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There will be no peace for you, whispered Aunt Tatiana, in one of her more antagonistic moods. No peace for you and your human girl. This was a mistake.

No, I told her. We’ll make this work. We have to.

How then? she demanded.

I had no answers after staring at the TV for over an hour and was considering going to bed when I heard screams from the bedroom. In a flash, I was off the couch, hurtling toward the bedroom. I ripped the door open and flung on the light, drawing spirit’s power to me to attack the raging band of Alchemists I expected to see coming through the window. But there was no one—only Sydney, sitting up in bed, her screams piercing the night. I let go of spirit and hurried to the bed, pulling her to me. To my astonishment, she struck out against me.

“No! No! Don’t touch me!”

“Sydney, it’s me,” I said, trying to catch hold of her hands before she did real damage. Even half-asleep, she’d apparently retained lessons from our old self-defense instructor, Malachi Wolfe. “It’s okay. You’re okay. Everything’s okay.”

She struggled against me a bit more, and in the poor lighting, I could see a frantic, terrified look in her eyes. At last, her thrashing stilled, and recognition lit her features. She buried her face in my chest and began to cry—not the wistful tears of love from her reunion with Eddie or the mournful ones for Hopper’s sad state. These were full-on sobs that wracked her body and rendered her incoherent, no matter how much I tried to comfort her or ask what was wrong. I could do nothing but hold her and stroke her hair, waiting for her to calm down. When she did, intermittent sobs still occasionally broke up her speech.

“I . . . I thought I was back there, Adrian. In re-education. When I woke up. It was so dark there—I mean, until I joined the others. But when I was in that cell, there was no light. They literally kept me in the dark. It hurt when I got out—looking at the light. Three months, Adrian. Three months I was in a cell smaller than our bathroom here, in the dark. I thought I could handle it . . . I thought I was stronger than it . . . but when I woke up, and you were gone, and I couldn’t see anything . . .”

She broke down in tears again, and it was all I could do to get a grip on my own emotions. I was sad for her, of course. Sad and hurt that she’d had to suffer like she had. But at the same time I was angry, so angry that if I’d known any of this back at the re-education center, I would’ve been right by Chantal’s side—to help her, not pull her back. I wasn’t given to violence or even anger that much, but a rage burned in me that the Alchemists could’ve done this to someone so bright and brilliant, who’d served them so faithfully and would’ve continued that service if there’d only been a way for her to do so while being true to her own heart. They’d tried to break her—not just her thoughts but her very self. Equally appalling was the realization that it might not be over yet, that getting her out of that place wasn’t enough. What kind of mental damage had they done? Was this going to haunt us the rest of our lives, even if she was free? The implications were staggering, and in that moment, I hated the Alchemists as I’d never hated anyone else.

Destroy them! Aunt Tatiana said. We’ll find them and rip them limb from limb!

“You’re not there anymore,” I told Sydney, squeezing her tightly. “You’re with me, and I’m not going to let anything happen to you ever again.”

She clung to me and stammered out, “I don’t want to sleep with the lights out.”

“You don’t ever have to sleep in the dark again,” I swore to her.

I stayed in bed with her this time, lights on as promised. It took her a little longer than it had before to calm down and fall asleep, but when she did, I could tell it was a deep and much-needed sleep. My own sleep wasn’t quite as solid, both because of the lights and because I kept waking to check on her. It was worth my own discomfort, though, to know she was safe and secure.

She woke up bright and refreshed, giving no sign that last night’s breakdown had ever happened. Best of all, she had an appetite. “I don’t know what to order,” she said, scanning the room service menu with Hopper on her lap. “Obviously, I’m going to get coffee—you have no idea how badly I want that—but I’m torn between the farmer’s omelet and the blueberry pancakes.”

I leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “Get both.”

“How’s our money?” she asked wryly.

“About to get better. I’ll head downstairs to the casino today. You want to come and be my good luck charm?”

She shook her head. “I’d rather stay here and eat. Don’t you want something?”

“They’ll give me coffee down there. That’s all I need for now.”

That, and I could’ve used some blood, which was another issue we hadn’t taken into consideration when we’d started this plan. Like so many things, though, that was for later. I wasn’t in dire straits yet, but it would have to be dealt with.

After last night, I thought Sydney might have an issue with me leaving, but she was fearless with sunlight and Jackie’s bag of tricks around. She showered with me—which was both a delight and a torment—and sent me off when her giant breakfast showed up. “Don’t give it all to Hopper,” I warned. She grinned and waved goodbye.

Down in the casino, things were quieter than they would’ve been at night but still pretty active. That was the beauty of Nevada. No matter the time of day, people always wanted to try their luck. I found a table with four other players with easy-to-read auras and settled down to business. Even though I had a considerable edge, I couldn’t flaunt it, lest I attract the attention of those running the casino. So, while I won the majority of the time, I made sure to lose every so often too, to allay suspicion. I also offered to buy a round of morning Bloody Marys, which went a long way to further goodwill and worsen the others’ game play.

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