Chapter 2

Theo loved lazy mornings. Though not a new indulgence, the novelty of lolling about in bed as the house came to life around him had yet to wear off.

He loved hearing Winston wake before him, in the neighboring room. Theo would doze through the domestic sounds of Win’s morning ablutions–doors opening, water splashing as he shaved, the floor creaking, as Win laid out his clothes and dressed for the day. And all the while, the smells of breakfast being prepared downstairs would waft up the staircase, gently rousing Theo’s appetite. But still he’d lie in bed, on his soft mattress, curled up under the warm covers.

Only when he heard the sound of Win going down the stairs to the breakfast room would Theo rouse himself enough to ring for his own shave.

Usually, by the time Theo came down, Win would be on his third cup of coffee and would have finished with the broadsheets, which he’d fold and leave for Theo’s perusal.

They’d talk, exchanging glances and smiles, as Theo heaped his plate for breakfast and made a good start on it. Then, after Win finished the last of his coffee, he’d leave Theo to the newspapers, while he went off to his study to begin his day’s work with a perusal of the morning’s post.

It wasn’t the most exciting of lives, but then their work provided excitement enough–and in truth, Theo loved the lack of drama. He loved Win’s steadiness, his devotion to routine, his love of order and organization. Though Theo himself tended to be more impulsive, he had learned from Win, and continued to do so. The best detectives were measured, observant, objective–and Win was the best.

Indeed, it was to Win, and now to Theo as well, that Alban Court, the most prominent policing institution in all of Anglend, turned when they were stumped and needed a breakthrough on a case.

The sound of Win’s uneven gait on the stairs–a childhood bout with polio had left one leg shorter than the other–and Theo sat up in bed, stretching grandly. Smiling to himself, he reached for the bell pull, then settled back under the blankets to wait for the hot water. It was spring, but the mornings still carried with them an edge of chill that made the bed all the more enticing. Besides which, they were between cases. There was no need to rush into the day.

When Theo walked into the breakfast room some time later, Win gave him a frowning glance.

Theo experienced a thread of disquiet. Win was rarely cross in the morning. “What is it?”

“There’s a man here for you. Or at least, I think he’s here for you. Doesn’t seem to speak much Anglesh.”

Theo swallowed against a rising uneasiness, threaded through with the faintest wisp of excitement. “Rynskan?”

“Indeed.” Win’s features had grown impassive. It was the expression he wore when he was in the throes of an investigation. Even after years in his company, Theo still had difficulty reading it. “He seems to be asking for a Feodor Denisovich Malenkov.”

Theo let out a hard breath as he dropped into his usual seat. “Dear God.”

And so, the moment had come, after all this time. He had sent letters weekly–progress reports, to ensure that Prince Konstantin knew his money was not going to waste, but he had never gotten a word in response. Still, he had known the day would come when he would be expected to repay his master’s generosity.

“So you know what this is about.” Win was watching him, his gaze suddenly cool and assessing.

“And so do you,” Theo said, still trying to catch his breath. He didn’t want to go. And yet… How would the prince look, after all these years? Would he be as handsome, as kind, as charming?

He didn’t want to leave Win, didn’t want to go back to the benighted cesspool that was Rynska–the place that treated its poor with such contempt. He had lived like an animal there, a feral child, struggling for survival on the harsh streets of Saint Pyotrsbern. But the prince… the prince was a romantic dream, embodied. Theo experienced a fugitive thrill at the thought of seeing Konstantin once more, even as he knew it was merely the flutter of a childhood crush or a first love–a residue of feeling and not to be taken seriously. Win was his true love. “I told you.”

“Years of silence. And now, he snaps his fingers and you go.” Finally, a tiny crack in the façade, and a flash of anger in Win’s dark eyes. “You’ve been self-supporting for years now. Haven’t touched a penny of his money.”

“And I’ve slowly been paying back what he spent on my education, yes. But that’s not what this is about, and you know it.”

Win shook his head. “I have savings. I can pay the rest of it and possibly even buy you out–you won’t even have to pay me back, though knowing you, you’ll insist on it.”

“Winston.”

Win continued as if he hadn’t heard. “That’ll sever the last of his ties–”

“Winston.” Theo kept his voice low, but Winston broke off, glaring.

“It’s nonsense,” he said.

“He owns me, Win. I know it’s hard for you to comprehend. You were born free. But I wasn’t. My time here has been by his express permission, and the fact remains that I am a serf. Given how much he has invested in me all these years, he’d likely ask more than we could realistically afford for a buyout of my bond–though if he needs my services after all this time, it’s entirely possible he won’t sell me at all, and that’s his right, as well.” A pause, as Win continued to glare.

It was Win who broke the stare, glancing away, his expression darkening. “It’s barbaric.”

“Yes. It’s a barbaric country. I’d be the first to admit that. I hate the place–and after all these years of silence, I had begun to hope that perhaps the prince had just forgotten about me. I hoped that I’d never have to go back.”

“We could fight it. I have some pull at court. I could petition the queen–”

“He’s an aristocrat–of one of the high-ranking, old families. It could cause an international incident. And frankly, it’s not worth it. Even if he didn’t own me, I’d still go. It’s a matter of honor.”

“Because he paid for your education.” Win laced his tone with contempt.

Theo shook his head. “If not for him, I’d be dead–I’m sure of it. I don’t talk of it, because I don’t like remember those days, and what I was, what I had to do and how I had to be, in order to survive. The prince plucked me off the streets of Saint Pyotrsbern, purchased me from my previous owner, and took me under his wing.”

“Yes, yes.” Win let out a long, angry breath as he dropped his gaze from Theo’s. “I see that. I do. It’s just… it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

But Theo wasn’t finished. He knew he needed to press his point–to make it absolutely clear to Win why he had to answer this summons.

“And then he sent me off, to be educated. To learn tracking and investigation–all of it on the express understanding that I would be at his disposal whenever he required it of me.” He paused, watching Win’s face. “He made me the man I am today, thanks to his kindness and generosity. In fact, the only good thing I can say about Rynska is that it has produced a man like Prince Konstantin.”

Win reached across the table and touched the back of Theo’s hand–an unusual gesture from a man who wasn’t given to demonstrative displays outside the privacy of their closed bedroom doors. “And as far as I’m concerned, it is you that Rynska should be proud of having produced.”

Theo smiled, even as his throat tightened and he wondered how he would ever bring himself to leave Win. But it had to be done. It was time to repay his debt to the prince–for his life, for his education, for the gift of these years, living as a free man among free men, in the greatest country in the world. There was no question–he would go and he would serve, for as long as Prince Konstantin required it of him. And, perhaps if he served well and if he were very lucky, then at the end of it all the prince would grant him leave to return to his life here in Anglend–or allow him to purchase his freedom.

“I won’t ask you to wait for me, Win. I don’t know when–or if–I shall ever be granted leave to return.”

Win frowned and sat forward, holding Theo with his gaze. “I will wait.”

Theo had never seen such ferocity in his expression, never heard such intensity in his voice. He blinked rapidly, and prayed silently for a successful mission and for the understanding of Prince Konstantin, his saviour, his patron, his master.

 * * * * *

As she waited out the endless daytime hours, Vasya held herself back from pacing. Instead, she sat by the window and willed herself to remember everything she could about the house and the grounds.

When Prince Konstantin had first brought her and Pyotr to the house–back when he still wore his façade of charming attentiveness–they had been given their freedom to wander. For those weeks, it was as if she had stepped into a fairy tale.

She had been reluctant to believe his vows of adoration and devotion, at first. More than reluctant–an utter skeptic, fearful of the prince and of the power he wielded, as their owner, over her and Pyotr. She knew his family too well, though he himself had rarely visited the estate where she had worked as a house serf and attendant to his sister, Princess Svetlana.

Sveta was pretty, winsome and cruel. She had decided Vasya would be her life size plaything, and had wielded her power with unmistakable relish, hitting, pinching and abusing Vasya at will. It was Vasya who would be whipped when Sveta acted out–and sometimes the princess acted out for the simple pleasure of seeing her pet serf get punished.

And yet, it was because she insisted on Vasya’s constant attendance that Vasya ended up sitting through all the lessons that Svetlana was too stubborn to absorb properly. While Sveta threw tantrums and played power games with her governesses and tutors, Vasya quietly learned the material Sveta couldn’t be bothered with: reading and writing, in Rynskan, Galieush and even a little bit of Anglesh. A smattering of geography, rudimentary mathematics, a touch of science and philosophy. Sveta’s instructors had noted Vasya’s interest and discreetly encouraged her, no doubt grateful to have at least one attentive pupil.

Konstantin had been away at school during those years, and he spent most of his holidays at the family home in Saint Pyotrsbern. The family would join him during the breaks, providing Vasya and all the other serfs at the country estate with a breath of relief, and the opportunity to spend time with their own families. Vasya would rush off and visit with Pyotr. She had sworn to keep him away from the grand house, and from the risk of being singled out for the peculiar misery that was house serfdom. Instead, he lived with the elderly babushka who had taken both of them in after their father was conscripted into the army and their mother died in childbirth.

In those years, Konstantin had been a distant figure: handsome, clever, the only son. The rest of the family spoke of him in the hushed, reverent tones normally reserved for the Almighty himself. Vasya herself harbored a vague sense of gratitude towards him, because it was thanks to his penchant for Saint Pyotrsbern that she had the opportunity to visit with her brother several times a year. Many house serfs were not so lucky.

Between that, and the idealized stories told of the young prince, she had come to believe that he might be cut from a different cloth than his sister.

Until, that is, he came for a visit. She had been no more than ten at the time. Konstantin was in his late teens. At least from a distance, he had seemed as charming and as kind as everyone claimed. But then one day, Vasya had been out playing in the garden while Sveta went calling with her mother. Vasya heard the sound of whistling. Fearful of being caught by one of the other servants and put to work, she darted behind a shrub. Konstantin came into view soon after–young, golden, godlike in his perfection.

No doubt, he would have moved along and passed out of sight, except that one of the many cats that were kept around the stables ambled by.

Konstantin smiled and leaned forward, making a clicking sound with his tongue. The  creature was soon lured towards him, and he began petting it gently and lovingly. Soon it was purring under his expert hand, rubbing its head against his wrist and nudging its body against his pant leg. It flopped down on its side and turned its belly up.

Watching all this, Vasya found herself smiling and thinking how wonderful he was. She didn’t even notice the metallic gleam in the corner of her vision, didn’t see his raised hand, brandishing the blade–not until he had already slashed the creature’s throat with a swift, clean slice.

She let out a gasp of smothered protest that was fortunately drowned out by his laughter—an incongruously joyful sound that only added to Vasya’s sense of sick anxiety. She held in that nauseous feeling of fear and prayed that he wouldn’t look over and see her.

At one point, his glance ranged in her direction and lingered on her hiding place for several moments, before moving away. He returned his attention to the small furry body, which had stopped twitching as the last of its life bled away, and tilted his head, frowning slightly as he wiped his blade on a patch of grass, then turned the corpse over and made an incision along the length of the torso.

Vasya didn’t want to see whatever came next, but some deep instinct wouldn’t permit her to look away—because what if he started coming towards her while her gaze was averted?

He made a brief examination of the creature’s anatomy, prodding and poking at it without much interest, before wiping his blade once more. He sheathed it and pocketed it, then walked away.

Once she was certain he was gone, she walked over to where the body of the cat lay. Sinking to her knees, she burst into tears–for the poor creature, for the gentle, affectionate trust it had so easily yielded up in return for a kindly touch, and for the way in which that trust had been violated with such careless, clinical ease.

When she had finally met him, all these years later, she naturally mistrusted him. He had spotted her and Pyotr on the road leading to the estate. Sveta and the rest of the family had settled in Saint Pyotrsbern permanently, having turned their minds to the effort of securing her an advantageous marriage. Still, they insisted the country house and the staff always be at the ready.

Konstantin’s arrival had been unexpected, heralded only by the approaching sound of galloping hooves on the road behind them. By the time she realized that it was he, any attempts to conceal Pyotr from sight would have been observed–and would likely have drawn his attention. And so, she prayed that he would just ignore them, as lowly serfs, and keep riding. He didn’t.

And, for all her mistrust, he had smiled and been kind. He had insisted they accompany him back to the house. As the property of his family, neither Vasya nor Pyotr had the right to refuse–but he behaved as if they did, as if they were all three of them equals.

In the days that followed, he remained attentive, and never once forced himself on her. He treated Pyotr with an avuncular affection, and the boy responded swiftly, having never known his and Vasya’s father. Within days, Pyotr was in full worship mode. Vasya prayed that Konstantin would leave soon, before the boy could get any more deeply attached.

When the prince gave orders that his boxes be packed a few days later, she thought that her prayers had been answered–until she learned that she and Pyotr would be accompanying him to his own estate.

“I could not bear to leave you, my beautiful Vasya,” he said. “And I have come to care for Pyotr as if he were the younger brother I never had. Please say you’ll come with me.”

As if they had a choice. But Konstantin behaved as if they did, imploring her with soulful glances and pleading avowals of eternal devotion. Knowing her place–and disarmed, in spite of herself, by his consistent kindness and generosity, she agreed.

Her resistance to him had begun to ebb. She began to hope that he had changed from that boy she had observed all those years ago.

Even on his own estate, he treated them as equals. The house had been fully staffed at the time–not the skeleton staff of these past weeks–and he had given commands that they be treated as his peers. Konstantin himself continued to lavish them with adoring solicitude.

When the weeks passed without even a glimpse of any cracks in his kindness, Vasya began to believe that he might truly have changed. She knew that in the years since his long-ago visit to his parents’ estate, he had gone to Zurensch to study medicine, even though it was a commoner’s trade–well below the dignity of an aristocrat–and in express defiance of his parents’ wishes. She had been skeptical at the time, but now, witnessing the dramatic change in his demeanor, she thought, perhaps, that he might actually have learned compassion while pursuing his studies and treating patients.

She should have known better, but it was a compelling fairy-tale, and as the weeks passed without even a glimpse of that frightening boy she remembered, she began to doubt the recollection. Perhaps it had simply been a particularly vivid dream?

And yet, it was her everyday reality that seemed more of a dream. It was as if she had suddenly stepped into a world and a life that as a serf, she had always been forced to watch from the outside, looking in.

 * * * * *

Soon after he brought them to the mansion, Konstantin examined each of them with his medical instruments. Afterwards, he announced that both she and Pyotr were ill.

“The bacterial strains are closely related but slightly different from each other,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve seen these before. I have the medications each of you will need to regain your health.”

And so the injections began. Konstantin would come and go with some regularity, sometimes spending several days at a time away. Several weeks after they first arrived, he tested them again. He had them bend metal bands and break wooden sticks. He tested their reflexes, peered into their ears and moved candles across their lines of sight.

He looked grim as he turned away from them to jot down a series of notations. “This is turning serious,” he muttered.

“But–” Vasya didn’t understand.

Konstantin wasn’t listening. “I will have to quarantine each of you. Separately.”

And from then on, everything changed. Once the doors to her luxurious new chambers, with their bars over the windows and doors–“for your own protection”–had been locked and she truly was contained, the façade fell away. Though his tastes had grown more intricate and subtle, Konstantin was still the same boy who slashed the throats of small animals for fun.

A few days into the quarantine, when he had finally revealed his true colors, he had taunted her with that incident. “I saw you there, you know–in your little hiding place. I crept back and watched you crying over the cat. It was hard not to laugh at the sight of you boo hooing over some wretched creature. And then seeing you all these years later–you’ve grown into quite a beauty. I almost didn’t recognize you–except that I saw your mistrust and thought, there’s only one person on this estate who would have reason to look at me that way.”

He grinned. “How could I resist?”

* * * * *

The full, rounded curve of the moon had just started creeping up above the tree line when Vasya heard the scratching at her door. She hadn’t bothered to light the lamps in her room–it hardly seemed necessary, with the pale slant of moonlight shining in through the window.

She hurried over to the door and stood beside it. “Is that you, Boris Mikhailovich?”

“Yes.”

The sound of a key, jiggling in the lock. The door handle turned for the first time in days, and the door swung open. A squat, slightly homely man stood on the other side of the bars and Vasya stood, watching tensely, as he jingled through the keys, located the correct one to open the bars, and slipped it into the final lock that stood between her and escape.

“Thank God,” she said. “Let us be on our way.”

He didn’t budge. “First, let me just see you for a moment,” he said, and again, she detected that odd fervency in his tone. He held a lamp in his free hand, and as he spoke he brandished it towards her.

She glanced at him, taking in the shortish, squared-off physique and the broad, plain features, topped off by a shock of dense black hair. “Yes, of course.” She allowed him to angle the lamp so it illuminated her face properly, even as she tried to check her impatience.

Her thoughts elsewhere, she waited several moments for him to complete his perusal. But, when the seconds stretched out in silence, she shifted her attention to his face, only to find it oddly frozen and staring. She frowned.

“What is it?” she asked.

Still in a daze, he didn’t appear to have heard her.

“Boris Mikhailovich, we do not have time for this. We must get my brother and flee.”

“Yes, of course. I will come with you when you leave this place.”

Vasilisa opened her mouth to protest, then realized that he probably no longer had a choice. The group of servant serfs that ran the house wasn’t big enough that he’d be able to conceal his actions in aiding the escape. Once word reached Prince Konstantin, the man would be as good as dead.

But still, she felt a twinge of uneasiness as she noted his strangely glazed expression.

“Yes, of course. You must come with us.”

“And I swear to you, I shall love you forever. I will be the best of lovers and husbands to you.”

What was he talking about? A declaration of love? Moments after they had met? It was nonsense, of course, though perhaps a marriage of expedience might not be a bad idea. Still, now was hardly the time. “Boris, we will discuss this later. First we must get away from here. Away from the prince.”

He shook himself, finally breaking his fixed stare. “Yes, of course. The prince.” He looked back at her, frowning. “Did he–was he… intimate with you?”

The question brought up a dark, churning montage of unwelcome memories that held her momentarily transfixed with shame and fear, edged by nausea. Her throat tightened at the remembered horror she had felt every time he came to her. It took several moments for her to fight her way free of the potent emotions. Clenching her fists so hard she could feel her nails digging into her palms, she shook herself. “Now is not the time,” she said, as much to herself as to him. “Where have they got my brother?”

But Boris would not be diverted. “Of course you were intimate. Who wouldn’t have been? He was in love with you, no doubt.”

She didn’t like the fierce, possessive anger that suddenly darkened this stranger’s expression. “Love, I suspect, had little to do with it. I don’t know that the prince is capable of such emotion.”

“He hurt you, then. I will kill him.”

Enough. Vasya grabbed his shoulders. “My brother. Where is he?”

Boris blinked at the force of her tone. It took several moments for her question to sink in. Then, finally, “In the west wing, on the third floor. Once you go up the stairs, you must turn right and then left. His room is along that corridor.”

Vasya nodded. It wasn’t the room Pyotr had used before they had been imprisoned. That, of course, would have been too easy. “Give me the key. I’ll go find him. You must secure us some horses. We’ll meet you in the stables.”

“I will not leave you–”

Vasya straightened to her full height–several inches taller then he. Using her most commanding voice, she spoke with a harsh, stark clarity, “Boris Mikhailovich. If you want either of us to get away from here alive, you will do as I say. Now.”

His gaze clouded briefly, then cleared. “Yes. Yes of course. I will do as you say.”

He had already turned and was walking away when she called after him, “The key. I need it–the one for my brother’s room.”

“Yes.” He jogged back to her while reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the clinking ring of keys to all the lockable doors in the manor. Then he stilled once more, like a golem, waiting to be commanded.

Vasya frowned. Was he perhaps a little weak in the head? “I will see you at the stables as soon as I retrieve my brother.” Again, she kept her voice clear and commanding.

“Yes. At the stables,” he said, in that same, dazed voice. And then he was jogging down the corridor, towards the stairs, taking the lamp with him and leaving her in the darkness.

She darted back into her room for a lamp, her hands shaking with haste as she struck the match–and stopped suddenly, entranced by the flame. There was… something about it. Something compelling, beautiful. She wanted to lose herself in its flickering brightness. How had she never noticed before this how exquisite fire could be?

She shook herself. What was she thinking–and at a time like this? She lowered the match to the wick, forcing herself to ignore the thread of hot, liquid excitement that curled in her belly at the soft sound of the flame devouring the air, the sight of the yellow-orange flare, the clean, acrid smell of the burn, as the oil-soaked wick ignited.

She replaced the glass cover to protect the flame, pulling her gaze from its steady burn. She didn’t have time to dwell on this peculiar and sudden fascination.

Her ears strained to hear any sounds of movement in the house. As far as she could tell, after he had put them under so-called quarantine, Konstantin had retained only a small contingent of servants, certainly not anything like the full complement that a mansion of this size would normally require. With any luck, most of them would have retired for the night. But what if…? What if one of them heard something suspicious and came to investigate?

She couldn’t allow such thoughts to slow her down any more than reasonable caution required, she resolved, making her way back to the corridor, before setting out in search of the stairs.

Where had Boris said they were keeping Pyotr? The west wing, on the third floor. She tried to fit the route Boris had described into her recollection of the sprawling mansion, but she drew a blank. Instead, she gathered her skirts and strode swiftly towards the nearest staircase. She still remembered where that was located, at least.

“And what have we here, now?” The voice emerged from the darkened doorway alcove of one of the rooms just ahead. A squat man stepped into the corridor, effectively blocking her route. She couldn’t turn around–her room marked the end of the hallway. She tried to step around him, but he kept side-stepping to block her path.

“Planning an escape with little Boris, are we? I think the master might not be too happy with such a plan.” Gyorgan accent. The man who had slashed her.

“And how would he know?”

He frowned, seeming to hesitate as she spoke, then shook himself. “Because I told him, that’s how. I saw you talking with the fool and figured you might have gotten to him.” A pause, as they remained in standoff. “You’re not to say another word to me. Just go on back to your room.”

As he spoke, he stepped forward, grabbing her arm. Their gazes clashed. The moment he saw her face, he froze. His expression stilled and grew slack.

Vasya felt a tremor of fear at the sight of his blank look. What had the prince done to her? Why did Boris, and now this man, stare at her as if they had just been bludgeoned? She hadn’t seen anything amiss earlier, when she had glanced at her reflection while getting dressed for her escape. As she struggled with the thought that their reactions might somehow be related to the prince’s serum, another thought slipped in. If the man were under some kind of compulsion, she might be able to command him, as she had commanded Boris.

The thought made her queasy. As a serf, she knew all too well how felt to have your freedom to refuse, or to make choices, denied. But, for her brother… She swallowed. She’d settle accounts with her conscience later.

Vasya drew in a deep breath and braced herself. “Release me now,” she said, in her most commanding voice.

His expression shifted, his brows drawing into a dark scowl. “And let you escape? Not likely. But I can’t take you back to your room–he’d just find you there.”

“Boris?”

“The prince. He’ll want you for himself. But he can’t have you–you’re mine.” He had turned and started pulling her down the corridor, casting about. “Now, let’s see, where can I put you that he won’t–”

Vasya stopped, wrenching her arm free with surprisingly little effort. “This is nonsense.”

He reached for her arm again. “You’re mine. There’s no point fighting it.”

She tossed her head. “You said the prince was on his way.”

“He should have been here by now.”

“Then I don’t have time for this.” Vasya thrust the lamp into a nearby alcove and planted her feet on the floor, knees bent, posture ready. She wasn’t going to let him take her anywhere without a fight.

“No.” He was staring at her now, his gaze slipping over her body in a way that left her in no doubt about the direction of his thoughts. She couldn’t suppress a shudder. Just being watched by him felt like a violation. “You belong to me.”

“Repeating it won’t make it true.”

“But this will.” He was faster than he looked. He stepped forward and grabbed her, pulling her against him. Even as her nostrils filled with the smell of his sour, dry sweat, Vasya kneed him in the groin, while pushing him away as hard as she could manage. Even considering that he was disabled by the pain of her attack, it was easier than she expected. He staggered back at just the lightest shove, his hands over his crotch as he continued to groan.

She turned to run, reaching for the lamp, but then hesitated. He might be incapacitated for now, but he’d recover soon enough–and the last thing she needed was to have him pursuing her, particularly if Konstantin were truly on his way. No. She needed to deal with him now.

She turned back.

He was still groaning and bent double. Vasya grabbed hold of his collar and his shoulder and ran him at the wall, hard. She wouldn’t have expected it to look at him, but he was as light as a child. She shoved, and his head mashed against the plaster. With a quiet grunt, he went down. She stood, frowning at his unconscious body. Blood trickled across his forehead, from where the impact with the wall had broken the skin of his skull.

Hopefully that would keep him down for a while, without causing lasting damage. Still, she felt uncomfortable as she noted how still he was–and the awareness of how easy it had been for her to overcome him, despite his stolid, muscular physique, truly sank in.

With the notable exception of the bars on the doors and windows, neither of which had budged under her repeated assaults these past weeks, Vasya had found that many of the items in her room were surprisingly flimsy and fragile. She had been able to pull apart furniture and snap chair legs as if they were made of twigs.

But it was only now, after this latest altercation, that she began to wonder whether her ease in breaking up the furniture had more to do with her than with the furniture. If the injections had caused accelerated healing, as well as eliciting some kind of strange fascination from people who saw her face, then it seemed possible that they might also have enhanced her strength.

Her stomach tightened with that same sick feeling of blended horror and disgust. Konstantin had done this. And now, he was on his way here.

She started towards the steps at a run.

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