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“Sofia,” she said hoarsely, reaching for my hand. She looked at me differently now than when I’d had an Elder inside me; I guessed that she had already sensed that I was my old self again, save for the fact that I was still a vampire. “What happened to you?” she asked.

I explained about the time I’d spent under the Elder’s influence. But the real reason I’d come to see her, and what I truly was dying to do, was to offer an apology.

“Vivienne, when I visited you in your room at Headquarters and told you about… about Xavier. I’m so sorry. I don’t even know for a fact that the words I spoke were true, since I didn’t witness his death with my own eyes. Everything I said came directly from the Elder’s mouth.”

She cast her eyes away from me and gulped. She looked on the verge of tears again, but she swallowed her emotions back. “It’s okay, Sofia. You weren’t in control of yourself. How can I blame you for that? And in any case… I-I think it’s about time that I come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to see him again. It’ll be less painful in the long term.”

I held her in my arms and kissed her forehead, running one hand through her hair. There was nothing I could say that wouldn’t make her feel worse, for her conclusion was the truth.

Eventually she broke the silence and asked, “Where’s Derek?”

I didn’t want to lay any extra worries on my sister-in-law’s shoulders. “Ibrahim took him to meet the Ageless,” I lied. “I’m not sure what for exactly, because he left very suddenly. But he should be back within a day or so.”

After I’d spent a couple of hours with Vivienne, I left her alone and went downstairs to see if Gavin and Zinnia had returned. Indeed they had, but instead of the sacks of blood that we were used to at Headquarters, they’d bought hunks of raw meat and bags full of fresh fish from the local shops.

“There’s not much blood in the meat, but you’ll have to make do for now,” Zinnia said.

“Seems like the dog is asking for breakfast,” Gavin muttered, as howling started in the basement. Shadow must have woken up and smelt the dead flesh. “I’ll go feed him.”

It wasn’t long before the two couples came down to join us, closely followed by Eli and Landis. We all sat around the large kitchen table and began tucking into our meal. All the vampires ate hungrily while I pecked here and there just for the sake of normalcy. Gavin and Zinnia settled for cereal they’d picked up from the grocery store.

I repeated much of the conversation I’d just had with Vivienne, an overview of everything that had happened since I last saw them. And again I lied about Derek when they asked where he had gone.

Craving solitude, I grabbed some fish for Vivienne and brought it up to her on a tray. Then I left for my own room and spent the rest of the daylight hours in bed. It was too much for me to keep engaging in conversations with people who were oblivious to the fact that my husband was in mortal danger.

Just as the sun was setting and I was preparing myself to spend a night alone in bed, there was a soft rapping at the door and to my delight, Derek entered.

His face had gained a few new scars and his arms looked cut up and bloody, but other than that, I couldn’t complain about the state he’d been returned to me in. He had survived. That was all I cared about.

I flung myself against him, winding my legs around his waist. His body was still sweaty from battle. Before I could start asking questions, he said, “We did it. We ruined the gates. The Elders are gone, forever.”

I lowered myself to the ground and my first instinct was to breathe out a sigh of relief. But something was off. Why wasn’t he smiling down at me, instead of furrowing his brows and chewing on his lower lip?

“Why aren’t you happy?”

“The witches,” he muttered. “They haven’t destroyed their gates yet. Something is up. Ibrahim has promised to shed more light on the matter once we’ve returned to The Shade.”

Return to The Shade. I couldn’t keep the excitement from bubbling up within me at the thought of returning home. Yet, at the same time, I was filled with dread at the state we might find it in. I had no idea how many had survived, or how many we had lost.

“And Rose,” I said. “Will it be safe to have Corrine return with Rose?”

“I would rather that we wait until I understand better what twisted plans are going on in the mind of that bitch. For now, let’s just gather everyone up here and return. I already met Gavin and Zinnia on my way up here and they’ve started alerting the others.”

Within five minutes, everyone stood around the kitchen table, except Shadow and Ibrahim who were on top of it.

“Lock arms,” Ibrahim ordered. Once we were all touching each other, he began reciting a chant. He placed one hand on Derek’s shoulder and the other on Shadow’s back. As soon as he made contact, his magic rushed through us. Violent wind blew against me and I was forced to shut my eyes. When I reopened them, I was met with the sight of The Shade’s Port. A salty breeze wafted past and the fresh scent of trees filled my nostrils.

We were home.

Chapter 32: Sofia

None of us spoke a word. I knew all of us shared the anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. After the Elders’ conversation about what they’d been doing to the humans and vessels, I felt scared about what I might lay eyes on each time we turned a corner.

What if there are no humans or vessels left? What if they already took them all back to Cruor?


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