With the same resolve I'd mustered before, I parted the waters swirling in my mind, ordering myself to push aside last night as long as I could. I would drown if I thought about it. Now I had to swim. Abe's face came back into focus.
"Greetings, Zmey," I said weakly. Somehow, him being here didn't surprise me. Sydney would have had to tell her superiors about me, who in turn would have told Abe. "Nice of you to slither on in."
He shook his head, wearing a rueful smile. "I think you've outdone me when it comes to sneaking around dark corners. I thought you were on your way back to Montana."
"Next time, make sure you write a few more details into your bargains. Or just pack me up and send me back to the U.S. for real."
"Oh," he said, "that's exactly what I intend to do." He kept smiling as he said it, but somehow, I had a feeling he wasn't joking. And suddenly, I no longer feared that fate. Going home was starting to sound good.
Mark and Oksana walked over to stand beside him. Their presence was unexpected but welcome. They smiled too, faces melancholy but relieved. I sat up in bed, surprised I could move at all.
"You healed me," I said to Oksana. "I still hurt, but I don't feel like I'm going to die, which I have to think is an improvement."
She nodded. "I did enough to make sure you weren't in immediate danger. I figured I could do the rest when you woke up."
I shook my head. "No, no. I'll recover on my own." I always hated it when Lissa healed me. I didn't want her wasting the strength on me. I also didn't want her inviting spirit's side effects.
I jerked the covers off of me. "Oh my God! I have to get home. Right now."
Immediately, three pairs of arms blocked my way.
"Hold on," said Mark. "You aren't going anywhere. Oksana only healed you a little. You're a long way from being recovered."
"And you still haven't told us what happened," said Abe, eyes as shrewd as ever. He was someone who needed to know everything, and the mysteries around me probably drove him crazy.
"There's no time! Lissa's in trouble. I have to get back to school." It was all coming back to me. Lissa's erratic behavior and crazy stunts, driven by some kind of compulsion-or super-compulsion, I supposed, seeing as Avery had been able to shove me out of Lissa's head.
"Oh, now you want to go back to Montana?" exclaimed Abe. "Rose, even if there was a plane waiting for you out in the other room, that's a twenty hour trip, at minimum. And you're in no condition to go anywhere."
I shook my head, still trying to get on my feet. After what I'd faced last night, this group wasn't that much of a threat-well, maybe Mark was-but I could hardly start throwing punches. And yeah, I still wasn't sure what Abe could do.
"You don't get it! Someone's trying to kill Lissa or hurt her or..."
Well, I didn't really understand what Avery wanted. All I knew was that Avery had somehow been compelling Lissa to do all sorts of reckless things.
She had to be amazingly strong in spirit to not only manage those feats but also keep it hidden from Lissa and Adrian. She'd even created a false aura to hide her golden one. I had no idea how that magnitude of power was possible, particularly considering that Avery's fun-loving personality could hardly be called insane. Whatever her scheme, Lissa was at risk. I had to do something.
Removing Abe from the equation, I looked up at Mark and Oksana pleadingly. "It's my bondmate," I explained. "She's in trouble. Someone's trying to hurt her. I have to go to her-you understand why I have to."
And I saw in their faces that they did understand. I also knew that in my situation, they'd try exactly the same thing for each other.
Mark sighed. "Rose... we'll help you get to her, but we can't do it now."
"We'll contact the school," said Abe matter-of-factly. "They'll take care of it."
Right. And how exactly would we do that? Call up Headmaster Lazar and tell him his party-girl daughter was actually corrupting and controlling people with psychic powers and that she needed to be locked up for Lissa's and everyone else's good?
My lack of an answer seemed to make them think they'd convinced me, Abe in particular. "With Oksana's help, you'd probably be in good enough condition to leave tomorrow," he added. "I can book a morning flight the next day."
"Will she be all right until then?" Oksana asked me gently.
"I... I don't know..." What could Avery do in two days' time? Alienate and embarrass Lissa further? Horrible things, but not permanent or life threatening. Surely, surely... she'd be okay that long, right? "Let me see..."
I saw Mark's eyes widen slightly as he realized what I was about to do. Then I saw nothing in the room anymore because I was no longer there. I was in Lissa's head. A new set of sights settled in around me, and for half a second, I thought I stood on the bridge again and was looking down into black waters and a cold death.
Then I gained a grip on what I saw-or rather, what Lissa saw. She was standing on the ledge of a window in some building on campus. It was nighttime. I couldn't tell offhand which building it was, but it didn't matter. Lissa was on what appeared to be the sixth floor, standing there in high heels, laughing about something while the dark ground threatened below. Behind her, I heard Avery's voice.
"Lissa, be careful! You shouldn't be up there."
But it had the same double meaning that permeated everything Avery did. Even as she said those words of caution, I could feel a reckless drive within Lissa, something telling her that it was okay to be where she was and not to worry so much. It was Avery's compulsion. Then, I felt that brushing of my mind, and the annoyed voice.
I was forced back out, back to the bedroom in Novosibirsk. Abe was freaking out, apparently thinking I'd gone into some catatonic fit, and Mark and Oksana were attempting to explain to him what had happened. I blinked and rubbed my head as I gathered myself, and Mark breathed a sigh of relief.
"It's much stranger watching someone do that than it is doing it myself."
"She's in trouble," I said, attempting to get up again. "She's in trouble... and I don't know what to do..."
They were right in saying there was no way on earth I could get to Lissa anytime soon. And even if I followed Abe's suggestion and contacted the school... I didn't know for sure where Lissa was at or even if anyone there would believe me. I thought about jumping back in and trying to read Lissa's location from her mind, but Avery would likely throw me out again. From what I had briefly felt, Lissa didn't have her cell phone on her-no surprise. There were strict rules about having them in classes, so she usually left hers in her dorm room.
But I knew someone who would have his. And who would believe me.
"Does anyone have a phone?" I asked.
Abe gave me his, and I dialed Adrian's number, surprised I had it memorized. Adrian was mad at me, but he cared about Lissa. He would help her, no matter his grudge toward me. And he would believe me when I tried to explain a crazy, spirit-induced plot.
But when the other end of the line picked up, it was his voicemail that answered, not the man himself. "I know how devastated you must be to miss me," his cheery voice said, "but leave a message, and I'll try to ease your agony as soon as possible."
I disconnected, feeling lost. Suddenly, I looked up at Oksana as one of my crazier ideas came to mind.
"You... you can do that thing... where you actively go in someone's mind and touch their thoughts, right? Like you did to me?"
She grimaced slightly. "Yes, but it's not something I like to do. I don't think it's right."
"Can you compel them once you're in there?"
She looked even more disgusted. "Well, yes, of course... the two things are actually very similar. But reaching in someone's mind is one thing and forcing them into some unwanted behavior is an entirely different matter."
"My friend is about to do something dangerous," I said. "It could kill her. She's being compelled, but I can't do anything about it. The bond won't let me actively reach her. I can only watch. If you could reach inside my friend's head and compel her out of danger..."
Oksana shook her head. "Supposing morals weren't an issue, I can't reach into someone who's not actually here-let alone someone I've never met."
I raked a hand through my hair, panic setting in. I wished Oksana knew how to walk dreams. That would at least give her the long-distance capability. All of these spirit powers seemed to be one off from each other, each having some additional nuance. Someone who could dream walk might be able to take the next step and visit someone awake.