He marched out the room, and I had to run behind him to keep up.

He walked straight out of his apartment and took a sharp right turn, walking along the corridor until we reached the stairs. To my surprise, he grabbed my hand and pulled me up toward the witch’s level. He opened her apartment door and, pulling me through the different rooms, stopped in the same room where I’d spied on him sitting with the wooden chest.

He walked over to a table and lit four candles. Then he approached a cabinet in the corner of the room and pulled out what appeared to be an old leather-bound photo album.

“Come here,” he ordered.

I approached the table. He finished flipping the pages somewhere in the center of the binder and dropped it down on the table in front of me.

Spread out over two pages were four fading black and white photographs.

I gripped the binder and lent closer to the photos. Each were of the same young couple—a young man and a woman. I brushed my fingers over the photographs, clearing away the dust, and as I did, I couldn’t stop myself from gasping.

The four photographs were of a young man and woman standing at the helm of a boat—clearly taken on the same day, since they were both wearing the same outfits in the photos: the girl, a flowing summer dress; the man, a casual shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and pants. Both smiling, they had their arms around each other, embracing like lovers.

The man was clearly a once-human Caleb.

And the woman… long black hair, tall, slim… the witch. Annora.

“That was my choice,” he said, his deep brown irises glistening in the candlelight. “Do you understand?”

Chapter 31: Caleb

I didn’t take my eyes off of my beautiful captive as she stared at the photographs.

She gazed up at me after a few minutes. “You two were lovers?”

I nodded, picking up the photo album and placing it back on the shelf. There was only so long I could stand having that album open.

“Oh. Wow.”

She sank down in a chair.

“We were engaged at one point,” I said, walking around to the opposite side of the table and placing my hands on the table, staring at the engraving in the wood.

“But what happened?”

I sat down in a chair and glanced at her face. Grimacing, I braced myself to recount a history I’d long tried to forget.

I was the son of a shipyard owner. As I was his only child, my father trained me from a young age in vessel construction and repairs. He took pride in being the most reputable shipbuilder in town. All the wealthy merchants and aristocrats would come to us as their first stop whenever they needed a repair or a new ship.

One such client was a silk merchant. He owned a fleet of ships and did regular business with my father. I always looked forward to the time he would call by, because his daughter was often with him.

Annora. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever laid eyes on. Tall, slim, long black hair flowing down her back, enchanting grey-blue eyes. Each time her father came in with a ship, I would snoop around to see whether she was on board. I was too reserved to talk to her at first. But eventually, I gathered the courage to start conversation. Small talk here and there at first, but she also took a liking to me. Soon she was the one seeking me out whenever they moored in our shipyard.

My attraction to her grew stronger with each meeting. When I think of her now, I can’t believe she is the same person. She used to be such an innocent, shy creature. Her gentle nature was intoxicating to me. I found myself craving her presence and wishing our time together was longer. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I even dreamt of her at night.

Our friendship soon turned into a romance and, although her father didn’t fully approve of me, since he considered me beneath her, he didn’t object either.

After a year of seeing each other, on my nineteenth birthday, I proposed to her. She accepted on the spot and swore that she would love me until her last breath.

We were due to be married in three months. Our families started making arrangements.

Then one evening, my life changed forever.

My father sent me to service the ship of a new client. The client was an exceedingly wealthy saffron merchant who was new to these parts and required exceptional attention. Also, the gentleman had requested that the ship be fixed during the night because of an eye condition that made him sensitive to the sun.

Although I despised doing repairs at night—it was always ten times more difficult than during the day—I agreed to my father’s request. Apparently there was a problem with the wheel of the saffron merchant’s ship.

“Sir?” I called, as I climbed onto the deck.

There was no answer. I walked along the deck until I reached the captain’s compartment. I knocked three times. A tall man opened the door. His eyes were pitch black, and his skin was strangely pale. He appeared to be middle-aged, smartly dressed, his hair slicked back with some kind of expensive-smelling oil.

“Over here,” he said, shutting the door behind us and guiding me toward the wheel.

I placed my tools on the floor and began my examination, the shortest of my career. The man walked up close behind me. At first I thought he was just watching what I was doing, but then cold hands gripped my throat and the man dug his teeth into my neck.

I was too stunned to even scream at first, but when I did, nobody could have heard me. The door was closed and his ship was moored in the farthest berth. Soon, I had no more strength to struggle. I writhed on the floor in the heat of transformation.

The man’s black eyes flickered in the candlelight as he watched me throughout my transformation.

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