Chapter 1: Ben
“We know who you are, and we know what you want…”
I had no idea to whom the voice belonged, why it kept echoing in my ears, or what presence had followed River and me since leaving that Egyptian desert, but after the vision I’d just had, I knew one thing: The Oasis held answers. Answers about my past. Answers that nobody in The Shade had any clue about.
There was no doubt in my mind that the infant in that vision had been me. I had been taken to Aviary as a newborn.
“What is it, Ben?” River asked as she stared at me. “What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t find my voice to explain to her what I had just seen. Not yet.
Ibrahim, who was sitting in a chair against the door of the chamber, stirred at River speaking. Opening his eyes, he looked our way. His sleepy expression turned to one of concern. “Is something wrong?”
“I need to speak to my parents,” I said, swinging my legs off the narrow bed.
Ibrahim looke'd confused, but I was relieved when he just nodded. “I will go wake them.” His eyes fell to River. “While I’m gone, you had better make sure that Ben doesn’t lose control of himself and escape the Sanctuary.”
River gulped, then nodded. “Try not to be too long,” she said, her voice strained.
Ibrahim vanished from the spot, leaving River and me alone. I reached for her hand and pulled her against me, wrapping my arms around her small waist and resting my chin on her head so that I could breathe her in. Her arms slid around my midriff and she held me as we stood in silence, my mind still playing over the vision I had just experienced. The vision I had been given.
River didn’t ask again what was wrong, and I was glad that she gave me space to collect my thoughts before my parents arrived five minutes later. Both were in their nightclothes as they appeared in the room alongside Ibrahim. My gut clenched on catching the strong scent of my father’s blood. I backed away into the furthest corner of the room with River.
Before they could ask me what was wrong, I began to explain. “I just had a vision. I saw myself in Aviary as a newborn. Something happened to me while I was being kept there… I was carried away by a Hawk to another place briefly before being brought back again.”
My father’s brows furrowed. “Wait, Ben. A vision? What do you mean, a vision?”
“I mean I had a vision,” I said. “Just now. As I was lying in bed with River.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t a dream?” my father asked.
“It wasn’t a dream,” I said impatiently. “I wasn’t sleeping. I know that for a fact.”
“What do you mean you were taken somewhere else?” my mother asked, her face tense. “Where?”
I described the place as best as I could. The black mountain ranges with their sharp peaks. The absence of greenery. The dark clouds. The sky tinged with red.
The expression on my parents’ faces was one of shock.
“What?” I asked.
“Ben,” my father said, “the place you’ve described… it sounds like Cruor.”
Cruor. The land of the Elders, the original vampires.
My skin prickled as I recalled the shadowy presence that had surrounded my infant form, and that bone-chilling hiss…
“Take him back to Aviary… His time will come.”
Could that have been an Elder who enveloped me? What did he mean by those words?
But none of it made any sense. “Are you sure?” I said. “How could that have been Cruor? Hawks and Elders were, and are, the deadliest of enemies. Why on earth would a Hawk take me to Cruor? Especially since my blood was supposed to be rare and valuable. Why would a Hawk risk taking me anywhere near that place?”
My parents exchanged glances. Ibrahim didn’t have any insight to offer either. We just looked at each other, confused.
After moments of silence, another voice rang out in my memory. This time, it was the voice of my cousin. Jeramiah Novak.
“Something tells me you will be returning…”
After we’d first escaped from The Oasis, I’d said to River that I hoped we would never find out what he meant by those words, or why he had let her escape so easily.
Now, it appeared that I had no choice but to find out.
Chapter 2: River
I thought that Ben had lost his mind when he said, “I need to return to The Oasis.”
“What?” Ibrahim, Ben’s parents and I all exclaimed at once.
“There’s someone, or something, there that knows more about me than any of us do.”
Sofia stepped forward and clutched her son’s shoulders. “I know something about The Oasis has left its mark on you and that’s why you’ve been having all these bizarre experiences, but this is an extremely drastic conclusion. What if all of this is just a trap to lure you back there? What if it’s one of their witches creating an illusion in your head?”
“I don’t doubt that it’s a trap,” Ben replied, “but I don’t believe the vision I just had was an illusion. I don’t see how they could’ve made that up. They know far too much about me and my past.”
“But Ben,” I breathed, “how can going back be the answer? Even if you did discover the truth about what happened to you and why you’re like this, you could end up trapped there. There’s no way of knowing whether Jeramiah would allow you to escape again. How does going back solve anything?”
To my surprise, it was Derek who replied. “I agree with Ben,” he said. “And I believe him when he says that what he had was a vision, not a dream. I can’t be entirely convinced that what he saw was truth, but so far, this is the closest we have come to an answer. It’s the only clue we have, and I don’t see how we can leave this road unexplored. So I think Ben should go back.”