As our helicopter tilted, Sofia and I peered through the window. Beneath us was California, a place we’d once called home. Now it looked nothing like home. Not to us, not to anyone.
The land was etched with scars of combat, stretching further than we could see. We were gazing upon the realization of the oracle’s prediction. The mixing of that which should never be mixed. The fusion of that which should never be fused.
The final boundaries falling.
Towns and cities vacated. Swaths of country left to invaders. New human settlements built atop high elevations and closed off by higher walls.
America had morphed into a new land. A land marked by a myriad of supernaturals, yet shared with mundane humans. A multitude of incompatible races, living as one.
Meanwhile, we in The Shade remained as we had always remained. Strong. United. Unshakable. Only now, our responsibilities lay no longer with ourselves alone.
Others claimed to be protectors, but we all knew the truth.
We were the only true warriors left in this world devoid of rules…
I stood on the veranda of my husband’s and my treehouse, gazing out over our dark island while sipping from a cup of chamomile tea. A fragrant breeze rustled the redwood trees surrounding me and touched my skin. I breathed in deeply. The sun had not yet risen beyond the boundary of the island. It was still early morning, my favorite time of day. This morning, however, I would not have long to relish the quiet.
“Sofia,” Derek called through the open kitchen window. “You know the time, right?”
I glanced down at my watch. Four-thirteen AM.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“We’re leaving soon. You should get ready.”
I swallowed the last of my tea and returned inside.
We’d received a call at three AM this morning from Fowler—our assigned point of contact with the US government. Long gone were the days of The Shade being a secret from the world, as were the days when the hunters were the authorities’ only means of recourse. In fact, the hunters weren’t even called hunters any more, at least not officially. Their organization had been christened the IBSI—the International Bureau for Supernatural Investigation—about fifteen years ago, and they were known to the world as officers. Although we would always call them hunters. Their work eclipsed that of the FBI now, or any other country’s law enforcement organization for that matter. These days, the proportion of human-provoked incidents was insignificant in the face of those provoked by supernatural immigrants. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard about a human crime being reported on the news.
It was an everyday sight now to see beaches cordoned off due to an infestation of mermaids, mountain towns and villages abandoned after an ogre invasion, or woods and forests deserted due to werewolves marking territory. We were just lucky that species like jinn, fae and witches didn’t have a lot of interest in showing themselves—they were around for sure, but they didn’t cause as much disruption as they could have. At least, not yet.
And then there were the Bloodless, a whole other problem in themselves. It was hard to believe that an epidemic of mutant vampirism could have become so widespread, so quickly… and all of it started by just two rogues. Julie and her escaped companion. I suspected Aisha would go to her grave regretting not having killed that girl while she’d had the chance.
As Aisha had suspected at the time, Julie had escaped the uninhabited islet. What had happened next, however, nobody could have predicted. Through pieces of news and information we’d managed to gather in the aftermath, we’d figured out that they’d managed to survive in the ocean for days before hijacking a ship. They’d turned all the crew on board and then headed for the nearest land mass, which happened to be Hawaii. Surprisingly cunning and intelligent creatures, the now large group of Bloodless had done everything they could to remain undercover while they began infiltrating the population at an alarming speed.
Of course, they couldn’t remain hidden for long. I still remembered the night Eli had showed up at our apartment. He’d taken us to see a news report of what we’d thought at the time was an isolated incident; it was a dead Bloodless, in fact. One of the early arrivals who’d gotten caught. But things soon spiraled after that, with more and more sightings, until the government declared it an epidemic. From Hawaii, the Bloodless spread to surrounding countries—the worst hit being Japan, Canada and the US—in their determination to create more of their kind. The IBSI had already gone to great lengths trying to find a cure, but they had failed.
It was at this point that Derek and I had decided it was time to make contact with the surrounding governments. We might be safe in our cozy sanctuary here in The Shade, but this planet was our home, too. It was only right that we offered whatever help we could.
They had accepted readily since, at the time, the IBSI was still largely in development mode—they had not developed the hybrid supernatural mutants they had today, for example. We’d formed an army of our strongest people and been given official and international recognition as The Shadow League—abbreviated TSL—with Ben and Derek listed as commander and commander in chief respectively. The IBSI weren’t happy about it, betraying early on where their real motives lay: in power and control. But at the time, there wasn’t much they could do to protest, since they weren’t yet a strong enough force to tackle the situation on their own.
The Shadow League had worked overtime in those early years of tumult to create effective partitions between humans and supernaturals—something our witches and jinn proved invaluable with. Many of the boundaries in the United States that still stood today were charmed with protection by their magic.