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As I travelled back and forth from the submarine, I passed by other vampires with their victims. Once we’d finished with the bachelor party, we quickly moved further down the beach and started work on another party. It turned out that the beach was lined with dozens of late-night raves.

We finished our work only when Liana indicated that we couldn’t fit any more people in the submarine, at which point we all returned through the hatch. I gasped to see the yield of our fishing expedition. The floor of the passenger area was lined with people writhing and screaming, most still in the middle of their transformation.

What have I just done? I looked around at Ashley and the other female vessels, my accomplices. Behind their hollow eyes, I knew they all felt the same.

Sensing my horror, a voice hissed in my ear.

Won’t you be proud of your little Rose helping us do this one day…

Chapter 14: Derek

Days had passed and Sofia had still not returned. Being cooped up in that little cabin, listening to the seconds tick by, was beginning to drive me insane.

I’d been on the phone to Aiden three times a day since her disappearance. He had no news for me either. It was a mystery. We were back to square one, only this time, we didn’t even have any clue as to her location. No matter how hopeless the situation had been before, at least we’d known from the Ageless that she’d been sent to Cruor. Aiden suspected that the witch had come for her again. What other explanation could there be?

A voice began to nag at me, a voice that I’d been trying to exile. If, as Ibrahim suggested, Sofia had indeed lost her mind, she could have run out in the sun and committed suicide. Maybe you just didn’t spot the body…

I picked up my phone and dialed Corrine’s number.

“Derek? Have you found her?” Corrine answered the phone.

“No, Corrine. But I need to speak to Ibrahim right away.”

I heard Corrine calling for him and he came on the line a few seconds later.

“Sofia still hasn’t returned,” I said. “And she hasn’t arrived at Headquarters either. I think you were wrong about the Ageless. She must have come for her again. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Derek, I’ve communicated with the Ageless. She didn’t come for your wife again.”

“Then she’s lying!” I shouted, punching my fist through a cupboard door.

“I’m not lying, Derek.” A cool voice spoke from behind me.

I dropped the phone. Whirling around, I found myself face to face with the witch who’d stolen my life from me. Fury boiled within me on seeing her standing there, so calm and collected. It took all my willpower to not lunge for her throat.

“You!” I spat. “What made you deign to appear now?”

“You haven’t been cooperating,” she said bluntly. “You’ve neglected your mission of gathering up immunes and helping restore balance.”

Is she insane?

The insolent tone of her voice made me lose all control. A blaze of fire shot from my palms and flew right toward the witch. It set the end of her long silver robe alight. She mumbled a few words and water gushed out of her own palms, extinguishing the fire.

My chest still heaving with outrage, I tried to steady the shaking in my voice as I said, “Listen, you bitch. If you wish to continue standing there with that long hair of yours intact, you’d better rethink your attitude.”

“I thought that you had understood the importance of maintaining balance between…”

“Balance! Pray tell, exactly what is this ‘balance’, witch? Because I haven’t seen any semblance of balance here. Now that I think about it, the only balance I’ve witnessed is in your heavenly realm. Is that just a coincidence?” Fire reignited from my palms, forcing her to douse the cabin with water.

This time, to my surprise, the witch cast her head downward. I’d hardly ever seen her face express emotions. But I could have sworn that I saw a flicker of guilt.

Finally she cleared her throat. “We had never intended for things to get this out of hand.”

“What are you talking about?”

The witch sighed and took a seat in a chair. She motioned that I do the same.

The Ageless leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. “What I’m about to tell you has never been revealed to anyone from this realm before. It’s part of our kind’s ancient history. But first, close your eyes.” When I looked at her untrustingly, the only reassurance she gave me was: “You’ll understand why soon enough.”

I didn’t trust her, but I was so hungry to hear what she had to say, I decided not to argue. As soon as I shut my eyes, a strange vision appeared in my mind. I was looking down upon a vast range of black mountains that stretched out as far as I could see. There was not a hint of vegetation in sight, nor any other life for that matter, just miles upon miles of shades of black and grey. There appeared to be no sun, yet the sky, which was speckled with dark clouds, had an eerie reddish tinge.

“Where on Earth…?” I began to ask.

“Not Earth,” the Ageless said. “That is Cruor, a dead realm. It’s devoid of life, save for the hapless souls that have been kidnapped there. The Elders live like spirits within the bowels of the mountains.”

“What kind of evil are these creatures?”

“They have no physical form of their own. They are like parasites. Their very existence depends upon sucking life out of others. Blood is of particular value to them. They store blood and—even when they are not inhabiting a vessel and thus cannot drink it—they gain sustenance from it simply by remaining in close proximity. The blood of immunes is particularly potent…”

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