The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(12)

by Richelle Mead

The late summer sun was still well above the horizon, even around six, when we reached Nina’s door. She lived in a section of bare-bones apartments inhabited by other Court employees (or ex-employees, as it turned out), far from the much more posh lodgings that royals like my father lived in. I took a deep breath as I stared at that door, summoning my courage.

“It won’t get any easier if you put it off,” Neil told me, unhelpfully.

“I know.” Resolved, I gave two short raps to the door, secretly hoping Nina was asleep or not at home. Then I could honestly tell Sonya I’d tried and leave it at that. Unfortunately, Nina opened the door almost immediately, as though she’d been waiting right by it.

“Hello, Adrian,” she said warily. Her gray eyes lifted beyond me. “Neil.”

He gave a nod of greeting, but I was momentarily stunned. Nina didn’t come from a rich or royal background, but that had never affected her beauty, and she’d always presented herself in an immaculate manner.

At least, she used to.

That Nina I’d known was nowhere in sight. Her dark, curly hair looked as though it hadn’t been brushed recently. In fact, I wasn’t sure it had been washed in a while either. A rumpled blue plaid skirt clashed with an orange T-shirt, over which she wore an inside-out gray cardigan. One of her feet was covered with a white ankle sock. Her other sock—adorned with red and white stripes—came up to her knee.

And yet, it wasn’t the bizarre wardrobe choice that was most alarming; instead, it was the look on her face that told me Sonya hadn’t been exaggerating. Dark circles hung under Nina’s eyes, though the eyes themselves were bright and almost too alert, glittering feverishly. It was a look I’d seen before in spirit users pushed to the edge. It was a look I’d seen on Avery Lazar’s face.

I swallowed. “Hello, Nina. Can we come in?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why? So you can tell me again how totally unsuitable we are? So you can tell me how we can never, ever possibly work out—seeing as I’m not human and you apparently only hook up with people who double as dinner?”

My temper started to flare at the slight, but then I reminded myself that she wasn’t well. “I’m sorry for what I said last time—I mean it. I’d met Sydney long before I met you. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Please—can we come in?”

Nina stared at me wordlessly for a long time, and I used the opportunity to call on spirit and sneak a glimpse of her aura. Like Lissa’s yesterday, Nina’s aura was filled with the pale gold of a spirit user. Unlike Lissa’s, however, Nina’s gold had a weak, almost watery quality to it. It didn’t burn like a flame. The other colors were equally frail, flickering in and out.

“Okay,” she said at last.

She stepped aside and let us pass. What I found inside was nearly as disconcerting as her appearance. I’d been to her place before, back when she and I had done a lot of party-hopping together. The tiny apartment was actually more of a studio, with bedroom and living room merged into one. Despite the small size, Nina had always gone to great pains to keep her home tidy and well decorated. Much like the care given to her physical exterior, though, that upkeep seemed to be a thing of the past.

Crusty, smelly dishes were piled high in the kitchen sink, where a couple of flies buzzed lazily. Laundry, books, and cans of energy drink were piled everywhere—tables, floor, even the bed. Weirdest of all was a stack of magazines on the floor with a pile of shredded paper next to them.

“How do you sleep?” I asked, unable to help myself.

“I don’t,” she said, clasping her hands behind her back. “I don’t. There’s no time. I can’t risk it.”

“You have to sleep sometime,” said Neil pragmatically.

She shook her head frantically. “I can’t! I have to keep trying to find Olive. I mean, I’ve found her. Kind of. Depends on how you look at it. But I can’t get to her, you see? That’s the problem. That’s why I have to keep trying. Why I can’t sleep. Understand?”

I didn’t understand at all, but Neil’s breath had caught at the mention of Olive’s name. “You’ve found her? You know where she is?”

“No,” said Nina, sounding slightly irritated. “I just told you that.”

Without warning, she flounced down on the floor beside the magazine pile. She picked a magazine up at random and began tearing it, page by page, into tiny little pieces, building up the pile of shreddings.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Thinking,” she replied.

“No, I mean with the magazines.”

“This helps me think,” she explained.

Neil and I exchanged glances. “Nina,” I said carefully, “I think maybe you should go visit a doctor. Neil and I can go with you, if you’d like.”

“I can’t,” she protested, still methodically shredding the magazine. “Not until I reach Olive.”

I crouched down beside her, wishing I had a better idea of how to talk to someone so clearly unstable. You’d think I’d be an expert. “How are you trying to reach her? By phone?”

“By dream,” said Nina. “I succeeded. A couple of times. But then she blocked me. She turned the dream against me. I’m trying to fight through it, but I can’t.”

I could tell from Neil’s expression that he was hoping that had made sense to me, but I was more confused than ever. A particularly resistant person could make it difficult for a spirit user to form a dream connection, but the rest made no sense. “Olive’s not a spirit user,” I told her. “She can’t do anything to the dream without your permission. You wield the ultimate control.”

“She can, she can, she can.” Nina began tearing up the magazine with renewed energy. “Each time I try to talk to her, she throws up some obstacle! Things I never even thought of. Her nightmares, my nightmares. Someone’s. I fight them. I do. Really, I do. But it takes so much spirit.” She abruptly stopped the shredding and stared off into space bleakly. “It’s exhausting. And by the time I get through, she’s slipped away. She wakes herself up, and I can’t talk to her. Can’t ask her why she left me. Do you know?” Nina’s eyes flitted from me to Neil. “Do you know why she left?”