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“Our realm is called ‘The Sanctuary’ for a reason,” she said coolly. “As leader, I must abide by our code which is, first and foremost, to ensure the serenity of our kind.”

My eyes narrowed. “So, given that you are the only beings in the universe whose existence matters, why would you want to risk upsetting your balance? You seem to be managing just fine. Why do you even want our cooperation?”

“Since the discovery of the cure—something even I didn’t foresee—and the influx of Elders through the portal, tension between the Elders and Hawks has been growing rapidly. Each side is becoming more and more demanding and it’s becoming impossible to satisfy them. Recent demands that we could not reconcile have led to direct threats to our own realm, something that hasn’t happened since I began my rule.”

“I see,” I said. “Now that using us as your pawns has become troublesome for you, you’ve realized that removing us as bait from the table is going to make life easier for you… because?”

“They won’t have as much to fight over. If we seal off their entries into this realm then, yes, their attention will be on us. But that is already starting to happen. When you’re drifting in a sea of sharks, having two sacks of raw meat will produce more of a signal for attack than having just one.”

I nodded slowly. At least the witch now seemed to have decided to be honest with me about the level of their narcissism. “If you want cooperation, first tell me where my wife is.”

“I don’t know that we want cooperation yet,” she said. “I must call a meeting back in my realm with my council. Until I’ve done this, I can’t reveal anything to you about Sofia. That would be a signal to the Elders that we are no longer neutral.” Then she paused and looked intensely into my eyes. “But I will call this council, Derek. You have my word. And if this plan meets with approval, I will return to you.”

Before I could open my mouth, she had vanished just as suddenly as she had appeared.

“Curse you!” I yelled, stamping my foot. Sofia could be dead by the time you’ve finished with your damn meeting. I climbed off the terrace and ran to the ocean. When I dove in, my body hissed like a hot pan splashed with water.

I floated on my back and reflected on the witch’s proposal. Even if the council agreed that it was indeed in their best interest to eliminate the portals, how did I know that, once the Elders and Guardians had been banished, the witches wouldn’t have some other hidden agenda for us?

When you’re drowning and all you’re handed is the end of a sword to pull you up above the waves, do you take it?

But at that moment, I had no idea whether the witch would keep her word to call a meeting. And even if she did, how long would that take? Every second that went by was a second that Sofia could be suffering somewhere, in need of rescue. What aggravated me most was the fact that the witch hadn’t denied knowing where Sofia was. My gut instinct told me that she knew very well what had happened to Sofia during her initial time in Cruor, and why Sofia had been taken again. Yet the witch refused to give me even that much relief. After everything she’s done.

What am I to do in the meantime? I floated for hours. But once the sun had ducked beneath the horizon, I decided that there was simply no way I could stay in that place any longer. I’d be of far more use travelling back to Headquarters and working with Aiden. I’d leave a note for Sofia telling her where I’d gone and I’d travel back to the cabin every two days to check if she had returned.

On arriving at my bedroom, it turned out that leaving a note wasn’t necessary. For there lay Sofia, sprawled unconscious on the bed, her skin covered with blisters and blood seeping from a deep wound near her abdomen.

Chapter 15: Sofia

As the blackness gave way to fluorescent white lighting, the first thing that came into focus was a set of bright blue eyes. A warm hand brushed against my cheek. Derek. Relief overwhelmed me, but as I came further to consciousness and realized what a danger I was to my loved ones, it transformed into horror.

Derek’s face lit up as soon as I stirred. He bent down and his lips pushed against mine. I wished I could have returned his embrace with as much passion. Instead my lips and arms remained stiff. The Elder retained full control of my movements.

“Sofia!” my father gasped.

Oh, no. Not you too.

I turned my head to see Aiden on the other side of my bed. He clutched my hand, leant down and kissed my forehead. Pain was etched in his eyes. He’d already lost his wife to the curse. Now he was watching me suffer under it. Thank God he doesn’t know my situation is even worse than Ingrid’s was. I don’t know how he would survive it.

“You’re going to be okay, my darling,” Aiden said. “We’re going to find a cure for you, just as we did for Derek. And then we’re going to bring your beautiful baby boy back to your arms. How does that sound?”

I was desperate to ask about my son, but my lips remained tightly sealed. I looked around for the first time. We were in the emergency room at Hawk Headquarters.

Why does it want me here?

A nurse walked over to me and helped me into a sitting position. It was then that the remains of a mouthful of blood trickled down to the base of my tongue. Sweet. Succulent.

“You’re lucky we retained some of Anna’s blood from the lab when we were doing tests on her.” The nurse smiled.

Anna’s blood. Although I couldn’t deny my craving for more, I felt disgusted. Whatever did happen to Anna? And what about Kyle who accompanied her here all those months ago, just after he became a human?

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