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We stormed in like a blaze of light, armed not only with swords and guns, but also rage and vengeance. The Elder didn’t even see us coming.
When the Ageless had taken me out of The Blood Keep many months ago, I’d promised myself that I would be much stronger when I came back. My vulnerability as a human had only strengthened my resolve to harness and develop whatever power had awakened in me, but I had difficulty focusing without Sofia by my side.
She had always been my calm, my center, and my peace. Without her, all was for naught. The thought that she was still in this godforsaken place, vulnerable because of her pregnancy, pained me beyond measure.
The majority of Elders were still at The Shade when we attacked The Blood Keep. Perhaps they thought that their lair was impervious to any invasion, but this pride had become their downfall.
We showed no mercy as we raided the walls, killing every vampire who didn’t belong to our hastily assembled army. If I weren’t so desperate to find my wife, I would have marveled at the irony of it all. We had all been enemies. Vampires had always gone after human blood. Hunters had always gone after vampires’ heads. And because both of our species combined could not come close to the power and might of the Elders, we had allied ourselves with yet another species; the Hawks, or Guardians as they liked to call themselves.
I still knew little about them, save that they were as ancient and old as the Elders and witches themselves. I didn’t trust them one bit, but if they would aid me in rescuing my Sofia, I would take any help that I could get.
I roamed the halls, searching for Sofia. She had been gone from my arms for so long. When I’d found out that we were going to have a child, I’d become even more bent on getting to her. We were going to have a family. Something we wanted for ourselves, maybe after all this havoc.
I didn’t know how many I’d felled, or how many had managed to maim me. My entire focus was Sofia. Corinne, powerless as she was, stayed close to me even in the heat of battle. She was the only one who could provide medical assistance to Sofia.
“The Elder has escaped!” Aiden called out as he ran toward me. Although Aiden was one of the most feared hunters the world had ever known, worry for his daughter had worn him down. He was barely able to catch his breath. “It’s gone, Derek. It’s taken most of the immunes. And I can’t find Sofia anywhere!”
My heart stopped beating for a second, but I would not give up until I had Sofia in my arms once again.
I found my hope when one of the hunters ran to me, telling me that Sofia had somehow managed to contact her phone. Even Aiden looked as if he’d regained strength.
“She’s somewhere outside,” the hunter said. “I’m trying to track her location.”
The few minutes it took for her to track Sofia were the longest of my life. It didn’t even matter that a bloody battle was happening all around me. Finally, the phone pinged, indicating her location.
My Sofia is alive. It was the only thought that kept me going. The entire world could crumble for all I cared. My wife was alive, and with her, our child.
We rushed to her location and found her lying on the floor of a hut in a puddle of her own water. She was on the verge of giving birth. I ran to her, desperate to feel her within my arms once again.
Corinne immediately took command of the situation and delivered twins. Knowing I had one child with Sofia would have been enough to bring me bliss. Two was a piece of heaven I’d never known I would be given a taste of. In that one moment, I had my family with me—the love of my life and my twins, all within my reach.
But then the devil with the red eyes came to take my son away. And barely a moment later, the Ageless came to whisk my Sofia away too.
To have Sofia taken from my arms sent me spiraling into a pit of despair and sorrow that I could not even begin to describe. I could sense her need for me. Her desperation to be reunited with me mirrored my own, but there was nothing I could do. I could have had all the powers and might in the world, vampire or human, but I was powerless to defend her.
I had failed her. Again.
I wondered then if there was any possible way to escape the nightmares that continued to plague me. They were starting to unfold right in front of my eyes.
The thought made me shudder.
What happened to a king when he was forced to battle with his queen?
Chapter 1: Sofia
As I stood in the white chambers, a haze descended over me. The flavor of blood was still alive on my tongue, and all I could think about was drinking more. I stooped down to Clara’s body and smelt the hot liquid still spilling from her chest. I took a sip but spat it out. Bitter. Disgusting. Nothing like the sweet delicacy she had brought to me.
I stood and was about to search elsewhere when someone seized my arms from behind. I spun around to see a tall man holding me. His eyes were a translucent white and his sagging skin had a yellow tinge.
“Want more blood, Ivana?” His voice was coarse.
“Please!” Ivana must be my name.
He led me into a dark hallway. The décor had changed to black, from the stone floors to the high ceilings—a stark contrast to the room we had just left. I could see perfectly despite the lack of lighting. We walked toward a wide staircase and descended it. The whole place reeked of mold. On the lower floor, we descended another staircase. And another. And another. By the twelfth, I began to smell blood. I was so consumed with anticipation, I stopped noticing my surroundings. The further down we went, the stronger the alluring scent grew.
Eventually we strayed from the levels of staircases and the man opened the door to a dark room. I walked straight in. The scent of fresh blood invaded my nostrils. Then the door slammed shut behind me. I looked around frantically. It didn’t take me long to realize that the room was bare.
I ripped at the lock. I scratched against the door. I screamed for release. But my desperation was only met with silence.
How I knew the blood was fresh I didn’t fully understand. It was just instinct. I could feel its heat seeping through the walls. Its proximity plagued me.
I slumped to the floor and closed my eyes, trying to forget the hunger. But I couldn’t; my senses were all too aware. The empty room offered no distractions, so all I could do was sit on the cold stone and pray someone would put me out of my misery.
When the door finally opened, it felt like an eternity had passed. I flew to the door and again found myself face to face with the man with sagging skin.
“You promised me blood!” I screamed, reaching for his neck.
“And I will give you more blood. Orders were that you needed to be ready for it.” He remained calm as he knocked my hands away from his throat.
I barely paid attention to his words. He allowed me to step out into the corridor and then withdrew keys from his cloak. He opened the door to the next room.
There lay the source of my torture: a young man with blond hair sleeping in a corner. Without even thinking, I hurled myself toward him and was about to sink my teeth into his neck when his eyes shot open. I gasped as their sharp blue sent a searing pain through my chest.
These eyes. I know these eyes.
The vision of a different blue-eyed stranger, looking down on me with tears and holding me in his arms, flashed through my mind.
Waves of memories crashed over me all at once. Complete remembrance settled over me for the first time since arriving at that strange place. Derek, the birthing, the man with red eyes… where are my babies? It was all I could do to not fall to the ground and let my emotions take hold of me.
I staggered back, away from the man now huddled in the corner.
“What’s wrong, Ivana?”
I’m not Ivana. Sofia. Sofia is my name. Sofia Novak.
“I can’t,” I breathed out.
“What are you saying, Ivana? You told me you wanted blood.”
“My name is Sofia… and I can’t drink this man’s blood.”
I knew at that moment that I had to starve myself of blood. If I let it consume me again, I would lose all my memories. I would forget Derek. I would forget myself. And once I had tasted hot blood gushing directly from a human’s throat, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to not do it again, and again. I couldn’t let the haze envelop me again. I had to fight it.
Now I know what it feels like, Derek. This is what you struggled with. This is why you were so desperate for a cure.
“Oh, you’re still not ready for this?” Anger flashed in the man’s eyes. “Well, then it’s all the more for our little friend here.”
Before I could make sense of what was happening, the door swung open and a short vampire rushed into the room. The young man’s screams were quickly stifled as the vampire tore through his neck.
I rushed to the corner and gasped when the vampire lifted her head to catch a breath.
Her skin was as pale as mine and a darkness had taken over her baby-blue eyes. Hot blood dripping from her lips, she gave me a manic grin before once again drinking from the man’s neck.
Seeing Abby, my little sister, this way… I was petrified, but more than that, I was deeply enraged.
They had no right to do this to Abby.
They had no right to do this to me.
Chapter 2: Derek
The sound of the ocean waves did little to help me fall asleep, although Rose had dozed off in my arms hours ago. She breathed gently and her round face had an expression of serenity, as if all was right with the world. As if I was cradling her brother in my arms alongside her… as if her mother…
I choked. I could feel another wave of heat about to come over my body. I placed Rose down on the mattress and walked out onto the terrace outside the beach hut.
Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I steadied myself against the banister. I gazed out at the ocean, breathing deeply. The first signs of daybreak were beginning to show on the horizon.
Stay strong, Sofia. Keep your light ablaze. Don’t let it die out. I whispered the words, hoping she would somehow hear them through whatever darkness she was now trapped in. It was a mercy that she had passed out before she could witness her son being taken.
Since our separation, although my heart, mind and body were screaming with despair, I’d had to find the strength within myself to still smile each day for Rose. Her obliviousness was her blessing; it sheltered her from pain. I needed to keep it that way.
My immediate concern had been getting far away from the hunters, Hawks and vampires. Corinne had suggested an old Costa Rican beach hut that she still owned from her student days. I just needed time away from everything to try to patch myself together as much as I could, and gather my thoughts on what I could possibly do next.
Without Corrine, I wasn’t sure how I would have handled the situation. Her female instincts and medical knowledge allowed her to help care for Rose in ways that wouldn’t have been obvious to me.
My little Rose Red… I looked back to check on my baby. Despite our remote location, I was always in fear for her safety. Corinne had taken my place on the mattress, now cradling Rose in her arms and kissing her forehead. Corinne gave me a weary smile, which I tried to return.
Ibrahim stepped out from the sitting room and walked toward me. Since the Ageless had taken Corrine’s powers away, and I was barely in control of my own newfound power, Ibrahim said it was only “right” that he should be here to offer us support. I didn’t object because I knew of what value he could be whenever I worked myself up into a fit. Yet I didn’t welcome him with open arms either. I knew where his ultimate loyalties lay; with the Ageless, the witch who tore my life apart with a snap of her fingers.
“Beautiful morning, huh?” He spoke quietly as he took a seat on the terrace. “Any further thoughts on leaving?”
I remained silent. We’d had a heated discussion the night before. I’d told him I couldn’t leave this place until I’d found someone who was loyal to me and capable of protecting Rose. I wasn’t about to risk losing her too. He had volunteered himself, at which point I had laughed in his face and left the room.
“We’ve just received a text message from Eli,” Ibrahim continued. “He’s arrived safely at Hawk Headquarters with Shadow and…”
Before he could finish his sentence, I whirled round and stared at the phone in horror. “I thought I told you to keep that damned thing switched off! It’s meant for emergencies, not for communicating with the hunters. Do you realize how easy it will be for them to track us now?”
I snatched the phone from his hand, jumped off the terrace, and ran toward the ocean, hurling it into the waves. Then I ripped off my clothes and dove in myself, desperate for relief.
I knew I was overreacting. Eli knew what this privacy meant to me and would have texted only from a secure location. But I couldn’t help myself. I was burning up inside and no amount of water could extinguish me.
I lay on my back and allowed the waves to carry me. A morning breeze blew over me. I looked up at the clear sky, feeling weightless. Only a few months ago, I would have given anything to be lying here, not afraid of the sun that was about to rise. And then we had found the cure.
Is this to be my life? To rise up only to be brought back down to my knees, shattered into shards?
We’d only been at the hut for a few nights, but it was time for me to leave. Ready or not, I couldn’t remain stagnant on this beach any longer. There wasn’t a second of the day when my mind wasn’t plagued with thoughts of Sofia and our son. Ben. That was the name Sofia had wanted for our first boy. I needed to reach Aiden and work out a plan.
I felt sand beneath my back; the waves had carried me back to shore. I sat up and someone called my name. Corrine approached and sat down next to me.
“Derek, I know how hard this is for you. But you know better than I that you can’t keep delaying this decision. The longer Sofia is in the clutches of the Elders… Look, either take Rose with you to Hawk Headquarters—”