Darkness was never something I feared. Quite the opposite actually. As a child I was convinced I was the creature to be feared by everything that went bump in the night.
I thought myself invincible.
I was delusional. A common trait among children. But even after I realized even I had things to fear, I still harbored no fear for darkness itself.
Until they took me. And shattered my soul.
The room that served as my prison was so devoid of light that even with my exceptional night vision I saw nothing. No shapes. No outlines. No hints of anything. No windows and no clocks, making time infinite. That was one of the many ways they tortured me. And there were many.
“Ah, good. You’re awake,” a pleasant voice said in the darkness.
A snap sounded, and a soft light filled the room. I blinked rapidly, trying to adjust my vision. Clear light blue eyes met mine.
The warlock waited until I was focused on him. “How are you doing this beautiful evening, my love?”
“Fu-fu-fu—” Spasms ran through my cracked and dry throat before I could force the rest of it out. The vampires working for the warlock had already visited me for their nightly entertainment. One of their favorite games was to see how much pain I could handle before the screams tore out of me. I’d held the screams in as they shattered each finger bone. But I broke when they began shattering the bones in my legs. My body had healed the more serious injuries first, leaving my throat sore. My healing would already have been complete, but the vampires had drained me after they got bored breaking bones, and my shifter magic was already sluggish. The warlock sitting across from me had crafted some potion that stripped me of all my magic, except healing. Sebastian always was a clever one. When we’d been lovers, he’d used his cleverness to charm and entertain me. Now he used it to torture me in an attempt to bend me to his will.
Sebastian clucked his tongue and moved towards me. I tried to shift my body away, but it was tied too tightly to the metal table. Panic rose as I pulled against the ropes. Being bound brought back memories of when my parents had been murdered in front of me. I’d been just as powerless then as now. I reached for my magic even though I would find nothing but emptiness. Sebastian gave me a small smile. Gods I hated that smile.
“I’m so sorry it had to play out like this.” He sounded genuinely sad. “I would have preferred to keep things between us a private affair. I’m sure you would have eventually come back to me. But things are changing, and my hands are tied.”
He lifted a hand and stroked my cheek. I held perfectly still, biding my time. A soft sigh fell from his lips. “The others don’t know you’re here. They think I’m still looking for you. But I can’t hide you forever. And they will do far worse to you once they have you. Agree to work with me and this will all be over. I can protect you from them. You loved and trusted me once. We can put the past behind us and be as we once were. Together. Unstoppable.”
I snapped at his hand, and my fang grazed one of his fingers. I slowly licked the blood off, savoring it, and pushed the words out. “I will never come back to you.”
Anger flashed across his face, but the charming facade settled back into place. “You will. I’ll see you soon.” He snapped his fingers, and the lights went out.
I closed my eyes, not that it really mattered, and listened. Sebastian was gone. I had no idea when he’d be back. Sometimes he’d be gone for long stretches of time. He never participated with the vampires in their torturous games. But he was the one in charge, so he was responsible all the same. Sebastian preferred psychological torture over physical.
My ears picked up a slight shuffling sound outside my door. The guards were probably bored. I don’t know why they bothered; no one had come for me, and it seemed unlikely anyone would do so now. I wasn’t sure exactly how much time had passed, but Sebastian and his vampire cronies had kidnapped me on my last birthday. And he hadn’t mentioned my birthday again. So, less than a year. My friends and family likely thought I was dead.
If only. Death would be a gift.
I had started to drift off when one of the vampire guards gasped in shock. A couple of thuds sounded. Bodies hitting the floor? Two of the thuds sounded lighter than the others. I craned my neck to look in the direction of the door even though I couldn’t see anything. A few seconds later, the door swung open and light filtered in from the hallway.
I squinted at the figure standing in the doorway. Shock swept through me as I recognized his scent. What the hell was he doing here? Of all the people to rescue me, he hadn’t even occurred to me. Was this a dream?
“My apologies for taking so long, child,” he whispered quietly while cutting me loose from the steel table.
I didn’t say anything. I studied him as he quickly and efficiently cut me loose. When I’d met him all those centuries ago, his hair had been long and contained in tight braids. Now it was shaved close to his scalp. I remembered his scent. And I could never forget those bright copper-colored eyes.
“Are you real?” I whispered as he helped me stand.
Anger and sorrow flashed across his face. “Yes. I’m real. I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. Your loved ones have been looking for you. When I heard you were missing I did my own investigating. Some old contacts claimed a shifter had been captured by a group of vampires aided by a warlock. I took a chance on it being you.”
Maybe I’d finally lost it and was hallucinating this conversation. I rolled my shoulders back and shifted my weight, savoring the ability to move. It felt real. I reached out and touched his arm, trailing my fingers to his hand. He held a sword with a slight curve. Mist still clung to it. A tentative hope spread through me at the sight of the sword. This was real. It had to be.
“I take it you can’t shift or use magic?” His voice was gentle as he looked me up and down, but his face hardened at the still healing scars visible on my legs and arms. The tank top and underwear I wore left most of my skin exposed. The scars themselves would fade as soon as my shifter magic wasn’t so taxed and could heal all the minor injuries.
“No. Would have gotten myself out long ago if I’d been able to do either. They’ve been using some potion to keep me under control.” I walked towards the open door, stepping over the headless bodies of the two vampire guards, and looked to the right. We were at the end of a long dimly lit hallway.
The vamps hadn’t bothered to keep the house in any decent shape. The wood floor was worn, some lights were missing bulbs, and the ’70s style wallpaper was peeling or completely missing in some areas. Random statues and paintings decorated the hallway. They’d likely killed or turned the owners ages ago and used this as a feeding house. My nose wrinkled at the stench leaking from some of the other rooms. Furious shouts alerted us more vamps were on their way and would be here in less than fifteen seconds.
“Stay behind me. And stay close.” Magos ran out the door and down the hallway. I followed, trying to push away the questions bouncing around in my head. How much time had passed? Why had he come by himself and not gone to my friends and family if they were looking for me? Were they okay?
“Escape first. Ask questions later,” I mumbled. I didn’t have a clue where the exit was, but my intuition was adamant I should trust him. Even if he was a vampire.
“Come on, Nemain! Move!” he called out in that melodious accent I’d never been able to place.
We reached the end of the hallway and turned around the corner, and my vampire rescuer shoved me to the side. I slammed into the wall. Magos was fast but not fast enough. I bit back a scream as the blade that had been aimed at my heart buried itself in my shoulder instead. It tore through flesh and bounced off bone, ripping free with more damage.
They’d been slicing my flesh without any fear of retaliation for so long, they’d forgotten who I was. What I was capable of. Rage and a need for violence ran through me, and I bared my teeth.
I ducked as the dagger-wielding vampire grabbed at me. A familiar heat spread through my muscles as I rotated until my back was against his chest. Grasping his hand, I pulled it back until his wrist snapped and he dropped the dagger. I snatched it out of the air and slammed an elbow into his face. The vampire’s head snapped back as blood poured from his nose. I spun and whipped the dagger around. His head toppled to the ground. My mind was still racing, struggling to process what was happening. But the fight helped. Having a blade in my hand, even a poorly made one, helped even more. This was who I was. A fighter. A survivor. I could do this.
A loud crash from behind made me jump, and the lights went out. My back was against the wall, but all I could hear was my frantically pounding heart. Where was Magos? Where should I go? Was this a trap? Was this a new game for them?
Panic rose as I struggled to keep a grip. I could still smell Magos, but two other vampire scents wafted to my nose. The sounds of a fight came from farther down the hall. Maybe down the stairs? Someone grabbed my arm, and my body moved on pure instinct. I broke his hold and threw a punch but missed. I froze and listened, trying to pinpoint his location. Got it.
I spun and kicked out with my right leg. He danced out of reach, and I couldn’t tell where he was. I shook my head, but whatever was in that potion made my head fuzzy. Focus damnit. Before I could throw another punch, he grabbed me again. I swore as he caught my fist when I lashed out. Enough moonlight filtered in through a nearby window for me to make out his face. I relaxed, and he dropped my fist.
“It’s rude to assault the person rescuing you. I’ve taken care of the remaining vampires, but I’m sure more are on the way. Also, you should watch your language.” His face was turned away from me, but I was pretty sure he was grinning.
We ran down the stairs and out the front door. A break in the clouds let the full moon light up the sky. I breathed in the crisp night air. I was free. Free. The adrenaline coursing through my body faded and shock settled in. Before I could process much more, Magos pulled on my arm, and I broke out into a run to keep pace with him.
He glanced over his shoulder at me. “I have a car on the other side of the gate at the end of the driveway. Once we’re in the car, you can rest.”
I jerked my head in a quick nod and pushed my body to run a little faster as we fled into the night.