Last Sacrifice Chapter Twenty-six

“SHE’S WHAT?’ I EXCLAIMED.The dream birds singing in the garden fell silent.“With them? Is that why they called the guardians?’

Sonya’s calmness continued, but she frowned slightly.

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“Victor and Robert didn’t call the guardians. Why would they?’ “Because … because they wanted to get rid of Dimitri and me …’

“Perhaps,’ said Sonya. “But not while they were still in the house. Victor’s as wanted as you are. It was only Robert’s magic that got them out.’

“Then who …’ The answer hit me. I groaned. “John and Emily. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. They were too quick to accept fugitives into their house.’

“I actually think it was just John. Emily really did seem to believe you were innocent … even if she didn’t like why you were there. I also suspect she’d worry calling guardians would just draw more attention to Jill’s identity. It wouldn’t surprise me if John didn’t even warn her about calling them. He probably thought he was doing everyone a favor.’

“And instead, he lost his stepdaughter,’ I said. “But why would Victor and Robert take her? And how the hell did two old men subdue a teenage girl anyway?’

Sonya shrugged. “They’re probably stronger than they seem. Compulsion also likely played a role. And as for why? Hard to say. But Victor wants power and control. Keeping the missing Dragomir with him is a good way to possess that.’

I slumped against a tree. “We’ll never get her to Court.’

“We just have to find her,’ said Sonya. “Which I should be able to do once she’s asleep.’

“More dream-walking,’ I said. My hope began to rekindle. “You should go to her now. Find out–‘

“I’ve tried. She’s not asleep. And I’m willing to bet they’re keeping her awake for that very reason so they can put some distance between us. I’ll keep trying, though.’

It wasn’t ideal but was the best we could hope for right now. “And Sydney and the Mastranos?’

“Facing a lot of questions.’ Sonya’s face fell. I knew she still felt bad about abandoning her cousin, just as I felt bad about Sydney.

I gently touched Sonya’s arm. “It’s okay. They’ll be okay. What you did will help Jill.’

She nodded. “How are we going to stay in touch? I can’t always wait for you to be asleep.’

Silence. Excellent point.

“Maybe we could get a cell phone today … God knows we’ve needed one. And well … why don’t you just come to us? Where are you anyway?’

I wondered if I was making a mistake in inviting her to join us. Dimitri and I had gone to great pains to keep our location secret, and that run-in with the guardians had already been a bit closer than I would have liked. Aside from the obvious problems– imprisonment, execution, et cetera–being captured would take us out of the picture for helping Lissa. Yet, I was pretty sure Sonya was one of our allies, and at this point, she might be our only link to Jill.

I’d made a similar gamble in revealing where we were to Victor. And while he had technically helped us, that help had obviously backfired. Nonetheless, I told Sonya the name of our campground and the best directions I could. She said she’d come–I didn’t know how she’d manage it but suspected she was resourceful–and would keep trying to reach Jill.

“Sonya …’ I hesitated to speak, knowing I should just let her end the dream. We had important problems, more serious than what I was about to ask. Plus, this was personal territory. “What did you mean in the car … when I said I’d shared a dream with my boyfriend? You looked surprised.’

Sonya studied me for a long moment, those blue eyes looking deeper into me than I would have liked. Sometimes she seemed safer in crazy mode. “Auras tell a lot, Rose, and I’m very good at reading them. Much better than your friends probably are. A spirit dream wraps your own aura in gold, which is how I knew. Your personal aura is unique to you, though it fluctuates with your feelings and soul. When people are in love, it shows. Their auras shine. When you were dreaming, yours was bright. The colors were bright … but not what I expected from a boyfriend. Of course, not every relationship is the same. People are at different stages. I would have brushed it off, except …’

“Except what?’

“Except, when you’re with Dimitri, your aura’s like the sun. So is his.’ She smiled when I simply stared in stunned silence. “You’re surprised by this?’

“I … that is, we’re over. We used to be together, but after his change, he didn’t want me anymore. I moved on.’ Where moving on apparently meant holding hands and having close, heated moments. “That’s why I’m with Adrian. I’m happy with Adrian.’ That last sentence sounded almost defensive. Who was I trying to convince? Her or myself?

“Behaviors and feelings rarely line up,’ she said, sounding very Dimitri Zen-like. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve got some issues to work out.’

Great. Therapy from a crazy woman. “Okay, let’s suppose there’s something to this. I only really gave up on Dimitri a couple weeks ago. It’s possible I’m probably still holding onto some feelings.’ Possible? I thought about how acutely aware of his physical presence I always was in the car, the carefree harmony in the library, how good it felt to work with him in that way of ours, both so determined and almost never second- guessing the other. And only hours ago, in the guestroom …

Sonya had the audacity to laugh. “Possible? After only two weeks? Rose, you’re wise in so many ways … and so young in others.’

I hated being judged by my age but had no time for temper tantrums. “Okay, whatever. I’ve still got feelings. But not him. You didn’t see him after he was changed. It was horrible. He was depressed. He said he wanted to avoid me at all costs, that he couldn’t love anyone again. It wasn’t until this escape madness that he even started acting like his old self.

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“He and I talked about that,’ she said, face serious again. “About the depression. I understand it. After being Strigoi … doing what we did … you don’t feel worthy of life. There’s just guilt and darkness and the crushing memories of that evil.’ She shuddered.

“You … you’ve acted differently from him. I mean, you look so sad sometimes, but at others … it’s like nothing happened. You’re already back to your old self. Mostly. Why the difference in you two?’

“Oh, I’ve still got the guilt, believe me. After Robert changed me …’ There was venom when she spoke his name. “Well, I didn’t want to leave my house, my bed. I hated myself for what I’d done. I wished I’d been staked to death. Then Dimitri talked to me… . He said that guilt was inevitable. The fact that I can feel it proves I’m not Strigoi. But he told me I can’t let that stop me from embracing life again. We’ve been given second chances, he and I. We can’t throw them away. He also said it took him a while to realize it and that he didn’t want me to make the same mistakes. He told me to embrace life and its beauty and the people I love before it was too late–even though it’d be difficult. Shaking that Strigoi past … it’s like a weight, always pressing on me. He swore he wasn’t going to let it control him anymore–which, believe me, sounds noble but is very hard to do–and that he wouldn’t let his life be pointless. He’d already lost some things forever but refused to let go of the rest.’

“He said all that? I … I’m not even sure what half of it means.’ He told me to embrace life and its beauty and the people I love before it was too late.

“Sometimes I don’t either. Like I said, it’s much easier said than done. Still, I think he has helped me recover more quickly than I would have on my own. I’m grateful. And as for you and your auras …’ That small smile returned. “Well, you’ve got to figure it out. I don’t believe in soul mates, not exactly. I think it’s ridiculous to think there’s only one person out there for us. What if your “soul mate’ lives in Zimbabwe? What if he dies young? I also think “two souls becoming one’ is ridiculous. You need to hold onto yourself. But I do believe in souls being in sync, souls that mirror each other. I see that synchronicity in auras. I can see love too. And I see all of that in his aura and in yours. Only you can choose what to do with that information–if you even believe it.’

“No pressure,’ I muttered.

She looked like she was about to end the dream but then stopped and gave me a piercing look. “One thing to be careful of, Rose. Your auras match, but they aren’t identical. Dimitri’s is spiked with bits of darkness, leftover from his trauma. That darkness fades a little each day. You carry darkness too–but it’s not fading.’

I shivered. “Lissa. It’s the darkness I’m taking from her, isn’t it?’

“Yes. I don’t know much about bonds, but what you’re doing–even if it’s helping her–is very dangerous. Spirit tears us apart, no question, but in some ways … I think we spirit users are built for it a little better. Not that it’s always obvious,’ she added wryly. “But you? No. And if you take too much, I don’t know what’ll happen. I’m afraid of it building and building. I’m afraid it’s just going to take one spark–one catalyst–to make it explode inside you.’

“What happens then?’ I whispered.

She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know.’

With that, the dream faded.

I fell back into dreamless sleep, though my body–as if knowing it was time to take my shift–woke on its own a few hours later. Night’s blackness surrounded me once more, and nearby, I could hear Dimitri’s even, steady breathing and sense his warmth. Everything I’d just discussed with Sonya came pouring back to me. Too much, too much. I didn’t know where to begin processing it. And no, I didn’t know if I could believe it, not with what I’d seen in real life. Behaviors and feelings rarely line up. With a deep breath, I forced myself to be a guardian, not an emotionally distraught girl.

“Your time for sleep, comrade.’

His voice came to me like light in the darkness, soft and low. “You can get more rest if you need it.’

“No, I’m fine,’ I told him. “And remember, you’re not–‘

“I know, I know,’ he chuckled. “I’m not the general.’ Oh lord. We finished each other’s jokes. I do believe in souls that are in sync. Sternly reminding myself that Sonya’s visit hadn’t actually been about my love life, I recounted the rest of the dream to Dimitri, describing John’s betrayal and Jill’s abduction. “Did I … did I do the right thing telling Sonya where we are?’

Several moments passed before he replied. “Yes. You’re right that we need her help–and she can find Jill. The problem is, Victor and Robert have to know that too.’ He sighed. “And you’re right that I’d better rest up for what’s to come.’

So, in that efficient way of his, he said no more. Soon, his breathing shifted as he fell back into sleep. It was amazing how he could do that with so little effort. Of course, that was something we’d been taught as guardians: sleep when you can because you don’t know when you’ll be able to again. It was a trick I’d never picked up. Staring into the darkness, I kept my senses sharp, listening for any sounds that might indicate danger.

I might not have a talent for falling asleep instantly, but I could keep my waking body alert while still checking in with Lissa. Jill and our escape had occupied me today, but events at Court still weighed heavily on me. Someone had tried to kill Lissa, and a group of guardians had just dragged off Eddie.

When I looked through her eyes, it was no surprise that I found most of my friends together. They were in a stark, intimidating room similar to the one she’d been questioned in about my escape–except it was larger. And with good reason. It was packed with all sorts of people. Adrian and Christian stood by Lissa, and I needed no aura reading to know the two guys were as uneasy as she was. Hans stood behind a table, hands pressed on it as he leaned forward and glared at everyone. Opposite Lissa, against the far wall, Eddie sat stone-faced in a chair with a guardian on either side of him. Both of his guards were tense, braced to leap into action. They thought Eddie was a threat, I realized, which was ridiculous. Yet, Hans seemed to share their opinion.

He jabbed his finger at a photograph lying on the table. Taking a step forward, Lissa saw that the picture was of the guy who’d attacked her–a picture taken after his death. His eyes were closed, his skin gone pale–but it provided a detailed look at his facial features, bland as they were.

“You killed a Moroi!’ exclaimed Hans. I’d apparently tuned in to the middle of the conversation. “How is that not a problem? You’re trained to protect them!’

“I did,’ said Eddie. He was so calm, so serious that the part of me that could still muster a sense of humor thought he was like Dimitri Junior. “I protected her. What difference does it make if the threat’s Moroi or Strigoi?’

“We have no proof of any of the details of this attack,’ growled Hans.

“You have three witnesses!’ snapped Christian. “Are you saying our reports are worthless?’

“I’m saying you’re his friends, which makes your reports questionable. I would have liked to have had a guardian around to verify this.’

Now Lissa’s temper flared. “You did! Eddie was there.’

“And there was no way you could have protected her without killing him?’ asked Hans.

Eddie didn’t answer, and I knew he was seriously considering the question, wondering if he might truly have made a mistake. At last, he shook his head. “If I hadn’t killed him, he would have killed me.’ Hans sighed, his eyes weary. It was easy for me to be angry at him right now, and I had to remind myself he was just doing his job. He held up the picture. “And none of you–none of you–have ever seen this man?’

Lissa studied the face once more, repressing a shiver. No, she hadn’t recognized him during the attack and didn’t recognize him now. There was really nothing remarkable about him–no notable feature you could point out. Our other friends shook their heads, but Lissa felt herself frowning.

“Yes?’ asked Hans, immediately jumping on that subtle shift.

“I don’t know him …’ she said slowly. The conversation with Joe the janitor popped into her mind.

“What’d the guy look like?’ she’d asked Joe.

“Plain. Ordinary. Except the hand.’

Lissa stared at the picture a moment longer, which just barely showed a scarred hand with a couple of bent fingers. I had also noticed it in the fight. She lifted her eyes to Hans. “I don’t know him,’ she repeated. “But I think I know someone who does. There’s a janitor … well, a former janitor. The one who testified about Rose. I think he’s seen this guy before. They have an interesting business relationship. Mikhail was going to make sure he didn’t leave Court.’

Adrian did not look happy at all about having Joe brought up, seeing as it implicated his mother for bribery. “They’ll have a hard time making him talk.’

Hans narrowed his eyes. “Oh, if he knows something, we’ll make him talk.’ He gave a sharp nod toward the door, and one of the guardians by Eddie moved toward it. “Find this guy. And send in our “guests.” The guardian nodded and left the room.

“What guests?’ asked Lissa.

“Well,’ said Hans, “it’s funny you mention Hathaway. Because we just had a sighting of her.’

Lissa stiffened, panic flashing through her. They found Rose. But how? Abe had assured her I was safe in that town in West Virginia.

“She and Belikov were spotted outside of Detroit, where they kidnapped a girl.’

“They’d never–‘ Lissa stopped. “Did you say Detroit?’ It was with great restraint that she didn’t shoot questioning looks at Christian and Adrian.

Hans nodded, and although he gave the appearance of just passing on information, I knew he was watching for some sort of telling reaction from my friends. “They had a few other people with them. Some of them got away, but we caught one.’

“Who did they kidnap?’ asked Christian. His astonishment wasn’t faked either. He too had thought we were safely stashed.

“Mastrano,’ said Hans. “Something Mastrano.’

“Jill Mastrano?’ exclaimed Lissa.

“Jailbait?’ asked Adrian.

Hans clearly wasn’t up to date on this nickname but didn’t have a chance to question it because just then, the door opened. Three guardians entered, and with them was– Sydney.

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