Poison Study Page 88

Two years had passed since I had buried my amulet. Someone had probably discovered it by now. For an exercise, I tried using my new magical skill. Directing my awareness downward, I circled the clearing. I made many circuits and was growing bored, when suddenly, the soles of my feet felt hot. When I continued they cooled. I moved here and there until, once more, heat stabbed my feet.

Taking my grappling hook from my pack, I dug at the spot. My efforts revealed some fabric. I tossed my hook aside and clawed at the ground with my fingernails, uncovering my lost amulet.

It was dull and covered with dirt. The ribbon that held it was torn and stained. Pressing the flame-shaped amulet against my chest, I felt warmth emanating from it. I put it down to fill the hole, humming a tune. Cleaning the palm-size medal on my pants, I strung it onto the necklace chain with Valek’s butterfly.

“Not the best hiding place. Wouldn’t you agree?” Valek asked.

I jumped. How long had he been standing behind me?

“They’re searching for you. Why did you run?” he asked.

I briefed Valek on the Commander, Mogkan, the factory and the advisers, hoping he would draw the same conclusions I had.

“So Mogkan is using Criollo to take control of their minds, but where’s he getting the power?” Valek asked.

“I don’t know. We need to search the manor.”

“You mean, I need to?”

“No, we. I grew up there. I know every inch.” The first place I wanted to look was in Reyad’s laboratory wing. “When do we start?”

“Now. We have four hours till dawn. What are we looking for?”

When I explained that we were seeking either a circle of diamonds or a painted wheel, Valek’s thin eyebrows puckered as if he wanted to question me about how I had come by this information. He held his peace and headed back toward the barracks.

I hid outside while Valek changed into his black skintight sneak suit. He brought me a dark-colored shirt to wear over my bright red uniform shirt, and carried an unlit bull’s-eye lantern. My cloak would be too cumbersome for creeping through the halls, so I hid it in the bushes.

We found a back door near the servants’ quarters. Valek lit the lantern. Pushing the slide almost closed, he allowed only a thin ray of light to escape. Inside the manor, I took the lead.

Reyad’s suite was in the east wing on the ground floor, opposite the laboratory. The entire wing had been his, and there were a number of doors that he’d kept locked while I had been the resident laboratory rat.

Old horrors haunted me as we searched. My skin felt tight and hot. I recognized the faint acidic aroma of fear that mixed with the dust stirred by our footsteps. It was my smell. I had worn it like a perfume whenever Reyad dragged me to his test.

The thick air pressed down on me, filling my mouth with the taste of ashes and blood. I had bitten my hand without conscious thought. It was an old habit, a way to stifle my cries.

Exploring the laboratory room, the thin lantern’s beam spotlighted instruments hanging from the walls and piled on the tables. Each revelation sent a cold numbing pulse through my body, and I shrank away from the large shadows of equipment unrevealed, unwilling to even brush against them. The room resembled a torture chamber rather than a place for experiments.

Feeling like an animal pierced in the metal jaws of a trap, I wanted to scream and bolt from the room. Why had I brought Valek here? Brazell’s advisers were housed on the second floor. Mogkan’s diamond device, if there was such a thing, was probably hidden near his room, not down here.

Valek hadn’t said a word since lighting the lantern. In the hallway outside Reyad’s bedroom, a physical force prevented me from entering. My muscles trembled. An icy sweat soaked my uniform. I waited at the door while Valek went in. I could see the dark malevolent shape of Reyad’s sadistic “toy” chest lurking in a corner of the room. If I burned that chest to cinders, I wondered, would my nightmares cease?

“Not if I can help it,” Reyad’s ghost said, materializing beside me in the hallway.

I jerked back, hitting the wall. A yelp escaped my lips before I could shove my hand into my mouth.

“I thought you were gone for good,” I whispered.

“Never, Yelena. I will always be with you. My blood has soaked into your soul. You have no chance of cleansing me away.”

“I have no soul,” I said under my breath.

Reyad laughed. “Your soul is drenched black with the blood of your victims, my dear, that is why you can’t see it. When you die, that heavy blood-filled essence will sink to the bottom of the earth where you will burn in eternity for your crimes.”

“From the voice of experience,” I whispered with a rage that made my voice hiss.

Valek came out of Reyad’s room. With a face pale as bone, he stared at me with a horrified expression so long that I wondered if he had been struck dumb. Finally, closing the door, Valek walked past the ghost without seeing him, then stopped at the next locked room, pausing a moment with his head bowed to press a hand to his forehead.

“ There’s someone who really needs to be haunted,” Reyad said, stabbing a ghostly white finger at Valek. “It’s a shame he doesn’t let his demons bother him, because I know a certain dead King that would love to plague him.” Reyad looked at me. “Only the weak invite their demons to live with them. Isn’t that right?”

I refused to answer Reyad as I followed Valek. We continued our search but it was obvious that, other than the laboratory, the wing had been abandoned. There were three doors left.

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