"I suck,' I said dismally, as Mikhail started the car. It was ineloquent but pretty much summed up my feelings.
He didn't respond, probably because it wasn't relevant to our task. Either that, or he was still too wrapped up in the renewal of his own love life. Lucky bastard.
It didn't take long to reach the hotel. There were guardians around, covertly placed so as not to draw human attention. None of them stopped us as we walked inside. One even gave Mikhail a nod of recognition. They all looked at me like ... well, like they didn't recognize me. Which was good. With so many guardians helping at Court, new faces were to be expected, and mine didn't look like Rose Hathaway's. No one was concerned.
"Which rooms are they in?' Mikhail asked a guardian who was standing in the lobby. "We're supposed to relieve that shift.' Mikhail's manner was perfectly self-assured, enough that the guardian--while a little surprised--seemed to think this must be okay.
"Only two of you? There are four up there.'
I saved us on that one. "They want more back at Court. Things are getting out of hand, so just two are being assigned here now.'
"Probably all we need up there,' agreed the guardian. "Third floor.'
"Quick thinking,' Mikhail told me in the elevator.
"That was nothing. I've talked myself out of much worse.'
The rooms were easy to spot because a guardian stood outside them. The rest are inside, I realized, wondering if that would be a problem. But, with that same authoritative attitude, Mikhail told the guy that he and the others had been recalled to Court. The guardian summoned his colleagues--one from each Alchemist's rooms, though we couldn't tell whose was whose--and they gave us a brief status report before leaving, including who was in which room.
When they were gone, Mikhail looked to me. "Sydney,' I said.
We'd been given key cards and walked right into Sydney's room. She sat cross- legged on her bed, reading a book and looking miserable. She sighed when she saw us.
"Well, what is it now?'
I took off the bracelet, letting my illusion vanish.
There was no jaw dropping or raised eyebrows from Sydney. Just a knowing look. "I should have guessed. Are you here to free me?' There was a hopeful note in her voice.
"Um, not exactly.' I hated that Sydney was going to get punished, but smuggling her out wasn't part of the plan now. "We need to talk to Ian, and it's probably best if you're there. He knows something important. Something we need.'
That got the raised eyebrow. She pointed at the door. "They won't let us talk to each other.'
"They aren't out there,' I said smugly.
Sydney shook her head ruefully. "Rose, you really do scare me sometimes. Just not for the reasons I originally thought you would. Come on. He's next door, but you'll have a hard time getting him to talk.' "That's where you'll help,' I said, as we walked into the hall. I slipped the bracelet back on. "He's totally into you. He'll help if you ask.'
As I'd guessed, Sydney was completely oblivious to Ian's crush. "What! He does not-- '
She shut her mouth as we entered Ian's room. He was watching TV but jumped up when he saw us. "Sydney! Are you okay?'
I shot her a meaningful look.
She gave me a pained one in return and then turned her attention back to Ian. "They need your help with something. Some information.'
He turned his gaze on us, and it immediately went colder. "We answered your questions a hundred times.'
"Not all of them,' I said. "When you were at Court, you saw a picture on the table. Of a dead man. Who was it?'
Ian's lips went into a straight line. "I don't know.'
"I saw--er, that is, we know you recognized him,' I argued. "You reacted.'
"I actually saw that too,' admitted Sydney.
His tone turned pleading. "Come on, we don't need to help them anymore. This whole hotel-prison thing is bad enough. I'm sick of their games.'
I didn't blame him, really, but we needed him too much. I glanced at Sydney beseechingly, telling her that only she could get us through this.
She turned back to Ian. "What's the deal with the guy in the picture? Is it ... is it really horrible? Something secret?'
He shrugged. "No. I just don't want to help them anymore. It's irrelevant.'
"Will you do it for me?' she asked sweetly. "Please? It might help me get out of trouble.' Sydney was no master of flirting, but I think just the fact she came close to it astonished him. He hesitated for several moments, glanced at us and then back to her. She smiled at him.
Ian caved. "I meant what I said. I don't know who he is. He was with a Moroi woman over in the St. Louis facility one day.'
"Wait,' I said, derailed. "Moroi come to your places?'
"Sometimes,' said Sydney. "Just like we came to yours. Some meetings happen in person. We don't usually hold your people prisoner, though.'
"I think this guy was like her bodyguard or something,' Ian said. "She was the one there on business. He just followed and stayed quiet.'
"A Moroi bodyguard?'
"Not uncommon for those that can't get guardians,' said Mikhail. "Abe Mazur is proof of that. He's got his own army.'
"I think of them more as a mafia.' My joke aside, I was getting confused. Despite the widespread disdain about learning to fight, sometimes Moroi did have to hire Moroi security because they just couldn't obtain a guardian. Someone like Daniella Ivashkov wouldn't have that problem. In fact, I was pretty sure she'd be entitled to two guardians if she stepped outside protective borders--and she'd made it clear she didn't think Moroi should fight. Why would she travel with Moroi protection when she could have better trained guardians? It made no sense. Still ... if you'd killed a queen, you probably did all sorts of unorthodox things. They didn't have to make sense. "Who was she?' I asked. "The woman?'
"I didn't know her either,' said Ian. "I just passed them while they were on their way to something. A meeting, maybe.'
"Do you remember what she looked like?' Something. We needed something. This was on the verge of falling apart, but if Ian could identify Daniella, we might just be set.
"Sure,' he said. "She's easy to remember.'
The ensuing silence irritated me. "So?' I asked. "What did she look like?'
He told me.
The description was not what I had expected.
SYDNEY AND HER FRIENDS weren't happy that we weren't going to take them with us.
"I would,' I told her, still reeling from what I'd learned from Ian. "But getting us in and out has been hard enough! If we step outside with you, we'll all be busted. Besides, soon it won't matter. Once we tell everyone at Court what we know and clear my name, the guardians won't need you anymore.'