I looked around the room and spotted some cleaning equipment. Filling up a bucket, I grabbed a mop and cleaned up my mess. Then I picked up the corpse of the snake and left the room. I wasn’t sure whether somebody would be irritated with me that I had just killed one of their snakes, or whether they wouldn’t mind. They seemed to have so many, after all.

Still, I wanted to avoid trouble, so I made my way to one of the orchards that was overgrown with shrubbery. I dropped the body of the snake beneath bushes and covered it with soil. It would decompose soon enough.

Then I walked past the lily ponds and rinsed my mouth and hands in the clear water. When I stood up, my gaze landed on the memorial stone of Lucas Novak. It seemed to have been attended to since I had last laid eyes on it. It was cleaner, and I could make out the inscription better. Feeling unsettled, reminded of the urgency of escaping this place, I headed straight back to my apartment.

I could still taste snake blood on my tongue. I walked back into the kitchen intending to finish off the last jug of blood to get rid of the taste, but when I opened the fridge, the shelves were filled with jug upon jug of delicious human blood.

Strange.

I wondered who had done it. I had only been gone a few minutes. It was almost like there was some slave living with me, watching my every move.

Although I was immensely grateful to not have to worry about finding my own blood, I couldn’t help but feel that with each gulp of this exquisite blood, I was becoming more and more indebted to this strange place known as The Oasis.

Chapter 10: River

I woke up to a burning sensation in my right upper arm. The pain was blinding. I gripped my shoulder to soothe it, but it only intensified the pain.

I sat up slowly, wincing as I opened my eyes. To my horror, I found myself in Michael’s large circular bed. My heart hammered as I scanned the room, but I found some relief in the fact that he wasn’t here with me. I was also still wearing my own clothes, which gave me some comfort.

I moved my ripped shirt and looked down at my shoulder. The skin surrounding my right bicep was red and swollen, and etched into it was a black cross.

I almost yelled.

What the hell is this?

It was hurting so much, it felt like someone was still inking my skin. What is the meaning of this cross? Why would they brand me with it?

Although overwhelmed with doubts and questions, I didn’t spend any more time staring at my arm. I was alone. Michael was nowhere in sight, nor was any other vampire. I climbed as quietly as I could out of bed.

I have to find my sister and Hassan. And we have to escape this nightmare.

The door was ajar. I was about to push it open wider and slip out when something caught my eye on the dressing table a few feet away from me. Leaving the door reluctantly, I approached it.

As I stared down at two objects wrapped in brown paper and covered with a piece of parchment, my mouth fell open and my stomach somersaulted.

A note was written in jerky black handwriting on the parchment:

“For your mother and brother.”

I snatched up the note and stared at it, my hands shaking. I read the words over and over again, just in case my eyes deceived me. Then I dropped it and picked up the first object wrapped in brown paper. I tore off the paper to reveal a black silk pouch. I loosened the opening, and found myself staring down at a pile of gold coins. My heart beat faster as I reached for the second object. It was much smaller than the first, and cylindrical. I tore through the brown paper and found myself holding a thin glass vial filled with a transparent amber liquid.

What is this?

I looked around the room, breathing heavily, then back down at the objects.

How do they know about my mother and brother? What are these things for?

I jumped as a deep male voice spoke from the door.

“How are you feeling, River?” Michael asked as he stepped into the room. His blond hair looked wet, like he’d just taken a shower.

I felt all the blood drain from my face. “How do you know my name?”

Michael’s smile broadened. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a crumpled-up tag and placed it in my palm. I recognized it instantly as the airport label that had been on my backpack. It contained my full name… and my home address.

They know where I live.

“What are these?” I gasped, stumbling back away from him and ripping up the tag.

He eyed the gold coins and the vial. “Gifts from The Oasis.”

“My mother and brother aren’t here. Why would you give them these gifts?” I breathed, fearing that they were going to kidnap them too. Or had already.

Michael shook his head. “You need not worry about your family in New York. We don’t go that far for humans… at least, not usually. We have plenty of healthy humans to choose from in our proximity. As to how they will receive their gifts, we will send one of our witches to deliver them. Would you like that?”

“No!” I grabbed the coins and the vial from the table and held them behind my back. “Please! Don’t go near them. I’m begging you. My brother is sick—”

Michael held up a hand. “Very well. You might as well keep the gifts then. Not that they will be of much use to you around here…” He walked over to the table and opened one of the large drawers. He pulled out my backpack from it and handed it to me. I grabbed it from him and stuffed the gifts inside, then shoved the bag into one corner of the room.

“Where is my sister?” I repeated for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Your sister is fine.”

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