“We cannot help you.”

I stared at him, my heart sinking. “What do you mean?”

“We do not work with fae, in any way, shape or form.” He turned back to Jeriad. “I’m sorry, noble dragon. But you’ll have to search elsewhere.”

“Then would you free the Nasiris instead?” Sofia blurted next to me.

I winced, already anticipating Cyrus' response even before he turned on Sofia and looked her over coldly. “The Nasiris are ours, fair lady,” he said. His voice had turned to ice. He never had liked Sofia. Not since she had tried to interfere with his assault on Nuriya back in The Oasis.

“You wouldn’t agree to spare… anyone at all?” she pressed. “Not even two or three?”

To this, Cyrus did not bother to even respond. He simply roamed toward the exit, calling over his shoulder another apology to Jeriad for being unable to help.

As he left through the door, the same guard who had escorted us down here returned to the room before stating the obvious. “I believe the meeting is over.”

Ben

After the fae, River and I had retreated, we waited about a mile away for the rest to emerge. In this flat landscape, we caught sight of them as soon as they climbed out from the trapdoor. We hurried over to them and bombarded them with questions.

As expected, all had not gone well in the meeting with Cyrus. Clearly, the Drizans had some kind of long-standing feud with the fae that Aisha didn’t know about. They seemed to despise them as much as they despised witches.

That meant we were back to square one. Our original plan. Although it could hardly be called a plan when none of us had a clue how to pull it off.

We traveled with the dragons back to the portal, remembering our promise to keep Aisha informed. Her mournful face lit up a little on spotting us approaching the abyss, and then a little more after we told her what had happened.

“So we need to rescue my family after all,” she murmured.

Since I had already suspected that the Drizans would not come through, I’d already been thinking ahead to our next step while the others met with Cyrus. I figured that, before anything else, I should assume my subtle form and try to get a better scope of the palace and locate the Nasiris. But first, I wanted to know as much as possible about the Drizans’ lair. The first question that sprang to my mind to ask Aisha was whether they had some kind of protective barrier over the palace, like The Oasis had, and like we had in The Shade. Aisha assured me that they didn’t, as it was a way of showing their dominance over all jinn tribes.

“Where do you think your family could be?” I asked next.

Aisha swallowed hard. “I hate to think… They could be kept in the prison on the lower floors, or they could be kept as servants on the higher floors.”

“Okay,” I said, clenching my jaw. “I’ll just have to look around. If I was invisible, would they have some other way of detecting me?”

Aisha looked uncertain, but replied, “I don’t think so. Not if you don’t make any noise, or do anything else to draw attention to yourself.”

River’s hold around my hand tightened. “Are you sure you’re going by yourself?” she asked me quietly. “Why don’t you take one of the other fae with you?”

“While we have no clear plan, it’s best only one person goes down there to scope the place out.” I kissed her cool cheek before turning to the rest of them, nodding grimly. “I’ll be careful.”

“Don’t you dare get caught, Ben,” Rose said sternly.

“Yeah…”

I drifted away from the group, flying over the sand, back in the direction of the Drizans’ palace. As much as I hated to, I willed my body to thin until I was invisible, feeling like a ghost again. I’d no idea how I’d even made the transformation, just as, now that I thought about it, I had no idea how I’d actually moved my old body. As a human or vampire, when I’d wanted to stretch out an arm, I would just stretch out an arm. Making myself invisible as a fae was no more difficult.

I soon approached the medallion entrance. Steeling myself, I sank down into the door and emerged on the other side in an eye-wateringly lavish entrance chamber studded with gems and diamonds whose total value—for all I knew—could have been hundreds of millions of dollars. As I continued my way into the Drizans’ palace, the senseless luxury only increased. I found myself wondering just how many other tribes they’d ransacked along the way to amass such riches.

I traveled slowly at first, careful to stop every time I saw a passing jinni and keep close to the wall until they passed. Then, after several minutes of navigating the corridors, which thankfully weren’t all that busy, I gained a little more confidence.

The Nasiris. Where are they?

I searched the entirety of the top floor, consisting mostly of communal areas, grand dining halls and sitting rooms, before descending to a more residential area on the level beneath. As I passed through gorgeous apartments, it was clear why the corridors hadn’t been crowded. It was night-time, and jinn apparently turned in just as humans did.

Finally, as I neared the second to last apartment on my level, I caught sight of a familiar face floating in my direction. Safi, if I remembered correctly. Aisha’s sister, and the cook whose bony meal River had upchucked.

She was trailing down the hallway toward me. Her youthful face looked tired and worn. She wore nothing but a red silken one-piece to cover her chest, while silver manacles hugged her wrists. Clasped in her hands was a golden tray holding a goblet filled with a deep purple liquid. And tattooed into her bare right arm was the emblem of a black scorpion. How the tables have turned.

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