My breath hitched as I caught sight of a circular crater in the center of the room. Approaching it, I stared at its swirling blue-tinged translucent walls, its endless depth, the glitter of stars beyond… It brought back so many memories, I was stunned into silence for several moments.
The flicker of electricity returned all around us.
I gasped. If this meant that Annora’s influence over the castle had returned, I hoped that the others had managed to get out in time.
I said a prayer and gripped Derek’s hand.
We leapt into the abyss.
All was a blur as we hurtled downward. I could barely gasp for breath, the force pulling us downward sucking the air from my lungs.
As we reached the other side, I landed in a heap on a stone floor. Derek stirred a few feet away from me. I sat up and looked around.
We were in another dungeon. Only this wasn’t as cold as the one in Caleb’s island.
Now we were back in the world of supernaturals. A place I’d sworn I’d never venture again after the ordeal we’d gone through retrieving Ben.
I spotted an oak door in the corner of the room and Derek and I rushed over to it. It was locked, so Derek had no choice but to rip it from its hinges, despite the noise.
We crept up a set of narrow stairs and reached what was clearly a kitchen. High-ceilinged and dark, the room was surrounded by steel counters upon which lay an array of black cauldrons, carving knives and other sharp-looking utensils. The scent of burnt blood lingered in the air. Human blood.
I shuddered. “Where do we start?” I whispered to Derek.
“If Anna’s here,” he replied, still scanning the room, “it would make sense that she’s being kept with other humans. There must be a dungeon, or room of some sort…”
I sniffed the air again. If this kitchen is where human blood is prepared, it would make sense for the humans to be kept nearby somewhere.
“There,” I said, pointing to the far corner of the room. We hurried over and looked down at another trap door.
Unbolting it, I lifted open the hatch. It creaked open and the smell of hot human blood emanated from the hole.
We descended the steps and found ourselves standing inside a dungeon filled with humans trapped behind bars. Waves of screams echoed around the walls. I rushed to slam the trap door shut, hoping that the noise hadn’t already been heard.
We split and ran about the dungeon, scanning each of the cells for any signs of Anna.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” Derek hissed. “We’re looking for a pregnant woman. Have any of you seen her?”
They hushed a little, but looked at us blankly.
“Any of you?” I asked, looking around at their pale faces.
After five minutes, it was clear that Anna wasn’t in here. I turned to the nearest human—a tall young man with protruding cheekbones. “Are there any other places other than this dungeon where humans are kept?”
“I-I don’t know,” he stammered.
I breathed out sharply and raised my voice, repeating the question to all of them. None of them seemed to know.
“We were just thrown in here. We have no idea what this place even is,” a young woman said.
I locked eyes with Derek. It meant more exploring.
We hurried out of the dungeon and returned to the kitchen. Although still haunted by the state those humans were in, I had to focus. We headed to the exit of the kitchen and emerged in a large entrance hall.
I was struck by how similar in architecture this place seemed to Caleb’s castle. The same grand staircase, the thick curtains, stained-glass windows… I ran from window to window, looking out. Dark ocean as far as I could see. We were in a castle—that much was clear now. And we appeared to be on a tiny island. There was no sign of vegetation, not even a single tree. The castle was built upon black rocks. A pathway ran the circumference of the building, and a dozen feet beyond that, a steep drop down to the foaming sea.
“What is this place?” I breathed.
“I don’t know,” Derek said, catching my hand and pulling me back. “But we don’t have time to stop and admire the scenery.”
We searched hall after hall, trying to remain in shadow, traveling as noiselessly as possible. We failed to find another trap door or dungeon on the ground floor, so we headed up the staircase toward the first floor. This floor seemed to be residential. The corridors were lined with doors—most of which were strangely open—leading into apartments. All far too luxurious to hold humans. The whole castle seemed deserted.
My stomach sank as we searched level after level without luck. As we hurried along the final corridor of the top floor, I stopped short outside a blood-red wooden door. I caught hold of Derek’s arm and pulled him back, pointing at it. Carved around the door’s border were letters of a strange, ancient language.
“I wonder…” I reached my hand out for the doorknob and turned it.
It was stiff at first, but as I applied pressure, it gave way. I was a split second from pushing the door wide open when a voice pierced the corridor.
“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you. Unless you’d like a more painful punishment than you’re already in for.”
We both whirled around in time to see Annora outstretching her palms.
My legs folded beneath me and my vision faded.
I should have known that this time we wouldn’t be so lucky.
Because, after all, lightning rarely strikes twice.
Chapter 19: Sofia
Derek and I came to in another dungeon.