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“So then what happened when she left and why do you think she’s headed here?” Aiden asked.

“She was insistent on coming to headquarters. We’d just been discussing it before I left the room to speak to Corrine. When I returned, she had vanished.”

There was a pause. Then Aiden cleared his throat and said, “I’ll alert people at once. What are you going to do?”

“I have no choice but to stay here until she’s found. I’ve been out all day searching the area, but now I need to stay put. There’s always a chance she could return here looking for me.”

“What about Rose?”

“She left with Corrine and Ibrahim to a new location. Now, can you please put me on the line to Vivienne? I need to speak to her.”

Another fifteen minutes passed before I heard Vivienne’s voice in my ear.

“Derek? What’s happening?”

I relayed everything I’d just told Aiden. I went further and told her about the changes I’d observed in Sofia’s behavior. Then I described to her my recurring nightmares.

“Derek, I… I know you want to draw some kind of comfort from me. And I didn’t want to say anything because you’re already under enough stress, but…”

“But what?”

“Recently I’ve been having visions of my own… visions that are almost identical to those you’ve just described.”

As twins, Vivienne and I having the same visions didn’t happen often. But when it did occur, it was never a good thing.

Chapter 12: Sofia

The submarine eventually stopped moving. When I poked my head through the hatch and realized we were back at The Shade’s port, I felt bewildered. Why are we back here? I climbed out and headed for the forest. After hurrying through the trees for several minutes, I reached the foot of one of the large mountains bordering the island. My hands gripped the sharp rocks and I began to climb until I found myself at the entrance of a large cave that I’d never seen before throughout my time at The Shade.

My legs walked me inside and the Elder spoke. “Don’t even think about moving from here.”

What? How can I when…

All of a sudden, the ice within my bones started to melt. The heaviness in my body began to lift. The Elder’s suffocating presence was leaving me. My breathing relaxed as I found myself able to move again.

But then a wave of exhaustion hit me and my legs gave way beneath me. I lay down on the damp cave floor. My eyelids drooped. My muscles felt like they’d just endured a thousand-mile run. My joints ached. My entire body begged for sleep.

Just as I was about to drift off, someone called my name. The voice was strangely familiar. I managed to open my eyes and a figure moved out from behind the shadows at the back of the cave. Ashley. She helped me into a sitting position, leaning my back against the wall.

“Oh my God, how have you been?” I asked, staring at her face, relieved to see that she displayed no symptoms of being inhabited by an Elder. Assuming she hadn’t had the same special treatment as me, this was Ashley in her true state. Her eyes looked red and puffy and her skin had a slight grey tinge to it. She looked distraught and barely managed a smile on seeing me.

“I-I killed him.”

“Who?”

“S-Sam. I-I killed Sam.”

“What are you saying, Ashley?”

“The Elders. Th-they made me do it.” She started shaking violently and broke down sobbing against my chest.

I put my arms around her and kissed her head. What could I say? No words could console her. So I remained silent, tears of my own welling in my eyes. I held her in my arms, brushing through her hair with my hand and rocking gently from side to side. Although my body was groaning for sleep, Ashley was in desperate need of me.

After what seemed like hours, her voice had grown hoarse and she stopped crying. She looked exhausted as she lifted her eyes up to me and kissed my cheek.

“Thank you for being here for me.”

I nodded, still lost for words over her tragedy.

“I’ve been all alone,” she continued. “My Elder really put me through a lot when it was inhabiting me. I guess it didn’t want to use me up all at once and have me expire, so it brought me here and told me to rest until it returned.”

“Expire,” I murmured. “Is that what happened to Xavier?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him for days. What I do know is that Elders can only inhabit our bodies for a certain amount of time. Giving us breaks allows us to last longer, but eventually we will die.” The tone of Ashley’s voice was strangely calm. There was no sign of fight left in her.

Ashley paused before asking, “Why do you think Xavier expired?”

I told her about my visit to Cruor and how the Elder inhabiting Xavier had transferred to me. I now feared the worst for him and my heart sank for Vivienne. She had sacrificed so much for Derek and I, for her family, for The Shade. She deserved to finally live a life of her own and we all knew that she loved Xavier deeply. I had been hoping that she’d allow him into her life. Now she might be denied that chance forever.

Ashley interrupted my mourning. “Sofia, how did they turn you? I thought you were immune to the curse.”

“They brought me to Cruor. Apparently, the atmosphere there can break down immunity. I assume one of their vessels bit me while I was still unconscious.” I traced my neck, feeling for the bite marks. Sure enough, there were two small bumps at the base of my neck.

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