THERE'S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN death threats and love letters--even if the person writing the death threats still claims to actually love you. Of course, considering I once tried to kill someone I loved, maybe I had no right to judge.
Today's letter had been perfectly timed, not that I should have expected any less. I'd read it four times so far, and even though I was running late, I couldn't help but read it a fifth time.
My dearest Rose,
One of the few downsides to being awakened is that we no longer require sleep; therefore we also no longer dream. It's a shame, because if I could dream, I know I'd dream about you. I'd dream about the way you smell and how your dark hair feels like silk between my fingers. I'd dream about the smoothness of your skin and the fierceness of your lips when we kiss.
Without dreams, I have to be content with my own imagination--which is almost as good. I can picture all of those things perfectly, as well as how it'll be when I take your life from this world. It's something I regret having to do, but you've made my choice inevitable. Your refusal to join me in eternal life and love leaves no other course of action, and I can't allow someone as dangerous as you to live. Besides, even if I forced your awakening, you now have so many enemies among the Strigoi that one of them would kill you. If you must die, it'll be by my hand. No one else's.
Nonetheless, I wish you well today as you take your trials--not that you need any luck. If they're actually making you take them, it's a waste of everyone's time. You're the best in that group, and by this evening you'll wear your promise mark. Of course, that means you'll be all that much more of a challenge when we meet again--which I'll definitely enjoy.
And we will be meeting again. With graduation, you'll be turned out of the Academy, and once you're outside the wards, I'll find you. There is no place in this world you can hide from me. I'm watching.
Despite his "warm wishes" I didn't really find the letter inspiring as I tossed it onto my bed and blearily left the room. I tried not to let his words get to me, though it was kind of impossible to not be creeped out by something like that. There is no place in this world you can hide from me.
I didn't doubt it. I knew Dimitri had spies. Since my former instructor-turned-lover had been turned into an evil, undead vampire, he'd also become a sort of leader among them--something I'd helped speed along when I killed off his former boss. I suspected a lot of his spies were humans, watching for me to step outside my school's borders. No Strigoi could have stayed on a twenty-four-hour stakeout. Humans could, and I'd recently learned that plenty of humans were willing to serve the Strigoi in exchange for the promise of being turned someday. Those humans considered eternal life worth corrupting their souls and killing off others to survive. Those humans made me sick.
But the humans weren't what made my steps falter as I walked through grass that had turned bright green with summer's touch. It was Dimitri. Always Dimitri. Dimitri, the man I'd loved. Dimitri, the Strigoi I wanted to save. Dimitri, the monster I'd most likely have to kill. The love we'd shared always burned within me, no matter how often I told myself to move on, no matter how much the world did think I'd moved on. He was always with me, always on my mind, always making me question myself.
"You look like you're ready to face an army."
I shifted out of my dark thoughts. I'd been so fixated on Dimitri and his letter that I'd been walking across campus, oblivious to the world, and hadn't noticed my best friend, Lissa, falling into step with me, a teasing smile on her face. Her catching me by surprise was a rarity because we shared a psychic bond, one that always kept me aware of her presence and feelings. I had to be pretty distracted to not notice her, and if ever there was a distraction, it was someone wanting to kill me.
I gave Lissa what I hoped was a convincing smile. She knew what had happened to Dimitri and how he was now waiting to kill me after I'd tried--and failed--to kill him. Nonetheless, the letters I got from him every week worried her, and she had enough to deal with in her life without my undead stalker to add to the list.
"I kind of am facing an army," I pointed out. It was early evening, but late summer still found the sun up in the Montana sky, bathing us in golden light as we walked. I loved it, but as a Moroi--a peaceful, living vampire--Lissa would eventually grow weak and uncomfortable in it.
She laughed and tossed her platinum hair over one shoulder. The sun lit up the pale color into angelic brilliance. "I suppose. I didn't think you'd really be all that worried."
I could understand her reasoning. Even Dimitri had said these would be a waste of my time. After all, I'd gone to Russia to search for him and had faced real Strigoi--killing a number of them on my own. Maybe I shouldn't have been afraid of the upcoming tests, but all the fanfare and expectation suddenly pressed in upon me. My heart rate increased. What if I couldn't do it? What if I wasn't as good as I thought I was? The guardians who would challenge me out here might not be true Strigoi, but they were skilled and had been fighting a lot longer than me. Arrogance could get me into a lot of trouble, and if I failed, I'd be doing it in front of all the people who cared about me. All the people who had such faith in me.
One other thing also concerned me.
"I'm worried about how these grades will affect my future," I said. That was the truth. The trials were the final exam for a novice guardian like me. They ensured I could graduate from St. Vladimir's Academy and take my place with true guardians who defended Moroi from the Strigoi. The trials pretty much decided which Moroi a guardian would be assigned to.
Through our bond, I felt Lissa's compassion--and her worry. "Alberta thinks there's a good chance we can stay together--that you'll still be my guardian."
I grimaced. "I think Alberta was saying that to keep me in school." I'd dropped out to hunt Dimitri a few months ago and then returned--something that didn't look good on my academic record. There was also the small fact that the Moroi queen, Tatiana, hated me and would probably be going out of her way to influence my assignment--but that was another story. "I think Alberta knows the only way they'd let me protect you is if I was the last guardian on earth. And even then, my odds would still be pretty slim."
Ahead of us, the roar of a crowd grew loud. One of the school's many sports fields had been transformed into an arena on par with something from Roman gladiatorial days. The bleachers had been built up, expanded from simple wooden seats to luxuriously cushioned benches with awnings to shade the Moroi from the sun. Banners surrounded the field, their bright colors visible from here as they whipped in the wind. I couldn't see them yet, but I knew there would be some type of barracks built near the stadium's entrance where novices waited, nerves on edge. The field itself would have turned into an obstacle course of dangerous tests. And from the sound of those deafening cheers, plenty were already there to witness this event.
"I'm not giving up hope," Lissa said. Through the bond, I knew she meant it. It was one of the wonderful things about her--a steadfast faith and optimism that weathered the most terrible ordeals. It was a sharp contrast to my recent cynicism. "And I've got something that might help you out today."
She came to a stop and reached into her jeans pocket, producing a small silver ring scattered with tiny stones that looked like peridots. I didn't need any bond to understand what she was offering.
"Oh, Liss... I don't know. I don't want any, um, unfair advantage."
Lissa rolled her eyes. "That's not the problem, and you know it. This one's fine, I swear."
The ring she offered me was a charm, infused with the rare type of magic she wielded. All Moroi had control of one of five elements: earth, air, water, fire, or spirit. Spirit was the rarest--so rare, it had been forgotten over the centuries. Then Lissa and a few others had recently surfaced with it. Unlike the other elements, which were more physical in nature, spirit was tied into the mind and all sorts of psychic phenomena. No one fully understood it.
Making charms with spirit was something Lissa had only recently begun to experiment with--and she wasn't very good at it. Her best spirit ability was healing, so she kept trying to make healing charms. The last one had been a bracelet that singed my arm.