The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(17)

by Richelle Mead

My jaw nearly hit the floor. “Mom, I think that’s the most sentimental thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Hush,” she said. “And stop worrying. She’s competent and talented. And she’s not alone. She’s got a guardian and that strange human woman with her.”

I managed a faint smile but couldn’t bring myself to tell my mom that Sydney, no matter how competent and talented, hadn’t been able to elude the Alchemists before. In fact, when she’d initially been captured, Eddie had been with her. He’d been deadly and fierce as usual . . . but it hadn’t been enough.

A knock at the door saved me from further rumination but presented a host of other new problems. I’d promised Nina we could go looking for Olive later, but that was still a few hours away. Sonya had assured me the sedative she’d given Nina to help her sleep would last a while, but for all I knew, it had worn off and I’d find Nina outside my door with those crazy eyes, demanding we go dreaming right now.

But when I opened the door, it was Rose I found instead. I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or be on my guard. Last I’d known, she’d been away from Court.

“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”

She was clearly off-duty now, dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt as opposed to the black and white suits guardians wore for formal occasions. She tossed her mane of dark brown hair over one shoulder and grinned. “I heard how you’ve been locked away up here, so I thought I’d come spring you guys.”

I tried not to wince at you guys.

“I thought you and Dimitri were away looking for Jill,” I said, hoping to deflect the attention off of us.

Some of her enthusiasm dimmed at that. “We were . . . but we weren’t having much luck. So Lissa had us come back and look into a few royals who’ve always been against her, in case they might have abducted Jill.”

That was news. “You think there’s any truth to it?”

“Probably not,” said Rose. “And Lissa knows it’s a long shot too. But she wants to exhaust every lead.”

I stepped back. “Well, I don’t want to hold you up from that . . .”

Her grin returned. “You aren’t. We already put in some hours today and can’t do anything else until one of the lords in question gets back tomorrow. So now we’re doing something else productive. Grab Sydney, and I’ll show you.”

“She’s, um, asleep right now,” I lied.

“Asleep? It’s the middle of the day.”

“Our day,” I corrected. “She’s still on a human schedule.”

Rose looked understandably floored. “Really? Last time I was here, I thought she’d adapted pretty nicely.”

“She misses the sun,” I explained.

“Does she actually go out?”

“Well, no . . . but it’s the principle of the matter. It’s a human thing.” Judging from Rose’s increasingly baffled expression, I really wasn’t doing a good job of covering for us here, so I decided to cut my losses. “Look, why don’t you show me whatever you’ve got, and I’ll leave a note for Sydney.” I figured that was better than Rose possibly offering to wait around until Sydney woke up.

“Sure,” said Rose. “We can get her out another time.”

I gestured her toward the hallway. “After you.”

“Don’t you need to leave the note?” she asked pointedly.

“Uh, right. Hang on.” I stepped back inside and left Rose out in the hall. After standing there for about half a minute, I opened the door again and joined her. “All set.”

Rose took me to a section of Court generally reserved for guardian activities. It was near their headquarters and some of their housing. More importantly, it was where they trained, and it was to one of their training fields she led me now. Only, when we arrived, it wasn’t a group of dhampirs we found. It was a group of warrior Moroi.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said. I meant it as a compliment.

Ages ago, during the time humans and Moroi had intermarried, Moroi had also done a lot of their own self-defense. They’d used elemental magic as a weapon, fighting the Strigoi themselves. Over time, dhampirs had taken over protective duties, and using magic for anything more than parlor tricks had become taboo among the Moroi. Among many of the other changes recently suggested in Moroi politics, taking on self-defense once more with magical means often came up for discussion. Now I was seeing it implemented.

There were about two dozen Moroi here now, divided into four groups, each wearing a different color. They were doing drills that could’ve come straight out of Malachi Wolfe’s school, defensive maneuvers and hand-to-hand combat. A couple of guardians were advising them, and one I immediately recognized, even with his back to me, thanks to his height and brown leather duster. Dimitri Belikov strode over, offering his hand to me in greeting.

“Adrian,” he said warmly. “We don’t have a spirit cadre yet. Would you like to lead one? Find some recruits?”

The first person who came to mind was Nina, who was already potentially losing her mind from spirit use. The thought of leading her into combat was discomfiting.

Finally, a leadership role for you, remarked Aunt Tatiana.

I shook my head. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve already got plenty on my plate.”

“Where’s Sydney?” he asked. “I thought she’d like to see this.”

“She’s asleep,” said Rose helpfully.

Seeing Dimitri’s surprise, I explained, “She’s on a human schedule. But you’re right—she would’ve liked to see this. Another time.”

“Another time,” agreed Dimitri. “Look—they’re about to start.”

“Start what?” I asked.

A guardian I didn’t know had just finished setting up some practice dummies on one end of the field. He called each group up, and I watched in amazement as each one demonstrated just how deadly the elements could be. Water users sent high-powered blasts of water at their dummies, knocking them over in one blow. Earth users made the ground unstable and also called upon rocks and dirt as weapons. Air users called up blasts of wind that would have knocked a live opponent over. Some of them were even able to use air to lift objects as weapons. And fire users—well, their destructive ability was pretty obvious as one of the dummies completely went up in flames.