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Brushing away the thoughts that had been muddling my brain about Griffin and Caleb, I jumped out of bed and rushed to my parents’ bedroom. I swung the door wide open. My heart sank on seeing that it was still empty.

What on earth could be taking them so long? If they don’t return by the end of today that will be two full days of their absence. Surely retrieving Anna would only take a few hours with all the forces they brought with them. Unless Anna wasn’t at either of the islands and they’re still looking for her…

Ben had woken up uncharacteristically early too and he shared my worried look when I told him they still hadn’t returned. He too ran through the same rationalizations I had, but still looked disconcerted. I downed some milk from the fridge while he grabbed a piece of toast before we both ran off to see what Corrine made of this situation. She would be just as anxious about her husband.

We entered the Sanctuary and found the witch in her potion room with Eli. They were both sitting round her wooden table, deep in discussion. The witch was holding a large black book between them. She shut it as soon as she saw us enter and they both looked at us.

Corrine already knew what was on our minds just from our expressions. “I can’t pretend that I’m not surprised they’re not back yet,” she said. “Ibrahim had predicted six hours to a couple of days—depending on whether Anna was still on one of the islands.” Her voice trembled slightly as she said her husband’s name.

“What do you think has happened?” I asked, even though I was scared to hear the answer.

“I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that Anna was missing from the islands and they’ve gone off on some other trail looking for her. But they would have sent one of the witches back with a message.”

A silence fell as we looked at each other.

“We can’t just keep sitting here and doing nothing,” Ben said.

“No, we can’t,” Eli said, clearing his throat. “If they’re still not back by tomorrow… we’re going to have to do something.”

“But we have no subs left to even travel there. They took all of them.”

“We have a couple of spare submarines they left in case of an emergency. But they shouldn’t be needed because we have a few witches we might be able to spare for a day or so to see what happened.”

“I want to go,” I butted in.

Corrine scoffed. “You are going nowhere, young lady.”

I stared from Corrine to Eli. It was clear that there would be no budging either of them on this.

“Look, there’s no point arguing about this now,” she continued. “They could return in a few hours. Let’s just hope they return before tomorrow. All right?”

I nodded, though my stomach continued to twist itself into knots. All sorts of dark possibilities began to play on my mind. What if they’re trapped there? What if they were too late to save Anna and all their work and sacrifice has gone in vain?

We left Corrine and Eli in the Sanctuary.

I decided it was time for me to pay a visit to Kyle. I’d been avoiding going near them since I returned because I knew what a shock this was for him, Ariana and Jason. I didn’t want to poke my nose in too soon, but now that it had been a few days, I felt compelled to visit them to see how they were managing.

Ben and I parted ways while I continued through the forest until I reached the town center, the Vale. There weren’t many people bustling around at this time in the morning. I crossed the stone streets and headed straight for the school in the town center. Kyle and Anna’s house was just a few doors along to the right, a pretty stone townhouse with a flower garden out front.

I approached the front door and pressed my ear against it. Hearing nothing, I knocked.

It opened after a couple of minutes and Kyle appeared in the doorway. His face was pale and unshaven, his dark hair unbrushed. Even though only a few days had passed, he was already looking thinner. He had dark circles beneath his eyes and I could have sworn that I noticed a few grey hairs that had never been there before. He forced a smile on seeing me. “Rose,” he said. “Come in.”

I nodded and stepped inside, removing my shoes at the door. I followed him through their cozy townhouse, along the corridor and through to the spacious kitchen and dining area. My eyes settled on the kitchen table where Ariana and Jason sat, twirling their spoons in bowls of cereal.

My heart ached at how dejected they both looked. They too looked like they hadn’t eaten or slept properly for days.

Ariana’s eyes welled with tears as she saw me. She stood up from the table and walked over to me, throwing herself in my arms. She began to cry.

I brushed her hair with my hand, holding her tightly, though I was unsure what words of comfort I could give her since I myself was riddled with doubts right now.

The more she cried, the harder she squeezed me. Kyle stood staring at his daughter. There was nothing that he could say that would make her feel better. Jason’s face was ashen as he glanced back at me.

I was afraid to say anything at all. It felt like they were already suffering so much that anything I said might make them feel worse. So I kept quiet and continued to allow Ariana to hug me.

It was Kyle who broke the silence. “Rose, can I talk to you upstairs?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Guys,” he said, looking at his two children, “at least try to finish your breakfast while I’m gone.”

Ariana slunk back over to the table and sat back down next to her brother. I felt their eyes follow us as we left the room.

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