A Shade of Vampire 83 A Bender of Spirit - Bella Forrest


I thought Tristan and I’d had our hands full on Visio, but Seeley and Kelara’s crews had been quite busy as well. Not the good kind of busy, either. Combined with ours, their discoveries painted a troubling picture of this world. On top of that, we’d just learned that vampires did, in fact, descend from the Aeternae—courtesy of the Night Bringer’s misery and forced attachment to Cruor.

The knowledge itself was overwhelming, but the enlightenment that came with it put everything into perspective. It gave us an extensive timeline to work with, one that went back five million years. The Unending had given a form of immortality to the Aeternae, some of whom had ended up on Cruor, where they’d succumbed to the Night Bringer’s suffering and morphed into the Elders. The Unending was bound to Visio, and we didn’t know how to set her free. She was Valaine, but she’d been other Aeternae before. Her past lives and bodies had been destroyed to keep the Black Fever—a symptom of her distress, according to Night and Morning’s theory—at bay.

Yeah, it was a lot to take in, and there was so much we hadn’t figured out yet, but everything was connected. Every decision had led to action or inaction, which in turn had generated a reaction. In that sense, the universe had retained its properties. Everything else had been thrown out of balance by the Darklings and all the death magic they’d learned from the Spirit Bender.

“I wish we could bring Spirit back so we could kill him again,” Seeley said.

His words came after a very long and heavy silence. Here we were, a bunch of mismatched supernaturals and agents of Death, trying to untangle a mess of epic proportions bearing the Spirit Bender’s signature. Derek was Danika’s captive. Danika was a friggin’ Whip, like Petra. Worst of all, Corbin Crimson, Valaine’s father, had turned out to be the Master of Darkness. There was bitter irony in this last revelation, as we’d considered him an ally ever since the first attempt on his daughter’s life.

“I can’t believe it,” Valaine murmured, staring at her boots. “My own father…”

We were all seated around a small campfire, hidden by a temporary invisibility shield, thanks to Kailani. The nights had gotten colder—personally, I didn’t mind the chill, but there was nothing better than a crackling fire when the temperature drop turned my breath into white clouds in the night air.

“Not surprised you’re having a hard time processing that particular whammy,” I replied. “I’m sorry, Valaine.”

“It’s not something you need to be sorry for,” Valaine said. “He would’ve shown his true colors eventually. I’m just wondering if he would’ve done it while tearing my heart out or cutting my head off.”

Tristan sighed, his gaze perpetually fixed on her. “From what we’ve learned, it took him a while to approve your killing. He allowed Zoltan and the others to try to take you on, likely knowing they’d have a hard time. He could’ve ended you himself, but he probably couldn’t find the strength to kill his own daughter,” he said. “Until the courtroom incident, that is.”

“That must’ve been the turning point for Corbin,” Sofia chimed in, her green eyes slightly watery as she remembered the incident. I hadn’t been there myself, since Kalon had basically saved me from his mother, then kidnapped me, but Tristan had told me every gory detail. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that scene, especially since I’d witnessed Valaine’s dark side before, and it was much more pronounced than in other Aeternae. “He must’ve seen the signs, the final confirmation that you really were the Unending. The slap in the face, you could call it, that forced him to accept your fate.”

“It doesn’t make any of this easier,” Valaine replied. Tears streamed down her cheeks, slender lines of liquid crystal that shimmered over her pale skin. There was pain in those dark eyes. I could almost feel it.

“We obviously have our work cut out for us,” Night said, “but knowing who we’re dealing with helps us prepare for what comes next. Right now, Unending is trapped in this Aeternae vessel, and we must find a way to set her free.”

Tristan frowned. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, are we absolutely, positively, undoubtedly sure you don’t have the wrong person here? There is nothing in Valaine’s physiology to suggest she’s the Unending.”

“Aside from the death magic trace elements in her bloodstream, you mean?” Soul retorted, one eyebrow arched defiantly.

“Tristan is well within his