My stomach lurched as, with a sharp pivot of the blade, she tore Cyrus’ head clean off.

It all happened so fast, Horatio, Lucas and I just gaped.

The mighty Cyrus Drizan. Dead. At the hands of Aisha.

Ben

It was Lucas who roused us to our senses. “We’ve got to leave,” he breathed. Both his and my flames had died down by now.

“Wait!” I said, darting toward the pool. “Nuriya!”

“She’s all right,” Horatio said behind me, his voice shaky. “I-I took her out of there when m-my father’s focus was on you.”

Thank God. I couldn’t believe that she would have been alive in there after all this time.

We rushed to the exit and up the stairwell, arriving back in Cyrus’ bedroom.

“What happened?” I asked, looking around the empty apartment.

“We arrived as planned,” Aisha said, her chest heaving, eyes still gleaming with menace. “We couldn’t have picked a better night than the night of a royal wedding. Everyone’s blind drunk, even the guards. We hardly even needed the dragons to cause a distraction.”

“Who else came?” I asked anxiously.

“Everyone,” Aisha replied. “Though only Lucas, the dragons and I came down to the palace. The rest are waiting up in the desert for us.”

Good.

“And where’s Nuriya?” I asked.

Horatio led us to a cupboard near the exit to Cyrus’ apartment. When he drew it open, Nuriya lay there curled up in a ball. She was trembling, but thankfully conscious. Her face, covered in burns, lit up a little when she saw me and she even cracked a brief smile.

“I knew you’d come for me,” she said to me.

Horatio picked her up, and then we all hurried away from the apartment.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Now the bond should, uh”—Horatio’s voice cracked. He swallowed hard—“definitely be removed.” I wondered if there was a part of him that grieved his father’s death. Mostly he seemed to be in a state of shock.

“Which means we have to free the rest,” I said.

“We already gathered them in anticipation of you killing Cyrus,” Aisha said. “They’re waiting as close to the exit as possible—in one of the entrance halls the dragons didn’t scorch yet. At least… we gathered as many as we could.” Aisha’s tone dropped, then she choked up. “H-he killed…” She gulped. “He killed every man in our family.”

Damn. I couldn’t blame Aisha for charging at Cyrus the way she had.

She regained composure, clenching her thick jaw as she vanished us to the desert.

Indeed, a crowd was waiting there. My family, River and also a group of female jinn. It warmed me to see Safi among them. Thank God we got them out of that mess.

River leapt at me as I approached. I wrapped my arms around her waist and kissed her neck, breathing in her familiar scent.

“Are you all right?” my mother asked, as my parents and sister hurried to me.

“All right.” I nodded. “Where are the dra—”

“It’s not safe to stay here longer.” I spun to see Jeriad approaching us at a run, our other dragon companions close behind him. “We must leave. Now.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.

We returned to the islet in Lake Nasser, and for the first time in hours, I was able to catch a breath. I dove into the lake, taking River with me. Dipping under with her, I relished the cool water against my skin.

The freed Nasiris remained speechless, shaken and traumatized by their time in the Drizans’ palace. I wasn’t sure what Horatio—the only male jinni among us—planned to do now. I wondered if his people would punish him if he returned. Whatever the case, he decided to tag along with us.

When we climbed out of the lake from our brief bath, we had to forge on to the mountains… where our real problems would begin.

Ben

Before leaving for Canada, I briefed the jinn about what was required of them—that I was indebted to a fae, and they needed to help me pay off this debt. Of course, I still wasn’t able to tell them exactly what the fae wanted their assistance with, for I had no idea myself.

Although they were still in a daze, I was relieved that at least there was no resistance on their part. Aisha, having recovered a large part of her family, was less weak from mourning. Even though the others were worn, they all agreed to help me, including Nuriya.

And so together we left Lake Nasser—everyone except for the dragons. I told my family and River that they did not need to come with us, but they insisted. We traveled by the jinns’ magic toward the mountain portal where I was due to meet Sherus in just a couple of hours’ time. As we reached the peak and gazed down at its smooth snow-clad surface, we caught sight of a lone figure already waiting there. Sherus was early. Goosebumps ran along my skin, and I instinctively held River closer.

This is it.

As we touched down, my stomach clenched as he turned around to face us all. He raised a brow, as though surprised I’d kept my word. Then he moved closer, his brilliant amber eyes fixed on my jinn companions. He cleared his throat.

“I’m glad you came,” he said.

I nodded curtly, then gestured toward the jinn on either side of me. “These jinn are willing to assist you in whatever your request is,” I said. “Now would you please give a briefing on what exactly you need from them?”

“Naturally,” Sherus said. “Come with me.” He gestured toward the gaping portal.

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