Adam’s head turned away from the vial, trying to escape the strong smell. I held him still so he couldn’t roll over and fall on his back wounds.
“Adam?” Rhea said, bending over his face. His eyelids fluttered and his mouth worked to make sound. Then, like someone had poked him with a cattle prod, he reared up with a gasp. His eyes were wide and he looked around like he didn’t recognize us. Then his eyes shifted into focus and he grabbed my arms. “Sabina, something’s wrong with Maisie. I think she—” He swallowed hard. When he spoke again his voice was hoarse with emotion. “I think she killed Orpheus.”
“Shh. It’s okay. We know.” I untied the brass bindings on his wrists while Giguhl went to work on his ankles. “Tell us what happened.”
He ignored my question and looked around wildly. “Where is she?”
“She’s contained,” Rhea said, relief making her voice tremor. “Where are you hurt?”
He grimaced. “My back is on fire, but otherwise I’m okay.”
“Turn around so I can apply a salve,” she commanded, her tone implying that no arguments would be tolerated. “And you can tell us how this happened.”
He did as instructed. I had to stifle a curse when I saw his back again. Now that my vision wasn’t blurred by fear, I noticed the bite marks mixed in with whip gashes. My stomach turned. It must have been agony for him. Not just the physical pain, but also the confusion and the fear as his best friend turned on him. Again.
Rhea made quick work of finding the appropriate salve to spread over the wounds. She used her fingers to spread the grease over each individual cut and bite. Adam’s back muscles went rock hard and sweat bloomed on his shoulders. But he didn’t complain. Instead, he spoke slowly, reliving the nightmare for our benefit.
“She woke once we reached the manor. She seemed… dazed, but I figured she was just upset and confused over what had happened.” His broad shoulders shrugged. “She demanded we take her to the studio. I argued with her, saying it was safer in her rooms. But she started pulling her hair and scratching her face. I didn’t know what to do. She wouldn’t listen to me or calm down. So I gave in, desperate to just make her stop hurting herself.
“Once we were up here, she said the other guards made her too nervous. When I offered to go in alone with her, she finally seemed to relax. The other guards stayed in the hall to patrol the area. Once we were in here alone, she was like a different person. Lighter, I guess. Not so brittle. That should have been my first sign. How could she joke around when she’d just watched Orpheus die?” He shook his head and wiped his brow with the back of his trembling hand.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Giguhl said. “None of us saw this coming.”
The mage sent the demon a small, forced smile. “Anyway, she said she wanted to paint. I figured that might help her stay calm so I helped her set up a canvas on an easel. While she painted happily in the corner, I started looking around at the paintings she’d done recently.” He paused as if to collect himself. “Did you see the ones she did of the murders? The one she did of me?”
I nodded and pushed a stray hair off his damp forehead. “Yeah,” I whispered.
“At first I couldn’t figure it out. I wondered if she’d seen them all in her visions and just hadn’t told us. I turned to ask Maisie about it, and she was standing directly behind me.” His whole body shuddered. “Her eyes were wild. Like that night in the cemetery.” He looked over his shoulder. “When we pulled her out of the crypt. Remember?”
I swallowed hard and nodded. I couldn’t speak for fear of screaming. Hearing him tell the story made my gut twist. I should have known something was wrong with Maisie. Should have insisted on going with Adam when he’d taken her from the Sacred Grove.
“She pointed a finger at me and said, ‘You’re in the way.’ At first, I thought she meant I needed to leave the studio. I tried to tell her I needed to stay and protect her, but she laughed. Said I was the one who needed protection. That I needed to be punished for soiling you.”
My eyebrows slammed down. What the hell?
“I should have subdued her right then,” he continued, laughing bitterly. “But I was worried I might hurt her. She blasted me with a spell that paralyzed me. She must have hit me, too, because I lost consciousness for a while.”
He paused to gasp as Rhea applied medicine to a particularly deep bite wound. “Sorry,” she mumbled. I looked down and saw that her hands were shaking. With rage or fear, I didn’t know. Probably both.
“Next thing I knew,” he continued, his voice tight, “I woke up hanging from the ceiling. The ropes must have had brass woven into them because I couldn’t use magic to defend myself. She whipped me with something that stung like a scorpion’s tail. In between lashes, she’d lick the blood away.” He started shivering uncontrollably. “Sometimes, she’d bite me, growling like an animal. Then she’d speak in this voice that scared me more than the pain.” He paused, as if he didn’t have the strength to continue.
I placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “What did she say?”
He shook himself and wrapped his arms around his torso. “Mostly it was unintelligible rants. Maybe it was some arcane language. Every now and then, she’d fall back into English and say things like ‘She’s mine’ and ‘Must punish him.’ Then the whipping would start all over again.” He frowned. “I was having trouble following because the blood loss and pain kept making me lose consciousness. Before I finally passed out altogether, I heard her whisper to herself, ‘They’re coming.’ Then she stopped.”
“That must have been when we arrived,” Giguhl said. He rubbed his claws over his arms, as if to warm himself. “Gods, this is some fucked-up shit.”
Adam let out a shuddering chuckle. “Amen.”
Rhea finally finished coating all the gashes and bites. She paused and looked over her work. “That should do it,” she said in an overly bright tone. I knew she was trying to be strong for Adam’s benefit, but her expression was tortured.
“Giguhl,” I said. “See if you can find a blanket.” The demon nodded solemnly and ran off.
Adam turned around to look at us. “How bad is it?”
Rhea sniffed and sat up straighter. “A couple of these probably need stitches, but you’ll live.”
He nodded, seeming to process the information. Then he looked up at me. His eyes were like liquid shadows. “What’s wrong with her?”
I swallowed hard, gathering my courage. It’s not that I didn’t think Adam should hear this, more that I wasn’t sure I could actually say it out loud and maintain my toehold on sanity. “I think Cain had been visiting Maisie’s dreams and controlling her in some way.”
Adam frowned. “But you said Maisie stopped sleeping.”
I went still. My memory flashed back to the night I’d talked to my sister about the dream ritual for the first time. Back then, she’d said she’d not slept for two nights. I did the math quickly in my head. “I’ll be damned,” I breathed. Pieces started clicking in place. “Remember the night of the first two murders? Maisie came by our apartment and freaked out?”
“I thought she flipped out because I offered her blood. But when I did that, I’d been telling you guys I’d seen that crime scene in the park. What if that’s what set her off? She was upset I’d seen her first kill.”
Giguhl crossed his arms. “I don’t get how that ties into her not sleeping.”
I chewed my lip, trying to reason my way through memory and fact to piece it together. “The night Maisie admitted she stopped sleeping she said it had been two nights. Meaning she hadn’t slept since the night of the murders.” I leaned forward, warming up to the idea. “What if Maisie was somehow conscious of what Cain was making her do and believed the only solution was to go on a sleep strike?”
Rhea’s head tilted as she thought it through. “That would explain why no other murders happened between that night and now.”
A troubling thought hit me then. “Oh, gods! The dream incubation. None of this would have happened if we’d left her alone.”
Rhea shook her head. “Don’t go there, Sabina. Eventually Maisie would have had to sleep again. Besides, you heard her the next day. Asclepius fought off Cain in the form of the white stag that night.”
“Which means Cain must have come back to her last night.” I ran my hands through my hair, like it might somehow make my brain work better. None of this made sense. “Gods! I wish I knew what game he was playing.”
“What do you mean? He achieved his goal. Maisie killed Tanith and Orpheus. Peace will never happen now.”
I shook my head. “I’m not so sure. If she’d killed one or the other, maybe that would be true. But both? Sure, the treaty didn’t get signed but it’s not like we’re back on the brink of war. No. Cain had an ulterior motive.”
Adam sighed, grimacing as the move pinched his wounds. “So what are we going to do?”
“You are going to rest,” Rhea interrupted. “Between the blood loss and the risk of infection, you’re in no state to do much of anything.”
“Bullshit,” he said. “I’m not going to take a nap like a fucking infant. We’ve got to stop Cain.”
“And save Maisie,” I added. He looked at me then, his eyes telling me what he didn’t want to say out loud: He believed Maisie was beyond salvation. “Whatever she’s done, no matter how horrible, this is not her fault. Cain is a master manipulator. Maisie is as much a victim—maybe more—as any of us right now.”
Adam’s eyes skittered away from my gaze, like he felt ashamed. I suppose I couldn’t blame him for his feelings, especially given everything he’d suffered at Maisie’s hands. But I wasn’t ready to give up on her. Not yet.