I shivered internally.

“And besides, you’re far too sumptuous a vessel to let go of before your expiry.” This time my body trembled—it was the Elder trembling through me, as if experiencing pleasure.

My legs carried me out of the temple and into the garden outside. The moon’s rays shone down on the clearing, allowing me to make out the shadows of three figures sitting in a circle on the lawn. As we drew close, I was horrified to see that I recognized all of them: Ashley, Liana and Yuri. Only they were not the same vampires I knew, just as I was no longer the Sofia they knew.

My legs folded beneath me and I dropped to the ground next to Ashley.

“Continue where we were. Before I left to change.”

I wondered if my friends had thoughts like I had. Whether they too were horrified to see me. If they were, I could not tell. Their eyes remained unfocussed and their faces void of expression. I assumed they saw the same in me.

It was Liana who spoke next, anger in her voice. “Did I not warn you that this might happen if too many of us rushed through at once? We are expiring too many vessels. We are exerting them far too much. And we are forgetting the purpose of our visit; we came here for a harvest.”

“I agree with you. If we were back on the other side of the gate, we’d never dream of engaging in such activities.” Ashley addressed me. “We are becoming complacent, forgetting that vessels are a far more precious commodity now than they were only a short while ago, thanks to the queen here.” She waved a hand toward me in disgust.

“I will ensure that this queen realizes her mistake, have no doubts about that,” my voice replied.

“We must call a ban on spoiling any more vessels,” Ashley said.

Yuri, who had been swigging from a bottle of wine, looked agitated. “We have been starving ourselves for too long! We’re already abstaining from immunes. To hell with more austerity! There are still plenty of vessels remaining on this island. And when we run out of supply? We go forth and create more.”

“Mindless fool. You know it’s not as easy as that any more. And what about all the human blood we have needlessly wasted?” Liana said. “I can’t stand watching it spilled on the ground by filthy game hounds! It’s fresh, hot blood that we should bring back for our own sustenance. We’ve had enough amusement. Now we must see to the preservation of our kind.”

From the way we were all speaking, it was now obvious to me that these were the key leaders of the whole operation. But the decisive tone my voice took on next made me realize that the Elder possessing me was even a step higher than the other three.

“We will call a ban on any further wastage; both humans and vessels.” Yuri opened his mouth to protest, but my voice bulldozed over him. “To accomplish this, all Elders—save for the four of us and a few dozen others who you think are best suited to assist us—must return through the gate. We can call on reinforcements as and when they become necessary.”

Ashley and Liana nodded in approval.

“Then, we organize the creation of more vessels. Only once we have collected enough to fill Cruor’s chambers will we resume our festivities. Is this understood?”

Yuri’s face twitched but it was clear that he was not about to argue.

My voice continued. “For now, we’ll keep all humans and vessels already on this island as they are currently situated: the humans in the lower levels of The Cells; the vessels in the upper levels. Once we’ve completed our procreation, we’ll call on more Elders to come back through the gate and help us transport them all back to Cruor in one swoop.”

“And the Hawks…” Liana began.

“The plan for the Guardians remains as it was,” I said, looking at Liana. “Go now and wait for me by the Port.”

We all stood up at once. Ashley and Yuri began walking toward The Vale; Liana to the Port; and myself toward The Cells. Using my vampire speed, the Elder rushed us past the giant redwoods until we arrived at the large wooden entrance.

As my Elder had mentioned, they had evacuated the humans from The Catacombs and stuffed them all into The Cells for ease of access. It sickened me to see the number of humans they held in each cell; they were caged like animals. Those who weren’t sleeping or unconscious looked up at me as I passed them.

“Sofia! Oh, thank God!”

“Please, help us!”

“Mom, look! Queen Sofia is back! I told you she’d come for us!”

I couldn’t even turn my head to see who was calling out to me. I was sure I heard the voice of a little girl among them. The Elder continued to march my body forward. The lighting was so dim that I doubted they could even see my face to understand that I had been possessed. They would think that I was ignoring their plight.

These were my people; they were dependent on Derek and me to rule them and give them protection. A wave of guilt hit me, crushing me into dust. Then fury boiled within me unlike any I had ever felt before.

This time when the Elder addressed me, he didn’t use my voice to speak out loud. It was as if he had read my thoughts and felt my emotions. I heard his hissing voice within my head.

“Save your sentiments for later, girl. I promise you’ll find better use for them.”

You won’t get away with this, you snake, I screamed in my head. Tears would have fallen from my eyes had I been in control of them. I thanked the heavens that, at least for the time being, no more blood was to be spilled.

After a few more minutes of this torture, we stopped in front of a cell. Inside, a person slumped on the floor. She crawled to the bars and started whimpering.

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