My hands were trembling.
I’d been alarmed when Ben had told me about it, but experiencing it for myself was an entirely different matter.
I’d thought that perhaps he was just suffering from trauma. But what was the likelihood of me experiencing exactly the same symptoms?
Something else was at work here, and the unknown was terrifying.
Clutching the blanket close to me, I sat next to Ben as he navigated the boat. After a couple of hours, he put it on autopilot and we both went to sit beneath a small shelter on the deck.
By now we had exhausted the topic of what could be happening to us, so I changed the subject.
“So, um, what’s it like in The Shade?” I asked, trying to fix my mind on more positive things.
Ben cleared his throat. “Dark. It’s forever night there.”
I stared at him. “Seriously?”
“Yes, we have witches who’ve cast a spell on the island—a spell that also makes it invisible to everyone.”
“A-and it’s full of vampires?”
“Vampires, werewolves, some witches—even an ogre.”
“As I said, it’s a refuge for supernaturals.”
Still taking in his words, I looked down at my feet, drawing my knees up to my chest and holding them tight against me.
I wondered if someone there really would be able to cure me. Whether I would be able to return to my family without fear of being hunted down. Whether I could ever live a normal life again, or if that had been snatched from me forever.
Ben shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Hunger pangs,” he said, rolling his eyes. “The smell of all those humans really brought my appetite to the surface.”
I’d expected that the amount of blood he’d consumed would last much longer. If he was feeling hungry now, when we had only just started out on our journey, God knew what state he would be in when we arrived.
“How will you manage?” I asked.
“I’ll figure something out,” he said grimly.
I stood up, keeping the blanket around me, and walked out from under the shelter and into the sun.
I faced directly toward it, its rays upon my skin. I closed my eyes and relished the warmth. I didn’t feel pain from the sun as vampires did. But perhaps I would if I stayed in it long enough.
I walked to the edge of the boat and leaned my back against the railing, soaking up the sun from this angle while Ben remained in the shade.
I found myself stealing glances at him from across the deck, averting my gaze each time I sensed that he was about to look my way.
The sky began to darken. I looked upward to see a cloud had formed in what had previously been a blue sky. It blocked out the sun and cast a shadow over the boat and the surrounding waters.
I felt a drop of rain fall upon my cheek. The water was cool, and oddly thick. I brushed it aside with the back of my hand.
“Wha—What is that?” Ben said, staring at me.
He shot to his feet and closed the distance between us. He was gazing down at me, a look of disbelief in his eyes. His thumb brushed against my skin where the drop had fallen, and when he lifted it again, it was tinged with red.
I looked down at the back of my hand.
Also stained with red.
I gaped up at the sky, at the cloud above, as droplets fell upon us more rapidly, until a shower of the thick red liquid pounded against the deck.
It’s raining blood.
Chapter 6: Ben
Even as I stared at the blood in horror, my body ached to taste it.
I shook myself, trying to rein in my bloodlust, ashamed that I could be so under its control even at a time like this.
What is happening?
I kept asking myself the question as I stared up at the cloud, squinting through the droplets of blood.
And then I heard it.
A voice, male or female I didn’t know. It was too soft, too echoing, to tell.
It started out quiet, so quiet that I could barely understand what it was saying. Then it grew louder and louder, until it was echoing in my ears so loudly that the words couldn’t be mistaken:
“Come back, Benjamin Novak.”
My name. How does it know my name?
The resounding voice repeated again and again in some kind of sinister chant. I clutched my ears, as if that would make any difference.
“We know who you are, and we know what you want.”
We? Who’s we?
I staggered to the edge of the ship, clutching the sides and staring up at the sky, blood now streaming down my face.
Despite my mind being preoccupied, my body was aching for the blood. I reached up to my face, touching the blood, and then moved to taste it.
It’s raining human blood.
“Come back, Benjamin Novak…”
Suddenly the tattoo seared severely—more severely than I remembered experiencing before. My legs gave way beneath me and I fell to the deck, crouched on all fours as I clenched my jaw against the pain.
By my side, River crouched down and touched my shoulder.
I was so consumed by the burning, I could barely see. Then I felt a different type of sensation—a burning not just in my upper arm, but the rest of my body too.
River tugged on me.
“Ben, you need to get out of the sun.”
The sun. It had broken through the sky.
The blood stopped. The cloud vanished.
The pain in my tattoo ebbing away, I crawled toward the shelter.