We walked through the forest until we reached the clearing just in front of the Sanctuary. Vivienne was the first to rush forward and examine the bodies lying on the ground. Most of these vampires I did not know the names of, but then I saw a little familiar figure lying on the ground. The witches who had accompanied Derek there were all huddled around the vampires, nursing them back to health. I was relieved to see Abby lying on the lap of an elderly witch, her eyes open, despite looking exhausted.
“Where’s Ashley?” Derek asked one of the witches. “You know, the female vampire the head Elder had possessed.”
“She must still be in the temple,” the witch said. “We haven’t reached the bodies in there yet, there have been so many out here to deal with.”
“Take me to her!” I said, grabbing hold of Derek and pulling him in the direction of the temple. He led me along a corridor toward the center of the building until we reached a passageway where a wrecked Ashley lay sprawled on the floor. Beside her was a vampire guard, also unconscious and in a similar condition.
Derek picked Ashley up and said, “Let’s bring her outside. I’ll send someone back here to take care of the guards.”
We moved toward the exit but when we passed the entrance to the innermost chamber, I called out to Derek, “Go on without me, I’ll catch up with you.”
I recalled that this chamber had been the last place I’d laid eyes on Xavier. I walked from one end to the other and all around the edges of the room just to check I hadn’t missed his body concealed in any shadows. But he was indeed gone. It pained me beyond measure that Vivienne wouldn’t even have his body to bury.
By the time I’d exited the temple, two witches were already bent over Ashley. They examined her closely.
“What are her chances?” I asked in a hushed tone.
“She’s a few hundred breaths away from death,” a witch said. I crouched beside them and watched with bated breath as they worked their magic.
“Derek! Sofia!” Zinnia’s shrill voice echoed through the courtyard. I looked around to see her and Gavin rushing toward us. “We need you at the Cells now! Hurry!”
I felt torn between leaving Ashley or going to aid Zinnia and Gavin. I looked up at the two witches and knew that she was in capable hands. My watching over her wouldn’t have any impact over whether she lived or died.
I grabbed Derek’s hand and we followed Zinnia and Gavin through the woods. Gavin ended up jumping onto Derek’s back and Zinnia onto mine, since even with their weights on our backs, we could still run ten times faster than either of them on their human legs.
When we arrived outside the entrance to the Black Heights, Gavin and Zinnia slid off of us and pushed open the creaking door. The smell of damp and decay flooded over us. I remembered what it was like to walk through the Cells all those days ago, the conditions our people were living in. But now, as I looked around, I realized it had become many times worse.
“There are just so many humans and vampires locked up here, we need your help urgently. Many are sick and even more are on the verge of death from lack of water and food,” Gavin said.
Derek reached up toward a high shelf near the entrance and pulled down about two dozen keys. He handed a set to me and said, “Most of the locks take the same key. You’ll have to experiment until you find the right one. We need to get them out of this hellhole and into the fresh air outside. Gavin and Zinnia—Sofia and I will work on releasing everyone from the Cells, but you’re in charge of herding them all outside and organizing them.”
My hands shook as I began opening the locks. Shouts and cries of joy met my ears when they saw what I was doing. They came rushing out and many children latched onto me and hugged me. But I couldn’t stay long with any of them and instead directed them toward Zinnia and Gavin, for Derek and I still had a long night ahead of us.
There were some humans who were no longer able to walk, or who had passed out, and occasionally some dead. Derek and I carried out all the survivors and placed them on the soft grass outside the door of the mountain, beneath the clear night’s sky.
After several hours, we’d managed to clear out all the humans. Next were the vampires. Many of them were in just as bad a state as the humans, lying on the floor with injuries and deprived of blood for God knows how long. We assembled them a few meters away from the humans. Those who were still in a reasonably healthy state were instructed to fetch emergency supplies—animal blood for the vampires, water and bread for the humans.
Once we were certain there was nobody left behind in the dungeons, Derek and I exited the mountain range and looked around the clearing, surveying the countless people lying on the ground and the remaining milling about offering assistance.
Just as we were about to enter the crowds to begin helping ourselves, loud barks echoed down from the rocks above. Thirty black vampire mutts dashed down from the boulders. Their red eyes glinting and sharp fangs bared, it was clear what these dogs were. Angry. Hungry. Racing toward warm human blood.
“Derek!” I gasped.
But he had already noticed. He took off running full speed toward the spot they were descending to. I followed him, baring my claws.
Just as the dogs were landing on the ground, Derek stretched out his palms and fire blazed from them, engulfing the dogs with flames. They barked and whimpered in shock and pain. Dozens fell to the grass, dead. But three had used the smoky haze as an opportunity to take a detour around us. They had climbed all the way to a different side of the mountain, about twenty feet away from us, and were about to rush toward the humans from that angle.