My body stopped quivering and the Elder made me stand up and start pacing around the small compartment, as though trying to distract itself from my thoughts.

I remained pacing for another hour until the submarine thudded to a halt. Liana appeared through the door and said, “We’re about half a mile from the location you marked. It’s best we keep our distance and you travel by foot from here.”

I nodded. Then I reached up for the hatch, pushed it open, and slid myself out, dropping into shallow waters. It ached to leave Liana behind with no assurance that I would ever see her again. And what would become of Ashley, Yuri, Xavier and all the other vampires and humans of The Shade? I felt myself in danger of sinking again.

Stay strong, Sofia. You’re no stranger to storms. The waves may rage, but you can rise above them.

As we approached within ten feet of the hut, the Elder finally spoke to me.

“Remember my warning. There will be moments when I will release you from my grasp, but when I issue a command, whatever it is, you obey.”

Then he made me start banging on the door frantically.

“Please, open the door!” I heard my voice shout.

After a few moments, footsteps hurried closer and a familiar face appeared. Corrine. On seeing me, she let out a small scream and her eyes widened with shock.

“Sofia! What? How?”

“I’ll explain! Please just let me inside!” Cold tears streamed down my face, forced out of me by the Elder.

Corrine swung the door open. She led me to a small sitting room and pushed me down into a chair. I was breathing quickly.

“I managed to escape Cruor!”

“How?”

“A vampire. I don’t know who he is. All I know is that he was a rogue, a traitor to their kind. He took pity on me when I told him I had young children. He helped me back through the portal.”

“You’re a…”

“They turned me. I don’t know how. When I came to consciousness, I’d been turned already. I was craving blood.”

As Corrine stared into my eyes, I wished that she could see them for what they were: hollow sockets, gates to a prison, behind which my soul was crying out for her to understand.

“How did you get here?”

I stood up abruptly. “Where’s Derek?”

“He-he left for Hawk Headquarters just recently.”

A dark-haired man with a goatee stepped into the sitting room and eyed me. The Elder made me ignore him.

“My babies. I want to see my babies!” I said.

When Corrine cast her eyes to the ground, my heart sank to my stomach.

“Sofia, your baby daughter—Rose, Derek named her—is sleeping in the bedroom next door.” Corrine paused, tears welling in her eyes. “Your son, Ben. We… I-I lost him.” She sank to the floor, weeping. “I don’t know how you’ll ever forgive me.”

I gasped—this time audibly. The Elder had now released his control of my body to allow me to show a mother’s grief. I fell to the ground alongside Corrine and begged her to explain.

“The vampire with red eyes. He came so fast, I couldn’t fight him off,” she choked. “He snatched Ben right from my arms. We still don’t know where he took him.”

Corrine wrapped her arms around me. This time, my own tears were allowed to flood. I sobbed and trembled against her. I was now desperate to see my daughter. But I knew I needed to stay as far away from Rose as possible, so when Corrine led me to Rose’s bedroom, I stepped back.

Move forward! The Elder’s hissing voice echoed in my head.

I refused. I stepped back toward the exit of the hut, forcing the Elder to jolt me forward toward Rose’s bedroom.

Corrine paused, eyeing me closely. I prayed to the heavens that she had become suspicious.

“Please! I need to see my daughter!” my voice said.

We entered the dark bedroom and stood around my baby’s cot. So this is you, Rose. My beautiful baby girl. So peaceful.

Isn’t she beautiful, Sofia? the Elder asked. She will soon regret the day her mother crossed the Elders.

To my horror, my arms shot down into the crib, picked Rose up, and began cradling her.

Chapter 7: Derek

I couldn’t believe my ears.

“What?”

“Sofia. She’s here. She arrived about an hour ago,” Corrine repeated.

“How?”

“Just get back here. You can ask her yourself.”

When Corrine hung up, I pinched my arm to check that I hadn’t fallen into some kind of cruel daydream. Then I looked wildly around the room until my eyes found Aiden’s. His face mirrored what I was feeling. He grabbed the phone from me and within a few seconds was shouting for a helicopter. Then he turned to me and croaked, “Bring her back here, Derek. I need to see her.”

I dashed outside to the launch pad and hurled myself into the aircraft, whose engine was already humming. Discarding all caution, I gave the coordinates of the beach hut to the pilot and we took off.

A hundred questions crowded my mind, but most of all, the most intense sense of relief I’d ever felt in my life flooded through me. My Sofia, my light. You’re alive. I wondered if they’d already told her about Ben. I felt sick imagining how she would have reacted. But somehow, now that she was back, the task of finding Ben seemed more surmountable than just a few minutes ago.

I could barely sit still throughout the flight, fidgeting and asking the pilot how much longer until our arrival. I felt paranoid that somehow she’d be snatched away again during the time it took me to travel to her. Ibrahim was the Ageless’ ally. What if he decided to alert the witch and she came to reclaim Sofia? I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deeply. My whole being ached to hold Sofia in my arms, run my fingers through her long hair and feel her soft lips against mine.

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