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“Sofia.” I spoke louder and with more urgency.

I dared to shake her shoulders. She remained still. Just as I was about to leave her side to look around the room for keys to the chains, her eyes shot open, only these were not Sofia’s eyes. A translucent film had developed over them. Her mouth hung loosely as though she had lost control over her facial muscles.

Her breaths started coming in rasps. “Derek!” she wheezed. “Please, darling. I need b-blood. I’m dying of thirst.”

Is this Sofia addressing me? Or is it the Elder?

Whatever the case, Sofia’s body was clearly fading away and if sustaining her also meant sustaining the evil within her, so be it.

I lowered my wrist and coaxed her to take a bite. Instead, with an unexpected motion she placed her arms around my neck and dragged my head down toward her. She bit into the flesh beneath my ear and began sucking. After several seconds I felt a stinging, weak at first but growing stronger and more painful. The Elder wants to turn me.

I jerked away from her, wincing as her fangs tore through my skin. She tried to grab hold of me again, but I stepped away.

“What are you doing, Derek? Can’t you see that I need you, my love? I’m dying! All the times I fed you my own blood, and this is how you repay me?”

Although I knew Sofia would never speak such words, there was an undercurrent of truth to them that didn’t fail to make me feel a pang of guilt.

Sofia continued to cry out to me. “If you won’t feed me, then please, melt away these chains. Free me, Derek! What are you waiting for?”

Although I still had no idea how to get Sofia out of this nightmare, doing the opposite of what the Elder was insisting upon was a good place to start.

“Stop playing games by hiding behind my wife. I know what you are.” My voice boomed through the dungeon. “You saw what I did to one of your fellow Elders back at The Shade, didn’t you? Leave my wife now, lest the same fate befall you.”

Sofia’s eyes rolled and she began to laugh. “As if you would risk your precious lover’s life! Remember that your Corrine is not here to save the day this time. She’s powerless now, as weak as a bee out of sting. We made sure of that after what she did. If you kill me, you kill Sofia.”

“I don’t need any witch.” I spoke with confidence I didn’t possess. “I inherited more powers than you can possibly imagine from Corrine’s ancestor, Cora. I could have done it without her. And I will do it without her in a few moments if you don’t comply. My patience is running thin.”

So desperate was the situation, bluffing was the only tactic I could think of. I knew better than anyone that I couldn’t unleash fire on Sofia’s body without running the risk of killing her. I widened my stance as if gearing myself up for a fight and allowed a small flare to escape from my palms.

“I’m warning you. I’ll count to three. One… Two…”

Before I could finish counting, a door unlatching echoed around the room. I whirled around to look up at the trapdoor, but from a different direction a deep voice I knew too well spoke.

“Oh, interesting. Very interesting.”

Arron emerged from a steel door in a far corner of the dungeon. My first instinct was to stand protectively in front of Sofia.

“So,” Arron said. “I’d actually come to put the girl out of her misery now, rather than make her suffer until the bitter end. But perhaps you’d like to do the honors yourself?”

He drew out a wooden stake from under his cloak and offered it to me. I knew too much about the Hawk to appeal to his better nature, for he had none. Just like all the other supernaturals we now found ourselves embroiled with.

Without hesitation, I shot fire at him. Black wings sprouted from his back and flew him out of the way, but he only narrowly dodged being burned.

“Don’t touch her,” I snarled.

“Derek, you must understand that your wife is long gone. She’s nothing but an empty shell. Can’t you see the symptoms of expiration? Even if you managed to expel the Elder, it’s far too late. She’ll never recover. Give her up.”

He’s lying. Sofia is still there. If I believed the Hawk’s words I would start acting rashly and lose control over the powers I desperately needed to harness.

“Protect me, Derek!” Sofia’s voice squealed from behind me.

“You lie!” I shouted at Arron, lunging forward. He was now hovering above me, his head nearly touching the ceiling, and I managed to jump and grab hold of one of his feet, pulling him to the ground. I dealt a blow to his face that sent him skidding across the room.

He got to his feet and red fury sparked in his darkened eyes. I had never seen Arron in his full Hawk form before. Now he transformed in front of me. His mouth and nose became a black beak with a razor-sharp edge, and talons grew out from where his human feet had been.

“You’ve made a terrible mistake, Derek”—he flew at me and pinned me against the wall, his hands tightening around my throat and his feet forcing my palms away from him—“to cross a Guardian the way you have.”

He tilted his head back, preparing to dig the point of his beak right into my neck. Then he froze.

The steel door through which Arron had entered the room had just slammed shut.

Arron released me and we both looked frantically around the room. Open chains lay on the ground where Sofia had been. Next to them rested a cluster of keys. It must have fallen from Arron’s pocket when I’d hurled him against the floor.

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