Once Upon A Nightmare

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the halloween masquerade

"It's useless," Gloom says, flopping, bony limbs askew, into a chair at his table. I'm propped on his bed, Edgar Allan Poe's dreams in my lap. "Sweeney was right." He gives me a paper bag which I open eagerly, sniffing at its contents. Whatever it is, it's not dog droppings, and I'm starving. I bite into something cheesy and bready and delicious.

"Oh?" I reply, my mouth full.

"I went to the Edge," Gloom continues, going to the stove to heat up the kettle. The Edge is what they call the wall of electricity; Gloom told me when I'd asked. It's the portal Dreams and Nightmares use to get into human minds. I stop mid-chew.

"I tried to get into your mind—yours isn't hard for me to find." He shakes his head. "It was dreadful. The portal is half destroyed, and besides, there isn't anything there to get into. Your subconscious is here sitting with me after all." He waves a hand in my direction and plops back into the chair, sloshing some of the tea in his hands onto the floor.

I'm not too surprised either. The spot of death is still on my hand, so it makes sense it went with me. An easy solution would have been nice, but if I'm honest, I kind of want to go to the Halloween Masquerade. I unfold the poster Armand tore off for me and spread it over the open pages of my book. It looks a bit like an old advertisement for a haunted carnival. What's my hurry? If I happen to have some fun while trying to get home, it's not a crime.

Gloom has the wounded but brave look of a martyr. "I suppose this means the Stitch of Time is our best option."

"Where is the Stitch in Time?"

"No one knows for sure. No one but King Jack. It's somewhere in the Eye of the World Mountains, and that's not a place you want to go if you can help it. The human mind is capable of many things—many dark things—and that's what the mountains are. The twisted, unexplainable parts of mortal subconscious."

"So, we need to find King Jack."

"Indeed." Gloom sighs, taking off his goggles and gloves. "We'll have to go to the Halloween Masquerade."

He doesn't sound very excited. I tuck the folded paper back in my book, deciding not to tell him I'd already thought about going.

"Is it really that bad?" I ask.

He shudders. "Nightmares running around all night scaring each other. It's terrible."

. . . . . . .

I borrow one of Sweeney's dresses and try to ignore the smell. It's not that bad (the dress, not the smell—that's like expired perfume and death), all black and an old Victorian style which doesn't suit my body type at all—not that I'd know what kind of dress would. A black mask covers the top half of my face. No make-up and nothing I can do for my short hair, which is really getting wild without a shower or any kind of brush.

Gloom is dressed to the nines in black satin and red suede. The effect would be better if he had even an ounce of Alexander's typical swagger, but I prefer his shy awkwardness.

I touch my gloved fingertips to my collarbone. "Be still, my heart."

With a tiny smile, he holds out an arm and I loop my hand through the crook.

"Be careful," Gloom warns again before he opens the door. "Nightmares like to scare each other on Halloween and if we get taken by surprise and they taste our fear, well, that's it for us."

"You look scared already," I say.

"I'm not." He blushes. "I'm nervous. There's a difference."

"Okay."

We step out into the night and I inhale deeply to somehow absorb the atmosphere. The moon is big and full in the sky, and Chimera, for all its drabbiness in the daylight, has a peculiar magic to it now that it's night. Gloom points. "Look, you can see the castle."

Silhouetted against the light of fireworks and illuminated from the inside out, the castle peaks above the tops of the surrounding buildings on Gloom's street. My heart skips a beat. "Whoa."

"Come on," he says.

We hurry along the street, trying to stay inconspicuous. Nightmares swarm on either side, laughing and shouting. Occasionally I hear someone yell, "Trick or treat!" followed by a playful shriek and a round of snickers and catcalling.

It looks like so much fun.

But I know Gloom is right. If we mess up, and someone actually does scare us, our human or Dream fear will give us away.

"Do any Dreams go to the Halloween Masquerade?" I ask.

"No, not usually." His mouth is grim below his mask. As we get closer, the buildings grow in height and grandeur, the tips of their spires disappearing in the black of the sky. Gargoyles scowl down at us from their perched position on the roofs.

"They attacked Chimera the other day," I say. "Do they not like each other, the Dreams and Nightmares?"

"To put it mildly. Centuries ago, when Chimera and Merrymount were separate, there was a war between the two, with no point, really, except to destroy the other. The Nightmares won and King Jack combined the realms into the Isle of Morpheus. But sharing hasn't made us get along any better. After the famine, desperate Nightmares became more and more . . . unpredictable, and the attacks started. The Dreams are using the Nightmares' current weakness against them, all under the banner of protecting the Isle of Morpheus—since hungry Nightmares are dangerous Nightmares."

"A famine . . ." My eyes widen. "BlissMax. No one has bad dreams anymore, so the Nightmares are dying out." As Gloom nods, I'm horrified. We're killing them. And it will only get worse as time goes on.

We reach the bottom of the hill the castle sits on. The ascent is gradual at first, but incredibly steep by the time we reach the top. Silent, wonderful, dark, the castle stands like a sovereign, frowning defiance on the growing number of intruders. It's a fortress, complete with battlements and high turrets and walls of charcoal gray stone. The towers are twisted at bizarre angles, like the structure of the castle has a broken spine. It's intimidating, even aglow as it is with the festivities of the masquerade, and I'm in love with it.

I clutch Gloom's arm. We walk up steps leading to a set of huge French doors marking the entrance into the castle, propped open and guarded on either side by several imposing figures in dark cloaks.

Inside, the wooden floors are polished, the ballroom draped with swathes of black and red fabric. The lights in the crystal chandeliers are dimmed. On one wall of the vast room, a raised platform is set up for a chamber orchestra.

There's something decidedly . . . unnervingabout the party. Some decorations depict mortal faces in expressions of naked fear. The blood-red punch appears bloody in more than color and the jack-o'-lanterns look like they'll bite if someone gets too close. From where we stand, I can see an assortment of grinning skulls nestled in different spots in the room and it makes me feel like we're being watched. Floods of Nightmares swirl around, dancing, leaping here and there. It's barely organized chaos.

Gloom looks terrified, so I lead us both to a side wall, well out of the way.

"Right." Gloom adjusts his mask. "Do you see your Nightmare, by chance?"

"Well . . ." There must be hundreds of people in here. The possibility of me finding Alexander is slim to none.

A loud screech carries over the room. "Helloooo," a sweet voice sings, amplified over the voices of the crowd.

The crowd quiets, apart from a few whistles.

A young woman on the stage taps the microphone and sweeps the long skirts of her crimson dress behind her, batting a pair of long, dark eyelashes. She is so stunningly beautiful it's actually a bit painful to look at her.

"How's the party?" she asks.

A cheer arises like a fierce tidal wave. Gloom pushes back into the wall, turning his head as if the force of their enthusiasm is making him nauseous.

She laughs, like the tinkling of a bell. "Glad to hear it!"

"Who is that?" I whisper to Gloom.

"That's Princess Genevieve," he answers. "She's quite popular. Even the Dreams don't mind her that much."

"I just wanted to remind all of you that the scare tournament will start in an hour, so don't go too far, and of course I need to make sure everyone is enjoying the music."

"Sing something, Genn!" someone shouts.

A few affirmations follow this suggestion. She blushes demurely. "Oh, I couldn't."

"The princess," Gloom explains to me, "is the premiere star at Chimera's opera house."

"Well," she says with a sly smile, like she knows they're putty in her hand. "I have been working on a little something for Halloween."

The crowd goes nuts.

"But it's so unrehearsed, and well, I wouldn't dream of doing it alone . . ."

No one speaks. They're waiting, wondering what she might suggest.

"I'd need my brothers to come up and help me," she says loudly, pressing her mouth into the microphone.

I can't see to be sure, but I think her brothers are discovered near the front. There's clearly a protest, because on stage, the princess pouts and puts her hands on her hips. "Come on, don't be such poor sports. Everyone will love it—won't they?" She looks out at the audience and they're more than happy to oblige with a roar of approval.

"Up you go!" she sing-songs.

Two figures are jostled and pushed toward the stage and when at last the two brothers climb up, I can't breathe. I can barely see straight.

It's Alexander, hands in his pockets and a look of irritation on his face which he passes to his brother—Armand, I recognize him, too.

Without warning, the little match inside me roars to life, becoming a full-fledge fire against my chest. It's screaming at me, There he is! As if I don't know.

"It's him!" I grab Gloom's arm so hard he gives a strangled cry of pain. I barely pay attention. "Gloom—that's him."

"Who? Who's him?" Gloom looks around, not understanding.

"On the stage, Gloom!"

"What?" His gaze whips to the stage.

"Is Alexander a prince?" I manage, hoping by some miracle that being the brother of a princess doesn't necessarily mean he's also royalty—even if that image suits him only too well.

At last, Gloom gets it. His eyes bug. "Alexander? Prince Alexander Ira is the Nightmare who pulled you into Chimera?"

"Yes!" I hiss. "Shh!"

"Oh gods. Oh Nyx. Oh Hypnos." Gloom covers his eyes with one hand, muttering to himself.

"I hope you all like mortal music," Genn says and leads her brothers and the orchestra into some kind of mix between Michael Jackson's Thriller and Monster Mash. Alexander resists at first, but Armand gives him a half-smile and shrugs in defeat. With a sigh that ends in a small smile of his own, Alexander joins in.

I can't stop staring at him, angry at his ability to have fun. He's not looking for me at all—probably thinks I'm dead.

"Gloom." I grab his arm. The song is catchy and people dance around in front of us. I think I'm going to be sick. "This was a bad idea—let's go."

"Are you sure?"

Whatever it is—this burning, chafing hole inside me—it's nearly tearing me apart with the need to get closer to Alexander. But the rest of me, in particular my heart, wants far away.

"Violet," Gloom says. "The prince is one of the most powerful Nightmares in Chimera, and considering he owes it to you to help you, he'll be our best shot at talking with the king."

I shake my head. I can't think. And it's so hot in here.

Glass shatters above our heads as a glittering light explodes through the room like a shooting star and blasts the side wall. For half a second, the music grinds to a halt and no one speaks, then the second blinding stream of light bursts through another window and people start screaming.

One word rises consistently through the chaos in alarmed shrieks and hateful shouts: Dream.

"We have to hurry!" Gloom grabs my arms and we enter the throng of panicked Nightmares.

"What's going on?" I shout.

"The Dreams are attacking!"

Like us, some of the Nightmares try and flee for the exit, but others appear more angry than scared, willing to stick around for a fight. A huge Nightmare—one of the only ones actually taller than Gloom—knocks into us going the other way. Gloom's hold on me breaks and in seconds the crowd has shoved us apart.

"Gloom!" I shout, scrambling to get back to him, but a third light-bomb crashes through the castle's roof. Pieces of the wall and ceiling rain down on us. The crowd swarming toward the big double doors releases a fresh wave of panic, surging forward with renewed strength. It's all I can do to stay upright to keep from getting trampled. I've lost sight of Gloom entirely.

The crowd jostles me out of the way until I'm spit out near a wall, enough outside the stream of movement I can catch my breath and stay in one place.

Kkerrrack!

I look up. A beam supporting one of the Masquerade's red banners teeters precariously above me and with one final crack, plummets to the ground. I clench my eyes shut and then gasp, abruptly winded, as someone slams into me and sends us both flying.

We hit the ground and roll apart. I hear a bewildered voice say, "What the hell?" Even over the noise of the crowd, the familiar sound is like a trumpet in my ears.

A hand grabs my waist and turns me over. Before I can blink, my rescuer pushes my mask off my face onto my forehead.

Alexander looks at me, so close I can feel heat radiating off his skin. He's different, more real. A small cut over his eyebrow bleeds in a thin trickle down his temple. "Violet," he says and frowns. "I should have known."

"Oh," I mumble feebly, like I'm surprised to see him. "Hey."

My inner flame stops blistering at my insides and sighs into a purr. That's what I was looking for, it lets me know. I think Alexander feels it too because he's still holding onto me.

"Thanks for saving me," I say.

"Like I had a choice," he grumbles. "I didn't even see you. Duty called and forced me over before I knew what was going on."

"Oh."

"Don't move," he commands. "Do not do anything until I come back."

I nod.

A high pitched laugh fills the ballroom. A shadowed figure stands in one of the holes created by the light-bombs. "Happy Halloween!" a female voice sings and then ropes sail through the holes past her feet and drop into the ballroom below.

Dozens of what I assume are Dreams climb in through the openings and slide down the ropes. They're sunny and laughing and even though they have weapons and masks and start destroying everything as soon as they hit the ground, I'm not afraid of them. They carry the same pleasant aura Gloom does.

"Stay," Alexander adds for good measure, then he's on his feet and running toward the first group of descended Dreams.

By this point, most of the Nightmares are gone. The ones who stuck around have stayed to retaliate. The ruin of the dance floor shifts into a battlefield. A refreshment table bursts into ten-foot high flames as Alexander swoops in on the Dreams who were pillaging it. I can't believe they're not running for their lives. I'm terrified of him and I'm on the other side of the room. To be safe, I crawl behind a large chunk of debris and stick my head out to watch.

In the same way Alexander uses fire, the remaining Nightmares reply to their attackers with a wave of ghoulish powers. One girl sends a bolt of lightning at a Dream throwing skulls from the walls to crash on the floor. The fantasy I love so much in my books is loose and free in this world. I should be thrilled, but the idea that the rules of my former reality don't apply anymore is making me panicky.

I watch, feeling helpless, as more Dreams tear apart the masquerade—ripping fabric, overturning tables. The Nightmares as a whole are a more destructive force, but they're outnumbered nearly four to one.

"James." I hear Alexander's voice and turn to see him bowing decorously to an approaching Dream. "It's been too long."

The Dream stands over six feet; not as tall as Gloom, but taller than Alexander. He's thicker than Alexander too, but still lean, his torso tapering away from his broad shoulders. A wide-brimmed hat casts a shadow over his eyes and a worn bandanna covers the bridge of his nose, completely hiding his lower face and neck from view.

As if he needs no other excuse than Alexander's face, he growls and they collide, fighting almost too fast for my eyes to follow them. By this point, they aren't the only pair hashing it out one on one, but I can't look at anything else. It's not like how I picture epic battle scenes written in zesty prose. There's no heroic background music, just grunts and moans of pain against heavy breathing.

Alexander conjures flames of hellfire as if they're extensions of his fingertips, creating a whip to slash at James' chest. James dodges and slides out of the way. He's fast for someone so big. His hand jerks and when it stops, there's a gun in it. An old gun, maybe a pistol, with a skinny, foot long barrel.

Alexander catches sight of it a second too late. He's going to die. This naked thought burns utterly alone in my mind as James pulls the trigger and I scream. Then everything stops.

The ballroom freezes in a scene of massacre, weirdly picturesque in its stillness. Color drains away and leaves everything in monochrome. Even Alexander's eyes are a silent silver, solidified in an expression of surprise and anger.

Halfway between James's raised gun and Alexander's chest, a bullet hovers in the air. I sluggishly move closer and a hint of warmth seeps back into the world; the bullet drifts forward. Finally I realize: I did this. I'm holding everything in place.

Time weighs against me, pushing to regain its flow. I hold harder. If I let go, that bullet is going straight into Alexander. I've witnessed plenty of gore in our nightmarish playtime before, but this isn't my dreams and Alexander is just one part of a world where a round of hot lead will kill him. I can tell myself I don't care, but clearly I do. Imagining him dead feels as suffocating as the first time I considered it when he lay emaciated in my mind.

It's too heavy—colors begin to return as time resumes its march, ticking on with torturous progression. I only have seconds before I lose it entirely. Do something, do anything!

With a snap, warmth and noise flood into the ballroom like a life-giving tidal wave. The scream I started before everything froze rips out my throat and ends. The bullet hits Alexander, but an explosion of flowers erupts over his chest instead of a bloody hole, flowing off his shoulders and around his torso.

I almost faint with relief and grip the chunk of debris I'm leaning against for support. Alexander opens his clenched eyes and stares in wonder at the pile of flora around his feet. James looks right at me. Somehow, I think he knows I did it. Alexander follows James' line of gaze and I see in his exasperated and furious expression that he's sure it was me, and he isn't happy about it.

But before I can fake unassuming surprise, a low, chilling shriek swoops through the room like a cold wind. It isn't human. It doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard. Another follows it. Soon it's like a chorus of echoing, awful cries. Everyone stops and looks up, like they know the source of the screams will come from the sky.

Alexander's eyes are on the jagged openings in the roof and windows caused by the light bombs, but he backs slowly toward me. His face holds a trace of something I've never seen on him before.

Fear.

The screams stop; it's quiet.

Alexander reaches me and puts a hand on my arm. "Violet," he whispers. "Listen to me—"

Then they come in, crawling slowly through the openings like lizards. They're dragon-like in a way, with dark scaly bodies and leathery wings on their backs. But there's something oddly human about them—in the face mostly. One lets out another scream and reveals layers of small pointy teeth and a forked red tongue.

"Night Terrors," Alexander mutters.

I can barely breathe. I don't know what it is—just looking at them and I'm sweating and dizzy, my panic nearly choking me with its strength. That same vaporous substance—thicker than ever—rises off my skin.

"Violet, no." Alexander wipes my fear away, absorbing it into his own skin. He forces me to look away from them, grabbing my face in his hands. "Look at me. Forget about them. If they sense your fear, they'll come after you."

Don't think about them. Look at Alexander. "I'm t-trying."

His jaw tenses and he sends a withering look in what I assume is James' direction. "It's because those idiots hurt the castle—that's why they came."

The ballroom is still eerily quiet. I don't dare look to see what's going on.

"I'm right here," Alexander says. "Remember how awesome I am? There's no reason to be afraid."

Despite myself, a tiny laugh escapes. I take a deep breath. "You weren't that great at Candyland."

He smirks, glancing down. The fear-mist is gone. "That's my girl."

And then one lands next to us. Alexander spins to face the monster. I gasp and clutch the back of his shirt. The Night Terror tilts its head as if examining us and steps forward. I try to concentrate on keeping my breathing steady. Don't be afraid, don't be afraid.

And surprisingly, with Alexander between us, I'm not that scared.

Until another one closes in from the side.

I shriek and Alexander shifts, guarding me against two.

For a few excruciatingly long moments, neither Night Terror moves. I think I might have a handle on my fear when the one on the left lunges for me.

Alexander throws out both arms and an X of fire bursts as a shield in front of us. But the Night Terror doesn't back away; it almost seems to smile. Reaching out a clawed arm, it wraps its hands around the fire like it's nothing more than flaming cotton candy. The fire bends to its will until the protective X becomes a weapon in its hands. The grotesque creature garbles like something is caught in its throat, then shifts into a scaly, demonic version of Alexander—except the eyes are like black pits. The real Alexander jerks back in horror.

With one theatrical sweep of the eyeless Alexander's arm, the fire whip wraps around Alexander's torso. The flaming bond doesn't seem to burn him, but his attempts to tear it off only make it grow bigger. Alexander's shadow twin yanks back and throws Alexander like a rag doll into the wall.

"Alex!" I gasp as he slumps to the floor.

Night Terror Alexander laughs—a hissing, coreless sound—and steps toward me. As it moves closer, it transforms out of Alexander's body and becomes the dragon-like creature again.

Both Night Terrors stare at me, inching closer at an agonizingly slow pace, like they know there's no need to rush for such easy prey. I hold up both hands—like that's going to help me. My fear is back. Now would be a good time to manipulate reality again, but I didn't do it on purpose the first time and I'm finding it a little difficult to recall.

Armand lands in front of me—from where I have no idea—and pulls back an arrow on a bow that has got to be as tall as he is. The arrow lands in the first Night Terror's shoulder and it reels back, writhing and screaming.

The second Night Terror launches at us. With an arm around my waist, Armand jumps both of us to a safer range. He lets go and aims the second arrow at the Night Terror, but only clips a wing. The creature makes the same gargling noise, skin rippling as if it's trying to transform, but can't read Armand well enough to duplicate him.

"Watch out!" I scream as the first, limping Night Terror returns.

I wait for Armand to use whatever special Nightmare power he has, but he reaches out with nothing but his bare hands. To my surprise, the Night Terror stops and Armand catches its charging head against his palms.

I'm close enough to see the Night Terror's glowing black eyes. It sniffs—actually sniffs—like it's nothing more than a harmless puppy. Armand says something using the same soulless noise the Night Terrors have been making. But it's quieter coming from Armand's mouth, more controlled and fluid.

The Night Terror steps back. I stare at Armand. What just happened? His hands shake and he's white as a sheet. "It listened to me," he whispers, as if shocked by it.

Yeah, I think, cause you spoke their freaky language.

Alexander is on his feet, but braced against the wall, slightly hunched with pain. He watches Armand with a combination of suspicion and confusion.

Before my heart even has a chance to remember how to beat normally, darkness sweeps over us. The Night Terror in front of us whines—a muted version of its original scream. This darkness is alive it's so deeply black, giving off its own, light-sucking energy. And cold, freezing cold. I shudder.

"Don't be afraid," Armand whispers near my ear.

His honey-rich voice is steady, but his hand trembles as much as mine as he brushes my wrist.

A voice rises loudly through the darkness. It sounds like a thousand different voices all perfectly unified. I don't recognize the language, but I hear a response of flapping wings, muted cries, and claws scratching against walls as the Night Terrors fight their way out of the castle. Whoever the voice belongs to—it seems to be telling the Night Terrors to leave. In seconds, there's only silence again.

The darkness leaves, sucked up like a vacuum toward a figure standing in the middle of the grand staircase. He walks down the steps and darkness follows him, licking at his feet like shadowy flames. He's dressed head to toe in black; everything about him sinister and dark. He also looks as if he might be a slightly older triplet of Alexander and Armand—except, like, a thousand times scarier.

He must be the infamous King Jack.

The Dreams haven't left. They probably didn't want to attract any Night Terror's attention by trying to flee. Scattered sporadically throughout the ballroom, they're not hard to pick out from the Nightmares.

The king stops at the bottom of the stairs, looking like he's trying to keep from exploding. The darkness swells around him like a growing black hole. A pendant around his neck, the only non-black article, lights up and his eyes glow white. "Get out," he says, again like a thousand voices in one, "of my castle."

The Dreams sprint for the door. As I watch, only James hesitates, throwing one last glance over the ballroom before following the others out.

The king slumps, the pendant dims, and his eyes blink back to a stormy gray color. The black hole shrinks as well, though darkness still hangs around him as if he has half a dozen shadows. And just like that, the drama is over. It's like the sun has risen, though it's barely past the middle of the night.

Armand turns to me, tired. "Are you all right?"

"M'fine," I reply in a strained voice, rubbing the skin on my arm to make sure there's no mist there.

Alexander walks over, holding his shoulder with one hand. It's twisted at an awkward angle. Ignoring Armand completely, he hisses in my ear, "Come on—let's get out of here before anyone notices—"

"Alexander." King Jack doesn't shout, but his voice carries like a bullet across the ballroom as he walks toward us. Alexander flinches and mutters a soft curse.

Before King Jack makes it to us, a whirlwind of red runs into him from the side. Princess Genevieve latches onto him like a koala bear, her lower lip trembling and her mascara smudged below her eyes. "Oh, Daddy! I was so scared. And you were so brave."

"I'm glad you're okay, sweetheart." He unsuccessfully tries to untangle himself from her hold, but ends up closing the rest of the distance between us with his daughter as a hip accessory. He manages to free himself by passing her off to Armand, who rather adorably brushes her cheek and gives her a handkerchief to wipe her eyes with.

Alexander is rigid. King Jacks looks at him and the stone impersonation only solidifies.

"Are you hurt?" King Jack asks.

"Oh." Alexander relaxes in surprise. "I—yeah. I'm fine. I mean, I think I dislocated my shoulder, but it's no big—ow! Mother of—"

Armand steps behind him and in one move wrenches his arm into place.

"Aaah . . ." Alexander lets out a hiss of pain, rolling his newly fixed shoulder.

Amused, King Jack asks Armand, "And you?"

"I'm fine." The answer is a little hollow sounding to me. For whatever reason, his encounter with the Night Terror shook him up, but he isn't showing it now.

King Jack nods at me. "Who's this?"

"This?" Alexander tenses again. "This is . . . Catherine."

Nice. It better be Catherine Earnshaw he's referring to, and not Catherine Morland.

"Ooh." Genevieve grins. "You brought a girl?"

"I thought her name was Violet?" Armand asks.

Alexander's eyes narrow. "You've met?"

"Briefly." He meets my gaze and the corner of his mouth curves into the barest of smiles.

Alexander says, "I invited her to the masquerade. She's the fear of socializing."

Armand coughs loudly. I try to decipher the look in his eyes. He's annoyingly too smart for his own good.

Alexander frowns at his brother. "Anyway," he says slowly. "She lives just up Psycho Path, and I should probably take her home now."

He grabs my arm and starts to drag me toward the door. Without warning, a cool pressure wraps around my wrist and yanks me back. Before I have time to process what's happened, the tip of a long blade kisses the end of my nose. I yelp and jump away. At the end of the sword, Armand has this 'well, well' look on his face. Too late I see the silvery mist in the air between us. He brushes it aside with a flick of his hand.

Oh, crap.

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