Deliberately misleading a young werewolf family into being caught by a group of black witches. Destroying relationships by planting doubts in each person’s mind. Even sparking wars between opposing clans. All of this for no reason other than spite. The way she wrote was sickening. I could practically feel her glee emanating from the pages.

“How did she write all this without eyes?” River wondered softly next to me.

“No idea,” I murmured, my mind still drenched in her confessions.

I continued reading until the writing came to an abrupt stop, only one third of the way through the book. She hadn’t even finished the sentence she’d started. It just trailed off. The rest of the book was empty except for the very last page where another note was written—one that I could only assume was meant for me:

“Don’t you think we deserve to die?”

Ben

Deserve to die?

What is she trying to communicate to me?

“Truthfully,” Aisha muttered, drawing in a breath, “I never knew those two sisters were so meddling.”

Meddling, was putting it politely.

River slid onto my lap and flipped back through the pages again. She stopped at the section where the writing ended. “Why does it stop here?” She furrowed her brows, leaning closer to the pages.

“Maybe she just got bored of journaling.” Aisha shrugged.

I wasn’t sure about this. I couldn’t be sure of anything with these oracles. But after all my prior dealings with her, I couldn’t help but try to read into every single detail, and wonder if it could be some kind of cryptic message to lead me forward.

I turned back to the last page again, to the question she had proposed to me. Do they deserve to die?

By most people’s measures, I would say yes, certainly. Though I was not God. It was not for me to mete out justice for incidents I had no involvement in. Especially when they had not done anything to harm me directly… well, sort of.

Even after paging through Hortencia’s confessions, I still didn’t think I had it in me to murder them in cold blood—even if such a thing were possible.

I lingered at the back page a moment longer, then, heaving a sigh, I carried it back to the oven, intending to replace it while I thought about what we could do next. But as I opened the oven this time, I realized that there was something else in here, something that I had not seen before due to my surprise over the book. I had missed a letter, laid out on the tray. It must have been tucked right beneath the book. Replacing the book, I drew out the letter and flattened it against the table, so the three of us could read it together.

“No matter what justifications might be going through your righteous little mind, I and my sister do, indeed, deserve to die. Hence, what follows are instructions on how to find us both… and, in the process, complete your training.”

Training? Huh?

“This letter will manifest one directive at a time, and you must complete them all, exactly as described. Stray from the orders even once, and you will receive no more instructions. You will never find me or my sister. Follow blindly, pretty boy, and you shall find that which you seek.”

“Pretty boy?” River couldn’t help but smirk.

My mind, however, was fixed on another part of her note entirely. “… You shall find that which you seek.”

But what do I seek?

For God’s sake, I don’t want to murder anyone. I just want to live a normal, physical life with River!

The note on the paper faded and was replaced with a smaller line of text:

“Task one: Return to your body in Cruor and burn it. You may take your half-blood with you, and also your jinni—for the purpose of speed. Remember, you only have three days.”

Like I need a reminder.

“Three days to kill them,” Aisha said, more to herself than anyone else. “It looks like she wants to take you on a treasure hunt to find her and…”

“Kill her?” River asked, brows raised. “Really? Why would she invite Ben to kill her?”

None of us had any rational answers. I lowered my eyes to the parchment again, focusing on the first task still written there, stubborn, unmoving. Unmoving until we complete the task.

Cruor. That sure was one place in the universe I’d hoped to never return to. And we’d have to find my body. Would it even still be there after all this time? The oracle obviously thought so.

I stood up, folding the letter and tucking it into River’s back pocket, since I had no pockets of my own. “Keep this safe in there,” I told her.

“We’re seriously going to Cruor?”

“What else do we do?” I said. “We don’t need to think about killing them yet. We may not even get that far and maybe, just maybe, she’s got something else up her sleeve that she is not revealing yet… We’ve no choice but to do what she says.”

River swallowed hard, while Aisha shrugged, like it wasn’t such a big deal.

“So,” the jinni said, grabbing my and River’s hands and pulling us out of the cave. “Let’s go…”

I explained briefly to the others as we emerged from the cave what had to be done, and although they were horrified, as we had already concluded, there was no other way forward. I wanted to leave River behind, but since Hortencia had specified she should come too, I had no grounds upon which to argue with my fiancée. In the meantime, the jinn and our troop from The Shade insisted they’d wait here for us.

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