Eddie lowered the binoculars and glanced over at me, brow furrowed. "I meant what I said before, you know. I trust you. Whatever reason you're doing this, I know it's a good one. But before things start moving, are you sure this is what you want?"
I gave a harsh laugh. "Want? No. But it's what we need to do."
He nodded. "Good enough."
We watched the prison a while longer, moving around to get different angles while still keeping a wide perimeter. The scenario was about what we'd expected, but having a 3-D visual was still helpful.
After about a half hour, we returned to the hotel. Lissa sat cross-legged on one of the beds, still working on the charms. The feelings coming through her were warm and content. Spirit always made her feel good--even if it had side effects later--and she thought she was making progress.
"Adrian called my cell phone twice," she told me when we entered.
"But you didn't answer?"
"Nope. Poor guy."
I shrugged. "It's better this way."
We gave her a rundown of what we'd seen, and her happy mood began to plummet. Our visit made what we were going to do later today more and more real, and working with so much spirit had already put her on edge. A few moments later, I sensed her swallowing her fear. She became resolved. She'd told me she would do this and she intended to stand by her word, even though she dreaded each second that brought her closer to Victor Dashkov.
Lunch followed, and then a few hours later, it was time to put the plan into motion. It was early evening for humans, which meant the vampiric night would be drawing to an end soon. It was now or never. Lissa nervously distributed the charms she'd made for us, worried they wouldn't work. Eddie dressed up in his newly bestowed black-and-white guardian formalwear while Lissa and I stayed in our street clothes--with a couple alterations. Lissa's hair was a mousy brown, the result of some wash-in temporary hair color. My hair was tightly bound up underneath a curly red wig that reminded me uncomfortably of my mother. We sat in the backseat of the car while Eddie drove us chauffeur style back along the remote road we'd followed earlier. Unlike before, we didn't pull over. We stayed on the road, driving right up to the prison--or, well, to its gatehouse. No one spoke as we drove, but the tension and anxiety within us all grew and grew.
Before we could even get near the outer wall, there was a checkpoint manned by a guardian. Eddie brought the car to a stop, and I tried to look calm. He lowered the window, and the guardian on duty walked over and knelt so that they were at eye level.
"What's your business here?"
Eddie handed over a piece of paper, his attitude confident and unconcerned, as though this were perfectly normal. "Dropping off new feeders."
The file had contained all sorts of forms and papers for prison business, including status reports and order forms for supplies--like feeders. We'd made a copy of one of the feeder requisition forms and filled it out.
"I wasn't notified of a delivery," the guardian said, not suspicious so much as puzzled. He peered at the paperwork. "This is an old form."
Eddie shrugged. "It's just what they gave me. I'm kind of new at this."
The man grinned. "Yeah, you barely look old enough to be out of school."
He glanced toward Lissa and me, and despite my practiced control, I tensed. The guardian frowned as he studied us. Lissa had given me a necklace, and she'd taken a ring, both charmed with a slight compulsion spell to make others think we were human. It would have been much easier to make her victim wear a charm and force them to think they were seeing humans, but that wasn't possible. The magic was harder this way. He squinted, almost like he was looking at us through a haze. If the charms had worked perfectly, he wouldn't have given us a second glance. The charms were a little flawed. They were changing our appearances but not quite as clearly as we'd hoped. That was why we'd gone to the trouble of altering our hair: if the human-illusion failed, we'd still have some identity protection. Lissa readied herself to work direct compulsion, though we'd hoped it wouldn't come to that with every person we met.
A few moments later, the guardian turned from us, apparently deciding we were human after all. I exhaled and unclenched my fists. I hadn't even realized I'd been holding them. "Hang on a minute, and I'll call this in," he told Eddie.
The guardian stepped away and picked up a phone inside his booth. Eddie glanced back at us. "So far so good?"
"Aside from the old form," I grumbled.
"No way to know if my charm's working?" asked Eddie.
Lissa had given him one of Tasha's rings, charmed to make him appear tan-skinned and black-haired. Since she wasn't altering his race, the magic only needed to blur his features. Like our human charms, I suspected it wasn't projecting the exact image she'd hoped for, but it should have altered his appearance enough that no one would identify Eddie later. With our resistance to compulsion--and knowing there was a charm in place, which negated its effects on us--Lissa and I couldn't say for certain what he looked like to others.
"I'm sure it's fine," said Lissa reassuringly.
The guardian returned. "They say go on in, and they'll sort it out there."
"Thanks," said Eddie, taking the form back.
The guard's attitude implied that he assumed this was a clerical error. He was still diligent, but the idea of someone sneaking feeders into a prison was hardly the kind of thing one would expect--or view as a security risk. Poor guy.
Two guardians greeted us when we arrived at the door in the prison's wall. The three of us got out and were led into the grounds between the wall and the prison itself. Whereas St. Vladimir's and the Court's grounds had been lush and filled with plants and trees, the land here was stark and lonely. Not even grass, just hard-packed earth. Was this what served as the prisoners' "exercise area"? Were they even allowed outside at all? I was surprised there wasn't a moat of some sort out here.
The inside of the building was as grim as its exterior. The holding cells at Court were sterile and cold, all metal and blank walls. I'd expected something similar. But whoever had designed Tarasov had foregone the modern look and instead emulated the kind of prison one might have found back in Romania in medieval days. The harsh stone walls continued down the hall, gray and foreboding, and the air was chill and damp. It had to make for unpleasant working conditions for the guardians assigned here. Presumably they wanted to ensure the intimidating facade extended everywhere, even for prisoners first entering the gates. According to our blueprint, there was a little section of dorms where employees lived. Hopefully those were nicer.