Miranda didn’t seem to be listening to Eve; in fact, Claire wasn’t sure she was hearing anything at all outside of her own head. "It’s not totally his fault, you know, but you have to be careful now. He isn’t in control anymore. All that anger…" She shook her head. "They’re making him like this. They want to make you all like this."
It was impossible to follow what she was talking about…. Was she still referring to Bishop? Or…God, was she talking aboutShane ? "Mir," Claire said. "Mir, are you talking about Shane?" Because Shane had a lot of anger; she’d always known that. He kept it locked down, mostly. But it was there.
Miranda, her bruised face distant and vague, sipped coffee and said, "Oh, I see. They want money first–money and soldiers. Then the rest of it. He won’t make the same mistakes again. Tell Amelie. Tell her–"
She stopped talking, and her swollen, bruised eyes suddenly widened.
"Mir?" Eve must have felt the same thing Claire did, a powerful surge of dread, because they both got to their feet. "Mir, are you okay?"
"Oh," Miranda said. There were tears in her eyes now, and they flooded down her bruised cheeks. "Oh, that’s bad. You have to stop it. You have to stop him."
"He’s hiding in the dark. He’s killing. He’s killing all the time," Miranda said. And then her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out in a dead faint, right at the breakfast table.
Bishop,Claire thought, frozen, as Eve cried out, ran to Miranda, and felt for a pulse. Claire couldn’t seem to move. She felt icy and sick.
"Help me!" Eve yelled at her, and Claire blinked and jumped to it. Helping involved moving Miranda into the living room, where they propped up her feet higher than her head and covered her with a warm afghan until Miranda’s frail eyelids fluttered and she woke up again.
"Oh," she said. "Did I fall down?"
"More like passed out," Eve said. "How do you feel?"
"Nauseous," Miranda said. Her voice sounded thin and a little feeble. "Too much coffee." She took a few deep breaths and smiled. "I don’t eat enough."
Yeah, that much was obvious; Miranda was so thin, Claire could see the knobs of her bones at the joints. The girl needed sandwiches. "I’ll make you something," she said.
"No, I have to go now."
"I have to go," she said, and threw off the afghan and sat up, looking chalky and sick but very, very determined. "I can’t answer your questions. It’s too dangerous."
"For you?" Eve asked.
Miranda shook her head. "For you," she said. "You’re in enough trouble already."
In the end, they couldn’t stop her leaving; it was all Claire could do to delay her long enough to put together some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and raid Eve’s chocolate chip cookie stash. Miranda clutched the sack lunch and managed a smile as she walked, moving slowly and carefully, toward the door with them. Eve hovered near her elbow, but she seemed steady enough.
"I can’t stay," Miranda said, and turned to meet Claire’s eyes, then Eve’s. "Michael’s right. I’m trouble for you. I’m trouble for everyone, and it’s better if I’m on my own. I’ll be okay now."
Miranda nodded. She paused on the porch, looking like a sad little girl off to school, and said, "He’s not going to stop this time. Claire, you need to understand, this isn’t like it was before. This is war. Amelie’s going to go to war."
Amelie went to war last time,Claire thought, but there was something sincere in Miranda’s concern, something that made her feel anxious and breathless.
Shane.Shane was caught in the middle of all this. "Mir, is there anything else you can tell me…?"
"No. Nothing that won’t get you killed." Miranda lifted the sack of food. "Thank you for the sandwiches. And the cookies. I’m going to like the cookies a lot."
Then she walked away into the gray, chilly day, and they both watched until she was out of sight.
"Did we just do something bad?" Eve asked. "I mean, she’s just akid. We should have made her stay."
"I don’t think we could," Claire said. "And she’s probably right. It’s safer for everybody if she goes."
Still, she couldn’t forget about it…about Miranda, alone with all that going on in her head. As alone as Claire sometimes felt, she wasn’t anything close to as isolated.
I wish I knew how to help her.
But the truth was, sometimes there wasn’t anything that could be done.
Once I started fighting, it was all I could think about over the next few days. There was nothing like it, especially when Gloriana was there with Vassily, watching…. I felt invincible. Even the punishment was just another kind of approval; every time Jester hit me, it felt like a pat on the back, and an invitation to hit harder.
So I did.
Yeah, I wondered about the sports drinks, the ones Gloriana kept in the refrigerator. We all drank them, and it made it easier to keep up with the vamps. Some part of me wondered what was in it, but that part was small, and got crushed down by the part that was excited by all the freedom. Itwas
freedom–freedom to be all those things I’d been holding back. Freedom to hate. Freedom to crush. No rules; no conscience. I was fighting like them now.
Because that was what it was going to take to beat them. Fighting like an animal, without any fear.
"You’re fast," Jester said on the last day of the scheduled sparring. "Getting faster all the time." He sneered at me, and the sight of his fangs made my pulse jump–not with fear, but with aggression. Because I wanted to snap those fangs right off and wipe that sneer off his face. "You should take the bite," he said. "You’d be a good vampire."
"Shut up and fight."
"What’s the matter? You afraid you’d bite your skinny little girlfriend?" Jester laughed. "She’s already someone else’s, you know. I can smell the bite on her. He’s marked her."
"Shut up," I said, and kicked him in the face. He wasn’t expecting it, and he went down, but vampires were never that easy to put on the canvas for long. He bounced up, snarling now, and I danced back, watching his shifts of weight. He would come after me. Jester always came after me.
When he did, I hit fast, ducking under his rush, ramming my shoulder into his center mass and lifting him up off the canvas. Without leverage he wasn’t much better than a regular human, but I had to be careful of his hands; they could crush bone, and his fingernails were as sharp as knives. I slammed him down on his head behind me and pinned his arms fast behind his back. It must have hurt, because for the first time, I heard something like a cry of pain.
It made me feelgreat.
Someone clapped. It was Gloriana, watching me, leaning against the ropes with beautiful grace. "That was wonderful," she said. "Poor Jester. I think he may just be outclassed, Shane. You should let him up now. I think he’s learned his lesson. Don’t you?"
I twisted his arms tighter and felt something tear. This time, Jester screamed.
"Enough," Vassily barked, and ducked under the ropes. He grabbed hold of my shoulder to pull me off. "I need him more than I need you, boy."
I let go, because you didn’t fight Vassily. You just didn’t. It was the rule, one of the only rules left now. Glory and Vassily, they were off-limits.
Otherwise, though…it was just freedom. Fight until they said stop.
"Ah," Vassily said. "He’s watching." He didn’t sound especially happy about it. I looked up and I thought I saw a shadow upstairs, behind thick glass. A drawn, thin face, old and pale, that almost looked familiar, but it was gone in a blur of motion. Vassily sighed. "Did you see that, Shane?"
"I was afraid of that. Glory, if you would?"
It all blurred away, all the sharp edges and the surfacing memories. Gone. Whatever it was I was supposed to remember…Well, I didn’t.
I looked up at the window reflexively, but I couldn’t see anything. Probably just a reflection. I’d seen a reflection.
"This is too public," Glory said to Vassily. "We need to move operations sooner than we’d planned–for the bout, at least."
"Yes," he said. "And we’d better have a third option, in case. I don’t want anyone crashing our party. You’ve got lists of people we can trust to fill seats?"