Chapter Thirteen


MY CELL PHONE RANG at the crack of dawn the next morning. I was already up, being an early riser, but Jill rolled over in bed and put her pillow over her head.

"Make it stop," she groaned.

I answered and found Eddie on the other end of the line.

"I'm downstairs," he said. "Ready to practice some self-defense before it gets too hot."

"You're going to have to do it without me," I said. I had a feeling Eddie was taking his promise to Clarence about training us very seriously. I felt no such obligation. "I've got a ton of homework to do. That, and I'm sure Ms. Terwilliger's going to make me do a coffee run today."

"Well, then send Jill down," said Eddie.

I glanced over to the cocoon of blankets on her bed. "That might be easier said than done."

Surprisingly, she managed to rouse herself enough to brush her teeth, take aspirin for a headache, and throw on some workout clothes. She bid me farewell, and I promised to check on them later. Not long after that, Ms. Terwilliger called with her coffee demand, and I prepared myself for another day of trying to fit in my own work with hers.

I drove over to Spencer's and didn't even notice Trey until I was standing right in front of him.

"Ms. Terwilliger's?" he asked, pointing to the caramel sauce cappuccino.

"Huh?" I looked up. Trey was my cashier. "You work here?"

He nodded. "Gotta make spending money somehow."

I handed him some cash, noting that he'd charged me half price. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't look so great," I told him. He looked tired and worn out around the edges. Closer inspection showed bruises and cuts as well.

"Yeah, well, I had kind of a rough day yesterday."

I hesitated. That was a leading comment, but there was no one in line behind me. "What happened?" I asked, knowing it was expected. Trey scowled. "That asshole Greg Slade wreaked havoc in football tryouts yesterday. I mean, the results aren't up yet, but it's pretty obvious he's going to get quarterback. He was like a machine, just plowing guys over." He extended his left hand, which had some bandage-wrapped fingers. "He stepped on my hand too."

I winced, remembering Slade's out-of-control athleticism in PE. The politics of high school football and who was quarterback weren't that important to me. True, I felt sorry for Trey, but it was the source behind the tattoos that intrigued me. Keith's warnings about not causing trouble rang back to me, but I was unable to stop myself.

"I know about the tattoos," I said. "Julia and Kristin told me about them. And I get now why you were suspicious of mine - but it's not what you think. Really."

"That's not what I've heard. Most people think you're just saying that because you don't want to tell where you got it."

I was a little taken aback by that. I was pretty sure Julia and Kristin had believed me. Were they actually spreading around the opposite? "I had no idea." He shrugged, a small smile on his lips. "Don't worry. I believe you. There's something kind of naively charming about you. You don't seem like the cheating type."

"Hey," I scolded. "I'm not naive."

"It was a compliment."

"How long have these tattoos been around?" I asked, deciding it was best to move in. "I heard since last year."

He handed me my coffee, thinking. "Yeah, but it was the end of last year. School year, I mean."

"And they come from a placed called Nevermore?"

"As far as I know." Trey eyed me suspiciously. "Why?"

"Just curious," I said sweetly.

A couple of college kids dressed like rich hobos got in line behind me and regarded us impatiently. "Can we get some service here?" Trey gave them a stiff smile and then rolled his eyes at me as I moved away. "See you around, Melbourne."

I headed back to Amberwood and delivered Ms. Terwilliger's coffee. I wasn't in the mood to stay leashed to her all day, so I asked if I could go elsewhere if I kept my cell phone handy. She agreed. The library had too much activity and - ironically - noise for me today. I wanted the solitude of my room.

As I was cutting across the lawn to catch the shuttle, I spotted some familiar figures behind a cluster of trees. I changed direction and found Jill and Eddie squaring off in a small clearing. Micah sat cross-legged on the ground, watching avidly. He waved at me as I approached.

"I didn't realize your brother was a kung-fu master," he remarked.

"It's not kung fu," said Eddie gruffly, never taking his eyes off Jill.

"Same difference," said Micah. "It's still pretty badass."

Eddie feinted, like he was going to strike at Jill's side. She responded fairly quickly with a block, though not quite fast enough to match him. Had he been serious, he would have hit her. Still, he seemed pleased with her response time.

"Good. That would deflect part of a hit, though you'd still feel it. Best is if you can duck and dodge altogether, but that takes a little more work." Jill nodded obediently. "When can we work on that?"

Eddie regarded her with pride. That expression softened after a few moments of study. "Not today. Too much sun."

Jill started to protest and then stopped herself. She had that worn-out-from-the-light look again and was sweating heavily. She glanced up at the sky for a moment, as though begging it to give us some cloud cover. It remained unresponsive, so she nodded at Eddie.

"All right. But we're doing this tomorrow at the same time? Or earlier maybe. Or maybe tonight! Could we do both? Practice tonight when the sun's going down and then again in the morning? Would you mind?"

Eddie grinned, amused at her enthusiasm. "Whatever you want."

Smiling back, Jill sat down beside me, getting into as much shade as possible. Eddie regarded me expectantly. "What?" I asked.

"Aren't you supposed to learn to throw a punch?"

I scoffed. "No. When would I ever need to do that?"

Jill nudged me. "Do it, Sydney!"

Reluctantly, I allowed Eddie to give me a quick lesson on throwing a punch without injuring my hand in the process. I barely paid attention and felt like I was mostly providing entertainment for the others. When Eddie finished with me, Micah asked, "Hey, would you mind showing me some ninja moves too?"

"They have nothing to do with ninjas," protested Eddie, still smiling. "Come on up."

Micah leapt to his feet, and Eddie walked him through some rudimentary steps. More than anything, it seemed like Eddie was sizing up Micah and his capabilities. After a while, Eddie grew comfortable and let Micah practice some offensive moves to get rid of an attacker.

"Hey," protested Jill when Eddie landed a kick on Micah. Micah shrugged it off in a guy kind of way. "No fair. You wouldn't hit me when we were practicing."

Eddie was caught off guard enough that Micah actually got a hit in. Eddie gave him a look of grudging respect and then said to Jill, "That was different."

"Because I'm a girl?" she demanded. "You never held back with Rose."

"Who's Rose?" asked Micah.

"Another friend," explained Eddie. To Jill, he said: "And Rose has had years more experience than you."

"She's had more than Micah too. You were going easy on me."

Eddie flushed and kept his eyes on Micah. "Was not," he said.

"Were too," she muttered. As the boys sparred again, she said quietly to me, "How am I ever going to learn if he's afraid of breaking me?"

I watched the guys, analyzing what I knew of Eddie so far. "I think it's more complicated than that. I think he also just believes you shouldn't have to take the risk - that if he's doing a good enough job, you shouldn't have to defend yourself."

"He's doing a great job. You should have seen him at the attack." Her face got that haunted look it did whenever the attack that had driven her into hiding was mentioned. "But I still need to learn." She lowered her voice even more. "I really want to learn to use my magic to fight too, not that I'll get much practice in this desert."

I shuddered, recalling her display from the night before. "There'll be time," I said vaguely.

I stood up, saying I had to go get some work done. Micah asked Eddie and Jill if they wanted to get lunch. Eddie said yes immediately. Jill looked to me for help.

"It's just lunch," said Eddie meaningfully. I knew he still thought Micah was harmless. I didn't know, but after seeing how infatuated Jill was with Lee, I figured Micah would have to make some pretty aggressive moves to get anywhere.

"I'm sure it's fine," I said.

Jill looked relieved, and the group headed off. I spent the day finishing off that miserable book for Ms. Terwilliger. I still thought having to copy the archaic spells and rituals verbatim was a waste of time. The only point I could see for it was that if she ever did need to reference them for her research, she would have an easy computer file to check and not risk damage to the ancient book.

It was evening by the time I finished that and my other homework. Jill still wasn't back, and I decided to use the opportunity to check on something that had been bothering me. Earlier in the day, Jill had mentioned Eddie defending her in the attack. I'd felt from the beginning that there was something strange about that initial attack, something that they weren't telling me. So, I logged onto the Alchemists' network and pulled up everything we had on the Moroi rebels.

Naturally, it was all documented. We had to keep track of important events among the Moroi, and this ranked pretty high. Somehow, the Alchemists had gotten pictures of the Moroi Court, with protesters lined up outside one of the administrative buildings. Dhampir guardians were easy to pick out as they mingled and kept order. To my surprise, I recognized Dimitri Belikov - Rose's boyfriend - among those doing crowd control. He was easy to spot since he was almost always taller than everyone around him. Dhampirs look very human, and even I could admit that he was pretty good-looking. There was a rugged handsomeness to him, and even in a still photograph, I could see a fierceness as he watched the crowd.

Other protest pictures confirmed what I knew. By far, most people supported the young queen. Those against her were a minority - but a loud and dangerous one. A video from a human news show in Denver showed two Moroi guys nearly getting in a bar fight. They were shouting about queens and justice, most of which wouldn't make sense to a human observer. What made this video special was that the guy who'd filmed it - some random human with a cell phone camera - claimed he'd seen fangs on both men in the argument. The videographer had submitted his recording claiming he'd witnessed a vampire fight, but no one gave it much credibility. It was too grainy for anything to show up. Still, it was a reminder of what could happen if the Moroi situation spun out of control.

A status check showed me that Queen Vasilisa was indeed trying to get a law passed so that her rule was no longer dependent on there being at least one other person in her royal family. Alchemist experts guessed it would take three months, which was about what Rose had said. The number loomed in my head like a ticking time bomb. We needed to keep Jill safe for three months. And for three months, Vasilisa's enemies would be trying harder than ever to get to Jill. If Jill died, Vasilisa's rule would end - along with her attempts to fix the system.

Yet none of this was what had really driven me to research. I wanted to know about Jill's initial attack, the one that no one talked about. What I found wasn't much help. No Alchemists had been there at the time, of course, so our information was based on what Moroi sources had reported. All we knew was that "the queen's sister had been viciously and severely attacked - but had made a full recovery." From what I'd observed, that was certainly true. Jill showed no signs of injury, and the attack had occurred a week before she came to Palm Springs. Was that enough time to heal from a "vicious and severe" attack? And was an attack like that enough to make her wake screaming?

I didn't know but still couldn't shake my suspicions. When Jill came home later, she was in such a good mood that I couldn't bear to interrogate her. I also remembered too late that I'd meant to research the case of Clarence's niece and her bizarre death by throat-slitting. Jill's situation had distracted me. I let the matter go and called it an early night.

Tomorrow, I thought drowsily. I'll do it all tomorrow.

Tomorrow came much more quickly than I expected. I was woken out of a heavy sleep by someone shaking me, and for a split second, the old nightmare was there, the one about Alchemists carrying me away in the night. Recognizing Jill, I just barely stopped myself from screaming. "Hey, hey," I scolded. There was light outside, but it was purplish. Barely after sunrise. "What's going on? What's the matter?"

Jill looked at me, face grim and eyes wide with fear. "It's Adrian. You have to rescue him."

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