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“Hey, you,” I said, not bothering to show respect she didn’t deserve. “Will you help Derek out? He’s got a nasty wound on his back.”

Before she could answer, I walked over to Derek and, interrupting whatever conversation he’d been having with Ibrahim, I tugged on his shirt and walked him over to the Ageless.

Holding Ben—who had now calmed down considerably—with one hand, I helped Derek out of his shirt with the other. The Ageless looked disdainfully at me, but then heaved a sigh. She ordered Derek to lie down on the floor and began some kind of healing ritual.

Satisfied that Derek was being taken care of, I walked across the room to check on Aiden. He had stopped groaning and the huge tear in his wing seemed to have closed up. He was also sitting upright.

“He’s healing up nicely,” Ibrahim said.

Aiden beamed on seeing me. I rushed into his arms and he held both Ben and me close to his chest, nuzzling the top of my head with his beak.

“I love you so, so much, my darling,” were the only words he could muster through his tears. It was hard to believe that just a few hours ago I’d thought that I would never see my father again. And now here I was, wrapped in his embrace.

“Can I hold him?” Aiden asked, looking down at Ben.

I placed my baby in his arms and Aiden’s eyes lit up the way only a proud grandparent’s did.

Then I took the opportunity to check on Anna. She sat in a corner, leaning against the wall, clutching her ankle with her hands. Both Kyle and Ian sat next to her, looking concerned. I pulled each of them into a tight hug in turn and said, “Thank you. With all my heart, thank you.”

They all smiled at me. Anna brushed a strand of hair away from my face and said, “Oh, stop being so formal, Sofia. You don’t need to thank us. We’re family.”

Chapter 38: Derek

The floor felt uncomfortably cold against my chest. I shivered even more once the witch started her healing. It felt like a hundred needles prickling my wound at once.

“It’s done,” she said after barely a minute.

The pain had indeed vanished. I ran a hand over my back and felt the skin now smooth where the cut had been. I stood up and looked into the witch’s cold eyes. I breathed nervously before asking the question that had haunted me ever since she’d first proposed to help us eliminate the gates back in Costa Rica.

“And what now?”

She paused, her gaze on the ground.

“We leave. And we erase our own gates.” She sighed.

“But why? Why wouldn’t you want to keep your gates open just in case? If it’s true that you’re no longer powerful enough to create new gates, then…”

“Aviary and Cruor both know we have our own gates. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not already strategizing how to storm our realm and reenter yours through them. It just makes us even more of a target than we already are.”

“And once you’ve destroyed them, you’re all gone forever?” I asked, barely daring to believe.

“Yes. At least, I’m not aware of a single witch in our realm who has retained such powers from our Ancients. It’s true that we have grown somewhat complacent over all these years…”

“All these years of piling your troubles onto us poor mortals.” I finished her sentence for her.

She cleared her throat and turned to face the opposite direction.

“Ibrahim!” she called. Ibrahim was now bending over Anna and healing her ankle. He left her and walked over to us.

“What?”

“It’s time we left. We’ve dragged out this mission long enough,” she said.

Ibrahim looked at her for a moment before saying in a low voice, “I’m not returning with you.”

“What?”

“You heard. I’m staying here.”

“But, Ibrahim, why? You’re my best…” she stuttered.

“The Sanctuary is no longer a place I can consider my home. You and its other residents… I can’t see eye to eye with any of you any more.”

“But…”

“And besides, Odelia.” Ibrahim cut her off again. “I’m in love with Corrine. I… I want to marry her.”

The Ageless’ brows rose as she gazed at Ibrahim, her mouth agape. I couldn’t tell how much of her surprise came from Ibrahim addressing her in public by what I assumed was her real name and how much came from his confession.

The silence lasted for several moments. The Ageless struggled to maintain her composure but couldn’t hide a look of hurt that flickered in her eyes.

“Very well,” she said eventually. “I see you’ve made your mind up. In that case, we’ll return without you.”

“We?” Ibrahim asked.

“Ibrahim, you brought with you a dozen other witches.”

“They too wish to stay here. That’s why I selected them. Like me, they no longer feel at home with our own kind. That includes my brother, who is now with Corrine,” Ibrahim said calmly.

More silence.

Then the Ageless said, “Very well. I’ll return alone and wipe out the gates behind me.” She placed a hand on Ibrahim’s shoulder. “I just hope, cousin, that you won’t live to regret this decision.”

“I won’t,” Ibrahim said, not flinching for a second. The Ageless was about to turn away when Ibrahim continued, “Before you leave, you need to restore Corrine’s powers—powers that you unjustly took from her.”

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