If what those men had was a tracking device, it wouldn’t be long before they chased me down again.

I had to keep moving.

I also had to abandon plans of trying to get to the gate, at least for now.

I climbed down from the tree and, as soon as my feet hit the ground, I began racing through the trees, stopping every now and then to listen and reorient myself in case I heard the men again.

I was faster running on foot than swinging through the trees.

I tried to make a wide circle around the men, so that I could get back to the road, make my way back to the beach and reenter the sub before dawn broke.

As the trees began to thin, I breathed out in relief.

I was almost at the first road now.

I was about to make the last steps up to the concrete when the smell of fresh blood consumed me.

It came on so suddenly, so unexpectedly, it hit me like a punch to the gut.

I’d thought I was still satisfied from my previous victim’s blood, but now I doubled over with hunger again.

What is wrong with me? I didn’t even feed that long ago.

I cast my eyes about the forest, straining to hear any sounds of humans approaching.

I heard nothing for at least a mile, where I could hear the distant crunching of leaves and that same monotonous beeping.

The smell was beginning to drive me delirious.

It seemed that each second that passed, it became more and more intense.

And then I heard it.

The creaking of a floorboard.

My eyes shot upward to see, high up in the trees, a treehouse of sorts.

I didn’t need to be a genius to guess that whatever this was, it was the base of those men who’d been chasing me.

Holding my breath, trying to not make a sound, I lurched forward again, trying to get away from the treehouse before my darkness took over and I climbed up there and murdered the first human in sight.

But before I could reach the road, a sharp pain hit the back of my right shoulder.

A needle-like object stuck right into it.

Behind me, a man in black clothes and a balaclava watched, the needle gun still raised as he observed me.

I stumbled, reaching for it and yanking it out of my shoulder.

Grunting, I staggered forward again toward the road before he could aim another at me.

But I barely even made it across the concrete before my legs began to feel heavy, my eyelids weighed down.

I forced myself into the shadow of the trees, but about ten feet later, my legs gave way beneath me.

My head hit a rock and darkness finally claimed me.

Chapter 3: Ben

Fluorescent light blinded me when my eyelids lifted again.

As my eyes adjusted to the brightness, my vision came into focus.

I was staring at a man with cropped hair and a rugged, pockmarked face.

He was sitting in a chair, about five feet away from me.

His smell filled my nostrils.

I could practically feel the beating of his heart, the rush of his blood through his veins.

I tried to stand up, but thick chains held me back.

I was fastened to a wall.

Using all my strength, I pulled against them.

They didn’t budge in the slightest.

I cast my eyes about the room.

Other than the man sitting in front of me, it was completely empty.

The lighting was made only harsher by the white walls.

Opposite me was a tinted glass window, and next to it in the corner was a door.

“Who are you?” I spat, clenching my fists.

It was all I could do to even speak.

The hunger I felt for this human was consuming me.

He maintained a poker face as he looked at me steadily.

Slowly, he brushed aside the cuff of his right sleeve and raised his forearm to me.

Etched into his tan skin was a brand I recognized.

It was the same brand that my father had imprinted on his back.

The brand of a hawk.

The brand of the hunters… My eyes must have registered surprise, because he nodded slowly, giving me a knowing smile.

“You seem to recognize this,” he said in a nasally voice, brandishing his forearm.

“Which coven do you belong to?” I bit down on my lower lip.

If these people were hunters, the last thing they needed to find out was my identity.

They’d try to use me to break into The Shade, or worse.

I kept my lips sealed, staring at him defiantly.

He pulled out a gun from beneath his jacket and closed the distance between us, holding it up against my temple.

“You might want to answer when spoken to, vampire.

Believe me when I say the only thing keeping you from death is my curiosity, which will be quickly spent.” If he was going to kill me anyway, there was no point in me cooperating.

When I still refused to answer, he raised the gun and brought its metal edge smashing down against my skull.

The pain seared through my head, blinding me momentarily.

He knelt down in front of me and gripped my jaw, forcing me to look into his eyes.

“Answer me,” he growled.

Despite the pain in my skull, I tried to force myself to think straight.

Clearly, my identity was more interesting to him than he was letting on.

Otherwise why didn’t he just kill me already? “One bullet from this gun, and it will burn you up inside.

Do you really want to risk that?” A female had just entered the room.

She appeared to be in her late twenties, ash-blonde hair tied up in a bun.

She looked down at me with cold grey eyes as she placed a hand on the shoulder of the man.

I glared at her, refusing to flinch beneath her gaze.

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