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Then Liana grabbed my chin and pulled my head to face her. Her eyes wide, she said, “Sofia is possessed by an Elder.”

Chapter 24: Derek

“She’s somewhere here at Headquarters,” Yuri panted. “Her Elder brought her here to wreck the Guardians’ gates. The only reason you didn’t recognize her as being possessed is that one of their witches in The Shade figured out a way to disguise it.”

Of course. Of course!

“And now she’s disappeared again!” I said. “Sofia along with the other vampires from The Shade—Eli, Landis, Vivienne, Cameron, Claudia… The last time I saw them face to face was two or three days ago.”

Liana’s and Yuri’s eyes lit up at the mention of their loved ones’ names. Then Liana asked, “Who did this to you, Derek?”

“Arron. I tried to stop him but he… he took Aiden to Aviary.” I let out a heavy sigh. “And I’d bet my life on it that he’s responsible for the others’ disappearances too.”

“First things first.” Yuri stood up and looked around the room. “We need to find you an antidote. You’re of no use to anyone like this… Aha.” He picked up the syringe Arron had stabbed me with from the floor and sniffed it. “We need to pay a visit to the emergency room.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Gavin had also entered the room, surveying the situation. “Yuri and Liana, you shouldn’t be seen,” Gavin said. “If the vampires were removed deliberately from this place, you two are also in danger. Zinnia’s doing some investigation of her own about their disappearance, but until she reports back, you’d best keep out of sight as much as possible. You should both come to my room, and I’ll help Derek get…”

“Wait a minute,” I said. We’d been rushing ahead of ourselves so much that I hadn’t even stopped to consider the obvious. “How on earth did you escape from The Shade? And how did you travel here, or even gain entrance into Headquarters?” I looked out of the window. “It’s broad daylight!”

“The Elders were giving our bodies a rest,” Liana said. “They’d left us in one of the caves alone. A witch… she just appeared out of nowhere. She said she was going to bring us here to you. Next thing we knew, we were standing outside this office. I don’t know if she also helped out any other vampires or humans, but…”

“The Ageless,” I muttered. “Where did she go?”

“I have no idea,” said Yuri. “I asked if she would stay to help us, but she ignored my question and vanished.”

“We have no time to waste, Derek. If the Elder hasn’t been giving her enough breaks, I dread to think what state Sofia could be in now. The Ageless clearly isn’t going to offer any more assistance,” Liana urged. “I don’t know what has happened to the others, but the witch did tell us where to find Sofia. She said that Arron has locked her in a dungeon located directly beneath the Atrium. The trapdoor leading to her cell is hidden within the armory.”

Arron… I knew it. If Sofia was still possessed, I had no idea what I’d do even if I managed to reach her. All I knew was that I had to.

“Gavin,” Yuri said, handing him the syringe, “run up to the emergency rooms and ask the nurse to give you an antidote to this paralyzer solution. If the nurse asks why you need it, just lie.”

Once Gavin had left the room, I said to my two friends, “Gavin’s right. You mustn’t be seen by anyone. As soon as Gavin returns, you must go with him to his apartment and lock yourselves inside. Don’t come out under any circumstances.”

“But Derek!” Liana exclaimed. “You need our…”

“No, Liana. Neither of you will be useful for anything if you get caught and taken God knows where.” I shuddered, thinking of Vivienne and the others.

Gavin returned five minutes later with a new syringe full of transparent liquid. He lost no time in stabbing the needle into the vein in my left wrist. Within several minutes, I had regained full control over my limbs. I stood up and looked around the room. “Now that Aiden is gone, we must be careful. A hundred times more careful,” I warned. “As long as we stay in this place, we’re completely at the mercy of Arron.”

I nodded at Liana and Yuri and they begrudgingly headed toward the door. “Gavin,” I said, “take them to your rooms and keep them safe while I’m gone.”

We all exited the room, heading off in different directions. The Atrium was only five minutes away from Aiden’s office and it wasn’t long before I’d found the armory and located a dusty wooden trapdoor behind a tall cupboard. As I heaved it open, the smell of damp and rot invaded my nostrils. The place was lit with dim light bulbs fixed at intervals along the walls of the winding staircase. I moved down the steps, pulling the door shut above me, making as little noise as possible.

The dungeon came into view and, in the corner, a familiar figure lay curled up on the ground.

“Sofia?” I whispered, approaching her cautiously. She didn’t stir. She was so still I feared for a moment that she was no longer breathing. Chains had been attached to her hands and feet. The skin around them was red and raw. She must have been tugging against them for hours. I brushed her long matted hair away from her face. Dried blood covered her mouth and her eyes were closed. I reached to touch her skin and was appalled by how coarse and dry it now felt. A yellowish color was developing in patches.

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