Home > A City of Lies (A Shade of Vampire #55)(8)

A City of Lies (A Shade of Vampire #55)(8)
Author: Bella Forrest

The Imen’s lore was fascinating, I realized as I flipped through the yellowed pages. They were an ancient civilization, with at least fifteen thousand years of existence on this planet. And yet, the ones living in Azure Heights had been reduced to mindless pawns, their memories wiped and their history tucked away in hidden compartments of old walls.

Their mythology was quite interesting, as they worshiped six main deities—the three suns and the three moons. The first and main sun was Kol, the big star around which all seven planets of this system orbited. Kol was the god of light and life. Drul and Khai were, as per the Mara legends, twins of great importance, and the two smaller stars that orbited the sun. From afar, and when the sky was covered in a thin sheet of clouds, it looked as though Neraka had three suns. On any other day, however, the light they shone together was so bright that it looked as though only one large sun stood in the sky. According to the Imen, however, Drul and Khai were the sons of Kol—each entrusted with the power of wind and nature—and not the warriors they were in Mara culture.

The three moons, named Pell, Xus, and Llaim, were the three goddesses. They reigned over the night, and played a crucial role in the wellbeing of this world. However, when brought together, these three goddesses wreaked havoc and “made everything float when they were perfectly aligned with each other”. That was a reference to the peculiar phenomenon that Rewa had mentioned when we first arrived on Neraka, in which the three moons were aligned in the sky, in a perfect line, and disrupted Neraka’s gravity to the point where anything that wasn’t rooted to the ground was lifted, and drifted away until the moons broke rank.

“There’s some stuff here about the western tribes,” Heron muttered as he browsed through a series of papers. I looked up at him from the chair I had settled into.

“Well, don’t keep me on the edge of my seat here.”

“Check this out,” he said, then read out loud. “‘Our people were faced with a choice when the Mara nation prevailed over Azure Heights. We could stay, or we could go. The few of us loyal to the Mara Lords chose to live here, with them. The others, thousands of them, chose a so-called freedom beyond the Valley of Screams, where they settled in the Plains and forests that unraveled miles away, to the west of the gorges.’”

Several seconds went by as I processed the information.

“That’s nothing new.” I shrugged.

“True, but the next part definitely is,” Heron replied, and continued reading out loud. “‘The Westerners left us behind, blaming the Maras for their role in the slumber before death, the illness that had taken over our people, claiming those with over four decades in this world. They believed that the Mara nation was to blame. We never took them seriously, and feared that the slumber before death was sent to us by Pell, Xus, and Llaim, for our choice to stay behind. Nevertheless, we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave, even when the disease claimed our parents and friends.’”

I raised an eyebrow, leaning into the back of my chair, and exhaled.

“Okay, that is new,” I replied. “It sounds as though they were quite the masochists, in a way. I mean, if they thought that their gods were punishing them for staying here, why didn’t they leave with the others?”

“Well, knowing the Maras, when the Imen say that they couldn’t bring themselves to leave, to me it sounds as though the Maras… convinced them to stay, if you catch my drift.” Heron smirked.

“So let me get this straight. The Imen had the freedom to leave Azure Heights thousands of years ago, but were mind-bent into staying?”

“Most likely. Discreetly. I think that the Maras didn’t want all of their servants to leave, so they convinced a few to stick around, despite the weird disease that kept killing them after their forties.” Heron scratched the back of his neck, turning the page. “I mean, this is the stuff of legends, old stories… These people feared the moons, basically, and blamed them for the disease. So I’m not sure how much of this is accurate, but the fact that the Imen from the west suspected the Maras of inflicting ‘slumber before death’ does ring an alarm bell.”

“But how would they do that? I mean, we haven’t really looked into the symptoms of this disease.” I frowned, trying to find the connection between the Eritopian vampires and the illness. “Do we even know how it manifests? Could it be that, maybe, they’re draining their blood? Could blood loss lead to an early death?”

“It’s possible, but I haven’t seen any bite marks on the Imen, although we both know that they could very well be drinking their blood from other, less visible body parts.”

“I think we need to look into this a little more before we jump to any conclusions. All we have to go on, right now, is an ancient manuscript from some Iman from thousands of years ago,” I concluded, while my head buzzed with a variety of possible scenarios—none of which were in favor of the Maras.

It seemed as though no matter where we went, or who we asked, or what we read, the story of Azure Heights didn’t depict the Maras as the picture-perfect Eritopian vampires they’d initially seemed. This flimsy façade, with beautiful fashion and stunning decor, was exactly that… a façade.

I couldn’t help but wonder how much Caspian knew. Unfortunately, he was still out with Harper, so I couldn’t exactly just walk up to him and ask. Nevertheless, I did look forward to seeing him again. He was our only way of peeking beyond the curtain, of seeing into the real Azure Heights, the real Maras.

“Whatever this disease is, it’s crippling the Imen population. From what I can read here, no one knows what causes the illness, but everyone agrees that it is exclusive to those living in the city. While there are a few elders still, the city’s Imen population is dwindling, and most of them don’t make it past the age of forty. There’s nothing else here about the western tribes,” Heron added, “and I get the—”

A thud outside startled us, and we both put our books aside and went over to the window. An Iman had collapsed on the cobblestone in front of the building. His skin was pale, there were dark circles around his eyes, and beads of sweat covered his face. Other Imen gathered around him in a panic.

Heron and I left the studio, then raced down the stairs and outside, to check on the sick Iman. Heron politely pushed the people away, making room for me to kneel down and check the Iman’s vitals. I found his pulse, but it was weak and uneven. His heartbeat was slow, and he was running a temperature.

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