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“Because,” Ibrahim replied, “the job at The Underground was easier. The vast majority of the Elders have gathered at The Shade because that’s where most of the vessels and humans are.”

“And how exactly do you propose that we destroy The Shade’s gates when the place is swarming with Elders and vessels?” I asked.

“Firstly, none of the vampires here would accompany us. That would just provide them with more vessels. I would call on some more witches to help from The Sanctuary.”

Gavin stepped into the room, followed by Zinnia.

Momentarily distracted from our discussion, I asked Zinnia, “How on earth did you get back?”

“Oh, it wasn’t too difficult. I just shifted the blame to you two. Told them that you and Gavin must have run off with the vampires and that I had nothing to do with it. Tyler didn’t seem to believe me, but I managed to get Joshua on my side, who convinced him to let me go. They dropped me back at the port where I called Gavin’s number. I stole one of the boats and here I am.”

Sofia placed a hand on my arm, resuming our conversation. “I understand why vampires are of no use to this mission, and the same for humans”—she looked pointedly at Zinnia and Gavin—“but the others aren’t going to like this. They’re going to want to fight for The Shade.”

“In which case, to avoid wasting time arguing with them, we should leave now before they all wake up,” Ibrahim said.

Sofia tensed up beside me and tightened her grip on my arm. “You didn’t finish explaining the plan to Derek,” she said. “How exactly are you going to go about this?”

“We’ll have to play it by ear. We don’t know what the exact situation will be before we arrive,” Ibrahim said. “But we’ll have help. And as with The Underground, we have the advantage of surprise on our side. As long as we’re quick… I’m hoping the Elders at The Shade haven’t yet received news that the witches ruined The Underground’s gate.” He snapped his fingers and a dozen witches and warlocks wearing dark grey robes entered the kitchen.

I hugged Sofia and looked deep into her eyes. “Keep everyone safe. Don’t allow anyone to leave the house. But you’ll need blood. Zinnia and Gavin will stay here and help you cope.”

Then, before I could offer her words of comfort that I knew she desperately needed, Ibrahim’s hand rested on my shoulder, and the next minute, I couldn’t see anything at all. A blur of colors shrouded my eyes.

Chapter 30: Derek

When my vision eventually returned, I was floating in the sea beneath a starry night’s sky. Ibrahim swam beside me along with his army from The Sanctuary. It didn’t take long to spot a familiar outline in the distance; we were about a quarter of a mile away from my lighthouse.

Ibrahim nodded and we swam to land, hoisting ourselves up on the rocks just below the tall building.

“The sooner we reach the temple, the better. Derek, try to remain hidden from view.”

The witches gathered around me and I crouched down so that my head was not visible above them as we walked. We moved away from the rocky area, past the Port, and entered the woods, moving swiftly toward the Sanctuary. My whole body tensed when a symphony of screams pierced through the atmosphere.

“What was that?” I whispered to Ibrahim.

“You don’t want to know.”

It felt like we had been running through the woods for about half an hour, the screams unrelenting. Eventually we reached the spot where the trees ended and the clearing outside the temple began. We crouched down in some bushes and surveyed the situation.

Several tall figures were huddled around the fountain. One of them I recognized instantly: Ashley. The other faces were familiar but I couldn’t put names to them—vampires whom, although they were citizens of The Shade, I had never personally spoken to. And then I spotted a vampire less than half the size of the others and I realized it was Abby.

The group stood in front of our destination, the temple. There was no way we could walk past them without being noticed.

I looked sideways at Ibrahim through the shrubbery. His brows furrowed, he appeared to be thinking furiously. This surprised me, because our next step seemed obvious to me.

“Just do your disappearing trick. Vanish us from here and manifest us again inside the temple,” I whispered.

He shook his head and looked at me like I’d just come up with the most stupid idea in the world. “Just trust me, all right?”

Then, without any warning, he sprang out of the bushes. My first instinct was to grab him and pull him back, but two witches yanked me back down into a sitting position. I wasn’t used to being kept in the dark and following orders blindly.

“Shhh. Just watch, Derek. And have faith in Ibrahim. We will tell you when to move and what to do when the time comes,” an elderly-looking witch next to me said, patting my shoulder with her wizened hand.

As soon as the group of vampires caught sight of Ibrahim approaching, they froze and stared at him. At first, I feared the worst—the Elders had already got wind of the witches’ gate-wiping rampage. But it appeared that they had not.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Ageless’ cousin himself. What brings you here, warlock?” Ashley stepped forward. Although her eyes were clear like Sofia’s had been, the strange yellowing of her skin was evidence enough that she too was being inhabited by an Elder.

“Yes, do tell. You’d better have a good excuse for disturbing us,” Abby piped up.

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