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Home > A Valley of Darkness (A Shade of Vampire #52)

A Valley of Darkness (A Shade of Vampire #52)
Author: Bella Forrest


Harper

 

 

(Daughter of Hazel & Tejus)

 

 

The red eyes haunted me in my dreams. The few hours of sleep I managed to get late that night were plagued with the invisible fiends that moved too fast and had nearly killed us in the Valley of Screams. One of them clawed at me and startled me back to consciousness.

I sat up in bed, covered in cold sweat and breathing heavily, as yesterday’s events replayed in my mind. The windows to my room were covered with black shutters, keeping me in the cool safety of darkness.

We couldn’t reach out to Draven via Telluris. We’d tried, over and over, with no success. None of us could even feel him. After that, we even attempted to connect with each other here, on Neraka. That didn’t work either. And our phones were useless here. We’d been reduced to good old-fashioned verbal communication, face to face, or written. It sucked, and it put us on edge, but we’d come to this planet to investigate this string of mysterious disappearances and to help the Exiled Maras.

While their bloody past had gotten them cast out of Eritopia and settled on this planet, in a galaxy far away, they didn’t deserve to suffer like this—not after they’d rebuilt their lives and found better, more ethical ways to feed.

The Valley of Screams was dangerous. We’d experienced it firsthand. The gorges were tall, dark, and filled with deadly secrets that we couldn’t hear or see. We could only feel the pain they inflicted on us with sharp claws, and only caught glimpses of their fiery red eyes.

I got out of bed and slipped into the shower. I removed my bandages, as my side was completely healed. Only the memory of last night’s vicious fight lingered. I was determined to get to the bottom of whatever this was. Those creatures were not invincible. They had weak spots, and my mysterious rescuer had shown me one.

Who was he? He’d been quite aggressive, downright angry that we’d ventured into the Valley of Screams in the first place. As if it bothered him to come in and help us. He knew more than the other Exiled Maras and yet kept his identity secret, hidden beneath a black mask and a hood. There was definitely more to this mystery than just disappearances and families left grieving for their loved ones.

I put on another combat suit, this one made of navy-blue leather. I mounted the protective diamond-fiber plates and stocked up on weapons—my twin blades on my belt, two long knives on my back, two medium blades strapped to both thighs, plus two small knives in my boots. I added triangular, throwable blades from one of the utility satchels to my belt, along with healing capsules and powders for several minor defensive spells, courtesy of the now-defunct swamp witches.

I wasn’t going to underestimate those invisible creatures again.

I pulled my hair up in a ponytail, prepped my backpack with additional powders, herbs, and the spell scrolls, grabbed my round shield, and headed downstairs.

The Broken Bow Inn was quiet this morning. I figured it had to do with the Exiled Maras still sleeping at this early morning hour, while the Imen labored to get everything ready for lunch. The maids were preparing some of the spare rooms on the top floor, carrying armfuls of fresh linens upstairs, while the waiters wiped the tables and seating in the reception and bar area.

The bartender was busy wiping crystal glasses and metallic chalices when he saw me. His square face brightened with a smile, and he nodded politely and pointed at a dark green manual grinder.

“Good morning, milady!” he greeted, his voice warm and soft. “Would you like some coffee? Or perhaps blood? We have a fresh batch that was just delivered by our suppliers.”

“Suppliers?” I asked, taking my seat on one of the tall bar stools and placing my shield on the one next to me.

“Yes, milady.” He pulled a glass bottle from what looked like a refrigerator of sorts. I used my True Sight to study the cooler’s interior and noticed pale blue gems glowing on the bottom. I’d seen them before in a swamp witch scroll and assumed it was a cooling spell of sorts, to keep such sensitive drinks fresh. “Our city is home to a couple thousand moon-bison from which we draw blood. They’re well fed and looked after, so they can replenish and give blood each month. Every morning, we get bottles in, as the Imen farmers draw blood in batches. Would you like a glass?”

“Sure, and I’ll have a coffee, too, thank you,” I replied, then glanced around. “What are moon-bison?”

“Oh, they’re large herbivores, milady. Very gentle creatures. The Maras like their blood because it’s slightly sweeter than that of other creatures, and we enjoy their milk.”

They seemed to have acquired a good balance in Azure Heights. The Imen were treated well, despite their inferior, servile roles. They worked hard and helped provide basic food for the Maras by raising moon-bison, which seemed like a fair trade. The only thing that bugged me was the mind-bending that some had been subjected to, according to Avril and Heron.

I could see it, too, in the inn workers. This bartender seemed bright and sober, but the maids were blank and pale, creeping me out with their inability to look me in the eyes.

“What can you tell me about the Spring Ball?” I asked, then took a sip from the glass he filled with fresh blood. I would need to replenish my energy reserves, as well. I’d depleted most of my sentry stamina with the barriers I’d thrown at the invisible fiends last night. I’d have to ask Caia or Blaze to help me out, as their fiery minds were quite potent.

“Oh, it’s a wonderful event, milady!” the bartender said, grinding coffee and scooping it into a paper filter, while a kettle full of water boiled next to him on a hot metal plate. “Spring is, by far, one of the most beautiful seasons. Everything is in full bloom on the mountain, and the air is cool but the temperatures are perfect. Sure, there’s the occasional shower, but it’s barely anything. Most importantly, spring fruit is absolutely delicious. The Exiled Maras actually adopted the spring celebration from our people. The Imen have honored this season for eons.”

He poured hot water through the paper filter into a large white porcelain cup, then served my fresh coffee with a jar of honey.

“Thank you,” I said. “Have you ever been to the Spring Ball?”

“Once, milady, but I was working.” The Iman bartender smiled. “For your kind, it is an exquisite experience. I thoroughly recommend it. It’s highly entertaining, and a lot of effort is put into the seasonal blood dishes. And the costumes are simply stunning each year. The Exiled Maras love their fashion!”

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