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I also knew how many humans we had left in our dungeons right now. It wasn’t many.

Our first trip to The Shade might come sooner than I’m comfortable with.

Chapter 17: Sofia

I prayed that Corrine would stop sending people. The moment they set foot in the castle, Annora seemed to have a way of detecting them and throwing them down here in the dungeon with us.

First there was a group of witches whom Annora dumped in one of the cells nearby. And later, to our horror, Adelle and Eli were brought down. Had the situation not been so dire, it would have been almost comical.

Then when Rose was brought down by Caleb, I almost had a heart attack. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. It took a few moments for the full terror to sink in. My daughter is away from the safety of The Shade, back in this nightmarish castle. We’re not strong enough to protect her. And we have no way of breaking free.

Derek and I grabbed her as soon as she was thrown into our cell. She appeared to be unharmed. I gripped her jaw, anger consuming me. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Rose stared at me, in a state of shock herself. Her lips moved but no words came out.

Everyone in the dungeon looked equally horrified to see her.

She averted her eyes to the ground and finally managed to croak, “I hid in the back of Eli’s sub.” Her face was ashen, her lips trembling as she spoke.

Derek swore. I was so beside myself I could barely think of words strong enough to express my fury with her. I clutched her shoulders and forced her to face me. “How could you be so disobedient! After everything…You stupid, stupid girl.”

This is the problem with my twins. They have the boldness of vampires, but the strength of humans.

Her guilty face became blurred by my tears.

“Where’s your brother?” Derek demanded.

“I left him home with Corrine,” Rose said.

I was at a loss for what to say. I looked up at Derek, and recognized the same cluelessness in his eyes.

The Shade was being emptied of its leaders bit by bit because damn Corrine kept allowing people to come here. And now Eli and Adelle couldn’t even act as the messengers that they were supposed to be.

“I had no idea,” Eli choked, staring at Rose.

I breathed out heavily and placed my head in my hands.

What will become of us?

I just hoped Ben wouldn’t try to follow us too, now that his sister was gone. It was just the sort of thing he’d attempt.

Rose shuffled quietly in the corner, next to Aiden, who put an arm around her and kissed her forehead. Rose’s knees bunched against her chest, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“The boy brought you in here,” Derek said, addressing our daughter. “Did he harm you in any way?”

Rose looked up at him, her eyes moist with tears. She bit her bottom lip and shook her head.

Derek turned back to face me. I wished that he could offer me some words of comfort, but there really was nothing more that could be said. “We have to escape from here,” he muttered.

We’d both repeated those words to each other countless times already, but neither of us knew where to even start.

I didn’t remember ever feeling so powerless. It was ironic—I’d wanted to turn back into a vampire all those years ago so that I’d never have to feel helpless, the way I did now.

Thanks to Annora, I’d been rendered as useless as a human. I buried my head against my knees.

Hope that we would ever find Anna in time was nonexistent now. A part of me was already mourning for her and her unborn child.

Another sound of the dungeon door unbolting brought me to my senses. A vampire guard shuffled along the corridor, dragging a frail old woman by the neck. He led her to an empty cell a few feet away from ours and threw her inside. Then he rushed back out of the dungeon and bolted the door behind him.

I stared at the old woman he’d just dumped in here. With light grey, almost white hair, she was short and stick-thin. Her complexion was yellow-tinged and her skin hung against her skeleton like damp fabric against a metal rake. She wore nothing but a thin cotton nightdress and her whole body shivered as she huddled into a corner.

The sorry state of her was enough to distract me for a few moments. “Excuse me,” I called, in as soft a tone as I could manage.

The woman let out a soft whimper.

“Please,” I whispered, “I just want to talk to you.”

She peered at me with anxious eyes.

“I need you to tell me what you know about this place. How long have you been here?’

“A-about a month,” she responded, her voice rasping.

“Do you know what they do with all the humans they collect here?” I asked.

She looked at me in wide-eyed terror.

“Tell me, please,” I urged.

“They’re taken away from here. I don’t know what happens to them.”

“Where are they taken to, do you know?”

“I have no idea. But once they fall through the hole, they never come back.”

Hole? “What hole?” Derek urged.

“I-In one of the dungeons… one of the dungeons where prisoners aren’t kept. There’s a hole in the floor. An abyss.”

Derek and I exchanged shocked glances.

“How is it that you know this, and you’re still here?” I asked.

“I’m… not well.” She held up a weak hand to reveal several scabs. “They noticed I was sick just before they pushed me into the hole. My blood is infected and they decided they didn’t want me. So that’s why I’m back here. I don’t know how long it will be b-before they end me.” She swallowed back a sob.

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