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A Vial of Life(A Shade of Vampire,Book 21)(4) by Bella Forrest

Even in these circumstances, I couldn’t complain about my life. Hans was the only thing that I needed to be happy.

The nights became our days, and the days our nights. We fell into a mindless routine during the night hours that consisted primarily of procuring fresh human blood and bringing it back to the coven. And during the day, Hans and I could bask in the fire of our love, still burning as strong as the night we’d shared our first kiss.

Then one day our lives were uprooted yet again. The same woman who’d turned me into a vampire all those years ago knocked on our door again. She didn’t attack Hans this time as he opened the door, but the words she spoke caused Hans’ face to pale as I’d never seen before.

She told him that we’d both been selected to be transported to Cruor. She promised that we would both be performing important and valuable service to our masters, the Elders. Masters I’d only heard vague talk of around the coven.

Hans fought against the idea, but in the end, we had no choice in the matter. We were taken to a portal and brought to the desolate red-tinged landscape that was Cruor. The land of the Elders.

We were taken into the bowels of a mountain, where layer upon layer of shadowy chambers had been built. It was there that I discovered the truth about those known as the original vampires. Hans and I had been brought there to be used primarily as vessels, to do their bidding in whatever task they had. The Elders would inhabit us and we would descend into the deepest depths of the mountains, where giant halls filled with pools of shimmering blood were kept. We would be forced to drink liters of it at a time, thus sustaining and bringing pleasure to the Elder who’d inhabited us during the feeding.

Still, even through all of this, Hans and I were granted a room to ourselves, which became our refuge from the Elders’ ghastly abode. We lost track of time while living in that strange place. But I suspected that decades passed. Over time, our bodies became weaker. Although usually the Elders were careful to give us rest after being inhabited, sometimes they didn’t, which left us feeling drained and unwell.

Then, eighteen years ago, the climate between the Hawks and the Elders changed irrevocably. Due to a spiral of incidents that had happened in the human realm, the malice that had been brewing between the two species reached boiling point and our lives changed forever. The Hawks stormed Cruor, entering the Elders’ mountain chambers, murdering vessels, and soiling all the blood supplies that we had collected for decades.

During the first wave of the Hawks’ attack, Hans and I had been locked in our room. A Hawk broke down the door and barged into the room. With a combined effort, Hans and I managed to slit his throat before escaping through the door.

The halls outside belonged in a nightmare. Countless bodies of our fellow vessels were strewn about the floors as the giant birdlike Hawks tore through the halls. Hans and I had to escape the mountain—and go where exactly, we didn’t know.

We had almost made it to the exit at the top, with just one last staircase to climb before we arrived out in the open, when Hans’ hand jerked away from mine. I whirled around, afraid that a Hawk had just caught him within its talons. But no, Hans had torn his hand deliberately from mine. As I stared at him in confusion, the expression on his face made me realize what had happened. An Elder had entered him.

For reasons I couldn’t understand, the Elder made Hans turn on his heel and run back into the chaos of the corridors. I cried out and raced after him, but a Hawk swooped down in front of me and I was forced to dive out of the way. After that, I lost sight of Hans. I had no idea where he’d gone. I searched the halls, corridors and chambers desperately, even despite the mortal danger I was putting myself into by weaving in and out of the battle.

But no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find Hans.

With more Hawks arriving by the moment, the place overflowing with the birds, I sought out a small cupboard at the bottom of the staircase and squeezed myself inside, closing the door and hoping that nobody would notice me in the heat of the battle. I’d be killed if I roamed around this place screaming out Hans’ name. I had to wait for the battle to die down and for things to become less dangerous.

I had to wait in that tiny, cramped cupboard for days before the Hawks had drained the place of all vessels. When I finally stepped out of the cupboard, the wrecked chambers were deserted. I had no idea what had happened to the Elders. I raced around the corridors, tears stinging my eyes, as I searched once again for my love. Even though I knew it was hopeless—there was no way that he would be here—I had to find him. Even if it was just his body. I had to see him again.

But even his corpse I could not find. He’d disappeared without a trace. I spent the next few weeks wandering those bloody mountain chambers like a spirit. I felt bound to that place, the last place I’d seen Hans, hoping against hope that somehow he was still alive and if I only waited long enough… he’d return.

I lost myself in the darkest depths of depression. After weeks without blood, my stomach hurt as though it was starting to eat itself. Eventually, I was forced to leave in search of nourishment.

It was as I exited the mountain and began clambering over the rocks toward the shore that I sensed an Elder’s presence. A voice, weak and strained, hissed in my ear. “We have your lover,” he said.

His words were like an electric jolt to my chest. My mind, previously dulled with mourning, sprang to life.

“Where?” I gasped. “Take me to him!”

“You go too speedily, girl. During the Hawks’ siege, we selected a number of vessels to hold back from the battle and keep safe. Hans was one of them. He is quite secure, within a secret chamber in Cruor that you will never find unless shown.”