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“No!” I screamed. I flew forward and cut deep gashes into two of the dogs’ necks with my claws, slicing through their arteries. But one managed to escape me. I heard screams and looked around wildly to see it about to leap into the helpless crowd.

In a whirl of black clashing with black, Shadow emerged from the crowd. He knocked the dog to the ground and ripped into its neck, Eli racing close behind him. Shadow didn’t let go of the dog until he’d completely torn its throat out. Then he dragged the body away from the humans, leaving a bloody trail on the grass behind him, and dropped it directly on top of my feet.

“Thank you, boy,” I said, scratching his ear as I pulled my feet out from beneath the corpse. I wiped the blood from my hands on the grass and walked over to Derek.

“Good job,” he said, a hint of amusement creeping over his face. “I still haven’t gotten used to you being a vampire.”

“Well, start getting used to it.” The idea of finding a cure for myself still seemed far off.

We walked back toward the humans and spotted Ibrahim emerging from the woods, several witches by his side. They dispersed into the crowd and started attending to the sick. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Derek looked at them with gratitude. We walked over to Ibrahim and Derek asked, “Why are you doing this? What has helping us got to do with your council’s orders?”

“Not a lot, I’m afraid,” Ibrahim sighed. “But not all of us agree with the Ageless and the council’s way of doing things any more. And besides, we’re following all their major orders. They’re not here to see us helping the weak and elderly, so why not use our skills to do something good for a change?”

Derek seemed speechless. “So you’re going against your council’s orders by offering medical assistance?”

“Let’s just say that it wasn’t specified in the job description.”

“So you’re not all as heartless as I thought.”

“I’m not completely devoid of self-interest. I… I’m not sure that Corrine would ever forgive me if I didn’t do all within my power to help you in this hour of need… and I very much seek her approval of me.” Ibrahim blushed slightly.

“Well”—Derek cleared his throat—“whatever your motivation, thank you for your assistance.”

“I’m sure you’d agree it’s the least we can do,” Ibrahim replied.

“But now, tell me what’s the deal. You’ve helped wipe out the gates to Cruor and Aviary. The Elders and Hawks are no longer in this realm.” Derek looked him dead in the eye. “I’ve been kept in the dark long enough. What was the witch talking about? What concession? And what does your kind have in store for us next?”

Ibrahim put an arm around Derek’s shoulder and started speaking in a quieter tone of voice. “See, that’s the thing, Derek,” he said. “We haven’t ruined all the gates yet.”

My gut clenched.

“What? Oh, no. You’re saying that the Elders and Hawks have more than three gates each?”

“No,” Ibrahim said. “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that one of the six gates hasn’t been obliterated yet. A gate still exists in Headquarters.”

Chapter 33: Derek

“What? No, Ibrahim. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I saw the Ageless…” I stuttered.

“Ah, but did you see?” Ibrahim interrupted. “Because it looked to me like you walked out of that chamber before you actually saw the Ageless eliminate the gate.”

“Huh?”

“I witnessed the scene back at Headquarters, Derek. I arrived shortly after the Elder was expelled from Sofia’s body. You just didn’t notice me watching from the shadows. But I saw it all… the despair in your eyes when you begged the Ageless for a chance to search for your son.”

His words knocked the wind right out of me. My mouth opened and closed. Sofia grasped my arm, a similar expression on her pale face.

“I know how much family means to you,” Ibrahim continued. “Hell, I hope to have my own family one day. I knew what you must have been feeling when the witch refused to allow you enough time to pursue the only clue you have about your baby’s whereabouts. Also… your little Rose… I’ll admit that she’s grown on me during the time I’ve spent watching over her. I’d hate to see her grow up without her brother.”

“So you…”

“Yes,” Ibrahim said. “Before the Ageless could finish her spell and seal the gate forever, I persuaded her to reconsider her stance. We are blood relations and my words mean something to her, even despite the influence the council has on her. I told her that if she wanted my continued cooperation, something she does place value in, then she would strike a deal with me: keep the last gate open until you helped me destroy the final gate to Cruor, and then allow you a maximum of twelve hours to go through and search for your family. I arranged for five witches to stand by the gate to make sure no Hawks come back through into this realm in the meantime.”

“And now…”

“Despite what I have said, it is imperative that you understand the risks, Derek. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. The odds of you being successful, or even surviving the visit, are very, very slim. Neither I nor any of the witches can accompany you; our powers are futile in Aviary. The same goes for your fire. You will have no power once you are there. There’s only a very rare kind of witch whose powers work in Aviary, and we don’t have access to any such person. So you will be all alone.” Ibrahim’s eyes bored into mine. “I want Rose’s brother back, but I also don’t want her to lose her father. Consider your next move wisely. I’ll give you an hour to make your decision. If you decide to take up the risk, we’ll leave for Headquarters together. But if, however, you decide to forego the risk, I’ll return to Headquarters alone and destroy the gate. The patience of the Ageless wears thin.”

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