Home > A Den of Tricks (A Shade of Vampire #54)

A Den of Tricks (A Shade of Vampire #54)
Author: Bella Forrest

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(Daughter of Hazel & Tejus)



It didn’t take long for the Correction Officers to clear out the top level of Azure Heights, in the wake of the horrendous attack on the Five Lords’ mansions. There were many questions left unanswered, but the few things we knew were enough to get us through the night and one step closer to cracking the mystery surrounding the Exiled Maras’ tormented existence on Neraka.

Darius of House Xunn was dead. That was a fact. His daughter, Rewa, was in Vincent’s care at the White Star Hotel on the level below. Dozens of Imen and Maras from all five Houses had been killed in the two explosions that tore into the Lords’ mansions. The main blast came from House Xunn. The second detonation took place shortly afterward, but we weren’t sure of its origin. The daemons were the most likely culprits. They were far better organized than we’d initially given them credit for, and they were in possession of powerful swamp witch magic. They roamed through the Valley of Screams, and they consumed souls.

That was all that we knew for sure, along with the fact that the interplanetary travel spell no longer worked, as evidenced by Avril’s attempt and near-death experience less than an hour earlier. We had no way of reaching out to Calliope, and our only hope rested in GASP sending reinforcements, since they’d most likely realized that Telluris wasn’t working, either. The sooner, the better, based on what was going on here.

They should’ve been here by now…

My biggest fear was that anyone trying to cross the asteroid belt into Neraka would experience the same as Avril when we tried to send her out. We must have all been thinking it, but none of us had the courage to voice it. We had enough on our plates as it was.

Everything else weighed heavy with question marks. Even the trust we’d put into the Exiled Maras was left on shaky ground, mainly because they were the only possible connection that the daemons could’ve had to swamp witch magic.

I glanced around, watching as Correction Officers carried the last bodies away—they were all going to the fourth floor, where the funeral home servants awaited, to begin preparations for the next day. There was going to be a mass burial, and we were going to add Minah’s body to it, too.

Patrik, Caia, Blaze, and Fiona were downstairs in the infirmary, preparing for their missions. Patrik had charm satchels to prepare, which Blaze and Caia would take into the underground prison and place in the north, south, west, and east walls, expanding the Druid’s original protection spell. They were also going to repaint the red symbols here on the top floor, given that everything I’d painted before had come down with the walls. They could easily repaint them on four trees facing each direction around the mansion. Fiona was going to use the invisibility spell and sneak into the prison with Blaze and Caia. Her task was to find and rescue Demios—we hoped that, once we freed him, Arrah would be more willing to speak up about the Exiled Maras. There were things they weren’t telling us, information that Arrah wouldn’t disclose with her brother in prison.

Jax, Hansa, Scarlett, Avril, Heron, and I stayed on the top level with the remaining Lords. We had plenty to talk about—though I had a feeling they wouldn’t be easy to talk to. They were all dazed and grieving.

“How did the daemons get their claws on swamp witch magic?” Jax was the first to speak up after the level was cleared and Correction Officers were stationed at the bottom of the staircase, to keep everyone away.

The Lords didn’t seem all that surprised by the question, but they looked genuinely baffled as they slowly shook their heads.

“I don’t know,” Emilian replied. “Vincent told us about your discoveries in the Valley of Screams, but… but it doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re going to have to give us more to go on here, because right now you look like the source of swamp witch magic for the daemons. And that makes no damn sense, since they’re the ones hunting and killing you off, one by one,” Jax said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You don’t understand.” Emilian raised his arms in a defensive gesture. “We don’t know. The swamp witch from that Druid delegation never gave us an invisibility spell. The only potent magic we have is the interplanetary spell! Everything else—and by that, I mean literally five small spells—is just charms we use to support the growth of our crops and animals… to preserve our blood resources and to generally make our lives easier.”

We stared at each other for a long moment, as Avril used her sharp sense of smell to notice changes in the Lords’ behavior. I could tell, from the way her nostrils flared and her head moved, that she was trying to pick up on the subtle chemical fluctuations that might signal deception. Judging by the faint frown on her face, there wasn’t anything of use.

“That’s not a good answer, I’ll be honest.” Hansa sighed. “Because that leaves us with a very unpleasant question still hanging over our heads: who gave swamp witch magic to the daemons?”

“It’s not something you simply come across,” Jax added. “Could there have been a second delegation to Neraka, before your people were exiled here, perhaps? And the daemons got a hold of it, somehow?”

“There’s no way of knowing for sure.” Farrah shrugged, wiping the soot from her face with a silken handkerchief she kept in her dress pocket.

“What are the odds?” Emilian shook his head. “I… I don’t know. I’m honestly baffled. And terrified, because that means the daemons are far more powerful than we thought. Although, to be fair, we know a lot more about our enemy today than we did four nights ago, thanks to you.”

He gave us an appreciative nod—a gesture we all briefly returned.

“They targeted Darius, but used enough explosive to kill as many of us as possible,” Emilian continued, gazing at the remains of House Xunn. Sadness drew his eyebrows into a frown. “They must have known about the dinner party at his place. Maybe they were looking to send us a message after your performance in the Valley of Screams.”

“Retaliation, you mean,” I replied, while mentally going over the events. The timeline didn’t exactly work, since this had all happened in the same day. “They would’ve needed time to plan. To come here and plant the explosive, not long after we returned. They would’ve had to know about the dinner party, too, if they were going for maximum casualties. I’m not sure that works…”

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