We had almost reached the staircase leading back down to the ground floor when a thud against the floor behind us made me jump. Caleb and Kiev stopped short, gazing around to see where the noise had come from.

Glowing in the darkness of the corridor behind us were three sets of red eyes.

Chapter 24: Rose

“Run!” I screamed.

But it was too late. Three giant wolf-like creatures emerged from the shadows, hurtling toward us so fast that Kiev and Caleb could barely react.

Caleb dodged them narrowly, leaping up with me on to the bannister a few feet away.

Vampire dogs. They were even larger than Shadow, their teeth sharp and long like knives.

Since when do black witches keep vampire dogs?

Kiev perched on a narrow windowsill opposite us. Two of the dogs leapt at Kiev again while another lashed out at us with razor-sharp claws. Caleb jumped with me onto the bannister on the other side of the staircase. The dog was moving so fast, Caleb could barely lash out at it. The dog was forcing us further down the staircase. Kiev hung from a chandelier, glaring down at the two dogs trying to bite at his legs.

“Put me down,” I said suddenly.

Caleb ignored me as he continued trying to find an angle where he could make contact with the beast’s eyes.

“Put me down,” I said again. Heat was welling beneath my fingertips, the panic of the situation making it hard to control myself.

Caleb backed into a corner and allowed me to slide down onto the floor. Had the fire released from my fingertips even a moment later, my head would have likely been inside that beast’s mouth. But a blaze of fire emanated from me, engulfing the dog completely.

I stepped around its burning form and rushed back up the stairs toward where we had left Kiev. To my horror, the chandelier was now a pile of smashed glass on the floor. One dog lay on the ground, whimpering and thrashing about. Its eyes had been slashed from their sockets. But the other dog and Kiev weren’t anywhere in sight. Caleb caught up with me, gripping my arm.

“We have to find him!” I said.

Mona will never forgive me if something happens to him.

Caleb began leading me down the corridor. “I hear them.”

When we reached the end of the hallway, Caleb pointed to our right. Kiev had wedged himself up the narrow walls like a spider, inches away from the dog snapping at his feet.

“Hey!” I hissed.

The dog spun round, its eyes fixing on me. It began charging toward me.

Once the dog was five feet away, I let loose another storm of fire. The creature’s shrieks pierced through the silence of the castle. Kiev was limping as he made his way toward us. He had a nasty bite in his leg. At least he hasn’t lost another limb.

“If there is any witch in this castle,” Caleb breathed, wiping sweat from his brow, “they will sure as hell have heard us by now. We need to get out of here.”

Caleb wrapped one arm around Kiev’s waist since Kiev’s wound hadn’t finished healing itself yet, while I supported his other side.

We had almost reached the staircase when Caleb stopped suddenly. He looked at Kiev. "Can you hear that?"

I couldn't hear anything other than our own uneven breathing.

Kiev frowned, then nodded. "Someone is calling for help."

"Where?" I asked.

"It sounds much more distant than the spell room," Caleb said slowly. “Further up the castle."

"Could it be more humans?" I whispered.

The two men shrugged. "Only one way to find out," Kiev grimly.

We all looked down at Kiev’s leg. It was still bloody, but it was healing quickly.

I could tell that we were all thinking the same thing as we stared each other. We still didn't know if there were witches in this castle. But, considering the noise we had just made with those dogs, it wouldn't have taken long for them to manifest before us. The fact that no one had yet gave me hope that the castle was empty. We’d come this far, if there were indeed more humans higher up in this castle, we ought to at least try to help them.

"Come on, let's go quickly," I said.

We retraced our steps, back along the hallway, up the stairs, this time passing the level where the spell room was. We climbed higher and higher until eventually, even I started to hear the shouting.

On reaching the top of the last staircase, we stood on a small dim platform. There was a steel door in front of us. Caleb reached out and gripped the handle, pulling it downward. Squeaking, the door swung open. We stepped through it and found ourselves beneath a dark stormy sky. A harsh wind tinged with sea spray whipped against our faces. A black ocean extended all around us as far as I could see. We were on the roof of the castle.

“There," Kiev said. He pointed to a rectangular structure almost forty feet away. I could barely make out what it was in the gloom. But the cries became louder as we started approaching it. We reached the structure to find it covered with thick tarpaulin. Caleb and Kiev pulled it off to reveal five women, their faces pale and shining with sweat.

My mouth dropped open as I recognized one of them. With long white-blonde hair and clear blue eyes, she was unmistakable. Hermia Adrius. Sister of the Ageless. The witch who had only recently tried to kidnap me while I was standing on the mountaintop back in The Shade—moments before I had discovered my fire powers.

"You," Kiev hissed.

“Please, help us,” Hermia said, her voice rasping.

Caleb gripped my arm. "Let's go, Rose."

Kiev had already spun on his heel and walked in the opposite direction, back toward the door.

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