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It was a whisper. A hiss.
Louder. Raspy. From the corner of the room.
I sat up and blinked but saw only black.
It called my name again, this time from the foot of my bed. Oh my God. I froze.
In the darkness something reached out and grabbed my leg, nails piercing my flesh. The agony shocked me. I screamed and struggled like an animal crushed in a steel trap.
It was neither vampire nor human. It was slimy, oozing blood and some other rancid liquid. I choked on the putrid stink of rotting meat.
I shrieked and kicked it in the face. The jagged edges of its fangs sliced my heel. I rolled sideways, fell from the bed, and hit the floor. My bloody feet slipped as I tried to skid away. But the creature was on me, snarling, dragging me by my feet toward its mouth. Then I saw its eyes. Yellow. Filmy. Their black centers bleeding at the edges.
The creature snapped at my face.
I put my fingers in its mouth and it sank its teeth down to the bone. With a cry I tore its jaw off. It didn’t even scream, just reeled away. I scrambled back against a dresser, and a lamp smashed and fell to the ground. Still blind, I felt around until my hand closed around a shard of glass. I stood and the creature crashed into me, a storm of claws and teeth. As we slammed into the wall, it stabbed its talons into the back of my shoulders, the pain hot and intense. I drove the shard in between its ribs. We fell together.
Laughter. I heard a low, hoarse cackle and when I looked toward the sound, I saw eyes. Blood red. And then they were gone.
The monster was shaking me. It was talking. No. It had Lucas’s voice.
Suddenly, there was light. Lucas was crouched over me and I was twisted under him, mid-struggle.
What? What’s going on?
“Zee! Stop!” Lucas shouted. “Stop. You’re all right.”
“Where is it?” I cried. “Where did it go?”
“Calm down. You were dreaming.”
“No, th-there was something in my room. Where is it?”
“You were having a nightmare, my lady,” Uther said. He clutched the belt of his robe, eyes wide. A row of soldiers stood beside him, their gloved hands on the handles of their swords.
“What...?” I blinked to clear the fog in my head.
Lucas rose and helped me to my feet. Then he staggered back. He had blood on his hands.
“Lucas, you’re bleeding!”
I rubbed my eyes. “What happened?”
Wincing, Lucas lifted his shirt and seemed to yank at the skin on his abdomen; he threw a piece of glass to the ground.
The shard of glass. I put that in the monster. The monster is Lucas? No, wait.
“Oh my God,” I whispered. “Did I do that to you?”
“In my sleep?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I swear, there was something in my room and then someone else who was watching. I heard them. I felt them.”
I reached around to rub my shoulder, searching for bloody punctures. No wound. I looked down at my rumpled dress, stained with sweat. I turned my hands over and searched for scratches. “There was something here. It was so real.”
A chunk of the bed frame had splintered off. Chairs and tables were overturned. One of the doors had come off its hinges. Water from the vase, now broken, dribbled from the table to the floor.
“Did I do all this?”
“You had some help,” Lucas said.
Uther nodded. “The swordsmith and the maids tried to wake you from your nightmare.”
Oh no. “Did...did I hurt them?”
“They will be all right,” Uther replied.
Under the light the confusion dissipated and guilt swept in. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Lucas, are you okay?”
“I’ve healed already, so don’t give it another thought.”
I put my hands up as if I was facing a squadron of armed officers. “Sorry, everyone.”
“Please leave us,” Uther ordered. The Aramatta filed out without a second glance.
I plucked a few feathers stuck to my clothing. A cushion had been gutted and its fluffy innards were strewn all over the bed and floor. Lucas placed a hand on my still trembling shoulder. His fingers touched where the creature had pierced me with its nails.
“You were stuck in a very bad dream, my lady,” Uther said.
“I’ve never had a nightmare like that before,” I said. “Usually I dream that I’m horribly late for a final exam and I can’t find the classroom. But there were monsters. One was attacking me and biting me and I couldn’t get away. It was so real.”
The creature’s fetid blood still lingered in my nose. It made me nauseous. I sank down onto the once-beautiful bed.
“You’ve also never been through the kind of trauma that you’ve experienced,” Uther said.
“I’m not making a good case for myself, am I? Being a house guest from hell.”
“My lady, the Monarchy is only concerned with your safety and well-being.”
“Try to get some rest, my lady.”
“Yeah, I’ve given up the whole sleeping thing. It’s overrated.”
“I will return shortly. If there is anything you need, just call for one of the maids.”
“I don’t know how eager they’ll be to come in here after what’s happened.”
“We are all here to serve,” Uther said with a bow before leaving.
“I’m not,” Lucas said. He sat on the bed beside me. “But apparently I’m here to be your pin cushion.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I’m teasing you.”
I raked my fingers through my hair. “What happened?”
“You fell asleep while the cleric was trying to convince me to give you space. I refused and ended up resting on the couch in your room. Then you started sleepwalking and screaming.”
“I was standing up?”
“Yes, you threw a maid through the door.”
“Yes. And anyone who touched you.”
“Were my eyes open?”
“Then what did you do?”
“I tried to wake you.”
“Then I stabbed you?”
“Well, you did that after.”
“After a struggle. Let’s just say that I learned very quickly that I could never fight you.”
I slapped my hands to my face. I wanted to fold into myself and disappear. I’m dangerous. This is partly why the Monarchy hunted me in the first place. They feared that I would be out of control and murderous. The Empress would have something to say about this. Maybe this was enough proof that I could not be free.
“Don’t beat yourself up over this.” Lucas pulled my hands away from my face. “You’ve done enough beating up today,” he added with a wink.
“Seriously. I hit something so hard that my hand was sore.”
He slid his thumb into my palm and massaged my hand. “You’re all right?” he asked.
“Mmhmm,” I murmured.
I turned my hands to feel him trace my skin with his fingertips. He grazed the inside of my wrist and the pleasure radiated up my arm and into my core.
“Thanks for waking me up,” I said.
“Thanks for not killing me in your sleep.”
“That’s not even funny.”
“They have cameras in your room. You could probably ask to see the whole thing.”
“No, I’d rather pretend it didn’t happen. Hey...I didn’t...I didn’t pull off anyone’s lower jaw, did I?”
*Check also "What Kills Me", the first instalment in the series*
Wynne Channing is a national newspaper reporter and award-winning young adult novelist. Wynne loves telling stories and as a journalist, she has interviewed everyone from Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Jackman to the president of the Maldives and Duchess Sarah Ferguson. The closest she has come to interviewing a vampire is sitting down with True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard (he didn’t bite). She briefly considered calling her debut novel “Well” so then everyone would say: “Well written by Wynne Channing.”
- a stunning ballpoint pen filled with more than 100 pink crystals
- a black leather note book by Canadian designer Jessica Jensen
- an E-copy of "I Am Forever" (What Kills Me #2)
- a signed What Kills Me bookmark