Wards of Night – E. M. Knight

I wake up with a jolt. Alarm rips through my body. Where am I? This isn’t my Stanford dorm… I try to push myself up. My muscles are slow to respond. Everything feels like it’s part of a dream. My mind is awake, but my entire body is fuzzy. I definitely know I’m not at home. I crane my head up. There’s a sharp pain in the side of my neck. I bring my hand to it and wince when I feel a nasty bump. My fingers run along my skin. The bump is about half the size of a golf ball. A shiver of fear takes me. What on earth is going on? The cloudiness in my mind starts to part. I’m on a cold, metal floor in the middle of a circular room.

I groan as I push myself upright. I manage to sit up, but my body still doesn’t feel like my own. What’s been done to me? I take a slow look around. It takes me a second to understand that all the surrounding walls are glass. They arc up into a dome, with its center right above my head. An atrium? A greenhouse? I have no idea… I put both hands on my neck and roll my head from side to side. The bump is only on one side. It’s sensitive. The muscles running up to my jaw are stiff. I open and close my mouth a few times, trying to work out the tension.

That helps a little. There’s a pervading chill in the air that’s made worse by the metal floor that steals my warmth. I’d try to stand, but I’m not sure my legs would support me. “Hello?” I call. My voice sounds pathetically weak to my ears. I clear my throat and try again. “Hello!” The sound echoes around the room before fading away. The silence that follows mocks me. I grumble as I look at my body. I’m wearing the same clothes I wore to class yesterday.

But there’s a stickiness to my skin, a feeling of filth, and it makes me think that more than a single day has passed. I screw my eyes shut and try to remember. I’d just managed to get through an exhausting week of class. Midterms were coming up, and like the rest of my friends, I retreated to a private room in the library to study. And then — A flash of red pulses through my mind. I gasp. My eyes pop open. Just like that, the memory is gone. I have no idea what happened after I opened my books. Come on, Eleira, I scold myself.

Think! It’s not like you to be helpless! But try as I will, nothing comes to mind. “Hello?” I try again. “Is anybody there? Where am I?” Once more, the only answer is silence. With a grunted effort I haul myself to my feet. The moment I do, a wave of light-headedness hits. I sway and my vision goes white. The fit passes. But I’m not left unaffected. That’s never happened to me before. Again my hand goes for my neck.

I trace the strange bump and wonder what it is. I catch my reflection in the far glass wall. I hesitate, then inch toward it slowly, trying to ensure the next step won’t send me lurching to the floor. When I’m less than a foot away, I feel an odd tug on my ankle. I look down and suck in a sharp breath. There’s a silver string stretching to me from the center of the room. It’s attached to an anklet fit snugly around my leg. I bend down and try to rip it off. It’s no good. The string is extremely thin, almost invisible, but it’s as strong as fishing line.

There’s no clasp that I can see, and no way I can get it off. Bizarre. The window forgotten for now, I walk back to where I woke up. There’s a tiny compartment in the floor that I’d overlooked. As I come closer, it reels the string in. When I walk away, it lets it back out — but no farther than the wall. A surge of panic threatens to take over as the implications sink in: I’m a prisoner! My breathing starts to quicken. I feel the panic rising. My heart beats faster and faster… I close my eyes and force myself to adopt a sense of calm. There’s no point jumping to conclusions.

Especially this soon. For all I know this could be some elaborate prank orchestrated by one of the sororities I wanted to pledge… But that doesn’t feel quite right. Still, it’s the only assurance I can give myself at this point. I open my eyes, and once my body is no longer shaking, I return to the glass wall. It’s pitch black outside. That’s the only reason I can see my reflection. The light in the room comes from lamps embedded in the floor. Keeping my tied foot back, I step forward and lean into the window. I cup my hands in front of my eyes. I think I can make out the barest hint of stars up in the sky.

But it might just be my imagination, or my mind grappling for a hint of normalcy about this place. Otherwise, the night is unnaturally dark. The sound of metal sliding against metal makes me jerk around. There, on the other side of the room, two of the window panes have come open. A tall man with jet black hair and sharp, predatory eyes stands in the entrance. “Hello, my darling,” he says in a slow drawl. “Did you miss me?” And then, without warning, he launches himself at me. Chapter Two RAUL “Hey. Hey, look, she’s up!” My younger brother Phillip points to the screen. My head turns that way, and, sure enough, he’s right.

“What a beauty.” James drawls behind me. I grimace without being able to stop myself. Ever since my older brother was introduced to the Vampire Lestat books in the 80’s he’d taken it upon himself to embody the fictional prince. He’d even moved down to Louisiana to adopt the accent—something he hasn’t dropped since. I face him, diverting my attention from the young girl on the screen. “Remember what she’s here for,” I remind him. I eye him up and down. “She’s not to be your plaything.” James chuckles.

“Don’t you worry your pretty red head, Raul,” he tells me. “I’m not going to do anything against Mother’s orders. But —” he steps toward me. “Might I remind you that it was I who found her? And it was I who brought her here.” “Actually, it was all —” Phillip tries to butt in. “Silence!” James growls. Phillip shrinks back. “It was me, and I won’t put up with your snivelling excuses saying otherwise.” My fists tighten. My two brothers have never been on the best of terms.

Phillip’s subdued, intellectual personality clashes mightily with James’s boisterous ‘rah-rah-look-at-me’ persona. As for me? I like to think I take on the best of both of them. But that might just be vanity speaking. “What’s that she’s doing?” Phillip asks. I look at the screen. “Looks like she found the chain.” Phillip glances from me to James. “Do you think she’s going to break it?” He sounds nervous. “No,” James says confidently. “Not yet.

She’s not aware of the new powers imbued in her blood.” That seems to alleviate Phillip’s concern. “Besides,” James continues. “Even if she does, where would she go?” “She looks scared,” Phillip says. Even I bark a laugh at his humanity. “Of course she’s scared. Wouldn’t you be? Or have you forgotten what it’s like to be human?” “Never,” Phillip shakes his head roughly. “I’ll never forget what it’s like to be them. They are who we were, and if we lose that part of us —” “Ah, Phillip, ever the dreamer,” James interrupts. He strolls over and tousles his hair.

Then he smacks the side of his head. “If Mother heard your admission, have no doubt, she would send you to the dungeons.” James says it so coolly, so confidently, that the threat is easy to miss. But I know my brother well enough to pick up on it. So does Phillip. He gulps. I put a hand on both their shoulders. James looks at me with revulsion, whereas Phillip seems calmed by my presence. “Remember,” I remind them both. “Nothing we say or do ever leaves this room.

” My hand tightens so that my point comes across. “Understood?” Phillip nods, but James only scowls and ducks out of my grip. “Gah!” He spits and speeds out the room. “Where’s he going?” Phillip asks. “Forgive him,” I say. “He needs time to cool off. Anyways, it’s not important—” I cut off when Phillip mutters a curse. My younger brother never uses foul language. “What is it?” I demand. He points to the screen.

James is in the room with Eleira. I swear and run after my older brother. Chapter Three ELEIRA I scream as the black-cloaked man closes the space between us. He moves so fast I don’t have time for any other reaction. One hand grips me by the neck under my chin. The other curls around my back, forcing my body to his. “So young,” he mutters under his breath. “So very… nubile.” Who are you? What do you want? I try to ask, but the words get caught in my throat. He’s cutting off my circulation.

All I manage is a feeble croak. “What’s that?” He leans an ear in. “I didn’t quite catch that.” Then he laughs, as if it’s the greatest joke in the world. I struggle against him but he’s so strong. It doesn’t help that my body is weak from a pervading sense of deprivation. His nostrils flame as he brings his face close to mine and takes a deep breath. His eyes roll up in momentary ecstasy. What kind of monster is this? Just when I’m certain he’s about to force himself on me, pressing his lips to mine, or — I swallow — even worse, a strong voice of command sounds from the entrance. “Put.

Her. Down.” My captor freezes. He doesn’t release me, but he backs off enough so I can suck in a ragged breath. “James.” The voice continues. “I am telling you to back off.” James, I think. That’s his name. His name is James.

“And why should I, little brother?” The man holding me snarls. “Can’t you smell her? Can’t you tell how sweet she is?” He spins us both around and thrusts me forward. I gasp in alarm. “Here, Raul,” he says. “Have her. I know how much you crave her blood.” Crave my blood? My head starts to spin. What kind of madness is this? The man in the doorway steps forward. He looks nothing like his brother—if indeed that is what they are. His hair is the deepest shade of red I’ve ever seen, like the embers of a fire in the night.

His eyes — I shouldn’t be saying this about my captor, but his eyes take my breath away. They are the most brilliant green possible and framed by long, dark lashes. They lend a fierce intensity to him that cascades down and encompasses his whole body. Or maybe it’s just the way he’s looking at me. At us? “Go on,” James taunts. His hand wraps in my hair as he pushes me to the door. “Take her! I know you’re dying to.” My thoughts blacken and start coming up with all sorts of horrifying scenarios. Rape. Torture.

They spoke of blood! All without me being able to do a damn thing. “No,” Raul says. He doesn’t look at me, instead directing his entire gaze at his brother. “She is not. To be. Harmed!” James steps into me. His free hand curls around my waist and splays across my tummy. Revulsion fills me from his touch. “Who says we’re harming her, dear brother?” He sweeps my hair away to expose the side of my neck with the foreign bump. “Just one sip.

What’s the worst it could do?” Raul’s features twist as he struggles with the suggestion. I can see the temptation clear in his eyes. “No,” I whisper. “Please.” Abruptly he flies at me. James laughs and steps away, leaving me dangling. The speed with which they move is so fast. I start to fall, but then Raul’s hands are on me, and he’s holding me, tight to him… I screw my eyes shut and pray that the next moment I’ll wake and be free of this nightmare. No such luck. My heart is pounding so hard I’m afraid it’ll rip out my chest.

One second passes. Then two. Then three. Raul’s body is cold and hard as stone. But nothing more happens. I dare to ease my eyes open… Raul is staring down at me. Through some trick of the light his green irises seem to swirl like smoke caught on an upwind. I blink, and the moment is ruined. The illusion is gone. But I cannot look away.

Something about him captivates me. There’s a faint, black circle that surrounds his irises. At that moment, despite all my better judgment, I know that if he asks anything of me, I’ll say yes. Whatever he wants, I’ll do, if for no other reason than — “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” James interrupts from the doorway. He steps out and hits a button. The panels slide shut. The moment he’s gone, Raul gasps and breaks away from me. I’m left reeling. He pushes off, hard enough that I stagger back. My knees buckle, and I fall right on my butt.

“Ow,” I say. “What —” But I see that Raul is in no shape to answer. His eyes have gone wild. He looks around the room like a caged animal. I start to get up but he points a finger at me. He’s doing everything he can to not look my way. “Don’t,” he warns. “Don’t move. You don’t know —” he grunts. “You don’t know… how hard… this is for me!” I can almost laugh at the absurdity of the admission.

Hard for him? What about me? I haven’t the slightest clue of what’s going on! Except, of course, that I’ve landed somewhere far, far outside my element. Suddenly he turns around. With exaggerated effort he walks to the door. Every single step looks like it’s made with a hundred pound backpack strapped to his back. I reach for the bracelet on my ankle and tug on it, then start to pick myself up — “No!” Raul almost screams. He flings an arm over his shoulder and again points at me. “Don’t move!” I freeze. He can’t see me. How did he know? Step by agonizing step he walks to the door. I watch him, unsure whether to be more wary around him or James.

Raul saved me — I think — but that doesn’t mean anything if he breaks down now. He reaches the spot where the panels slide open. His fingers search the smooth glass. “Dammit, James,” he mutters under his breath. “Dammit! Damn you and your tricks!” I cry out in alarm when he raises a fist and slams it against the glass. There’s so much force behind the blow that the whole outer structure shakes. What kind of man is he? But the glass doesn’t break or shatter or crack. Raul hits it again. The dome trembles. Still, the door doesn’t open.

Still, he’s trapped inside with me. “Come on, Phillip,” he mutters. “Come on, come on. You know what this torture is like…” I’m afraid of saying anything lest I draw his ire. But I can’t just sit still. I need answers. I have questions. And I — I don’t get to make good on any of it. A crack appears in the panes, and the two halves start to part. As soon as the barest sliver of space is visible, Raul squeezes himself through.

This is my chance, I think. I grit my teeth against my body’s weakness and make a dash for the door. I don’t even get a quarter of the way there before the mechanism reverses, and the doors seal shut. Despair wells up inside — and then I remember the bracelet and the link. I couldn’t have gotten out even if the doors had remained open.


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