Chapter Fifteen

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                                               Elijah

Spotting Damien leaned against a mammoth trunk of a barren metasequoia tree, a disapproving Paris beside him, I slow to a stop, waiting before I set Cassandra down, so she may recover her bearings. My legs are fast, fast enough that her once soaked-through hair has become crusted with ice.

"About time you showed. I nearly set off after you two."

"We became... sidetracked."

Damien's brows soar, intently gazing at Cassandra's rosy lips, swollen and used. "Clearly."

Paris' stern expression slips in amusement when Cassandra proudly grins. Usually, her cheeks would be a bright shade of red, but it's too cold for that.

"Her teeth are beginning to chatter. Before she falls ill, show us to the community."

"About that..."

Not today.

No more problems.

I steel myself for trouble. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. It's just an odd location."

"Is it safe?"

"Actually, it's safer than we initially expected, I think."

Cassandra's small hand slides into mine, looking as confused as I feel.

"Show us then."

Damien chuckles, straightening away from the tree. "We're here."

Digging his hands into the tough trunk, I wonder if they've both gone mad. It isn't until the wood frays back like a door that I truly understand their need to explain. Reluctantly, I release Cassandra to approach the abnormal entrance, finding the inside of the trunk hollow, appearing to be a bottomless pit with a ladder descending down into the ground.

"We're staying underground?" I ask incredulously. "The community lives underground?"

"Wait until you see it."

In no way comforted by their anticipation, I glance between the three of them. While surely they're certain of the convenient secrecy we will have beneath the earth, I can't help but imagine the place to be a fortress, difficult to escape from if ever the instance should arise.

I eye the opening suspiciously. "You've observed it, yes?"

"It's safe, Elijah. It's mostly families. There are even some humans, as difficult as that is to fathom."

"Humans and vampires co-existing... together?"

It's impossible to wrap my mind around, although I've managed that impossible for quite some time now.

"How far does it go?"

Paris answers. "Quite a ways. It's insulated though. Warm."

While uneasy, that's all I have to hear. Cassandra needs shelter immediately.

"I'll head down first. You'll follow?"

Cassandra nods, massaging her fingers. Placing my boots against the metal ladder, I step down, taking it at a gradual pace to remain by Cassandra as she follows. The further we descend, the colder it should get. However, that isn't the case.

By the time my boots settle on ground, it's much warmer. Mostly dark apart from sparse lantern light hung from bolts, I grab Cassandra from the ladder, lowering her myself to avoid any fumbling. She's oddly compliant, which usually means one thing.

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