"What the hell?' I asked. "Is this daring escape being sponsored by Honda?' When this got no response, I went to the next obvious question. "Are we going to New Orleans?' That was Sydney's new post. Sightseeing was the last thing on my mind at the moment, but if you had to run away, you might as well run somewhere good.
"No,' she said, backing out of the spot. "We're going to West Virginia.'
I looked sharply at Dimitri, who sat in the backseat, in the hopes that he would deny this. He didn't.
"I assume by "West Virginia,' you actually mean "Hawaii,'' I said. "Or some place equally exciting.'
"Honestly, I think you're better off avoiding excitement right now,' Sydney pointed out. The car's GPS device directed her to her next turn, leading us back toward I-81. She frowned slightly. "And West Virginia's actually really pretty.'
I remembered that she was from Utah and probably didn't know any better. Having long since given up on any control in this escape plot, I moved on to the next obvious set of questions.
"Why are you helping us?'
I had a feeling Sydney was grimacing in the dark. "Why do you think?'
She sighed. "I'm really starting to wonder if New Orleans was worth it.'
I'd recently learned that Abe--with that inexplicable, far-reaching influence of his-- had been responsible for getting her out of Russia. How he'd done it, I didn't know. What I did know was that it had left Sydney in open-ended debt to him, one he kept using to get favors. Sometimes, I wondered if there was more to the deal than just a job transfer, like maybe he'd done something else that neither had told me about. Regardless, I started to chastise her again that she should have expected this for making a deal with the devil, but I soon reconsidered. With a bunch of guardians in pursuit, it probably wasn't a smart idea to tease someone helping me. I asked a different question.
"Okay. So why are we going to West Virginia?'
Sydney opened her mouth to respond, but Dimitri interrupted her. "Not yet.'
I turned around again and shot him a glare. "I am so sick of this! We've been on the run for six hours now, and I still don't know all the details. I get that we're staying away from the guardians, but are we seriously going to West Virginia? Are we going to make some cabin our base of operation? Like, one on the side of a mountain that doesn't have plumbing?'
Sydney gave me one of her trademark exasperated sighs. "Do you actually know anything about West Virginia?'
I didn't like her and Dimitri teaming up to keep me in the dark. Of course, with Sydney, her reticence could be from any number of things. It could still be Abe's orders. Or maybe she just didn't want to talk to me. Since most Alchemists considered dhampirs and vampires the spawn of hell, they didn't usually get too friendly with us. Spending time with me in Siberia had altered her views a little. I hoped. Sometimes I got the vibe she just wasn't that social of a person to begin with.
"You know we've been set up, right?' I asked her. "We didn't really do anything. They say I killed the queen, but--'
"I know,' Sydney interrupted. "I've heard all about it. All the Alchemists know about it. You two are at the top of our most wanted list.' She attempted a businesslike tone but couldn't entirely hide her uneasiness. I had a feeling Dimitri made her more nervous than I did, which was understandable since he made some of our own people nervous too.
"I didn't do it,' I insisted. Somehow, it was important that she know that.
Sydney didn't acknowledge my comment. Instead, she said, "You should eat. Your food's getting cold. We've got a little over three hours to go and won't be stopping except for gas.'
I recognized the finality in her voice, as well as the logic. She didn't want to talk anymore. Inside the bag, I found two giant orders of fries, and three cheeseburgers. She apparently still knew me pretty well. It took all of my restraint to keep from stuffing fries into my mouth then and there. Instead, I offered a cheeseburger to Dimitri.
"You want one? Gotta keep up your strength.'
He hesitated several seconds before taking it. He seemed to regard it with a kind of wonder, and it hit me that eating food was still a new thing for him after these last few months. Strigoi only subsisted on blood. I handed him a couple of fries too and then turned back around to devour the rest. I didn't bother offering any to Sydney. She was notorious for her lack of appetite, and besides, I figured she would have eaten already if she'd wanted to while waiting for us.
"I think this is for you,' Dimitri said, handing me a small backpack. I opened it and found a few changes of clothes, as well as some basic toiletries. I double-checked the outfits.
"Shorts, shirts, and a dress. I can't fight in these. I need jeans.' The dress was cute, admittedly: a long gauzy sun-dress in a watercolor print of black, white, and gray. But very impractical.
"That's gratitude for you,' said Sydney. "This happened kind of fast. There was only so much I could put together.'
Glancing behind me, I saw Dimitri unpacking his own bag. It had basic clothing like mine and also--
"A duster?' I exclaimed, watching him pull out the long, leather coat. How it even fit in there defied physics. "You managed to get him a duster, but you couldn't find me a pair of jeans?'
Sydney seemed unconcerned by my outrage. "Abe said it was essential. Besides, if all goes like it's supposed to, you won't be doing any fighting.' I didn't like the sound of that. Safe and remote.
Seeing as I had what were potentially the quietest car companions in the world, I knew better than to expect any real conversation for the next three hours. I supposed it was just as well because it let me check in on Lissa. I was still too on edge about my own escape to spend much time in her head, so it was just a quick assessment of life at Court.
Just as Dimitri had predicted, the guardians had restored order pretty soon. The Court was under lockdown, and everyone with any connection to me was being questioned extensively. The thing was, they all had alibis. Everyone had seen my allies at the funeral--or, in Abe's case, thought they'd seen them. A couple girls swore they'd been with Adrian, which I could only imagine was the result of more compulsion. I could feel Lissa's satisfaction through the bond as the guardians' frustration grew and grew. Although she had no idea when I might be checking in on her, she sent me a message through the bond: Don't worry, Rose. I'll take care of everything. We're going to clear your name.
I slumped back in the car seat, unsure how to feel about this situation. All my life, I'd taken care of her. I'd protected her from danger and gone out of my way to keep her away from any threats. Now, the roles were reversed. She'd come through for me in saving Dimitri, and I was in her--and apparently everyone else's--hands as far as this escape was concerned. It went against every instinct I had and troubled me. I wasn't used to being protected by others, let alone her.