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“This is all a result of the girl vessel’s incompetence.” Basilius’ voice dripped with rage. “She allowed him to carry an elixir all this time. He took it moments before I was able to enter him, and now… Now he is lost to us! All those years we waited, gone to waste! His corpse lies there, frozen and useless. Julie Duan is not to be shown her lover. She must be punished for this grievous error.”

“It is too late for that. I have already taken her to him,” the second voice replied.

Basilius screeched again.

“However,” the second Elder continued, “I assure you that her visit to the mountain chamber just now was indeed a punishment.”


“I had taken Julie Duan to see her lover, as you promised her, and she was met with anything but relief… We discovered something… peculiar and wondrous.”

“What did you discover?” Basilius asked, his voice anxious.

“I wish to show you rather than describe it. Let us go now.”

The two dark presences lingered a little longer, as Basilius roamed over my body once more, before both of them vanished.

I didn’t understand half of their conversation, though the Elder’s words regarding Julie reuniting with her lover registered in my brain. Still, I couldn’t pay much attention to it. My mind already felt close to explosion, if it had not blown already.

I reached out my hands, then tried to shift my legs, in an attempt to discover how much control I had over my movements. I willed myself to drift downwards, moving my legs as though I were walking, and effortlessly, I descended to my body.

I extended a hand down to touch my shoulder. My fingers sank right through it. I tried to push against my side, roll my body so that I lay on my back. Again, it was like trying to push air.

My mind was in a state of shock as I tried to process this new state of being. I drifted upward again, regaining a bird’s eye view of my body.

What do I do now?

I cast my eyes over my pale surroundings in desperation.

Although I understood that I had separated from my body and now had a new existence outside of it, I still felt somehow… tied to it. Bound by some kind of invisible rope.

How can I just leave my body here? What will happen to it?

Will it rot like a regular human corpse? Will it become nothing but dust, leaving me trapped in this subtle existence forever?

I felt frozen, my mind in a state of paralysis.

I couldn’t have known how much time I spent hovering over my body. Time had lost its meaning. It could have been hours, days, or possibly even weeks that I haunted that spot, held hostage by a chain I was too terrified to sever.

This body beneath me was the last link I had with my former life. With any life. It felt like I was hanging onto the edge of a gaping black hole—this body being the last grip I had before slipping into an endless oblivion.

I hovered, feeling no sensation. No coldness. No heat. No pain. I just felt numb. All the while, my body remained stiff and still, showing no signs yet of deterioration.

Eventually, I came to terms with the idea that I couldn’t stay here forever. I had to leave, even though it felt like leaving half of me behind. I couldn’t stay haunting this ghastly realm for all eternity, as though I was an Elder myself. I had to break away, even though I had no idea what that would mean for me, what was to become of my life—if what I was experiencing could even be considered a life.

Summoning up every ounce of willpower that I possessed, I drifted away from my corpse. My form floated away from the clifftop and over the steep drop. Even as I moved toward the shore, my eyes remained fixed on my body until it was nothing but a speck in the distance.

As I sensed the ocean miles beneath me, it took all the strength I had to turn my back on the mountains and face the wide-open water.

I tried to calm my mind and focus my consciousness on the only question that mattered anymore:

What now?

Chapter 2: Sofia

I was surprised to discover that Cyrus was the leader of the Drizan jinn. I hadn’t expected that a person of such importance would come to meet us outside personally, rather than some lower member of the family.

Jeriad apparently shared my surprise, and he voiced it to the formidable-looking jinni. Cyrus replied with a gracious smile that he had sensed the presence of dragons, and that it was right that he should come to greet them personally—since, after all, they did have a history together.

Although I didn’t trust anything about this jinni, at least we could be sure about one thing—he and his clan clearly still held respect for the dragons and didn’t see them as a threat. And consequently the rest of us were also welcomed in. Derek and I—along with Rose, Caleb, Aiden, the Novalics, Ashley, Landis, Zinnia, Gavin, and other close companions who’d traveled with us—found ourselves descending the jeweled staircase, which led down into a grand entrance hall. The luxury that surrounded us was similar to that of the Nasiri jinn’s abode at the bottom of The Oasis—no expense had been spared, and if it was possible, this place held even more extravagance, at least what we’d seen of it so far. The hall’s floor appeared to be made of solid gold, covered every now and then by rugs so soft they felt like pure cashmere. Gem-studded mirrors adorned the walls and diamond-encrusted chandeliers hung from the ceiling in abundance.

We moved out of this room and entered a corridor, similarly decorated. It was wide, with grand pillars lining the walls every few feet. There was a scent of burning incense, subtle yet heady.


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