At first the beautiful rooms and dresses and the attention from Annabelle was enough for Lia but since her Hunt, she'd been restless and preoccupied.
Annabelle was annoyed. She'd picked up on Lia's mood and her own irritation was showing.
"This is important," she said, mindlessly waving the hot air in the room around with her hand.
Lia focused on the book for just a moment.
It was Math, but her attention slipped away again before Annabelle even registered her look.
"If you do the problems on page 187, we can take a break . . ."
Lia stood up abruptly, and Annabelle started.
"I need to go to the bathroom," Lia told her.
Annabelle nodded slowly, as though she didn't want to do so, but thought of acceptance, and thought it toward Annabelle.
It was a trick that she'd learned from Mr. Mohan. Everywhere he went he exuded power and authority, even when he wasn't doing it consciously. For her it was always an effort, but she found it was just as effective. Annabelle would nod and follow her suggestions. Once, at dinner, she could have sworn that it had worked on Miss Chi-Wong and Michael but only until Mr. Mohan had entered the room.
She'd only done it that one time around Mr. Mohan, and that was enough. His smell had been . . . scary, like he was angry. He'd seemed nice enough still but Lia had felt so sick with worry throughout the dinner that she'd thrown up in her room later.
Lia got up and slipped out of the empty office that they used for lessons, made her way to the bedroom. Instead of the bathroom, she went to the window.
They were high up, six stories at the very least, but the height didn't scare Lia any more. She pulled on the crank to open the window but it didn't budge. She looked for a lock or a catch, but couldn't see one. She pushed harder but there was still no movement. A bit more, harder, harder, and suddenly the crank made a cracking noise and spun loosely on it's bolt.
The window opened a fraction of an inch. A few more cranks, and she had a few inches of space. Not nearly enough for a girl to slip out.
But fine for a bird.
She shifted. It was effortless now, like rustling her feathers before taking flight, and she hopped up to the open window frame.
The sun caught her glossy black feathers. She examined the gap momentarily, and then slipped out into the air.
It was a colder day outside than it appeared, but as a bird it was perfect. A few flaps and she was soaring away from the tower of apartments.
Lex was lying in a pile of blankets on the floor in a cheap hotel room on the northern side of Las Vegas.
With the help of Sora's voice, he could have still be staying in the penthouse apartments, but he suspected that these little clapboard places were safer. Less likely to be watched by the vampires and the witches . . . and possibly the werewolves.
If they even existed.
Sora's voice told him that they did. That they could be harmed and restrained by silver and wolfsbane, transformed at the full moon, and weren't necessarily wolves.
They can be just about anything, Sora's voice had informed him. Lions, Tigers, Bears, Sharks, and even birds and cats and dogs.
The problem was, there was no evidence of them. Everywhere Lex turned he seemed to run into the vampires and the witches, but he hadn't see hide nor hair of the werewolves. If they existed, they blended into the normal Las Vegas underworld without a flaw.
He'd been searching for them for days, but no one that he spoke to could point him in the right direction, and he didn't want to press the issue for fear of drawing unwanted attention to himself.
He closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep, but his mind kept getting drawn back to the werewolves. Why on earth would they be keeping Lia? Did they eat humans? It had been months since he'd last seen her. What if she'd already been eaten?
Bybreak didn't seem to think she was dead. She'd called Lia "the raven."
He wanted to believe that it was because of her black hair. Anything else was unthinkable.
He wrapped himself tighter in the blanket, crushing the black feathers that he'd found when Lia disappeared in his fist.
He was standing in one of those impossible positions from a comic book on the top of a grand tower. All around him were glittering lights and suspended crystals refracting the light. They were drops of rain, he knew, although he didn't know how he knew.
There was howling, but not the howling of wind. It was the howling of of a creature dying.
He stepped down from the building onto the road below, and first saw the bird.
It was black, and against the night it shouldn't have been visible, but it seemed to jump out at him against the otherwise uniformly dark night. In this frozen world, it was the only other thing that was moving.
It looked at him with golden yellow eyes, and he knew the bird. He recognized it, and it recognized him.
He followed where it flew, each step allowing him to cover a mile or more of ground, but always in the same direction: south out of the city, beyond the bright lights of the . . . .
There was nothing out here except for Lex and the bird, and he was chasing it furiously. There was a flicker of feathers here and there, always just out of his reach, and suddenly he found himself alone in the desert.
There was one of those big branching cactuses standing alone in the soil next to a small building. A house maybe, but it couldn't have contained more than one or two rooms. There was no car, only a bit of a dirt trail, and only a small window filled with golden light.
He reached for the handle, still angry, but he had trouble with the knob. It wasn't locked, he just couldn't reach it, as though he was too far away. As though he were a child.
Then the door opened, light pouring through it, and he had the sensation that his mother was coming through. . . .
. . . Lex jerked awake, gasping, sweating heavily in the little cocoon that he'd built for himself.
There was something compelling about the dream. It was a map, and at the end of it was . . . something that he needed to find.
Are you there? he asked Sora's voice and got back a groan and an acknowledgment.
"We're going out," he added aloud.