"Why are we doing this?" I whispered as we walked down the hall toward Victor's cell. I'd really, really hoped for stone walls and torches, but the place looked very modern and efficient, with marble floors and stark white walls. At least there were no windows. "You think we can talk him out of it?"
Dimitri shook his head. "If Victor wanted to take revenge on us, he'd just do it without any warning. He doesn't do things without a reason. The fact that he told you first means he wants something, and now we're going to find out what it is."
We reached Victor's cell. He was the only prisoner currently being held. Like the rest of the facility, his room reminded me of something you'd find at a hospital. Everything was clean, bright, and sterile - and very bare. It was a place without any sort of stimulus or distraction whatsoever, which would have driven me crazy in one hour. The cell had silvery bars that looked very hard to break, which was the most important part.
Victor sat in a chair, idly examining his nails. It had been three months since our last meeting, and seeing him again made my skin crawl. Feelings I hadn't known were buried in me suddenly burst to the surface.
One of the hardest things of all was seeing him look so healthy and young. He'd bought that health by torturing Lissa, and I hated him for it. If his disease had run its normal course, he might be dead by now.
He had receding black hair, with only the slightest touch of silver. He was in his forties and had a regal, almost handsome cut to his face. He glanced up at our approach. Eyes the same pale jade as Lissa's met mine. The Dragomir and Dashkov families had a lot of intertwined history, and it was creepy seeing that eye color in someone else. A smile lit his face.
"Oh my. This is a treat. Lovely Rosemarie, practically an adult now." His eyes flicked toward Dimitri. "Of course, some have been treating you that way for quite a while."
I pressed my face to the bars. "Stop screwing with us, you son of a bitch. What do you want?"
Dimitri put a gentle hand on my shoulder and pulled me back. "Easy, Rose."
I took a deep breath and then slowly stepped backward. Victor straightened up in his chair and laughed.
"After all this time, your cub still hasn't learned any control. But then, maybe you never really wanted her to."
"We aren't here to banter," said Dimitri calmly. "You wanted to lure Rose over, and now we need to know why."
"Does there have to be some sinister reason? I just wanted to know how she was doing, and something tells me we aren't going to have a chance for any friendly chats tomorrow." That annoying smirk stayed on his face, and I decided then that he was lucky to be behind bars and out of my reach.
"We're not going to have a friendly chat now," I growled.
"You think I'm joking, but I'm not. I really do want to know how you're doing. You've always been a fascinating subject to me, Rosemarie. The only shadow-kissed person we know of. I told you before, that isn't the kind of thing you walk away from unscathed. There's no way you can quietly sink into the regimented routine of academic life. People like you aren't meant to blend in."
"I'm not some kind of science experiment."
He acted like I hadn't said anything. "What's it been like? What have you noticed?"
"There's no time for this. If you don't get to the point," warned Dimitri, "we're going to leave."
I didn't understand how Dimitri could sound so calm. I leaned forward and gave Victor my coldest smile. "There's no way they'll let you off tomorrow. I hope you enjoy prison. I bet it'll be great once you get sick again - and you will, you know."
Victor regarded me levelly, still with that amused look that made me want to choke him. "All things die, Rose. Well, except for you, I suppose. Or maybe you are dead. I don't know. Those who visit the world of the dead can probably never fully shake their connection to it."
There was a snarky retort on my lips, but something held me back. Those who visit the world of the dead. What if my Mason sightings weren't because I was crazy or because he was seeking revenge? What if there was something about me - something that had happened when I'd died and come back - that was now connecting me to Mason? It was Victor who had first explained what it meant to be shadow-kissed. I wondered now if he had any of the answers I'd been looking for.
My face must have given away something, because Victor gave me a speculative look. "Yes? There's something you'd like to say?"
I hated to ask him for anything. It made my stomach turn. Swallowing my pride, I asked, "What is the world of the dead? Is it heaven or hell?"
"Neither," he said.
"What lives there?" I exclaimed. "Ghosts? Will I go back? Do things come out of it?"
Victor was taking great pleasure in me having to come to him for information, just as I'd feared he would. I saw that smirk intensify.
"Well, clearly some things come out of it, because here you stand before us."
"He's baiting you," said Dimitri. "Let it go."
Victor gave Dimitri a brief glare. "I'm helping her." He turned back to me. "Honestly? I don't know that much about it. You're the one who has been there, Rose. Not me. Not yet. Someday, you'll probably be the one educating me. I'm sure the more you deal death out, the closer you'll become to it."
"Enough," said Dimitri, voice harsh. "We're going."
"Wait, wait," said Victor, voice congenial. "You haven't told me about Vasilisa yet."
I moved forward again. "Stay away from her. She doesn't have anything to do with this."
Victor gave me a dry look. "Seeing as I'm locked away here, I have no choice but to stay away from her, my dear. And you're wrong - Vasilisa has everything to do with everything."
"That's it," I said, suddenly getting it. "That's why you sent the note. You wanted me here because you wanted to know about her, and you knew there was no way she'd come talk to you herself. You had nothing to blackmail her with."
"Blackmail's an ugly word."
"There's no way you're going to see her - at least outside of the courtroom. She's never going to heal you. I told you: You're going to get sick again, and you're going to die. You're going to be the one sending me postcards from the other side."
"You think that's what this is about? You think my needs are that petty?" The mockery was gone, replaced by a feverish and almost fanatical look in his green eyes. The tight set of his mouth stretched the skin of his face a little, and I noticed he'd lost weight since our last encounter. Maybe prison had been harder on him than I'd thought. "You've forgotten everything, why I did what I did. You've been so caught up in your own shortsightedness that you missed the big picture I was looking at."