I looked around in horror to see three of our companions in the cell opposite us—Ibrahim, Aiden and Zinnia.
“What happened?” I gasped, crawling to the bars and gripping them.
“Annora’s influence returned before the three of us could escape,” Ibrahim muttered, rubbing his temples. “But the others made it out in time.”
I stared at them more closely. Their clothes looked more tattered than before, fresh bloodstains soaking them.
At least Rose got away.
My relief didn’t last long as the memory of our failed attempt to retrieve Anna came flooding back.
“Annora brought us down here?” Derek asked.
Ibrahim nodded, and the three of them looked at us worriedly.
“What happened to you?” Aiden asked.
“We found the gate,” Derek said. “But we failed to find Anna.”
“What was on the other side?” Zinnia asked.
“Another castle,” I replied. “Similar to this, except it was on a much smaller island, without this frozen weather. There was a dungeon with humans… much like this dungeon. But Anna wasn’t there.”
They all fell silent.
“What do you think disrupted Annora’s power over this place?” Derek asked.
They looked as clueless as I felt.
I recalled Annora’s last words and shivers ran through me.
“Unless you’d like a more painful punishment than you’re already in for.”
I looked up at Derek and muttered, “What do you think the witch meant by punishment?”
“No idea,” he said, clenching his jaw.
As it turned out, we didn’t need to wait long to find out. Barely ten minutes passed since we had come to when Annora strolled into the dungeon. She stopped outside our cell and glared at the two of us.
The door to our cell clicked and swung open.
“I suggest you don’t try anything,” she said. “Just follow me.”
We followed her out of the dungeon. I considered making a run for it as we emerged from the staircase, but Derek gripped my waist and held me in place.
He was right. We’d get nowhere with this witch. Attempting escape would only make matters worse. Annora reached out and touched our arms. We vanished from the spot and reappeared in a corridor, outside a door. When I glanced out of a window, it appeared we were on one of the highest floors of the castle.
She pushed the door open and we entered a comfortably furnished apartment. She led us along the hallway and through a number of rooms. We stopped once we reached a study.
Derek and I stood by the entrance, watching as she made her way to a table in a corner. She drew up a chair and sat down.
“What do you want with us?” I asked, fighting to steady my breathing.
“I want,” she said, her voice dangerously low, “to teach you a lesson for wandering around without my authority.”
Derek and I barely had time to realize what hit us. An excruciating pain exploded in the base of my spine and spread throughout my nervous system. I collapsed, and Derek landed next to me a moment later. The agony blinded me. I couldn’t even find the strength to open my eyes. My limbs shook, teeth chattering. My brain felt like it was on fire, as though it might explode against my skull.
Each second that the agony lasted, I prayed that Anna’s fate hadn’t been as painful.
Chapter 20: Ben
Rose’s disappearance sent tremors through the island. When she didn’t return that night and still hadn’t returned by the morning, I’d suspected that I might find her in the lighthouse again. But she wasn’t there.
Griffin had no idea where she was. He’d claimed that she hadn’t visited him that night. Nobody had seen her—it turned out that I’d been the last one to lay eyes on her.
I could only assume that she had sneaked onto the submarine without Eli or Adelle knowing. The timing of her sudden departure, the way she’d lied to me about going to see Gavin, everything pointed to this.
Of course, Corrine was hysterical. I cursed my sister beneath my breath for leaving the island without me. If things had been uncomfortable before, they were now ten times worse.
It felt like being stuck in a pot of simmering water, slowly boiling alive from worry. Sleepless night turned into day, hours passing in a blur. I was unable to concentrate on anything. I ended up pacing up and down along the shores of the island, looking out to sea as if I would see the shadow of their submarines beneath the water. But I never did.
I returned to Corrine’s chambers in the Sanctuary. She was sitting at the table with her head in her hands, poring over a large black book. She looked up as I entered and slammed the book shut.
“What are you doing?” I asked, eyeing her trembling hands. Ignoring my question, she stood up and shoved the book into her bookcase. “What’s that?”
Her bottom lip quivered as she looked at me. I thought she was about to answer my question, but then she shook her head. I walked over to her and clutched her shoulders. She brushed me away. “I need some rest, Ben. Leave me alone.”
Reluctantly, I cast one last glare at her before acquiescing.
Without bothering to ask permission, I shut myself in the spare bedroom next to Corrine’s. I too hadn’t slept for two straight nights, but I didn’t want to return to the penthouse that evening. I wanted to keep an eye on the witch. Something was up with her, and if there was even the slightest chance that whatever she was hiding from me had something to do with the disappearances, I was going to get to the bottom of it.