Two more minutes, Nika told herself, tugging a red hoodie further over her face. Just two more minutes, and if Jade doesn't show up, I'm going to her dad's apartment and dragging her out of bed.

Only a few days since the dreadful Ministry interview, and she was desperate enough to end up here. Waiting for her roommate in the shadows of the Vigil's base, paranoid that someone might see her sneaking around during the middle of the day, itching with impatience.

She had to admit, of course, that the town was rather peaceful. A cool breeze swirled around her body, and the aspens lining the streets rustled and shook. The fluttering leaves almost sounded like distant laughter.

Nika couldn't even remember the last time she'd laughed. It was probably at something Miles had said.

An owl perched in one of the tree branches, silent and wise. Watching her. Its orange eyes glistered like stars in the sunlight, and though that gaze was too intense to mean anything good, it somehow brought Nika security.

Perhaps because of what the animal represented in the Vigil. When all other eyes closed for rest, the eyes of an owl never blinked. They were always watching, as if to be standing guard. Keepers of the forest.

She checked the time. Jade was fifteen minutes late, and she was just as bored and restless as she'd been for the past several days.

After her night out with Viktor, she'd longed to return to her comfortable routine at Konstantin, but the Ministry had order her to stay at headquarters until further notice.

Probably because they thought she was a traitor. She wondered if they truly believed it, or if they intended to make her a scapegoat for what happened to Miles and Lu. Perhaps it was both.

So Nika tried to get involved with the investigation into Lu's abduction. But she was denied access to the Vigil's resources and no one seemed willing to share any news. Not even a progress report.

Which left her to brood and languish in that giant, Gothic manor.

Initially, she'd tried passing the time with the Lazarov family. But they kept making excuses not to see her. Markos had advised to give them space, and that was when Nika realized they didn't want her around. Was it possible that Lu's mom blamed Nika for what happened? The idea threatened to rip a hole in her heart.

After that, she'd grown so idle that she even considered spending time with Markos, despite what he'd done during the interview and her general wish to ignore his existence. But he was too busy to bother with her most of the time.

Finally, last night, Nika decided that enough was enough. She was sick of waiting for other people to get things done, sick of being alienated, sick of thinking instead of acting.

So she'd called Jade and planned to meet with her at the base today, while most of the Daemonstri world was fast asleep. As far as Nika was concerned, the Volkari had declared war on her the night they'd killed Miles and taken Lu. She needed to prepare for battle, and the first rule of combat—know your enemy.

She needed more information on the Volkari, and there was no one better than Jade Ramsay to dig up everything the Daemonstri government had been hiding.

Movement in the periphery snagged Nika's attention. Then the roommate in question rounded the corner of the building, black hair swishing as she walked. Nika pushed off the wall to meet her but stopped dead in her tracks as she spied Elliot Mirza right behind her.

"Before you freak out," Jade said in a low tone, "he didn't follow us; I invited him."

"No," was all Nika said.

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