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Vivienne found herself staring at Blake’s watch as he led her to the edge of a subterranean lake. The complicated piece of winding gears continued to tick, counting the time that had passed. It was two o’clock. There were only four more hours until dawn. Vivienne didn’t want to think about how little time they had left to find the boat. She tried to focus her eyes instead on the recessed form of a willow tree carved into the clock face.
“We’re here,” Blake said, as he walked up to the edge of the lake.
“I don’t see a boat,” Vivienne said, wondering if he would finally admit to losing his way. “You heard what Yasmin and Jonathan were saying, you have to make it through all three chambers. This is only the first one. We don’t have much time.”
Blake chuckled and caught her hand as she tried to lead him back to the main pathway. His green eyes seemed to shine with excitement as he held up the crumpled cigarette box.
“You’re not serious are you?” Vivienne asked, throwing up her hands in frustration. “Are you really offering me a smoke? Is this the part we throw ourselves into the watery depths like Ophelia?”
“No, Viv,” Blake said. “We don’t need to find the boat. It will come to us.” Blake ripped the cigarette carton off the white, egg shaped object underneath. The device blinked a soothing dull light in the darkness. “Watch. This is a homing device.”
Vivienne watched in shock as a empty boat appeared from behind the stalagmites. It slowly, deliberately, made its way to the water’s edge where they were standing.
“So, this was rigged all along,” Vivienne said, her mind reeling. Was it was just the Prime Counselor or was the Grand Master in on it too? No one had made it through the trials in six years, was this why? “How did you know?” Vivienne asked.
“I’ll explain later,” Blake said. “You said it yourself, it’s time for us retire from this place.”
Vivienne reluctantly nodded at Blake’s suggestion. Yes, she was exhausted from the night’s events. For the first that night, she felt herself relax long enough to feel the depth of her weariness. Blake offered her his hand to hold as she stepped into the boat. Vivienne sat down on the back end of it and nodded at Blake to join her. She saw him lift his head to take one last look at the spectacular rock formations that made up the chambers of the cave. It was as though he was taking a moment to say goodbye. What she didn’t know was, to who?
Just as Blake started reaching the side of the boat, Vivienne heard a scream. The voice was screaming for help. Vivienne felt the hairs in the back of her neck stick up. The sound of screaming was becoming commonplace during the course of that cursed night. This scream though, Vivienne would recognize that voice anyway.
“Janun?” Vivienne yelled, standing up in the boat causing it to rock from side to side. “Janun! I’m coming!” Vivienne jumped out of the boat and onto the bank. Blake caught her arm, he said nothing but his eyes were pleading with her to get back in the boat.
“I can’t,” Vivienne said, desperately, “I have to go save my sister.” Vivienne ran up the rocky path, towards the scream, into a open, atrium-like space. There, she saw Janun sitting on the floor, her yellow, velvet dress in tatters. She was only wearing one stiletto, her other foot bloody and bare. Her face was covered in tear stains and smudged make-up.
“He’s behind you,” Janun gasped in fear. Vivienne spun around, holding up her stake in defense. A man appeared in the light of her Strigoi wood. He was handsome, tall and stern and a murderous smile on his face. Julian He wasn’t wearing his glasses but Vivienne had a feeling he never needed them.
“Hello, beautiful,” Julian said, continuing to smile. “Do you recognize me now? Or do you need me to put on a black mask?”
“Prince Mercury,” Vivienne said as she suddenly recognize the flash of that philanderer smile. That was the smile that had captured a thousand hearts in Coral City. Suddenly, his charm and his beauty all made sense. The tabloids had called him the Prince of Throbbing Hearts. What chance did Janun have against him?
“I prefer Julian,” he said as he raised his arm. Vivienne saw the outline of tiger claws appear where his fingers should have been. “That is my real name if you were wondering. Where is the traitor?”
“I will never tell you,” Vivienne spit back into his gorgeous face. There was a certain feminine shape to his eyes, he would have looked doe-like if his eyes weren’t shining with psychotic lust.
“Behind you,” Blake’s voice came from the entrance to the atrium. Julian spun around and faced Blake with his claws outstretched.
“Do you have any idea what a hassle it was to find you down here?” Julian asked, hissing his words. “Or how many times I had to kiss this stupid hag?” Julian angrily grabbed Vivienne with his human arm and pointed his claw an inch away from her throat. He licked her cheek with his long, slimy tongue. Vivienne cringed. As much as she wanted to think it was a demon tongue, it might have been his human one. How did women ever find that attractive? “She tastes much better,” Julian said, licking his lips. “I’ll just have a little bite.”