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A Vial of Life(A Shade of Vampire,Book 21)(14) by Bella Forrest

When Cyrus returned, he manifested himself in the same spot he had left, just in front of his throne.

“We are ready,” he said, a hint of excitement in his voice. “Let us return to the sand above, where my army is waiting.”

He led us out of the door, retracing the same path he’d taken in bringing us down here. Climbing up the jeweled staircase, we emerged back in the desert of black sand. Surrounding us was a huge swarm of jinn. It took my breath away to see how many there were. They each shared similar features: smooth ebony skin and heavily set jaws—heavier than the Nasiris’. The women had tightly curled hair, and most of the men were bald—some sporting immaculately sculpted goatees.

“So tell me, Jeriad.” Cyrus faced the shifter. “How exactly do you propose to lead us to the Nasiris?”

“We dragons must fly by our own strength, of course,” Jeriad replied. Of course, I forgot. “For as you know, we do not accept transport from magical beings. You may fly with us on our backs, for there is plenty of space. Or, if you wish to fly using your own powers, you can soar alongside us.”

“We shall soar alongside you,” Cyrus replied after a moment of thought.

“Our destination in the human realm is a country called Egypt,” Jeriad said. “The Nasiris reside in a desert, whose name is… I forget these human names.” Jeriad looked toward Derek.

“The Sahara Desert,” Derek prompted.

“Then pray, lead us there,” Cyrus said. “Since we’re not traveling by magic, it will take some time, and I am most eager to reunite with old acquaintances…”

* * *

We returned through the same portal that we had arrived through, on the beach in the country of ogres. Traveling with supernatural speed—the jinn soaring at the dragons’ side—it wasn’t long before we arrived back in the Sahara Desert. The spell of shade that was cast upon us before we left The Shade was still active, though my throat still felt parched as we descended and touched down on the sand. The jinn cast their eyes about, scanning the area expectantly. We walked around the dunes until we located The Oasis’ boundary.

“Interesting,” Cyrus said, laying his hands flat against the invisible wall. “This is where she has been all this time… Do you know how many jinn live here?”

Jeriad looked to Derek and me for an answer. I shrugged. We really hadn’t spent much time down there. It was hard to give even an estimate. From the look on Derek’s face, he wasn’t sure either.

“We aren’t certain,” I replied. “But if I had to take a wild guess, I would say at least a dozen.”

“A dozen,” Cyrus said thoughtfully, more to himself than to anyone else. “I wonder if more outcasts joined her…”

He ran his hands along the barrier before he cleared his throat and addressed his jinn companions in a low voice. “We’re strong enough to break through this together.” He turned to Jeriad. “I suggest that the rest of you stand back. Far back.”

Derek’s hand slid into mine as we all moved backward with the dragons, while the jinn moved forward and lined up against the barrier. They adopted the same stance as Cyrus—shoulders squared, palms resting against the invisible wall.

A moment later, there was a searing flash of light, so bright that I feared for Derek’s human eyes. I reached instinctively for his neck and tugged him to face the opposite direction.

Once the light had faded, Derek and I, along with Rose, Caleb, Aiden and the other vampires, faced The Oasis. The boundary had been broken and now we could see what had been hidden beyond its walls. My eyes fixed on the camel stable before roaming the ground in search of the trap door. We soon spotted it. Approaching it, we discovered that it was locked.

The jinn emitted another painful flash of light and the trap door popped open obediently.

The sound of scurrying came from beneath us, footsteps echoing across marble floors, in the vampires’ atrium. I could only assume they had already detected our intrusion. Cyrus was about to descend toward the lower levels when Derek spoke up.

“Wait,” he said. “A coven of vampires live in this upper atrium and it’s not necessary to cause harm to them. The jinn are the ones who hold the boy in question—my son—as a prisoner. These vampires are mere puppets. I would also request that you leave all humans alone.”

I understood the motive behind Derek’s words. Of course, he wasn’t the harsh ruler he’d been when I met him, and he didn’t want to cause unnecessary bloodshed. But he also knew that Lucas’ son, Jeramiah, lived here. Derek regretted the hateful relationship he’d had with his brother, and he didn’t want to make an enemy out of Jeramiah, who, at least so far, didn’t appear to have played much of a role in Ben’s troubles. If anything, Jeramiah himself was under the control of the jinn.

“We have no interest in the vampires,” Cyrus said. “Nor much in the humans… Just tell us where to find the Nasiris.”

“Beneath this atrium lies a prison filled with humans,” Derek replied. “Beneath that is where the Nasiris reside.”

The jinn glided down the stairs that led from the desert to the top level of the atrium, whose walls were made of glass, giving us a view of the many levels below. Dark figures streaked across the verandas—vampires, carrying weapons, and all moving in our direction.

One of them looked upward—a young woman with thick blonde hair—and the moment she laid eyes on the jinn a scream escaped her lips.