Home > Silver Shadows (Bloodlines #5)(10)

Silver Shadows (Bloodlines #5)(10)
Richelle Mead

But still . . . three months.

I stripped off my poor excuses for clothes and stepped into the stall, pulling the curtain closed behind me. When I turned the water on and it came out hot, it was all I could do not to sink to the floor in ecstasy. I’d been so cold for the last three months, and now here it was, all the warmth I could want. Well, not all the warmth. As I turned the temperature up full blast, I secretly wished I had a bathtub and could just sink into this heat. Still, this shower alone was glorious, and I closed my eyes, sighing with the first contentment I’d experienced in a very long time.

Then, remembering Sheridan’s warning, I opened my eyes and found the shampoo. I applied it to and rinsed my hair three times, hoping it was enough to get out the worst of the grime. It’d probably take a few more showers to ever be fully clean again. After that, I scrubbed my body with the soap until I was raw and pink and smelled vaguely antiseptic, then just gloried in standing under the steaming water until it turned off.

When I stepped outside, I found clothes folded neatly on a bench. They were basic scrubs, loose pants and a shirt like you’d find hospital workers or—more fittingly—prisoners wearing. Tan, of course, since the Alchemists still had taste levels to maintain. They’d also given me socks and a pair of brown shoes, kind of a cross between loafers and slippers, and I wasn’t surprised to find they were exactly my size. A comb completed the gift set, nothing fancy, but enough to attempt some semblance of neatness. The reflection that peered back at me now still didn’t look good, exactly, but it certainly looked improved.

“Feeling better?” asked Sheridan, with a smile that didn’t meet her eyes. Whatever strides I’d made in appearance felt lame beside her stylish grooming, but I consoled myself with the thought that I still had my self-respect and ability to think for myself.

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“You’ll want this too,” she said, handing me a small plastic card. It had my name, a bar code, and a picture from much better days on it. A little plastic clip on its back allowed it to attach to my collar.

She led me back to the elevator. “We’re so happy you’ve chosen the path to redemption. Truly. I look forward to helping you on your journey back to the light.”

The elevator took us to another floor and a new room, this one with a tattooist and a table. Whatever comfort I’d taken from a hot shower and real clothes vanished. They were going to re-ink me? But of course they were. Why rely on physical and psychological torture alone when you could have the added element of magical control?

“We just want to do a little touchup,” Sheridan explained cheerily. “Since it’s been a while.”

It had been less than a year, actually, but I knew what she and the others really wanted to do. The Alchemist tattoos contained ink with charmed vampire blood woven with compulsion spells to reinforce loyalty. Obviously, mine hadn’t worked. Magical or not, compulsion was basically just a strong suggestion, one that could be overridden if the will was fierce enough. They were probably going to double their usual dose in the hopes of making me more compliant so that I’d accept whatever rhetoric they were now going to subject me to.

What they didn’t know was that I’d taken steps to protect against this very thing. Before being taken, I’d created an ink of my own—one made with human magic, something equally appalling to the Alchemists. From all the data I’d gathered, that magic negated whatever compulsion was in this vampire-derived ink. The downside was, I hadn’t had a chance to inject that ink into my tattoo and provide that extra layer of protection. What I was counting on was the claim from a witch I knew that the very act of practicing magic would protect me. According to her, wielding human magic infused my blood, and that would counteract the vampire blood in the Alchemist tattoo. Of course, I hadn’t really had a chance to practice many spells in solitary confinement and could only hope what I’d done in the past had left its mark permanently on me.

“Become one of us again,” said Sheridan, as the tattooist’s needle pricked the side of my face. “Renounce your sins and seek atonement. Join us in our battle to keep humans free of the taint of vampires and dhampirs. They are dark creatures and have no part of the natural order.”

I tensed, and it had nothing to do with the needle piercing my skin. What if what I’d been told was wrong? What if magic use wouldn’t protect me? What if, even now, that ink was working its way through my body, using its insidious power to alter my thoughts? It was one of my greatest fears, having my mind tampered with. I suddenly had trouble breathing as that idea crippled me with terror, causing the tattooist to pause and ask if I was in pain. Swallowing, I shook my head and let him continue, trying to hide my panic.

When he finished, I didn’t think I felt different. I still loved Adrian and my Moroi and dhampir friends. Was that enough? Or would the ink take time to work? And if my magic use hadn’t protected me, would my own strength of will be enough to save me? Obviously, I’d overcome the previous round of re-inking. Could I do it again?

Sheridan escorted me out when the tattooist released me, chatting away as though I’d just been to a spa and not subjected to an attempt at mind control. “I always feel so refreshed after that, don’t you?”

It was kind of unbelievable to me that she could act so casually, like we were friends out for a walk, when she and the others had left me starving and half-naked in a dark cell for months. Did she expect me to be so grateful for the shower and warm clothes that I could forgive everything else? Yes, I realized moments later, she likely did. There were probably plenty of people who emerged from that darkness and were willing to do anything and everything for a return to ordinary comforts.

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