Vampire Academy Chapter 7
A COUPLE WEEKS PASSED AFTER that, and I soon forgot about the Anna thing as life at the Academy wrapped around me.The shock of our return had worn off a little, and we began to fall into a semi-comfortable routine.My days revolved around church, lunch with Lissa, and whatever sort of social life I could scrape together outside of that.
Denied any real free time, I didn’t have too hard a time staying out of the spotlight, although I did manage to steal a little attention here and there, despite my noble speech to her about ?®coasting through the middle.’ I couldn’t help it. I liked flirting, I liked groups, and I liked making smartass comments in class.
Her new, incognito role attracted attention simply because it was so different than before we’d left, back when she’d been so active with the royals. Most people soon let that go, accepting that the Dragomir princess was fading off the social radar and content to run with Natalie and her group. Natalie’s rambling still made me want to beat my head against a wall sometimes, but she was really nice – nicer than almost any of the other royals – and I enjoyed hanging around her most of the time.
And, just as Kirova had warned, I was indeed training and working out all the time. But as more time passed, my body stopped hating me. My muscles grew tougher, and my stamina increased. I still got my ass kicked in practice but not quite as badly as I used to, which was something. The biggest toll now seemed to be on my skin. Being outside in the cold so much was chapping my face, and only Lissa’s constant supply of skin-care lotions kept me from aging before my time. She couldn’t do much for the blisters on my hands and feet.
A routine also developed with Dimitri and me. Mason had been right about him being antisocial. Dimitri didn’t hang out much with the other guardians, though it was clear they all respected him. And the more I worked with him, the more I respected him too, though I didn’t really understand his training methods. They didn’t seem very badass. We always started by stretching in the gym, and lately he’d been sending me outside to run, braving the increasingly cold Montana autumn.
Three weeks after my return to the Academy, I walked into the gym before school one day and found him sprawled on a mat, reading a Louis L’Amour book. Someone had brought in a portable CD player, and while that cheered me up at first, the song coming from it did not: “When Doves Cry” by Prince. It was embarrassing to know the title, but one of our former housemates had been obsessed with the ?®80s.
“Whoa, Dimitri,” I said, tossing my bag on the floor. “I realize this is actually a current hit in Eastern Europe right now, but do you think we could maybe listen to something that wasn’t recorded before I was born?”
Only his eyes flicked toward me; the rest of his posture remained the same. “What does it matter to you? I’m the one who’s going to be listening to it. You’ll be outside running.”
I made a face as I set my foot up on one of the bars and stretched my hamstrings. All things considered, Dimitri had a good-natured tolerance for my snarkiness. So long as I didn’t slack in my training, he didn’t mind my running commentary.
“Hey,” I asked, moving on to the next set of stretches, “what’s with all the running, anyway? I mean, I realize the importance of stamina and all that, but shouldn’t I be moving on to something with a little hitting? They’re still killing me in group practice.”
“Maybe you should hit harder,” he replied drily.
“Hard to tell the difference.” He set the book down but didn’t move from his sprawl. “My job is to get you ready to defend the princess and fight dark creatures, right?”
“So tell me this: suppose you manage to kidnap her again and take her off to the mall. While you’re there, a Strigoi comes at you. What will you do?”
“Depends on what store we’re in.”
He looked at me.
“Fine. I’ll stab him with a silver stake.”
Dimitri sat up now, crossing his long legs in one fluid motion. I still couldn’t figure out how someone so tall could be so graceful. “Oh?” He raised his dark eyebrows. “Do you have a silver stake? Do you even know how to use one?”
I dragged my eyes away from his body and scowled. Made with elemental magic, silver stakes were a guardian’s deadliest weapon. Stabbing a Strigoi through the heart with one meant instant death. The blades were also lethal to Moroi, so they weren’t given out lightly to novices. My classmates had just started learning how to use them. I’d trained with a gun before, but no one would let me near a stake yet. Fortunately, there were two other ways to kill a Strigoi.
“Okay. I’ll cut his head off.”
“Ignoring the fact that you don’t have a weapon to do that, how will you compensate for the fact that he may be a foot taller than you?”
I straightened up from touching my toes, annoyed. “Fine, then I’ll set him on fire.”
“Again, with what?”
“All right, I give up. You’ve already got the answer. You’re just messing with me. I’m at the mall and I see a Strigoi. What do I do?”
He looked at me and didn’t blink. “You run.”
I repressed the urge to throw something at him. When I finished my stretches, he told me he’d run with me. That was a first. Maybe running would give me some insight into his killer reputation.
We set out into the chilly October evening. Being back on a vampiric schedule still felt weird to me. With school about to start in an hour, I expected the sun to be coming up, not down. But it was sinking on the western horizon, lighting up the snow-capped mountains with an orange glow.It didn’t really warm things up, and I soon felt the cold pierce my lungs as my need for oxygen deepened. We didn’t speak. He slowed his pace to match mine, so we stayed together.
Something about that bothered me; I suddenly very much wanted his approval. So I picked up my own pace, working my lungs and muscles harder. Twelve laps around the track made three miles; we had nine more to go.
When we reached the third-to-last loop, a couple of other novices passed by, preparing to go to the group practice I’d soon be at as well. Seeing me, Mason cheered. “Good form, Rose!”
I smiled and waved back.
“You’re slowing down,” Dimitri snapped, jerking my gaze from the boys. The harshness in his voice startled me. “Is this why your times aren’t getting any faster? You’re easily distracted?”
Embarrassed, I increased my speed once more, despite the fact that my body started screaming obscenities at me. We finished the twelve laps, and when he checked, he found we’d shaved two minutes off my best time.
“Not bad, huh?” I crowed when we headed back inside for cool-down stretches. “Looks like I could get as far as the Limited before the Strigoi got me at the mall. Not sure how Lissa would do.”
“If she was with you, she’d be okay.”
I looked up in surprise. It was the first real compliment he’d paid me since I started training with him. His brown eyes watched me, both approving and amused.
And that’s when it happened.
I felt like someone had shot me. Sharp and biting, terror exploded in my body and in my head. Small razors of pain. My vision blurred, and for a moment, I wasn’t standing there. I was running down a flight of stairs, scared and desperate, needing to get out of there, needing to find?me.
My vision cleared, leaving me back on the track and out of Lissa’s head. Without a word to Dimitri, I tore off, running as fast as I could toward the Moroi dorm. It didn’t matter that I’d just put my legs through a mini-marathon. They ran hard and fast, like they were shiny and new. Distantly, I was aware of Dimitri catching up to me, asking me what was wrong. But I couldn’t answer him. I had one task and one alone: get to the dorm.
Its looming, ivy-covered form was just coming into view when Lissa met up with us, her face streaked with tears. I came to a jarring stop, my lungs ready to burst.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” I demanded, clutching her arms, forcing her to look into my eyes.
But she couldn’t answer. She just flung her arms around me, sobbing into my chest. I held her there, stroking her sleek, silky hair while I told her it was going to be all right – whatever ?®it’ was. And honestly, I didn’t care what it was just then. She was here, and she was safe, which was all that mattered. Dimitri hovered over us, alert and ready for any threat, his body coiled to attack. I felt safe with him beside us.
A half hour later, we were crammed inside Lissa’s dorm room with three other guardians, Ms. Kirova, and the hall matron. This was the first time I’d seen Lissa’s room. Natalie had indeed managed to get her as a roommate, and the two sides of the room were a study in contrasts. Natalie’s looked lived in, with pictures on the wall and a frilly bedspread that wasn’t dorm-issue. Lissa had as few possessions as I did, making her half noticeably bare. She did have one picture taped to the wall, a picture taken from last Halloween, when we’d dressed up like fairies, complete with wings and glittery makeup. Seeing that picture and remembering how things used to be made a dull pain form in my chest.
With all the excitement, no one seemed to remember that I wasn’t supposed to be in there. Outside in the hall, other Moroi girls crowded together, trying to figure out what was going on. Natalie pushed her way through them, wondering what the commotion in her room was. When she discovered it, she came to a screeching halt.
Shock and disgust showed on almost everyone’s faces as we stared at Lissa’s bed. There was a fox on the pillow. Its coat was reddish-orange, tinged in white. It looked so soft and cuddly that it could have been a pet, perhaps a cat, something you’d hold in your arms and snuggle with.
Aside from the fact that its throat had been slit.
The inside of the throat looked pink and jellylike. Blood stained that soft coat and had run down onto the yellow bedspread, forming a dark pool that spread across the fabric. The fox’s eyes stared upward, glazed, over with a sort of shocked look about them, like the fox couldn’t believe this was happening.
Nausea built up in my stomach, but I forced myself to keep looking. I couldn’t afford to be squeamish. I’d be killing Strigoi someday. If I couldn’t handle a fox, I’d never survive major kills.
What had happened to the fox was sick and twisted, obviously done by someone too fucked up for words. Lissa stared at it, her face death-pale, and took a few steps toward it, hand involuntarily reaching out. This gross act hit her hard, I knew, digging at her love of animals. She loved them, they loved her. While on our own, she’d often begged me for a pet, but I’d always refused and reminded her we couldn’t take care of one when we might have to flee at a moment’s notice. Plus, they hated me. So she’d contented herself with helping and patching up strays she found and making friends with other people’s pets, like Oscar the cat.
She couldn’t patch this fox up, though. There was no coming back for it, but I saw in her face she wanted to help it, like she helped everything. I took her hand and steered her away, suddenly recalling a conversation from two years ago.
“What is that? Is it a crow?”
“Too big. It’s a raven.”
“Is it dead?”
“Yeah. Definitely dead. Don’t touch it.”
She hadn’t listened to me back then. I hoped she would now.
“It was still alive when I got back,” Lissa whispered to me, clutching my arm. “Barely. Oh God, it was twitching. It must have suffered so much.”
I felt bile rise in my throat now. Under no circumstances would I throw up. “Did you – ?”
“No. I wanted to?I started to?”
“Then forget about it,” I said sharply. “It’s stupid. Somebody’s stupid joke. They’ll clean it up. Probably even give you a new room if you want.”
She turned to me, eyes almost wild. “Rose?do you remember?that one time?”
“Stop it,” I said. “Forget about it. This isn’t the same thing.”
“What if someone saw? What if someone knows??”
I tightened my grip on her arm, digging my nails in to get her attention. She flinched. “No. It’s not the same. It has nothing to do with that. Do you hear me?” I could feel both Natalie and Dimitri’s eyes on us. “It’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Not looking like she believed me at all, Lissa nodded.
“Get this cleaned up,” Kirova snapped to the matron. “And find out if anyone saw anything.”
Someone finally realized I was there and ordered Dimitri to take me away, no matter how much I begged them to let me stay with Lissa. He walked me back to the novices’ dorm. He didn’t speak until we were almost there. “You know something. Something about what happened. Is this what you meant when you told Headmistress Kirova that Lissa was in danger?”
“I don’t know anything. It’s just some sick joke.”
“Do you have any idea who’d do it? Or why?”
I considered this. Before we’d left, it could have been any number of people. That was the way it was when you were popular. People loved you, people hated you. But now? Lissa had faded off to a certain extent. The only person who really and truly despised her was Mia, but Mia seemed to fight her battles with words, not actions. And even if she did decide to do something more aggressive, why do this? She didn’t seem like the type. There were a million other ways to get back at a person. “No,” I told him. “No clue.”
“Rose, if you know something, tell me. We’re on the same side. We both want to protect her. This is serious.”
I spun around, taking my anger over the fox out on him. “Yeah, it is serious. It’s all serious. And you have me doing laps every day when I should be learning to fight and defend her! If you want to help her, then teach me something! Teach me how to fight. I already know how to run away.”
I didn’t realize until that moment how badly I did want to learn, how I wanted to prove myself to him, to Lissa, and to everyone else. The fox incident had made me feel powerless, and I didn’t like that. I wanted to do something, anything.
Dimitri watched my outburst calmly, with no change in his expression. When I finished, he simply beckoned me forward like I hadn’t said anything. “Come on. You’re late for practice.”