Page 99 of Court of Nightmares

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They cannot be tamed, but we can create a bond with them, which is similar to that of a mate bond if they so wish. It, of course, involves the same thing everything in our world does—blood. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it and surviving before. When I was a child, someone tried to call a dragon and was burnt to a crisp for his trouble.

They prefer to be left alone, and they are not pets, but they are all often searching for a home with nowhere to fit in in this rapidly expanding world. That is what we are going to offer them—a home, a sanctuary, and protection. The land here is great, greater than I even knew after Nathair showed me the maps. There is a whole city’s worth of land they can inhabit and make their own, and in return, they will help us keep our court.

“You do not have to,” Lycus adds.

“No, I do. My mother and the god once said that the creatures of the dark are mine if I am brave enough to call them, so it’s time I do that. Trust me.” I drop both of their hands and step barefoot and naked onto the grass before the woods. My hair is loose, and the wind blows the strands across my back. Upon my head, I wear a crown Nathair gave to me.

I go to the beasts as a queen, naked as the day I was born, with nothing to offer but my title, my protection, and my blood. There will be no lies between us, just me in the moonlight as I call out into the darkness.

Picking up the ornamental sacrificial dagger that Lycus procured from the court’s stash of spelled weapons, I start to speak. My voice is sure and steady as I say the words in our ancient language, almost seeing them float into the air and stretch out into the world.

It’s a call, one that must be followed by a sacrifice.

“Vejok reteh, olhah magicaiil, a furthol mehin.” Roughly translated, I am asking for the nightmares to come forth and find their home. I continue to chant as I focus on their meaning, infusing them with power and intent, and with a gasp, they explode from me.

My eyes close and my head snaps back as my blood drips steadily to the grass and soaks into the ground and out. Spreading through the night, I follow the journey like a million different pieces. Pain racks my body from the force of it, and my power feeds the blood, making it stronger as I continue to chant.

As I touch on those beasts lingering in the dark, they lift their heads and gnash their teeth, feeling distrust and anger at being called by another. I try to send soothing thoughts and show them the truth, but I don’t know if it works as I fly back into my body and stumble forward. My hands catch on the grass to stop myself from falling face-first to the ground. My power snaps back to me, making me groan.

The wounds on my inner arms aren’t healing, thanks to the blade—they will only heal when the spell is complete.

I wait there, my sliced wrists dripping blood into the soil and grass. My mates stand behind me, and our court, our sanctuary, is lit up like a beacon as I wait for the beasts to answer our call. I pray to the gods that they won’t kill me.

Nox, I hope I’m strong enough to save us.

My hope starts to dwindle as I think that they will ignore my call like so many others, when the trees begin to move before us. I call out to whatever moves within the forest, my voice soft and strong.

“We will not harm you. We present no danger to you.” I bow my head in deference because these creatures have been alive long before any of us and will be alive long after us. They are ancient beings deserving of respect.

I hear someone gasp behind me, so I lift my head and look up through my lashes, a wondrous smile curling my lips when I spy the creature that steps free.

“You are beautiful,” I tell them, and they are.

They are an utterly stunning, beautiful nightmare.

It is a hydra, a creature that has not been seen for millennia since it ate a few gods and was deemed evil. Those gods were trying to kill it, so it was self-defence.

Four heads, similar to a dragon’s, wind around each other as its eyes blink at me—black, red, purple, and blue—stolen from the gods it killed. Its body is similar to a dragon’s as well, covered in iridescent blue scales with spikes along its back and tail, which is long and thick, thicker than any of the trees behind it. Its six legs are coated in the same scales and end in three toes with long, black claws ready to slice its victims to pieces if it does not set them on fire or eat them first. It is one of the most feared monsters in history, and also the most elusive. So why is it here? Why is it close?

You, the growled voice says in my mind.I felt your power the moment you came into this life. I felt your call even then, and I was curious. It awoke me like no other has.

Then I’m truly lucky, I reply.

It rises higher to show its power.

I know the creature before me can enlarge to its full glory, which is bigger than any city or monster, with over nine heads, but it appears before me now in a smaller, no less threatening form, which gives me hope that it wants what I am offering.

It wants a place to belong.

What do you want, life stealer?

Life—oh, vampyr, got it. This time, I speak aloud so the others can hear me. “We wish to offer you a deal without chains, like so many before us. We also do not wish to kill you.”

“That would be foolish,” it says out loud, chuckling as smoke blows from one nose.

“It would,” I agree with a smile. “To maintain our safety, our family, and love, we must become a true court, and to do that, our law states that we must be over a certain number. We trust none of our kind and want nothing to do with them, considering we have our own duties, after all. I have always been at one with the night and a god” —it hisses then, and I wince— “and my mother, a seer, told me I was one with the nightmares. She was right. I may never grow as large or as powerful as you, but my soul is like yours. So, I offer you a deal, hydra, one of sanctuary and peace, and in return, you can leave whenever you wish after the blood moon if you desire to, but you must be here for the viewing so we may keep our home. You will always have sanctuary here, a place we will protect for you.”

It watches me, its heads twisting and untwisting as I wait. “Why? Why choose us monsters?” it demands.