Promises to Keep
Author:Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Promises to Keep - By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

—Robert Frost,

“Stopping by Woods

on a Snowy Evening”



SEPTEMBER 22, 1804

WHEN SHE FIRST woke, Brina thought the stench and noise that greeted her were an extension of her nightmares. The stink of smoke and scalded flesh accompanied wails of pain and fear that echoed through Midnight’s stone halls.

She had spent the last three days with little rest and less sustenance as she had struggled to put the final touches on a series of paintings illustrating the afterlife. Though her cohorts had always insisted that vampires couldn’t have nightmares, couldn’t have dreams at all, for a century and a half she had dreamt almost every time she had closed her eyes. The diurnal terrors inspired by the Mayan Xibalba had been particularly gruesome.

Another reason she didn’t sleep often.

Awake now, she stumbled out of bed. Her body was heavy and her skin raw, a result of too many hours under midday sunlight. Her kind was normally compelled to sleep when the sun was high, but Brina needed the light for her art.

Reality further intruded as she tripped over Caleb, a young boy she had recently taken in, who was huddled against the side of her bed. He must have smelled the smoke, heard the screams.

Despite his youth, Caleb didn’t cry or call out; he had been raised not to. But Brina could see him tremble and could smell his sweat in the rising heat. His heart pounded and his lungs strained against the smoke seeping under the room’s only door.

In this building, the heart of an empire built by vampires, there were no windows. Brina could have willed herself away in an instant using vampiric magic, but she was not strong enough to bring Caleb with her.

She pulled the door open. Fire, flickering with the pulse of vicious magic, gnawed at the stone walls. The reek of burned flesh gave testimony to how many humans and shapeshifters, some slaves and some willing employees, had been caught trying to flee the pyre.

No escape, not for anyone mortal.

“Come here, boy,” she commanded, retreating to the farthest corner of the room.

The boy came to her without hesitation, his wide eyes watering from the smoke but otherwise revealing a placid soul. She snapped his neck before the sweet, trusting look could leave his face.

There. That’s done.

She willed herself to her home, where windows let in the sun and—

The stench of death greeted her as she appeared in her own parlor, making her gag. The blood was fresh, but marked by the smell of decay. The instant a body stopped functioning, it began to rot; it took only minutes for this to be detectable to vampiric senses.

The corpses of slaves littered her floors, their eyes wide and their throats slit. They had not died slowly, but neither had their deaths been especially swift. Whoever had done the deed had been efficient, not merciful. Who? Why?


She turned to find her brother reaching for her. His hands and face were slicked with blood and ash. “I couldn’t get to you,” Daryl choked out as he pulled her into a tight embrace. “I tried to get inside, but every entrance was blocked. Are you hurt?”

She shook her head. “My greenhouse—”


“My paintings?”

“I’m sorry.”

“My boy is dead.”

“Probably for the best.” He pulled her into the next room, where the only evidence of the slaughter was a single crimson handprint on the doorframe.

Meanwhile …

Sara Vida had a clear shot.

The Mistress of Midnight, a vampire known as Jeshickah, was undeniably the most evil creature to ever walk the face of the earth. Her empire ruthlessly claimed dominion over vampires, shapeshifters, humans, and witches—though the witches, Sara’s kin, were almost an afterthought.

Sara was standing only a few yards from the fiend. The witch gripped a silver knife, imbued with the power of generations of magic-wielding hunters. And Jeshickah was distracted, dazed, staring at the building as it burned to ash, the building that had been the heart of her empire. It would be so easy to sneak up on her and end her unlife.

Sara crept closer, closer, and then paused as the mercenary’s words came to mind.

Jeshickah is protected by powers too great for us to fight, the mercenary had warned when Sara had objected to the plan. Why were they destroying property and not killing the fiends who ran this monstrosity? If you kill her, her allies will come for you. You will not be able to beat them. They will slaughter you, and your children, and your entire line. They will wipe the witches from the face of this earth.

Could it be true? Midnight had never systematically hunted witches, but it had terrorized Sara’s kind nevertheless. By killing Jeshickah, would Sara save her people or ensure their extinction?

Jeshickah tensed, at last sensing the danger.

Too late.

The sakkri had given Sara a prophecy just before the attack had begun: Not all hesitation is sin. Not all sacrifice is in vain.

As the Mistress of Midnight turned toward her, Sara dropped the knife and closed her eyes. She didn’t know whether, generations from now, her kin would thank her or curse her.…

If they were alive to do either, that would be enough.