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I wondered for a moment what would happen if I drifted through the wall. If I could even drift through it. This strange starry sky that appeared to surround us, what was that exactly? I guessed with my subtle body, I probably could pass through the tunnel walls, but I’d no idea what might happen, and I didn’t want to risk finding out.

Instead I focused my gaze directly downward and sped up, until eventually a light shone through the other end and I emerged on the other side. Surrounding me was a world of white mountains. I was standing on a staggeringly high cliff. I wondered where I was exactly. I would have to travel until I found some human habitation where I could figure out where in the world I was. I wasn’t sure which direction to start in. I looked around for the ogres and spotted their large footprints in the snow, trailing down over the edge of the peak. Following them would be a good bet.

Chapter 8: River

My brother, Jamil, walked by my side as we ambled along the dark beach. My sisters played in the waves, while my mother watched over them.

I drew in a deep breath of fresh ocean air.

Since returning to The Shade without Ben, I’d woken up every day with the hope that, somehow, he would find a loophole and return to us. However irrational it was, holding on to this hope was what got me through each day. The chilling words the oracle had spoken to me that day in her cave still haunted me: “Very soon this man may not be the same one you fell for.” But I tried to stop thinking about where Ben could be now, or what state he might be in.

Ben’s parents had recently returned to the island, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to speak to them yet. They’d been busy of course, what with Vivienne giving birth. I didn’t want to bother them yet to find out what had happened on their journey with the dragons. After all that had been revealed by Hortencia regarding Ben’s connection with the Elder, I couldn’t help but feel that breaking the jinn’s bond now wasn’t a good idea. Corrine felt the same way, but unfortunately, Derek and Sofia had left before we’d had a chance to explain Ben’s predicament. As crazy as it was, the eternal bond Ben had formed with the Nasiris was the least of his worries, and might be the one thing that was protecting him.

I wasn’t sure if Corrine had filled them in by now, but I was anxious to find out the result of their excursion. I decided to wait another day before speaking to them. The truth was, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep my voice from breaking while talking to them. Especially to Sofia. I’d promised her that I would stay with Ben and help him find a solution.

Since I’d returned, I’d stayed with my family. I’d answered their many questions, including why I was so cold, and recounted what had happened to me before I came across them in The Oasis. Although I’d revealed most things to my mother, I refused to go into detail about what happened to Ben and exactly why I had returned. It was too raw. I just gave her a truthful summary—that although I’d wanted to stay with Ben to help him, as I’d promised that I would, he hadn’t wanted to put me in danger and so he’d sent me back with Corrine. I was glad that my mother didn’t press for more details. I wasn’t ready to talk about them. I doubted I would be for a long time.

Telling them that I was a half-blood sent my mother into hysterics. We’d been staying on this island for days now, but she was still struggling to accept the situation. It was as though she half expected this all to be some kind of elaborate prank. The strange creatures surrounding us were just costumed actors who would leap out of their highly realistic fake skin any second. There wasn’t really a spell of night over this place, since witches weren’t real, and someone had simply erected some giant covering that looked… exactly like the night sky?

Her convoluted theories were crazier than just accepting the situation for what it was. And, in fact, I knew that she couldn’t really believe her doubts—she’d seen too much already. She was just clinging to them as a way of coping with her reality being turned on its head. I was just waiting for her to say out loud that yes, supernaturals existed, and we were living on an island full of them.

We stayed with Anna and Kyle for the first few days. They treated us like family. They had three children of their own, and the older two had already been turned into vampires. Still, they cleared out two rooms for us and made our stay as comfortable as they possibly could. None of us wanted to be a burden on them any longer, and Anna found us a three-bedroom townhouse that wasn’t being occupied just a few streets away from theirs. So we’d recently moved there.

My mother talked of returning to New York, but I told her that I couldn’t return, at least not now. First of all, I was still a half-blood and there was no cure for me yet on the horizon, and secondly, even if I could leave The Shade… it would feel like cutting off any connection I had left with Ben. This was his home. His world. As unceremoniously as I had been thrust into this world of supernaturals, I was a part of it now. Even if we found a cure for me, I simply couldn’t imagine going back to my life in New York. I could never see things the same again, nor simply resume the life I’d had like nothing had ever happened.

Although there was much talk of supernaturals of late—especially after the footage that had been broadcast by the media—like my mother, and indeed like I had been, most of the population was still living in denial. If I were to ever speak to anyone about what I’d witnessed, I’d be deemed crazy.

Of course, my mother wouldn’t return without me, and so we all found ourselves staying here in The Shade. My sisters found the place both wondrous and terrifying, but they were much quicker to adjust to their concept of the universe being blown apart than my mother. Jamil, on the other hand… never mind all this crazy supernatural stuff, he was still acclimating to being able to walk on his own two feet, being able to talk and perform the most basic functions that we all took for granted. We were all still getting used to this new life of his.

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