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A Vial of Life(A Shade of Vampire,Book 21)(18) by Bella Forrest

“Please,” I croaked, not sure what other option I had left but to beg for any scrap of compassion this hard-hearted jinni might possess. “Just… stop harassing the Nasiris. At least for now.”

Cyrus shrugged me off. He moved closer to Nuriya and replaced the gag in her mouth even as she sobbed. Then he turned his back on us completely and looked around at his jinn companions. “We return now to the palace. Make sure that not a single Nasiri gets left behind.”

He scooped up Nuriya again in his arms and, shooting one last glare my way, vanished. He was followed a moment later by the rest of the Drizan jinn, carrying the Nasiri captives in their arms, leaving me, Derek and our small army standing alone in the magnificent atrium.

Jeriad approached Derek and me, his piercing, aquamarine-blue eyes meeting mine. “Queen Sofia. Backing out of an agreement with jinn is simply not done.”

“So where is his end of the agreement?” Rose asked. “He’s supposed to find Ben for us.”

Jeriad glanced at my daughter. “I suspect that he sensed the truth in Nuriya’s words, that Benjamin is no longer in The Oasis. His agreement was to break the bond and return Ben to us, on the understanding that Ben would actually be here. He never said he’d go hunting elsewhere for your brother….”

I stared at my husband, and I could see from his blood-drained face that the same question was running through both our minds. What now?

Benjamin was trapped somewhere in the supernatural dimension, and if what Nuriya said came to pass, Bahir would leave him, and he wouldn’t have enough protection to stop the Elder from calling him to Cruor… What will become of my son?

Chapter 3: Derek

I wanted to resist taking Nuriya’s words seriously. I wanted to believe she’d spoken them solely out of desperation, in an attempt to save her and her family, and Benjamin was still here somewhere in The Oasis. Yet another part of me sensed the truth in the jinni’s words, even despite her desperate situation. What she’d told us about Ben just… made sense. I recalled the vision that Ben had shortly before we’d all left The Shade for The Oasis. He’d described Cruor in vivid detail, and of a dark presence engulfing him as a newborn. The pieces of Benjamin’s mystery fell into place in my mind.

And yet I wasn’t ready to resign myself to Ben’s fate.

“We need to do a thorough search of this place,” I spoke up, glancing around at our companions. “Search every nook and cranny.”

We split up and began making our way around the massive atrium, searching through sprawling apartment after apartment. We checked every room, in cupboards, under beds, but Ben was nowhere to be found down here.

“Perhaps he’s being kept in the upper atrium,” Aiden muttered.

“Let’s search there now,” Sofia replied anxiously.

We hurried back into the kitchen and climbed up the narrow staircase toward the prison above.

“Maybe he’s in one of these cells,” Sofia whispered, gazing around the dimly lit prison corridors. This network of cells was like a labyrinth. There were so many small chambers that it took us a long time to complete the task, even with all of us splitting up in search parties and moving with supernatural speed. Ashley straying from Landis and getting lost didn’t help.

Once we were certain that Benjamin was not down here in the cells, our last hope remained with the upper atrium. My throat tightened as we climbed the final staircase leading up to the prison’s exit. The atrium above is where Jeramiah lives. I still hadn’t gotten used to the idea of Lucas having a son, much less the idea of meeting my nephew in person. I wondered how much Jeramiah would look like my brother, and whether he would sound like him.

I swallowed as we entered the upper atrium’s gardens. This place looked different now compared to when the Maslens had inhabited it all those years ago. It was a bizarre feeling to be standing here, in the same place where that fateful night occurred. The night I’d rescued Sofia from the hands of Borys Maslen, the night that Benjamin Hudson and my brother had lost their lives.

“I suggest we enter the gardens to keep ourselves positioned centrally while we scope this place out,” Aiden spoke up.

We took his suggestion and entered a rose garden nearby, eyeing the various levels of the atrium. We’d been to this upper atrium only recently, but we had been trapped by the powers of the jinn, and we hadn’t had a chance to walk around and explore the place. Before we launched into another search for Ben, we needed to get a better feeling for the scope of the atrium. Because looking for him here wouldn’t be as simple—it was packed with vampires. Though there were no bloodsuckers to be seen walking around. I guessed that spotting the Drizan jinn had given them such a scare that they were still locked in their apartments, not daring to come out.

We wound our way through an orchard and several ornamental gardens before we arrived at a large pond. Rose stopped near the edge of it and stared down at a slab of stone set among the green grass. I walked toward her to see what it was. A memorial stone. Lucas Dominic Novak. Benjamin had mentioned this memorial stone during his recounting of his stay here in The Oasis. Jeramiah must have installed the slab in honor of his father.

We finished passing through the gardens, arriving at the other end of the atrium. Still, none of us detected a single vampire out on the verandas.

I feared that disturbing them in their homes would quickly descend into a fight. They were spooked after seeing us accompanied by the Drizans, but if we started barging into their apartments, they would get defensive. We had to handle the situation delicately, in spite of how desperate Sofia and I were.