Karolina Dalca, Dark Eyes by M. R. Noble

“Mama, I love you, more than anything in this world, and I know you’re looking out for me, but the Lupeis are not family. I know they’re gypsy too, maybe even Charmed, but I’m half vampire. I need to be with my own people!”

Moonrise was surely coming.

She looked back to her recipe book. “The Lupeis love you like a daughter. Roman loves you.”

I snorted. “Roman loves a lot of girls.”

“Plus,” she said. “The Lupeis know who to contact if it comes to it, and you have an emergency box in the backyard.”

“Oh Mama.” I held my head in my hand. “How much more stereotypical can you get? I’ll never dig up that old box.”

I lay down on the couch again, looked up at the ceiling, and accepted today’s defeat. Even through the closed windows, the strong wind’s howl was coming through. It sounded almost human.

The outside wall to the kitchen exploded into the house.

With blinding white light, wood and debris sailed through the air like missiles. Stunned and blinded, the heavy wood crashed into me. The impact drove me back, flipping me off the couch and onto the floor.

Coldness rushed to my head and the vision drained from my eyes.

Chapter Two

The Fire

My skull could have been a split melon, were it not for the blood throbbing in my temples. I opened my eyes. The room twirled like a merry-go-round of splintered wood and drywall. An acidy taste gushed into my mouth.

The front of the house was blown open. A gust of wind scattered snow on the smoldering debris inside. The cool air of the phenomenon shocked my skin. The cold steadied the room long enough for me to stand. There was another quaking blast. A flare of light. I dropped to my knees. A whooshing overhead made my spine bristle. I twisted. A thick ribbon of lightning hummed above me like a surging river.

The electricity zapped into the opposite wall and sent drywall shooting through the air.

My body unfroze. I tucked and rolled across the rubble and landed behind our upturned sofa.

“Mama!” I cried.

Wreckage encircled me. Piles of timber were strewn across the floor; she could have been buried beneath any one of them. Shrieks cut through the night air like a dying animal. I cringed and crouched low. I wanted to stay—to hide.

Courage, Karolina. Grandpa Dalca’s voice played in my mind.

“Mama!” I called and sprinted out into the open.

A crackling boom shook the ground behind me. I called up my vampiric senses and skidded behind the next pile. As I turned to look at the couch, now blasted apart and set aflame, another sizzling bolt soared toward me.

I dove forward into another roll and felt the scorching prickle of electricity narrowly miss my feet.

A man’s voice called just outside the broken wall. “Bronwyn! The swarm is getting away. Aim to the woods!”

A blast sounded opposite our house, and I could hear the crashing of trees.

I dashed to the next pile and searched the rubble. My hand grazed an object, warm and soft. I threw a piece of drywall away to find Mama’s face grimacing underneath.

“Karo,” she said.

I could smell the blood before I spotted it and my fangs burst through the roof of my mouth. Hunger surged through me—and I hated myself for it. Her shirt was soaked in crimson, which had leaked through the fabric and pooled onto the floor.

“Run,” she said. “Run now.”

“No, Mama, not without you.”

“You have to, darling. Go now, while you can. Stay away from the Forged.”

“The Forged?” I wanted to scream. “Shadow Forged?” I shook her in a bout of panic, then repulsed by myself, swept the hair from her face. “They’re not real, Mama, not here. I’m going to get you out of here. Everything will be fine.”

“Run!” Her eyes bulged as she looked over my shoulder.

I turned my head.

A dark shadow glided toward us like a spider, puncturing a trail of holes into the floorboards. It sprang into the air, revealing a twisted human face in place of a spider’s head. I screamed. It landed on me. High on the adrenaline thumping behind my ears, I grabbed a leg on either side of it. My foot kicked up and I rolled backward throwing it off.

Like a centipede it folded in half and changed direction midair.

I seized a nearby two-by-four and rammed the weapon through its chest. My hand slid all the way inside. Its innards were like jelly mixed with tar. The texture repulsed my hunger, like it knew the flesh between my fingers was an abomination. I yanked my hand from its unmoving carcass and the murky outline of its skin faded. Its arachnid body was made of an assortment of human parts—like a spider who’d been created on Frankenstein’s table. Its skin crumbled like sand and collapsed in on itself.