“Mine isn’t hurting either,” River replied. “Just a prickling.”
“And the voices in your head, Ben?” my mother said. “Do you hear them now?”
I shook my head. “Not at the moment.”
“Half-bloods…” Eli muttered, his eyes fixed on River. “I have never heard of such a concept.”
“Somehow, Jeramiah and his coven discovered that it was possible,” I said. “They keep many half-bloods as slaves, though they make lovers out of them too. They are not as strong as vampires, but they are longer-lasting companions than humans—immortal, apparently.”
They continued asking me questions to clarify various parts of my story, and finally I found the opportunity to state the actual reason for my return.
“I came back only because of River. I need you to take her to the witches and try to find a cure for her. Her home is in New York and she wants to return to her family there. Assuming the witches find a cure, one of them needs to transport her back home. And if they can’t… Then I guess she’s going to have to stay here with you in The Shade. It’s the only safe place for her.”
“But where would you go from here, Ben?” my mother asked. “It’s such a different world out there now. Did you see those ships?”
“They’re hunter ships, in case you didn’t guess,” my father said, grimacing toward the vessels beyond the boundary. “Also, I’m not sure if you’re aware that your killing in Chile was caught on camera. It was broadcast all over mainstream television.”
My jaw dropped. I had been trapped in The Oasis for so long, I hadn’t exactly had a chance to follow the news. “It was broadcast on television?”
“Oh, my, I saw that on the news, Ben!” River said. “It didn’t click that it was you… the footage was blurry.”
“Yes. Quite a bit of footage has been broadcast recently,” my father said. “Supernaturals are now entering the consciousness of mainstream human society.”
“You were the trigger for all this,” Eli said to me. “You broke the code of secrecy.”
A feeling of guilt swelled in my stomach. All this time, I’d been totally oblivious to it.
My mother reached for my hand. “What’s done is done. There is no point lamenting the past. But now… Benjamin, you need to think carefully about what you’re going to do. Neither your father or I are going to stop you if you choose to leave, but I urge you to consider if that is really necessary. If you don’t feel confident enough to stay on the island, remember that we could always fix you up a residence on the water here, near the outskirts of the boundary.”
“Even that wouldn’t be safe,” I said. “It’s only because of River’s blood…” I stopped short, the obvious whacking me over the head like a sledgehammer. “I… I should try to turn into a half-blood.”
All four of them stared at me. I could see the penny dropping. I’d already explained to my parents and Eli that half-bloods were immortal, they were harmless without claws and fangs… and they didn’t crave blood like vampires did.
“Maybe I just need to forget about the reason I’m like this, and just solve the damn problem at the root.”
My mother’s face lit up. “Yes. Yes,” she said breathlessly. It was clear that she would agree to anything at all if it meant keeping me in The Shade.
My father stood up, looking down at me thoughtfully. “You would take the cure, and turn back into a human,” he said, thinking through my plan out loud. “Then we would need a newly-turned vampire to half-turn you, correct? We don’t have any newly-turned vampires on the island right now, at least not to my knowledge.” He looked at my mother and Eli. “Do you know of any?”
They both shook their heads.
“So we would have to think about how to handle that,” my father continued. “Whether anyone who is already planning to turn would mind doing it a bit sooner than intended…”
“Dad, why are you human?” I finally asked the question that had been bugging me from the moment I laid eyes on him.
He exchanged glances with my mother. “We’ll need to explain the whole story for you to understand, and that’s going to take hours. But basically, I needed my fire powers back.”
“Well, don’t you plan to turn back into a vampire?” I asked.
“Yes, at some point… But not yet. I want to hold off a little longer because, as I discovered the last time I took the cure, you can only take it so many times before you start building up an immunity to it. Things almost went… wrong. So this time when I turn back into a vampire, I want to be sure that I will not need to become a human again.”
“We will just have to try to find someone else on the island who wants to turn into a vampire,” my mother said.
“What if you still craved human blood even as a half-blood?” River asked me, raising a brow.
“I wouldn’t be equipped with a body designed to kill,” I said. “I’d be easier to control. And hopefully, the craving would be far less strong and I’d be able to eat normal food, like you can.”
“How do you half-turn a person exactly?” Eli asked, still looking fascinated by the concept.
“I’ve done it twice so far, but I’m hardly an expert. Basically the advice Jeramiah gave me was to dig in your fangs, focus on releasing venom, but then pull back before you feel like you’ve really started… Yes, I know it sounds vague.”