“Let’s get out of here!” I hissed.

Before the invisible queen could attempt to launch another attack, the jinn transported us away. When we stopped moving, we were back in the dark chamber where we’d left the others.

On seeing her husband, Chantel shrieked and hurried toward us. She took him from my hands and laid him down on the floor, gasping at his wounds.

“It’s all right,” Horatio said, pushing her aside. “I can heal him.”

Thank God for that. My gut had already been twisting up in knots at the thought of being responsible for his death. If I hadn’t suggested we go down there, Nolan never would have gone in a million years.

Lucas and Marcilla approached me while Horatio bent over Nolan. But I was too tense to talk until Horatio had managed to stem the bleeding by some mysticism. Aisha in the meantime, recounted our brief foray downstairs.

When Nolan eventually sat up, he was clutching his neck and wincing. He uttered what I was sure was a profanity in French. Then he fixed his eyes on me, shaking his head. “That was just… too much.”

I agreed. The Necropolis and its repugnant overlady were a level of bizarre that sent even my inured mind into a tailspin.

Some stones were best left unturned.

The jinn returned us to the main entrance of The Underworld—the heavy oaken door. Here we found the group of jinn who’d been put in charge of transporting the remaining ghosts safely through the portal.

“So are all the ghosts safe? Where did you put them?” I asked before they could bombard us with their own questions.

“They’re safe,” Safi replied, looking relieved to see us. “We just took them out through the whirlpool. They did not wait around; they must have all cleared off by now.”

“All right,” I said, breathing out. “Let’s leave.”

We hurried to the main entrance chamber where the corpses of the guards floated in the water. I wondered if ghouls collected dead relics of their own kind… or even ate them. I wouldn’t put anything past these demons.

Once we passed through the portal, it was a relief to soar out the other end. Sun shone down on us, hitting my skin and sending warmth rolling through my body. Crossing the lake, we touched down on the bank and began yelling for Jeramiah, River and Nuriya, wherever they’d been hiding. To my relief, nothing had gone wrong with them. Nuriya appeared with them after a minute; all three looked perfectly unruffled. I would have been interested to witness the conversation that had gone on between Jeramiah and River while I was gone; I was sure that she would have had a thing or two to say to him.

River moved to me and pulled me close. “Glad you didn’t kill yourself again,” she murmured, pressing her lips to mine.

“I’m glad too,” I said, before recounting what had happened to River and Nuriya, while Lucas conversed with his son.

Once we were done with our explanations, we all exchanged glances. It was clear from everyone’s expressions that all we wanted now was rest. Peace. The Shade.

Ben

As we arrived outside our island’s boundary, warmth billowed in my heart. I was beaming from ear to ear. I was home. And hopefully, I’d never be forced to leave it again.

First we had to catch the attention of one of the witches to let us inside, something that wasn’t difficult to do. I guessed my parents must’ve told the witches to keep an especially sharp ear out in anticipation of our return. I wasn’t sure if the jinn might have been able to break through it, but I wasn’t about to ask them to try. Something told me that the witches would not take too kindly to learning that their spell had been knocked out by our jinn, whom they already held an innate hostility toward.

Corrine arrived quickly, her eyes sweeping over the jinn and fae. She performed her regular checks on all of us—though I couldn’t help but notice she spent longer on each of the jinn—before allowing us in.

As we descended to the forest ground, Corrine gushed over how relieved she was that we had returned safely. Then she asked in a low voice, “Do you think the jinn will be staying?”

“I think so,” I replied. “At least for a while… maybe permanently.”

My heart felt like it would burst with happiness as our feet landed on the soil. There were so many people I wanted to see now that I was back. But first, I needed to visit my parents. I asked Corrine to fix somewhere for the jinn to rest, as well as offer them refreshments, before I raced with River up to the Residences. I had intended to head straight for Vivienne and Xavier’s apartment, which was where my parents had been staying, but passing my parents’ tree, we found ourselves gazing up at a brand-new penthouse, fully restored to its former glory. The witches must have worked on it since we’d been gone.

We hurried up to the front door, where I knocked hard. It was my mother who opened the door.

Joy and trepidation filled her expression at once, though the latter I quickly ended. “We did it,” I said before she could ask. “We completed Sherus’ task.” Among other things…

“Oh, thank God!” She pulled me into her arms, her cheek squished against mine as she held me close. My father arrived behind her and pulled me in for a hug once my mother had moved on to embrace River. Then my sister rushed out.

“You did it!” she squealed, colliding with me before wrapping her arms around my waist.

“Come in,” my mother said, pulling us inside.

Vivienne, Xavier and my baby cousin were here too. I hugged my aunt and uncle before leaning down to kiss the baby’s forehead. I never could have done that as a vampire.

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