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“So they turned you in the end,” he muttered. “You know, Sofia, you’re more beautiful than even I had imagined you would be as one of my own kind.” His face contorted, as though looking at me was causing him pain.

“You heard my husband. Step aside!” I managed to find my voice. I slid Anna off my back and placed her on the ground, then extended my claws in front of him.

A frantic scream pierced the atmosphere, drifting down from the trees above.

“Run faster! I lost hold of him! Arron is coming! And others are follow—”

I trembled as Rufus’ voice cut off midsentence.

Kiev smiled. “But why would I want to do that, darling? If I delayed you just long enough for the Hawks to recapture you all… who knows, I might even be able to convince Arron to give you to me. He’d kill Derek for sure and probably also your father, but I’m sure he’d spare your son, whom we could raise together…”

He began pacing up and down.

“Please! Kiev, please let us go.” I resorted to begging. There was no time left to consider matters of dignity.

Leaves rustled overhead and boughs creaked. The Hawks were drawing nearer by the second.

Kiev’s eyes were still fixed on me, never wavering. I looked back, willing him to find some speck of mercy in his black hole of a heart.

“You know, I think I could make you happy, Sofia.” He continued to indulge in his fantasy, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, as if time was of no value. Then, without warning, he left his guarded position by the gate and walked right up to me, gripping my shoulders and bending down so that his face was within inches of my own.

I struggled against his grip, but I’d become too weak from the sun and the climb to stand a chance against him. He eyed my lips hungrily as he said, “I could even let the others go and just keep you. Maybe you’d be faster at forgiving me that way.” He looked around at Derek and the others and nodded toward the direction of the gate. “You’re free to go if you wish.”

They all remained still, eyeing the gate. Derek couldn’t approach Kiev in case Kiev lashed out at Ben. Aiden could barely support his own weight. We were all too worn down to be any match for Kiev.

The Hawks clambering down the trees had come within a few meters of us now. I looked frantically around and screamed at Derek, “Go! Escape with Ben! Just leave, all of you!” I stared at my husband, my eyes begging him to take our son, to keep him safe. His blue irises were wide with terror. “Go, Derek! You fool, stop standing there! LEAVE ME!”

Tears streamed down my cheeks and my vision blurred. I couldn’t make out if they had indeed saved themselves, or if any of them still waited stubbornly for me.

“Hurry!” Arron shouted overhead.

“Or… am I a better man than that?” Kiev whispered into my ear.

I blinked rapidly to clear my tears and looked into his deep red irises, wondering if my ears were playing tricks on me. He loosened his grip on one of my shoulders and lifted his hand to my face. He ran his fingers gently against my cheek. Then he pressed his lips against my forehead in a chaste kiss, and let go of me.

I stumbled back, in a state of shock. Despite my orders, neither Derek nor any of the others had moved yet. But, as soon as I was free from Kiev’s grasp, they lunged toward the gate.

We pushed Aiden through first and he disappeared into the strange starlit tunnel, then Anna, then Kyle, Ian, and finally I pushed Derek through. Before I took the leap myself, I turned around one last time to see the Hawks hitting the ground and rushing toward the gate.

I lowered myself into the hole, gripping the edges tightly to fight the suction pulling me down, and looked up at Kiev.

He gazed down at me, his eyes suddenly filled with a sorrow that knocked the breath out of me. He nodded slowly before I let go and hurtled down into the abyss.

Kiev was a mystery I would never unravel.

Chapter 37: Sofia

After I landed on the marble floor, my first instinct was to bellow, “Destroy that gate now!”

I didn’t even know whom I was yelling at since I hadn’t had a chance to look around the room yet. I sat up and saw Derek lying nearby with Ben held above his chest, and the others scattered around, all still recovering from the fall. Ibrahim and the Ageless stood over us.

They heeded my words and began their spell. Within a minute the marble floor had sealed over, the gate to that nightmarish realm now closed. Forever.

“Thank heavens,” Ibrahim breathed out as he turned around to survey us panting, dirty and sweaty.

I scrambled to my feet and rushed over to Derek and my distraught baby. I eased the blanket away from Derek’s body and lifted Ben into my arms.

“There, there, darling. Shhh. Mommy’s here. Mommy’s here now,” I whispered, wiping dirt away from his face and kissing his soft cheeks. I sat cross-legged on the floor and let the tears welling up within me fall. At last, Mommy’s here for you.

Derek crawled over to me and, wiping my tears, held my face in his hands and kissed me hard. “We did it, Sofia. We did it,” he whispered into my ear, a smile creeping across his exhausted face.

“Derek,” Ibrahim called from across the room. He was bending over my father’s torn wing.

Derek got up and walked over to Ibrahim. Now that Derek’s back was turned to me I could see the deep wound in his back inflicted by Arron. His shirt was covered with blood.

I got up and walked over to the corner of the room where the Ageless was standing silently.

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