We NEEDED AN ESCAPE PLAN, and we needed it fast.Unfortunately, my only ideas called for things that really weren’t under my control.Like us being left completely alone so we could sneak off.
Or having stupid guards whom we could easily fool and slip away from. At the very least, we should have been sloppily secured so that we could break free.
None of that was happening, though. After almost twenty-four hours, our situations hadn’t really changed. We were still prisoners, still securely bound. Our captors stayed vigilant, almost as efficient as any group of guardians. Almost.
The closest we got to freedom was heavily supervised- and extremely embarrassing- bathroom breaks. The men gave us no food or water. That was rough on me, but the human and vampire mix made dhampirs hardy. I could handle being uncomfortable, even though I was fast reaching a point where I would have killed for a cheeseburger and some really, really greasy french fries.
For Mia and Christian…well, things were a little harder. Moroi could go weeks without food and water if they were still getting blood. Without blood, they could manage a few days before getting sick and weak, so long as they still had other sustenance. That was how Lissa and I had managed while living on our own, since I hadn’t been able to feed her every day.
Take away food, blood, and water, and Moroi endurance dropped through the floor. I was hungry, but Mia and Christian were ravenous. Already, their faces looked gaunt, their eyes almost feverish. Isaiah made matters worse during his subsequent visits. Each time, he would come down and ramble on in his annoying, taunting way. Then, before leaving, he’d take another drink from Eddie. By the third visit, I could practically see Mia and Christian salivating. Between the endorphins and lack of food, I was pretty sure Eddie didn’t even know where we were.
I couldn’t really sleep under these conditions, but during the second day, I started nodding off now and then. Starvation and exhaustion will do that to you. At one point, I actually dreamed, surprising since I didn’t really think I could fall into a deep slumber under such insane conditions.
In the dream- and I knew perfectly well that it was a dream- I stood on a beach. It took me a moment to recognize just which beach it was. It was along the Oregon coast- sandy and warm, with the Pacific unfolding in the distance. Lissa and I had traveled out here once when we lived in Portland. It had been a gorgeous day, but she couldn’t handle being out in that much sun. We’d kept the visit short as a result, but I’d always wished I could have stayed longer and basked in all that. Now I had all the light and warmth I could want.
“Little dhampir,” said a voice behind me. “It’s about time.”
I turned around in surprise and found Adrian Ivashkov watching me. He had on khakis and a loose shirt and- in a surprisingly casual style for him- wore no shoes. Wind ruffled his brown hair, and he kept his hands stuffed in his pockets as he regarded me with that trademark smirk of his.
“Still got your protection,” he added.
Frowning, I thought for a moment he was staring at my chest. Then I realized his eyes were on my stomach. I had on jeans and a bikini top, and once again, the little blue eye pendant dangled from my belly-button. The chotki was on my wrist.
“And you’re in the sun again,” I said. “So I suppose it’s your dream.”
“It’s our dream.”
I wiggled my toes in the sand. “How can two people share a dream?”
“People share dreams all the time, Rose.”
I looked up at him with a frown. “I need to know what you mean. About there being darkness around me. What does it mean?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. Everyone has light around them, except for you. You have shadows. You take them from Lissa.”
My confusion grew. “I don’t understand.”
“I can’t get into it right now,” he told me. “That’s not why I’m here.”
“You’re here for a reason?” I asked, my eyes wandering to the blue-gray water. It was hypnotic. “You aren’t just…here to be here?”
He stepped forward and caught my hand, forcing me to look up at him. All amusement was gone. He was dead serious. “Where are you?”
“Here,” I said, puzzled. “Just like you.”
Adrian shook his head. “No, that’s not what I mean. In the real world. Where are you?”
The real world? Around us, the beach suddenly blurred, like a film going out of focus. Moments later, everything steadied itself. I racked my brain. The real world. Images came to me. Chairs. Guards. Flex-cuffs.
“In a basement …” I said slowly. Alarm suddenly shattered the beauty of the moment as everything came back to me. “Oh God, Adrian. You’ve got to help Mia and Christian. I can’t- “
Adrian’s grip on my hand tightened. “Where?” The world shimmered again, and this time it didn’t refocus. He swore. “Where are you, Rose?”
The world began to disintegrate. Adrian began to disintegrate.
“A basement. In a house. In- “
He was gone. I woke up. The sound of the room’s door opening startled me back to reality.
Isaiah swept in with Elena in tow. I had to fight a sneer when I saw her. He was arrogant and mean and all-around evil. But he was that way because he was a leader. He had the strength and power to back up his cruelty- even if I didn’t like it. But Elena? She was a lackey. She threatened us and made snide comments, but most of her ability to do so came from being his sidekick. She was a total suck-up.
“Hello, children,” he said. “How are we doing today?”
Sullen glares answered him.
He strolled over to Mia and Christian, hands folded behind his back. “Any changes of heart since my last visit? You’re taking an awfully long time, and it’s upsetting Elena. She’s very hungry, you see, but- I suspect- not as hungry as you two.”
Christian narrowed his eyes. “Fuck off,” he said through gritted teeth.
Elena snarled and lunged forward. “Don’t you dare- “
Isaiah waved her off. “Leave him alone. It just means we wait a little longer, and really, it’s an entertaining wait.”
Elena’s eyes shot daggers at Christian.
“Honestly,” continued Isaiah, watching Christian, “I can’t decide which I want more: to kill you or have you join us. Either option offers its own amusements.”
“Don’t you get tired of hearing yourself talk?” asked Christian.
Isaiah considered. “No. Not really. And I don’t get tired of this, either.”
He turned around and walked toward Eddie. Poor Eddie could barely sit upright in his chair anymore after all the feedings he’d gone through. Worse, Isaiah didn’t even need to use compulsion. Eddie’s face simply lit up with a stupid grin, eager for the next bite. He was as addicted as a feeder.
Anger and disgust flooded through me.
“Damn it!” I yelled. “Leave him alone!”
Isaiah glanced back at me. “Be silent, girl. I don’t find you nearly as amusing as I do Mr. Ozera.”
“Yeah?” I snarled. “If I piss you off so much, then use me to prove your stupid point. Bite me instead. Put me in my place, and show me what a badass you are.”
“No!” exclaimed Mason. “Use me.”
Isaiah rolled his eyes. “Good God. What a noble lot. You’re all Spartacus, aren’t you?”
He strolled away from Eddie and put a finger under Mason’s chin, tilting his head up. “But you,” Isaiah said, “don’t really mean it. You only offer because of her.” He released Mason and walked in front of me, staring down with those black, black eyes. “And you … I didn’t really believe you at first either. But now?” He knelt down so that he was at my height. I refused to look away from his eyes, even though I knew that put me at risk of compulsion. “I think you really mean it. And it’s not all nobility, either. You do want it. You really have been bitten before.” His voice was magical. Hypnotic. He wasn’t using compulsion, exactly, but he definitely had an unnatural charisma surrounding him. Like Lissa and Adrian. I hung on his every word. “Lots of times, I’d guess,” he added.
He leaned toward me, breath hot against my neck. Somewhere beyond him, I could hear Mason shouting something, but all of my focus was on how close Isaiah’s teeth were to my skin. In the last few months, I’d only been bitten once- and that was when Lissa had had an emergency. Before then, she’d bitten me at least twice a week for two years, and I had only recently come to realize how addicted to that I’d been. There is nothing- nothing- in the world like a Moroi bite, like the flood of bliss it sends into you. Of course, by all accounts, Strigoi bites were even more powerful….
I swallowed, suddenly aware of my own heavy breathing and racing heart. Isaiah gave a low chuckle.
“Yes. You’re a blood whore in the making. Unfortunate for you- because I’m not going to give you what you want.”
He backed away, and I slumped forward in my chair. Without further delay, he returned to Eddie and drank. I couldn’t watch, but it was because of envy this time, not disgust. Longing burned inside of me. I ached for that bite, ached for it with every nerve in my body.
When Isaiah finished, he started to leave the room, then paused. He directed his words at Mia and Christian. “Don’t delay,” he warned. “Seize your opportunity to be saved.” He tilted his head toward me. “You even have a willing victim.”
He left. Across the room, Christian met my eyes. Somehow, his face looked even gaunter than it had a couple of hours ago. Hunger burned in his gaze, and I knew I wore the complementary one: a desire to sate that hunger. God. We were so screwed. I think Christian realized it at the same time. His lips twisted into a bitter smile.
“You never looked so good, Rose,” he managed, just before the guards told him to shut up.
I dozed a little throughout the day, but Adrian didn’t return to my dreams. Instead, while hovering just at the edge of consciousness, I found myself slipping into familiar territory: Lissa’s head. After all the weirdness of these last two days, being in her mind felt like a homecoming.
She was in one of the lodge’s banquet rooms, only it was empty. She sat on the floor of the far side of it, trying to stay inconspicuous. Nervousness filled her. She was waiting for something- or rather, someone. A few minutes later, Adrian slipped in.
“Cousin,” he said by way of greeting. He sat down beside her and drew his knees up, unconcerned about his expensive dress pants. “Sorry I’m late.”
“It’s okay,” she said.
“You didn’t know I was here until you saw me, did you?”
She shook her head, disappointed. I felt more confused than ever.
“And sitting with me … you can’t really notice anything?”
He shrugged. “Well. Hopefully it’ll come soon.”
“How does it look for you?” she asked, burning with curiosity.
“Do you know what auras are?”
“They’re like … bands of light around people, right? Some New Age thing?”
“Something like that. Everyone has a sort of spiritual energy that radiates out from them. Well, almost everyone.” His hesitation made me wonder if he was thinking of me and the darkness I allegedly walked in. “Based on the color and appearance, you can tell a lot about a person…well, if anyone could actually see auras, that is.”
“And you can,” she said. “And you can tell I use spirit from my aura?”
“Yours is mostly gold. Like mine. It’ll shift with other colors depending on the situation, but the gold always stays.”
“How many other people out there like us do you know?”
“Not many. I just see them every once in a while. They kind of keep to themselves. You’re the first I’ve actually ever talked to. I didn’t even know it was called ‘spirit.’ Wish I’d known about this when I didn’t specialize. I just figured I was some kind of freak.”
Lissa held up her arm and stared, willing herself to see the light shining around it. Nothing. She sighed and let the arm drop.
And that’s when I got it.
Adrian was a spirit user too. That was why he’d been so curious about Lissa, why he’d wanted to talk to her and ask about the bond and her specialization. It also explained a lot of other things- like that charisma I couldn’t seem to escape when I was near him. He’d used compulsion that day Lissa and I had been in his room- that was how he’d forced Dimitri to release him.
“So, they finally let you go?” Adrian asked her.
“Yeah. They finally decided I really didn’t know anything.”
“Good,” he said. He frowned, and I realized he was sober for a change. “And you’re sure you don’t?”
“I already told you that. I can’t make the bond work that way.”
“Hmm. Well. You’ve got to.”
She glared. “What, you think I’m holding back? If I could find her, I would!”
“I know, but to have it at all, you must have a strong connection. Use that to talk to her in her dreams. I tried, but I can’t hang on long enough to- “
“What did you say?” exclaimed Lissa. “Talk to her in her dreams?”
Now he looked puzzled. “Sure. Don’t you know how to do that?”
“No! Are you kidding? How is that even possible?”
My dreams …
I remembered Lissa talking about unexplained Moroi phenomena, how there might be spirit powers out there beyond healing, things no one even knew about yet. It would appear that Adrian being in my dreams was no coincidence. He’d managed to get inside my head, maybe in a way similar to how I saw Lissa’s mind. The thought made me uneasy. Lissa could barely even grasp it.
He ran a hand through his hair and tipped his head back, staring at the crystal chandelier above as he pondered. “Okay. So. You don’t see auras, and you don’t talk to people in dreams. What do you do?”
“I … I can heal people. Animals. Plants, too. I can bring dead things back to life.”
“Really?” He looked impressed. “Okay. You get credit for that. What else?”
“Um, I can use compulsion.”
“We can all do that.”
“No, I can really do it. It’s not hard. I can make people do anything I want- even bad things.”
“So can I.” His eyes lit up. “I wonder what would happen if you tried to use it on me….”
She hesitated and absentmindedly ran her fingers over the textured red carpet. “Well… I can’t.”
“You just said you could.”
“I can- just not right now. I take this prescription … for depression and other stuff…and it cuts me off from the magic.”
He threw his arms up in the air. “How can I teach you to walk through dreams then? How else are we going to find Rose?”
“Look,” she said angrily, “I don’t want to take the meds. But when I was off them … I did really crazy stuff. Dangerous stuff. That’s what spirit does to you.”
“I don’t take anything. I’m okay,” he said.
No, he wasn’t, I realized. Lissa realized it too.
“You got really weird that day when Dimitri was in your room,” she pointed out. “You started rambling, and you didn’t make any sense.”
“Oh, that? Yeah … it happens now and then. But seriously, not often. Once a month, if that.” He sounded sincere.
Lissa stared at him, suddenly reevaluating everything. What if Adrian could do it? What if he could use spirit without pills and without any harmful side effects? It would be everything she had been hoping for. Besides, she wasn’t even sure if the pills would keep working anymore….
He smiled, guessing what she was thinking.
“What do you say, cousin?” he asked. He didn’t need to use compulsion. His offer was plenty tempting in its own right. “I can teach you everything I know if you’re able to touch the magic. It’ll take a while for the pills to get out of your system, but once they do …”