I nodded. I remembered. She had hinted that one of the reasons they kept themselves hidden in an atrium so low beneath the ground was that they would be the last to be reached in a raid.

“Well,” she continued, “the Drizan are the ones who would raid us if they ever found out our location…” Her eyebrows knotted in a deep frown. “But how would they find out about us?”

I of course had no idea. But this wasn’t the most pressing question on my mind.

“I need to get out of here!” she shrilled. She attacked the lid of the container, but it remained unbudged. I had half a mind to help her, but this box was the only thing keeping me from dashing off the ship and plunging into the ocean on a deranged quest to reach Cruor.

I gripped the jinni’s arms. “Wait,” I said, even though I’d realized by now she would never get out no matter how hard she tried. “We need to think.”

Tears seeped from her amethyst eyes and rolled down her full cheeks. She brushed them aside, trying to recompose herself. “Tell me what happened after Bahir left,” she choked.

“Arron tried to murder me,” I replied.

Aisha gasped.

“Julie stopped him, and killed him instead. Then…” Hortencia’s visit played in my mind. I decided to skip over that part. Again it felt like the words she spoke were meant for me and me alone. “Then Julie and I managed to find a boat, and she brought me to her father’s ship… where she and a group of other vampires locked me in this box.” From the slight rocking, I guessed that we were still on the ship.

“Why would you follow her to her father’s ship?” Aisha asked.

I explained in brief what Julie had told me about the box, and how I could see no other options than to take up her suggestion.

“An Elder trap?” Aisha murmured, a mixture of horror and fascination in her eyes as she gazed around the box. “How did they even create this thing?”

“Julie said that it was a gift from a warlock. Though she didn’t seem to know who initially created it.”

Aisha gazed at me, her soft, youthful features marred with fear. “And what now, Benjamin? What is to become of us?’

“I don’t know, Aisha,” I said heavily. “I don’t know.”

CHAPTER 30: BEN

Hours passed. All Aisha and I could do was wait and hope, however feebly, that somehow the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed. That we would discover a silver lining. That Julie was not my enemy.

The ship seemed to enter a rough patch. The to-ing and fro-ing of the vessel rocked Aisha and me from side to side in the narrow box. Perhaps we’d entered a storm. A storm that appeared to be getting worse. Soon I had to exert myself just to keep my head from banging against the hard walls.

Then came a jolt. My forehead smashed against the roof of the box. It felt like the vessel had just come to an abrupt stop.

I heard footsteps. It sounded like those of several people coming from above. It seemed that we were being kept on a lower deck. The footsteps drew closer and louder as they thudded down what sounded like a staircase. They reached the rim of the box and stopped.

I held my breath, wondering if they were going to open the lid. They didn’t. Instead, the box was hoisted upward and we were carried until we reached what I guessed was a flight of stairs. The box tilted, and since I had nothing to hold on to, my feet almost went slamming into Aisha, who was curled up on the other side. Once the stairs were climbed, the box leveled again. The footsteps continued beneath us as we were carried forward. Now, the sound of waves was more pronounced. Perhaps we had arrived on the uppermost deck.

Where are they taking us?

I caught the sound of a bolt being drawn, and the creaking of heavy wood followed by a dull thud. Once again the box was tilted, but this time it felt like we were being carried down a smooth ramp, rather than bumpy stairs.

“Where are we going?” Aisha yelled through the box.

She received no answer.

We reached the end of the slope they were traveling down. Stones crunched beneath their feet and then the ride got bumpy again. So bumpy that I had to flatten my palms against the sides of the walls and push outward to stop my head from crashing against the lid again. It felt like they were climbing over… rocks? They sped up, making the journey only more uncomfortable.

“What are they going to do with us?” Aisha murmured, I suspected more to herself than to me.

Our carriers stopped abruptly. They lowered the box. The floor shuddered beneath me as we were planted down on the ground.

I held my breath, straining my ears to catch any clues as to where we were. The waves sounded distant now, so distant that they were but a far-off whisper. None of our carriers spoke. All I could hear was the scratching of stones beneath their feet.

Before I could realize what was happening, the wall of the box that my head rested against gave way. Strong hands slipped inside and clutched my elbows, jerking me out of the oblong container. My back scraped against rough ground. There was a snap. My eyes shot to my feet just in time to see the side door close again—a side door in the box that I hadn’t even realized existed. They’d acted so fast and unexpectedly that Aisha hadn’t had a chance to slip out.

Five faces stared down at me, including Julie’s—directly above me. They gathered in a tight circle around me, so much so that I couldn’t see where we were. All I knew was that I was lying on a rocky surface, it was cold, and it was dim.

I motioned to leap to my feet when one of the male vampires—the same one who’d shot a tranquilizer dart into my neck—whipped out a needle and thrust it into my right ankle.

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