A Shade of Vampire 22: A Fork of Paths

BOOK: A Shade of Vampire 22: A Fork of Paths
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A Shade of Vampire 22: A Fork of Paths
Bella Forrest
Also by Bella Forrest

A
SHADE
OF VAMPIRE SERIES

Derek & Sofia’s story:

A Shade of Vampire (Book 1)

A Shade of Blood (Book 2)

A Castle of Sand (Book 3)

A Shadow of Light (Book 4)

A Blaze of Sun (Book 5)

A Gate of Night (Book 6)

A Break of Day (Book 7)

Rose & Caleb’s story:

A Shade of Novak (Book 8)

A Bond of Blood (Book 9)

A Spell of Time (Book 10)

A Chase of Prey (Book 11)

A Shade of Doubt (Book 12)

A Turn of Tides (Book 13)

A Dawn of Strength (Book 14)

A Fall of Secrets (Book 15)

An End of Night (Book 16)

Ben & River’s story:

A Wind of Change (Book 17)

A Trail of Echoes (Book 18)

A Soldier of Shadows (Book 19)

A Hero of Realms (Book 20)

A Vial of Life (Book 21)

A SHADE OF DRAGON TRILOGY

A Shade of Dragon 1

A Shade of Dragon 2

A Shade of Dragon 3

A SHADE OF KIEV TRILOGY

A Shade of Kiev 1

A Shade of Kiev 2

A Shade of Kiev 3

BEAUTIFUL MONSTER DUOLOGY

Beautiful Monster 1

Beautiful Monster 2

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or an updated list
of my books, please visit my website:
www.bellaforrest.net

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C
opyright
© 2016 by Bella Forrest

Cover design inspired by Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations LLC

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Prologue: Aisha

A
s much as
the scene beneath me on the ship’s deck chilled me to the bone, even those gaunt, naked creatures couldn’t haunt my mind for long.

I dipped into the ocean to rinse off the gunk from the werewolf’s corpse that had smeared on me, thanks to whoever had dropped it into the box I’d been trapped in. Then, I had to find my family. I had to discover exactly what had happened to them—if my fear that the Drizans had found them really was accurate.

So I left that monster-infested ship and traveled as fast as I could to The Dunes. My homeland. I had barely spent more than a few seconds at a time there since we’d abandoned it. And even those fleeting visits I’d made were without Nuriya’s permission. There was a secret gate in The Dunes—at least, I hoped that it was still secret—that connected to Lake Nasser in Egypt, and it had been convenient for me to pass through.

Now, as I descended into the coal-black desert, I shuddered despite the warm breeze.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I still hadn’t worked out a plan. I paused, trying to clear away the haze of panic and think logically for a minute.

Think like Benjamin would think
. That vampire seemed to have a gift for maintaining level-headedness even in the worst of scenarios.

As I took a moment to breathe, I decided that I ought to check The Oasis before venturing further into jinn territory, just to be sure that Bahir had not raised a false alarm and the uneasy feeling in my stomach about their safety was not just paranoia. So I headed to the nearest portal, dove through, and vanished myself back to our atrium.

I couldn’t hold back the tears as I gazed around at our once-beautiful home. Ornaments smashed, doors torn open, gardens wrecked.

“Mother!” I cried out, my strangled voice echoing off the walls. “Father! Sister! Aunt! Is anybody here?”

My calls were only met with silence.

I drew in a deep breath. It took all that I had to not crumple to the floor and weep until I ran out of tears. The Drizans had taken them.

Now that it was verified beyond all doubt that my instinct had been correct, I left the courtyard and returned to the supernatural realm. To The Dunes. I examined the seemingly empty landscape and then began to move, slowly and cautiously, closer to where our enemies resided. I made myself invisible, though I knew that the Drizans would be capable of sensing my presence without sight… they were like bloodhounds when it came to us. It was a wonder that we had managed to survive for as many years as we had without them discovering our location. I guessed that was thanks to Nuriya’s order that we didn’t go out much. The vampires and half-bloods who served and lived above us had been the only non-jinn we’d had dealings with in a long, long time.

I was barely breathing as I neared the landmark of the entrance to the Drizans’ underground palace—a giant scorpion medallion made of solid gold, fixed in the sand. The sight of it brought back dozens of memories, all of them dark and unwelcome.

What do I do?

I dared approach within ten feet of the medallion before stopping and gazing all around me.

I wasn’t even sure what my options were. If I tried to force my way into the Drizans’ lair with magic—vanish myself into the lower levels—if, or should I say when, I got caught, my punishment would be much greater for having trespassed without permission. My stomach turned just at the thought of the kind of suffering that they would take pleasure in inflicting on me. But what was the alternative? Knock on the door and hand myself over?

The only way to verify that my family was still living was to travel down to the Drizans’ prison, where I guessed they were being kept. Or perhaps the torture chambers, even further down in the palace.

But what would I achieve by it? There was no way I was strong enough to free them by myself, and I had no allies in this land. Even if I did manage to break through whatever shackles they were bound in, I knew enough about the Drizans to not be foolish enough to think that we would make it out alive.

I could have backed away and just tried to save myself at least. But I didn’t know a life without my family. What was the point of living with freedom but without the people I loved? I would rather sacrifice freedom than be apart from them any longer, no matter what state I might find them in. At least I would be with them, not all alone… especially now that I no longer even had Benjamin as a companion.

Bending over the scorpion entrance, I knocked.

My heart thundered in my chest as I retreated, expecting to hear the bolts slide open any moment now. What I was not expecting to hear was a male voice behind me. “Who goes there?”

I whirled around to see that it was… Horatio Drizan. Son of Cyrus Drizan. He hovered several feet away from me, a scroll of parchment rolled up in his right fist. Horatio was the youngest prince of the Drizan family. Before my family and I left this place, he and I used to play together as children. I hadn’t seen him since, but strangely I didn’t have difficulty recognizing him. Although he looked very different now—a handsome young man, tall and well-built, just like his father—I recognized those olive-green, slightly down-turned eyes.

I hurried backward even as he tried to close the distance between us.

He frowned. “Aisha?” he asked, pausing. I was surprised that he recognized me so easily.

“Y-You took my family.” I stumbled.

His frown deepened. “My father took your family. Yes.”

“Are they still alive?”

He nodded slowly, his eyes fixed on mine.

“What has your father been doing to them?” I breathed, afraid to hear the answer.

At this he glanced away, his gaze averting to the golden trapdoor. “You shouldn’t be here, Aisha,” he said, his voice lowering.

“I can’t leave without my family,” I said, tears prickling the corners of my eyes. “Please, have mercy.”

“It is my father you should be begging for mercy, not me,” he said, eyeing me pointedly and clearing his throat. “But I suggest you leave now, if you place any value at all on your life.”

“I can’t leave,” I repeated, my voice shrill with desperation. “If you will not help me free my family, then take me down into your lair with you—”

A scraping came from the trapdoor. The drawing of bolts.

Before I could even catch a glimpse of who was emerging from the trapdoor, Horatio had hurtled toward me and gripped my shoulders. The next thing I knew, my body was shrinking and I collapsed to the ground. As my hands and feet made contact with the sand, I realized that I no longer possessed the body of a jinn. I had the limbs of a mouse… or a rat. Horatio had caught me unawares and turned me into a rodent.
Is this what they did to my family too?

“My apologies, Josiah,” Horatio called to a young male jinni who had poked his head through the entrance and was surveying the dunes. “I decided to stay out longer. Go back to what you were doing.”

With that, Josiah’s head disappeared and the trapdoor shut again. My small body quivering all over, I tried to scamper away, but I wasn’t fast enough. Horatio’s strong hands closed around my body and he lifted me upward until I was level with his chest.

His green eyes were severe as they drilled into mine. “I meant it when I said that you should leave,” he murmured.

His hand tightened around my furry midriff and then our surroundings disappeared. When my vision came into focus again, we were standing near a beach. The sand was still coal black. We were on one of The Dunes’ shores.

Horatio set me back down on the ground, near the lapping waves. I made a second attempt to scramble away, but he arrested me with his magic. Then my body started tingling all over and expanding until I had resumed my normal form.

I glared daggers at Horatio. “What are you doing?”

“What I’m about to do is for your own good and in time, you will thank me for it,” he said. “Please, trust me… for old times’ sake.”

“What? No! Wait! What are you—?”

“I’m banishing you from the land of jinn, Aisha.”

Before I could scream out in protest, something heavy and invisible hit me square in the chest, knocking all the breath out of me. I went hurtling backward and then upward into the sky, traveling with speed that I had no control over, as though I had just been fired from a cannon. I went soaring over the waves, and I couldn’t even twist myself around to face forward. I was stuck, falling backward, watching helplessly as The Dunes, my old home, shrank to nothing but a small speck on the horizon.

By the time I’d slowed down —again, a result of no effort of my own—The Dunes were completely out of view as I hovered over the ocean.

“Damn you, Horatio!” I screamed, fat tears spilling down my cheeks. “Damn you and the whole lot of your wicked family!”

My whole body shaking with rage and grief, I gazed down at the empty waves rolling beneath me. Horatio had said that he had banished me—and I knew what that meant. His curse upon me would mean that I couldn’t even enter The Dunes anymore. As a Drizan, he was powerful enough to cast such a curse.

Still, I tried. I couldn’t help but try. I hurried back over all the miles that I had been flung and stopped at one of The Dunes’ black beaches. As I attempted to move onto the mainland, I was stopped short, barricaded by an invisible boundary. A boundary that I couldn’t break through no matter how much I tried.

Horatio had said that he’d done this to protect me. But protection wasn’t what I wanted, dammit! I wanted my family, and I wanted to be wherever they were, no matter how horrible the conditions.

But, as the hours passed, I had no choice other than to accept that I could not reenter The Dunes. And so in the end, after much more crying and screaming and cursing, I did the only thing that I could do: leave.

Maybe with hindsight, I would indeed come to thank that prince for sparing me my family’s fate—whatever they were still going through—but right now, locking me out felt like the cruelest act in the world.

My shoulders sagging in defeat, I moved away from The Dunes, further out into the ocean. I drifted over the waves, aimless. I did not know where I was going or what I was going to do. I was just… trying to cope with the pain.

I hadn’t realized that I’d backtracked so far until I caught sight of Julie’s ship a mile away. Forgetting that it was infested with monsters, I wandered toward it. As I eyed its mast, the ship became nothing but a place to sit and rest. I perched myself among the sails and gazed out with blurry vision at the ocean.
What is going to become of me?

I could not have known how much time passed as I sat atop that mast. I was barely even aware of the deck below—now mostly cleared of the writhing bodies, and standing ones for that matter. They were all, I guessed, packed into the lower decks because this ship was still on a course.

My body felt weaker and weaker as the hours passed. I was starved, but that was not the cause of my increasing frailty. Grief and mourning could weaken jinn and cause their powers to diminish. I’d never experienced such sorrow before, and so had never experienced this phenomenon. It was unnerving feeling my strength ebb out of me. I had to regain control over my emotions, but I simply didn’t know how. Soon it felt like it was all I could do just to maintain a grip on the mast and keep myself from tumbling down to the deck.

Anxious to test how much power I’d lost, I dared to move away from the mast and floated directly over the deck. I didn’t fall, but it was an unsettling struggle to keep myself afloat. I hoped that I still possessed the ability to transport myself to other places, too.

Though Horatio had told me that my family wasn’t dead, who knew how long it would take for Cyrus to get fed up and murder them all? He was an unpredictable man, as unpredictable as an untamed dog.

And Benjamin
. Where is he now?
If all had gone according to Julie and the Elder’s plan—and I could not imagine why it wouldn’t have—Benjamin would now be completely under the control of Basilius. The vampire would be his puppet, his faithful slave. I hated to think about what was happening to that vampire now, but I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to venture back to Cruor by myself. That place had an aura that drained a jinni’s soul.

I would only be able to do the bare minimum now, like transporting myself. I could practically feel my powers leaving my bones. And it would remain so until I recovered from my grief.

If I ever recover,
I thought with a despairing sob.

It was only once a small island came into view and the pale, skeletal creatures began scuttling around on the deck that I snapped back to the present. It became evident after a few seconds that the monsters were indeed headed for this small island. The vessel began to slow.

The sharks that pulled this boat were fast—and it seemed that the pale creatures had enough intelligence to be able to navigate. It wasn’t long before we had arrived at the beach.

The silhouette of the dark island was very small. It took a few moments to realize what this place was. This was a small, restover island for travelers—similar in concept to The Tavern. Except I’d thought that this island was abandoned many, many years ago. A vengeful dragon had burned the whole place down in his fury. I hadn’t known that a new settlement had sprung up in its place. Although the island was nowhere near as developed as it had been before the dragon scorched it, there was still a surprisingly large number of buildings. I wondered how many residents this island sheltered now.

There was a thud. One of the creatures had lowered the gangway and they all swarmed down it onto the beach. They began loping with alarming speed over the sand, swarming together like a pack of wasps. They were heading for the town, or so it seemed.

Soon, there wasn’t a single creature left on the ship, and the last of them disappeared into the line of trees that bordered the beach. My skin tingled as a scream pierced the night several minutes later. Then another scream. And then another. Screams that twisted my gut in knots.

Oh, dear. This is not good.

This is really not good.

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