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“I wonder how it works,” I continued. “If these creatures known as Elders are the original form of vampire, how did they start creating human mutations of themselves? How were they even able to infect humans with vampirism when they seem to have no physical form?”

“From what I’ve gathered, the original ‘vessels’, or human vampires, were created a long, long time ago simply by being kept in Cruor long enough. The darkness of that place manifested itself physically. Once infected, those human vampires could then turn others by biting them and inserting their venom directly into their bloodstream. We vessels are valuable to them because the only way the Elders can enjoy the pleasures of a physical form is by inhabiting one of us. They can’t directly inhabit a human’s body. The human first needs to be infected with their dark nature.”

My head spun with all this new and disturbing information.

“How did they manage to get to Earth in the first place? What is it with all these gates? Who created them?”

“I don’t know much else about their history, Sofia. My Elder wasn’t exactly open to questions. What I do know is that the vast majority of humans and vampires who didn’t escape The Shade are now locked up in The Cells. The Elders have started gathering up dozens of vampires and taking them out on expeditions. I’ve been on one already and it was…” Ashley stopped herself mid-sentence.

“What? Tell me about these expeditions.” When she remained silent, I shook her a little. “Tell me!”

“No, Sofia, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to disturb you any more than I already have because we both need to try to get some sleep now. Our bodies will need it.”

Chapter 13: Sofia

I woke up to something cold nestling against me. For a moment I thought it was Ashley, but when I opened my eyes, I found myself staring at Abby. She’d lain down so that her head was level with mine.

“Abby!” I exclaimed, drawing her closer to me and kissing her forehead. “Oh, thank heavens you’re not still stuck in that dreadful place. Are you okay, darling?”

“Sofia, I’m really hungry. Why did they want to make me a vampire?”

“Abby, I-I don’t know.” I couldn’t think of an answer that wouldn’t scare her senseless.

“I’m so hungry. And they said I can’t have the tasty blood. They keep giving me the bitter one, so I spit it out. Then they hurt me and tell me not to waste it and…”

“What did they do to you?”

“They hit my back real hard. But it doesn’t hurt any more because they gave me some medicine. Also sometimes I feel so cold and I can’t breathe properly. I think of that poltergeist movie Ben showed me once and it feels like that, like a ghost is inside me. I’m scared that it’s going to happen again.”

Abby began to whimper. I didn’t want her to see the tears falling from my own eyes so I just buried her face beneath my chin and hugged her. After a few minutes she stopped crying and said something that chilled me to the bone.

“Sofia, why did you kill my mom?”

“Huh? What are you saying, Abby? I never…”

“Don’t lie. I saw you. You ripped out her heart. Why did you kill my mom?”

She thinks Clara was her mother. Abby lifted her head up to face me. Her irises had turned black. She stood up.

“Why are you ignoring my question, Sofia?”

Claws appeared from her hands and, without warning, she launched herself toward my chest. I managed to catch her hands just before they dug deep.

“Stop! Abby, stop it!”

“You tore out my mommy’s heart. Now I’ll tear out yours.”

I managed to scramble to my feet so I could take advantage of my height. Unable to reach me, she sank her teeth deep into my right arm. The pain caused me to lose my grip on her. She positioned herself on a high rock and was about to jump on me again when Ashley appeared behind her, grabbing her by the waist and hurling her to the ground against the sharp stone floor.

But this barely deterred Abby. She got up and this time turned on Ashley. Letting out a shriek, she climbed up the rock and grabbed Ashley’s foot, making Ashley tumble to the ground. Abby followed her down and, with her claws still bared, was about to tear through Ashley’s throat when a chilling breeze entered the cave.

Abby let out a small scream and halted mid-motion. Her eyes turned translucent and her mouth hung open awkwardly. Then she stepped back and made her way toward the exit of the cave. As she left, her own voice said:

“You need to control yourself, little girl. We can’t have you spoiling perfectly capable vessels.”

Abby left the cave and sped down the mountain. “Where do you think it’s taking her?” I gasped.

“To be locked up with the others, I guess. That one’s feisty.” Ashley was still catching her breath.

I stood rooted to the spot, stunned. My sweet little Abby. Where has she gone? I thought about my best friend, Ben. And then his parents. They had lost their lives because of their connection to me. I can’t let that happen to Abby.

I hadn’t noticed a second cold breeze enter the cave until Ashley let out a cry. Her body contorted before she stood upright. Her eyes were still clear though and her face looked normal; I assumed she must have paid a visit to the witch in The Cells like I had.

“I’ve given you enough rest. Now we have work to do.” She walked toward the exit and began to climb down the mountain.

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