpet into the estate until we reach two closed doors with two men in matching white suits and masks standing there, their arms crossed at their stomachs. “Welcome,” they say in unison, bowing their heads while opening the doors with a flourish.
How very dramatic.
Remember, they will watch our every move, so give them nothing, Nathair tells us.
With a blank face, a cruel smile, and the chain in my hand, I step into the madness beyond.
* * *
Unlike the rest of the court, this is exactly what I expected. Gone is the bland, modern expanse, and instead we are transported into a world of sex and blood. Music fills the air, sultry and sexy, coming from a live band in one corner. The singer is naked with fang marks covering her entire body, and I see a collar around her neck. I want to turn away, but I do not, feeling eyes on me from every corner of the room. There are shadowed parts of the venue for people to hide in, but most of the acts are on full display. Cages hang from the ceiling with people inside, crying as their blood drips into the laughing, open-mouthed creatures below.
The floor runs red with the blood spilled here.
In the middle of the space is a mound of pillows and blankets, which are covered with writhing bodies, all naked. The slaves and their masters are easily recognisable as they feed and fuck. There is one young man—so young he must not have even changed yet—with a collar around his throat as a woman in a red bra rides him. My stomach churns, and I fight my anger, keeping my power tightly locked away as I scan the room as if I’m bored.
Even so, I feel this place scar my soul, infesting me with a rot I will never get rid of just by simply being here.
There are stages spread throughout with torture acts transpiring on them. One has a stretching rack where a girl screams and begs, and on another is a man who’s being crucified. A third has a man whose skin is being stripped from his back. The whole room is one big torture chamber, and the people here watch and laugh and take part with their pets, their slaves, sitting at their feet with chains and collars.
The fact that Azul was here makes me so angry, I want to kill them all with a flick of my fingers. Knowing he survived this time and time again only makes my estimation of my king go up. Anyone who could walk out of here alive and sane and still be as kind and as wonderful as Azul is a fucking saint. It reeks of pain, agony, and death, and blood saturates the air from every direction.
Watching over it all with a pleased smile is the king, who sits at the back upon a golden throne. An ornate crown is perched on his head, his chest is bare, and his legs are encased in red leather. Four women and five men writhe below him, tethered to the chains held leisurely in his hand. His irises are a piercing red, and his blond hair hangs to his shoulders. He would be handsome if it wasn’t for the cruel look in his eyes.
There was never any way to escape in this court, and I do not know how the other courts didn’t notice. He isn’t even hiding it. He wears his need for pain proudly, yet I sense boredom about him, as if he’s used to this and seeking excitement.
He is, always has been. He grew tired of his court and his usual playthings. Draw him to you,Azul murmurs.Wander around the room and get angry for a reason. Let him feel your power, and he will come to you.
Smiling in understanding, I tug him after me as I circle the room, ignoring the hungry and confused looks sent in my direction when I spot my opportunity. I hate this, but it’s what I have to do. I stop suddenly to avoid a lumbering man on a chain belonging to a tiny woman, and Azul runs into my back. Snarling, I turn and lash out with my power.
“Watch it, pet,” I snarl.
He winces and looks down, even as I brush his mind with love. My power rolls through the room, and all eyes turn to me. I feel jealousy, hunger, and want, and they suddenly crave a taste of it. I’ve made a spectacle of myself, but when the king stands and his eyes land on me, I know it’s not the result I wanted.