“How did you escape from there?”

“A group of witches came to visit the Elders one day, and offered a fresh batch of humans in exchange for fifty vampires. We didn’t know what they needed us for. We didn’t question it. And when three witches came to release us from our dungeon quarters, we all followed them without hesitation.”

Rose bit her lower lip and rubbed a palm against her forehead. “And Annora… she’s not a vampire now?”

“She is a witch.”

“But how?”

I paused, considering how to answer her question. “The witches who came for us were… different.”

“Huh?”

“These witches didn’t come from The Sanctuary.”

“Then where did they come from?”

“They have their own abode outside of the witches’ realm.”

“But who are they?” she asked, frustrated.

“Let’s just say that they are a darker breed of witches than you’ve likely ever come across.”

“But…how do they get here? Hell, how did you get here? I thought the gates between the human realm and the realm of supernaturals were all closed off years ago.”

I almost smiled at her naiveté, but refused to answer. Rose pressed for more information, but I brushed her off.

She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well then, continue. What happened to Annora?”

My eyes glazed over again as I dug back into my memories.

“We were transported away from Cruor and taken to the witches’ residence. During our stay there, Annora became increasingly… involved in the things that went on behind their walls. She embraced their way of living in a way that I never could have predicted. She confessed one day to me that she wanted to become one of them. I tried to make her see the consequences of that action, but she ignored me.”

“I didn’t know that witches could get rid of vampirism from a person, least of all then turn one into a witch. I thought only the blood of an immune and—”

“As I said, these are not ordinary witches.”

“So they made her a witch,” Rose said slowly.

“In the end, Annora’s desire for their power was too great.”

“How on earth did you end up here?”

“The witches have reasons for wanting us here,” I said, averting my eyes. “Reasons that I won’t disclose to you. Since Annora had gained their trust, and since they knew of her connection to me, they decided that she would be the logical person to oversee Stellan and myself running these two islands.”

“And all of the vampires here on these two islands—all of them were rescued from Cruor by the witches?”

“Yes. All of us. In exchange for protection from the Elders, we swore an oath to do their bidding.”

She breathed out and sat back in her chair, running a hand through her hair.

“So you’re all prisoners here?”

“You could put it that way.”

“What if you tried to escape?”

“Annora has cast a spell around this island. None of us can leave unless she gives us express permission to do so.”

“But when you are allowed to leave—like when you go out hunting for humans—why don’t you escape then?”

“We are… bound to these two islands. Any longer than a week away from them, and…” I paused, remembering the time one of my own men had tried to escape and stayed away for more than seven days. I shuddered as I recalled the state we had found him in.

Rose doesn’t need to know these details.

“And what?” she asked.

“We just have to return within a week.”

Chapter 32: Rose

I stared at the young man across the table in the dimly lit room. Although he only gave me half answers to every other question I asked, I felt privileged that he was opening up to me in this way.

On several occasions, I wondered why he was revealing all of this to me. What I had done to deserve his trust. His openness. I realized what an ordeal it must have been to recount all of this to me.

The one question that had been burning in my mind ever since I’d laid eyes on the black and white photos of the lovers was now on the tip of my tongue.

“And you and Annora… how did it get this way? Why does she—”

He held up a hand, and walked slowly to the other side of the room where he stopped, staring out of the window at the snow-covered mountain peaks. He stood still for several minutes and I began to believe that he wasn’t going to answer my question. But eventually he cleared his throat and said, “She’s sick, Rose.”

I remained silent, holding my breath for him to continue.

“I suppose,” he said slowly, his back still facing me, “I should have seen where she was heading earlier. I was just too blind.”

I stood up and walked over to the window next to him.

“What happens every night when she’s here?”

“We fight,” he muttered.

“Why?”

“It’s…” He paused and bit his lip, as if weighing up his words before he let them roll off his tongue. “It’s how she feels alive.”

I stared at him disbelievingly. “What?”

He clenched his jaw. It pained me to see how uncomfortable my questions were making him. “It’s her way of clinging to the past. To what we used to have.”

“What do you mean?”

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