Authors: Bella Forrest
OF VAMPIRE SERIES
Series 1: Derek & Sofia’s story
Series 2: Rose & Caleb’s story
Series 3: Ben & River’s story
Series 4: A Clan of Novaks
A SHADE OF DRAGON TRILOGY
A SHADE OF KIEV TRILOGY
BEAUTIFUL MONSTER DUOLOGY
For an updated list of Bella’s books, please visit her website:
Join Bella’s VIP email list and she’ll personally send you an email reminder as soon as her next book is out! Tap here to sign up:
© 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.
like we had been searching for my brother for an eternity. As we roamed the smoke-choked jungle, we still hadn’t been able to find him. We’d even ended up crossing paths with Ben and Horatio, who had split from Kailyn and I so we could cover more ground faster. They’d had no luck, either. We had no choice but to keep searching.
We split up again, Kailyn and I moving through the IBSI’s temporary residences in the trees with trepidation. I feared that we would find Derek trapped there, or dead. But the fear was unfounded; he wasn’t there. It was like he had just… vanished into thin air.
Kailyn and I rose above the treetops, into the open sky, to take a short break from the smothering heat of the jungle. It was getting to both of our heads. Although the sun blazed harsher than ever up here, at least a breeze was able to reach us and provide us with some semblance of relief. I gazed up at the cloudless sky, eyeing the myriad species of exotic birds that filled it—all of them larger than any birds I had ever seen on Earth.
They flew together in flocks, darting across the sky in perfect arrow formations, while others dove into the trees like kamikaze pilots, apparently having spotted some prey.
As I looked deeper into the horizon, I spotted the strangest-looking birds I’d seen yet.
Indeed, although they had wings, they did not look like birds. I clutched Kailyn’s shoulder and gestured toward them. She narrowed her eyes. The two of us zoomed closer, our speeds closing the distance between us.
“Hawks,” I whispered. Their bodies were humanoid, and there were five of them. They flew in an odd fashion, four soaring together in a horizontal line, while the fifth flew directly beneath them.
In spite of how much we had traversed Aviary already, these were the first Hawks we had come across. I found it odd that they hadn’t been making even the slightest attempt to shift the hunters from their territory.
Kailyn and I stopped moving forward and paused in the air, watching as they flew closer and closer to us. And then I noticed something…
was on the back of one of the creatures.
Oh, my God
. It was a man. A man with dark hair and pale skin.
“It’s Derek!” I hissed.
Even as I recognized my brother, I could hardly believe my eyes.
Am I hallucinating from the heat?
Maybe those toxic fumes do have a mild effect on fae after all.
If it was indeed a hallucination, Kailyn was sharing the exact same one.
As the Hawks reached us, they slowed to a stop.
“Derek?” Kailyn and I gasped in unison.
Now that we were less than ten feet apart, I could make out red blotches marring my brother’s skin where, apparently, the four Hawks who flew above him had not been able to completely block out the sun. His pants were ripped, and his shirt was so torn he was practically bare-chested.
“Yup,” he spoke up.
“What… what are you
?” I managed, my eyes falling to the intimidating-looking Hawks.
There was relief in Derek’s expression, and a subtle hint of amusement crossed his lips as he took in my reaction. “I made some new friends… Where is everyone else?”
“They all returned to The Shade,” I said, still gawking. “Well, except for Ben and Horatio, who are looking for you right now. Just the four of us stayed behind—you were the only one among us left missing… What
is this?” I couldn’t help but ask again, my voice rising to a high pitch in my confusion.
“I’ll explain along the way,” Derek said briskly. “First, we need to find Ben and Horatio. Do you know where they are?”
Kailyn and I paused, exchanging glances.
“Well, we split up,” Kailyn explained. “But we bumped into them only recently—they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Let’s head back down to the jungle. We can backtrack the way Lucas and I came.”
I was still staring at the Hawks even as we started moving over the jungle canopy. Finally, Derek put me out of my misery. He explained he’d been scooped up from the tree near the portal, where everyone had passed out, and been taken to see the Hawks. He had struck a deal with them—that we, the League, would help rid their realm of the hunters in exchange for helping Derek find his family and becoming our allies. And the Hawks had agreed—no, not just agreed, but practically begged Derek to be their leader.
It was stranger than fiction. I could hardly wrap my mind around the notion.
But there was one thing I couldn’t deny, as I stared at Derek riding atop this Hawk —any vampire’s archnemesis—cool and collected, as if he were riding a stallion through a meadow…
My younger brother was a badass.
, it didn’t take us long to find Ben and Horatio. They had headed west, and we caught up with them before they could roam too far. It helped that they had been having a conversation at the time; I’d been able to detect their voices through the rest of the disconcertingly quiet jungle. Once I got wind of them, Kailyn and Lucas zoomed down into the trees to retrieve them from the smoky jungle and bring them up to see me.
My son’s relief was palpable when he laid eyes on me, even as he shared the same expression of utter bewilderment that Lucas had.
After explaining to Ben and the jinni that I had agreed to co-operate with the Hawks to rid Aviary of the hunters, Ben informed me of what had happened with them while I had been gone—how he had taken Grace to see Lawrence, and how he had learned that the hunters were planning to pack up very soon anyway, in a matter of hours.
Then he told me about the trees. The ruined peach-colored trees. Virtually every single one of them had been shriveled up by the gas.
Those trees that we believed were a key to unlocking the Bloodless antidote.
I fell into thought.
Now that I had found my family, and the Hawks had also overheard that the hunters were leaving of their own accord… what reason did they have to still cooperate with me? I fully expected the Hawks to withdraw their proposal—their offer of help, of submission to my leadership.
“So, what now?” I asked Killian directly. “You heard my son.”
To my surprise, Killian barely hesitated a moment before replying, “Our people still need a leader. We cannot live as we are now—too weak in mind and spirit to defend our own ground. Besides, we don’t know when the hunters might return. It could be tomorrow, it could be a week or in a month… The state of our worlds is too volatile for any race to be without strong leadership… strong guidance.” He drew in a long, steady breath. “We still request you to rouse our people, Derek Novak.”
By his brother Tidor’s silence, it seemed that they were in agreement.
I considered the matter for a moment, although there was really not much to consider. The Hawks still wanted to ally with us—with me—and at some point in the near future, we were going to need all the supernatural help that we could possibly muster in the human world… after we had uncovered this damn antidote.
“All right,” I said, clearing my throat. “If you insist…”
“Dad,” Ben said to me. “There is still something we could use the Hawks for right away… remember the cargo ship the IBSI filled with trees? Lawrence said it’s bound for their base in Sri Lanka.”
Oh, yes… of course.
“We must reach that cargo ship and salvage those trees,” I said. “We must take them back to The Shade and keep them safe… Well, Killian. That will be my first assignment for the Hawks.”
“It’s not like we have a choice but to agree,” Killian muttered.
* * *
ur next stop
had to be the Hawks’ residences, where I was to make my introductory “rousing” speech.
I had never been much of a talker by nature. As Sofia had often observed about me, I spoke far better with actions than words. Yet practically my whole life I found myself thrust into the position of a leader in one way or another. I’d been forced to get used to stirring and moving crowds in both good and bad times. And I’d had to get good at it.
Although entering an enclosure filled with hundreds of Hawks should have been unsettling, I couldn’t say that I was truly nervous. Perhaps that was just because I knew how desperate they were. I couldn’t see any motivation for them to harm us. They would be utter fools to attempt it, considering what we could bring to their kind in an alliance.
The Hawks led us over the jungle landscape toward an area where the smoke had not touched—toward their new residences, far, far away from the original city. As we neared, we began to notice makeshift treehouses perched in the boughs—far less sophisticated than those that used to exist in Aviary. The homes were nothing but crudely constructed cabins. There was nothing beautiful or awe-inspiring about the treehouses, unlike the old city, no pride in any of the craftsmanship. It almost seemed to reflect their inner state of being. Their lives had been reduced to survival, rather than true living.
As the number of constructions grew larger, our five Hawk escorts began to caw out loudly. “Emergency meeting at the Oval! To the Oval, everyone!”
We soon found out what the Oval was. After the Hawks had finished soaring through the area calling to their people—who emerged with predictably shocked expressions—we were brought before a massive ovular platform, built from uneven logs. Killian and Tidor touched down with me first, followed by Kailyn, Lucas, Ben, Horatio and our other three Hawk companions, whom I’d come to learn were also distant relatives of Arron.
Wings beating heavily all around us, the platform quickly began filling up, while others perched in the trees surrounding us.
Killian led us to center stage. Once he seemed satisfied that enough of his comrades had gathered, he spoke up. “We have a new leader.”
Well, he sure cut to the chase.
“Derek Novak, King of The Shade, has agreed to be our commander henceforth.” Killian paused, observing the other Hawks. I witnessed the same stages of reaction I’d seen in Killian and Tidor when admitting to needing my help—agitated resentment leading to bitter acceptance.
It appeared that they must have all been aware of the League’s exploits. Killian did not need to spell out for them exactly what an alliance with The Shade would mean. Even when he informed them of the hunters’ plans to leave Aviary, they still seemed to understand the value of forming a relationship with us.
Though one Hawk at the back—a young male—hurled down the question, “How can we trust a vampire? How do we know the Novaks don’t harbor a grudge against us and plan to bring us to ruin?”
Killian stepped back, indicating that I take center stage.
I dragged my eyes across the audience, taking in everyone’s faces. There were men, women, and even a fair number of children gathered at the meeting.
“You will trust us now,” I began, “because you are desperate. Because you have no choice. The Elders made a wreck of you in the war, and none of you can even hold your own ground anymore.” I paused, running my tongue over my lower lip. “But in time, if you accept this alliance, you will trust us because we are worthy of trust. Because we are
out to harm you, or anyone else. Because we wish to do what is right, and not what our personal motives dictate.”
Which is a lot more than I can say for you people
“Believe me,” I went on, “we have no shortage of things to resent you people for. I’m sure I do not need to begin to list them. But if there’s one thing I have learned in my many centuries of living, it’s that holding grudges gains one nothing.” My eyes couldn’t help but meet those of my brother Lucas, who stood next to me. “And I have come to believe that people can change. People can reinvent themselves. Relationships can start afresh…” My focus returned to the audience. “If
are willing to put aside the conflict of our pasts, then the least you can do is the same.” I let my statements hang for several moments before booming, “Well, Hawks? Are you with us, or against us?”
There was a span of deathly silence. One could have heard a pin drop. Then murmurs of agreement broke out, followed by a sea of nodding heads.
I let out a slow breath before turning to Killian.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” I told him in a low voice.
“Then your first mission that will serve to formalize our alliance begins now,” I went on. “I require fifty of you to accompany us back through the portal to Earth to retrieve the ship of trees. Successful completion of this task, with your full and unconditional cooperation, will confirm your seriousness about allying with us.”
Killian nodded again.
“And make sure that you bring only the most capable among you, for there could be a fight…” I clenched my jaw.
There could be a very bloody fight…