I nearly sagged in relief and immediately grabbed the door handle. "Thank you. Thank you so much."


"I could get in a lot of trouble for this," he said wearily. "And I still don't believe it's possible."

"But you hope it is." I didn't need a response from him to know I was right. I opened the door, but before going through, I paused and glanced at him. This time, he no longer hid the grief and pain in his face. "If you mean it... if you want to help... there might be a way you can."

Another piece of the puzzle had unraveled itself for me, another way we might pull this off. I explained what I needed from him and was surprised at how quickly he agreed. He really was like me, I realized. We both knew the idea of bringing back Strigoi was impossible... and yet we so, so wanted to believe it could be done

I slipped back upstairs alone after that. Don wasn't at his desk, and I wondered what Mia had done with him. I didn't wait to find out and instead headed outside, off to a small courtyard that we'd established as our rendezvous point. Mia and Lissa were both waiting there, pacing. No longer distracted with anxiety, I opened myself to the bond and felt Lissa's agitation.

"Thank God," she said when she saw me. "We thought you'd been caught."

"Well... it's a long story." One I didn't bother with. "I got what I needed. And... I actually got a whole lot more. I think we can do this."

Mia gave me a look that was both wry and wistful. "I sure do wish I knew what you guys were doing."

I shook my head as the three of us walked away. "No," I replied. "I'm not sure that you do."

Chapter Five

I DECIDED IT'D BE BEST if Lissa and I stayed up late when we returned to her room, poring over the documents. She was a jumble of feelings when I told her about my encounter with Mikhail--which I hadn't mentioned to Mia. Lissa's initial reaction was surprise, but there were other things too. Fear over the trouble I could have gotten into. A bit of warm romanticism over what both Mikhail and I were willing to do for those we loved. Wonder if she would do the same if Christian were in that situation. She decided instantly that she would; her love for him was still that strong. Then she told herself that she actually didn't care about him anymore, which I would have found annoying if I wasn't so distracted.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

I'd sighed aloud in dismay without realizing it while I read her thoughts. Not wanting her to know I'd been perusing her mind, I pointed at the papers spread out on her bed. "Just trying to make sense of this." Not entirely that far off from the truth.

The prison's layout was complex. The cells occupied two floors and were tiny--only one prisoner per cell. The papers didn't explain why, but the reason was obvious. It went along with what Abe had said about keeping criminals from turning Strigoi. If I'd been locked away in prison for years, I could understand the temptation of cracking and killing my roommate to become Strigoi and escape. The cells were also kept housed in the very center of the building, surrounded by guards, offices, "exercise rooms," a kitchen, and a feeders' room. The documents explained guard rotations, as well as prisoner feeding schedules. They were apparently escorted to the feeders one at a time, heavily guarded, and only allowed very short spurts of blood. Again, everything kept the prisoners weak and prevented them from turning Strigoi.

It was all good information, but I had no reason to believe any of it was up-to-date, since the file was five years old. It was also likely the prison had all sorts of new surveillance equipment in place. Probably the only things we could count on being the same were the prison's location and the building's layout.

"How good are you feeling about your charm-making skills?" I asked Lissa.

Although she hadn't been able to put as much spirit healing into my ring as a woman I knew named Oksana could, I had noticed my darkness-induced temper soothed a little. Lissa'd made a ring for Adrian too, though I couldn't say for sure if it was what was helping him control his vices lately--vices he usually indulged in to control spirit.

She shrugged and rolled over onto her back. Exhaustion filled her, but she was trying to stay awake for my sake. "Getting better. Wish I could meet Oksana."

"Maybe someday," I said vaguely. I didn't think Oksana would ever leave Siberia. She'd run off with her guardian and wanted to keep a low profile. Besides, I didn't want Lissa over there anytime soon after my ordeals. "Have you been able to put in anything besides healing?" A moment later, I answered my own question. "Oh, right. The spoon."

Lissa grimaced, but it turned into a yawn. "I don't think it worked so well."

"Hmm."

"Hmm?"

I glanced back at the blueprints. "I'm thinking if you could make a few more compulsion charms, it would go a long way to help with this. We need to make people see what we want them to see." Surely if Victor--whose powers of compulsion were nowhere near hers--had managed a lust charm, she could do what I needed. She just needed more practice. She understood the basic principles but had trouble making her desired effects last. The only problem was that in asking her to do this, I was making her use more spirit. Even if the side effects didn't show up right away, they would likely come back to haunt her in the future.

She glanced at me curiously, but when I saw her yawn again, I told her not to worry about it. I'd explain tomorrow. She offered no argument, and after a quick hug, we each retired to our own beds. We weren't going to get much sleep, but we had to get what we could. Tomorrow was a big day.

I'd worn a variation of the guardians' formal black-and-white outfit when I went to Victor's trial. In normal bodyguard situations, we wore ordinary clothes. But for fancy events, they wanted us looking crisp and professional. The morning after our daring break-in, I got my first true taste of guardian fashion.

I'd worn hand-me-down clothes at Victor's trial but now had an official guardian outfit, tailored exactly to my measurements: straight-legged black slacks, a white button-up blouse, and a black dress jacket that fit me perfectly. It certainly wasn't meant to be sexy, but the way it hugged my stomach and h*ps did good things for my body. I felt satisfied with my reflection in the mirror, and after several minutes of thought, I pulled my hair into a neatly braided bun that showed off my molnija marks. The skin was still irritated, but at least the bandage was gone. I looked very... professional. I was actually kind of reminded of Sydney. She was an Alchemist--a human who worked with Moroi and dhampirs to hide the existence of vampires from the world. With her proper sense of fashion, she always looked ready for a business meeting. I kept wanting to send her a briefcase for Christmas.

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