A Hero of Realms by Bella Forrest, now you can read online.
CHAPTER 1: BEN
I hadn’t wanted to watch Corrine leave with River. I remained outside my bedroom until I was sure that they were gone before stepping back in.
My eyes fell on the empty mattress. The sheets where River had lain were still molded with her form. I walked to the center of the room and stopped at the edge of the bed. The deathly silence of the jinn’s atrium surrounded me. A hollowness gripped my stomach.
I didn’t remember ever feeling so alone in my life as I did in that moment. Even when I had first left The Shade, my home, I’d held a glimmer of hope that I would solve my problems and be able to return.
Now it felt like I’d been flung into a void. A void where no matter how many loved ones and well-wishers waited for me, not a single one could reach me.
I breathed in. River’s scent still lingered in the room.
She’ll return to her family now and get on with her life. And hopefully, she won’t be stupid enough to wait for me.
The only semblance of a plan I had was to delay the oracle’s prediction. To delay my “inevitable” end.
After all the oracle had revealed, I should’ve been terrified. But more than anything I just felt numb.
I realized that since I left Hortencia’s cave, I’d stopped thinking of a life past the next few days, perhaps the next week. If I tried to think further ahead, I would go insane. I just had to take my life one day at a time—or better still, one hour at a time, as I tried to stave off my craving for blood.
My bedroom’s emptiness eating away at me, I entered the en suite bathroom and closed the door. Gripping the sides of the sink, I raised my head and stared at my face in the mirror. The face of a man possessed. I moved closer to the glass. What are you? I stared deeper into my own eyes, as though I expected to see the shadowy creature behind them. Then again, perhaps I had already seen him. After killing, my eyes always went dark, sometimes pitch black. Perhaps that was him, his influence manifesting itself physically through me.
A chill ran down my spine. I tore my eyes away from the mirror and lowered my head to the sink, splashing my face with water.
As I straightened up, I felt a twinge in my stomach, the beginnings of a new wave of hunger. I recalled the last time I drank blood—it’d been at the jinn’s lunch, when Aisha had tricked River into eating human bone. Since River had thrown up all over the floor, and I’d had to take her away, I hadn’t drunk much then.
I was beginning to feel the consequences of that now.
My mind wandered to the exquisite human blood waiting for me in my kitchen. I practically salivated just thinking about it.
I left the bathroom and swept toward the kitchen. Grabbing hold of the handle of the fridge, I ripped open the door and pulled out the chilled blood.
My stomach tied itself into knots being within such close proximity of it. I wanted to drink straight from the jug, perhaps even drain the whole lot in one go. I imagined the divine liquid sliding down my throat like nectar, invigorating my senses, spreading a rush of strength through my entire body.
My hands shook with the urge to raise it to my mouth, and it was all I could do to force myself toward the kitchen sink. As much as it killed me, I tipped the jug upside down and emptied its entire contents into the basin. I turned on the tap, rinsing down the remaining traces of blood, then cleaned out the jug. I needed to ask the jinn to stop supplying me with blood.
I’m going to have to starve myself.
Although I’d attempted this before—with disastrous consequences—this time at least I had the jinn to assist me. I could ask them to restrain me and not let me out of my apartment no matter what I said or did.
I still didn’t know exactly what would happen if a vampire starved himself—I’d always found a throat to rip through before getting close enough to find out. I wondered whether starving myself would weaken the Elder. I guessed that it would, but whether it would make him abandon our bond was another matter entirely…
I froze as there was a knock on my front door. I was surprised to be disturbed at this time of night. But whoever it was, I felt grateful for the distraction.
I hurried to the door and opened it. To my surprise, I found myself face to face with the Nasiri queen herself, Nuriya. Her expression was soft and filled with compassion as she gazed at me.
She reached out a hand, her fingers caressing the side of my face. “Oh, Benjamin,” she said, her voice filled with sorrow. “Aisha told me everything. I didn’t realize the situation was this bad.”
I stepped away from her, in no mood to be touched. She caught my hands, and, inviting herself inside, pulled me to the living room.
“You see,” she said, still holding onto me tightly even as I tried to distance myself, “we jinn know a lot of things, but even we are not all-knowing. We knew about some pieces of your past—that you had been imprinted upon by an Elder for use during their battle with Aviary all those years ago. I just didn’t realize how far-reaching the consequences of that Elder’s touch would be. I-I didn’t know that he was—” Her voice choked up and she stifled a sob. “I didn’t know that he was claiming you for himself for life.” Her eyes lowered to my chest, and she eyed it as though she was trying to see through me, to the spirit within.
I was beginning to tire of her visit. All she was doing was rubbing in what I already knew.
“Would you please tell me why you’re here?” I asked, in no mood to be receiving any kind of sympathy, especially not from this jinni.