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“I really don’t know,” Anna replied with a shrug. “Soon after I arrived here, they started carrying out blood tests on Kyle and me. But the rest of the time I was given the job of helping out in the humans’ medical aid building. I’ve been working there ever since. Well, one day Aiden of all people came rushing in here. He told us what had been happening back in our realm and also that Arron had revealed to him that his grandson was here in Aviary. How Ben got here I still don’t know. I don’t know if even Aiden knows that. But anyway, Aiden requested that I take this little baby into my own care before Ben got sent to live with some other human family.”

I examined Ben more carefully. He seemed to be in good health.

“You’ve done a wonderful job with him, Anna. I don’t know how I can ever repay you,” Sofia choked.

“I’ve been so worried about making sure he’s healthy,” Anna continued. “I’ve never looked after such a young infant before. Fortunately there are a few newborns in nearby trees whose mothers have had milk to spare for your little boy.”

Sofia and I fell silent again, relishing our child’s quiet breathing, gazing down into his eyes and stroking his soft skin.

It was Kyle’s turn to break the silence. “You really must stay here. Things are changing rapidly here for the Hawks. Rumors are that Cruor is planning another attack on Aviary now that all their gates have been ruined…” Kyle paused in confusion, looking at us. “But the gates to Aviary are also supposed to be dismantled. How on earth…?”

“That’s a long story, but there’s still one gate open,” I said. “A gate which will vanish in less than a few hours. If Aiden doesn’t return soon, we’re going to have to make a move. We can’t risk waiting for him.”

Sofia shuddered at the thought of leaving her father behind, but nodded, looking down at Ben who was now drifting off to sleep in her arms.

Anna’s eyes widened and she turned to Kyle. “If we’re all going to attempt an escape, I need to bring Ian here.”

“Be careful, Anna,” Kyle said. “Humans aren’t supposed to be wandering outside right now while their meeting is going on.”

Kyle wrapped his arms around Anna and kissed her before she left. Then he turned back to us and pointed to the door leading to the back of the cabin. “I suggest you stay back there for now.” He led us through into an even smaller room with a single mattress on the floor and a tall window. The window had no glass, just meshing to keep out insects. I peeked out of the window and saw a drop of possibly twenty meters down to the floor of leaves below.

Sofia sat cross-legged on the mattress and laid Ben on her lap. Kyle went back into the main room to keep an eye on the front door. Thankfully, Anna wasn’t long. We were only waiting for ten minutes before she came through the door with Ian. Like Kyle and Anna, he too was still in human form.

Once Anna had seen him into the room, she went back into the front room with Kyle. Ian bent down to give Sofia a hug, and then placed his hand on my shoulder.

“Well, Anna just filled me in. All I can say is, I’ve never been happier to see a Novak in my life.”

He took a seat next to Sofia and they began talking. I continued to pace up and down the small room, too anxious and aware of the passing time to pay attention to their words. I prayed that Ibrahim would keep his word and not destroy the gate any earlier. And I prayed the Ageless wouldn’t try to interfere.

I was beginning to drive myself mad contemplating all the things that could go wrong, so I asked a question.

“Ian, maybe you can answer this. Arron previously spoke of using humans as vessels. Just like when he was back in our realm, his form was different to his Hawk form. Was he inhabiting a human body?”

“Funny, that’s a question I asked my roommate myself soon after I arrived. See, Hawks don’t use ‘vessels’ the same way Elders do for the simple reason that Elders don’t have any physical body of their own, whereas the Hawks do. So it’s incredibly easy for an Elder to enter a vessel—they just seep in. But Hawks can’t do that. So, when they want to go to Earth and need a disguise, there are witches here who can morph them into a human’s likeness. But in order for that spell to work, they need to bring the humans to Aviary. Witches then use the human’s genetics to morph the Hawk’s appearance to be exactly like the human’s.”

“In other words, the human Arron’s looks actually belong to a real human who’s kept here in Aviary? And Hawks can be made to look like any human, male or female, so long as that human is present here in this realm for their witches to gain access to?”

“That’s basically how it works. Unlike the Elders, it’s not natural for Hawks to inhabit a human body.”

“Then what about Aiden? How is it possible for humans to turn into Hawks?” I asked.

“Again, they have witches here who can do that. But in order for a human to turn, he or she has to actually be in Aviary…”

A banging at the door suddenly interrupted Ian. Sofia looked up with eagerness in her face.

“Yes! That must be Aiden.”

She was about to get up and open the door to greet her father when a voice that was decidedly not Aiden’s began shouting in the front room. My heart leapt into my throat as I grabbed her arm and held her back.

I looked feverishly around the room. My eyes settled on the window. With one pull, I separated the mesh from the window. Then, with shaking hands, I grabbed a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around my chest to form a carrier. I took Ben from Sofia’s arms and fastened him in.

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