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Rose Novak was like my own daughter. Ibrahim and I had protected her during the first, most vulnerable weeks of her existence, and a bond had been forged between that child and me that nothing could ever break. Sofia and Derek knew that. That was why, when Rose and Micah had gone missing, they’d placed their faith in us to find them.
Despite their trust, Ibrahim and I left The Shade without any semblance of a plan. The first thing we did was hover around the island, scanning the waters closest to us, and then spiraling out further and further. About five miles out, we spotted an empty boat. Micah’s fishing boat. Ibrahim and I landed on the deck.
“Corrine,” Ibrahim called. He pointed to a splatter of dried blood at the bow. He bent closer and sniffed it. “Human blood.”
Panic gripped me as I clutched my husband’s shoulder. “Rose’s?”
Ibrahim looked up at me grimly and shrugged.
“What happened? Where could they be?”
“Let’s keep scanning the waters.”
We covered a radius of several dozen miles more in this way, to no avail.
Either Micah and Rose had drowned and were now beneath the waters somewhere, or Micah had found another boat and they’d set off on it. But in the time that we’d spent, we should have caught them if they’d been in the water somewhere.
We returned to Micah’s boat again. We looked around more carefully this time, looking for anything that could help us understand what had happened here.
I walked to the bow, eyeing the splatters of blood again, while Ibrahim looked around the stern.
“Corrine,” he said. I tore my eyes away from the blood and approached him.
He turned to face me, a strand of black hair between his fingers. It was too short and curly to be Rose’s, and Micah had blond hair.
“Where did you find it?”
Ibrahim pointed to the edge of the roof covering the wheel. It was at least six feet high off the floor.
“Whoever that hair belongs to is tall,” I said.
“Of course, this boat belongs to The Shade. This hair could belong to some other resident.”
“Could Micah have had an accomplice?”
“Who?” Ibrahim said. “We did a thorough head count. Who else on the island has curly dark hair and could have done this to Rose?”
I tried to rack my brain to think of someone. Truth be told, I couldn’t think of a single vampire, human, wolf or witch with hair this dark, short and curly.
“Which means Micah could have been an imposter,” I said, following Ibrahim’s line of thought.
“I have a feeling that a black witch is behind this,” Ibrahim said.
I shuddered at the thought. But why only take Rose when he could have taken so much more? Why not take Anna? Why not use the opportunity to take over The Shade and overthrow Mona?
I couldn’t make sense of the idea, but we didn’t have time to stop and discuss theories. We just needed to find Rose.
“Where could they have taken her? Back to Caleb’s or Stellan’s island?”
“I doubt they would have taken her back there after the Novaks managed to break in before.”
I stared out at the ocean, a feeling of hopelessness swelling in the pit of my stomach.
“I wonder what happened to the real Micah,” I murmured, although I was sure I already knew the answer. I doubted he’d still be living if the black witches were indeed behind this.
Ibrahim sat down on the floor next to me, his back against the side of the boat as he continued staring at the hair, his brows furrowed.
We sat in silence for the next few minutes, both of us trying to think of what to do next but both failing.
Eventually the silence was getting on my nerves, so I stood up and reached down a hand for him to stand too. “Let’s just keep moving… anywhere. I can’t sit still like this. Let’s just keep scouring the waters if we have to.”
Ibrahim heaved a deep sigh, then stood up.
Both facing forward, we were about to vanish again when a loud thump sounded a few feet behind us. The boat shook.
We whirled around to see two blonde women—witches—standing before us.
“Brisalia?” Ibrahim gasped, staring at the older of the two.
I recognized them instantly. Brisalia and Csilla Adrius. Mother and daughter, belonging to the lineage of the Ageless.
Ibrahim and I backed up on the boat, exchanging nervous glances. These were witches we couldn’t afford to mess with. Their powers more than rivaled our own.
“What are you—” Ibrahim began to say, but before he could finish his question, the two witches sprang forward, both leaping for our midriffs. I felt myself falling backward and braced myself to hit the water. But before we ever touched the ocean’s surface, we vanished.
A ferocious wind engulfed me. I could barely catch a breath before my feet met solid ground again and I found myself staring down into a hole in the ground. A starry abyss. A gate. Ibrahim stood next to me, the two witches either side of us. Thick trees surrounded us. We were in some kind of forest—where, I had no idea. As Ibrahim and I attempted to fight the hold they had on us, a force pushed us backward. We lost our footing and the abyss consumed us. As we were sucked downward, I caught a glimpse of the two witches leaping in after us.
I reached for Ibrahim’s hand, gripping it tight as we traveled at furious speed. I gasped as the end of the tunnel finally came into view. Sunshine blinded me as I hurtled out and landed on a grassy lawn. Ibrahim made contact with the ground a few feet away from me. Scrambling to his feet, Ibrahim gripped my arm and pulled me up. We raced back toward the gate as soon as the two witches shot out from it. But as we attempted to leap back through, our bodies froze midair, an invisible power keeping us from falling through, resisting the suction pulling us downward.
We were sent hovering back toward the area we had landed first and dropped onto the grass. I cast my eyes around. A river flowed a few feet away from us, and a waterfall thundered about five hundred meters away. The river glistened with precious gems, the banks lined with trees. I could have recognized this river in my sleep. It was the river that surrounded the main city of The Sanctuary.
I could barely believe that I was back here. Brisalia stood up, Csilla close behind her as they approached us.
“I’m sorry to do this to you, Ibrahim,” she said, looking at my husband with genuine apology. “You were loyal to my sister for so many years, but we just can’t have you meddling with things.”