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Before the Ageless could respond, Ibrahim began muttering under his breath and two figures appeared in the room next to him: a tall dark-haired man who strikingly resembled Ibrahim, and Corrine, carrying in her arms a small bundle.

The Ageless nodded. Ibrahim took Rose from Corrine and held the baby while she went and stood directly in front of the Ageless.

The Ageless raised both of her hands in the air and turned her palms toward Corrine. Rays of light shot out of them and hit Corrine, whose whole body jolted back as if hit by electricity. Then the Ageless lowered her hands and said, “Now, I really must leave.”

She looked around the room, her eyes lingering on Ibrahim and finally on me. She lingered long enough for me to detect a hint of regret in her cold irises, similar to that which I had noticed back at the beach hut.

And then, without another word, she vanished.

I ran over to Ibrahim as soon as she’d gone and scooped up my beautiful baby daughter.

“Aiden!” I said, excitement rising in my chest. He was still resting on the ground, holding Ben. The look of sheer ecstasy in his eyes when I handed Rose to him so that he was now holding not one, but two, grandchildren in his arms made my heart sing.

“You’ve just made an old man very, very happy, Derek,” he choked.

I realized that this was the first time Rose and Ben had met outside of Sofia’s womb. Aiden held them close so that they could face each other. Rose reached out a small hand and touched Ben’s nose, her face filled with wide-eyed wonder. A small smile spread from the corners of Ben’s lips across his face as he too extended a hand which brushed against Rose’s chin.

“I can only hope they grow up to be as close as you are to Vivienne, Derek,” Sofia said with tears once again welling in her eyes. She put her hands on my shoulders and drew me in for a passionate kiss.

Vivienne.

Despite the joy I was experiencing, I tensed against Sofia’s touch. A surge of guilt hit me, guilt that I should be experiencing such happiness when I knew how intensely Vivienne was suffering.

“So… now what, Derek?” Sofia looked up at me. She seemed to have noticed that she’d touched a raw spot.

“I say it’s time we all go home.”

Chapter 39: Sofia

If ever The Shade had felt like home, it was now. As we walked away from where Ibrahim and Corrine had made us appear near the temple, Aiden still held Rose and Derek cradled Ben. I looked around at my family, finally all in one place.

We went on a short tour of the island, passing by the remains of the Vale, and then moving toward the Residences. My heart broke when I saw all the beautiful tree houses had now been destroyed—Derek’s included—their remains scattered on the forest floor.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, Ibrahim,” Corrine said, looking around the place.

“It’s nothing we can’t handle. I’m sure we can restore this island to its original state within a few days. Remember, we have a team of witches here to help us.” Ibrahim smiled at her, his arm around her waist as we walked.

“But this time,” I said, “we must build proper homes for the humans on the ground. No more stuffing them all into those tiny holes you call rooms in the Catacombs.”

“Agreed,” Derek said.

“I still think it’s a good idea to keep the vampires and humans separated,” Kyle said. “Humans on the ground, vampires up in the trees.”

“Especially because the time has come for us to finally enforce a ban on human blood,” I said. “From now on, all vampires must follow my and Vivienne’s example of drinking animal blood.”

“Hear, hear!” Ian clapped his hands.

“Well, they’re not going to like that,” Derek said. “But I agree that we’ve come too far to go back to our old ways here. It’s a very different kingdom we now have the opportunity to build.”

“We’ll gather the witches and get to work tidying this place up,” Ibrahim said. “By now they should have finished healing the sick.”

We continued walking to the clearing outside the Black Heights where we had left all the wounded humans and vampires. Sure enough, there was barely anyone lying on the ground. Most had dispersed to whatever remained of their respective homes, I assumed.

Ibrahim and Corrine joined the crowd of witches and they all huddled together and began talking.

“Sofia!” two familiar voices called out to me.

I whirled around to see Ashley and Abby running toward me. My heart melted to see that—thanks to the witches—the spark had returned in Abby’s blue eyes, although she was still very much a vampire, as I was.

Abby jumped into my arms and wrapped her legs around me, nuzzling her face against my neck.

“Thank God you’re all right,” Ashley said. “None of us had any idea where you had gone. Vivienne’s been worrying herself senseless.”

“Vivienne? Where is she?” Derek asked.

“I’m not sure. I last saw her about four hours ago. She must be around the island somewhere,” Ashley replied.

“Sofia,” Derek said, “take Ben. I’m going to look for my sister.”

“Where’s Ben?” Abby said suddenly, as Derek handed the baby to me and walked back toward the woods.

I knelt down to Abby’s level and showed her Ben.

“Here, Abby, this is my son. We named him after your brother,” I said, stroking her hair with one hand.

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