Shadows of Mist – E. M. Knight

I gasp and surge up, regaining consciousness. My heart is pounding. Every beat pushes blood through my weakened body. I feel very thin, very frail. The vampire essence inside me is trying its damnedest to undo the damage that was done. But it’s an uphill battle. It will take a very long time before I feel whole again. My vision clears after a moment. It takes an extra second for my memory to catch up and tell me where the hell I am. But then I see three beautiful vampire faces before me, three of my own new fledglings, and everything comes rushing back. I let out an inadvertent gasp. At that moment, all three of the fledglings rip around and pin me in place. “What is this?” I hiss, fighting to get loose. Their strength astonishes me. They already have the might of fully-grown vampires.

“Release me!” I make a pathetic attempt to wrestle out of their grip. It’s futile. My own weakened state does me no favors. The three vampires regard me with an odd serenity and give no reply. I am struck by something absolutely uncanny about them—they are each perfectly synchronized in their movements. From the delicate sips of air they take to the rhythm with which they blink. Hell, even—I concentrate to make sure I’m right—even their heartbeats are synchronized. I growl and tense. The moment I do, the hands holding me pull away. I am free to move again.

“Thank you,” I say gruffly, making no effort to mask the sarcasm in my voice. I push myself upright and try to stand. The moment I’m upright I wobble. I blink and try to fight it off. It’s embarrassing, pathetic. It makes me look weak. Appearances are everything. So even if I do feel weak, I must never show it. Concentrating to will the unsteadiness away, I finally manage to find my center of gravity. “Well,” I say, under my breath, “that couldn’t have gone much worse.

” I take stock of my body. Apart from that all-encompassing, dangerous bit of lethargy, I am whole. The vampire essence inside me is struggling to help me regain my strength. Slowly, it’s doing its job —but the pace at which it operates does not sit well with me. When I turn my attention back outward, I have to do a double take. The three vexing vampires have moved a good twenty feet away—and I hadn’t noticed it. My eyes narrow into slits. “How much of my blood did you take?” I ask, in a low, dangerous voice. “Only as much as was needed to fulfill Eleira’s promise to us,” a beautiful female voice sounds in my head. The telepathic transmission is so unexpected that I take a sharp inward breath.

The faces of my fledglings maintain those haunting, serene masks. I can’t help but feel the amusement in their eyes. “Who are you?” I demand. “What does Eleira have to do with you? What promise did she make, and when?” The gaze of the three new vampires shifts to contain something dangerously close to pity. “Little vampire,” the voice comes again in my head, “if your Queen did not tell you, do not ask us to undermine that.” I bristle at being called “little.” Anger surges through me. “You know nothing of who I am,” I growl, taking a menacing step toward them. “You know nothing of what I can do.” I gesture around the space we’re in.

“How do you think I got in here through the erected magical barriers?” Laughter answers me. Again, it’s in my head. The fledglings do not betray any emotions on their faces. Not a single muscle moves. Just as my anger is about to hit critical mass, I realize something—and that realization stops me dead in my tracks. Each time I hear the voice—just like with the laughter—it comes not from one of them, but from all three. My mind races with the implications. Who exactly did I transform? They move as one, they breathe as one… and they speak as one. What sort of entity have I bestowed with the Dark Gift? And how is it that they are able to speak in my head? The fledgling-maker bond ensures against exactly that sort of thing. A solemn warning rips me from my thoughts: Your brother is dying.

I curse. Goddammit, I’d forgotten all about Raul! Hell, maybe I’d already given him up for dead, following the possession by that spirit. The three new vampires step out of the way to give me a clear path to him. Despite my hardened exterior, my stomach clenches when my gaze falls upon him. He is face-down on the floor, in a thick puddle of his own blood. Every second that passes, more escapes from that damned wound. I have no idea what possessed him to slap the collar on me—but if it wasn’t for that, I would never have attacked him with the blade, and he would not be near-dead. I shoot my vampire senses out at him to get a feel for just how little life he has left. I feel only the faintest hint of his vampiric essence. He’s mere seconds away from certain death.

“So much for being immortal,” I mutter, angry at him for getting himself into such a compromising state. “You restored us,” the combined voice of the three women rips in my head. “For that, we owe you some loyalty. We can save your brother, right now. But doing so will require sacrifice.” I turn on them. The clock is ticking in the back of my mind, counting down the seconds to Raul’s demise. Eleira will throttle me and throw me in chains if I return with the corpse of her lover. “What sacrifice?” I hiss. “You must feed your magic into him.

Only with it will he survive.” “What the hell are you talking about? Feed my magic into him? I’ve never heard such nonsense. What do you know about such things?” Once again, I hear that gay, grating laughter. “Haven’t you figured it out yet? We three are witches—together the most powerful this world has ever seen!” Suddenly, a great blue glow erupts from around the three of them, lighting up the whole room with the power of the sun. I cry out and throw an arm over my eyes—the light burns worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. Thankfully, it only lasts a flicker of a moment. I grit my teeth and blink through the residual pain in my skull. “It’s time to decide, Phillip,” they say. “Goddamn you!” I cry out. “Can’t you speak normally, for once? I don’t want you in my head!” “DECIDE!” The witches fire back.

“We have no time!” In desperation, I throw one more look at Raul. He is so feeble, so pathetic, so unlike what a vampire should be. He is not worthy of standing by Eleira’s side. Only I am! My eyes flare at the three witches. “No,” I growl, taking sinister pleasure in denying Raul life. For half a second, I feel something akin to astonishment pass through my fledglings. I can’t put a finger on why or how I feel it—certainly not anything that’s passed on through faces, no flicker of emotion or anything like that. Maybe it’s some sort of benefit of the link that exists between us. “Then,” the witches solemnly say, “we will do it without you.” And before I can react, they descend upon me, throwing an inverted weave of magic my way that I cannot deflect.

The moment it hits, darkness takes me, and I pass out. Chapter Two Phillip In the caves of the Forsaken Sisters. This time, my escape from darkness comes very, very slowly, like a shipwreck being raised out of the deep, black sea. An all-encompassing grogginess consumes my whole body. I have the vague impression that I am bound. My head droops forward, my own neck unable to support the weight. It takes an enormous amount of will to pry my eyes open, and then double that effort to make them focus on the scene before me. We are still all in the chamber. My gaze runs down my body. I feel restraints around my ankles, my wrists, my abdomen, and shoulders.

My back is up against a wall. I look up and see two of the witches kneeling around Raul. He is still on the floor, but they have turned him over. One of them props his head up. His eyes are still closed. Harnessing every last bit of will, I flare my vampire senses out to try to get a feel for his state. A bit of confusion hits me when I realize it is no better than before. If anything—it might be worse. Does that mean that so little time has passed? Or that they could not truly heal him, only delay the inevitable? A sharp crack on the side of my skull whips my head one way. I growl, unused to being so handicapped in such situations.

Probably the most beautiful of the three witches regards me with stunning—but storming—eyes. “You put up quite a fight when you were unconscious,” she whispers, using her actual voice to speak. “We did not expect such trouble out of you. You have more strength than you know.” “I’ll remember that next time you try to ambush me,” I snap. “Who are you? What’s your name?” “I am Allura. My sisters are Sute and Lorne.” She shakes her head, then looks away. “How could you have chosen your own brother’s death?” she wonders. “You have no idea who we are,” I hiss in retort.

“Don’t you dare pass judgment.” She shifts in derision. “In a different life, I may have admired such sentiment,” she says. “But seeing what I’ve seen, being trapped in that place for as long as I have, it changes your perspective on the world.” “And where exactly were you trapped?” I ask, finding that—against my better judgment—I am enjoying a conversation with one so pretty. “The Demon Realm,” she answers nonchalantly. “Which is what you rescued us from.” My brows furrow together in consternation. “That’s impossible. All I did was give you blood.

” “Yes. Your blood restored life to our crumbling bodies, thus fulfilling Eleira’s promise to us.” I want to know more about that, but her voice has a tone of finality to it. “So, what did you do with him?” I ask, turning my head toward my still unconscious brother. The witch flashes me a silky smile. “Oh, that? We established a one-way link between you and him. He draws on your reservoir of magic to stay alive.” “What?” I demand. Frantic, I scramble to grab hold of the Elements—and find that I cannot. “How dare you take away my freedom like that?” She laughs in a delighted sort of way.

I change my mind immediately about her—I feel nothing but contempt and hatred for this vile, evil creature. “You will have your powers back once your brother heals,” she says softly. “That is—if he decides it is the right thing to do.” “What the hell do you mean, if he decides?” “I told you. This is a one way link. The power to end it lies wholly with your brother.” Her lip twitches up in a forced, crooked smile. “You better hope he doesn’t find out how you were ready to throw away his life.” I struggle against the invisible bonds, but I know it’s no use. For one, my vampiric strength is nowhere near its full potential.

I’m operating at maybe ten, fifteen percent. Two, without the ability to cast magic, I am as helpless as a newborn pup against actual witches. None of that sits well with me. I vow then and there, that upon these witches, I will exact my revenge. “Oh look,” she tells me. “He is starting to stir.” Grudgingly, I force my eyes toward my older brother. I notice the strengthening heartbeat first. It is, of course, still feeble. But much better than what it had been a minute ago.

The wound in his shoulder has stopped leaking blood. His body is still stained with it, of course, but I think the actual wound has finally closed. The witch holding his head slowly pushes him up. By the time his upper body is vertical to the floor, his eyes flutter open. It takes a long time for awareness to come to them. But when it does, he gasps and pulls away. I chuckle. What a feeble reaction for a vampire of the Royal Family. “Less spooked than you were,” the witch beside me notes. I grit my teeth together and hold my tongue.

Raul’s eyes first go to the witches around him. He seems to take their presence as a matter of course. Eventually, those eyes fall upon me—and when they do, he surges up. He moves with speed I thought would be impossible for one in his condition. One second, he’s on the dirty floor, far, far away. The next, his hand is closed around my windpipe, squeezing hard. It’s like he didn’t even bother with the space in between. “You,” he growls. There’s something different about his tone—there’s an edge there, one unlike any I’ve heard before. It doesn’t scare me so much as excite me—Is this the Raul I always wanted my brother to become? “Release him!” the witch nearby commands.

Before Raul has a chance to comply, a powerful blast of Air hits him square in the chest and sends him flying backward. There, the other two witches move to hold him down. “You will not do anything to harm your brother,” they tell him. “He is the only reason you are alive!” “He is the only reason I was in a position to die!” he spits. He struggles against their grips. “Let me at him!” He breaks free of one of the witches, then the other. Again, at lightning speed, he launches himself at me.

.

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