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I paused, considering whether there could be any possible downside to informing her that I was a Novak. “Benjamin Novak,” I said finally.

“Oh, good,” she said, her breathing coming quicker now. “Benjamin, I need you to help me out of here. This gate hasn’t been used for so long, it’s sealed off at the end. It’s not responding to even my magic. We need someone from outside to help. Try to push your fingers right through it. It should give way to you.” When she still saw me hesitating, she said, “We have a mother and baby to deliver back to The Shade.”

Mother and baby. Although the words filled me with anticipation, I frowned, my eyes narrowing on her.

“Anna?” Abby gasped.

The witch nodded.

I bent down closer to the tunnel again. Anna’s name ringing in my ears, I was on the verge of cooperating with her, but I stopped with my hand two inches away from the ceiling. Everything about this situation just seemed too strange and unbelievable. “Show me Anna,” I said, glaring down at the witch. “Then we’ll talk.”

She turned her face away from me and looked back down into the dark abyss. “Someone has come!” she hollered. “Bring Anna.”

I squinted, staring down into the dark crater.

“She’s coming,” the witch said, turning back to us.

Two specks appeared in the distance, gradually becoming larger and larger until their backs hit the ceiling next to the witch and bounced off it. Clearly a male and a female. The female let out a loud groan. As she turned around, my breath hitched. It was a thin Anna, worn and tired, clutching an infant in her arms.

Without hesitating for a second longer I pressed both of my palms against the ceiling. I wasn’t expecting my hands to push through so easily. It felt like brushing through smoke, and were it not for Abby grabbing me, I would have toppled into the hole with them.

Abby leant down and took the baby from Anna’s arms while I helped pull Anna out. She gasped with relief, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“Ben, oh, Ben.” Anna gripped the back of my neck and kissed my cheek. She turned to Abby and wrapped an arm around her, kissing her forehead. Abby kept hold of the baby for now, since Anna seemed so feeble.

I turned back to the hole. The two figures who’d remained in there had now climbed out. I’d been so preoccupied with Anna, I hadn’t paid any attention to the male who’d come down with her. He was a tall, dark-haired vampire with bright green eyes. I found the expression on his face odd as he looked me over, as though he was sizing me up, or perhaps recognized me from somewhere. I was certain that I’d never seen him before.

I turned back to the witch. “Who are you people? Where have you come from? And what the hell is this?” I asked, pointing down at the hole.

The witch held up a hand and said, “Yes, there will be time for that.” She looked back down into the abyss and yelled, “The rest of you, come now!” She shot Anna, Abby and myself a look. “Uh, you three may want to stand back.”

“Huh?” We took a few steps back and were grateful to have heeded the witch’s words as vampires began shooting out of the hole and landing on the floor. We had to keep retreating until our backs were against the wall to make room for them. Soon the whole room was piled up with vampires… and then wolves. Giant wolves. I gasped and instinctively stood in front of Anna’s baby as the beasts raised themselves from the ground.

“What are these monsters?” I asked.

“Werewolves… We’ve all been trying to get out for days.”

“Anna,” I said, turning to her in shock, “how on earth did you end up with these people?”

“That’s a long story—”

She was interrupted by the witch walking over to us.

“My name is Mona, by the way,” the witch said, reaching out a hand.

I shook it. Then I stared at the green-eyed vampire who stood behind her. “And who are you?” I asked him.

Mona stepped aside as he walked in front of me. He cleared his throat, staring at me intensely. “Kiev Novalic.”

My heart skipped a beat.

Kiev Novalic?

The monster who’d kidnapped me at birth?

I stared at him, my mouth hanging open. The Kiev Novalic my mother had told me about was notorious for having red eyes. Not green. Could there be two Kiev Novalics?

As if reading my mind, he said, “Yes, Novak. We have met before.”

My fists clenched and I took a step back, my back hitting the wall of the cave.

Anna reached for my arm and squeezed it. “It’s all right, Ben,” she said. “Kiev is… different now. I promise, you can trust him.”

I looked down at her in disbelief. My mind reeled as I looked from her to Kiev.

Trust Kiev Novalic. It felt like she was asking me to trust the devil himself.

“We should get a move on,” Anna continued, longing in her eyes. “I need to get back to my family. Mona will transport us all there…”

“What?” I couldn’t disguise my shock.

“They need somewhere to stay, just for a few days,” Anna explained. “Just to find their feet and work out where they’ll go next. We’ve been through hell to get here and we all need rest.”

I looked at Kiev again. He was the most hated man in all of The Shade’s history. One of the first children of the Elders. Evil personified. Inviting him back in our midst seemed like insanity.

I caught hold of Anna’s arm and pulled her out of the chamber with me. Abby followed us with Anna’s son. I led them along the passageway until we were a fair distance away. I hoped that all the chattering going on in the main chamber would be enough for our conversation to not be too audible.

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