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I ran to the room Gavin had been given. Room 93. I knocked and shouted his name. I continued to yell until a bleary-eyed Gavin appeared at the door, naked save for a towel wrapped around his waist.

“What the hell, Novak?” He scowled, peering down at his wristwatch. “It’s five in the morning.”

I pushed past him with such force that he fell to the floor. I searched the bathroom, kitchen and sitting room, and then ran to his bedroom. A female with jet-black hair stirred on the bed. She lifted her head, revealing her face. Zinnia. She let out a yelp and pulled the bed sheets higher up to cover her body.

Somebody has come for a meeting at Gavin’s place.

“Get out!” she yelled at me, blood rising in her cheeks. “Bloody hell, Gavin. Why did you let him in!”

“I didn’t.” Gavin steamed into the room.

“They’re gone,” I gasped. “Sofia. Vivienne. Claudia. Cameron. Eli. Landis. Even Shadow, for heaven’s sake. All the vampires have vanished.”

“What? When did you last see them?” Gavin asked.

“I’ve been so tied up working with Aiden, I haven’t been out of his office much. But it’s been certainly less than three days since I saw each of them.”

“Well, what about Aiden?” Zinnia said.

“He’s my next stop.”

I rushed to Aiden’s quarters. But when he came to the door in his pajamas, rubbing sleep from his eyes, I knew that we had lost them.

When I repeated the news to him, the first thing he did was say, “Arron. We need to find him.” He pulled on a dressing robe and we ran directly to the Hawk’s cabin at the bottom of the fields.

We didn’t even need to knock on the door. All the curtains of the small building had been pulled open. As we peered through the windows, it was clear that it was empty.

Chapter 22: Sofia

Icy water splashed on my face. Strong hands shook my shoulders. The stone felt cold beneath me and I tasted blood in my mouth. My entire body felt like I’d just been dug up from the grave.

“You thought you could fool me.” A coarse voice spoke.

Fingers gripped the sides of my face and forced my eyelids open. A pair of pale grey eyes came into view. And the outline of a man’s face…

“You caught me off guard, I’ll grant you that much.” The man stood up and began to pace the room. “But I do wonder, really, what was your game plan? Even if you had managed to wipe out the third gate, do you really believe the witches wouldn’t just create more gates on demand?”

My mouth opened painfully and a voice emerged that was a shadow of my own. “Your ignorance never fails me.” I let out a cackle. “Or perhaps the Ageless favored us over you when she revealed that the power to create gates died almost a century ago with the last of the Ancients. The witches have grown too weak to conjure up that kind of magic. They have become drunk with complacency. They no longer work to keep their power like the Ancients did when they were still fighting to protect The Sanctuary.”

The man knelt down and gripped my jaw. “Should that be the case, we know exactly how to banish you now.”

“You may have stormed The Keep, but we still have two gates. Remember that we weren’t as foolish as to have all our gates in one room!” My cackling echoed around the room.

A kick hit my gut and blood spilled afresh from my mouth.

“Get up,” the voice said.

My arms and legs tried to gather themselves up but heavy chains weighed them down. I was far too weak to bear the load. Hands gripped my waist and hauled me to my feet. I leaned back against the wall. By now, my vision had become a little clearer, clear enough to see that it was a familiar face that stared back at me.

“Let’s see how long you survive here once your pretty vessel has expired.” Arron grinned. “It’s a long way back to The Shade and even farther to The Underground. You might fade away before you can reconnect with your source. That would be a mighty shame now, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I interrupted with a smile. “You’re foolish enough to be holding plenty of other vessels here quite suitable for my habitation.”

“I wouldn’t count on that if I were you,” was all Arron said as he left the dungeon, slamming the door behind him.

Chapter 23: Derek

Aiden told me to stay put while he went back to the main building in search of Arron. I waited outside the Hawk’s cabin until noon, but after that I simply couldn’t sit still any longer. The sun beat down on the grounds and bees buzzed around my head as I made my way back to the main building.

I wondered if Arron could have taken all the vampires to Aviary for some sort of experimentation, as he had done to Anna, Kyle and Ian. That he hadn’t at least warned us of this when we were supposed to be cooperating grated at my nerves.

I passed the reception and ran up to Aiden’s office. I knocked until the door swung open. Standing there in the doorway was Arron.

“Where were you? I’ve been waiting down at your cabin for hours…”

“Come in, Novak.”

Aiden sat at the table, his head in his hands. He didn’t look up. Why didn’t he bother to let me know he’d already found Arron?

“Aiden,” I said, “what’s going on?” He didn’t reply. I turned to Arron who’d just reseated himself at the table and glared at him. “Where have all the vampires gone?”

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