The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(15)

by Richelle Mead

“I’ll just wait in our room until we go back to the museum.”

“They don’t know you’re here,” he said softly, watching me with a careful eye. “And I wouldn’t let any of them get near you anyway.”

I shook my head. “Better play it safe.”

When it was fully dark outside, we drove back to the robot museum and parked a few blocks away, making the rest of the journey on foot. Metal grates had been closed and locked in front of all the windows and doors, and a sign warned that there was an electronic alarm on the door.

“No sign that the windows are rigged with an alarm,” said Eddie, after inspecting it closely. “In fact, you can see that one of them’s still open behind its metal grate—probably to air the place out.” Even though it was well into night, the summer heat and humidity were still going strong.

“No cameras inside, and none that I see here either,” added Ms. Terwilliger.

“I guess they sunk all their budget into the Raptorbot,” I said. “Not that it seems to be bringing in the customers.”

Eddie’s brief moment of levity earlier was long gone, and he made no response to my barb. Instead, he examined the metal grate in front of the open window, his expression steely. “If I pull hard enough, I might be able to break this lock.”

“No need to use up your strength,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “I’m sure I have a spell to open it.”

“And no need to use up your magic,” I said, stepping forward. From the depths of my large purse, I pulled out a small vial. My time cooped up in our suite at Court hadn’t been entirely wasted. Thanks to our questionably moral friend Abe, I’d been able to get my hand on a number of the components that went into some of the Alchemists’ more common chemical compounds. I’d spent my long confinement building up a stockpile of useful things—including this one, which dissolved metal pretty handily.

The metal grating was like a little gate that slid out from one side of the window and latched to a lock on the opposite side. It actually might have been tough for Eddie to break it, but a few drops of the solution on the latch melted it away, releasing the gate easily. We slid it open, exposing the window. Its glass was up, with only a screen between the contents of the museum and us. Eddie took out a pocketknife, quickly and efficiently cutting open the screen. I winced in spite of myself.

“I feel kind of bad,” I admitted. “This place isn’t doing so well, and now we’re damaging their property.”

“That’s what insurance is for,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “Besides, if it helps us find Jill, I’m sure your queen can make an anonymous donation to this place.”

Eddie helped the two of us climb up and get through the window, and then he followed deftly on his own. Inside, the gallery was empty and quiet—exactly how it was during regular business hours. The dim glow from the exit signs, as well as illumination from the streetlamps outside, provided enough light for us to see by, once we gave our eyes some time to adjust. We went immediately to the Raptorbot exhibit, and this time, I let Ms. Terwilliger cast an unlocking spell on the glass door. After she finished, I wondered for a moment if there might be some kind of spell on it that was keyed to me again. Then we heard an audible click, and the door swung open. Inside the case, the Raptorbot rested on top of a large stand that also had a door and an interior compartment.

“No lock,” I said, reaching to pull open the smaller door.

“Sydney, wait—” began Ms. Terwilliger, but she was too late. I’d already opened it. I froze, expecting the entire thing to explode. But, after several tense seconds, nothing happened. I exhaled in relief.

“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

She nodded, still ill at ease. “I can still sense that there’s some sort of magic here.”

“Maybe it’s the object inside this,” I said. I couldn’t make out the interior compartment’s belongings and tentatively reached my hand into the dark space, half-expecting a scorpion to sting me. Instead, my fingertips touched a large manila envelope, which I slowly pulled out. My name was written across it.

“Same handwriting,” Eddie observed.

I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, too bad we don’t have an easy way to trace—do you hear that?”

I could tell from Eddie’s face that his quicker hearing had already picked it up. Ms. Terwilliger took a little longer to notice. “Like buzzing . . .” She glanced up into the Raptorbot’s metal face. “From that.”

The buzzing grew louder and louder, and Eddie hurried forward to put himself between the display case and us. “Get back!” he shouted, just as the Raptorbot’s mouth opened and several dozen glowing objects came flying out. They came at us with unbelievable force, and I fell backward, landing awkwardly on my side. I held up my hands to block the glowing swarm, but some of them still grazed my face as they passed by. I cried out at the contact, which stung like a million paper cuts.

“What are they?” I managed to exclaim.

“Fotianas,” Ms. Terwilliger called back. She too had hit the floor and was covering her face as the swarm came by for another pass.

“Foti-what?” asked Eddie.

“They’re from the same realm Hopper comes from, but they’re much less friendly.” She cautiously removed her hands from her face so she could get a line of sight on the creatures. “Think of them as mutant fireflies.”

Eddie, ever ready to improvise, grabbed the welcome sign from the robot standing at the doorway. Wielding it like a baseball bat, he swung it toward the fotianas as they came toward him. As though they shared one mind, the swarm parted so that his “bat” hit mostly open air. Only a couple of the fotianas were too slow. They disintegrated into sparks as they were struck. That was encouraging, at least, but we had a lot more of them to get through. Things grew more complicated when the swarm split into three and came after each of us.

I had just gotten to my feet, but as I saw the group targeting me—in an arrow formation, even—I tore across the room and managed to duck under the conveyor belt’s table just in time. “What’s the best way to get rid of them?” I yelled to Ms. Terwilliger. “Fire?” Across the room, I could see Eddie continuing to nick away at them with his sign, but their speed and agility kept him from making significant progress.