"I knew you'd come around. Now, when is the next time Princess Dragomir will be leaving the wards?" Freya asked, studying me intently, knife at the ready in case I withheld any information.
To be completely honest, I had no idea. There were only two people who could truthfully answer that question: Lissa and Hans. I hadn't tuned into Lissa's head for a while, but that wasn't what Freya wanted to hear, and that certainly wasn't what I was going to give her. My body had taken plenty of abuse and I wasn't sure I could handle much more.
I withheld the urge to smirk as an idea formed in my head. "Tomorrow." I stated, as if surprised it was so soon. Her eyes shown brightly with excitement, but only for a moment as they clouded with suspicion.
"Where?" She looked at me accusingly, as if she already suspected I was making it up.
"Leehigh University for her orientation. We were going to enroll together." I said, a bitter tone to my voice. Before I left, I had fantasized at the possibility of Lissa and I going to Lehigh while Dimitri guarded Christian. It would be our perfect little world, the four of us. A bliss that was snatched from me when Dimitri was turned. It would forever be the heaven I would never behold.
"How many Guardians?" I looked up from my daydream, desperately trying to scrape together a solemn but earnest face. Luckily for me, she bought it.
"I'm not quite sure, Hans would know the details of that and I only have access to Lissa. Judging by her rank, the imminent dangers of a large campus, and the lack of guardians, I'd say about six or seven. Lord Ozera is accompanying them as well, so one staged-companion guard for each and the rest mixed into the crowd." That was the only truthful part of my answer so far. "Guardian Belikov will be one of the near guards. He never lets Lissa out of his sight, as well as Guardian Castile. Both are highly respected guardians, I mean come on, it's the Royal Guard." I couldn't believe the words coming out of my mouth. I was advising a Strigoi on their prey. Luckily, it was all a lie, at least most of it.
It took serious restrain to keep the smirk off my face as Freya nodded once and left, not even stopping for a drink. I had given her everything she needed. Hopefully, it would buy me some time to figure out an escape plan and break out before she returned. If it didn't work, I was dead. There was no question about it. Strigoi were known for their impatience and malicious tendencies. If Freya found out I was lying and I didn't break out in time, I was as good as dead. Or undead.
We'd landed. I'd been anxious for the arrival, mainly for the pit of dread that sat in my stomach, a foul taste in my mouth. The problem with our plan was that if we tried the crystal again, and it didn't work, we were stuck. Combing the city for clues would take too long and wandering the streets lacked reason and safety. Both Plan B and Plan C were hopeless. I shivered.
The thought that Rose's life would rest on this defining moment was sickening. I tried to contain my imagination of the torture she must be enduring, but it was futile. I was ensnared by my masochism. The guilt of not being able to save her crashed down around me once more, hitting me in tidal waves.
Lissa shot me a worried glance as we marched through the airport, hailing a taxi. We would go to a hotel and get a room, which we could use as our headquarters. I sighed, looking out the window, wondering where Rose could possibly be in the metropolis that was Novosibirsk. I had a sick feeling that time was running out.
"You. I want at least twenty posted outside the gates in wait. We'll ambush them. If they don't come, we'll know. I have a funny feeling that bitch is leading me on to buy herself time." My temper flared at the thought as I turned and hurled my dinner at the wall. I was always one to play with my food, and she didn't even taste that good.
"Such a waste." I tsked, rolling her on her back to look into her eyes once more before they went blank. What I found pleased me: pure, deliciously satisfying terror. Just how I liked it. "Maybe I could make you useful." I bit into her neck, to start the process of turning her. Her dhampir blood trickled down my throat. Nothing special, just another meal.
I pulled away, sighing. It was unsatisfying to say the least. I had been living on dhampir blood for too long. It just didn't compare to Moroi blood. Moroi blood was bliss, it was ecstasy. It was better than anything I'd ever previously experienced.
I looked down at my prey, noting the look of sheer pleasure on her face. My nose wrinkled in disgust. She was absolutely powerless, it was a painful reminder of the time I had been like that, before my baby sister changed me.
I threw her with a force that I knew for a fact would kill her. Her head hit with a sickening crack, bringing a smile to my lips.
The thought of death brought the memory of my sisters' deaths. It brought a flurry of unwelcome, mixed feelings to the surface, anger being the dominant one.
I'd had three sisters; Anastasiya, Kira, and Marya. Kira was the eldest at 23. Marya was 21. I was two years younger at 19, and young Anastasiya was only 16. Our father, Aleksander, was turned when I was 17. We grieved him deeply, though now I'm not sure why. He was given the gift or immortality, and two years later, he came back to give us that same gift. Our mother, Sasha, died that night trying to defend us from our father.
There was a knock at the door as Anastasiya and I helped Mama clear the table. I looked up from my work. For some reason I had a bad feeling about whoever was on the other side of the door.
"Kira, go answer the door." The knock grew impatient, getting louder. Kira jumped up from the table and bounded to the door.
"Who is it?" Kira called through the door, her hand on the doorknob. The knocking stopped. A moment went by, two, three. We all paused to listen, each of us immensely curious.
"It is your father, Aleksander." The deep Russian accent was unmistakable. Our father had come for us. Fear sat in my stomach, cold and heavy, making it impossible to move. The dish in my hands clattered to the floor, shattering as it hit the ground.
"Impossible." I heard Mama whisper. She grabbed Anastasiya and I, shoving us toward the small bedroom we all shared. There were only two rooms in our humble home, but we made it by. "Get in the closet and don't come out until I say so? Do you here me? Do not leave this room." She whispered urgently in my ear, before pulling us into a tight embrace. "I love you both no matter what happens."
"We love you too, Mama!" Anastasiya whimpered. I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her to me to comfort her. She was only 16 and obviously terrified. Though I was only a few years older, it was my duty to be there for her. A tear trickled down her face as I rocked her slowly.
"Everything is going to be okay? You hear me? We're going to be fine. So are Mama and Nastasia and Kira and even Masha." I knew Ana loved our cat, Masha dearly. I sang her the lullaby Mama used to sing to us when we were small, whispering it softly in her ear as we heard the crashes and screaming out in the kitchen. The door to the bedroom slammed open, sending shivers down my spine.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are! Ana! Freya! Where are you hiding? Come out!" He called. His voice had changed. Gone was his warm, loving voice, replaced by a cold, harsh one. Ana reached out to open the closet. My eyes widened, grabbing her hand.
It was too late. The movement had knocked Kira's shoes off the top of her chest. I froze, as did Anastasiya. "Ahh. There you are my dearest daughters." The closet door was ripped off its hinges and thrown across the room. There, an evil gleam in his eye, was our father, in all his glory.
Anastasiya burst into tears, desperately clawing and scrambling to back farther into the closet. I, however, stood tall, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing my fear.
"Ana! No need to be afraid. I'm merely visiting. Do not squirm, child. Come. Sit with your Papa." He smiled, revealing fangs that knotted my stomach further.
"Where are Mama and the others?" I asked, giving him my most chilling glare. He studied me for a moment, giving me a warning look not to push him any further. I knew they were dead, but I wanted to hear him say it out loud. "Well? Where are they?" I demanded, taking a step closer. Hot fury raged through me as I lost my temper.
"Why don't you go take a look for yourself?" He suggested, shrugging his shoulders. I raced through the door to the kitchen, only to gag at the scene. Everything was just how it had been left. Not a thing was out of place, except for the three bodies of my mother and older sisters lying on the ground.
I spun around to face him; ready to strike when he grabbed my arm, throwing me against the wall. I gasped as pain erupted throughout my body, my head hitting with a thud. I could already feel the blood oozing down my neck. Distantly, I could hear Ana cry out and run to me, but I was too dazed to see if she was okay. My vision swam but I could make out only one thing before I blacked out. The vision of my father breaking Anastasiya's neck and throwing her against the wall, killing her instantly, burned in my memory forever.
When I awoke the next morning, my father sat in the kitchen waiting for me. He'd turned me while I was unconscious, giving me a gift beyond any other. The corpses of my family sat next to him and I was reminded of what he'd taken from me. I'd killed him then and there, creeping up behind him and ripping his head off in my rage.
I stood up, shaking my head to clear the memory. "Anything yet?" I asked the girl who'd just hung up with our contacts in Pennsylvania. I think her name was Anja.
"They're on it." She replied warily, eyeing me closely to make sure her answer satisfied me. I had a habit of ripping someone's head off if they didn't meet my standards.
"Good. Any information to clarify whether or not Hathaway is bullshitting us?" I asked. This was more important. If Rose was lying, it was the last straw. I would turn her. I'd been prolonging it because I knew once she was Strigoi she'd turn on me and go for Vasilissa herself. I couldn't let her steal my glory of killing off the Last Dragomir, however it wasn't going to happen anyway if I couldn't get any information from her.
"No." She paused, seeing that my mood had taken a turn added, "But we're working on it. I've got all of our contacts in Pennsylvania checking the story with patterns, information on Vasilissa, and the Guardians. If there's anything that doesn't match up with her story, you'll be the first to know."
I pondered the idea of ripping her head off. I knew she was doing her job and getting me results, but I really wanted to tear something to pieces. I decided I'd go find someone else to massacre. "Good. I'm going hunting. Call me if anything changes." I snapped and stormed off to go enjoy wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting population of Novosibirsk.
I paced, back and forth, back and forth. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The clock mocked me. I had the urge to break the stifling silence by hurtling at the door, but it was futile. It wouldn't solve the problem. It wouldn't bring us any closer to Rose. All it would do is scare Vasilissa and put the entire room on edge. They were already wary of my unstable condition judging by the fact that I had worn a path into the carpet in less than an hour. It was getting dark and once the sunset, we'd have to bide our time until morning to make a move.
As always, my thoughts wandered back to Rose. My Roza. I envisioned her beautiful face, sending shivers down my spine and a throbbing in my heart. I stopped, closing my eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath to steady myself. Terrible, horrid thoughts of never being able to see her face again ran through my mind and it took all of my willpower not to break and let the tears fall. I was broken by the mere thought of her demise. My dependence on her was the scariest thing that'd ever happened to me, far more terrifying than any Strigoi.
I ran my fingers through my hair, anxious beyond belief. I turned to look at Lissa. She sat curled in a ball on the bed, napping. Christian lay next to her stroking her hair. On the other bed lay Adrian, napping as well. Both were trying to reach her in a spirit dream. So far it was our only plan that made any sense.
I sat down on the desk, staring at the map of Novosibirsk that we'd picked up in the lobby of the hotel. Supposedly this hotel was very tourist friendly. I studied the map for a moment before picking up the crystal once more. It was worth a try. I'd been able to use it effectively in Pennsylvania, why not give it one more try? I'd used the same memory from Pennsylvania from last time, but I had a feeling that the emotion it evoked wasn't strong enough to pinpoint exact location. I decided to focus on a stronger emotion. The cabin.
"Guardian Belikov! Rose is kicking Jesse Zeklos's ass and a bunch of other Moroi! Hurry! They're at the pond!" A student I didn't recognize shouted as he barreled around the corner, nearly running me over.
I don't think I'd ever ran that fast. I had no idea what exactly was going on, but I ran like the hounds from hell were on my heels. I made it there in a matter of minutes, just in time to see Rose leap at a seemingly unconscious Jesse and start to pummel him to a pulp. He started to scream and I ran faster, trying to reach them before Rose inflicted any serious damage. As I drew closer I could see the animalistic rage in her eyes, in her sloppy, careless punches. Something was wrong, very wrong.
I was too far off to reach them but I could see Eddie attempt to haul Rose off. She struggled and screamed something intangible. As I drew closer I saw Vasilissa lean down and touch Jesse lightly, as if assessing the damage. I knew what she was doing. She was healing him, and Rose was furious.
"No!" She screeched, "You can't!" Eddie struggled to hold her. She strained against his iron grip, desperately trying to rip free. I noticed the Moroi crowded around them a few yards away, looking warily between Rose, Jesse and Vasilissa, and the arriving Guardians who'd followed me.
Alberta called out instructions to organize the chaos surrounding the tranquil pond. Jesse and the Princess were carted off for medical attention, the Moroi were taken away to be questioned, and Eddie was left struggling to contain Rose.
"You can't let him go! You can't let him go!" She screamed, catching Alberta's attention. She strolled over, gazing levelly at raging Rose.
"Rose, calm down. It's over." She tried to put a hand on Rose's shoulder, but Rose struggled even harder, wrenching out of Alberta's grasp and struggling harder than ever.
"It's not over! Not until I get my hands around his throat and choke the life out of him!" I froze, as did a few of the other guardians. That was a serious threat for a Dhampir to make toward a Moroi, and no one could ignore it. Everyone turned to look at me. I knew I had to do something. She was technically in my care, and it was my job to look after her.
Rose turned to look at me, insanity flashing in her eyes. I momentarily panicked. I had seen Rose angry, very angry, but I had never seen her lose it completely. I took a deep breath.
"Get her out of here," said Alberta, "Get her cleaned up and calmed down." I nodded briskly, before striding over to where Rose struggled against Eddie's grip. He let go of her and before she could escape I grabbed her arms, pinning her against me. I could feel the heat of her body radiating off her, sending chills down my spine, but now was no time for distractions. I needed to focus and do my job, without any extra emotion.
I dragged her away, intent on being the tough mentor in this situation. "We can make this easy or difficult," I kept my guardian mask on as she continued to struggle against my attempts to pull her away from the scene and farther into the woods. I decided I'd calm her through simple logic.
"There's no way I'm letting you go to Jesse. Besides, he's at the med clinic, so you'd never get near him. If you can accept that, I'll release you. If you bolt, you know I'll just restrain you again." I kept my face neutral and my voice soothing. Rose paused, as if weighing her options, wild fury still burning in her eyes, but it was as if my words questioned her placement of her rage.
"Okay," I released the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. Trusting her not to try and run I made my way towards the old guardian outpost.
"Alberta told you to clean me up," she paused, "So we're going to the med clinic?" She tried to seem nonchalant, as if medical attention was the real reason she wanted in there so badly. I scoffed.
"Nice try. I'm not letting you near him. We'll get first aid somewhere else." I vaguely recalled Tasha cleaning up the old cabin so it was more comfortable for her to hang out in. I opened the door cautiously, quickly lighting a lamp. Darkness made me feel uneasy, as I knew all too well what could be lurking.
"Sit down," I ordered, gesturing to the bed. I wanted to get back as fast as possible so I could partake in the questioning of Mr. Zeklos. Though I didn't approve of Rose's methods, his actions awakened the fury inside me, knowing that his only punishment would be a week of detention, maximum.
"You have to let me go." Rose looked up at me, her wide, chocolate eyes pleading with me, "Don't you see? Don't you see how Jesse has to pay? He tortured her! He did horrible things to her!"
I grimaced, trying not to betray my hatred for Jesse. I saw exactly what she wanted me to see and my anger flared. For a moment I considered letting her go, but I couldn't. That was insanity! I couldn't condone her behavior. I'd be fired!
I decided, instead, to focus on the small cut on her forehead, cleaning it with gauze. "He'll be punished, believe me. And the others." I had to be the voice of reason. Rose was out of control and I had to bring her back to reality.
"With what?" She snarled, "Detention? This is as bad as Victor Dashkov. Nobody does anything around here! People commit crimes and get away with it. He needs to hurt. They all need to." I paused in my work, wrapping my head around her statement. She was right. I wouldn't deny that, but the way she wanted to punish them, it wasn't right. I couldn't let her go no matter how much I agreed with what she was saying.
"Rose, I know you're upset, but you know we don't punish people like that. It's… savage." She looked at me incredulously, her eyes piercing my soul.
"Yeah? What's wrong with that? I'd bet it stop them from doing it again." Her words were cold and sharp, malevolent and cruel. There was no passion or warmth in her eyes, just pure, unadulterated hatred. She trembled with anger, her face contorting as she struggled to stay in one place. "They need to suffer for what they did! And I want to be the one to do it! I want to hurt them all. I want to kill them all." She leapt up, the wild look back in her eye before I could blink.
I shoved her back down, keeping a firm hold on her shoulders, sending the first aid kit clattering to the floor. I had no idea what was causing her to act like this, but it scared me to my core. She fought against my grip, but I dug my fingers into her, pushing her down with all my strength.
"Rose! Snap out of this! You don't mean any of it. You've been stressed and under a lot of pressure—it's making a terrible event that much worse." I shouted it in her face, trying to make her see reason.
"Stop it!" She screeched, "You're doing it—just like you always do. You're always so reasonable, no matter how awful things are. What happened to you wanting to kill Victor in prison, huh? Why was that okay, but not this?" She seethed, malice twisting her face. I flinched, her words biting into me.
"Because that was an exaggeration. You know it was. But this… This is something different. There's something wrong with you right now." It was a weak response, one that had me faltering.
"No, there's something right with me. I'm the only one who wants to do anything around here, and if that's wrong, I'm sorry. You keep wanting me to be some impossible, good person, but I'm not! I'm not a saint like you." Her tone was bitter and merciless. Said any differently and I would've laughed, but not now. Not like this. These were an accusation, a bitter pill, they were anything but funny.
"Neither of us is a saint," I spoke quietly. "Believe me, I don't—" I was cut off by her throwing me off her and taking off towards the door. Lost in my own thought I faltered in my hold on her, a mistake I barely had time to recover from before she made it to the door. I snatched her arm, wrenching it back and pinning her down neatly, pressing with all of my weight.
"Let me go!" She wailed. This time, I didn't even blink. She struggled ferociously once more, screaming and wailing without reason nor rhyme, most of it completely incoherent. I could feel desperation take over as I watched her flail in my grasp. I couldn't bear to see her like this, it was pure torture.
"No, not until you break out of this. This isn't you!" She paused momentarily to make eye contact. I could see the angry tears in her eyes.
"It is! Let me go!" She yelled and continued to try and break free. It pained me to see her lose control, I wanted to help her, I needed to be there for her, but I couldn't. Always the voice of reason. It already haunted me. I felt useless as I watched her desperate attempts to claw her way out of the steady pin I had on her. It was my worst nightmare to see her look at me with hatred in her eye.
"It's not. It isn't you! It isn't you." I choked out the last sentence, begging her to stop.
"You're wrong! It is-" She froze midsentence, wide-eyed and terrified. I could tell she was waging a battle within, whether or not to get control of herself. I had a feeling it had something to do with Lissa's emotions affecting her. I just prayed she won the internal war that I could see cross over her face. Her brow furrowed in effort and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly.
"Rose." I held my breath. Trying to put everything I wanted to say in just one word. I watched and waited, feeling the seconds tick by as she lye there, me on top of her, breathing, furrowing and unfurrowing her brow.
Slowly but surely, I felt her relax. She trembled, but I knew it was not fury that seized her body, but fear. I studied her intently, waiting for her to open eyes filled with love instead of hatred. I let go of her shoulders and she exhaled deeply, trying to steady her breathing.
"Oh my God," She croaked, her throat raspy and her voice no more than a broken whisper. I reached out, stroking her cheek, trying to comfort her.
"Rose? Are you okay?" I asked. I needed something. Anything. I needed her to be okay. I had no idea what had happened but it scared me to my core and I needed the reassurance that she was okay, that there was something in my power that I could do to help her.
"I…I think so. For now." She nodded her head, terror in her eyes, looking down as she wrung her hands.
"It's over," I murmured. I brushed a stray lock of hair from her face, feeling the silky texture on my course fingers. "It's over. Everything's all right." She continued to wring her hands, her entire body still shaking. I could feel the tension in her shoulders just by looking at her posture.
She shook her head slowly, more tears welling up in her wide eyes. "No. It's not. You… you don't understand. It's true—everything I was worried about. About Anna? About me taking away spirit's craziness? It's happening, Dimitri. Lissa lost it out there with Jesse. She was out of control, but I stopped her because I sucked away her anger and put it into myself. And it's—it's horrible. It's like I'm, I don't know, a puppet. I can't control myself." She was on the edge of a cliff, and I had to pull her back before she took the plunge. I finally knew what pushed her into this state, taking the darkness that had been building in Lissa had pushed her to her breaking point. I should have recognized it sooner.
"You're strong. It won't happen again." I had to once again be the voice of reason. She was delirious and terrified of her future, and I had to be there for her no matter how scared I was for her.
"No. It will happen again. I'm going to be like Anna. I'm going to get worse and worse. This time it was bloodlust and hate. I wanted to destroy them. Next time? I don't know. Maybe it'll just be craziness, like Ms. Karp. Maybe I'm crazy already, and that's why I'm seeing Mason. Maybe it'll be depression like Lissa used to get. I'll keep falling and falling into that pit, and then I'll be like Anna and kill—"
"No." I couldn't bear to hear her say it. I knew what happened to Anna, and I couldn't imagine it ever happening to Rose. I couldn't fathom a world without her, much less a world that she took herself out of. She needed someone to believe in her, she needed someone to pull her out of that pit, and I was going to be that person. It was then and there that I decided to make the commitment. I would stand by Rose's side through thick and thin, no matter what, I would always be there for her. "It won't happen to you. You're too strong. You'll fight it, just like you did this time."
"I only did because you were here." It made my heart swell to think that she needed me, that I was able to be there for her. I pulled her closer to me, wrapping my arms around her shaking frame and resting my chin on her head, squeezing my eyes closed. "I can't do it by myself." She whispered. I felt my heart breaking for her. She thought she was alone, having to deal with the darkness by herself. Little did she know my vow to stand by her.
"You can. You're strong—you're so, so strong. It's why I love you." It took me a moment to register the words as they tumbled out of my mouth. It was true, every bit of it. I loved her. I, Dimitri Belikov, was completely, head-over-heels in love with Rosemarie Hathaway, my student, and I had never been so absolutely content with breaking the rules.
I felt her tense. "You shouldn't. I'm going to become something terrible. I might already be something terrible." I almost laughed. Rose? Terrible? She was anything but terrible. She was effervescent, beautiful, loyal, lovely, strong, stubborn, but terrible? Never.
I pulled back to look her in the eye, "You aren't. You won't," I said. "I won't let you. No matter what, I won't let you." I studied her for a moment before her face lit up, and her eyes filled with love and passion. She leaned in, pressing her lips to mine in a sweet kiss. It was pure bliss, but as it continued, it picked up intensity. I could feel the built up sexual tension start to take over as she leaned in further, wrapping her arms around my neck and tangling her fingers in my hair. It was like an electrical shock to my body.
We moved to the bed, I could tell where this was headed, but logic set in before it was too little, too late. I paused, pulling back and looking her in the eye, torn between loyalties. "We can't…" I murmured.
She nodded, "I know." She pressed her lips to mine and I knew for a fact that there was no stopping us now. Clothes were steadily lost in the sheets as the pace picked up. She was beautiful, exquisite, perfection. She was the piece of my soul that I never knew I was missing. It felt as if my heart was bursting with love and pouring out into every breath, every kiss, every touch. Her blush, her shy smile, the passion in her eyes, I was entranced by this beautiful creature that was finally mine.
When all was said and done, she laid down on my chest with a contented sigh. I leaned down and pressed a sweet kiss to her forehead, running my fingers through her luxurious hair. "I love you, Roza." She looked up at me and our lips locked once more. I pressed my forehead to hers, taking in the moment to remember forever. "I'll always be here for you. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."
I knew my words were dangerous, considering the line of work we were in, but I couldn't help but make the moment sweeter. She knew it as well when she looked at me with raised eyebrows. We both knew that this kind of promise wouldn't change the fact that Lissa would always be our priority, but it was special in its own way knowing that, had the circumstances been any different and we were Moroi, she would be my priority.
"And I won't let anything happen to you. I love you." She looked at me earnestly, putting truth and passion in every word. I leaned down and pressed my lips to hers once more, smiling into her lips. We stayed like that for what felt like hours, wrapped in each other's embrace, but sooner that I would've liked, I knew it was a matter of time before the others came looking for us. However sweet the time had been, it had to end sooner or later.
We slowly got dressed, which took longer than expected since I couldn't help but stop to kiss her every other minute. When we were finished making the bed, she reluctantly led us out of the cabin, grabbing my hand and leaning on my shoulder. I knew we'd have to drop hands soon, but while her fingers were entwined with mine, the moment was beautiful, even if it wouldn't last once we were in view of the school.
I could feel a single, salty tear trickle down my face. I opened my eyes, knowing all to well what had happened after that moment. The crystal dug into the surface of the desk, it's sharp point landing on an abandoned hotel a few miles outside of town in a sketchy part of the surrounding suburbs. I knew the area fairly well, it was considered the ghetto of Novosibirsk, and I knew for a fact it was where most Strigoi lurked for an easy kill. I knew where Rose was, and it was time to go get her. I just prayed we made it there in time.