"I can feel her! She's still alive!" I squealed, delighted by the knowledge of my best friend's survival.
"Can you find her?" Adrian asked, perplexed by the bond's many uses. The entire room was captivated, each fixating their curious eyes upon my focused face. For me to feel the bond it took a higher level of focus and effort. The bond was only meant to go one way, so locating her would take a tremendous amount of focus, and may even be impossible, especially when she's this far away. I had a feeling I was stretching the limits with this, but anything was worth a shot when it came to bringing Rose home safe.
I refocused my efforts, desperately grasping at the loose ties of the invisible rope that tethered our minds together, forcing all of my energy into a task that Rose found so easy, it was like second nature for her. I slowly felt her presence, somewhere to my left, but it was gone in a second, leaving me grappling with the rope once more, trying to regain lost ground.
"I can feel her, she's to my left, but it's not enough to locate her." My eyes snapped open, refocusing on the nervous group of Rose's loved ones in front of me.
"God damn it!" Adrian swore, punching the wall behind him. My temper flared, what the hell did he expect from me? I'd never had to practice using the bond like this before! How was I supposed to even know what to do? It was a miracle in itself that I'd been able to feel her general direction at all! Normally the bond was strictly one way, but I'd been able to manipulate it to my own uses.
However, the frustration of the failure set in as I realized we had no other ideas of finding Rose. Time was running out, and if we didn't act soon, Rose's fate would be set. That's when it hit me. Fate.
Fate! I shot up from my seat, dashing out the door to go find the only two people that could help me, or more specifically, help Rose. I needed Ambrose so that I could go see Rhonda. Rose may not be a believer, but I was open to anything at this point.
I rushed to the spa, the gang behind me. I had a feeling Adrian knew where we were going. On the way into the spa I caught sight of Ambrose, chatting with a pretty Moroi girl who ran the front desk.
"Ambrose!" I sigh in relief, glad that he was here. He turns toward me and his face lit up, opening his arms to embrace me.
"Lissa! How good to see you! Is there something wrong? You don't look well." He says, a look of concern washing over his face.
"It's Rose. She's been taken by Strigoi and we need to find her before it's too late. Can you get us in to see Rhonda? I wouldn't ask unless it was absolutely necessary." I begged, silently pleading with my eyes. Ambrose's eyes widened in shock at the news before nodding and taking off in the direction of Rhonda's.
I could hear her coming. My stomach dropped and I looked at the words carved into my flesh. Bloodwhore. Weak. Traitor. They were constant reminders of my biggest fears and insecurities. I may be Rose Hathaway, but I wasn't invincible. I didn't want to be the weak one, but being captured so easily by Strigoi for the second time had me doubting my abilities as a Guardian. If I ever got out of this, would I even be capable to guard Lissa? I shuddered at the thought of being assigned to a different Moroi, or even worse, being dismissed as a guardian.
Traitor. Freya was demanding information. Demanding it. I knew I shouldn't give it to her, but I was dangerously close to my breaking point, and today was my last day to talk before she turned me. If I didn't start talking, I was screwed. I just hoped she would lose control and kill me before she had the chance to turn me.
As I sat there, contemplating my fate, the door slammed open. "Good morning, Rosemarie." Freya clomped into the room in stacked heels and a tight dress. "I hope you're feeling talkative!" She sing-songed as she walked up to my chair.
"Not a chance, might as well kill me now." Honestly the banter over the last few days was beyond tired, in my opinion, however, Freya seemed to enjoy my sarcasm and wit.
"A death wish? My, aren't we desperate? Dear, dear Rosemarie. I'm not going to all this trouble to kidnap you and then kill you off when you refuse to talk! How silly! No, I think I have a much better plan. How does immortality sound?" Her voice was disgustingly chipper, I wanted to rip her vocal chords out for even attempting to talk to me like I was 4-years old.
"Fuck off. I'd rather die 100 times over than be turned to join you. Go rot in hell, bitch." I kept my voice level and frosty, trying to intimidate her with my fearless façade.
She leaned in, a smirk on her face, inches from my face, studying me with her cold, red eyes.
"Wrong answer." She whispered in my eyes as she bit into my neck.
"You're late! I've been waiting for days!" Rhonda exclaimed as she sat cross-legged on the floor across her red room. She shot us a disapproving glare but stood to greet us. "Time is running out. If you came any later it may have been too late. Now come!"
It never failed to amaze me how she knew we were coming and what for. I sat next to Christian, gripping his hand tightly, seeking comfort in his touch.
"Rose was taken and we-" I was cut off by Rhonda's annoyed tone.
"I know why you are here and what your circumstances are. I will help you, but you must cooperate and most of all, you must have faith in my abilities and ways. Understood?" We all nodded.
"Good, now, which one of you is closest to Rose, or has the most memories and connection to Rose?" Rhonda studied each one of us curiously for a moment.
I didn't want to admit it, but I felt this was a task for me. "The Princess does." I was shocked to hear Dimitri's voice from the back of the room. I turned to meet his eyes, taking in his sad expression, and giving him a reassuring smile.
"Very well." Rhonda spoke briskly, pulling out a map of the state and a crystal on a leather rope. She laid the map out on the table, smoothing it out before handing me the crystal.
"Now, dangle the crystal over the map and think of Rose. This crystal is charmed and holds the power to find what is lost, but to work, you must do two things. First, you must focus on thoughts of the person you are looking for. Anything will work, but try to evoke a strong emotion when thinking of the person or memory, something stronger than loss. Second, you must believe. The crystal only works for genuine believers. If you don't believe, it won't work. Can you do that, Princess?" She asked, her ton serious and face composed.
"I think so." I sighed, shutting my eyes and focusing on memories with Rose. Oh, there were so many.
"Be specific, physical appearance usually works best." Rhonda coached me and I conjured a picture of Rose in my head, her olivey skin, black-brown hair, full, pink lips, and chocolate brown eyes. I thought of the time we dressed as fairies for Halloween in Portland, the day we ran away, the day she slapped me, when she left me to find Dimitri, the night Ms. Karp found us in the woods, the accident, among swarms of memories that flooded my mind as I thought of my best friend.
I felt the leather cord sway in my hands, but the crystal didn't pin point a location on the table. I opened my eyes.
"It didn't work." I whispered, disappointment knocked the wind out of me. I felt deflated, hopeless, and utterly devastated.
"You long for her, yes?" I nodded, "Is it your dominating emotion when you think of her?" I nodded once more. "Then let someone else give it a try. Who is the next closest to her?"
"Dimitri." I didn't hesitate at calling his name. I knew he loved her, and I knew for a fact their love was strong, even if Rose denied it, even after all this time. As I met his gaze, I knew he was determined to find her, and I trusted him to get the crystal to work. He was the better choice to do this, and I prayed to God he'd do it quickly. Rose's time was running out.
I had always believed in psychics. Growing up my grandmother, Yeva had been what one would call psychic. I had seen my grandmother do this trick when I was young to find a lost child.
I sat down in front of the map, taking the leather cord with the crystal from the Princess. I turned toward Rhonda.
"You are a strong believer. Your grandmother?" I nod noticing how her eyes resemble Yeva's when she's up to something.
"Are you ready?" I nod once more, shutting my eyes. "Now procure an image of Rose in your mind." Immediately my mind flips to an image of Rose in the cabin, my strongest memory of her.
"Keep it appropriate." She snaps. I hear Christian snickering in the back round, but I ignore it, refocusing myself on a more appropriate memory. For some reason, I choose the memory of when Rose snuck into my cell to visit me when I was first turned. She had come from a Moroi masquerade memorial for the Queen's lost guardians and close friend.
"Be specific, don't let your mind wander." Rhonda advises. I replay the scene in my head.
"Dimitri." No. No. No. No. The sound of her voice threw my mind into overload. I couldn't move, think, speak, breath. I was completely in awe of her voice, but I wanted to see her. My body was at war with itself. My mind told me to stay put and ignore her, but my heart told me to run to her, to find comfort in her touch, to embrace my second chance. I was frozen, unable to make a decision.
"Dimitri." Once again the sound of her voice sent me into shock. The only thought, the only feeling that could make me respond was guilt. It was an ugly feeling, a terrible, consuming feeling, but it made up my mind, it silenced my heart, and it was all I needed to make my decision. "It's… Me."
I almost laughed. As if I hadn't known whom it was immediately. I knew her too well. I'd know her voice anywhere. I knew everything about Rose, the sound of her breathing when she sleeps, the sound of her heartbeat, the way her brow furrows when she thinks, the smell of her shampoo. I had memorized every detail of Rose, but it was different now. It had all been ruined by studying her for weeks as a Strigoi. Everything about her, all of her quirks, had been ways to take advantage of her, to try and seduce her to become Strigoi. It turned admiring her beauty, bittersweet.
I shivered, horrified at the memories. The guilt consumed me once more and it took me a moment to respond. "No." It was all I could come up with, my mind was still in overload at her presence.
"No what?" She asked. "As in, no, it's not me?" I sighed in frustration. Rose had always been difficult, using her own Rose-logic to twist everything I said and annoy me. This was no exception. It reminded me of our many practice sessions. It almost brought a smile to my lips. Almost.
The guilt won out. "No, as in I don't want to see you." Her presence, it was overwhelming, too many triggers, too many memories and reminders. It was too much to handle this early. There were too many conflicting opinions and emotions, I was unable to try and figure them out with her this close to me. "They weren't supposed to let you in." I had done my best to do damage control by not letting Rose in. I knew she'd want to see me, she had always been a passionate person, but she deserves better than a broken man who has killed innocents, and I was determined to give her that chance.
"Yeah, well I kind of found a work-around." Surprise. Rose found a work-around. She always did. She was the best at doing the impossible.
"Of course you did." It killed me not seeing her, but I knew if I turned around I would cave in. Her voice already affected me deeply, putting a face to that voice would be 10 times worse. Rose was devastatingly beautiful, I already knew that.
"I had to see you. I had to know you were okay." I felt a sad smile play across my lips. Even through all I'd put her through, she stilled cared about my wellbeing. Her capacity for compassion and understanding was beyond my level of comprehension. How could one person be so perfect?
I didn't deserve her. "I'm sure Lissa's been giving you updates." I awaited her Rose-logic, knowing her response already.
"Well, I had to see for myself." I had predicted correctly, and I had a feeling where she was going with the conversation. I took another deep breath, trying to keep my temper in check.
"Well, now you see." She had to leave. Now. I was losing control.
"All I see is your back." I sighed, once again I was right. I had no response to that. I wanted to let myself be with her, but I couldn't. The inner conflict was a mess of emotions, memories, and confusion. I was overwhelmed by her powerful presence.
"I don't want you here. I don't want to see you." I kept my voice level and devoid of emotion. If I could convince her I couldn't love, she'd eventually give up and finally give Adrian Ivashkov a chance. Rose paused and I awaited her answer. I knew she wouldn't give up that easily. It wasn't in her nature.
"You can't ignore me. You owe me. I saved you." I took another deep breath. She was going into danger zone and I wasn't sure I was ready to talk about that yet.
"Lissa saved me." I said carefully, waiting for her explosion. I wanted to avoid Rose as best I could and admitting she saved me would let her back in my life.
"How do you think she got to that point?" She demanded, "How do you think she learned how to save you? Do you have any idea what we-what I-had to go through to get that information? You think me going to Siberia was crazy? Believe me, you haven't even come close to seeing crazy. You know me. You know what I'm capable of. And I broke my own records this time. You. Owe. Me." Her words were harsh and unforgiving. I had no idea I was breaking my rule until I had whipped around to face her, fury burning within me.
"Then the best thing I can do is-" I froze. Time slowed as my eyes took in her face. I felt my eyes widen as I gasped in awe at her stunning beauty. It was the first time I'd seen her since I'd been turned. It was like waking up from a dream. She was no longer an object to own but a beauty to withhold.
I drank in her features, taking in her long, black-brown hair that curled into loose ringlets at the ends, her perfectly tanned skin that set my hands on fire whenever we touched, her clear, chocolate brown eyes that churned with emotion, but as a whole, she was much more beautiful. The sight of her brought on so many emotions that I'd completely forgotten what I was planning to say. I took a mental image of her, my avenging angel of darkness, for my own personal form of torture. I was highly masochistic.
It took me a moment, but I finally recalled the words I had been planning on saying before I caught sight of the exquisite beauty that stood before me, declaring her love, love that I could not return. "Then the best thing I can do is to stay away from you. That's the best way to repay the debt." I took a deep breath, preparing myself for the worst, trying to keep my cool and failing.
"You offered to repay Lissa by staying by her side forever!" She snapped, losing her patience.
"I didn't do the things…" I was at a loss for words, staring down at my feet for a moment, I couldn't say it. I couldn't. I just couldn't. But I had to. I had to so that Rose would understand. It was only fair to her. "I didn't do the things to her that I did to you." I was once again reminded of what exactly I had done. Guilt hit me in tidal waves as I watched her temper flare.
"You weren't you! I don't care!" I almost lost it. She didn't care? She didn't care that I had taken advantage of her? That I had used her as my personal bloodwhore and tried to force her into becoming Strigoi? Did she have any self-respect? Did she even know what other damage I had done?
"How many?" I shouted, "How many guardians died last night because of what I did?" She faltered as knowing flashed through her eyes.
"I… I think six or seven." I winced. Those were harsh losses in the vampire world. Seven guardians. I had killed seven guardians just to get to Rose.
"Dead in one night. Because of me." I finally felt like I was getting through to her. She didn't understand, but I knew she felt those guardian deaths hard.
"You didn't act alone! And I told you, you weren't you. You couldn't control yourself. It doesn't matter to me-" That's when I truly lost control.
"It matters to me!" I cut her off. I couldn't take her making excuses for my malevolent behavior. "It matters to me. That's what you don't get. You can't understand. You can't understand what it's like knowing what I did. That whole time being Strigoi... It's like a dream now, but it's one I remember clearly. There can be no forgiveness for me. And what happened with you? I remember that most of all. Everything I did. Everything I wanted to do." My voice trembled with emotion.
"You're not going to do it now." She pleaded. "So let it go. Before- before everything happened- you said we could be together. That we'd get assignments near each other and-" I interrupted her once more. She wasn't even reasoning anymore, she was begging, and that, that I wouldn't stand for.
"Roza," I stopped myself, realizing my mistake. She gasped, taken aback by the familiarity in the nickname. However, I pushed on, trying to distract her from the slip up, "Do you really think they're going to let me be a guardian again? It'll be a miracle if they let me live."
She shook her head vehemently, refusing to accept reality, not surprisingly. "That's not true. Once they realize you've changed and that you're really your old self... Everything will go back to how it was." Her belief, her courage, it caught me off guard. The passion and hope that burned inside of her was truly what made her so beautiful, but it was also the very thing that kept her from understanding that she had to move on.
"Your optimism... Your belief that you can make anything happen. Oh, Rose. It's one of the amazing things about you. It's also one of the most infuriating things about you." I sighed. Our conversation once again reminded me of the Academy.
"I believed that you could come back from being a Strigoi," She pointed out. "Maybe my belief in the impossible isn't so crazy after all." I sighed once more. She had a point, but there was no way she would ever make me forget. There was absolutely no forgiveness for the things I'd done.
Her face fell as she watched me shake my head. Her shoulders drooped a bit and she let out a sigh, giving me a heartbreaking look. It killed me to see her sad. It literally ripped my heart out, but it was for her own good. Though I yearned to run to her and never let her go, I knew what I had to do. I had to let her go. I had to let her be free.
"I'm grateful for what you did," I kept my voice level and formal. I found the easiest way, though it was by no means easy, to approach the situation was to stay distant and detached. I took another breath, steadying my emotions, "I do owe you. And it's a debt I can't pay. Like I said, the best thing I can do is stay out of your life."
"If you're part of Lissa's , then you can't avoid me." I watched as her patience started to slip. She was growing weary of my adamant detachment.
"People can exist around each other without… Without there being any more than that." I finished, trying to emphasize the last bit. It was my plan at the academy, though that failed, I was sure that I'd be able to stay faithful to Vasilissa while avoiding Rose. If I kept a logical, level head it should be easy. I was trained to be professional, and that would suck all romance out of our relationship.
She slammed herself against the bars, clutching them tightly, her eyes burning with frustration and passion. "But I love you!" She hissed, "And I know you love me too. Do you really think you can spend the rest of your life ignoring that when you're around me?" She scowled, narrowing her eyes, piercing me with a ferocious gaze. Her presence became even greater as she got angrier. Her declaration of love sent butterflies to my stomach. It made me want to jump up and down until I remembered. Until I remembered the evil that had torn us apart.
"You love me. I know you do." It was like she was trying to convince herself. Pain washed through her eyes as she studied my face, desperately searching for any sign of familiarity. I slammed my guardian mask into place, trying to hide my true feelings deep under a mask of distance.
She reached out, through the bars toward me, fingers outstretched, desperately trying to touch me. My hand twitched, about to grab it, but I caught myself just in time to restrain myself from doing so.
I had to think of something fast before she got too close. Her behavior was getting desperate, and I never wanted to see my Roza beg. It would break me.
"Isn't it true that you're involved with Adrian Ivashkov?" One thing Rose and I had always had in common was our belief in honor, and I knew the circumstances were different, but I refused to be the guy who takes another man's girl. I still had my morals and honor that I lived by, as best I could. She winced, her hand dropping.
She looked down at her feet, looking like she was about to cry. "Wh-where did you hear that?" Her voice quivered, thick with emotion.
I pushed on, "Things get around." I said nonchalantly, like I was perfectly fine with her dating someone else in my absence, however it was quite the contrary. I was boiling over with jealousy inside. I wanted to rip Adrian's head off, but I stopped myself.
Adrian was good to her. He'd never hurt her, and was always supportive, something I could never be. Adrian was what Rose needed, and who was I to take that from her? It was obvious he was head over heels in love with her, but I knew deep down that she'd never be satisfied with their relationship. There would always be something missing, a certain spark of passion and understanding that Rose and I had had. What Rose and I shared, well, it was special, but it was also gone. I could no longer look at her the same, and it killed me inside, knowing that I'd never see her quite the same as I had before.
"They certainly do," She muttered, narrowing her eyes at nothing, as if accusing the air of spreading court gossip.
"So are you?" I asked. It shook Rose out of her deep thoughts, refocusing herself on me. It seemed she'd come up with a way around my question, but I wouldn't let her get there.
"Yes, but-" I never let her finish. I would not be that guy. I wouldn't steal another's woman. It was against my honor. I'd seen it done and I've seen the betrayal and hurt it leaves behind. I couldn't bring myself to break my code of honor even further than I had as a Strigoi.
"Good. Adrian's a better person than he gets credit for. He'll be good to you." I sat back, relieved that she'd have someone to look after her. Though Adrian wouldn't be able to physically protect her, he could give her the emotional support she needs. I couldn't offer that, not with the emotional turmoil I was going through myself.
"But-" She began to protest, but I stopped her once more.
"That's where your future is, Rose." I paused, deciding whether or not to hurt her further to make it final. I wanted a clean break. "You don't understand what it's like coming through what I did-coming back from being a Strigoi. It's changed everything. It's not just that what I did to you is unforgiveable. All my feelings . . . My emotions for you . . . They changed. I don't feel the way I used to. I might be a dhampir again, but after what I went through . . . Well, it's scarred me. It altered my soul. I can't love anyone now. I can't-I don't—love you. There's nothing more between you and me." Except there was. I refused to admit it, but under all of the guilt, the honor, and the self-pity there was love. Love for Rose. My Roza. But just like the Academy, I couldn't act upon it. Our love had always been difficult, but now, it was impossible. Love shouldn't be hard, it should be easy, and I had a feeling that all we'd been through was the universe trying to tell me that we just couldn't be.
I kept my face cold and detached, completely devoid of any emotion. I studied her as she reacted to my words. She seemed in shock, frozen. Like her heart had been ripped out and shredded, which is exactly what I'd done. I had broken her heart, but it was for her own good. However, she froze for only a moment. In seconds she was back to denial, but I could see it in her eyes. I had always been able to read her, and I could see the pain and devastation behind the passion and love. I had broken her, hurt her beyond words, and it hit me hard. I felt a twist in my chest. As her heart broke, mine did as well. I hated myself for doing this, but I had to.
"No! That's not true! I love you and you-" I couldn't hear her say it. I couldn't. She was so determined, I couldn't bear to watch anymore of the heart wrenching tears welling in her eyes.
"Guards! Get her out of here! Get her out of here!" I yelled down the hall, wishing she'd just disappear. Her anguish was overwhelming. I made her cry, just like I'd hurt her as a Strigoi, only now it was emotional pain instead of physical. I was a monster. They rushed down the hall, grabbing hold of her and dragging her away from my cell.
She struggled ferociously against their iron grip, "No wait!" She struggled even harder, trying to wiggle her way out of their arms. Mikhail approached her cautiously, whispered something in her ear, and she went stopped, turning to give me one last wistful glance before walking back up the stairs and out of sight.
I turned back around to me wall, curling onto the bed as tears came to eyes, running down my cheeks as I realized what exactly I had just done. I had shattered the heart of the only woman I had ever loved. I truly was a monster.
I reopened my eyes, looking at the crystal. It was completely horizontal, pointing Northeast on the map. I looked confused.
"Rose isn't in Pennsylvania." Rhonda said gravely. She stood up, walking over to her desk and grabbing a world map out of her bottom drawer. "Perhaps this is more suitable?"
She laid it out on the table. I hung the crystal over it nervously, replaying the memory once more in my head. The crystal hit the map immediately, before I could even procure the memory.
"Ahhh, it seems Rosemarie is in Novosibirsk, Russia." My face drained of blood. I knew where Rose was, and it wasn't a good feeling.