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Chapter 1: River
I glanced up at Benjamin Novak across the bare-walled guest room. The shock of being told that I was now immortal had not yet passed, but my mind was filled with one thought. I had to find a way to turn myself back and return to my family. And I had to do it soon. Each hour that passed, anxiety gripped me more and more at the thought of how distraught my family must be.
Ben met my eyes.
“Where is The Shade?” I asked.
“In the Pacific Ocean.”
My heart sank. “The Pacific Ocean? But that’s like… halfway across the globe. How on earth am I going to get there? I have no passport…”
“We’re going to have to travel by boat.”
Ben frowned. “Yes. We. I said that I would help you get to The Shade.”
“Oh,” I said, staring at him. “I didn’t think that you were actually going to take me there. I thought you said that you want to stay away—”
“I can help you get there without actually setting foot on the island. Besides, if I didn’t accompany you there, there’s no way in hell you would find it. Trust me.”
Again, I couldn’t help but wonder why he was doing this for me. Although he said that he wouldn’t feel right leaving me stranded on my own, taking me all the way to the Pacific Ocean was putting himself out in a massive way.
And so I asked him again, “Ben, why would you do this for me?”
He breathed out. “Well, I suppose it’s not entirely selfless. You could act as a messenger for me, let my family know that I’m still alive and intend to return as soon as I feel able to. I haven’t contacted them since I left.”
“How come? Can’t you just phone them?”
He shook his head. “There’s a spell cast over the island so only charmed phones will work. I was in such a hurry to leave the place, stupidly, I left the island without one.” He leaned back on his bed. “Anyway, even traveling by ship, I’m not sure how we’re going to pull this off. But the first thing we ought to do is convert some coins into cash. God knows how much money we’re wasting by dishing those out. When we leave this evening, our first stop should be a pawnbroker.”
I picked up my bag, heavy with coins, and looked at them again. I had no idea how much they were worth. We would soon find out. As I reached inside, my fingers brushed against the cool glass of the vial of amber liquid I’d been given while in Michael’s quarters. I lifted it up and examined it once again, trying to guess what on earth it was. How did they even know about my brother and why would they give him a gift?
Staring at it wasn’t going to get me any closer to an answer, so I slipped it back in the bag and looked back at Ben.
“It’s going to be a long night,” he said. “I suggest you get some rest.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Once we left this guesthouse, we didn’t know when we would find our next shelter. And we needed to be alert now more than ever.
I placed my backpack on the floor and swung my legs onto my bed. Gathering my blanket, and the one that Ben had given me, I rested my head against my stiff pillow and watched as Ben lay down on his own bed. He faced the wall, turning his back on me.
I closed my eyes, and it was only once I did that I realized just how heavy my eyelids felt. Every limb in my body felt exhausted and torn from the trauma I had just endured. And yet, after half an hour, I still had not fallen asleep. My mind simply wouldn’t shut down as worry after worry continued to flood my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about my family and if I was ever going to make it back to them. I kept thinking about how worried they would all be. Especially my mother.
I sat up in bed.
It might not be safe for me to visit my grandfather’s house, but at least I could try to speak to him on the phone to ease my family’s stress. Once Ben and I left Cairo, especially if we were going to be traveling by sea, we would soon have no access to payphones.
I looked over toward Ben. His back heaved slightly, and his breathing was slow and steady. Clearly he had managed to fall asleep. Touching my feet to the ground, I stood up.
I had no idea how long he would remain asleep, but I couldn’t lie awake in the silence of this room any longer, tortured by my own thoughts.
Grabbing a small notepad from the dressing table between the twin beds, I scribbled a note for Ben explaining where I had gone and that I would aim to be back within an hour. Judging by how soundly he appeared to be sleeping, I doubted he would wake up before I returned.
Picking up my backpack, I moved toward the door. But just before I opened it, I had second thoughts. I didn’t think that he was going to wake up before I returned, but just in case he did…
I reached for the empty water bottle I’d placed by the doorway and carried it into the bathroom. I looked around for a sharp object. Ben’s claws would be useful about now. The edge of the mirror looked quite sharp—it was poorly made and didn’t even have a frame to cover the glass. It was just rectangularly cut and stuck straight on the wall. Raising my wrist toward it, I hoped that I wouldn’t contract some kind of infection as I cut myself with it. Biting my lip against the pain, I allowed my blood to trickle into the bottle. Once I felt that there was enough, I screwed on the cap and placed it on the bedside table next to the note.
And then I left the room. Before I could make any calls, I needed cash. That meant a trip to a pawnbroker first. I supposed if I asked at the reception desk to use the phone, they would let me, but I couldn’t afford to be overheard. I needed to reach a pay phone.