28 | A Plan and a Promise

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Almost twenty-four hours after finding Nika in the woods, Ren stood with Misha in the attic of Dimitrovich Manor. It was little more than a storage space, though the only things it appeared to be storing were dust mites and decrepit furniture. Since keepers weren't required to guard the upper level, it was one of the only rooms that delivered privacy. And for the meeting that was soon to take place, privacy was essential.

There had been much discussion about recent events. Misha was eager to figure out how they would proceed, but they still didn't know all the details about what had happened to Nika. Hence the purpose of this rendezvous.

If it had solely been up to Ren, he would have already contacted his superiors in the Vigil. But Misha didn't want Emil to catch wind of this until he was certain that his father wasn't involved.

Evidence pointed to the contrary, however. The two keepers who'd taken Nika had been supplied by the High Keeper himself. It couldn't have been a coincidence.

Despite all the dangers they faced, Ren's focus was askew. He couldn't stop thinking about the feeding.

Images of his homeland. His mother's face. A terrified scream...

Somehow, Nika had accessed his memories. Such a thing had never happened to him before, during a feeding or otherwise. It was uncanny, not to mention mortifying.

The fact that she'd seen and heard such personal things had flustered Ren so much that he he'd fled her bedroom like a thief. The entire experience had been humiliating enough to drive him mad. Especially because of what happened immediately afterward.

He'd been walking down the hall, eager to create distance between himself and Nika, when Misha rounded the corner. Ren stopped short, panicking as Misha assessed him.

His friend's features settled with a realization. "Please tell me this isn't what it looks like."

Ren cleared his throat, willing his keeper's mask into place. "Relax. It was nothing."

He made to find a bathroom and right his appearance, but Misha grabbed his arm.

"The bloodcraft is never nothing."

"What was I supposed to do? She needed blood from a living source."

"You at least kept your hands to yourself, right?"

Ren's silence was answer enough. And in the hours since, Misha's feelings had shifted from disapproval to amusement. Even now, as Ren peered through the stained glass of the attic window, he sensed his friend's smirk.

But it was nothing compared to Ren's own anxiousness. He hadn't interacted with Nika since the feeding, and there was no doubt that things had irrevocably changed between them. So when the attic stairs creaked under someone's feet, he surged to attention and held his breath.

From across the room, Misha muttered, "Real subtle."

Moments later, Nika entered with Elliot by her side. Ren couldn't stop the dropping of his jaw.

She was...perfect. Or her health was. No bruises, cuts, or even a scar, marred her ivory skin. It was nothing short of miraculous.

No one understood why drinking from a vein was more effective than other methods of blood consumption. Daemonstri bodies simply reacted best to the full-on gorging. The monster within.

Nika swept a gaze over the surroundings. "I didn't even know we had an attic."

Meanwhile, Elliot struggled with a tarp covering one of the chairs, and Misha helped. As she took a seat, they fired off questions: Are you comfortable? Do you need some water? It's kind of cold, should I get you a blanket?

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