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Vampire Academy Chapter 3

THREE

SENDING US STRAIGHT TO CLASS after our meeting seemed beyond cruel, but that’s exactly what Kirova did.Lissa was led away, and I watched her go, glad the bond would allow me to keep reading her emotional temperature.

They actually sent me to one of the guidance counselors first.He was an ancient Moroi guy, one I remembered from before I’d left.

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I honestly couldn’t believe he was still around. The guy was so freaking old, he should have retired. Or died.

The visit took all of five minutes. He said nothing about my return and asked a few questions about what classes I’d taken in Chicago and Portland. He compared those against my old file and hastily scrawled out a new schedule. I took it sullenly and headed out to my first class.

1st Period Advanced Guardian Combat Techniques

2nd Period Bodyguard Theory and Personal Protection 3

3rd Period Weight Training and Conditioning

4th Period Senior Language Arts (Novices)

-Lunch –

5th Period Animal Behavior and Physiology

6th Period Pre-calculus

7th Period Moroi Culture 4

8th Period Slavic Art

Ugh. I’d forgotten how long the Academy’s school day was. Novices and Moroi took separate classes during the first half of the day, which meant I wouldn’t see Lissa until after lunch – if we had any afternoon classes together. Most of them were standard senior classes, so I felt my odds were pretty good. Slavic art struck me as the kind of elective no one signed up for, so hopefully they’d stuck her in there too.

Dimitri and Alberta escorted me to the guardians’ gym for first period, neither one acknowledging my existence. Walking behind them, I saw how Alberta wore her hair in a short, pixie cut that showed her promise mark and molnija marks. A lot of female guardians did this. It didn’t matter so much for me now, since my neck had no tattoos yet, but I didn’t want to ever cut my hair.

She and Dimitri didn’t say anything and walked along almost like it was any other day. When we arrived, the reactions of my peers indicated it was anything but. They were in the middle of setting up when we entered the gym, and just like in the commons, all eyes fell on me. I couldn’t decide if I felt like a rock star or a circus freak.

All right, then. If I was going to be stuck here for a while, I wasn’t going to act afraid of them all anymore. Lissa and I had once held this school’s respect, and it was time to remind everyone of that. Scanning the staring, openmouthed novices, I looked for a familiar face. Most of them were guys. One caught my eye, and I could barely hold back my grin.

“Hey Mason, wipe the drool off your face. If you’re going to think about me naked, do it on your own time.”

A few snorts and snickers broke the awed silence, and Mason Ashford snapped out of his haze, giving me a lopsided smile. With red hair that stuck up everywhere and a smattering of freckles, he was nice-looking, though not exactly hot. He was also one of the funniest guys I knew. We’d been good friends back in the day.

“This is my time, Hathaway. I’m leading today’s session.”

“Oh yeah?” I retorted. “Huh. Well, I guess this is a good time to think about me naked, then.”

“It’s always a good a time to think about you naked,” added someone nearby, breaking the tension further. Eddie Castile. Another friend of mine.

Dimitri shook his head and walked off, muttering something in Russian that didn’t sound complimentary. But as for me?­well, just like that, I was one of the novices again. They were an easygoing bunch, less focused on pedigree and politics than the Moroi students.

The class engulfed me, and I found myself laughing and seeing those I’d nearly forgotten about. Everyone wanted to know where we’d been; apparently Lissa and I had become legends. I couldn’t tell them why we’d left, of course, so I offered up a lot of taunts and wouldn’t-you-like-to-knows that served just as well.

The happy reunion lasted a few more minutes before the adult guardian who oversaw the training came over and scolded Mason for neglecting his duties. Still grinning, he barked out orders to everyone, explaining what exercises to start with. Uneasily I realized I didn’t know most of them.

“Come on, Hathaway,” he said, taking my arm. “You can be my partner. Let’s see what you’ve been doing all this time.”

An hour later, he had his answer.

“Not practicing, huh?”

“Ow,” I groaned, momentarily incapable of normal speech.

He extended a hand and helped me up from the mat he’d knocked me down on – about fifty times.

“I hate you,” I told him, rubbing a spot on my thigh that was going to have a wicked bruise tomorrow.

“You’d hate me more if I held back.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” I agreed, staggering along as the class put the equipment back.

“You actually did okay.”

“What? I just had my ass handed to me.”

“Well, of course you did. It’s been two years. But hey, you’re still walking. That’s something.” He grinned mockingly.

“Did I mention I hate you?”

He flashed me another smile, which quickly faded to something more serious. “Don’t take this the wrong way?­I mean, you really are a scrapper, but there’s no way you’ll be able to take your trials in the spring – “

“They’re making me take extra practice sessions,” I explained. Not that it mattered. I planned on getting Lissa and me out of here before these practices really became an issue. “I’ll be ready.”

“Extra sessions with who?”

“That tall guy. Dimitri.”

Mason stopped walking and stared at me. “You’re putting in extra time with Belikov?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“So the man is a god.”

“Exaggerate much?” I asked.

“No, I’m serious. I mean, he’s all quiet and antisocial usually, but when he fights?­wow. If you think you’re hurting now, you’re going to be dead when he’s done with you.”

Great. Something else to improve my day.

I elbowed him and went on to second period. That class covered the essentials of being a bodyguard and was required for all seniors. Actually, it was the third in a series that had started junior year. That meant I was behind in this class too, but I hoped protecting Lissa in the real world had given me some insight.

Our instructor was Stan Alto, whom we referred to simply as “Stan” behind his back and “Guardian Alto” in formal settings. He was a little older than Dimitri, but not nearly as tall, and he always looked pissed off. Today, that look intensified when he walked into the classroom and saw me sitting there. His eyes widened in mock surprise as he circled the room and came to stand beside my desk.

“What’s this? No one told me we had a guest speaker here today. Rose Hathaway. What a privilege! How very generous of you to take time out of your busy schedule and share your knowledge with us.”

I felt my cheeks burning, but in a great show of self-control, I stopped myself from telling him to fuck off. I’m pretty sure my face must have delivered that message, however, because his sneer increased. He gestured for me to stand up.

“Well, come on, come on. Don’t sit there! Come up to the front so you can help me lecture the class.”

I sank into my seat. “You don’t really mean – “

The taunting smile dried up. “I mean exactly what I say, Hathaway. Go to the front of the class.”

A thick silence enveloped the room. Stan was a scary instructor, and most of the class was too awed to laugh at my disgrace quite yet. Refusing to crack, I strode up to the front of the room and turned to face the class. I gave them a bold look and tossed my hair over my shoulders, earning a few sympathetic smiles from my friends. I then noticed I had a larger audience than expected. A few guardians – including Dimitri – lingered in the back of the room. Outside the Academy, guardians focused on one-on-one protection. Here, guardians had a lot more people to protect and they had to train the novices. So rather than follow any one person around, they worked shifts guarding the school as a whole and monitoring classes.

“So, Hathaway,” said Stan cheerfully, strolling back up to the front with me. “Enlighten us about your protective techniques.”

“My?­techniques?”

“Of course. Because presumably you must have had some sort of plan the rest of us couldn’t understand when you took an underage Moroi royal out of the Academy and exposed her to constant Strigoi threats.”

It was the Kirova lecture all over again, except with more witnesses.

“We never ran into any Strigoi,” I replied stiffly.

“Obviously,” he said with a snicker. “I already figured that out, seeing as how you’re still alive.”

I wanted to shout that maybe I could have defeated a Strigoi, but after getting beat up in the last class, I now suspected I couldn’t have survived an attack by Mason, let alone an actual Strigoi.

When I didn’t say anything, Stan started pacing in front of the class.

“So what’d you do? How’d you make sure she stayed safe? Did you avoid going out at night?”

“Sometimes.” That was true – especially when we’d first run away. We’d relaxed a little after months went by with no attacks.

“Sometimes,” he repeated in a high-pitched voice, making my answer sound incredibly stupid. “Well then, I suppose you slept during the day and stayed on guard at night.”

“Er?­no.”

“No? But that’s one of the first things mentioned in the chapter on solo guarding. Oh wait, you wouldn’t know that because you weren’t here.”

I swallowed back more swear words. “I watched the area whenever we went out,” I said, needing to defend myself.

“Oh? Well that’s something. Did you use Carnegie’s Quadrant Surveillance Method or the Rotational Survey?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Ah. I’m guessing you used the Hathaway Glance-Around-When-You-Remember-To Method.”

“No!” I exclaimed angrily. “That’s not true. I watched her. She’s still alive, isn’t she?”

He walked back up to me and leaned toward my face. “Because you got lucky.”

“Strigoi aren’t lurking around every corner out there,” I shot back. “It’s not like what we’ve been taught. It’s safer than you guys make it sound.”

“Safer? Safer? We are at war with the Strigoi!” he yelled. I could smell coffee on his breath, he was so close. “One of them could walk right up to you and snap your pretty little neck before you even noticed him – and he’d barely break a sweat doing it. You might have more speed and strength than a Moroi or a human, but you are nothing, nothing, compared to a Strigoi. They are deadly, and they are powerful. And do you know what makes them more powerful?”

No way was I going to let this jerk make me cry. Looking away from him, I tried to focus on something else. My eyes rested on Dimitri and the other guardians. They were watching my humiliation, stone-faced.

“Moroi blood,” I whispered.

“What was that?” asked Stan loudly. “I didn’t catch it.”

I spun back around to face him. “Moroi blood! Moroi blood makes them stronger.”

He nodded in satisfaction and took a few steps back. “Yes. It does. It makes them stronger and harder to destroy. They’ll kill and drink from a human or dhampir, but they want Moroi blood more than anything else. They seek it. They’ve turned to the dark side to gain immortality, and they want to do whatever they can to keep that immortality. Desperate Strigoi have attacked Moroi in public. Groups of Strigoi have raided academies exactly like this one. There are Strigoi who have lived for thousands of years and fed off generations of Moroi. They’re almost impossible to kill. And that is why Moroi numbers are dropping. They aren’t strong enough – even with guardians – to protect themselves. Some Moroi don’t even see the point of running anymore and are simply turning Strigoi by choice. And as the Moroi disappear?­”

“?­so do the dhampirs,” I finished.

“Well,” he said, licking sprayed spit off his lips. “It looks like you learned something after all. Now we’ll have to see if you can learn enough to pass this class and qualify for your field experience next semester.”

Ouch. I spent the rest of that horrible class – in my seat, thankfully – replaying those last words in my mind. The senior-year field experience was the best part of a novice’s education. We’d have no classes for half a semester. Instead, we’d each be assigned a Moroi student to guard and follow around. The adult guardians would monitor us and test us with staged attacks and other threats. How a novice passed that field experience was almost as important as all the rest of her grades combined. It could influence which Moroi she got assigned to after graduation.

And me? There was only one Moroi I wanted.

Two classes later, I finally earned my lunch escape. As I stumbled across campus toward the commons, Dimitri fell into step beside me, not looking particularly godlike – unless you counted his godly good looks.

“I suppose you saw what happened in Stan’s class?” I asked, not bothering with titles.

“Yes.”

“And you don’t think that was unfair?”

“Was he right? Do you think you were fully prepared to protect Vasilisa?”

I looked down at the ground. “I kept her alive,” I mumbled.

“How did you do fighting against your classmates today?”

The question was mean. I didn’t answer and knew I didn’t need to. I’d had another training class after Stan’s, and no doubt Dimitri had watched me get beat up there too.

“If you can’t fight them – “

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I snapped.

He slowed his long stride to match my pain-filled one. “You’re strong and fast by nature. You just need to keep yourself trained. Didn’t you play any sports while you were gone?”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “Now and then.”

“You didn’t join any teams?”

“Too much work. If I’d wanted to practice that much, I’d have stayed here.”

He gave me an exasperated look. “You’ll never be able to really protect the princess if you don’t hone your skills. You’ll always be lacking.”

“I’ll be able to protect her,” I said fiercely.

“You have no guarantees of being assigned to her, you know – for your field experience or after you graduate.” Dimitri’s voice was low and unapologetic. They hadn’t given me a warm and fuzzy mentor. “No one wants to waste the bond – but no one’s going to give her an inadequate guardian either. If you want to be with her, then you need to work for it. You have your lessons. You have me. Use us or don’t. You’re an ideal choice to guard Vasilisa when you both graduate – if you can prove you’re worthy. I hope you will.”

“Lissa, call her Lissa,” I corrected. She hated her full name, much preferring the Americanized nickname.

He walked away, and suddenly, I didn’t feel like such a badass anymore.

By now, I’d burned up a lot of time leaving class. Most everyone else had long since sprinted inside the commons for lunch, eager to maximize their social time. I’d almost made it back there myself when a voice under the door’s overhang called to me.

“Rose?”

Peering in the voice’s direction, I caught sight of Victor Dashkov, his kind face smiling at me as he leaned on a cane near the building’s wall. His two guardians stood nearby at a polite distance.

“Mr. Dash-er, Your Highness. Hi.”

I caught myself just in time, having nearly forgotten Moroi royal terms. I hadn’t used them while living among humans. The Moroi chose their rulers from among twelve royal families. The eldest in the family got the title of “prince” or “princess.” Lissa had gotten hers because she was the only one left in her line.

“How was your first day?” he asked.

“Not over yet.” I tried to think of something conversational. “Are you visiting here for a while?”

“I’ll be leaving this afternoon after I say hello to Natalie. When I heard Vasilisa – and you – had returned, I simply had to come see you.”

I nodded, not sure what else to say. He was more Lissa’s friend than mine.

“I wanted to tell you?­” He spoke hesitantly. “I understand the gravity of what you did, but I think Headmistress Kirova failed to acknowledge something. You did keep Vasilisa safe all this time. That is impressive.”

“Well, it’s not like I faced down Strigoi or anything,” I said.

“But you faced down some things?”

“Sure. The school sent psi-hounds once.”

“Remarkable.”

“Not really. Avoiding them was pretty easy.”

He laughed. “I’ve hunted with them before. They aren’t that easy to evade, not with their powers and intelligence.” It was true. Psi-hounds were one of many types of magical creatures that wandered the world, creatures that humans never knew about or else didn’t believe they’d really seen. The hounds traveled in packs and shared a sort of psychic communication that made them particularly deadly to their prey – as did the fact that they resembled mutant wolves. “Did you face anything else?”

I shrugged. “Little things here and there.”

“Remarkable,” he repeated.

“Lucky, I think. It turns out I’m really behind in all this guardian stuff.” I sounded just like Stan now.

“You’re a smart girl. You’ll catch up. And you also have your bond.”

I looked away. My ability to “feel” Lissa had been such a secret for so long, it felt weird to have others know about it.

“The histories are full of stories of guardians who could feel when their charges were in danger,” Victor continued.

“I’ve made a hobby of studying up on it and some of the ancient ways. I’ve heard it’s a tremendous asset.”

“I guess.” I shrugged. What a boring hobby, I thought, imagining him poring over prehistoric histories in some dank library covered in spiderwebs.

Victor tilted his head, curiosity all over his face. Kirova and the others had had the same look when we’d mentioned our connection, like we were lab rats. “What is it like – if you don’t mind me asking?”

“It’s?­I don’t know. I just sort of always have this hum of how she feels. Usually it’s just emotions. We can’t send messages or anything.” I didn’t tell him about slipping into her head. That part of it was hard even for me to understand.

“But it doesn’t work the other way? She doesn’t sense you?”

I shook my head.

His face shone with wonder. “How did it happen?”

“I don’t know,” I said, still glancing away. “Just started two years ago.”

He frowned. “Near the time of the accident?”

Hesitantly, I nodded. The accident was not something I wanted to talk about, that was for sure. Lissa’s memories were bad enough without my own mixing into them. Twisted metal. A sensation of hot, then cold, then hot again. Lissa screaming over me, screaming for me to wake up, screaming for her parents and her brother to wake up. None of them had, only me.

And the doctors said that was a miracle in itself. They said I shouldn’t have survived.

Apparently sensing my discomfort, Victor let the moment go and returned to his earlier excitement.

“I can still barely believe this. It’s been so long since this has happened. If it did happen more often?­just think what it could do for the safety of all Moroi. If only others could experience this too. I’ll have to do more research and see if we can replicate it with others.”

“Yeah.” I was getting impatient, despite how much I liked him. Natalie rambled a lot, and it was pretty clear which parent she’d inherited that quality from. Lunch was ticking down, and although Moroi and novices shared afternoon classes, Lissa and I wouldn’t have much time to talk.

“Perhaps we could – ” He started coughing, a great, seizing fit that made his whole body shake. His disease, Sandovsky’s Syndrome, took the lungs down with it while dragging the body toward death. I cast an anxious look at his guardians, and one of them stepped forward. “Your Highness,” he said politely, “you need to go inside. It’s too cold out here.”

Victor nodded. “Yes, yes. And I’m sure Rose here wants to eat.” He turned to me. “Thank you for speaking to me. I can’t emphasize how much it means to me that Vasilisa is safe – and that you helped with that. I’d promised her father I’d look after her if anything happened to him, and I felt like quite the failure when you left.”

A sinking sensation filled my stomach as I imagined him wracked with guilt and worry over our disappearance. Until now, I hadn’t really thought about how others might have felt about us leaving.

We made our goodbyes, and I finally arrived inside the school. As I did, I felt Lissa’s anxiety spike. Ignoring the pain in my legs, I picked up my pace into the commons.

And nearly ran right into her.

She didn’t see me, though. Neither did the people standing with her: Aaron and that little doll girl. I stopped and listened, just catching the end of the conversation. The girl leaned toward Lissa, who seemed more stunned than anything else.

“It looks to me like it came from a garage sale. I thought a precious Dragomir would have standards.” Scorn dripped off the word Dragomir.

Grabbing Doll Girl by the shoulder, I jerked her away. She was so light, she stumbled three feet and nearly fell.

“She does have standards,” I said, “which is why you’re done talking to her.”

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