Aisha handed me one of her blades.
“Now, enter with Aisha and slay all that you see.”
“What?” River and I gasped at once.
Slay what inside? I look at the door with alarm.
“Are we really doing this?” River whispered, looking more nervous than I’d seen her.
“You stay here,” I told her.
Clutching my sword, with Aisha close behind me, I slowly unbolted the stone entrance and ground it open to reveal… a dark chamber. Maybe even a dungeon. An apparently empty one. Pools of liquid scattered the ground, and a revolting smell hit me. Like… corpse juice mixed with mold. Yet there were no bodies on the floor.
Aisha and I dared move further inside.
“There’s nothing to slay here,” I whispered. “It’s just an empty cave.”
“Oh no, it’s not!” Aisha gasped suddenly. She pointed up at the ceiling.
The jagged ceiling was lined with… bodies? Bare, stark-white bodies, clinging to the ceiling. They were utterly emaciated, their skin disgustingly thin.
Aisha finished my thought for me.
“What the hell are they?” I hissed.
“I know what these are,” she breathed. “They are Bloodless!”
Before she could explain, the bodies began to peel off the ceiling and drop down to the floor. There were so many of them, I could barely even keep them all in my sight as they began lunging toward us.
A yelp came from behind me. River.
One of the “Bloodless” had circled Aisha and me and darted for the open door.
“Don’t let it touch River!” Aisha screamed. “And don’t let it bite you either!”
I hurtled toward the creature moving for River and managed to reach the door in time to shut it before it could reach her. Now we were in darkness. The aura of my body gave off some light, and Aisha quickly made a fire blaze in one corner of the room to help us see better. Several Bloodless lunged for me at once. What the hell are these things? They had fangs and claws, characteristics of vampires, and yet they were unlike any vampire I’d ever seen.
“You need to hack them to bits!” Aisha bellowed from across the room, as she began to do just that.
I lifted myself into the air and rained blows down on the creatures beneath me, even as they began springing up to reach me. I managed to sever several of their heads, and then, following Aisha’s example, descended to hack the rest of their bodies to bits. The name Aisha had given them was appropriate. As much as I chopped and slashed, there was not a single speck of blood on my sword.
Aisha and I continued dodging and slicing as they attempted to bite us, and eventually, we managed to fell them all. It was hard to count now that they were all mangled up, but there appeared to be over two dozen.
We backed out of the room and returned to River. She flung herself at me the second I stepped through the door.
“What were those things?” she breathed, holding me in a trembling embrace.
“Bloodless,” Aisha wheezed, still catching her breath. I wondered why she hadn’t just used her magic, as she seemed to have recovered much of it since we’d retrieved some of her family. Maybe she enjoyed the fight. “They’re a kind of vampire,” she explained.
Then the jinni began to recount what had happened to her before her arrival in The Shade. By the time she was finished, my jaw was on the floor. Bloodless. A kind of mutation of vampires, who’d been deprived of blood. Who could turn humans, and even other vampires into one of them? Could they turn other species? And why did the oracle ask us to kill them? And Julie had become one of them. According to Aisha, she had been turned by one on the small island that connected the ogres’ realm to Earth. And then the two of them had ventured away from it… to where exactly? Disconcertingly, Aisha didn’t know. “They could be anywhere,” she said with a shrug.
My head swam with questions as we whizzed back up the staircase and along the tunnels.
When we arrived outside again, the note changed:
“There exists evil in the world that should never be given a second chance.”
The three of us were still mulling over her words as a new instruction appeared on the faded parchment:
“Your second task awaits you in Dagger Mountain. Flutter there now, fairy.”
“I wish she would stop calling me that,” I muttered.
River snorted. “At least we’re officially on the ‘second task’ now,” she said.
“So.” I heaved a sigh. “Dagger Mountain. Where is that exactly?” I asked Aisha.
I felt worried when Aisha tensed. “Uh, yeah… that’s back in The Dunes.”
“What?” River and I exclaimed at once.
“But it’s well away from any jinn settlement,” Aisha added quickly. “I’m just trying to recall where exactly it is. Definitely far away from the Drizans’ palace. I’ve visited there perhaps twice in my entire life, but I should be able to remember how to get back… hopefully.”
“You’d better,” I said.
Aisha ended up getting us lost. We drifted aimlessly around the menacing land of The Dunes looking for the mountain. We found a mountain range—several actually—but none looked right to Aisha, and as night fell, we still hadn’t found it.
“Let’s… let’s wait till morning,” Aisha said, as we moved deeper into the night. She looked nervous while we gazed down upon the eerily quiet landscape.