I had wanted to stay apart from the rest of the island while working on this little project. Because firstly, if I had told Sofia in advance what I was planning to do, she would only start stressing that something would go wrong. Besides that, I wasn’t even sure how this would all unravel. Though I knew roughly the steps that I needed to take, I was also playing a lot by ear. I didn’t even know if this experiment would work. I would tell Sofia and my sister everything soon enough, but until I had a better idea of Jeramiah’s… resistance, I needed to experiment a bit. Figure out his breaking point. Something that was easier to do when everybody thought that I was absent, otherwise I would have to keep making up excuses to disappear for hours at a time.

Corrine was the only other person on the island who had been let in on our plan, and even then, it had been out of necessity. I didn’t expect Ibrahim to stay in one of these old chambers too. He was already doing me a big favor and I did not want to ask too much of him. So he would keep a low profile, in the furthermost rooms of the Sanctuary, away from any visitors.

I wasn’t afraid of being left alone so close after my turning. It had gone a lot more smoothly than I’d anticipated. Perhaps, because this was now the third time I’d gone through it, I’d built up enough practice to be able to control my cravings without another’s assistance. Still, Ibrahim made sure that I had ample sacks of animal blood in my room to refuel, as Sofia had wanted me to. I had also been sure to ask him to bring some books for me so I had something to occupy myself with. I always enjoyed reading, though it was something I rarely got the time to do as King of this place. As I lost myself in the pages of a history book—while downing liters of blood—I also lost track of time. Before I knew it, the end of the day had arrived, and it was time for me to pay another visit to my nephew.

By now, he would be craving blood more than ever. I’d heard how croaky his throat had been the last time I dropped by. I dug into my stash of blood and picked up a sack. Sweeping my cloak around my shoulders, I stowed the blood in my pocket before leaving the room. I traveled down the corridor and as I reached the door to Jeramiah’s chamber, I paused and pressed my ear against it. I couldn’t hear anything, not even light breathing—and I couldn’t help but smirk a little. No doubt he had heard the footsteps of his crazy uncle approaching again, and now he was holding his breath as he waited for me to open the door.

I opened it swiftly this time and stepped inside. Jeramiah was huddled in the corner. He was very much awake, and by the looks of it, tenfold more enraged.

“Good evening,” I said pleasantly. “Still enjoying yourself?”

He swore at me again.

Removing the sack of blood from my pocket, I passed it to him. He caught it readily, even as he scowled. Then he tore it open and began downing it. He was too thirsty to let his ego get in the way. As he finished it, he discarded the package and then backed up closer against the wall, still glowering at me.

“How many more days do you intend to stay?” I asked, drawing up the wooden stool that I had planted in the corner in anticipation of my visits. I sat down, leaning forward, elbows on my knees while clasping my hands together, and stared at him intently.

He refused to engage with me this time. Averting his eyes, he clenched his jaw hard.

He was stubborn, just like his father. And, I guess, just like me.

“I always do prefer to give a person free will, you know,” I said, looking at him thoughtfully. “But I suggest that you don’t take for granted this generous inclination of mine. For who knows how long it might last?”

At this, he glanced at me uncertainly, and I couldn’t miss the fear behind his eyes. Hopefully by now I had convinced him that there was a screw loose with me. I wanted to keep him on his toes.

“You know,” I continued, “this dungeon is very much like the one your father kidnapped my wife to… Funny that.”

Finally, Jeramiah took the bait again. “You make it sound like he’s the evil one. He captured her for you.”

“You have a point,” I said, nodding encouragingly. “One could argue that my history is just as tarred as my brother’s. But I do not deny it. So why must we deny the truth about your father? Why must we falsely—”

“I’m not interested in hearing your lies.” He glared daggers at me.

I paused. I could have gone on talking, even if he decided to clamp his hands over his ears. But there were far better ways of forcing the truth into him than raising my voice.

I decided to cut my visit short. But… I would be back again soon.

Ben

I wasn’t sure where to go now. I’d hoped that down there in the lower levels, I might come up with some kind of plan—a hope that had only strengthened on spotting Lucas. But now, I was hardly any closer to my goal. All I knew was that the exit was above me. Far, far above me. And beginning to head back in that direction was a good start. Maybe I ought to return to my pond, where I belonged, and where I would not have to fear being tracked down by a ghoul. Then again, the ghouls might anticipate my return and be waiting for me there, ready to punish me for having attempted to escape. Maybe not such a great idea.

But whatever the case, I still had miles and miles to travel before I was even faced with the proposition. As I sank cautiously into the closest wall of the pond-filled chamber, my mind returned to my uncle. I wondered whether, even if—or once—I managed to find a way to escape, Lucas would be willing to attempt it after what he’d been through. But if he stayed… I wondered how much longer he would last. He was already so deep down. How many more years, months, or maybe even weeks would it be before he was thrust down further into The Necropolis? Never to return.

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