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The door locked behind us. Leaving the hunter dead on the ground, I walked forward through a narrow tunnel lined with fluorescent lights. The tunnel soon disappeared and I stood at the entrance of a circular chamber with a towering ceiling. The floors were made of black marble and the walls had been painted white.

The room seemed bare on first glance. It was only when I looked more carefully at the floor that I noticed three holes drilled into the marble, positioned at even intervals around the circumference of the room. I approached the one nearest to me and peered over the edge.

What on earth…

I was looking down into what appeared to be an endless tunnel. Its walls were made of a swirling translucent substance which I couldn’t fathom for the life of me; although it had a bluish tinge, it certainly wasn’t water. And yet I was sure that it wasn’t smoke either. But it was the sight beyond that truly made me question my sanity. I was looking down at what appeared to be the night sky, a sea of endless black scattered with stars.

Maybe there was something in that goat’s blood.

As soon as I extended my head past the edge of that crater, a strong suction tried to pull me downward. I had to stagger back and spread my legs apart to avoid being sucked in.

Then, without warning, my mouth opened wider than I could have imagined it was physically capable of stretching. Just as it felt like my jaw was about to snap, I drew in a deep breath and then exhaled. A black whirling substance emanated from my mouth, directed straight into the tunnel. It resembled the crater’s walls, save for its color. Light, swirling, ethereal.

The edges of the tunnel closest to us reacted to it and started hissing and, before I knew it, disintegrating completely. This disintegration then spread to other parts of the tunnel, round and round its walls until the bluish substance had vanished from sight completely. The suction stopped, allowing the Elder to relax my stance. And then, in the time it took me to blink, the hole had vanished. In its place was nothing but the same black marble that covered the rest of the floor.

My head felt frighteningly dizzy and a haze settled over my eyes, a haze I hadn’t felt since the witch in the Cells had worked her magic on me. The pain in my joints and muscles intensified and now I felt a new sensation; my skin was starting to itch and sting.

We don’t have much time left, the Elder hissed.

I stumbled my way across the room and stopped at the rim of the second crater. Once again, my jaw stretched open as I drew in another deep lungful of air. Just as my lungs were about to burst, I exhaled more black substance. The tunnel’s walls evaporated and the floor formed over it as if the hole had never existed.

Then my legs folded beneath me. The Elder tried to force them to stand but they kept crumpling. So instead he made me crawl toward the third crater.

I knew I didn’t possess the stamina to exhale a third time. Of course, that didn’t stop the Elder from trying. But as my jaw began to extend, my ears picked up a sudden movement at the entrance of the chamber. Before the Elder could even look toward the direction of the noise, the sound of iron striking bone reverberated around the room.

A searing pain erupted at the back of my head.

Then merciful unconsciousness stole me away as all faded to black.

Chapter 21: Derek

It had been nearly three days of agony. Aiden had forced me to respect Sofia’s arbitrary “five days of privacy” rule. He had at least allowed me to go to her door each night and lock her inside the room.

As I made my way along the corridor early that morning to unlock her door, I considered breaking my promise to Aiden. My nightmares had intensified threefold over the past few nights and I didn’t think I could stand her absence any longer.

I unlocked the door to her apartment and stepped inside.

“Sofia?” I called tentatively.

I was struck by how draughty the place felt. I walked to her bedroom and saw the windows wide open.

“Sofia?”

No. Not again. Not again.

I ran through each of the rooms. They were all empty. Retracing my steps into the bedroom, I rushed to the window and looked out, fearing to see Sofia’s body crumpled on the ground below. I thanked the heavens that I saw no such thing.

She can’t have jumped from this height. What on earth would she have been thinking?

Then I recalled her mad escape from the hut in broad daylight, and realized that I had been an utter fool to not suspect that she could have climbed out of the window, despite its ridiculous height.

But where would she have wanted to go so urgently that she couldn’t have waited until morning?

Although she showed no visible signs of being possessed, I could no longer deny this as a possibility.

I raced out the door. Skidding across corridors and whizzing down stairs—for I had no patience to wait for elevators—I soon arrived outside Vivienne’s apartment.

“Vivienne!” I smashed my fists against the door. “Open up! Hurry!” Several moments passed and I heard no sound of her approaching. I gripped the handle. Strangely, the door had been left unlocked.

I expected to find my sister still in bed at this early hour. But her apartment was vacant. Everything seemed to be in its proper place and I didn’t note any signs of a struggle.

Next, I tried Cameron. Then Claudia. Then Eli. Then Landis. All apartments had unlocked doors. All empty. I knew Shadow the mutt stayed with Eli, but even Shadow was nowhere to be found.

Gavin. They must all be having a meeting at Gavin’s place. I was aware of how ludicrous this conclusion was even as I thought it. But my mind was numb with panic. I had lost too much in too short a time. I couldn’t bear the thought that something could have happened to them.

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