Authors: Bella Forrest
OF VAMPIRE SERIES
Derek & Sofia’s story:
Rose & Caleb’s story:
The Shade lives on…
OF KIEV TRILOGY
EAUTIFUL MONSTER DUOLOGY
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© 2015 by Bella Forrest
Cover design inspired by Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations LLC
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the entire circumference of the boundary surrounding The Oasis. There was no way out. The brand on my upper right arm burned more than ever. It felt like my skin was on fire.
There was no point trying to break through any longer. I wasn’t going to escape. Not now and not like this.
I had to return before someone noticed me up here. I hoped that Marilyn had been too drunk to remember what had happened once she woke from sleep.
I hurried back across the sand toward The Oasis. I was within one mile of it when I spotted something north of the coven’s entrance. A stable, filled with camels. There must’ve been at least fifty of them. I wasn’t sure why they were there, because Jeramiah and his people seemed to have no shortage of human blood in their cellars. I couldn’t imagine why they needed camel blood too. Tearing my eyes away from the stable, I raced back toward the trapdoor leading down toward the atrium.
Before descending the staircase, I poked my head down through the hole in the ground as far as I could and looked around, listening for any sign of someone having woken up nearby. I could hear heavy breathing, and the occasional snore. As far as I could tell, everyone was in bed. I climbed down the stairs and closed the trapdoor above me as quietly as I could.
Almost as soon as my feet touched the floor, the burning in my arm stopped. I thought I might have been hallucinating at first. Then I wondered whether the hot air outside had aggravated it. It was bizarre. I could still feel it prickling slightly, but the pain was nowhere near as agonizing as before.
I lowered the sheet filled with sacks of blood that I had flung over my shoulder, and proceeded to take off layer after layer of shirts I had piled on. I didn’t want to be caught looking like I had just tried to escape.
I stopped peeling off the layers as I reached the last one. Bunching up the clothing under my left arm, I picked up the bundle of blood and tucked that under my right arm. Although I looked less suspicious without so many shirts, if I bumped into a vampire they would smell the blood. I had to move quickly before anyone started waking up.
I took the elevator down to my level and sprinted along the winding veranda toward my apartment door. It was wide open. I stepped inside and locked the door. Heading straight to my bedroom, I expected the worst—that Marilyn was still in here. But she wasn’t. I searched the rest of the apartment just to be sure. She had gone. Perhaps she had returned to Jeramiah, or taken up my suggestion to find some other apartment to sleep in.
Heading for my bathroom, I removed the two pairs of pants I had layered on, then removed my shirt. I stared at myself in the mirror. My breath hitched at the sight of the tattoo. Previously pitch black, now it was tinged red. The skin around it was glowing, like an ember dying down after a fire. This was no ordinary tattoo. It clearly had some kind of magical power. Perhaps one of the witches residing here had etched it into me…
I grabbed a towel from the railing and wet it with cold water, then dabbed it over the tattoo. I held it there for about ten minutes before letting it go. The prickling was practically nonexistent by now, and the glowing of the tattoo seemed to have died down.
Then I stepped into the shower and turned on the cold water, calming the rest of my body after being exposed to the sweltering heat outside. Once I had finished showering, I dried myself, pulled on a clean pair of pants and another shirt, then returned to my bedroom. I walked to the bed and sat down on the edge of it.
I rested my head in my hands, closing my eyes and trying to plan my next step.
I had to escape. That much hadn’t changed.
Jeramiah had told me about the boundary—and warned me not to go near it. He’d told me the story of the vampire who used to live in this very apartment, who had gotten drunk and ventured outside, only to be killed by the hunters who patrolled this area closely.
I had assumed that I would have the freedom to step outside, just as that vampire had, however dangerous it was. I could only guess that the witches had set up this barrier spell and hadn’t yet granted me permission to come in and out as I pleased.
My first step became clear to me. I had to gain these people’s trust, by whatever means necessary.
And that meant only one thing: I had to seek out Jeramiah. He was the clear leader of this place. If I gained his trust, everything else would follow.
I stood up and paced around the room. Now that I knew Jeramiah was the bastard child of my uncle, conceived before Lucas turned into a vampire, just the thought of looking him in the eye felt so awkward. Although I guessed that he didn’t know I was Derek Novak’s son, and indeed believed that my name was Joseph Brunson, there was no way I could be completely sure.
Still, it wasn’t like I had any other choice.
I picked up the sheet wrapped with blood sacks from the floor and took it into the kitchen. Rolling it out on the table, I picked up the sacks and replaced them in the fridge—except for one, which I poured into a glass and drank. I needed some blood in my system for what was ahead of me.
Then I left my apartment. As I looked around my level, people were beginning to wake up and step out of their apartments. There was still no sign of Marilyn.
“Joseph,” a male voice called behind me.
I turned around to find myself face to face with one of the vampires from the crowd the night before, when Jeramiah had introduced me to everybody. He had short hair and a nose that was disproportionately large.
“Good morning… Or good day, whatever time it is,” he said, grinning. “I’m Lloyd.”
“Good day,” I said, even though this day felt like it couldn’t have been any worse.
“You look a bit lost,” he said.
“Not lost,” I replied. “Have you seen Jeramiah around?”
He gestured toward the gardens down below in the center of the atrium. Walking over to the railing, he pointed down toward the lily pond—where Lucas Novak’s memorial stone lay. About ten feet away from the edge of the water, sitting cross-legged and shirtless on the lawn, was Jeramiah. His hair was bunched up in a bun on top of his head and he sat motionless, his eyes closed. He had an expression of serenity on his face.
“He’s meditating,” Lloyd said.
“He does it every morning. He finds it strengthens the mind. Before he got turned, he spent time in India with a bunch of yogis. Learned about mind and self-control… Whatever,” he said, turning back to me. “Anyway, good to have you here, Joseph. I live just five doors down from you, if you need help with anything…”
“Thanks,” I said.
He turned and walked away.
I fixed my eyes back down on the vampire sitting in the center of the lawn. He began inhaling deeply, his back straight. I remained watching him for the next twenty minutes until he finally opened his eyes and stood up. He moved closer to the lily pond. Before he could disappear, I took the opportunity to join him downstairs. He sensed me approaching, and turned around to face me.
“Ah, Joseph. How did you sleep?”
“Well,” I said coolly. I stood next to him by the water’s edge.
“Good,” he said. “Good.”
There was no point in bringing up the tattoo on my arm. He was showing no signs of offering an explanation about it, so I was not going to mention it. It would only be counterproductive. And what would I say anyway? Obviously one of them here had done it, it was just a question of who. A minor detail. The fact was that the mark had been etched into me at Jeramiah’s order.
Still, I found it odd that he felt no need to offer me the slightest bit of explanation for it.
“I’m sorry I had to leave early last night,” I said, watching his reaction carefully. “As I said, I wasn’t feeling well.”
“That’s all right. We understood. I guess all of this”—he gestured around the atrium—“is a lot to take in for a newcomer. The desert air can also have a strange effect on people who aren’t used to it. Especially in these parts…”
“I also realized that I have not thanked you properly,” I continued. “First of all for saving me from those hunters back in Chile, and then offering me refuge here.”
“That’s quite all right,” he said, looking me over thoughtfully. “I like you already, Joseph. I’m sure you’ll prove to be a valuable addition to our coven and won’t let us down.” He paused, fixing his eyes back on the lily pond. “I’m generally an easy person to get along with in any case.” His gaze shot back to me. “Just don’t ever lie to me. Because I don’t tolerate liars.”
I looked back at him unflinchingly, though inside I was taken aback. It made me wonder whether he suspected I wasn’t being truthful about my identity.
But his appearance resumed its previous zen state and he looked back at the blue lilies.
“As I said before,” he continued, “I’m sure that you will like it here. It might take some getting used to, but once you do, you will never want to leave.”
“I’m sure I won’t,” I said.
Marilyn had better have forgotten what she witnessed last night.
“I realize that I still know very little about this place,” I said, looking around the magnificent atrium. “I would like to know more. You mentioned how you found it and rebuilt it into what it is today, but I’m curious about how you manage the logistics. Like, how do you get humans down here?”
Jeramiah gestured to a wooden bench by the side of the pond and we both sat down.
“Much the same as any vampire procures human blood. We go out on hunts, usually catching a large number of humans at the same time, and then one of our six witches transports us back. We rarely step directly out of the boundary of The Oasis—we travel places by magic in order to avoid the hunters stationed outside.”
“I see. And you keep all the humans down in the basement, don’t you?” I asked, recalling my own brief venture down there.
“Yes. We store humans down there but also some half-blood slaves. Many of the half-bloods live with vampires in apartments—mostly in servant quarters—but others remain downstairs.”
“And how many vampires are there here? How many half-bloods?”
“Three hundred and twenty vampires, and one hundred and sixty half-bloods,” he replied without hesitation.
I raised a brow. “You like to keep the ratio precise.”
He didn’t offer any further explanation as to why that was, and I didn’t ask.
“And how many humans do you typically keep down there?” I asked, gesturing to the ground.
“And why is it their blood tastes so good? It’s the best I’ve tasted.”
A broad smile formed on his lips. “We keep our humans exceptionally well. We feed them a healthy diet and keep them free from diseases. Of course, it has an effect on the blood.”
“I see.” That hadn’t been the answer I had been expecting, but I supposed it made sense. “And you manage this place alone?”
“Amaya, Michael and I do most of the managing. But since everyone around here is an adult—although some can certainly act like children—keeping things in order isn’t too taxing. We’ve been living here long enough to work out systems. Everyone knows their role in helping out and keeping everything running smoothly.”
This was the opening I was looking for all along.
“Speaking of helping,” I said, “I feel indebted. Is there something I can do to play my part?”
“Yes,” he said. “You won’t be useful in hunting any humans right now, being newly turned—but there are certainly other things you can help with.”
I tried to hide my frustration. “I feel more confident in my ability to control myself around humans. But you’re right, it’s perhaps still too early.”
I should have laughed at the understatement. I still had zero confidence around humans. It was a wonder that I had managed to keep myself from attacking any humans when I had gone down to the basement. The fact that they were locked in secure rooms had helped. Still, even then I’d been scared that I would break inside and steal one. It was a good thing that my venture downstairs had only been quick.
“So if you’re ready to start helping, come with me,” he said. He began walking away from the pond and the gardens and led me toward one of the rooms on the atrium’s ground level. The door was unlocked and he pushed it open. Stepping inside after him, I found myself in a large dim storage chamber. It smelled of… some kind of animal. Reins and harnesses hung from the ceiling. Jeramiah headed straight for a corner where there was a pile of metal buckets covered with lids. He picked up six by the handle, balancing three in each hand, and gave them to me.
“Above ground we have a stable of camels. Go and fill these buckets with milk.”
I stared at him, wondering if this was some kind of joke.
“Milk? What do you use milk for?”
“The humans,” he said. “I told you we make sure that they get proper nutrition.”
I stared down at the buckets. “Sure,” I replied, although I was anything but.
We exited the room and Jeramiah and I parted. I made my way up to the top level in one of the elevators. I was still thinking about how strange this request was even as I climbed through the trapdoor and stepped out once again into the hot desert. Even though the sun wasn’t shining directly upon me, due to the witches’ spell of night around this area, I could still feel the heat now that I was outside of the cool atmosphere of The Oasis.
They needed milk for the humans. I wondered why the witches didn’t just provide it by magic. I didn’t understand why they bothered with mundane labor like this.
I let the thought sink in. I sure hadn’t thought this would be what Jeramiah would ask of me.
A part of me had been expecting him to ask me to half-turn one of the humans. I was relieved he hadn’t, of course. I would have ended up murdering them. The only reason I’d been able to control myself around Tobias was because he was sick. I doubted I would be able to refrain from devouring a healthy human, especially such a healthy human as the ones they kept down in the basement. Their blood truly tasted divine.
I headed for the stable I had spotted earlier, the buckets clinking at my sides.