Last Sacrifice

《Last_Sacrifice》

Chapter One

I DON'T LIKE CAGES. I don't even like going to zoos. The first time I went to one, I almost had a claustrophobic attack looking at those poor animals. I couldn't imagine any creature living that way. Sometimes I even felt a little bad for criminals, condemned to life in a cell. I'd certainly never expected to spend my life in one.

But lately, life seemed to be throwing me a lot of things I'd never expected, because here I was, locked away.

"Hey!' I yelled, gripping the steel bars that isolated me from the world. "How long am I going to be here? When's my trial? You can't keep me in this dungeon forever!'

Okay, it wasn't exactly a dungeon, not in the dark, rusty-chain sense. I was inside a small cell with plain walls, a plain floor, and well ... plain everything. Spotless. Sterile. Cold. It was actually more depressing than any musty dungeon could have managed. The bars in the doorway felt cool against my skin, hard and unyielding. Fluorescent lighting made the metal gleam in a way that felt harsh and irritating to my eyes. I could see the shoulder of a man standing rigidly to the side of the cell's entrance and knew there were probably four more guardians in the hallway out of my sight. I also knew none of them were going to answer me back, but that hadn't stopped me from constantly demanding answers from them for the last two days.

When the usual silence came, I sighed and slumped back on the cot in the cell's corner. Like everything else in my new home, the cot was colorless and stark. Yeah. I really was starting to wish I had a real dungeon. Rats and cobwebs would have at least given me something to watch. I stared upward and immediately had the disorienting feeling I always did in here: that the ceiling and walls were closing in around me. Like I couldn't breathe. Like the sides of the cell would keep coming toward me until no space remained, pushing out all the air ...

I sat up abruptly, gasping. Don't stare at the walls and ceiling, Rose, I chastised myself. Instead, I looked down at my clasped hands and tried to figure out how I'd gotten into this mess.

The initial answer was obvious: someone had framed me for a crime I didn't commit. And it wasn't petty crime either. It was murder. They'd had the audacity to accuse me of the highest crime a Moroi or dhampir could commit. Now, that isn't to say I haven't killed before. I have. I've also done my fair share of rule (and even law) breaking. Cold- blooded murder, however, was not in my repertoire. Especially not the murder of a queen.

It was true Queen Tatiana hadn't been a friend of mine. She'd been the coolly calculating ruler of the Moroi--a race of living, magic-using vampires who didn't kill their victims for blood. Tatiana and I had had a rocky relationship for a number of reasons. One was me dating her great-nephew, Adrian. The other was my disapproval of her policies on how to fight off Strigoi--the evil, undead vampires who stalked us all. Tatiana had tricked me a number of times, but I'd never wanted her dead. Someone apparently had, however, and they'd left a trail of evidence leading right to me, the worst of which were my fingerprints all over the silver stake that had killed Tatiana. Of course, it was my stake, so naturally it'd have my fingerprints. No one seemed to think that was relevant.

I sighed