Once they had us sitting on the floor of the van, they'd bound each of our hands behind our back with flex-cuffs-  strips of plastic that cinched together and held just as well as anything made of metal.

After that, we rode in near silence. The men occasionally murmured something to each other, speaking too softly for any of us to hear. Christian or Mia might have been able to understand the words, but they were in no position to communicate anything to the rest of us. Mia looked as terrified as she had out on the street, and while Christian's fear had rapidly given way to his typical haughty anger, even he didn't dare act out with guards nearby.

I was glad for Christian's self-control. I didn't doubt any of these men would smack him if he got out of line, and neither I nor the other novices were in a position to stop them. That was what really drove me crazy. The instinct to protect Moroi was so deeply ingrained in me that I couldn't even pause to worry about myself. Christian and Mia were the focus. They were the ones I had to get out of this mess.

And how had this mess started? Who were these guys? That was a mystery. They were human, but I didn't believe for an instant that a group of dhampirs and Moroi had been random kidnapping victims. We'd been targeted for a reason.

Our captors made no attempts to blindfold us or conceal our route, which I didn't take as a good sign. Did they think we didn't know the city well enough to retrace our steps? Or did they figure it didn't matter since we wouldn't be leaving wherever they were taking us? All I sensed was that we were driving away from downtown, off toward a more suburban area. Spokane was as dull as I'd imagined. Unlike where pristine white snow lay in drifts, slushy gray puddles lined the streets and dirty patches dotted the lawns. There were also a lot fewer evergreen trees than I was used to. The scraggly, leafless deciduous trees here seemed skeletal by comparison. They only added to the mood of impending doom.

After what felt like less than an hour, the van turned down a quiet cul-de-sac, and we drove up to a very ordinary- yet large- house. Other houses- identical in the way suburban homes often are- stood nearby, which gave me hope. Maybe we could get some help from the neighbors.

We pulled inside the garage, and once the door was back down, the men ushered us into the house. It looked a lot more interesting on the inside. Antique, claw-footed sofas and chairs. A large, saltwater fish tank. Swords crossed over the fireplace. One of those stupid modern art paintings that consisted of a few lines splayed across the canvas.

The part of me that enjoyed destroying things would have liked to study the swords in detail, but the main floor wasn't our destination. Instead, we were led down a narrow flight of stairs, down to a basement as large as the floor above. Only, unlike the main floor's open space, the basement was sectioned off into a series of halls and closed doors. It was like a rat's maze. Our captors led us through it without hesitation, into a small room with a concrete floor and unpainted drywall.

The furniture inside consisted of several very uncomfortable-looking wooden chairs with slatted backs- backs that proved to be a convenient place for rebinding our hands. The men seated us in such a way that Mia and Christian sat on one side of the room, and the rest of us dhampirs sat on the other. One guy- the leader, apparently- watched carefully as one of his henchmen bound Eddie's hands with new flex-cuffs.

"These are the ones you especially have to watch," he warned, nodding toward us. "They'll fight back." His eyes traveled first to Eddie's face, then Mason's, and then mine. The guy and I held each other's gaze for several moments, and I scowled. He looked back over at his associate. "Watch her in particular."

When we'd been restrained to his satisfaction, he barked out a few more orders to the others and then left the room, shutting the door loudly behind him. His steps echoed through the house as he walked upstairs. Moments later, silence fell.

We sat there, staring at each other. After several minutes, Mia whimpered and started to speak. "What are you going to- "

"Shut up," growled one of the men. He took a warning step toward her. Blanching, she cringed but still looked as though she might say something else. I caught her eye and shook my head. She stayed silent, eyes wide and a slight tremble to her lip.

There's nothing worse than waiting and not knowing what'll happen to you. Your own imagination can be crueler than any captor. Since our guards wouldn't talk to us or tell us what was in store, I imagined all sorts of horrible scenarios. The guns were the obvious threat, and I found myself pondering what a bullet would feel like. Painful, presumably. And where would they shoot? Through the heart or the head? Quick death. But somewhere else? Like the stomach? That would be slow and painful. I shuddered at the thought of my life bleeding out of me. Thinking of all that blood put me in mind of the Badica house and maybe having our throats slit. These men could have knives as well as guns.

Of course, I had to wonder why we were still alive at all. Clearly they wanted something from us, but what? They weren't asking for information. And they were human. What would humans want with us? Usually the most we feared from humans was either running into crazy slayer types or those who wanted to experiment on us. These seemed like neither.

So what did they want? Why were we here? Over and over, I imagined more awful, gruesome fates. The looks on my friends' faces showed I wasn't the only one who could envision creative torments. The smell of sweat and fear filled the room.

I lost track of time and was suddenly jolted out of my imaginings when footsteps sounded on the stairs. The lead captor stepped into the hall. The rest of the men straightened up, tension crackling around them. Oh God. This was it, I realized. This was what we'd been waiting for.

"Yes, sir," I heard the leader say. "They're in here, just like you wanted."

Finally, I realized. The person behind our kidnapping. Panic shot through me. I had to escape.

"Let us out of here!" I yelled, straining at my bindings. "Let us out of here, you son of a- "

I stopped. Something inside of me shriveled up. My throat went dry. My heart wanted to stop. The guard had returned with a man and a woman I didn't recognize. I did, however, recognize that they were ...

... Strigoi.

Real, live- well, figuratively speaking- Strigoi. It all suddenly clicked together. It wasn't just the Spokane reports that had been true. What we'd feared- Strigoi working with humans- had come true. This changes everything. Daylight wasn't safe anymore. None of us were safe anymore. Worse, I realized these must be the rogue Strigoi- the ones who had attacked the two Moroi families with human help. Again, those horrible memories came to me: bodies and blood everywhere. Bile rose in my throat, and I tried to shift my thoughts from the past to the present situation. Not that that was any more reassuring.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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