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A Vial of Life(A Shade of Vampire,Book 21)(16) by Bella Forrest

It shook me how she was crying to me as though I was the one who had her by the neck. Of course, Derek and I were responsible for this raid. We were the ones who’d instigated it.

Cyrus’ hand closed hard around the jinni’s neck, strangling her voice.

“Did you not hear me, vampire?” he asked, his dark eyes digging into mine. “I asked you to leave. Fear not about your son. I will find your son, wherever he is in this place, and bring him to you. The Nasiris will be weakened, and their bond with him will be broken. Now go wait with the others in the gardens.”

Beneath the surface of his politeness bubbled intense irritation. After all, in his eyes, it was none of my business what transpired between the two. His end of the deal was simply to free our son, no matter what method he chose to use.

“Come on, Sofia,” Derek said through gritted teeth. He placed an arm around my waist and led me out of the room, even as I felt torn.

From the little that I’d gleaned about Nuriya’s life before she’d taken refuge in The Oasis, it had been a miserable existence. She’d been forced to marry someone she didn’t love while her heart belonged to another man who wasn’t socially acceptable. Then she’d been kicked out by her father, and then hounded by this Cyrus beast… who’d killed not only her lover but also her newborn child.

My son had told me about her obsession with family and holding people close to her, as though they were her own flesh and blood. She was obviously traumatized by the events of her past. And although she was keeping Benjamin trapped in her world, my heart went out to her. I knew what it felt like to lose a newborn. I’d gone through the torture of losing two. It was a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

Even though I let Derek lead me back outside the apartment, my mind remained in the bedroom as Cyrus continued to taunt and torture the desperate woman. I turned my back on the front door, clutching the railing.

Derek stood by my side and placed his hand over mine on the railing.

“Sofia,” he said, gripping my shoulders and twisting me to face him. His blue eyes looked down seriously into mine. “This woman is keeping our son as a prisoner here. Don’t forget that.”

With that, he caught my hand and walked back down the levels to join Aiden, Rose, Caleb and the other vampires, who were waiting with the dragons in the center of the gardens, while the Drizan jinn finished raiding the atrium. They’d lined up dozens of Nasiri jinn against the walls, bound by their wrists in some kind of glowing, bright green rope. I hated to think about what the Drizans’ plan might be for them now. Will they murder them?

I should have been relieved that we were closer than ever to getting Ben back, but my stomach was twisted up in knots. Yes, Derek was right that she’d imprisoned our son, but this lady clearly had issues. And she hadn’t done anything to actually harm Benjamin. If anything, she had protected him on his journey from Egypt to The Shade. She wanted to look after him, adopt him as her own son. As unnerving as these powerful creatures were, at least with Nuriya, I didn’t get the sense that she was malicious. She seemed to be just… broken.

And as a woman, a mother, I could relate to her in a way that Derek couldn’t. She was clearly still suffering from trauma and for us to storm in here like this and be the cause of Cyrus abusing her… I swallowed hard, recalling the way she’d looked at me back in the bedroom. She’d seemed so weak, so helpless, as she was being tortured physically and psychologically by a man twice her size… And Derek and I had just left. No matter what grudge I held against her, this just didn’t seem humane on our part.

“There has to be another way of doing this,” I said, looking around at the rows of bound Nasiri jinn. Each of them looked petrified, with some of the younger jinn crying for their mothers. In spite of what they’d done, these jinn in The Oasis were just another family.

“What other way?” Derek asked. “Besides, it’s too late to backtrack now.”

He was right. As much as I hated what we were doing to these creatures, I couldn’t think of any other way but force. Nuriya was so attached to Ben that she’d formed this strong bond that would tie him to her for his entire life. Ben himself had been convinced that there was no negotiating to be done, that it was set in stone.

I rested my head against Derek’s chest, trying to shut out the horrible scene around me. When Jeriad had made the offer of help to Derek, I hadn’t thought that it would be such a violent route as this. I’d thought that perhaps Jeriad’s jinn acquaintances might be able to help us in some other way, perhaps via a friendly connection of Nuriya’s who might put in a good word for us and persuade her to let Ben go. I had been so anxious to accept Jeriad’s proposal, since there was nothing else on the table, that I hadn’t stopped to consider what exactly this would involve.

“Let’s just hope we’re reunited with Ben soon,” Rose murmured to my right. She held my hand and squeezed it.

Ten minutes later, it appeared that the Drizans had emptied every single chamber. They piled out of the apartments and gathered around the Nasiris being held captive on the ground. Some of the younger Drizan jinn dipped down to poke and taunt the Nasiri cruelly. I had half a mind to snap at them to stop, but I knew that wouldn’t help.

“Now we’re just waiting for Cyrus,” Derek muttered.

“They’re coming.” Aiden pointed toward the staircase nearest to us.

The towering form of Cyrus descended the stairs, carrying Nuriya in his arms. He’d tied her with the same strange rope the other jinn had been bound by. Her cries of anguish on seeing her family lined up along the wall were muffled by a gag in her mouth. She coughed and choked.