Dawn of Darkness - Start Reading Now
Cold air tickled Julianne’s arm, causing her to shiver. It’s cold tonight, she thought sleepily as she pulled the blanket up under her chin. Outside, an owl’s call floated across the dark sky just before a scream shattered the still night.
Julianne bolted out of bed, stumbling into the room next door. On one of the cots, a man sat, his eyes flickering back and forth as he sucked in deep, desperate breaths. He screamed again, and Julianne grabbed his shoulders.
“Harlon. Harlon!” she called out.
Her words caught his attention, but didn’t break through. He turned, then lurched forward, toppling her over and pinning Julianne to the floor. He screamed again.
“HARLON!” Julianne yanked herself free and slapped the man across the face, desperate to wake him.
His scream was abruptly cut off, and he sank to the floor, his breathing quickly evening out to a steady pace. His large frame looked pitiful on the floor, dark hair matted down and face covered in sweat—nothing like the vibrant man Julianne had eaten dinner with earlier that evening.
The slap had jerked him from his nightmare, but hadn’t woken him. He was probably so exhausted from the string of bad dreams that it would take more than a quick sting to bring him to wakefulness.
“Come on, you big lug.” Julianne squatted down and lifted Harlon’s upper body, hoisting him up to her shoulders. Then, she staggered over to his bed. She leaned forward to let him down, but his weight toppled her over, and she landed on the mattress, the still unconscious man a dead weight on top.
“Dammit, Jules. I turn my back for five minutes and you’re in bed with another man.” Marcus stood at the door, peering in through the darkness.
“Fuck you.” Julianne was ready to tear someone’s eyes out after weeks of interrupted sleep and episodes like this one. “He’s all yours tomorrow night. I don’t care if I have to go spend the night in a cave.”
“And I hope you had a lovely sleep, too, beautiful. He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Marcus shoved Harmon to one side then took Julianne’s hand and hoisted her up.
She shook her head. “No, he just scared the shit out of me and made sure that, yet again, I’m going to start another day in a foul mood. Bitch’s honor, I’d kill for a full night’s sleep.”
“If he wakes again, I’ll take him.” Marcus wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, pressing his lips to her forehead. “I’ll make up an extra bed in the barn. It’s warm enough out there that you’ll be comfortable, and if you can put up with Garrett’s snoring, you’ll get a better night’s sleep.”
Julianne nodded, accepting his logic. Sleeping out with the rearick, the hired guards from their homeland, would at least stop her heart from jumping every time Harlon rolled over. “Thanks.” She gave Marcus a gentle shove and sent him back to bed.
Julianne scowled at Harlon. She knew it wasn’t his fault—he’d been kept under tight mind control for months by a rogue mystic cult.
When released from the spell, he and a small percentage of the other affected villagers had suffered side effects, things like raging migraines and night terrors.
Harlon was Annie’s son, and Julianne felt she owed it to the old woman to help as much as she could. Annie had taken Julianne and her companions in when they’d arrived, battered and bruised from a frantic trip through the Madlands in search of a cult of mental magic users called the New Dawn.
Led by Rogan, the New Dawn had used their powers of mind-control to brainwash the residents of Tahn, using them as slaves. The same cult had killed two of Julianne’s friends, both mystics, at the Temple where Rogan had learned to use his magic.
Annie had provided a place to stay, a base to use while they hunted down their enemy. Eventually, the fight had drawn them to Annie’s own house, deepening Julianne’s sense of obligation to her.
When Annie’s sons, Harlon and Francis, had been found, Julianne and her team offered to find a new place to stay. Annie had vetoed the idea, so here they were.
This was the sixth night in a row that Harlon had woken screaming. It didn’t seem to be getting any better. Again and again, Julianne and everyone else in the small, crowded cottage was pulled from their slumber during the night by the man’s screams. Her heart burned with sympathy, but even a mystic as powerful as Julianne had her limits.
Julianne glanced out the tiny window. The moon was almost full and hung low in the sky, painting white ripples on the barren field outside. It would need to be planted soon, before they missed the season. She chewed her lip as the thought of what lay ahead weighed on her mind.
Julianne rolled her shoulders and made to leave, but paused. She looked back, then tucked a corner of Harlon’s blanket under his chin. After all, it was cold tonight.