On my arrival, Aiden was waiting for me on the landing pad. The lines in his face had grown deeper over the past few days and he had dark circles under his eyes. In spite of this, he smiled and gave me a brief hug. Then his brows creased with worry. “My granddaughter?”

“Rose is safe with Corrine and Ibrahim, at least for the moment. I wouldn’t have left her if I’d thought that she wasn’t safe.”

“Rose,” he said softly. “I wish I could have seen her.”

“You know why I left her behind. Right now, we’re working with Arron and the Hawks blindly because we have no choice. But there are still far too many things about their motives that we don’t understand. This is no place to bring a newborn.”

Pain flickered in his eyes, but he composed himself. He was a man well practiced at switching off his emotions. We marched toward the main building.

We reached his office and shut ourselves inside. Sitting at the table waiting for us was Arron. When he saw me enter, his lips curled.

“Welcome back, Derek.”

I nodded curtly but said nothing. I would have preferred to talk privately with Aiden, but Arron knew more about Cruor, the vampire realm, than Aiden, and he certainly had more influence. I remembered how, though he had not accompanied us personally when we stormed The Blood Keep, he had armed us with dozens of Hawks from Aviary.

I took a seat opposite Aiden, who looked grimly at me before launching the discussion. “Firstly, Sofia. Based on what the Ageless told you, we can only assume she’s in Cruor.”

“There are three gates that allow passage into that realm,” Arron continued. “One at The Underground; one at The Shade; and one at The Blood Keep. Now, at the time the witch took Sofia, we were storming the Keep, so I doubt very much she would have transported Sofia to that particular gate. So the witch either sent Sofia to The Shade or The Underground, after which an Elder would have taken her through the portal and into Cruor.”

“Why do they want her?” I asked, terrified to hear Arron’s answer.

“Isn’t that obvious? She’s an immune. An immune’s blood is rare sustenance to their kind. You remember the effect it had on you? What it felt like drinking it?”

I shuddered. I remembered drinking Sofia’s blood all too clearly.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” Aiden said. “To rescue my daughter, it seems the only way is to force entry into Cruor and retrieve her. One of the many problems with this is that not even Arron knows if it’s possible for a ‘non-Elder’ to enter without assistance.”

“And Ben? My son?”

Aiden heaved a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s still a mystery to us. We’ve made no progress in tracking Kiev. Truth be told, I have no clue where to even start. We have virtually no background on Kiev other than his stay at The Blood Keep. And we searched the whole place since he kidnapped Ben. The Keep is now empty, save for a few dogs. Kiev too could be in Cruor for all we know.”

I looked at Arron. “And you have nothing to add?”

“No.”

I breathed deeply. Ignore your emotions. They won’t help find your family. Focus, Novak. Focus.

“All right. For now, it appears that our only option is to put all our focus on Cruor. We’ll need the assistance of the Hawks again. God knows what we’ll find ourselves faced with at the end of that portal, if we even manage to enter it.”

I was interrupted by a sharp knock at the door. Aiden got up to open it. When Vivienne stepped into the room, my heart leapt. I jumped up and pulled her into my arms.

“Derek, I’ve been so worried about you,” she said breathlessly. “When you didn’t return Eli’s text… I didn’t know what to think.”

“I’m just about hanging on, Vivienne. I’m glad you arrived safely.” I kissed the top of her head. “What about the others who were headed here?”

“Claudia, Cameron, Zinnia, Gavin, Eli, Shadow, and Xavier’s brother Landis, they’re all here.”

“What of Ashley, Liana, Yuri and Xavier?”

Her lower lip trembled and tears filled her eyes. She looked down at the floor. That was enough of an answer. I wanted to comfort her, but we had no time for it now. We had to stop mourning the situation and put all our efforts into facing it.

I sat back down, anxious to resume our discussion. Storming The Keep was one thing. Barging into a different realm was entirely another. I knew the only person with true power to help us was the Ageless. It was our misfortune that she was the one person who was certain to never help us.

Just then, there was another knock at the door.

“Come in!” Aiden snapped. A young hunter rushed in. “What do you want?”

He lifted up a phone. “For Mr. Novak. Someone called Corrine is on the line.”

My heart leapt into my throat as I snatched the phone from him.

“Corrine?”

“Derek. I feel mad saying this out loud, but… Sofia just showed up at the hut.”

Chapter 5: Sofia

Now that the Elder had taken over my body, I was in a constant state of cold. The chill had settled within the marrow of my bones and made them ache. My eyes stung, yet I couldn’t blink. My vision was blurred; I could still see, but not clearly. I wanted to gasp for breath, yet I was not in control of my own windpipe.

Leave me… please! I begged.

My mouth opened in response.

“We have much work to do together, you and I.”

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